Theology— Writing Dispassionately for Passionate People

Years ago I was told (by someone, somewhere) that theological writing should be dispassionate, because it is supposed to be objective, not subjective. One is not supposed to put in exclamation points (!!!) or ALL CAPS or use strongly emotional language to express arguments or ideas. The reason I was given was that research is supposed to be a rationalistic enterprise and any use of language, style, or symbology that appears to seek to be persuasive by any other means than pure rationality was problematic. The problem is that research is changing, especially with the recognition of the value of qualitative research and greater respect for research that is more subjective, phenomenological, immersed in its context, has led to major reevaluation of dispassionate writing.

I see two problems. First, the idea of objective rationality is neither achievable, nor desirable. Whether one funds post-modernism appealing (objectively or not) it has a point. One cannot escape one’s own subjectivity. We are subjective emotional beings, and so trying to deny this through writing style is disingenuous. Second, there is a better reason to write (rather) dispassionately in theology.

Recently, I was asked to review a paper for an online service for papers. Some people want to be peer reviewed without going through the fickleness of seminars and journals. (Only twice in my life have I submitted a paper for review to a seminar or journal. The first was submitted to a seminar and it was turned down because my topic was more than slightly off topic to the main thrust of the event <worth a try>. The second was submitted to a journal and was accepted. However, the journal got delayed so many times that I pulled my article back and put it online myself. Just lost interest in that whole thing.)

Sorry, got off topic. I was asked to peer review a paper. It was written by a missiologist I have a fair bit of respect for. I was expecting to find the paper valuable. It was a paper on problems with using anthropology in missions. While I think pretty positively of cultural/social/mission anthropology, I am certainly open to hear valuable insight and critique.

Unfortunately, I began to glance at the article before reading it and saw “GOBBLEDYGOOK” put in all capital letters more than once. Looking at the context around it I found that the writer viewed anthropology as deserving the aforementioned label. Disparaging terms are not very endearing, but I began to read the article. Almost immediately I was thrown by a sentence. The writer was complaining that missionaries were using anthropology, which is secular. The writer suggested that this was a problem. The metric system, the alphabet, and my Moto G cellphone are also secular but these seem to be perfectly fine to use for missions. The claim that something is secular is not an argument against it (in the slightest), and frankly few fields of study have been more influenced by Christian missionaries than cultural anthropology. Clearly, to me at least, using the argument that anthropology is “secular” is an attempt to disparage a field by using a term that is emotionally disruptive to many Christians. It is akin to someone who says, “_______________ is (Good/Bad) because it is (Liberal/Conservative/Communist/Fascist/Etc.)

Now I need to step back a minute. I seem to be giving the impression that I think the article was a bad article. Actually, I have no idea. I ended up not reading it. I took a bit of offense to the language and emotional argument. I did not wish to review it. Mostly, if I read it, I may be tempted to review it. If I review it I might be tempted to disparage it. Or course, I might find the article valuable. I am simply not giving it a chance.

I think that is the point. Academic articles are not written dispassionately because dispassionate is better, or that the readers are dispassionate. Rather, readers are highly emotional people, invested in their own prejudices. This is, frankly, by divine design. God is passionate and invested as well. The writer, if he or she wants to influence the reader but keep them reading without shutting down, must find a way in the writing to do this. Ideally the researcher would write in such a way as to show deep respect for the reader. That is hard to do through a media as cold as black text on white background. Thus, the best they can do generally is write neutrally, dispassionately.

In my dissertation, I offended one of my readers greatly in the way I wrote. The reader said that someone involved in the researcher must be horribly offended at something I wrote. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case since that particular individual was intimately involved in (and agreed with) the exact section of the paper the reviewer was referring to. Nevertheless, as the years went by, I do realize that when I wrote my dissertation, I was a bit hot-headed. I was trying to be a bit of a trailblazer pushing qualitative analysis at a school that was almost entirely focused on quantitative analysis. That hot-headedness showed itself a bit subtly mostly— being overly defensive, polemic and argumentative, in such things as not using hypotheses, or recognizing the researcher as the main instrument rather than the list of questions for the semi-structured interviews.

