Ten Common Missionary Roles

Gailyn Van Rheenen lists fen common roles or activites of long-term missionaries in one of his books on missions <Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd ed. (Zondervan, 2014), Chapter 6>:

(1) Traditional church planting in unreached areas (Pioneering)

(2) Training local church leaders in order for a church planting movement to be successful (a bit too specific, let’s just say leadership development)

(3) Providing theological education to national leaders by training them where they are (onsite theological development)

(4) Teaching advanced theological studies in Bible schools and seminaries (offsite theological development)

(5) Serving as Bible translators (Self-explanatory)

6) Helping the poor and the suffering by focusing on social transformational development (Community development)

(7) Responding to natural disasters, providing medical services, and taking care of orphans (Relief and Helps ministries)

(8) Serving as business missionaries who live out in terms of economic realities (BAM)

(9) Serving as ministers of international justice to advocate for the oppressed (Social Justice)

(10) Serving as missionary support personnel who serve other missionaries (Several things, really)

We could group these into three general groups:

“Spiritualistic” Ministries: Numbers 1-5

“Social” Ministries: Numbers 6-9

Support Ministries: Number 10

Now if you think about it, the one that fits what people often think missionaries do is #1. In truth, it is the one that Ralph Winter wanted to be the only one called missionary. I understand the simplicity of the definition, but missions is a team sport and because of that I believe the broader understanding is useful. Arguably, #5, Bible translation is also part of what is often thought of as

Next, Numbers 2-4 are all about training— Theological and ministerial training.

Numbers 6-9 perhaps are better viewed as Transformational ministries

Number 10 is too broad. It includes missionary member care

This gives us:

Traditional Missions: Pioneer Missions and Bible Translation

Training Ministries: Ministerial Training, Theological Training

Transformational Ministries: Relief, Social Justice, Developmental Ministries

Support Ministries: Missionary Member Care, Logistical Support, Administrative Support and Mobilization

They all are needed and all should be honored.

Thoughts on Reverse Missions

I have been doing a bit of thought on ‘Reverse Missions”— this is missionaries who depart from New Sending Countries (countries that traditionally received missionaries), and serve in Old Sending countries 9countries that traditionally sent missionaries). These reflections are pretty off-the-cuff. I will hopefully be able to fill out these ideas later.

#1. Reverse Missions is perfectly valid. Early on after I arrived in the Philippines, Christians I knew thought it humorous the idea of Filipinos departing from the Philippines to go to places like the United States or South Korea to do missions. Some would accept the idea, but see it only in terms of Diaspora Missions— doing ministry work with Filipinos living in those countries. But unless you are one who sees missions as only applying to pioneering work among people who have not had the gospel presented in a manner that they can realistically respond to, reverse missions is just as valid as any other type of missions.

#2. Reverse Missions is rapidly becoming an anachronistic term. Perhpas it is already anachronistic. More Protestant missionaries (I am not sure about Catholic or Orthodox missions) come from New Sending Countries than Old Sending Countries. For decades, missions has been from all places to all places. Why should a Ghanian missionary serving in England be seen as “reverse” missions. Does it need an adjective of any sort? Arguably, it is missions.

#3. Reverse Missions still requires theological contextualization. The argument could be made that since Christianity is well-established in the recipient country, it is already well-contextualized in that country. It is possible, but culture is transient. It is not only possible that the faith has fallen out of relevance and resonance with the culture, it may be likely. We talk about some countries and cultures as being post-Christian. What that commonly means that the broader culture has changed, while the Christian culture either hasn’t changed, or has changed adjusted to be well-contextualized with a certain sub-culture that is diverging from the broader culture. In some cases, it may take an outsider from both the broad culture and the insular sub-culture to help the church.

#4. Reverse Missions perhaps is even more at risk of “sheep stealing” over “real missions” than regular missions. Sheep stealing is pulling people from existing churches and trying to get them to join one’s own church. This can happen in many places (this happens A LOT here in the Philippines), but perhaps even more common when a large part of the population are part of a post-Christian culture, while still holding, at least nominally, to a Christian denomination. It is tempting to assume the problem is the church they are part of. Is that true? Perhaps, but it can also be rather self-serving for a missionary to assume what is good for him/herself (growing the missionary’s ministry) is also what is best for the people being served.

#5. Reverse Missions makes it even harder to define what missions is (and is not). I feel that missions is best defined in relation to one’s own church. But I understand that culture or types of ministry seems to make more sense to others. Rather than trying to answer this question, I will just note that this challenge exists.

