by A. J. Dain
After thirty years of close association with missionary activity, broken only by World War II, it has been an unusual experience to find myself on the sidelines and not in the battle itself. Perhaps there is some value in the assessment of one who, while deeply concerned for the work, is no longer fully immersed in it.
After thirty years of close association with missionary activity, broken only by World War II, it has been an unusual experience to find myself on the sidelines and not in the battle itself. Perhaps there is some value in the assessment of one who, while deeply concerned for the work, is no longer fully immersed in it. The following thoughts and observations are offered in the hope that they may stimulate further study of the matters under consideration.
My particular concern will be some of the important trends that affect our evangelical missionary strategy. While strictly avoiding any order of priority, I would suggest that, in contrast to the situation in 1866 or even 1916, the following are some of the new factors on the contemporary scene:
(1) The population explosion. (2) Nationalism. (3) Religious resurgence and the new theology. (4) The church both national and local. (5) Ecumenism. (6) Church and mission relationships. (7) Institutions in the life of the church and missions.
Some of these factors may appear to have little relevance to missionaries in rural or tribal areas, but they will impinge upon the overall strategy of missions.
Before turning to a more detailed study of these factors, it may be helpful to remind ourselves that to the onlooker every decade of missionary endeavor down through the centuries has appeared to be the most difficult ever. We are all apt to label our day as the day of crisis and urgency; we are apt to see new phenomena threatening the life and witness of the church. In tact, there is little that is really new. Most of our current problems, political, ecclesiastical and theological, have had their counterparts in earlier decades of the church’s history. If we can remind ourselves of this fact it may help to restore our perspective. How many situations facing minority Christian churches living in a pagan state find close parallels in the Epistle to the Galatians and in the early history of the Christian church?
A further corrective that is constantly needed if we are to avoid panic in our theology and strategy is the debunking of statistics. While we must not deny the comparative failure of the church in its evangelistic outreach, we must not reject the eternal Gospel because the masses are not being won for Christ. Much current theological thinking is motivated by a desire to make the Gospel relevant and attractive to the man in the street. How far removed from the thinking and preaching of the Apostle Paul! If we are to assess the validity of the Gospel message by the statistics of so-called "success" we shall find that we must first largely discount the ministry both of the master Himself and of the Apostle Paul. Max Warren, in his book, Interpreting the Cross, has this comment: "A reasonable faith, a related religion, and a relevant church may all be rejected. Rejection does not mean that faith was unreasonable, the religion unrelated to life, the church irrelevant."
The church began as a tiny minority, it has lived and survived as a minority, and its days of so-called success have always been fraught with spiritual perils.
With the notable exception of South America, the Protestant churches of the world are falling further and further behind in their strength relative to world population. In the face of this, what helpful attitudes can we adopt?
Faith, in the constant reference to the world’s millions we need to recover a sense of the dignity and the value of the individual human soul. In the secular world we see the constant drift in the other direction – the depersonalizing of the individual until he becomes a cypher instead of a soul for whom Christ died. The San of God loved me and gave Himself for me is a profound theological statement that enshrines this truth.
Second, while rejoicing in every technical advance that has brought the whole gambit of audiovisual aids to the service of the Gospel, we must beware of the overemphasis on the use of mass media and all impersonal methods of evangelism. Any preaching of the Gospel that fails to contain at some point the self-giving of the missionary, is, in some measure, inadequate and incomplete.
Third, the sheer physical dimension of the unfinished task surely demands from us the clear, unequivocal acceptance of limited objectives in our program. Much heartbreak in medical missions could have been avoided if this truth had been recognized. How many medical missionaries have collapsed under the strain of impossible programs, and in how many missionary and church institutions is the spiritual ministry and emphasis lost or weakened by the sheer volume of work falling upon an already inadequate staff?
Closely linked with the emerging independent nations of Asia and Africa and their newly won freedom is a revolt against the West. While these nations rash headlong into educational programs designed to bring about industrial revolutions and technological advances that come from the West, they emphatically reject any idea of Western superiority. We cannot expect the believers in national churches to be unaffected by the environment and influences of which they are part. How can we react with sensitivity and yet with a positive approach to the problem?
First, as individuals we are called to an ever deepening and costly identification that demands above all a humility in which our normal arrogance and pride of race are eliminated. The identification, however, goes far beyond the personal witness and identification of the individual missionary; it must be exemplified in the basic strategy of the missionary society, fellowship, or board.
Second, therefore, the nationalism of Asia, Africa, and South American must be confronted by the internationalism or supranationalism of the Christian church. In denominational missions this will take the shape of fully autonomous national churches – increasingly under national leadership – in which missionaries serve, wholly identified with these churches and yet retaining a vital link with the sending body at home.
