Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and Missions. I'm so glad that you're listening to episode 80 of Missions on Point today. We're in the middle of a series on missiology you need to know, and this particular episode is The Bible Rules. If you don't mind, I'm going to take a rare opportunity to walk you through Missions on Point episodes so that you get a bigger context, but I would encourage you to go back and listen to episodes of interest. When you look at our little logo image for Missions on Point, it's the intersection of ecclesiology and missiology, so there are things in Missions on Point you need to know. Earlier episodes have a lot to do with the biblical role of the local church and biblical support for missions in general. It talks about the essence of the gospel in a biblical definition of missions.

Earlier episodes talk about the pastoral leadership role in Missions, some short-term Missions keys, things about missionary care, and keys to effectiveness as a missionary that are great guidelines or checklists for checking up on your missionary and finding out how effective they really are. I talk about three central truths in Missions. I talk about the Missions committee essentials and discovering missions throughout the Bible. There's a couple of episodes on essential Missions books and some that answer typical help questions that we get at Propempo. I spend some significant time talking about your church Missions profile and how to assess your local church's effectiveness and missions. There's a short series on missionary biographies and another series on the whole process of becoming ascending church called The Vision of Ascending Church. We discuss various aspects of Missions funding and we talk about the special needs of missionary families who are left behind when one of their loved ones goes to the field. Take a little extra time and help yourself and help your church by listening to some of the earlier episodes of Missions on Point.

Today's episode on missiology you need to know is simply titled The Bible Rules. Rules here doesn't mean a list of dos and don'ts and it's not a measuring stick. It has to do with primacy. The Bible is the only authoritative source for all of faith and practice. This seems so elementary and intuitive in theory, but in practice it is not paid attention to as much as it ought to be. Unfortunately, missiological practices on the field often reflect missiological practices at home. There are huge swaths of church life and practice in the United States that don't abide by this rule. When pressed for why we do the things that we do or why we do things the way we do them, church leaders often stumble because they have inherited it from their church tradition or the cultural pressures and trends of the day and not from the Bible.

While we may agree that local culture shapes the means and media, it does not change the message. The Bible is the only and final authority for faith and practice, the Bible rules, and as such, it means that trans culturally or cross-culturally on the mission field, it is the Bible that gives the answers to the questions and needs of man there as much as here. Let's just go ahead and rule out some things. It rules out traditions from home on the mission field. It rules out manmade curricula as being the final authority for faith and practice. It rules out the opinions of the missionary or the mission agency if and when they may contradict or cloud over the clear principles of scripture. Because as missionaries and believers we inherently know that the Bible rules, a lot of missionaries and people who want to inform missionary practices will try to add Bible verses and Bible principles to their rules and make that the standard.

By taking scripture out of context or reinterpreting the words and import that is the direction of scripture on a particular subject, they twist the scripture in a way that makes their methods, their practice, their traditions seem biblical, even when they're not. It is entirely appropriate to ask always, where did that come from? Where did that practice come from? Where did that curriculum come from? Where did that originate? Did it originate from the Bible or was the Bible overlaid and imposed on some invention of man? First off, it means that when the local believers, presumably rather new believers and not well-trained or mature necessarily in their faith, ask questions of the missionary, the missionary should always defer to the Bible. The missionary should always point the local believers to the Bible for the answers. That means that the missionary doesn't necessarily answer for them. He doesn't give them a shortcut to what he or she believes is the biblical answer, but he pushes them to go find the answer for themselves in the word of God.

It's a practice that needs to be developed and encouraged anyway. Go to the Bible for your answers. God has the answers in the Bible for you in your place, in your language, in your culture. That way the missionary is not imposing their presuppositions or their assumptions or their own tradition on top of the Bible for giving answers to those questions. It's challenging when the local people are asking about things that personally we've grown up in a tradition that may view that particular thing as being sinful, or at least in the fuzzy area in between, and not really have a good clear answer. When we were working with tribal people long ago, they had a question about Betel nut chewing. Now, Betel nut is not common in the states at all, but in their culture it was very common and multi-generationally, maybe even multi centuries long practice of chewing this substance that grew on Betel nut palms.

