Mary at the Feet of Jesus

One day Jesus was invited to the house of a woman named Martha, along with a number of his disciples.  The disciples sat on the floor in the main room, and Jesus began his instruction. Martha and her sister were not rich. They could not pass on the duties of preparation to the servants— servants they did not have. So Martha and Mary began to prepare the meal for their very special guests. It was a great honor, but also a great amount of work.

Mary, however, had heard second-hand some of the strange and exciting stories and teachings of Jesus. Thus, she would strain her ear to hear what Jesus and His disciples were saying inside the house. She would find reasons to linger by the door to listen. Jesus began to tell a story, and Mary did not want to walk away in the middle and not know the ending, or what the story means. She stood in the doorway for the entire story. But as the story ended the discussion began and she did not want to leave. She knew, however, that there was work to do. Regretfully, she began to back out to continue preparation; but Jesus looked at her and with a subtle motion of His hand beckoned her to sit down.

questions of her own but wasn’t sure if it was right and good to ask.

Before she had resolved this in her mind, her sister peaked into the room and attempted to wave her to come out. Martha gave her an exasperated look and tried to mouth silently to her to leave the guests alone.

Jesus looked up at Martha and said, “Oh, don’t be worried Martha. I invited her to join our little group. I hope you don’t mind.”

Martha responded, “I apologize to disturb you Lord. But don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Could you tell her to help me?”

Jesus then said, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things. If we eat now, or two hours from now doesn’t matter. If you truly need help, we all can help prepare the meal. None of that is vital. I am here not to eat or to sleep, but to teach and proclaim. That is what is most important and Mary has chosen the more important thing. I will not send her away, and I ask you not to pull her away either. In fact, if you want to join us, there is room in the circle f

She was nervous to do so, but she did want to listen if she could, and it certainly seemed right to do as their special guest requested. So she moved toward the corner of the room farthest from Jesus and prepared to sit down. Jesus responded, “No Mary. I want you to join the group, not hide in the back.” He motioned His disciples to make room in the circle, and Mary,  feeling out of place, sat down in the circle. This was foreign to her— other rabbis would not have allowed her to join in such a way. It was exciting to hear the words of Jesus directly and listen to the discussion and explanations and questions. She started to have or you as well.”

 

 

 

 

The 21st Century Church and the Quarantine

I am stuck (safely) at home in the Philippines. My family was supposed to fly to the US tomorrow, but we are under “enhanced quarantine” here and we had to cancel our flight.

Therefore, I am working on my book, “Mission to Samaria” during this time.

Here, church gatherings are ended for a now. Some argue whether to defy legal mandate. Some point to the early church and passages to obey God not man. Others point to passages that suggest that obeying government leaders IS obeying God. I don’t believe one should pick one part of the Bible while rejecting another. Faithfulness to God involves honoring our leaders, but still recognizing that we are ultimately judged by our honoring God, NOT the leaders.

I also know people who say that moving church gatherings from big buildings to small home gatherings is right and good because that is what the early church did. But that is flawed in two ways at least. First, we are called by God to be the 21st century church NOT the 1st century in the 21st century. Second, the primitive church met in houses out of economic and political necessity, not as an ideal. In fact, the early church first tried to gather on the temple grounds until driven out.

I do think that the early church is a model for us but in a different way. They showed how to endure in a hostile political climate. They gathered and communicated in creative ways, not being tied down to set structures. They defied government when they had to, but also tried to minimize the animosity.

The church today has options like at no other time. We can meet virtually, we can move and communicate, and we can create communities in almost any circumstance. We can share our faith in words and deeds like no other time in history as well. It is a wonderful time to creatively support the good task of protecting lives.

We need to develop the 21st church, not cry that the 20th century church is under attack. We can learn to do this from the 1st century church… Not by repeating what they did, but seeing how they creatively had dealt with impediments.

