by Arthur T. F. Reynolds
The pendulum of missionary strategy with regard to mission-church relationships is swinging from one extreme toward another. There was a time when mission boards held control of churches that they had established for so long that they stifled and stunted initiative and growth in the churches.
The pendulum of missionary strategy with regard to mission-church relationships is swinging from one extreme toward another. There was a time when mission boards held control of churches that they had established for so long that they stifled and stunted initiative and growth in the churches. This was clearly unsatisfactory. In reaction, they swung to the indigenous policy, trying to encourage, among other things, the early transfer of responsibility from mission to church. I arrived in China just when the indigenous movement was gathering momentum, and when mission policies were formulated accordingly. Up to a point, this reaction was good. Unquestionably, there were things in the past that cried for correction.
In saying this, I want to disassociate myself from much of the criticism that has been aimed at our predecessors. We might as well criticize Faraday for not inventing radar, or the Wright brothers for not producing jet aircraft, as criticize our missionary predecessors of 100 years ago for not developing a mission-church framework to stand the stresses of present-day nationalism.
But where is the indigenous pendulum taking us? In some places it has swung to the position that the missionary is the servant of the national churches. No one can object to the idea that missionaries should be the servants of the local churches. As Paul wrote, "We preach not ourselves but Christ
Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." The question is how. Are missions to be fully controlled by the churches? I see no evidence in the New Testament that Paul's movements and his methods were decided by the churches to whom he ministered.
There may be times when it is fitting for missionaries to be service agents of the churches, but as a blanket rule it is wrong; it is a departure from the New Testament pattern. Such a policy produces distinctions on a basis not sanctioned by Scripture and ignores distinctions that are in Scripture. The New Testament warns against making any distinction on the basis of race or nationality. Scripture states the principle that "there is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28 ) . In spite of this, missions make a distinction between indigenous and foreign. Strong currents of nationalism have forced us to this. It sounds plausible. Is it right?
Paul preached the Gospel and established churches. He either appointed elders himself from among the local believers (Acts 14:23 ), or he arranged for a fellow-missionary to do it (Titus 1: 5 ) . In reaction to earlier practices of excessive mission control, we may easily be in too much of a hurry to transfer authority to newly-planted churches. Yet if the qualifications for bishops (elders) and deacons in the Pastoral Epistles mean anything, they mean that Paul was not concerned merely with appointing church officers, but with appointing church officers who were qualified.
Paul did not lack humility. He was willing to withdraw when the time came for others to move into leadership. But he did not lose sight of function. The issue in mission policy is not humility but function. When we give authority in the church to a person who is immature and unqualified simply because he is a national of the country, are we not at fault? In the scriptural pattern all who come from outside to serve a local church, not being members of that local church, are in the same category whether they are indigenous or foreign. Deacons and elders are shown in Scripture as leaders in the local churches; those who serve the churches from outside, as it were, are divided into apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not into natives and foreigners. By basing our distinctions on nationality we fail to establish the distinctions of maturity that Scripture emphasizes.
WHO'S IN CONTROL?
Let us raise a second problem. Should the missionary report to the national church and accept the direction of the national church leaders? Even when the churches are administered by qualified spiritual men, does it follow that they should control missionaries?
In discussing Acts 13:2 ("Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them"), Watchman Nee emphasized the distinction between Church and Work (Missions). He concluded:
"If they (apostles) go to work in a place where no church exists, then they should seek to found one by the proclamation of the Gospel, but if one exists already, then their work must be distinct from it. It is wrong for the apostles to interfere with the affairs of the church, but it is equally wrong for the church to interfere with the affairs of the work . . . . Much confusion has arisen because the divine line of demarcation between the churches and the work has been lost sight of." There are surely obvious distinctions between Church and Work. Fellowship in the churches is comprehensive, allowing no distinctions of any kind. But work (missions) is essentially selective: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them …. I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter with the gospel to the circumcised."
Distinction does not mean division. There is a distinction between the front and rear wheels of a car, but there is a close connection. So it is between Church and Work (missions). There should be a close connection and close cooperation between the church and missions. But to blur the distinction and to confuse their functions in the divine economy will not result in expediting the work of the Gospel but in hindering it.
This is not to say that there is no place for foreign workers to work under the direction of indigenous workers. In China I worked most happily for a considerable time under the direction of a Chinese leader. Note three points, however: (1) We were both active in the sphere of work. (2) He was an older and a more mature Christian worker than I was. (3) He was a man of spiritual authority whom it was natural to follow, regardless of nationality. Given conditions like this, there is no problem whatever in a foreign missionary serving under the direction of an indigenous leader.
What we may forget is that the link uniting Church and Work is not primarily organizational but spiritual. The higher authority to which both should submit is the Holy Spirit. The work of churches on the one hand and of missions on the other is coordinated not by one controlling the other, but by both being brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. This is the way to success.
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