In the case of interdenominational societies, this must spell the end on the field of the former purely Western missionary organization. This pattern of control, governed either from New York, London, or by a group of expatriate missionary executives in Tokyo, Singapore, Delhi, or Nairobi, is doomed; it is an anachronism in the changing world of today. A racially divided world must be faced with a fellowship of missionary and national, of Western and Eastern, transcending all barriers of caste and color, and demonstrating the reality of oneness in Christ.
First, the revival of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, etc., constitutes a call to the missionary candidate while in training, and the missionary in the early years of field service, for the sympathetic and disciplined study of these religions. Many current texts on comparative religions are decades out of date, and can be misleading.
Second, however, this study must be undertaken with a view to acquiring essentially Christian insights for the clear and unequivocal presentation of the exclusive claims of the Christian Gospel. So much study of comparative religion has led to the spread of two major heresies- universalism and syncretism. The necessity of presenting Christ in humility and with sensitivity must ever be emphasized, but never at the cost of the divine revelation. The Gospel we proclaim must be authentic and must be proclaimed in humility, but with holy boldness and confidence. Throughout the western world this note of authenticity and certainty has been lost in the fog of current theological dialogue. Is it any wonder that so much evangelism has lost its cutting edge, and that most of the missionary societies report a serious lack of candidates? Both universalism and syncretism cut at tie very root of missionary motivation, and must be strenuously resisted.
This resurgence of ancient faiths, paradoxically, has been accompanied by a recession in the Christian faith. We cannot avoid the confession of a spiritual inertia and malaise evident throughout the churches of the West. Shortage of missionary applicants and the serious lack of ministerial candidates are but two symptoms. I cannot dissociate these trends from the so-called "new theology" on the one hand, and the note of uncertainty in the field of missions on the other. Much of the current theological dialogue, based upon the false assumption that the "Gospel" must be made reasonable and relevant and palatable to the man in the street, has only undermined confidence in that Gospel, and left young people and others without moorings.
In missions there has been far too much defeatist talk of closing doors, and of the passing of the day for missions. While admitting the need for constant reappraisal, the current image of the missionary society has been and remains grossly distorted, and that, all too frequently, by sincere but misinformed leaders of the churches.
At the same time, materialism has infiltrated into every area of the church’s life, and young people are finding it increasingly easy to avoid the challenge to sacrificial service.
There must be a significant move from defense to attack. We must reaffirm the biblical truths of the lost state of the world, and the power of the Gospel to transform individuals and communities. A positive program of education is needed to convince young men and women of a new image in missions; of urgent and repeated calls for help from the churches of Asia, Africa and South America; of new and thrilling though costly patterns of missionary endeavor. Youth will respond to a challenge however costly, provided that they know there is a job to be done.
We are here thinking primarily of the national church, and of the local congregations making up that church. The complex subject of mission and church will be dealt with separately in the next section, but suffice it to say here that the only truly permanent thing in any Asian or African country is the local church. There are few, if any, countries where missionaries, as such, may not be asked to leave, or missionary institutions taken over by local or state governments. This basic truth, while accepted in theory, has not yet found adequate reflection in our strategy, in spite of the costly and clear lessons of recent years from China onward.
The overall strategic concept of missions has been only vaguely understood and accepted in much of the missionary activity, even of the post-war years. All missionary work, of whatever form, must be directly or indirectly lead to the establishing of strong local churches under trained leadership possessing evangelistic zeal.
But what of the situation facing many denominational missionary societies, both in Asia and Africa, namely the existence of large national churches numbering hundreds of thousands of adherents, the majority of whom, as in our own churches, are only nominal. in their faith? Here I would plead for an identification with, and a ministry to, these churches, which has been largely lacking thus far for many reasons.
The "nominal" state of these churches and the presence of liberal influences in their leadership, particularly in their theological colleges, have proved effective barriers to our service and fellowship with them. The nominal state of these large denominational churches constitutes one of the major challenges to missionary effort today. The party strife and the grave moral sins of the church at Corinth were no barrier to Paul’s concern for and ministry to that church. Far, far too many evangelicals have gathered their skirts around them in order to avoid contamination from such churches. India, for example, has several million nominal Christians; in the majority of areas, the doors of the churches are wide open for an evangelistic and teaching ministry by convinced evangelicals who are prepared to accept such opportunities in a spirit of humility and fellowship. This is true to a greater or lesser extent right across Asia and Africa, and our responsibility before God to the vast masses of unconverted or untaught members of these churches must affect our current strategy.
