God, Man, or Satan

This image above is considering where other religions come from. (from Sir Norman Anderson). Some people believe they come from God. If that is true then other religions are a Preparation for the Gospel. Other people believe they come from Satan. If that is true, then other religions are a trap, snare, and distraction. Others believe that other religions are Man’s attempt to understand the great mysteries of life, and are seeking meaning and hope in a confusing world.

Each have implications on other things. If other religions are from God, then that suggests continuity of God’s work (God is working everywhere, not simply through the church). If other religions are from Satan, then it may be more correct to think that God’s work is discontinuous… God ONLY ministers to the world through the church. If other religions are from Man, it is not so certain as to which (as I marked) but it is probable that God’s ministry is discontinuous. I am using continuity and discontinuity the way Andrew Walls does.

If other religions are from God, then our goal is for the gospel to fulfill/complete other religions. If other religions are from Satan, then other religions need to be destroyed and replaced. If other religions are man-made… it is not so clear what should be done, but the key point is that things have to change… transformation is needed.

If other religions are from God, then the contextualization form that is best (from Paul Hiebert’s model) is probably uncritical contextualization— quick to embrace what is good, focusing on common ground and ignoring problematic details. If other religions are from Satan, then non-contextualization makes more sense. Cultural imperialism, throwing out the bad and replacing it with what the missionary believes is good from outside, hopefully will work. If other religions are from Man, then Critical Contextualization makes the most sense. We have to understand others and their beliefs openly and sympathetically, but recognizing the need for God’s message to challenge and change in some areas.

If other religions come from God, then dialogue makes the most sense. We need to talk together and learn from each other. If other religions come from Satan, then didactic speech (teaching/preaching) makes the most sense. If other religions come from Man, perhaps dialectic makes the most sense— recognizing the competing values and beliefs to challenge and be challenged by the other. (Using terms as David Hesselgrave does here… I think.)

But, what if ALL THREE IS TRUE? God is at work everywhere drawing all to Himself, even before the church has arrived (like with Cornelius and Peter in Acts). Satan is the accuser and deceiver roaming over the whole earth, and is perfectly happy to work both inside and outside of religion to do this. And Man is always seeking to know what is true and what is good and what is right, and will develop religion as a vehicle to answer to answer these questions. If all three are true, then our response cannot be as simple as the diagram would have for any individual.

I put purple squares around those responses that I think make sense if other religions come from all three sources. Do you agree?

Offending for Good Reason

Darrel Whiteman says that one of three reasons for good contextualization is to “Offend for the Right Reason.” After all, Paul noted that the Gospel message is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. Yet at the same time, Paul did try to make the Gospel message palatable or adorned for these groups. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Deus or the Unknown God to Greek philosophers. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Jesus as the Messiah predicted in Scripture to Jews. So this suggests that there is Offending for good reasons and Offending for the bad reasons. And by inference, one can NOT Offend for good and bad reasons.

Offending for bad reasons can break down communication. It can make the message rejected. It can also cause the Christian faith to be viewed as foreign to the culture rather than a fulfillment of the culture.

Not offending for bad reasons can lead to confusion where the Gospel may be seen as nothing more than “the best of that culture.” Ultimately, it may result in some form of syncretism. That syncretism may be seen in “Situational Reformation” (syncretism due to confusion) or “Syncretistic Incorporation” (syncretism based on the intentional creative act of the receiver).

Not offending for good reasons helps the gospel to localize… feel at home in the new culture. Much of a local culture is good (or at least not bad) so the gospel should not undermine what is worthy of embracing.

Offending for good reasons gives motivation to transformation. If the gospel is totally in line with the culture in every way, causing of no offense, one essentially has a “state religion”– justifying the status quo. But offending for the right reason points to necessary transformation.

Find us Faithful

I don’t put sermons here very often, but I thought I would share one I did today at my church.

Find Us Faithful

Matthew 24:42-51

Chapter 24 of the Gospel According to St. Matthew is a message that Jesus gave His followers about the future. Jesus’s time on earth was coming to a close. He wanted His disciples to be ready for the challenges that will be coming after He is gone. He speaks of many things:

  • Deceivers coming– False prophets, Messiahs, teachers, Miracle workers.
  • Violence, evil, and natural disasters will increase
  • Persecution and Death will come to the Followers of Christ
  • Despite this, The Gospel will be preached throughout the whole Earth
  • Although there will be signs, we will not know when the end will be

BUT HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE? Thankfully, Jesus gave us a clear picture of what a person would look like if he or she follows Jesus’s advice.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus gives guidance in what to do so that one is ready for the end.

