by George W. Peters
It has been frequently observed that the Bible does not prescribe specific patterns of relationship between mission agencies and national churches. Such relationships seem to be open to history, circumstances, and human wisdom. However, such statements must be accepted with caution.
It has been frequently observed that the Bible does not prescribe specific patterns of relationship between mission agencies and national churches. Such relationships seem to be open to history, circumstances, and human wisdom. However, such statements must be accepted with caution. They must not be interpreted to mean that the Bible does not offer decisive, abiding guiding principles. It seems reasonable to expect that the Lord of missions and the churches would not leave the people of God without guidance in such important matters. Neither is Paul, the master builder, silent in this issue.
Our problem is not the lack of revealed guiding principles. Rather, several blindfolds seem to obscure our ability to comprehend them. First, the church-mission relationship on the home base has become seriously blurred. It is not biblically defined nor clearly understood. A serious dichotomy between churches and mission societies has developed. Therefore, we have many missionless churches and many churchless mission societies. Because of this nonrelationship between many churches and mission societies on the home base, the relationship on the field is not fully understood and it suffers accordingly. The abnormality of the home situation carries over to the field. It reflects itself in abnormalities and tensions in the new situation.
Second, the underlying issues of the mission-church problem are not fully grasped and dealt with in concrete, realistic terms. Ideologies, sentiments, tradition, nationalism (in the missions and in the churches), immaturity, inflexibility, organizational identity and/or organizational dominance are all involved. Not least is a peculiar concept of the indigeneity of the church that many a missionary carries with him and seeks to practice. It is difficult to penetrate to the core and define the real issues of mission-church tensions. It mush also be recognized that the concerns differ with missions, churches, peoples, and times. Denominational missions do not face the same problems as do interdenominational missions. The problems in former colonial areas are not the same as they are in countries that have not gone through this experience. Tribal churches differ greatly from city churches.
Third, there are great variations in mission and church organizations, background, training, home church relationships and theological concepts. The different early practices in the fields by different missions and missionaries, and the isolationist mentality of numerous missionaries create difficulties in recognizing guiding principles laid down in the Scripture. These blindfolds constitute formidable obstacles to the work of the Holy Spirit. Only a divine breakthrough among the missions and the churches can lead us through the maze. In this situation let us look at Paul and learn some guiding principles from him.
Paul speaks of himself as a master builder (1 Cor. 3:10). We recognize Paul’s missionary principles as divine revelation, and therefore normative for all times. It is important, however to distinguish his principles from his missionary practices and patterns. The latter are not necessarily normative for all times and people. His practices and patterns are culturally related and are therefore relative. Paul was creative, flexible, and adaptable. He was sensitive to people and their culture (1 Cor. 9:19-23). There is both the constant and the adaptable in Paul. He never changed his message, goals and principles, but he did change his approaches, methods, practices and patterns. Most certainty mission-church relationships are involved in missionary principles. We have therefore a right to look to Paul and the Scriptures for guidance.
PAULINE MISSIONARY-CHURCH RELATIONSHIPS
Paul expresses his missionary-church relationship in a brief but meaningful phrase: "Your fellowship (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now" (Phil. 1:5). A closely related passage is found in Romans 15:24, where Paul expresses the expectation that the church in Rome will help him on his way to Spain. The key word is koinonia. Thayer translates it as: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse. Vine adds: partnership, partner, partaker, fellowship, communion, contribution. Benseler makes it to mean: gemeinschaft, anted, teilnahme, verbindung, vereinigung, umgang. William Barclay speaks of it as: a sharing of friendship, practical sharing with those less fortunate, partnership in the work of Christ.
Paul uses the word koinonia four times in Philippians: fellowship in the gospel (1: 5), fellowship in the Spirit (2: l ), fellowship in his sufferings (3:10), fellowship of my affliction (4:14). In 4:15 a related word is used to express the fact of financial sharing in his life and ministry.
