Thailand means “land of freedom”, one of the South East Asian “Tigers”. Never colonized, in the 19th century, it negotiated land for freedom to keep out of the clutches of Western colonialism.
Religion in Thailand is varied. There is no official state religion in the Thai constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all Thai citizens. The main religion practiced in Thailand is Buddhism. The large Thai Chinese population also practices Chinese folk religions. A significant Muslim population, mostly constituted by Thai Malays, is present especially in the southern regions. Statistically, Thailand is the world’s most heavily Buddhist country. About 93.6 percent of all the people in Thailand are Buddhists (nearly all of them Theravada Buddhists); about 5 percent of the population are Muslim with about half of them living in the southern Thai provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Satun and Pattani and some districts of Songkhla Province; Christians make up 0.9 percent, and the rest of the faiths include Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’i and others.
In Thailand, 57 per cent of Christians live in the North, while 51% are from the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son Provinces.
Christianity has been introduced to Thailand firstly by the Roman Catholic mission since the second half of the 16th century during the period when Ayuttaya was the capital. In 1567 Roman Catholic missionaries came to give pastoral care to Portuguese citizens living there. Later after about 250 years, Protestant missionaries began to evangelize in Thailand in the first half of the 19th century.
These missionaries made many sacrifices, were energetic and industrious, and were dedicated to their Christian ministry. Still today, we can see many evidences and achievements of their sacrificial and dedicated hard work. The challenges that faced the early Protestant missionaries were especially hard because of the strong Buddhist cultural and religious traditions found in Thailand. For over a thousand years the great majority of the Thai people have been Buddhists.
In spite of this prevailing Buddhist influence, through God’s grace and power, they were able to plant the seeds of Christian faith in the hearts and minds of some Thai people. As a result of the patience and perseverance of these missionaries, these seeds have now grown and matured into a firmly established indigenous Christian community that has enabled many Thais to have the opportunity to know and serve Christ. Since then, the number of missionaries of various denominations has continued to increase.
Presently the Department of Religious Affairs of Thailand officially recognizes five Christian groups- one Roman Catholic Church and four Protestant Churches including the Roman Catholic Church, Diocese of Thailand (1511)
- The Church of Christ in Thailand (1828)
- The Seventh Day Adventist Churches of Thailand (1905)
- The Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (1946)
- The Union of Baptist Churches in Thailand (1949)
MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Christianity came to Thailand with a threefold evangelistic ministry- preaching, teaching and healing (Mt. 9:35-36). These three ministries, however, have the same mission, which is to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ known and to make Disciples of Christ according to the Great Commission as Christ said “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Preaching (Church ministry), teaching (educational ministry) and healing (medical care ministry) missions have always been linked together in Thailand. They are different in practice but toward the same goal that is to proclaim the Gospel, Church Planting, fellowship with God and fellow members
Rev. Dr. Daniel McGilvary, in his memoir book, said “My main goal coming to Thailand is to preach about Jesus Christ in places in which no one has heard about Him.”
Mrs. Bethe McFarland also said
“Our ultimate mission is “Bringing the Good News of the Lord to the people of Siam “.
The missionaries realized the significance of education, which contributed as an effective strategy to teaching Christian faith and ethics and then proclaim the Gospel. Christian schools have been a major component of church’s ministry in Asia for over 150 years. Missionaries in most countries had founded schools as a means to proclaim the Gospel and to acculturate the local people to Christianity Churches then became the spearhead to bring new socio-cultural, economic and political changes in the countries where they serve. Education has individual and private benefits, but it is also very much a public benefit because it enhances the whole community. Christian schools emphasize the contribution of education to the common good of the society.
Mrs. M.B. Wells, an American missionary to Prince’s Royal School in Chiang Mai reported that “An ultimate goal of education in Siam (former name of Thailand) is to plant the church and bring the younger generation of Siam to Christ. To develop the church, we need educated and progressive young leaders. In this way, only schools can do it.”
In medical care ministry, its main aim is to bring people to Christ. Miss Lucy Star Ling wrote in the New York office to report that “Granted, even Christ did not think that anyone would have been healed by Him as Savior. Jesus commanded the disciples to go. The main hospitals aim to propagate religion and yearn for spiritual input. All departments are required to realize this goal. The Mission of Siam have seen the need of it. “
The strategic mission, especially of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the oldest Protestant church in the country, has been developed to provide appropriate and timely response to the changes in the society based on the doctrine of the Word of God, examples from Jesus Christ, as well as raising awareness about the way of living in the name of Christ according to the faith in Thailand.
The Church of Christ in Thailand seeks to carry out mission and ministry with three-self principles: Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating.
The Church of Christ in Thailand has been self-governing since 1934, especially since the time the American Presbyterian Church granted full management authorization as well as full responsibilities regarding funding of the Church of Christ in Thailand.
It is necessary to accelerate the development of educational and medical institutions to strengthen financial management and develop assets to their maximum potential, as well as accelerating the development of resources (land) to bring business benefits. This will increase the support for various ministries for a more efficient and effective result, and increase the ability to expand the mission to provide a wider societal reach.
The leadership of the Church of Christ in Thailand has implemented self-support in various forms, such as the “30 Satangs/Cents to Help Self-Supporting Churches (1967),” “Half a Bowl of Noodles Program (1977),” and currently the “Self-Supporting Church Program 1979/2005 (2005),” and many others.
The Protestant Church in Thailand has set a non-negotiable policy affirming that self-propagation is the heart of the Church of Christ in Thailand. The gospel must be done by “oneself,” which means this practice is a necessity for all members of the Church of Christ in Thailand. Local churches, all churches/places of worship must hold this practice in high regard. Educational institutions, medical institutions and all agencies, as well as various departments, must preach the Gospel. Once each individual and each work division proclaims the teachings, with existing resources and personnel, there will be more disciples, serving more effectively.
The evangelistic outreach and church planting is continuously emphasized by all denominations. Methods used for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ can be categorized as follows:
- Public evangelism: Normally well-known evangelists in Thailand are invited to speak in organized evangelistic events.
- Visiting: Personal and family to family visitation is quite popular in Thailand.
- Broadcasting: Various evangelical programs have been broadcasting through radio, free TV, and cable TV channels. The Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) in conjunction with Korean churches, produce programs through its CGNTV from the CCT Building in Bangkok.
- Publication: Various publications such as pamphlets, brochures, books, magazines and evangelistic articles are produced and distributed. At the moment there are at least 5 Christian book stores in Thailand. Among them, the Suriyaban Bookstore operates under the Church of Christ in Thailand.
- Evangelistic team ministry is also considered as one of the effective strategies to draw non-Christians to Jesus Christ. Since 1980, Christian Communications Institute (CCI) of Payap University Chiang Mai, Thailand, was founded to communicate the gospel through Thai Culture. CCI intends to use every art form possible, both modern and traditional, to communicate the gospel in ways easily understood by the Thai people and to provide models for positive social and family life. The CCI helps lead students, in schools, churches and villages all over Thailand, to Christ each year, as well as performing evangelistic Thai folk dramas abroad.
CHALLENGES TO CHURCHES
On the threshold of the ASEAN Community and the rapid changing Asian socio-economic and cultural contexts, Thai churches and mission institutions face new challenges. The 3 pillars of ASEAN Community- ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Social and Cultural Community (ASCC) unifies 10 ASEAN countries as one community.
Evangelism seems to be a critical issue in Thailand for many years now and will still continue to be one.
Firstly, “to be truly Thai means to be Buddhist”. The majority of the Thai people feel that to be Thai means to be Buddhist’. Consequently when someone becomes a Christian, he/she usually experiences considerable family pressure and village opposition, but he/she is rarely physically persecuted.
In Northern Thailand, Noi Sunya (Suriya) and Nan Chai, two early converts to the Christian faith, lost their lives as a direct consequence of their conversion to Christianity. On Tuesday morning, September 14, 1869 the two martyrs were executed by order of the ruler of Chiang Mai. The reason given by the ruler for the execution was the refusal of the two new Christians, who were in his employees, to work on the Sabbath. They were charged with disobedience and sentenced to be beaten to death because of their refusal to do the ruler’s work. Actually, the ruler of Chiang-Mai was under increasing political and social pressures, and he blamed the Christians’ presence for his difficulties in ruling. So, he had decided to punish these two Christians as a way to discourage others. Later, challenged publicly by Rev. Dr. McGilvary, Prince Kawilorot openly acknowledged that the only reason the two men had been killed was because they were Christians .
Secondly, it has been found that there are similar evangelical approaches in Thailand, as well as in other countries which are two schools of thought- the evangelical school and the ecumenical school. The evangelical school sees the necessity of proclaiming the gospel to non-Christian believers and attempting to make them the Disciples of Christ. The ecumenical school, on the other hand, holds that God is also working among the non-Christian people. Therefore it is not necessary to directly convert them to Christian faith, but rather to spread Christian ideals and philosophy to them, and seek collaboration with them in socio-economic realms as well as in religious ones.
The conflict between the evangelicals and ecumenicals is so great that the Body of Christ has been divided, and that there is no love among His disciples. The big challenge is how the bodies can be unified in which each part has different function. In 1962, the Thailand Theological Seminary (currently McGilvary College of Divinity, Payap University/ MCD-PYU) took an initiative to deepen Christian insight into Buddhism. The Thomson Memorial Lectures was a platform for Christians and Buddhists dialogues.
In order to strengthen relationship and cooperation among the Protestant churches, The Coordinating Committee of Protestant Church in Thailand was founded in 2004.
In May 2004, the first ever missionary strategy congress took place in Thailand. The result was a commitment to plant a new church in each of the nation’s approximately 800 districts by 2010, with a “Christian presence” in each of the 8,000 sub-districts and a “Christian witness” in each of the 80,000 villages. This “new national plan” unites Thailand’s three different Protestant streams under the Thailand Evangelism Commission (TEC): the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand, the Church of Christ of Thailand (CCT) and the Baptists Association. The congress, with the motto “Get together, go together, gain together” also marked the 175th anniversary of Christianity in Thailand.
The latest “Congress VIII” was jointly held in 2015 at Thammasat University in Bangkok and more than 5,000 people took part in the event. The Congress put the strategy in 2020 to plant a new church in all districts (Amphur) and sub-districts (Tambol) in the country.
Thirdly, Interfaith and inter-religious dialogue has been a hallmark over the years in Thailand. Within the boarder culture in Thailand, important questions have always been raised including; how people of different religious backgrounds and practices could live peacefully together and, is there any way for interfaith or inter-religious dialogue?
In Northern Thailand, the “Dharma Logos” and the “Sinclare Thomson’s Memorial Lectures” projects of the McGilvary Divinity College of Payap University (MDC-PYU) are examples of this endeavor.
Though it’s been quite a long period of time since the establishment of Christianity in this country, its membership is still small. Christianity has been introduced in Thailand since the second half of the 16th century and yet the number of Christians in Thailand is still less than one percent of the total population. What is wrong in our ways of proclaiming the Gospel?
Now it’s in the hands of each every Thai Christian of all denominations. It’s a time of unity, being in partnership in Gods mission together. We continue to pray for new visions and strategies that may be relevant to new changing context of Asia today.
http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Thailand/sub5_8b/entry-3212.html, Religion in Thailand
Saad Chaiwan, A Study of Christian Mission in Thailand,
Damrongthai Up-ngern, Mission Journey of the Church of Christ in Thailand
http://thaichristianfoundation.org/ “Christian Communication Institute, Payap University.
Damrongthai Up-ngern, Opcit.
* This National Report was presented at the AMA 12th Triennial Convention in Manila Philippines from April 18-22, 2016.
ASEAN Community is an association of 10 countries in South East Asia founded in 1967. Member countries include Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia. The ASEAN Community has been official and systematically operated since January 1, 2016.
Dr. Prawate Khid-arn is the AMA Regional Secretary for South East Asia. He earned his Ph.D. in Community Development from the University of the Philippines-Los Banos and his MA in Social Work from Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Tainan Theological College and Seminary in Taiwan.
Benjamin R. Baclagon
Jesus was on a mission. He had gone to the land of the Samaritans. “He had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:4) Why? He was seeking out this lonely Samaritan woman, in need of salvation, needing to know who Jesus was. By verses 13-15 of John 4, the Lord had presented to this woman her need of eternal life. But first, she needed to be convicted of her own sinfulness.
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
The Samaritan woman is a picture of many who, like her, who have a religious background and religious knowledge, but whose religion was no help at all—she was still living a life of “quiet desperation”, separated from God. With the words of Jesus, she was confronted with the fact that: she was in a live-in situation with a man, and that she had had 5 so-called husbands (Was she a widow? divorcee? veteran of many affairs?).
