Monday, February 20, 2012

On Missions: Part 4

After my "epiphany" earlier, it remained only to unpack the details of the simple concept. I started by bringing to mind one of my favorite saints: St. Nina, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia. Several things stick out about her life. First of all, would you look at that title! Is that big, or is that big? No Protestant missionary I know of would be considered on par with the Apostles, let a alone given an official title of equality. No Protestant missionary I know of would be considered "Enlightener" of an entire nation. But when you delve into the details of her work, you see that the title is not hubris, and it's not exaggeration either. St. Nina, by the grace of God, became truly worthy of it.

More importantly, we begin to see the scale on which evangelism is carried out in the Orthodox Church.

Other examples abound, such the work of St. Joseph of Aramathea in England, St. Patrick in Ireland, Sts. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs (nowadays several nations, including Russia), Sts. Innocent and Herman in Alaska, to say nothing of the works of the Apostles themselves in their various lands: St. Thomas in Persia and India, St. Matthew in Egypt, St. Paul in Asia Minor, the Grecian peninsula, and Italy (and perhaps Spain also), etc.

All of these echo and perpetuate the work that God Himself did with Israel, culminating in Pentecost.

I think we are too much a "microwave" culture: we want it fast. It's too easy for us former Protestants to adopt (or rather, to retain) an impatient missionary ethos which expects that a man or a team will go preach to a people, and if the Holy Spirit moves, 3000 people will be baptized in one day. Then we get discouraged when it doesn't happen.

What we forget is that Pentecost may have occurred over the course of one day, but it didn't "happen in a day". It was the result of some 1500 years of preparation by God. Jesus didn't just pop up in the middle of some strange land and start preaching. No, the entire period of the Law was preparation for His coming. God worked with the nation, shaping it's culture and language until the time was right for His Son to enter into it, and even then there was more work to be done. He trained his "missionary team" (12 Apostles, and "the Seventy" in addition to them) for three and a half more years, and only then were they ready to receive the Holy Spirit. Only when the Holy Spirit descended on this painstakingly prepared people did things really start "popping".

It seems, from examining the great missionary works of the Church since then, that we Orthodox follow that same modus operandi. Missionaries are sent to a nation, with the goal of baptizing that entire land: its people, its music, its culture, its social and governmental forms — in short, it's entire being — into the household of God. Sometimes, the first missionary wave accomplishes this. Sometimes, it takes several. Indeed, in some lands, there is still much work to be done. But this is always the goal.

Now, regarding the methodology itself, how we go about doing this, I have noticed some common threads in all of the above-mentioned works, including God's work with Israel:

  • The exact opposite of the Protestant approach is taken, when it comes to building churches. A solitary missionary cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy without another person. This is especially true of those who are women, such as St. Nina, who cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy at all! So it is unheard of for an individual missionary in a virgin land to just build a church and start inviting people to come. He or she may baptize individuals, and may even form a church and begin serving the divine services. But they do not invite people to the church with the goal of converting them. Rather, they convert them with the goal of bringing them into the Church. This conversion is accomplished through purity of life, and the preaching of the Gospel, accompanied by "the signs that attend the Word", such as healing the sick, casting out demons, etc., the missionary prepares the people for baptism.
  • At the same time, he (or she!) frequently works on making the local language suitable to the worship of God, and identifying which aspects of the local culture may be kept and Christianized (e.g. the spirit-houses of the Aleuts), and which must be destroyed as the work of demons.
  • Also, the missionary will frequently find the ruler of the land (or the one with the most influence), and seek to convert him or her, since this is the fastest way to effect nation-wide change in the culture, so that the maximum effect will accrue from the preaching of the Gospel.
  • At the same time, the missionary wages spiritual battle on an immense scale, which is only accomplished with the help of the Holy Spirit. Demons must be cast out, who have long held sway over the people, and they frequently do not go without a fight. Princes must be bound by the name of Christ. Pagan religious rulers do not take kindly to the infringement on their territory, nor to the routing of their deities accomplished by the power of Christ, and so they frequently fight back. Many of the Apostles and others met their earthly end because of the machinations of these pagan authorities.

As you can see, this is not the calling of every believer. God has not appointed all to be apostles. So what, then, can or should YOU do to support and be part of the universal calling of the Church to evangelize the world? Before I list a few suggestions, let me clarify that you ought to work out with your spiritual father what your particular role is. What follows is merely some things that come to mind, and should only be considered suggestions to get the conversation started.

