Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

True hope for the world

This morning I was reading an interview with a former pastor of a congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (unfortunately, in Afrikaans). He had left the church after – what he describes as – a profound spiritual transformation which radically changed the course of his life. Through this experience he came to the realisation that God is amazingly big. How big God is, in his viewpoint, becomes clear when he uses the well-known illustration of blindfolded people touching an elephant: some say that an elephant is a trunk, others say an elephant is a tail and others a leg. Remove the blindfolds and it will be found that all are correct. According to him, God is greater than faith, therefore God will accommodate anyone, regardless of faith, including, as he says, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others. When asked whether he still believes that Jesus is the Saviour, he answered that to him, Jesus is like Gandhi and Buddhapeople who had understood something of the greatness of God and who were willing to give their life for what they believed. But he rejects the virgin birth of Christ as well as the resurrection. (Ironically, he repeatedly says that he does not have the answer and he does not want to claim that he is correct.)
Then, shortly after reading this, I received a forwarded email from a friend regarding an American evangelist presently preaching at schools in Swaziland, who writes: The months of July and August were spent preaching in 54 School Campaigns throughout the Manzini Region and in conducting 1 Mass Crusade. This resulted in about 40000 precious people receiving eternal life and a new life with Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
I’ve had my fair share of evangelism crusades at schools in Swaziland and they all follow the pattern of preaching to the children, then asking them to raise their hands if they want to accept Christ (most do) and then rushing off to the next school to do the same. Visit enough schools and it will be easy to claim a total of 40,000 converts. (The fact that the greater part of the email consists of begging/manipulating people to give money made me wonder what the intention of the evangelist is. He writes about the children: They have little as far as worldly possessions are concerned. The least we can give them I believe is Jesus. And then he immediately asks for money for his ministry.)
Reading these two reports, I realised that they are total opposites but also one and the same. The one does not have the answer, the other has all the answers. Neither of these viewpoints can give hope to people. On the one hand, to say to people that they can believe whatever they feel comfortable with (or believe nothing for that matter) gives very little, if any, hope for people. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:32: If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
But then, to preach a gospel which asks for nothing more than the raising of hands, also brings little hope, because pretty soon these children are going to find out that God is NOT the answer to all their problems, as the evangelist claims. They are still going to be hungry. They are still going to be orphans. Their brothers and sisters are still going to die. They are still going to be coerced into doing things which they don’t want to do. They are still going to….
And when that happens, will they still be able to believe?
I read through my post again which I wrote after reading Bob RobertsTransformation where I referred to the emphasis the Bible places on discipleship. The same mistake is made by both these people. Neither are interested in making disciples. The one wants to make people feel good about themselves, feeling safe whatever they believe, coming together and through meditation, contemplation and stillness experience the inner Self and the transformational power of the Devine Healer within.
The other wants to save as many souls as possible, realising that these children are exposed to terrible circumstances and therefore need to receive Jesus in order to have their souls saved.
But the church in the New Testament followed neither of these directions. Believers were totally committed to Christ. You had to be, because chances were good that you would lose your life because of this faith. But they were also totally committed to the world in which they were living, impacting the world to such an extent that the emperor Julian (the Apostate) once wrote in anger:

“These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.
“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

What would happen if Christianity becomes more than mere faith in the salvation through Christ and truly challenges believers to become world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ?

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Friday, October 26, 2007 - Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Death, Evangelism, Grace, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology

4 Comments »

  1. Great post. I believe you are absolutely correct in your assessment. You’ve cut to the heart of what our ministry here is all about. True Discipleship. I also thought of the scripture (paraphrased) “Be ye warmed and filled…” but the person doesn’t really DO anything for the other. This also touches on what I emailed you about, the false teachings that are spreading within the church. These teaching are geared to focus all on faith and what the individual wants rather than being other centered. Eventually it is all about what one believes rather than putting faith into action on behalf of the less fortunate. I have been reading here and there about how some churches now don’t believe in “mercy missions” because they are only called to spread the gospel. Yet, Jesus entire ministry included reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised. As the church are we only to preach and do nothing real and concrete for others? I think not.

    Comment by Maya | Friday, October 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. Bob Roberts had a great post yesterday. Have a look at it here: Start with the Society – Not the Church

    Also read the comments. I also commented on what he wrote and David Watson also had a great response. All this stuff about post-modernism and reaching the post-modern person in a new way, to my mind, boils down to becoming what Christ intended the church to be: a beacon of hope in a hopeless world.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, October 26, 2007 | Reply

  3. Sorry, I haven’t been by lately to comment, but I love reading your blog. God has blessed you with a biblical and practical understanding of missions. I appreciated this post. I read a book entitled Fabricating Jesus by Craig Evans, a biblical scholar teaching at Acadia Divinity College in Canada. There he argues that scholars that have left their faith in later years did so because at some young age, the mentally assented to a faith defined by externals, not internal transformation. I can’t help but wonder how many former pastors/missionaries/scholars/etc accepted a weak message presented by one of those easy believism types that you describe here. You nailed it on the head that the one proposing a weak faith is equal to one rejecting their faith. I just wonder how many of the former create the latter.

    Comment by wlh | Saturday, October 27, 2007 | Reply

  4. A very interesting remark that you make, that those rejecting faith may well be the result of starting off with a weak faith. I remember in my varsity years that we studied a small book written by Walter Chantry, called Today’s Gospel. In it he looks at the way that Jesus reacted to the rich young man’s question on salvation and concluded that our quick method of just praying a sinner’s prayer is not Biblical. Without taking anything away from the grace of God through which we are saved, we have to realise that God’s grace, though free, is not cheap (Bonhoeffer).

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, October 27, 2007 | Reply


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