by Melvin L. Hodges
Winds of change have affected the climate in which the missionary endeavor must be carried out.
Winds of change have affected the climate in which the missionary endeavor must be carried out.
Specifically, the number one obstacle the missionary will have to overcome is nationalism in one form or another. Not that nationalism is always a hindrance. As long as it represents the patriotic expression of a people desiring to find their place under the sun, manifested in seeking freedom, opportunity, and progress with honor for the people, it can be a force for good and does not need to present any real difficulty for the development of the church. The climate of an extreme nationalism, however, characterized by hatred of foreigners and the rejection of everything that does not have its origin in the country itself, must make the task of foreign missions more difficult. The church that is planted in such a country cannot help but unconsciously imbibe to some extent the atmosphere in which it lives. The church is, however, in its true nature, universal in character and supranational. In Christ there is neither bond nor free, Jew nor Gentile. The church reaches across frontiers, language barriers, cultural differences and acknowledges one Lord, one Spirit, and one body.
There are significant changes in the religious climate also. There are, for example, very significant changes in the atmosphere of the nominally Roman Catholic Latin American countries. The Scriptures are now to be distributed in the language of the people. Mass is to be said in the vernacular. Protestants are no longer to be persecuted as heretics-the new approach would by dialogue and ecumenical cooperation, bring "separated brethren" back to the fold of Rome. This attitude brings not only enormous opportunities to the evangelical church but grave dangers.
In the United States as well as in other predominantly Protestant countries, most of the old line Protestant denominations have embraced the ecumenical concept of church union with evangelistic fervor. This in turn has brought changes to the outlook of the missionary endeavor, for many of the sending churches have in the process suffered a change in their whole concept of missions and evangelism. The meaning of old words has changed.
This change of concept can perhaps be summed up in the slogans used: "from missions to mission" and "the church is mission." This concept assumes that the pioneer task of missions is already accomplished and that the church is established in each country. Therefore, the idea of "sending" churches and "receiving" churches should no longer exist. The church is one, and men and finances should be shared according to the need. Missionaries should not be called missionaries any longer, since this seems to have a patronizing connotation in relation to the younger church. They are called "fraternal workers" and they place themselves under the jurisdiction of the national church. In some cases funds are also sent to the national church to be distributed by the national church. Fraternal workers are paid through the national church treasurer, subsidized by the church overseas. One thing wrong with this concept is the fact that it strikes a serious blow at the indigenous church principle of local responsibility.
The concept of evangelism has also undergone a metamorphosis. We are told that the mission now is not to win the individual from the world to the church, but that the main effort should be to change society that has produced such disastrous inequalities in the world. Some contend that to try to win an individual by personal conversion into the church is to separate a man from his society instead of redeeming society. Evangelism then is seen as an effort to bring about the Kingdom of God in the social structure. Evangelism means to take part in efforts that would better the lot of the poor and the working man.
Along with these ideas is a new kind of universalism that does not picture men as being lost, if they havenoopportunity to hear the gospel of Christ. Rather, they are seen as having been redeemed by Jesus Christ, redeemed whether they know it or not. The mission of the church is simply to let people know that they are redeemed. Repentance, it is said, is not for the individual but for society in general. I am not to repent of "my" sin, but we as a society are to repent of "our" sin, i.e., the conditions that we have permitted that have allowed so much depredation and suffering to develop. It goes without saying that this concept of the mission of the church changes the whole structure of the evangelistic appeal.
In recent years great changes have taken place in the national church itself. Only a small portion of the missionaries who are sent out go to pioneer the church in a primitive culture. The great majority of them are sent to countries where the pioneer evangelism was carried on a generation or two ago. The missionary comes to an established church with national ministers already filling important posts. Naturally, the missionary’s place is much different than that of the pioneer missionary who went out and won the first converts and founded the church. Sometimes now he must work with second and third generation Christians. It is not unusual to work with young ministers whose grandfathers were the pioneer national workers in the country. The national church is maturing and strong national leaders have emerged so that the missionary’s standing in the national church is not the same as it was in the beginning. When this situation is complicated by a nationalistic spirit that says, "Yankee go home," the missionary’s position is quite different to that of former years. The fact that a missionary comes from the United States of America is of no particular advantage and may be actually a hindrance to his acceptance.
This brings us to the question, what must a missionary do now? Times and stress require that we reevaluate our situation in the light of guiding principles and purposes. We will examine our foundation and our methods to see whether or not we are true to the Word of God and the example of the New Testament church. Here are some of the positive actions that our mission calls for:
1. Evangelize. While the church may be well-established in many areas of the world, even there, there are usually unevangelized regions. The fact that the church has been planted in a country does not free us from our obligation as Christians of reaching the uttermost part. This should be done by the local churches where it is possible. Certainly it should be done in cooperation with the national church always. One phase of missionary ministry is to make the church missionary. But the Holy Spirit does not free us from the obligation of making Christ known in the unevangelized areas of the world simply because a church organization exists there. We should not as missionaries do the work for the national church but with the national church. There is a cry on the part of national church leaders that missionaries engage in this type of work. It is the primary missionary calling.
