The Editorial of Ralph D. Winter
What is the saddest story in American history?
There have been a lot of them. Certainly one of the saddest was the time in colonial Massachusetts when fourteen friendly "Christian Indian villages" were burned and most of the Indians killed.
This was so ghastly an event because those very same Indians, with their forest skills, had been the strategic aid that had helped the whites turn the tide against King Philip, the Indian leader who very nearly conquered the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Ethnic Cleansing in America
But this is a repeated story. (Check the story by Jean Steffenson on page 28.) Can Americans ever come clean about the Indians? For three centuries in North America the durable, nearly constant reality was the tearing down of missionary work by misguided Christians or rough-necked unbelievers, or even misguided missionaries.
In Massachusetts the work painstakingly produced by decades of work by missionaries was attacked by enraged whites as an early example of America's ethnic cleansing of our Indian populations.
Most Americans don't want to know about this. Even evangelical Christians rarely note that while there are still millions of Indians in Mexico and further south--where Catholic colonial efforts dominated--there are only a few left in North America.
Dear reader, are you an American citizen? Did it ever occur to you that "our" Anglo school books are not likely to give a balanced account?
Right. You need to refer to some of the more technical histories even to find traces of the very nearly universal tendency of "ethnic cleansing"--compared to Catholic policies further south.
Why are there so few Indians in California and Oregon? One good reason is that there was a $25 bounty in force from 1848 to 1900-- fifty two years of the Serbia vs. Bosnia type of ethnic cleansing! But, dear reader, how would you know, growing up in a society dominated by European immigrants?
$25 per head
Twenty five dollars in 1850 was like $2,500 today. No wonder many people--the bounty hunters--made their living just killing off Indians. Stalking and killing. Turning in scalps or ears for the money to feed their own murderous broods.
The Growth of the Gospel
The opposite page displays what may be familiar by now to our readers. Evangelical Missions Quarterly for April 1994 has an article by mission statesman Robertson McQuilkin who has reproduced the amazing story these statistics tell into a very nice small diagram:
Always eager to present both sides of an argument fairly, McQuilkin observes that this approach is only one of two ways of looking at things. While this approach is "proportional," others point out that the "absolute" numbers of "other people" besides Bible believing Christians in the world today is at an all time high. (Our earlier tables of statistics have displayed that fact also.) But is each fact to be considered equally helpful in weighing the unfinished task? He concludes by saying "The task remaining is vastly greater that it ever was before. But the resources and momentum to do it are greater too." We think he could have said, "the resources are far greater in comparison."
Suppose a girl working in a child-care center where the number of children per worker was ten to one got a job in another center with twice as many children but the children per worker was only five to one. Is this improvement only "theoretical?"
The Biblical thrust of missions is not to seek persons who are more "lost" but to plant the Gospel among those peoples which have less ACCESS.
Historically speaking Mission efforts inspired by the Bible itself have across two-thousand years been the only significant and sustained enterprise that has treated all peoples as worthy of redemption. This takes us back to the clear statement in the Bible which speaks of God's intent to "bless" all the nations of the world.
But there are pitfalls.
While all such verses seem clear, some people are now saying that the words like nation import a sociological concept into mission thinking which is foreign to a Bible that emphasizes individual, personal salvation, and that evangelism is Biblical while the idea of "reaching unreached peoples" is not.
One implication would have to be that Genesis 12:1-3 is foreign to the Bible! Or, that we must no longer quote verses like "Declare His glory among the nations" because if we do we are departing from the concept of Biblical conversion and employing sociological and anthropological terminology. Can you believe it?
This is to confuse two things that are equally BIBLICAL.
1) One is Evangelism, the all-important concept of personal heart conversion, the "faith" emphasized by both the Bible and the Reformation 2) The other is Missions (classical missions), the particular concern of the pioneer missionary--the missiological breakthrough to a new language and culture, finding out how to make sense to a people whose worldview is radically dissimilar.
Are those of us who feel called to stress the specific need for missions in the case of the remaining unreached peoples departing from the Bible and disparaging the on-going need for evangelism where the Gospel has already broken through?
Yes, individuals still need to be converted in their hearts. We don't give that up. But the missionary (unlike the evangelist to his own people) faces the incredibly more complicated task of discovering how to make sense in a new culture, of finding out how to convey the imperishable riches of the Gospel to persons in their own language and within the intelligible concepts of their own culture.
That's the task of initial access. And those many peoples across this planet who yet lack that access are in a different, classical "missionary" category from all those other still-lost individuals who already have the Bible in their own language and even have a warm fellowship of believers who can witness to their own people in their own tongue.
Every missionary who ever left home and family and friends knew full well that he was leaving behind unsaved friends and relatives as well.
The missionary issue is not the ultimate question of which individuals are saved and which are lost but the intermediate question of what groups have ACCESS to the Gospel and what groups do not.