From Minnesota to Kachinland

Okay. So I started out with the intent of discussing (complaining) about a well-known quote by John Piper. It goes like this:

Mission Exists Because Worship Doesn’t

The statement has a certain appeal to it from a position of pietism. However, it feels to me as if it does not really stand up to scrutiny. I don’t really want to go into this too far since my post is about to go off in a very random direction. However, when one looks in the Bible at ideal relationships between God and Man, one commonly does not find settings that seem all that worshipful. Genesis 1 -3 show the ideal as more of God and Man sharing paradise together in the cool of the morning. Enoch (although the language is wildly open to interpretation) seems to have a relationship that is more intimate with God than is suggestive by the term “worship.” Jesus seemed to promote intimate friendship over worship with His disciples. Jesus certainly is worthy of worship (as the P&W song goes) but it does not seem as if He craves it particularly. While some scenes in Heaven in Revelation fit the classic imagery of worship, others point more to something more akin to Genesis 1-3. Of course, the term ‘worship’ is a bit loaded. We often picture a very physical activity (prostrating, bowing, raising hands, folding hands, jumping, whatever), but worship is far more the activity of the heart than of activity. However, saying that mission exists because worship doesn’t… well… I guess it may in a sense be true… but it gives an image that seems to be outside what the Bible gives when calling for missions.

Yeah… I better stop going in that direction. I said that it veered off. Anyway, I am not really a student of John Piper. I haven’t really read much of anything that he has written, so I did not want to be taking this quote of his out of context… so I web-browsed, and found an article titled, “Missions Exists Because Worship Doesn’t.” You can click on the name to read the article.

What amazed me was a paragraph towards the beginning:

In 1890 (122 years ago) Bethlehem (a 29-year-old Swedish Baptist Church) sent Mini and Ola Hanson from our own membership to an unreached people group in Burma called the Kachin. They were known as vengeful, cruel, and treacherous. The King of Burma declared to Hanson when he got there, “So you are to teach the Kachins! Do you see my dogs over there? I tell you, it will be easier to convert and teach these dogs. You are wasting your life.”

-John Piper, at the link above

The section about the Hansons is longer. I would recommend reading it in the article I mentioned above. I have had MANY students in seminary who are Kachin. They look on Mini and Ola Hanson with such respect, even decades after their passing. They learned the Kachin Language. (Technically, they learned Jinpo, the largest language in the Kachin language group.) They developed an alphabet, and translated the Bible into Kachin (Jinpo). If I remember right, talking to my students, that Bible is still used.

The durability of their faith in (let’s just cautiously say) politically challenging times, is impressive and atestimony to the dedication of the Hansons. But dedication is not really enough. A lot of missionaries are dedicated.

Based on my conversations with Kachin, I think they truly felt the love of the Hansons for them… and in that love, believe that they saw the Love of Christ for them. Truthfully, in may ways, the traditional religion of the Kachin was not so greatly differently from Christianity. They believed in one god— the god of the heavens. They believed that they were separated from god by sin, and saw the need for sacrifice to make peace with god. What they needed was to know that the God of the Heavens loved them and sent Jesus for them… taking away the burden of sacrifice.

The Kachin responded to the love of God by loving Him back, based on what they saw through the love demonstrated by the Hansons.

I guess that brings things full circle to a modified quote:

Missions Exists because Love Doesn’t

Missionaries and Nationalism. Part Two

Continuing thoughts on the 1970s era book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Written in the time of the many independence movements around the world as well as the height of the Cold War, it has much more to say on the relationship between missionaries and nationalism than more recent works. For Part Two, I am looking at what Kane said regarding the fact that national churches in colonies (I assume he is speaking of Evangelical churches… some other churches definitionally embraced Liberation Theology and independence) have often been little involved in independence movements. He gives a number of reasons.

A. Mission churches were the products of missionaries, who were typically Westerners. Mission churches were essentially a product of colonization.

B. Mission churches were founded by missionaries, and missionaries commonly have little interest in politics. I can relate to this. I have little interest in politics and so if people I supervise are highly political (and a few have been) they are that way in spite of me rather than because of me. I recall Billy Graham saying that if one wants social change in a country… then focus on evangelism. Social change will happen naturally as more are saved. I don’t know if he truly believed that or was being self-serving… but that is simply not how it is. If missionaries and churches focus on evangelism and ignore social injustice, they will create new Christians and churches with little interest in social injustice or political change. The fruit you get depends on the seeds you plant.

