THE BIBLE OR THE TRADITION OF MEN?
Missionary David C. Bennett, D. Min.
January 9, 2006
Colossians 2: 8 "Beware lest any man spoil you…after the tradition of men…."
The year was 1903 and the Russian Czar observed a sentry posted for no apparent reason on the Kremlin grounds. Upon investigation, the Czar discovered that in 1776 Catherine the Great had spotted on the Kremlin grounds the first flower of spring. Immediately Catherine ordered "Post a sentry here so that no one tramples that flower under foot!" That flower has since died and faded away but the tradition lived on for many, many years after.
Though Baptists like to think they are not traditionalists, such as the Roman Catholics or Anglicans, in reality they are, at least in some areas. According to the computer programme Word’s Thesaurus one synonym of "tradition" is "institution". One tradition Baptists tenaciously cling to is the man conceived institution known as the mission board. This is in spite of the Biblical fact that the First Century churches carried out the Great Commission without a mission board! The independent Baptists do not all support the same mission board for they have their favourite mission board due to many preferences of which one is theological preferences. The churches see this favoured mission board as having the expertise to help the local churches perform the local churches God given Great Commission. Is this the way it is supposed to be and how did this tradition enter the Baptists thinking?
Ruth A. Tucker wrote in FROM JERUSALEM TO IRIAN JAYA page 110 that "Evangelism was the responsibility of the church and its leaders, and it was this once again discovered truth that launched the modern missionary movement….But…A vehicle was needed to turn the belief into action, and that vehicle emerged in the form of a mission society. The first of these new societies was the Baptist Missionary Society (1792)…"
Note those men were awakened to the need of world evangelism and in this awakened state they saw that this was the "responsibility of the church and its leaders". But rather than seeking to follow the plain instructions laid forth in the Bible, Tucker said these church leaders believed "A vehicle was needed to turn the belief into action, and that vehicle emerged in the form of a mission society." The first of these vehicles for the Baptists was in 1792 and the tradition continues.
Ruth Tucker was teaching at New Evangelical Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when she wrote FROM JERUSALEM TO IRIAN JAYA. Knowing this makes it the more interesting to read her words on page 110 that these societies "…independent in some instances and denominationally oriented in others…" opened "…the way for ecumenical activity…" Ecumenical activity via mission boards! This is not a fundamentalist saying this but a teacher in a New Evangelical Divinity school! She discerned the direction missionary activity outside the local church would lead! Interesting indeed! One wonders why so many fundamental Baptists do not discern the same!
It should come as no surprise but we often do things in life because that is the way we were taught. Fundamental pastors and churches channel their missions through mission boards because most of the fundamental Colleges and Seminaries only teach missions via mission boards. It is fair to say most, if not all, fundamental Christian Colleges or Seminaries would NOT have a class relating to missions where it would be taught that the local church is the ONLY mission agency cited in the New Testament.
Sadly, many have been duped for so long they just cannot imagine doing missions without a mission board! For them tradition continues. A couple of examples will suffice as to what future pastors and missionaries are taught in the mission classes of two fundamental Christian schools. These two examples are Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University with emphases being the authors (DCB). This author appreciates the stand Pensacola takes on the Received Greek Text and the stand BJU has taken concerning fundamentalism through its years of existence. But the point being made here is not what they teach concerning fundamentalism or the Received Text but what they are teaching (or not teaching) regarding the local church’s Biblical responsibility in missions.
PCC MI 301 Principles and Methods of Missions (2) This course prepares the student for missionary candidature with emphasis on application to a mission board, candidate school, prefield ministries, as well as the physical, financial, and spiritual preparation for the student’s field. Projects are designed to aid the student in the organization of prayer cards, prayer letters, slide presentations, and display boards. Fall sem. Major: Bible —
The objective of the missions program is to prepare the student effectively for cross-cultural ministries. The student will receive practical training in preparation for mission board candidate school, for deputation, and for work in church planting. Throughout the semester visiting missionaries, chapel messages, Mission Prayer Band, and Campus Church encourage a warm heart toward missions. Each summer, students have opportunity to participate on a team to see missions firsthand and to assist missionaries in "on-the-field" experience."
Bob Jones University:
M AJOR CHOSEN: CHRISTIAN MISSIONS
I. A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE MAJOR
The purpose of the Christian Missions major is to provide information that will aid the future missionary in understanding the task of missions, the issues related to missions, the personal life of the missionary, the practical aspects of applying to a mission board, deputation, departure to the field, and life on the field.Principles and Methods of Missions The course is divided into two semesters. The top mission boards consider these courses vital to missionary success. (Do you wonder who BJU considers are the "top mission boards"?)
VI. CAREER OPPORTUNITIES AND PLACEMENT
The School of Religion extension office and the Office of Missionswill assist you in finding positions for Christian service. We work with students to help them select a mission board, and a number of mission board recruiters come to the campus each year. Pastors, camp directors, mission board directors, and other recruiters often visit the campus to find personnel for their ministries."
