Wednesday, March 15, 2006

does the waodoni tribe have a legitimate church?

Ron West, commenting on a recent blog, makes a point that I think is worth thinking about:

In the 80s I spoke to a missionary who was invited to mission conference in the church of SBC president at that time. There were over 30 missionaries there and he and his wife were the only Southern Baptists. They were allowed to speak in one Sunday School class while non Southern Baptist spoke in the main service. I know of other SBC presidents in the last 25 years where similar conferences were held. I have been invited to speak at mission conferences on more than one occasion at the church of IMB trustees. At these conferences a large number if not the majority of missionaries were non Southern Baptist. Many of the missionaries from other groups are wonderful and effective missionaries. I serve on the field with missionaries from their sending boards and have great fellowship with them. However, I know for a fact not all in their organization would fit the guidelines being set out in the new baptism and tongues policies at the board.

In our own church we have had Steve Saint speak to our congregation. His father was one of the missionaries killed in South America bringing the gospel to the incredibly violent Waodoni tribe.

The story of these missionaries is one that has inspired millions of Christians around th world and was the inspiration of the films "End of the Spear" and "Beyond the Gates of Splender" (Two films that some of our own church members had a big hand in). Saint and others were a part of the missions group associated with The Plymouth Brethren. This is a conservative Christian denomination that holds to many of the same beliefs as Southern Baptists, with the noted exception that they have no ordained clergy (very non-Landmarkist).

Ron raises a strong point. If we are prepared to say that our missionaries around the world cannot cooperate with non (landmarkist) Baptist missionaries, what does this say about the legitimacy of missionaries like Nate Saint and Elizabeth Elliot or Anglican missionary Eric Liddle of "Chariots of Fire" fame?

I recently read a review of Saints new book "The Great Omission" written by Robert Reece of YWAM (Youth With a Mission). Saints experience in Ecuodor has some interesting parallels to the policy changes we have made, and is another example of why I believe a landmarkist approach to missions would be a disaster for the IMB (The bold is my emphasis):

Steve Saint is the son of the martyred missionary, Nate Saint, who was killed by the Waodani Indians (formerly known as Aucas) of Ecuador in 1956 along with Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Pete Fleming. After his aunt, Rachel Saint, and Elisabeth Elliot successfully planted Christianity among the Waodani, Steve spent some of his childhood among these Indians who murdered his father, even being baptized by them. In 1994, when his Aunt Rachel died, the Waodani called him from his business career in Florida to live among them again.

When he arrived in the Amazon jungle, Saint was shocked by the state of the Waodani churches and Christians: “I was dismayed to find that the Waodani church was less functional than it had been when I lived with them during school vacations while growing up” (p. 18). What was the cause of this sad situation? Beside the fact that non-Christian outsiders were increasingly dominating their lives, the Waodani “also felt threatened by all of the benevolence they were receiving from Christian missions and relief organizations” (p. 18). Initially, the Waodani churches had been self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, but now they waited for outsiders to build their church buildings and to conduct their Bible conferences.

This type of dependency concerns Saint because it causes what he calls “The Great Omission,” that is, it eliminates the contribution of indigenous believers like the Waodani to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Saint emphasizes that the model of missions that creates dependency in indigenous believers will never be able to complete world evangelization. He believes that dependency ends up sapping the strength and patience of both donors and receivers, and it is difficult to cure after it becomes established. The real goal of missions is to plant healthy indigenous churches that can do their own part in fulfilling the Great Commission. Yet many indigenous believers are so smothered by the good intentions of western Christians that they feel incapable of matching up to the task by comparison. They sit on the sidelines, waiting for more sophisticated Christians to minister to their needs.

How does this dependency happen? Saint explains, “Anyone of superior education, superior technology, and superior financial ability who is attempting to help people of inferior capability in those areas has to guard against creating dependency” (p. 56). Furthermore, North Americans assume that “more is almost always considered better when it comes to money” (p. 126). Saint likens money to medicine which must be administered in the right dosage to effect a cure. Too much money, like too much medicine, can harm more than help. In missions, if imported systems are too expensive for the local Christians to afford, that will tend to make them dependent on outsiders. Thus, less funding can help overcome “The Great Omission,” by prompting local believers to exercise their own faith and use their own resources for evangelism.

North Americans tend to make the common mistake of thinking that worldwide standards must equal theirs to be valid and effective. For example, we may assume that pastors among the Waodani need the same training as American pastors, or that church buildings in Africa should have the same specifications as those in the U.S.A. In his efforts to help the Waodani overcome dependency, Saint adopted technology appropriate to the jungle setting. In this way, he helped the Waodani cope with modern needs by training them in both dentistry and aviation, but in a form they can afford and use without depending on outsiders. Thus, the Waodani use portable dental chairs and solar-powered drills that can be carried in a backpack, and they fly what he calls “a powered parachute.” Such innovations appropriate to the Waodani lifestyle have helped them to become self-supporting once again.

Saint concludes with a comparison between modern missionary methods and those of the Apostle Paul. In contrast with Paul’s method of turning over responsibility to his converts at an early stage, modern missionaries tend to stay too long in leadership over their converts, expecting them to attain the same qualifications as the missionaries before assuming responsibility. Saint advocates the Pauline method to avoid dependency, characterized by the four words “Know-Go-Show-Blow.” This signifies the necessity of knowing God personally, going where He is not yet known, showing the people there how to follow Him, and “blowing,” that is, leaving that place soon in order to start over in another place. In this way, missions would be able to incorporate all their converts into the evangelistic work force and so fulfill the Great Commission.

Saint raises some very intersting questions regarding missiology around the world. Perhaps for us a more basic question would be, "is this a real church?" If these people have not been baptized by an ordained Baptist minister, can we really say that they constitute a church? And can our missionaries in this part of Ecuodor cooperate with the likes of Steve Saint?