Editors commentary: ‘Historical barriers’?

A reader wrote into EN. He was worried.

He wondered what I thought of a talk on YouTube given at this year’s Spring Harvest. If you want to see for yourself what is being said, you can find it at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=kAZ4FKHE9cQ.
The talk is given by Les Isaac, who is involved with Street Pastors ministry, and is about Christian unity. He refers to Revelation 7, which speaks of John’s vision of heaven in which people from every nation, tribe and language worship together before God’s throne. The speaker’s thrust is that a lot of Christians are waiting for such unity in heaven, but God ‘wants us to be one now’.

Anything that divides
He deduced that we must set aside anything that divides professing Christians, from worship styles to ‘theological differences’ (a dirty phrase for today’s post-modern hearers). Much of this we can say ‘Amen!’ to. There are secondary issues which are not essential to the gospel which ought not to act as obstacles to fellowship. However, it soon becomes clear, especially from the subtext, that what Mr. Isaac had in mind specifically is that evangelicals need to accept the Catholic Church and stand with all within it. The main illustrating stories concern a Catholic nun who prayed for Street Pastors and the miracle of Catholic and Protestant communities coming together in Northern Ireland. It is in that context that he speaks of setting aside ‘historical barriers’ which divide us. The Reformation is plainly in view. All this drew bursts of applause from the Spring Harvest faithful.
Though I’m sure the speaker meant well, I would want to ask Mr. Isaac a few questions.
First, I have respect for the Catholic Church. They have often been far clearer on issues such as abortion and sexual ethics than evangelicals. And I would want to stand together with them over many social issues and against terrorism in Northern Ireland. But I would also want to stand together in some situations with ordinary Muslims of good heart who believe in the prophet Jesus and who are against terrorism. So where exactly are we to draw the line in this unity thing? It seems it comes down to… ‘theological differences’.
Second, Mr. Isaac appears to say that Christian unity takes top priority. If ‘theological differences’ ought not to divide us, then my question is, why isn’t he encouraging us all to become Roman Catholics? Here is a church with an organisational unity across the entire globe and from which there is (in his view) no reason for any Christian to stand apart. And if he is not telling us to do that, why not?
There is much more that could be said, including the implication that anyone who does not see things Mr. Isaac’s way ‘hates’ Roman Catholics.

Para-church organisations
The truth is that there will always be a dynamic in para-church organisations to relax their theological boundaries. Over time, what they see as the urgency of their mission (or their desire to keep up support) tends to diminish committment to the truth. But the apostles insist there are such beings as false teachers who we need to avoid and there are doctrines which are of ‘first importance’ and when we don’t hold on to them we have ‘believed in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15.2).
On the positive side, I was encouraged recently at a meeting of our local Christians Against Poverty group. Someone asked, ‘Why can’t we include non-Christians in helping families in debt’. The woman worker was clear in her refusal: ‘We do this ministry in the name of Jesus. I always ask if I can pray with people and I always leave them a gospel tract’.

John Benton

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Mission – quo vadis? (part 2)

Part 2 of Thorsten Prill’s examination of the current crisis in evangelical mission organisations highlights the danger of pragmatism.

Where are evangelical missionary organisations heading in the long run?

So far we have seen that unbiblical positions, such as Open Theism, held within evangelical mission organisations may be the result of either theological ignorance or the work of false teachers. However, there are other factors which foster problematic theological views and mission strategies.

Pragmatism and organisation

Sometimes theological ignorance goes hand in hand with a strong pragmatic approach to ministry.

An example is the appointment of mission leaders. There are various reasons why missionaries are promoted to leadership positions. In some mission organisations the percentage of former missionary kids (MKs) among both membership and leadership is noticeably high. This can be because these adult missionary kids (AMKs) are considered to have a better understanding of African culture and the church scene, significant cross-cultural and linguistic skills, a broader world view and a higher degree of mobility and are therefore better qualified than those without this background.1 ‘They know what it’s all about. They know the walk and they talk the talk’ goes the argument.

However, this is not necessarily the case when AMKs have grown up in a mission-owned boarding school where they have been taught an American or British curriculum by Western missionary teachers. Neither is it helpful when they later in life enter the mission field in Africa because they long ‘to go home’.