Types of “Great Missionaries”

What does it take to be a great missionary? I think there are different types of missionaries and there are different ways they can be seen as good.

  1. Innovator. Barnabas. Some missionaries do something that is highly innovative and as such establish patterns that guide missionaries long after them. Barnabas appears to be a great example of this with the strategy that he used for mentoring and then entering strategic locations for missions. Other could include Zeigenbald, and John Nevius.
  2. Theologian Paul. Some missionaries develop and (often) write theological works. Such works can be theology of mission, or missional theology. Paul, while certainly a very good missionary as shown in his 3 mission trips. However, what made him great was his writings— 13 letters to various churches. These letters were practical, pastoral, and personal. However, they were very much theological. Other missionaries also embraced theological writing might include Roland Allen and Leslie Newbigin.
  3. Promoter. David Livingstone. This is a bit more dubious. Many ask the question of whether David Livingstone was a great missionary. And in his work in Africa they may have a point. At the same time, Livingstone was great in inspiring people to support missions or give more to missions. An even more extreme case may be Henry Stanley, who perhaps could be described as a bad missionary (but a great promoter of missions). Other missionaries may be clearly be good missionaries but are still more recognized in their role of promoting missions. Some examples might include Lottie Moon, Albert Schweitzer, Luther Rice, and Amy Carmichael.
  4. Contextualizers. Ulfilas. Some successfully brought the Christian faith successfully into a new culture. Often this is most clearly visible in terms of translation of Bible and liturgy. There are some that are uncertain of Ulfilas because of his theology. No one, however, could fail to recognize his accomplishment in translating the Bible into Gothic language. Others might include Methodius, Cyril, and Ola Hanson.
  5. Trailblazers. Adoniram and Ann Judson. Some missionaries may not be innovators in the strictest sense, but trailblaze a new place of ministry— opening the door wide for follow-on missionaries to follow. The Judsons were the first to work in Burma, and their challenging work opened the door for others after. Sometimes they gain the title of “Apostle of _______.” Samuel Zwerner and Nicholas Kassachin are a couple of examples.
  6. Organizer. Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. Some may have not done much personally in terms of missions, but they created structures that were highly effective in missions. Von Zinzendorf wasn’t really a missionary, although he did some visits to missionaries in the field. However, he brought structure to the United Brethren (Moravians) creating the first major mission movement in Protestantism. Another would be Hudson Taylor.
  7. Faithful. Justinian Von Welz. In most vocations there are superstars. Nothing wrong with that. However, it would be ill-advised to assume that the greatest missionaries were necessarily the ones identified as great in our eyes. Von Welz was an innovator, but too ahead of his time to be recognized as such by most. By almost every measure he was a failure. However, he was faithful even to death. By pretty much every measure William Borden was a failure— rejecting family fortune only to die before reaching his final mission destination. But he was faithful to the call and faithful to the end. These were the Faithful Servant of the parable of Jesus.

There are other categories of greatness. However, I hope you see from the #7 that list in general is a bit dubious. I think it is good as a reminder that there is more than one way to be seen as great or effective. However, our ideas of greatness may NOT coincide with what is God’s view of greatness.

Theming Reading, Writing, and Teaching in 2023

It feels like it is the time to throw myself into reading and writing and teaching in 2023. 2020 through 2022 were the years of pandemic and family issues. It looks like the pandemic is over (being replaced by endemic) while most of our family challenges are becoming ironed out. In fact, two major challenges just got worked out today. Praise God for that.

So there are a few things that I hope to take more seriously this year…

  1. I want to finish my book on Theology of Mission (“Walking With” as Metaphor for Theology of Mission). It was actually completed last year, and had put electronic copies online. However, I am starting to clean it up now, presently in Chapter 3, to make it ready for formal printing. I have been mulling cleaning up my book on Cultural (or Missional) Anthropology. I pulled that book off publishing because I feel that there are problems with it. Not sure yet.
  2. Work on Video training. I am presently working on video presentations for an online class on Missions History with Faith Bible College. I enjoy Missions History and so I not only like to work on these presentations, but have appreciated thee motivation to do more research. There is a book out recently by Doreen Morrison called “George Lisle: A Faith that Couldn’t be Denied.” This is a book on a person I have long wanted to learn more about. George Lisle was the first American to serve as a full-time mission in a foreign field.
  3. I have been asked to take on the role of “editor-in-chief” in a journal— Philippine Journal of Religious Studies. This is a journal that was active at our seminary years ago but had taken a LONG break. I don’t know what an “editor-in-chief” does and as one who has rebelled against the peer-review system, I am being pulled into a very new place for me. It is good to learn and keep learning.