Being dispassionate in research writing is not about embracing a relic of the Enlightenment, but understanding that we are emotional beings. We fake being dispassionate in writing so that others can fake being dispassionate, and read it without being triggered into too much pushback.

One of my professors had the joking statement that “Professors have many degrees but little temperature.”

It is funny, but I don’t believe it.

My Rules of Interreligious Dialogue Project

I have been teaching Inter-religious Dialogue (IRD) for several years now. While teaching it, I teach several different list of “rules” associated with IRD. However, the one I tend to focus on is the 7 Rules compiled by Max Warren. But as I have been thinking about it, it occurred to me that I should make my own list, or at least my own model for IRD. However, I am not sure that I am suitably experienced in IRD to ignore others and simply create my own list.

After thinking about it, I decided to use the various perspectives of several to come up with a model. So I am taking several lists and bringing them together and inductively creating a model… or a list of rules.

Here is the background information of the Who, What, Why, and How of this project:

  1. Who am I doing this for? I am doing this for Christian missionaries first of all who work in multicultural and/or multi-religious settings. As such, I am not seeking data from sources at the extremes of dialogue. I am ignoring data that views dialogue in terms of argument or debate. I think argument has little value in missions. However, even if it does have value in some rare circumstances, I feel it really stretches the meaning of dialogue. Dialogue in my view is more focused on mutual discussion rather than a more adversarial relationship. On the other hand, having a role where one brackets one’s own beliefs and enters the conversation without presuppositions with regards to faith, may be valuable to some, but seems hardly of value to missionaries, whose role is, in part, proclamation.
  2. Who am I using as informants? For the most part, people or groups who are viewed as experts in dialogue who have created lists of rules regarding IRD are used. The lists are rules that are deemed by me to be valuable to Christian missionaries. As such I chose to use experts who would describe themselves as Christians. (One at this time would no longer consider herself to be a Christian.)
  3. Method of Analysis? I am using Ground Theory Analysis. I am utilizing lists from 11 experts in IRD with a total list of statements being 78. Each of these statements goes through three levels of coding— open, axial, and selective— to ultimately produce an model that is grounded in the data.

Grounded Theory Analysis is sometimes thought a bit… “soft” in that it does not have the rigorous statistical checks that are associated with Quantitative Analysis. In my view, this is not true. Quantitative analysis is rife with problems that qualitative analysis lacks. I am not saying that GTA is always better, but it is certainly better in these circumstances. But people are often concerned with the Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability of GTA. With that in mind, for GTA:

Reliability: In Quantitative Analysis, reliability is demonstrated by randomness of the sample population. For GTA, reliability is established by the diversity of the interviewees (especially in terms of perspective).

Validity: In Quantitative Analysis, validity is demonstrated by careful definition of the target population (ensuring one is not analyzing two or more populations by mistake). For GTA, validity is established by expertise of the interviewees.

Generalizability: In Quantitative Analysis, generalizability is demonstrated by having an adequately large sample size. For GTA, generalizability is established by achieving data saturation.

This research project is not for peer review (probably) but I still don’t want to do something that lacks rigor. In terms of reliability, I chose a pretty good range of experts in terms of IRD. These range from relatively conservative (Warren, Stott, and Neill) to fairly liberal (such as Panikkar and the World Council of Church). I have not included all views, as I noted above, centering on Christian practioners in IRD who tend to value clarification over argument or common-ground. The range should be adequate for the reliability I am seeking.

Validity is no problem. I am using established experts in IRD. Generalizability is the most uncertain thing. Because of the range of perspectives and the limited number of interviewees, it is quite likely that I will not achieve data saturation. However, I believe that I will be able to achieve a model that is grounded in the data and plausible based on the data. I am will to accept the possibility that there are issues not addressed in the informants.

I will give more info as things develop.

Missiology as an Academic Field of Study?

Missiology is a rather young field of study and there has been a question of whether it should be considered an academic study. And if it is an academic study, how should it relate to other academic disciplines. I get it. If one thinks about it, Missions sounds like a less than a real topic— perhaps  a closet in the house of Ecclesiology or Soteriology. Or maybe a religious wing to Sociology or Anthropology. I think, however, that we live in an era where interdisciplinary courses of study are given more respect, so perhaps the uncertain regarding Missiology is dated. Still, I think it is worth thinking about.

