by W. Robert Hess
The cooling off of the church in regard to missions is apparent to observers both within and without.
The cooling off of the church in regard to missions is apparent to observers both within and without. The behavior pattern of that servant who laid up his deposit in a napkin has sadly become that of a majority of Christians. Those in this group are frankly more concerned with their own interests than with their Lord’s, and the conditioning effect of a materialistic culture has squeezed them into a strictly secular mold. On stated occasions and in certain rituals their actions and words still follow the pattern of Christian expression, but real vitality is gone. The sadness of their condition is compounded because they are deceiving only themselves. Caring, sharing, and daring for the faith have been replaced by participles of indecision. This very indecision has frequently become decision against missions.
Others within the Christian church remember vividly what Christ has done for them and for their society, but they hesitate in the matter of sharing. They are literally disenchanted with missions. One reason for this is that they have bowed to the persuasive claims of a non-Christian humanism which insists that every man has a right to his own faith and that in no case may we be so arrogant as to preach ours to him. It is of course true that if the Christian is arrogant in demeanor he will defeat has own purpose. But by no means is silence the alternative for arrogance. Christians do witness because they are concerned about the long range consequences of the unbelief o€ their neighbors. Another positive motivation which leads Christians to seek to acquaint others with Christ is the conviction that he speaks to human need on every level.
John Taylor, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (Anglican), describes the action of a Muslim sheikh in Pakistan who found a young English boy addicted to drugs. He treated the young man with concern in giving food and shelter and then sent him to a nearby Christian pastor for deliverance from the drug habit, in the confidence that the pastor’s faith could lead him to healing. He confessed that his faith could not do that. There will be little reluctance to share on the part of a Christian who is deeply convinced that Christ does deliver from bondage.
Other Western Christians are rapidly losing interest in missionary work overseas because of the violent tensions in their own countries. The argument seems to run that certain large churches in American cities had sent money and missionaries for years to Africa but provided no housing, recreation, or spiritual ministry for the blacks in their own area of the city. This allegation is sadly true and must be faced in humble penitence by white Christians. In such circumstances we must examine our missionary motivation. Missionary zeal might have been some form of compensation for the guilt of neglecting the local blacks.
The biblical message, however, calls both black and white Christians to repentance, to faith and to missions. The church of the future will be deeply concerned to send welltrained young people of every racial strain to the ghettos of Boston as well as to Bombay. On the other hand much of the planning by some churches and mission agencies who decide that they will concentrate upon local problems instead of sharing the gospel both at home and abroad constitutes a new form of spiritual isolationism. Its greatest danger is that of seeking to correct one failure with another. A spiritually renewed church will face racism persistently and redemptively, and the evidence that it has drone so will be seen in creative employment of finance and capable personnel in strategic areas over the whole earth.
Again there are those who are disenchanted with missions because some of the recipients of foreign aid wave developed a deeper attachment to the aid than to the Christian message. Both missionaries from abroad and national Christian leaders are tempted to discouragement as they encounter instances of this. Some correctives for this depression are to remember that Western Christians, too, with a much better economic base often take fiscal considerations into primary account in seeking guidance. Mixed motivation surrounded Jesus in the persons of his disciples and it is still not localized geographically. Moreover, thoughtful mission policy in Latin America as well as in Chicago will seek to develop persons of integrity by resolute teaching and planning toward self-support. Lest Christians be too discouraged about failures here, the record of government aid also includes failures. The goal must be to train local leaders who will be able to implement and interpret the Christian message far better than the outsider can. Their pose and vitality will develop rapidly as they assume responsibility in both faith and finance. In any country Christian leaders are usually those whose integrity and insight have won for them the respect of their fellows. Increasingly, spiritual leaders of the younger churches are ministering in Western Europe and in the United States. Their spiritual effectiveness is not explained by their national origin but by their acquaintance with Christ end his purpose in the world.