They had techniques and tools that were especially carried with them for Betel nut chewing. In fact, in this mountainous region, the tradition is that people didn't measure distance by actual distance. They measured it by how many Betel nut break stops they had to take along the way. Now in the modern era, it became known that long-term Betel nut chewing could increase the probability of someone getting throat or mouth cancer, and so as churches developed, they asked, is it a sin to chew Betel nut? Is it right to chew Betel nut? Are we wrong? We pointed them to the scriptures. Now admittedly, we coached them a little bit about where to look, so they didn't have to look through all of the Old Testament and New Testament, but we pointed them to the scriptures that we thought were applicable and they studied it for themselves.

Amazingly they came to actually a split decision. There were a group of villages on one side that said, yes, this is cultural. It is voluntary. We know that it can have some medical side effects that are not good, but we think there's nothing sinful with it. It's not causing a loss of sensation or consciousness or causing an addiction, so we think it's okay. The other side said, no, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We need to take care of them, and we don't believe that we should be chewing Betel nut because it's deleterious to our health. They both agreed that each other had the right to liberty on either side of that answer, but they went to the scriptures and discovered that themselves. It helped with other tribal practices as well.

The missionary didn't give them an answer and the missionary didn't have to impose on them an answer from outside. They went to the Bible and sought the answer for themselves and came up with what I think is a really good balanced solution. It took longer to get to that answer, but it was well worth it because they developed the skills to go to the Bible seeking for their solution. Amazing conversations and discussions happened because of all of that, but they knew that they were reliant on the scriptures for their answer because the Bible rules not the missionary rules. There were so many other questions that arose for which we stepped aside and pointed them to the Bible for their answers. They were so much better able to discern what is cultural and what is transcultural in terms of biblical principles and how it applied to them in their situation.

It's really hard for an outsider like a missionary to actually be able to discern what is sinful practice and what is not. What is allowable and what is not? What is of grace and what is not? What is possible to still be in compliance with the scriptures and what is not? We've seen on the field missionaries and missionary teams and whole mission agencies make huge black and white lines of rulings about this thing or that thing and whether or not people should participate in this or do this or abstain from that, and actually I think come down wrongly about it and give a wrong example to the local believers about how to use the Bible or how to get tripped up in legalism. It does mean that the missionary may have to give considerable effort and time to teaching the local believers how to use their Bible, just where things are in the Bible, how to interpret the Bible, how to apply the Bible correctly to their own culture, their families, their church, themselves, and their spiritual growth.

All this in a way hearkens back to our previous episode about the missionary must reproduce themself and not cause dependency of the local believers on the missionary. From the earliest stages of ministry in a new place, we want to develop local believers' complete dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel, and God's word, not on the foreign missionary. Making an early commitment to make sure the Bible rules in all things having to do with life and practice, the Bible is the soul and final authority for those things, is a very practical means of establishing indigeneity long term in the work. This principle of the priority of the Bible or the Bible rules seems so simple and like a no-brainer. It seems almost foolish to have to mention it, but let me tell you, in the heat of the battle on the field, so many missionaries actually fail to implement this kind of principle, they end up answering and causing dependency and sometimes making wrong decisions about things.

Anytime a local believer comes to you and asks about one thing or the other, and even if they're not a believer, the missionary's first answer should be, what does the Bible say about this, or let's see what the Bible says about this. Lead, guide, help them discover what the Bible says about it. It is the Bible that is powerful and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. It's the Bible that God promises will fulfill his purposes. It's the Bible that is energized and quickened by the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of the unbeliever and the believer to draw them to Jesus Christ and apply the gospel in their lives. Pointing people to the scriptures aids in development of our own humility. We just don't have all the right answers and cannot even discern exactly how it may apply in the culture. But God's word never fails. God's word is perfect. God's word is pure. God's word is powerful. It has the ability to open men's eyes and hearts in such a way that they can see the truth by the work of the Holy Spirit and through prayer.

You can trust that the local believers with a little bit of help and guidance can discern how the Bible applies in their situation. Different people or different sections of the culture may actually apply it in different ways and still be biblical. If they are depending on the Bible for their answers, for the source of authority in their spiritual life and walk, and for the church, then they will be doing well and God will help them. As the missionary defers to the Bible rules as a principle, he grows in patience, in grace, in humility, and God uses even that to encourage the local believers to grow in faith and dependency upon the Lord Jesus Christ and his word.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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