C. In many countries, Christians were a small, and sometimes persecuted group. Many believe (often correctly) that independence movements are not likely to benefit Christians. Often the opposite could be expected.

D. Many nationalistic movements were linked to non-Christian groups… and sometimes anti-Christian groups. I am from the United States and among Evangelicals if one wants to crush a social justice initiative, all one has to do is suggest that those seeking justice are Communists. Of course, the result of this sort of fearmongering is that Evangelical Christians are identified as rejecting social justice, and Communists supporting the same. Of course, if a nation becomes independent, it is no benefit for the Christian churches to be seen as collaborators with the colonial powers.

E. In many mission churches, the majority of the people are poor and illiterate or semi-literate. This sounds a bit insulting. At the same time, in many places this could be true. Generally, changing which rich and powerful people are in charge has more of an effect on rich and powerful people. The destitute and working poor, often are little affected by such changes.

F. Perhaps most importantly, many mission churches, and even more missionaries were beholding churches, mission agencies and individual supporters from the colonizing countries. These supporters were often very much not in support of independence movements. And even if there were those who did support independence, it had to have been scary to risk loss of financial and other forms of tangible support

Although many of the exact situations have changed, the basic issue remain. We would do well to learn from the ambiguous lessons and examples of the past.

Missionaries and Nationalism. Part One

I have been reading a bit of a book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Originally published in the 1970s, the book is woefully out-of-date. And yet, it is that quality that makes it valuable in some ways. For example, it has a very interesting chapter on political involvement. A major part of that is on the issues of colonialism and nationalism. Nowadays, we may talk about semi-autonomous regions, national territories, or spheres of hegemony— but we rarely think in terms of colonial powers and colonies. However, in the 1970s, this was very much a still current issue. At that time, the colonial powers were rapidly disintegrating as national independence movements were moving towards final victory. It was also the time of the Cold War, so much of this process is also seen occurring linked to the geopolitical chess match between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Much of the discussion is out of date because many of the questions have shifted… and yet the broader questions remain. Today, many look on with disdain at missionaries in history as being supporters of colonization, and also waging a war of cultural imperialism. As vigorously as some have argued these points, others have challenged these views. Some have portrayed missionaries as empowering nationalistic movements.

Kane does a good job of avoiding the extremes here (the extremes are almost always being wrong, as most people over the age of 22 typically learn). He notes several things (drawing from pages 252-255, of the 4th edition, 1986) that relate to missionaries who served in colonies.

#1. During the colonial age, imperialism was a way of international life. Perhaps I would say, it was the worldview. It was the world they were born into, and thus the system that makes sense. It is hard to picture a new reality, and so many missionaries supported colonialism simply because it is what everyone they were brought up with supported. Relatedly, even if they thought some colonialism is bad, it is likely that their brand of it (their own nations colonies) is better than other brands.

#2. Those missionaries who had concerns about colonialism often saw it as the ‘lesser of two evils.’ They saw suffering of various groups and believed that through colonialism, some of those evils could be addressed. Some believe that colonies brought CHRISTIANITY, COMMERCE, and CIVILIZATION. These were commonly seen as all inherently good. Even countries that eschewed colonialism could fall for that logic. The United States, a country that supposedly supported freedom from imperialists (at least from those lands that were not affected by the American belief of ‘Manifest Destiny’) still did embrace colonialism in certain places— specifically those lands they gained from the Spanish American War. While the US did not use the term “colony,” in practice that is what they were. However, the acquisition of these lands was couched in non-economic terms. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ argued that it was American responsibility to ‘help’ the Filipino by ruling over them— and President William McKinley also described the take-over in terms of benevolence. Frankly, I tend to see the “Lesser Evil” principle as an ethical weak position. I prefer the “Greater Good” principle, while acknowledging that good can be hard to find… especially in the political arena.

