“Missions in Samaria” Book

One positive side of enhanced quarantine is the opportunity to make progress on something that one had definitely had on the ‘back burner.’ I decided to try to finish my book “Missions in Samaria” a few months early. When I say it is done, I mean that the first draft is done. It is only about 70 pages, but I am happy where it is— at least for now. My next book will be a collaboration with my wife on a pastoral counseling case workbook. It should be valuable, especially in the Asian context.

If you want to read the first draft of my book, “Missions in Samaria,” click on the link below.

Missions in Samaria rev 0

Of course, if you are bored, you can also look at other books that I wrote or my wife and I wrote, they are listed in:   My Books

Backpedalling in Samaria

I am working on a book, “Missions in Samaria.” It is based on an article I wrote before. It started with the birth of the Samaritan identity up through the book of Acts. Then I jumped to how one can think about Missions in terms of OUR Samarias today. In other words, what places are we called to share the gospel that may be close to us but we have the tendency to ignore ministering to, or even sabotage doing ministry?

But then I did some more research and found that an important chapter was lost in looking at Samaria. In the first century, Samaria was a region with a sizable populace and a vibrant faith. Not so today. Why is this? One might suspect that they lost the war in battle of ideas/ideologies. Or perhaps there was a mass conversion to Christianity since the Book of Acts describes such a mass conversion.

The truth is that the Samaritan faith did not die so much as was murdered. Samaritism did not just fall, it was pushed.

During the time of the Byzantine Empire, Samaria was a turbulent place. Christan writers often used Samaritans or Samaritanism in negative analogies. The government was oppressive, and under Emperor Justinian, the faith was essentially made illegal. There were several uprisings that were crushed violently, killing hundreds of thousands of Samaritans. With the Islamic invasion, there was a bit of a temporary reprieve. However, that reprieve was far from complete with periodic forced conversions to Islam by the more “evangelistic” caliphs.

Today, the people who identify themselves as Samaritans are located in two small communities and number in the hundreds. There seems more of a tendency today to see it as a unique sect of Judaism, as opposed to a distinct competitor of that faith. In some ways, the remaining Samaritans are a testimony to the tenacity of faith.

Sadly, they are also a testimony to the tendency of Christians not to take the message of Christ seriously. Jesus sought to undermine the prejudices of the Jews regarding Samaritans, and specially commanded His apostles to reach out to them with the Good News. Yet as Christianity grew in power these prejudices grew in strength and violence, in opposition to Christ’s message.

This should serve as a warning to us.

The Counterproductive Missionary?

So… let’s talk about some well-known expansions of Christianity. One of these was the growth of the church in the Roman Empire, and adjoining territories during the first 3 centuries. The church grew rapidly. If I remember right (and am quite prepared to be wrong), the church averaged growth of around 20% per year. That is pretty huge. Both Islam and Christianity is recently growing around 3%, more or less, per year. Some smaller religions are growing at a faster rate, but 20% is pretty huge for any group.

China has been an area of great growth of the church (both “underground” and “above ground”) in the 20th century. In recent years, people have been writing about the apparent growth of the underground church in Iran, mirroring in some ways the growth of Christianity in the Iranian diaspora. Perhaps a fourth one worth mentioning is the African Indigenous (or Initiated) Church (AIG) movement.

What do these movements have in common?  One is that there was persecution. That cannot be discounted. However, persecution is not a magic growth formula. In fact, the Chinese church has undergone several waves of persecution going back to the 9th century AD. Of those waves of persecution, it seems as if the only that last of these resulted in growth (Maoist persecution).

Persecution can lead to resiliency, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee growth— perhaps nothing guarantees growth. But a few more things seem worth noting for these growth movements.  There Christianity is

  1.  …a religion of (relative) poverty. In some cases, Christianity in these movements was the religion of the poor, and the poorest of the poor. In other cases, Christianity is impoverished in terms of structure. Religious structure, in this case, refers to some things like complex organization, physical religious buildings, and paid clerical class within the church.
  2. … a religion of the people. It is started, expanded and propagated by locals, rather than foreigners, and often by laity rather than clergy.
  3. … a religion in which missionaries are not active. Or… if they are active, they are taking on a background, supportive role rather than a leading or controlling role. In fact, the AIC movement often found itself in conflict with missionaries. In China, the Christian church really began to grow after missionaries left the country. Successful missionary work done by foreigners there is now more often in terms of assisting with training or other support roles rather than leadership or apostolic tasks. Much of the early church growth in the Roman Empire happened in the 2nd and 3rd centuries when Apostles/Missionaries as a group were slowly fading away. By the 3rd century, they were barely recognized as a group. I would also suggest that the Iran church have thrived in the absence of foreign missionaries planting and leading churches, while in Iraq, the access of foreign mission workers has NOT been a boon. (Again, open to correction in this area.)

