Missions in the Context of SufferingMay 30th, 2008 | By Stan | | Print This Post |
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”
(Mark Twain). For those of us who live the faith we profess without challenge, trial, or
risk, reflection may well be appropriate. Is it possible that we have so shut ourselves up
in Christian circles that we have closed ourselves off from the unbelieving world and
hence any chance of suffering for Christ? Is it possible that we are so at ease among the
majority that we avoid venturing out as the minority among those who might or
hurt us? Certainly we experience hostility and persecution indirectly; Bill Maher’s new
film Religulous is one example among many. But how we are personally interacting
with the angry, the lost, and the broken masses Jesus once wept over is another thing
entirely. How effectively we live as “the salt of the earth” that Jesus described depends
on our place and posture within it. Surely salt that remains content within the shaker
has lost its saltiness. (Jim Carattini, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries)
1 Pet 4 : 12-14 (Amplified Version)
Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to
test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your
position) were befalling you. But insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, rejoice,
so that when His glory [full of radiance and splendour] is revealed, you may also
rejoice with triumph [exultantly]. If you are censured and suffer abuse [because you
bear] the name of Christ, blessed [are you--happy, fortunate, to be envied, with life-joy,
and satisfaction in God's favour and salvation, regardless of your outward condition],
because the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God, is resting upon you. On their part He is
blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. see also Phil 1:29 & 2 Tim 3:12
1. The MISSING THEOLOGY of Suffering in Mission
In a society ted by consumerism, the Church has also been infiltrated by a
theology of “it’s all about me” and “what do I get”….robed in nice and warm
scriptures focused on “bless me”. We have somewhat conditioned our members to
measure God’s goodness with “how good things are for us”. This impacts our
missiology as well. Often times, the primary motivation to get people saved is “their
happiness and prosperity”. As such, even our preaching in evangelism is often
dominated by the “what you will get” theology.
In such a “me centred” theology, is it really a surprise that the Theology of Suffering
is a MISSING THEOLOGY ? Today, the Theology of Suffering is often confined to our
historical books or some “we don’t why – far away Peoples” (it couldn’t happen to
2. PREPARED To Suffer : Theological & Practical
Theologically, we need to rediscover our “heritage” (1 Pet 4:14). If Jesus suffered,
why do we treat suffering with such surprise and shock ? Someone once said, aptly,
“we are the only army where the soldiers live like kings and the commander in chief
says of Himself, “foxes of holes and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20)”
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also
to suffer for His sake. (Phil 1:29)
On the practical level, we need to include in our theology and missiology, what to
do and how to respond when suffering comes knocking on our doors. I use this
phrase “a stone-throwing church”, which was used by a leader in Orissa to describe
the situation there. He used this phrase in describing the lack of preparedness on
the part of the church on how to respond practically when attacked. “The stone
throwing church” is when the church, unprepared for persecution, instead of
responding in a God glorifying manner, reacts and picks up the stones thrown into
the church ..and throws it right back at the people ! Thus perpetuating the ,
and what started off as persecution, spirals into an ethnic – religious conflict, where
right and wrong is lost in the smog of fighting and the Church loses its witness.
3. Is all SUFFERING …. “necessary” ?
This is probably the most unsettling part of what I wish to share. Let me qualify
myself . that my experience is very much confined to some contexts in South East
Asian, and whether or not this is applicable in other contexts, is a judgment others
will need to make.
Self-Inflicted -V- For His Name’s Sake. In answering the question “is all suffering
necessary”, I think we need to ask ourselves these questions – are our strategies (or
lack of it) provoking suffering ?…. is our suffering “self-inflicted” ?
Let me elaborate what I mean with some examples :
Children Evangelism : Is our children evangelism provoking hostility against us ?
Have we ever stopped to ask ….how would unbelieving parents feel when their
children are being lured away to Christianity with sweets and balloons and fun and
games ? (esp. if they themselves, due to poverty, as parents are unable to provide
these !). Is it really a surprise than that they turn against us ? Our motives may be
pure, but if things were reversed, how would we feel ? I am not suggesting we stop
children evangelism, but I am saying that we need to critically evaluate our strategy
….to ask the question if we are going to provoke hostility and hatred towards Christ.
Ignoring Social Structure : In most societies, whether it is visible or not, there is a
social structure in place. e.g. role of village heads. Are we ignoring this when
engaging a community for Christ ? I remember during the days in the early 90s
when I was involved in church-planting efforts in Urals in Russia, the first thing we
were required to do before we began our work in a town or village, was to meet
with the Mayor and the Religious Establishment and introduce ourselves (and bring
gifts !). In most societies, there are Elders which I find we are ignoring. Is this
contributing to the increased hostility towards the Church ?
Confrontational Evangelism : In most contexts, confrontational evangelism only
breeds confrontation. I remember we had a short-term team doing a prayer drive in
a closed-country. We had warned them to just pray, and don’t engage in any
evangelism or tracting (or worse still “tract-bombing. The phrase itself scares me !).
Against our advice, a member of team …through an open window at the back of the
van, threw tracts out. Assuming since it was dark, no one will know. Really ? How
difficult would it be for the authorities to follow the trail of tracts …to the only
foreigners around ? The team was arrested and interrogated, and they gave up the
names of Church leaders, who were promptly confronted by the authorities. I think
we need to ask ourselves the question, “is it all about OUR NEED to preach” ?
Contextualization Ignored : Are we unpacking (from our cultural bias) and
repacking the message in a way that is culturally adapted to the listeners ? I won’t
labour on this point, as many have written on this subject. Suffice it to say here, …I
think the hostility to the Church is often not directed towards nor a rejection of the
Message, but the reaction to the provocation caused by the “packaging” !
Creativity-Impotence : At a time when we can use a variety of approaches to make
the case for Christ, are we stuck in the old paradigm, refusing to allow the Holy
Spirit, who is creative, in creative presentation of the Gospel and creative-entries
into closed-door communities … e.g. through sports, arts, economics, tentmaking,
Breaking The Law : When we do something wrong, e.g. a famous church leader
from a closed-door country who was arrested and imprisoned because he was found
having multiple passports for his international travels ..to speak in churches and
conferences around the world. Is this suffering for CHRIST ?
These are just some examples. The more important point I am trying to make is, we
need to judge ourselves. Now, I am by no means excusing persecution and
against Christians. Even foolishness on our part does not justify that. I am however
saying that we do need to consider carefully if we are provoking the suffering
against which we cry “foul” !
“Lord, give us wisdom and grace”
As presented by B. Kumar at the Plenary of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission
Commission Conference (Pattaya 2008)