Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions On Point, the Propempo Perspective on Church and Missions. This is episode 81. Thanks so much for listening in to this episode of Missions On Point. We're in number four of six on Missiology You Need To Know. And today's topic deals with the issue of traditional definitions and methods. Traditional definitions and methods prevail. Now, I'll have to explain exactly what I mean by this because some of you're going to be thinking what kind of topic is that and what does it really mean that traditional definitions and methods prevail? It's just so easy in the realm of modern missions for newer methodologies or faddish things to eclipse traditional definitions and methods to the detriment of actual spiritual fruitfulness. So it actually is important to understand this concept even though it may seem completely intuitive, we naturally would think that it is rare that a missionary would overturn biblical definitions and methodologies for something else.

However, that is not the case. In a traditional sense, we have an understanding that missionaries should be operating with a backdrop of biblical presuppositional and propositional understanding that the Bible is the source and the authority for spiritual understanding about God and salvation in Christ and the church. That God and sin and the cross and man's response to that and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are automatically understood as the foundation of our understanding of God's grace and the gospel. A traditional understanding of the process of church planting starts with gospel proclamation and evangelism that is relational. It leads to repentance and faith, and then discipleship of these new believers. It continues to formation of the church and of indigenous that is local church leaders, and it moves on as the church develops into the ordinances of the church and gathering all the saints for worship and teaching.

It certainly ends up with these believers trying to understand and apply the Bible in obedience and personal spiritual growth. And this process is repeated every time we plant a church. So some of the core definitions that fold into our biblical understanding is just the definition of who is a believer. A believer is someone that understands that they are a sinner and that the only exclusive way of salvation is through Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross and resurrection. The local church is defined as the gathering of believers who continue to worship and grow spiritually together under the regular teaching of God's word. And church leaders have certain qualifications that are stipulated in scripture, particularly in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and other related passages so that they have certain character qualifications and spiritual qualifications and a spiritual ministry. It's not just because they show up. And then the understanding of the gospel as God taking the initiative in Christ, providing a way of salvation from the due penalty of our sin by grace through faith alone in Christ alone to God's glory alone.

So you're listening and saying, "okay, cool. I understand that. Yeah, that's true." However, there are so many trends and fads that are practically a dime a dozen in the missions world in which good-hearted, well-intentioned missionaries and missions are trying to provide shortcuts on those things or redefine things in such a way that you wouldn't even believe that they twisted the definitions that way. Missionaries and missionary trends that redefine things and twist things are not trying to establish a new heresy against the traditional orthodox understanding of the Bible, and yet in the end, that's what they tend to do. Believers in some of these trends are not actually casting their faith in Christ. They're people that show up for a meeting. They're people that check the boxes that follow the rules, and it may not have anything to do with personal faith in Christ for their salvation.

The church is redefined as a gathering of those kind of people and leaders are people who are willing to take leadership, whether or not they're actually Christians, in a biblical sense. So those kind of fads and trends can have a huge destructive force in missions in the future. What they do is they get a lot of statistics, which is very pragmatic in Western terms, like we love to see a lot of conversions and numbers and churches and those kinds of things, and because we're driven by the pragmatism, we're willing to accept almost any definition and methodology that achieves that whether or not what it produces is the real thing, biblically. Time will tell, but I think that time will show that a lot of these trends and fads that twist definitions and use pragmatism as the guiding light for how they do what they do are going to show that they failed.

In fact, some recent statistics from Southeast Asia would suggest that, where one missionary adopted a lot of modern, trendy kind of definitions for how things were going to go and what methodology they're using to disciple multitudes of people and multiply quickly, those kind of statistics showed up huge. But in the long run, over time, only those who used traditional definitions and methodologies had groups of believers that stuck it out even through persecution and remained even though the other side completely fell flat. Other areas in South Asia in particular, it was proven that the nationals so wanted to please the Westerners, that they totally fabricated the kinds of numbers and statistics that the Westerners wanted, and none of it was real. You may be able to tell by my voice, I really don't like that.

