by Ralph D. Winter
This article is a response to “Some Thoughts on the Meaning of ‘All Nations,'” by Frank Severn in the October 1977 EMQ.
Frank Severn pleads quite reasonably for a larger perspective. The occasion for his quite proper pleading is the embarrassing existence of some overly eager among us who may have apparently failed to realize that being physically “on the frontier” is not the only, or necessarily even the best way to reach the frontiers.
Indeed, to reach 100 Russians with a gospel which faithfully portrays God as the God of all nations could easily be better than trying to win one Uzbek. This would certainly be true if the winning of one Uzbek drags that soul out of his household and culture leaving behind his family and friends.
On the other hand, winning 100 Russians to a gospel which tells them that God is only interested in them is another matter.
Severn superbly upholds the distinction between evangelism and mission. I would sum it up by saying that we must acknowledge at least three types of ministry:
1. Ministering in the name of an all-nations Christ to individuals within a culture where the gospel has already become powerfully indigenous.
2. Ministering in the name of an all-nations Christ by attempting to gain the essential initial (missiological) entry into the strange culture of a still-unreached group.
3. But also, how about ministering in the name of an all-nations Christ to individuals within one’s own family or local church? (This is what I try to do a great deal of. So far this type of effort has helped our four children to become radiant believers, parents of 13 grandchildren, and, incidentally, lifelong missionaries.)
Here is his point: All three of these kinds of ministry, which can all loosely be called “mission,” are crucially important and strategic. I agree completely. Any one of them may constitute virtually all of God’s will for a given person at a given time. In my mind it is somewhat fruitless to insist on one of these three ministries and not the others. If I now have four children whose hearts beat for the frontiers, whatever they are doing, I’m quite satisfied with the frontier significance of the vast energies that were involved in raising those children—and now, still, in staying abreast of those 13 grandchildren.
Severn’s legitimate concern is that a particular type of attractive frontier activity may out-balance the spectrum of necessary activities. I would go even further: I fear that much of this frontier enthusiasm is ill-prepared and doomed to failure and damage to the cause—but that is not his point.
I have often said that it is evidence of success, not failure, for most missions today to be no longer working directly with a frontier people. If their efforts have produced fruit such that most missionaries are now surrounded with believers, it may then be very strategic for the missionaries to shift gears and work with those believers toward their own mobilization within the global missionary movement.
What is not reasonable is that this gear shifting would only produce what Severn refers to as “near-neighbor” evangelism—a term I used at Lausanne in 1974. It is dismaying how long it has taken for our mission field believers themselves to become involved in outright pioneer, frontier mission.
However, I think it is embarrassing that most Western agencies have not been as quick as the Christian and Missionary Alliance to encourage national believers to go beyond normal evangelism.
Indeed, the special requirements of an initial “missiological breakthrough” are such that by 1970 very few agencies were still involved in that kind of work. If by now the pendulum has swung to the direct activity of pioneer breakthroughs to authentically unreached peoples, well, we need to shift gears again.
However, by shift gears again, I don’t mean each church movement should be content with further evangelization of its own people. I mean to turn to the last darkened, least-likely to be reached people and to undertake whatever is now most needed to break through directly or indirectly into that group. I don’t mean to sag back and just stir the pot in the groups wherethe missionary beachhead has already been well established, “graduating” in mission-field church life into splitting hairs, splitting churches, and splitting headaches instead of vital global outreach.
We can further agree that one soul is not more important than another, and that there is the still apparent fact that evangelism and mission are quite different kinds of activities. Many a mission agency is no longer well equipped to go beyond evangelism.
Frank presents far too many insights to comment on them all. Here are, however, some notes on methodology.
1. The Bible does not rest its entire case on Matthew 28 for its pervasive concern for peoples, not just people. Isaac Watts got “Let every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball” from the Psalms and Revelation.
2. Western, academic commentators who can’t even spell mission are not likely to clear up these mission issues for us.
3. We can’t erect a Pauline strategy from the simple fact that the diaspora Jews tended to locate in cities. Paul didn’t “go to cities” as much as he went to synagogues where Gentile seekers (“devout persons” and “God-fearers”) were likely to be found. Is that really “more geographic than ethnic”? When he said, “all Asia has heard the Gospel,” he may have meant he had been to every synagogue (in what in ancient times was called “Asia”). And now he wished to do the same in Spain.
4. There has never been a time when I have not considered Japan’s hundreds of peoples mainly unreached peoples. Why? Because there is not yet a sufficiently Japanese church movement. If there were, the gospel would grow as in Latin America. The same is true of India. For the 600 million Hindus there is not yet an accessible church movement which is not disturbingly foreign to them—as foreign as Jewish synagogues were to Greeks in Paul’s day (although things in India are changing).
5. We may easily underestimate the complexity of what Paul did in taking the biblical faith cross-culturally into Greek culture from its Jewish roots.
The same goes for the move from Roman to non-Roman in the Protestant Reformation. In both cases many believers in the receiving culture readily conceived the possibility of biblical faith in the culture of origin to be essentially nil.
Just as many of the new believers assumed that the form of their new faith was essentially universal. All new Christian movements have tended to be this way. Are we prepared for such drastic new movements to surface in Japan, India, and Islam?
Such major transmutations of the form of biblical faith are much, much more than ordinary evangelism. Let’s do get 100 more Russians working along these lines! Bringing Russians to a mission-less faith is, by comparison, like playing tiddly winks.
Ralph Winter is general director of the Frontier Mission Fellowship, Pasadena, Calif. He also founded the U.S. Center for World Mission and William Carey Library.
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