Humility and Justinian Von Welz

I preached a sermon a few years ago at a church anniversary of a church founded and led by a friend of my wife and I. It was on a missionary (whose name is in the title above). I decided to add it to our own mission family blog. But upon thinking about it, it also may be good to have it here.

It is wonderful to finally be here to visit your church. We have known Ptr. Noel and Tita since 2004. We visited here many years ago, but not on a Sunday. So much has happened here at Mabalacat Good Harvest Community Church. I believe God has been doing great things here.

But of course, in an Anniversary, we don’t just look back to the past. We take time to think about the future.

I have two jobs generally. I act as administrator for Bukal Life Care, a Christian counseling center in Baguio. The other is that I teach missions at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, or PBTS. I often find inspiration in the stories of Christian missions. God has blessed us with his word… the Bible. But he has also blessed us with the stories of those who have come before us. Because of my involvement in missions, I especially like to read about missionaries throughout history. So I would like to tell you a story. It is the story of a man name Justinian von Welz. I think it is safe to say that few, if any here, have heard of him. Welz, was born in 1621 into a Protestant, Lutheran, family in Austria… a country dominated by Catholicicsm..  His family was persecuted for their faith so they moved to Germany. 

As an adult into his early 40s, he led a rather carefree and sinful life (he had money and he was of noble blood, meaning he could do pretty much anything he wanted) but then he began to read the Bible and church teachings. He repented of his sins, and became a true follower of Christ. His values and goals were completely changed by the experience of his conversion. He lived a simple life and dedicated himself to that which would glorify God.  Although he was of noble birth, being a baron, he decided to set that aside to serve God. He believed that God so loved the entire world, that God gave His one and unique son, that whoever believes in Him no matter who they are or where they live, should not perish but have eternal life.

He proposed the formation of an organization called the “Jesus Loving Society.”  This was a mission organization…. Long long before anyone had thought of such a thing. He urged that everyone… every church… every minister should share the gospel to lost people groups… not just preaching to those already in the church, or just waiting for some calling from God. Welz suggested that The Jesus Loving Society was to be composed of three groups: Missions sponsors and promoters (they provided the money) Missions directors and secretaries (they provided the organization and leadership) Missionary volunteers who would serve overseas for 2 to 3 years, sharing the Gospel. (They provided the hands, feet, and voice… to bring the message of Christ to all people)Each missionary would study geography, history of the church, early church missions, Paul’s missionary journeys, evangelism, and foreign languages. Once the missionaries would arrive in their ministry country, they would study local customs, and local religions. They would learn the local language, translate portions of the Bible, and send back regular reports to home supporters.

This is a new idea. The Protestant churches at that time, did not think of the Gospel as for the whole world. They just focused on their own neighborhoods. Some of the theologians actually taught that it was wrong or evil to share the Gospel with non-Christians… or “heathens” as they would call non-Christians.

Welz felt that universities should train students to be missionaries. They should be trained in language, world religions, and other subjects related to missions. He invested a large amount of money to accomplish this. His ideas, however, were not accepted.

Welz, asked “Is it right for Christians to keep the Gospel to themselves rather than sharing it with others?  Is it right for so many theological students to sit around awaiting suitable appointments or perhaps becoming schoolmasters rather than venturing forth to preach to the heathen?  Is it right for Christians to spend so much money on amusement, expensive habits of food and dress, give no thought or money for the dissemination of the Gospel?”  He could not interest others in his day to serve as missionaries, so he chose to go himself. A religious leader described him as ““… a dreamer, fanatic, hypocrite and heretic, …. it was absurd, even wicked, to cast the pearls of the gospel before the heathen.” He left for Surinam… a tropical region in South America. He left in 1666. We know that he was dead by 1668, probably of malaria. As far as we know, he was unable to lead a single person in Surinam to Christ.

At the end of his life, one could call his story: “Justinian von Welz— the Failure.” There were other men of his time… noblemen… kings… who built palaces… conquered countries… did things that changed the world. But von Welz died a failure… changing nothing. But his story did not end with his death…

Less than 30 years after his death, the University of Halle set up a program for training missionaries built on the principles and proposals of von Welz. They were able to train university students to travel all over the world as missionaries. 70 years after von Welz’ departure for Surinam, mission families from Moravia, Germany travelled to Surinam to restart the work that von Welz had begun. 125 years after von Welz death, William Carey, Andrew Fuller and others established the first real Mission Society or Mission agency, based largely on the principles that von Welz had described over a century before. 150 years after von Welz death, there are dozens of mission agencies built on similar principles to his Jesus Loving Society, sending out hundreds of missionaries throughout the world. 350 years after von Welz death, we are here in the Philippines, in Mabalacat, Pampanga, talking about how we are joining Justinian von Welz in seeing what we can do to share the Gospel of Christ to the whole world. Justinian von Welz was a success… in God’s eyes. He is not alone. Jesus had a similar life story. He preached and healed for three years… he trained disciples… but then he was captured. His friends and supporters deserted him. Jesus was judged and found guilty… and killed as a criminal… an enemy of the State. And if we stopped there, we could easily say that he was a failure…. Died a failure. But we know that there is more to that story.