Beyond this… I don’t know. I am not keen on New Years resolutions. I don’t think I have ever set one, and I don’t want to start now. I watched a Youtube Video “Your Theme” by CGP Grey. He suggests that for year-long goals, SMART is not the right idea. Vague and abstract is the way to go. It can be linked by CLICKING HERE.

As faf as the blog, I think I will keep doing what I am doing. Just passed 150,000 views on this website. That is small for some, but for me… that is quite something. I am pretty sure that I will just keep writing about what ‘strikes my fancy.’

Nicholas Kassatkin

I am putting together notes and presentations and video for a Missions History class I was asked to teach.

One of the values of doing this is that one gets the opportunity to relearn how little one knows. I keep learning how little I know.

Going through “Encountering the History of Missions” (by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher), there were a couple of missionaries who were brought up as being truly excellent missionaries who really were not on my radar screen as individuals I might go to for inspiration.

One of those was Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. He was a Moravian missionary to India. I was familiar with him, but as I read more on him, there is much to be admired. Still, I generally knew about him.

The other was one who I had heard of briefly before, but I had learned so little that I did not remember his name when I came upon it.

This was Nicholas Kassatkin. Some put his name as Nicholas Kassathin. (I don’t know Cyrillic enough to know which spelling is closer to the original.)

Nicholas Kassatkin died in 1912 after serving in Japan for approximately 50 years. He was a Russian Orthodox monk her served in Japan. He was part of the Russian Orthodox mission movement that was especially active from the 1700s until the early 1900s. Kassatkin was different from most other Russian Orthodox missionaries during this period, and different from most other Christian missionaries during the “Great Century” in that he served in a place that was neither conquered lands nor colonized lands. He was a Russian Christian serving in Japan… neither conquered land nor colonized land of Russia or any other “Christian nation.”

I will quote from Richard Durmmond who was quoted by Terry and Gallagher:

The life and life fruits of Nicholas compel us to recognize him as one of the greatest missionaries of the modern era. In accordance with Orthodox tradition, he respected highly the language and cultural traditions of the people among whom he served. He respected the epeople and loved them as persons. He went beyond the common traditions of Orthodoxy in freeing his work to an extraordinary extent from the political aims and interests of his homeland. His apostleship was remarkably non-polemical for the day; he was in singular fashion an aposlte of peace among men. His method of evangelization was concentrated upon the family, and he stressed above all the raising up of national workers and the indigenization of the Church, even as he urged it to remember its distinctive association with the kingdom of God.

-Richard H. Drummond. “A History of Christianity in Japan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 354. Quoted by Terry and Gallagher on page 80.

He came to Japan shortly after the opening of the doors to outsiders, even though there still was considerable hostility to foreigners. He also came from a country that has had conflict with Japan. In fact, during his time in Japan, a war occurred between his country and Japan (in 1905). During that time, he struggled with his role as a foreigner. Japanese converts to Christ and Russian Orthodoxy were told by Kassatkin that they should be good Christians AND good Japanese citizens even if he himself could not go against his own country— Russia.

In his lifetime, he baptized approximately 20,000 converts. That is amazing in a country that has, generally, been very standoff-ish to Christianity. Actually, today, there are a little less than 10,000 Japanese who identify as Russian Orthodox. The church has not grown in the last century but considering wars and social upheavals in Japan and even more so the Russian Orthodox church, the endurance of the church in Japan shows the strength of the work of Kassatkin.

As Protestants, we may be tempted not to give proper due to Catholic missionaries, and even less to the Eastern Churches. But that is a mistake. There is much we can learn. I am glad I have had this chance.

Book Review: “Encountering the History of Missions”

The book, “Encountering the History of Mission: From the Early Church to Today” by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher, is part of the Encountering Missions series of books. It was published in 2017 by Baker Academic.

I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Christian missions— especially Evangelical Christian missions. I don’t have major problems with it— most of points are either positive or of a more neutral nature. Therefore I will list my points together.

