Volume 24, Number 3
During the past several decades, there seems to have been a lagging commitment to world missions in the Church of the Brethren. A paper on World Mission Philosophy prepared by a study committee and presented to the 1988 Annual Conference was rejected by the delegates. Concerns about the 1988 Report centered around the paper’s lack of zeal and urgency for evangelism, and its cautiousness about launching Brethren mission efforts overseas. The task of writing a missionary philosophy paper was recommitted to a new committee which is to report this year at Orlando.
The Study Committee is now ready to report to the 1989 Annual Conference. The report is entitled A STATEMENT OF MISSION THEOLOGY AND GUIDELINES FOR PROGRAM. The paper acknowledges that there is a strong interest throughout the denomination which endorses “a more extensive program of mission in other nations of the world as well as in the United States.” One of the key guidelines for extending our missions outreach is specified in the 1989 Paper by these words:
“We are called to plant the church and proclaim the full gospel, preaching, teaching, baptizing, evangelizing wherever we are able to go. The Church of the Brethren has a message and ministry much needed in the world today. Our purpose is to establish new missions and new congregations, beginning ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).”
If Annual Conference passes the proposed Statement of Mission Theology and Guidelines for Program, and if the Board acts to implement the mandate of Annual Conference, there should be a new missionary thrust within the Brotherhood during the next several years. We could wish that the Study Paper said more about the lost condition of mankind, and more about the meaning of “the good news,” but the above statement is a great improvement over the 1981 Missionary Philosophy Statement.
In recent years the Church of the Brethren has done very little to open new mission areas which have captured the excitement of the denomination. One of the reasons it has been difficult to recruit mission workers, is that we have done nothing which really stirs members of our churches. All kinds of reasons have been given to explain why we should pull out of other countries, why we cannot start something new, and why we should not have too much to do with mission work in Korea. By maintaining that kind of attitude, the church remains lackadaisy about missions.
It is true that the missionary’s role in the modern world is changing (see the article featured in this issue of the BRF WITNESS), but we must be careful not to dampen zeal for overseas missions. It is our hope that one Annual Conference business item in 1990 will include a query asking, “Do we want to start a mission outreach in Canada? or in South America? or in some other part of the world?” Those are the kinds of questions that we need to hear discussed at Annual Conference.
David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, has done a long-term study of missions. He concludes that 1.3 billion people (26% of earth’s population) have never heard the Gospel. He relates further that the percentage of Christians in the world has dropped since 1900. He says, “The problem is that mission efforts are not keeping pace with population growth.” All of us need to take seriously the words of the Canadian preacher, Oswald J. Smith: “Set us afire Lord-stir us we pray! While the world perishes, we go our way. Purposeless, passionless, day after day … set us afire Lord-stir us we pray. ”
–H. S. M.
The Missionary Task of the Church
There is an urgent need for educating Christians today about missions and how they must operate in our generation. Many are unaware of the problems facing missionaries, the movements that are shaping mission philosophy, and the doors of opportunity that God has set before us today.
The church is not only to gather for worship, learning, and spiritual growth; it is also to scatter for witness and service in order to permeate society at every level. Christianity is a begin-at-home religion, but it is not a stay-at-home religion. We begin at Jerusalem, then proceed to Judea and Samaria, and never stop until we reach the ends of the earth. The Great Commission (as Luke describes it in chapter 24:47) involves “preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name among all nations.”
1. THE TREMENDOUS NEED FOR MISSIONS
The Bible pictures all persons as lost and condemned by God because of their sin (Romans 3:23), and sin has corrupted human nature and has brought condemnation and death. No one is free from it; no one can deliver himself from it; every one is alienated from God. If the biblical view of the human condition is false — then of course there is no need for any missionary. If people are basically good; if sin is not so tragic after all; if we can plead innocence before God-then missions is not imperative. But in passages like Titus 3:3; Romans 1: 18,32; Galatians 5:19-21; and Ephesians 2:1-3, the biblical message stresses the fact that human beings are lost in their natural state-and this compels us to be missionaries, to believe in missions, and to promote missions.