Jesus conquered death and was recognized as a true success. And in his actions, we have inspiration for what we are to do. Read Philippians 2:3-11

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. He obediently humbled himself… and God the Father raised him up and exalted him.

The Bible said that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to use for His own advantage… He was a King but chose to be a humble servant… and seen as a failure to the world around that thinks of emperors, and military leaders as successes. Because of this… God has exalted Him… raised him high… declared him victorious.  

You know… when you think about it. God has a very different view of success than we commonly do. Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-2

25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave That is a very different attitude. Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus were great historians from the first century. One mentioned Jesus in a couple of sentences. One mentioned him in only one sentence and even then mispelled his name. Another did not mention him at all. But today, there is no one better known in human history than Jesus Christ. A king who became a servant.

Justinian von Welz was a nobleman… a baron. He was rich and could have used his position and wealth to impress the world. Instead he gave away his money, and renounced his noble birth to serve God. Today, 350 years later, we still talk about Justinian von Welz… while nearly all of the people who lived when he lived lie silent in forgotten graves. So what? What does that have to do with us?

I like to look at what your church has done over the years. We have known Ptr. Noel and Tita for 11 years, and Ryanne almost as long. It is exciting the various outreaches that are being done here. I see children’s outreach, music and youth ministries, feeding programs… and more. You have much to look back upon and feel pride.

Anniversaries are special this way. They are a time to look backwards… but also to look forwards. What path has God led us on. What is God doing right now. Where is God taking us into the future. After all God is always at work… whether we are working or not. But we must always ask ourselves the question… Are we working for God… or working for ourselves?

Another story… I like stories. This one is about my dad. My father was an engineer… a mechanico. He was hard working and smart. In fact, in addition to being an engineer… he was the President of the Board of Trustees of the local school… a school of several hundred students. One day, when I was 7 years old, my dad came home from the school and told me that he quit his work with the school. I was shocked. Even at 7 years old, I knew that this was a job of respect and power in our town. I asked my dad… “Why did you quit?” My dad responded, “That job required me to be gone so many evenings, so I quit. It is more important for me to be home with my family.” That seemed so stupid. I didn’t tell my dad that, of course. But it seemed so obvious that you would keep a job that adds status and honor… even if it means being away from the family. But over time, I began to understand that my dad was choosing what was most important. A few years later, his engineering boss retired… and my dad was offered that higher job. My dad said NO… he did not want the job. My dad said he did not want the job because it would require him to travel a lot, and he wanted to be home with his family, and serving in the church as head deacon. By this time… I did not think this was stupid. I understood his wisdom. Instead of choosing what was important… he was choosing what was MOST important.

He taught me what was most important.

So when I look back at my Dad, I see someone who knew what was most important. His family and his church were more important than money or status or prestige. And I would suggest that you reflect on this too… make sure that you take care of your church family. Prioritize what is most important as an example to the next generation… both inside your church and outside of your church. When I look back at Justinian von Welz… I see someone who is a man of divine vision… ahead of his time… breaking away from what those around said was God’s will. He moved forward with such passion that even though he was seen as a failure in his time, he left a vision that has inspired generations of Christians down to the present age. You have the opportunity to transform Mabalacat, Pampanga, Tarlac… the Philippines… the World in ways that you may now think is impossible. To do so, may produce ridicule from others… but when doing the will of God, one may have to set aside comfort… ease… for something better… an inspiration for future generations.

When I look at Jesus… who set aside his glory to be a servant… and example of humility driven by love… He set His heart on the Kingdom of God… not some little kingdom here. I see one whose heart inspires me to stop trying to be a king… stop trying to build my little kingdom… but seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. You can create a great church… with a great and mighty ministry. And that would certainly be exciting. But maybe better than a great church… is a good church… one that humbly serves God by humbly serving the community it is in… a safe harbor in stormy seas.

How does one make that happen? I don’t know. I am not part of your church… it is between you and God. But be reminded of the verses we read. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,But whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave This sounds backwards… but it is not. Jesus said this is how the kingdom of God works. Those who humble themselves before God… will be exalted. Those who seek to be first will be last… and those who are last… they shall be first. Those who seek greatness, must serve others. Those who who will serve God and others like a slave might… we be first before God.

And this is what I hope and pray for you all and your church. I want your church to be a mighty, a great, a prestigious, a powerful church. I want your church be honored by those around and members of the church to be people of influence in the community. I want those things. I I suspect you want those things too. However, don’t want them too much. Don’t seek might, greatness, prestige, honor, influence.

Seek to be humble servants of those in need of help. Take on the role of a servant in your community, in your country, in the world. Faithfully serving God and not yourself. In due time, you will be exalted… a success… in the eyes of God.