  1. The book is very readable in terms of content, style, and format. I found that I wanted to continue reading to finish a chapter, and then move to the next chapter to see “what happens next.” That in itself is strongly in its favor.
  2. It balances well between events, organizations, movements, and individuals. Missions history is primarily the work of God. Secondarily, it is the work of various religious, sociological, political movements. Third is the people involved. Missionaries did not MAKE missions happen, but responded positively to the work of God and their place in history. That is my view at least. Terry and Gallagher’s book balances things well.
  3. The book embraces what I might describe as a “Generous Orthodoxy” (drawing the term from Brian McLaren). The book is quite respectful of missions from a variety of Christian groups including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Celtic, “Nestorian,” Russian Orthodox, and many faith traditions among Protestant groups. Some negative portrayals are reserved for the Roman Catholic church (especially in ways it worked against Christian missions and Protestant missions), but the work of RC missionaries is portrayed more positively. The only “historically” Christian group involved in missions that seems to never be described positively (as far as I noticed) was the World Council of Churches, and it missions (“conciliar missions”). More on that later.
  4. The target audience for the book is Protestant Evangelical. A little over half the book is focused on Protestant missions. As the book nears the present, the focus moved more to Evangelical missions. That being said, non-Protestant, non-Evangelical missions is given its place of prominence, especially in past centuries.
  5. I struggled to get a grasp of what the authors’ definition of missions was. Perhaps a reread of the book would clarify this. However, in a couple of places, I found the issue of definition problematic. In Chapters 7 and 11, Christian missions seemed to include what I might call, “Getting people to leave their church to start attending my church.” Chapter 7 attempted to support the notion that the early reformers (most notably Martin Luther and John Calvin) were indeed missional— despite anything that I would consider good support of this. Their argument that Luther and Calvin were missional was based on the fact that and their followers worked hard to get people to leave their own churches and join their churches. Chapter 11 is supposed to be about Methodist Missions, with focus on the Wesleys. However, the great majority of the chapter spoke of their ministry to people who are already Christians. Perhaps the desire to include the Methodist movement, with its link to the Moravians, and to the later ‘Holiness Movement’ made the inclusion feel necessarily. Missions has often included denominational efforts to get people to change churches. I am an Evangelical missionary in the Philippines. Ministry work to get Catholics to become Evangelical is commonly seen as a valid form of Christian missions. However, in other parts of the book, it seems like missions about reaching those who don’t identify as Christian. Thus, I am a bit confused.
  6. Generally, the book did a pretty good job of separating between missions history and church history. To me at least, Church history tends to focus on Creeds, Councils, Controversies, and Conflicts. Generally, the book avoided these. Perhaps it would have been of benefit to integrate more of these in since missions history is in many ways an outworking of church history. For me, however, I feel like keeping the focus on missions was probably the correct choice.
  7. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter on Specialized Missions, a lot was ignored. There was little to nothing on Social Justice, Community Development, Missionary Member Care, Theological education, Interreligious Dialogue, and more. Not everything can be covered in one chapter of course. Still, I feel like some more important specializations in Christian missions should have been included.
  8. I feel like the absence of (positive) representation of conciliar missions was a bit of a failure in the book. I have worked with missionaries who could be described as part of conciliar missions, and often found them to be very faithful to God and capable in their work. While some of the concerns regarding conciliar missions in the book are all too valid, very often the authors had been willing to take the positive view of other missions movement rather than focusing on its worst. The book took a very generous view of the theology of Ulfilas, completely avoided the negative aspects of the work of St. Boniface, and the list goes on. Arguably, the Evangelical missions has benefited from conciliar missions as well. It was the Anglican component of the Evangelicals (such as Neill, Stott, and Newbigin) with one foot squarely in conciliar missions, that kept Evangelical missions from simply be subsumed by the theology (or lack of theology) of the Church Growth Movement. Additionally, conciliar missions has often been better in certain forms of missions than Evangelicals (social justice and interreligious dialogue being among them). I certainly see no reason to give conciliar missions an equal place in the book. I just suggest the overall generosity of the book could have been supplied here as well.
  9. Despite the tendency towards “generosity” to various people and movements, the book did not idealize. The authors were willing to provide kind critique, and occasionally harsh critique. The summary of the good and bad of Christian missions in the last chapter (drawn from Herbert Kane) was not only valuable, but was generally supported in the text of the book.
  10. The authors did not spend much time on theology of missions. I can understand why this was seen as generally outside the scope of the book. However, I was glad that the book did list down strategies and practices of many missionaries and mission movements. I found this quite helpful to understand them better, and to learn more about what I should and should not focus on as a missionary.

I am planning to use this work as the textbook for my upcoming class on missions history. With very few (and limited) reservations, I strongly recommend it to others.

First Protestant Missionary Hymn

Awake, Thou Spirit, who didst fire
The watchmen of the Church’s youth,
Who faced the Foe’s envenomed ire,
Who witnessed day and night Thy truth,
Whose voices loud are ringing still
And bringing hosts to know Thy will.

