Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don't Check Your Theology at the Door!

If you had the privilege or responsibility of giving one piece of advice to a new missionary or new pastor, what would it be?

One website I read said, “Be sure your belt fits, especially if you are large.” It was the first website that was listed for advice to ministers.

Another site said to write a business plan.

Then I found some more sage advice, such as, “Love God’s people.” That one was for pastors.
Adoniram Judson, that renown Baptist missionary of the 19th Century, said, “First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them! For what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?” (Advice to Missionary Candidates, June 1832)

One of my daughters said to me, “To a pastor, I would say, ‘don’t be afraid of stepping on toes; preach the truth, no matter what.’ To new missionaries I would say, ‘Don’t go in assuming you know everything. Your expectations will get blown out of the water.’”

Someone else said, “To a missionary, ‘don’t lose hope; hang in there.’”

Here is my piece of advice, which applies to both missionaries and pastors: Don’t check your theology at the door. I am increasingly disappointed in the post-modern uncertainty that has begun to characterize our interaction with one another. In the name of tolerance, I fear, we are reluctant to have a strong and evident theology.

If you disciple men and women, but weaken your gospel to accommodate any given world view or culture, you have made weak disciples. And weak disciples equal a weak church.

Yes, there are areas of theology that are non-essential to the Christian faith; no, I am not referring to those areas. Yes, you will think some things to be non-essential that someone else will presume are essential; no, I don’t want to debate you on which are the essentials. I presume you are smart enough and have a walk with Christ that will allow you to develop a good theology.

Just don’t leave it at the door.

Now, what would your advice be?


GuyMuse said...

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap is we do not grow weary.

I have found that too few persevere long enough to see results. Just hang in there and keep doing what you understand God has led you to do. In due time we will see the fruit.

Also, it's not about how much you know, but how much you OBEY of what it is you know. Many of us M's know a lot of stuff (including theology) but we aren't so good at putting into practice all it is we know. I'd rather work with someone who knows very little, but lives what they know, than someone who knows a lot, but doesn't put any of it into practice.

John Gillmartin said...

I don't know Kevin ... perhaps my old age and errant congregations have done something to me, for the better I suppose.

The need for advice in the first place sounds a warning to me; neither should venture into the field if they retain a need for "foundational" advice. There is a calling problem somewhere.

That aside, I would simply say both will need all the faith the can muster for "faith comes from hearing and hearing from the rhema concerning Christ." Stay in the word no matter what the "church" or the the world is doing.

This two-edged advice reminds us that "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

I am daily ashamed of the shallow biblical understanding of our people (by this I mean those who call themselves believers in the West). Based on the fruit evidence before us, there is something inherently wrong with our teaching and our student bodies.

Thank God He "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

This final thought points me to one glaring latter day prophetic fulfillment: we have left our first love.

And didn't Christ Himself tell us what the great commandment was? TO LOVE THE LORD OUR GOD WITH ALL OUR BEING!

We (pastors and missionaries) can't really say we are doing that, now can we?

Oh God cleanse us of our unrighteousness!

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I agree on both counts: obedience is a must; so is perseverance. We have seen the sad results of the knowledgeable, yet disobedient. And we have seen those who lose hope and go home before they can see results.

Brother John,

Hello, preacher. How is life in the Sheep's Crib?

Your assessment that foundational advice should give rise to a warning is a point well-taken. But new preachers and new missionaries face a similar temptation: that of seeking to please others. How many times have we heard, "Let's just lay aside our doctrinal positions and just get along?" There is a sliver of truth in that; the body of Christ, though distinctive in doctrine, should get along. They will know we are his disciples by our love for one another.

And since you brought it up, preacher, I was just studying that passage from Rev. 2 the other day. I almost preached it! We are guilty, as charged. And we must repent, or perish. We handle holy things with unholy hearts and hands. God help us!

John Gillmartin said...

Kevin -

You know the old missionary parable about the conflict between teaching the people how to fish versus giving them a fish? We'll I've been toying with the thought that much of our of our preaching and teaching today is fish-giving and not showing people how God wants us to fish on our own ... orthodoxy versus orthopraxy? What do you think?

PS All is well in the Crib but the move from Mexico to Missouri has taken a toll.

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I think you are on target with your observation. Only, we have such small appetites for spiritual things that we feed on soup, not even fish!

Our job, be it on the foreign field, or around the corner from our stateside home, is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. I believe there was a time that was followed faithfully. There came a time, however, when orthopraxy fell by the wayside. Now, were we preachers the guilty ones? Or was it a slow-but-sure turn away from involvement in the things of God, one that possibly discouraged preachers from trying to equip the saints? After all, John, it is far easier to do it ourselves, than to teach someone else to do it. Also, many of us get a charge out of being "in charge," if you know what I mean.

Many of our missionaries have made a good and radical shift to obedience-based teaching. We teach our new converts and leaders to go out and put into practice what they learned that week, teaching it to someone they are seeking to disciple. What would happen in your ministry, and mine, if we made that essential to being a part of our fellowship?

Missouri, huh? What part, as relative to, say, St. Louis?