January seems to be a good month to study evangelicalism, last year with Bebbington’s journey through his Quadrilateral — conversion, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism1 and this year the brief study of essays edited by Donald Lewis on global evangelicalism2. Unfortunately, this is a hot topic in our political situation as the name “evangelical” is attached and used by individuals as well as political entities for their own purposes. This can easily distort the message of the holiness of Christ and the transformation that defines evangelicals. Justin Steckbauer writes that evangelicalism has lost its desire for people to be holy as Christ is holy. “It’s a lost teaching. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle. …Holiness is the work of God in us, as we yield to the Spirit of Christ, who conforms the inclinations of our heart, and our outward conduct toward holy (set apart) living….God has called us to a holy life in Christ Jesus.”3
Christianity and colonization was regrettably tied together for many centuries and in the eyes of many nations, is one and the same. The East India Company pushed for dominance and control in India, and the British Empire (as well as many western nations including the USA) pushed into China during the Opium Wars are prime examples of how powerful secular entities can taint the work of the Gospel. In China, “Most evangelical missionaries spoke against the use of opium and the opium trade, but for the Chinese, Christian identity was foreign identity, and foreign identity included forcing opium on China.”4 The missionaries words were often lost to the actions of those that allowed them entry into the country and publicly embarrassed them in front of the world. When our actions, or the actions of those we are associated with, diminish the ones we are attempting to reach, we have given up the right to represent Christ in that particular situation. We are not seen as an agent of a restorative Christ rather represent the offending party.
St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote in One Paradise,
“…With love and instruction, commingled with truth, the intellect can grow and become rich with new things, as it meditates with discernment on the treasures store of hidden mysteries. Look at how great is our shame in comparison: our very confinement in darkness has become for us a source of pleasure; we are proud of the land of curses, how we love our confinement in a pit!” 5
For evangelicals, our prison seems to be our lack of understanding of the holiness of God and the focus on the sources of our pleasures of those things that keep us in these pits. Culture and religion becomes so intertwined that often they become interchangeable. Christian work and our cultural baggage are often both taught and caught by those we are discipling. Shaping an authentic disciple of Jesus is a goal that we as leaders strive to fulfill but what does that really mean in light of our cultural and denominational blinders? Models of cross cultural work such as Hudson Taylor and Peter Parker (not Spiderman) that began work in China had to overcome the stigma of being a foreigner and humble themselves in order to pioneer, lead and model Christ’s holiness in ways that others desired to follow. 6 So humbly to those we are serving and God’s holiness flowing through us seems to be the solution to the entitlement we can easily slip into or radicalization of our faith in opposition of something we deem the opposition.
Good intentions can also have long lasting affects. “Connected with this idea of Christians remaining in their own contexts was the idea that local Christian converts then become fully accountable for their churches. Each church must be self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing from the beginning.”7 This idea is that each church would not be independent from others nor dependent on any other group or country, but could stand firm and partner with one another. Our current goals are also to create indigenous groups that can function even if there is no outside support system. However, the Chinese communist government in setting up its state run church has adapted this concept to create 3-self churches. What is different is the current system is not one of interdependence but rather a desire to not have any outside influence. So once again, this expression of evangelicalism is tainted by its associations. Though we can not be sure how our own ideas will be used by future generations, we can endeavor to push Christ as the center and let Him lead when we are no longer in the picture.
The Lord is developing leaders; sometimes he is working around the pastors and missionaries to do His work among the world. As global evangelicals it is important to recognize our cultural and spiritual temptations when developing the kingdom of God. Only when we enter ministry with our eyes wide open to these distractions and our heart longing to accomplish the kingdom goals can we call what we do successful. St. Ephrem the Syrian puts in beautifully, “O Lord, grant that we may recognize the place where we are held prisoners. In the world there is struggle, in Eden, a crown of glory. At our resurrection both earth and Heaven will God renew, liberating all creatures, granting them Paschal joy, along with us.”8
1 Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2003.
2 Lewis, Donald M., and Pierard, Richard V. Global Evangelicalism : Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
4 Lewis, Donald. 114
5 https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Orthodoxy/ON-PARADISE.pdf accessed January 24 ,2019
6 Lewis, Donald.115
8 https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Orthodoxy/ON-PARADISE.pdf accessed January 24,2019