Bible's Influence on Christian Mission When Researchers Term Paper

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¶ … Bible's Influence on Christian Mission

When researchers focus on the spread of Christianity throughout the world, the influence of the Bible is always at or near the top of the list of important elements in Christian missions. Of course the quality of the message from the missionaries and others who go out to spread the word is pivotal to the success of any Christian mission; but the Bible has within it so many wonderful stories, histories, passages and truths, that without it missions would appear empty of substance. This paper will review some of the successes of the Christian mission, in terms of how the Bible played an important role. It will also allude to the changing role of the Bible and the Christian mission through the centuries.

An article in the journal Mission Studies (Pathrapankal, 2006) begins with a series of questions about what the Christian mission should be "...in our time." The author, who holds a Tu.D in biblical Theology from Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and an Honorary Ph.D in Theology from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, contends that from the time of Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian emperor), the approach of the Christian mission has been "patterned" on the "conquest expeditions of the people of Israel" that comes from the Old Testament. Pathrapankal in fact boils that pattern down to a kind of exercising the "power of knowledge and the power of self to win over the other."

Pathrapankal believes that because times have changed, "there is a real shift in the understanding of Christian mission in the context of religious pluralism" (Pathrapankal p. 61). He backs up his theory with passages from the Bible, from Acts of the Apostles and the First Letter to the Corinthians. Further, he believes that Paul himself set the example by first attempting to preach using the eloquence of the Greeks, but then Paul changed that approach in Corinth, and focused less on being eloquent and more on using the Bible - the Spirit of God, as Pathrapankal puts it.

Indeed, the Bible has enough dynamism within its chapters to "take on new meanings and new horizons of ideas" in this very diverse and changing world, Pathrapankal continues. The mission of the Christian Church is spelled out in Matthew's Gospel, Pathrapankal writes on page 62 of his journal essay. The author says that there have been hundreds of years of close analysis of this Scriptural passage - Chapter 28, verses 18-20 - and it still remains a "classic" passage which lays out the challenge of the Christian mission. So, not only is the Bible seen as a vitally necessary ingredient in the Christian mission, the Bible tells Christians as much.

This passage, which is now referred to as the "Great Commission" that Jesus gave to his disciples, when linked to another passage from the Gospel of Mark, reads: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). This passage has become the "Magna Carta" of the Christian mission, the author continues.

With that having been said, Pathrapankal delves into a bit of history to point out that it has taken time for the Christian mission to overcome its earlier brutal approach to converting non-Christians. For example, on page 63 of his journal Pathrapankal asserts that Christianity has "a long history of being intolerant...as a result of its claim to be the only true religion... [and that] it is superior to all the other religions." The Christian mission of yesteryear was one of using power to overcome other religions, to grow and expand into the one world religion.

But today, the author goes on, using power to win over others is seen as "a violation of human dignity," and today the atmosphere is more one of dialogue and being open, rather than pushing people into one particular denomination. And because of these changes in strategy, the Christian mission has abandoned (for the most part) the "power" strategy and instead applies what Pathrapankal describes on page 68 as a "new awareness in each religion that all belong to the plan of God" and that within each religion there are important precepts that can contribute toward a better comprehension of God and humanity. Indeed, with these changes in strategy comes the understanding that "there is no question of one religion alone being the total answer to all the aspirations of humankind," Pathrapankal writes on page 68. And as far as communicating Christianity through the Bible's teachings the strategy should not necessarily be the power of knowledge, but the power of God, "which operates very often through humble means."

Peter Rowan - writing in Evangel - offers some background into which passages in the Bible are most effective in a mission setting. Rowan insists that there are many Biblical texts which a person on a Christian mission can use to spread the word. The average church member will say that Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 are the most effective Scriptural passages to use in the Christian mission. But Rowan writes that "many fail to see that the whole of Matthew's Gospel" (Rowan 2007) and the entire Book of Acts, and the entire New Testament, are appropriate missional documents. For too long biblical scholars have paid "too little attention to the missionary dimension of the Biblical text," Rowan goes on. But there are scholars who of late are helping Christian mission activists understand that "Jesus' own identity and mission, and the mission of the early church, flowed out of their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures."

Mistakes have been made in the past by Christian mission activists, Rowan explains, because they were not able to "disentangle biblical truth from their cultural baggage." And so as the Christian mission continues its important work today, in the year 2008, there are some important points that Rowan seeks to make in terms of the Bible's authority and persuasive power being brought into cultures that have hitherto not known about Christianty.

He mentions several points that need emphasis. One, the gospel "is always communicated through culture"; two, all theology is "culturally conditioned"; three, within the Church, Christians should not be separated "by cultural norms or practices"; and four, the gospel, for Christians sharing the mission, should be "in partnership with others who are different from us." To make the point that the Bible - through it's advocacy in the Christian mission - has been a pivotal part of the growth of the Church throughout the world. Rowan quotes historian Mark Noll as saying that more Roman Catholics attended church last Sunday in the Philippines "than in any single country in Europe" (and that is due to the power of the Bible in the Christian mission).

In Europe, the church that had the largest attendance last Sunday was in Kiev, and it is not Roman Catholic, or Lutheran, or Baptist; it is a church of Nigerian Pentecostals. And he goes on: "Last Sunday, more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, south Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the U.S. combined." Indeed, the power of the proper use of the Bible, translated, interpreted and shared by thoughtful intelligent people in the Christian mission, going out into the world to share this message.

Meanwhile Samuel Escobar, a theological educator, has published an essay in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research which contends that Bible societies have had a "influential presence" in the practices of Christian missions, and Bible societies have made a "decisive contribution" to the theory of a Christian mission. Moreover, prior to the Bible becoming an important part of a Christian mission in a foreign country, the Bible must of course be translated into the language of the people being approached. And the Escobar article asserts that by 2004, there were 2,377 "complete or partial translations of Scripture"; and those translations are due at least in part to the world of the United Bible Societies (UBS).

Among the important points that the UBS believes should be made by missionaries when going out into the world to talk about Christianity, is that the Bible is a book "...for and about all of humankind." It is not a book "created by a white dominant culture to impose its values and worldview on poor, dominated cultures." In fact, the Bible originated in the Fertile Crescent, Escobar writes, and it was constructed in a region that was at that time "a peripheral area of the world." These facts need to be told as the Christian mission takes the Word of the Lord out to the far reaches of the world. Times have changed dramatically and it seems the telling of the truth from the Bible cannot be shoved down people's throats in remote cultures away from the Western world, and no longer is the use of force… [END OF PREVIEW]

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