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Monday, August 23, 2004

Done! (and some thoughts on missionary work) 

That's it. Finally all done with classes. Now just finish up the homework, and I get my degree.

Last week was Introduction to Missions, my last class. An odd class it was, too, since the professor didn't seem very Reformed and it's a Reformed seminary. Missions was quite a big deal for him, which you'd expect for a Missions professor. But his case was basically that doing foreign missions was the whole point of the church, because of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and Matthew 24:14, which he said taught that when the gospel had spread to all the nations, then Jesus would come again. Under this interpretation, of course, missions would be of chief importance.

But I noticed that many of the places that he was showing where missions work was being done (Turkey, North Africa, Middle East) were former Christian areas. They had already been evangelized once, and then lost to Christianity (mostly to Islam). So if we fail to pay attention to the health of the church in America, then won't we be in a position of re-evangelizing America one day too? Some say we're already there.

And a little Greek work showed the flaw in the exegesis anyway. The relevant phrase is ta ethne or, "the nations". It's frequently translated "the Gentiles" or "the heathens" as well. It's the phrase that appears in both the passages in Matthew mentioned earlier. The professor said that there had been a debate at a big missions conference whether that referred to nations as political entities, or rather to ethnolinguistic "people groups". The conference had decided it meant "people groups", so that the missions emphasis should be to get missions workers in every one of these people groups (of which there are many thousands) and then Jesus would come again.

But a little exegesis demonstrates that ta ethne, "the nations", is used by Jewish speakers to just mean everyone who's not a Jew. Combining that with Paul's and Jesus' teaching that what makes one a true Jew is having the faith of Abraham, not the genealogy of Abraham, the Christian understands "the nations" as meaning just everyone who's not a Christian. The Great Commission was not to any particular group or set of groups, but just to everyone who's not a Christian now. My neighbor fits into this just as much as a Muslim who's ten thousand miles away.

UPDATE:
As I've been thinking more about this, I think one of the major problems with this attitude toward missions is that it's goal-oriented instead of people-oriented. We're called to witness to people because we love them. If we simply witness to people in order to instigate the second coming so we all can go off to heaven, then that's a selfish goal. We're doing it to gain some reward. That's not love.

Sometimes it seems like it's easier for people to think about doing missions, giving money to it or even going themselves for a while, than it is for them to actually witness to and love the people in their lives.

One final thought, from Matthew 23:15: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."

Doctrine matters. If I am going to do missions, correct doctrine must be part of it. I must make disciples, not just converts. When people go on about how many thousands of converts they've made here or there, that doesn't mean much unless you know they're being taught correctly, and that they're being discipled. Judaism was the fastest growing religion in the ancient world when Christ came. But what were they being converted to? They were just creating lots of little Pharisees, little children of hell, all over the Roman world.

Comments:
Congratulations on your graduation Matt.
 
Thanks for the good exegesis! I've always found something disturing about the standard evangelical interpretation of Matthew 24:14, which is to say that man controls the timing of the parousia by the efficiency of our witness. This strikes me a blatant unscriptural synergism.

Congrats on your degree!
Jeff
 
Thanks both of you for the congrats!
 
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