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
Space forbids any attempt to assess this powerful movement, but some twenty-seven separate negotiations for church union are taking place.
We rejoice in every movement of the Spirit of God that leads the people of God into a deeper unity. At the same time, evangelical apprehensions of several aspects of ecumenity remain. While recognizing the sincerity of those devoutees of ecumenicity, I feel that there are certain serious misconceptions that result from current ecumenical propaganda.
One of the most important of these misconceptions that affects our strategy is the belief that organic union will inevitably lead to spiritual renewal and a release of evangelistic zeal among the uniting churches. There is no evidence whatever to support this belief, and a frank survey published by the Church of South India freely admits that it had not happened in C.S.I. The United Church of Canada after twenty-five years of union has_ far fewer missionaries than the three uniting churches had at the time of the union. This loss o£ missionary strength occurred when most other North American churches were doubling their missionary forces.
We must look elsewhere for true spiritual renewal, and in particular support and strengthen all voluntary evangelical agencies that contribute directly to this end.
CHURCH AND MISSIONS
We are familiar with two extremes of missionary policy. On the one hand, there is the ideal of the truly indigenous church in which full responsibility has been surrendered by the overseas mission, and the personnel and funds wholly integrated within it. On the other hand, there is traditional paternalism that keeps all missionary activity under foreign control. It must be stated in all honesty that many churches and societies that advocate the former in fact practice the latter. There are many subtle and oblique forms of missionary paternalism that perpetuate the weakness of this system, while those who practice them stoutly proclaim their support for indigenous principles.
There is, and must continue to be, a vice media between these two poles. The latter course – paternalism – is obviously out of the question in the political climate of today. However, I would equally oppose the total absorption of "missions" by "church."
First, the New Testament in general, and the Book of Acts in particular, justify the retention of apostolic bands, missionary fellowships, or voluntary societies working alongside, but separate from, the local or regional ecclesiastical structure. There are strong biblical, ecclesiastical, and administrative reasons for maintaining the autonomy of such fellowships or societies, and they are essential for the spiritual health of the churches themselves, as well as the maintenance of an evangelistic outreach to the non-Christian world.
In a hierarchical structure, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the missionary orders have always maintained their autonomy and have ministered to the local churches without having any authority over them, or without yielding their own autonomy to them. The Church Missionary Society, a voluntary society within but not under the control of the Anglican Church, offers a similar illustration of this principle. While recognizing the obvious desirability of bringing the spiritual dimensions of "missions" into the whole life of the church, I am convinced that the total identification of mission with church would only result in the ultimate loss of mission.
Much of the dialogue on this issue in recent years has been both unrealistic and unscriptural, because the biblical concept of "church" has been constantly confused with the current pattern of a denomination or group of denominations. The sheer weight of "nominalism" within our churches (denominations) at home and overseas demand the-free active existence and functioning of evangelistic and missionary agencies within them.
Perhaps one of the most pressing problems facing missionary societies and the national church is the role of institutions. In many countries the colonial era was preeminently the period of mission institutions. Famines led to the establishment of orphanages; lack of medical facilities, to the establishment of hospitals; lack of educational facilities, to the establishment of schools. The founders of these institutions, who courageously pioneered in these fields, intended these institutions to be spheres of evangelism and Christian teaching. Today the majority of these institutions have already been taken over by appropriate government agencies, and it is probably only a matter of time before many more are similarly transferred. Institutions for the training of Christian leadership within the church fall into a different category, and are likely to remain and should be given a high priority in any overall strategy.
What of the medical and educational institutions that remain? No single answer can be given, for situations differ widely. Several African countries still offer unique opportunities for Christian schools, built with government funds, staffed by Christian teachers paid by government funds with virtually no restrictions. How long such opportunities will remain open is problematical, but today they constitute a real opportunity and challenge. Speaking in general terms of all institutions maintained by missions or churches, it is possible to suggest certain criteria by which their continued existence should be judged:
Do the direct and indirect spiritual results justify their retention?
If significant sums of money for capital development or maintenance are being used by the mission or church, can these expenditures be justified against the background of other needs and overall strategy?
If a large proportion of personnel has been absorbed in these institutions, can this be justified in a similar reappraisal of priorities?
Are the institutions church-related, or pursuing an entirely independent existence?
Is there a willingness to allow the institutions to pass to government control when required?
Are the standards of buildings and equipment such as to commend the institutions in the eyes of the public and the appropriate government department?
It should perhaps be noted that in the present climate of nationalism, with inevitable suspicion towards "foreign" missionaries, certain institutions, such as orphanages, could will be maintained by a national church, but it is doubtful if they should be maintained by overseas funds or staffed by overseas personnel.