An interesting article is one by Peter F. Penner, “Missiology as a Theological and Academic Discipline.” (Theological Reflections Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, August 2018). Penner speaks of how Missions has often been built on a poor theological background (I think that is pretty well-known). He also pointed out that Missions has typically been built on a poor Biblical hermeneutic.  He notes what I have seen— the study of the “Biblical Basis of Missions” is commonly in no way about the basis of missions. Rather, missions already is identified and recognized as godly and good, and then people seek to find prooftexts and illustrationsin the Bible to support these views. He quotes David Bosch who references that attitude, “…we already know what ‘mission’ is and now have only to discover it in Scripture.”

But deciding that Missions should be established on a better theological foundation, and be drawn from Scripture (rather than reverse) does not answer the question, necessarily, as to whether it should exist as an academic discipline. Penner describes four attitudes in terms of relationship between Missiology and and other Academic disciplines.

#1.  Missions may be important in its relationship to the church, but is not really an academic discipline.

#2.  Missions is certainly important and should permeate and interact with all other (Christian) academic disciplines

#3.  Missions is a bit of an embarrassing topic that is not really to be dealt with in academics.

#4.  Missions so permeates all aspects of Christian experience and academics that it makes no sense to study it as a separate academic topic.

These all make sense, but I kind of feel like there is one missing. Perhaps I misunderstand the categories and the 5th one I would like to add somehow fits into the previous four.  However, if one looks at Missions (or Missiology) as a academic discipline that is interacting with other academic disciplines much like two cultures might interact, then one can look at it in terms of categories of acculturation.  Four major ones are:

  1.   Assimilation.  The first culture loses its identity in the second culture.
  2. Separation.  The first culture refuses to interact much with the second culture strongly maintaining its own uniqueness.
  3. Integration.  The first culture interacts strongly with the second culture affecting and being affected by the second culture.
  4. Marginalization. Ineffectual integration where the result is the first culture being less than functional in the second culture.

I feel the three of these line up with the four attitudes regarding Missiology.

Attitude (#2) lines up with (C), Integration.  Missiology can and should interact with other academic disciplines and should affect and be affected by other disciplines.

Attitude (#3) lines up with (D), Marginalization.  Missiology may exist as an academic discipline, but it is somehow seen as inferior or irrelevant in relation to other disciplines. As such, it is likely to be embarrassing and ignored.

Attitude (#4) lines up with (A), Assimilation.  Missiology may be relevant and important, but its unique identity is lost in other disciplines. It may show itself in other disciplines but doesn’t have a unique and distinct “culture” (much like a culture may not exist as a community within a broader culture, but may still show itself in terms of the culinary arts or visual arts in that broader culture).

That leaves one attitude and one acculturation strategy, but they don’t line up. The remaining attitude is that Missions is foundational in much of Christianity, but is still not an academic study. The remaining acculturation strategy is Separation.  

Separation (Acculturation strategy (B)) I think should relate to a fifth attitude regarding Missiology. It is a worthy topic of academic study but there is little interaction with other academic disciplines. This attitude is pretty common, I think. Many schools have a Missions department that doesn’t interact much, academically, with other departmetns. Happily, that seems to be lessening as training is becoming more interdisciplinary. However, there is the risk that it could go so far that it drifts into Assimilation (Attitude #4).

That just leaves us with one attitude (#1).  However, when one thinks about it, it should not relate to an Acculturation strategy. That is because the attitude rejects the premise that missiology should be seen as an academic discipline in the first place. The cultural equivalent is where one denies that a culture exists, in the first place, to interact with the broader culture.

Keeping this in mind then, I would rank the attitudes from best to worst. Needless to say, this is in my own biased opinion.

Best                                                #2

                                                 #4       #5


Worst                                             #1

#3 and #1 could be reversed. From a practical standpoint, attitude #3 is likely to express itself in avoidance of missions. So that could be seen as worse. However, from an academic standpoint, #1 is worse since it rejects the premise of missiology as a field of study in the first place. Being “embarrassed or avoidant” of the field of study at least recognizes its existence. I can see how those two can be reversed.