Asian and African students in the West have frequent occasion to quote the proverb, "There is darkness under the lamp." Much of our Western civilisation is no argument for the Christian faith. One mother expressed in a letter her concern for the safety of a daughter in missionary service; the young lady dispelled her mother’s fears by replying that she was safer on the streets of Singapore than in Baltimore. The sad fact is that violence and lack of respect for law makes the law of the jungle prevail whether it be in a forest or in a modern city. Asians and Africans deplore the lawlessness of some American cities as much as we do, for most developing countries have patterned their legal and governmental systems on Western models. At the same time we recognize that the values of any particular culture array or may not adapt to the Christian message. It is not dependent upon them nor dominated by them. Nor should we make any culture the express vehicle of the faith. To say to a people that by accepting Christ’s way they will become prosperous and democratic is to make the gospel a means to a political end. The Christian confesses his nation’s sins but he does not view them as an argument for resisting faith in Christ. Moral deterioration in the West is not a contradiction but rather a tragic illustration of biblical prophecies.
Another objection to Christian missions, especially in tribal cultures, is the anthropological one. This is a protest against the introduction of foreign ideas into a closely knit society because their introduction will break the "cement" which gives security and identity to that culture. Here no simple answer will suffice. It as too often true in history that foreign traders, politicians and missionaries failed miserably to try to understand those silent forces holding societies intact. Western individualism often compares unfavorably to Asian and African group solidarity. Customs of courtship, social life, and family relationships must be determined by local Christians and not by foreign visitors. Educational missionaries have at times developed a curriculum that was too advanced for the people involved. Their social and spiritual development was in fact hindered because their newly trained leaders either lacked the desire or rapport to lead them. Concerning their errors in judgment on the part of mission work among pre-literate peoples two observations are in order. First, we can note from their correspondence arid records that once the missionaries were convinced of such an error they sought to correct it. Second, mistakes in adaptation arse the common lot of all of us and therefore motive is to be valued over methodology. We can improve methods much more easily than we can inspire motivation.
Considering the positive aspects of Christian work among pre-literate peoples, we learn that the history of many of our own ancestors has been repeated in newly developing countries. Mission schools and translators have provided educational and political leaders of new nations. Original development of a written language, that key to learning, has frequently been accomplished by sensitive missionary linguists. A notable fruit of missionary concern is the increasing number of qualified anthropologists whose orientation to life is frankly Christian. Much of the disenchantment of Christians will be cured when they learn the meaning of Stephen Neill’s emphasis that our task is with truth, not with any particular custom or tradition. The Christian missionary, like the concerned scientist, believes that there is something worse than the breaking up of a traditional society; it is to knowingly permit a people to live in error. No developing country will permit its tribals to live on in cannibalism, disease, or abject poverty. Neither gospel nor scientific truth can condone ignorance, though both can adjust a chronology to conquer it.
There are other reasons for the isolationism from missions on the part of professing Christians. Our failure to obey our Lord and to courageously invest has created a vacuum which other ideologies have swooped in to fill. In many cases the latter state of our society which has known Christ and rejected him is worse than it formerly was. But our concern here is not with lamentation. The self-recrimination of the past twenty years on the part of church leaders has nauseated many youth who are seeking a cause to which they can give their lives. The task is now to hear the prophetic call to lengthen our cords and to strengthen our stakes; our task is to enlarge the place of our tents (Isa. 54:2). We will cure the provincialism of the Christian community by a fresh look at opportunities for advance as they are now emerging.
Since the values most cherished in the non-Christian world in the latter third of the twentieth century relate some way to scientific and cultural development, we must learn this language with a much greater fluency. The Christian professor of mathematics in Nigeria may be pitching a tent in an unreached area. Producing fifteen-minute TV cassettes of a high quality may speak to the deeper questions which men will ask in the quiet recesses of high rise apartments in Hong Kong in 1980. The effective ministry of education, medicine and evangelism will lengthen its cords in due proportion to a creative imagination in mission policy. Isolationism is a by-product of fear and disillusionment. Creativity will result from a fresh renewal of the Holy Spirit in our thinking about missions.
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