Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Is the Church Ready for Missions?

Since the beginning of the Modern Missions Movement (at the time of William Carey) the work of missions was done mostly through missionary societies and boards. These organizations have been mostly independent of the church or have been cooperative organizations of denominations. The result has been that for the last 150 years or more the church as a formal, local body has not been directly involved in missions. Our purpose here is not to examine the use of these boards or societies but to understand that they were a product of their time, God has used them, there are positive and negatives with such a structure, etc. In recent years there has been a move to bring missions back under the direct control of the church formal. In this case, when I say church I am saying a local body under the preaching of an elder or elders.

I also acknowledge that there have always been churches directly involved missions, so I am not saying that each and every church without distinction has been “hands-off” in missions. Nor is it my intention to imply that churches have taken a formal position not to be involved in missions. But I am speaking about the reality that the majority of churches have out-sourced missions through denominational boards or missions societies and that many in the Church view this as the norm and therefore as good. With the recent move to bring missions back under the umbrella of church, we have to ask the question “Is the Church ready for missions?”

Possible Challenges
1) Missions under Elders?: The role that the majority of mainline churches have played is to be the collector and distributor of funds. Churches have given through boards, missionary societies and sometimes directly to the missionary.  Again, please let me stress I am not making a judgment call but only stating what has been the fact.

The issue: Can one church raise the funds alone & if not will they be forced to return to the board structure? Again, I will not debate here the validity of boards, but rather focus on the church. How will a church or churches participate in missions if they cannot raise the funds alone? How can they prevent a board (if such is deemed necessary) from being disconnected from the church? The simply answer might be to appoint elders or another church officer (director of missions, etc.) of the supporting churches to the board. Theoretically, this sounds good but it does not solve the issue. What we keep this board from again becoming disconnected from the local body?

2) Problems on the field: Sometimes there are issues on the mission field that require an immediate response or help. Does the church have a structure in place to accommodate that? War or natural disaster can displace a missionary family in a matter of hours. Will the missionary have to wait until Sunday for a church staff member is around to answer his call for help? Will the missionary family have to wait until the monthly business meeting before something can be done to help them?

3) Missionary & Family:  The pastor and church workers are also sheep. They need support, encouragement, council, etc. and so does the missionary. I confess that I never understood the struggle of missions until I became a missionary. It is lonely. The fact of the matter is that most missionaries could spend their entire lives in a place and never be considered a “part” of the local people. Even in places where churches are planted the missionary will still be seen as foreign.
I recall talking to a missionary who worked with Burmese refugees in Thailand. He shared that when he gave his missions report he always included the adventurous stories of hiking through the jungles, avoiding military patrols, etc. What he never shared with them is that most days were spent sitting staring at a concrete wall fighting depression, loneliness and discouragement. Is the church ready to minister to the missionary family? Can the church view the missionaries as a part of the church community and find ways to include them?

4) Administrative issues: I can testify that this is a time-sucking nightmare. The advantage of a board is that they are accustomed to sending missionaries and dealing with the issue of keeping a missionary in a place. The majority of mainline churches have spent the last 150 years or so participating in missions in a very limited way (esp. the Southern Baptist Churches I am most familiar with). Their participation is usually limited to offerings, viewing a video a few times a year and participating in short term missions apart from a long term mission strategy.
Can the church be brought to understand that the way things work on the mission field is not at all like the way things work in the US? Often money is extorted just to accomplish simple things like getting the electricity turn on, getting your package at the post office, etc. Common services in the US are complicated social and financial transactions in many places. And this will not change any time soon.

How would the average church meeting go if every month the missionary was sending his needs? Will the church be willing to pool the resources to help a missionary file his taxes overseas, get health care coverage, necessary documents for immigration/VISAs, etc.? I am excited to see the move to bring missions back under the church and the church to be “hands on” in missions. But I can also see that some congregations will be challenged and unprepared to take on the administrative aspects.

5) Missionaries Contribution to the Church: If the missionary is a part of the local church (which he should be) what does he give to the church? What is his role or gift to minister to the body? Is he seen as an extension of the ministry of the church or simply as a drain of resources? Does the congregation recognize him as a “staff member” or elder or is he seen as “contract labor?” How should the church view the missionary? I don’t have an answer.

I pray my motives will not be impugned. My heart is not to be critical for the sake of being critical. I write this as I sit in South East Asia. I wonder how I can be more effective. I worry that I am not part of the church and wonder if I am serving the body of Christ the best I can. Also, as our little ministry grows I am gravely concerned about how missions will continue through the small effort we have started. I also see that the “modern mission movement” must come to an end. The world has radically changed and we must respond to those changes- not with a new message, but with wisdom on how to get the unchanging message of the Gospel to new audiences in new situations.

