TBC’s Mission: Damage Control
T. A. McMahon
Within the last six months I have visited a number of countries and had the privilege of working with missionaries and ministering among their fellowships. I am continually in awe of what Bible-believing missionaries do, as well as what they have accomplished by God’s grace. The difficulties, in many cases, might seem overwhelming, because…well, they are! Even a very short list would intimidate most Christians: getting into certain countries, obtaining visas to stay and work, learning the language, understanding and adjusting to the culture, social adjustments for their children, and facing sometimes-fierce opposition by those opposed to biblical Christianity. No doubt they need “professional psychological scrutiny” before entering the mission field—or so we’re being told. Really?
My friends Martin and Deidre Bobgan, who have written extensively about the adverse influence of psychology in the church, have surveyed major mission agencies along with many of those church entities that send out missionaries. The disheartening result was that too often the candidates for the mission field were required to undergo psychological testing in order to be accepted and supported by the sending agency. That may sound reasonable to most Christians today, but it is in fact contrary to the results of research in that area as well as completely unbiblical. First, and most important—and true to any work of ministry—the individual must be certain that this endeavor is the calling of the Lord. Without that, it would be at best an exercise of the flesh devoid of God’s grace. What psychological test can reveal a person’s calling? Furthermore, the most used tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis, and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, have no scientific validity. They simply reflect what the world presumes. That’s hardly the criteria for fruitfulness in the mission field. Someone has noted that you really have to be a bit crazy to be a missionary. True, but the same could be said for every biblical Christian. Why? Because a true believer is to have the mind of Christ, consistent with His teachings, and that would more often than not be at odds with what the world thinks and does.
Too often, we as believers let worldly thoughts influence what we think and do. I have friends who are missionaries in what many would consider to be the most anti-Christian nation in the world. When incredulous fellow Christians ask why they would go to such a place, I love their simple, yet compelling and convicting response: “We believe the people of North Korea need Jesus as well.”
The opportunity to be used of the Lord to encourage someone to turn to Jesus and receive, by faith alone, the gift of eternal life is the greatest endeavor in which a Christian can participate. No other temporal activity can compare. There are a host of good things a person might do that could help and bless people, but these are short-lived in their value compared to something that has eternal significance.
While in Cape Town, South Africa, one of my hosts pointed out the hospital where the first human-to-human heart transplant was performed. That was an incredibly significant feat by the physicians, yet its value is confined to the physical side of life on earth. Eternity has two options: a person is either with the Lord, or he is separated from Him—forever (2 Thessalonians:1:9; 2 Peter:2:17). Our finite minds can’t truly grasp how horrifying such a condition would be. Yet, to personally know that God has privileged me (or you, or any other believer) to be involved in ministering to a person in a way that helped to turn him to the only One who could, and did, pay the full penalty for his and for all the sins of mankind—reconciling him to the Lord forever—is unrivaled. Nothing comes even close. As the Scriptures ring out: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians:15:55). Christ our Savior took that “sting” from all those who repent of their sins and receive His free gift of salvation.
We rejoice in the truth that “by the righteousness of one [Jesus Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans:5:18). Jesus did it all! However, the Apostle Paul gives us insights into his and also our own privileged part: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Corinthians:3:6-8). God’s reward notwithstanding, what could bring more joy to a believer’s heart here on earth than to know that he is being used of the Lord to help to turn a person from the consequence of his sin (eternal punishment and everlasting darkness) to the total and complete forgiveness made possible only by Jesus our Savior (Matthew:25:46)? There is nothing—nothing—that can compare.
Therefore, we as believers are all missionaries. Our mission is to spread the gospel: to preach it, teach it, reflect it through our lives, witness of it, explain it, etc., to whomever the Lord brings into our lives. And He exhorts us as His disciples to pray to that end: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest” (Matthew:9:38).
Although we at The Berean Call understand that each of us is to be a personal witness of the gospel, as a ministry we have a calling that is supplementary to encouraging the lost to receive salvation through the Lord our Savior. It’s actually a necessary follow-up for many of those who have recently come to faith in Jesus. I refer to it as a mission of “damage control.” It involves primarily those who are new to “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude:1:3). What we’re seeing more and more is that the Adversary and his minions are sowing false teachings among those who are immature in the Scriptures. His strategy is to shipwreck the faith and therefore the fruitfulness of those young believers. His game plan is certainly not only for new Christians, but they are often the most vulnerable.
Much of the New Testament addresses false teachings and practices that have infected the body of Christ, but the Epistle to the Galatians seems to be the strongest example of sowing a false gospel among believers. The Galatians were Paul’s spiritual children, yet they were deceived into adding works to their faith in Christ for salvation. It’s my belief that they received the true gospel from Paul and were therefore truly saved. However, the false gospel that they later accepted from the Judaizers added the requirement of the works of the law for salvation, a belief that can save no one. Paul refers to it as “another gospel” and a perversion “of the gospel of Christ” (Galatians:1:6-7). William MacDonald comments, “What sorrow and disappointment must have filled Paul’s heart when such news from Galatia reached him! Had his labors among these people been in vain?...He took up his pen and wrote this indignant letter to his beloved children in the faith. In it, he sets forth the true character of salvation as being given by grace from beginning to end, not earned by law-keeping either in whole or in part” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1874, See Resource Pages).