Relationships above truth

In long established mission organisations this tendency of appointing AMKs to leadership positions is sometimes supported by an organisational culture whose motto is ‘We are family’. As a result the same family names appear again and again on the mission’s membership list. ‘Family bonds’ can be so strong that it takes a long time before leaders are, if at all, disciplined for false teaching or other inappropriate conduct. Because people’s common history goes back a long time, sometimes even to missionary boarding school, relationships can easily become more important than biblical truth. Loyalty to the organisation, i.e. ‘the family’, has priority over sound doctrine. Such an attitude is even strengthened when doctrine is viewed as something divisive and seen as a potential threat to the organisation — according to the postmodern motto ‘doctrine divides, but love unites’.

Being an AMK is, of course, not the only qualification for a leadership appointment. Other mission leaders may get appointed because they have been part of the organisation for a long time and it is felt that they cannot be overlooked.

Others have had a successful career in their secular business before they joined the mission, suffer from ill health and are no longer fit for front-line mission work, or are known to be people who will not oppose what their team members or superiors want to do.2

All these are, of course, the wrong reasons and the wrong criteria for appointing a mission leader. The right criteria can be found in Scripture. Passages such as Titus 1.5-9, 1 Timothy 3.1-13, 2 Timothy 2.1-13 and Acts 6.1-6 apply not only to church leaders who are involved in God’s mission in London or Sydney but also to those who are involved in cross-cultural mission work in Africa or other parts of the world. However, as David Hesselgrave has pointed out, mission organisations tend to be rather selective when it comes to these leadership criteria.3 While they emphasise qualifications for leadership such as ‘husband of one wife’, ‘blameless’ or ‘self-controlled’, they tend to pay little attention to a qualification that was extremely important to the apostles, i.e. the ability to ‘give instructions in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 5.9).

Doctrinal statement no guarantee

Such a pragmatic approach to ministry can also be seen when it comes to biblical doctrine in general. Again it is David Hesselgrave who writes: ‘Many missionary leaders seem to feel that, once they have subscribed to an orthodox statement of faith, they can “bank it”, “bank on it” and get on with pressing practical issues. This assumption is not usually thought through, however’.4

Hesselgrave is right. Most evangelical mission organisations have a robust evangelical statement of faith to which all missionaries have to subscribe. But this does not necessarily guarantee that all their theological views and their ways of doing mission are actually in line with biblical teaching. To assume so would be short sighted. I once experienced that myself when a mission leader argued that Open Theism, which he promoted, was in agreement with his mission organisation’s statement of faith. When his missionary colleagues agreed that the statement of faith did not mention Open Theism explicitly and pointed him to relevant passages of Scripture instead, he responded that these were open to different interpretations.

Pragmatism and finance

Finally, we must not forget that a pragmatic approach to mission work can also be financially motivated. In times of economic crises and tight finances, when raising money for their general fund is getting more and more difficult, there is a great temptation for mission organisations to ignore particular doctrinal issues or to compromise on them. And all of a sudden issues that were generally considered primary issues only a few years ago, such as the doctrine of penal substitution or the primacy of evangelism, become secondary or non-essential issues, i.e. issues that ‘good’ evangelicals can disagree over.

Choose leaders wisely!

When a large evangelical mission organisation started the process of seeking to appoint a new international director, its officers drew up a list with gifts and qualities they wanted to see in their future leader. They were looking for a truly spiritual person, a careful thinker, a visionary and effective communicator, someone who was able to delegate work and exercise fiscal discipline.

What was missing on this list was the ability to teach sound doctrine and to correct those who don’t. If this is the case for an appointment at senior leadership level it is very likely that this quality will not be an important criterion when it comes to choosing leaders for other positions within the organisation. To choose mission leaders wisely surely means to make sure that they are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, that their lifestyles are Christ-like, that they have a serving spirit, love for their fellow workers and for those they serve, a good knowledge of the Word of God, appropriate gifts of the Holy Spirit, and biblically informed convictions about the nature of God, human beings, the church, the work of Christ and God’s mission.