As one can see from these schools the use of mission boards has been embedded into the thinking of those preparing for the ministry. This happens not only in these two schools but in almost every, if not every, fundamental Christian College and Seminary.Yet, in spite of this there have always been some Baptists who have held strongly to the local church and not relinquished their responsibility of missions to mission boards. There is also a ray of sunshine for some of those who have in the past supported missionaries through mission boards are now questioning the necessity of mission boards in the local church fulfilling the Great Commission. This is refreshing and perhaps this paper will help answer some of their questions so these pastors may begin to initiate a mission’s programme that operates Biblically through the only New Testament institution God has established, the local church.
Because I served several years with a mission board it must be said that this "…is not to suggest character flaws in Christians who participate in para-churches. Many Christian leaders, because of the faulty teaching of "fundamentalism," are untrained in or ignorant of consistent, exegetical NT ecclesiology" Dr. Thomas Strouse footnote 65 Page 19 of YE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.
There are a multitude of men who love and serve the Lord under a mission board but that still does not make the mission board the Biblical method of sending forth missionaries! There is only ONE Biblical method, and therefore the only correct method to send missionaries and that is through the local church without the "assistance" or "help" of a mission board.
Let us concentrate on what the Scriptures say on the matter. In this we will also discuss a few areas concerning the operation of mission boards.
The Scriptural method is through the local churches. Matthew 28 is the commission and Acts 13 is the recognition of the missionaries and the implementation of the task. In Acts 14 following the first missionary journey the Scriptures say that Paul and Barnabas reported back to the local church. It does not say they reported back to the local church and the mission board for a report or debriefing as some mission boards have their missionaries do. In fact the only time boards are mentioned in the New Testament is Acts 27: 44 "And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land." Not surprisingly these boards have absolutely nothing to do with a mission board.
To defend the local church as God’s agency for sending forth missionaries is defendable from Scripture but to defend mission boards from Scripture is to make Scripture say something it does not say. The president of Baptist International Mission Incorporated (BIMI) wrote in his 1st March, 2003 President’s Perspective that "One thing for certain, the ministry of the local church is in the Bible and also the ministry of ‘helps.’ A mission board is a ministry of helps. In the New Testament there were groups who collected funds for other Christian groups. These groups took care of the logistics of collecting funds from different churches and getting those funds delivered. This is very much the role of a mission board." Are present day mission boards really defendable from the examples given? Is this a true exegesis of those Scriptures?
The Spiritual method is through the local churches. In Matthew twenty eight the Chief Shepherd commissions the church. In Acts 2 the Holy Ghost empowers the church and in Acts 13 God the Holy Ghost is working with and through the Antioch local New Testament church to send the missionary team forth. There wasn’t a candidate class held, orientation class to prepare the missionaries for the field, or a meeting of the mission board to approve the missionaries but simply a sending forth of God’s chosen servants by the Holy Ghost and the local church at Antioch.
However, mission board promoters say they are commissioned by God to carry out this task. On page 4 of the Principles and Practices (P & P) of The Association of Baptists for world Evangelism (ABWE) we read that "…the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (hereafter called AABWE@) has grown into an organized team of men and women commissioned to evangelize the nations with the gospel of God (Emphasis mine)." Commissioned by whom? Have mission boards been commissioned by God or man? Again there is no Scriptural basis for this.
There is the old saying "Keep it simple stupid". Why have we made missions more complicated than God has? Sure some things have changed since that first missionary trip but has God changed? Has God’s Word changed? Again quoting Dr. Strouse from the same paper on page 20 and footnote 73 he says that he "…is not ignorant of the complexities of visas, taxes, language schools, funding, etc., for modern NT missionaries, and is not suggesting that there is an easy and simple answer to these difficulties. Nevertheless, the biblical pattern should be followed rather than man's contrived and non-authoritative efforts."
Certainly, there will be problems in obeying the Scriptural way but let it be known there are also a multitude of problems with the man made mission board method as well. The reason there will be problems is due to the old man within! For instance, the first missionaries sent out had a falling out, Acts 15: 36-40. Who was right and who was wrong? This much the Scriptures do tell us is that Paul went out with Silas and his ministry was blessed of God. Barnabas took and trained Mark so that later Paul would say "…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" 2Timothy 4:11.
Who knows what would have been the outcome if a man made mission board had been involved! Under the mission board method a conflict such as what we read about with Paul and Barnabas may have ended in at least one if not both being terminated by the board for insubordination and the sending church (since they were both from the same church) disciplining them for a lack of love and team work. In turn the men would have been dropped by both the board and the church. The church would then seek other missionaries to support who were in good standing with the board for after all the mission board executives are experts!
The Sensible method is through the local churches. Local church missions is sensible in that the Chief Shepherd of the local church is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Chief Shepherd has the interest of His churches at heart and has given His local churches the authority to carry out His Commission.
