Saturday, July 29, 2006

I've Been Away

Just in case anyone's wondering, I've been away all week participating in an evangelistic campaign in Toledo, and haven't had access to internet in order to post anything. I hope to get some new stuff up in the next couple of days.

Blessings to all,


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant

retold by Robin Wood 1999

Once upon a time, five blind men came upon an elephant.

"What is this?!" asked the first one, who had run headlong into its side.

"It's an Elephant." said the elephant's keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant's harness.

"Wow! So this is an Elephant! I've always wondered what Elephants are like!" said the man, running his hands as far as he could reach up and down the elephant's side. "Why, it's just like a wall! A large, warm wall!"

"What do you mean, a wall?" said the second man, wrapping his arms around the elephant's leg. "This is nothing like a wall. You can't reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that's it! An Elephant is exactly like a pillar!"

"A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!" said the third man, stroking the elephant's trunk. "It's too thin, for one thing, and it's too flexible for another. If you think this is a pillar, I don't want to go to your house! This is more like a snake. See, it's wrapping around my arm! An Elephant is just like a snake!"

"Snakes don't have hair!" said the fourth man in disgust, pulling the elephant's tail. "You are closer than the others, but I'm surprised that you missed the hair. This isn't a snake, it's a rope. Elephants are exactly like ropes."

"I don't know what you guys are on!" the fifth man cried, waving the elephant's ear back and forth. "It's as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don't know what's wrong with all of you, but no one except a complete idiot could mistake an Elephant for anything except a sail!!!"

And as the elephant stepped aside, they tramped off down the road, arguing more loudly and violently as they went, each sure that he, and he alone, was right; and all the others were wrong.

The Elephant keeper sighed, and went back to polishing the harness, while the elephant winked solemnly at him.

One of my favorite parts of blogging is the interaction I am able to have with several other "m-bloggers" around the world, most notably (although there are quite a few others out there) Guy Muse in Ecuador, Ken Sorrell in Guatemala (*correction: Mexico), mr. t in South Asia, and Stepchild in Western Europe. I appreciate very much this opportunity to dialogue with others in other parts of the world.

I believe a lot of discussion on world missions, though, bears a haunting resemblance to this well-known story of "The Blind Men and the Elephant." Many of the problems in world missions come when we insist on our part of the elephant as the most accurate and legitimate description of the whole. The reality is that all of us (myself included), to some extent or another, are "blind men describing an elephant." Some areas of the world are more responsive; some are more resistant. Some have more obvious physical needs; some are bound by materialism. Some have practically no churches at all; some have highly developed denominational structures. As a result, the strategies that will be most effective will be different for each area.

As a missionary, I am grateful for blogs, and especially grateful for my fellow "m-bloggers." I believe that interacting with each other on these issues is generally encouraging and stimulating, and also helps us to get a better picture of what the "entire elephant" really looks like.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Help that Hurts

In September 1997, Dr. Jerry Rankin published the following article in The Commission magazine…

Help that Hurts

We are in an era of increased involvement in international missions. Partnerships and volunteer projects continue to multiply, and that is good. It is our desire to mobilize the resources and potential of churches, associations, state conventions and every Baptist entity to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ.

However, Americans often are unprepared for the poverty and economic disparity they find overseas. It is commendable that many respond with a compassionate desire to help out of the abundance of their Western affluence. But many are blind to the dangers of a valid spiritual ministry degenerating into material assistance, and how creating dependency can be detrimental to the health and growth of a church.

We are firmly committed to indigenous methods in our work of evangelism and church planting overseas. This means that mission efforts must produce churches that can exist, grow and multiply within their own culture and economy without any dependence on foreign resources. Over many years of missionary work around the world, missionaries have recognized it is a mistake to try to accelerate growth by an infusion of financial aid to build churches and support pastors. The result is usually a welfare mentality. Well intended financial assistance too often creates dependence and handicaps the initiative and faith essential for spontaneous growth.

One thing inevitably occurs when Americans subsidize the work of churches and pastors on the mission field: Potential growth is stalled because of a mind-set that it can't be done unless an overseas benefactor provides the funds. The congregation loses a sense of ownership and therefore ceases to be responsible since others provide for the financial needs of the pastor or the church.

