Liberal theological traditions have moved away from a satanology of the devil being an actual being to simply a personification of evil. Among Episcopal Church leaders, for example, the discussion of evil in the world is commonplace; a conversation about the devil is a rarity.
One of the headlines making news this week about The Church of England is related to the use of devil language. Gone are the days when parents are asked to take a vow at their children’s baptism “to reject the devil and all rebellion against God.” The name of the devil has been deleted and replaced with “to turn away from sin” and “reject evil.”
On the surface, this appears to be a good thing. As followers of Jesus, we should daily turn away from sin and reject evil. However, as noted in Matthew Bell’s article, “The Church of England doesn’t want You to Worry about the Devil,” such a shift likely represents a theological shift, moving away from the devil as a supernatural being to a representation of evil in general.
Years ago, and using the KJV language of substituting “devils” for “demons,” C. S. Lewis wisely wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors” (The Screwtape Letters, 15). What can be said about demons is equally applicable to the devil as well.
The problem with deleting the devil from our theology is that we also delete what the Bible teaches about the devil. Certainly, Church history has created numerous satanic caricatures: pitchforks, red dress, cloven hoof, etc. And though these unbiblical traditions have made him out to look more like a nasty clown, such is no excuse for discarding the biblical teaching on Satan.
Many biblical passages address Satan as a literal being. For starters, we only have to check out Genesis and Revelation, Job and Zechariah, and the Gospels to learn that the devil is much more than a representation of evil in the world. Jesus met and spoke with him (Luke 4:1-4) and clearly identifies him as one capable of being cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18). Paul was not shy in noting that Satan disguises himself as one who is attractive (2 Cor 11:14).
Yes, delete the ridiculous Church traditions–they’re satanic in and of themselves.
Yes, delete the notion that the devil is only a literary device used for oral learners in an age gone by.
Don’t delete the devil. That is what he would want you to do.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
It was tragic that the building was destroyed. “What are you and the church going to do now,” the reporter asks the pastor. “We will carry on. The church is the people, not the building.”
The atmosphere of the meeting was solemn, but joyful. “Our agency does not have the money to send more people. So, let’s consider sending tent makers.”
“I’m needing some wisdom on this serious matter. I need to spend some quality time with the Lord–maybe even fast.”
“He is getting very old, even had a stroke six months ago. I need to share the gospel with him.”
“Retirement begins next year. I think I will consider taking the gospel to other nations, now that I have time.”
It is troubling that we often become more biblical when the difficult realities of life occur, our possessions are removed, and the comfort is gone. We get theologically serious.
What would happen if we allowed biblical doctrine to guide our lives each day, everyday?
Let’s stop using theology as our last resort.
“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Psa 119:66, ESV).
The following is the second-part of a two-part series I started last week.
As a fourth generation Baptist of the Southern Tribe, I’m all about cooperation–cooperation with those of my Tribe and cooperation with like-minded evangelicals (a.k.a. Great Commission Christians) of other Tribes. Such cooperation is with other churches and with parachurch organizations. It is biblical. It provides synergy. The wise Kingdom steward recognizes that making disciples of all nations is too much for one church to accomplish.
However, among some North American evangelicals (including some within my Tribe), cooperation has inadvertently resulted in cases of codependency. Some parachurch organizations that originally were established to foster cooperation for Kingdom advancement, overtime have fostered a welfare mentality among churches.
We can’t go to the field because the agency did not approve us.
We can’t go to the field because the agency did not have the money to send us.
I wonder what the early Moravians would think about this.
We can’t call him as our pastor. He doesn’t have a seminary degree.
I wonder what the Methodist and Baptist churches on the American frontier would think about this.
We can’t reach the 3000 unengaged-unreached because we don’t have any partners near them.
We can’t reach that people; they don’t have the Bible in their language.
We often can’t because of the definitions we subscribe to. He who holds the definitions, writes the story and controls the movement.
As I questioned in a previous post, if any agency/institution creates a definition of effective ministry that is outside of the present or future grasp of the local church, then is such a definition healthy?
If the church agrees to such a definition, then does that make such a definition healthy? If the local church is bypassed, then is that a wise plan?
To agree to the definition, is to agree to the story.
To agree to a story that is not about cooperation, but codependency, is not a good thing.
Some of the greatest Kingdom advancements have come through the work of parachurch ministries. For these, and those organizations laboring with the local church in mind, I am grateful and look forward to what is to come.
However, no ministry should be done to keep the local church from her responsibilities–even if she agrees to abdicate those responsibilities to the parachurch.