And let Thy Word have speedy course,
Thro’ every land be glorified,
Till all the heathen know its force
And fill Thy churches far and wide.
Oh, spread the conquest of Thy Word
And let Thy kingdom come, dear Lord!

–Karl Heinrich von Bogatsky (1750). This English version is from The Story of Lutheran Missions by Elsie Singmaster (1917), Chapter One. Available on Project Gutenberg– https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55819/55819-h/55819-h.htm

Hymnary.org adds two more verses, and notes that the English translation was by Catherine Winkworth. it shows the verses above as 1 and 4. Verses 2 and 3 are as follows:

Lord, let our earnest prayer be heard,
The prayer Thy Son hath bid us pray;
For, lo, Thy children’s hearts are stirred
In ev’ry land in this our day
To cry with fervent soul to Thee,
Oh, help us, Lord! So let it be!

3 Oh, haste to help ere we are lost!
Send preachers forth, in spirit strong,
Armed with Thy Word, a dauntless host,
Bold to attack the rule of wrong;
Let them the earth for Thee reclaim,
Thy heritage, to know Thy name.

https://hymnary.org/text/awake_thou_spirit_who_didst_fire

For the orginal German, “Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen” here is what I found at least:

Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen,

die auf der Mau’r als treue Wächter stehn,

die Tag und Nächte nimmer schweigen

und die getrost dem Feind entgegengehn,

ja deren Schall die ganze Welt durchdringt

und aller Völker Scharen zu dir bringt.

O dass dein Feuer bald entbrennte,

o möcht es doch in alle Lande gehn!

Ach Herr, gib doch in deine Ernte

viel Knechte, die in treuer Arbeit stehn.

O Herr der Ernte, siehe doch darein:

die Ernt ist groß, die Zahl der Knechte klein.

Dein Sohn hat ja mit klaren Worten

uns diese Bitt in unsern Mund gelegt.

O siehe, wie an allen Orten

sich deiner Kinder Herz und Sinn bewegt,

dich herzinbrünstig hierum anzuflehn;

drum hör, o Herr, und sprich: »Es soll geschehn.«

So gib dein Wort mit großen Scharen,

die in der Kraft Evangelisten sein;

lass eilend Hilf uns widerfahren

und brich in Satans Reich mit Macht hinein.

O breite Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

Personally, I don’t know if this is the oldest Protestant Missionary Hymn, although this is what is suggested by Elsie Singmaster . The fact that the hymn came out of the Pietist missionary movement from the University of Halle in the mid-1700s certainly places it at a key place in the History of Missions.

, Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

If I Try to Get You to Leave Your Church to Go to My Church, Is That Missions?

I was reading “Encountering the History of Missions” by John Mark Terry and Robert Gallagher. In the Reformers, particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin, they try to make the (what I consider to be) controversial argument that they were quite missional. Their argument, however, seems to boil down to, “See how much they tried to get people to leave other churches and join their own?”

In most cases, this church piracy involved trying to get people to leave the Roman Catholic church to join their own group. This is a big question for me since I serve in a missions role in the Philippines. Philippines is over 80% Roman Catholic, and over 90% Christian. Many Evangelical missionaries in the Philippines focus very intentionally on getting Catholics to “be born again.” However, since the Bible is pretty clear that only God knows the heart and we are only competent to examine our own selves not others, in practice it tends to devolve into getting people to switch churches.

Is that valid? As a ministry, I suppose it is. While I don’t really have a high opinion of those who try to harvest out of other people’s gardens, I don’t necessarily believe that all churches are equal and their membership roles sacrosanct. However, I feel like church fathers would not see see this as missions. If the Hellenistic house church groups in house church network in Antioch tried to draw away members from the Hebraic or Latin house church groups, I don’t think Paul or Barnabas would be seeing it as missions. In the case of Terry and Gallagher, they were at least consistent. In a later chapter on Jesuit missions, they saw Jesuit attempts to get Protestants to rejoin the Catholic church as a mission strategy. Again, however, I am not sure I would.

Arguments for seeking Roman Catholics to become Evangelicals as mission work seem to be either because of (1) “nominality” of RC believers, (2) dubious theological views of the Catholic church, or (3) rejecting them altogether as Christian.

The weakest of these is #3. I have seen websites describe Philippines as about 10% Christian. To come up with that number, one has to assume that (a) 0% of Catholics are Christian, and (b) 100% of everyone who calls themselves Christian who is not Catholic is indeed a Christian. I have, however, met many very devout Catholics who (as far as I can judge) devout in their behavior, and true in their faith. I have also met a large share of Evangelical Christians who are immoral and seemingly faithless. For me argument #3 is insulting at best to non-Evangelicals, and at worst, playing God.