The Turing Test and IRD

crm-turing_test

I have never been a fan of the Turing Test. Alan Turing (1912-1954) proposed a test for determining whether and artificial intelligence can think “like a human.” The test suggests that if a person was communicating with an AI and was unable to distinguish whether or not he was talking to a computer or a person, then one would see the computer as thinking in a manner that a human was thinking. Essentially, if the external behavior is similar to a human, one should assume the internal mechanisms driving that behavior is similar. This is a deeply flawed premise (as the Chinese Box thought experiment has demonstrated), showing that what may appear to be internal intelligence is simply may simply be the intelligence of the outside programmer.  That problem with the Turing Test is well understood.

But there is an even more fundamental flaw as far as I can see. It is the fact that we try to see personality patterns in the words that come our way— even patterns that don’t actually exist.  It is much like how we tend to see faces or other patterns in random dots on a wall, or in the stars in the night sky.

A great example of this is in a video on Artificial Intelligence, put out by the Youtube channel “VSauce.” Only a part of the video relates to this post. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZXpgf8N6hs&vl=en

In that video, there was an experiment that mimicked the old show, “The Dating Game.” Female contestants would ask questions of three eligible bachelors on the other side of screen. The answers would be transferred to the host to be read to the woman. Bachelors #1 and #3 were human, but bachelor #2 was a computer program. So, for example, the first female contestant would ask what his body was like. He responded with one word— “toned.” The woman thinks that he is a bit full of himself. When she asks bachelor #2 the same question, “he” responds, “I have two arms, two legs, and one head.” She decides that he has a weird sense of humor. As different women go through the questioning, some end up preferring Bachelor #1, and some Bachelor #3. But two of them preferred Bachelor #2… the computer. Why was this? Some found the answers of the computer to be intriguing, or demonstrating a strange sense of humor. This was a mistake. They were overlaying emotions and personality on a computer simulation that had neither. Even the ones that chose bachelor #1 or #3 were also incorrectly inferring personality in the computer. Some thought the prosaic answers as being condescending or snarky. This was likewise not true.

Why does this happen? As noted above, we look for patterns, and much of those patterns are based on guesses and past experiences. One female contestant determined that bachelor #2 was just like one of her ex-boyfriends. The fact was that the two had absolutely nothing in common. Some answers of #2, however, reminded her in some ways to answers she might get from her ex, and so she embued the answers with her ex’s personality. All of them did this to some extent. Inferring personality, thought processes, and motives from words is a very uncertain art.

So what does this have to do with Interreligious dialogue (IRD)?

When speaking to a person committed to and immersed in a different religion, we are talking to a person who has some serious differences in worldview. They are not aliens or completely inscrutable. However, they hold to perspectives that may seem quite alien to us. We then are affected by several things in these conversations:

  • We are affected by religious prejudices, both positive and negative, that make us guess “what is really going on” inside the other person. It is much like friends of mine who accuse politician A while excusing politician B while possibly even commending politician C for the same identical behavior. They determine the motivations and morality of the person through political biases. Sadly, our prejudices are often dangerously wrong— often leading to demonization of “them” while not holding “us” accountable.
  • We look for commonalities that may not exist. Similar language may suggest similar values and meanings incorrectly.
  • We look for differences that may not exist. Different language may suggest different values and meanings incorrectly.
  • We are affected by transference, seeing similar behaviors and language to someone else one knows may lead one to assume that they are similar. Suppose for example, one meets a Hindu who does not eat meat due to religious convictions. Or perhaps one is talking to another person who chooses to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle because of health issues or having concerns with the meat industry. Maybe talking to one or both of them reminds one of a neighbor who thinks that all omnivores are immoral and stupid. It is easy to presume that their attitudes and values are very similar, when they are not.

This is part of the reason that in both interreligious dialogue and in intercultural encounters, one should be slow to judge. We are generally incompetent judges of what is going on inside of others. When Jesus said, Judge not lest ye be judged, I believe it is not simply an issue of love or mercy, it is also a statement of competence. We see the external, but only God sees the heart.