Be watchful and ready. But there are two different ways that one can be watchful and ready.

  • Others have come up with dates more recently. People like Harold Camping on Christian radio and Jack van Impe on Christian television kept coming up with new dates of Christ’s return. Here in Baguio I saw a truck driving around with a big sign telling everyting that Jesus was returning on May 22, 2011. I did not see that truck on May 23rd. I also did not see that truck going around in October 2011 when Harold Camping’s next prediction for Christ’s return was, nor in 2012 which was Jack van Impe’s prediction.
  • There are a few dates being shared as to when Jesus is returning. A couple of predictions for 2020 just passed by, but there is one in 2021, another in 2024, and yet a third in 2028. I suspect if one looks deep enough one can find someone some where who has predicted Christ’s return every year in this decade.

It is not just Christians who do this. Many other groups. Muslims also believe that Jesus will return and have come up with all sorts of dates when this will happen.

  • So we need a different type of watchfulness and readiness. We need to be faithful.

Jesus explains this type of watchfulness and readiness in the Parable of the Faithful Servant.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51)

This story, this parable shows two types of readiness.

Let’s look at the Ready, Watchful, Faithful servant.

-Always doing what he is supposed to be doing.

-Always setting a good example for those he has responsibility over.

-Always faithful, he is always ready.

Now let’s look at the Ready, Watchful, Unfaithful servant.

-He figures that the master will be late in returning

-He mistreats the servants and misuses the master’s home, setting a bad example for them.

-He thinks that he can figure out when the master will return and have everything ready.

A Faithful servant is always ready, while an Unfaithful servant thinks he can become ready.

A Faithful servant is watchful because he wants to Welcome the master, while an Unfaithful servant is watchful because he is Worried.

A Faithful servant is a good example for those he works with, an Unfaithful servant is a bad example, and inspires bad behavior in others.

Many preachers as the question, “What if Jesus returned today?” It’s a good question. Am I watchful and ready to welcome Jesus? “Are you ready if Jesus returned today?” I cannot answer this for you. No one else can answer this for you. Have you chosen to have Jesus as your master— Lord and God of your life? If you have not… I think it is safe to say that you are not ready. If that is the case, I strongly recommend that you speak to one of the church leaders. Ask “How can I be ready for Jesus?” Being ready is not about giving away everything you own, dressing up in a white robe and standing on the roof so you don’t bump your head when Jesus draws you up to Him. It is living a life of faithfulness with Jesus as your Savior, and as Your Lord.

But here is another question, “What if Jesus returns 500 years from now?” It’s just as good of a question. Suppose you know (somehow) that Jesus will not return for 500 years? Does that mean that we can be like the unfaithful servant. Can we misuse and abuse all that God has given us here on earth, because you have lots of time to make things right later?

Of course not. First of all, if Jesus returns 500 years from now, then we all will die and go to God before Christ comes at the end of the world. I am 55 years old, so it is likely that I will die sometime in the next 10, or 20, or 30 years. But I really don’t know when. And neither do you. Either in death or in Christ’s return we need to always be watchful, ready, and faithful.

In fact, if Jesus returns in 500 years from now instead of today, there is even more reason that we need to be faithful everyday. If Jesus returns in 500 years, we need to be an example for future generations. The closing song that we will sing speaks of this:

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.

We need to live ready, watchful, faithful lives to set the example for our children, for the next generation in church and in our community. If I am not faithful, ready, and watchful, and Christ returns today, I hurt myself. But If I am not faithful, ready, and watchful, and Christ returns 500 years from now… I not only hurt myself, but I set a bad example that hurts my children… the next generation in my church and community. My bad example can result in a cascading effect… of people not ready for Christ years and years after my death.

So I believe this passage asks us two important questions?

Am I faithful to Jesus so that I am ready if Jesus returns today?

Am I faithful to Jesus so that I am readying generations after me if Jesus returns in 500 years?

Kape and Kamote and Contextualization

I live in Benguet Province of the Philippines. It is the most mountainous province in the Philippines. Although the Philippines as a whole is pretty dependent on rice as its primary food staple, in many of the rural parts of Benguet, yams (kamote, prounced kah-MOH-teh) or potatos serve as the dominant staple. Also Benguet is one of the major coffee growing areas in the Philippines. The sub-tropical mountainous area is great for coffee plants (or kape, pronounced kah-PEH). I live on a seminary that is full of coffee trees.

I have often thought of the Lord’s Supper. The bread, a staple of the Middle East, and the wine, a drink staple of the same region make a lot of sense in many parts of the world… but not so much in Benguet. In Benguet, there is certainly bread. There is also wine (strawberry, bugnay, and rice wines are produced in sizable quantitites). However, neither bread nor wine have the same relationship to diet in Benguet as it does in the Middle East.