Jealousy often develops among the pastors and churches who don't receive assistance toward those who develop a pipeline of support from the U.S. through their contacts with volunteers and others.

Cooperation between churches diminishes since they no longer need to work together in mutual support, encouragement and interdependency. In the long-term, support breeds resentment, especially if the support is not sustained indefinitely, because it creates a patronizing dependency. The donor is under the illusion of assisting the church just until it can grow to self-support, but that seldom happens. People are deprived of growing in faith, learning to depend on God and discovering that He is sufficient for all their needs.

Subsidy propagates a Western model of a church that sees a building and a paid pastor as essential rather than encouraging a reproducible biblical model of the church as gathered believers responsible to and for their own leadership and facilities. The work of the missionary is undercut in his effort to minister in a spiritual partnership since he is seen as uncaring in not providing the same material and financial aid.

Explosive growth in China, a 50 percent annual church growth rate in Malawi, 73 churches established in Cambodia in the last four years, and similar advances around the world would never have occurred if a pattern of subsidy and dependence had been created. Unfortunately, well-intentioned help on many fields has handicapped long-term potential growth.

I firmly believe that Dr. Rankin was right on target with what he wrote here. Others, such as Steve Saint and Glenn Schwartz (just to name a few) have also written, chronicling the dangers of subsidizing national workers. In the meantime, people like K. P. Yohannon and groups like Partners International (just to name a few) have pointed out how missions dollars can go a lot further when used to support national workers. I personally believe there is a lot of truth to both sides of this question.

There is a distinct difference between supporting local "ministry" overseas (pastors’ salaries, church buildings, etc.), and supporting "missions" (church planting, training, etc.). Also, there are ways to get beyond the problems caused by individual workers being directly supported by Western money. The problem is that most churches in the West do not have enough missionary experience and expertise to be able to sort out these subtleties on the mission field by themselves. In order to do so with any modicum of accuracy, it is necessary to have people "on the ground" in the respective countries of missions efforts, who are able to get to know the various churches, organizations, and individuals involved.

At times, all this can get a bit messy. It is likely that we will make mistakes. I believe, for this reason, a lot of American churches steer clear of this altogether. They prefer to keep things simple, and avoid "getting in over their head." This, I believe, is a good reason for working through organizations like the International Mission Board. The leaders at the IMB usually have a lot better criteria for assessing and understanding situations in many parts of the world than individual churches in the States.

At the same time, however, the IMB is merely the sending branch of the collective efforts of the churches in the SBC, and is subject, by way of the Board of Trustees, to the preferences of the churches. If the churches themselves do not show much of an interest in this type of thing, it is difficult to expect the IMB to make great strides in investigating and implementing new strategies in relation to all of this. A big key, in my opinion, is for the churches in the States to become more interested in how we can be the best stewards possible, using whatever means necessary, to see that the Great Commission is fulfilled, more than merely how many missionaries and volunteer teams we can send out, and how many "professions of faith" we can record.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Baptist Church: Radically Different from 'Baptistic' Churches?

Currently on, published by The Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Seminary, one of the feature articles is entitled A Baptist Church: Radically different from Pedobaptist Churches, by J. L. M. Curry, D. D., written in 1889. The first paragraphs of this article read as follows…

No religious denomination has a moral right to a separate existence unless it differs essentially from others. Ecclesiastical differences ought always to spring from profound doctrinal differences. To divide Christians, except for reasons of gravest import, is criminal schism. Sects are justifiable only for matters of conscience growing out of clear scriptural precept or inevitable logical inference. Human speculation, tradition, authority of pope or council or synod or conference or legislature, is no proper basis for an organization of Christians. Nothing short of the truth of revelation, the authoritative force of God’s word, rising above mere prejudice or passion or caprice, can justify a distinct church organization.