The Church and “Pandemic Love”

Pandemic Love, by Charles E. Moore, is one of my favorite articles. I had found it a few years ago on http://www.plough.com. It is the website

Image result for antonine plague
Antonine Plague

for the journal “Plough Quarterly.” But I can’t find the article there anymore. Then it was on http://www.barclaypress.com. But I can’t find it there either. FORTUNATELY, around 5 or 6 years ago I had asked permission to reprint the article from Plough.com, and was given permission as long as I referenced them. Since it is no longer on their website, I can only reference their site as a whole. Although it was written a few years ago, and references historical events from almost 2 millenia ago, it seems especially relevant during this time in March 2020.

The avian flu, and the possibility of a world pandemic, is not only in the news, it is unnerving. One has only to recall history to realize that global killers have plagued human civilization. Gruesome details abound. But, surprisingly, so do acts of love.

Greek historian Thucydides describes the pandemic of 430 B.C., the world’s first recorded pandemic, as being characterized by sudden attack; inflammation of eyes; burning in the stomach and throat; bloody coughing; diarrhea; violent vomiting; livid, ulcerated skin; and then death. Those who survived were often left without toes, fingers, genitals, eyesight, and even with an entire loss of memory. One-third of Athens was killed.


Other plagues mar history. Under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, disease-ridden fleas killed 40% of Constantinople’s population and a quarter of the whole region’s population. Another outbreak occurred in France in A.D. 588, where an estimated 25 million lost their lives. Under a new name, the disease returned in the middle of the 14th century. Known as the Black Death because of a blackening of the skin due to hemorrhaging, people fled its path and in so doing aided its spread across the continent. A quarter of Europe’s population was decimated, and Asia and the Middle East were also hit. By the 18th century, an estimated 140 million people had died from the bubonic plague. Then in the 20th century, the Spanish flu came and went like a flash, killing an estimated 40 million people—more than were lost in the Great War.


Pandemics are real, and we are not exempt. Our natural instinct is either to worry about what might happen and become obsessed with protecting ourselves, or to ignore the doomsday prophets all together by burying ourselves deeper into a life of distraction and diversion. Neither response prepares us.


The history books are full of horror. As it is today, death and the horrid get the headlines. But throughout history, there exist stories of hope, not just horror. I can’t help but think of the early church in this regard.

In the Roman Empire…

In A.D. 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a devastating epidemic swept through the Roman Empire. The mortality rate was so high in many cities that Marcus Aurelius spoke of caravans of carts and wagons hauling the dead from cities. During the fifteen-year duration of the epidemic, between a quarter and a third of the empire’s population died. Almost a century later, a second terrible epidemic struck the Roman world. From 251 to 266, at the height of what became known as the Plague of Cyprian (Cyprian was the bishop of Carthage), 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Two-thirds of Alexandria’s population most likely perished.


Pagan Rome was completely ill-prepared to help the sick or deal with mass death. People knew that their priests were clueless as to why the gods had sent so much misery to earth, or whether the gods were involved or even cared. Worse yet, the doctors, priests, and nobles fled infected areas in droves. Since pagans had no belief in immortality, and Stoicism demeaned any sort of heartfelt compassion, the plagues were meaningless and cruel. The basic response of pagans was one of flight.


The best of Greco-Roman science knew nothing about how to treat epidemics other than to avoid all contact with those who had the disease. And this they did, often evacuating entire towns, being afraid to visit one another. Hence, it turned out that the famous physician Galen who lived through the first epidemic during the reign of Marcus Aurelius got out of Rome as quickly as possible.


Christian response

In stark contrast to such hopelessness and fear, Christians showed how their faith made this life—and even death—meaningful. Cyprian, for example, almost welcomed the great epidemic of his time, knowing that it was an opportunity for the church to give witness to the hope that was within them. He was so overwhelmed by a sense of confidence that the members of the Alexandrian church were accused of regarding the plague as a time of festival.


Instead of fear and despondency, then, the earliest Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For them God loved humanity, and in order to love God back they believed they needed to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; he wanted his love expressed in deeds of compassion on earth.