#3. Many accepted colonialism as part of the “Sovereignty of God.” Sadly, this is truly horrible theology. Kane himself did seem to find it hard to imagine that previous generation missionaries truly believed this. It is essentially states, “’What is’ is what is meant to be.” That seems to be way out of line from the Bible, where prophets and apostles pretty consistently state, “’What is’ needs to change.” Often God’s sovereignty becomes little more than a call for laissez-faire politics— for maintaining the ‘status quo.’ Yet, if a missionary felt called to stand against the status quo and seek to cause change, it certainly seems reasonable that he or she could claim to be acting according to the Sovereignty of God as well— especially if they succeed.

#4. Missionaries were commonly among the first to identify evils in the colonial system in which they resided. While missionaries sometimes flourished within the colonial system (at least when the colonial power was supportive of what they were doing and where they were doing it), they commonly stood against the many evils and exploitative practices carried out by colonialists. This is difficult. If one is asked to serve God within an evil and despicable system, should one focus on especially egregious abuses while ignoring the overall bad system, or attack the system itself?

#5. Missionaries have always (or at least mostly) saw themselves as ambassadors of Christ, not of the colonial government. I don’t think this viewpoint answers the question of what response is appropriate. Still, clearly, the charge that missionaries were pawns of the colonizers had more basis when their relationship with colonial powers were too chummy and when they embraced a sort of “Christendom” with church and state getting mixed up too much. As one who likes to minimize my relationship with all governments (a very healthy attitude I am prone to believe), I can see how focusing on one’s role as an ambassador of Christ may mean not dealing with problems that come from a tyrannical and/or corrupt government.

#6. Missionaries have stayed at their posts. With the transition to independent governments in countries that had been under colonial rule… missionaries have typically stayed to work, while other people from the colonial powers have generally left. That does, in some way, point out that their connection and commitment was to the people not the colonizers.

#7. Few missionaries have mourned the passing of the colonial era. Serving in the Philippines, I am thrilled that this nation achieved its full freedom in 1946. Would it have been better if they had gotten their full freedom in 1898? Perhaps, but that is something that cannot be changed. I have actually met a few Filipinos who wish that their country was never separated from the United States, but I can’t share that. I doubt things would have been better.

Part Two we will explore a similar but slightly different issue from Kane’s b

The Challenge of Missionary Biographies

I am presently putting together a “max-flex” course on Missions History for a Bible College in the United States. I am using “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” by Ruth Tucker (2nd edition). It utilizes a biographical approach primarily, with themes and chronology taking on a secondary role. I have mentioned my concerns about biographical histories— especially the risk of supporting the “Great Man Theory” of History. And then, even if that is avoided, there is the risk of “hagiographic” biographies— idolizing and idealizing missionaries. Ruth Tucker avoids both temptations quite admirably. That is one of the main reasons I want to use her book.

But it also got me thinking. I really love Missions History, but I rarely blog about missionary lives. I also don’t give a lot of reporting or commenting on missionary news. It got me thinking about why that is.

I guess that there are several reasons:

#1. I don’t want to violate confidentiality or private matters. The most interesting things about missionaries are not typically the things that show up in newsletters. They are rarely the “Praise God!!” moments. They are usually the “Oh my God…” moments. These however are private and are not really to be shared.

#2. I don’t really want to disrespect other missionaries. I don’t really want to judge their behaviors and strategies generally, just as I don’t really want them to judge me or what I do. I rarely know the whole story so not only should I not be one prone to judge (as Jesus has stated), I am commonly not competent to judge. Consider the case of John Allen Chau who was killed going to North Sentinel Island. In my mind, it was an ill-conceived plan poorly carried out. On the other hand, I respect his passion. And (who knows?) perhaps God was calling him to go to North Sentinel Island and he was faithfully doing so just as God wanted. Success is not necessarily the proof of faithfulness. I may or may not be competent to pass some cautious judgments about certain aspects of his mission, but I am most definitely not competent to judge him. (And, frankly, I would refuse to take seriously any attempts by John Chau to judge my very much non-pioneering mission work if he was still alive to do so.)

#4. Biographical writings on missionaries is not always helpful. No missionary deserves to be a superstar or celebrity (including/especially myself). Their message is to point people to God, not themselves. Paul may have said to use his own life as an example, but I am certain that did not imply to look to himself rather than Jesus. Missionary stories can be inspirational, but the ones that get shared often are atypical, or misleading. Most missionary stories probably would not be that inspirational to the average person. Focusing on success stories can give people the wrong idea. At the other extreme— organizations or publications on the struggles of missionary don’t always do a service. Ones that focus on those who have been killed in missions or church planting work, can cause people to lose focus on what the story is supposed to be about. The martyrdom of Christ was a love story to all mankind, and yet for centuries far to many Christians used that story to figure out “Who’s to blame.”

