“Why Don’t Mennonites Pay Taxes?” And Other Similar Questions…

Standard

Growing up conservative Mennonite and going to a public school opened me up to many questions about my religion. However, while these inquiries were presented in form of a question, they often came off as statements:

“Hey, don’t Mennonites have horse and buggies, where’s yours?”

“Why don’t Mennonites pay taxes?”

Understand, this wasn’t intended as obnoxious, this was in elementary school and these classmates were genuinely curious. They were trying to take what they knew about Mennonites (or thought they knew) with what they observed in me and reconcile the two. I suppose these could be called “micro-aggressions” according to the currently popular terms, but I prefer a more gracious explanation.

Still, while I prefer to be gracious, the presumptions still annoyed me. This exposure might explain my sometimes strong visceral reaction to being pigeonholed in a debate. It might also have contributed to my desire to be a non-conformist in a culture that took pride in being non-conformed and did things a little different from other Mennonites. I’ve always wanted the right to speak for myself and for that reason have tried to give others the same respect and let them speak for themselves.

Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that any conservative Mennonite who spent time outside of their own religious cloister has experienced much of the same thing. The people asking if they are Amish, those inquiring if they ever considered the possibility there is no God, etc. And presumably, this would make us more careful not to do the same others. But that’s not always the case, as I’ve discovered…

Oh No, Not Again!!!

Since becoming Orthodox I’ve encountered the same kind of presumptions in a different form. This time, rather than public school peers, it is Mennonite family and friends. And it is not that I mind the questions either, but when someone starts with “I know a Catholic…” it reminds of those who cannot distinguish conservative Mennonites from Amish or Old Order Mennonites.

So I’ll start with that one…

“Aren’t Orthodox basically Catholics?”

Yes and no.

The word “Catholic” means universal. In the words of St Paul, there is “one body” (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 10:17, 12:20, Eph 2:16, 4:4, etc.) and that is what universal or catholic means when applied to the Church. There may be multiple denominations, differences, and divisions within the Church, but there is only one universal Christian body of believers and that is what Catholic means. So, yes, all Orthodox Christians believe in a Catholic church, in that they believe there is only one universal Christian Church—that is what Biblical tradition tells us and that is what we must believe is true.

However, no, despite some similarities, we are not *Roman* Catholic. The early church had five patriarchs, one in Jerusalem, one in Alexandria, one in Antioch, one in Constantinople and another in Rome. These were geographic centers and separate jurisdictions of the early church and all were basically in agreement. However, in a similar fashion to how Amish split from other Anabaptists, there was a “Great Schism” in 1054 between the four patriarchs of the “East” and the Roman “West” over a variety of issues—including Rome’s unilateral addition to the creed (called the “filioque“) and the elevation of Papal power.

The Roman side veered towards more authority being granted to “Peter’s seat” in Rome. The Orthodox, by contrast, put more emphasis on maintaining Church tradition both written and spoken (or Orthodoxy) and hold that Peter was the “first among equals” rather than the “Vicar of Christ” in the way that the Romans do. This is a very significant difference of perspective, yet Orthodox and Roman Catholics do recognize each other at some level despite not being in Communion together. Both the Orthodox East and Roman West are Catholic in the sense they are parts of the universal Church, but they are not the same.

“Do Orthodox worship Mary?”

One of the first things a non-Orthodox will notice when entering an Orthodox sanctuary is the many pictures. These are called “icons” (after the Greek word for “image”) and are a visual representation of various saints, scenes, etc. This is a Christian tradition back to depictions in the Catacombs, there are icons of many virtuous Biblical characters, and of those most prominently displayed are those of Jesus and Mary the mother of Jesus. There is also mention of Mary, the mother of Jesus, “with the saints” throughout the divine liturgy and special honor is given to her.

However, Mary, while venerated (or honored) as the mother of our Lord, is never worshipped by an Orthodox Christian. Worship is only for the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and all others are honored for their various roles. Mary’s role is more significant because her body was quite literally the ark of the new covenant. That is why Mary knew, early on, that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48) and why Elizabeth (who were are told was “filled with the Holy Spirit”) loudly proclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Nowhere in Scripture do we have a similar proclamation made and it is only right that the mother of Jesus is recognized by us in the same manner that she is by Elizabeth.

