Monday, June 4, 2007

Kingdom Door Slamming

I'm not finished reading it yet, so this isn't a review (yet), but I'm in the middle of reading Derek Morphew's Breakthrough, and so far, I'm really enjoying it. It's all part of my "Kingdom of God" ponderings, wanderings, and ruminations.

There's been some interesting posts around Greater Blogdom regarding the future of missionary movements, with not a few people suggesting that (A) giving money to missions is a waste of valuable resources that could be better used elsewhere, and (B) that missions in general needs to be re-thought if not outright rejected as too oldskewl for the 21st century.

You're wondering how I'm going to tie missionary movements and the Kingdom of God together. Well, I will, but in a later post. Right now, I wanted to just mention some interesting parallels from the 1st century that impact both missions and the Kingdom.

When Jesus first showed up announcing the Kingdom, He was always clashing with two groups of people who didn't get Him, didn't want to get Him, and eventually just wanted to get rid of Him: the Pharisees and the Sadduccees.
The Pharisees were ritualistic and legalistic in their approach to God. They had built an elaborate system of rules and regulations to scrutinize their own holiness (and therefore acceptability to God) and the holiness of the commoners they looked down on in self-righteous arrogance.

They made so many rules that people just gave up trying, and assumed that the Pharisees were the only truly righteous ones (and the Pharisees liked them to think that way, too).
The Sadduccees were the politically-opportunistic compromisers of their day. They were at the opposite side from the Pharisees: rather than making more rules to make it more difficult to approach God, they just negated all the supernatural elements of the Jewish faith, choosing to believe there are no angels, demons, and denying a resurrection from the dead. They tended, like the Pharisees, to be shrewd arguers and debaters about the fine points of the Law, but had rejected any overtly supernatural aspects of their faith -- they were the "progressive ones".

So, where do I see similarities today? Well, the Pharisees of today build elaborate systems of rules and "principles" that are somehow "required" by God before He will deign to involve Himself in the affairs of humanity. It can been seen in the "Kingdom Now" charismatics who have an intricate list of things that must be done before revival will come (akin to the Spiritual Mapping crew). This tends to keep the Kingdom at bay, as the requirements are so exacting that it's impossible for any city to meet them perfectly. And the Kingdom Door slams shut.


This affects 21st century discussions on missions as well: anglo-caucasian angst over past colonialism, and consumer-influenced ideas of "Return On Investment" (where to spend our missions dollars) combine to produce a mental paralysis over the complexities of the issues which must be sorted out before even considering "foreign" (ie. not in your country of birth) missions. Some people just throw up their arms (metaphorically), and give up. And that sound you hear in the distance is a Kingdom Door slamming.

The Sadduccees of today are equally effective in thwarting people; they simply remove the dynamic of the Holy Spirit from the work of the Kingdom or of missions, and boldly go where only man can go: in their own strength, depending on their own human ingenuity and cleverness. And the Kingdom of God without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is just a social program with a bit of religiosity tacked on for good effect. So in effect, removing the dynamic presence of the Spirit is essentially slamming the Kingdom Door.
21st century missions gets affected in that people start looking at the $$bottom line$$ when making decisions about financial support, and this usually translates into missionaries getting the shaft. Increasingly, people don't think in terms of "hearing the voice of God", or being "called" into full-time missions. It's just another career choice, and if you don't have a tent-making skill to earn your own keep, you're just out of step with the times.

Was that another door I just heard?
The discussion of the future of missions in the 21st century is by no means easily settled, and I'm just barely scratching the surface with this over-long post. But there are two centuries-old approaches -- that of the Pharisees and Sadduccees -- that we dare not allow to influence our thinking and praxis.

These are thoughts still in progress, so please let me known your thoughts!

10 comments:

  1. I was asking my wife recently, "Who are the Pharisees and the Sadducees of today?”
    Our conclusions resulting from that conversation were quite sobering, as I realized that I am well qualified to write, “The People Formerly Known as Pharisees”.

    The traditions present where I met Jesus do very much exclude many who are honest enough to observe that they don’t work in promoting relationship with God, “slamming the door on the Kingdom of God” as you have put it so well.

    One of the men who laid hands on me when I was ordained is part of a ministry in one of the poorest areas of east Africa. The missionary work he (a native) is a part of was founded by a husband-wife team who are experienced missionaries, and well educated (Doctorate level).

    Yet their approach to the new country their journey with God led them to looks very foolish.

    They just went.

    As I understand the Mrs. went to the new country, and on arrival had: no contacts, no money, no knowledge, of the language, little appropriate clothing for the climate and culture.
    But she saw what Father was doing, heard what He was telling them, and went.

    Today there are many thousands of communities of Jesus followers in Malawi, the Congo, Mozambique and other countries as a result. Entire villages are deciding to follow Jesus at once, and they have difficulty keeping up with God as He starts doing stuff fin the villages around those they have already been to.