Anyway, I hope you do take time to read up on missionaries and what they have done in obedience to the Great Commandment (and to a lesser extent, the Great Commission). And I hope to share some more biographies in the future… but I think I will always (and wisely) be cautious.

Early Christian Missions History

I am being asked to teach a course in Missions History. I haven’t done that in a few years.

I will be using the 2004 Edition of “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” by Ruth Tucker. I like the book because it is a light but informative read. Because it is primarily biographical, people can often connect to it better (people tend to be more interested in people and stories, than events and facts). Tucker is willing to show missionaries, warts and all. Those who write biographies about missionaries that are almost hagiographic really do a disservice to the reader… AND the missionary. I also appreciate that she spends time on missions in a wide variety of its flavors— old and new, men and women, Catholic and Protestant, First World and Majority World, etc. The only major complaint I have with the book is not even a complaint about the book itself, but the risk associated with the strategy. When missions history of the church is built on biographies of missionaries, there is the risk that people will think it is all about a few limited missionaries. Carlyle’s “Great Man” Theory of World History has, sadly, soaked into Christian Church and Missions history. That being said, I don’t believe the book ever suggests an embracing of this perspective.

I do wish that Missions History books would focus more on First Millennium Missions. There are few good books on this, as far as I can see. Stephen Neill’s book on Christian Missions (a good book over all) only spends 50 pages on the first 15 centuries (around 3 pages per century). Here are a couple I would recommend.

  1. Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, by Adolf Harnack. This is a relatively old book (1908), but the scholarship is excellent. It is available for free at CCEL (https://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/mission.html). Sadly, the CCEL editor for the book’s page writes seemingly with the goal of steering people away from the book. The editor notes Harnack’s preference of the Synoptic Gospels over the Gospel of John. This has little relevance to the book. However, Harnack’s concern of Greek philosophical influence on early Christian writings is a quite valid concern and should be considered. Anyway, I strongly recommend reading the book, and it is FREE. Also, Harnack’s book devotes more than 100 pages per century.
  2. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. by Philip Jenkins. This book is exactly 100 years more recent— 2008. It looks at church and missions history outside of the drift to the Northeast from Jerusalem. This is actually a huge part of Christian history. And for comparison, it devotes approximately 30 pages per century. It is very much still in print, so recommend you search for it— such as in Amazon.

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.

New Article on History of Missions

I recently finished an article titled, “Apostles/Evangelists of the First Three Centuries as Exemplars for Modern Missionaries.”

The abstract is as follows:

This paper considers the challenge of defining the term missionary in a way that is useful— neither excessively broad nor narrow in scope. It is suggested that rather than focusing on a definition for determining who is a missionary, which ultimately places attention on the boundaries of the term, a better choice is to focus on exemplars of missionaries. In an attempt to do this, the paper suggests that the pattern of apostles and evangelists of the first three centuries of church history provides such an exemplar. More specifically, since Paul and Barnabas are the most well-known and well-described of this group of ministers, they can serve as the exemplars for this group, and ultimately for modern missionaries. The purpose of this paper is not to determine who is a missionary and who is not, but rather utilize these exemplars to critique modern definitions of the term missionary. Through this, the author believes that a better understanding of the center, rather than the boundaries, of Christian missionaries and missions can be better understood.

If you are interested in reading it, it is now available on http://www.academia.edu. You can access it by CLICKING HERE.