Spiritual Abuse Collection

Years ago I created several slide presentations on Spiritual Abuse. I am not an expert, but I have a great interest in the topic, and modest experience in it. So, I did some minor updates and have them below.

Part 1. Spiritual Abuse— Characterisits and Methods.

Part 2. Spiritual Abuse— Abusive Leaders.

Part 3. Spiritual Abuse— Religious Addiction.

Part 4. Spiritual Abuse— Structures.

Part 5. Spiritual Abuse— Where Is It From.

Part 6. Spiritual Abuse— Treatment.

Structurally Messy Churches Are a Good Thing– Part 2

Continued from Part 1,

Previously, I have argued that from the perspective of the Bible, Structurally Messy Churches are fine— or at least not anti-Biblical or sub-Biblical. That is nice to know, but is far from suggesting it is a good thing.

I would like to argue that it is a good thing from a more cultural or sociological perspective.

The more that a church moves towards centralized power structure, the more it moves towards a “SIMPLEX SOCIETY.” The more it moves away from that, the more it tends towards a “MULTIPLEX SOCIETY.”

It is true that power structure is not the only determiner of the type of society that develops. The larger the structure, the more likely it is to be Simplex. That is why urban settings tend to be Simplex while rural settings tend to be Multiplex. If Multiplex is better, that might suggest that megachurches are worse than small churches. However, personally, I believe that a megachurch can structure itself as a Multiplex society at least to a certain extent. So I am considering the structure here more than size.

I would like to quote from my book, “Ministry in Diversity.” This is not because I am such a great authority on this topic, but because I don’t want to type a lot of this twice—

Simplex and Multiplex Relationships

Any group exists as a complex structural web of relationships. Some relationships involve one having a higher status than the other.  Among these:

  • Parent-Child
  • Employer-Employee
  • Elder-Youth
  • Religious leader-Religious adherent
  • Political leader-Citizen

Other relationships do not inherently have unequal status. Some of these include:

  • Friends
  • Classmates
  • Work Colleagues
  • Fellow students
  • Churchmates
  • Neighbors

Suppose there are two people with the fairly uninspiring names of “A” and “B”.  If there is only one thing that defines the connection between the two, they may be said to have a “simplex role relationship.” For example, one may be a boss and the other an employee, and they interact on no other level than that. They don’t know each other in any other setting, such as neighborhood, church, or social club. If, however, there are multiple ways that “A” and “B” connect, they may be said to have a “multiplex role relationship.”

In Table 4, two people, this time named “Paul” and “Roland”, have three major defined roles between the two. One of the roles is equal (friends) while the other two would be considered unequal. In one, “Paul” has a higher status than “Roland,” while in the other, “Roland” has a higher status than “Paul.” This is not uncommon. Multiplex role relationships can make things challenging for individuals – especially for those who have difficulty in switching roles. “Paul” needs to learn to be a leader in one setting with respect to “Roland”, and a follower in another.

PastorChurch MemberUnequal
Barangay ResidentBarangay CaptainUnequal

Table 4. Multiplex Role Relationship Example

It is quite possible that Simplex Role Relationships never, strictly speaking, exist on a broad scale. However, they are more common in large urban communities. Figure 17 shows a “web” of simplex role relationships. Consider Marife.

Marife lives in a large city in the Philippines. In the early morning, as she gets ready for work, various vendors come by selling puto, pan de sal, taho, and more. She sometimes buys from them but she knows them in no other relationship than vendor and customer. She walks out of the door and waves at a neighbor. They are friendly enough but interact on no other level than neighbors sharing the same community. She rides a tricycle to work. Again, the tricycle drivers she knows on no other level than as drivers. At work, she works for her boss and has coworkers. She likes the job well enough, but really does not interact with them outside of work. Her friends are people she has connected with over the years, but the relationships are only social. She does not work with them, or live near them, or have professional connections with them.

Figure 17. Simplex Role Relationships

Again, a society that only exists with simplex role relationships probably never fully exists, but in urban settings, this is much more common. In small communities, people often connect on several levels. They may be neighbors, attend the same church, do business with each other, and so forth. Figure 18 shows a network of multiplex relationships. In such a web, some will have no relationship with each other at all, such as  “1” and “2.” Some, such as “Self” and “3,” have multiplex role relationships. Sometimes, unusual relationships can occur. Consider the triangular relationship of “Self” with “1” and “5.” “Self” has a higher status than “5,” who has a higher status than “1,” who, in turn, has a higher status than “Self.”

Figure 18. Multiplex Relationships

This may seem strange, but people can be involved in many organized structures and may be higher in one structure and lower in another. Even within one church, these things can happen. The pastor of the church may have a subordinate position on the church council. The head of the church council is in a Sunday School class under a third person who serves as teacher. That teacher is subordinate to the pastor who is the spiritual leader of the church.