However we may interpret the working methods and practices of Paul, his missionary-church relationship principle is clear. It is a relationship of partnership in the full sense of the word. His relationship would not fit into the modern patterns of parallelism or of merger. Paul never thought of himself as separate from the churches he founded. Spiritual, theological, cultural, ecclesiastical or organizational dichotomy would have seemed strange to Paul and totally unacceptable to him. He was too closely related to and too intimately bound up in the life of the churches. But Paul was not so completely merged with the churches and submerged in church ministries that his divine calling and commission as a missionary to the nations were imperiled. Phillips translates Romans 15:23: "But now, since my work in these places no longer needs my presence . . ." Paul felt his time had come to move on. The apostle avoided both extremes. Neither dichotomy (parallelism) nor merger would have fitted his pattern. He labored in partnership with the churches.
Paul’s partnership relationship was one of full participation in the life of the churches – in their mobilization and enlistment of prayer, personnel and finances. Paul found the resources for all his advances in evangelism and church expansion in the churches he had planted. The churches became involved with Paul from the very beginning in an aggressive program of evangelism and church multiplication. This is evident from such reports of gospel outreach as Luke records in Acts 13:49; 19:10,20,26.
Such reports could not have been written had Paul operated as a mission society apart from the churches. Neither could Paul have written that he had fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (modern Yugoslavia), had he not fully mobilized the churches in partnership in evangelism (Rom. 15:19). It is also evident that the churches remained in such partnership throughout the apostle’s life. It never became a question which ministries and projects belonged to the mission and which to the churches. Theirs was a total partnership ministry from the very beginning. No transfer ever became necessary.
Several guiding principles evolve from Philippians 1:5 and the rest of the epistle. Partnership included the free sharing of all resources for the proclamation of the gospel and the evangelization of the communities. Paul’s finances all came from the mission fields (Phil. 2:25; 4:15; Rom. 15:24). The New English Bible translates the latter passage: "for I hope to see you as I travel through, and to lie sent there (Spain) with your support after having enjoyed your company for a while." All of Paul’s associates came from the churches he founded, and it can be assumed that they were sustained by the churches. Most probably they were all or mostly Paul’s own converts. The only exception mad be Silas, the Silvanus of the epistles, who joined Paul in Jerusalem. However, Silas, too, was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37).
Partnership was natural because it was introduced from the very beginning of the ministries. Evangelism was caught by the churches as much as it was taught to them. Paul was not working for them but rather with them. From the very beginning the churches were schools of practical evangelism. Partnership continued throughout the lifetime of the apostle. Paul remained related to the churches and their care was upon him continuously. (Cf. Phil. 4:18; 2 Cor. 11:18.)
Partnership excluded the lording of one party over the other. Never slid Paul demand or legislate the partnership of the churches He solicited and elicited partnership in missions. Paul’s attitude in partnership in missions must not be confused with his authoritative pronouncements in doctrine, his legislation in moral matters, and his discipline in moral and doctrinal matters. Such authority was his because of his divine calling to the apostleship. He did not exercise such authority in missionary partnership. In that he was a humble brother and energetic leader among fellow-laborers, and a dynamic and examplary force in the churches in evangelism and church expansion.
Partnership relationship in missions between Paul and the churches grew out of deeper levels of fellowship – fellowship in the Spirit, fellowship in his sufferings, fellowship in the apostle’s afflictions. Paul’s complete identification with the churches in love, life and ministries made fellowship on the deepest level possible and resulted in a natural partnership in missions. It would have seemed strange practice to Paul to find in a common field of labor a "fellowship of the mission" and a "fellowship of the national churches." Such dichotomy Paul could have never tolerated, no matter how well-meant and how ideally defended.
Partnership in missions excluded the demand of the churches for complete merger of the missionaries with the churches and the subservience of one party to the other. The common goal of world evangelism forbad the capturing of the mission and missionaries by the churches. Outreach, not inreach, was the dominant note and thrust. Partnership meant the "let go" (Acts 13:3) of the workers as well as co-operation in the labors.
Such partnership relationship rested, however, upon specific premises, which are evident from the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles. Paul recognized the churches as duly constituted churches of Jesus Christ from the very beginning. He respected them as churches and expected them to function as the church of God in their specific communities. There came a time for the missionary (and the mission) to move on (Rom. 15:15-24).
Paul recognized the gifts of the Holy Spirit and believed that the Holy Spirit would enable and qualify every constituted church to function adequately without the importation of special help from the outside. Temporary teaching and organizing help may be wise and some follow-up ministry is required. However, Paul expected the churches to function under the Lordship of Christ and the direction of the Holy Spirit as self-sufficient units.
