Written by Special Guest Contributor R C Sproul Jr
It is just about the time that we begin to mock our fathers that we find ourselves slipping on the banana peels they have left behind. Consider our fathers’ failure to contextualize in missions. Generations ago great heroes went forth carrying the good news of Jesus Christ to unreached people. That’s good. They also, at least we are told, carried with them deep into untamed interiors, musical organs. Because, you know, these new converts had to, in order to be Christian, sing western music with western instruments. Like Christians do.
I’m afraid we haven’t quite gotten past this. We may not send out organs, but we do send out our own traditions, our own way of doing things, and perhaps too often, our own people. I’m not, of course, opposed to going. That’s a good thing. But when we go we go to grow and encourage the church of Jesus Christ. Which means we go to grow and encourage the local believers. Which means we encourage them to follow Jesus, not us.
We know how churches operate. A man is gifted and called to serve as its pastor. He sets up his shop, and works to persuade consumers to shop at his store. As he succeeds the church grows and the pastor then begins to think in terms of franchising himself. More church plants. Fancy letterhead and a whiz-bang website. When we go overseas, however, we find something different. We find pockets of believers, oftentimes in hiding. We find them struggling to put food on their tables. And we find them well served by pastors with whom they share a common life.
Now I believe it is a good and fitting thing to pay a pastor (I Timothy 5:17). But I think we just might be guilty of cultural imperialism if we determine this is necessary, or even helpful in all circumstances. Worse we do the same thing with any number of western traditions that have even less biblical support. We send off missionaries to train locals on how to host a youth group. We raise money to build church buildings. Or we establish seminaries to make the local pastors as petty and confused as we are. All because this is how we do it here.
It ought to tell us something about how we have done things here that now third- world, poverty stricken countries are sending missionaries here. They are concerned for the weakness of our churches. They do not come with programs, but with the gospel. They do not come to remake our churches or cultures in their image. They come to win the lost. Too often when we go overseas we see ourselves as the savior. Instead when we go overseas we should go remembering, and therefore preaching, our need for a Savior.
He is the great missionary. He came to a desperately weak and wicked people carrying not an organ, but a cross. And He calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him. Perhaps we would do well to become the pupils rather than the teachers of our brothers around the world who know the difference between a cross and an organ.
R C Sproul Jr is the founder, chairman and teacher of Highlands Ministries, a multi-faceted ministry based in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, which has as its goal helping Christians live more simple, separate and deliberate lives to the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom.
Dr. Sproul is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and Grove City College, and holds a doctorate of Ministries from Whitefield Theological Seminary.
He has written or edited 12 books, including When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling, After Darkness Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology, Eternity in our Hearts, Almighty Over All, Tearing Down Strongholds, Believing God and his most recent book, The Call to Wonder. He is also regular columnist for Homeschooling Today and Tabletalk magazines