Thoughts on the decline of Christianity in America, the need for revival, the tragedy of churches that do not see the importance of being theologically sound,nominal Christianity, and encouragements on pursuing reform and renewal from a Reformed perspective.
Why do missionaries need almost 5 times the amount to live on as the average person they are ministering to?
And where is $100 million a year going to if not to the field? Wasted on administration.
In 2014 it is projected to cost over $62,000 to keep one missionary on the field for one year. Sorry but neither Platt nor anyone else is going to excite me about the IMB.
If I boast I boast in the Lord. I run a graduate level seminary with an average of 8 students for free. I support a church plant, salaries for 2 pastors, benevolence and assistance, produce tracts and feed a family of 3 (including a 16 year old boy) on about $1400 a month. No, sorry Platt & IMB, I am not excited.
1) It is expensive. Missions cost a lot of money. Missionaries
are always needing money. Often they are sick or their vehicle is constantly
breaking down because they have to travel to remote places to bring the Gospel.
They are always giving their money away to meet the needs of the poor that
surround them. They are never content to just have a simple ministry. They
always want to do more for God and for people. And they are always asking for
more money to do those things.
That money could be better spent on family vacations, good coffee, amusements, or kept in the "building fund" of the church in case
2) It is hard work. Independent missionaries do not have a
large, well paid staff to take care of their business. They are often so busy
working that they do not get enough sleep. They are often pouring out their lives
to get the Gospel to one more person before the sun goes down or to drive a
family to the doctor who lives 10 hours away, and other stuff. Maybe they need
to slow down and stop trying to do so much? Maybe they should spend some of
that money and buy a TV and just relax.
Also, it is a pain. They do not have a staff and often their
family in the US is not converted so they have no one to help them. Their only
option is to call on the churches that support them. This takes time and energy
away from the church. Maybe the church should just support well funded missionaries
who are already paid a lot and who have a large staff (even if most of the money
goes to administrative costs and never makes it to the field)? Maybe the church
should just cut out missions altogether so that the people in the church will
not be inconvenienced.
3) It is too far away. Why do we have to send people to the
other side of the world? There are lost people and poor people here. Surely, if
God wanted people to be saved He would have made sure they were born in the US-
or at least Canada or Mexico.
We often get a better
understanding what something is by first seeing what it is not.
Christianity is not:
1) A cultural. You are not "born Christian." It is
not inherited by virtue of one's family or even by the way a person is raised. It
is not indicative in a region, location or environment.
2) It is not a social status. One might be called an Eagle
by virtue of the fact that they are a member of the "Eagles Club."
Christianity simple does not work that way. One might be a "member"
of a church (several Churches in fact) and still not be Christian.
3) Christianity is not a conviction. It is not subscription
to a belief system or a set of life-principles. A "Christian
World-view" alone does not make one a Christian.
4) Christianity is not activism. One could be very active in
many causes (for the poor, justice, morality, etc.), having strong convictions
and still not be a Christian.
5) Christianity is not a feeling. A person through the course
of their lives will experience many emotions and feelings (anger, peace,
contentment, etc.) and the experience of have such a feeling, the absence of
certain feelings, or of even being able to maintain a feeling, emotion or
state-of-mind is not Christianity.
6) Christianity is not a creed or a pledge. A person could
pledge allegiance to, hold convictions for and even propagate a confession or
creed and still not be a Christian.
7) Christianity is not a commitment. A person could give
themselves to the fires of the stake, to the torment of the torturers, to a
life of poverty, sacrifice and asceticism and still not be a Christian.
Now, a Christian will have all of the above but we must
establish that all the above does not make one a Christian.
What then is Christianity?
1) Conversion. To convert something means to change it from
its former state to a new state-a state or condition that is not like the
former one. This is why Jesus tells Nicodemus "you must be born
again." There is an inward change of perspective, ambition, purpose,
disposition, emotions, desires, will and goals.
2) Continual Change. This is not an effort of
self-improvement. This is not therapy. Rather, this is a real change that
begins the process of continual change. The converted person is transformed and
is being transformed. This is not a change of the good getting better. This is
a change that is the difference between life and death. That which was dead is
now alive and one of the evidences of this life is that it is growing. Christianity
is not a one-time event, but it is an event with rippling ramifications that are continual through the believers life. Continually.
3) Supernatural. How can that which was dead live? How can
that which was repulsive become pleasing? Can the leopard change his spots or
the Ethiopian change the color of his skin? No more than that which was evil
now do what is good. The "new birth" that Jesus spoke about was
confusing to the Rabbi Nicodemus. "Can a man enter into his mother's womb
a second time?" The concept is absurd. And Jesus does little to solve the
mystery (John 3) because He describes the new birth as being like the wind. It
is not seen but the effects are seen. God removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. The dead is
raised to life. The leopard does not change his spots- he is being transformed
into a swan. He has a completely new nature. It is miraculous.