Imagine her reaction to Jesus’ words in v. 19: “Sir,” (did she swallow hard after this?) the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. And then she goes on to change the topic: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Suddenly, the topic is about worship.
We may fault the woman for her method of avoidance. But notice here that Jesus did not say, “Woman, you are changing the topic. We are talking about your lifestyle here…about you committing adultery.”
Instead, Jesus does go on and talk about worship. Why? Because worship is still related to her situation. She was professing to be a worshipper of God, but in reality she was still an idol worshipper. Not a worshipper of idols of wood and stone, but idols of self and men. This was much evident in her lifestyle. Jesus was seeking to make this woman a true worshipper of the true and living God of the Bible.
This ought to remind us of the underlying purpose why we do missions. As John Piper memorably put it: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”
We do missions because there are multitudes of people who are not giving God the worship that is due unto Him, and instead are worshipping idols, false gods and self and men. Verse 23 of John 4 supports this: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The primary motive for missions is expressed in the words of Henry Martin, who said while ministering among the Muslims of Iran: “I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified. It would be hell to me if He were to be always thus dishonored.”
We can have different motives for doing missions. It could be compassion for the lost—and this is good and honorable. There are other reasons for doing missions which may not be so honorable. But this truth in John 4:23 is to be the primary, best and most sound reason for doing missions.
We can easily find other Biblical support for this:
In Matthew 28, what were the disciples doing when the Great Commission was given? Verses 16-18 reveals that the Great Commission was given in the context of worship. And what was the reason given by Christ for going and making disciples of all nations? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (v.18)” The authority and worthiness of Jesus. We have missions because of who Jesus is.
In the book of Psalms, we find the writers frequently expressing their desire that God be exalted, be worshipped, be magnified over all the earth and among the nations.
Because worship is to be the primary motive for missions, those who are to engage in missions must be worshipping churches and worshipping people. And their worship must be biblical, growing and deep. Why? Because their purpose is to spread the true worship of God and the exaltation of Jesus in places and people where such worship does not exist.
For otherwise, if the church is wrong about worship, or the missionaries are wrong about worship, they would simply be spreading unacceptable worship to other places and other people.
It would be relevant thus to ask those engaged in missions: what is the quality of your worship? What kind of worship is going on in your church? Is this the kind of worship you want to spread to other lands and other people?
We need to be clear then about worship. There is a need to examine our worship. Let John 4:20-24 guide us in our discussion about this important matter:
1. There is Much Confusion and Ignorance Among People About Worship
20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
Because God made man a worshipping creature, the topic of worship will always be relevant to him, even if he is not aware of it. As someone had said, “It is not a question of whether you will worship or not. The question is, who or what will you worship?”
Another thing to note is that much worship that men engage in focus on the external. In verse 20, of all the questions the woman could raise about worship, her question is about the proper place—what she saw, external things.
And isn’t it true that we too, like the Samaritan woman, have the tendency to focus on the external and superficial in our worship? For example, we identify worship simply with going to church, to singing, to a day and time in the week we are to do it.
Further, Jesus was very frank in telling the woman: “You…worship what you do not know…” True worship of God cannot be in ignorance, without thinking and knowing the God whom we are to worship.
2. The Coming of Jesus and His Sacrifice on the Cross is for the Establishment of True Worship
Jesus would go on to say, “Yet a time is coming and has now come…”
What time was Jesus talking about? If we would look into Galatians 4:4-5, the time referred to was the coming of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. (See also John 17:1-3). Jesus had come into the world (“has now come”), but because at the time when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman He had not yet gone to the cross, Jesus also said that “the time is coming”. “…when the true worshipers will worship the Father… ” The only reason a man can approach God to worship Him truly is because of and through Jesus Christ. (See also Heb. 10:19-25; I Tim. 2:5) We come to God and enter His presence not through Mary or some saint, not through some ritual, not even through singing. But only through Jesus Christ. All worship therefore must be Christ-centered.
3. True Worship of God Begins: When We Understand and Remember Who We are Before God, and When We Know and Remember Who God is as Revealed Through Jesus Christ
Previously, Jesus was telling the woman about living waters, “welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” The woman had sensed her need. But it’s not enough to see the need. It was necessary that she be convicted of her condition as a sinner before a holy God. Thus, Jesus would make a reference to the woman’s five husbands. “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands…” It may be like saying it this way: “Yes, you don’t have a husband—in fact, you have had five, not one.”
And then, knowing and understanding the character of God is necessary for true worship to rise. Jesus said, “God is spirit.” A reminder of how God is so unlike, and beyond man. We are physical beings, we are limited. God is not. Because He is spirit, He is not limited by space, by physical things. So unlike us…And this is the God we need to know. One may ask, how can you know One who is invisible? God has taken the initiative that we may know Him. To know God, you must know Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)
And how do we know Christ? He is revealed through the Scriptures:
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)
4. Worship is About Giving to God, Not About Getting
The very word used by Jesus for worship here is proskuneo. The Greek was said to mean “to kiss (like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore). The idea therefore is of someone giving to someone superior an act that fittingly expresses his view of their relationship. The idea, at the least, is of giving—not getting. Alas, how far we have come from true worship when our concern is what we will get, and when we believe that in worship, it is man whose satisfaction we should seek– “what does man want? or what do the people want? ”
When the Israelites were being taught the mechanics of worship, one oft-repeated instruction from God was: none shall appear before Me empty-handed (Exodus 23:15, Exodus 34:20 , Deuteronomy 16:16).
Notice also that when the Israelites worshipped, they were not even provided seats at the Tabernacle. One implication of this was that they may learn that they were there to give…not to watch, not to get..they were there to make an offering.
5. Worshipping God is Not an Option, It is a Command
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship…”
We need to be reminded again that worshipping God is not an option, not a choice. You must worship.
We need to be reminded that this is foremost in the Ten Commandments—that we are to worship God exclusively (“You shall have no other gods before Me.”).
During Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus answered Satan, saying: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” (Lk. 4:8)
Is God then egotistic or megalomaniac or selfish or proud? Why should He demand worship and praise? The answer is that, if it was a creature or a created being who demanded this, then yes it is egotism, pride and megalomania. But we are talking about God. God, for whom all our praises are not enough. Unlike Greek gods, He really doesn’t need the praises and the worship. To worship Him is simply how it ought to be. That God would command us to worship Him is for our good and for the good of the universe: Imagine a situation where the rightful leader doesn’t lead, and allows other unworthy evil leaders to exercise authority and to trample the rightful leader’s authority. Chaos would ensue from this. It simply is not right. God must rightfully be worshipped.
6. God is Serious about Being Worshipped in the Way He Desires
“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Sometimes, this is explained only as worship led by the Spirit and from the heart, with sincerity. I believe that “in spirit” refers to what is inward, in contrast to the external worship the Samaritan woman focused on. Worshipping ‘in truth” means according to the Scripture. As the Lord said, Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17) Thus, in worship sincerity is good, but it is not enough. You can be sincere in worship, but sincerely wrong. Like the Chemistry poem:
Poor Willie worked in chem lab.
Poor Willie is no more.
For what he thought was H2O
In David’s time, this was Uzzah’s experience. The Israelites were trying to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. In I Chronicles 13, it mentions David and all the Israelites celebrating with all their might before God. Then the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark. “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and He struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”
Several months later, they would try again. This time, as narrated in I Chronicles 15, David would point out their grave error “It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of Him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”
If an earthly king is given the right to prescribe how he must be approached—all the more should the God of the universe have the right to prescribe the way He is to be approached. The constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle was that everything be done “after the pattern … shown you” (Exodus 25:40).
The incident of the golden calf, carries with it the lesson that worship cannot be offered merely in accord with our own values and tastes. The same with the story of Nadab and Abihu and the offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10);
And when God rejected Saul as king, one of his misdeeds was non-prescribed worship. Saul was told, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22);
In the New Testament, Jesus’ condemned Pharisaical worship, saying it was done according to the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–14).
All of these indicate a rejection of worship offered according to values and directions other than those specified in Scripture. In our mission work, it is necessary to heed this caution when it comes to the forms and patterns of worship that we follow. It would be tragic if, in our concern to reach the lost, we impart to them a way of worship that is not according to God’s pattern and thereby unacceptable.
7. Worshipping God is a Way of Life
When Jesus said, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, it should remind us that worship is not to be limited in a place or even in an occasion. Throughout Christian history, worship has happened not only on Sundays, not only in church. But even in unlikely days and places: in houses, in prisons, in the middle of the sea, in mines and in catacombs, in hospitals and leper colonies, in jungles and mountains and valleys…Worship is not to be limited in Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but in all days and places, where men and women who have been saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ lay their lives on the altar as their act of worship.
Benjie Baclagon ministers at Grace Bible Church in Nagtahan, Manila, Philippines, where he has been part of the staff since 1992. He is currently director of the youth ministry there, while regularly preaching at the church’s afternoon service. He and wife Imelda have three children: Misha, Shantel and Johann.
Steve Kyeongseop Eom
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 4:20-21)
Sociologists and futurists say that the changes the human race have had for the past 100 years, are equivalent to the changes in the ten thousand years before that. Furthermore, the changes we are about to face in 20 years will be greater than that of the past one hundred years (Choi 2013: 104-105). Because of the rapid changes happening, our future is hard to predict. Bill Gates mentioned that he is fascinated by this world that changes faster than he could imagine. Indeed the world is definitely changing faster than our imaginations.
As a missionary, I frequently ask myself “how can I effectively spread the gospel in the midst of a rapidly changing world?” I wonder what our world would look like in ten or twenty years. I also imagine what the church would be like after all the changes happening in the world. Considering its speed, I tried to illustrate the future church with my own imagination. I named the church I illustrated “vChurch” because the church I illustrated is a virtual reality church.
I think this virtual church is more than just imagination and that it will become a reality. When looking at the speed of technological development, a virtual church will definitely become a reality whether we want it or not. There will be of course, churches that retain its current form. However, those churches will have to compete and cooperate with the virtual church, which will in turn change the face of world missions.
As I am writing this article, I will attempt to explain the concept of the virtual church keeping in mind the Presbyterian churches founded on the reformed tradition which make up the mainline Korean churches. Although I am writing about the virtual reality church, this does not mean that I support the virtual church over the present church. However, I am certain that virtual churches will be introduced to us in the future, therefore I will discuss how we should accept this concept and the possible changes in the mission horizons
1. VIRTUAL WORSHIP (vWORSHIP) SCENARIO
With my lazy-almost ten year-old son John, I sit on a chair with a pair of vGlasses. After helping him put on the vGlasses, I put on my vGlasses. Upon pressing a button on my chest, we are immediately transported to the building of our church. In front of the church is a sign saying, “Grace Presbyterian Virtual Church”. The big blue sign on the wood panel and the church building makes me appreciate the beauty of the church. John and I hurry into the church and get on the elevator. We get off on the third floor, which is the location of John’s Sunday School. Children are singing worship songs with dance movements and John is greeted by his Sunday School teacher. I left John in Sunday School and got up to the seventh floor.
On the seventh floor, I am greeted by the welcoming team. Seeing that the door is closed, I am sure that the service has already started and the opening prayer is going on. After the prayer, the door opens and I look for a seat. Because today is communion day, the chapel is full of people. I discreetly make my way to the middle of the chapel and I apologetically nod to all the people that had to stand up as I make way to an empty seat in the middle of the row. As I sit down and bow my head in brief prayer I got the feeling that the seats have become more spacious and comfortable.
The choir is singing Handel’s Messiah number 51 “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain”. Although the hymn itself is splendid, I am particularly impressed today by the excellent performance of our choir. I participated in choir practice on Thursday, but because of John’s tardiness I was not able to be with the choir today. As the choir finished it’s performance the pastor makes his way up on the podium and of course wearing his black traditional Presbyterian gown. The gowns heavy feature is suffocating and when thinking of the changing times I find it a little frustrating and I wonder when the pastor will stop wearing it.
Today’s sermon is about the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The ceiling of the chapel becomes a huge monitor, presenting the image of Jesus on the hillside with thousands of people. While this image is being played like a movie, I feel like I am with the thousands of people. As our pastor is preaching, Jesus holds up the bread and the fish and blesses it. His disciples take the bread and the fish and hand them out to the crowd. A disciple from the screen (who looks like Peter) comes to our seat and gives us part of the bread too. It tastes like unleavened bread, bland.
With the completion of the sermon, the communion followed. The pastor reads a bible passage according to the Presbyterian church’s tradition and calls the congregation to confess the sins we have made. I can hear someone trying to hold in her tears as I am praying. The organ is playing and the bread and wine is being served by the communion team. I take a sip of the wine which has a strong taste like wine that has aged for a long time and I can feel my face get warm.