In other words, what is required of them is commitment, character, conviction and competency.5 The latter also implies that evangelical mission leaders do not hold unorthodox views. On the contrary, they should be able to grapple with heresies and controversies, such as Open Theism, Emerging Church and the New Perspective on Paul, as well as the hot issues of mission theory and practice, i.e. holism, incarnationalism, contextualisation, and professionalisation.

To be continued.

Thorsten Prill is a lecturer at Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS) and a Crosslinks mission partner.


1. Cf. Sharp, L., 2006, ‘Is the mission field right for adult missionary kids?’, International Journal for Frontier Missions 23(4):143-148,144.
2. Brown, P.E., 1999, Churches in trouble? Developing good relationships in your church, Epsom: Day One.
3. Hesselgrave, D., 2007, ‘Will we correct the Edinburgh error? Future mission in historical perspective’, Southwestern Journal of Theology 49(2):121-149,141.
4. Ibid 139.
5. Johnson, D.W., 1994, ‘Biblical requirements of leaders’ in Leadership handbooks of practical theology, vol. 3. J.D. Berkley (ed.), Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

(This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.)

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What’s coming up in the December issue of EN



A few highlights to look forward to in the December issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday (November 23). Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!

Confident Christianity (book review)

Conversations that lead to the cross
By Chris Sinkinson
IVP. 224 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 241

This book is designed to give a wide-ranging introduction to apologetics — not the art of apologising, as the author explains, but, instead, ‘a spoken defence for the Christian faith’ dealing with answers to important questions non-Christians ask.

Rather than just giving practical tips and knowhow, Sinkinson endeavours to equip us by considering how apologetics links with philosophy, the different theological debates within apologetics and a brief history of the discipline. He gets us to think hard about our culture before ending with four chapters dealing with biblical reliability, science, other religions and suffering. This is quite an undertaking in a relatively short book!

I appreciated the book’s comprehensiveness, but if every area was new to a reader the amount of information would probably be overwhelming. The author manages to simply explain complex ideas and is clearly an able communicator. There could have perhaps been an extra chapter justifying the subtitle of the book, helping readers to move from specific questions to opening up conversations about the cross.

I found the section on the different theological approaches to apologetics particularly stimulating. However, I would have liked the author to explain further how he synthesises the strengths of each while retaining a consistent theology.

Despite these small points, I am very happy to recommend this book to anyone wanting a comprehensive crash course in apologetics. Sinkinson obviously knows his subject inside out (he lectures in apologetics at Moorlands College), has considerable experience in conversations with non-Christians and is very able in conveying his expertise to other Christians.

Sheri Newton, member of Shepherd Drive Baptist Church, Ipswich

This article was first published in the May 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The Christian in uniform – the challenges of 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Some police cadets were taking their final exam before graduating. There was just one question: ‘You are on the beat in your uniform when you see smoke billowing up from a nearby house. You get to the house and realise that there is a family trapped inside. The smoke has become so bad that it is restricting visibility on a nearby road which causes a multi-car pileup. One car, coming round the corner is going too fast and loses control, rolling down a hill towards a fast-flowing river. As you are watching, the most wanted man in the town gets out from one of the damaged cars and starts running away. What do you do?’

The shortest answer to the question went: ‘I would remove my uniform and blend in with the crowd’.

I think this is often how we feel as Christians. We feel bewildered by the challenges we face in our world today. We feel our faith is being privatised, marginalised and pushed to the edges of society. We feel the temptation to blend in with the crowd and take off our Christian uniform. But we mustn’t do this. Peter commands us to stand out from the crowd and wear our Christian uniform without fear or shame. So, what are the elements of our Christian uniform?

Hope of coming grace, v.13

Peter says: ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (v.13). There is a lot we could hope in: our bank balances, our family or our position in society. Instead of hoping in these things, we are to set our hope fully upon our returning King. We are to focus our hope on the fact that when Christ returns he will shower grace upon us. Peter knows that this will be difficult and so he explains how to do this. It can be achieved as we ‘prepare [our] minds for action’ and are ‘self-controlled’ (v.13). It can be achieved as we ‘roll up our sleeves’ and put in intentional effort to set our hope in the right place and on the right object. The way we put in this effort is by being self-controlled, sober and in control of our faculties, thinking clearly about the return of our King.

