Changes in Missions – Part 5

Posted on February 20, 2013 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

RankinConnectingOne of the most encouraging changes in missions in recent years is the increased partnership and cooperation among various organizations and Christians devoted to fulfilling the Great Commission. In fact, in the context of current developments it is amazing to reflect on the isolation, independency and even competitiveness among those doing missions in previous years.

As missionaries followed on the heels of western colonialism in the 19th century comity agreements were enacted that defined where different denominations would work. This trend continued in the post-World War II growth of missionary efforts. There was some wisdom in avoiding over-lapping areas of work while some regions were being ignored. It was a practice that was also designed to avoid creating confusion among new converts regarding discrepancies in doctrine and ecclesiology.

These comity agreements resulted in American Baptists working in Andrea Pradesh and among tribal peoples in the Northeast while British Baptists worked in the northern and central areas of the country. Presbyterians dominated the work in Korea and the Dutch Reformed Church controlled missionary work in Indonesia. These agreements begin to break down, however, when some denominations, and their missionaries, lost the fervor for evangelism and gravitated to implementation of the social gospel.

Many areas of the world were left unevangelized in spite of a missionary legacy and traditional protestant churches being planted. Efforts of more doctrinally sound agencies to expand into these mission fields were met with resistance by established missions. Southern Baptists were denied entry into India for years, not by the government but by the National Christian Council which assumed authority for managing missionary permits.

There was a pattern of each agency working to expand its own brand of Christianity. An extreme example was a missionary assigned to start a Southern Baptist affiliated church in a Philippine province. There were already seven other Baptist churches–American Baptist, Conservative Baptist, Bible Baptist, etc.–and many others but no Southern Baptist church. Never mind there were many areas of the country without any churches whatsoever.

Many para-church mission agencies emerged in the latter half of the 20th century and were used to make a gospel impact all over the world, ignoring the fragile comity agreements of denominational agencies. Many of these organizations were focused on unique ministry niches that became an asset to the work of others. Wycliffe was providing Bible translation, Trans World Radio indigenous radio broadcasts, Gospel Recordings media resources, Pioneers and Frontiers a unique concentration on Muslim evangelism, Youth With A Mission wholistic ministries.

Just as God gives gifts to each church member so that the church can be thoroughly equipped and complete in its ministry, it was recognized that God called different mission agencies to diverse ministries so that global missions might be better equipped for the task. We have discovered when each one lays their gift on the altar to be used of God, unconcerned about who is in control and who gets credit, God can use the collective abilities and contributions of all to advance His kingdom, and He gets the glory.

No one compromises personal convictions of doctrine and ecclesiology–Baptists teach Baptist beliefs and start Baptist churches–but are not inhibited in cooperating and facilitating the effectiveness of others. There is synergy in cooperation. Partnerships among Great Commission Christians is one of the reasons there has been more advance in global evangelization since we entered the 21st century than in the previous 200 years of the modern missions movement.

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