Wednesday, May 30, 2018

TTT #14 The Goal of Missions is the Kingdom of God

The article I posted on May 20 summarized some legitimate reasons why Christians still engage in, and support, global evangelistic missionary activity. (I encourage you to check out the comments made, here, about that article.) It is now fitting to consider what the ultimate goal of missions is.
Three Problematic Goals
In the history of Christianity there have been various goals for mission work, and while not equally problematic three such goals can be negatively stated as follows:
(1) The goal of missions is not primarily the expansion of Christianity.
It cannot be doubted that from the time of its beginning as a small Jewish “sect,” for centuries Christianity expanded greatly. Much of that expansion was clearly due to missionary activity.
That does not mean, however, that expansion was, or should have been, the primary goal of missions. Nor, certainly, does it mean that that expansion through the centuries was always done by legitimate or admirable means, even by missionaries.
Much of the expansion of Christianity in the seven hundred years between 300 and 1000, for example, was due to the military and political activities of powerful kings and emperors.
The expansion of Christianity, especially for political reasons, should in no way be considered the primary goal of missions.
(2) The goal of missions is not primarily the spreading of Western civilization.
To some Christians in the past few centuries, missionary activity was linked to the spread of “civilization” to the “benighted” lands of the world.
European civilization was considered superior to that of the indigenous cultures of the other parts of the world, so spreading that civilization, seen largely as the fruit of the Christian faith, was considered a legitimate and praiseworthy activity for many Christians, especially in Great Britain and then in the United States.
There were, of course, important contributions made by missionaries, along with others, who took “civilization” into “primitive” societies. The introduction of Western medicine, for example, was a great benefit to multitudes of people.
But local cultures, societal structures, and religions were sometimes trampled underfoot in that process, and that type of missionary activity has, justifiably, come under intense criticism.
The spreading of Western civilization cannot legitimately be recognized as the major goal of Christian missions.
(3) The goal of missions is not primarily the planting of churches.
During the last decade of my missionary career, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention began to place almost complete emphasis not only on planting new churches but on the “church planting movement,” which was said to be the rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.
While planting churches certainly is a commendable activity, still, that should be one means of reaching the proper goal of missions, not the goal itself.
The Proper Goal

As stated in the title, the goal of missions is the Kingdom of God, and as I emphasized in the article posted on Feb. 28, the main characteristic of the God’s Kingdom is shalom (peace and justice).

This matter was well presented by E. Luther Copeland, my former missionary colleague and good friend in Japan. His 1985 book is titled World Mission, World Survival: The Challenge and Urgency of Global Missions Today.
In his last chapter, “The Kingdom and the Mission,” Copeland (1916~2011) elucidates that the goal of mission(s) is the kingdom of God (p. 139). 
That often overlooked point was made more than 100 years by Christoph Blumhardt. He wrote to his missionary son-in-law, “[T]here is no other purpose in your mission work than to proclaim God’s kingdom.”
Yes; true then, true now.
[Christoph Blumhardt (1842~1919) was a German Lutheran pastor. His letters to Richard Wilhelm are presented in the 2015 book Everyone Belongs to God, compiled and edited by Charles E. Moore.]

[The 14th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which includes much more than could be presented in this article, can be found by clicking on this link.]

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Inexplicable Case of Tetsuya-san