There is no single blueprint for success. In the final analysis, it is not the changing political, social, and religious scene that must dominate our thinking, but the application of spiritual principles to that changing scene. The New Testament in general, and the Book of Acts in particular, do not give us ready-made answers, but they do provide a basis of biblical principles that are relevant and valid in every age.
There we discover the truths of the eternal Gospel; the place and function of both the church and the mission; our continuing commission to preach the Gospel to every creature;
both the unity and the diversity within the Body of Christ. The return to biblical principles and an authoritative message must, however, be accompanied by a constant sensitivity to the void of the Spirit. "He that hath ears to hear let him hear" is a message for the church of all times. This sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit will, in turn, demand three things.
First, a new flexibility of outlook. We possess a changeless Word in a changing world, and our strategy must be dynamic and not static. Much that is old must be discarded; some revolutionary changes are clearly indicated. Are we capable of this flexibility of outlook, which must result in a new mobility of operations?
This will affect much traditional work; an orphanage becomes a Bible Conference center; a hospital in an area with rapidly increasing facilities moves its missionary staff into a new hospital in an adjacent country without any medical facilities; a nursing sister moves out from a mission hospital to undertake the pastoral care of hundreds of Christian nurses in government hospitals in the area.
Societies or churches with extensive areas of responsibility may well ponder the relative merits of responsive and unresponsive fields. The New Testament gives us a solemn precedent for shaking the dust off one’s feet. The writer, having been privileged to travel widely in all five continents, has often been reminded of the church’s apparent failure to apply a long-established military axiom – exploit success, never reinforce weakness. No one would advocate the large-scale withdrawal of missionary personnel from unresponsive Muslim fields, but it is difficult to defend the apparent total lack of any overall strategy in this matter.
Similarly, the preoccupation of evangelical missions with the rural communities of Asia and Africa, with the ensuing neglect of the rapidly growing cities of these continents, cries out for some rethinking of our priorities.
Within existing geographical areas of operation and responsibility there is a further need for flexibility of outlook. The student world, the emerging middle classes in the new centers of urban life, and the vital field of theological training are three priorities that cry out for recognition, and which have been neglected by evangelical societies for far too long.
Brief mention must be made of many new forms of missionary service by dedicated Christians following their secular calling. Their sphere is normally in large cities, and their language English, but their influence is considerable. Without detracting one iota from the importance of this kind of ministry, it must be clearly stated that it is "in addition to" and never "in place of" the more orthodox forms of missionary activity.
One further word must be added on the possibility and advisability in certain areas of short terms of missionary service. The writer has had to overcome strong personal prejudice here, but looking back over twelve years or more I must affirm without hesitation the real value of such short terms of service, where spiritual standards are maintained, and where short term service is related to the whole overall and long term program of the society. Many of those who actually offer themselves for short term service discover a deeper call, and return home for further training and a life commitment. However, here again it must be stated that while such contributions are valid and worthwhile, the main challenge must ever be "for the duration."
Second, the situation demands a total mobilization of all existing resources. The population explosion surely demonstrates the utter futility of depending upon professional missionaries to carry the Gospel to the exploding population of the world.
A careful study of church growth reveals unmistakably that one of the keys lies in the witness of the laity. This is a biblical principle clearly enunciated in the New Testament, but all too frequently forgotten. The lack of spiritual concern on the part of church members for the non-Christians around them is just as evident at home as it is in the church of Asia and Africa. Bishop Azariah’s weeks of lay witness in Dornakal, and the "Evangelism-in-Depth" campaigns in South American countries both testify to the importance and the success of mobilizing the total membership of the church in a positive proclamation of the faith.
While much can be done in this connection by a program of biblical teaching supported by personal example, the present spiritual state of many of the churches across the world constitutes an urgent call to prayer for a new movement of the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival.
Third, in all that has been raised throughout this article, one problem is ever present – that of determining our priorities. Rarely, if ever, can a single project be adequately assessed without assessing its comparative importance with other pressing demands. This relates both to the deployment of personnel and the allocation of funds. How often has the writer faced, with his colleagues, the dilemma of either consolidating an encouraging piece of work, or reaching out in pioneer evangelism into a new area!
Evangelism, the spiritual nurture of the church, and training for leadership must all find their place, but to each problem, humanly insoluble, there is a divine priority that forces us back to one activity above all others – prayer.
It was as the church at Antioch gave itself to fasting and prayer that the Holy Spirit spoke the word. May we not be in danger of too much emphasis upon strategy and contemporary events, and may our deepest need not be a return to an utter dependence upon that same Holy Spirit that will drive us to our knees to seek the wisdom that comes alone from above?
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