by Donald McGavran
Should evangelical professors of missions maintain a vigorous separate organization whose purpose is to develop, voice, and promote classical biblical mission and to carry out Christ’s command to mathateusate panta ta ethne—disciple all the peoples of planet earth?
Should evangelical professors of missions maintain a vigorous separate organization whose purpose is to develop, voice, and promote classical biblical mission and to carry out Christ’s command to mathateusate panta ta ethne—disciple all the peoples of planet earth? My answer to that question is Yes.
A first major reason for the maintenance of such an organization is that dialogue between evangelicals promotes biblical clarity and evangelical consensus as to the meaning of mission. When evangelicals meet with liberals and Roman Catholics, and read magazines in which the liberal point of view on missiology is given equal space with the evangelical, it is difficult to avoid the wide liberal definition of mission, namely, that it is everything God wants done in the world.
Evangelical missiologists straightly’ reject the view held by the most liberal conciliar missiologists that the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19) was not spoken by Christ, but that later (AD 110, perhaps) the last editor of the Gospel added it to account for the remarkable spread of the church.
For example, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, in a recent article in the International Bulletin, defined mission as carrying forward Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He states that no writer of any gospel or epistle refers to this commission; that it formed no part of the life of the early church; and that it was unknown to Paul. Newbigin does not say that it was not spoken by the risen Lord; but his words would be welcomed by those who maintain that "the so-called Great Commission is a late editorial addition putting words into Jesus’ mouth which he never spoke."
Evangelical missiologists must face the fact that in the 1960s a massive and radically new definition of mission captured the center of the stage, J. H. Oldham’s position became the World Council of Churches position. In the 1920s Oldham proclaimed that a new world order was coming into being and the most important task for all Christians was to make sure that it was just, peaceful, merciful, free, and enlightened.
When in the early 1960s the International Missionary Council merged into the WCC and became its Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, the stage was set for a gigantic shift of the basic objective of Christian mission. This took place in 1966. The multiplication of self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating churches ceased to be the basic objective. The promotion of justice, peace, mercy, and enlightenment became the great goal. What others believed (Marxism, Hinduism, Islam, secularism, Buddhism) became secondary or tertiary. The goal was an ethical paradise here on earth.
In the years from 1960 to 1983 a sizable swing to Marxist philosophy and worldview has infiltrated Christian ranks. This is never acknowledged; but it is clearly there.
The American Society of Missiology (ASM) brings missiologists of all persuasions together. Some are ardently working for a new social order, a classless society, a worldwide Utopia. Some are hard at work discipling the multitudinous peoples of the earth. Some are confused and beg everyone to avoid polarization. The outcome is inevitable: a missiology that is everything God wants done, or to use Niebuhr’s dictum, is concerned with "everything done outside the four walls of the church."
Evangelical professors of missions should attend and be members of the ASM. They need to know the whole missiological scene. However, if this is their chief or only missiological association, they will be tempted to conclude that mission is everything God wants done; and world evangelization is a necessary but minor task. Evangelical ranks have been and are continually being infiltrated by liberal concepts, theories, and courses of action whose theological foundations evangelicals would at once reject.
A second major reason why the Association of Evangelical Professors of Missions should continue strong, publish its own organ, and hold its own meetings is that missiology is in grave danger of becoming a stepchild of the secular sciences-psychology, sociology, and anthropology. These have enormous prestige. They form public opinion. They announce that all cultures are equally good. From this it is a short step to the humanist position that all religions are equal. All are "guesses"-some rather good. And the adherents of each culture and "worldview" (new synonym for "religion") find that these fill their needs. Why advocate change? Why evangelize?
From the obvious fact that discipling panta ta ethne involves evangelizing in other languages, thought forms, cultures, and religious concepts, liberal missiologists hurry to adopt humanistic terms popular in state universities. Christian mission courses become "intercultural studies." The great goal of missiology (leading sinners to saving faith in Christ) is erased from course titles. Indeed, the need for a distinct science, that of propagating the Christian faith, fades. Secularized missiology uses Christian terminology in a minor way. It uses sociological, anthropological, and psychological terms proudly.