    Unless we are wiling to watch and listen, see and hear, and cooperate with what God is already doing we might as well just bag the whole thing and do what we want. (Because if we are not co operating in God’s activity, we’re just doing out own thing anyway… and look at the results of that up til now.)

    BTW, the missionary woman spent her first night in country in a house all to herself, eating familiar food. As she sat on her suitcase by the road, someone who was a native speaker of her own language walked by, tossed her the keys to their home, and asked if she would occupy it while they went out of country. They told her to make sure the food it was stocked with did not go to waste.

    If we will do will co operate with God, go where He is going, and do what He tells us, when we get where we are going we will find he has already been there for quite some time.

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  2. Great minds!
    I've just started reading this book. Too early to make any comments for me, but I have an ex-pastor friend who corresponds with Morphew and also says it's the best book on the Kingdom he's ever read.

    I just finished reading Diogenes Allen's book "Christian Belief in a Post-modern World."

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  3. I think Christianity in America and the West is being rethought, and rediscovered, and exposed as Jesus-less. (Do you know how many evangelicals support the idea of torturing suspected terrorists to protect our safety?) With all the questions being raised and revolt from mere religion, it's only natural that mission (that is, mission from the West outward, as I assume you mean) would be on the table. It should be there. If we need to ask what church really is, and rediscover Jesus, then surely we have to rediscover mission. In the meantime, mission belongs to God, and His mission will continue even if all the churches simultaneously drop out.

    I've been thinking about this Pharisee question lately. I was reminded of how many times in Bible studies (as I grew up going to church), that "we" (the established Christians) one by one identified with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Have you ever seen that happen? But then nobody seemed to mind. Why didn't it cause us great concern to say such a thing? The older brother is missing the party! If the greater part of evangelicals in the west identify with the Pharisees, then this is tragic. But the good news is that the party goes on. The Father will move it elsewhere and invite others.

    So the party still goes on. I'm confident God is moving as much as ever, and amazing, uncharted movements are happening around the world and in the West.

    Money is important, and we have an incredible opportunity to look for what God is doing (near or far) and put our money there. But there are more important things than money.

    I'm a missionary. We're well funded, but we do think about giving up the money: for more freedom from the money itself and freedom from the box of religion, obligations, and habits that often comes with it. And we're not alone. There are many mission workers who relate well with Barna's "revolutionaries" but can't move that way because they are being paid.

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  4. Robby,
    I think that the term missionary movements is no longer confined to what has been typically been considered "missions." In that sense, I believe that some of the re-thinking that is happening is actually an expansion of kingdom mentality.

    However in the process, it seems we always deal with the whole pendulum-swinging, baby/bathwater reactions. Even that is part of learning and transitioning into a newer understanding of what God is doing today.

    Following the Spirit negates both the Pharisee and the Sadduccee response. I agree that missionary movements cannot be formed on rules and principles, neither can they move forward without the life and power of the Spirit.

    As far as the bottom line, I think that for those who give, there is a stewardship issue. It is good for those who give to take an active look at where they sow their financial resources. Of course this should always be combined with a listening ear to the voice of the Spirit. Also, remembering that in the kingdom economy, the bottom line is often about more than just $$$.

    I am sure that those involved in missions feel the same tension that pastors feel during discussions about deconstruction of church. What is theory to many is much more personal when it is your life. Because the emerging/missional conversation is full of these kinds of discussion, it is so important to have the active involvement of voices like yours.

    I appreciate learning your perspective.

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  5. I too am a missionary, and I just got back from our annual conference. It was reported to us that our organization is at the "tipping point" where, within the next few years, we will have more missionaries from outside of North America than from within. This was viewed as something to celebrate...which I appreciated.

    We've got Russians going into Turkey, Sudanese going into Rawanda and Iranians ministering in Iraq...and I'm pretty sure the Filipinos will run the place within 10 years. You can't keep up with them.

    So...it's easy to think and worry that somehow the future of missions rests with North America or the western world. That $$ will somehow control what happens in the mission field. Some of the poorest countries in which we work are started to send the most missionaries, interestingly enough. For sure that calls for some creative thiking...but I've found that our God is pretty creative. =)

    Of course, as a Canadian I want to see the church in my country continue to have a vision for missions and for suffering and injustice. But I have to be careful in my thinking that somehow believing the west is the endall in missions....

    Most definitely the party goes on! =) We NA would probably do well to stop thinking and worrying so much and just try to keep up...

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  6. Craig,

    Thanks for an inspiring story! The key really IS to be listening to God and doing as He directs.

    The struggle many are having these days -- which makes encouraging stories all the more valuable -- is that so many are saying "God doesn't work that way anymore".

    David,

    I met Morphew once, a few years ago (not that he'd remember me), and he was a wonderful combination of brilliant, humble, gifted, and down-to-earth. We need more leaders like him.

    Andy,

    Wow, you stirred a whole lot of can o' worms in one blog comment!

    Since we're part of YWAM, which means we have no "head office" supporting us, nor a "sending church", we've always been dependent on relationship with people who pray for and support us.

