Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Two kingdoms, two churches

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and should have been in every way the leader of the tribes of Israel. He was a man who meant well, but seemed more apt to follow his carnal lusts than his good intentions. His father described him as “unstable as water.” The double portion of his father’s inheritance which by right was Reuben’s, went instead to Joseph, his second youngest brother. The headship of the tribes went to Judah and the spiritual leadership to Levi. Reuben was a loser on all counts.

Before he died Jacob prophesied that Judah should be the ruler of the tribes of Israel, “until Shiloh comes” which we understand to mean the Messiah. He also foretold that Simeon and Levi would not inherit with their brethren. Many years later, when Joshua divided the land, he allotted to Simeon lands that were within the boundaries of the inheritance of Judah. The Levites by this time had become the priests and they were given cities scattered through all the tribes. They were able to have gardens and goats for milk, but the bilk of their livelihood would come from the tithes given to the tabernacle, and later the temple.

Later yet, David, of the tribe of Judah, became king and God promised an everlasting throne for his sons. The kingdom of God of the Old Testament was both a political kingdom and a spiritual kingdom. This kingdom reached its highest point during the reign of Solomon. He reigned over all the land that had been promised to Israel and his reign was peaceful and glorious. He built the temple, the place which was God’s earthly habitation, to which all the peoples of the earth could come to worship and be blessed.

This glorious kingdom of the son of David was just a foretaste of what God had planned for His people. Such an earthly kingdom could not last among people who were for the most part only natural descendents of Abraham and not spiritual descendents. God foretold that the kingdom would be split in two after the death of Solomon.

The division of the kingdom was God’s plan. His perfect will would have been for all the tribes of Israel to continue to worship at Jerusalem, even though they were divided in their earthly citizenship. But Jeroboam, the first king of the breakaway kingdom feared that such an arrangement would undermine his political authority. He built a new temple at Bethel and another one in the north on his kingdom and appointed a new priesthood. It was for this division of the church of God that Jeroboam is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Neat who made Israel to sin.”

Thereupon all the Levites living among the northern tribes moved south to the kingdom of Judah. People often speak of the “ten lost tribes.” That does not add up. The southern kingdom now included Judah, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi, leaving nine tribes in the north (counting Joseph as two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh).

Immediately, God began sending missionaries to the northern kingdom. The entire ministry of both Elijah and Elisha was to the people of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel. The ministry of Hosea and Amos was also exclusively to the people of Israel. We read of the schools of the prophets, some are explicitly linked to Elisha, probably they all were under his leadership. Thus men were continually being trained and sent out to preach the Word of God to the people in this apostate setting.

What were the results of this great mission effort? Even after Jezebel had made the worship in the temple at Bethel openly idolatrous, God told Elijah that there were still 7,000 people, “even in Israel” who had not bowed down to Baal. Seven is a complete number, a symbolic number, it could well mean many thousands.

It is recorded in 2 Chronicles 11 that after Jeroboam set up new temples in Israel people from all the tribes came to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto God and they strengthened the kingdom of Rehoboam. Chapter 15 tells that during the reign of Asa there were some from Ephraim and Manasseh who came to Jerusalem to worship and renew their covenant with God. Much later, both Hezekiah and Josiah sent invitations to the tribes of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

It would seem that by the time of the Babylonian captivity the kingdom of Judah included a godly remnant from all the tribes. We tend to assume that all those from the northern tribes had vanished by the time of Jesus. We read much about the Levites, Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, but where were the others? Just when we think we have it all figured out, we discover that the Bible has dropped a little hint that our assumptions may not be true. Luke 2:36 tells us that Anna the prophetess was of the tribe of Asher. If there was one person who could be identified as coming from one of the formerly apostate tribes might there not have been many more?

The New Testament speaks of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Who were they? It is evident that God’s heart yearned after those who were of the natural seed of Abraham, but were separated from the true worship of God. Before the captivity that meant all those from the northern kingdom where the only form of worship available was in the apostate temples. Yet even in such a situation there were many whose heart was still attached to God and not turned away to idolatry. By Jesus’ time it would seem that all those in Judea and Galilee were considered lost sheep, since the worship in the temple at Jerusalem had descended into mere form and pharisaism.

Who are the lost sheep today? Wouldn’t they be those who are the true spiritual children of Abraham, born-again children of God, alone in their faith or worshipping in a setting where some are true Christians, others are not, and most are unable to tell the difference? There are some who do see. Years ago a minster told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. Someone told me recently of a minister who thought that perhaps 20% of his congregation were born-again. There are many kinds of mission fields, is this one that we are missing?

Things were going well for us

The Mennonite congregation in Moose Jaw was small, but we found the people warm and friendly. Being small, they overlooked the fact that we had not been baptized in the way they believed (immersion) and put us to work in the congregation.

