Taking a Stand for Christ
Who does it benefit?
Vasanthraj Albert, director of India Church Growth Research Association, wrote, "Recently I read an article written by a full- time worker who has been in the ministry for the last two decades. He is an example of the violent extraction in the name of conversion. He says that he severed his relationship with the natural family at the time of his conversion due to the wrong counsel of the Christian workers. At the time of his conversion he adopted a spiritual family. Soon he found that the spiritual family did not have the capacity to give him the love and care he needed."
Today in India the norm is extraction out of the family and into the church. To see a viable church established in all unreached people groups, we need to see conversions taking place that benefit the new believer's community. A person must not be treated as merely an individual, but primarily as a member of an organic social unit, a family, a community.
David Garrison, the Southern Baptist missiologist, in teaching his course on Non-Residential Missionaries, stresses an essential key to an NRM's success. That is, the NRM should always ask the question, "What is the best thing for the people group?" in every decision being made. No doubt, it is a good thing to see individuals from unreached peoples come to obedient faith in Jesus Christ. BUT when they come we need to ask, "What is the best thing for the people group from which this individual comes?" If we seriously ask this question, it will mean changing the way we see obedient faith in Jesus Christ for that individual. It will mean waiting for a bigger and more solid harvest within a people, rather than a quick convert extracted from his people and thus of little use to his people or to God in extending His Gospel.
Throughout history we see God blessing western mission methods. These methods predominately result in individuals leaving their segment of society and uniting with converts from other segments of society. These conglomerations of individuals make up our churches, becoming unique "Christian communities" in their own right.
Recently an Indian Bible translator from Tamil Nadu, shared about his survey work for the language he had been assigned to translate. His target group is located in the northern state of Haryana where there are .08% Christians. The major language of the people living there is Haryanavi, which is spoken by well over 10 million people. While surveying for previous translations, this Bible translator discovered a small town in the state of Haryana that was completely Christian. Interestingly the town was made up of converts whom the missionaries had won over from different cultures, castes, and fringe peoples of Haryana.
Today this town is known as a Christian community, but the people of this community can relate in no way to the people of Haryana. In fact they have become a distinct people with a culture appearing odd, having no roots, thus no connection to the peoples around them. Even though there is a light within this dark state, it cannot shine further than it's own boundaries. The light must be carried outside of the circle and into the unreached community. The light must be left there to expand throughout all the people of that community.
Jesus said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord
has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." (Mark 5:19) Even after begging to go with Jesus, the healed demon-possessed man from Decapolis was told NO!--Don't come with me, GO TO YOUR FAMILY.
What benefit would this Decapolis man be to Jesus? Was it not his family and community who would realize the mercy that Jesus had bestowed upon a member of their group? Was Jesus calling out this new believer to do "second front" witnessing among his Gentile people?
Jesus knew there was now a light in the healed demon-possessed man, but the light would not shine any brighter into the Decapolis communities if he called this new believer to join Him and His disciples. Instead, Jesus sent the light to penetrate the peoples of Decapolis.
Regrettable but True
The following example describes a cycle that still exists today. As you read the circumstances surrounding R.C. Das' baptism consider how the experience broke the bridge to his witness into his own community.
This story is taken from the book R.C. Das, Evangelical Prophet for Contextual Christianity, edited by H.L. Richard, CISRIS 1995.
Incidents Surrounding R.C. Das' Baptism in 1908 at the age of 21:
Certain things happened around and at my baptism that provide insights into the attitude and position of both Hindu society and Christian mission church in relation to the question of conversion of men from one religion to another.
...My baptism was fixed for a Sunday at 10 a.m... I went from the hostel over to the mission on the previous evening... Slowly crowds began to gather near the outer gate of the large compound... We heard some banging by the crowd at the gate door and a tired crying voice calling my name 'Rajendra, Rajendra'. I realized it was my father... The crowd seemed excited but the police had control... As soon as my father stepped up into the anteroom he had hardly a look at me when he fainted and fell down unconscious at the foot of the staircase. All of us were alarmed... We nursed him back to consciousness in an hour. He looked at me for a moment and said in a painful tone 'Rajendran, let us go back'. It was a shock to the missionaries when I said 'I am going with father'. They took me aside in a room for a few minutes and said that I was in the midst of great temptation. But I did not feel that there was any evil or danger anywhere. It was quite natural and right for a father to come and see his eldest son and understand the situation and try to dissuade him from accepting another religion, and in this case a foreign religion and a religion of the ruling power. I wanted to console him back to peace, which he needed very badly at that moment in his physical exhaustion and mental worry...
When they [the missionaries] saw that I was firm in my mind to go with my father to the hotel, they went apart a bit and conferred among themselves for a minute or two and told me that they proposed to baptize me before I left the mission house. I was astounded and asked simply how is it possible? At 10:30 p.m. at night without a congregation in church, and without a tank full of water for immersion? They said they would sprinkle me...
The senior missionary, whom I learnt to respect as a strict Baptist, Peter Noble, said that I was under a severe test by Satan and might slip back into betrayal of my faith. I replied firmly that I could never lose my faith based on experience; baptism might, of course, be delayed. I did no longer wait for their strange inconsistent arguments but lifted my father and we both walked out together... I looked back and saw Mr. Noble following us... We reached the hostel within minutes and Mr. Noble followed us and came in. He quietly watched us. My father finished his tea and we had some conversation and it was time for us to go to bed. Mr. Noble intervened and asked me to go back with him to the mission. I suggested that the baptism be postponed as it would not be a nice thing and a peaceful ceremony having my father here in the present condition of his mind; that I should be with him for awhile, send him back home assured and comforted. Then I will come and be baptized. Mr. Noble by now was fully unbalanced and cursed me by saying 'Satan has got you, Rajen' and with a sad face turned towards his home.
I was in my father's fellowship the whole of Sunday covering the evening. He wanted me to promise that I would never become a Christian. This I refused to do... He went away on Monday morning... On the Tuesday next morning at 10 a.m. I was baptized...
...The behavior of the missionaries around my baptism affected my growing mind very deeply. Is it after all true, as Hindus generally allege, that Christian missionaries want to convert people by hook or by crook in order to get rewards from their employers?..."
It Happens in the USA
A clear-eyed look at most American evangelism reveals the same extraction method at work. Brian Aycock writes in VOX "Statistics show that most Christians, within two years of their conversion, no longer have any non-Christian friends. They leave the past behind and are inducted into a Christian society that surrounds them like a bubble and separates them from the rest of the world." Perhaps we need to learn to make disciples (instead of converts), teaching them over time to obey all that He has commanded us. Perhaps we need to believe in the Power of the Gospel to leaven and lighten the darkest families and cultures. After all, faith works by love not by hook or crook.