    So while I hear what you're saying about some missionaries feeling trapped because they don't want to jeopardize their paycheque, there are many missionaries who have been relying on relational support and that dove-tails almost perfectly with the emerging generation's focus on relationship and not institutional machinery.

    What's surprising is that so few "emerging" people want God to have any say about their finances. They've "freed" themselves of their tithing obligation, rightly saying that in the NT everything is God's, yet their functional lifestyle is "it's MY money".

    So in the end, it comes off as just being self-serving -- we don't tithe, and we don't support missionaries, but HOT DANG we can now afford a good vacation.

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  7. Grace,

    I'm all for re-thinking anything and everything that needs re-thinking. But the comments on various other blogs that I've read recently on missions have been characterized by an attitude of "Missions?? OMG, that is SO twentieth-century..."

    Take the tired old phrase "colonialism", for example. Because in the past, missionaries have done some pretty stupid cultural things, the reasoning today seems to be that white people are disqualified from doing anything internationally. "Leave it to the nationals," is the bromide, "and we'll just send money". And the great irony is that they don't realize just how colonial their own attitude is.

    There's a trap on either end:

    (A) It's "colonial" to go to any country, regardless of your culture of origin, and try to force people to adopt your culture -- that's the colonial sin of the past in missions.

    (B) It's equally "colonial" to say we have nothing to offer other cultures, and that we should just stay where we are, and become "send the cheque" Christians while maintaining our comfortable lifestyle.

    What about partnering with other cultures and nations? That requires relationship, and we will never have relationship if all we do is send money.

    If missionaries (for lack of a better term) don't go, and then come back to tell us what they've seen, then how will we know what's happening outside our borders?

    We might (probably would) end up having to depend on who has the best marketing machine for generating $$ for their cause. And we'd just have to hope that the money is going where they say it is, because without relationship, we'll just have to take their word for it.

    And that brings up a whole 'nuther ethical issue, that of Famine Porn and the Marketing of Poverty. As they say, you can always generate gobs of donations if you market with pictures of cute little kids of different ethnicity with big eyes and sad faces.

    Part of re-thinking missions will have to wrestle through all these things, and it's very important that we do. But my concern so far has been that most people questioning missions are doing it from a materialistic, best-bang-for-my-buck mentality, which is the antithesis of relationship and hearing the voice of God.

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  8. Ken,

    I'm in YWAM, and as a white Canadian, I'm in the tiny minority at my own base, right here in Canada! And I LOVE the international flavour of our base! YWAM Okanagan is packed with missionaries from outside of Canada. We have our share of cultural faux pas and language misunderstandings, of course, but it's worth it to see so many nationalities working together.

    I find it exciting that some of the poorest countries are finding ways to support missionaries. I just wish more Westerners would humble themselves and learn from the examples of the non-Western Christians.

    Western Christianity isn't the be-all and end-all for missions, I agree, but neither are we supposed to absolve ourselves from participating in the world-wide Body of Christ.

    It's kind of a reverse colonialism: we've gone thinking and acting as if we had everything to offer, to thinking and acting as if we have nothing to offer.

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  9. Very true Rob...but for sure there are lots of good NA organizations out there who are working hard and doing a good job (I'm probably biased, but I think I'm a part of one of them)...and lots of amazing people who are supportive and sacrificial in their giving (well...if not sacrificial, at least generous!). I'm home on furlow right now and it's been good to connect with people and see their interest and compassion for what's happening around the world.

    So...there's still reason to be hopeful. =) But I still think it won't be long before we NA's really are in the minority on the mission field. Sad in some ways...exciting in others...

    Thanks for taking the time to think through all this and share your thoughts with the rest of us....when you should be outside enjoying that great BC weather I keep hearing about (my bro lives in Peachland just south of Kelowna).

    Anyhow...

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  10. Vacation.. er, what is that anyway ;)

    Betty and I were talking last night.. last year we went nowehere. The year before we took three days and went to the island. The last "real" vacation we had was in 1999 to Hawaii for 8 days. But then, on reflection, we live in a beautiful area, and there is nothing stopping us from doing some camping.

    We've really been struggling with the area of giving. In the end for us it has come down to generosity. We have been generous with needs when we are aware and able to give. We've helped some young friends get started in an apartment, helped some recovering addicts with clothing, and continue to give to world vision. Some months its less than a tenth, some months its more.

    But the "missions" giving has been a tougher issue. We've hurt with you guys as you struggle with your own sense of call as missionaries and wonder where the support has gone. You know.. and we know.. that your call doesn't change with lack of provision. But we have been asking ourselves whether we believe in supporting white missionaries on short term ventures that are terrificly expensive, when there is a huge mission field right here. We've decided we would rather support indigenous missions.. both here and elsewhere. That seems to clash with some models, like YWAM, and it leaves us feeling like disloyal friends. But it hasn't prevented us from praying.. and continuing to believe in you and other friends in YWAM whose hearts are fully given to God and his kingdom.

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