So what impact does this have on methodology? Well, in our modern world, in our heart's desire to see practically a lot of people coming to Christ, somehow we tilt the scales, the definitions and methodologies in such a way that missionaries are willing to do almost anything to get those kind of statistics. It's the difference between real relational ministry and virtual ministry. Not that internet ministry or virtual ministry can't accomplish something, but by and large, the more productive way is actually real relational ministry.

Experience versus academic. Sometimes people want to lean toward just kind of getting the content out there, and it can be on an academic mind level and not a heart level that's transforming by the grace of God. It's the difference between long-term maturity versus short-term statistics. We've touched on that already, but the kinds of methodologies that are out there that are shooting for rapid results often end up with gross misrepresentation of actual results that last.

I'll give you one example. This happened years ago when there was a very popular film being shown around the world and ka-billions of dollars being raised to show this where it had never been shown before, not taking into account the fact that longer term relationships in the context of actually explaining over and over again the biblical gospel and spiritual need and spiritual birth and growth were totally missing. It was just showing the film. And this one missionary wrote back a newsletter to his constituency saying that they traveled all around these places in central Africa to villages that had never seen a movie before, and they were so enthralled with it.

This person said that they had 10,000 responses to the movie. Well, when you read that very carefully and critically, what you see is that they were proposing or presenting that 10,000 people got saved, but that's not at all what really happened. What they should have said is that 10,000 people responded to the invitation to watch the movie, not to become Christians. It's that kind of eager misrepresentation of actual life change that makes a huge difference, and then the missionary and the mission agency become desensitized to the falsehood that they are propagating because they're getting so much money to do this thing and show this movie and witness the overwhelming response of these lower technology village people watching a movie for the very first time and receiving it with great joy.

This kind of thinking leads to methods that are not word-based, that is Bible-based, versus anything else based. It accepts local myths and lure as equal in inspiration to the scriptures. It uses all kinds of methodologies to say that we are wanting to honor your people, your spiritual traditions, and keep you inside the spiritual traditions while somehow adding Jesus Christ to your spiritual life. This kind of methodological thinking, totally obliterates the idea of truth that the Bible is the only inspired authority. The Bible is the scripture, not anything else, that Jesus Christ is the exclusive savior. There is no other way, no mixture of Christ and something else.

These methodological anomalies from traditional understanding of definitions and methods from the scriptures have lent themselves every five to 10 years with waves of crazy methodology that has invaded the mission world and missionaries on the field with all kinds of seminars, training them how to be more fruitful and productive, meaning basically get more statistics in a western sort of way rather than the lasting life-changing transformation of steady relational teaching and growth of local churches according to the scriptures.

So as usual, I want to tell you, it is absolutely right and valid for you to study. Do some research, read some articles, talk to your missionaries and challenge them, ask them questions. What kind of methodologies do you use? What kind of definitions are behind that? How about your understanding of the local religious traditions and culture vis-a-vis scriptural and biblical definitions and understanding?

Let me just give you some terms that over time have proven if left unchecked and unbalanced tend to sidetrack or even derail a true biblical understanding of gospel and salvation and church. Going way back, there was a spiritual warfare movement in the missiology world, and then there were things like terms, "common ground" and "insider movements" dealing with levels of cultural adaptation that hugely sidetracked missionaries into a non-traditional, non-productive over a long period of time, way of doing things. Even mass evangelism kinds of techniques and love the city or the kind of evangelism that takes place by short-term teams swarming a village or a city or a place and doing a lot of evangelism, but leaving what are then supposed to be newborn believers to their own resources without plugging them into mature, spiritual Christian churches that can nurture and disciple them and bring them along in the faith. The cell church movement, disciple making movements, the Jesus film.

All of these kinds of things tend to be trends or methods that missions have used that have often distracted people from doing the hard, long-term work of living in the area, speaking the language, having relational evangelism and discipleship in planting solid churches with indigenous local believers. I realize that more modern methodologies and fads are going to come around, but traditional definitions and methods prevail. They always have and they always will.

It is right for us to challenge our missionaries and mission agencies with respect to the kinds of definitions and methodologies they use on the field in practical ministry there. Stay tuned in this series because the next two episodes are going to dig a little bit deeper.

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 prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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