Reformation In Foreign Missions: Chapter 1
After serving 60 years as a missionary evangelist in many parts of the world, Bob Finley is convinced that contemporary missionary operations are in dire need of reformation.
In Reformation in Foreign Missions, he calls for the withdrawal of all missionaries from industrialized countries who are presently residing in poorer countries. He maintains that their presence is generally counter-productive because it tends to identify the gospel of Christ with foreign governments or alien cultures, and also because the foreigners appear to be fabulously rich in comparison to the people among whom they are working. Their presence breeds covetousness and undermines the will of local Christians to be self-sufficient.
One of Bob Finley's main points in this new book is that there is no precedent in the New Testament for the type of missionary work that began in the 18th century and is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise. He says that there is no record anywhere in the New Testament that God ever sent an apostle (missionary) to a foreign country where he did not know the language of the residents. The gospel spread to every area of the Roman Empire with no mission boards or foreign missionaries like those we send out today.
Rather, the book says, contemporary missions are a church tradition based on the free enterprise model of competition, like Ford and GM, Coke and Pepsi, or McDonald's and Burger King. Each denomination or independent mission does its own thing, often hiring away the workers of indigenous missions and devastating their ministries.
While paying high tribute to pioneers of the past, and expressing appreciation for their labors, this book declares that a new day has come wherein traditional operations should be discontinued. It shows how indigenous missions do 90 percent of the work with less than 10 percent of the total funds given for missionary work. The time has come, Bob Finley declares, when those who consume 90 percent of God's money to do 10 percent of His work should share their wealth with some of the 300,000 native missionaries who do 90 percent of the work, particularly those who are out on the fields of the world with no support at all.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: A Call for Change
Chapter 2: Cross Cultural Missions Have No Basis in Scripture
Chapter 3: The Biblical Pattern
Chapter 4: Wake-Up Call in China
Chapter 5: Carnal Competition
Chapter 6: The Rich Foreigners
Chapter 7: The Dependency Dilemma
Chapter 8: The Body of Christ
Chapter 9: The Move of God in China
Chapter 10: The Ridiculous Rush to Russia
Chapter 11: Yankee Go Home from Latin America
Chapter 12: White Missionaries Should Stay Out of Africa
Chapter 13: The Gospel Spreads from Tribe to Tribe
Chapter 14: Church Growth in Closed Lands
Chapter 15: Let's Redirect Our Missionary Giving
Chapter 16: How Then Shall We Motivate Our Young People?
Chapter 17: The Red Ball Express
Chapter 18: A Challenge to the Churches
Chapter 19: Aren't There Some Exceptions?
Chapter 20: Words of Caution, Suggestions for Action
Chapter 21: Summary of Reformation Conclusions
Chapter 22: A Final Word
Chapter 23: A Glossary of Specialized Terms
Chapter One: A Call For Change
Contemporary foreign missionary operations as carried on by churches and para-church organizations of the USA, Canada, Korea and other industrialized countries are in dire need of reformation. Generally, with a few notable exceptions, those who go from one country to another as missionaries end up hindering rather than helping the cause of Christ.
It's not that their motives are wrong. In most cases involving evangelicals, our intentions are good and objectives are noble. But the very thing we seek to accomplish is discredited by the way we operate. Like European crusaders a millennium ago, we march off to "the field" with dreams of glory, confident that we are following "the call" of God. But many times our actions bring dishonor to His Name and prove to be a denial of the very message we are there to proclaim.
You will note that I have put "the field" and "the call" in quotes. These are specialized terms for which unique meanings have been developed by evangelical Christians. In traditional missionary circles these specialized meanings are usually taken for granted. Those who use them assume that all within their circle will assign the specialized meaning in their conscious minds whenever one of the terms is used. To further clarify how certain words mean specific things, or may be used to denote unique concepts within the Christian community, I have prepared a glossary of specialized terms (chapter 23). So if you wish further comment on a word or phrase in quotes, please check chapter 23 to see if more has been added about its meaning to evangelical Christians involved in foreign missionary activities.
Half a century ago I was a young idealist eager to go out and save the world. It is understandable, then, that I was deeply disturbed at that time to read in Dr. Eugene Nida's book, Customs and Cultures, that in African countries when a person wished to slander an enemy he would call him a "son of a missionary." During the years I lived in Asia I found a similar attitude wherever I went. The typical foreign missionary from an industrialized country was looked upon as the ultimate hypocrite. The exact opposite of Jesus of Nazareth.