For Jesus to be fully man he needed a mother and his mother was Mary and that is why we celebrate her role. But that honor is not worship. In Chrismation, one has to make agree and make clear that their recognition of Mary and the saints in form of icons is “not unto idolatry” but for sake of “contemplation” and so that “we may increase in piety, and emulation of the deeds of the holy persons represented.” It is no more idolatry to venerate Mary and the saints than it is to have pictures of your grandparents on the wall or to speak of your own mother glowingly on Mother’s day or to treat your own children or spouse differently than other people. There is a vast difference between honor and worship.

“Why aren’t there Orthodox missionaries?”

This one caught me off guard. First off, every Orthodox Christian is (borrowing the words of Charles Spurgeon) “either a missionary or an imposter” and by this, I mean every member of the body of Christ is sent into the world as his representative. Sure, not every Christian is sent abroad in the manner of Hudson Taylor, but every Christian is called to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and should do this wherever they are in the world. Secondly, Orthodox Christians, from St Paul onward have journeyed physically to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the world. Again, not all traveled to far away places, but every Orthodox believer is a missionary and there are no exceptions.

Some of the confusion of my Mennonite friends (who more or less proclaimed that Orthodox lack missionaries) could a product of Evangelical Protestantism and the influence this movement has had on defining their current practice. It seems many under that influence see missionary service as an activity that Christians do rather than an all-encompassing lifestyle. In other words, according to this mindset, one is only a missionary when shoving a tract in the face of an unsuspecting passerby or when they go with a group to do a project in a country that could use jobs more than donated labor. And yet, while that may be a part of what missionary work entails, this too is how we are to proclaim the good news:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:22‭-‬24 NIV)

And, as far as Orthodox being missionaries in the forms more celebrated, there are many powerful examples of wonderworkers and martyrs for the faith. Orthodox don’t just travel to tropical paradises, do fun projects, and then jet back home again (back to their privileged lifestyles) after a few days or couple years. No, the Orthodox live in some of the most hostile places for a Christian to live and many have become the truest witness of Christ—they have died as martyrs for their faith, in this century as much as any other, and not only in the history books. It was not Protestant missionaries or Evangelicals being brutalized and beheaded by ISIS.

Furthermore, having entertained (very briefly) proselytizers of a sect widely viewed as heretical (even by Protestants) and having considered the words of Jesus about missionaries that make their converts twice as damned as themselves (Matt. 23:15) or those who will cry “Lord, Lord, have we not” when standing condemned in front of Him (Matt. 7:21-23) and listing their missionary works as if that is their salvation, there is something to be said for correct teachings and practice. The Orthodox, while all over the world (including Africa, where a baptism of 556 took place), seem to be more concerned with quiet and sincere obedience than they are with loud and proud professions.

“I’ve heard Orthodox don’t believe in being ‘born again’ experience, is this true?”

Conservative Mennonites, like other Evangelicals, tend to put much stock in a “born again” salvation experience. They take a phrase out of an analogy Jesus used (while speaking to Nicodemus in John 3:1-20) to explain spiritual transformation that must take place before someone can enter the kingdom of God. He likens being born of the Spirit to the wind, it is something mysterious, and then foretells his dying on the cross by likening it to the brass serpent Moses raised in the wilderness that healed those who looked upon it. And, yes, there is an experience, at the foot of the cross, for those who look up to Jesus and cry out for God’s mercy to them as a sinner.

However, salvation is not simply saying something and having an emotional experience attached or a once and done event, there’s so much more. We are told in the letters of St. Paul to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) and then also that we are saved by grace “through faith” and as a “gift from God” (Eph. 2:1-10) rather than by our righteous works, which (with many other Biblical texts) could seem to present a contradictory view of salvation—splitting Protestants into competing camps of works versus faith, eternal security versus potentially losing our salvation, or Calvinist and Armenian. Meanwhile, Orthodox Christians avoid this debate entirely with a view of salvation that transcends easy categorization. We are saved, being saved, and will be saved so long as we continue to believe.