Now it’s time to gather the tithes and offering. Although people can make their offering using the vCard earlier at home or place their vCard on the censor attached to their chairs, the offering team goes around with the card reader so people can make their offering in the old fashioned way. People really don’t like change. It would be less time consuming if everyone is willing to make their offering by just tapping their card on the censor. After I input the amount I want to offer on the card, I swipe my card on the card reader and pass it on to the next person.
After the service, I say hi to familiar faces. Elder Paul Kim asked me to participate in the mission department meeting but I kindly declined his offer, as I had other things to do back home. On the third floor, I find my son waiting near the elevator. I press the button on his chest and as I watch him disappear I press the button on my chest to follow him home.
The story above is a virtual scenario of worship service in the future virtual church. People attend Sunday service with the vGlasses that use hologram and brain stimulus. The worship service in virtual church is the same as the worship service in a real church. People can interact, touch, make conversations and even eat in the virtual church. The only difference is, in the virtual church no one is “physically” present. As the virtual church seamlessly uses the available and developing virtual world technology, people will be able to experience a more realistic and dynamic service.
The virtual church I just illustrated is more than just a make-believe or imaginary church. Gatherings in virtual churches are as real as our present church gatherings. Present churches and virtual churches can cooperate and be connected. In the future, it would be meaningless to say which is real and which is imaginary.
2. THE APPEARANCE OF THE VIRTUAL CHURCH (vCHURCH)
In November 4th 2008 during America’s presidential election, Wolf Blitzer in CNN New York talks with the hologram of Jessica Yellin in CNN Chicago. They were making conversation as if they were physically together in the same place although they were more than 700 miles apart (CNN 2008: Web). Not even 10 years have passed and now we often see such similar scenes.
Hatsune Miku in Japan, is a digital avatar. She is a synthetic character created by Crypton Future Media. Hatsune Miku gained huge success through her concert where she was presented as a hologram. The crowd was crazy about her and thought of her as a part-human goddess (CBSNEWS 2012: Web). Virtual characters could be more popular than reality.
The Coachella Music Festival in California, USA, is famous. In April 2012, the crowd experienced the resurrection of Tupac Shakur, who is a hip pop artist who was shot and killed in 1996. Tupac Shakur was present as a hologram and performed on the stage with Snoop Dogg (New York Daily News 2012: Web). Such as this, holograms could connect us with someone who is far away, a virtual being, or even someone who died years ago.
On March 2014, Facebook made an announcement about taking over Oculus (computer gaming company) for two billion dollars. Oculus is a company which develops computer games based on virtual reality. Games created by Oculus are different from other computer games. In Oculus games, the game user puts on “Rift”, which is a headset that activates virtual reality, and allows the gamer to become a part of the game. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who took over Oculus said, “Imagine you could sit in the stadium and watch your favorite team’s game, students and teachers all around the world could sit together in the same classroom, see your doctor at home, just by putting on your virtual goggles” (Forbes 2014: Web). Zuckerberg realized that in the very near future, virtual reality will be part of our lives and he thought the technology that Oculus has is valuable and is the platform of the future.
Hologram technology is developing rapidly. So far holograms were just 3D imagery which could not be touched or sensed. However, the development of hologram technology has advanced to a point where we can actually feel a hologram water drop on our palm. It would be hard to determine whether something is reality or virtual when a virtual image can deliver the sense of touch (Choi 2013: 230). The hologram of Jessica Yellin of CNN couldn’t feel the atmosphere of the New York CNN studio. However, giving stimulation to human brain could take hologram technology to another level. Yoonsik Choi mentions something called ‘Deep brain stimulation’ which is technology that stimulates and controls the brain via electronic lines connected to a computer. This technology is called ‘Cyborg Technology’ and it is currently being used to treat Parkinson’s disease. 20,000 Parkinson’s disease patients have already been treated with cyborg technology and they have been able to walk, run and even dance after the treatment (Choi 2013: 253). Fit brain stimulation technology combines with hologram technology, a virtual world where we can actually sense and feel will become reality. A virtual word can be formed through the fusion of hologram and the matrix world.
According to Yoonsik Choi, we can expect to experience a separate dimension created by virtual reality technology. He calls this concept as ‘escape to virtual reality world.’ One day the virtual world accompanied by 3D imagery will dominate the real world and will establish virtual government, virtual company, virtual school and society, and these will perfectly synthesize with the real world (Choi 2013: 231). According to Choi, 3D intelligent ubiquitous environment will be established by 2010 and by 2022, and virtual reality will be generalized. After 2030, innovation of the 3-dimentional virtual reality technology will be fully developed and the line between virtual and reality will vanish, as individual’s memory and history will remain inside it’s avatar in the virtual world (Choi 2013: 236). If such is possible, by 2022 churches will experience the virtual version and the reality version synthesizing and cooperating with each other.
This virtual church is different with the cyber church which we already have online. It will allow people to go beyond just streaming a sermon online or get information through a church webpage. The future virtual church will allow people to meet each other in its virtual space and attend Sunday services and allow them to have fellowship. In the near future with more advanced hologram and brain stimulating technology, virtual church will become a reality.
3. WHAT CAUSED VIRTUAL CHURCH TO ARRIVE?
An era that is so rapidly changing could be one of the reasons why a virtual church would be present. If the developing technology allows us to have a virtual school and a virtual company, there is no doubt that we could also have a virtual church. There are already signs that churches are moving towards a virtual concept. For example, the birth of television provided sermon on air for people who physically cannot be in the church and it also helped other people become exposed to the gospel. There are many people who have their Sunday services at home via television. The number of online congregation is increasing. Many churches have an online webpage that provides sermons and church information to people. People can use online streaming to listen to the sermon that is being preached in the church at the same time. There are chatting windows next to the streaming screen so people can participate by chatting and commenting about the sermon. As we are seeing these changes, the arrival of the virtual church is inevitable in the near future.
Disappointment in the present churches could be another reason for a virtual church to take place. The growth of western and Korean churches is stagnating and the number of churchgoers are expected to decrease significantly. Taking the Korean church for example, according to research by Gallup Korea in 2004, from 1997 to 2004, 7.5 million people left the Protestant church. Although the percentage of people who identify with religion have increased from 46.9% to 53.5%, the number of Protestants have decreased. People who don’t have religion have the most favorable impression of Buddhist (37.4%) then Catholics (17%) and lastly Protestants (12.3%) (Gallup Korea 2005: Web). Korean churches are losing the trust of society. 10 years have passed and if we were to perform the same research, the result will be more devastating now. The future of Korean churches is depressing. With the loss of dynamics in the church and the changing Korean population and society, the church is losing it’s Sunday school population and will be filled with retired people. This in turn will decrease offerings and eventually a lot of churches will go through financial breakdown and they would have to close down.
Historically, after significant revivals, churches have been spending their money on building larger buildings. Mega churches and big churches competitively built their buildings to absorb more people from small churches that have closed down. Sometimes it was to show their grandness and power. As a result, church members had to bear the church’s financial burden and many have dedicated themselves in a lot of ways. However, some members will be disgusted by a church’s ambition to show off its grandness and they will think of a way to find a church that doesn’t need so much money to operate and at the same time keep their spiritual life active.
Furthermore, the efficiency of virtual space demands the arrival of the virtual church. Virtual church could fulfill the needs that present churches cannot. Virtual churches could expand its size without any expense and allow people to have meetings. Virtual churches are not limited by where people are. People all around the world could be involved in the same church. With the ability of developing technology, virtual churches will have more dynamic features.
4. DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE VIRTUAL CHURCH AND THE PRESENT CHURCH
The only difference between the virtual church and the present church is that in a virtual church people are not being gathered in a physical building and are not physically together. With that difference aside, everything else will be the same. For example, if someone is a Presbyterian, he will be guided by the Westminster Confession and memorize the Shorter Catechism. If he was asked “what is the chief end of man?” he will answer, “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Virtual church will retain the Presbyterian churches tradition and administrative structure. The service will continue to follow the Presbyterian tradition, taking place in a designated space and time. The Pastor will preach the gospel and the choir will sing worship songs and the offerings will be made. There will be Sunday schools, and men and women ministries. The only difference will be that the members need to wear equipment such as ‘vGlasses’ and everything will take place in virtual reality. However, this will not mean that people’s activity is limited to the virtual world. According to decisions made in the virtual space, people can physically meet each other in the real world; such as visiting sick families in the church or get involved with feeding ministry in the real world. Virtual world and present world will both have equal value and meaning and they will co-exist in the future.
5. PROS OF THE VIRTUAL CHURCH
Because virtual churches don’t need a physical building, they don’t need a budget for building and maintenance. Of course there will be some expense involved with computer programming and mapping, but it will be substantially less when compared to the budget of building and maintaining them physically. Virtual churches can also grow in size freely. Virtual churches will save time and energy for the people getting together. We won’t need to drive more than 30 minutes to attend Sunday services or church meetings. All we need to do is put on our vGlasses at the time we need to be at the church. Even when we are out of town for business or travel, we could still be present in our virtual church. Virtual church will be an easy solution to connect people. If someone wants pastoral visitation, they can set up the time and place and meet each other in virtual space.
It will also be possible to invite renowned preachers from all over the word to preach at a virtual church. Although you could always listen to their preaching by playing recorded videos, actually by inviting them to the virtual church the sermon will become more dynamic and personal. Sermons will also become more effective. For example, when the preacher is preaching about God’s creation, he can make creations to appear inside the chapel. There could be stars shining in the ceiling of the chapel and giraffes passing through the aisles.
Virtual church will be a convenient place for handicapped people. Since no one is physically being disturbed by anything in virtual spaces, there will be no problem for handicapped person to attend services. The deaf will be able to understand the sermon and blind will be able to see things virtually through advanced technology. Nothing will stop people from attending the church service. There are many more pros to the future virtual church.
6. IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ABOUT THE VIRTUAL CHURCH
Seung-Goo Lee mentioned that cyber or virtual church will distort the church’s original image. He claimed, “Cyber communities could be educated with God’s word and have fellowship based on the teachings, but unless there are offline meetings, there won’t be genuineness of baptism and communion.” He also mentioned “with the anonymous and unknown identity of web users, it seems impossible to acquire proper community. Therefore, cyber church or virtual church is inappropriate for the church’s original concept” (goodness 2005: Web). For reasons such as this, there will be a lot of questions and doubts about the virtual church. These questions could be theological questions or practical questions. Above all possible questions, we can assume that the two most critical questions would be one: “can virtual church be genuine?” and second: “is it going to be possible for people to have genuine fellowship?”
1) Can virtual church be genuine?
When we ask the question, “can virtual church be genuine?” we should ask ourselves “what is the definition of church?” Wayne Grudem defines church in his book “Systematic Theology” as this; “the church is the community of all true believers for all time” (Grudem 1994: 853). If this definition is true, a Christian community represented by the virtual church should also be considered as church. Virtual church has a different style or format of gathering, but they are the same Christian community,which serves Jesus Christ as Savior.
The marks that distinguish a true church from a false church as per the protestant church are as follows: the true preaching of the word of God, the right administration of the sacraments and the faithful exercise of discipline (Berkhof 1996: 577-578). Many churches are failing to keep up with these marks, resulting in a lack of spiritual dynamics. If we can answer the question of whether the virtual church could meet these marks, we can also answer whether the virtual church can be genuine.
I believe it will be possible for the virtual church to have truthful proclamation of the gospel and proper practice of justice just like the present churches. The question is whether or not the virtual church can have the right administration of the sacraments. If the water used in baptism and the bread and wine in communion is symbolic, and we believe that the Holy Spirit reigns upon us during these sacraments, it is not that hard to believe that the virtual church can have right administration of sacraments. Even though the water, bread and wine used in a virtual church is just a hologram, they have meaning as symbolic images and we cannot conclude that the spirit of Christ is absent.
2) Is it possible to have genuine fellowship?
As we talk about the virtual church, there will be much doubt about whether church members can have personal relationships with each other and have genuine fellowship. Although people meet in the form of a hologram in the virtual church, they can see and feel each other just like in the real world. As we can see in the movie Matrix, people can talk and eat in the virtual space. Our intellect is fully operating in virtual space. The only difference is that a person’s physical body is in the real world not the virtual world. We create relationships through SNS such as Facebook and Tweeter. We are already experiencing how people bond through the internet based platform.