While Baptists rejoice that there are so many points of agreement betwixt themselves and other evangelical Christians, and are prompt to acknowledge the works of faith and the labors of love of their brethren, yet they hold peculiar and differentiating principles, that are of vital importance and enter essentially into the idea of a church, its organism, membership, ordinances, and doctrines. These differences are radical, growing out of God’s revealed will; and the barriers of: separation are neither few nor trivial. To suppose that we are kept apart from beloved brethren solely by our views on baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a grievous misapprehension. Our differences, as we conceive, are broader and involve imperishable scriptural ideas and principles. The "wall of partition" is not built of water, much or little, of rites or robes or ceremonial. No sectarian bitterness or preference for isolation keeps us apart from those with whom we delight to co-operate in many spheres of Christian labor. The suggestion would not be uncharitable that sectarianism is responsible for diverse denominations which have a common origin, recognize one another’s ordinances, and hold to infant baptism, infant membership, and other common practices.

It would seem to me that this article, if I am understanding correctly, in light of recent discussions regarding relationships with other "GCCs" and denominations, says a little more than what is in the interest of the editors of Curry makes some good points for denominational separation of "Baptists" from "Pedobaptists." But, from what I read into what Curry is saying, there is absolutely no excuse for lack of complete ecclesiastical union with other "Baptist" and/or "baptistic" groups.

Are the good folks at comfortable with this conclusion, or am I not reading this correctly?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Great Commission is not just for Americans

A key conviction of mine is that the Great Commission was not given just to Southern Baptists, nor for that matter, just to the Evangelical churches of North America. It was given to the entire Body of Christ around the world. One of the practical implications of this conviction is that we, as individual members of the Body, are to work as a team in coordination with the rest of the Body, in order to most effectively do what Jesus, the Head of the Body, has commanded us to do.

Patrick Johnstone, in The Church is Bigger than You Think (1998), addressing the issue of overall evangelical growth in the world, states:

"The real growth has been in Latin America, Africa, and Asia… In 1960, non-Western Evangelicals were half as numerous as Western Evangelicals. But by 2000 they will be four times more numerous, and if such growth rates continue, in the year 2010 they will be seven times more numerous."

With the growth of the evangelical movement in the "third world" has also come a dramatically increased missionary-sending capacity.

On a team, each player has his/her role to play, based on the comparative strengths and abilities each one brings to the table. In baseball, for instance, the lead-off batter is generally relatively fast, with a good ability to get on base a high percentage of the time. The clean-up batter, however, is generally strong, with a relatively good ability to drive batters home who are already on base.

What the churches in many "third world" contexts bring to the table is: 1) a vast pool of potential human resources, that is to say, a great number of missionary candidates ready and willing to go; 2) spiritual vitality that in many cases surpasses that of their former Western mentors; and 3) open doors, in both the social and diplomatic aspects, into many areas of the world and people groups that are becoming increasingly more difficult for Westerners to reach.

I was recently made aware that, in Spain today, for every Western Evangelical missionary who arrives, there are two Latin American Evangelical missionaries. This figure does not include the tens of thousands of "non-intentional missionaries" who come as immigrants.

A friend of mine from Argentina, who leads an evangelical humanitarian aid organization based out of Spain, told me recently how the fact that he was from a "third world" country opened many doors for him in Indonesia after the Tsunami. At first, he said, they assumed he was from Spain. But later, upon finding out he was from Argentina, the locals noticeably warmed up to him, and, as a result, several effective doors of ministry were opened.

In addition, I have observed how, often, the most effective workers among Muslims, both in Spain, and in North Africa, are Latin Americans.

What the missionaries from the "third world" often lack, however, is the financial support and mission infrastructure necessary to convert what they have to offer into strategic missionary contribution in the more relatively unreached areas of the world. I have personally seen several extremely gifted and dedicated missionary workers be forced to return to their countries of origin in Latin America, due to lack of financial support and/or adequate supervision on the field. There is no telling how many have never made it due to the same reasons.

On the other hand, in world missions today, one of the relative strengths of the North American church is our financial sending capability. We also have much to offer in the line of expertise gained from years of experience, and highly developed infrastructures.

Although it pains us to admit it, the reality is that, since the war in Iraq, the ability of North Americans to make an effective evangelistic impact in much of the world has been significantly reduced.

I am NOT suggesting, therefore, that we ought to stop sending American missionaries, and begin giving all of our money to support "third world" missionaries. There are complex issues involved, including unhealthy dependency, accountability for use of funds, paternalism, etc. I DO think, however, that we need to give more and more serious reflection as to how we spend our missions dollars, and what is the overall best stewardship of the resources entrusted to us by God.