So is the use of coffee and kamote a good contexstualization of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper? Maybe Yes, Maybe No.

Andrew F. Walls, in his book “The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), speaks of two principles— Indigenizing and Pilgrim Principles. Christianity should be indigenized so that it feels “at home” in the culture it is in. On the other hand, Christianity should also exist, in a sense, as “a stranger in a strange land.” It could be said that there is a contradiction here… but I would prefer to say that there is a tension between the two principles.

But there is another tension as well. Jonathan Ingleby in “The Hermeneutical Principle in Relationship to Contextual Mission Training” (Part of the book “Contextualisation and Mission Training” edited by Ingleby, Tan Kang San, and Tan Loun Ling) speaks of the power dynamics that exists in the church in terms of missional contextualization. He speaks of Traditionalistist and Contextualizers. For my own comfort, I will use the terms “Traditionalists” and “Localizers.” Traditionalists seek to maintain consistency of doctrine. Even while they may seek to translate God’s Word into a new language, they want to maintain tight control over the translation process to establish the limits of what locals will find as the permissible range of localization. Localizers try to break from from these limitations.

I believe that the first tension gives insight into the second tension. Christianity is to be BOTH local and foreign. (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter 5 is one of the best expressions of that tension in my mind. Look it up if you haven’t read this 2nd Century Christian work.) Jesus, in terms of language, dress, diet, appearance and more, was so local that local leaders needed help to identify Him in a crowd of 1st century Palestinian Jews. Yet in other ways He was so radically different from others in Judea and Galilee that thousands came to hear him talk and do what no one else could do. The trick is not whether to embrace an Indigenizing Principle or a Pilgrim Principle, but to know which one is correct in the situation. Many Christians fall into the trap of indistinguishability— embracing a culture or subculture that is not in line with the example of Christ. But other Christians (and sometimes the same Christians) can fall in the other trap— being different for the sake of being different. They build cultural walls that separate where separation was not needed. (I must refer back to The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter 5 again on this one.)

Returning to the Traditionalists and Localizers in the church, this same creative tension applies. The issue is not whether to be a traditionalist or a localizer, but when is it appropriate.

Let me use the Lord’s Supper as an example. A good localizing solution would be to have coffee and yams for the Lord’s Supper. I, personally, don’t believe that it is wrong to do this. It actually holds onto the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper better by sticking withe staples of the local people. A good traditionalist solution is to keep to the (grape) wine or grape juice and bread. Since I hate the taste of wine (“grape juice gone bad”) I would prefer grape juice, but that is another traditionalist/localizer discussion. Keeping the wine and bread connects with Christians around the world and through the centuries.

So which one is best here? I don’t know… but I think perhaps this is a place where siding with the traditionalists is better. The Eucharist is SUPPOSED to be a symbol of unity in the church. Yes, yes, I know it has become popular for it to be a symbol of disunity, with Closed Communion being very common to keep other Christians separated away. But the universality of the sacrament (except with some groups like the Salvation Army, that got rid of the sacrament because of the divisiveness that has arisen over the centuries) is important. This sacrament (or ordinance) should unite Christians. Holding more to a uniting form of the ritual is PROBABLY more important than localizing the staples.

Perhaps a middle ground would be good. Bugnay wine rather than grape wine could be used. Perhaps a more local staple (rice wafers for example) may be better than wheat. For outsiders visiting, it would feel pretty familiar despite to local adaptations.

But then, we can take things in a different direction. Coffee comes from East Africa originally. Potatoes come from South America originally. Yams come (I believe) from West Africa. These food and drink plants came in different ways to Benguet. They established literal roots in the soil, and figurative roots in the culture. I see this process as being rather organic… they filled both an economic and a biological need in the people. Christianity, ideally, comes in a does the same thing. It doesn’t come in to destroy what is good… but to meet the needs that are missing in the culture.

We want a Christianity that fits into the culture in a way that doesn’t feel foreign. No one in Benguet feels that coffee trees, nor kamote or potato plants are foreign. They meet a need and the culture embraced it. The plants changed the culture, but voluntarily by the people as they found value in these plants. In like manner, perhaps the localizer should be the one in power in the dynamic of mission work. It is in the power of a people to control the direction and decisions of what happens in the church and culture that makes true and good localization and indigenization possible

Good Little Soldiers

I just watched a couple of videos that I found quite interesting… in a disheartening way.