Paul must have been greatly grieved over what was taking place among “his beloved children in the faith.” Another gospel had put a halt to their receiving the grace necessary for fruitfulness in Christ. Although Satan could do nothing regarding their personal salvation if they were truly saved, his (and now, their) false gospel rendered them spiritually unproductive. Could Paul get them back on track regarding the biblical gospel? As noted, the Epistle to the Galatians stands out in its forthrightness, which appears to be his objective. This seems to me to represent serious damage control.
In two of the countries where I was recently asked to speak, the invitation came for me to address teachings that were undermining the biblical faith of brothers and sisters in Christ in Mongolia and in Albania. The church where I spoke in Mongolia was vibrant and demonstrated an encouraging enthusiasm for the Word of God. That’s the good news. So what was the problem? The country itself had experienced a boom in prosperity as the outside world looked to “Minegolia” for its untapped natural resources of coal, gold, and copper. That taste for riches turned sour, however, as the country’s economy hit bottom and foreign investors bailed out. Yet the appetite for wealth continues to grow, and, as one financial analyst noted, “With trillions of dollars in mineral resources underground, I just can’t think of a way for us to stay poor” (http://goo.gl/JkshN8). That mentality has attracted the prosperity preachers, who have had their books translated into Mongolian. Their distortion of Scripture has whetted greedy mindsets not only under the guise of Christianity, but it has also corrupted the biblical teachings of many Mongolian believers. My mission was one of damage control, helping to turn them from the false teachings of man to what the Word of God says about prosperity. Although what brought me to Mongolia was specific to exposing the deceptive gospel of greed, the messages over the week I was there majored in exhorting my brothers and sisters in Christ to be like the Bereans of Acts:17:11 by holding every spiritual teaching they received up to the Scriptures for confirmation that they are biblically true.
Albania was similar in terms of damage control except that the issue was more theologically sophisticated and focused on more than only those believers young in the faith. I was invited to speak to a number of fellowships that were dealing with the adverse effects of Calvinism. Churches were being disturbed by individuals who aggressively promoted the teachings of John Calvin and his later followers, and that zeal had led to members being drawn into Calvin’s Reformation and Augustinian theology. Much confusion has resulted, and in a number of cases it has caused church splits. The condition has become so troubling that a few leaders of the relatively young Albanian churches have had Dave Hunt’s book What Love Is This? (his excellent exposition on Calvin’s teachings) translated into the Albanian language.
How young is the church there? It’s just over 25 years old. From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s in particular, Albania had the worldwide reputation of being the strictest of all the Communist countries and the first and foremost atheistic nation in history. All religions were banned, and many of their places of worship (mosques, cathedrals, temples, churches, etc.) were turned into warehouses, sports arenas, and youth cultural centers, while others were simply demolished. Although the pagan religious superstitions have continued among the country and mountain folks, the generation born during those decades had no religious beliefs outside of individual musings. Then, in 1990, the official lifting of the ban on religious observance opened the door for all religious practices.
Most of the older folks would consider themselves Muslim, although it’s more of a secular Islam that goes back to the historic influence of the Turks rather than the Sharia law-oriented Islam we know today from the Middle East. The same holds true for “Christianity,” primarily consisting of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic religions, which the Albanians have adjusted to fit into the Albanian culture. Biblical Christianity, introduced through missionaries, is relatively new. Thus, as noted above, the believers in the young Albanian fellowships are vulnerable to false teaching, so there’s a necessity for spiritual damage control. It’s understandable that those young in the faith would look to teachers to help them grow in the faith, and I was greatly encouraged by the leadership I found there. Yet, as the Scriptures warn continually, the need for checking out all teachings to see if they are true to the Word of God is critical for every fellowship, whether young or old.
Doctrinal damage control is a major part of the New Testament. Although the Word of God is sufficient regarding every instruction that a believer needs in order to be pleasing to our Lord, it nevertheless contains warning after warning regarding false teachers and teachings that pervert the Scriptures. Paul’s counsel to the Ephesian elders underscores how serious the problem is: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts:20:30-31). We can surmise that his warning is all the more crucial today as the church fails to “endure sound doctrine” and is being further seduced by the increasing apostasy prophesied by the Word as Christ’s return draws near.
Even so, as necessary as damage control is, in order to correct false teachings and practices in certain cases the prevention program to minimize the effect of false teachers on young believers (and even the more mature) must be Bible study and discipleship. No matter where the Lord sends me, and no matter what particular false doctrine He would have me address, the heart of the message is the habitual study of and living out what the Scriptures teach, and then an exhortation to be like the Bereans of Acts:17:11: “These [Jews] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things [that the Apostle Paul taught them] were so.”
Pray for the fruitfulness of our missionary brothers and sisters in foreign countries, and pray for those whom they reach with the gospel, that these new believers will grow strong in “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude:1:3). TBC