Ten Reasons to Appreciate the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” Theory (2nd of Ten)

“Most of the people who are yet to believe will not fit readily into the churches we now have.”

Ralph and Roberta Winter

What did Dr. Ralph Winter mean when he said, “Most of the people who are yet to believe will not fit readily into the churches we now have.” Once again he has thought a thought that few have ever thought!

Ralph and Roberta Winter resided in Guatemala among the Mam people for ten years. Spanish was a foreign language to the Mam. English was even more foreign to them. Let us assume that the Bible ought to be translated into the Mam language. But what Mam traditions should the Mam Christians be free to bring to their church services? For that matter, what if their worship takes place mainly in their homes, with only occasional “love feasts” for the entire believing community?

It is pretty clear that our familiar forms of worship and church government are not sent down from heaven; few Christians feel troubled that our forms should be suitable to tribal peoples such as the Mam in Guatemala, or Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who are yet to believe in Christianity. Our churches are familiar to us, but our customs and traditions are foreign to most of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists who are yet to believe. Shall we expect the foreigners to take on our customs? Is this not the problem between Jews and Gentiles that the Jerusalem Council attempted to settle?

A great number of non-Christians from other religions are about to come to faith, because we are living in the last days:

In the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of all the mountains. And the nations will stream up to it, saying, “Come, let us go up the to mountain of the house of the Lord, that we may learn his ways and follow on his paths” (Micah 4:1-2).

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord All the nations will bow down, for kingship belongs to God (Psalm 22:27).

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Many peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of entire cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts. I am going. Zechariah 8:20-23

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will prepare a feast for all the nations, a feast of meat and wine (Isaiah 25:6—9)

God will bring the nations in great numbers. We will worship with the nations. I want to draw the reader’s attention to the forms of worship that we normally associate with Muslim and Hindu traditions. Some of these traditions are more biblical than our own. Bowing down is biblical; removing one’s shoes in the holy place is how the Bible says to approach the holy place. It is customary for Hindus and Muslims to remove their shoes before they enter the place of worship. Do not be too directive; you are not the culture police for how the forms of churches should be established among foreigners.

Church people have assumed that their forms of worship and church governance are normal for everyone; this is not so. Hopefully we will stop paying pastors when future churches are established, especially in Asia and Africa and the Middle East. It is a blushing embarrassment that most (or all) the pastors in Turkey are salaried by American churches. In northern Iraq this same problem has developed. There is nothing in the New Testament about paying pastors; paying them is a widely held assumption in America. Unfortunately, American money in the pockets of pastors in the Middle East creates dependency and, worse, sends a signal to every Muslim that if he converts to Christianity he may become a pastor and get a salary. Then, someday, he may claim to be persecuted for his faith and his American sponsors will whisk him and his family to safety in the United States. This happens, you know. But Americans are soft-hearted and soft-headed on this matter.

Missionaries are divided on this topic; many will pay their Middle Eastern believers, despite the warnings from those who have “been there, done that.” It is actually possible to “buy the loyalty” of local believers, who offer their loyalty to the missionary who can pay the most. So what Dr. Ralph Winter said must be the starting place for repentance and rethinking the business (is that the right word?) of converting Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and ex-Christians:

Most of the people who are yet to believe will not fit readily into the churches we have so far established.

The place where most Christians worshipped in the first century was in their homes. Households and guests ate together and read the Scriptures together. Many more in the meeting would pray and teach than we are accustomed to, and many more would bring psalms to sing if Paul’s instructions were followed (1 Corinthians 14:26). Appointing elders was more obvious in household churches.

It is not likely that many American Christians will begin to worship in household churches, or meet with all the believers in the city for a feast several times a year. We will continue to pay our pastors and search far and wide when it is time to choose a new one. We are fairly familiar with the ways we now prefer to meet together for worship. We are not usually examining the differences between our complex and expensive ways of doing church, compared to the New Testament. That is ok. But it is the duty of our missionaries to do their best to encourage new believers to resist the tendency to copy the traditions of the missionaries. The New Testament will instruct new believers and the new elders, such as among the Mam people, to retain certain traditions and give up other traditions.

How does the reader feel about this? What are your thoughts?