by C. Stacey Woods
There is much said and written today about the approaching end of world missions. Such views are usually supported by statistics and radically changing conditions in many parts of the world where missionaries have been expelled or excluded, or where normal missionary work is exceedingly difficult.
There is much said and written today about the approaching end of world missions. Such views are usually supported by statistics and radically changing conditions in many parts of the world where missionaries have been expelled or excluded, or where normal missionary work is exceedingly difficult. In view of this, it is necessary to remind ourselves that the mandate for foreign missions is not found in changing world conditions but in the Word of God.
Unquestionably, the task of world evangelism will continue incomplete until the church is complete, until God’s elect have been gathered into the Body of Christ and the Lord Jesus returns. Until that day, even if the church visible should become apostate, if the remnant of true believers should become small, if the true church should be forced once more to become the church in the house, there must be and will be missionaries. God will not leave Himself without a witness. The church may become weak and insignificant in the world, but the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Under no circumstances is there any possibility of world evangelism and the need of missionaries ceasing until the return of Jesus Christ. There has not been nor will there be any revocation of the Great Commission until that day comes.
However, the continuation of missionary work in no way necessarily demands the continuation of missionary patterns of recent generations. Perhaps formal missionary societies as such and their work may be curtailed. Perhaps the accepted patterns of professional missionary work may be rejected in some countries. Many believe that just before the Lord Jesus returns there will be a repetition of conditions which obtained in the early days of the church’s persecution, the church in the house, and "tent-making" for the missionary in the last days.
It is of some significance that in spite of comparative limitation of time and opportunity, and in spite of some failures, much blessing has attended the ministry of a growing number of non-professional missionaries during the last twenty-five years. It is impossible to insist on any one approach or pattern of activity in every part of the world. Flexibility, and the ability to bend but not break in the face of changing situations, are increasingly necessary. In the light of this we should study anew the Biblical meaning of the word missionary.
WHAT A MISSIONARY IS
A Christian missionary, first of all, is a person, not a technique, a method, or a program. Such a person has been born again, regenerated by the Holy Ghost. God has laid His hand upon that person, that life. He or she has a ministry. Such Christians are no mere volunteers. They are divinely commissioned and sent by God. In the final analysis they are answerable to God alone. Unless God has chosen and sent the missionary, regardless of his name, ministry, or society, he is not a missionary.
A missionary also primarily is sent by God to announce the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation He effected on the cross of Calvary. Is there a briefer, better statement in Scripture regarding the missionary than the phrase about John the Baptist in John 1:6, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." The special vocation of a missionary divinely chosen and sent in no way rules out the responsibility of all believers everywhere to preach the Gospel and to witness to Christ. Here, however, we consider the term missionary in its narrower and more specialized sense.
In the light of God’s eternal and unchanging Word and the world in which we live, what kind of a missionary is needed today? Within the limits of one article, much must be taken for granted as essential?regeneration, surrender to the will of God, a call and a commission from God, basic intelligence, sensitivity and awareness of others and their needs, a knowledge of the Scriptures and of the living God Himself, the ability to walk by faithrather than bysight. In addition, other characteristics are of particular significance in the generation in which we live.
The missionary God uses must be a faithful and true representative of the Lord Jesus, a person who validates his message by his life— morally, ethically, and spiritually—one who makes the Gospel credible by a practical demonstration of the love of God toward men. Today the Gospel is less credible than ever before. Particularly is this true of those who have been educated in the patterns of Western thought and who are aware of the influence of technology and scientism. A consequence of mass communication and the rise of literacy and education is that trends in Western thought quickly influence ever larger segments of society. When to this is added the effect of global atheistic, Communist propaganda, less and less is the supernatural divine authoritative revelation—the fact of the living God—credible.
SHOWING CHRIST’S LOVE
The missionary of today not only has to win a hearing for the Gospel in the face of these attitudes and the anti-supernaturalistic atmosphere in which he serves, but he has to earn the right, in terms of human relationships, to speak to men of Christ and of His atoning work. There must be a demonstration of the supernaturalness of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit as the missionary performs deeds of love to unbelieving men. This can be used by God to prick the conscience and make men aware of the fact of Christ and the reality of divine revelation and grace. As the love of the Lord Jesus is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we are able to demonstrate the love of Christ in this empty, loveless, inhuman technological age. Perhaps it is only in such terms that twentieth century man can Come to believe that he matters as a person and that God loves him.
Furthermore, in this age of relativistic morals and ethics when Christian absolutes are rejected, the missionary must be a living exhibition of Christian morality and ethics. In these terms, the essential difference between the Christian and the non?Christian must be apparent. Unless the missionary is a man of moral stature, he and his message will be rejected. So he must be no mere man with gadgets, methods, and ideas to propagate. The missionary whom God will use today must be a man of God, a spiritual giant in a world of moral pygmies—a man full of grace and truth as was God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The missionary whom God will use will have a ministry primarily in terms of men and women, flesh and blood, rather than that of ideas, methods, techniques, and organization. Missionaries must fight against influences in their ministry that will result in their having less personal contact with those to whom they preach the Gospel.