In the middle is #2. is in the middle for me. Yes, there are a lot of problems (in my view) with Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. Some of the more egregious ones were fixed in Vatican II, but others still very much remain. One may make the argument then that these views are so bad that it is better for Christians to grow in their faith outside of the Catholic church. I think that argument can be made. My problem is that almost always, ministry work to Roman Catholics starts with trying to get them to say “The Sinner’s Prayer.” The first part reinforces the assumption that all Catholics are non-Christian, and supports the most dubious assumption that the Sinner’s Prayer is the same as salvation experience. Further, there seems to be the assumption that evanglizing fails if one is not able to get the person to leave the Catholic congregation for one’s own.

I have experienced a version of this second issue. I have had Evangelical Christians (or more commonly Pentecostals) attempt to share the gospel with me. Once, I tell them that I share a common faith with them, they immediately continue into the second part of their presentation which is why I need to leave my faith tradition and my church and join their faith tradition and their church. I find this rather insulting and built on a very shaky understanding of Christ’s church. I feel like we can do better in training our memberships to recognize and appreciated the Unity and Diversity of the Body of Christ.

The best argument is #1. There is a LOT of nominality in the Roman Catholic church. This tends to happen when culture and faith tend to mix. With the prominence of the RC in Philippines, it is not surprising that their are many many cultural Catholics who have little to know discernible faith. However, the same could be said in many other settings. I am a Southern Baptist missionary serving in Asia. However, in the Southern United States, there are many places where community culture is very Southern Baptist. Not surprisingly, there can be an awful lot of nominality in the memberships of SB churches. BUT… then I ask myself a question— If a Christian denomination began targeting nominal SB members for evangelism and as part of that process intentionally seek to pull them out of the SB churches and into their own, would I consider that to be Missions?

The answer is NO. So although I still struggle with coming up with a satisfying definition of “Christian Mission,” I think that a good definition would NOT include intentional targeting of respondents from other Christian denominations with the intention of drawing them into one’s own denomination. <That being said, I don’t want to judge people in this matter. I teach missions classes overseas, and oversee a counseling center. Neither of these things hit the bullseye on traditional Christian missions either.>

Are There Times When “Supporting Satan” is a Good Thing?

Okay, hear me out on this one— don’t jump to conclusions.

Here in Chesapeake, VA (temporarily here for a few months) there has been a bit of a stir as a group called the “After School Satan Club” (ASSC) has put in an application for after school activities utilizing public school properties. Obviously, many Christians (and non-Christians) are up in arms about this. Curiously, one Christian organization has been very supportive of their efforts.

This is “Child Evangelism Fellowship” (CEF). This is a group that my wife and I have worked with on the periphery for a number of years. It is Evangelical and tending more to the conservative side of Christian faith and values. At first it may seem like this is a very strange response for them.

However, as one reads more about it, it is clear why CEF is supportive.

First of all, the ASSC is a movement that only seeks to put in after school programs where there are pre-existing religious programs. According to the ASSC website, “The After School Satan Club does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus.”

And then as one looks just a wee bit deeper one finds that the ASSC does not believe in Satan, does not worship Satan, and does not have temples despite the logo (see below):

Years ago I had a friend (or at least a friendly acquaintance) who described himself as a Satanist. However, he was an atheist and did not believe in the existence of Satan either. There are religious Satanists apparently, but it seems as if my friend was a Hedonist who wanted to appear “edgy.”

In the case of ASSC, I do think the “edgy” aspect is important. As a local volunteer for ASSC said, “We are non-theistic. I understand the apprehension behind the satanic name, but he is just an imaginary figure that we look to because he is the eternal rebel that fought for justice and humanity.”

Putting their statements together, it is pretty clear that ASSC is essentially a group that opposes religious groups having access to public schools and so has chosen a symbol that they don’t believe — and not using it for its symbolic power to them, but for (reactive) power it has to their opponents.

Many of you may remember the “SATANIC PANIC” of the late 1970s and early 1980s when there were fanciful stories of satanic cults doing horrible things right under our noses. Think of the movie Hot Fuzz (or consider the wildly unlikely QAnon stories that have been circulating this decade).

