Friday, February 16, 2007

ARE THE HEATHEN HUNGRY FOR THE GOSPEL?

As an Independent Baptist intimately involved in missions, I have heard this assertion made on many occasions: "The people in (you supply the name of the country)are hungry for the Gospel." This claim is most often made in the hope of encouraging people to give financial support to a missionary or to a mission project. The missionary often backs up his claim by showing pictures of people eagerly accepting tracts, or he tells of the numbers of professions of faith he has had in evangelistic outreaches while on the field. Since independent missionaries are always in need of support, he seeks to put an image in the minds of his audience of multitudes of previously un-evangelized people clamoring for the Good News of salvation.

I don't mean to sound cynical here, but I think that the statement mentioned above, if examined by the Scriptures, will be seen to be false. Let me say right up front, that I DO believe:
A) That the Gospel is to be preached to everyone.
B) That Jesus has sheep in every people group and every language group. They are His sheep, and when they hear His voice, they WILL come to Him.
C)That there are times when the Spirit of God begins to work among people, through the faithful preaching of the missionary, so that numbers of people are swept into the Kingdom of God in a very short time.

However, I am compelled to say that both Scripture and my own experience disproves the assumption that unregenerate men are hungry for the Gospel. The Word of God is clear, at least to my understanding, that men in their natural condition are "...dead in trespasses and sins..."(Eph.2:1). The Bible says in Jn.6:44"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him..." Also in Romans 3:11, Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and 51:1 when he gives this Divine assessment of man in his natural condition: "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." Since the Word of God is our final authority, these passages make it abundantly clear that, even though many will be eager to accept a free Gospel tract, their attitude toward God and His Gospel may well be a different matter.

In my own personal experience, I have seen how this false assumption has been perpetuated. In January of 1984 I moved my family to Mexico to work with some veteran missionaries who had been on the field for a long time. They already had a large work going, so we were able to start to work immediately with them. They were good and sincere people. They loved the Mexican people and sacrificed much in order to bring the Gospel to them. I do not criticize them personally, however I am critical of their methods.

Being located in the northern part of Mexico, this work was easily accessible to church groups who wanted to visit a missionary and experience, first hand, what goes on on the mission field. When a group of visitors would come, the lead missionary would plan the time so that there would be very little time for rest. He would always make plans to take them to a village where we had never been before. This wasn't difficult because these remote villages abound in Mexico. He would always take a film, presumably to make it easier to get permission from the village chief, to have a service there. We would go around to all the houses witnessing and inviting the people to the evening service. The missionary would begin the service with a 'thank you' to the jefe for allowing us to have the meeting, and to the people for coming. Then he would start the movie(The Life of Christ or The Burning Hell or something similar). At the mid point of the movie he would stop the projector and tell the people that a pastor from the United States was going to speak to them about the Gospel. The Preacher would step forward and preach in English as the missionary interpreted in Spanish. This was strategic, in that the people wouldn't leave because they wanted to see the rest of the movie. When the preaching was concluded, the missionary would restate the Gospel, then ask:" How many of you want to go to heaven when you die?" Or, "How many of you want to be saved?" Usually a large number would raise their hands, sometimes the whole bunch would.(Even Catholics want to be saved and go to heaven when they die.) They would be divided into groups and be instructed to repeat a prayer after the missionary. To the missionary's credit, he did say,"If you meant that prayer you are saved."

While this is happening, the visitors are walking in the clouds. The pastor is thinking,"Man! I preached and a whole village got saved! That would never happen in the U.S. Just wait till I tell the folks back home about this." He, along with the rest of the group go away with the impression that this is the common, every day experience of missionaries. He goes back home and tells his Church and everyone he knows," In Mexico the people are hungry for the Gospel. We need to get all our resources channeled into this work because they are getting the job done!"

What this poor mistaken pastor doesn't know is, that a few days later, when a rookie missionary like yours truly, would go back to that same village(without films or gringos) to follow up on those professions of faith; it was almost impossible to get even one or two to come together for another preaching session. What happened? They seemed so eager at the first presentation of the Gospel. Why aren't they as enthusiastic now?

There are many minor reasons why they aren't willing to continue in their profession of faith. Some of them, no doubt, only came because of the novelty of the situation. They lived lonely, difficult lives, normally, and this was a welcome diversion from the daily grind. Others probably made a profession of faith simply because it seemed everyone was doing it. Still others, assumed that we were preaching the same thing that they had always heard. After all, we used the same terminology and names that their religion used. However, when they told their priest about what they had heard and done, and found out from him that it was not consistent with the teachings of Roman Catholicism, they abandoned their profession.