This past Sunday (May 20) was a very special day for Tetsuya Miyahara. He was baptized that morning at the Josei Baptist Church in Fukuoka City, Japan. What makes Tetsuya-san’s baptism especially meaningful is that he was a convicted murderer, released just six months ago after 18 years in prison.
Tetsuya-san’s Inexplicable Crime
In the wee hours of a March morning in 2000, Tetsuya-san made his way to the second-floor bedroom of an acquaintance and slit her throat as she lay sleeping on the futon next to her nine-year-old daughter.
The murdered woman was a widow who worked as an acupuncturist to support her daughter. And to make matters worse, she was blind. Tetsuya-san had often assisted the woman, shopping for her and providing transportation for her and her daughter.
Tetsuya-san had worked as an insurance salesman, and it seems he had used the woman’s ID and hanko (seal used in Japan on official papers) to borrow money from her insurance.
Apparently, the motive behind his inexplicable crime was the fear that his illegal actions were going to be exposed.
Tetsuya-san was subsequently arrested and first incarcerated in the detention center in Saga City, where the crime occurred. That is where I first met him sometime in 2001. (Saga is about 40 miles south of Fukuoka City where I lived.)
Tetsuya-san’s Inexplicable Conversion
Back on July 25, 2010, I posted (here) a blog article titled “The Amazing Story of Tetsuya-san”. As I wrote then, Mrs. M, a Japanese woman whom June and I had known for more than 20 years at the time, went to visit Tetsuya-san, mainly because she knew his parents.
Tetsuya-san asked Mrs. M. to bring him a Bible, which she did. Then she asked me to go with her to visit him, which I did. In just a few weeks he had written a confession of faith in Jesus. Part of what he wrote then, in 2001, was included in the confession of faith he read before the congregation at Josei Church last Sunday.
Through the years I visited Tetsuya-san many times—first in the Saga detention center (as mentioned), then in the detention center in Fukuoka, which was very near Seinan Gakuin University (SGU) where I taught. After his sentencing, I visited him repeatedly in the Oita Prison, just over 100 miles away.
Oita Prison
During each of the five times I have been back in Japan since retiring in 2004, I have gone to visit Tetsuya-san. The last two or three times he was in Saga Juvenile Prison, where he had been transferred to work using the barbering skills he had acquired as a prisoner in Oita.
During all of those years in prison, as was plain from my visits with him as well as from the many letters I have received from him, he was reading/studying the Bible and learning more and more about the meaning of the Christian faith.
Through the years, Tetsuya-san has especially studied the letters of the Apostle of Paul, who described himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Fukuoka Josei Church
Tetsuya-san was released from prison in December; soon afterward he attended a Christian church for the first time. Since January he has attended the Josei Church every Sunday—and has sent me emails each week reporting on his experiences there. 
The baptismal service Sunday was conducted by Dr. Yoshiki Terazono, my long-time friend, former colleague in the Dept. of Theology at SGU, and my successor as chancellor of Seinan Gakuin.
It was with great joy I read the email Tetsuya-san wrote Sunday evening telling about his baptism that morning, a public testimony to his inexplicable conversion.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TTT #13 Missionary Activity is Still Legitimate and Important

This article, based on the 13th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), is presented here with the hope that it will help Christian believers reflect on their own faith and practice and that it will help others come to a better understanding of Christianity.
The Modern Missionary Era
There have been missionaries to “foreign” places and ethnic groups from the time of the Apostle Paul to the present. The modern Protestant missionary movement, however, began with Englishman William Carey in 1792.
Building upon Carey’s ground-breaking ideas and actions, extensive time, effort, and resources have been expended on global missionary activities during the 225 years since Carey first went to India. 
According to the most recent statistics I could find (here), in 2010 there were approximately 400,000 serving as international Christian missionaries. Of those, 127,000 were U.S. missionaries; surprisingly, Brazil was the number two missionary-sending country.
As missionary activity by Europeans and Americans is much less prominent now than in previous generations, nearly half of the world's top missionary-sending countries are now located in the global South.
In this country there are now many Christians who seem to think that evangelistic missionary activities ought to be curtailed altogether.
Criticism of Missionary Activity
There were, of course, opponents and critics of the modern missionary movement from the beginning and throughout the two centuries in which it flourished. From the beginning, Carey struggled to overcome strong opposition to his ideas about missions.
In recent decades, though, much of the criticism of “foreign” missionary work has been, justifiably, because of what was so-often a tie between the work of the missionaries and the colonialistic and imperialistic activities of the Western countries from which most missionaries were sent.
Previously, that link was also the scourge of Catholic missions in the so-called “new world” from the time of Columbus, who saw himself as a missionary of sorts. And Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), who founded Vera Cruz [true cross], Mexico, reportedly said, “We have come here to win souls for Holy Mother Church, and to get much gold.”
More than three centuries later, the famous Scottish missionary David Livingstone (1813-73) declared in a 1857 speech given at Cambridge, “My desire is to open a path to this district [in Africa], that civilization, commerce, and Christianity might find their way there.”
To many critics, even more odious than the link between missionary activity and economic imperialism was what seemed to be cultural and/or religious imperialism promulgated by the missionaries. The latter was especially seen in much of the missionary work among the “Indians” of North America.
The Shifting Focus of Missionary Activity
Perhaps largely because of the criticism of much traditional missionary activity, which emphasized converting people to Christianity, the focus of much mission work in recent years has shifted primarily to benevolent work aimed at helping people live better in this present world.
“Mission trips,” which have become commonplace for many churches and Christian organizations, are almost completely concerned with helping people in physical need or deprivation.
To be sure, through the years since the beginning of the modern mission movement, responding in Christian love to the physical and psychological needs of suffering people has been a definite part of missionary activity.
For most forms of the faith, however, that activity was conducted in addition to, and usually secondarily to, the work of evangelism that endeavored to lead people to make a confession of faith in Jesus as Savior, to be baptized, and to become members of a local church.
While there is good reason to emphasize deeds and not just words, is there any reason not to have both?