4) Costly. There is no Christianity without a cross. Jesus
says that His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. Where did He go? He
went to the cross. And Jesus tells His disciples that if indeed they are a disciple
they must take up their cross and follow Him. There is not one Scripture in
Holy Text that speaks of glorifying God by enjoying the things of the world
"in Christ." But the Scripture is clear that those who love the world
are not disciples but the enemies of God. Christianity is costly. The salvation
of Christians cost Jesus His life and He bids His disciples to follow Him.
These comments are purely my own; they are based upon my observations and in no
way are meant to represent any one else (namely, the people of the Philippines,
the Filipino pastors, students of BES, etc.).]
The brothers in the Philippines
which I am acquainted with hold many views that are alien to me. That in and of
itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not at all arrogant enough to think
that all I believe is absolutely correct or that the North American church as a
whole is the pure church and sole conduit for truth (it is quite the contrary
in fact) . However, I did not have to be in country very long before I
encountered many issues with the Christians who are here. It is to be expected
by some I suppose, that different cultures and different people groups will
have variations on beliefs (more on culture in another blog) but if scripture
is our sole rule of faith such variations on essentials cannot exist.
The majority of "good"
(Scriptural-driven) churches suffer from many schismatic and crippling
issues. The brothers that I am currently working with are from or were formerly
members of the Association
of Fundamental Baptist Churches in the Philippines (AFBCP). The AFBCP can trace
its origins to the work of Eric Lund,the American Baptist Missionary Union and later others.
Like the Fundamentalism of the US, the AFBCP was a reaction to liberalism
(formed in 1948). This association is directly influenced and informed by the Fundamentalism
found in the US at this same time period.What is the
ramification of this? Let me give you a few examples.
1) Dogmatic eschatology. The AFBCP
"Doctrinal Statement" takes a dogmatic stand on the
"millennium" issue. Their Doctrinal Statement says "We believe in the pre-tribulation, pre-millennial rapture of
the church, the body and bride of Christ. We believe in the period of great
tribulation of seven years following the rapture. The Great Tribulation
(Daniel's seventieth week) will end with the coming of Christ in power and
glory to the earth in order to set up His kingdom and rule for a thousand
Holding to a "pre-trib/pre-mil" position is not in and of itself problematic but when this position is placed
in a Doctrinal Statement it becomes a point of separation and schism.
Eschatology cannot be a point of division because (1) it is not an essential
doctrine and (2) it is not abundantly clear in the scriptures. To elevate an
unclear teaching and a non-essential doctrine to the place where it is included
in a Statement of Faith is dangerous. I must also note that the
"pre-trib/pre-mil" position here in the Philippines is not Historical
Pre-mil but is synonymous with Dispensationalism.
2) Legalistic separationism. AFBCP Doctrinal
Statement: "In order to guard the purity of the
truths mentioned above, we recognize that the Scriptures command personal
separation unto God from world attitudes, motives, goals, friendships, speech,
amusements, styles and dress, etc. It also commands ecclesiastical separation
from false religious teachers and from persistently disobedient brethren.
Ecclesiastical separation includes a rejection of liberalism, Neo-orthodoxy,
New Evangelicalism, and the charismatic movement."
separation and calls to personal purity are valued principles for a Church and
a Christian to hold but because of the dogmatic views on non-essentials, these
principles are perverted into Pharisaical legalism. One example that struck me
was that members of these churches are "forbidden" to go to the
cinema. I asked a series of questions in order understand the "why"
behind the rule. Christians are allowed to watch TV, rent DVDs, and use the
internet even on Sundays but are forbidden to go to the cinema. I was told the
issue is not with movies but with the place. "It is dark there…maybe
non-believers will not understand if we go to the movies…" Vague answers
without a real reason is all I received. Interestingly, the consumption of red
wine is permitted but ONLY red wine (not white).
extreme "separationism" and legalism is taught in the Bible colleges and affect not only areas of Christian life but belief. Anyone holding to any
view on any topic other than what is taught by the Fundamentalist Association is
to be marked, avoided and isolated. The idea of "liberty of conscience in
non-essentials" does not exist. The associations become the
"Pope" for the members. The Bible colleges are dogmatic that if a man
wishes to be in the good graces of the association (and know please that
associations are much tighter and stronger here than in the US) then he must be
without dissent in any area.