The Orthodox see salvation as a direction, not just a destination, as an intentional alignment with God’s perfect will and the choice we make daily in following after Jesus. In other words, salvation is less about declaring oneself to be “born again” or a singular event in time that we look back on and more about taking up our cross. Salvation is not a mere once-and-done transaction for them, it is a continuous relationship and being in Communion together with the body of Christ. So, yes, we should all be “born of the Spirit” and yet we should also be connected to the vine (John 15:1-8) or we will die as spiritual babies and never bear the fruit of salvation. Ultimately salvation is not a past event or a promised future reward, it is something we choose every day in our being faithful to God and living out the commitment to love each other.

“If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.”

+ St. Anthony the Great, “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts,” Text 45, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

“I know an Orthodox and…”

It is one of the most annoying statements. Annoying because it is usually followed by some sort of negative characterization which they then use their anecdote to generalize about the entire two millennia of Orthodox Christianity and a church made up of hundreds of millions of people. It is a statement many Mennonites have encountered as well, which makes it all the more annoying when the same thing in slightly different form comes from the mouth of a Mennonite. I recall a time, broke down while driving truck, when the service technician (who didn’t know I was Mennonite) went on a long rant about some Mennonites he knew and how hypocritical Mennonites are, etc. Of course, his criticisms weren’t entirely incorrect nor are many of those leveled against the Orthodox (we don’t claim to be a church of perfect people) and yet they were definitely unfair to use as a basis to judge the entire group.

This tendency to remember their worse examples and our own best is a human universal. It is something called in-group-out-group-bias which means we tend to recall good examples of our own group (minimizing our bad) and bad examples of other groups (minimizing their good) or, in a word, favoritism. But this is especially true where the perfect church myth is prevalent or there is a lack of contemplation, introspection, and ownership. The smaller a group is, the easier it is to imagine that you are not like those others—those who do not live up to your own personal standards—and forget that a judgmental, divisive and prideful spirit is as sinful as anything else. Pointing out the faults of others is never a good defense. We should recall the story Jesus told about the confident religious elitist who thought only of his own righteousness in comparison to others and the humble man who begged only for mercy in his prayer:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

So, anyhow, maybe you know an Orthodox Christian and can only recall bad things about them. But I probably know a few more and can tell you that they are just as sincere as any conservative Mennonite or other Evangelical I’ve met. Maybe you know some Orthodox who do not live to your own religious standards or can point to a historical blemish or two from a thousand years ago? Well, I’ll raise you one pedophile ordained by a Mennonite church in the past decade (here’s a list of some other Mennonite sexual abusers, if that’s not enough) and the Münster rebellion. Every denominational group has their less than celebrated moments and members, I can assure you of that. And if a group is too small to have a history of mistakes, that is not a great strength, it is a weakness, it only means they are more vulnerable. So “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or maybe we should just take the advice of Jesus to be humble about ourselves and understand our own continual need of God’s mercy?

The Orthodox do not run from their history by starting a new denomination (or ‘non-denominational’ group) every time there’s a failure, they have their greater and lesser examples like every other group. But one thing that can be said is that they have maintained their unity centered on Christ and keeping the traditions of the Church from the time of the Apostles to the present moment. Fr Anthony, the Antiochian priest who served during my Chrismation, can trace his ordination all the way back to Peter and the first Gentile church, the church of Antioch (Acts 11:19-30) where believers were first called Christian. There is a great wealth of history to draw from, some cautionary tales, and many who were faithful until the end. Like the church that Paul preached to, the Church today is by no means perfect and yet, as Jesus promised, the “gates of hell” have not prevailed against the Church he founded.

For all of my non-Orthodox friends, the door is open, all people are welcomed, and there are good answers to questions for those who have them. There is truly a wonderful diversity within Orthodoxy, and a beauty of traditions—traditions packed with deep meaning—that span thousands of years. This is not something that one can begin to summarize in a blog post. There are volumes written and many more yet to be written about the Church.

But the best way to start learning about Orthodoxy is first-hand—to come and see.

Advertisements

Ken Ham’s Ark: Evangelical Outreach or Hammy Recreation?

Standard

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

Question: How to know the salt of a religion has lost its savor?