So suppose these three things are true? What does this mean for foreign missions? I would suggest three things.

  • Missionaries today seem to be selected wrong. Many mission agencies, including the main one in my denomination, tend to select missionaries based on their “evangelistic spirit” and sense of calling to plant churches. Maybe, however, this is NOT what is needed. Maybe we need missionaries who support locals who are called to be evangelists, apostles, and churchplanters. Perhaps missionaries should be selected on their passion to serve locals rather than lead, and support locals rather than replace.
  • Be very careful as to where missional churches send short-term mission teams. In many places in the world they can easily do great damage. And in places where they can go, they are more likely to be useful in supportive tasks requested by the receiving Christians, not doing the stuff that their sending churches think is needed.
  • However, missionaries, in the broader sense of the term, should be everywhere. The church is universal and we tend to remember this when we learn and grow with and from each other. Perhaps this means having people who are less thought of as “missionaries” (leaders, evangelists, churchplanters) and more as cross-cultural workers, supporting local work, as requested by locals.

This last point may seem a bit odd, but it is pretty straightforward. When Christians come to the US to serve, they do so without much “hoopla.” Some may pastor churches or be involved in various ministries, but there is no presumption that as a foreigner that they must have a very specific role of leadership or task. Rather, the assumption is that there are needs, and if that person can meet that locally-determined need, then they can serve. What makes sense in the US, should perhaps be recognized as making sense elsewhere as well.

 

 

 

Missions Theology— Problems of Reaction

Consider Quote from Corbett and Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts:

As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreting the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the “Great Reversal” in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems.

It is important to note that the Great Reversal preceded the rise of the welfare state in America. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty did not occur until the 1960s, and even FDR’s relatively modest New Deal policies were not launched until the 1930s. In short, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not— as many asserted— to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor.    <Corbett and Fikkert, page 45>

In the 1960s another shift reaction occurred but this time in Missions. During this time, theological liberalism was having a growing impact on Western Protestant missions due to the growth of belief in pluralism among Protestants, and a unique interpretation of Missio Dei. The former reduced the feeling that non-Christians needed an allegiance shift to Christ. The latter saw Missio Dei, the understanding that God is working on mission everywhere at all times on earth, as making the role of Missio Ecclessiae doubtful. In fact, from a mission perspective, if God is working in other cultures, for a missionary to come in an challenge the beliefs and practices of a people, could it not be a working against God? As such Missions is seen as a ministry of Presence rather than Proclamation.

In reaction to this, there seemed to be a narrowing of mission work among Evangelicals to proclamation and church-planting. Exacerbating this was a focus on what I would call Apocalypticism. That is, Christ is returning any moment, so what should we work on right this minute to be ready for this return? While this focus may seem reasonable, the result was that anything that might be considered a “long-term investment” in terms of ministry (such as poverty alleviation, cultural transformation, community development) were seen as too slow and not a priority. Further, Kingdom of God over the decades tended to be associated more and more with Heaven so problems on earth (ecological and social injustice) were seen as lacking value.  We still find these problems. I was reading a recent mission CPM book that discouraged social ministry or even friendship evangelism as “slowing things down.”

I could go on. But let’s stop here a moment and think what’s been going on:

  • Evangelical Missions has often been reactionary. Rather than centered on God’s word, it tended all too often to react against theological liberals, or pluralists, or liberationists, Catholics or others. (Often these other groups were seen as “the enemy.”) As such, Evanglicals often were guilty of what they charge others (of not treating the Bible as authoritative and basis for faith and practice).
  • Relatedly, short-term marketing choices were often given formal “blessing” regardless of whether they were based on solid principles.

There has been success in Evangelical Missions over the last 6 to 7 decades, but there has been a cost. It has lost relevance in many sectors not because of opposition but intentionally pulling out of those sectors. Failures in social justice and poverty alleviation, and focusing on Heaven only, have resulted in reinforcing the charges of Marxists that religion is about serving as an opiate for the masses. Failures to transform (or even try to transform) societies and cultures has led many to see as a failure of Christ and Christianity, rather than simply a failure of Missions theology. Focusing on UPGs (and an abusive use of Matthew 24:11) led to poorly considered and invasive tactics.

