Who Is Most Important?

Consider this actual case (with nearly all important details removed… you will understand why).

A Muslim teen was led to convert to Christianity. This is not news. Some Christians act like this is a rare thing. But dialogue between Christians and Muslims has led to many questioning their faith on both sides in recent years.

Here is the story. Those who led the teen to “accept Christ” decided to “out” this person. That is, they decided to share the conversion experience world-wide through social media. This teen is the child of harsh parents (by any standards). This information distinctly did not help.

The result?  The teen feels manipulated and feels that no one can be trusted… least of all, Christians.

Why did the “friends” of this teen decide to do what they did?

1.  Perhaps they felt that salvation was tied to public confession of faith. But this makes no real sense since such a confession of faith can’t be done 3rd person. Even if they wanted to encourage the teen to make the decision public, most of us would feel that such a confession does not need to be put up on the world wide web.

2.  Perhaps they were guided by who (or what) is important.  Let’s consider some options:

a.  God. If God is most important? I would suggest that God does not need to read about it on the Web.

b.  Mission of God. If God is not the most important, but God’s mission is the most important, one might decide to post this information IF one thinks that the positive value of such a testimony in the general public would be greater than the negative impact one could expect in the small scale. But is such a Machiavellian attitude justified?

b.  Friends.  If friends are the most important. then one gives them things they will enjoy. If they enjoy inspirational gossip or newsy chitchat, one might prioritize giving such sensitive information.  But how many friends does one have? Certainly putting information on a website that is accessible to most of the world goes beyond one’s list of friends.

c.  Self.  If oneself is the most important?  Well, you do whatever makes you look good. If you think that hurting someone else makes you look like a great Christian, is that enough of a justification to tell the world? I don’t think so.

d.  The young convert. What is best for the new believer. The young believer needs to be put into an environment guided by Christian love, and gently guided on the path that Jesus (Isa) walked. The young believer did not need to go through all of this other stuff.

I believe the priorities have to be God and the young believer. Self and others have to move down the list. And as tempting as it is to prioritize the “Mission of God” the risk of a destructive pragmatism is too great.

I do understand that sometimes to issues can get very murky. I am familiar with some missionaries that were planning to work in a “closed” country. They needed to raise money for support. This means going around talking about what they plan to do, their vision, and the needs. However, their agency gave them many warnings about the risk of causing problems by giving information. Following the agency’s advice to the letter would almost certainly sabotage raising the support they needed. In the end, a balance had to be found.

Balance is so important, but so hard to find.

The Cross or the Sword? Part 1

Cover of "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate...
Cover via Amazon

Christianity was a peaceful faith for the most part for many centuries. As the church became institutionalized and nationalized there was a tendency to link the church to the military and to coersion. With Charlemagne, the gloves came off. With his Grandfather (Charles Martel) having to fight off Muslim invaders, and his own wars with the pagan Saxons, Christian missions gained a militaristic edge. The result could be described as “the cross or the sword” or “convert or die”.

The following is a case study in this. It is from the writings of some of the friends of the Conquistador Pizarro, as compiled and recorded by Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of  Human Societies.” Although this is not a missions book or even a “Christian” book, it has much of value in missiology. The Conquistador Pizarro (more of a vicious and greedy criminal than a Christian missionary) meets Atahuallpa, Emperor of the Incan Empire.

“Governor Pizarro now sent Friar Vicente de Valverde to go speak to Atahuallpa, and to require Atahuallpa in the name of God and of the King of Spain that Atahuallpa subject himself to the law of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the service of His Majesty the King of Spain. Advancing with a cross in one hand and the Bible in the other hand, and going among the Indian troops up to the place where Atahuallpa was, the Friar thus addressed him: ‘I am a Priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God, and in like manner I come to teach you. What I teach is that which God says to us in this Book. Therefore, on the part of God and of the Christians, I beseech you to be their friend, for such is God’s will, and it will be for your good.’

“Atahuallpa asked for the Book, that he might look at it, and the Friar gave it to him closed. Atahuallpa did not know how to open the Book, and the Friar was extending his arm to do so, when Atahuallpa, in great anger, gave him a blow on the arm, not wishing that it should be opened. Then he opened it himself, and, without any astonishment at the letters and paper he threw it away from him five or six paces, his face a deep crimson.”

“The Friar returned to Pizarro, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God. That tyrant has thrown my book of holy law to the ground! Did you not see what happened? Why remain polite and servile toward this over-proud dog when the plains are full of Indians? March out against him, for I absolve you!’

“The governor then gave the signal to Candia, who began to fire off the guns. At the same time the trumpets were sounded, and the armored Spanish troops, both cavalry and infantry, sallied forth out of their hiding places straight into the mass of unarmed Indians crowding the square, giving the Spanish battle cry, ‘Santiago!’ We had placed rattles on the horses to terrify the Indians. The booming of the guns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the rattles on the horses threw the Indians into panicked confusion. The Spaniards fell upon them and began to cut them to pieces. The Indians were so filled with fear that they climbed on top of one another, formed mounds, and suffocated each other. Since they were unarmed, they were attacked without danger to any Christian. The cavalry rode them down, killing and wounding, and following in pursuit. The infantry made so good an assault on those that remained that in a short time most of them were put to the sword.

<After the emperor was captured…> “The Governor said to Atahuallpa, ‘Do not take it as an insult that you have been defeated and taken prisoner, for with the Christians who come with me, though so few in number, I have conquered greater kingdoms than yours, and have defeated other more powerful lords than you, imposing upon them the dominion of the emperor, whose vassal I am, and who is King of Spain and of the universal world. We come to conquer this land by his command, that all may come to a knowledge of God and of His Holy Catholic Faith; and by reason of our good mission, God, the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things in them, permits this, in order that you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead. It is for this reason that we, being so few in number, subjugate that vast host. When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good that we have done by coming to your land by order of his Majesty the King of Spain. Our Lord permitted that your pride should be brought low and that no Indian should be able to offend a Christian.’”

I am not listing this to show how bad Christians are (or can be). I have yet to see a religion whose members do not behave very badly when they have the physical power to do so. Nor is it to show the dangers of religion. The non-religious are at least as bad and have the eerie ability to justify gross evils with “religious” fervor. Rather this is to consider the dangers of linking church and state, and kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of man.

Also, since the region of the former Incan Empire is over 90% Christian today, does this prove that the Cross/Sword method a success? Or is evil just plain evil? And, regardless, is the cost too bad.