This love took on very practical, concrete forms. In Rome, Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor people on a daily basis. In Antioch of Syria, the number of destitute persons the church was feeding had reached 3,000. Church funds were also used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.


During the plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Emperor Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. His efforts failed, however, because for Christians it was love—not duty—that was their motivation.


The first Christians not only took care of their own, but also reached out far beyond themselves. Their faith led to
a pandemic (pan = all; demos = people) of love. Consequently, at the risk of their own lives, they saved an immense number of lives. Their elementary nursing greatly reduced mortality. Simple provisions of food and water allowed the sick who were temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably.


Pagans couldn’t help but notice that Christians not only found strength to risk their lives, but they also noticed that in caring for one another they were much less likely to die. Christian survivors of the plague became immune, and therefore they were able to pass among the afflicted with apparent invulnerability. In fact, those most active in nursing the sick were the very ones who had already contracted the disease early on, but who were cared for by their brothers and sisters. In this way, the early Christians became, in the words of one scholar, “a whole force of miracle workers to heal the ‘dying.’” Or as historian Rodney Spark puts it, “It was the soup they [the Christians] so patiently spooned to the helpless that healed them.”


In the midst of intermittent persecution and colossal misunderstanding, and in an era when serving others was thought to be demeaning, the “followers of the way”—instead of fleeing disease and death—went about ministering to the sick and helping the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned, and the aged. The people of the Roman Empire were forced to admire their works and dedication. “Look how they love one another,” was heard on the streets.


What about us today?

Our time is not unlike the twilight years of the Roman Empire. The god of materialism provides no hope; the structures and institutions of society that are meant to address social needs are indifferent and cold; and the current adversarial atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and violence breed fear and loneliness.


In an age of impersonal medicine, fear of death, social isolation, and mounting catastrophe, today’s church has the opportunity of going beyond the precautions of quarantine and vaccine
by trusting in the ultimate protection: love. Instead of retreating from the onslaught of pain and death, the church has the chance to demonstrate that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Instead of fear, which makes it difficult to look beyond the precautionary, followers of Christ can show the world that it is in giving our lives away that we find life. How we live and how we die is our message. If we would but dare more in faith in the here-and-now, then perhaps, as with the early church, an outpouring of new life and real hope—instead of terror and flight—will sweep the earth.

A Theology of Celebration (Part II)

This is a continuation of “A Theology of Celebration (Part I).” You are welcome to read that one first.

However, I have decided to make this second part more briefly than originally. Part one was written close to the time when some Christians were expressing the belief that Valentines Day may be “Un-Christian” and therefore should not be celebrated. But that was a few weeks ago. In a couple of more weeks, we will start getting the FB notices and articles that Easter is “Un-Christian” and likewise should not be celebrated. But at the moment, I am not feeling that annoyance so I will shorten my argument.

The starting point for a Theology of Christian Celebration is that God approves of celebration. We see celebration as being affirmed in Heaven in a number of places. Consider Luke 15:10 and Revelation 7:9ff. Celebration then, at least as a concept is not sinful… it is even viewed positively by God.

On earth, celebrations were identified by Jesus as good (consider Luke 19 and John 12 as examples of people celebrating Jesus’s presence). Additionally, the Jews had a number of celebrations of different sorts. Consider for a moment some of the variety.

  • Some had been formally commanded by God (in the Torah) and some were not.
  • Some were tied to historical events (Passover, dedication of the temple, Purim, Chanukkah), and some were not.
  • Some were based on harvest festivals (pre-Jewish celebrations) and some were not.
  • Some were national and some were tied to rites of passage (circumcision, wedding) and some were ad hoc (community feasts like described in Luke 15).
  • Some were highly religious (day of atonement), some were not really religious at all (community feast), and some were non-religious where a religious significance was tied to it (Like Shavuot).