It is important for all of us to recognize that the most dehumanizing force in the world is sin. Sin robs people of their peace of mind, their moral standards, and their joy in living. The greatest humanizing force in the world, by way of contrast, is the transforming power of Jesus. The church needs to proclaim the message of the saving grace of God through the atonement of Jesus Christ, to people everywhere.
2. TWO CONTRASTING VIEWS OF MISSIONS
The traditional view of missions equates the missionary task with evangelism (with winning people to faith in Christ). Missionaries tried to provide education, medicine, shelter, and food through their schools, hospitals, orphanages, and relief work. But the ultimate objective for all mission activity is to make Jesus Christ known to all people as the only Saviour, the only Mediator between sinful humanity and a holy God (Acts 4:12). The emphasis in true mission activity is placed on proclaiming the Good News that Jesus died as a Substitute for us, establishing congregations of people who accept the Gospel message, and nurturing the newly converted Christians in the disciplines of the Christian faith-so that these persons in turn can become agents for further evangelism.
The ecumenical view of missions (promoted by the World Council of Churches and many mainline churches today) centers around the claim that God is at work in the socio-political revolutions of the day. The church’s primary duty is to seek to liberate people from racial discrimination, unjust economic structures, and social and political oppression. Such deliverance is “salvation.” The church, according to this view, is to confront the state in an attempt to break down the political and social power groups that take advantage of the weak.
The modern ecumenical view of missions is not satisfied with humanitarian services- operating schools, hospitals, and orphanages. The concern instead is more about re-ordering the patterns of society and changing oppressive governments. The new view of missions contends that God uses men and women both inside and outside the churches to accomplish His purposes. He uses Mao-Tse-tung just as effectively as M. R. Zigler. It contends further that the rising revolutionary movements in various countries are signs of divine renewal. God is at work, for example, through the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, seeking to liberate people from former oppressive structures. Instead of God working through the church to proclaim the Gospel to the world, God carries on His work of socio-economic liberation in the world through the revolutionary movements--and the church (along with secular agents) is invited to become a partner in this activity.
The traditional view of missions finds its roots in the Scriptures. The emphasis is on evangelism. The aim is to produce new people in Christ Jesus. It views the church as a spiritual entity and stresses the vertical relationship between persons and God.
The ecumenical view of missions finds its roots in the current world situation. The emphasis is on involvement in political issues. The aim is to enable people to enjoy human life to the fullest. It views the church as a sociological organization and stresses the horizontal relationship between groups of people.
Those who hold the traditional view sometimes overlook the great social problems that exist here on earth now, but those who hold the ecumenical view forget that conversion to Christ has tremendous horizontal implications which transform relationships between people. We cannot have a new society without new people. Those who work feverishly for political liberation often fail to take into account an important fact: History shows that most often when one oppressive political regime is overthrown, another equally oppressive power structure takes its place. Jesus is not a political messiah, but a spiritual Saviour. The church needs a missions program that exalts Jesus Christ as the only way to God (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
3. CURRENT STATUS OF A MISSIONARY’S TASK
John Seamands, in his book Harvest of Humanity (see note at the end of this essay) describes the changing role of the missionary by using the following categories:
The pioneer role: Before the church had been established in a given area, messengers from abroad (in obedience to the command of Christ) were sent to proclaim the Gospel to those who had never heard before. Thus, early missionaries were pioneers who had the field to themselves.
They faced enormous difficulties and dangers and hardships. They were on their own however, and generally could do as they pleased. The missionary was a rugged individualist. Examples of such pioneer missionaries include William Carey, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, and Mary Slessor.
The administrator role: When churches had once been established, and new converts were incorporated into congregations that had been formed, the next step was to organize, instruct, and supervise these congregations. Institutions (schools and hospitals) were established and they needed to be managed. Since indigenous leadership had not yet been developed, missionaries assumed these responsibilities, and so the missionary task often changed from pioneer to administrator.
The specialist role: As national Christians received training and experience in various fields, many administrative posts were handed over from missionaries to nationals. When nationals were able to handle the administrative posts, many missionaries became persons specializing in certain areas-nursing tutor, teacher training, seminary instructor, etc. This provided additional opportunities for the native church to become increasingly indigenous.
