The New Look of Christian Missions

by Roger Oakland

“I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.1 – Brian McLaren

Emerging spirituality is changing the way missions is being conducted. The idea is that you can go for Jesus, but you don’t have to identify yourself as a Christian or part of the Christian church. This concept spills over into some missionary societies too, where they teach people from other religions they can keep their religion, just add Jesus to the equation. They don’t have to embrace the term Christian. At the 2005 United Nations Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, Rick Warren made the following comments to 100 delegates who represented various different religions:

I’m not talking about a religion this morning. You may be Catholic or Protestant or Buddhist or Baptist or Muslim or Mormon or Jewish or you may have no religion at all. I’m not interested in your religious background. Because God did not create the universe for us to have religion.2

While he did go on afterwards and say he believed that Jesus was God, the implication was that your religion doesn’t matter to God, and being Buddhist, Mormon, or whatever will not interfere with having Jesus in your life. Donald Miller, author of the popular Blue Like Jazz, puts it this way:

For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained.3

In Erwin McManus’ book The Barbarian Way, he refers to “Barbarians” in a positive light and says that this is how Christ-followers should be:

They [Barbarians] see Christianity as a world religion, in many ways no different from any other religious system. Whether Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity, they’re not about religion; they’re about advancing the revolution Jesus started two thousand years ago.4

A May/June 2000 issue of Watchman’s Trumpet magazine explains what this new missiology really entails:

Several international missions organizations, including Youth With a Mission (YWAM), are testing a new approach to missionary work in areas where Christianity is unwelcome. A March 24, 2000, Charisma News Service report said some missionaries are now making converts but are allowing them to “hold on to many of their traditional religious beliefs and practices” so as to refrain from offending others within their culture.5

The Charisma article in which Watchman’s Trumpet reports elaborates:

“Messianic Muslims” who continue to read the Koran, visit the mosque and say their daily prayers but accept Christ as their Savior, are the products of the strategy, which is being tried in several countries, according to Youth With a Mission (YWAM), one of the organizations involved.6

The Charisma story reports that a YWAM staff newsletter notes the new converts’ lifestyle changes (or lack thereof):

They [the new converts] continued a life of following the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting and Koranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims who acknowledge Christ as the source of God’s mercy for them.7

When one of the largest missionary societies (YWAM) becomes a proponent of the new missiology, telling converts they can remain in their own religious traditions, the disastrous results should be quite sobering for any discerning Christian.

In an article titled “Christ-Followers in India Flourishing Outside the Church,” the following statement is made regarding the research of Herbert Hoefer, author of Churchless Christianity:

In striking research undertaken in the mid-eighties and published in 1991, Herbert E. Hoefer found that the people of Madras City are far closer to historic Christianity than the populace of any cities in the western Christian world could ever claim to be. Yet these are not Christians, but rather Hindus and Muslims. In their midst is a significant number of true believers in Christ who openly confess to faith in fundamental Biblical doctrines, yet remain outside the institutional church.8

The article expands this idea that one does not need to become a Christian or to change his religious practices; he just needs to add Jesus to his spiritual equation:

However, some might argue that this [the "smothering embrace of Hinduism"] is the danger with the ishta devata strategy I am proposing. It will lead not to an indigenous Christianity but to a Christianized Hinduism. Perhaps more accurately we should say a Christ-ized Hinduism. I would suggest that really both are the same, and therefore we should not worry about it. We do not want to change the culture or the religious genius of India. We simply want to bring Christ and His Gospel into the center of it. (emphasis added)9

Herbert Hoefer’s research is quite interesting. His idea that rather than “changing or rejecting” the Hindu and Muslim culture missionaries should be “Christ-izing” it.10 He says there are thousands of believers in India whom he refers to as “non-baptized believers.” Reasons for the believers not becoming baptized vary, but usually it is because they will suffer financial or social loss and status. Hoefer admits that these non-baptized believers are not Christians, and usually they do not choose to call themselves that. In many of his examples, these non-baptized believers continue practicing their religious rituals so as not to draw suspicion or ridicule from family and friends. Hoefer explains one story:

[There is] a young man of lower caste who earns his livelihood by playing the drum at Hindu festivals and functions. “All this is what I must do,” he said, “but my faith is in Christ. Outside I am a Hindu, but inside I am a Christian.”11

Another family of the Nayar caste consisted of a wife, her husband and one son. Hoefer describes their situation:

[H]er husband and son have been believers in Christ for eight years. They both had studied in Christian schools and learned of Christ. The husband’s father had a vision of Christ, and one brother also is a non-baptised believer. The husband does not join his wife in coming to Church, but he occasionally joins her for the big public meetings. They do not have family devotions, but worship Jesus along with the Hindu gods in their home. Their approach to the Hindu festivals is to carry them out but to think of God, not Jesus specifically.12

I am not here to judge whether these non-baptized believers are truly born again. That is for the Lord to decide. My concern lies with the way missions is changing and how the Gospel is being presented. To say that someone does not have to leave their pagan religion behind, and in fact they don’t have to even stop calling themselves Hindu or Muslim, is not presenting the teachings of the Bible.
And the apostle Paul, who ended up dying for his faith, exhorted believers to be willing to give up all for the sake of having Christ:

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

The implications of this new missiology are serious and, what’s more very unbiblical. Mike Oppenheimer of Let Us Reason ministries has done extensive research and analysis on the new missiology. In his article, “A ‘New Evangelism’ for the 21st Century,” Oppenheimer states:

Can a Christian now call himself a Muslim? The word Muslim is made up of two words, Islam and Mu. Muslim does not just mean submission; it means submission to the God Allah; not the Lord Jesus Christ or Yahweh. Can a Muslim be called a Christian and walk with Allah? This seems to make no doctrinal or practical sense, unless they change the names and the meaning. This only brings confusion. Why do this when you can introduce Yahweh as the true God without any baggage and shuffling around in names, nature or descriptions? The answer is that you may not see the same results. This is what this is all about isn’t it, results; pragmatism, the end justifies the means.13