Christians reacted quite predictably with… panic, anger, and opposition. Understandable. However, being predictable has its problems. Christians in the US like to fall back on a certain unspoken “dominionism.” We want Bible Clubs in the public schools but feel like these should be permitted while keeping out other religious groups. For years, I have had friends who were desperately trying to return (formal, public) prayer in government schools. I really was not one of them. For close to a year I lived in a city that was over 2/3 Mormon. I was quite aware that any formal public prayer brought into the schools would be a prayer very much of a different nature to what I would consider a prayer. And maybe that is okay. I don’t think, however, that was what my friends were envisioning. One cannot pick and choose how “equal before the law” is applied.

In Baguio City, I recall American missionaries and local pastors downright gleeful in opposing the building of a mosque in our city. Of course, that opposition really is out of touch with the religious freedom that the Philippines seeks. It is also out of touch with the consternation felt by the same Christians when churches are not being allowed in some other parts of the world. The opposition to a mosque being built in Baguio was essentially in support of what was illegal so (not surprisingly) the delay on the construction of the Grand Mosque and subsequent additions of little mosques in the city was slight. Frankly, if you as a Christian want to support the free exercise of your own faith, one of the best ways to accomplish this is support the free exercise of other faiths as well.

CEF with its “Good News Club” is aware of this. They know that Equal Access means, well… equal access. To respond predictably (opposing the so-called “satanic” group) means to give schools the justification to say that the only way to provide equal access to all religious groups is to deny access to all religious groups. In this, the ACCS would win since they have already said that they don’t want to enter schools that have no religious groups since they themselves don’t want religion in the schools.

There are times when it is good NOT to be predictable. When one is not so predictable, it is harder to be manipulated. If you freak out when people do things with the intention of getting you to freak out, they have won on some level.

And sometimes, the win is even bigger. Years ago there was the push for gay marriage in the US… not simply as a term, but to make it indiscernible from heterosexual marriage before the law. Many Christian groups opposed this. However, predictably, Christian groups were not willing to give up the legal privileges associated with marriage (even though in the Bible, marriage is more of an activity before God and family, not the government). Also not surprising, because of this disconnect, those groups that were in favor of gay marriage were able to get it approved through the courts under equal protection under the law. IF gay marriage is really something to be strongly opposed (and I have no interest in that topic at all one way or the other) then the way to do that was not to (a) live under a system of equal protection and rights before the law, with (b) a desire to keep things unequal.

Christians need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I have heard many commentators struggle with this one. I am not sure I understand it myself. However, I THINK Jesus meant exactly what it sounds like He says. We need to be holy before God but not foolish in regards of how we deal with the world around us.

CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) did a story on this case. They, commendably, did not devolve into hysterics. This is a low bar to achieve but it is something. I do think CEF did better.

Recommended article on this: https://www.wavy.com/news/investigative/christian-group-disagrees-with-after-school-satan-clubs-beliefs-but-supports-its-right-to-meet/

Hanukkah Is Okay Too

I have written before on a challenging topic— “Christmas. It’s Okay… Really!”

It is a post I feel pretty good about. Some would say that it is not a very… controversial topiC. However, every year some Christians will put out arguments as to why Christmas is NOT okay. Curiously, the central problem they bring up is not the (actual evil of) consumerism or the mental health issues often associated with the holiday. Rather, their complaint is that it has “pagan roots.” Of course it does not have pagan roots. It is a birthday anniversary celebration for Jesus… something that seems to be implied as “un-bad” based on the birth narratives in the Gospels. Many, however, suggest that it is bad because it is tied to Saturnalia— a Roman pagan festival. It seems like making arguments about missional accommodation is a bit… niche at best. However, recently have come out a number of videos (like from Youtube’s “Religion for Breakfast”) that point out that the relationship between the day chosen for Christmas and the day for Saturnalia is not only not concurrent, but the fact that it shares a similar season is probably coincidental.

Personally, I would argue that it could share the same exact day and do so intentionally and that this would not be bad. In fact, I have argued that one of the truly great things about Christmas is that it is one day with two holidays. It is Religious Christmas for Christians. It is Secular Christmas for non-Christians. Because of this, Christians and non-Christians can share a day of celebration and the blurring of lines between the two CAN actually be a good thing— a time to talk about the historical base for Christianity with others and the hope that it provides.

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Some also complain that Christmas has too many pagan symbols associated with it— Christmas trees being a good example. In the Philippines, parols are popular. They are paper lanterns (the least ornate are anyway) shaped to remind one of the Star of Bethlehem. I suppose it has roots in “Chinese lanterns” and so (perhaps) have some weak connection to non-Christian practices. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Symbols and days are redeemable. If they weren’t, then this would be a problem. Pretty much everything we do or have has non-Christian associations.