An option for wise parachurch organizations is to work themselves out of their present jobs and into a new ones. Such is good missiology. They should not be designed to perpetuate their present existence until Jesus returns.
They should be designed to empower, partner with, edify, and exhort the local church to the task to which she is called. They should not be islands unto themselves. They should help her, which involves helping her come along on a journey whereby a day is planned to hand her the baton.
Related to this option is that such organizations should be evolving on a continual basis. What they do today is not what they should be doing tomorrow. As the church develops, and the context changes, the parachurch ministry morphs to tackle other matters for the sake of the Kingdom.
Two hundred years of Protestant missionary history have revealed related problems when Western missionaries entered Majority World areas. Though there was cooperation in mind in the beginning, through paternalism, a codependency was often created. We have learned our lessons “over there” in cross-cultural contexts, but we have created variations on similar themes “over here” among our own. Cooperation, not codependency–”partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:5), not paternalism is the need.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
If the cultural revolutions of our age are unprecedented, then we should not be surprised that what is needed is a systemic missiological shift. Not a theological shift from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV), but a return to a more apostolic approach for local and global disciple making, while ministering in areas of the Western world where a mature Church exists.
When I wrote Pressure Points, I felt led to include a chapter on the West as a Mission Field. This is one global issue that will shape the face of the Church for the rest of our lives. Political, religious, ethnic, demographic, and cultural shifts have brought about such a change. Certain parts of the Western world are feeling these revolutions differently than others. Though the United States used to be several years behind Western Europe in this transition, we are quickly catching up.
More of what we have been doing when it comes to disciple making and church planting is not sufficient. More theological training like what we (in the West) have been doing for five centuries is not sufficient. To continue our present course, even in light of what most Americans are calling cutting edge training and church planting, is not sufficient. Over the past thirty years, even the most progressive evangelical disciple making and church planting paradigms are slight variations on the status quo. A systemic shift is needed with our structures, organizations, training, and missionary practices.
To remain on the present path is like preparing for nuclear war by teaching your troops how to sharpen arrows for their bows.
Are bows and arrows still needed? Yes, for short-range combat that is likely to occur in any war. But if we are putting most of our convictions, resources, and energies into stockpiling arrowheads and rawhide strings, then we will be surprised.
Revolutions happen, and sometimes they happen quickly. Evangelicals are the utmost conservatives when it comes to philosophical and methodological change.
The war has started. And the enemy is not using bows and arrows.
Note: I recognize that this post is an interruption to my two-part series started yesterday. However, I felt strongly compelled to write this and post it today, rather that wait.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
I have always been supportive of parachurch organizations.
I was heavily involved in a Christian organization while a student at the University of Kentucky.
I earned two degrees from a seminary.
I served with a mission agency for nine years.
I taught as a Bible college professor (at three different schools) and seminary professor for fourteen years.
I am an adjunct professor for a seminary.
I speak several times each year to parachurch leaders and members of their organizations.
Every church I’ve pastored has financially supported the parachurch agencies and institutions of my denomination.
Our church partners with several different parachurch organizations.
Much of my ministry has been (and continues to be) connected to parachurch ministries.
I have always been supportive of parachurch organizations.
However, my concern is that many parachurch organizations have not worked toward the completion of the parachurch purpose, but have created an evangelical ethos of parachurch entitlement. Rather than empowering local churches, many have become an end unto themselves.
Ask most parachurch leaders if God’s plan is about the church or the parachurch and they will immediately say, “The Church, of course!”
The Church is Plan A. There is no Plan B. We know that.
Everything needed to make disciples of all nations is found within the Church. Everything needed for the sanctification of the saints is found within the Church. God did not birth the Church and the Parachurch.
Such Kingdom innovations are not necessarily bad things if done within the context of Kingdom parameters.
But if parachurch groups establish definitions of successful ministry that local churches are unable to achieve, then we have a problem. The problem becomes compounded if local churches agree to such definitions. When the latter happens, we find ourselves in an atmosphere of parachurch entitlement.
(Lord willing, I plan to continue this thought in my next post.)
This is a philosophy that often drives many churches, agencies, institutions, and networks; yet, we rarely state it this way. To do so, would mean that we embrace pragmatism.
Wow! Look at these results. Therefore, our means to the end justifies the outcome. Great results are not always of the Lord–consider the Mormon Church.