If someone insists that personal fellowship requires physical encounter, it would be impossible for us to meet Jesus personally. Although Jesus went up to heaven, we are still engaging with him without physical encounter. Even though we can’t see his face, we can have personal encounter with him through the Holy Spirit. What about our spiritual ancestors? Their souls are waiting for the resurrection of their bodies while enjoying personal fellowship with God in heaven. Therefore, demanding physical encounter for personal relationship would be an unreasonable requirement.
The validity of services in virtual church could be explained by looking at John 4:20, where the Samaritan woman meets Jesus. She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” And Jesus answers, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). He says it is not important where we worship. If our worship is being made in spirit and truth, God will accept it as a true worship (John 4:23-24). Because God is a spirit.
If we are to distinguish spirituality, the spirituality of virtual church could be stated as “vSpirituality.” I don’t think vSpirituality is fake or inferior compared to the spirituality in real world. Members of the virtual church are able to confess their true belief, give whole hearted worship and live according to their spiritual belief in both the virtual world and the real world.
7. VIRTUAL CHURCH AND MISSIONS
When I began wondering about how missions would change in the future, I was faced with the idea of the virtual church. That is because the future of missions and the future of the church are intimately connected. If the virtual church becomes established, the paradigm of missions will definitely change. In the future, the cross over to other cultures to spread the gospel will not be as complicated or cumbersome as it is now. Additionally, as the current state of missions is not suitable for the virtual world, the existing mission model, structure, and paradigm will either change, disappear, or be replaced by something new.
Through the virtual church, we will be able to experience to an extent what it was like during Pentecost and what it will be like in the end of days. Which is the experience of seeing all nation and tongues worship God. In a virtual world, the future people of all nations will be able to gather in one place and worship God without the barrier of differing languages. There are no restrictions of location in the virtual world. Anyone who desires to participate in the service can do so from where they physically are. Also, as there are no limitations in the size of the space, everyone in the whole world can, in theory worship in the same space.
When the virtual church becomes established there will be no problems with communication across different languages. There will be an automatic translator so that everyone will understand each other regardless of the language. In Korea a mobile translator that can instantaneously translate Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese has recently been released. In 2015 a company called Sekee iTech released a mobile translation device called Barotalk. Barotalk was produced through partnership with SYSTRAN international, which is the world’s leader in the development of language translation technologies. Barotalk is an intensive production that includes automatic speech recognition, spoken language translation, text-to-speech synthesis, and bi-directional automatic translation technology. By using natural language processing technology, Barotalk has raised the accuracy of translation (MK News 2015: Web, Korean Times 2016: Web). Now the 1.4 billion people using Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese can communicate without learning the languages.
Google Translate has been advancing at an incredible rate. In 2015 Google Translate had the capabilities to translate in 90 languages in text, 37 via photo, and 32 via voice (New York Daily News 2015: Web). At the start of 2016 Google announced that it now translates 103 languages which covers 99% of the online population. In 2006 Google started with machine learning-based translations between English and Arabic, Chinese and Russian, and in just almost 10 years it has advanced this far (Google Translate Blog 2016: Web). If in the future Google Translate combines with virtual reality technology, people of differing languages will be able to communicate freely in the virtual world. The members of the Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia, the members of the Assembly of God in Brazil, the members of the Church of Christ in Thailand, and even those that are members of Muslim and Buddhist communities who are interested in attending a virtual church service where a Korean pastor is preaching can do so without the barriers of language.
Meanwhile, the virtual church will be capable of providing an environment where their members from other countries can worship in their own languages. For example, a virtual church somewhere in Seoul, South Korea can provide a separate chapel for Vietnamese, Mongolians and Myanmarese and have pastors from their country preach. These pastors would not have to physically leave their countries to preach. And of course as each country develops its virtual technology, there will no longer be any need for them to have the help of the virtual church in Seoul to establish a virtual church for their own nationals.
Although people who doubt the virtual church criticizes its anonymity, it is the virtual church’s anonymity that can be a huge help to missions. Through the virtual church’s anonymity, people who are in countries where there is no religious freedom can freely go to church. If virtual space technology develops further, no matter how oppressive the government is, it will not be easy for governments to entirely ban worship services within a virtual space. There are call centers and chatting rooms operating 24 hours a day for Christian counseling and questions. They are run by volunteers who take turns looking at the computer screen or wait for calls to engage with people around the world. People who call are from various countries and are of different races, religion, gender, age and occupation; but all have interest in Christianity. When the virtual world is opened, people around the world will be able to talk freely about spiritual matters by facing each other in the virtual space.
Virtual churches will have an easier ability to be a missional church than the present churches. There will be a need for professional virtual missionaries (vMissionaries) for virtual evangelism (vEvangelism), however all members of the virtual church can participate in missions. With the technology of automatic language translating system it will not be necessary for them to learn the language. It will not be necessary for them to take a plane to reach the local people in the mission field. The virtual church can make spaces where they can invite the people in the mission field from all over the world and teach the gospel.
Going to missions by traveling back and forth doesn’t mean much in virtual missions. Missional work will not be limited to certain people in the church, but it will become everyone’s job. Every nation on earth will have their opportunities to hear the gospel in their own language. Certainly, virtual world will bring us an optimal opportunity for world mission.
If you go inside Samsung Gear VR in the official website of Samsung’s Galaxy, there is a quote that says, “You’re there in the moment. A super AMOLED display, wide field of view, precise head-tracking and low latency brings reality to the virtual…Anything is possible when you’re inside Gear VR. Whether it’s battling the undead or riding a flying carpet, you won’t run out of adventures with an ever-expanding vault of games” (Samsung: Web). The Samsung Gear VR will take us instantaneously into the virtual world from the real world, and make everything a possibility. Samsung is introducing its Gear VR in cooperation with Oculus, a company that Facebook took over.
Along with the virtual world, virtual church will also be introduced to us. Our future will be an era where virtual and reality will cooperate and synthesize. When the virtual church is introduced, existing churches will be in shock and there will be much controversy. Some people may support the idea of virtual church, but most of the people will worry and fear the concept of a virtual church. In looking ahead for its arrival , I think it is proper for the present churches and virtual churches to co-exist in order to minimize the conflict and shock that the present church will experience. Present churches should remain as it is, but virtual churches will support young generations and people who feel uncomfortable with the present church. Additionally, to alleviate the possible doubts about the virtual church’s spirituality, sacraments and interpersonal relationships, the present church should be connected to the virtual church. For example, churches can set up a rule that sacrament should only take place in the church in the real world in order to minimize dispute against the virtual church.
Christianity is a religion of incarnation and translation. If Christianity isn’t being translated and incarnated to a new era and culture, Christianity will deteriorate. Andrew Walls wrote, “The Christian story is a story of advance and recession” (Walls 2007:12, 15). The stagnation of Western and Korean churches were inevitable as Christianity wasn’t being continuously translated and incarnated to the new era and culture (Walls 2007: 13). The generation that experienced the huge revival of Christianity is stubbornly clinging on to their old experience, rather than trying to translate the gospel for the new generation. If churches are not capable of translating the gospel for the new generation without distorting its essence, the future of the church cannot be guaranteed. If churches ignore the concept of virtual space despite it’s generalization in the future, the church will become a lone island. Therefore, churches should accept the concept of future virtual space and not hesitate to plan a future reconstruction of the church.
Also, virtual space could be a huge breakthrough for world mission. It is because the virtual world is not limited by location or language differences. In the virtual world, anyone can easily meet without the restriction of location or language barrier. Despite an individual’s religion, language, culture and background, the virtual church will be able to provide the gospel. Therefore, churches need to develop their mission paradigm, structure, model and program that is suitable for the virtual world and also acquire professionals who are experts in virtual technology.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Berkhof, Louis, 1996, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans
Choi, Yoonsik, 2013, 2020-2040 A Future Map of the Korean Church, Seoul, The Word of Life,
Grudem, Wayne, 1994, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Walls, Andrew, 2007, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, Maryknoll, Orbis.
igoodnews. 2005. “Cyber Virtual Church, Distortion of Church’s True Nature.” http://www.igoodnews.net/news/articleView.html?idxno=7852. (January 4, 2005)
Gallup Korea, 2005. “2004 Religions and Religious Rituals of Koreans(1)”. http://www.gallup.co.kr/gallupdb/reportDownload.asp?seqNo=78 (May 30, 2005)
Korea Times, 2016. “Freely in 4 Languages,, Mobile Translator”
MK News, 2015. “From Korean to English, Chinese, and Japanese. Mobile Translator, ‘Barotalk’” http://news.mk.co.kr/newsRead.php?no=643677&year=2015 (July 06, 2015)
CBS News, 2012. “Hatsune Miku: The World Fakest Pop Star”. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hatsune-miku-the-worlds-fakest-pop-star/ (November 09, 2012)
CNN, 2008. “Beam me up, Wolf! CNN debuts election-night ‘hologram’”. http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/11/06/hologram.yellin/ (November 6, 2008)
Forbes, 2014. “Facebook Buys Oculus, Virtual Reality Gaming Startup, For $2 Billion”. http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2014/03/25/facebook-buys-oculus-virtual-reality-gaming-startup-for-2-billion/ (March 25, 2014)
Google Translate Blog 2016 “From Amharic to Xhosa, introducing Translate in 13 new languages — now over 100 in total!”
New York Daily News, 2012 “Rapper Tupac Shakur hits stage at Coachella with the help of 3-D technology”. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/back-dead-rapper-tupac-returns-stage-coachella-3-d-technology-article-1.1062595 (April 16, 2012)
____________, 2015. “Google Translate adds 20 more languages to real-time video feature”. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/google-translate-adds-20-languages-real-time-video-article-1.2313271 (August 3, 2015)
Samsung, 2016. “Gear VR powered by Oculus” http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/wearables/gear-vr/
Dr. Steve K. Eom was sent to Ethiopia by GMS and involved in church planting with SIM for three terms. Steve is now serving at East-West Center for Missions Research and Development (EWC/mrd) and Asia Missions Association (AMA) as the General Secretary while ministering for SIM Asian Churches Mobilization in the US.
David S. Lim
What is the best way to understand and catalyze House Church Movements (HCM) or Church Planting Movements (CPM)? Recently, I have found a very helpful article to explain how and why HCMs work. It is “Kingdom Kernels: 4 Stages of a Movement” by Steve Smith, Neill Mims & Mark Stevens, published in Mission Frontiers 37:6 (November/December 2015): 38-41. As I summarize and quote from this article, I’ve also added my few comments and indicated them in [brackets].
The article observes that throughout history, most institutions go through four phases or stages, and sometimes back again through grassroots movements. Simplifying and describing this historical progression from the Unreached Stage to Institutional Stage can help us make mission strategies that can maximize church multiplication to fulfill the Great Commission. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each stage and what happens when we move from one to the other, we can become more effective in expanding God’s kingdom among the nations.
STAGE ONE – UNREACHED [OR PIONEERING] PHASE
In the beginning of a new mission work, the people group is unreached. Few believers or churches exist. Outsiders enter the context and lead people to faith. “Persons of peace” [POP, based on Luke 10:6] are discovered and networks of relationships are opened up through those who accept Christ. It is not uncommon to find some who may multiply gospel acceptance 30 times, 60 times and 100 times in their circle of influence.
In this early stage of what might become a movement of God, usually all forms and methods are rather simple. If they are not, then this mission work will never become a movement.
- The number of Christians…is relatively small. The new movement may be growing, but the main initiative of evangelism and church planting comes from evangelists from outside the people group. Growth is slow and incremental.
- The few churches meet in informal places – homes, under trees or in other places already built (storefronts, offices, etc.)… If buildings are built, they are usually funded by outsiders.
- Most important is the concept of the priesthood of every believer. Though outsiders are initiating the evangelism and church planting, this work can become a movement if they teach the believers not only to go directly to God but also to live out the priestly service of evangelizing and ministering to others. If they do not catch this concept, then the mission work can remain in the unreached phase indefinitely – outsiders leading all the evangelism, discipleship, church planting and ministry.
- Leadership development of local believers is very informal, usually happening in the churches or local context, just in time, mainly in the form of mentoring.
All of the forms are so simple at this stage, so that with the right vision and mentoring, they can easily be fanned into a Church Multiplication Movement.
STAGE TWO – MOVEMENT [OR MULTIPLICATION] PHASE
At this stage, multiplication of disciples and churches is occurring primarily because indigenous believers are captivated by the vision to reach their own people group and beyond. The number of believers begins to increase dramatically because of the practice of the priesthood of every believer. As the Spirit empowers them through simple forms and methods, new communities are reached with the gospel. [Movements can occur only when they are led by insiders (not outsiders).]