Answer: Religiously themed amusement parks that seem to be more about preserving pet dogmas (or boosting the ego of a charismatic personality who built them) than the actual Gospel preached by Jesus and lived out by the early church.

Encounters of the wrong kind send the wrong message.

An article on televangelist Jim Bakker’s abandoned ‘Christian’ amusement park prompted my reflection above.  However, my mind soon went to another attraction now available to consumer Christianity, that being Ken Ham’s latest creation enterprise in Kentucky, the Ark Encounter.

Anyhow, other than the name reminding me of the Turkey Hill Experience (an actual attraction located in Columbia, PA) I’ve encountered some other thoughts about the 100 million dollar project: I’m not sure this edifice Ham boasts may be “one of the greatest Christian evangelistic outreaches of our day” will live up to the hype.

This tourist trap of mammoth proportions might end up more like Bakker’s now derelict ‘evangelical’ pleasure mecca.  It actually seems more like a dead end of fundamentalist dogma than it does a truly faithful living witness of Christian love.

And, at 40 dollars a pop to enter, it is evident that our modern expressions of grace are not cheap—we might have already encountered a bit of a messaging problem.

Finding answers in Jesus, not Genesis.

Yes, the Ark Encounter and other expressions of faith, like charitable giving, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  But I see only one of the two endorsed by Jesus as an outreach and it is not the Genesis themed recreational Biblical tourism kingdom of Ham.

Perhaps, instead of creating hundred million dollar gimmicks, that may be as likely to win as many converts outside of blood relatives as Noah’s original did, we should be focusing our kingdom building efforts elsewhere?  Could we do more to provide substantive help to those around us in need?

The problem with the modern ‘scientific’ attempts to bolster Biblical claims is that they often aren’t all that scientific nor do they well reflect the faith of Scriptural example.  The Gospel of Jesus never needed to evolve or be adapted for our time.  No, our time needs to adapted to actual life of spiritual reality that was once found in the early church:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

The truth of our faith is the truth that we live.  That is our strongest argument and apologetic.  Jesus never said we should try to prove the historical accuracy of Biblical narratives as a means to covert others to faith or convince ourselves.  Jesus said to live we he taught and then the Spirit would reveal itself in and through us.

There is no need of an edifice built of wood as an evangelical tool to share true faith.  What there is need of is a body of believers who acts in unison as the hands and feet of Jesus.  A church that literally feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, meets the practical needs of their own communities and leads in genuine love:

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. […] The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

The truth of our love for God (expressed in our obedience to love other people as Christ commanded) will reveal the truth of God to us and the world.  It is really that simple.

Either Jesus is the answer or He is not.

I recall my own hope based in apologetics and my taught mistrust of mainstream science.  I remember my own hopeful glances over at the secular neighbors, who attended an Evolution versus Creationism debate with my family, and at the time not realizing then that my own confirmation bias shaded glasses were as blinding as theirs.

It was a well-meaning yet misguided effort.  My trying to prove Christianity through study of history and using theories (often more flimsy and unscientific than the ones they mocked) only left me thirsty for truth.  My religious indoctrination actually caused me to doubt.  The deeper I got into the available evidence the less I believed anything.

It was only through an encounter with Jesus that I realized the error in my ways.  It was when I stopped resting in my own knowledge and started to live more obediently to the simple unadulterated teachings of Jesus.  It has been a transformative spiritual experience that cannot be duplicated through intellectual, artificial or forced means.

If you want to encourage faith be faithful.

Save what you would spend on Ark Encounter, find someone in your own community with a need (perhaps a single mother or elderly person) and fill it—that will do more for the faith of your family than feeding Ham’s Answers in Genesis empire.

If you wish to encourage your children in faith, show them how to be salt and meet the needs of their neighbors in Christian love.  That is the obedience to the law of Christ that will show them real truth and bolster your own faith.

If you have not encountered any real needs around you, then I pray you have an encounter with the Spirit of God and your eyes opened.

Don’t be yesterday’s news, be today’s salt.

Missionary Or Imposter? Pitfalls and Potential of 21st Century Evangelicalism.