Those are minor reasons. The main reason, however, is that they had not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit as to who Jesus really is and what He demands. They had not been convicted of their wretched and hopelessly lost condition. They had not been irresistibly drawn to Him by the Spirit in repentance and surrender to His Lordship. There is no substitute for that. That only comes through faithfully praying for His power and anointing, and by the faithful proclamation of His Gospel, which is "...the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes..."

I don't like to say it like this, but I feel that I must. Both the villagers and the visitors became unwitting participants in the perpetuation of a false assumption. The assumption that it is much easier to "get people saved" in foreign lands. The reason many missionaries encourage this false-hood is financial.It speaks of quick results. That is what we want in our American Churches, and we will pay well for them. The truth is, that even on the foreign mission field, they need the same patient teaching, the same convicting work of the Holy Spirit, the same miracle of grace that so-called 'Gospel hardened' Americans need.

I know this has been a longer than normal post. There are still many things that I could say on this subject, but I guess I had better conclude for now. I want to close this post by sharing with you my reply when people would ask me how the people responded to my ministry on the mission field. I said:"They normally respond to my preaching exactly like Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, responded when they heard the Voice of God in the Garden of Eden: They try to hide in their own religion. Every once-in-a-while, though, He will follow them and call them to Himself."

19 comments:

Thad said...

well worth the extra length!

Joe said...

MYHBCO (my humble, but correct, opinion): All people are starving for something to fill that "God shaped void."

Most do not know what it is that needs to be filled.

A few find Jesus, because the road is narrow that leads to life and few there are who find it.

Garry Weaver said...

Thad,
Thanks for reading and encouraging.

Joe,
What the lost need and what they desire are two different things. I hoped that I had clearly distinguished the two concepts.

Live, Love, Laugh said...

man! you were preaching in this post and so on point about what is really going on! It is always a blessing to come here and read what you have on your heart. Truly you have blessed me many times, keep sharing I'll be back to hear more.

Baptist Crusader said...

That was a good post. Man, I wish more of us saw it that way. I recently posted on my blog about the very same issue. It is an act of cruelty to assure eternal salvation to those who have not fruit of evidence to prove their sincerity. They go on for a lifetime duped into thinking they'll go to heaven, and have a rude awakening when they wake up from their dirt nap!

reglerjoe said...

Excellent!

The same scenario has been played out in the Philippines (and I'm sure other places as well).

Could it be that people are not hungry for the Gospel, just curious about Americans?

Garry Weaver said...

L L L,
Yeah, I even perspired and pounded the key board while I was writing.
Thanks for the kind words.

Baptist Crusader,
Thanks for visiting and commenting. I
will check out your blog.

Reglarjoe,
Thanks for reading my ramblings.
You said:"Could it be that people are not hungry for the Gospel, just curious about Americans?" I think that is true. It's part of the diversion from an otherwise monotonous existence. They are also under the impression that all Americans are rich, so they will do or say almost anything to ingratiate themselves to them.

D.J. Cimino said...

Great post Bro. Gary! Keep up the good work :)

D.J. Cimino said...

BTW, I can't even begin to count the "their hungry in (fill in the country)for the Gospel" line in my 31 years of church...

Sista Cala said...

The unregenerate are only interested in their next fix, be it drugs, sex, money,.....

Great post. Keep up the good work.

Even So... said...

Well, I finally read it, and I am glad I did...I have been on short term missonary trips into northern Mexico, and even with that limited experience, I can vouch for what you say, sadly....

Garry Weaver said...

D.J.,
I know you've seen more than than the average bear. Living on the boarder and all.

Sista Cala,
Thanks for the encouragement.

J.D.,
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Garry you touched on one thing in this post that really disturbs me about some Independent Baptist missionaries. I have seen missionaries come home from the field and for lack of a better word "embelish" their stories. I know of one guy in particular who talked about being the only missionary in an especially dangerous area. Fast forward a couple of years and I meet a Southern Baptist missionary that not only has a well established church in the town but also says that you have to do really stupid things to make it dangerous.

I think there is so much pressure on independent missionaries to travel around and beg for $50-$100 from so many churches that they really "jack up" their testimonys to try and secure funds.

Scott P.

Tim A. said...

Brother Garry,
That was a great article. It is a sad thing to think that a whole village would respond to what is perceived to be the gospel, but it was more to the novelty of the meeting or such as that.
It is almost sadder yet, to think that missionaries feel they must resort to using such instances to gain support by doing it.
I myself have been to Mexico, only to Southern Mexico on the east side. I also had the previledge of preachin in one of their churches on a Wed. evening. That was in Vera Cruz.
It was a great week long trip, and I think there was about 65 professions of faith in Jesus. It was all through the week, and others preached too. It was good.

