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The Word of God and Modern Missions: Part 3 by Rev. G. W. Fisher (Banner 5/19)
Posted on May 20, 2019
Adapted for serial use in the Missions Banner from a sermon of the same title delivered at Tacoma Bible Presbyterian Church, September 9, 2018. Rev. Fisher is a member of the Presbyterian Missionary Union Council. The text was 1 Peter 1:23-25. Used with permission.
Christianity, not Culture
And right there you discover part of the problem—if you reduce Christianity to a “culture,” you immediately diminish it in every way. There is no doubt that many people think of Christianity as a “western” religion, despite its historic and organic connection to the Middle East; but what is often overlooked in this view of Christianity is not how much impact western culture has had on Christianity, but what influence Christianity has had on the development of western culture.
Wherever mere culture—that is, wherever those habits, practices and ideas of a society which are influenced by history, environment, or superstition—has displaced Christian truth and morality, it should not be mistaken for Christianity. But where Christian truth has permeated any culture, that reality should be acknowledged, and the truth recognized for what it is.
Many Colors and Textures Neutralized
When the committee and interior designer began looking at what sort of carpet to put in this room, one thing was quite evident—the stained-glass windows had an effect on every piece of carpet, no matter what its color or texture. Pieces of carpet that contrasted dramatically with one another outside the room, suddenly took on similar hues and colors under the light passing through those red, blue and purple windows.
Culture or societies being influenced by the light of this Word are bound to have similar hues and colors, not because people are being immorally forced to change their ways to conform to western culture, but because they understand what sin is, and what God requires for the salvation of the soul and for holy living—which are all things that find their way into the life of every disciple of Jesus Christ, despite national or cultural origin.
What makes the difference is that hearts are “Christianized”—one’s culture is not different, but hearts are changed by the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Romans 1:16-17 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’”
Sadly, in the 1940’s Pearl S. Buck’s identification with Christianity of any sort—liberal, radical, or otherwise—seemed to evaporate. She didn’t like being called an atheist, but confessed, “I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings” (Wacker, Grant. “Pearl S. Buck and the Waning of the Missionary Impulse.” Church History 72, no. 4 : 852-74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4146375).
Buck, and thousands with her, had determined that what they called “conversionary missions,” was “culturally imperialistic at best, and morally indefensible at worst.”
Was it true? Well, anyone who has any historical understanding of the Victorian Age out of which Buck emerged, has to admit that there was an imperialistic element to it—especially in Great Britain. But, because any mission work becomes tainted with that, or any other element, does it then render the Great Commission illegitimate? Certainly not!
Ironically, Buck was very supportive of secular philanthropic endeavors, but they too were, and are, tainted with all sorts of corruption—including a modern type of Imperialism. x [The first two installments are found here: https://presbyterianmissions.org/news/]