Churches continue to meet in informal places such as homes and multiplication is the norm for most churches as they live with these simple forms. Leaders are developed in the context of actual ministry. Locally connected leadership networks develop where leaders with more responsibility gain additional training in context.
Indigenous believers do not wait for outsiders to initiate evangelism, baptism, discipleship, church planting or leadership. The movement grows because of their confidence that they are commissioned and empowered to do the work of ministry. Most believers and leaders do not see a great “clergy/laity” divide. [In fact, most leaders are bi-vocational or “tentmakers.”] A movement can remain in this stage for years or decades. [In HCM, believers are discipled to stay (and multiply) permanently in this stage, and not formalize any further!]
STAGE THREE – FORMALIZING (OR ESTABLISHED) PHASE
As the number of believers continues to increase rapidly, a desire develops to standardize or formalize certain aspects of the movement (e.g. church formation, leadership development, etc.). As the movement formalizes, they begin to meet in purpose-built structures, often rented with the goal of building their own sanctuary as soon as possible.
Leadership development becomes more formalized as well. Training institutions begin to emerge to equip more leaders and to do it in a more systematic manner. Certificates and credentials begin to emerge in the process. Some very gifted leaders begin to stand out among the leaders. They are highly gifted evangelists, preachers, teachers and administrators. Lay pastoral leadership becomes less common and a professional leadership becomes more common.
The result is that normal disciples can be intimidated from doing the work of the ministry. They do not have the abilities or specialized training/credentials of the professional leaders. Therefore, the concept of the priesthood of the believer (in terms of “every member a minister”) wanes. A smaller percentage of disciples continue in ministering to others. No one intends for this to occur, and many pastors will do their best in stages three and four to build up their church members as ministers and leaders, but the “clergy/laity” divide becomes more profound.
STAGE FOUR – INSTITUTIONAL PHASE
As the movement becomes more formalized, it inevitably moves to an institutional phase. Overall the movement may grow for a while due to the sheer number of churches and believers bearing witness. However, it is not uncommon for the movement to plateau, unable to keep pace with their birth rate.
At this stage, multitudes of believers exist. Churches become common and accepted in society. The majority of churches meet in purpose-built structures and the requirements for what constitutes a church become more rigid. For a church to meet in a home is seen as odd and “not real church.” Some churches become larger and some mega-churches emerge, though in many denominations, the vast majority of churches still average under a hundred in attendance.
Extremely gifted leaders emerge. Virtually all leadership development is now done in institutions — seminaries or Bible schools — and credentials are expected. A majority of leaders serve in full or part-time capacities. Lay leadership is less common, or at least less visible. So the priesthood of all believers wanes drastically. Believers bring their lost friends to church rather than lead them to faith themselves. Professional leaders do the work of ministry and find it difficult to motivate the average person in the pew to serve in lay ministry.
Institutions by the church become common (seminaries, publishing houses, hospitals, mission agencies, etc.) and can effect great impact through the manpower and budgets they wield. [But historically they rarely reached this potential due to inertia, nominalism and maintenance costs]. This whole process can take years, decades or centuries to develop. The early church did not enter this final stage until the Fourth Century A.D.
STAGE FOUR WORKERS IN STAGE ONE
All movements progress through these stages. The difficulty comes when we lack this historical perspective and try to make sense of movements at their earlier stages.
What happens when a missionary leaves a stage four church and tries to do evangelism and church planting in stage one? Inadvertently he tries to plant stage four disciples and churches because that is all he knows. One missionary realized that when his organization pioneered work in his tribal people group, they attempted to start stage four churches from the beginning (complete with brick and mortar). He calculated that on average it took 22 years to plant a stage four church in a stage one context.
When Mims taught a group of Korean missionaries, this question sparked an intense counseling session. Though a result of a mighty movement, Korean church culture is now extremely institutional. This 4-stage presentation gave these missionaries some understanding as to why their home churches and pastors expected them to start large churches or other institutions very quickly or be considered failures.
Leadership development also becomes a challenge. Local partners that Smith mobilized to reach an unreached people group in Asia needed one year of training-doing-retraining-doing-retraining before they understood basic reproducible patterns for evangelism, discipleship and church planting movements. Only after one year did they finally follow a stage-one-and-two pattern.
But when it came time to choose leaders, they still naturally reverted to seeing through stage four eyes. They could not find any believers from the harvest to appoint as pastors. The reason was not the lack of biblical qualifications. The problem was that they were envisioning leaders from back home (stage four) – extremely gifted, exceptional teachers, highly mature spiritual life, administrative abilities, etc. It was not until they grasped the basics of Scripture and abandoned stage four expectations that they could develop local leaders appropriately at stage one. These indigenous leaders would continue to grow and mature as they were trained in the years to come.
STAGE TWO WORKERS IN STAGE FOUR
What happens with believers from stage one or two who visit leaders and churches in stage four? A not-uncommon consequence is death of the movement phase and immediately entering the formalizing and institutional phase.
Leaders from an emerging CPM left their mountain homes and descended into the plains where stage four churches and institutions had existed for decades. When the leaders saw the marvelous buildings, institutions and gifted leaders, they longed to have the same thing. They returned to their mountain churches and immediately instituted stage four requirements for what constituted a church and who could lead. This effectively killed the disciple multiplication potential of their movement.
STAGE FOUR LEADERS WATCHING A STAGE TWO MOVEMENT
When our frame of reference is stage four, it is easy to criticize what we see in stage two. We can easily label the house churches as “not real churches.” Or, we can require that leaders meet certain credentials to be qualified to lead. Or, as we feel pity for pastors that are bi-vocational, we may donate money to support them full-time, thereby creating a benchmark that is no longer reproducible. We can kill a movement when we implement extra-biblical requirements that are a yoke too heavy into the early stages.
Recently, as Smith spoke to 400 pastors, seminary professors and mission leaders about launching HCMs in the American context, he encountered many such questions. The idea of every believer being trained to make disciples and potentially start churches was foreign to them.
He read them an account of the number of believers and churches multiplying almost ten-fold over the course of 20 years in USA. When they asked where this movement was occurring, he shared that this occurred in the American frontier among Baptists from 1790-1810.
He quoted from Baptist historian Robert Baker [The Southern Baptist Convention and its People: 1607-1972 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974): 87]: “Baptist ecclesiology and doctrine were particularly suited to the democratic atmosphere of the developing western frontier. The Baptist gospel was simple, minimizing complex theological formulations, and emphasizing a life-changing confrontation with Jesus Christ. Like Paul, most of the frontier Baptist preachers were tentmakers in the sense that they provided for their own livelihood. The distinction between “laity” and “clergy” existed only in the fact that the latter had fire in their bones to preach the gospel in response to a divine summons.
“The Baptist preachers lived and worked exactly as did their flocks: their dwellings were little cabins with dirt floor and, instead of bedspreads, skin-covered pole-bunks; they cleared the ground, split rails, planted corn, and raised hogs on equal terms with their parishioners.”
The fact that each Baptist church was completely independent appealed to frontier democracy and eliminated problems of ministerial appointment and ecclesiastical authority. It is no wonder, then, that the Baptists played a large part in the significant frontier movement and made great gains from their ministry among the people on the growing edge of American life.
Smith concluded by challenging the group, “This is our heritage! This is the way we lived just 200 years ago. Let us embrace our heritage and ask God for a renewal movement.” History is filled with this general story occurring over and over, nation by nation. It is also filled with stories of plateaued denominations in which fresh grass roots movements emerged by going back to principles of stage two.
[In China, the HCM stayed in stage two for 20 years, too (circa 1970-1990). It multiplied because of government persecution, which forced it to go underground, just like in the early church (Acts 8:1,4). It became effective in multiplying HC networks through teenage evangelists who went forth two by two from town to town, without receiving formal theological education and ordination. These simple networks were led by elders who were ordinary farmers. But by the 1990s the movement started to plateau as the younger leaders sought theological education and ordination, and began to have big church gatherings in the cities – becoming stage three until now. Learning from this experience, most of Asia’s HCMs are intentionally propagating stages 1 (for outsiders) and 2 (for insiders) to expand God’s kingdom in Christ-centered transformational communities where every home and workplace is a “house-church.”]
The article concludes emphatically: The challenge is to keep and maintain a movement at the movement stage as long as possible and do not let the formalizing impede the progress of the kingdom. But when it does begin to slow down, going back to simple biblical processes and methods of earlier stages can spark a new movement. Why not today? Why not in your context?
For further reading on HCMs:
Chaojaroenrat, Sinchai. N.d. (in Thai) House Network Church. Bangkok: Christian Leadership Institute.
Choudhrie, Victor. 2007. Teaching Cards for Church Planters. email@example.com.
______. 2010. Mega Church to Meta Church. www.peterjfarmers/mega-church-to-meta-church.
Claro, Robert. 2003. A Higher Purpose for Your Overseas Job. Makati City: Church Strengthening Ministries.
Fukuda, Mitsuo. 2010. Upward, Outward, Inward: Passing the Baton of Discipleship. Gloucester: Wide Margin.
______. 2011. Mentoring Like Barnabas. Gloucester: Wide Margin.
Garrison, David. 2004. Church Planting Movements. Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources.
_______. 2013. A Wind in the House of Islam. Monument, CO: WIGTake Resources.
Gauran, Johani. 1991. The Witnessing Kit. Makati City: Church Strengthening Ministry.
Hattaway, Paul, et al. 2003. Back to Jerusalem. Carlisle: Piquant.
Hoefer, Herbert. 2001. Churchless Christianity. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Lim, David. 2003. “Towards a Radical Contextualization Paradigm in Evangelizing Buddhists,” Sharing Jesus in the Buddhist World, ed. David Lim & Steve Spaulding. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Pp. 71-94.
_______. 2008. “Catalyzing ‘Insider Movements’ Among the Unreached.” Journal of Asian Mission 10.1-2 (March-September 2008): 125-145.
_______. 2009. “Filipino Urban Missions in the Buddhist World,” ed. Paul de Neui. Communicating Christ in Asian Cities: Urban Issues in Buddhist Contexts. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, pp. 201-223.
_______. 2011. “Towards Closure: Imperial or Incarnational Missions?” Asian Missions Advance, 33 (October 2011): 20-22.
_______. 2013. “Asian Mission Movements in Asia Today.” Asian Missions Advance 41 (October): 29-36.
_______. 2013a. “History and Ministry of Philippine Missions Association: Leading the Global Shift to Tentmaker Missions.” Asian Missions Advance 41 (October): 2-6.
_______. 2016. “Asia’s House Church Movements.” Asian Missions Advance 52 (July): 7-12.
Nee, Watchman. 1974. Further Talks on the Church Life. Los Angeles: The Stream Publishers.
Richard, Herbert. 1999. Following Jesus in the Hindu Context. Pasadena: Wm. Carey Library.
Simson, Wolfgang. 2001. Houses That Change the World. Carlisle: Paternoster.
Talman, Harley, and J. J. Travis (eds.). 2015. Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Zdero, Rad. 2004. The Global House Church Movement. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
______. 2007. Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Dr. David S. Lim served as the National Director of Phil. Missions Association (PMA), and the National Facilitation Team Chairman of the PMA’s flagship program: the Philippine Missions Mobilization Movement, which aims to train & commission 1 million Outstanding Filipino Witnesses (OFWs) as tentmaker-missionaries among the least evangelized peoples of the world. He is currently the President/CEO of Asian School for Development and Cross-cultural Studies (ASDECS) and the Board Chairman of Lausanne Philippines.
There are two Greats in the Bible that Christians, particularly those of the evangelical persuasion, regularly refer to: the Great Commandment (Matt 22:34–40) and the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20). As Douglas Small says, “The Great Commission is proclamation—what we tell them. But the Great Commandment is incarnation—what they see in our lives.” He further observes:
The Great Commission operates on the continuum of truth, the Great Commandment on the continuum of love. If we have truth (the Great Commission) without love (the Great Commandment), we have no truth at all, only hollow sounds. If we have love without truth, we have only a sweet wrapping for a lie. Love without truth is deceptive, hypocritical, and unpredictable, and in the end not love at all. The message of Jesus is in the crosshairs of love and truth.
What is the relationship between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? Are they of equal significance, or is one subservient to the other? The debate over this issue has persisted for some time. Christopher Little contends that evangelism is paramount for Christians while social action is not and even asserts that “word apart from deed is a perfectly legitimate expression of Christian mission.” John Piper, on the other hand, claims that next to worship (which is an aspect of the Great Commandment), missions is the second greatest activity for Christ’s followers. We will argue, however, that considering from a biblical perspective, the Great Commandment encompasses the Great Commission. In other words, however significant it may be, going and making disciples of all nations is an instance of loving God and our neighbor.
