by Jim Reapsome
Recent events in Greece, Turkey, and Morocco remind us once again of our enemy’s resistance to the spread of the gospel.
Recent events in Greece, Turkey, and Morocco remind us once again of our enemy’s resistance to the spread of the gospel. Satan uses both political and religious feelings to circumscribe the church’s efforts to evangelize. Even the power of the U.S. government is of no avail to those imprisoned for their faith.
The U.S., of course, has vital interests in all three of those countries. Those interests largely preclude our government’s doing anything significant on behalf of religious freedom and the right to propagate one’s faith.
Normal missionary work isn’t allowed in those countries. There are mere handfuls of believers in Morocco and Turkey, and hardly more than that in Greece. On the one hand, Muslim authorities in Morocco and Turkey are careful to keep out Christian influences. In Greece, the government and the established Orthodox Church are wary of any independent groups. Some are tolerated, but barely.
Questions arise about the role of outsiders in these countries. Technically, they are not missionaries, but the governments know full well why they are there. The outsiders perform some useful services as a cover for their missionary work, which for the most part consists of encouraging local believers and trying to get non believers to study the Bible individually and in small groups.
This has been a generally accepted strategy, in lieu of the fact that not much else can be done. But whenever someone is arrested, we have to ask whether in fact the outsiders are accomplishing anything substantial, either in terms of church nurture or in terms of evangelism. We also have to ask if other strategies are possible.
In Greece, outside agencies have also had to struggle with deep divisions within the miniscule evangelical community, as well as with distrust of outsiders. Nonetheless, some positive things have occurred in more recent years, with Bible teaching and literature and camp work especially. There had been hopes that the Greek Orthodox Church would back off from its rigid stance, but that hasn’t happened.
Some theorists say that regardless of the cost of religious and political oppression, we should still infiltrate countries hostile to the gospel. You can’t disprove that, of course, but you can ask for some hard evidence that would show whether or not such infiltration is accomplishing anything worthwhile. We can’t retreat into enthusiasm, or even good motives and high ideals, if in fact the end result is pretty much nil.
We don’t have to blow the retreat bugle, but we do have to be accountable, not only to God for what we do with people’s lives, but also to churches in the West that support the "infiltration at any cost" strategy of missions.
Especially do we have to look at other strategies and other, perhaps more wiser and more productive, ways of reaching people in such hostile countries. One obvious strategy would be to concentrate on people from those countries who live elsewhere. It’s not hard to find thousands of Greeks, Turks, and Moroccans living in Europe and North America. Why must we be obsessed with doing evangelism in terms of geography and national boundaries?
We suspect also that radio and literature could be used more effectively, if we took the time to do careful studies and then produced programs and magazines and newspapers geared to people smothered by the lack of political and religious freedom.
Perhaps the hardest question to ask is, Are we really doing the Christian minorities in those countries any favors by our infiltration schemes, or are we in fact a risk, an embarrassment, and a hindrance to them? If we ask, would they give us honest answers, or would they be too timid to tell us what they really think?
Our theological convictions assure us that Christ is stronger than any earthly power, and that hell itself cannot withstand the church. Our missionary convictions tell us to use whatever means we can to spread the gospel. At the same time, we have to work out those convictions in the realities of the world, never backing off from them, but also never fearing to ask whether our temporal plans do not need readjustment from time to time.
That’s all we’re asking here. We’re not advising anyone to quit because some people have been arrested. We are asking for the courage to examine our strategies, and to ask what is the objective evidence-leaving our emotions aside-that infiltrating countries that forbid open missionary work really does serve to advance the gospel and the cause of the church.
We’re thankful that the plight of the people in these countries has been brought to the attention of Western churches and missions. But trying to drum up support for various untested infiltration schemes might not be the best thing to do, until we have first sat down together and weighed the pros and cons of our various strategies. In this case, less drum-beating would be good and more hard-headed research would be better.
Copyright © 1985 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.