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My non-scientific estimate of the percentage of people who have no idea what a missionary does? Maybe 95%, +or- 3%. Missionaries are change agents, and we know that human beings are resistant to change. If we tell them that up front, we’d never get a single convert, so we begin with the culture.
Liturgical Religion is not a mission goal
Most religions are liturgical; even those churches which are informal have a standard practice in public meetings. The gathering together of like-minded people forms the whole basis of society – all societies – around location (geographical), religions- most of the original societies relied on a powerful god-person, or a soldier-leader who ruled by force, or most frequently by families, almost always language families.
This is not high-sociology, just an observation. It is the link that Islam has with itself all over the world, a world mission to rule through Sharia law and a ruling class tolerating no other.
Christianity, based on Judaism follows much the same path, except that the Yahweh is not Allah but a person who identified Himself as “I Am.” Originally Yahweh set standards for his people – a set of rules and a common master, Yahweh Himself. But the manner in which this religion is lived is based largely on local culture. The Eskimos (Inuits) gather around a fire, Catholics gather in formal grand churches, some African groups gather at the river with no formal structures in sight. Today there are large churches which meet only on the internet.
Culture is the Contest for Understanding
Within the context of culture missionaries examine the situation and pray for guidance on how Yahweh may be understood and known. In China, for example, all the assumptions about western religion are false such as the notion that Christianity is for white people – an Anglo-God so to speak, based largely on English-speaking standards since most of the missionaries to China came from that part of the world.
The Yahweh of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is originally identified with the Semitic Peoples of the Middle East. Yahshua, because he died for the whole world, does not and has not limited himself to one cultural standard. You find Menorah and 7 branch candlesticks (they are not identical) in Messianic churches, but only occasionally in other buildings. Some churches have dancing, and music – others not. Some have communion every Sunday, many only as the minister feels moved to do so, others once a month. That is because Yahshua wants us recognize His world-wide persona.
2 Corinthians 5:16 (CJB) So from now on, we do not look at anyone from a worldly viewpoint. Even if we once regarded the Messiah from a worldly viewpoint, we do so no longer.
Learning out about Yahweh starts with a small group
Knowing Yahshua Christ only through one’s individual congregation is referred to in scripture as knowing Yahshua “after the flesh” a term from the King James version. But later on, it is a sign of spiritual maturity to leave behind the notion of denominational practices that are limited to local churches. When this does not happen churches become repositories for the children of the original members who may or may not be believers, having never been presented the same powerful gospel their fathers and mothers heard. These churches waste away. Today 30% of Christians do not go to church, disinterested and unchallenged, depending unfortunately on TV which may not move them forward.
Missionaries must first understand the people they are reaching
The missionary is first a Watchman on the Wall – see Ezekiel. This person or persons spy out the land for a shred of concern for eternal things. Occasionally there is a zealot (like Paul) who is already motivated and one needs to get him moving in a better direction. There may be desperately dissatisfied and unhappy people who do not appreciate what is happening around them. They can make good converts too.
The least available are those who are self-satisfied or content with the status quo. Ronald Reagan defined the status quo as “the mess we are in,” sand many people are too inert to change.
Reality is the ultimate goal of religious training
The church is ultimately about reality – or looking at life through Yahweh’s eyes, using the Bible and the testimony of believers. It will always meet head-on culture and use it for its advantage to introduce Yahshua as a person. You know girls who grow up thinking marriage will solve all their problems. Men may think, if i can only find a girl. Yahweh has a mate for you, and He’ll do a better job of finding one for you.
Yahshua is not a movement, an idea, a system or a benevolent dictator; he is a person separate from the cultural assumptions which cloud people’s minds. Since repentance is about “changing one’s mind” the missionary must start there. Of course there is opposition.
For those who believe that unbelief is a valid position I can only say you cannot prove a negative. It is futile. If you must hold on to your position you must do it by faith – that is you must say “I have faith that Yahweh does not exist.” This is the same group that says a falling tree does not make noise in the forest simply because no one hears it. That defines the humanist’s position on reality. No human need be present in order to verify or negate what is happening.
The universe has both absolutes and truths
However, what is real is real regardless of who knows, sees, hears, or understands. In fact, the whole notion of immutable standards needs resuscitation so people can deal with the real world; all else is illusion. Reality cannot be defined by what you think; that is the best definition of neurosis: ” my notion of what reality is, makes it real.” These people are not dangerous (usually) just dysfunctional.***
We do not need to push the demonic on people for them to get a whiff of evil; we must show them that evil does not go away simply because we wish it would. Yahweh allows evil to remain as part of our training. An athlete repeats over and over certain moves until, when he is under extreme pressure from a contender, he makes exactly the right moves to win.
After the missionary has done his job, he moves on and leaves the congregation to a pastor or a group of leaders. There are new fields to plow.
The opposite of reality is neurosis
Neurosis, from the standpoint of a theologian, is the imposition of a false narrative on the truth. Frequently this is where the unbeliever begins – with an assumption that must be removed and replaced, a missionary’s job.
*** I had a friend years ago who was neurotic. She had three marriages but she honestly believed that all previous marriages did not exist and that her third husband was the true father of the two sets of children from her previous two marriages. You can call this nuts if you wish, but it is a good example of neurotic behavior.