by Dennis E. Clark
Emergent and revitalized non-Christian religions threaten the churches of Asia like storm clouds on the horizon of the ’70s, while in Africa, sunshine and bright skies suggest a decade of many open doors.
Emergent and revitalized non-Christian religions threaten the churches of Asia like storm clouds on the horizon of the ’70s, while in Africa, sunshine and bright skies suggest a decade of many open doors.
"They beat up two of our brothers and took away their tracts and literature. One died later of his injuries." A report from West Bengal, 1969.
"Christians are very fearful, and there is danger of their becoming an introverted ghetto like the other minority Christian communities in the Muslim world." Comment from West Pakistan, 1969.
"We can assign all the teachers we can get to religious education classes in the schools," report leaders in East Africa.
"Send us a French-speaking film producer so that we can accept the opportunity of TV programming," comes from Francophone Africa.
In Latin America, clouds and sunshine chase each other across the sky. The fermenting revolutionary spirit has, if anything, emphasized the new freedom enjoyed by millions of Roman Catholics who now have access to the Bible. Kenneth S. Latourette called the period 1914-1960 "Vigor amidst Storm."1 The name is equally applicable to churches in the Third World nations as we enter the ’70s.
In addition to external pressures, Third World churches face two other interrelated problems: domestic dissension due to assumption of responsibility for their own affairs and repercussions from the influences of Western missionaries and fraternal workers.
Domestic dissensions are often tragically paraded before non-Christian magistrates, at great expense to the litigants.
"About the court case tomorrow," Munshi Prem Chand paused, "if the pastor and his party win – not that they will, mind you – we can appeal to the Supreme Court. The control of the church buildings meanwhile will no longer be in our hands."
The spokesman for his five clients cleared his throat: "Is there any hope the judge will let both parties use the church? We have spent a lot of money on witnesses; we could at-range a compromise. "
Lawsuits, party strife, faction, and jockeying for the assets of church property have drained churches of spiritual power and evangelistic vigor.
The missionary beachhead of a hundred years ago soon consolidated into what became known as the compound. As cities have grown and real estate values increased, some mission properties are now worth millions of dollars. Some have been handed over to the national churches, but others are still run by missionaries as foreign bases on alien soil where foreign missionary families can live and rear their children in a protective cocoon of their own culture. Here the new arrival can unpack the half-dozen trunks and barrels of personal effects and foreign chattels, to be described to the locals by the ever-watchful houseboy. The soul need of exiles is fed by the concentration of automobiles, the chitchat and hum of a foreign base, but a great stumbling block to acceptance of missionary personnel by locals is created by its presence, as well as a temptation to avarice for the relatively poor local Christian colleague.
This center of missionary activity sees the comings and goings of would-be immigrants, scholarship seekers, client church leaders, and satellite workers who have learned the cliches and prayer forms to qualify as "our national worker."
The visiting foreign board members and other friends from home, the cables, mail, and magazines all point to the compound as the command post for a foreign enterprise. The social round, the discussion of servant problems, and the missionary weekly prayer meeting attended by twenty missionaries and two faithful nationals provide a busy life for those tied to the home. Over the rest we can draw a veil; but the problem is there, in 1970 in hundreds of Third World situations. As late as 1969, in a large city of Africa, at considerable expense, a complex of buildings was just being constructed which would be dominated from its inception by foreign missionary personnel.
First of all we must look at the disparity in living standards and modus operandi between foreigner and local. Though it is not so great in the metropolises of the Third World, the difference is very obvious in town and rural areas. There the employer-employee relationship between foreigner and paid worker is certain to hamper close ties of the spirit. Added to these factors is racial prejudice. In India during the ’40s missionaries would place the national evangelist in the servants’ quarters for the night but accept the visiting missionary as a house guest. In that era, native workers (as they were then called) were rarely invited into the mission house to talk, but were dealt with outside.
In the ’60s this attitude still persisted in some parts of Africa. The young new missionary was received with special honors and quickly put in charge of sortie department. Locals were expected to show him deference, not because of his age and experience, but because he was a white missionary. Was it any wonder that this type of foreign missionary enterprise was viewed as colonial and that deep levels of intimacy and fellowship were inhibited by the affluence of the employer and by poor employee relationship? As these attitudes continue into the ’70s, further resentment and reaction is bound to erupt.