Standard

If any of my travel companions shared my disquietude it was not outwardly evident.  It was an exciting break from routine and adventure, a chance to travel with a group of peers.  Better yet, the ‘missions trip’ label gave it full religious sanction. 

However, my guilt started weeks before.  We had raised a large sum of money through fundraisers.  In fact, we probably had enough cash to employ a team of Haitians for a year.  But, to my dismay, most of it would go out the tailpipe as burnt jet fuel used to ferry us in and out.  It seemed to me obscene that we were flying into that earthquake ravaged nation for only a few short days. 

When I expressed my concern I was assured that this exposure would be a good opportunity for the young people to grow in awareness and compassion.  I tried my best to accept that answer.  But, finally on the ground in Port-au-Prince and throughout the trip my pangs of guilt would return, my concerns verified. 

The most notable experience was when a young Haitian man, seeing our enthusiastic labors to paint a church interior, beckoned for my attention.  In our short conversation he pled for work to feed his belly and said the obvious: “I can do that!” 

It was true. 

We were doing menial tasks.  We did work almost any Haitian could do with a bit of supervision.  We could have sent two people for a year and had a far bigger impact.  Yet, here we were, playing in the paint, doing unskilled labor in front of pleading eyes, as if to taunt them with our privileged position.

What is Christian ‘missionary’ service about?

Young people in my church are encouraged to serve as missionaries.  What this often implies is travel to some exotic locale to do work projects and possibly to share a Christian witness with the indigenous population before jetting away to the next big thing.  Some commitments are longer, they stay years as teachers, nannies and doing a variety of other things.

We celebrate those who go elsewhere with prayer cards featuring their picture, a “serving in [insert location here]” tagline and a favorite Bible verse.  When they come back there is often a report to the congregation; which usually includes some humor about cultural oddities, maybe an expression of how blessed they were through the experience and many pictures.

I have little doubt of the sincerity of those who have embraced this idea of Christian service.  Images of men like Hudson Taylor or Jim Elliot have been impressed upon their young minds, reminders of the 10-40 window fill their thoughts and they go with strong feelings of obligation.  To many church raised people the ultimate Christian example is doing something over there somewhere.

I am, on one hand, happy for enthusiasm and dedication to the cause of Jesus Christ.  And still, on the other hand, I question the effectiveness and wisdom of the current effort.  I also suspect there is a deeper problem, a fundamental difference between the Spirit that motivated the early church to act and attitude that propels many today. 

There are many reasons why a person may travel the world.  But, according to Scripture, not all who claim to represent God truly do and not everyone who does wonderful things in the name of Jesus is actually saved.  In fact, Jesus warns specifically about those whom he will not recognize for their efforts:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

And it was not just the non-Christian religious leaders and Pharisees whom Jesus warned:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

How can it be?  How is it that some missionary efforts are flawed beyond mere ineffectiveness and are actually destructive?  Why is the work of some rejected despite the outward appearance of faithfulness?

These are questions we should ask.  I do believe this severe criticism and warning from Jesus applies to us today.  I believe someone can spend their life in missionary work, can profess to have faith in Jesus, and—despite their dedicated religious effort—still not be doing the will of God.

Too often missionary efforts go unquestioned.  It is easy to remain silent, because we know we ourselves should be doing more, and take a position: “Well, at least they are doing something…”  But this reluctance to be involved is unfortunate and is what leads to wasteful or even counterproductive effort.

Missionary Service Must Be Spirit-led.

I’ve talked to a young person who is determined to be a foreign missionary.  I asked them how they knew it was God’s calling for their life and the reply (or lack thereof) did not convince me that they truly knew.  It was simply something they wanted to do.

Others referenced Scripture, they quote the “go ye into all the world” of Jesus commissioning the disciples, dutifully applying it to themselves without considering context or chronological order.  A case of proof-texting where a person can find whatever they want.

But this is not how Jesus started his ministry nor the way he told us to determine God’s will for our lives.  We see instead that in his ministry Jesus was led directly by the Spirit:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 3:16-17, 4:1)

Jesus was led by the Spirit.  And that this is the exact same Spirit that was promised and is now made fully available to those who believe in him:

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promise which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'” (Acts 1:4-8)

It is easy to skip around the Bible to defend an established dogma and find what suits our own particular religious agenda.  But we should always remember that the Pharisees also diligently studied Scripture.  Yet, without the Spirit to guide them in their study, they were way off base and seriously misled. 