  • First of all, purify yourself. By God's grace, become the Saint you are called to be. Regular Confession of sins, watchful, prayerful attendance at the divine services of the Church (as many as you can), and frequent Communion at the Lord's Cup are absolutely essential. With the blessing of your spiritual father, establish a prayer rule and keep it. Learn love for your God and for your neighbor, and in every thing give thanks. This is paramount.
  • Secondly, learn your Faith. Learn anew the Gospel of your salvation, and with God's help believe it more and more each day. Learn of the Kingdom of God. Become intimately familiar with the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, and the texts of the divine services, both by reading and by paying close attention to their use. If you have a question about anything, do not hesitate to ask. Always be a catechumen in heart. But most importantly, while you learn these things, do them, and consider yourself the chief of sinners.
  • Working with your spiritual father, discover and put to use your specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the building up of your Local Church, and of all the churches of God in love.
  • Live your faith not just at Church, but everywhere, and "always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear". Do not be obnoxious about it. This is reactive, not active. Or rather, it's activity is first to BE the light, to which those who are in darkness will be drawn. (Note: this is what is typically referred to as "lifestyle evangelism".)
  • Be ready always to contribute in whatever way you can to the work, both at home and abroad. If you cannot give money, then perhaps time, or other gifts of love, such as encouraging letters, care packages, etc. You can always give prayer!

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. But I hope you get the point. As St. Seraphim of Sarov wrote: "Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved."

On Missions: Part 3

I wondered for a long time what Orthodox Missiology "looks like". As I explore my Faith, I encounter more accounts of the work of great Orthodox missionaries in the past, and have had opportunity to hear from and interact with several missionaries whose work is in progress. I have, little by little, begun (by God's grace!) to understand what I am seeing. I am sure I have much more development to experience in this area, and I am by no means "the expert". If anything, this post is like the baby in the crib finally assigning the words "Mama" and "Dada" to the specific faces his parents, and attempting to reproduce the two words himself. On that note: I beg your forgiveness, in advance, for where I am either incomplete or incorrect in the following meditation.

I have noted several things, all of which sort of "gelled" over this past weekend. This process began a couple of weeks ago, when I asked someone more advanced in the Faith, but from a similar background, why our Church only supports two missionaries. I will tell you the answer below, but the important note for this paragraph is that during the course of the ensuing conversation regarding missions, the fellow made a rather astute observation, which stuck with me. He said, "Orthodox missions is not like Protestant missions, where they just send a fellow down the Amazon with a Bible in his hand, who just tells the natives about Christ and has them say a prayer and start coming to hear him speak." He didn't really go into what Orthodox missions actually is about, though. But it got me thinking.

The very next week, the lead-up to the "gelling" process continued with the visit and report of one of our missionaries, working in Romania. Her presentation lasted over an hour, and covered every aspect of her work, which was quite enlightening. Also, I asked Fr. Silas, "I thought Romania is already an Orthodox country. Not that I have anything against her work, but I'm curious: why is she working there, and not, as Paul desired, 'where Christ has not been preached'?" His answer was that the Orthodox culture and life of Romania has been almost destroyed by the communism of the Soviet Union, and this is a new generation. She is working with the remaining Church to "raise up the ancient landmarks", that is, to re-evangelize the country.

The third moment in this process was when the light turned on, and I realized: Orthodox missions is so vastly different, because a) it's based in a radically different theology, soteriology and ecclesiology, and b) it's several orders of magnitude larger in scope and depth than any vision I've heard from any Protestant group thus far. It's playing on a wholly different plane.

The goal of Orthodox Missions is to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) in it's absolute fullest capacity, to bring the salvation and reconciliation that Christ provided and accomplished on the Cross to the whole world. This is the "ministry of reconciliation that St. Paul refers to. This vision is deeply rooted in both the Old and New Testaments, in the purpose of God for Israel, in the vision of the Prophets, and in the work of God in Christ, and His Apostles.

In my next post, I will give some of my meager observations of the contours of Orthodox Missionary work, and show how this echoes, continues, and enters into God's own missionary work (Christ is, after all, called "the Apostle"), co-laboring together with Him. I will attempt to detail the task, and show various ways each of us might be an active participant in the work, to the glory of God—the Father Almighty, together with His Son, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, and the All-Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit—to Whom be all glory, honor, worship, and praise, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

(Here's part 4:

On Missions: Part 2

Even when I was in college, but especially afterward, I started to see the obvious problems with the approaches mentioned in my last post. But I didn't really know what to do about it. Those techniques were all I knew.

Over time, I stopped going to the church-sponsored door-knocking campaigns. By this time, I was the pianist of the church I was attending, which is a somewhat high-profile position, although not as high-profile as a paid staff position. One of the rules of the church was that any ministerial position, volunteer or otherwise, was supposed to be visibly (yes, they specified "visibly") involved with these weekly campaigns. I was able to "slack off" by claiming busyness, etc., but I still had to put in my token effort every couple of months, to keep anyone from getting suspicious.

(Let me clarify something here: I wasn't actively trying to deceive or anything. I just couldn't bring myself to actively go do something that I no longer believed in. But I didn't have anything to replace it, missiologically, so while I was figuring it out I "kept face" in the system. In retrospect, this probably wasn't the way to go about things, but you know how hindsight is, right?)

What I did know (and still maintain) is that every individual Christian is called to be a light in the world. This is popularly referred to (and pejoratively so in my former religious realm) as "lifestyle evangelism". Even while I was struggling with the public church soul-winning program, as described above, I was endeavoring to do "lifestyle evangelism".