3) Hyper-congregationalism. The
Bible lists only two offices: elders and deacons. The scripture is clear that
the church is led and ruled by the elders. But just like the many Baptist
churches in the US, the churches I have encountered here are pastor/deacon
board led with congregational voting. In many cases the church officers
(treasurer, clerk, etc.) have complete control of the finances and the pastor
is nothing more than a hireling doomed to do their bidding or face being
4) Spiritualized pastoral support. Time
and time again I have heard stories from pastors of churches that pay them
little and in some cases even no salary and yet will not allow them to work
another job. The pastor who works a job is viewed as greedy and not living by
faith- even when the congregation does little or nothing to support him
financially. Many pastors are grossly under-supported by their church but will
not find work on their own due to social pressures. The wife works to
provide for the family. As you can imagine, this places a great
deal of strain on the family and the ministry. Add to that a reported
unemployment rate of 8% (reality is probably more like 25%) and most jobs in the service sector will only
hire kids, and this further adds to the issue.
5) Meeting place idolatry.
Filipinos are obvious heirs of the church in the USA. They have a grand view of
where the worshipers of God should meet on Sundays. Many churches will spend
the majority of their offerings on rent while the pastor lives on starvation
wages. "House churches" are not viewed as legitimate. On the other
hand most houses here are very small (compared to in the West) and not conducive
to church meetings.
6) Extra-Biblical methodologies. The
Fundamentalists Baptist seminaries teach pastors the "invitation
system" and they teach that after sharing the Gospel they should ask they
person if they "would like to
accept Jesus." The influences on evangelism are obviously American Finny-ism and Arminian [NOTE: many from the fundamentalist association are
confessed, dogmatic Arminians and staunchly anti-Calvinistic/Doctrines of
Danger of Influences
Seeing the damage done to
Christian Church in the Philippines by fundamentalism has caused me to be extremely
cautious. I am currently working with pastors who are being awakened to
Reformed theology and who are moving away from fundamental traditionalism. What
I see is the need to teach them the principles of hermeneutics and systematic
theology. They do not need a new set of rules to replace the old but rather the
skills to interpret scripture and to use reason so that when they are
confronted with a belief, either their own or alien, they can determine its
merit and validity from scripture.
This is a very exciting time. I am
working with pastors who (mostly) are young and who have seen the damage done
by legalistic, dogmatic fundamentalism. Their desire is to be Biblical even if
it means no longer being traditional (understand that this is going to cost
them). Furthermore, these are men who are being awakened to the Doctrines of
Grace. It is most probable that these men will break away from traditional
fundamentalist dogmatism to reform and plant churches which
will hold to the "5 Solas." Potentially this work could be a turning point in
the history of the church in Mindanao if not the Philippines. Please pray that: (1) God would grant wisdom to lead (2) God would grant mercy to the pastors to
continue to accept truth even when it challenges tradition (3) God would put an
end to the opposition (4) Resources to train and support missionaries, pastors
and church planters (5) Revival in the Philippines and SE Asia.
My day begins with a motorcycle ride to the highway…one
driver two passengers…I board a jeepney crammed with other morning commuters.
The radio blares terrible "80's" music…the vehicles in front of us belch
out black clouds of raw diesel fumes. Even though I know each breath shaves
seconds off my life I breathe deep….the
smell is sweet to me. The round face of a small child making no effort to hide
the fact that she is amazed by my hazel eyes and white skin. We pass along the
highway the shacks where people live…selling bananas…flies swarming the raw
meat...brown feet in flip-flops turning the pedals of tricycles…Lola
(grandma) fanning charcoal flames to cook on the grill…Leaping over
the flooded street corner as I exit the jeepney…The morning sun already
causing me to perspire…I have moved passed mere contentment and am flooded with
joy. I am torn between stifling the tears streaming down my face or breaking
forth in a highly inappropriate PDW (public display of worship)…"Filth…stench…inconvenience"…at
this moment there is no place else in this world I would rather be.
1) Pray. Adopt a missionary or two and pray for them regularly.
Encourage others to pray for them. Stay in contact with the missionaries so
that you will know how to specifically pray for their needs.
2) Be an advocate. Use every opportunity to share with others
about the missionary and his work. Email, letters, phone calls and social media
are ways that you can assist in getting the vision out and helping them to get support.
3) Host a dinner. Invite the missionary to meet your
friends, family and people from you church. Let the missionary share about his
work and then you encourage your guests to support him.
4) Give. I know, you don't have the money, right? But let's
be honest. You probably do have the ability to give some support. Sell items
that are not essential to your survival (collections, hobbies, etc.). Cut out
some of your amusements, entertainments, family vacation spending, eating out,
expensive coffee, etc.
Missionaries risk everything. Surely you can sacrifice some
My son and I bought luggage today. We
will carry 4 checked bags and 2 carry-on bags to the Philippines. I spread the
bags out on the living room floor and began to think about what is essential
for the next year or 2 of our lives. Two of the bags will carry ministry
essentials and things we will give away. That will leave each of us one checked
bag and one carry on- roughly 80 pounds each. If I could reduce the fruit of
all my labors in life down to 80 pounds, what would I keep? What do we need?