Let’s consider this last one. Shavuot marks a period of time in the year in Palestine where the end of the Barley harvest meets the beginning of the wheat harvest. As such it lines as a harvest festival and was certainly celebrated as a harvest festival well before the time of Moses. However, with Moses and the arrival of the Torah, The Feast of Weeks was established (“Shavuot”) in the Torah, to commemorate the gift of the Law to the Israelites. Later on, during the Feast of Weeks (also known as Pentecost), the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. This event has been marked until today as Pentecost and is celebrated as part of the Christian Liturgical calendar. So we have one continuous celebration from Pre-Israel days to the Christian era— a harvest festival, the arrival of the Torah, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Not only does this appear to be blessed by God, it appears to be intentional. The arrival of the Holy Spirit ushering in the Church age, is supposed to remind people of the arrival of the Torah ushering in the era of the Law, and both are to remind people of the joy of the arrival of the first wheat of the agricultural cycle. The overlapping symbols are not competitive but supportive.

Today there are those who feel that symbols have a certain permanence of meaning to them. And a symbol of permanent meaning has a permanent moral value associated with it. Therefore, a day that was once used by pagans cannot be used by anyone else for any other purpose. A symbol that has meaning in one faith can never be redeemed by another faith.

The truth is, however, that symbols (especially “pure symbols”) have meanings associated with them that are purely arbitrary. Even with iconic symbols, however, they can be redefined as well. A cross can be a symbol of disgrace and of execution, or it can be a symbol of faith and salvation. Meat that had been sacrificed to the Greek god Zeus, can symbolize the power of polytheistic Greek faith to give health and blessing, or it can be a worthless activity that can be ignored as one thanks the God of the Bible who provides all good things.

Celebrations are similar. If someone feels like he is doing wrong by celebrating something, then he should not. If someone feels like he is celebrating something worthy of Godly joy, he should feel no shame.

However, the challenge comes when these two people come together. What do we do then. Who is the weaker brother? It could be argued that either of them is the weaker brother and is required to adjust to the other out of loving concern. On the other hand, perhaps neither are the weaker brother. Perhaps they each simply disagree. Neither needs to apologize and neither needs to try to shame the other.

But that brings up a new thought. Can one join a celebration of a different religion or celebrate a secular event? Is that wrong? Generally, there are two answers given:

  • No you can’t. You are joining in something that is wrong.   Or…
  • Yes you can. We have Christian liberty. What is not clearly wrong is… right.

I would argue that there is another option… and that is “Maybe.” From a missiological standpoint there are then two questions that need to be considered.

Question #1.  Rather than focus on Yes I can or No I can’t celebrate, the question can be “How can I as a Christian join with the celebrations of my community, my friends, and still be true to my faith?”

Question #2.  How can I redeem the symbols of this celebration so that Christians can embrace the culture transformatively?

To me these questions are better to consider than addressing the issue of Bad versus Good.  Is Valentine’s Day non-Christian? In some ways, historically, and practically, the answer is clearly Yes. In some ways Valentine’s Day is non-Christian. Is Valentine’s Day Christian? Historically, it is also quite clear that the answer has to be Yes as well. Valentine’s Day has very clear Christian roots. So instead of fighting about trying to argue that Yes is No… Christians should ask the question,

“How can we as Christians celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that is transformative in our community and true to our God.”

 

Demons on Coffee Break

Two demons were talking in the office during their decaf break.  The first demon, #10215, turned to the second demon,  #31244, to talk business. It was a requirement at their firm to only discuss business during decaf break. They were also required to address each other by their full names at all times: but #31244 and #10215 were rebels.

“Hey 44,” said 15. “I have heard that you are really ruffling some feathers and scales with the guys in management.”

“Yeah. but not my fault. They are old guard and just can’t embrace new possibilities, 15.”

“But who can blame them, 44. Our business is Lies. The boss is ‘The Father of Lies.’ He claims he invented lies… if you can believe anything he says. To start marketing Truth seems pretty off-brand for us.”coffee

“That’s their problem,” responded 44.  “They think the goal is the product. But the goal should be the results of the product, not the product itself. If the Truth creates as good or better results than a Lie, we need to grab that niche before someone else does.”