First, was a new video by Chris Stuckman. He is a pretty successful movie critic on Youtube. He spoke of his upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It probably is not as painful as some of the stories that I have heard of people feeling trapped within a coercive religious group, but the discomfort comes from it being mundane. It is a normal situation of a normal person brought up in an authoritarian structure. You can CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT.

Second, was a video sent to me by one of my daughters, put out by INC. This is a Philippine-based authoritarian religious group. INC stands for Iglesia Ni Cristo (“Church of Christ”). It has an authoritarian structure and an Arian theology. This video is to teach young children something important about that church. The song is pretty simple so I will write down the first verse.

“Always submit to the Church Administration

For they were placed by Lord God to lead His nation

If we obey then we will receive salvation

Sing along with me.”

Note here that this is essentially a preschool song that has little children for over three minutes singing this song over and over again. Also note that the song is captioned where only God and the “Church Administration” are capitalized. You can CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT.

Of course, it is easy, and rather satisfying, to point fingers at some of these other groups (often called “cults,” but I will say “religious organizations that embrace coercive authoritarian control over their members”). But I know this happens among Christians as well.

I was raised up in a Fundamentalist church, and although Fundamentalist groups do get a bad rap, I don’t really feel that the church I was in was coercive or authoritarian. However, there were some other churches in my area that were. Some, for example embraced a very strong form of Separatism. I had a friend who attended a Bible school that taught that Christians should have ZERO non-Christian friends. This is pretty similar to what Chris Stuckman said about his JW experience. I have seen some churches TRY to do the “shunning” that the JWs do who were “marked” or “disfellowshiped.”

My first, personal experience with this sort of coercive experience came years later when I was an associate member (not a full member, thankfully) of a church. The pastor started teaching a doctrine that was part of what was called the “Shepherding Movement” or the “Discipleship Movement.” Since the doctrine is bad, I don’t like to attach it to a good term (like ‘shepherding’ or ‘discipleship’) so I will call it the “Umbrella Movement.” That is because it commonly is explained in terms of umbrellas.

God seeks to cover/protect all people with His umbrella of grace, but chooses to do it mostly through mediators. So it is like He gives out smaller umbrellas to others. God’s umbrella covers church leaders (“the Church Administration”) who then ‘cover’ the members of the church with their own umbrellas. The men in the church also cover their wives and children. If that sounds strange… good. Because it gets worse.

In practice, this umbrella of protective covering is really about authority. God has authority over the church leaders, and the church leaders have authority over church members and the men in the church have authority over their families. Here is what makes this worse. SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY IS UNI-DIRECTIONAL AND UNLIMITED. As the pastor of the church I was an associate member of said, “If the pastor tells you to do something and you don’t do it, then you have sinned. If the pastor tells you do do something that is wrong— sinful— and you do it, you will be blessed by God, because you obeyed your pastor.”

Obviously, there are flavors of this doctrine. Not all would say this. Some who do, like to draw on the Military model. If a superior officer tells you to do something… you just do it… no questions asked. Of course, if you were in the military, you know that is not true. You must obey lawful orders, but should not obey unlawful orders. If your Department head tells you do the opposite of what the captain commanded, you must follow the captain. In church, if the pastor tells you to do something that God has said is wrong, you must obey God, not your pastor.

“Cultic,” coercive, authoritarian groups step on God’s toes. They say that God has given authority such that, in practice, God has no authority in the lives of the members. In the preschooler song above, obedience to the “church administration” is the way to receive salvation. This can happen in Christian churches as well. The church I mentioned before… I left pretty quickly after the teachings of the Umbrella Movement were being touted. This is despite the fact that I was told that since I was a missionary I was worthy of receiving the same unlimited submission as the senior pastor. No thanks. I left the church with NO qualms, but another person who was younger in the faith was struggling. He REALLY wanted to leave that church, but was afraid. He was told he would lose his salvation— in effect he was rejecting his umbrella.

Strangely, the Bible teaches bilateral submission… we submit to each other. Human shepherds in the religious setting are still fellow sheep (see Ezekiel 34). God is the only one deserving of unreserved submission. And yet, God chose to voluntarily submit to mankind (see Philippians 2).

When a church takes on the full authority of God and claims to control who is saved and who is damned, there is a serious problem. I know Peter and the Twelve were given the “keys to the kingdom” but it is pretty clear that John knew that this did not mean he had that level of control. If he thought he did, the book of 1st John would be much different. In that case people would know if they were children of God if the apostle declared it.

The apostles did not assume that level of power. The closest they came to that was Acts 5. But even there they made no suggestion of having control of the eternal destiny of Ananias and Sapphira. (And frankly, even that story in Acts 5 appeared to be out of sorts with how they behaved as servant/serving leaders later on.

