by Donald McGavran
The disease occurs when the national church claims a territory so great that it cannot possibly evangelize it.
In rural Korea 96 percent of the people are not yet Christians. In Taiwan great sections of the countryside have no churches; hundreds of apartment complexes go up with only one small congregation in the midst of 50,000 people.
In Japan, where only one percent of the population is Christian, many countries and towns have no churches. In the Philippines, where there are 50,000 barrios, at least 40,000 have no churches.
In India one can ride all day on a train through a typical plain with 10,000 towns and villages; 9,973 do not have a church.
These areas are examples of the three billion persons in the world who not only have yet to believe in Jesus Christ, but who have yet to hear about him. It has been said that "the church in all lands is the great new fact of our generation." That saying must be seen in the light of the greater fact, the church in most places exists as the faith of a tiny part of the population.
Often it is the faith of those in only one tribe or caste. Most of the members of the Church of South India, for example, belong to just five of the more than 500 castes of South India. Often the churches are in the larger towns only. In India city churches are usually concentrated in the cantonments—those small areas where the British used to live.
Against this background we see a dread new disease afflicting some national churches and Western mission societies. The disease does not consist in the fathering mission turning over authority to the newly founded church, for the evangelization of the small part of the huge population which the church can and will evangelize. Turning over responsibility to evangelize what can be evangelized is health, not sickness; it is right not wrong. The disease occurs when the national church claims a territory so great that it cannot possibly evangelize it.
NATIONAL CHURCH "DISEASE"
Let me set forth a hypothetical example, based on facts:
In Brazil, a cluster of 150 congregations has 8,000 communicants in the states of Sao Paulo and Parana, and calls itself the New Light Church. Its fathering mission came from the United States in 1922 and has done responsible church planting.
The educated Brazilian leaders know the situation well, speak beautiful Portuguese, and have been growing increasingly restive at the guidance, direction and help from North America. In former years young Brazilian ministers worked happily under the fatherly guidance of gray-haired missionaries, who knew the situation through twenty years of experience.
Today, gray-haired Brazilian ministers sharply resent any kind of fatherly guidance from young missionaries who do not yet speak the language. After years of tension, the mission has turned complete authority over to the New Light denomination. The property is now owned by a Brazilian trust which administers it solely for the church.
The fathering mission, anxious to cooperate cheerfully with its daughter church, withdrew all but two missionaries from Parana and Sao Paulo, and plans to send no more missionaries to the 80 million people who live in other Brazilian states.
The mission said, in effect, "The Brazilian church determines what external help it still requires." The two remaining missionaries were told, "You are to stand alongside our churches there, in the background, keeping out of the way, helping in any way you can, but jealously guarding the right of the New Light Church to determine its own way."
The missionaries wonder what they are supposed to do. They are told not to engage in church planting evangelism. They don’t know how long they will stay in Brazil, so they don’t learn the language very well. They do some peripheral tasks. One of them said to me:
"If I work the way I want to, my national colleagues think I’m trying to show them up. If I work the way they want me to, I feel I’m not earning my salary." I doubt if either of these missionaries will return to Brazil.
To summarize, sometimes the national denomination is very large, with several hundred thousand members. More often it is small with a few thousand or hundred communicants. It finds itself in full charge. The mission as an active evangelistic force has gone.
The denomination faces huge opportunities for evangelism uncertainly. A hundred miles from where its churches are clustered large groups of people turn responsive to the gospel, but the denomination does not know about them , or if it does, it cannot or will not evangelize them. Its attention is focused on managing itself, training its pastors , resolving its problems, shepherding its members, holding its various parts together, and-if it is unusually devout-doing some sporadic nearneighbor evangelism.
Under such conditions, the denomination frequently fumbles the ball, while the fathering mission discretely looks the other way, or calls the fumble a brilliant play.
Sometimes the disease hits the mission rather than the national church. For example, the leaders of a church in India came to me to protest the withdrawal of their mission. The story was this:
After fifty years of work, the mission found itself with two typical mission stations- schools, hospitals, agricultural demonstration center, evangelistic work-and two churches with about 100 members each. More recently, a couple of small "people movements" had begun, in populations of 15,000 and 50,000.