Okay, I will leave the book here. Multiplex societies are challenging but also more fulfilling. That is because relationships are deeper when they are more complex. When I was young, the pastor of my church was also my neighbor, and my bus driver. As such, my relationship with him was much more “three-dimensional” than for a typical 6 year old. It seems strange for many of us to hear stories of people living in megacities and being incredibly lonely. However, in cities there is a risk that all relationships are uni-directional, simplex, and even merely transactional. This can happen in large churches as well, where people attend church but never seem to find their place. Relationships in multiplex groups are much more rich. Since a church is described as a body or as a family, it seems as if the ideal situation is that the church is functionally diverse, and relationally deep.

This is better developed in churches that do not have a strong, inflexible, power structure. The extreme of this is a “cult.” When I use the term, I am not referring to heterodoxy, but referring to a group that uses a high level of manipulation and coercion to put the power of the many into the hands of the few. There are many ways this is done (I have created several Slideshows on this) but among the ways is to place the leader or leaders above the rest where full power is given over the group. Another is to encourage keeping secrets by making people distrust each other. The relationships are often defined by power and that power flows in only one direction. This dynamic is commonly described as “spiritual abuse.” But beyond abuse, the situation is commonly seen as relationally sterile and lonely after awhile. This is curious because at first, a member joining the group feels so much love— like part of a family. But over time the true situation reveals itself. Much like in a toxic romantic relationship, the members of the cult will “romance” a new potential member, much like a toxic person “love bombs” another in hopes of ensnaring that person into his (sometimes her) own controlling power dynamic. Soon love is limited to words— devoid of action.

The same thing can show itself in other situations as well. Many churches follow the “umbrella model” that is promoted by various groups— especially those who are part of the Shepherding Movement, or those embracing Complementarian Theology. With the Umbrella, God’s protective umbrella protects those who submit to Him. But under that umbrella is another umbrella— that of the church leader(s). Those who submit fully to the leader is under his (or her) spiritual protection, as well as God’s. There can be other umbrellas, like the cell-group leader, or the “apostle,” or the husband over the wife, and the wife over the children. It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it. Jesus, however, turned leadership on its head.

While, some aspects of this is not bad— in some ways it can even be good— it tends to be very unidirectional. The G-12 model that used to be quite popular in the Philippines (and still is practiced by some churches) embraced a rather unidirectional and transactional understanding of church. It is a cell church model. There is nothing really wrong with cell groups or cell churches. There is even a logic associated with them. Big churches tend to be relationally sterile (because of what I mentioned before), so establishing everyone in small groups seeks to fix this. However, G-12 (I cannot speak for all cell church models) took from Yonggi Cho the Confucian principle of unbalanced relationships and then claimed that these were Biblical and set in stone. So all power flows in one direction, and communication between cells is discouraged, and holding leaders accountable is viewed as insubordination. In the Confucian model, those in power are supposed to be benevolent, but because there is no feedback loop of accountability, the system is left to the whim of those in power.

In my mind, a good idea (promotion of small groups) was poisoned by a non-Christian view of leadership and power. It is hardly surprising that G-12 churches often (but not necessarily always) have a reputation of focusing on numbers and status. When relationships become so simple (simplex) they tend to become transactional. (“I tell you to do _________, and then you do _______ for me” becomes the basis for the relationship.)

I will say again one of my favorite sayings, “If one does not hold one’s leaders accountable, one is not a supporter— but merely a fan.”

Small groups in churches are very healthy, but the flow of power should be murky and complex (multiplex). While this seems odd, it tends to produce rich, dynamic relationships in the church. Leaders lead, but primarily through example, guiding, and serving. The other members open themselves up to learning and following, but also to holding their leaders accountable, and leading through example, guiding, and serving as well.

Structurally Messy Churches Are a Good Thing– Part I

There are both good things and bad things associated with having a highly structured church with unambiguous lines of authority. But I would like to make the case for “Messy Church,” where authority and structure are rather murky, or inconsistent.

Point #1. Biblically, the primitive church of the first century does appear to be rather messy. Attempts to discover the “Real Biblical” model for Church governance appears to be rather hopeless. As a Baptist, I am aware of the attempt to push all leadership roles into Senior Pastor (a single spiritual leader) and Deacons (a group of ministerial leaders). While I don’t really have a problem with this, the early church did appear to have elders with authority. It is difficult, at best, to make elders fit with that model, though many have tried. I read a book not long back (forgot the name and my copy is in the Philippines right now) that made the argument that the church of Philippi had no (formal) centralized leadership. Although the argument is based on limited information, it seems fairly reasonable since the early churches seemed to be more like house church networks. A house church network almost has to operate with a distribution of authority (although cell churches often maintain a strong hierarchy, at a cost… more on that later). The idea of a strong church leader, especially one who has a ‘vicar’ role does not seem to develop until the canon closes. Although Ignatius of Antioch (in the early second century) definitely strongly promoted obeying the church leaders, this does not appear to be a universal view (which may be why he kept on that topic with so many of his letters). In fact, the only person who seemed to try to exercise strong authority in the early church (Diotrophes in Third John) was viewed as deeply problematic by the Apostle John. But even here, John’s planned corrective was one more of persuasion than exercising authority. While there is a lot of talk today about “apostolic authority, I don’t see a lot of evidence in the Bible that apostles exercised such authority. In fact, it seems like, with the possible exception of the church of Jerusalem, apostles did not exercise much authority, if any, over the churches beyond their initial role of starting churches and assigning leaders to take over the role of guiding the church.