Memorializing 22 Years Late

Back in 1999, I finally finished my masters thesis in Engineering Mechanics. The thesis is titled, “The Effect of Temperature of Short-term Creep Rupture Response in Polymer Matrix Pultruded Composites.” At the time, I felt that the work I did was quite relevant to the expansion of knowledge in a very narrow field. I especially felt that way because some of the findings did not follow the theory that was identified as true at the time. I felt that my findings were quite useful in changing things. Additionally, when I looked at some of the (very limited) data from others, it appeared to me that my formulation fit their own data points better than the formula they came up with. I also knew that things would not change since my thesis would go on a shelf in the Old Dominion University library and disappear in a mass conglomeration of paper and ink.

22 years later… I am not so sure. I know that my tests were pretty good… but I did have to work around some equipment and schedule limitations that could have messed up my findings. And even if I did discover something new and interesting… I suppose someone else figured it out by now. If so, then what I did, not only did not matter then… but doesn’t matter now.

So now I teach Christians Missions… so why talk about it now?

I am not sure. I am thinking about it. But it is a shame when good research gets lost. The school where I got my Doctor of Theology degree doesn’t really encourage the dissertations or theses produced to be published. I really have no idea why. Perhaps I should ask. But if knowledge is progressive., then it is good for what is found to be retained and shared. In some ways knowledge isn’t all that progressive. My thesis on pultruded composites was based on a setting that may or may not have relevance today. My dissertation on medical missions in the Philippines is gradually becoming obsolete as laws changes, and medical needs change.

But even if some research proves to be completely obsolete, or even wrong, that doesn’t make it worthless. I enjoyed reading about the theories of the Planet Vulcan (not the Star Trek one) , Ether (related to the theory of light propagation), and Phlogiston (related to combustion). Although all three theoretical constructs were proven false, they have significance in the process of our learning.

Beyond that, however, is that I want to share my thesis as a memorial. I put a lot of blood and sweat into the work… and perhaps even a few tears. I actual gave up on it because of the difficulty I had traveling 6 hours round trip each weekend to check my test rig. I eventually decided to continue… but I didn’t really need to. I got the job I wanted. The degree wasn’t necessary. And now that I am in missions, the need is even less.

I could just bury it… much like it is buried in the archives of one of the libraries at ODU. But I like the thoughts of Peter Berger. In speaking of grief and loss, he speaks of a few strategies (or failures to strategize) in terms of coping. One of these is Memorializing. When we lose something we value, one way we can address the loss is by doing something to honor and provide meaning for that loss. When my dad died, I decided to publish the book that he had been working on and had recently finished. It was my way of dealing with that loss.

I was in the US Navy. Quoting Tom Lehrer, regarding my military care, I am “justifiably modest.” I liked parts of it… but hated a sizable part of it. But rather than trying to simply forget, I have been trying to embrace giving that chapter of my life meaning. For good or for ill, it had a great role in forming who I am today. I am still figuring out how to memorialize/honor that. One way I have been trying to do that is to write about it… not for public consumption, but to pass down to my children.

I am honoring the pain an aggravation of my Master’s Thesis in Engineering Mechanics, but scanning the paper into my computer (110 pages) and then turning it into a pdf for public consumption.

I am not convinced that it will be of any appreciation to people… a master’s degree thesis from 22 years ago is not likely to provide relevant cutting-edge info. But that is okay. We did not set up a burial stone at Ivory Cemetery for others. We did it as a memorial for my parents… and for us.

But, if for some reason you are interested, the ARTICLE IS HERE.

Better than Scribblings on a Scrunched-up Piece of Paper at a Bus Stop

I was in a seminar in our seminary about doing research. The issue came up of what sources are legitimate for research. Image result for bus stop litterWhen the issue of blogs came up, the speaker, one of my colleagues, said that while many professors don’t allow citations of blogs or “personal websites” not all feel that way. For the speaker, it depends on who the blog writer is— what is his or her academic credentials. The speaker specifically named my blogsite as one she deems to be acceptable for citations.