This post is long enough. But we can clearly do better.

The “Not-so-Great Man” Theory of Missions History

What makes history… history. One can look at it as repeating cycles of human drama. It can be seen as class struggle, social and/or technological progress, paradigm shifts, or clashes of civilizations or ideologies. But one popular one is the “Great Man” Theory. In the words of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”

I honestly don’t know the context of his quote so I can’t say whether I agree with his overall thesis. However, I know that there are many people, including a disturbingly large number of (commonly American) Christian leaders who have embraced the “Great Man” Theory of History, where history is essentially understood as driven by a few individuals that are rather… exceptional. It is hard not to see the ubermensch of Nietzsche or the “fountainhead” of Rand in this sort of thinking.  It can be seen, on the face of it at least, to support a certain individualistic, libertarian ideal. However, if the historical trajectory of mankind was driven by a few exceptional individuals, that puts remaining billions  as passive participants in the grand workings of a tiny tiny minority. In effect, the greatness of a few is predicated on huge flocks of sheeple.

And we see this in missions history. I have enjoyed using Ruth Tucker’s book in teaching Missions History (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya) because it is so readable… and since we are designed to learn through narrative, life stories of a few often really help us learn faster. But I must admit that one negative aspect of a biographical approach to Missions History is that it gives a very false impression that the Church expanded through a very few.

When I was young, I came to believe that the great churchplanter of the first century was St. Paul. It made sense, since the book of Acts placed such a strong focus on him. But eventually, I started thinking:

  • Did Paul plant the church of Jerusalem?  No
  • Did Paul plant the church of Antioch?  No
  • Did Paul plant the church of Alexandria?  No
  • Did Paul plant the church of Rome?  No
  • Did Paul plant the churches of North Africa, Italy, Babylon, and numerous other places where they sprang up in the decades following the entry into the church age? Generally No.

In fact, Paul was involved in a relatively small percentage of churchplants during his lifetime. This doesn’t lessen his impact. Frankly, his impact was more in the words he wrote than what he actually did.  It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that Luke’s biographical approach to explaining early church history, while being ideal for the sake of memory, can mislead when read by people who are prone to idealize and idolize. This is true today as well. It is easy to place people like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cam Townsend, Lottie Moon, David Livingstone and many more on pedestals and see them as worldchangers, while the rest of us take up space.

In some ways, perhaps they were worldchangers. But I think in most cases, it wasn’t so much what they did but what they represented. People like William Carey and Lottie Moon (for example) did not radically transform the places they were. However, their words and actions inspired people to go, to send, and to support. In effect, it was in many ways the little people who changed things, by placing meaning to the activities of these two. If the many ignored these few, nothing of impact would have happened.

It is actually surprising, when looking at missions history how the most successful growth eras of the church happened at times when there were really no active (or at least famous) missionaries. One example would be in the first 3 centuries. Even though there were apostles (recognized churchplanters) active into the 2nd and even 3rd centuries, they rather quickly moved out of the limelight, and commonly did not appear to be prime movers in the growth of the church during this time. I will quote here Von Harnack here (I had used this long quote before… but it fits here quite well… you can read the longer version of this quote HERE.)

“The most numerous and successful missionaries of the Christian religion were not the regular teachers but Christians themselves, in virtue of their loyalty and courage. How little we hear of the former and their results! How much we hear of the effects produced by the latter! Above all, every confessor and martyr was a missionary; he not merely confirmed the faith of those who were already won, but also enlisted new members by his testimony and his death.

… Nevertheless, it was not merely the confessors and martyrs who were missionaries. It was characteristic of this religion that everyone who seriously confessed the faith proved of service to its propaganda. Christians are to “let their light shine, that pagans may see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven.” If this dominated all their life, and if they lived according to the precepts of their religion, they could not be hidden at all; by their very mode of living they could not fail to preach their faith plainly and audibly.

… We cannot hesitate to believe that the great mission of Christianity was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries. Justin says so quite explicitly. What won him over was the impression made by the moral life which he found among Christians in general. How this life stood apart from that of pagans even in the ordinary round of the day, how it had to be or ought to be a constant declaration of the gospel—….      We may safely assume, too, that women did play a leading role in the spread of this religion (see below, Book IV. Chap. II.). But it is impossible to see in any one class of people inside the church the chief agents of the Christian propaganda.”

“Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries” by Adolph von Harnack.  Volume 3, Chapter 1

The first few centuries was a time of huge growth of the church. That huge growth came from not-so-great men and women faithfully doing their little things that led to great things in the church. If one chooses to say that they acted on the inspiring behavior of a few… I am open to granting that this may have at least a small factor. However, again, it was the people who chose to be inspired rather than be disinterested. And really if one thinks about it, I really don’t think a slave in a house in Thessalonica (for example) lived an inspirational life of hope and love around others in the household because some pillar of the faith inspired emulation at some point in time. I believe this person did it first of all as an act of faithful reverence to the one who expressed love first giving true hope.

Many of the major missions movements and major times of church growth were not driven by towering characters. Few can name any Nestorian missionaries from the first millenium. Fewer still can name monks who shared their faith during the great movement eastward of the Russian Orthodox expansion a few centuries ago. Such ignorance may be because of our own prejudices, but then the fact that we have certain “superheroes” of the faith may just as clearly demonstrate prejudice. The growth of the church in China during the Maoist regime reminds us how mission professionals are not really needed for God to do great things.

Missions History does not need superstar Christians. In fact, it seems like sometimes the decline in the Christian church (such as in North Africa in the first Millenium, and Central Asia in the early part of the second) are, in part, a failure of the gospel message to truly bridge the gap of the professional to the common (or the elite to the illiterate).

I can’t speak to History in general, but I think it is pretty clear that in Missions History, we need less “Great Men.” Our bookstores and conferences are littered with them. We need far less of them and more “Not-so-great” men and women. They are the ones who will turn the world upside-down.

——————————————-

This is part of my haranguing in support of “Small” or “Weak.” It must be a weird thing with me.  For some other posts in that line, you can look at:

                              Dream SMALL!!

                             Praying for Weak Christian Missions

                              The Power of Weakness — Part 1        (Parts 2 and 3 follow Part 1)

 

Polycarp and Persecution

Chapter 4. Quintus the apostate

Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the proconsul, after many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do.

Chapter 5. The departure and vision of Polycarp

But the most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard [that he was sought for], was in no measure disturbed, but resolved to stay in the city. However, in deference to the wish of many, he was persuaded to leave it. He departed, therefore, to a country house not far distant from the city. There he stayed with a few [friends], engaged in nothing else night and day than praying for all men, and for the Churches throughout the world, according to his usual custom. And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, I must be burnt alive.

Chapter 6. Polycarp is betrayed by a servant

And when those who sought for him were at hand, he departed to another dwelling, whither his pursuers immediately came after him. And when they found him not, they seized upon two youths [that were there], one of whom, being subjected to torture, confessed. It was thus impossible that he should stay hidden, since those that betrayed him were of his own household. The Irenarch then (whose office is the same as that of the Cleronomus ), by name Herod, hastened to bring him into the stadium. [This all happened] that he might fulfil his special lot, being made a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the punishment of Judas himself.

Chapter 7. Polycarp is found by his pursuers

His pursuers then, along with horsemen, and taking the youth with them, went forth at supper-time on the day of the preparation with their usual weapons, as if going out against a robber. And having come about evening [to the place where he was], they found him lying down in the upper room of a certain little house, from which he might have escaped into another place; but he refused, saying, The will of God be done. So when he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them.

“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” was a story of comfort for Christians and an encouragement to be faithful until the end. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was executed around 155AD. His story was passed on to others soon after. But the document also gave info on how one should behave in a world that is hostile and where persecution and death for one’s faith was a very real possibility.

“The Martyrdom of Polycarp”

Based on this section, the following guidelines can be given:

  • Don’t voluntarily turn yourelf over to the persecutors. Quintus did exactly that and the writer is not surprised that he apostated under torture. The writer notes that turning oneself over voluntarily is not in line with the Gospel record. It is true that Jesus hid from His enemies on at least two occasions in the Gospels… and Matthew 10:23 suggests that this may have happened quite regularly. There are, clearly, limits to “turning the other cheek.”
  • Submit to the will of God, but don’t be too quick to determine what His will is. Polycarp believed prophetically that he would be executed and yet still sought to extend his life. Eventually, he decided it was time to stop hiding, but only after his hiding led to some being tortured.
  • Don’t live in fear, but live prudently. Don’t fear death, but don’t seek it out either. Act wisely and cautiously to live and serve.
  • It is fine to surrender oneself to the enemy… but not to surrender another. Again, this is in line with the Passion story, where Jesus is seen as surrendering Himself at the appropriate time to the enemy, but this is not seen as excusing the betrayal of Judas.
  • Once escape is not an option, use the opportunity to be a witness in both word and action.