It is pretty clear from First Corinthians and Revelation chapters 2 and 3 that there were power blocs in churches. This should hardly surprise if the early churches were more like house church networks. Different house churches are not going to be identical. Paul specifically challenged the Corinthian church regarding the members who sought to identify themselves with various powerful leaders (described as Paul, Peter, Apollos, Christ). Paul’s corrective was not to say that one group was right and the rest were wrong, but rather that all were wrong because they were embracing a lack of unity in the church. However, the unity Paul was seeking was not a unity of church authority, seemingly, since the corrective was neither to embrace the local leader of the church nor that of an outside authority. The corrective was to identify the church as a spiritual unity, that has diversity in roles, in gifts, (and yes,) in authority. Some authority offices are listed, but not consistently. There is no formal definition of who is an apostle and who is not. One has to go to the Didache to learn that apostles were essentially churchplanters sent out of the local church who work outside of the normal structure of the church. It is also in the Didache that we learn that prophets were seen generally as traveling preachers. Within the church there are a number of terms used (pastor, overseer, shepherd, elder, (and maybe) messenger) for a spiritual leader, but the role is not clearly defined and it is not clear to what extent these terms are used interchangeably, or seen as being somehow different. It is possible that different terms suggest that different churches used different terms or operated differently. Paul describes a pastor as also a teacher, but in numerous places (in the NT as well as apostolic fathers) teacher is very much a separate position. It is not clear whether Evangelist should be seen as a role separate from Apostle. (Timothy was described as both an Apostle and an Evangelist. Philip was called an Evangelist not an Apostle, but perhaps only to try to prevent confusion with the Apostle Philip— one of the Twelve.)

If you think that I have made a weak case by simply muddying up the water— point taken. However, I rather think that muddy is the intent of Scripture. Jesus consistently wants to muddy the water when it comes to authority.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

This is not just a passage ripped out of context that expresses something inconsistent with Christ’s view. In fact, several of the Gospels repeat this exchange, meaning they saw this as important. Jesus weakens the idea of formal power structures regularly. And the apostles did as well. Paul rarely tried to coerce others, but regularly points to people being led by the spirit. Other passages that are consistent with this include John 13:12-17, Mark 9:35, I Peter 5:1-4. In fact, the passage from I Peter focuses on leaders (elders) primarily as examples (spiritual guides). This is not unique, I Timothy 4:12 and Hebrews 13:7 also expresses leadership in terms of being an example. Paul’s guidance for Timothy with regard to who should be an overseer gives some general characteristics, but little is given to leadership. Arguably the statement regarding the ability to manage the family implies a certain capability to lead. However, the bigger issue is that one is capable to teach and being a good example.

So if those who are identified as leaders are those who are focused on Serving, good as Examples, and competent to Teach, does that mean that leaders don’t exercise any authority? No, they do certainly exercise some authority, but the early church simply did not have strong centralized leadership. It did not have a strong boundary between clergy and laity. It did not have a single form of church structure.

But suppose I am wrong here. Suppose the early local church DID have strong centralized leadership. Suppose the early church did have a strong boundary between clergy and laity. Suppose early churches did all have identical leadership structures. Does that mean that we have to embrace this? Probably not, because the canon passed down to us has kept that a secret from us. God would have made it clear in Scripture if there was “one way to do church.”

Okay, the main reason for writing this was not to say that the Bible is murky regarding power structures in the church. My main point is that such murkiness of power is actually GOOD. I simply wanted to point out that the most common argument against my proposal (“It ain’t Biblical”) is not true… or at least is highly presumptive.

Part 2 will get more into my point.

Review: Cross-Cultural Servanthood— by Duane Elmer

I want to say that this is the best Christian Missions book I have read in a long time. The problem with that is that I have been rather blessed in having read a lot of good Missions books lately. Maybe it is better to say that it is “THE MOST READABLE, RELEVANT, AND QUOTABLE MISSIONS BOOK” I have read in a long time.

The title is “Cross-Cultural Servanthood— Serving the World in Christlike Humility.” The author, Duane Elmer is (or was?) a professor of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The title is pretty much the way it is. It gives guidance for missionaries, particularly, to serve cross-culturally as servants. I was also quite surprised in the amount of missionary member care was in this book. That is good and the book is driven as much by stories as by concepts.