If we do things our own way we end up like Abraham who had two sons, one of the bondwoman and his own human effort, the other of the promise God had given.  (Gal 4:21-31)  We are the same, we do not trust God, we get impatient and take matters into our own hands. 

Instead, rather than go out on our own understanding and effort, we must wait on God’s timing and Spirit. 

Missionary Service Starts Here, Not There.

It is interesting to note, the author of a popular quote about every Christian being either a missionary or an impostor spent his years preaching in his native England and not overseas.  So was he, by his own words, an impostor? 

The full quote, from a sermon Charles H. Spurgeon preached, sheds light on what Spurgeon actually meant in his usage of the term missionary:

Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that you are either trying to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean, by that, that those who use the pen for Christ are silent; they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well; but I mean this,—that man who says, ‘I believe in Jesus,” but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor.

What Spurgeon is actually saying is that everyone who truly believes in Christ will share that with other people.  He is not saying that we need to travel further than our next-door neighbors and hometown to do that.  He is saying that a person is missionary wherever they are or they are an impostor. 

It is true that some men in the early church traveled far and wide to spread the good news.  We can read much about Paul’s missionary journeys and of other men sent out.  But not all went.  Not all traveled over land and sea.  In fact, few probably did.  Many others were needed to establish and serve in their local congregations.

All missionary work is local whether it takes place here, over there or in Jerusalem:

“…repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  (Luke 24:47)

The idea that Christian missions is a trip overseas and something over ‘there’ is plain wrong.  In our age of internet connectivity and social media, a person can be an evangelist—literally speak to people on the other side of the world—from their bedroom.  So start in your own Jerusalem, stay busy where you are and then if you are called elsewhere you will be ready to serve. 

We must be faithful where we are, because changing addresses will not change who we are and the need is everywhere.  We need to start serving our neighbors here where we are or we are an imposter. 

Missionary Service Glorifies God, Humbles Us.

Many parachurch organizations exist today to support the evangelical efforts of others.  American missionaries to foreign countries are often well-supplied with their own plans and material support.  But in this there careful planning can be a dependency on ourselves and our own efforts rather than God.

Sending people out as Jesus did would be unthinkable.  Try to imagine this:

“He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.  Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.  If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’  So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”  (Luke 9:3-6)

It was total dependence on God.  There are no five year plans.  There’s no walled in compound or institutional support structure—not even so much as a change of clothes, a bag of personal hygiene supplies or packed lunch for the journey.

These men went out literally with nothing but the clothing on their back and the message of the Gospel.  I can imagine that there was a bit more urgency to get to know people and make friends when your next meal depended on it.  I wonder also if their total dependency and vulnerability is what was required for miracles to happen. 

We can make Christianity look more like a profitable enterprise than a walk of faith.  When we go out with obvious advantage over those we are trying to reach it should be no surprise that some seek our wealth rather than our Jesus and ‘convert’ for the wrong reasons.  When we go out with our big checkbook or provide for needs (based in our own abilities to raise funds) it quickly can become about us rather than God’s glory.

Jesus gave a different example:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  (Philippians 2:5-7)

If we wish to present ourselves as entitled recipients of American prosperity then we ought to bring it with us.  If we are cultural imperialists selling Capitalism then we need to display those wares.  But, if we want our faith in Jesus to be be the focus then we must live it and leave everything behind. 

People are not completely dumb and many can see through a religious act.  If we wish to be effective we must “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) and lower ourselves.  Our hiding behind walls (necessary to secure our possessions and keep people at a safe distance) will likely speak louder than our words when or if we finally do get around to speaking.

Jesus left his privileges behind.  If we are to be of the “same mindset as Christ Jesus” we should mimic that example. 

Missionary Service Is About Them, Not Us.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Why else would someone travel besides love for those they seek to reach? 

If you don’t see a reason why a person would choose to be a missionary besides sincere faith here are some alternative explanations:

1) They love adventure.  You do know that the millennial generation prefers experience and travel, right?  It has nothing to do with faithful sacrifice and everything to do with seeking pleasure.