I found Christ to be held in high esteem by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and, yes, even by many atheistic Communists. But His self-appointed representatives from "western" countries were often looked upon as being a travesty of what Christianity was presumed to represent.
When I arrived in China in 1948 I was confident that I had received a "divine call" to spend the rest of my life there as a "missionary to the heathen." I followed in the train of a great host of foreign missionaries who had gone before, holding in reverence such names as Robert Morrison (who arrived in China in 1807), Hudson Taylor (1853) and Jonathan Goforth (1888).
But something went terribly wrong. The Communists took over in 1949 and 6000 foreign missionaries were forced to leave, never to return. How could God allow such a thing?
Or was the hand of God involved in it, as He was in the Babylonian captivity of the ancient Hebrews? The prophet Jeremiah declared that the king of Babylon was God's servant (Jeremiah 43:10). Could it be that God was trying to tell us something when He allowed the largest "mission field" on earth to become permanently closed off to thousands of professional missionaries who said we had been "called" to work there?
Likewise India, the second largest. After His resurrection our Lord declared His eternal purpose to take out a people for His name from among every tribe and nation on this earth. So why should He permit 1600 “nations” in the subcontinent of India to be permanently cut off from thousands of idealistic young people in other countries who said they had received a "call" to go there?
Obviously there are some things amiss in our thinking about the whole concept of "foreign missions," and the purpose of this book is to reveal what they are.
Also, it is to present how things ought to be, in view of the fact that the multi-billion dollar missionary enterprise has largely missed out on what we should be doing. That's why a reformation is necessary.
I intend to show how the foreign missionary movement of the past 100 years is simply a church tradition that has no basis or precedent in the New Testament. That the ways in which we conduct it are often a denial of the most basic principles of Biblical Christianity. And it should be phased out and replaced with an entirely new approach that more closely conforms to the will of God. There are other alternatives which are much more sensible and far more effective than those being followed today by mission organizations based in America, Canada, Korea and other industrialized countries.
But before I discuss the faults of the system and the ways to change it, I want to express my appreciation for the deeds of the early pioneers who went out beginning over 200 years ago. Whenever I have mentioned the need for reform someone usually retorts, "Are you suggesting that great men of God like William Carey, Adoniram Judson and David Livingstone were outside the will of God?"
Definitely not. But there is no point in dwelling on the heroes of the past, except to learn what we need to know for today. Of course there were great accomplishments, just as there were great mistakes and hopeless failures. While respecting the past, and learning from it, our purpose must be to deal with the present and prepare for the future. If we are going to honor God and discern His will, we must be prepared for change. We must have a reformation that will cause us to replace the antiquated, unscriptural, counter-productive methods by which we seek to carry out the great commission of our Saviour, which is to plant His church in every nation.
A key to the problem may be found in the way we use the word, MISSION. Generally it denotes the expansionist objectives of our respective organizations and denominations, just as "crusade" did a thousand years ago. Like colonial era military conquerors, we are bent on ruthlessly expanding our territory to include foreign countries. We want maps on the wall and graphics in our yearbooks showing places all over the globe where we have affiliated branches. The tragedy today is that we so often accomplish our objective by running roughshod over our fellow believers who are already there. The whole situation is completely different from the way it was 200 years ago.
When William Carey went to India in 1792 he found no indigenous evangelical churches or missionary teams. So he did not appear on the scene as a competitive threat to fellow believers. But when I first went to India in 1948 (on my way to China) I found many thousands of churches from which tens of thousands of native missionaries were going forth to spread the gospel. Also on hand were representatives of dozens of American organizations and denominations eager to employ Indian citizens to establish branches of their respective empires. Is it any wonder, then, that God allowed the Hindus to put us out of the country? His kingdom was being labeled "cultural imperialism" and "institutional colonialism."
One of our great mistakes is our failure to recognize that our Sovereign Lord is the Head of His whole church. If He were truly leading us, He would cause us to respect the fellow members of His body (meaning all true believers) in every nation, and to strengthen their hands rather than competing with them and causing divisions among them. Instead, we go all over the world hiring away the workers of indigenous missions and devastating their ministries. We send comparatively rich "missionaries" to live in large houses and drive around in expensive cars among the poorest people of this world. Their presence brings discredit and suspicion upon local believers who are generally poor.