This is personal for me, but I particularly appreciate his chapter on leadership. He particularly avoids emphasizing the term “Servant Leader.” While there is nothing wrong with the term in theory, in practice many people use the term more like “servant LEADER.” Elmer suggests the opposite. The key role of a missionary is to be a servant. The missionary should not necessarily embrace leadership roles— it is okay at times, but often it is better to leave leadership to others. However, missionaries should ALWAYS be servants. As such, missionaries should be SERVANTS or at times SERVANT leaders.

He promotes the Tribal Chief vision for leadership. A lot of people think that Tribal Chiefs are autocratic, but this is rarely so. In most cases, a tribal chief works with tribal elders to come up with a consensus and then acts as the mouthpiece of the elders to the people. We find Moses gradually moving from a Pharoah- style autocrat towards being more of a tribal chief. He gradually passed on authority to tribal elders. And many of the disagreements that came up between the elders and Moses probably point to a more collegial gathering that would OCCASIONALLY go off the rails when the consensus went against clear direction from God.

The misunderstanding of Tribal Chief leadership is hardly surprising. I was in the military and it is surprising how many Christians idealize military leadership— a system that is absolutely HORRIBLE AND INEFFICIENT except in times of military conflict. And even then, the idea that orders are always to be obeyed shows a lack of understanding of how the chain of command really works.

Anyway, the book is about much more than leadership as it relates to missionaries, and cross-cultural circumstances. At times I feel good as I read stories in the book of mistakes I did not make… while at other times I feel that discomfort of seeing myself making exactly those mistakes. I am talking about leadership here because that was the chapter that struck me the most. But much of it has to do with healthy relationships and the right attitude to serve in another setting. The author provides a fairly simple (simple in concept…. a lifetime to perfect) model for acculturation.

Definitely recommend this book to all involved in missions or cross-cultural ministry.


Struggling with the Issue of the “Wrath of God”

I was raised up in a fundamentalist (but not all capitalized FUNDAMENTLIST) church. One of the things I learned is that the death of Christ is to turn away God’s wrath. I was told in college that propitiation was the term meaning to turn away God’s wrath. When I became a little more familiar with Greek, I realize that this seems to be more of a “theological interpretation” of the Greek, “hilastērion” and “hilasmos,” rather than an actual translation of the Greek. Still, in the Bible it is pretty clear that the sacrifice of Christ in some ways remove an impediment to the tangible receipt of God’s favor.

I kind of feel like there is nothing wrong with this basic understanding. HOWEVER, my issues has been in the abuse of the idea.

#1. Excess. I remember reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. I have friends who are big fans of Edwards and his Puritan theology. Since I don’t really embrace the Reformed Tradition, I can’t really see the appeal. Nevertheless, the imagery in the sermon of Edwards is quite memorable. I can still picture in my mind’s eye, myself dangling by a thread as if a detestable spider over the fires of Hell with God looking at me with repugnance, ready to drop me to eternal doom.

There are a lot of problems with this. First, it really makes God to look pretty awful. Some may saw that we are not to judge God (whether awesome or awful), but if we are supposed to love God, it would help if we see something in God that is lovable. Second, it seems to perpetuate with Tritheistic view of God. With Tritheism, there is not a unity of God expressed in three persons, but three persons expressed as three Gods. The imagery looks like there is God the Father entirely repulsed and angry at mankind and looking forward to cast well-deserved judgment on all forever, but then Jesus comes in and spoils the show by showing that He took on the judgment. The imagery makes God look double-minded— almost like the overly-simplified view that the God of the OT is angry and judgmental, while the God of the NT is merciful and loving. (Had a friend who tried to reconcile this seeming contradiction by pointing out all the places in the NT where God is angry and judgmental. I feel a better direction is to show all the places in the OT that God is merciful and loving.) But if we accept a Trinitarian understanding of God, then God is not “at odds” with Himself.

And what are the ramifications to a Trinitarian understanding of God as it relates to propitiation (and expiation if you want)? For one, God is apparently not as consumed by wrath regarding sin as we may be tempted to think. This is not suggesting that God approves of sin, or that sin has no divine consequences. However, the “wrath of God” regarding sin and how God “cannot look upon sin” is probably more metaphoric. Why? Because Jesus, ‘in very nature God, lived on earth for 33 years without living in deep anger. There are one a couple of times when Jesus was described as angry and neither was about behavior that we would typically describe as ‘sin.’ The most common emotion noted in the Gospels for Jesus was compassion. Compassion is essentially love and empathy that motivates a behavioral response.

A second ramification of a Trinitarian understanding of God is that the metaphor of justification (the court room with God the Father as judge and Jesus as mediator) is just that… a metaphor. And metaphors always break down when you try to reify them. The Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) are not at odds. They are all on the same side. In line with Missio Dei theology, the Father sent the Son into the World, and both sent the Holy Spirit into the World, for our salvation due to God’s love and benevolence.

ἱλασμὸν (Hilasmos), the word that is used mostly for “propitiation” is found twice in the New Testament, both by John. It is found in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10. (It seems like ‘Hilasterion’ is more commonly translated as ‘expiation.’