These simple little videos point to Spiritual Abuse. It is sad when it happens to people, especially children, among the JWs and the INC. But how much worse when it happens in (historical) Christianity?

Sodalities and Modalities in Missions

This is part (early rough draft) of a chapter I am doing in my Missions and Theology book. Understand it as a very preliminary text. Thanks.

Christian Missions is done by people who come together as part of the Kingdom of God, as members of the Body of Christ, as those joined in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Such coming together can exist in more than one way.

Ralph Winter speaks of Modalities and Sodalities. Modality Structures as it pertains to Christianity are social entintities that exist based on biology, geography (generally) and shared faith. The local church in its many diverse manifestations is such a structure. It draws from the synagogue, which is also a modality structure. A sodality structure is one that is driven primarily by common purpose. Such purpose is not simply shared by the members but is the actual reason for its existence. As much as churches have embraced the idea of having mission and vision statements, if these statements were changed, or not even written down, the church would not cease to be, and even may not even change markedly. And members of the church may affirm their church’s covenant, as well as vision and mission statements, but few actually kick people out who do not fully embrace, enforce, and execute these statements. (I have seen a few churches try to do this… it gets ugly.)

Sodality structures include mission bands, seminaries, and pretty much any other structure within Christianity in which joining absolutely requires acceptance of and adherence to a very specialized mission. This mission is much more narrow, and is generally inadequate to the overall needs of the individual Christian. Because of this, it is generally understood that all Chrsitians should be part of a church, regardless of whether they are part of a specialized structure.

It is the narrow specialization of sodality structures that give them some specific advantages in doing missions. Since all members can selected based on their shared vision, common desire to be trained to work cross-culturally, and willingness to limit one’s resources to focus on that vision over others.

It is pretty clear that sodality structures, such as mission societies, are important. Comparing the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant Church(es) reveals some of the challenges. The Catholic Church had a universal leader— one who was seen as responsible for every person on earth (“Vicar of Christ”). It also had the monastic system that served as a sodality structure for a number of roles— especially missions. In early Protestantism, the church often meant the national church, or the local church, with no role for identifying responsibility beyond local or national boarders. And in focusing on the church, the monastic system was uprooted, without a replacement., In effect, it literally took centuries for the Protestant church to embrace missions in any beyond fits and starts.

The Danish-Halle Mission was a joint venture between the King of Denmark and the University of Halle. A university can be thought of as a sodality structure since it exists as a group driven by purpose. As such, the university served as a replacement for a monastic order, and the King of Denmark, as sovereign over his land and colonies, served as a replacement fot the pope.

For both the Roman Catholic setting and the Danish setting, the church, as a modality structure, had little role in missions. Their primary role is to produce Christians to feed the machinery of missions being handled outside of the church.

This was not the only option, however. The Moravian movement followed a model more akin to the idea of the missional church. The church as a whole seemed to act in many ways as a sodality structure. The Unitas Fratrum (as they are formally known) did not replace the Pope with another entity, but with theology. Since the church was not tied to a national or regional government, they saw their “parish” as worldwide. And with a leadership that was, for centuries, quite missional, the church embraced a strong missionary vigor without having a distinctly separate structure. History seems to support the idea that a Pope (or equivalent) is not really needed, as long as a church/denomination doesn’t define itself by its locality or state. However, over time, is seems like the church, as a modality structure, rarely holds onto a strongly missional stance over a few generations. The calling of the church is broader than that of a mission organization and so eventually, there is a tendency to shift focus or broaden focus. While from a missions standpoint this seems bad, I must admit that I have seen churches that are so focused on task that they lose sight of caring for their own people. This can create a toxic condition in a church.

Justinian von Welz proposed the establishment of a mission society in the 17th century. His Jesus Loving Society was ahead of its time, seemingly. It provided a structure that allowed churches to support missionaries with resources and prayers and receive reports back from missionaries. The attempt failed, but it did inspire others later. By the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century, there was a huge number of mission societies that sprang up. This led to a golden age of Protestant missions. As time when on, some mission agencies were swallowed up as mere arms of denominational church structures. Others went the opposite and became more independent of, and sometimes even competitive to churches.

With the growth of the missional church movement as well as short-term missions missions seems to be taking a direction more akin to the Moravians presently. Time will tell whether missions works best driven by the church, as a pawn of the church, or as a competitor of the church (or something else entirely).

Other things to read:

Ralph Winter on Modalities and Sodalities

Robert Munson “Lack of Early Protestant Missions”