In a book by Oppenheimer and Sandy Simpson titled Idolatry in Their Hearts, they show how widespread this new missiology has become. Listen to some of the comments made by a few new missiology proponents:

New Light embodiment means to be “in connection” and “information” with other faiths…. One can be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ without denying the flickers of the sacred in followers of Yahweh, or Kali, or Krishna.”14–Leonard Sweet

I happen to know people who are followers of Christ in other religions.15–Rick Warren

I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity…. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.16–Thomas Merton

Allah is not another God … we worship the same God…. The same God! The very same God we worship in Christ is the God the Jews–and the Muslims–worship.17–Peter Kreeft

Oppenheimer and Simpson present page after page of documentation showing this paradigm shift in Christian missions. They ask the question, “Can one be a Hindu or a Muslim and follow Jesus?” They explain why the answer is no:

One cannot be in relationship with Jesus within the confines of a false religion. One must leave his or her religion to follow Jesus, not just add Him on….

This broadens Jesus’ statement of the road being narrow into a wide, all encompassing concept. What is concerning is that these same kinds of statements are also made by those who are New Agers that hold a universal view. Alice Bailey said, “I would point out that when I use the phrase ‘followers of the Christ’ I refer to all those who love their fellowmen, irrespective of creed or religion.”18

With Rick Warren saying your religion should have no bearing on your spiritual life, Erwin McManus saying he would like to destroy Christianity, and missionary societies telling new converts they can have Jesus without Christianity (or baptism), the results could be devastating and will very likely undo the tireless efforts of many dedicated missionaries around the world. These Bible-believing missionaries have risked their lives and given up comforts and ease to travel around the world sharing the good news that becoming a Christian (having Jesus Christ come into your heart and life) is the way to eternal life. Now, right behind them, come emerging church missionaries who say Christianity is a terrible religion, and Christians are out to lunch–so just become a Christ-follower, and you don’t even have to tell anyone about it. In fact, you can still live like you always have.
To the many who have suffered persecution and martyrdom over the centuries for being Christians and being courageous enough to call themselves that, we now must believe they suffered and died unnecessarily–after all, they did not need to confess Jesus as the only way. And they didn’t need to renounce their pagan religions. We also find that the following words of Jesus do not fit into this emerging church paradigm:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

There is a powerful story in the Book of Acts, in which the apostle Paul had been arrested for preaching the Gospel. He was brought before King Agrippa and given the opportunity to share his testimony of how he became a Christian. He told Agrippa that the Lord had commissioned him to preach the Gospel and:

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18)

Agrippa continued listening and then said to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian (vs. 28).” Paul answered him:

I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (vs. 29)

If Paul had been following the emerging mentality, he would have told Agrippa, “No need to become a Christian. You can remain just as you are; keep all your rituals and practices, just say you like Jesus.” In actuality, if Paul had been practicing emerging spirituality, he wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place. He would not have stood out, would not have preached boldly and without reservation, and he would not have called himself a Christian, which eventually became a death sentence for Paul and countless others.(from chapter 10, Faith Undone)

Notes:

1. Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, op. cit., p. 293.
2. Rick Warren at the 2005 United Nations Prayer Breakfast, September 2005. For more information about the prayer breakfast, see “Rick Warren Speaks about Purpose at United Nations” by Rhonda Tse (Christian Post, September 14, 2005, http://www.christianpost.com/article/20050914/21340_ Rick_ Warren_Speaks_about_ Purpose_at_ United_ Nations.htm); quote in this book is from transcript of Warren’s talk that was provided to Lighthouse Trails Publishing.
3. Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 2003), p. 115.
4. Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005),p. 6.
5. “Youth with a Mission Experiments with New, Unscriptural Missions Strategy” (Foundation, Watchman’s Trumpet, May – June 2000, http://www.feasite.org/WTrumpet/fbcwt004.htm#Youth%20With), p. 39.
6. Andy Butcher, “Radical Missionary Approach Produces ‘Messianic Muslims’ Retaining Islamic Identity” (Charisma News Service, March 24, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20010818051517/www.charismanew s.com/news.cgi?a=285&t=news.html).
7. Ibid., quoting from a report in “The International YWAMer,” YWAM’s staff newsletter.
8. H. L. Richard, “Christ-Followers in India Flourishing Outside the Church,” a review of Churchless Christianity by Herbert Hoefer (Mission Frontiers, March/April 1999, http://www.missionfrontiers.org/1999/0304/articles/04f.htm).
9. Ibid.
10. Herbert Hoefer, Churchless Christianity (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001 edition), p. xii.
11. Ibid., p. 17.
12. Ibid., p. 16.
13. Mike Oppenheimer, “A ‘New Evangelism’ for the 21st Century” (Let Us Reason ministries, 2006, http://www.letusreason.org/Curren 33. htm).
14. Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, op. cit., p. 130.
15. Rick Warren, “Discussion: Religion and Leadership,” with David Gergen and Rick Warren (Aspen Ideas Festival, The Aspen Institute, July 6, 2005, http://www.aspeninstitute.org); for more information: http://www. lighthouse trailsresearch.com/newsletternovember05.htm.
16. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
17. Peter Kreeft, Ecumenical Jihad, op. cit., pp. 30, 160.
18. Sandy Simpson and Mike Oppenheimer, Idolatry in Their Hearts (Pearl City, HI: Apologetics Coordination Team, 2007, 1st Edition), p. 358.

Related Information:

The spirituality of Alice Bailey

They like Jesus but not the church

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