Over the years, I have been amazed at some theologically astute leaders who in public rail against pragmatism, but in our private meetings are willing to compromise for the outcome.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Oh, I am not pushing against being pragmatic, but the willingness to embrace pragmatism when the going gets tough and all eyes are upon you for results. Wise Kingdom stewards are to be pragmatic to a degree; we are called to results such as “bear fruit” and “make disciples.” We want to know what works; this is an element of the Kingdom ethic. Pragmatism, however, is that philosophical view that results in the bending of core biblical values for the sake of supposedly godly gains. Externally, it may not look like you’ve compromised on anything, but that which is internal tells another tale.
When we walk closely with the the Lord, He will make our paths straight (Prov 3:5-6).
But straight does not always mean numbers, popularity, excitement, or that you will be invited to speak at the great conference for what’s what and so-and-sos.
Yes, but your path will be straight.
We need more leaders who are willing to walk the straight path of Christ, than to journey along the compromising curves that provide many exciting tales to write home about. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Prov 11:3, ESV).
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
The MissioNexus Church Connection Tour wraps up today in Atlanta. It has been a wonderful time discussing migration and mission in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta. I have been encouraged by the turnout from churches, networks, and mission agencies, representing a variety of evangelical denominations and non-denominational traditions.
International migration is one of at least twelve global issues shaping the face of the Church today. This topic is at the forefront of Kingdom expansion, and so are many of those who came out and participated in this tour. Keep up the great work, my brothers and sisters!
In a day when most evangelicals (including those serving in North America) are primarily focused on reaching reached people groups, I have greatly appreciated the vision and heart of MissioNexus to use this month as a time to cast vision for migration and mission in North America. Thanks, Steve Moore, for your leadership on this matter.
Much of my presentation came from Strangers Next Door. Also, it has been good to hear Matthew Soerens, co-author of Welcoming the Stranger, discuss migration and related biblical, practical, political, and ethical details.
At each stop on our tour, I promised the participants a copy of my presentation slides. Therefore, I am writing this post to make this resource available to them. There are two versions. One was used with our U. S. locations and the other for our Canadian gathering. Even if you did not join us on the tour, you may have these slides too. Some of them will not make sense to you, but here they are.
The United States is the world’s largest migrant-receiving nation in the world, and is home to an estimated 360 unreached people groups. Canada is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries, with one-in-five citizens being non-Canadian born. It is estimated that 180 unreached people groups are found in Canada (My Canadian connection on the tour said it is much higher). These two numbers put the United States and Canada on the top five list of countries with the largest number of unreached people groups–a story few of us have heard.
Let’s work while it is still day. Until the strangers next door become strangers no more!
The Kingdom Ethic contains some peculiar matters:
– Many who are first will be last, and the last first (Matt 19:30).
– Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; everyone who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11)
– Jesus came as a suffering Messiah.
– We are to be living sacrifices.
What appears to be contradictory to us, is actually a major component to the Kingdom economy. Our Lord accomplishes His purposes in ways that are beyond our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9), even doing more than we can imagine (Eph 3:20).
He takes our limitations and uses them for His glory in gospel advancement. He is able to take our mites and multiply their value. Our few pieces of bread and fish have exponential reach in His hands.
Over the past several years, I have observed this one peculiarity in gospel advancement that has received scant attention:
Less is oftentimes more.
While having less does not guarantee that the Lord will do great things with a person or group (He does accomplish great things with those who have an abundance.), we do observe great advancements in missions among some Kingdom citizens who have very little when it comes to the resources of this world.
For historic examples, beyond the first three centuries, we can turn to the early Moravians, and the Baptists and the Methodists on the American frontier. Today, we can observe similar work of the Spirit in many churches in Asia, Africa, and the Latin world.
But before we start to think that great advancements are directly related to few resources, we need to look beneath the surface. As I have observed contemporary groups and studied others in history, a common thread generally included the following:
1) They had a theological identity firmly rooted in the Word of God. They did not deny the truth of the Scriptures and understood who they were in Christ.
2) They had a driving zeal–coming from their theological identity–believing that people without Jesus were separated from God, and only the gospel could transform lives, homes, and societies.
3) They had an apostolic focus. They understood that they were not commanded to make converts or plant churches. Rather, they were to make disciples of all nations, which involved intentional evangelism that resulted in churches being planted.
4) They had a biblical simplicity. Their resources, structures, traditions, and organizations did not get in the way of the mission. Such things were necessary and important, but they were not so complex that gospel advancement was sacrificed for the maintenance of a system.
We must remember that the Lord can use whatever he has put into our hands, be it great resources or mites and breadcrumbs.
Some questions worth considering:
- Have we become caught up in our blessings that we have lost our theological identity?
- Have we moved from our original missional focus (assuming we had one in the beginning)?
- Have we “grown” out of our apostolic zeal, believing we are more sophisticated now?