“Okay 44, tell me how the Truth thing works again.” 15, despite his rebellious streak, ‘religiously’ followed the corporate policy promoting needless exposition— ‘Tell, don’t Show.’

“Of course,” stated 44, also a supporter of this corporate policy. “Our goal is to undermine faith, or adherence to the truth. An obvious way to make this happen is to encourage people to believe a lie in its place. The problem is that lies commonly have a shelf-life, going bad and revealing themselves as lies at inconvenient times. Truth has the advantage of standing up to both time and scrutiny, so if truth can be used to undermine faith then it can often be more efficient in the long run.”

“How do you do this?” queried 15, wishing to extend the exposition further.

“It is so simple. Just change the tone of truth so that it guides people to the wrong response. There are an awful lot of truths that are pretty unpleasant. One needs hardly to make the effort to create lies. Just tell the truth in such a way so that it engenders FEAR or ANGER, or sometimes MISTRUST. Put out some truth as a story that has the implicit message that one should be very fearful rather than courageous. Or put out a story that suggests that one should sit around and be oh so very angry. It hardly matters at what— anything as long as it doesn’t get directed to constructive action. In some cases, we can also share a truth in such a way that leads people to mistrust whole groups of people or sources of information. This can actually innoculate people to understanding the bigger picture and to respond in faith rather than fear and anger.”

“How do we promulgate the truth? That really is not our specialty.”

44 laughed derisively (the only form of laughter allowed during working hours). “We just give these messages to Christians, and tell them that they simply must share them with all of their friends on social media. You would be amazed at how hard Christians will work to steer people away from faith!”

The 6.5 minute decaf break was over. 15 and 44 scurried back to the cubicles. So much to do.

The IMB Mission Statement and Holism

holism

I facilitated a lecture on Social Ministry. The students’ readings were:

  • Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2009).
  • Jerry Ballard, “Missions and Holistic Ministry” in World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Missions Congres, ’90 (Asia Missions Congress, 1990), pages 340-348.
  • J. Jeffrey Palmer, Kingdom Development: A Passion for Souls and a Compassion for People (Chiang Mai, Thailand, ARLDF Publishing, 2004).

Ballard spoke of four Evangelical perspectives on Social Ministry as it relates to Christian Ministry. I will add a fifth one— one that was suggested to me by Dr. Dan Russell. These are:

  1. Convenience.  Christian ministry really is NOT about doing social ministry. Christian ministry is really about “spiritual ministries”— converting people to Christ, baptizing, church formation, training up religious leadership, Bible study, prayer ministry, etc.  However, if one can meet a physical, social, or other sorts of needs in people, it is not a bad idea… as long as it is “convenient.” In other words, as long as it doesn’t distract from “real” ministry. IT IS NICE TO BE NICE.
  2. Social Gospel. Christian ministry IS social ministry. The so-called “spiritual ministries” listed above are downplayed or at least seen not as central concerns.
  3. Ulterior Motive. Like Convenience, Ulterior Motive sees “Real” ministry as spiritual ministry. However, it diverges from Convenience in one major thing. Ulterior Motive does not say simply that “it is nice to be nice.” Rather it says “it is more effective to be nice.” In other words, social ministry can be leveraged to more effectively do spiritual ministry.
  4. Holism. Holism says that Christ’s call to ministry is holistic. Humans are holistic and so compartmentalizing and prioritizing types of ministry is a mistake. Christian ministry IS SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL. Our call to bless is transformational in all spheres of human existence.
  5. Spiritualistic. This is like Convenience in that it sees “real” Christian ministry as spiritual, not social. However, it sees social ministry as a distraction from spiritual ministry. Thus, in practice, it is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO BE NICE. Evangelical missions in the 1960s seem to have embraced that as has some small group multiplication strategies today.