Missionary Quote from St. Origen

The following quote is in response to charges made by Celsus, a pagan philosopher, against Christianity. (By the way, Celsus’s work is actually a very interesting read… strong recommendation.) This is part of the response from Origen of Alexandrai (185-253AD, more or less):

But since he is manifestly guilty of falsehood in the statements which follow, let us examine his assertion when he says, “If all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.” Now that the above statement is false is clear from this, that Christians do not neglect, as far as in them lies, to take measures to disseminate their doctrine throughout the whole world. Some of them, accordingly, have made it their business to itinerate not only through cities, but even villages and country houses, that they might make converts to God. And no one would maintain that they did this for the sake of gain, when sometimes they would not accept even necessary sustenance; or if at any time they were pressed by a necessity of this sort, were contented with the mere supply of their wants, although many were willing to share (their abundance) with them, and to bestow help upon them far above their need. At the present day, indeed, when, owing to the multitude of Christian believers, not only rich men, but persons of rank, and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of Christianity, some perhaps will dare to say that it is for the sake of a little glory s that certain individuals assume the office of Christian instructors. It is impossible, however, rationally to entertain such a suspicion with respect to Christianity in its beginnings, when the danger incurred, especially by its teachers, was great; while at the present day the discredit attaching to it among the rest of mankind is greater than any supposed honour enjoyed among those who hold the same belief, especially when such honour is not shared by all. It is false, then, from the very nature of the case, to say that “if all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.”
CHAP. X.

Against Celsus, by St. Origen, Book III, Chapter 9.

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In the response to the charge by Celsus that Christians don’t really want all people to become Christians, Origen points out that Christians do desire as much as possible to disseminate their faith throughout the world. He then talks about a certain class of Christian who travels from city to village to house to share the gospel message. The description fits the early church picture of an Apostle. As von Harnack noted, the two pimary characteristics (as indicated in the Didache, Shephard of Hermas particularly) of an apostle is mendicancy and zealous evangelizing. Over time, the term Apostle (which as time went on became more associated with “The Twelve”) fell out of fashion for these individuals and so would be usually called Evangelists. Later, the Latinized term, Missionary became popular. Here with Origen the terms he used were “teachers of Christianity” and “Christian instructors.”

What makes this quote import is that it was written in the third century when missionaries or apostles had seemed to have disapeared. Part of this was because of the movement towards power and offices being fully centered in the church… such that people such as Bishops Polycarp and Cyprian would be described as having a certain ‘apostolic’ authority, leading toward the later identification of apostle as being a position inside of the ecclesiastical hierarchy rather than outside. Such great focus was placed on the work within the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries that if it were not for Origen and later Eusebius we would hardly know of their existence. Even with them, with the exception of Pantaenus, they are missionaries who remain unnamed and unhonored. Strangely, that was the point of Origen. These people shared the Gospel without material reward. If some Christians of means do indeed help them with food or shelter in their travels. this small bit of honor is more than balanced by the dishonor heaped on them by the world around them.

The Faithful Servant

<A sermon I did for seminary chapel>

I would like to go over a very familiar parable of Jesus. It is the parable of the Faithful Servant. It is found in Matthew 24:45-51 However, I would like to go through it with a bit of a missiological spin to it.

An expression that has been commonly thrown about in the late 20th century up to today in Missions is “Finishing the Task.” The idea is that God has a missional task for His people and that particular task is almost done… or perhaps can be almost done. Groups like Student Volunteer Mission, Discipling a Whole Nation and AD2000 have used this phrase or a similar one like “Evangelizing the Whole World in This Generation” to inspire people to do certain things. When this is tied to Unreached People Groups and linking it to a dubious interpretation of Matthew 24:14, the idea has sprung up that once Missionaries have shared the gospel to every single unreached people group on earth in a way such that they can now form an indigenized church, the task of missions is done, and Christ can finally return. Until then, Jesus is waiting in heaven for us to Finish the Task.

I don’t believe in that interpretation, and, frankly, I don’t really like the expression FINISHING THE TASK. I prefer the expression FAITHFUL TO CHRIST’S MISSION. Why is that? It is because I believe that the first one puts the focus in the wrong things.

First of all… Finishing the task has the focus on… finishing… or being done. This doesn’t sound bad. However, I believe that it commonly leads to problems. Decades ago I ran on the track team at my high school, believe it or not. Watching runners near the finish line— most of them would slow down before they reached the end. Why? Because they are so focused on the finish line that they lose focus on running. The same happens with jobs where people often begin to work less hard as one nears the end of one’s time on the job. But perhaps even more common is for people to do the exact opposite. It is tempting to be lazy or sluggish until a deadline nears. Perhaps teenagers are supposed to take care of the house while the parents are gone. They might be tempted to leave it a mess until just before mom and dad get home.