2) They want to escape.  We do not send missionaries like the early church.  Sure, those who wish to go may get a rubber stamp blessing from a church.  But, in this age of individualism, people today decide for themselves and might do it to be further independent from accountability.

3) The ‘cool’ people do it.  Positive peer-pressure is good, right?  Well, yes, assuming that going into missions is merely a group bonding experience, a chance to be with age-group friends and maybe find a mate.  But, if that’s not the missionary position we want to produce, it could be a concern.

4) It is self-gratifying.  Some people really feel good about themselves and simply like to crow about it to vulnerable people.  A missionary, especially supported by others, has power over those who are needy and can enjoy a near celebrity treatment as a foreigner.

5) They are duty driven and fearful.  I recall this guy named Jonah.  He finally did what God said because he didn’t like being fish food.  But, despite the grace he received getting spit out alive, he lacked any love or compassion for the people he was told to reach.

6) We like praise.  Who doesn’t want a few feathers in the cap and ‘mission accomplished’ signs to welcome them home?  Well, Jesus told us that those who act righteously for the praise of others have their reward.

7) We like projects.  It takes some discipline and focus to do missionary work.  Unfortunately, real love is something that does not fit a formula or schedule and people do not like being your project.

All of those things aren’t necessarily bad in their right place.  We should enjoy ourselves with good friends.  The less materialistic focus of the millennial generation is one positive thing about them and a potential strength.  Confidence is great too and so is a sense of accomplishment or being recognized for the right things and encouraged.

Yet the purpose of missions is not our own pleasure.  If it is not primarily for the good of those we claim to serve then we might be better staying home until we mature spiritually and love genuinely.

My caution is that our priorities be in the right order.  Missions is about having true love for our neighbors.  If you are not willing to serve your next-door neighbor, then you probably have no business traveling over land and sea on a religiously sanctioned trophy hunt.  We need to go in genuine love for the people we are serving or it is going through the motions and it is spiritually empty.

Missionary Service Is About Faithfulness, Not Dogmatism.

In the book of Acts we have the interesting account of Philip and an Ethiopian.  We are told Philip was promoted by an angel to take a walk.  It was on that walk Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch on a chariot (the Bentley or Rolls Royce of their day) and an important man.  Philip was directed by the Spirit to go stand near the chariot.

So Philip obeyed. 

The man was perplexed about a passage from the book of Isaiah the prophet.  Philip asked the man, “do you understand what you are reading?”  The Ethiopian admitted his need for help interpreting the meaning of the passage and Philip explained.  The result was an on-the-spot Baptism (no mandatory background check or ‘young believer class’ waiting period) and the two never crossed paths again.

Philip was faithful.  He was willing to adapt to circumstances and do what needed to be done without much hesitation.  Faith is creative, it is free, it adapts as need be, and motivates us to become all things to all people, like Paul:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Religious dogma, by contrast to Spirit-led faith, is rigid and inflexible.  It tries to make every situation conform to a predetermined ‘cookie cutter’ mold or established mode and becomes easily frustrated when things do not fit the prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ solutions.  It is confining rather than empowering and is often confusing or confounding in practice.  It is limiting of full potential. 

The front lines of evangelicalism have shifted dramatically.  The internet has opened a new front and can get us beyond ‘enemy lines’ much like the invention of the airplane revolutionized warfare.  Unfortunately many Christians are stuck slugging it out in the trenches, too fixated on established fighting methods, blinded by missionary dogmas built in the 1800’s, and unable to take advantage of the opportunities right in front of them.

Likewise the Pharisees did everything right outwardly, in their own minds (and that of their religious peers) they had righteous living all figured out to the last detail, but they lacked the mind of Christ.  Nothing in their religious devotion or diligence in studying Scripture revealed the truth of God’s word (John 5:31-40) to them.  They thought of themselves as gatekeepers and in reality they themselves would not enter in.

We have been warned about the false security of religion, but do we have the faith to change where need be?  Do we have the imagination or vision for today?  Are we like Philip who followed the Spirit and improvised?  Or are we stuck fighting trench warfare in an age that may require a different approach?