We are to be in no doubt that Jesus is coming back and that his return will mean grace coming to us. This is to be our hope. It is always to be on our minds. We are to deliberately and purposefully set our minds on this and live in light of its reality. We do this by reminding ourselves of these truths daily; by disciplining ourselves to recall the gospel and the work Christ has started in us with the grace he will bring to us at his return.

Holiness in everything, vv.14-16

Peter commands us: ‘Be holy in all you do’ (v.15). Peter contrasts this with living in our former evil desires: ‘Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (v.14). We are no longer to conform to those desires that used to run riot in our hearts before we became Christians. In those days we were ignorant of God and his gospel. But now, as Christians, we know God, the light of the gospel has shone upon us, and so we have no excuse for evil living.

The apostle tells us why these things matter. Firstly, because this fits with our new identity: ‘as obedient children, do not conform (v.14). God, who is holy, has made us children in his family and so we should be obedient children who imitate him. Secondly, because this fits with the one who called us: ‘just as he who called you is holy’ (v.15). God has called us to belong to him. He is holy, distinct from the world and different from it, and so should we be. Thirdly, because this fits with God’s dealings in the past. Peter quotes the Old Testament here: ‘For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”’ (v.16). In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to imitate his holiness. The command that God’s people are holy in all they do still remains.

Are we fighting the evil desires that once drove us, whatever they might be? Or have we begun to settle down and make peace with them? If we want to put these desires to death, we need to prayerfully reflect and meditate upon who God has made us to be. We need to learn to be obedient children who delight to imitate our holy, heavenly Father.

Reverence as exiles, vv.17-21

Peter instructs us further: ‘Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear’ (v.17). We should grasp who we are and resolve to live out our time as strangers in the world and as exiles who don’t fit in. This needs to be done with a constant awareness of God and a reverent fear of being accountable to him. We are not called to settle down and be comfortable. Instead we are called to exile living.

What are some more motivations for such behaviour? Firstly, we are accountable to a just Judge: ‘Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially’ (v.17). Although we call on God as Father, this does not mean that he is not also a judge who examines each person’s work fairly and without favour. Secondly, because this is the purpose of our redemption: ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ’ (vv.18-19). The wonderful redemption that God has won for us in Christ has liberated us from the empty ways of living we were once captive to. We have been set free from them to live as an exile.

Are we prepared for exile living or are we getting comfortable here? We are not to be surprised at finding ourselves on the margins of culture and society. God calls us to live as exiles and has set us free through Christ for this very purpose.

Love for other Christians, 1.22-2.3

The apostle commands: ‘Love one another deeply from the heart’ (v.22). This love is to come from the heart and be genuine. When Peter’s readers ‘purified themselves by obeying the truth’, they began to have ‘sincere love for [their] brothers’ (v.22). They have love for others already, but now they are to go on loving one another. Peter grounds this command on the reality of their new birth: ‘for you have been born again’ (v.23).

He defines love as not doing certain things: ‘Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander’ (2.1). Putting these things to death in our lives will be the means by which we love one another. Peter knows that this will be hard so he commands us to be refreshed by God’s grace and goodness so that we will be able to carry on loving others: ‘Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good’ (2.2-3). By tasting more of God’s goodness we will be able to keep on loving others.

Are we growing in our love for others in the church? If we are serious about this, then we need to put off all the anti-social sins in verse 1. We must get rid of malice, not backbiting with our words; of deceit, not covering up hatred with a smiling face; of slander, subtly putting others down to make ourselves look good; of envy, harbouring secret bitterness at what someone else has; of hypocrisy, saying we love others but gossiping about them. The resources for this are only found in being born again and in continually tasting God’s goodness.

The challenge to us

The temptation will always be to take our uniform off and blend in with the crowd. We need Peter to urge us on to better things. We need him to tell us how we should live as Christians. We need to hear his call to keep on wearing our Christian uniform of hope, holiness, reverence and love without shame or embarrassment.

Jim Murkett is assistant pastor at Lower Kingswood Evangelical Church, Surrey.


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