Paul was less concerned about establishing autonomous and indigenous churches. These were peripheral concepts. He labored strenuously and incessantly to establish truly Christian and evangelizing churches. In this he was remarkably successful, as the seven churches around Ephesus and the evangelizing efforts of the church in Thessalonica show.
Paul’s view of service and missionary partnership is wholly positive. Service in the New Testament is as much a divine means of Christian growth as it is the result of Christian maturity. Missions is not an optional enterprise, it is the life-flow of the church. The church exists by missions as fire exists by fuel. Missionary partnership must be built into the church from the very beginning. Without it no church will reach its full maturity. Service is not only for the perfect, it is a means for the perfecting of the saints.
Paul depended upon the gospel of the universal love of God, the greatness of the work of Christ, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to motivate and direct the churches in their gospel partnership. Paul expected that his own example would set the evangelizing pattern for the churches and lead them on in their evangelistic outreach and missionary partnership. Unhesitatingly, he called upon the churches to follow him as he was following Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16; 1 Thess. 1: 6).
In these days of tensions, gropings and searchings, for answers to the problems of mission-church relationship, we would do well to look more closely and confidently to the Apostle Paul as an example and to the Holy Spirit to show us some of his guiding principles of partnership in missions. We will not find it easy to enter into true partnership. Partnership eliminates the over-against, the side-by-side, the one-over-the-other, and the one submerging in the other. Partnership in missions means equals are bound together in mutual confidence, unified purpose, and united effort. They accept equal responsibilities, authority, praise and blame; they share burdens, joys, sorrows, victories and defeats. Partnership means joint planning, joint legislation, and joint programming. Sending and missions is as much an attitude, a spiritual, social and theological relationship, a philosophy of ministry, a way of life, as it is a defined pattern of church-mission relationship for administration and legislation.
I am not blind to the fact that the transition from the Pauline word and mission to our time, situation and ministry is not easily made. The mission world and circumstances of Paul differed greatly from our mission world. The dominant Hellenism, cross-cultural fertilization, economic prosperity and relative safety, philosophical bankruptcy, cross-racial movements, religious ferment constituted unique circumstances for the flow and reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only a few of these factors are making themselves felt in our modern days.
Paul was a citizen of the world in which he labored and not a gust in a foreign country, as most missionaries are. He enjoyed the hospitality of a government under specific conditions. The apostle had no language to learn. He was born in a mission field and had no cultural barriers to overcome. Monotheism was wide-spread and much respected. Old Testament ethical principles had been widely advocated by Jewish writers. Most of Paul’s churches were founded in cities where Jews, proselytes and godfearers constituted a goodly portion of the people. Seldom did Paul come to communities where he did not have some previous contacts. He was therefore able to find accommodation and begin his ministry with some friends or acquaintances.
Paul had tremendous advantages from many points of view. From a practical point of comparison, Paul operated in a home mission field. It is therefore difficult to carry over Paul’s methods, practices and patterns in totality and without qualifications into our situation and into our times. We must make allowance for many variables. The idea that we can "do as Paul did it" may betray more naivete than wisdom, more idealism than realism. We must remain sober and balanced.
The fact remains, however, that the principle of partnership is not affected by these variables. The principle of partnership does not rest in culture, times, or circumstances. Partnership is a relationship rooted in the mission’s identification with the churches on the deepest levels of fellowship in the Spirit, and in mutual burdens, interests, purposes and goals. Partnership is not circumstantial, it is a matter of life, health and relationship. It belongs to the nature of Christianity. It is not optional, it is bound up in Christian fellowship and progress.
Although the working out of the principle of partnership may take on different patterns, the patterns will be determined by the principle. The patterns cannot conflict with the principle. There mint be formal and functional harmony and symmetry between the outer and the inner, the body and the spirit. Somehow the patterns must portray partnership.
The principle of partnership is comprehensive. It determines programming, planning, financing, and personnel appointment and assignments as these factors relate to the mission’s outreach, and as they involve the missions and the churches in the task of evangelism and other mutually agreed upon projects. In all things it behooves us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to demonstrate our mutuality and equality in Christ and in his cause before the world.
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