Saturday I will take everything I own and put it in my front yard with a
"for sale" on it. I realized even if I sold everything we own it will
not be enough to support us or pay for our relocation. We currently have only
about 20% of what we need to relocate and to live on. This is really shocking
to me as we are asking for one-third to one-half of what most missionaries live
on and a great deal less than the average American lives on. And almost half
the money is not even for us but for the support of the ministry.
least once or twice a week someone will ask me "What if you don't get
enough support money? What will you do?" I used to answer "I don't
know. We are still praying." But now I know. Now I answer "We will
suffer even more." I do not say this with piety or nobility. It is not
said with a "stiff upper lip" nor with my chest poked out. Rather, I
hang my head and whisper "We will suffer. The ministry will be hindered
and the message of the Gospel will be restrained and we will suffer." The
reality is sinking in.
also ask me "Is it safe where you going?" This is hard for me to
answer. On the island on which we will live and minister it is not safe. To the
west are the Muslim separatists. They have closed four house churches last
year by killing the pastors and lay leaders. To north are Maoist rebels who
recently raided the Del Monte plantation and killed people. Hundreds of people
die on the island every year from typhoons, hurricanes and mudslides. Robbery,
murder, tribal warfare, disease…No it is not a "safe" place to be.
have been awake since 2:30 am this morning thinking on these things. Is it wise
to take my son there? What will I do when we come back and we will have
nothing? How will we survive on such a small amount? What if we are killed? What
if I lose my son? Should I even go if I cannot fulfill all the plans we had for
ministry? You see I am not a brave man nor a man of great faith. I am just a
little, foolish and fearful man. God what should we do?
I thought of the words of Peter and Christ's
response from Matthew 19. "Then Peter said to Him, Behold we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us? And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you. that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne. you shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life."
I have never seen this passage so clearly before. Who would
trade the paltry trinkets of this world for the throne of glory and eternal
life? Oh, how foolish! Christ tells us to count the cost of the cross. Those
who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for
His sake will have life eternal. Oh the joy to say with Paul "I count it
all dung for the sake of the cross of Christ."
do not pity me and my son. We are not worthy of your pity. Pity the poor church
in America and those who fill her air conditioned walls and sit on padded pews
under the illusion of safety. I feel sorry for those who have CDs, escrow
accounts, and tens of thousands of dollars in the bank - so fearful to let go
of it that they may never get it back. Have they not read the story of the man
who hide his talent in the ground? I pity them. I am so sorry for those who
will never know one instant in their lives in which they were fully satisfied
in Christ alone. Oh, rapturous joy to know Him and be satisfied in Him! Oh how
humbling to be offered the chance to risk all- knowing that all is really
nothing! Great piles of earthly dung! HA!
"Let goods and kindred go- this
mortal life also"- for it is NOTHING in the joyous light of the One who hung
upon the cross for me! Hallelujah!
Those of us in the Reformed camp are so fortunate that God
has smiled upon us to give the grace to understand His Word and His nature.
Truly, reformed theology unites the whole of scripture to give us a greater and
more accurate picture of God. But despite our greater knowledge and
understanding of God I can’t help but wonder if many of the reformed are also
very blind and very ignorant in other areas.
For example, take the very simple doctrine of the Church.
Academically, most of the reformed could articulate an accurate definition of
the Church, many could explain the function and marks of the church and most
could even give scriptural support for their words but so many seem to have no
concept of the practical life of the Christian in the church. Whereas those who
embrace reformed theology would look down their nose at the “program ran, ‘purpose
driven,’ entertainment focused, pragmatic” false church and would be critical
of those who attend them for seeking self-pleasure, many of the reformed are
not much different. They are simply consumers with a different shopping list
and so many, they think that the church exists to serve them. They are like a selfish
person who when the relationship no longer satisfies their needs or when it begins
to cost them something they are apt to leave.
There is no commitment to the church. Even in situations where
pastors are laboring to make real and needed changes many of the “reformed”
will flee rather than fight. They are really no different than those who have a
lower view of God – both groups think the church exists to serve them, both
think that there is a crown without a cross and both are unwilling to suffer
for the cause of Christ. If things don’t go their way, if there is difficulty
in the reforming process and if their “needs” are not met then it is easy just
to go down the road to the next church that appears to have what they want.
So many are like the young man who dates a girl that he is
not in love with or necessarily attracted to until ”someone better” comes
along. They are unwilling to marry and commit themselves to the church for
better or worse. They are unwilling to stand and fight and pay the cost to
reform the body of Christ. They have shallow, selfish commitments. They use
the church to meet their needs and if their perceived needs are not met they can
Jesus lays down His life for the church but they are far too
“reformed” to sacrifice for reformation. No, they deserve better than that!