Marcian said...

Pastor Garry,

Upon reading this, I am reminded of my favorite sermon, "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" by Paris Reidhead. You can listen to it on sermonindex.net if you haven't heard it already. He talks about his missionary experience in Africa, and how shocked he was to find out that they weren't poor ignorant heathen running around, but that they were living in utter and total defiance of far more knowledge of God than he'd ever dreamed they had. I highly recommend anyone to listen to it.

Brother Reidhead went on to learn that we don't follow Christ for ourselves, we don't do what He says to do because it will make us happy, but because He is holy, and He deserves our efforts. He preached this sermon in the 60s, I believe, but for anyone interested in how humanism crept into the church, and how it is affecting many churches today (and their methods of evangelism and missions), it's a good history lesson. I played it for my small group last week.

I totally agree with the three points you made up front. We humans are so narrow minded, and I find myself especially struggling with latching on to a certain perspective of evangelism, salvation, or holiness, and if I don't take the time to readjust the gem of the Word of God in my fingers, I become so focused on one aspect that I lose sight of the rest of God and what He is capable of. If you do go to sermonindex.net, also download Revival Hymn, because I was reminded of it when I read these three points you made.

May you rest in His grace,
Marcia

Linda D said...

It's all about numbers. Claiming an entire village accepted Christ sounds a whole lot more productive than establishing a relationship with and discipling one person. I can just hear mission boards saying: "We gave Missionary Bob $1000 this year and all he has to show for it is one convert!" What they are not realizing is that that one convert will be better equipped to disciple his fellow villagers and bring more people to Christ.

David Dansker said...

Pastor Garry,

I linked to your site from CRN. Thank you for taking time to provide this valuable first-hand account of this Missions scandal. Certainly not all of the mission efforts are of the same fraud and larceny, but far too many probably are. Why do they get away with it? You said it: the American churches will pay to hear pleasing reports brought in fast.

There are several advantages for indigenous peoples to pretend to go along with the ignorant preachers. American aid: food, clothing, money. Immigration: the possibility of church sponsorship for visa, applications for citizenship.

Assessing the situation here in America, perhaps missionaries should stay home. There's plenty of work here.

Marcian,

Thanks for the tip on "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" by Paris Reidhead.

Thanks again,

David
TheNewsBeats.com

Cultivating for Christ said...

Lots of good posts folks. Just a couple of thoughts...

Brother Gary, you are quite right about the perspective that many Missionary reports are "inflated". We must take partial blame for it because we have shown the missionaries that big results is what we are after. It is what we reward... with support and referals to other pastors. We are looking for converts... lots of them!

Linda D. was right on. Our call is not to make converts. We are looking for the wrong thing. We are called to MAKE DISCIPLES.

Yes, this begins with the gospel going forth and people responding, but if that is all that happens then we are decieved to think that any of these people are saved. They will be like the seed on the rocky ground that responds quickly and dies just as quickly.

Please note that in the Bible there are no invitations to be converts, and NO INVITATIONS to join a church !!! And it doesn't matter how much you say "if you really, really, really mean it." I know I really truly believed the facts of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins, but I wasn't saved for another 6 years. That was when I was under conviction when God revealed Himself and His gopel to me when reading the 4 gospels.

Our churches need to be looking for disciples. Not only from missionaries but from ourselves/ our churches. We boast about how many church members are in our churches... what a farse! Now out of that number (what is it? 100, 300?) how many of those are real disciples? Are there even 10?

It is refreshing to see that the primary title of what we call a "Christian" in the book of Acts is "disciple". Anyone who was saved was a disciple. Being saved resulted in learning at the feet of Jesus. A profession of faith that resulted in an absence in the congregation of God's people or a fruitless life was considered a pretty good indication that they were not saved. 1 John 2: "...they went out from us because they weren't really of us; if they had been of us they would have remained with us; but they went out from us that it might be shown that they were not of us (from memory, don't remember the exact verses... maybe around 18-20, double check my accuracy).

I know a missionary who was responsible for a couple of people coming to Christ in Oman after almost a decade. But there were probably only a half a dozen native Omani believers in the whole country. He understood that "fruit that remains" is the work of years of disciple-making.

I'm trying to remember and apply that lesson. I'd rather work with a small band of committed disciples than a church of 290 headaches (psudo-Christians) and only 10 real disciples.

Press on!

Rosesandtea said...

Twas a very good article. The heart condition of the unsaved on the mission field you describe is exactly the same as the unsaved in any "Christian" country.

I don't know how to do trackbacks so I'd like to let you know I put a link to your article on my blog. If that's not OK please let me know. (http://rosesandteax2.blogdrive.com) ~Karen