If we believe God wants us to do something for His kingdom in poorer countries, we should send financial help to our fellow believers who bear witness for Him in their respective locations. Sending a rich foreigner to live among them tends to misrepresent our Saviour. It also breeds covetousness among local Christians who may envy the foreigners’ wealth and thus be tempted to want some of it. And in many cases our presence identifies God's kingdom with foreign governments and destroys its credibility in the eyes of local citizens.
The present system of sending out Americans (and Canadians and Australians and Koreans and others from industrialized countries) is a tradition left over from the 19th Century that should have been phased out 50 years ago. And, as I will discuss later, it has no precedent in the Word of God. Here is a sampling of some problems related to its continuation.
1. Economic Disparity. When we send Americans, Canadians or others from affluent countries abroad as resident missionaries in poorer countries, they appear fabulously rich in comparison to the people they hope to reach. How then can they represent our Saviour "who though He was rich yet for our sakes became poor?" They misrepresent Him, and their presence is generally a hindrance to His cause.
2. Political Implications. When comparatively affluent foreign missionaries move into countries like Pakistan, Cuba, China or Vietnam they are often thought to be spies sent by the CIA or its equivalent. Otherwise, where would they get all that money they appear to have? By thus identifying the Christian faith with foreign governments we stigmatize it and bring irreparable harm to our fellow believers who are citizens of the countries to which we go.
3. Cultural Offenses. When a missionary from an industrialized country invades a people group of diverse culture, he identifies the gospel of Christ with aliens who appear weird to those people. By so doing he erects artificial barriers of prejudice against the gospel and hinders its acceptance. Often it takes one or two whole generations before those artificial barriers can be overcome and the Christian faith can become acceptable to an unreached people group which has been so invaded. Among native Americans the barriers have persisted in many tribes for more than 300 years.
4. Sending the Wrong Message. Colonial-type mission boards generally assume an attitude of superiority toward our fellow believers in poorer countries, taking the position: "We are superior, they are inferior; therefore we have to go over there and train them." But the American missionary usually goes with a personal support package greater than the entire budget of the school where he is teaching, or the local ministry with which he works. No way, then, can he teach "Love your neighbor as yourself" when he is rich and they are poor. It would be laughable for him to say, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and be crucified with Christ.” The foreigner’s presence is likely to breed covetousness and destroy any sense of self-sacrifice which may already exist among Bible school students or native workers in poorer countries.
5. Misuse of Resources. It makes no sense to spend $60,000 of God's money annually sending an American with his family to live as a missionary in a poor country where hundreds of local citizens have been called of God to reach their own people, and have no personal support. Any one of them, already knowing the local languages, would be ten times more effective than the foreigner. And is likely to be eager to serve with support of $600 or less annually, because he lives on the same economic level as those being reached with the gospel. In many countries the support package of one American could supply the support and ministry needs of 50 native missionaries. By what unreasonable stretching of our imaginations have we come to the point of arrogant pride by which we conclude that one American not knowing the language is more valuable to the cause of Christ in a poor country than 50 resident citizens of that country who learned the local language(s) in childhood?
6. Carnal, Sectarian, Denominational Mission Board Expansionism. Every foreign missionary agency is doing its own thing, often ruthlessly competing with indigenous Christian witness in poorer countries. Ambitious to expand their territory, mission executives go overseas and hire away the workers of indigenous ministries. Excellent works of God are virtually wiped out by this carnal practice. Hundreds of indigenous Bible institutes and other schools operated by native missions have been damaged or destroyed by "rich foreigners" coming along and setting up competing schools nearby, then hiring away teachers and luring away students from schools operated by local Christians. Small indigenous churches in pioneer areas are often split and demoralized by zealous foreigners who move into their neighborhoods and start competing ministries, usually with a peculiarity of doctrine or the use of material bait to attract members from the struggling churches that were already there.
As I will explain later, many other aspects of foreign missions need reformation, in addition to these few samples briefly mentioned here. Change must come if we expect to know God's will and receive His blessings. But as a student of history I am well aware that church people tend to resist change because we are more comfortable with our past traditions. Opposition is sure to be strong, but I believe that those who are willing to pay the price and speak out for reform will be the ones who contribute the most toward the fulfillment of our Lord's eternal purpose.
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