Evangelical missiologists ought, of course, to know other cultures and religions, but they should avoid like poison loving them so well and advocating them so vigorously that they conclude that, "Missiology is just a new name for intercultural studies and comparative religion."
A third reason why evangelicals should form an association in which they are able to maintain their own biblical priorities is that as missionaries work at discipling panta ta ethne, they have to work in many different situations. Many good things have to be done-a different set in each different situation. The good things tend to displace the major objective. We distribute tracts, or food, or education, or medicine, as if doing that were the chief priority. We tend one little congregation seeking to make it more dedicated, loving, biblical and devoted, as if the Great Commission did not exist. The ASM encourages this tendency. It insists that many good things are mission-everything God wants done is mission. Evangelism and discipling the peoples of earth slip into a minor position and get 10 percent of the budget-or less.
Evangelicals need a missiological association of their own in which programs are arranged, speakers are selected, emphases are made always in line with carrying out the Great Commission. Seed has to be sown, fields have to be ploughed. But the farmer who ploughs on and on 12 months a year, and never thinks of harvest, will starve to death. Biblical missiology always aims at harvest, and so must any association of teachers of mission.
A widespread, erroneous hermeneutic wars against the position I have just stated. Liberal missiologists hold that the Bible is a remarkable accumulation of documents, written by eminent leaders of the Jews and Christians. Some liberal missiologists believe that the final author of Matthew’s gospel always places Jesus on a mountain when the Nazarene is made to speak an important truth. Thus, the Great Commission is said to have been spoken "on a mountain" (Mt. 28:16). This literary device, liberals say, must not be mistaken for historic fact.
Such a position, on the Bible, added to anthropological and sociological views enunciated by agnostic professors in state universities, inevitably influences the essential teachings of liberal missiology. Lacking any firm biblical base, liberal missiology becomes a specialized form of the secular sciences. Liberal missiologists are more concerned that "great national cultures be respected" than they are that multitudes become followers of Christ. All of this means that, exactly as evangelicals have formed various separate world, national, and regional associations, they must now revitalize their separate association for the development, teaching, and practice of the science of missiology. They must recognize that "new mission" and "liberal missiology" are talking about a radically different enterprise. "New mission" sends out fewer and fewer missionaries. It constantly substitutes a just social world order for the biblically required bringing of all peoples to obey the faith (Romans 16:25).
If evangelical professors of missions are to escape the eclipse of biblical mission, they must spend most of their time writing for, and educating their students in, the Christ-commanded world evangelization so clearly taught by the authoritative, infallible Bible. When people become Christian, the social orders they control certainly become more just, peaceful and righteous. But there is no biblical support at all for the naive position that Christians should labor to bring in an earthly Utopia, a classless society made up of unredeemed sinners who believe in every variety of gods, religions, philosophies, and value systems.
As Christians increase in numbers and gain political power, they will seek to make their social orders (in family, neighborhood, state, nation and world) more pleasing to God. But they will also recognize that the quickest and most effective way to that end is to multiply the number of practicing Christians. Only those who obey the King- Jesus Christ our Lord-are citizens of the Kingdom of God.
To sum up, evangelical professors of missions, believing firmly that preaching the gospel, bringing men to salvation, discipling panta ta ethne, and multiplying Bible-believing, ongoing churches is the very heart of missiology, must- if they are to create, teach, and pass on a biblically sound missiology-revitalize the Association of Evangelical Professors of (biblical) Missions. They must also advocate and work at getting Christians to live their faith. Evangelicals will also be members of the ASM-and pray for their liberal colleagues that they may return to biblical Christianity. Of course, evangelicals will welcome the good emphases of ASM meetings-and there are many. Evangelicals have been practicing them for decades.
However, the life of evangelical missiologists will be in AEPM meetings and convictions. We will teach evangelical missiology and have our students master evangelical treatises on world evangelization. Nine-tenths of the time we spend on missiology will be spent on this science as set forth by evangelicals. Thus we shall develop and teach genuine biblical missiology which accepts the Bible as the Word of God written, and places carrying out the Great Commission as its highest priority.
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