[There is much more, some of a personal nature, in the 13th chapter of TTT, which you can access in its entirety by clicking here.]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sadly Remembering Nakba Day

You may not know what “Nakba Day” means, but every adult Palestinian in the world does. “Nakba” is the Arabic word for “catastrophe," and every year Nakba Day commemorates the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people, mostly after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
The Facts
The geographical area known as Palestine was under the civil administration of Great Britain from 1920, soon after the end of WWI, until 70 years ago. That oversight of the Palestinian territory came to an end on May 14, 1948, and the State of Israel came into existence the next day.
Even though the creation of the modern nation of Israel had the approval of the United Nations and the support of the United States, it was strongly opposed by the Arab neighbors of the Palestinian people, whose land and houses were overtaken by the Jewish citizens of the new country.
Consequently, the First Arab-Israeli War began on that very same day 70 years ago, May 15, and lasted for almost ten months.
More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes just before and during that war. About the same number of Jews moved into Israel during the first three years following the birth of the new nation. 
The Struggle
The tension/animosity/fighting between the Palestinian people and the Jewish citizens of Israel has continued for a full 70 years now.
Without a doubt, Palestinians have instigated much of that violence, and the violent activities of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), founded in 1964 and operating mostly in the West Bank territory, and the similarly violent activities of Hamas, founded in 1987 and operating mostly in Gaza, are widely known.
However, the reason behind that violence has not been adequately acknowledged or elucidated by the U.S. news media.
Last week June and I watched the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” (2016), and I highly recommend it. (It is available, here, on YouTube.) That film depicts the U.S. news media’s woeful lack of adequate/fair explanation of the plight of the Palestinian people and of the attacks on their territory (especially Gaza) through the years—in 1967, 1982, 1993, 2008, 2012, and 2014.
The 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza was the last major clash, resulting in about 2,250 Gazans killed and over 10,600 wounded. The number of Israelis killed in that armed struggle was around 1/31 of the number of Palestinians (Gazans) killed.
The struggle continues—and the ratio of Palestinian deaths continues to be highly disproportionate. With no Israeli causalities, at least 60 Gazans have been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in recent days.
The Future
It is hard to know what the future holds for the Palestinians. The move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem just yesterday does not portend well for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem.
Yet, there are people of good will, including Palestinian Christians, working for a peaceful solution to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. One such Christian leader is Naim Stifan Ateek, and I highly recommend his book A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (2017), of which I wrote a review you can read here.
Also, the CPT [Christian Peacemaker Teams] Palestine is a faith-based organization that supports Palestinian-led, nonviolent, grassroots resistance to the Israeli occupation and the unjust structures that uphold it. By collaborating with local Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and educating people in their home communities, they seek to help create a space for justice and peace.
These are just two examples of people/organizations working in non-violent ways for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel. May their tribe increase!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