One solution to this carry-over of the colonial era would be to dismantle all foreign mission compounds as well as to break up concentrations of foreign personnel having authority over the people who are being served. At the latest, 1975 could be set as the target date to implement this action. Concentrations of foreigners and the old type mission compound would be an anachronism by the end of the ’70s.
The possible exception would be pioneer base camps serving very primitive areas. Maintaining schools for missionary children to enable them to qualify for their home university entrance may also be a valid reason for a foreign enclave, and one which can be rationally explained to local leaders. But such a base should be quite distinct in its function from all other mission activity. Existing property which can be used by responsible local Christian leadership can be transferred to the legal jurisdiction of that leadership. Other property can be sold and more modest accommodation rented among the people served.
In the Incarnation we see that God Himself voluntarily accepted the restrictions and limitations of being born into a carpenter’s family in Nazareth. His identification was so real that, while remaining sinless, He was welcome at the table of publicans and sinners. Close identification with the peoples served is basic: living among them in as unobtrusive a style as health permits, reducing foreign chattels to the essentials for efficiency, and, finally, breaking free from the hardened chrysalis of mission compound walls.
CLIENT CHURCHES OR FREE?
Outside the mission circles, yet intersecting them at every point, are the receiving churches in varying stages of development. At one end of the spectrum there are those that are completely free, for example, the Baptist churches of Burma, the Pentecostal churches in Chile, and a number of churches affiliated with the Indonesian Council of Churches. In the middle are the client churches, technically autonomous, but under the influence of foreign missions or denominations, with extra-territorial controls. At the other end are churches, new and old, still under the direction of foreigners.
About Chile, Dr. John R. Kessler writes:
Many of the Methodists never realized how strongly the Chileans felt that the missionaries had tried to prevent the free expression of the Holy Spirit. Chilean Pentecostalism owes its dual character of nationalism and spirituality to the Chilean reaction against every attempt to control the expression of the Spirit according to the insights of the foreign missionaries, coupled with an exuberant desire for the Spirit to express Himself freely in the local situation. . . The considered opinion even of those Methodists most able to appreciate the good points in the Pentecostal revival in Chile was that the movement was doomed to become a struggling sect which would probably collapse within a few years under the weight of its own divisiveness. Instead, today the Pentecostal churches outnumber all others. 2
In Africa, Dr. David Barrett’s careful research of 6,000 church groupings3 reveals the longing of many African Christians to be themselves. Some groups, however, have overreacted in discarding Western accretions to the Christian faith and have gone beyond the point of a minimal Christian faith.
In Asia, a number of free churches, such as the Assemblies in India, are flourishing and supporting workers and programs. This development came through the ministry of Brother Bakht Singh Chabra.
It is a paradox that sending churches are urged to send and support missionaries for "the great need on the field," when the palavers and national prayer meetings reveal another picture.
"Oh, Lord," agonized one brother, "deliver us from the missionaries! "
"Oh, God," cried another, "break their pride and smash their palaces!"
Others pray more humbly: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Western theological liberalism, like the ancient heresy of Arius, has spread to many of the faculty of the three hundred theologral seminaries and training centers of the Third World. But the vast majority of church leaders and most knowledgeable Christians still maintain the historic Christianity on which their churches were founded. They would subscribe without reservation to the Apostles’ Creed, and they revere the Bible as the Word of God and final authority for faith and conduct.
When Third World church leaders travel to international conferences, they soon discover that many of their oppositie numbers are somehow different.
"I just stood up in Edinburgh and told them to their faces that they had lost their first love for the Lord," confided one Indian Presbyterian leader. "Why, many of them did not even believe Jesus was born of a virgin!"
Bishop Chandu Ray of Karachi, West Pakistan, who in 1969 assumed responsibility for the Coordinating Office for Asian Evangelism in Singapore, has on many occasions told his own experience as a young Hindu.
In Simla, perched 7,000 feet high in the Himalayas, I became a Christian. I had witnessed the miracle of a Christian missionary’s eyesight being restored through prayer. I loved Jesus Christ. The Bible was living and real to me. Then I went to Bishops College, Calcutta, where much that I was taught destroyed my faith and first love for the Lord. It was much later, through a couple of godly women from New Zealand working as missionaries in Karachi, that I was restored to my early faith and joy in the Lord.