Are we succumbing to the depersonalization of existence that characterizes this technological age? For God, man is no mere statistic, no production unit or unit of energy, but a person. God talks about sparrows falling to the ground. He speaks of sheep as if He knew them individually, and He does. It almost makes one smile. He speaks of knowing the count of the falling hair on my balding bead. He knows all the millions of others like me. The missionary whom God uses will not know them all, but he will know a few of them as his brothers, and he will love them as Christ loved him. He will minister to them as persons, teaching them God’s Word, living before them as a child of God, taking them by the hand and leading them to the Savior.
CHRIST’S AMBASSADOR ALONE
The effective missionary today must represent the Lord Jesus alone and not his own national culture, economic structure, politics, or way of life. He must be a meek and humble man, appreciative of others and their way of doing things. In the light of nationalism, tensions between East and West, the rejection of much in the Western world by Asia and Africa, and thetragic identification of Christianity with Westernculture and colonialism, the missionary that God will use will be an ambassador of Christ alone.
This does not mean he will reject his own culture, but that in Christian service his culture will not intrude, nor will he attempt to impose it on the Christians of another nation. This does not mean the missionary must "go native." I have spoken to many nationals in various parts of the world about this problem and there seems to be a fairly uniform reaction. They do not expect the English missionary to cease being an Englishman, or the American missionary an American. Obviously there should not be too great a disparity between the standard of living of the missionary and of the national.
The missionary whom God will use today is a person who is able to identify himself with those to whom be goes. He has that quality of empathy which is felt, not spoken. He doesn’t try to start his own organization or export his own church and establish it on foreign soil. He encourages the emergence of a local church true to the Scripture in every respect, but which can, under the Word of God, be an expression of Christian worship, fellowship, faith, and evangelism in the context of the local or national culture.
This means when a national becomes a Christian be is not compelled to vault the cultural hurdle of a foreign ecclesiastical system after the struggle to accept Christ. Rather, he is encouraged to love and serve the Lord as one of his own race and nation. He does not have to become a foreigner to become a Christian.
EMPTIED OF SELF
The missionary that the Lord will use is the one who, by God’s grace, has been emptied of all he is naturally and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is almost trite, axiomatic. And yet how true and necessary it is. The lesson of Christ’s self-emptying is a difficult one to learn and to apply. When Christ came He did not come in the shining glory of manifest deity, but He laid aside that glory. He did not come to exercise His divine prerogative and power, although it was always His. He came completely dependent upon God the Father.
We too must learn that lesson. We tend to be so full of what we are —our background, our education, particularly our seminary and Bible school training, the methods we have learned, the techniques, all the appurtenances of the organizations to which we belong. We are conscious of our talents, we have personality, we can speak, or we can sing; we can do SO many things that those to whom we go cannot do.
We have all sorts of advantages. Most missionaries have an economic advantage compared to those to whom they are sent. We have all the know-how and applied understanding of years of Christian work and service. We are equipped to do the job. We shall get the job done. But if we go in this frame of mind, our work will be largely failure. The missionary whom God will use will be appreciative of all that he is naturally and of all that he has acquired from environment and training, but he will not depend on any of it. He will realize that none of it is of any value apart from God the Holy Spirit. He will realize that the Bible teaches clearly that the sole essential for witness is the filling of the Holy, Spirit. (Acts 1:8.)
He will realize that God absolutely and completely rejects the wisdom of this world with its methods, techniques, cleverness, and psychology. He will realize that the faith of the new convert must never rest in the wisdom of men but only, in the power of God. Therefore, his chief concern will be the constant empowering of the Holy Spirit, who alone can do the will of God in us and through us.
He will realize that the Holy Spirit vessel. The degree to which there is confidence in or reliance upon anything that he is or has acquired naturally is the degree to which the Holy Spirit is excluded. The degree to which there is emptiness is the degree to which there can be the fullness of the Holy Spirit and His fruit. His mind will not be full of statistics, the number of miles traveled, the number of meetings taken, the number of tracts given away, even the number of professions of faith. He will realize that perhaps the measure of his time spent quietly alone with God will be the measure of his fruitfulness in the ministry.
Such a man will always be used by God wherever he may be. Such a man can, under God, overcome the barriers of racial prejudice and nationalism. Such a humble spirit will be eager to learn, quick to appreciate, ready to accept. And in accepting others, lie himself will be accepted. He will be willing to make great sacrifices, even such as the postponement of marriage that he may be free to get close to people. If married, his idea will not be to set up an American style home on the field as an example to the nationals. Rather, he will strive to have a home where Christ dwells, where Christ is manifest and where nationals will feel at home. His will be the life of decreasing self in a self-filled world, of manifesting Christ in a Christ rejecting world.
EMQ, Jan. 1965, pp. 13-18. Copyright © 1965 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.