Since this issue is too complex to do it justice in one post, I plan to continue to write on other aspects of this subject on further posts. But, for now, I leave it open for your response and comments…

Monday, July 10, 2006

Millard Erickson on Church Unity and Stewardship

On pp. 1140-41 of Christian Theology, Second Edition, Baptist theologian Millard Erickson writes the following on the subject of ecclesiology and Christian unity:

Another practical consideration is the matter of efficiency. Where there is a lack of unity among Christians, there is a duplication of efforts. Every local congregation feels that it must have certain structural and procedural components, just as do every mission board and every Christian college and seminary. The result is a great waste of resources of the kingdom of God. Consider as an extreme example a town square in the Midwest. On each side of the square stands a church building. All four of the buildings are old, inefficient to heat, and in need of repair. The size and budget of all four congregations are modest. The pastoral salaries are small. Consequently, the congregations are habitually served by either young, inexperienced pastors or older men well past their peaks. Mediocre programs in such areas as Christian education are the norm. But what is most distressing is that the services, messages, and programs of the four congregations are virtually the same! A visitor would find few significant differences among them.

An efficiency expert would regard this situation as a great misuse of resources. Instead of four small struggling churches, it would make better sense to merge them into one congregation. The four properties could be sold and the new congregation relocated to an efficient structure. A staff of competent specialists could be engaged at appropriate compensations, and missionary giving could be increased as a result of the reduced overhead. What we are advocating on the local level would be highly desirable on broader levels as well. While some people may regard this suggestion as an application of the General Motors mentality to the work of the church, it is in fact a matter of good stewardship of Christian resources.
I, for one, (and I believe Erickson would be in agreement) am not in favor of organizational ecumenism. Doctrinally, we would have to make too many compromises with the essentials of the Gospel. However, whenever working more closely with other Christian groups does not obligate us to compromise on essential doctrine, and it would help us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources, I think we have a duty before God to do what we can to help this become a reality.

The problem is we are not all in agreement as to just what constitutes compromise on essential doctrine, nor on what are the best ways to be wise stewards of the resources with which the Lord has entrusted us. Some studies, for instance, seem to indicate that small churches many times are more effective at reaching new people than big ones. Working with other groups, with different traditions, and core values, can get messy, and often causes us to lose more in overall “efficiency” than what we gain by joining efforts.

The easy solution, in the light of such obstacles, is to just “close our eyes” and keep on with the “same ole same ole”: what we already know and is familiar to us. But I do not believe the Lord would have us opt for the easy way out. The Cooperative Program is a way of being good stewards with Kingdom resources with which most all Southern Baptists feel quite comfortable. Inasmuch as it indeed helps us to be better stewards, I believe we should continue to support the Cooperative Program.

But, by the same token, much cooperation with other groups outside of strictly Southern Baptist circles, also helps us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources. This is a principle that IMB leadership has recognized in New Directions and the emphasis on working with other Great Commission Christians.

I believe this general principle has many implications for the way we do ministry. In future posts, I would like to comment on several of these. What do you think? Are there ways in which this principle affects the way you do local ministry? What about the way the SBC, through the IMB, NAMB, and other agencies, does ministry?

Thursday, July 06, 2006


The late Adrian Rogers loved a turn of phrase and had a special gift of “sound-bite wisdom,” his wife, Joyce Rogers said. Now a collection of his sayings is available in the new book “Adrianisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Adrian Rogers,” published by Love Worth Finding Ministries, which he founded...

Read entire article here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Obsessed with conversion?

Lest anyone get the idea that this blog is "obsessed" with pointing out the problems with narrowing parameters of cooperation and over-zealous Bible-bashers, I have decided to post a copy of the following article I just received from AC Press, of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, commenting on a problem on the other side of the theological spectrum that, in my opinion, makes anything we are dealing with in the SBC pale in comparison.


(0) Obsessed with conversion? Is that such a bad thing?