These may seem actually pretty reasonable. But they are worth thinking about. Historically, and even today, there are those who seem to think that faithfulness involves intentionally placing oneself in harm’s way. St. Ignatius of Antioch a few decades earlier than Polycarp appeared to be rather excited about the idea of being executed/martyred. However, by this time there seems to be a different view. The view in this story is much in line with the George S. Patton guidance to his men that the goal of a soldier is NOT to die for his country. (After all, a country can’t really do much with dead soldiers.)

Additionally, some have sought to take a radical obedience stance based on their interpretation of Romans 13 such that if one is summoned by the government, one must comply… it’s the law after all. But obeying an evil law is still… ultimately being complicit with that evil (regardless of what “umbrella” theorists suggest). Others take the Muslim idea that one can morally deny one’s faith to “the unfaithful” to preserve one’s life. While this is certainly pragmatic, but is ultimately unchristian. (However, refusing to forgive those who did deny is also unchristian.)

It is sad that today there is as much danger in being faithful to God in some places as there has ever been. Voluntary religion and freedom of conscience are things that we struggle with— even in places open-mindedness is allegedly promoted. But in such places, the goal is not to live in fear… but caution and prudence are good. When there is no other option to avoid the enemy, remain faithful.

How is that lived out day to day— I don’t know. For example, John Chow recognized the strong possiblity that he would die going to North Sentinel Island. Was this an act of courage or foolishness. I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t know about St. Paul either, who ignored the prophecies of church leaders, and boldly headed off to be arrested, imprisoned for 5 years, and eventually executed. Was this the right decision? I have no idea, but it seemed like a bad idea (and Luke sounds pretty ambivalent about the whole situation as well).

I asked a number of my students a few months back what they would do if they were being sought out by the government because of their faith. (Several of them come from countries where that is actually a possibility.) Most of them said that they did not know what they would do. Personally, I think that is a good answer. As much as it sounds impressive to say for sure what we would do, most of us don’t really know. In this story, there were several different responses.

  • Quintas voluntarily submitted to governmental summons, and then publically rejected his faith under threat.
  • Two servants betrayed Polycarp under torture.
  • Polycarp was turtured and executed without rejecting his faith.
  • The author of this story, presumably, successfully hid from persecuors and was then able to share this story with the world.

But all of these people were probably sure they would be faithful to God to the end. It is wise to pray that that faith never be tested to the limit.

Great Urban Centers

Four Waves

I have suggested before the idea that the three wave model of Protestant Mission history is inadequate. There was a Pioneer trickle of missions from quite early (perhaps 1520 is a bit too early). Out of that trickle came the great waves. Each characteristic wave had its proto-pioneers— in terms of translation, bivocational ministry, mission agency development and more. But each wave would peter out… not because of failure, but because of success.

Coastland Wave was started with the creation of viable mission structures that could maintain missionary presence in seaports. It petered out as coastlands in most places were essentially “reached.

Inland Wave was started (theoretically at least) with “faith-based missions” that was spurred on by improved overland transportation. It petered out as large geographically unreached areas faded away except in pockets that were driven more by cultural boundaries than limits in transportation.

The People Group Wave was started with a focus on languages and unreached people groups. Large unreached people groups are going down, and stats of thousands of UPGs seem a bit arbitrary. That doesn’t mean they are gone by any means. But there are trends that make these groups less critical each year. One well-known chart shows the People Group Wave continuing until Christ returns. In the past, I complained about this because it seems highly presumptive. It is also a bit lazy to assume that one doesn’t need to do any more strategy… major strategy changes at least… because Jesus must be coming soon. Now, I would say that present trends support the thought that it was presumptive.

It seems to me that the People Group Wave is in decline due to:

  • Globalization and Multiculturalism and improvements in communication
  • Human migration patterns
  • Urbanization
  • Growth of “mega-cities”

These come together to suggest that the greatest need for missionaries is in multicultural urban communities where the gospel does exist but is not presented or demonstrated in a manner that appears relevant. The gospel is lost in the cacophany.

It is starting to be the time when we have to focus less on Unreached People Groups and more on Underreached Great Urban Centers (GUCs, or perhaps UGUCs if you prefer).