by Gary Corwin
We should all be interested and prayerfully engaged with everything that is taking place (or not taking place) to exalt God’s name and to build his Church around the world.
We should all be interested and prayerfully engaged with everything that is taking place (or not taking place) to exalt God’s name and to build his Church around the world. We will not, however, be equally passionate about all aspects of it, as we all have our own personal hot buttons.
Within the ranks of the missions enterprise are those who argue passionately for the least reached, for the poor, for the cities, for nomads, for Muslims, for the blind and on the list could go. This is as it should be, and we should all rejoice in these varieties of passion; they all come from the same Sovereign Giver of both gifts and passions. Unfortunately, our rejoicing is not always evident.
It has been my experience for too long, and most poignantly of late, that verbal slighting and naysaying are still way too common. Oh, it’s usually delivered with some subtlety, but it is there nonetheless. It often follows a well-articulated and highly appropriate case for why the speaker’s own passion is vitally important. Somehow before finishing, however, it seems to slip over into a mode of implying a diminished importance to the passions and work of others. It’s actually articulate evidence for the pervasiveness of sin, and for our over-whelming need for grace at every stage of our spiritual development.
It should be the stuff of Christianity 101 to recognize that we need to love our brethren not only in some generalized, or deeds of mercy kind of way, but in our appreciation for and encouragement of the gifts and passions which the Lord has bestowed upon them. It should matter not a whit that our own passions may be for an entirely different type of ministry. What matters is that we are family, and that we’re all trying to advance the glory of the same Father. If we’re engaged in the business of knowing and doing his will to the very best of our Spirit-empowered ability, there’s not a reason in the world why we shouldn’t celebrate and encourage one another on the particular journey to which he has called each of us.
Another sphere in which the need for balance looms especially large is where the desire for theological purity butts up against the advantages of evangelistic unity. Again, it is unfortunate, but one of the two often ends up as a casualty.
I was reminded recently of an oft-quoted statement by Robertson McQuilken, former president of Columbia International University: "It is easier to go to a consistent extreme than to remain in the center of biblical tension." How profoundly true that is. I’m never sure which extreme I dislike or fear more: "evangelism unites, theology divides," or "theology is all that really matters."
Evangelism without the clarity of the Gospel as its beacon is not just ineffective, it is counter productive, and it is wrong. On the surface it may seem beneficial when a Mormon missionary convinces a Hindu that God is a personal being rather than an eternal oneness into which we are all ultimately absorbed. The practical reality, however, is that the Hindu may ultimately end up farther from the threshold of saving faith.
On the other hand, those for whom theology is everything and outreach is little more than an afterthought clearly fail in their strong desire to be true to the Scriptures. Purporting love for God, without obedience to him, is no love at all (John 14:21). It was he who said "make disciples of all nations," and "preach the Gospel to every creature."
Another sphere in which balance is called for is in our missiology itself. In an age when the social sciences have often usurped the role of the Scrip-lures as arbiters of mission strategy and practice, it is good to remember that balance, rather than unconditional surrender, is the end to be sought. While the Scriptures needs to he front and center in our thinking, and the scales on which all else is weighed, the social sciences, and the general revelation of God from which they are derived, should not be ignored either.
Now, balance should not be confused with a wishy-washy posture of "moderation," in which no position is ever taken, and nothing is worth fighting for. As some have pointed out, the book is yet to be written extolling the virtues of "Great Moderates of the Twentieth Century," or for any other period for that matter.
Barry Goldwater, in his otherwise lackluster presidential campaign of 1964, made a profound statement: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in its defense is no virtue." The same could be said for the pursuit of godliness. But whether one is talking about freedom or godliness, or mission strategy, an appropriate "extremism" must always be held in balance with allowing the same freedom of conscience to others that one would wish for oneself. While the goal is non-negotiable, the means are often open to different understandings.
So what am I suggesting? Simply that we examine carefully how we treat one another, and the way that we view the various facets on the Father’s ministry diamond. Each one is deserving of our respect and encouragement. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not necessarily exhilarating, but it is essential, and it does please the Father.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM.
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