A MISSIONS MANDATE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
A proper understanding of the relationship between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission can be obtained when we realize that the latter is not simply a New Testament phenomenon but a mandate that runs through the entire Scriptures. Hence, we will first review the missionary mandate portrayed in the Old Testament. Missiological research of the past several decades has demonstrated that from the very beginning it was God’s desire that Israel should be a blessing and a light to the nations. In other words, at the heart of the Bible we see that our God is a missionary God who has entrusted his people to take the gospel to all the families of the earth. The missional heart of God is already manifested in Genesis 12:1–3 in that he chose Abraham and his descendants to bless all peoples on earth through them. What kind of blessing did he purpose to bestow on all the nations? In Galatians 3:8 the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 12:3 and expounds that the blessing intended here is the blessing of justification. John Stott notes in this regard that “God’s attitude to his people is positive, constructive, enriching” and that “his principal and characteristic work is to bless people with salvation.” Abraham and Israel were to be a blessing by actively communicating the blessing of salvation to the world. However, it is through Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham, that God’s promised blessing would eventually overflow to all the nations of the earth. (Gen 22:18)
Israel’s missionary call becomes explicit in Exodus 19:4–6. Here, God declared to Moses that Israelites were to play a mediatorial role as royal priests in relation to the other nations. Unfortunately, Israel rejected this privilege and urged Moses to become their representative before the Lord. However, as we see in 1 Peter 2:9, the priesthood of all believers remained God’s plan and came to fruition in the New Testament period. Moreover, the apostle Peter elucidates in this passage the reason the Israelites and the Gentile believers are to be royal priests: it is to proclaim the excellencies of God. This is nothing less than an active mission!
Next, let us take a look at Psalm 67. This psalm derives from the Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:24–26. However, the psalmist replaced Yahweh (LORD), which is Israel’s covenantal name for God, with Elohim (God), which is the name used when God’s relationship to humanity is in mind. This change is significant and reflects the global perspective of this psalm, for the psalmist’s intention is to associate God’s abundant blessing to Israel with all the ends of the earth. The psalmist’s heartfelt desire is that through God’s blessing of Israel, all the peoples of the earth may come to know him as well. Walter Kaiser notes in this regard that “the goodness of God to Israel was meant to be one of His ways of bringing all nations on earth to fear Him, i.e., to believe the coming Man of Promise, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Lastly, let us consider the well-known phrase “light to the nations” in Isaiah 49:6. It is notoriously difficult to identify who the Lord is addressing in this passage. Although this Servant is called “Israel” in Isaiah 49:3, the subsequent verse appears to be the words of an individual. Thus, “perhaps we do not have to decide between the ‘collective’ and the ‘individual’ interpretations. It may well be that Israel as a nation is called as the Servant of Yahweh, yet there may have been individuals at times who felt that they were to fulfill that call—for example, the prophet who wrote Isa. 49.” Johannes Verkuyl interprets this Servant as referring to Israel and states that “chosen by God to become the special recipients of his mercy and justice, Israel now has the corresponding duty to live as the people of God among the other nations in order to show them his grace, mercy, justice, and liberating power.” Note that the concept of presence in missions has deep roots in the Old Testament, and Israel’s mandate to be a light to the nations, is a prime example of it. That is, simply being a distinct people while living among others is one of the most suitable forms of witnessing. Furthermore, Paul and Barnabas quoted Isaiah 49:6 when they declared to the Jewish people that they were turning from them to the Gentiles to preach the word of God (Acts 13:46–47). This indicates unequivocally that the apostles took this verse as a missionary mandate recorded in the Scripture.
JESUS’ APPRAISAL OF THE GREAT COMMISSION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Now, let us turn to Matthew 22:34–40, the passage that contains the Great Commandment. The question that the expert of the law asked Jesus was, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law (i.e., the Torah)?” Significantly, even though Jesus must have been familiar with the strong missional message in the Old Testament, he did not refer to Exodus 19:6 (you will be for me a kingdom of priests [royal priests]) but quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 as the greatest commandments. Moreover, “Jesus has expanded the definition of neighbor from ‘fellow Israelite’ (Lev. 19:18) to anyone in need (Luke 10:29–37) and even to one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44).” One may wonder if Exodus 19:6 can qualify as a commandment. However, recall its intent explicated in 1 Peter 2:9: it is to proclaim the excellencies of God. Thus, there is an implicit command behind this verse and Jesus must have been fully aware what the role of royal priests actually entailed. After all, he is the Author of Torah. Furthermore, Jesus declared that all the Law and the Prophets, which encompass not only commandments but also such passages as Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 49:6, hang on these two commandments. Therefore, whether it is proper to call Exodus 19:6 a commandment or not, Jesus understood that Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 were the most important of all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, “these vertical (Godward) and horizontal (humanward) relationships sum up not just the Torah, or five books of Moses, but the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures (‘the law and the prophets’ [22:40]).” Likewise, Paul declares in Romans 13:8–10 that if we love others, we have done all that the law demands, and James 2:8 affirms that Leviticus 19:18 is the royal or the most important law found in the Scriptures (cf. Gal 5:14).
We thus contend that the Great Commission delineated in the Old Testament, (being a blessing and a light to the nations and proclaiming the excellencies of God as royal priests), is subsumed by the Great Commandment. We further argue that since the same missionary mandate runs through the entire Scriptures, the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:18–20 can also be viewed as included in the Great Commandment. That is, the commandments of God, which encompass the Great Commission, “find their coherence in the overriding principle of the double commandment to love.” This is in fact not surprising, for the proper motivation for the Great Commission is a genuine love for God and others. Daniel Akin puts it this way:
The ultimate motivation for the Great Commission is love of God and a passion to be on mission with Him. After all, the Great Commission is His mission! But flowing out of love for God also will be a genuine love for people, something too many of us have lost somewhere along the way. The results have devastated our witness. If we do not love them, we have no right to expect them to listen. If we do not serve them, we have no reason to expect them to trust us. . . . If we love Jesus as we should, we will love sinners as we ought and pursue them as He did. We will not condemn them; that is the business of God. We will love them, serve them, and tell them of a Savior who cares for their soul. . . . The Great Commission and the Great Commandments—they always go hand in hand.
As Akin rightly says, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment should always go hand in hand. This is the crux of holistic mission. According to Bryant Myers,
Holistic mission is a frame for mission that refuses the dichotomy between material and spiritual, between evangelism and social action, between loving God and loving neighbor.
Holistic mission is the life of Christians passionately pursuing their relationship with God by seeking to be more like Christ, and who, because of their life in Christ, are passionately sharing the good news that through Christ anyone can be restored to a loving relationship with God and can learn to love, not only their neighbor, but their enemy.
However, we should take note that although we espouse holistic mission, we are not claiming that loving and caring for others is simply means to sharing the gospel with them. Rather, we maintain that going out and making disciples is an indispensable aspect of loving God and our neighbor. They are not in competition. Mark Russell observes that, “evangelism is a means to the end of loving God as is social ministry. They are both a means to the end of loving others. Finally, they are both a means to the end of increasing the effectiveness of the other.” The ministry of our Lord Jesus itself was an epitome of holistic mission, for he was tirelessly engaged in not only proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom but also meeting the physical needs of the people (Matt 4:23; 9:35). Not only that, Jesus also taught his disciples to do the same (Luke 9:2; 10:9). Tony Campolo remarks in this regard that “we cannot live out the Great Commission until we first live out the Great Commandment. We all want to go out and preach the gospel to all nations, but we don’t want them to be our neighbors. They’ve got to be our neighbors before we can convince them about the Christ who died for them.” In fact, genuinely loving and caring for others gives credibility to what we verbally share with them. As Ralph Winter rightly observes, “The Bible as God’s Word would be little more than dreamy philosophy if it did not refer almost constantly to the deeds of God, the deeds of key human followers, and the deeds of His Son. In the same way, our missionary outreach must be filled with meaningful deeds or our words run thin and we do not reveal the character of God.” Furthermore, regarding the Great Commission, Russell suggests that we should expand our understanding of evangelism beyond a verbal proclamation of the gospel, for “the goal of a verbal proclamation is to give knowledge of salvation. The goal of evangelism is transformation.” That is, evangelism comprises not only a verbal proclamation of the gospel but also transformation of people’s lives, their cultures, and their societies. As Winter poignantly observes, evangelicals seem to regard getting people saved as more important than all other ways of glorifying God.
What does it mean to glorify God? According to Russell, “to glorify God means to love him and others as He does. This is why Jesus gave primacy to these commandments. The glory of God and the love of God are inseparable attributes.” We thus redress the tendency of evangelicals to narrowly focus on getting more people saved by squarely considering what Jesus regarded as the greatest commandments. In this regard, it is also well to remember the words of Paul that if we do not have love, then we are nothing (1 Cor 13:1–3).
In fact, more and more evangelical Christians are recognizing the significance of holistic mission nowadays. According to Winter, the history of Protestant missions can be divided into three eras. The First Era (1800–1910) was initiated by William Carey and focused on both evangelism to the coastlands of the world and cultural transformation. John Wesley was a notable example of this era who was involved in Kingdom Mission (pressing for God’s will to be done on earth and thereby extending the Kingdom of God) as well as Church Mission (winning people into the Church and extending its membership). During the Second Era (1865–1980), however, a polarization emerged between those who were concerned about Church Mission alone and those who were eager for not only Church Mission but also Kingdom Mission. Hudson Taylor, who represented the Church Mission alone approach, began evangelizing the inland territories of China, while examples of Kingdom Mission included literacy work as well as doing away with cannibalism, foot binding, widow burning, and female infanticide. We are presently in the Third Era (1935 to present) during which we have not only discovered the need for Bible translation into tribal languages (owing to Cameron Townsend) and the significance of creating a “Christward movement” within a socially distinct people group (due to Donald McGavran) but also begun to see the heaven versus earth polarization gradually remedied. This reality is reflected in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974:
We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.
Currently, holistic mission prevails among poorer Christian communities in the Global South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) where meeting the social needs of people is indispensable to Christian witness.
PRACTICAL MINISTRY APPLICATIONS
We have seen so far that considering from the biblical perspective, the Great Commandment encompasses the Great Commission. In this section we will consider practical ministry applications that result from this perspective. First, note that as the apostle John says in 1 John 4:20–21, loving God and loving our neighbor are in essence one commandment. Thus, we demonstrate our love for God by loving our neighbor. William Barclay observes in this regard:
Our love for God must issue in love for men. The only way in which a man can prove that he loves God is in fact by loving his fellow-men. But it is to be noted in which order the commandments come; it is love of God first, and love of man second. It is only when we love God that man becomes lovable. The Biblical teaching about man is not that man is a collection of chemical elements, not that man is part of the brute creation, but that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27). It is for that reason that man is lovable. . . . Take away the love of God and we can become angry at man the unteachable; we can become pessimistic about man the unimprovable; we can become callous to man the machine-minder. The basis of the love of man is firmly grounded in the love of God.
As we love and serve those around us, we need to keep in mind the words of Barclay that it is only when we love God that people become lovable.
Second, research has shown that about 10 percent of Christians are naturally gifted in evangelism. This is concurrent with the words of Paul that Christ made some to be evangelists (Eph 4:11). Even though some of us may not have a gift of evangelism, all followers of Christ are called to love. This is the characteristic that Jesus singled out for his disciples (John 13:34–35). Note also that as Russell points out, authentic evangelism can only take place in the context of genuinely caring for others:
Holistic mission is needed to “save” evangelism. To save it from being proselytism and save it from being ineffective. If we evangelize without loving the whole person then we are guilty of taking the most spectacular and beautiful story the world has ever known and announcing it with resounding gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1).
Furthermore, loving the whole person is not something we do in isolation. Rather, it ought to be done in the context of a community. Gilbert Bilezikian writes:
The first great commandment relates to the vertical dimension of the cross; it has to do with our relationship to God. The other great commandment pertains to the horizontal dimension of the cross; it concerns life in community. One piece of timber without the other does not make a cross. Conversely, neither of the two great commandments without the other fulfills the will of God. Genuine communion with God translates in active participation into the building of community. It is impossible to love God without loving our neighbor since, in the actual practice of love, our service to God can only find expression in our service to others.