Let’s look at 1 John 2:2 for a moment. I would like to start with the Amplified Version.

And He [that same Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins [the atoning sacrifice that holds back the wrath of God that would otherwise be directed at us because of our sinful nature—our worldliness, our lifestyle]; and not for ours alone, but also for [the sins of all believers throughout] the whole world. -1 John 2:2 (Amplified)

Now let’s look at the same verse in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. -1 John 2:2 (CSB)

While there are values to the Amplified Bible, I think, I believe you can see here one of the risks. Essentially, the Amplified version tries to force this verse into a theological framework. There is nothing in the verse about the wrath of God, unless one understands the term “wrath of God” as simply a colorful way of referring to “God’s judgment.” The verse doesn’t really have anything to do with sinful nature. In fact, the broader passage is about the call to live obediently according to the will of God. It is possible to surmise that our need for atonement comes from our sinful nature, but it is simply not spoken of in this verse. Frankly, later on the Amplified limits to sacrifice of Christ to all believers. Not sure if the paraphrasers of the Amplified were 5-point Calvinists and so felt that the work of Christ was only done ‘for the elect,’ or whether they were simply trying to avoid people assuming a sort of salvific Universalism. Regardless, it seems to me that the additions to the verse is presumptive at best, and arguably quite manipulative.

1 John 4:10

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath]. -1 John 4:10 (Amplified)

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10 (CSB)

The Amplified version is not so egregious here, but definitely assumes that propitiation is tied to ‘wrath,’ even though it is doesn’t really appear to (unless, again, one is using the term as short-hand for God’s judgment). The Amplified also seems to push for a Penal Substitutionary Atonement perspective of the atonement. I think that is somewhat justified, although I think the atonement is a concept much bigger than what can be fit into one theory/perspective. The CSB avoids the problem the same way it did in 1 John 2:2 where Hilasmos was translated at atoning sacrifice— leaving a lot of room for mystery.

Ultimately, a Trinitarian understanding of Propitiation does not show a God overcome by wrath, needing blood to appease Him. Rather, we find a God overcome by love who seeks to demonstrate that love in a remarkable act of self-sacrifice— providing a way to restoration of God’s favor (expiation) and away from judgment (propitiation).

I noticing that I am spending more time on Propitiation than on God’s Wrath. However, in many of the passages in the Bible that describes God’s wrath, the term seems to be used as a substitute for God’s judgment. In some ways that is not an issue. However, if the term is most commonly used as another way of speaking of God’s judgment, then images such as the one I described from Jonathan Edwards falls apart. God’s judgement does not flow from God’s wrath. Rather God’s judgment is something That God desires not to impose due to His love. If the dominant character of God, according to Jesus is that God is love, that seems appropriate. God’s love doesn’t mean that He may not mete out judgment, but rather that it is never His desire to do so.

<If this post sounds a bit ‘all over the place,’ I apologize. I am wrestling with some theological stuff that is outside of my own specialization. As such, this wrestling is going to be a bit messy. I haven’t settled on a fully reconciled understanding. However, if we take the two NT passages that use Hilasmos, it is clear the focus is squarely on God’s love, not wrath.>

Christian Missions and Pastoral Care

Christian Missions seems so opposite to Pastoral Care. Christian Missions is usually linked with proclamation and apologetics. Pastoral Care is more tied to listening and eductive learning. Christian Missions usually seeks to change others. Pastoral Care is usually more focused on empowering others to change themselves— or at least understand themselves better.

But there are a lot of areas where Christian Missions overlap with Pastoral Care. I have written on this before. However, there are clear areas of overlap.

Missionary Member Care. This one is obvious. MMC is, in many ways, pastoral care for missionaries.

Interreligious Dialogue. This is less obvious. However, living in a pluralistic world, with many cultures having a worldview that is decidedly not Christian, the ability to understand, learn, and build relationships with those of other faiths is critical. Incompetence to do IRD is likely to lead to incompetence in engaging with people of other cultures.

Christian Missions. Okay, this is a bit funny. I am suggesting that Christian Missions exists completely within the bounds of Pastoral Care. Perhaps this is a bit much. However, I would suggest reading the book, CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTHOOD: SERVING THE WORLD IN CHRISTLIKE HUMILITY by Duane Elmer (IVP Books, 2006).

Much like books on Servant Leadership books that have popularized a radically different view of leadership, “Cross-cultural Servanthood” makes the case that the Servant model is ideal for Missionaries (especially in the context of cross-cultural settings, at least in the context of the book). I believe that the book makes a strong case that Servanthood is the ideal, most effective, best way to serve as a missionary.

Fine… but when one reads the book on what it means to be a servant missionary, the book reads like a Pastoral Care book. Consider the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that did a study as to who is most effective in serving overseas (cross-culturally). The three top things were found to be (described in pages 96 and 97 of Elmer’s :

  1. “… Ability to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships with the local people.”
  2. “… A strong sense of self-identity, which allowed people to be real with each other.”
  3. “… Positive, realistic predeparture expectations.”

