Missiologists are now saying, "Reformation is needed."
by Dr. Bob Finley
Founder of Christian Aid
THE MISSIONS COMMITTEE of a Presbyterian church in the Midwest which has supported my ministry for more than 50 years wrote us an interesting letter. "We have determined," they said, "to end our support of Christian Aid." The reason they gave was due to our "statements about supporting native missionaries instead of supporting American missionaries. We are doing both," they said, "and do not want to support a ministry that seems to be against doing both."
Is Christian Aid opposed to the support of American missionaries overseas? It depends on where those missionaries go and what they are doing. In some cases God is using them for His kingdom. In other cases their presence hurts the cause of Christ more than it helps.
The discussion of this subject is called MISSIOLOGY. Some Christians think we should make positive statements only, and eliminate any of the negative aspects of present-day missionary operations. But to do so would cause us to be unfaithful to God. We must speak out regarding both sides of this critical issue. The following are excerpts of my reply to that Missions Committee.
When I went to China in 1948 I had little previous knowledge of what was happening there. Communist propaganda was sweeping the country, and foreign missionaries were being branded as "spies sent by the CIA."
Foreign presence hurts believers
Our presence was an embarrassment to Chinese Christians, some of whom had the courage to tell me that it would be far better for the cause of Christ if we weren’t there.
Most of us simply ignored what they were saying. We attributed it to "nationalistic attitude." But when all 6000 of us were put out of the country, we had to fall on our knees and ask God how this could possibly be His will. Could it be true that we should not be there at that time?
History has clearly demonstrated the answer. The greatest period of church growth in all of history has taken place in China during the past 60 years. And missiologists will tell you that it could never have happened if the foreign missionaries had remained. Just as surely as there was a time for Christian missionaries to go to China beginning 200 years ago, it was time for us all to leave in 1949.
My hope when I went there in 1948 was to be able to establish a Bible institute in China during my lifetime. But God had a better plan. He brought Dr. Freddie Sun and his wife Dorothy onto the staff of Christian Aid 40 years later and they have distributed funds to establish 139 Bible institutes in China. Those schools have trained and sent out more than 40,000 native missionaries.
To help you understand what is taking place in foreign missions today, I am sending you copies of REFORMATION IN FOREIGN MISSIONS which I have written especially for members of missions committees in churches like yours. I would urge all of you to read it, especially Chapters 4 & 9 where I explain what happened in China.
There was indeed a time when missionaries from America were used of God to translate His Word into Chinese and other of the world’s major languages, and to start churches where none existed before. But 90% of American missionaries who go out today go to places where churches already exist, and most of them engage in competition with those existing churches.
REFORMATION is much needed
To keep quiet on the subject of missiology today would be the same as if John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox and others had kept quiet on the need for reform during the Sixteenth Century.
And just as my presence brought suspicion, embarrassment and persecution upon Christians in China 60 years ago, so do many American missionaries today, especially in countries where Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or Communism are dominant. Our fellow believers who suffer persecution in those countries have begged us to speak out on their behalf; before God we dare not keep silent.
When I was working with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in 1946, they appointed me as a vice president of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship. In one of the training sessions our leader, Stacey Woods, told of a Christian graduate scholar from India who was asked, What is the greatest problem faced by Christians in your part of India? "Oh, it’s the presence of the foreign missionaries," she replied.
I would later meet with hundreds of local Christian leaders during my seven visits to India who shared how they breathed a huge sigh of relief after India gained independence in 1947 and all of the "rich foreigners" were put out of the country. The explosive church growth which has brought millions of Indians into the kingdom of God during the past 60 years could never have taken place if the foreign missionaries had remained. The multiplied branches of their respective foreign denominations were looked upon as being "the last vestiges of colonialism."
Dear friends, we thank God for your "fellowship in the gospel" as you have sent love offerings for God’s servants in the poorest places on earth. It brings sadness to my heart that you no longer wish to do so. And it brings even greater sadness to think that you do not appreciate the things we have been trying to teach regarding the need for REFORMATION in the way foreign missionary work is done.
What would Martin Luther or John Knox say if they were living today? In the Sixteenth Century hundreds of reformers gave their lives for proclaiming that change was needed in what was being taught in the churches. We follow in their train.