This is an article from the January-February 2000 issue: Short-Term Missions

Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

Dear fellow spectator in the year 2000:

At the end of the first millennium England had sunk so far back into tribal darkness that between bloodshed and disease the population had not grown a speck for 500 years. Long gone was the literate society under the Romans, which had lasted 400 years until roughly 440 AD. Now the new occupantsthe savage Anglo-Saxonswere themselves struggling from scratch into a Christian world that would not surge for another 600 years.

Then, with perceptible reduction of both bloodshed and disease, England's population would finally begin to grow, expanding rapidly toward the present.
Not very often are we forced to compare the end of one century with its beginning, much less the beginning of a millennium. At this moment we are urged to look back 2,000 years, not just 1,000. And we see astounding comparisons. 

Meanwhile, England and Europe's faith, carried to America and to the ends of the earth, would explode to become the world's most extensive religion, and, incidentally, set off a global population explosion.

Today, looking back only one century we can see astounding changes. Human beings are so numerous now that their aerosol cans have diminished the ozone layer, creating in turn global warming, unusual storms and hurricanes and even earthquake novelties. And we don't know where this is leading.

Drastic efforts in India and China to reduce population growth rates have led to bizarre societal conditionsin one extreme state in India there are only 60 percent as many women as men, while similar results of China's one-child policy have produce an entire generation of spoiled boys whose adulthood could threaten the entire world.

Even "Christianity" is now threatened. Perhaps the most unexpected development globally in missions is the very extensive emergence of Christian faith in forms that cannot readily be classified as Christianity.

Indeed, it is perfectly possible to predict that the way things are now going the Christian faith will continue to capture the hearts of millions while leaving behind the Westernized garments of traditional Christianity. Even now 32 million people in the divergent "African Independent Churches" outnumber those in comparably earnest traditional forms of Christianity. Even now untold millions of Hindus and Chinese are embracing varieties of Christian faith which do not appear at first glance to be "Christianity" as we are familiar with it.

In mission circles things are therefore inevitably and irretrievably different, too. How can it not be true when practically anywhere you go in the world you find followers of faiths that are, to one degree or another, influenced by the Biblewhether Muslim, Mormon or "Christian." It is becoming the case that the majority of "evangelism" is now between different varieties of Bible-influenced faiths rather than outreach to the rapidly dwindling number of truly pagan peoples for whom the Bible carries no sacred value.

Indeed, the recent conference convened by the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship (Iguassu, Brazilsee News p. 51) brought together church and mission leaders who were, according to some reports, somewhat polarized between those concerned to "get the Gospel out" (to pagans) and those concerned to "get the Gospel in" (to barely converted Christians who had not yet "transformed" their societies). "Transformation" was a buzz word at the Brazil meeting.

This contrast somewhat parallels the concern 100 years ago to "civilize, not just evangelize." One difference was that 100 years ago the objects of concern, whether to "civilize" or to "evangelize" were the untold millions of people totally outside the sphere of Christian faithnot partially Christianized peoples which lace the world today.

People "completely outside the sphere of Christian faith" today have largely disappeared. Today we are told that the average person in the largest city in South India has a higher respect for Jesus Christ than the average citizen in Europe. In missions on the whole, we are rapidly "running out" of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ!

Even the greatest missiologist of this past century, Donald McGavran, gave his most fervent emphasis to work beyond individual evangelism. He would not even let missionaries "count raised hands" at an evangelistic rally if they did not see the necessity of church planting, and yea, the formation of what he defined as "a people movement to Christ." This relentless emphasis clearly put him in the "get the Gospel in" category.

His whole emphasis was virtually what you do once you already have "a bridge of God" into a people group. He was widely (though not entirely fairly) criticized for abandoning all untouched groups in favor of "discipling to the fringes" within those groups already penetrated.

Getting the Gospel "out" and getting the Gospel "in" are, surely, both worthy enterprises. But, getting the Gospel in can hardly be an alternative to getting the Gospel out. Is there any reasonable polarization between those who "managerially" scheme to get newspapers delivered to the door and those who want "transformationally" for the newspapers to be properly read and disgested?

Do we do well to blame the delivery boy for not sitting down and helping each home read the paper properly? What if the delivery task were not "managed" properly? Is there somehow a better alternative to careful, systematic planning for delivery?

This tension between evangelism and nurture will ever be with us. The devout mission-aware pastor probably makes as great a contribution to the cause of global witness as the dedicated missionary who works for many years just to get a hearing from a strange and suspicious people. But most "missionaries" are no longer at work in a pioneer situation.

One reason the Brazil meeting displayed the polarization, with the weight falling in favor of "getting the Gospel in" may have been due to the make-up of the participants. Church leaders have nurture as their first priority. But even most missionaries today are also beyond the pioneer stage and are heavily into nurture. Who is left to uphold the need to press on to the final, unreached fields? That may be the voice crying in the wilderness.

The burgeoning short-term phenomenon highlighted in this issue is a blessed, booming reality, but it does little more than educate the sending churches about churches overseas. It does little to expose the need of precisely the unreached peopleswhere there are no believers or churches to visit.


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