Madrid, June 26th, 2006 (ALC, ENI/

Can we finally come clean and recognise that the Vatican and the World Council of Churches represent a different religion from that of biblical Christianity? At a recent meeting between delegates from various religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Yoruba (an African religion) and ‘Christianity’ (as represented by the aforementioned groups), the 27 participants stated that religious freedom implied the duty to respect other beliefs, never denigrate or insult them, and never distort their beliefs to try and make your religion look superior.

The Vatican and the World Council of Churches agreed that religious liberty is a non-negotiable human right, but warned of the ‘need to overcome the obsession with converting others.’ The report recommends working to overcome this ‘obsession’, as in the area of seeking conversions, all religions have made mistakes, according to the report. It goes on to suggest that all religions study their history, and their doctrinal beliefs.

A code of ‘anti-conversion’ conduct is being considered. As a result of such soul-searching, one proposal was to reject “unethical means”, and avoid targeting “vulnerable people” such as children or handicapped people. The participants got the idea of a code of conduct to do with conversion attempts, and the Vatican Committee for Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches (WCC) suggested that inter-religious dialogue on this issue should continue at various levels.

The Catholic Church claims nearly 1,200 million adherents in the world, whilst the WCC represents 347 Protestant and Orthodox Churches in more than 120 countries, with a total membership of over 450 million people.

Have the Vatican and the Geneva-based organisation completely forgotten the words of Jesus: ‘Go into all the world and make disciples’? As the Editorial in ‘Protestante Digital’ (our sister digital magazine in Spanish) points out, such an obsession among evangelicals would be extremely welcome! The Bible teaches us that we need to convert from the system of the world to that of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

Rome and Geneva are heading down the dreaded path of political correctness, along which all religious belief will become ever more private, never shared with anybody, and therefore never causing anyone any offence. Nor presenting them with the truth of the Gospel nor showing them the way into the kingdom of God either, of course.

Source: ALC/ENI Editing:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Calvinism, Free Will, Narnia and Christian Unity

At the risk of exposing my ignorance, especially with those who like to delve into the nuances of technical theological questions, I would like to forward my take on the whole Calvinism-Free Will thing. Obviously, there are passages of Scripture, which, when taken in isolation, seem to favor both sides of the debate. That is, some, one side, and others, the other. Due to this, Christians who claim an equal allegiance to the authority of the Word of God often come down on opposing sides of this issue.

Al Mohler, in the recent debate at the SBC Pastors Conference, said, if I remember correctly, that we as evangelicals accept the principle of "non-contradiction." That is, we believe the Bible, being the authoritative Word of God, does not contradict itself.

To this, I would like to posit the possibility of apparent contradiction, which, in reality is not contradiction. I believe there are two different perspectives from which to look at the questions of predestination and free will (and the various other doctrinal conclusions that stem from your view of these questions). One is the eternal, omniscient perspective of God. The other is the time-bound, limited perspective of man. I believe these two points of view are co-existent, much like England and Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia. They are two apparently contradictory and co-existing realities, which are each perceived according to the perspective one takes.

Considered from this framework, divine sovereignty is the divine perspective, and human free will, the human perspective. They are both simultaneously true, all depending on the angle from which they are considered. There are many aspects of the divine perspective that are beyond our comprehension as humans. While it is possible for me as a human to theorize about a realm of existence not bound by the limitations of time, it is, at the same time, impossible for me to really comprehend it. In the day-to-day, practical side of life, we normally see things and operate from the human perspective. When we try to see from the divine perspective more than what God has chosen to clearly reveal to us in His Word, we tend to trip ourselves up, and get out of kilter. Yet, by faith, we accept the divine perspective as true.

Because of this understanding of these issues, I find it relatively easy to fellowship with those from either side of the Calvinism-Free Will debate. I just think that those on each side choose to emphasize one perspective over another. They are not necessarily in error. Perhaps a bit unbalanced, in the case of some. But not necessarily in error.

I also don’t spend a whole lot of time sifting through the technical implications of divine sovereignty, accepting that many of them are beyond my limited human capacity to understand. While I accept by faith what the Bible teaches about predestination, I live my life, in the day-to-day, more from the human perspective.

I imagine some of you who have spent more time and effort perusing all the "ins and outs" of this question will be able to completely debunk my thinking on this. And if, biblically, my thinking needs to be debunked, I welcome your input. In any case, I thought I would throw this out as "food for thought."