The divisive and disruptive effect of Western liberal theological thought continues into the ’70s. If these liberals can be called the modern counterpart of the Sadducees, we have on the other hand the modern Pharisees, with their strong emphasis on separation which is just as disruptive to the growth of host churches. In fact, there is a question as to which is the greater of the two evils. Both of these streams from the West should be required to present their credentials before being given entree to Third World Churches.
"Your health documents please!" It was quite a day when the health officers of newly emerged nations checked on the documents of their former- rulers at Passport Control.
"Sorry, sir, your smallpox vaccination is out of date. "
"But, my dear man, there’s not the slightest likelihood…" "Sorry, sir, we we’ll have to put you in quarantine. "
The innate courtesy, politeness, and accommodating character of Third World peoples, compounded by colonial repressions, and in the case of Christians, a long period of financial subservience, make it very difficult for receiving church leaders to introduce quarantine measures. But it is the only way to keep out the pox!
Paul’s words to Timothy provide a biblical example of a similar situation in his day:
Some, alas, have laid these simple weapons contemptuously aside, and, as far as their faith is concerned, have run their ships on the rocks. Hymenaeus and Alexander are men of this sort, and as a matter of fact I had to expel them from the Church to teach them not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:19).
But steer clear of these un-Christian babblings, which in practice lead further and further away from Christian living. For their teachings ate as dangerous as blood poisoning to the body, and spread like sepsis from a wound. Hymenaeus and Philetus are responsible for this sort of thing, and they are men who are palpable traitors to the truth, for they say that the resurrection has already occurred and, of course, badly upset some people’s faith (2 Timothy 2:16-19, JBP).
Frank Strong felt his heart pounding. His head felt very light, with a floating sensation, as he walked from the car to the small room near the Bible school at La Paz.
"Senor Strong, "— the question demanded concentration, he must listen – "tell us how you became a Christian. " The oldest of the four Bolivian Indians put the question through the interpreter. The immense chests of these four men reminded Frank Strong that they were built for living 12, 000 feet above sea level, and he was not. In fact, he felt very weak.
"At the age of sixteen…" and he began the story of his conversion, reflecting that he had not been cross-questioned like this very often in the past twenty-five years.
"Senor Strong, tell us what you believe about Jesus Christ, his birth, and his death,"another of the elders spoke.
For twenty minutes the probing went on. Suddenly it was all over. A nodding of heads, shaking of hands, and cups of hot coffee.
"We would like you to speak to the students of our Bible school, and tonight in the church, " the older man said as a smile crossed his face. Frank Strong mused, I thought this was what I came for!
"It’s routine, Frank, " his colleague said later. "They always check; they don’t even take my word. They want to be sure you are sound in the faith!"
MISSIONS AND NATIONAL WORKERS
In the present climate of opinion in most Third World nations, is it credible to imagine nationals serving within the structure of Western missionary societies?
"Hello! Sage Britannia (puppy dog of the British)!" said one Pakistani Muslim as he spat on the ground. "How much do you get paid for your job, uh?"
"He’ll always side with the missionaries," commented one pastor to the other as they watched the "national worker" drive off with the missionary in his car.
The national staff member of a foreign-controlled mission faces serious problems. Financed and directed by a society heavily dominated by Westerners and whose first loyalty is to foreign supporters, he owes extraterritorial loyalties to that society. Often the result of this situation is his alienation from local people. There are of course, always exceptions, but they are few. Missionary societies related to receiving churches do not face the same problem, because national personnel who operate from a church can do so in a more independent and dignified manner than can employees of a foreign society.
Christian leaders in Third World churches have become increasingly conscious of their responsibility to encourage evangelism beyond the borders of their nations, and to develop their own missions. Mr. Theodore Williams, an Indian, and secretary of the Indian Evangelical Mission, made this statement in his position paper given at the Singapore Congress on Evangelism, November, 1968:
It is difficult for us to think of an Asian foreign missionary. People ask, `Why should Asian churches send missionaries to other countries? Are there not enough unevangelized people in their own lands?’ The question arises out of a misunderstanding of the nature of the church and its mission. The Great Commission is equally binding on all churches. The church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas even though the whole of Syria was not yet evangelized.
The vitality of teams from Indonesia, the missionary program in Bolivia sponsored by Brazilian Baptist churches, and the itinerant preaching missions in East Africa by evangelists of the Revival Movement are indicative of a pattern likely to grow in the ’70s.