They hope they can get everything done just in time. Or perhaps one is a seminarian and should be faithfully studying every day. But it is tempting to not study very hard until right before the test. Focusing on the finish line often leads to laziness and lack of quality in one’s work. I believe it is better to focus on faithfulness to the work and on the one who assigned that work

Second, I don’t really like the term “Task” in the expression Finishing the task. Over time, people tend to become confused about what their task really is. Early on it may seem clear that their task is to act as ambassadors of Christ, serving as witnesses of Christ, and following the example of Christ. But as time goes on, there is a tendency to drift away from this. The task often becomes something that may sound like it is the same… but is very different. Maybe the task is now… Growing the number of people in my church… or Growing the people who are part of my sect or denomination… or me planting as many churches as fast as possible… or get people to dress and act like me rather than like people in their own culture…. or see how many people I can get to say the sinner’s prayer. Some of these may sound right and good… but they really aren’t the mission that Christ has given the you or the church

So with all of that in mind, let’s go to Matthew 24:45-51

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

When we first look at this, it is tempting to see this as a contrast between Saint and Sinner— between the Narrow Path and the Wide Path. However, there are no unsaved in this story.

This is about two servants… trusted and competent servants of the Master.

In fact, it is not even about two servants, but only one. And only one Master. This one servant has been given the job to maintain the Master’s business of the household including those who serve within the household until he returns. The Master leaves, and this servant is doing a good job taking care of things.

But then one day the servant realizes something. The Master has not returned as soon as he expected. The servant will have to keep doing his job for longer time… not sure when it will end.

This is the challenge. We can handle almost anything except time.We can be enthusiastic and committed for a day… a week… maybe a month. But as time goes on, it becomes harder to keep the motivation going— even more so when it is unclear when the end will come. The servant can choose NOT to focus on when the master returns… but in doing each day what the master wants, in the way the master wanted it done. This decision is identified as being for a faithful and wise servant, one who pleases the master.

But that is not the only possibility. The servant could become focused on when the master returns, and allow his understanding of his task to drift. He still does his job generally. He still keeps the household running. He still handles the accounting. He still feeds the people under his care. We know that because the business has not collapsed, the bank has not foreclosed on the house, and the other servants have not starved. But he is no longer doing things the way the master wanted. He begins seeing the other servants not as people but as tools to get his job done and make his life easier. When they fail to do this, he beats them.. He uses the benefits accorded to him to increase his comfort and extend his authority and power. He is not stupid… he knows the master could return, but he probably thinks that he can get warning when the master will return and can get things in order in time. But much like the seminary student who thinks he or she can figure out when there will be a pop quiz in class, this servant is likely to be shocked and disappointed. He will not know when the master will return. He was focused on the wrong thing. Jesus calls this servant a wicked servant. It may be true, but frankly, few of us can keep our motivation and focus unchanged year after year.

As I suggested before, I don’t believe the parable is about good versus evil in the classic dualistic sense. The servant corresponds to a disciple of Christ. But the story gives warning that it is all too easy to lose track of what it takes to be a good disciple— faithful to the mission of Christ— following the example of Christ.

Let me give a parallel story from church history. A few years after Pentecost, Philip of the Seven traveled into Samaria to be a witness of Christ to the people there. He followed the example that Christ gave. Jesus healed the people and shared the good news. He did not use His power and authority to abuse them. When they did not want to listen to Him, Jesus simply went to another village. When Jesus sent out the 70 disciples to Jewish, Gentile, and Samaritan villages, He ensured that they would bless the people and in no way harm them. In fact, if the people of the village did not want them there, Jesus instructed them to leave and take nothing from them… not even the dust that stuck to their sandals.

I believe Philip was a good and faithful servant. He was focused not only on the mission of Christ, but sought to follow the example of Christ.

A few centuries later, things changed. In the late 400s, Emperor Zeno, of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, ruled over Samaria. The Byzantines were Christians and they had legal authority and military power now over the Samaritans. Emperor Zeno was the Christian leader given responsibility over the land and people of his dominion. Emperor Zeno decided to require all Samaritans to become Christianity. At this time there were between 1 and 2 million Samaritans in his realm. The Samaritans, understandably, revolted. So, tens of thousands were killed by the Byzantine army. A few decades later, Emperor Justinian, also the Christian leader of the land, essentially made being a Samaritan illegal. To avoid charges of being a criminal, they had to convert to Christianity. Again the Samaritans revolted and tens of thousands more Samaritans were killed by the Christian Byzantine army.