The servant role: In areas where the church has been established for a number of years, the missionary is entering a fourth stage-taking on the role of co-worker and partner. Missionaries in these areas do not hold important church positions, nor do they have a prominent voice in decision-ma king. But the missionary will live among the native Christians on an equal footing, working for the common good and seeking to be an example of the mature Christian lifestyle.
The role of a particular missionary at the present time will depend on the status of the church where he/she is working. Those missionaries working in primitive tribal areas (for example, the mountains of New Guinea) are in the pioneer stage. Others are still in the administrative stage. Some are now in the stage of partner and fellowworker. The Christians in Nigeria (where the Brethren missionaries labored for many years), are saying, “The mother church should not forsake us; we need Christians to live beside us, to set at) example for us, and to guide us.”
In countries where the national church is strong (for example, Nigeria), U.S.A. mission boards should respond to the invitation of national church leaders for specific personnel to fill special assignments–a nurse needed in a village clinic, a teacher of New Testament in the theological school, etc. And those missionaries who are recruited should assume the servant role -cooperating with native leaders, identifying with the people and manifesting a willingness to learn as well as to instruct.
On the other hand, there is a need for mission boards to put more energies into establishing pioneer missions in areas where there is no church. While the church has grown rapidly in much of Africa and parts of Latin America, there are countries where followers of Christ are in a very tiny minority. This includes countries like Japan, Thailand, and Nepal. China’s millions have become a billion, still waiting for the liberating power of the Gospel to rescue them from despair. Egypt’s hordes of Muslims still heed the call to prayer from a thousand minarets several times each day and are in woeful ignorance of Him who is the only Saviour. Israel has raised the six-pronged Star of David over the city of Jerusalem, but it spurns the Messiah. Also, there are language and culture groups throughout the world in which there is not a single Christian. Somebody will have to come from the outside, and study their language and culture, before a witness for Christ can be given to them. There are hundreds of unreached groups of people hidden within the various countries of the world. Thus the Church of the Brethren needs to train persons for an evangelistic missionary work, and the Brotherhood General Board (or its successor) needs to send missionaries into areas where they can pioneer frontier missions.
4. ANSWERING ARGUMENTS USED AGAINST MISSIONS
Because the role of the missionary in some parts of the world has changed in recent years, some argue that the need for missionaries has also changed. Some actually declare that the day of foreign missions is past. Several arguments are given.
a) Missionaries are no longer needed.
The argument goes like this: There are churches in practically every country of the world. Christians are found everywhere. The job of missions has been carried out so widely and so well that missionaries can pack their bags and come home. Mission boards can decrease the number of persons sent out to the field.
The response: It is true that in some parts of the world the church has been established for a long time and is blessed with capable local leadership. However, some well-established churches overseas are still needing and requesting missionaries to serve in certain specialized positions. And in addition to this, there are vast areas of the world where the Gospel has not yet been proclaimed. It is estimated that more than three billion people are still un-evangelized. The task is so big that missionaries from all parts of the world will be needed for many years to come.
b) Missionaries are no longer wanted.
Many are saying that churches overseas no longer welcome missionaries. National leaders, they say, are critical of the domineering attitudes which some missionaries have displayed. The presence of missionaries, so the argument runs, hinders the growth of the national church. Natives are not free to express themselves and develop their own initiative when missionaries are present. It would be best, they say, for missionaries to pull out and let the church stand on its own feet.
The response: It is true that in a few areas of the world missionaries are not wanted today. Sometimes political leaders are hostile to the Christian faith, and in some areas, the WCC-affiliated churches suggested that missionaries withdraw. Yet in many parts of the world missionaries are desperately wanted. In a number of cases, national church leaders have been making urgent requests for missionaries- but sad to say-the requests have often gone unheeded. And when the time comes that national leaders do completely take over in one geographical area, the number of missionaries should not be reduced, but they should be released to serve in other un-evangelized areas. (And furthermore, who says that missionaries should only go where they are wanted? If that were the case, Paul and Barnabas would never have gone to Syria and Asia Minor and on into Europe in New Testament times. Missionaries should go where God sends them and where they are needed).
c) Missionaries have become too expensive.