That is an honor. So many weird blogsites out where if a student says “I got this information from a blogsite or a personal websites” is akin to saying “I found it scribbled on a Scrunched-up Piece of Paper at a Bus Stop.”

But it did get me wondering about how I thought about my blog being used for citations for research. I guess the best answer I can give is “ambivalent.”

First, I do put a lot of work into this blog— content-wise, even if not in terms of look or style (Howard Culbertson’s webpage has great stuff even if the style is… awkward.) Since I put a lot of thought and work into it, I feel great that people are able to make use of it. But… on the other hand,

Second, I use my blog as a bit of a ministerial and reflective diary. As such, some of my thoughts are disorganized, and perhaps a bit half-baked. Do I want to be referenced for things I am not even sure whether I believe myself? On the other hand,

Third. My words are my words. As such, quoting what I put on a blog is probably better than quoting what I say off-the-cuff. Given a choice, I would rather be quoted in something I had thought, written down, and edited, rather than something that just came to me in a moment, and then perhaps incorrectly, copied down by another. In addition to this,

Fourth. Some of the things that I put on my blog are original thoughts. Some of those thoughts tarnish over time. But some thoughts that started out as tentative blogposts did eventually mature into something I feel pretty good about. Among these are:

  • Questioning the primacy of Power Encounter (as espoused by Charles Kraft) and suggesting that Love Encounter is far more important, and more universally applicable, than Power Encounter. I feel pretty solid on that one.

  • Suggesting the incompleteness of the Three Waves of Protestant Missions (by Ralph Winter) and suggesting that we are entering a fourth wave where UPGs are being replaced by GUCs (great urban centers). Yup, time seems to be supporting this one pretty good.

  • Suggesting that Christan perfection is better identified in terms of redeemed flaws rather than flawlessness, and that our aesthetic language may create some problems in Biblical understanding that is not really in the text. I think this is a pretty important one… and I see that in recent years it has been a growing trend to express Christianity in terms of metaphor of an aesthetics of flaw and age.

Even if I am wrong on these, they express well-developed thoughts that are worthy of consideration regardless of whether they are in peer-reviewed journals, formally published books, or not.

I guess my final conclusion is not so much dwelling only on how I feel about being cited in a blog, but what should I do about it.

I think it places a responsibility to put more quality effort into my posts. I should take research more seriously as well as citing works. I should also (at least consider) figuring out ways to make my blog more user-friendly.

If some people take my writings as more authoritative than a message scribbled on a scrunched-up piece of paper at a bus stop, that places a certain responsibility on myself to not just treat blogging as a scribbling on a piece of paper that will be thrown out and read by no one.

The Boundaries of Missiology

I periodically supervise seminarians in theses or dissertations. Usually, their papers are in missions (although sometimes I oversee other types of papers). A couple of the papers I oversaw in missions pushed the limits of what is considered to be missiological at our seminary. One had to do with process of contextualization of preaching for surrounding villages in a certain country. Since the researcher is from a similar culture, it could be considered not to be missions. Another was researching contextualization of training for a sub-cultural group of a larger culture that is on the other side of a national boundary. A third was researching the value of and understanding of “missional church” principles to church growth in a specific region in Asia. pushing-the-wall2

This third paper was the most difficult to get approved. This is because it is not, strictly speaking, cross-cultural, and the ‘missional church movement’ is sometimes seen as a competitor to missions rather than an ally (and therefore, not missiological). In defending the paper, I noted that my dissertation was on the use of medical missions in a region of the Philippines. It could be argued that it also is not “missions” because of its characteristics of being short-term (for those that see missions as long-term), social (for those who see missions as evangelism and churchplanting), and sometimes same culture (for those who see missions as strictly cross-cultural). My colleague stated that missiology has changed over the years so maybe my paper would not today have been accepted as being a missions dissertation.

That got me thinking a lot about what the boundaries or definitions for missions and missiology should be. My most recent one on this topic is HERE.

However, I struggle in this area. I prefer a broad definition for missions. On the other hand, if one makes it too broad, then everything in ministry becomes missions. I am not sure that all ministry topics should be “gobbled-up” by Missions. But there are certain functions and topics that seem to lap over the more narrow definitions for Missions. A lot of missions strategies function both cross-culturally and same-culturally. Should these strategies be researched by two separate groups of people due to a fairly arbitrary dividing point? Not sure.