Some time later the Muslims invaded. At first they were better than the Byzantine Christians. However, they also gradually gave in to the temptation to abuse power and lose track of their own mission… so much so that by 1000 AD, there were only around 1000 Samaritans alive— a 99.9% reduction of their numbers.

I cannot speak for the leaders of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate, but I believe that the Christian Byzantine emperors felt like they were good servants of God. By using their political and military power to require Samaritans to convert, I think they felt that they were doing the task of bringing people into the church. And Samaritans rebelling against the Christian rulers probably felt like them rebelling against God and so killing these rebels could certainly feel like finishing the task. Using the power God gave them to force people to become Christians might sound like doing the Lord’s work. Nevertheless, I believe they were bad servants. They had lost track of the mission given to them by Christ, and had become abusive much like the servant in the parable became abusive.

Probably none of us will have an army that we can control… or have millions of people that we use or abuse. But all of us will have to decide whether in church, in school, or the mission field… what type of servant will we be. Will we be focused on finishing or on being faithful. Will we have our attention caught up in tasks, or on Christ has has sent us on mission.

Good Theological Questions from 19th Century Seneca

I was raised up near the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians— a prominent Iroquois tribe.

Recently, I was reading “Kinzua: From Cornplanter to the Corps” by William N. Hoover. In it, he shares a quote from another book that speaks questions that Seneca students had for white missionary teachers serving among them.

In A Nineteenth-Century Journal of a Visit to the Indians of New York, Deardorff and Snyderman noted that often in the evenings Henry Simmons sat with the Indian men and tried to answer many of the questions the Indians had about the whites and their ways. Especially thorny for Simmons to explain was how the whites reconciled their religious professions with their treatment of the Indians. Such problematic questions as: ‘Was it right for whites and Indians to marry since each went to a different Heaven (or Hell) when he died? What happened to the half-breed children? Why, if the Bible was intended for Indians hadn’t it been fixed so the Indians could read it?’ Explaining such contradictions and shortfalls in the ways of the white man would not have been an enviable task for anyone.

William N. Hoover, Kinzua: From Cornplanter to the Corps (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006), 39.

These are great theological questions? Questions about intermarriage and of mixed race children were extremely practical questions that relate to Soteriology and the eternal destiny of Man. The question of the Bible and why it is not translated into the Seneca language is a hugely important contextual/missiological question. But of these the most challenging was reconciling the high principles of white Christians with their sinful activities. How can Christians be coming to the Seneca expressing high morality while deceiving and cheating the Seneca?

Truthfully, there is no excuse. The correct answer is that Christians often rationalize great evil when there is financial advantage to do so. This is even more so when that great evil is directed at people who are consider to be from “Them” rather than “Us.”

However, I do think that I have a suggested answer. Boccaccio’s Decameron has the First Day, Second Story a situation where a non-Christian discovers how far Christians fall short of their high ideals. I would suggest you reading it yourself. It is a great story. But from it, I would suggest this answer.

“You are right. So many Whites have mistreated your people. I am sorry for this. What makes it even worse is that we claim to be Christians meaning that we claim to follow the guidance of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ would never approve of stealing from your people, or cheating your people, or abusing your people. I am convinced that Jesus Christ, God’s Son is very displeased that people claim to follow Him and yet do such evil things. My hope is that you will not follow the example of so many of the White people you have met, but follow the example and guidance of Jesus Christ.”

This would make sense because as missionaries we are not to lead people to ourselves, or even people like ourselves. We are to lead people to Christ. In fact, it is the great gulf that exists between Jesus and Christians that can help people see Christ more clearly. I don’t recommend, being ungodly so that people identify the godliness of Jesus in contrast. But it is important to recognize that Christianity is not a man-made faith from good people. It is a God-given faith that aspires to that which is beyond the reach of man to attain. That is what led the non-Christian in that story in the Decameron to become a Christian. The sinfulness of religious leaders convinced him that Christianity did not come from them.