At just that time the American leaders decided to turn all their work over to their church in India. They said, "The educated leaders of the mission station churches want to run it, and it’s good for them to do so. It’s their country."
The mission made a sound color film to sell its U. S. constituency on the idea of withdrawing from India. The message was quite clear: "Turn over and get out. That is the correct mission strategy for today. "
The mission station churches, of course, are not able to expand the two people movements, so these receptive groups cannot be effectively discipled.
As we view this disease, let us be clear that it is healthy for missions to stay out of populations that churches are evangelizing. Not a word in this article should be understood as opposing that. But it is sick for missions to turn over to churches vast populations that the churches are not evangelizing and will not evangelize, and then quit the country.
It is urgent, in view of the above, for national churches and Western missions to plan for the effective evangelization of all unreached, unevangelized populations, by as unencumbered missionary efforts as it is possible to devise. What do I mean by "Unencumbered"?
HOW TO CURE THE "DISEASE"
Some efforts will be by existing churches (denominations). Such church-based efforts should be unencumbered. They should expect to have virtually complete autonomy, to operate in new populations according to the genius of "mission," not of "church." (I am not speaking, of course, of starting new congregations alongside existing ones. I am speaking of mission efforts that a denomination or national missionary society carries out on new ground, or across a linguistic or cultural barrier. I am speaking of the denominations of Asia, Africa and Latin America carrying out E-2 and E-3 missions in their own lands.)
These efforts must not be shackled by rules that fit Western churches. The E-2 and E-2 Brazilian evangelists, for example, sent from Rio de Janeiro to Matto Grosso must be given great freedom in determining methods and forms of organization that do in fact multiply churches on the frontier.
Similarly, in India, when the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of Kerala sends a team of missionaries to multiply St. Thomas congregations among the Reddis, say, of Andhra Pradesh, or the Korkus of Maharashtra, the team must be given freedom to operate in ways that will communicate the faith in those specialized populations. It must not be shackled by St. Thomas rules that work well among the Syrians in Kerala.
On the other hand, here is how an "unencumbered" missionary effort might be carried on by a Western mission. The American Baptists founded the Baptist churches of Andhra Pradesh, India. A Telegu-speaking denomination of about 200,000 believers has arisen. It is completely self-governing. More than 98 percent of its members come from Harijan background. The American Baptists maintain some fraternal delegates in various parts of its field and will continue to do so as long as the Baptist church there needs them.
Now, suppose the American Baptists should decide they want to evangelize the two million Nomoshudras in Bangladesh, or the million Bhils in Rajastan, India. The correct procedure would be for the 200,000- member Telegu Baptist Church to welcome the new missionary effort, help the missionaries to get visas, pray for their success, and-if requested-provide experienced evangelists as advisors. That is all.
Cordial cooperative relationships would be maintained, of course; but neither would the new mission in the North attempt to direct the established church in the South, nor would the church in the South attempt to direct the mission in the North. Rather, the Telegu Baptists would rejoice that a huge population which they cannot possibly evangelize would now hear the gospel.
Steps like the above, for both missions and national churches, if generally adopted around the world, would restore priority to world-wide evangelization. Missionary societies in all lands would be encouraged to send out life-time missionaries, to Pray before "closed doors," to enter open ones, to generate missionary conviction among all the churches, and to answer thousands of Macedonian calls. At the same time, such steps would hasten the turnover of authority to existing denominations and the withdrawal of missionaries from places where the churches could or should operate without them.
Great opportunities for church planting among numerous burgeoning populations remain ungrasped. Year after year churches and missions go on debating their relationships. The sight of missionaries being withdrawn from nations where huge populations remain unevangelized is ridiculous. As is the demand of tiny congregations that no more missionaries be sent because they are now in control of things.
Such developments are a crime against the three billion people in danger of perishing without Christ. This idiocy must stop.
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