But I am pretty sure of a couple of things.

  1.  If Missiology has changed over time to accept certain things as fitting into its realm and excluding other things, those changes have come due to the academic freedom to evaluate and change. In other words, if the changes are good, then the flexibility for those changes to occur is also good. Therefore, having research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed.
  2. If the definitions for Missions and Missiology are “Perfect” today (if perfection can be identified), they will cease to be perfect as contexts change over the next few years. Therefore, again, research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed, to anticipate and respond to these changes.

I don’t know, however, how much push is good and how much is bad. Good creativity comes in part from having good boundaries. But every now and then, the boundaries have to be tested, and moved.


Advice from Asian Missionaries

My “Missionary Member Care” Class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary questioned missionaries here in Asia about some of their challenges in missions. I have 11 students, and they each asked 3 missionaries 12 questions and recorded their answers. All of my students are from South Asia, East Asia, or Southeast Asia. From the 396 answers, I asked the students to break up into three groups and each group come up with 15 especially relevant statements from the answers.

We listed them (as seen in the picture below) and then started sub-categorizing them. I took the challenges and advice, and created a common response. the other categorizing, I will leave for my students in another week or so.

Serving in missions is challenging. It is difficult to live in a culture unlike my own, and adjusting my living to be in many ways like those around me. It is hard to serve God in places where the people and government are not sympathetic to what I am trying to do. This becomes even more difficult when churches and people at home are inconsistent with their support. It not only makes it hard to travel and minister, but often makes it uncertain that I can care for my family, and educate our children. Team-members can be a great help, but often we find ourselves in conflict with each other. I want people to whom I am ministering to come to God, but often I am so busy and distracted that I find it challenging to spend time with God myself.

My advice to others considering going into missions is to take good time to take care of yourselves. Invest in a healthy diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Don’t get so engrossed with the busy-ness of ministry that you fail to spend time with God. You need to regularly take time to pray, study God’s word, and meditate. Also invest in your relationships with others, especially your team-members. Make an effort to fellowship and worship together. You need to learn to work with others– work out conflicts, and seek to live at peace with others, even including local governments. You need to take time to understand the culture, and embrace any opportunity to learn more about the people and about how best to minister to them.

Still, sometimes things seem to get out of control, and problems build up. You need to bring these burdens to God. You also need to have some close friends to whom you can share your problems with. Writing down your burdens, taking some alone time, and even a good scream or cry now and then can help as well.”


Missionary Member Care, and the Didache

Been teaching a class on Missionary Member Care. I have enjoyed it— I make no promise that my 12 students share that opinion. After the student group presentation of Missionary Member Care in the light of the Carey Mission (especially as it relates to William Carey, John Thomas, Dorothy Carey, and Felix Carey), we had a bit of time left, so I handed out a reading from the Didache that relates to Missionary Member Care.  Here it is:didache_md2

CHAPTER 11 Travelling teachers — Apostles — Prophets

3 And concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel.  4 Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, 5 but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.

7 Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit, “for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.” 8 But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behaviour of the Lord. From his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known.

9 And no prophet who orders a meal in a spirit shall eat of it: otherwise he is a false prophet. 10 And every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet.

11 But no prophet who has been tried and is genuine, though he enact a worldly mystery of the Church, if he teach not others to do what he does himself, shall be judged by you: for he has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old. 12 But whosoever shall say in a spirit `Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others in want, let none judge him.

CHAPTER 12 Travelling Christians

1 Let everyone who “comes in the Name of the Lord” be received; but when you have tested him you shall know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false.  2 If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three.

3 And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread. 4 But if he has no craft provide for him according to your understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because he is a Christian. 5 But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.

CHAPTER 13 Prophets who desire to remain — Their payment by firstfruits

1 But every true prophet who wishes to settle among you is “worthy of his food.” 2 Likewise a true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food. 3 Therefore thou shalt take the firstfruit of the produce of the winepress and of the threshing-floor and of oxen and sheep, and shalt give them as the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.