 I hope this article will be one factor to open the conversation about how we (the Church) will make disciples of the nations in the next 500 years.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Downward Spiral of Society and the Response of the Church

I seriously doubt that any conservative (read Biblical) Christian would deny that the moral climate in the US is as cold as it has ever been. For decades Christians in America have been subjected to humanism, secularization and even open societal sins. Pluralism led to postmodernism. This is to say, if we accept that everyone has a viewpoint that is of equal validity then there can be no absolute truth. If there is no absolute truth then there is no value system to judge what is morally right or wrong. If there is no judgment system then those who judge are oppressing the judged. However, there is inconsistency in this “brave new world” as the judges are judged for their judgment.
But I digress. The real issue facing the church in America today is “What can we do?” It has been said that the acme of insanity is to do the same thing over expecting different results. If the church in the US is truly concerned about the state of the nation then there must be a change. The change cannot be expected to take place in the society at large until the Church changes first. Only the Church has the foundation for truth (that being the revealed truth of God) and truth is absolutely necessary for any society.
The church of God is the seasoning and the light of truth in the world. I regret time and space do not permit me to offer an analysis of how I believe we have arrived at this point. But really how we got here is somewhat irrelevant. There is no time to scout the source of the blaze while the house is burning down. No, this is a time for action.
Revival
 I have been so encouraged by many in the last decade or so who have been calling for revival. Some are even meeting and praying corporately for God’s unique intervention in our situation. Certainly revival is desperately needed. Praise the Lord for those who are praying for revival and I join with them in prayer.
Unfortunately, revival is completely out of our hands. It is a non-normative act of God which we have no control over. I do not say this to discourage us from praying for revival. I sincerely hope that many will seek it. Historically, revival has come to those who desired it. Not all who desired revival received it but none have received a revival who did not seek it.  Let us continue to pray for the mighty intervention of God in our nation, but let us not stop there.
While revival is in the hands of God there are things that we can do that are completely within our power. So while we pray for revival let us also apply ourselves in these other areas.
1) Repentance.
Maybe the tendency is to say that we are not engaging or endorsing the sins of the society so we have nothing to repent of. But we can see scripturally that we all have mixtures of sin even in our most pious acts. We are not yet perfected and sin dwells with us. Must we not humble ourselves first before we can expect God to exalt us? Must we not come broken to Him in an honest assessment of ourselves if we are to expect Him to act on our behalf? Should we not remove all that hinders our walk in order that we can see the spiritual needs of others?
Repentance is in our hands and (I believe) the first step to bringing the needed change in the world. Let us tend to our own gardens before we complain about the weeds in our neighbors garden.
2) Reformation.
Please understand I am not using the word in the sense of “reformed theology” but rather in the sense of spiritual reformation. Repentance is an ongoing act and so is reformation. Repentance begins with verbal affirmation of sin but it does not end there. Once we have identified our failures we must set about to correcting them- individually but also corporately.
Have we (the church) been good stewards of the resource God has given us for the promotion of His glory? Have we been faithful witnesses of Gospel of transformation to our neighbors? As we have been going about our days have we been making disciples? Have we been good stewards of the life-breath God has given us or have we been caught up in distractions and vain amusements? Have we tolerated and down-played sin or have we brought Scripture to bear in the ears of our neighbors? When we have confronted sin, have we done it with the proper attitude of grace and humility or with self-righteous, arrogant attitudes? For so long we have stood but could it be that we lost our diligence in soul-watch that now we are beginning to slide away?
These are the types of questions we should be asking ourselves.
3) Resist.
I do not claim to know what this will come to mean for us in the future. At the least, by resist I mean this is not the time to grow silent, to be fearful or to capitulate. This is not the time for slumber. Perhaps our last several decades of laziness have been a contributing factor to our present sad state. We must stand as a light to this dark culture. Only we as the church have the medicine for this dreadful and mortal disease. This is not the time to hide our light in fear, in shame or apathy. The world around us is in desperate need of reconciliation with our God and only we have been appointed to this task.
4) Rebuke.
The patient cannot understand the seriousness of his sickness if the doctor is silent about the diagnosis. This is the time to rebuke. Please understand I am not advocating a “shock and awe” ministry. There is no Biblical merit for calling others to Christ by insult. I am talking about boldly sharing the truths of Scripture in full humility. We must understand it has only been the restraining grace of God that kept us from the most heinous sins prior to our conversion. Our faith was a gift and nothing we merited. This should produce humility not arrogance. But let us not mistake fear for humility. We must pointedly speak the truth.
We should not stop praying for revival. In fact we should be seeking it more than ever before. But we must also take responsibility in the areas where we can as we wait for the gracious hand of God. Revival may or may not come. But even if revival does not to come to us consider the great good that can be done by us through these simple applications. The church will be better suited to stand for whatever the future holds and our steps may be the means by which God revitalizes our nations.

I truly pray so. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why I am not excited about David Platt (or anyone else) being president of the IMB.

IMB Budget for 2014 ---$299 million
Missionaries: 4810
Cost per 1 missionary for one year: $62,162.16

2012 Figures (most recent I can find)

Missionaries Salary: $4,150 a month ($49,000 year)

Number of missionaries supported: 4903

Total IMB expenditures 2011 - $307.6 million
• Overseas missions - $260.8 million
     Missionary support - $206.7 million
     Field work - $53.8 million
• Stateside - $47.1 million

Just look at the 2011 numbers for simplicity:
Of the $307.6 mil only $206.7 went to missionary support. $100 mil. went  some place else. $100 million!

The average missionary in 2012 made $49,000/year.

Median income for a household in the US was $51,000 for the same year.

(http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-02.pdf)

“Worldwide, Median Household Income About $10,000”

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. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why You and Your Church Should not Support Independent Foreign Missionaries

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 something happens.

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. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What is Christianity?

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. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Export of North American Fundamentalism and Some of its Effects on the Philippine Church

[Disclaimer: 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 years."

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."

            Ecclesiastical 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).

            This 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 replaced.

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 Grace].

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.

Encouragement


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. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Morning Meditation

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. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

4 Simple Ways to Support Missions When You Think You Can't


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 comforts.

www.revivalorruin.com