Speaking of today, I would say that I generally support the Holism stance. I understand the logic of the Ulterior Motive stance, although I would probably add a bit of a John Stott spin to it suggesting that while social ministry can be leveraged to support spiritual ministry, spiritual ministry can likewise be leveraged to support social ministry. The two are synergistic. Still, I would say that doing good does not really need a spiritual justification.

This leads me to the mission statement of the International Mission Board (of Southern Baptist Churches). I am not IMB, but I am sent by a Southern Baptist Church, and I teach in a (Philippine) SBC seminary. As such, their mission statement is of at least academic interest to me.

IMB partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.

It sounds pretty spiritualistic. It has many of the categories of “spiritual ministry,” including evangelizing, discipling, churchplanting, church multiplying, and leader training. My suspicion is that the statement was actually written by people of the Convenience stance or Spiritualistic stance (or more likely a combination).

However, as I am reading it, it occurs to me that one could have a more Holistic stance and still agree wholeheartedly in it. (Actually, the one term I don’t like is the word “limitless.” It seems to be chosen to sound visionary to potential donors, but is actually vague… immeasurable… meaningless.)

But let’s consider the other terms:

-Evangelism. This term sounds quite spiritualistic. It suggests taking on the role of a messenger of God to serve as proclaimers of the good news of Christ. This draws naturally from the Greek that emphasizes its link to a “good message.” However, David B. Barrett in his book “Evangelize: A Historical Survey of the Concept” notes that both in the Bible and the early church, the term was used and applied very broadly. Sometimes in the Bible the term is used simply for verbal proclamation. Other times it describes the total activity of Christians to make known God’s message of peace to all people. Since Southern Baptists place great emphasis on the Bible as authoritative (and perhaps less commendably their tendency to idealize the primitive church) presumably they are using the term as it is used in the Bible and early church, rather than how it is commonly used today (and rather than based on its etymology). If so, that would be commendable. Good Biblical theology draws from usage, and “evangelize” is used quite broadly in the Bible.

  -Discipling.  Again, there can be a question of what the term means. In its common usage, it is often limited to a form of indoctrination— learning to read the Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, and so forth. However, if it is understood in its Biblical-Historical sense, we draw back to Christ and his process of discipleship with the Twelve (and others). Baptists are Christocentric and so see Jesus as both our example for practice, and our goal. As such, we would look to Christ to understand how to disciple and see that being like Christ would be the goal for a disciple. Again, discipleship in this sense is much broader than the cognitive-dominated sense we use it today. It could quite reasonably be argued that Jesus discipled holistically (whole person, whole need, whole context). Additionally, a disciple arguably should have more than simply the same doctrines as Jesus, but have similar behavior, motivations, priorities, socialization, and spiritual focus as Jesus.

-Healthy Churches. The mission statement speaks of planting and multiplying healthy churches, but that begs the question of what constitutes being healthy. Perhaps the creators of the vision statement were thinking of being “3-self” (or perhaps 4-self). Since, however, self-propagating (one of the 3-selves) could be seen as redundant (seeing that the term multiplying is just prior), it seems unlikely. I might suggest that healthy means having healthy members in healthy relationships. This draws back to the work of Stan Rowland and Medical Ambassadors (now Lifewind). They define health in Christian ministry in terms of four healthy relationships. These are God (spiritual), Others (social), Self (psychoemotional), and Physical World (own body, ecological, and economic). I don’t know if the creators of the statement thought through the use of the term “healthy” that much. However, it seems reasonable that if any of the above four areas of healthy relationship are bad, one cannot really saying that one is planting and multiplying “healthy churches.”

-Training Leaders. I don’t really know what is meant by this. However, if it is correct to understand the other items previous in holistic terms, then certainly training leaders must certainly mean to train leaders to recognize both spiritual and social ministry as vital to the church, and both as parts of God’s total call to serve.

Again, I don’t know what the creators of the IMB mission statement meant but I certainly hope that a holistic broad (God-sized?) vision can be its interpretation in the future.

(Just get rid of the word “limitless”…)