In this evangelism the emphasis must still be upon individual conversion. We will not be trapped into changing this objective to that of renewing society. We accept and earnestly desire that many individuals will receive the gospel. Entire classes and family units may accept Christ at one time, but still the conversion to Christ is an individual experience. We believe that the renewal of society will only come about through such change in the hearts of individuals. God’s program for renewal will culminate with the destruction of the evil at the second coming of Christ, and with the establishing of the Kingdom of God by the apocalyptic judgments upon rebellious men, and the establishing of the Kingdom of God in a miraculous and supernatural manner. So let us work for that holy nucleus of redeemed, twice-born men, who will bethevanguard of that Kingdom.
2. Plant Churches. The New Testament method of evangelism was through the extension and expansion of the church. A church must come into existence and function as the true church in any land in order for the purposes of God to be realized. This means that it must have spiritual vitality produced by the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. The church must produce its own leadership. In a word, the indigenous church principles of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support must be incorporated in the church that is raised up.
The vision must be that this church will not only be a group of redeemed people waiting for the coming of their Lord, but a marching army under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The church must be mobilized to herald the gospel to its own community, to the surrounding regions, to the country and to the world.
3. Teach. The teaching ministry was included in the great commission, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This is one of the greatest expressions of the missionary ministry-teaching the new converts about the basic facts of a Christian life and walk; teaching the church how to govern its own affairs; teaching the church how to evangelize and raise up other churches; teaching the leaders; teaching Christ’s doctrine; teaching biblical methods; teaching about the Holy Spirit, and teaching church responsibility.
4. Pray. The example of the Apostle Paul in this regard may be seen throughout his epistles. He mentions how he prayed without ceasing for his converts and for the churches. The greatest contribution that a missionary can make is spiritual in nature. In no other area does this show up as much as in prayer. By prayer, the missionary can create the climate in which a church can be born, can grow, and develop to full maturity and activity. Prayer changes us and changes the people that are around us. Prayer changes the conditions under which we work. How few of our missionaries really excel in this most important and basic of all ministries. We may be known as specialists in certain areas of knowledge or ability. We may be careful administrators, but how many of us have the spiritual capacity to bring the power of heaven to bear upon the situation that we find in the churches or in our evangelistic outreach? This prayer ministry can be successfully carried out when all other doors of service are closed to us.
5. Inspire. The greatest contribution we can make is by being a true Christian. What we are has more influence than what we say. Jesus chose twelve disciples that they might "be with Him." Paul took Timothy, Titus, and others as fellowlaborers. They traveled with him and they learned from him. Jesus said, "Make disciples." The disciple should become like his teacher. This is a door of service and blessing that no spirit of nationalism can close to the missionary. Men who are like Jesus and show forth the Spirit of Christ, inspire others to follow Jesus.
6. Love. Love is our highest service. Our love for God must be demonstrated by a practical concern for man along with ministering to the spiritual needs of men. We must teach our people and lead them in a ministry of mercy to the sick, povertystricken, and downtrodden. In our relationship to a suffering world we will demonstrate the love of Christ in concern for the spiritual and physical needs of those around us. Our Christians should be encouraged to act individually and collectively in practical demonstration of their new life in Christ.
Following are secondary admonitions:
1. Be Perceptive in Purpose. Let us not build monuments to missionary work in brick and mortar, but build "living stones" of redeemed men and prepare them for usefulness.
2. Be Strategic as to Location. The fact that great populations are moving to the cities of the world must be kept in mind. In Latin America particularly the cities have a disproportionate influence on the whole country.
3. Keep Mobile. Our love for security and our desire to keep in familiar surroundings will cause us to put down roots. Missionaries have sometimes made themselves a permanent part of the church scene in a given locality to the detriment of a wider and more useful ministry.
4. Identify with the People. Learn the language well. Study the national history. Become acquainted with their heroes. Learn to appreciate the ideals and longings of the nationals with whom you labor. Give yourself to them in service.
5. Hold Administrative Posts Lightly. Some missionaries have become accustomed to filling such posts as the superintendency of the work, or of a Bible school. When they no longer fill these posts, they feel cheated, unwanted, and unappreciated. Remember that position or office is of little value in the long run. An office may provide opportunities for the expression of a gift of ministry, but in itself it is not a ministry. In fact, some missionaries would do more effective work if they would get out of administrative positions and into a more evangelistic type of work. Remember that administrative work is usually called upon to maintain the work that is already going, while the missionary ministry is primarily to pioneer and to raise up new churches.
6. Build on Spiritual Values. Refuse to build on your prestige as a foreigner, or your financial abilities. Paul gives us an example: "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4,5 ).
Copyright © 1968 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.