The Chief Shepherd has established two offices in the local church, pastors and deacons. The structure of the local church is sensible, simple and skilled to perform what God intends for it to do whatever size it may grow too. But the same cannot be said for most man made mission boards. For an example of the lack of simplicity download the Principle and Practices, P & P, (PDF) of the Association for World Evangelism (ABWE).
The man made mission boards of today are not sensible and simple but they also become financial leeches. They drain funds from the local churches that could be used for front line mission war fare. For example a Biblical immersionist Church will receive its income from the tithes and offerings of its members. Mission boards are not God ordained and they seek to gather their funds any way they can. For example The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism advertised in their Winter 04 publication The Message such a financial programme as "DONOR ADVISED FUND. WHAT IS IT? It is a plan that allows a donor to make one, or a series of gifts to ABWE Foundation. Such gifts can be in the form of cash, securities, or real estate. The donor retains the ability to advise or direct how the fund’s income, or income and principal, are to be distributed for charitable purposes." Of course ABWE "…can…be one of the beneficiaries..." to "…receive income or income and principal."
Of course the man made "servants" of the churches need funds as do all organizations. But the mission organizations often have many more paid staff than the average size local church. These staff members, from the president on down, all draw salaries and these salaries must be paid. The mission may draw its home office operating funds (including salaries) from local churches who budget the mission as a part of their missions’ budget. Another area in which the mission board receives its funds is through a charge levied per month on the individual missionary. One way or another mission boards will obtain the funds needed for their buildings and office staff. This is additional financial baggage for the churches and the missionaries.
When I left ABWE in 1993 ABWE was taking $220 per missionary couple per month for the operation of the home office. Who knows what they are taking now in 2006. Another Baptist mission board takes 10% right off the top of the missionary’s account each month. Where does one find this in the New Testament? Sadly it is accepted by many churches without question.
Mission boards have written policies, often comprising many pages, explaining their reason for existence and their operation. For instance, The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism has twenty five pages in their Principles and Practices (P & P) manual. On page five of ABWE’s P & P we read that "ABWE is committed to the centrality of the church in God’s plan, and exists to serve local churches and their missionaries. Those churches that seek the assistance of ABWE in the service and administration of their missionaries do so in a spirit of partnership and cooperation that allows their missionaries to link strategically with missionaries of other local churches. Individually, the missionary is accountable primarily to his sending church and, secondarily, to his supporting churches. While the appointment of missionaries with ABWE does not remove them from the authority and discipline of their sending church, it is considered a relationship through which the mission is entrusted with the responsibility to oversee and coordinate the missionary’s ministry (emphasis mine)."
Is this double talk? One synonym for "entrusted" is delegate. Can a local church delegate its authority from God over its members, to a man made organization?
The Practical Way is Local Church Missions. Most churches operate their missions programme similar to this church which says on its web site that "As… Church grew in the mid-1980s, one of the first priorities for the young church was missions. The strategy behind our approach to missions in the 80s was simple: we called a missions agency and told them to send us a list of missionaries who needed support."
Rather than contacting a mission agency the Antioch church was led of the Holy Ghost, Acts 13: 1-3 "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."
Why is it local churches believe they can operate a Christian Day school, perhaps a Bible College, or a mission downtown but they do not believe they can send a missionary directly to the field without the help of a mission board? Why do they not realize the local church is God’s Way and therefore it is the practical way and also the workable way? The only answer that seems plausible to the churches not accepting local church missions is tradition.
The Workable Way is Local Church Missions. If God’s way of missions worked in the First Century it is workable in the 21st Century! Again I quote Dr. Strouse in his paper YE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST PAGE 20. He wrote that "Para-church mission boards usurp the privilege and responsibility of local church missions. The Great Commission is the divine mandate to plant immersionist assemblies both locally and worldwide. Only the Lord's candlesticks can produce NT churches. Para-church mission boards cannot baptize converts and cannot commission missionary candidates. Nevertheless, these same boards develop a hierarchy of unbiblical offices, such as "missions president/director," and dictate to "their" missionaries and to the pastors of supporting churches, their policies, practices, and doctrines. The NT teaches, in contradistinction, that the church at Antioch acted as Paul's "mission board" and sent out Barnabas and the Apostle (Acts 13:1 ff.). To be sure, other churches such as the Philippian church helped support Paul's missionary endeavors on his second journey (Phil. 4:15-16)."
Again let it be said that this paper is not saying those involved with mission boards do not love the Lord and desire to see people come to Christ. However, mission boards can be compared to the ark of God being carried by the cart in 1 Chronicles 13. It was not God’s method in carrying the ark as mission boards are not God’s method to carry forth His Word today.
Paul and Barnabas, and later Paul and Silas, did not have a board, a field council or a field administrator but they did have God, God’s Word, and a local New Testament local church behind them. Of these men it is said they "turned the world upside down".
May we as Bible believing independent
fundamental Baptists leave tradition and get on with the job
of the Great Commission given to His churches.
For whosoever shall call upon the name
of the Lord shall be saved.
From the Authorized King James Bible