TTT #12 God’s Spirit is Always with Us Whether We Realize It or Not

The 12th chapter of Thirty True Things that Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT) is more relevant to Christians than to those who are not Christian believers. For that reason, I am including some ideas in this article that are not in the TTT chapter in order for the “us” and “we” to be inclusive of all people, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.
What is Meant by “God’s Spirit”?
This article is closely related to the one posted on Feb. 8 (see here), but the subject is so important that it merits more attention.
The hard-to-understand Christian doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to express the simultaneity of God’s transcendence, historicity, and immanence. Those three words describe well core aspects of the traditional terms “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
While Spirit primarily expresses God’s immanence, as Fr. Richard Rohr states in his meditation for March 7 (see here), the Spirit is also “the foundational energy of the universe, the Ground of All Being." Thus, all people, and everything else, are rooted in that Ground and participate in that energy. 
But whenever and wherever God (by whatever name used) is present in the world or in the lives of individuals, such Presence is that of the Spirit—whether so recognized or not.
Every human experience of the “Holy”—or of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness—is because of the indwelling Spirit. 
God’s Spirit and Non-Christians
While it is mostly Christians who talk about the Holy Spirit and are, sometimes, aware of the Spirit's presence and power, the work and presence of the Spirit are certainly not limited to Christians.
In recent years a sizeable number of people have claimed to be spiritual but not religious. Many of these are people who formerly attended church regularly and identified as Christians. But many others who say they are spiritual have never identified with Christianity.
However, regardless of one’s past or present relationship to a religious tradition, if a person is truly spiritual is that not because of the presence of the Spirit in that person’s life?
All “mystical” experiences, whether linked to a religious tradition or not, are possible because of and directly related to the Spirit. Even when Christian terminology is not used and the presence of the Spirit not recognized, the reality of the Spirit is the same nonetheless.
God’s Spirit and Christians
In the 12th chapter of TTT, I seek to show that for Christians the Spirit is especially seen as the way in which believers receive guidance concerning how to live and what to do. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, just as Jesus promised his followers, “the Spirit of Truth” guides them toward “the truth” (John 16:13).
The Spirit is also the source of empowerment for those who are aware of and receptive to the Spirit’s presence. That empowerment was seen clearly in the growth of the first Christian community of faith, usually called the early church.
That growth was largely because of the coming of the Spirit with power upon those followers of Jesus gathered on the Jewish holiday known as Pentecost. (That pivotal event is recorded in the second chapter of Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament.)
In the past century, by far the greatest growth of Christianity worldwide has been because of what is generally called the Pentecostal movement. While there are definitely some aberrations in that movement, its conscious connection to and emphasis on the presence and power of the Spirit is significant and praiseworthy.

[Christian (in any sense) readers are especially encouraged to click here in order to read the entire 12th chapter, which mostly pertains to the last third of the above article.]

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can a Barber do what a King couldn’t?

The day following Mother’s Day, May 14, is the date set for the launch of the new Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) activities. The original PPC was inaugurated by Martin Luther King Jr, but mainly because of his tragic assassination 601 months ago it didn’t accomplish what he had hoped for. The primary leader of the new PPC is William Barber II. Thus, this article’s title raises a question worth considering.
King’s Poor People’s Campaign
The original Poor People's Campaign was created on December 4, 1967, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by MLK, to address the issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of millions of Americans.
Unlike King’s earlier efforts, the PPC addressed issues that impacted all who were poor and was not just a movement to help African-Americans.
King considered the Memphis Sanitation Strike to be a major part of that original campaign—and he had gone to Memphis in support of the strikers when he was shot and killed on April 4, 1968.
Led by King’s associate Ralph Abernathy, meaningful PPC activities began on Mother’s Day five weeks after King’s death. Unfortunately, few significant changes resulted from those activities.
Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign
William Barber II, who was still four years old when King was killed, is the primary leader of the new PPC, which he is linking to “a national call for moral revival.”
Beginning five years ago when he was the president of the North Carolina NAACP, Barber led the Moral Monday Movement in that state. He is now president of Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization (see here).
This year on six consecutive Mondays beginning on May 14, the PPC will promote six Moral Monday activities. The first four are designed to combat poverty’s impact on education, systemic racism, militarism, and environmental degradation.
On June 11 the theme is “everybody’s got a right to live in fair housing and earn a living and wage.” Then the final activity on June 18 is about the “fusion movement rising and the strategic solidarity of intersectional struggle.”  
What Would Success Look Like?
Unlike the PPC 50 years ago, the new PPC led by Barber is operating in over 30 of the states and in the nation’s capital. Active participants are being trained to engage in non-violent civil disobedience activities.
According to an April 10 Associated Press article, Barber has said that the 40 days of action will have been successful if, at the end, the campaign has changed the country’s narrative so that the poor are discussed and they’re involved in creating strategies to get people out of poverty—and that includes a lot of people.
The overall U.S. poverty rate was about 13 percent in 2016, and for African-Americans that rate was almost 22 percent.
I am too old (or, more likely, too much of a wimp) to travel to Jefferson City and to be involved in the non-violent civil disobedience activities scheduled for May 14 (which may result in participants being arrested). But at least, I plan to attend the 6 a.m. send-off rally that morning in downtown Kansas City.
Also, I am making a small monthly contribution to help support this new PPC, and perhaps some of you readers are doing the same—or are even directly involved in the PPC activities where you live. I hope so.
I also hope and pray (literally) that Barber and this year’s Poor People’s Campaign will be able to do what King and the 1968 PPC was unable to do.
[For those who might like to read more about the PPCs of 1968 and 2018, I recommend this article, which was in the May issue of Sojourners magazine.]