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A Return to Historic Missions

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We recently hosted our annual “Radius Day” event, and for two days our campus was filled with over one hundred visitors from nineteen states and three countries. They wanted to see firsthand this place that is training missionaries and causing a few ripples. What a hearty lot they were!

As these pastors, missions leaders, and future students heard from Radius students and staff—during casual coffee breaks, formal Q&A times, and breakout sessions—a common realization began to set in: Radius has not discovered a new method. One pastor finally just said it aloud: “So really you’re not doing anything new here. If we’re hearing you correctly, this is actually a return to historic missions?” He nailed it.

Of course, “historic” can be seen as culturally imperialistic and overbearing. But that’s clearly not what we are talking about. Doing the hard work of fluently learning the indigenous language and culture, and thus being able to identify the appropriate relational and gospel starting points within a particular culture, goes a long way to ensure Radius-trained workers will be culturally appropriate. No, we do not want to be blind towards the imperialistic lenses that some foreign workers have seen the world through, but we are also not afraid to be labeled as “historic” in our methods. We would call it being “biblically-driven” as we speak of missiology methods we see in Scripture, which historically went unquestioned. Let’s take a look at what those would be:

1. God communicates clearly, except when Jesus deliberately used parables to veil meanings. God is a clear communicator.

2. God’s prophets, priests, disciples, and apostles did not use translators, or persons of peace, as their go-between.

3. Making the gospel understandable was the responsibility of the communicator; bringing conviction and conversion is the domain of the Holy Spirit.

4. Error or heresies don’t “self-correct.” The Ethiopian eunuch could read and was open to truth, but he needed a competent teacher.

5. We thank God when miracles, dreams, and visions occur, but we do not wait for, plan on, or expect miracles or healings as a strategy to do evangelism.

6. Evangelism is different than discipleship.

7. We do not see New Testament apostles or church leaders “facilitating” Bible studies. The New Testament norm is competent teachers clearly teaching God’s Word.

8. Conversion is a New Testament concept. The point in time may be “blurry” in some people’s memories, but the “conversion process” does culminate at a point in time when a person moves from death to life. This matters because this is when discipleship begins.

9. We disciple toward spiritual maturity those who embrace the gospel and have the Spirit of God within them. Only those who embrace Jesus would we teach to live in obedience to Him.

10. We do not teach, exhort, hint at, or desire non-believers to “obey God.” We realize that to do so would fuel the already existing idea that “I can please God in my current state by doing good works.”

11. Those who understand the gospel are broken by it and find forgiveness of sin in its message. Because of this, they do not add Bible truths to their pre-existing worldview.

12. Followers of Jesus do not remain enmeshed in their previous religion. Spiritual growth is accompanied by moving away from Animistic, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist ideas and identities. Such ideas and practices that show allegiance, loyalty, or worship to any other religious entities are moved away from as new believers understand their new identity as Christ-followers.

13. Discipling people to spiritual maturity takes time. The further their previous religious view was from the biblical view, the longer it will take to teach and model what a mature Christ- follower looks like.

14. Having recognized biblically competent elders takes time. Without such leaders, there is no “church.”

15. Forming individuals into actual churches that reproduce takes time and teaching, especially where no pre-existing Judeo-Christian worldview exists. (The New Testament time frames give little guidance to today’s cross-cultural situations.)

16. Humanitarian, business, educational, and other ways of improving the lives of needy peoples were not the primary thrust of Jesus’ parting mandate. Although the gospel worker must demonstrate his love and concern for his people in tangible ways (and today this is legally mandated in many situations), unless there is a church left behind, all other efforts are only temporary helps.

17. Marriages and children adversely affected by the sufferings of the apostles were a given. Long-term, cross-cultural missionaries today will not minister effectively without their share of sacrifices.

These are some of the core understandings that Radius students become convinced of during their ten-month training time. For those attending the Radius Day event, the most impactful times were hearing students share their own convictions in each of these areas. Hearing how God’s Word has re-shaped their hearts as they’ve thought through the difficulties associated with cross-cultural church planting was powerful.

Adherents to these principles in 2019 can feel “out of step” with some of the current trends in missions. The reality is that nearly every one of the missiological methods specified above is being rethought and redefined in many missions circles. What seems obvious from a straightforward reading of Scripture can be reinterpreted in a variety of ways.

I am encouraged, though, that the number of churches becoming aware of the state of affairs in missions today is growing rapidly. Good questions are being asked. Candid questions and concerns—such as, “What can we do? What do we do? How can I know what my member is doing?” These really are encouraging days, as many churches are realizing the state of affairs in the missions world and are leading the way back to biblical, historic cross-cultural missions methods.

God will build his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail. But we must be vigilant in protecting what is so clearly laid out in Scripture against the speed and pragmatism that is so dominant today. May we endeavor to be faithful above all else and leave the results to God.

Brooks and his wife, Nina, planted a church among the Yembiyembi people in Papua New Guinea. In 2016, they returned to San Diego. Brooks now serves as president of Radius International. Both Brooks and Nina participate in the teaching at RADIUS as well as leading and traveling to spread the word about the necessity of pre-field training.
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