Forrest McPhail, BJU Alumnus
Making disciples cross-culturally is a tremendous privilege, one that requires serious commitment and focus. What we are considering in these posts is no mere academic exercise.
Last time we covered 2 of 8 factors that contribute to the challenges faced by most cross-cultural missionaries, especially those laboring in more pioneer contexts. Here are a few more:
Factor #3 Intense discipleship requires dealing with sin
First generation Believers
Most converts in a pioneer setting will be first generation believers. Understanding and believing the Gospel message is the first major step. Following that, all believers in Jesus Christ are on the path of “renewing our minds” so that our lives can increasingly reflect our Creator (Eph. 4:20-24). Most of the young believers we are teaching have just begun to walk on the road of the knowledge of God. There is a huge difference between them and those who come to faith with a Christian background. Everything about the Christian life and the local church is new and foreign. It is radical to them. The Christian conscience must be built with the help of the Word and the Holy Spirit. The missionary needs much love and patience as he shepherds.
Obviously, one important aspect of discipleship is helping believers understand God’s commands in order to make decisions that please Jesus Christ. We must believe that the Holy Spirit will help them apply the Gospel to their culture. Only in this way can missionaries equip the believers to serve God effectively. It takes time. There are no shortcuts.
This means we must rely upon the believers to apply Scripture to the many events of life. Weddings, funerals, house-warming parties, baby dedications—all provide excellent opportunities for exercising discernment. We must enable them to apply Scripture to how they interact with the many religious and community events that are going on around them. This is discipleship.
Loving Church Discipline
In church planting, it is crucial that loving church discipline be understood and implemented when necessary, from the beginning of the ministry. The NT everywhere demands that God’s people “perform deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:16-21). Church discipline is an essential doctrine of church life that helps to clarify the Gospel.
Should we put off the exercise of church discipline until the church is mature? Absolutely not, for God commands church discipline to be lovingly administered. It has everything to do with laying a solid foundation of the Gospel. Where loving church discipline is not understood and applied, the foundation of the Gospel quickly erodes.
One of the purposes of church discipline is to emphasize community, unity, and the family identity of members of the local church. This is something that missionaries must think through carefully before heading to the field.
Factor #4: Believers face profound isolation and persecution
In the countries where the most unreached peoples live today, religion is integrated into society at an intense level. This would be true for many Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and even some Catholic cultures. When a believer in Jesus Christ repents and turns to God from idols to serve the Living and True God, he/she is often choosing to become largely isolated from the community.
Because religion is so pervasive and integrated into community events, there are many things that the new believer now cannot participate in while being faithful to Jesus Christ. In these contexts, it is important to teach God’s people how to involve themselves in the community and show the love of Christ in every way that they can, both for their own sake as well as for their testimony.
Persecution is usually in addition to social isolation. Cross-cultural missionaries serving in places where persecution is more common and severe need to have a thoroughly biblical theology of suffering and persecution (1 Peter). In order to reach people in these contexts, we need to be willing and ready to suffer as well.
Factor #5: Maintaining New Testament simplicity is crucial for church life.
Once baptized, how are believers to function as a local church? What is the cross-cultural missionary to “plant”? The early church provides us with the “ecclesiastical minimum” (J.D. Payne), activities that provide the basic foundation for local church life and ministry.
What are those basic local church community activities that are essential and non-negotiable for new believers? Acts 2:42 gives to us four main activities that occupied the spiritual life of the newly founded church in Jerusalem. I like to refer to these as the Four Pillars of the Local Church. These activities are exemplified throughout Acts and the Epistles. These can be duplicated anywhere that the church can be found in the world, regardless of circumstances:
If these four activities are taught and followed, that local body of believers is giving glory to its Savior. Such local churches will pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Such bodies of believers will mature and take on new aspects of body life and ministry that are appropriate to their context later. Our role as church planters, as disciple-makers, is to teach new believers to understand these four activities as foundational body life in Christ.
When missionaries go beyond this NT simplicity and demand that young churches act like mature churches back home, often their efforts are premature and result in serious dependence upon the foreign missionary.
Factor #6: Misapplications of Bible Truth regarding poverty abound.
How we understand the matter of social justice and how it relates to the Church of Jesus Christ will affect how we perceive ourselves as His cross-cultural servants. It will affect what we think our role is on the field when our host culture is relatively poor. It will guide how we teach the local church to be a light in the world. It is important that we understand poverty biblically, as well as what the Gospel messenger’s responsibilities are regarding poverty.
The Priority of Apostolic Example: How Binding is it? Does it matter?
Apostolic example is what we find the apostles and early church doing as we read Acts and onward through Revelation. Apostolic example includes both what the Gospel laborers did, as well as what they did not do. God’s Spirit recorded for us much from the first sixty years of the Church. What is recorded is significant. It provides for us a methodology for how to obey Jesus Christ by fulfilling the Great Commission.
The apostles were clearly righteous men who were personally full of good works and advocated that God’s people do the same. However, their good works were entirely limited to their personal generosity except for the case of raising funds for the church in Jerusalem. In that case, severe persecution, famine, and a serious need to display unity between Gentiles and Jews were the reasons for the collection. They did not set out to develop foreign countries, relieve world poverty, or live by a holistic paradigm of mission. This much is clear.
