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….
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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.