One Sunday I was teaching the adult Sunday School class and one of the questions in the lesson, or rather the way the others ansered it, startled me. The question began with the scenario of a young couple that felt called to go to the mission field and seemed ideally qualified in every way, except they did not have a university degree. And the mission board required candidates to have a degree. What should they do? Look for a different opportunity to do mission work, or go to university and get the degree? Everyone in the class, except me, thought they needed to get that degree. I couldn’t grasp how that was supposed to help them be missionaries. But these people were almost all teachers or other professionals and seemed to feel that a degree trumped all other qualifications.

This was the time that Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was at the peak of its popularity. The pastor decided it would be a great idea to use it for Bible study through the winter, taking turns meeting in each other’s homes. I was fully bought into the premillenial scheme and beleived we were delving into deep Bible truths. I was dumbfounded when spring came and the pastor told me he didn’t believe the premillenial scheme. He had just thought that the book was a good way to get people interested in studying the Bible.

I don’t remember what Bible translation the pastor used, but it seemed that almost everyone in the congregation was using a different translation. I had accumulated a few different Bibles by that time and had been spending a lot of time comparing passages in them to discover the underlying meaning. It dawned on me one day that comparing Bible translations was not Bible study, it was just an exercise in confusion. By that time I had left my old tattered AV (KJV) Bible behind somewhere, so I had to get a new one.

Shortly thereafter I was leading a Bible study class based on Psalm 22. Each one in the class had their own favourite translation and it was bewildering to find that in none of the others could one discern any hint of a prophecy of the crucifiction. For instance, instead of “they have pierced my hands and my feet,” other versions said things like “wild beasts are clawing at my hands and my feet,” or “they have hacked off my hands and my feet.”

Such things left me with questions, but good things were happening in this church, too. An older lady, the mother of one of the memebers, began to have recurring dreams that pointed her to a verse in the Bible. She decided she should read that verse and it led to her conversion. She left the mainline Protestant denomination she had belonged to all her life and was baptized in the little Mennonite church.

Chris got a job as a cook in a large privately owned senior’s residence. The owner was from the community where my mother had grown up and had been acquainted with the family. The head cook was an elderly Belgian lady, crusty and warm-hearted. Chris found it an enjoyable place to work.

I applied for a job in the Post Office, passed the exam and the interview and was hired as a casual postal clerk. That meant I had no guarantee from week to week that there would be work for me, but it actually turned out to be full time work for six months until I was hired on to full time staff.

Everything seemed to be working out for us, Moose Jaw felt like our old home town, we had family and friends there. Our work schedules were such that we usually didn’t work at the same time, one of us was usually available to look after our growing girl. We had moved into the upstairs suite in my parent’s house and Grandma was delighted to help look after and entertain Michelle.

What could go wrong?

Missionary hymns

I think the old missionary hymns leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. Those references to carrying the gospel to every dark land  – was there a deliberate inference that lands where white people dwell are more enlightened and the lands where darker skinned people dwell are in spiritual darkness? I fear that idea seemed self-evident to white people 100 to 200 years ago.

It’s not so evident today and I think we should stop singing those hymns. I don’t believe that we should stop missionary activity, but perhaps the greater need in our day is right under our noses. While Christianity has taken root on other continents, it is in danger of being uprooted in Europe and North America.

That leads me to the other concern I have with the old missionary hymns – many of them take it for granted that missionary activity can only happen in lands that are across the ocean waves.

Churches in Nigeria have taken note of the increase of unbelief, paganism and idolatry in Europe and North America and are sending out missionaries to do what we seem to have forgotten how to do. In our nearest city, Saskatoon, three Nigerian denominations have placed missionaries and are establishing congregations.

I wonder what kind of missionary hymns they sing in Nigeria?

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

The key to success or failure in missions

This is from a book first published in the 1920’s.  I first posted this excerpt in 2013 and believe it deserves a repeat.

“From what has already been said it is manifest that St. Paul did not go about as a missionary preacher merely to convert individuals: he went to establish churches from which the light might radiate throughout the whole country round. The secret of success in this work lies in beginning at the very beginning. It is the training of the first converts which sets the type for the future. If the first converts are taught to depend on the missionary, if all work, evangelistic, educational, social is concentrated in his hands, the infant community learns to rest passively upon the man from whom they receive their first insight into the gospel. Their faith having no sphere for its growth and development lies dormant. A tradition very rapidly grows up that nothing can be done without the authority and guidance of the missionary, the people wait for him to move, and, the longer they do so, the more incapable they become of any independent action. Thus the leader is confirmed in the habit of gathering all authority into his own hands, and of despising the powers of his people, until he makes their inactivity an excuse for denying their capacity. The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts to rely upon the wrong source of strength. Instead of seeking it in the working of the Holy Spirit in themselves, they seek it in the missionary. They put him in the place of Christ, they depend upon him.”

(Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?  page 81.  Roland Allen, U.S. edition © 1962.)

Colonial Christianity

The colonial conquerors all considered themselves to be Christians and were convinced that they were bringing enlightenment to the poor heathen of the conquered nations. Francisco Pizarro and his men went for the direct method – they rounded up the Inca leaders, forcibly baptized them and then executed them. In their minds, this expedient served a dual purpose: they were sending the souls of the Inca leaders directly to heaven, while at the same time eliminating the chief opponents of Spanish rule.

Other conquerors may not have been quite so brutal, but all attempted to suppress the indigenous religions and forcibly implant Christianity. One might question whether the kind of Christianity being implanted was really any improvement on the indigenous religions.

Here in Canada, the practices of native religions were banned by law and native children rounded up and sent to residential schools where they were supposedly taught the whit man’s ways and the Christian religion. These schools were run by a variety of churches – mainly Roman Catholic and Anglican.  Verbal abuse was common, which in some establishments escalated to physical and sexual abuse. After finishing school the children were sent back to the reserves to live out the rest of their lives apart from the mainstream of society. The intention may have been good, but those good intentions destroyed homes and lives.

For most of the 20th Century the USA and the Roman Catholic Church expended much effort in Haiti to exterminate the voodoo religion, to little effect. An unintended result is that voodoo and zombies have entered into American folklore with interpretations that are wildly imaginative and do not have much basis in reality. In Haitian Kréyol a zombi is a person under the complete control of a master, in other words a slave. It reflects the fear of individual or collective loss of control, an issue that has never been far from the surface in Haitian history.

I am not wishing to defend voodoo or other native religions. I just don’t think that the sterile and gutted form of Christianity imported by the colonizers was much of an improvement. It is no wonder that there is still much resistance in many places to the “white man’s religion.”

The answer, of course, is indigenous Christianity. Not a different kind of Christianity, but Christianity that is not forcibly implanted and applied from the top down. Christianity that is sown in new places and allowed to take root and grow.

The missionaries of past generations have been accused of being in the service of the colonial powers. Perhaps some were. A great many, however, were concerned with acquainting people with the power of authentic Christianity and giving them the Bible in their own language so that they could take on the task of spreading the gospel among their own people. Where this was done without too much heavy-handedness on the part of the missionaries, the gospel has indeed taken root.

Genuine Christianity is universally relevant, All people everywhere are in need of pure, unadulterated Christianity, applied to their specific situation and needs. Only the Holy Spirit can make true Christianity grow and thrive. Yet there is still a need for those who sow and water, as long as they do not try to take credit for the growth that results.


Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water

Geswende Bamogo was already an old man when the Christian Service International workers came to his village in 1977 to drill a well. The well was dry, but the old papa saw something in these men that became a spring of living water in his life. He visited often, learning all he could about their faith.

Two years later, the CSI workers left Upper Volta, but they gave Papa Bamogo the flannel graph materials they had used for teaching the Bible. He made good use of those materials, telling the stories to others and sharing the convictions in his heart.

Twenty-one years after the CSI workers had left, Papa Bamogo and a few others prayed for the return of members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite to teach them more fully the way of salvation. A few weeks later, visitors came to see him, investigating if the church should return to this country, now known as Burkina Faso. He was overjoyed and soon there were mission workers in the country.

December 8, 2001, Geswende Bamogo was baptized at Tandaaga. There were five more baptisms the following year and another six the year after that, including our aged brother’s wife. These baptisms were the fruit of one old man’s efforts to share his faith, later aided by North American missionaries.

Geswende Bamogo was at least 105 years old when he died in July of 2005. The congregation at Tandaaga is small, but it is growing, both in faith and numbers. In 2012 Souleymane Bamogo was ordained as the first minister of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Burkina Faso.

There are no missionaries anymore at Tandaaga, the congregation is indigenous. There are missionaries at three other locations in Burkina Faso, with a few members in each place.

The need for missionaries is as great today as it has ever been. The need is just as great here in North America as it is in Africa. Yet there is a limit to what a missionary can accomplish. It is only when local people become rooted and grounded in the faith and begin to live it, teach it and preach it, that we can have confidence that the faith has been planted in this location and will endure.

Hitherto hath the LORD helped us

“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).  I have had some experience in tilling the soil and have learned the danger of looking back to admire the straight furrow I have made.  When I stopped looking forward, the furrow began to swerve from its intended path.

Looking back to enumerate my accomplishments over the past year would probably have the same effect.  Even more so if I would see little to boast of and begin to blame others for my lack of accomplishments.