Kingdom confusion: What is the Gospel of the Kingdom?
Does the church find its role in the world by applying passages written for the nation of Israel and then applying it to the universal and local churches? Is the role of the Church to do everything we can to solve the world’s problems, particularly social justice issues? What does “preaching the kingdom” entail? Is the goal to extend kingdom influence and urge the unbelieving world to abide by God’s standards? Is making disciples to be inseparably married to social work and aid ministry? There is great confusion about this among God’s people.
The Great Commission is far simpler than many people today want to assume. The Great Commission is this: proclaim the message of the Gospel to all people for the purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ. This simple understanding of the Great Commission is the biblical one, the one that God’s people in every circumstance and culture can obey regardless of their social privileges and material prosperity. Cross-cultural Gospel proclaimers must prepare to meet these challenges.
To be continued….
Dr. Neal Cushman, CGO Projects Coordinator
Jesus cared for the poor; the early church cared for the poor; you and I are instructed to care for the poor. End of discussion. Or is it the end of the discussion?
Since Walter Rauschenbusch (a Baptist preacher in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, 1861-1918) invented the “social gospel,” many churches and mission agencies have shifted their focus away from spiritual needs to the more pressing matter of physical needs. Rauschenbusch said that Jesus ministered to the whole man, so how can we neglect man’s need for food, clothing and medicine, and act like we care for his soul?
I think that most of us would agree with this, but Rauschenbusch took it one step further. He maintained that when you give of these physical necessities, you are giving the gospel.
This idea fit the spirit of the times quite well, as many pastors, churches and seminaries began to accept the Enlightenment mentality that said that man is autonomous, and that he can solve the entire human dilemma: sickness, hunger, crime, poverty, etc.
The Bible was rejected as God’s infallible word, the historical Jesus was lost, the nature of man became good, physical maladies became the problem that missions had to solve, and no spiritual conversion was necessary.
Thus, many mission boards followed this new social gospel, which of course was no gospel at all. In a way, it made sense, for if seminary teachers, pastors, and churches no longer held to the cardinal doctrines of the Bible, then they needed to preach some sort of gospel. But why preach a gospel of substitutionary atonement if you believe that man is essentially good anyway? If everyone will make it to heaven in the end (universalism), then why preach the necessity of faith in Christ and repentance from sin?
The only thing left to preach is that sin is hunger, sickness, lack of education, and social injustice; Jesus came to do away with these things, and to meet man’s needs. Grace is giving to man what he needs: a meal, a bed for the night, an education, etc.
Another turn in history deserves mention here, and may help explain our present situation. In the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s, fundamentalism experienced a departure from its ranks. After having battled liberalism in the late 19th century, and through World War II, some fundamentalists felt that the movement had retreated from the world too far. These more open-minded fundamentalists felt that they could interact with liberals and not be affected by liberal doctrine. They felt that they could join hands with those who denied the deity of Christ so as to have a greater hearing for the gospel.
Two representatives of this view, Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, accused fundamentalists of not getting involved in social causes. To some extent their accusations were true, but the fundamentalist position was taken primarily because of the battles that it had engaged in with liberalism. It was not about to form friendships with liberals. And since liberals practiced the social gospel, fundamentalists rejected most forms of social helps.
I say this because we often have the tendency to “swing” our views like a pendulum. On the one side we decide that the church needs evangelistic fervor, so we design everything around winning souls. And then someone notices that the church is not being disciple-minded; people are not growing properly, so the church abandons its evangelistic outreach, and focuses on discipleship. I realize that this is an extreme example, but I think that it is often true.
When fundamentalism reacted against liberalism, and then later new evangelicalism (Henry and Ockenga), it gave up most everything that looked like a social cause. The pendulum had swung, for fundamentalists before had been involved in helping people, although not abandoning the gospel at all. So the point that I want to make here is that it is possible to meet people’s physical needs, and still give the gospel.
Now let’s examine some of the rationale for meeting people’s “whole” needs:
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Jesus quotes Isaiah 35:4 to help John to see that His works clearly validate the fact that He is the Messiah. There is no explaining all of the phenomena any other way. So what is the point? Many of the things that Jesus did for people validated his Messianic office. These things proved that he was the long awaited for Messiah. So although I want to be like Jesus in the deepest way possible, there are some things that I simply either cannot do or are not instructed to do.
I need to make sure that the New Testament confirms that the activity in question is something that should be continued by all Christians for all time.
This is called “normativity.” Normativity has to do with what is normative for all believers to do. Are believers today supposed to greet one another with a holy kiss? Should women wear veils in our churches? Should all ministers work with their hands like Paul did? These questions, and many more, require the utmost care in one’s exegesis and theological formation.
Paul collected funds and gave to needy believers. I do not see anywhere where Paul raises money for the lost. Rather, when he visited churches, he felt an obligation to help the believers that had experienced a famine in Jerusalem.