As the whole community of Christ followers cares for people in an authentic way, the message of the gospel of God’s grace will be apprehended most convincingly. This is in fact what I observe time and time again at a youth hostel ministry I am engaged in. All the managers and staff at our Christian hostels in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, are committed believers with a desire to share the gospel with others. On top of the managers and staff, we also have housekeepers who stay at the hostels in exchange for room and board. The majority of these housekeepers are not Christ followers yet, and a great many of them are broken inside and have come to Amsterdam in search for something. We share the gospel with the housekeepers at devotions every morning. However, what touches their heart most is often the joy, love, and peace that they see among the staff when they interact with them personally. As the housekeepers live in an authentic Christian community, they feel accepted, loved, and valued. In that whole environment the message of God loving and pursuing them and desiring to heal their brokenness and forgive their sin through Christ begins to make sense. Thus, a man from Poland recalls:
In 2004 a friend brought me to the Shelter. There I began to feel alive again. The peaceful atmosphere of the Shelter and the staff encouraged me to start reading the Bible. There I found many answers to my most troubling questions. I also started working as a cleaner.
Being among such nice people and through joining the daily Bible discussions, I realized that this longing for God and my separation from Him were the cause of all my worries, anxieties and failures. I realized that I needed to create “space” for God.
Likewise, a refugee couple from Iran writes:
A refugee organization helped us and sent us to the Shelter. After a few days we felt something different. The Christian volunteers spoke with us about a relationship with God. We experienced real love, and Jesus came into our lives. In those days, we read the Bible and went to a multicultural church in Amsterdam. There we came to believe in Jesus as our Saviour and got baptized.
Jimmy Long observes in this regard that postmodern generations experience a two-stage conversion:
Many people with a postmodern mindset experience a two-stage conversion. First, the person becomes converted to the community, which may be a small group or a larger community. Over a period of time, the seeker begins to identify with the community and feels a sense of belonging. At this point the seeker may be a member of the community without having made a commitment to Christ. . . . That commitment may form over a period of time or may take place at a specific moment. Past evangelistic efforts centered primarily on a “point-in-time” conversion process. In the postmodern world more people commit to Christ over a period of time.
Note that both the Polish man and the Iranian couple in the above examples first experienced the love of Christ through the staff of a Christian community and subsequently came to have faith in Christ. Rick Richardson aptly summarizes what we are discussing in these terms:
Pre-Christians today go through a process. They are befriended, accepted, loved. Their soul is then awakened to its existence, to its spiritual hunger and to the possibility of Jesus. They join an attractive community to experience love and to explore and experience God. The gospel addresses their hurt and their sin and their longing for identity and a sense of self, and they convert their faith. The Spirit then begins to transform them from the inside out.
The strength of a Christian community centered on genuine love is that though some may not be verbally sharing the gospel with others on a frequent basis, they are nonetheless invaluable in creating a loving and caring atmosphere where the Spirit of God moves and touches people’s lives. As St. Francis of Assisi reportedly said, we are to “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Needless to say, there ought to also be people in such a Christian community who will authentically share the hope they possess with others, for faith comes from hearing the Good News about Christ (Rom 10:17). After all, “the most loving thing we can do for people is to introduce them to Christ.” Nevertheless, it is well to remember that when the Good Samaritan saw a traveler lying on the road wounded and half dead, he did not start telling his theological convictions to the man. Rather, deeply moved with compassion, he cared for him and brought him to an inn. He even paid all expenses for him. And our Lord said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25–37). Let us go and do likewise.
 The Great Commandment is also mentioned in Mark 12:28–34 while the Great Commission appears in Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46–47, John 20:19–22, and Acts 1:4–8 as well.
 P. Douglas Small, “The Great Commitment: Prayer and the Great Commission,” in The Great Commission Connection, ed. Raymond F. Culpepper (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2011), 181-82.
 Ibid., 182.
Christopher Little, “What Makes Mission Christian?” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 25 (2008): 67.
John Piper, “Let the Nations Be Glad!” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 64-65.
Christopher Wright has a divergent view on this issue. He argues that though there is a strong missional message in the Old Testament, we fail to find a clear command for Israelites to go to the nations and exercise the priestly function there. Nor do we find explicit condemnation in the prophets for their failure to take the message of salvation to the nations by literally going to them. Note, however, that as Wright admits as an exception, Jonah was explicitly told to go to the great city of Nineveh by the Lord (Jonah 1:2; 3:2). Johannes Verkuyl observes in this regard that the same Greek word poreuomai “go” is used both here in the Septuagint translation and in the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:18–20. See Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 501-05 and Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 46.
John R. W. Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 9.
Walter C. Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 12.
Peter Balla, “2 Corinthians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 767.
Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate,” 44.
Robert Duncan Culver, A Greater Commission: The Broad Range of the Scriptural Mandate for World Evangelism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 125.
Kaiser notes that “kings and priests,” “kingly priests,” or “royal priests” is a better translation than “kingdom of priests” as in many versions. See Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call,” 13.
Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 210.
Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 560.
Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 80.
Donald McGavran maintains that “‘rightness’—a true and sound proportion in our labors—must be decided according to biblical principles in the light of God’s revealed will.” We concur with the question of priorities though we have come to a somewhat different conclusion from McGavran’s assertion that the priority of world evangelization takes precedence over everything else. According to biblical principles in the light of God’s revealed will, we claim that the Great Commandment encompasses the Great Commission. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey also argue for the utmost significance of the Great Commission based on the fact that it was among the last words of Jesus spoken to his disciples before his ascension. That is, “as His last words, they eloquently express His greatest passion and top priority.” Note, however, that by placing too much emphasis on the last words of Jesus before his ascension, they are perhaps unwittingly in danger of downplaying the significance of the rest of the New Testament. As we have seen, both Paul and James affirm that the most important law in the Scriptures is to love others as much as we love ourselves. Moreover, the fact that Jesus’ last words concerned the Great Commission presumably has to do with the disciples’ subsequent reception of the Holy Spirit, without whom they lacked the power to proclaim and confirm the message of salvation (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). See Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. C. Peter Wagner (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1990), 21 and Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is . . .: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2013), 2.
R. T. France, The Gospel according to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 320.
Daniel L. Akin, “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” in The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time, ed. Chuck Lawless and Adam W. Greenway (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 349-50.
Bryant Myers, “Another Look at ‘Holistic Mission’: A Response,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 35 (1999): 285-87, https://emqonline.com/node/631.
It is nonetheless true that deeds of kindness do draw people’s attention and often prompt them to ask questions. See Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness: A Unique Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2003), 11.
Mark Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 25 (2008): 95.
Ronald Sider notes that “preaching and ministering to physical needs are both central in Jesus’ life and work. He preached and healed. He satisfied both sick hearts and sick bodies. A vast amount of space in the Gospels is devoted to accounts of Jesus taking care of people’s physical needs. God-in-the-flesh thought he could spare—or rather ought to spare—a great deal of his potential preaching time and devote it to meeting the physical needs of people. Should we not follow in his steps?” See Ronald J. Sider, Evangelism and Social Action: Uniting the Church to Heal a Lost and Broken World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993), 145.
Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’,” in The Greatest Sermons Ever Preached, comp. Tracey D. Lawrence (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2005), 12.
Russell points out that “social ministry is not an obstacle to evangelism, rather an integral part of and a significant enhancement to it.” See Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” 96.
Ralph D. Winter, “Three Mission Eras: And the Loss and Recovery of Kingdom Mission, 1800–2000,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 277-78.
Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” 94.
From a somewhat different standpoint, Stott argues that “‘mission’ is the loving service which God sends his people into the world to render. It includes both evangelism and social action, for each is in itself an authentic expression of love and neither needs the other to justify it.” Winter likewise contends that the Great Commission includes both Church Mission and Kingdom Mission. See John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 115 and Winter, “Three Mission Eras,” 264.
Winter, “Three Mission Eras,” 263.
Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” 95.
Winter, “Three Mission Eras,” 264-77.
John Stott, The Lausanne Covenant: Complete Text with Study Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), 28.
Todd Johnson and Sandra S. K. Lee, “From Western Christendom to Global Christianity,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 390.
Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” 95.
William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew: Volume Two—Chapters XI to XXVIII, 2nd ed., The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1958), 307-08.
Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, xii.
Russell, “Christian Mission is Holistic,” 96.
Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness (Grand Rapids, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1997), 34-35.
Roger Greenway observes that those who are recently dislocated and undergoing major changes in their lives are likely to be more open to the gospel. If that is the case, ministering to recent migrants to cities provides us with great opportunities for sharing the gospel. Greenway also reminds us that in many cities, more than one third of the population is desperately poor and that urban mission work demands a comprehensive strategy that demonstrates the gospel of God’s love in practical ways. See Roger S. Greenway, “The Challenge of the Cities,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 560-61.
Jimmy Long, Emerging Hope: A Strategy for Reaching Postmodern Generations, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 220.
Rick Richardson, Evangelism outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 60.
J. Mack Stiles, Speaking of Jesus: How to Tell Your Friends the Best News They Will Ever Hear (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 52
Dr. Takaaki Hara is engaged in cross-cultural mission at the Shelter Youth Hostel Ministry, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Utrecht University, the Netherlands in 1998 and MPhil in Linguistics from University of Oxford, U.K. Most of his published work are in linguistics such as: ‘Bound Variable Interpretation and the Degree of Accessibility’, ‘Anaphoric Expressions in Japanese’ and ‘Bound Variables in Japanese’. He is residing in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Timothy K. Park, Editor
Although the world we live in is constantly changing, the word of God never changes. How to proclaim the unchanging word of God in our ever-changing world is the task of the Church here on earth. In this 54th issue of Asian Missions Advance, Asian missions leaders have written on how to communicate the gospel in a changing world. I believe it will benefit the reader to pay attention to each author of the articles.
Dr. H. Daniel Kim of Joy Research and Service Center for the Disabled in his article ‘Mission in a Broken World’ reveals that there are 30 million deaf persons in China today. He says that ministry to the disabled is necessary and important not only because of their felt- need, but also because disadvantaged people make meaningful contributions to the healing of the broken world. Dr. Takaaki Hara of Amsterdam, Netherlands discusses the relationship between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. He argues that the Great Commandment encompasses the Great Commission and that going and making disciples of all nations is an example of loving God and our neighbors.
Dr. David S. Lim of the Philippines writes again on the house church movement. He writes on the four stages that most institutions go through in their growth cycle, and he urges organizations to remain at the movement stage as long as possible so as to not let formalizing impede the progress of the Kingdom. He challenges institutions to go back to simple biblical processes and methods in its early development. Dr. Steve Kyeongseop Eom, the General Secretary of Asia Missions Association, argues that virtual church will become a reality of our time whether we want it to or not. He discusses the present Church, the virtual church and mission. He emphasizes that churches’ need to develop a mission paradigm, structure, model, and program that is suitable for the virtual world.
Pastor Benjamin R. Baclagon of the Philippines emphasizes that worship should be the primary motive for missions, and those who are engaging in missions must be worshiping people. Dr. Prawate Khid-arn of Thailand makes the national report on Christian Mission in Thailand. He says that although Christianity was introduced in Thailand during the second half of the 16th century, the number of Christians in Thailand is still less than 1% of the total population. He urges for partnership ministry between Christian churches to make a difference.
In order to help evangelize the world, Christian workers must be empowered by the Holy Spirit, develop new strategies that will work in a changing world, and work together in partnership.
H. Daniel Kim
Yes, it is true that we as missionaries are doing missions in a broken world. Not just a mildly broken world, but a profoundly and utterly broken world.
Everywhere you look, there are signs that the world is fractured and human beings are deeply hurting. Some people are in so much pain, feeling hopeless that they take their own lives.
It has been recently established that, per population, Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world. This is also a country with one of the highest concentrations of mega-churches and church-attending Christians. How can one reconcile these two statistics? Recently there have been a number of Christians and even pastors who have committed suicide in Korea. Many churches and church leaders in Korea are only devoting criticisms to persons who took their own lives. They are asking, “How can a pastor do this? How can a Christian do this?” and even suggesting they must not have been truly committed Christians but “pseudo” Christians instead.
How often, Evangelical churches and church leaders in Korea and other countries seem to pay little attention to other very serious issues. Issues involving injustice, inequality, discrimination, poverty, racism, sex trafficking, child labor, war, etc. issues which are equally important in the regular ministries they currently are doing.
What Is Broken?
Our bodies, minds, families, relationships, systems, governments, and ecosystems, all suffer from a deep brokenness. Yes, we cannot deny that everything around us is broken. Every facet of this world is fractured. No single good thing remains intact. God’s heart is also broken at this state of affairs of His creation. Well, people seem to like to break things, they even say, “world records are broken.”
Murder, terror, lies, scandals, corruption, exploitation, pollution, greed – there is a long list of problems this world faces today and it is only getting longer and worse.
As a missionary for persons with disability, I may also say, that the world is “disabled.” Viewed through this lens, the world becomes disabled because people have disabilities not physically but socio-spiritually. As we know, when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, a curse fell upon the earth. Thus, it is part of the ministry and responsibility of Christians to participate with God’s work of restoration of all of the brokenness in the world.
What Does Our Statistics Show?
1. UNICEF report:
- That there are 16,000 children who die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.
- The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.
- 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.
- Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.
- Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.
- Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
- Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to malnutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.
2. According to World Health Organization, people With Disability consists of 15% out of the total world population
3. The United Nations reported recently that there are fewer marriages but more divorces. The country with the highest ratio of divorces is Belgium, with a whopping 71% of marriage to divorce ratio. As of 2015, the percentage of the list of countries with divorce is 1. Belgium: 71%;2. Portugal: 68%;3. Hungary: 67%;4. Czech Republic: 66%;5. Spain: 61%;6. Luxembourg: 60%;7. Estonia: 58%;8. Cuba: 56%;9. France: 55%;10. USA: 53%
The UN report also showed that there is a rise in births outside marriage. The highest rates of non-marital childbearing occur in Latin America (55–74 percent). The only other countries to share these high rates are South Africa (59 percent) and Sweden (55 percent). The range within Europe is huge: from 18 percent (Italy) to 55 percent (Sweden). Those in North America and Oceania are also high and rising, though New Zealand (47 percent) and the United States (41 percent) stand out, with more than four out of ten births outside of marriage in these two countries.
A Case In Uganda
Demographic profile of Uganda’s population :
1) 29.6 million people live in Uganda (2008 projection);
2) 57% of Uganda’s population (i.e. 16 million) are children below he age of 18 years;
3) An estimated 5 million children in Uganda live below the poverty line;
4) Approximately 105,000 children aged 0-14years are HIV positive.
Current status of Orphans and other vulnerable Children in Uganda
1) 2.3 million orphans in Uganda (2007);
2) One out of every 4 households in Uganda has at least one orphan;
3) Almost one out of every two orphans is a result of AIDS.
4) OVC are estimated to be 7.5 million, equivalent to 46% of all children (2007).
Stories From Joy Uganda
In countries like Uganda, a disabled child is seen as a curse, bringing shame on the family. Mothers who gave birth to a disabled baby are often told to abandon or even kill their infant child. Children with cerebral palsy are frequently left lying on the floor. They can live lonely, miserable and isolated lives, suffering from malnutrition, respiratory problems or pressured sores.
Hundreds of Ugandan children are reportedly being sacrificed every year by witch doctors who have convinced the country’s superstitious elite that mutilating them will make them even richer.
Wealthy businessmen are paying traditional healers thousands of pounds to hunt down impoverished children and harvest their body parts, which they believe can cure impotence and boost their fertility. These witch doctors sever limbs and remove children’s genitals after kidnapping them on their way home from school or as they go to fetch water for their family. Their dismembered remains are later discovered in forests and building sites.
In Uganda, many people living with neurological disabilities and other similar conditions are seen as having misfortunes in their lives. It is believed that people with such disabilities are useless and burden the community, with no hope for a better future.
Many children from northern Uganda suffering from hydrocephalus are given names associated with evil spirits or are referred to as evil spirits. Naming of these children is typically done by the paternal grandmother. Some parents have been forced to kill these children or have abandoned them, allowing them to die from neglect. They are stigmatized and blamed for causing such disabilities in their children and forced to consult evil spirits for the healing of their children.
BIBLICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR SPECIAL MISSIONS
For missions to the broken, we may say that we are engaging in “special missions.” Special missions may include efforts such as ‘special needs ministry’, ‘disability ministry’, ‘homeless ministry’, ‘hospice ministry’, ‘hotline for teenage pregnancy’, ‘suicide prevention lifeline’, ‘HIV helpline’, ‘rescue mission for women’, ‘abandoned children ministry’, ‘refugee missions’, ‘rehabilitation missions for drug and alcohol addicts’ etc. These are just some common conventional classifications that refer to “special missions”.
What Is The Meaning Of “Special’? Who Are ‘Special’?
Can we consider “children with disabilities” special? Currently children with mental disabilities are called special children and they are undergoing training under “special education”. So because of them, the word special pertains to having disabilities. There are myths about children with disabilities, such as: they are ‘angels’ they have a sixth sense, or they are born with supernatural powers, etc. Are children angels? My answer is yes and no. Yes because every human being is created in the image of God and given to us as a special gift. No because they are not angels by nature. They are the same as we are. They are as silly as we are. They are sinful as much as we are.
Are Workers Serving Certain Groups Special?
Are special education teachers special? Are volunteers to ministries to special children can be called special? People assume that they took jobs serving people with disabilities because they are special. I, often told myself that I am very special due to the work that I do. Well, from my around 30 years in disability ministry, I observed that we are no different from anyone else, we maybe well-intentioned, but we are also sinful and corruptible just like others. Of course there are exceptional teachers and leaders for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, they are not special people in a sense that they are specially chosen or inherently special. Do these ministries require special knowledge or skills? Not necessarily. It may require proper training and education, which all other areas would also demand. However, the bottom line is that “only special love is required.”
In summary, everybody is special! Nobody is an exemption. The “no child left behind policy” for education in the USA (adopted under Bush administration) reflects equality and non-discrimination against disabilities and thank God for this!
Direct” vs “Indirect Missions”
Some missionaries express unhappiness or feel insignificant for their engagement in NGO work because they assume their work are an “indirect” form of missions. Is this assumption or definition of mission biblical? I do not believe that is biblical. Jesus never made a distinction between direct and indirect missions. When Jesus spent most of his time in Galilee ministering to people in the form of healing, casting out demons, and feeding the crowd, He never regarded those actions as a prerequisite for the more important work of preaching. Acts of compassion and the preaching of the gospel cannot be separated from each other.
Foundations Of Special Missions
The Bible strongly supports an imperative for healing the broken world.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
This is Jesus’ inaugural statement to start His ministry. To heal a broken world is one of Jesus’ core missional imperatives. He came to repair, restore, revive, rebuild, heal, and renew. He did not come simply to save souls.
Examining Isaiah 60 / Luke 4:18-19
Different ministries are not independent or segregated efforts, but part of the larger work God is doing. Healing ministry, care for the homeless, welfare for the disabled, teaching special children, each is by nature a portion of the whole “Kingdom ministry.”
And he went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom
And stood up to read.
Portion A….The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
Portion B…….He has sent me to proclaim for the prisoners release
And recovery of sight for the blind,
to send away the oppressed into release
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he rolled up the scroll,
Portion A-1 gave it back to the attendant
And sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them . . .
A key word in Jesus’ jubilee proclamation is “poor.” It seems that Luke intended to write the verses in Luke 4:16-20 in a chiastic structure as above.
Examining this uniform poetic structure is helpful in interpreting the text. The passage has three distinct sections: The first part (A) describes Jesus’ actions before reading the Scripture from Isaiah. The corresponding third part describes Jesus’ actions after he finished the reading (A-1). The central part is the quotation from Isaiah (B).
Most importantly, in this poetic structure, the phrases “good news to the poor” and “the year of the Lord’s favor” are parallel, which creates a focus on the three central lines (in bold). The focus of the passage is indeed the essence of Jesus’ Messianic role, that is, to release people from physical, social, and spiritual bondage. It is interesting that Jesus’ focus on jubilee mission is summarized under the heading “good news to the poor.” Therefore, it is probable that the term “the poor” was used as “a sort of collective term for all the disadvantaged, particularly the captives, the maimed, the blind, and the lepers” (Bosch).
R. Lenski observes that in the LXX text of Isaiah 61:1-2 there are no articles for “poor,” “captives,” and “blind” people. Thus he asserts, “Poor” is a general term for the entire beggarly condition.
Thus it can be said that “good news to the poor” is the gracious word of inclusion to the marginalized people. This is the motif that calls for inclusiveness. It is now proclaimed that the Gentiles are recipients of God’s deliverance too.
There are broken people groups introduced in the passages, such as the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Nevertheless, the mission that Jesus was commissioned was not healing ministry itself, rather it was kingdom that was eschatologically realized through those disadvantaged people groups. They were not merely targets for so called ‘compassion ministry’, rather they became main guests for a divine banquet in the kingdom of God (Lk 14:15-24).
A. Missions to the Deaf in China
Deaf in China: one of the largest unreached people group in the world. Very recently, the International Missions Society identified the deaf community in the people group list. In fact, no well-known international mission agency has previously strategized about reaching this group, because they have not regarded them as a separate people group. They had just been considered “handicapped”.
The following stories highlight an extraordinary and ground-breaking way of engaging in missions to the disabled. They illustrate how missions can be accomplished in a way that “traditional” modes of missions cannot.
There are 30M deaf in China (according to the Government official survey). The numbers of Christians among deaf in China are less than 1%. Joy Missions for the Disabled has been doing missions for the deaf in China for about 20 years. We have established a couple of bible schools and training centers for them. We have also planted more than 50 churches for the deaf in China. This numbers are extremely small in comparison to the total deaf population in China. However, we helped them to discover their unique contribution in a way unimaginable to people with conventional and limited view of this population. People regard deaf as “disabled”, as people unable to hear or speak and as severely limited in communication abilities. In fact, the deaf have a robust method of communication which is as expressive and complex as any other language: sign language.
Amazing Testimony: deaf evangelism tour by train: We have been training teams to go out for deaf evangelism tours by train, in addition to planning deaf church planting in cities or towns near our deaf bible training center. Due to the huge geographical scale in this part of China, it takes at least 10 hours by train to go to these designated towns. Actually, this is an improvement from the 10-15 hours it used to take before the recent high-speed train developments.
Our deaf seminary organizes outreach teams for the purpose of deaf church planting city to city. Our teams love to take trains for missions because of its effectiveness. As soon as team members are on board, they tour the train compartment by compartment to scan if there are any deaf passengers on board. They are easy to recognize because they use sign language. As already mentioned, there are 30 million deaf persons in China. It means they are everywhere. You can meet them wherever you go. When our mission teams find someone who is deaf, they approach the person and begin to talk using sign language. Not different than one would start a conversation with someone in any other language! Pretty soon the team members begin to present the gospel, often with great enthusiasm. They share about Jesus even with their faces and clothes covered in sweat. Their witness only stops when the train stops at the destination. This can be up to 10 hours of talking! Passengers on board marvel at their nonstop enthusiastic signing. Policemen have even watched over their conversations without a clue that they are talking about Jesus because they do not understand sign language. In places where public evangelism is still strictly banned, the deaf are freely talking about Jesus! The deaf community, which has been marginalized as “disabled”, is freely speaking about Jesus, whereas we, people of speech, have to shut our mouths in public, which ironically results in the disabling of our speech. This is a secret of disability ministry.
One church for the deaf, which I love, is in S city in China. This church has no building. They worship just in the isle by the market place where loud noises from shops all around are shouting to attract customers. The sounds of rushing cars passing by on the street, people bustling through the meeting place, music blaring from the store across from us are all noises that distract ones attention. All of these distracted me from concentrating on worshiping together. But despite the surrounding noises, our deaf friends had no problems staying very devoted to the worship. The deaf preacher also was not bothered by the surroundings.
We who can hear see them as disabled because they cannot hear. However, they confessed that “we are so blessed because we do not hear the meaningless dirty words of the world. We are only sensitive to what the Holy Spirit speaks.” What a powerful sentiment! This is the kind of disability ministry that breaks the stereotype of perception towards people with disabilities and propose a new horizon for missions.
B. A Case of Mission in Uganda
There are so many amazing stories about special missions. I would like to add just one example of disability ministry.
In Uganda, we attempted a strategic approach to Islamic missions through our special education teachers training program which runs in co-partnership with Uganda Christian University. Our pilot tests resulted to very surprising outcomes after the short term: there is a serious shortage of special education teachers in Islamic countries. So we have been asked to send special education teachers to those Islamic countries. Now through partnership with special education professionals and institutions we are equipping those candidates with a mission mind. Thus special education teachers may be great instruments for missions to Muslim countries in the future.
IMPLICATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
“Program-centered” vs “people-centered” approaches to ministry
A Program-centered ministry can become more of an “it” than an “us”. Ministry is meant to be an engagement in real relationships that pay attention to the unique individuals whom we are serving and sharing in a community.
Often times, we can get so focused on the hard work of keeping programs running and implementing new initiatives that we can lose sight of the unique individuals and God’s image bearers we serve, who are the true purpose of the mission. In conclusion, paradoxically disadvantaged people groups can be contributing to heal the broken world.
Dr. H. Daniel Kim is the Executive Director of Joy Research and Service Center for the Disabled. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Uganda Christian University. He earned a Ph.D in Inter Cultural Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary (Mississippi, USA).