- Have we moved so far away from biblical simplicity that we are now engrossed in having to spend most of our time, efforts, energy, and resources addressing issues and supporting structures that hinder the advancement of the gospel?
- Are we working hard to manage the good at the expense of maintaining the best?
If we find ourselves in an unhealthy situation, repentance is the beginning on the road to recovery. But while some changes are simple and quick, others will be painful and difficult. Our Father is gracious and is still on mission, empowering us to preach the gospel to all nations–across the world and across the street.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)
The United Nations has declared June 20 World Refugee Day. I have decided to use this post to bring this matter to your attention. I believe the international migration of peoples (which includes refugees) is a major global reality shaping the face of the Church.
The following is an excerpt from Strangers Next Door on refugees and the Great Commission. I hope this post will be of assistance to you and your church as you think missiologically about your world–and respond accordingly.
There are numerous opportunities to serve and share with the refugees who are now living in our communities. Do we see the people? Will we respond to their needs? Do we recognize the potential they have in reaching others with the gospel?
The Century of the Refugee
The twentieth century has been called the century of the refugee. The wake of World War II was the catalyst that led to the development of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While the original plan was for the office to exist for three years and assist displaced Europeans, the refugee crises of the world continued to increase, and thus the Office continues sixty years later. In its first year, the annual budget was the equivalent to $300,000 (U.S), yet it now exceeds $2 billion (U.S.). As of this writing, the UNHCR deals with 34.4 million people of concern to the UNHCR.
The official definition of a refugee embraced by the UNHCR is related to someone who has:
well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Of all of the people on the move, these are the most in need of compassion, assistance, and good news. Some are internally displaced within their own countries, others have fled their homes and properties, and sometimes families, to find asylum in safer countries. The majority seek refuge within their homeland or a nearby country. Others attempt to move far from home. Those who flee great distances, often have no language or job skills once they arrive at their destinations. They come from Majority World countries, only to find themselves in extremely unfamiliar social environments. Some will leave home and have to live for years in refugee camps, waiting to be relocated to another country. Those seeking refugee status experience an enormous amount of social, psychological, and emotional upheaval. Even physical harm is commonplace from the time someone departs their home to the time they are relocated to a safe environment. The plight of those seeking refugee status is great and offers a great opportunity for the Church to take action and help the helpless.
The Global Realities
The UNHCR notes that in 2009:
- There were 15.2 million refugees
- There were 983,000 asylum seekers
- There were 27.1 million internally displaced persons
- 5.5 million of the 15.2 million refugees were living in 21 different countries
- 4/5 of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries
- Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees (1.7 million), followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (1.1 million), and the Syrian Arab Republic (1.05 million)
- 1 of every 4 refugees in the world was from Afghanistan
- More than half of the world’s refugees reside in urban contexts
- The United States accepted the highest number (80,000) of refuges for resettlement from the UNHCR
- South Africa was the largest recipient of individual refugee applications, followed by the United States and France
- The Asia/Pacific Region had 37% of the world’s refugee population, followed by Europe at 19%, and the Americas at 8%
- Children comprised 41% of refugees and people in refugee-like situations
Taken from http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646cbc.html; accessed 23 January, 2011.
UNHCR, “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,” 16; http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html; on-line, accessed 23 January 2011.
UNHCR, “2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” (Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2010), 1. [on-line] http://www.unhcr.org/4c11f0be9.html; accessed 23 January 2011.
 UNHCR, “2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” (Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2010), 6. [on-line] http://www.unhcr.org/4c11f0be9.html; accessed 23 January 2011.
 UNHCR, “2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” (Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2010), 15. [on-line] http://www.unhcr.org/4c11f0be9.html; accessed 23 January 2011.
If you are interested in a previous post on this topic, please see HERE.
Here is a helpful interview by Justin Long with Trent Deloach. Trent and his wife have many years of experience serving and assisting refugees in the United States.
Here is a searchable table of the global statistics for refugees as compiled by the United Nations.
There are many questions to be asked about church health and mission. Many are being asked with the right heart. But right motives are no guarantee that the right questions are being asked.
We often ask questions with familiarity in mind. This is a good place to begin, but we can’t remain here. Unfortunately, we often stay put. We have not learned the stewardship of questioning.
The right questions matter.
If you were in the recording business and someone started asking you questions about manufacturing 8-track players, you would quickly know the wrong questions were being asked.
Similar situations are found within the Church when it comes to some discussions regarding health and mission.
We often fail to discern the wrong questions (and thus move to the right ones) because we are often asking questions about manufacturing 8-track players.
The right questions matter. The four billion remain.