However, I do see much evidence of how the Lord has helped us through the past year.  I have Macular Degeneration that required repeated injections of Lucentis directly into the eyes over several years.  It is almost three years since the last injection and I now only need to go for a checkup once a year.  It was frightening to receive the diagnosis six years ago, then the Lord gave me an assurance that “there will be a way.”

My wife was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia earlier this year.  After many tests she has also been told that her condition is stable and only needs to be monitored once per year.

We have not accumulated much in the way of material goods over the years, but we have accumulated many friends.  We keep in contact with people in places where we have lived and places we have visited.  I count it a special privilege to have corresponded with three missionary couples (two in the Philippines, one in Cameroun) over the past few years.  All three of the wives were toddlers when we first met 35 years ago as we moved to Ontario.  It has been a few years since we have seen them, and we have never seen their children, but it is a blessing to know that those little girls have grown into fine Christian women.

We are still learning new things, new skills, making new friends.  We are growing in faith, and in faithfulness.  Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.  I want to face the future with that calm assurance.

A tale of two missions

Missionaries were sent forth into a poor country where few people knew of the salvation made possible through the blood of Jesus shed at Calvary.  They went with much zeal and enthusiasm and had no trouble finding people who wanted to hear the gospel.  Before long they had gathered many converts.  In fact, it seemed the hunger for the gospel was beyond their ability to satisfy.  A call went back to the home church for more missionaries to go to other areas of this country where people were crying to hear the gospel story.

This was a poor country with so many needs.  Farming methods were primitive, jobs were scarce, most people were illiterate, they could not afford health care.  So the missionaries asked the home church to help these poor people.  They bought land and established model farms to teach better faming methods, they helped poor people start farming, they built schools and health care facilities, set up a printing press to produce Christian literature in the language of the country.  Some members found employment in these facilities, which were run pretty much according to the standards of the missionaries’ home country.

The mission flourished, small congregations were established in many places, eventually a few ministers were ordained and the number of members increased rapidly.  Sometimes the work of the ministry seemed too much for the meagre resources of the minister, so the mission provided financial help.

After many years, a disturbing trend began to be noticed.  Baptisms were as numerous as ever, but now the number of people leaving the church was greater than the number coming in.  Dozens of missionaries were in locations across the country and they all laboured valiantly to prevent the losses.  Yet people continued to leave.  Eventually the truth began to sink in; the material help being given was undermining the goal of creating a self-sustaining indigenous church.  People had grown accustomed to being helped by the foreign missionaries and had no idea that they really should be helping each other.  Everything that needed to be done was done by the missionaries or under their supervision.

Missionaries went to another country, even poorer than the first.  They understood that they were sent to bring the gospel, not the attitudes and  way of life of their home country.  As congregations began to develop, the members were encouraged to help each other.  If there were needs that were beyond their ability, the missionary might give a little money to the church and let the local leaders determine how to use it.  The missionary left it up to the members to decide whether converts were ready for baptism.  When a convert meeting was held, the members questioned the converts much more closely than the missionary had.  Sometimes the missionary had been confident that an individual was ready for baptism, but the members felt it would be best to wait a little longer.  The missionary soon realized they were aware of something in this person’s life that he had missed.

The home church felt compassion for the poverty of this country and began material aid projects.  Well drilling and other projects were done for the benefit of the whole community.  Food aid, when it was needed, was distributed without favouring the members.  The church grew in numbers, ministers and deacons were ordained and the missionaries withdrew from those congregations.  The congregations established their own mission committee and sent out their own missionaries with the little means that they could scrape together.  Eventually the foreign mission board withdrew altogether from the country, recognizing the maturity of the native church.  There are still occasions where missionaries come from another country, but they are supported by their home congregation and work under the direction of the native mission committee.

Sometimes a minister from this country will be called to go to a congregation in the countries where the missionaries came from in the beginning to preach in revival meetings.  It is evident that they have the same faith, the same vision and the same spiritual maturity as the brothers and sisters in other countries.

As for the first country mentioned, there are not nearly as many missionaries anymore, the church continued to shrink until only the truly committed Christians were left.  It has slowly begun to grow again, this time on the initiative of the native brethren rather than the patronage of the foreign mission board.

[This tale is a composite of the history of mission activities in many lands.  I have condensed it to two countries for the sake of making a point.  It could perhaps be called an allegory.  There is no country where missionaries have done everything wrong and no country where they have done everything right.  We have learned that no lasting benefit is provided by rushing in to help with our superior resources and knowledge and thereby rob the local people of the ability to help themselves and each other.  We are learning also that it is possible to do mission work in settings where our resources and knowledge are not superior to those of the local people.]

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