If one looks at these three— the first two are very much tied to Pastoral Care and Counseling. Perhaps the third one isn’t, but definitely the first two fit.

Back when I was going to seminary, I focused on missions courses while my wife focused on pastoral care courses. I think that as a couple, that worked out well. However, I later found the need to try to “catch up” in the pastoral care area. In retrospect, pastoral care is vital to missions, and I was disadvantaged with the presumption that pastoral care did not have much to do with Missions.

Take away: While language learning is important (I wish I had taken it more seriously), as are the skills of contextualization, Pastoral Care and Counseling## is probably the next most important thing in Christian Missions.

##Pastoral Care and Counseling here does NOT refer to formulas of counseling, or of verse-bombing. I am referring the the art of Pastoral Theology and Care that has been passed down from the Original founders of the church, through church history until today. Sadly, Pastoral Care has been messed with on both sides— those who have most to an overly secular model, and those who have embraced a Biblicist (arguably SUB-Biblical) model.

Other Links:

7 Rules of Pastoral Conversation

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 1

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 2

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 3

Paradoxical Ad Strategy

I am sure there is a nice term for this, but since I am not involved in marketing, I don’t know what it is. But here are a few examples.

  • A Christian theologian who I really appreciate moved his personal blog onto Patheos. Of course, Patheos has a LOT of advertisements on the webpage they provide. This theologian’s Patheos page is full of really cringy ads such as one related to divination (through one’s “personal angel”) or attempts to lure readers to some pretty sketchy groups that are definitely outside of historical Christianity.
  • I was watching a very popular video on problems with NFTs and cryptocurrency. Youtube had advertisements on that video for various cryptocurrency vehicles.
  • I was viewing a Q&A on a financial management website. There were a number of advertisements attached to it that recommended things that that website oppose.
  • Not long ago, the musical “The Book of Mormon” was quite popular, and the LDS (largest Mormon group) advertised their religion targeting those who went to this show that was humorously adversarial and mocking of that faith.

MLMs advertising on programs that oppose MLMs and more are out there. Why is that? At first it seems rather ridiculous. After all, if I am watching a show that does a good job of dismantling the logic behind NFTs, wouldn’t I be especially turned off by any group that is promoting that product? Probably, YES. However, that is not the point.

Suppose I want to sell people a Perpetual Motion (PM) device. (Such a device doesn’t exist, by the way.) Where would I try to market it. If I just set up a website for it, very few people would end up there, unless, I have some way of drawing them in. But suppose there is a science show (Youtube or some other media service) that has an episode that shows clearly why PM devices are impossible. One might think this is a bad place to advertise. After all, they are shown how foolish and impossible your product is. But there is a different way of looking at it. Many of the people who view this show are convinced by the show of the infeasibilty of PM devices. Actually, more likely they were already convinced that PM devices are impossible because they violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. However, there are still likely to be many people who are more casually interested in the topic. These people one might call “Seekers,” or those who are interested in the topic of PM devices but may not have firm convictions. Some may even be believers in PM devices. It is likely that that there is a higher percentage of Believers and Seekers who view the show than there are in the general populace. As such, the advertisement is probably effective.

The same could be said with the other examples above. It seems a bit silly at first to advertise in a place that is actively hostile to what you are advertising… but upon further consideration, the people who show up there are probably more likely to be intrigued by your advertisement than the average person.

So what does that mean in terms of Christian ministry. Christians have often sought to use their group influence to shut down perspectives that are offensive to Christians (in societies where they have a dominant role). Maybe, however, instead of opposing them… support them. Support them by advertising with them. It is likely that a higher percentage of Seekers exist in a place that is attacking Christianity than where religion is not addressed.

I gave this example before. Several years ago, I took my son to an MMA fight in Baguio City. The fight is a blood sport (technically) and as such is rather questionable (at least to many). At the activity, there was a heavy metal band playing, among other things, AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells,” ring girls in revealing outfits (revealing by Philippine standards anyway), Colt 45 beer being heavily promoted and given away, and generally a setting that many Christians would not be comfortable with. In that setting, right after the music and the beer give-away, the regular part of the event with an Invocation. A pastor came forward and did a prayer blessing the fight and all those who participated in it. I have often wondered if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I have kind of come to the conclusion that if I was asked to do the invocation I would decline the offer (gently). However, I am glad that a pastor DID accept the offer and remind people that God is with them and seeks to protect and bless. It seems kind of contrary to logic… but where people are struggling to be thrilled with the common cultural alternatives (sex, violence, booze, music, and spectacle), it may be exactly the right place to get them to think about God… even if for a moment.

But what about us? Is there a danger in the silly advertisements that show up tied to legitimate and instructional media? Yes. Illegitimate groups seek legitimacy in the minds of viewers through advertisements. Doing this (like using similar terminology and seeming to claim the same authorities) give a false association. This is especially true when the advertisement pretends to agree with the media it is attached to.