There are many mission agencies that specialize in meeting people’s physical needs. Some do it because they believe that what they are doing is actually giving the gospel; in these instances the social gospel has replaced the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith and repentance are not preached, nor are the other orthodox doctrines of salvation, therefore we should have nothing to do with this “gospel.”
Others meet people’s physical needs as a primary mode of ministry because they feel that one must meet people’s “felt” needs before one can get to people’s “real” (spiritual) needs. Although this is obviously true to a certain extent, it sometimes occurs that the missionaries who follow this plan fail actually get to the gospel for one reason or another. They are so busy handing out food that they have little time to minister the Word to people’s hearts. Some of the largest Christian compassion mission agencies in the world seem to fall to this neglect.
In my opinion, we should help people with physical needs as strategically as we possibly can. I think that we should focus on areas of the world where the need is the greatest. For instance, in AIDS stricken parts of Africa, there are millions of orphaned children, with no hope of survival, unless someone steps in to help. The adult population is depleted; the parents are dead.
But would it not be better if the African church were able to do this, perhaps with our assistance? As much as possible, I like to see mission boards do things in the background, but let the national church take the lead. This is best for the church, and it is best for the mission agency.
In 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey, killing over 17,000 people (some place the estimates closer to 40,000!). Many more were injured, their homes were destroyed, and businesses damaged beyond repair. About 600,000 people became homeless due to the quake. As you know, Turkey is a Muslim country, with the population being roughly 99% Muslim. The first person to come to Christ in this place did so in 1962, and the church has grown slowly since that time. By 1999 the church still had well under 500 converts, with small congregations in scattered places, but it immediately responded to the earthquake crisis with acts of compassion: food, water, shelter, digging through the rubble, etc. In fact, no one else reached out to the victims like the little church did.
This shocked the Muslim world on several levels. The Muslim victims were appreciative and showed their gratitude to the church, even though the Muslim world condemned the church. Second, these acts of kindness embarrassed the Muslim world to do something to help as well. Overall, the Lord used this disaster to let Turkey know that the Christian church existed in Turkey, and that it was all about love and compassion. And the church began to grow. That is the testimony that we must have.
 Rauschenbusch was orthodox in his theology early in his life, but after spending some time under the teaching at Rochester Theological Seminary, his faith was moved. He began to deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ, along with the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Rather, he found his inspiration in Charles Sheldon’s writings, In His Steps, and The Reform. These two classics have encouraged many believers to consider what Jesus might do in any situation in life, but Rauschenbusch took this to mean that Jesus is chiefly a moral example for us to follow. Soon afterwards he wrote his seminal work, Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Abington, 1917).
Dr. Lee Ormiston, Pastor of Family Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
The Lord commands us to lift up our eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! We need to cultivate a heart for the lost as modeled by the Apostle Paul when he said, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
At times we become forgetful of the destiny of the lost. There is a penalty for sin and it is death. We need to remind ourselves that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. Those who have not come to know Christ are headed for a place of torment and eternal punishment!
If we have any heart at all, the eternal destiny of lost souls ought to help us overcome our complacency and fear.
The average person in our culture seems oblivious, unconcerned, and pathetically ignorant to their eternal destiny without Christ, and many are disappointed with and cynical about life. At the same time the culture seems to have concluded that Christians are hypocritical, arrogant, naïve, foolish, irritating, and at best irrelevant.
Nevertheless, we are called to be obedient to our Lord’s commands, pray for God to bless those who abuse us, persecute us, and revile us. Even though those in the world treat us like we are their enemy, we are to intentionally do them good in tangible ways. Physically helping the lost by compassionately caring for the well-being of the lost and if possible by living peaceably with the lost is God’s will for us.
Our objective is to model such a genuine love that the world around us will know that we are Christians.
As believers, we are to demonstrate our love for our Lord by faithfully and purposefully following the Lord’s commandments… If a man really loves God, he must also love his brother and his neighbor (1 John 3:10–18; 4:7–21)… Love is the basis for obedience. In fact, all of the Law is summed up in love (Rom. 13:8–10). If we love God, we will love our neighbor; and if we love our neighbor, we will not want to do anything to harm him.
By purposefully extending biblical love to our neighbors, we prepare the soil of their soul to hear the good news of the Gospel.
Most unsaved don’t want to hear what we have to say until they are convinced that we genuinely care about them. But be encouraged - love, properly administered, often earns a genuine hearing. However, all the good deeds of a lifetime are no substitute for sharing the Word of God.
I have personally found that the Lord has often given me opportunity to share the gospel with the very people I have been purposefully endeavoring to love biblically. But I want to be clear, we are to love the lost even if they are adversarial.
What responsibility do Christians have toward non-Christians?
We have the responsibility to pray for non-Christians, administer God’s love to them, and boldly but wisely share the good news of Jesus with them!
 John 4:35
 Romans 10:1
 Hebrews 9:26
 Luke 16:23
 Matthew 25:46
 Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, 1 Corinthians 4:12
 Luke 6:27, 31, Romans 12:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:15
 Romans 12:18, 13:10
 John 13:35, Matthew 22:39
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 81). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 Acts 1:8
 Matthew 28:19-20
 Luke 6:27, 31, Romans 12:20
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.