While studying the life of William Tyndale and his refusal to stop translating the scriptures for the common man into the English language the parallels with today are obvious. He was concerned with clarity of the message. That same concern is at the heart of today’s missions’ discussion. Erasmus was weary of Tyndale’s ferocious single-mindedness to make the Scriptures clearly available to the entire English-speaking world. Erasmus was ‘cool, evasive, imprecise, artistic, and superficial’ when it came to abuses of the Catholic Church. Erasmus was on the ‘inside’ of the church and unwilling to jeopardize his standing. Tyndale fled from England in 1524, never to return. He lived and did translation work in Germany and the Netherlands until he was captured, strangled and burned at the stake. Going against the status quo and standing for clarity of the gospel message cost Tyndale his life. Doing what is necessary today to make the gospel clear a person finds himself in a similar position of going against the status quo.
[I was] reminded of this just a couple weeks ago as we returned from a wonderful time in Asia where we were able to visit with 15 of our [missionary training] graduates. All of them have arrived in the last 14 months; thus all of them are still working feverishly to learn the primary language of the country they are serving in. When that first hurdle is finished they will move interior into people groups that don’t currently have access to the gospel in their language. To be legitimately living in those locations, and to be seen as good community members, they will start actual businesses that will employ locals, generate incomes, and produce products that are marketable. While starting these businesses they will devote all their available energies to living as winsome, godly, citizens, and to learning the local/heart language. By living in this way and learning to speak and think like the people around them they will be in a position to share the gospel message, disciple those who embrace it and see assemblies of Christ followers planted where currently there is nothing of the gospel available.
Obviously, those using this approach aren’t planning to be ‘on location’ for a mere 8-10 years. Yet to reach peoples living in closed countries whose heart languages have no access to the gospel this long-term approach is what it will take to reach them. If there is a ‘faster’ method that doesn’t violate biblical principles, we are all ears. We listen to and weigh out ‘new methods’ all the time here at Radius. We all want to see the gospel available to all peoples as quickly as possible.
Today’s obsession with ‘fast’ has ushered in some new ‘discoveries’:
1. Working through an interpreter is no longer a concern to many.
2. Entrusting unregenerate people with the responsibility of gospel propagation is also considered viable today.
3. Just as common is the idea that gospel workers can memorize some ‘Jesus words or statements’ then fill the air with those ‘Jesus words’ in languages barely understood, or not understood at all, and expect the Holy Spirit to unravel those words.
Doubtless, there are many reasons for entertaining these questionable new discoveries. One is the concern over missionary attrition. The turnover rate among career missionaries shows the average missionary is lasting less than 4 years in his primary location of ministry. I’ve heard enough stories and know enough situations to not doubt this number. Re-labeling (“They actually only meant to go for two years.”) those who leave early, or reallocating them to another ministry, is a loss to the front lines. Turnover IS a brutal reality...but shortcut methods can’t be the cure to this.
The cure that these new methods provide can be as bad as the ‘disease’ itself. Once an unclear gospel message has been preached and embraced the inevitable syncretism that takes root is hard to displace. A user-friendly version of ‘Jesus’ that co-exists with the Hindu systems of gods, the animist and his spirits, or allows the person to continue to live life based on Koranic authority isn’t embracing the Jesus who saves from sin. Yet such a user-friendly Jesus is tenaciously held on to. That Jesus threatens nothing and by adding ‘obedience to Jesus’ alongside obedience to other religious entities enables the hungry person to cover all his religious bases.
(Buser, "William Tyndale and the Price He Paid for Clarity,” Radius International Report, 11/2/18).