Naturally, when I finally left those circles, and joined the Orthodox Church, some of my close friends, in attempting to understand/bring me back, brought up the question of evangelism. Of course, I hadn't really learned, yet, what the Orthodox missionary ethos looks like (I knew it exists), so the conversation went something like this:

Do they do soul-winning?
Them (summarized):
They must not be Christian! Don't they believe the Bible? What about Matthew 28:18-20?!!!
Erm....well, the Church does evangelize, but not like that.
But...that's the way that works! If not that, then what do they do?

Of course, at that point, the only thing I knew we Orthodox do was lifestyle evangelism, so that's what I said. I also knew we had missionaries, but I had no clue what they do, so I was not able to give an answer on this. Naturally, this caused at least one of my friends to write me off as a heretic, or at least a lazy back-slider, and another to look at me rather askance. I could almost see what little interest in Orthodoxy there may have been drain from their being, to be replaced by no small amount of animosity toward it.

This was, of course, unfortunate, and I pray that the Lord will not hold it against them in the day of judgment, on account of my own failing. On the other hand, it is my intent with these posts to correct my mistake.

(Here's part 3:

On Missions, Part 1

The religious circle I grew up in is very "evangelical", in the door-knocking, bus-running, gospel-tract-passing sense.  They call it "soul-winning", and it's supposed to be "the heart of God."

At Bible College, we were required to go "soul-winning" (i.e. knocking on doors and inviting people to church) for at least three hours each week.  We were also required to "witness", or "give the Gospel" (i.e. go through our salesman's pitch verbally with somebody we didn't know, off-campus, in an attempt to get them to convertsay the prayer at the end of it) at least once a week. The rationale behind the requirements was that since we were training for ministerial positions, we should get used to doing this. It is seen as the primary work of any church staff member, the pastor included. Not only that, it is also supposed to be the primary work of any Christian, based on Matthew 28:18-20.

We even had a whole semester's course on how to best go about this, including a great deal of work on honing the approach, polishing the pitch, and driving the point(s) home in a effective way. One of our assignments was to do an audio recording, play-acted with one of our roommates, of us "giving the Gospel" to somebody, almost exactly like the video linked from the page above.

We were taught that even if someone wasn't interested at that moment, we ought to kindly and enthusiastically invite them to church, and follow up on them to ensure that they did, if they would permit it. We even ran bus routes to come and get those who didn't have transportation. (Side note: this was largely utilized by parents to send their kids off to what amounted — for the parents — to free day care on Sundays, and — for the kids — to free candy and socialization at the expense of having to put up with the constant sales pressure coming from the teacher and the workers.)

Even when I was in the middle of it all, doing my required duties, I still thought that there was something a bit "off" about the whole thing. I did my best to fit in, but on several occasions (increasingly frequent as I matured), I expressed my concerns with the whole endeavor, particularly the blatant emotional manipulation of the children into saying "the prayer" and being baptized.

Another concern was that, with a few notable exceptions, there was little no training or discipleship, what I would now call catechism. Certainly, we followed up with visitors and those who had said the prayer, but unless someone decided to come to church on a regular basis, there was absolutely no discipleship for them. Furthermore, the "discipleship" they received when coming to church was mere training in how to be a soul-winner, and how to order their life so that bad things, for the most part, would (supposedly) not happen to them. There was a litany of rules, both written and unwritten, very few if any of which had to do with traditional Christian askesis, or "displine", in the athletic sense, and even fewer of which had to do with love.

"Missions" in those circles is more of the same, except full-time. The missionary goes to some strange land, and starts a church comprised of his family, supported by the financial gifts of the churches in the homeland. He then invites people to the church, and teaches them to go get more people, etc. For the most "fundamental" of these "missionaries", there is little room for culture.

For example, some of the more understanding missionaries will work with the culture, and not insist on changes of attire, haircut, etc., unless the attire of the local culture is unsuitable to the Christian life (i.e. mostly naked or some such). On the other hand, the more rigid missionaries might insist that the men of the new church wear white Oxford shirts and ties with black or khaki dress pants, because that is their idea of what a good Christian ought to look like.

Whether in America, or in a foreign land, there is little concern for the nation itself, beyond the desire to "win every soul for Christ", that is, to make every citizen a fully reproduced version of the missionary. The methodology used is simply to go start a church, frequently accompanied by some sort of Bible Institute, and work toward making these grow enough to send out native workers to start other churches. Wash, rinse, and repeat "until the whole world knows", as the song goes.

In my experience, in the presentations given by the missionaries when they are States-side gathering support from the various churches, there is much talk about "winning [insert target country here] for Christ, but there is little in the way of actual plans to so, beyond what I outlined above.

(Here's part 2:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Start the Popcorn!

From here:
Gingrich and Santorum are Ron Paul's puppets in this cycle. All they are doing is preventing Romney from hitting the magic number of 1144, and attacking Romney so Ron doesn't have to. This Santorum surge in the caucus states? Solid[...]gold for this strategy. Santorum just annihilated Romney's momentum, added confusion to the process, and became the sole focus of every attack ad until Super Tuesday. And he didn't win a single delegate. true.
I suggest you stock up on popcorn. It's going to be a fun season.