The argument: It costs too much to support missionaries these days because of inflation at home and abroad. The estimated cost to keep a missionary on the field is about $22,000 per year (salary/ travel/ medical allowance). The same amount of money could support (on the average) perhaps as many as twenty national evangelists and preachers. Then too, the nationals are already on the spot; they don’t have to secure visas; they know the language; they are already part of the culture. They can do a better job than people who come to them from a foreign country.
The response: It is correct that inflation and the rise in the cost of living has made the support of missionaries a financial burden. To argue that we could support twenty national workers for the price of one missionary family makes a strong case, but other factors must be taken into consideration. The cost of missionary support has gone up, but so has everything else. If missionaries are needed across the world, we should gladly raise the necessary funds to support them. After all, the money spent in our churches for foreign missions is very small compared to the vast sums of money that are being spent for comfortable buildings, pianos, organs, choir robes, computers, cosmetics, jewelry, and Sunday morning bulletins!! Do we really believe in missions, or don’t we? Church groups such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Assemblies of God, and independent faith mission boards have all increased the number of overseas missionaries in recent years, while the mainline denominations have promoted a significant decrease in the number of missionaries in other lands.
Although the role of the missionary has changed in the last several decades, missionaries are still needed and wanted around the world. We must not close our eyes to the awesome task of world evangelization. All Christians everywhere must be involved in the great work-either by praying, giving, witnessing, or going.
Note to the reader: I have gleaned the main concepts and some of the sentences for this article from the book entitled Harvest of Humanity by John T. Seamands (1988), published by Victor Books, Wheaton, IL 60187. The material has been used in this way by permission of the publisher. I recommend the book very highly for those who want to do more research.
Returned Missionaries Speak About Missions
Monroe and Ada Good served as missionaries in Nigeria from 1952-1964. Later, after serving in a pastoral and district executive role in the States for nearly twenty years, they returned to Nigeria in the mid-1980s to teach at the Kulp Bible School. They have again returned to the U.S. after serving four additional years in Nigeria. In light of the Study on Mission Philosophy and Program which is part of the agenda for Annual Conference in 1989, we asked Monroe and Ada some related questions.
In response to the question, “What do you see as the primary mission of the church?” — the Good’s answered as follows: “The primary mission of the church is proclaiming the Good News by word and deed to all people. The ‘Good News’ is the message that ‘Christ died for our sins’ and that pardon and forgiveness can be found in Him. The mission is God’s; it is not our program. The words of Jesus as recorded in John 20:21 form the biblical basis: ‘As the Father has sent me, so send I you.’ Jesus ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals. This is to be our pattern, but all that we do needs to point to Jesus and the Cross. It is important to drill wells, but it is also of supreme importance to teach and to proclaim the Gospel, and to nurture new Christians.”
We talked about expanding our missions outreach to those parts of the world where a Brethren testimony has never been heard. The Good’s are concerned that we should not abandon our daughter churches in Nigeria. Their hope is that we continue “to strengthen” the churches already started. Since the church in Nigeria (designated EYN) has been established for a number of years, today’s missionary to that country needs to take on the role of a co-worker and partner. We must now work under the direction of the native church.
The Nigerian church has been indigenous (belonging to the native country) for a number of years now, but indeed they are still saying, “Why has the mother church forsaken us?” They say further, “We need Christians to live beside us, to set an example for us, to advise us, and to work with us.” The returned missionaries say that more workers could be utilized in the work there. And yet our Church of the Brethren Office of Human Resources has trouble filling the four positions which are currently available to us. Why is it difficult to find Church of the Brethren members to serve as staff for the Kulp Bible School, or as a doctor to fill an opening in the medical field?
Monroe and Ada Good voiced this thought: “It seems that brothers and sisters who constitute the present-day Church of the Brethren have lost their focus. For many, the focus is not on the Cross; not on Christ; not on a sense of mission. It seems that the church is honeycombed with ‘things.’ Materialism has gripped us, and we seem satisfied with ‘material things’ that taste sweet to us.” They expressed further the thought that a# of us must decide how we will respond to the mandate of Christ. We must all become more committed to the task of witnessing for Christ-whether it be across the street or across the world!