OKAY>>> Finally we can get to Hanukkah

Is Hanukkah okay for Christians to celebrate? A lot of Christians seem to think of Hanukkah as being ‘bad’ because it is seen (somehow) as competition for Christmas. Certainly this year it is somewhat true. Hanukkah is a lunar holiday and so moves around a bit on the solar calendar, but this year it starts on December 18 (this year being 2022) and ending December 26.

Actually, I should note that I have some friends who go the opposite way from some Christians. They see Jewish holidays from the Bible as divinely sanctioned and all other celebrations as not. It can come from vairous arguments:

  1. If Christians are grafted into Israel, maybe we should act like Israelites. (Pretty weak argument.)
  2. Pretty much everything in the Old Testament is forever. If Yom Kippur is “Biblical” it is for all followers of God to do forever. (This is a slightly stronger argument at least.)
  3. Celebration is not necessarily a good thing so we are limited to forms of celebration that are overtly sanctioned by God.
  4. Negatively, the Campbellite argument that whatever the Bible does not explicitly command or allow should not be done by Christians.

So there are some Christians that may say that Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is okay while Christmas (never mentioned in the Bible) is not. For most Christians, however, the view is the other way around. Christmas is good, but Hanukkah is bad.

But Hanukkah is okay… really!! I would like to give a few reasons. All of them I believe are valid… but I don’t generally think one needs to justify celebrations, so I may not personally need any of them.

A. Hanukkah is part of our (Christian) heritage as well. Hanukkah comes to us through the Jews, being a celebration from the Maccabean period of their history. It is not in the Old Testament, but only because it comes from what is called the Intertestamental period. However, the basis for Hanukkah is from I Maccabbees chapter 4— a work that is part of the Roman Catholic Bible. Protestants reject the canonicity of I Maccabees. Still, Protestants should (hopefully) recognize the value of the Apocrypha even if they don’t see it as divinely inspired (in the same fashion as the Holy Bible at least). Regardless, although most Christians are not Jews, and we are not seen as part of the Jewish faith, the Jewish faith is part of our religious heritage.

B. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. John 10:22-23 notes that Jesus was in Jerusalem at Solomon’s portico on the temple grounds. This is the Feast of Dedication mentioned there. Presumably Jesus was there as part of the celebration of Hanukkah. For those who believe that Christians need a Biblical justification for celebration, this seems like it should be adequate.

C. For those Christians (as well as other groups like JWs) who identify most everything they don’t like as being “pagan,” if there is a holiday that is not considered Christian that cannot be charged with “paganism” it is Hanukkah. It is commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is pretty much the opposite of paganism.

<I should jump in here and note that in I Corinthians 10, there is a warning to Christians not to participate in Greek or Roman temple festivities since the sacrifices to these idols is sacrificing to demons. It is not clear to me how literal one is suppose to take this. Should one understand it to say that each idol literally has a demon associated with it and any temple ritual associated with that idol is essentially done to and for that demon? Many would say that this is EXACTLY what it is saying. The problem with this is that in many other parts of the Bible a very different perspective is found. In numerous places, the emphasis is on the idea that worshiping an idol is stupid because they are simply wood or stone and cannot see, hear, are respond. It is hard to reconcile those statements with the idea that idols have a demon directly associated with it who can indeed see, hear, and respond. In my mind, I believe it is more consistent with Scripture to say that demons are not directly associated with idols. Rather, the practice of idolatry is demonic… a violation of the Decalogue, and a choosing to worship the creation over the Creator. But even if one takes a more Peter Wagner sort of interpretation, it still has nothing to say to Hanukkah which has no idols, and is linked to a formal rejection of idols.>

D. Hanukkah can (and should) be a celebration to bring Christians and Jews together. I must admit, I have never been to a Hanukkah celebration. There simply are not many Jews in Baguio City, Philippines. However, I have known two or three in Baguio. One of them, Paul, invited me to the next Hanukkah celebration of his group. Their group (they actually call themselves “The Bagel Boys”) meets for major Jewish holidays bringing up a rabbi from the nearest synagogue (3 hours away). Sadly, he died that year so I never got the the exact time and place. That was too bad. I teach a course on Dialogue with Asian Religions. I hoped to bring at least a couple of students with me. I think it would have been a great blessing for everyone.

E. I think a strong argument could be made that when it comes to celebrations of other religions in one’s community, the question is not necessarily as simple as PARTICIPATE versus NOT PARTICIPATE. Perhaps the better question is HOW CAN I JOIN IN A WAY THAT IS GOD HONORING, CULTURALLY PARTICIPATING, AND BEING A BLESSING IN MY COMMUNITY EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR?