Rewind missions several hundred years and you’re likely to picture conquistador style missions. When the political arm of the state would go to take territory for the kingdom, they’d send along spiritual representatives to take souls for the Kingdom. Hindsight makes it very clear that all those missionaries did was impose their political philosophy over top of their Kingdom philosophy. In reality, all that they did in the name of the Kingdom was done not for God, but for nation. They conflated the Kingdom with the kingdom. Fortunately today we have learned our lesson and never superimpose our political means, goals, and ideals over God’s…
I know that missionaries will say--Oh, but we do put Christ first. I answer that this theory which leads us to put intellectual enlightenment and social reform first in time is a direct contradiction of it. The point where we Christians differ from other men is that we know the prime cause of all true progress and can therefore show the true path: others see only secondary causes, and, therefore, can only deal with secondary causes. The prime cause of all human misery and ignorance is spiritual, the prime cause of all progress is spiritual renewal by the Spirit of Christ. When, then, we follow those who see only secondary causes, social conditions and the like, and treat these secondary causes first, as if they were the real prime causes of progress, we forsake our true function. The fact that in our heart of hearts we know the first cause, that in our heart of hearts we are assured that faith in Christ is the beginning and foundation of all true progress, does not alter the fact that when we deal first with the secondary things we present to others secondary causes of progress as sufficient; and no words that we can use will correct the evidence of our acts. We have in fact gone astray, however stoutly we may deny it.
In our presentation of civilization, as in our presentation of doctrine and of morals, there is one common defect: in each case we present something less than Christ… There is a danger to which men who have had a literary training are liable, which does not seem to attack the illiterate to the same degree. Mental training teaches us to pay much attention to secondary causes, and unless we are very careful we are apt to concentrate our attention upon the secondary causes: whereas the illiterate, knowing very little of secondary causes, often, or even generally, express themselves in terms of the first cause.
The temptation to the trained mind is to dwell on the process by which deliverance came and to forget that the deliverance really preceded the process. While the difficulty seemed yet insoluble, I called and He heard; and the witness is "I called upon the Lord and He heard me." But we are tempted to say: "I was in a difficulty, and then I thought, and then I saw, and then I argued, and then I heard, and then I put two and two together, and then I found the solution of my difficulty." It may be all quite true; but in stating the deliverance thus, we somehow alter the emphasis, and the statement becomes rather an explanation than a witness to Christ's power. Now, what distinguishes us Christians from other men is that we know the first cause; other men know secondary causes. But when we dwell upon the secondary causes we are likely to obscure rather than to reveal the first cause. And so instead of bearing witness to Christ we present an argument... A clever argument may silence opponents, but witness converts them: they see in a deliverance something which all their wit does not supply.
Once some are converted and have tasted the living water, or as we look to those who have already been converted inside the local church, immediately, my mind goes to discipleship. But like many other Christians in the West, I think our notion of discipleship may be a bit off, for we tend to use the term “discipleship” to mean “training in the doctrine of the church.” Certainly doctrinal education is important and is a piece of discipleship, but Allen would argue that our infatuation with doctrine in the West has become unhealthy. That sounds like heresy to many Westerners, right? It's actually still hard for me to write that sentence out. But understanding that we have cultivated and coddled the intellect in the Western church for a very long time, I think it’s important to hear Allen out on this.
Fear for our doctrine has another serious consequence. It leads us to put the doctrine in the wrong place. We must maintain, we say, our standard of doctrine, we cannot allow untrained natives to teach the doctrine. We cannot but notice that in this saying the doctrine is foremost in our thoughts. We constantly imagine that this is a matter of no importance. We speak as if the Gospel and the doctrine, preaching Christ and preaching Christianity, were identical terms. It is impossible to read a page of a missionary magazine or to speak five words about Missions without finding out how habitually we do this. But is it really true? Far from it: Christianity, the doctrine, is a system of thought and practice: preaching Christ, the Gospel, is a revelation of a Person.
When we fall into this error, we inevitably tend to make the acceptance of the shadow, the doctrine, the system, the aim and object of our work. In doing that we are doing something of which Christ spoke in very severe terms. To make converts to a doctrine is to make proselytes. The proselyte abandons one system of thought and practice for another; and to adopt a new system of thought and practice is not the way of salvation. The Christian convert is a convert not to a system of doctrine but to Christ. It is in Christ that he trusts, not in any system of doctrine or of morals. The difference between the work of the judaizing zealot and the Christian missionary lies here: that the one sought a convert to his doctrine; the other seeks a convert to his Lord.
Now we cannot but observe that there is a great gulf between the training of leaders by Christ and the training of leaders in the hands of these men. Christ trained His leaders in two or three years; these men have been training leaders for more than two or three generations. Christ trained His leaders by taking them with Him as He went about teaching and healing, doing the work which they, as missionaries, would do; we train in institutions. He trained a very few with whom He was in the closest personal relation; we train many who simply pass through our schools with a view to an examination and an appointment. Christ trained His leaders in the midst of their own people, so that the intimacy of their relation to their own people was not marred and they could move freely among them as one of themselves; we train our leaders in a hothouse, and their intimacy with their own people is so marred that they can never thereafter live as one of them, or share their thought. I have heard of students in theological colleges so ignorant of the religion of their own people that they had to be given lectures on it by their foreign teachers. Thus, whether we consider the length of time devoted to the training, or the number of the leaders trained, or the character of the training, or its manner, or its method, we perceive at once that the training of leaders of which we speak is something utterly different from that which we set up as the example, and to which we appeal as the authority for our practice.
The Church is to be founded, educated, equipped, established in the doctrine and ethics and organization first; then it is to expand. The insertion of this term between the first evangelization by foreigners and the second evangelization by the native Church, introduces a grave danger in putting the advancement of the church first, we teach the converts and the leaders whom we train, so soon as they arrive at consciousness of the direction in which they are being led, to look upon their own progress as of the first importance, to concentrate upon themselves. But that is not training for the evangelization of the country. Great advance in this direction is compatible with a complete absence of any zeal for the conversion of others; and, indeed, is at times definitely opposed to expansion. For instance, I was told the other day that there was a considerable feeling amongst the younger and more highly trained Christian students in India against the admission into the Church of large numbers of illiterate converts from among the outcastes, on the ground that such admission tended to lower the prestige of the Christian Church in India which had, through the many years, built up a reputation as a highly educated community. We need not be surprised at this, for we are quite familiar with the unhappy fact that it is possible for Christian Churches to be highly organized and equipped and yet to fail utterly to understand the necessity for carrying the Gospel to the people around them…
[The expansion of the church] is hindered by a very widespread conviction that we cannot trust untrained men to propagate the Faith. That is openly said by many; by many more it is believed, or half-believed. Even those who encourage their converts to propagate the Faith have doubts in their minds, and hasten to supply teachers to take charge of any work which they find to have been started by the spontaneous zeal of native converts, and they do this even when they know and confess that the teachers whom they send are very inadequately trained, and certainly have not the initial zeal of those whom they are sent to supplant. That such action must check the spontaneous activity in the future of those who are so treated is obvious. When men are allowed to think that when they have begun to learn, and to practise what they have learned, the way of advance is to surrender their activity, they speedily learn the fatal lesson of inactivity; more cautious or timid people, who might have been inspired by their success to imitate their example, are checked, and wait for the trained and paid teacher; whilst inquirers and heathen onlookers learn from their own observation that in the eyes of the missionaries the teaching which the untrained zealous convert gives spontaneously and freely is to be lightly esteemed in comparison with the teaching of the paid native agent. They all learn this lesson the more readily when they find that it is the proper thing for converts to pay the salary of a Mission agent; because the payment gives his teaching still more importance in their eyes.
Then we train the teachers. We take children quite young and give them special training in elementary schools and high schools and theological colleges, so that they can understand our use of abstract terms and can learn at least verbally our doctrinal expressions; and these men we set over the little congregations, knowing well that in the great majority of cases they do not know enough to do more than repeat exactly what they have been taught. From amongst these teachers we select the men who repeat best and teach best from our point of view, and to these we give further teaching and then ordain them with great confidence that they will teach nothing but what they have learned from us. And these men we put into positions of greater authority, under superintending missionaries, and I have heard them complain, "We do what we are told; but we do not understand what we are doing." In this way we certainly have succeeded in maintaining a standard of doctrine in the sense that in our Missions heresy on any considerable scale is practically unknown. But what has been the result of this method of maintaining our standard?
The great heresies in the early Church arose not from the rapid expansion resulting from the work of these unknown teachers; but in those Churches which were longest established, and where the Christians were not so busily engaged in converting the heathen round them. The Church of that day was apparently quite fearless of any danger that the influx of large numbers of what we should call illiterate converts might lower the standard of Church doctrine. She held the tradition handed down by the Apostles, and expected the new converts to grow up into it, to maintain it and to propagate it. And so in fact they did. The danger to the doctrine lay not in these illiterate converts on the outskirts; but at home, in places like Ephesus and Alexandria, amongst the more highly educated and philosophically minded Christians. It was against them that she had to maintain the doctrine.
Now all this suggests quite a different atmosphere from that with which we are familiar. The Church of those ages was afraid of the human speculation of learned men: we are afraid of the ignorance of illiterate men. The Church then maintained the doctrine against men who were consciously innovating: we maintain the doctrine against men who may unconsciously misrepresent the Truth that they have learnt. The Church then maintained the doctrine by her faith in it: we maintain our doctrine by distrusting our converts' capacity to receive it. The Church then maintained her doctrine by thinking it so clear that any one could understand it: we maintain our doctrine by treating it as so complicated that only theologians can understand it. Consequently, the Church then was quite prepared that any man who believed in Christ should teach others what he knew of Him: we are only prepared to allow men whom we have specially trained to teach it. When others whom we have not specially trained of their own spontaneous motion do teach others we hasten to send a trained teacher to take their place. That is, of course, exactly what the early Church did not do, yet it maintained its standard of doctrine.
And here I would recall the fact that in all those sporadic cases of spontaneous teaching with which we are familiar in our own day we never hear of any deliberate corruption of Christian doctrine. When our missionaries discover these cases, they nearly always find that the teaching given is, so far as it goes, true, and is very often surprisingly true and deep. These converts seem to have learned by themselves much that we think can only be taught by us. And what they have learned is very fundamental. And they seem also invariably to show a great readiness to learn more. Now that is not the spirit which breeds heresy. The spirit which breeds heresy is a spirit of pride which is puffed up with an undue sense of its own knowledge and is unwilling to be taught.
The reason why the spontaneous zeal of new converts does not breed that spirit is not hard to find. Such converts are almost invariably men who have had some real religious experience. They have heard something of Christ; they have received some teaching about Him; they have generally learned to repeat the Creed and to read the Bible; they have called upon Christ and been heard; and this has wrought a change in their whole outlook upon life, such a change that they are eager that others should share their experience. Hence they begin to teach others, and to share their experience with others. Now all religious experience demands doctrine for its proper statement and explanation. If then these men are not well instructed in the Christian doctrine, when they attempt to share their experience with others they feel that there is much in it which they cannot understand. Consequently instruction in Christian doctrine comes to them with an enlightenment and a power which is a joy, and therefore they gladly receive it, because it supplies a felt need of their spiritual experience. In such an atmosphere Christian doctrine is in little danger, for though false or inadequate teaching, if they received such, might prevail for a time, yet the true teaching when it comes must inevitably drive out the false. For the experience is a true experience, and a true experience demands a true doctrine. It is as the complement of experience that Christian Doctrine first took shape. It is notorious that the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, was formulated through the attempts of the disciples of Christ to explain their experience. Christ appeared, and the Apostles experienced His power: the Holy Ghost descended, and the Apostles and their immediate followers knew His indwelling; the Christian doctrine of the Trinity arose out of attempts to express that experience.
As the complement of experience, doctrine renews its youth from age to age; but divorced from experience it is nothing more than the statement of an intellectual theory, and to rest in something which an intellectual process has created is to rest in that which an intellectual process can destroy… I remember a missionary in India telling me that most of the converts in his district were brought in by extremely illiterate men. He said, "The villagers look at them and say 'We know what you were, we can see what you are; what has made the difference?' These men cannot preach sermons," he said, "but they know enough to answer, 'Christ', and the result is men are converted to Christ." I do not remember that he told me that many evil results followed, or that the doctrine suffered from such witness. The truth is that such witness is a preaching of the doctrine, and of the true doctrine. The doctrine is implied in the witness, though it may not be intellectually apprehended. It is a far more true preaching of the doctrine than a long discourse on the Divinity of Christ. Does anyone seriously think that the doctrine would really suffer in the long run, if India or China, or Africa, were flooded from end to end with the teaching of men who knew enough to say "I called upon the Lord and He heard me," "I appealed to Christ and He saved me from my fear?" Does anyone doubt that in such ground as that true doctrine would flourish very abundantly? It ought to be a cardinal principle with missionaries that anyone who knows enough to be saved by Christ knows enough to tell another how he may be saved.
We in the West have tended to view the preservation of the secondary as that which is primary. We often suppress the experience or rush new converts off to be indoctrinated. We want to prevent heresy in new converts and we want to prevent them from propagating heresy. By doing this, we destroy all remnants of the vibrant experience of God, and subsequently crush the zeal of converts that at one time compelled them to move out into the world to share their experience. This is exactly what Catalina and I do not want to do. We do not want to come in with a doctrinal sledgehammer and attempt to beat out every faulty theological notion from converts (assuming we have all the right answers, of course). Well, we may want to, but we understand that this is not grace and love, and it is not conducive to a living church.
As Catalina and I think about the first thing we must avoid in the pursuit of ministry, we recognize that we must avoid making the primary thing the secondary thing. While our passions and our background push us towards theology, apologetics, and the intellect, we must be focused upon the person of Jesus Christ, our God, through the Spirit. We must tie our knowledge of and love for doctrine to our experiences with God so that when we minister, we are not arguing about God, but witnessing what he has done. And when we work in the local church, discipling believers, we must not jump on every idea that harbors a tinge of misguided doctrine. We must take care not to overshadow the genuine experience of God with a secondary explanation. We must be ready to teach, as those with genuine experiences of God will desire to be taught. We must also be ready to correct, as those whose experience of God has waned or as those who have only intellectually assented to God will put forth false doctrine. But we must not stymie the zeal of one who is experiencing God by making a knowledge about God more important than a relationship with him. We must come alongside nationals, we must trust nationals with the work that God has begun in their lives and called them to, and we must grow in our relationship with God as we trust him to accomplish his will through his means.
PART 3: OVERBEARING METHODOLOGY