4 But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor.

5 If thou makest bread, take the firstfruits, and give it according to the commandment. 6 Likewise when thou openest a jar of wine or oil, give the firstfruits to the prophets. 7 Of money also and clothes, and of all your possessions, take the firstfruits, as it seem best to you, and give according to the commandment.

As I have said numerous times before, the term “apostle” appears to match up best with the modern term “missionary,” both in role and etymology. And that appears to be how it is used here– especially as a missionary who plants churches. The prophets appear to be traveling preachers who go from church to church, encouraging the brethren. I might still call them missionaries…. at least to the extent that they seek to empower the pre-existent local church to know and do what it did not know and do before. Regardless, however, of how you want to define them… they were Christians who traveled as part of their ministry.

Consider how an “apostle” is to be cared for:

  • Receive him (or her since we know there were female apostles)
  • Let him stay one day only… or maybe two
  • Feed him during his stay
  • Give him food for his journey, but no money

For the “prophet”:

  • Don’t test the message of a prophet if it is “in the spirit”
  • But verify if he is a REAL prophet
  • Do not give him money for himself
  • But give money if it is for his ministry

For those traveling “in the Name of the Lord”

  • They are to be welcomed and can stay two days… or maybe thre
  • If they want to stay longer, they need to work. Help him do so if need be.

The Didache is a very old book. Some parts of it appear to predate parts of the New Testament. Some of my students were wondering if I was saying that the member care of apostles and prophets in the 1st (or maybe 2nd) century describes what we should be doing today. No… for at least two reasons. First, this was probably one church’s way of dealing with this particular challenge… or maybe a regional group of churches. There is no reason to think that it expresses any sort of universal guidance. Second, although many restorationist and revivalist denominations think of themselves as seeking to restore the 1st century church; actually, we are supposed to create the 21st century church. The 1st century (as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, century churches) provides us with insight as a flashlight may give guidance, not constraint like shackles might give constraint.

But in the Didache we see a church that is struggling with problems that we still see today. They want to help, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of. They want to be trained and informed by people of Godly wisdom, but not fooled by charlatans.

So there is a time of PRE-EVALUATION.

It is a bit humorous here. If the person speaks in the Spirit, the message is not supposed to be questioned, but then the rest of the section appears to be, in fact, questioning and doubting. Perhaps it is a bit like today. If a preacher preaches the word of God, we in the congregation are not to question the word of God, but we can question the preacher, and his interpretation.

There is CONTINUED MONITORING:  The individual is cared for for awhile, but there is caution that they are not demonstrating the greed of a charlatan. As such, they are fed and lodged, but not too long. If they ask for money, it should be to help another, not themselves.

There is CARE GIVEN:  They are received as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They are fed and housed… but only for awhile. 1 day for an apostle… or maybe 2 perhaps. 2 days for a traveling Christian, or maybe 3.  When they leave, give them food to travel with, but not money.

There is the issue of SETTLING DOWN:  If a traveler wants to remain. that is okay as long as he has a craft that he can use to earn money. If he doesn’t have a craft, the church appears to be willing to help him be able to get a job… but not be a long-term burden on the church.

If a prophet wants to settle down, there is a time to verify that he is a “true” prophet. If so evaluated, he can be supported long-term by the church.

Perhaps the rules about a prophet apply to an apostle as well. (I like to think that John the Elder in Ephesus was John the Apostle after he settled down in later years.) Or perhaps the assumption is that an apostle would settle down in a church that he himself founds.

What we see is a church struggling to help without being hurt. To avoid the two failures (described by Kelly O’Donnell) of Coddling/Placating at one extreme, and Condemning/Punishing at the other. The wording of the Didache bounces back and forth between sounding a big rigid, and being a bit… wishy-washy. Perhaps, that is a good bit of guidance for us today– struggling in the tension between two unhealthy extremes.





5 Trends in Global Missions | Seedbed

A simple article on five major trends:   (1) Global (Non-Western) missions, (2) focus on least-reached people, (3) greater urban focus, (4) increased role of diaspora, and (5) newer definitions for missionaries.

You can read this article below.

5 Trends in Global Missions | Seedbed.

Or you can read a longer, similar, article.

5 Trends in Christian Missions: Global Christianity Experts