Considered Quote on Missionaries

As I have noted before, I don’t have problems not being called a missionary. The term most definitely has baggage. In fact, although the best Biblical term for missionary is “apostle,” I strongly recommend avoiding that term as the 2nd century church reinterpreted the term as a closed role associated with the Twelve— still a commonly held view by many. And seeing how Peter Wagner and friends have abused the term, it is probably best to never use the term term “apostle” today since it will invariably confuse and misinform. That same thing can be true of the term missionary where it is seen as old-fashioned (under gentle consideration) and imperialistic and exploitative in hasher reviews. For me, I am pretty comfortable with saying that I am a “cross-cultural minister” or use more exact terminology like “seminary professor” or “counseling center administrator.”

That being said, I do believe in redemption of terms. We don’t necessarily have to throw out a day of the year, or a term, simply because someone uses it in a way that we don’t like. Or, perhaps better said, one shouldn’t simply reaction— one must look at many different facets of something first. I do agree, for example, with the move in Christian ministry away from using the term “Crusade.” Although there is some in-group appreciation of the term hearkening back to revivalism and the saw-dust trail, pretty much all other facets are negative. It utilizes the war metaphor (one that has SOME value, but probably should be used less), points back to a unhealthy chapter of church history (even though the term wasn’t used back then), and is seen very negatively by many outsiders. Some symbols need to change.

However, I still have hopes for the term “missionary” despite its negative associations. Maybe someday it can be used positvely in places where it is seen negatively. A quote that I think gives a nice balance on this is one that I found in “Encountering the History of Mission” by John Mark Terry, Robert L Gallagher (Baker Academic, 2017). The quote is from Kenneth Scott Latourette, a great historian of Missions. In 1929 he stated regarding missionaries, particularly in China,

The missionaries were the one group of foreigners whose major endeavor was to make the impact of the West upon the Middle Kingdom of benefit to the Chinese. Bigoted and narrow they frequently were, occasionally superstitions, and sometimes domineering and serenely convinced of the superiority of Western culture and of their own particular form of Christianity. When all that can be said in criticism of the missionaries has been said, however, and it is not a little, the fact remains that nearly always at considerable and very often a great sacrifice they came to China, and in unsanitary and uncongenial surroundings, usually with insufficient stipends, often at the cost of their own lives or the lives that were dearer to them than their own, labored indefatigably for an alien people who did not want them or their message. Whatever may be the final judgment on the major premises, the method, and the results of the missionary enterprise, the fact cannot be gainsaid that for sheer altruism and heroic faith here is one of the bright pages in the history of the race,.

Kenneth Scott Latourette quoted in “Encountering the History of Mission” page 360.

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