It seems almost too late for Western societies to recruit the national because, with very few exceptions, the stigma of being labeled a "stooge" or "puppet" reduces usefulness. The more likely pattern of development will be the strengthening of existing missionary societies in Third World nations and proliferation of others. As national workers join these groups a partnership arrangement with Western societies in certain joint projects can then be worked out.
The Western concept of "hiring and firing" overlooks the deep feeling of Christians in the Third World and can only attract "hirelings" who will flee when the wolf comes. Despite the present climate of opinion, however, there is a scramble by many societies for "key nationals," and this harasses many receiving churches, preyed on by the "servant covetor." "Thou shaft not covet thy neighbor’s manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s" is placed alongside "Thou shaft not kill. Thou shaft not commit adultery." This principle of respect for the rights of a neighbor is clear and precise. Christian leaders visiting Third World churches are unlikely to condone murder or adultery, yet in the scramble for "key nationals" they lay themselves wide open to the charge of coveting a neighbor’s servant. In the Third World, money is a factor in buying one’s way into the market. One such protagonist of action wrote: "Please find the best national around, and I will pay him double his present salary."
The Evangelical Fellowship of India has in its membership requirements the following clause which must be signed by all applicants:
Comity: In our relations with other Christian bodies we hold that the love of Christ and the Scriptural teaching of mutual submission constrain us:
1. to respect the rights of other bodies in employment of workers, and the reception of church members;
2. to engage in mutual consultations under dispute; and
3. to take no final action on a unilateral basis without the approval of the Fellowship’s negotiating committee.
Larger Western denominations walk a little more carefully, but the objective of drawing nationals into their orbit is clear. Free trips to North America, scholarships, aid, grants, and the flow of foreign visitors are all part and parcel of the approach to promote, plan, and develop Christian enterprise which will be directed and influenced by foreign Christians whose first loyalty is to an alien base, not the receiving churches in a host nation.
"Where will the money come from for the work of Christ in Third World nations?" is the question many ask. Money for national churches to maintain the expensive Western superstructures which have been erected will not be readily available. But then, are most of them necessary? Have some become idols which need to be destroyed?
In the great movings of the Spirit of God in Third World nations, foreign money did not play much part anyway. In the last decade, supported by the tithes of the Christians in the area, Protestant churches in Assam have multiplied rapidly.
"That pig is for the Lord, " said one hillman, pointing to a snuffling porker nearly ready for market, `and those chickens also.
"Who supports this Bible school?" asked the visitor to a thriving Bible school in the Assam hills.
"The churches, " came the answer. "They give part of their income to send their young people here for training.
Finance for grass-roots work and the food and clothing necessary for dedicated evangelists is often supplied by locals if they feel responsible and are not still suffering from a paternal handout of money. In Gujarat, India, the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches passed through a testing period when the mission decided to terminate all foreign aid at the rate of 20 percent per annum over a five-year period. There was deep resentment in the hearts and minds of many pastors, until the day when the Reverend Chavan said: "This is a challenge to us, brothers; we must depend on the Lord and not on foreigners." Through his faith and leadership, the Spirit of God broke down the bitterness and resentment, and the churches experienced widespread spiritual revival as they faced for the first time their responsibility in tithing and giving to the work of the Lord.
Finances for local church work can be supplied in nearly all cases by local people, according to their standards of income and expenditure. The introduction of foreign funds for church work has a debilitating effect and weakens local initiative.
Finances for international and regional team ministries or consortiums involved in the communications media or for central training and research centers can be donated by the more affluent churches. If monies are pooled under accredited, responsible national and regional controls, they will be neutralized and can serve the whole area and the total Christian church. Such action, in contrast to the past era of colonial controls, would be a demonstration of the unity of the Body of Christ and an expression of real partnership.
This decade may well be critical in the history of missions. Many mission leaders are perplexed and looking for fresh direction – it could come out of the storm clouds like a rainbow, from the receiving churches of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in the flush of their first love. If leaders of those churches will step forward with new initiative and declaration of purpose in the ’70s, great changes could sweep over the whole foreign missionary enterprise.
1. Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper and Bros., 1953).
2. A Study of the Older Protestant Missions and Churches in Peru and Chile, Oosterbaan and LeCointre N. V. (Goes, 1967 ), pp. 127, 130.
3. David Barrett, Schism and Renewal in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).
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