1 John 3:16

"By this we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Image of Man

One emphasis in missions has been to avoid imposing values or ideas on others. This is coupled with recent emphasis on “political correctness” where all world views are held to be equal. The tendency is to accept whatever one meets in mission and adapt the Christian message to it. It is believed that this reduces offence. The result is a variety of views on Christianity, according to location.

One of the justifications for this is a claim that although man fell he is still made in the image of God and therefore his natural culture and religion will reflect this image in some way. People may then claim new interpretations of scripture based on their cultural views. It is then said that the preaching of the gospel in this culture must adapt to these local views. “We just have to preach this adaptation in that field.” This justification has problems:

1. The assumption that the fall of man into sin is not total, or that it has only partially affected the image of God in man. It is a denial of the Reformed and Evangelical doctrine of total depravity.

2. It assumes that what looks like a godly value in human culture is in fact godly according to actual biblical teaching. This concept of false equivalents is explained further below.

The notion that there is some residue of the image of God in man after the Fall is unbiblical. The Bible teaches that whatever man brings forth that is helpful to society in general is due to God’s common grace, not to man’s innate intelligence or goodness. It is true that man has intellectual abilities and moral appreciations, but these are due to God’s restraining power and kindness. When this kindness is lifted man will resort to his default nature.

When God outlawed murder after the Flood because man is made in the image of God (Gen 9:6), He was referring to His original creation of man. He did not deny the totality of the Fall. God said in Gen 6:5 that every thought and imagination of man was evil continually. Man’s natural state according to God is total, not partial evil.

The command not to murder acknowledges the distinction between man and animal and the original purpose for which God made man, into which we are redeemed by Christ. Evolution tries to eradicate this distinction, by making man an animal. God demands that we honour Him by treating all mankind with dignity, whether they are saved or unsaved. But after the Fall, man is born in the image of fallen Adam.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Monotheism & Problems with Anthropology

Anthropology disproves the theory of the evolution of monotheism. In ancient societies on all continents it has been found that societies started with a belief in monotheism and regressed into polytheism and animism. They started with some knowledge of God and as time went on and distance from other civilisations increased they went away from the knowledge of God.

This is true for the Australian Aborigines for example. There is evidence that when they arrived in Australia they lived in settled communities with farms. As they went further into witchcraft they regressed into nomadic hunters without settlements. Societies in Asia, Africa and Europe began with a monotheistic faith and regressed into spiritism. It is true of all mankind.

Faulty “evidences” for evolution are still taught in schools as valid. The techniques used to “date” artefacts have flawed presuppositions. “Proofs” in biology are without foundation. Its evidence in geology is better understood as the consequence of Noah’s Flood. Its theories in religion have no basis in anthropology and are unable to answer the historical resurrection of Christ from the dead. Nor can evolutionists account for the occurrence of miracles in our own time.

Problems in Anthropology

Problems arise when people use anthropology as a source of theology. We cannot learn the things of God through the study of man. The ancient Greek goal of education was knowledge of self and today secular educationists follow this anthropological route. Theology gives us correct anthropology, rather than anthropology giving us correct theology.

It is sometimes said that we can learn about God from human culture or from world religions. It is also said that we can learn about God from nature or from logic. We will cover some of these areas later, but here we address the idea that when we go into missions we can find truth about God in local culture or religion and then use that to replicate Christian ideas.

This may be seen as a quick way to results in missions and as a way to ensure that mission is local and indigenous rather than foreign and colonial. What may begin with an attempt to understand the local people and their culture may become a substitute for the gospel.

This concept would then be against the Reformation principle of faith called sola scriptura; scripture alone! This principle of finding truth about God outside of scripture is a departure from Christian faith. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine…” (2 Tim 3:16). This is the only source of theology.

Monday 15 November 2010

Evolution of Religion

A theory of the evolution of religion states that man started with a primitive understanding of “god” and developed a more complex or sophisticated faith as his society progressed. (See the “founder” of cultural anthropology Edward Tylor, of the 19th and early 20th Century, who developed this theory.)

The theory claims that man started in an unorganised society, with a religion of spiritism, seeing spirits in all objects with no single ruler. As society progressed into tribal chieftaincies man’s view of spiritual rule devolved into polytheism, the belief in several leading deities.

Finally, as people grouped into nation states around the time of Moses and had one main ruler or king, they began to see the spiritual world the same way, with one main god - monotheism. So here we see a progression from spiritism to polytheism to monotheism. It is claimed that Moses was the founder of monotheism.

But biblical evidence shows that monotheism was the belief of all God’s people from the beginning. Abraham, for example, hundreds of years before Moses, was clearly monotheistic. The Greek, who were supposed to be the most advanced, were polytheistic.

Secular authors have stated that religion is a natural phenomenon. They say that man developed religious ideas naturally to meet his need for security. It is true that human religion is natural, developed by man to meet his felt needs. Religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism for example were developed from the imaginations of man and from a twisted view of God’s revelation. “Christianity” without God’s Spirit is the same.

This is human religion. It is a “fig leaf”. It is a substitute for truth. It is not man seeking for God, but man using a cover of religion to hide from God. It is to satiate his conscience. But when God’s Spirit calls us we know that religion is empty of any power to save and empty of any truth. Human religion is a means of hiding from God (as Adam hid), not of genuinely seeking for Him.

True Christianity is not a human religion. It has not developed by men “seeking God”. It is God’s Self-initiative and Self-revelation through grace. God sent Jesus to reveal Himself. Today, through the Holy Spirit and word of God, the knowledge of God is a gift. Man cannot find God through natural theology, reasoning or even self-induced spiritual encounters. A man comes to the knowledge of God because God seeks and finds him.

The Bible says “seek and you shall find”. This must come as a call of the Spirit of God within our heart. We seek Him in truth only if He first calls us. He must draw us to Himself first. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).

This is important. It means we that cannot reveal God naturally through human religion or culture as we go into mission. God can only be revealed by His own initiative through His gospel, as we are sent by Him as His co-labourers. We must be sent by God. As Benson Idahosa said, “Some were sent: others went.”.

Tylor’s evolution of religion model claimed that societies developed in an evolutionary series from Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc. Excavations are “dated” by these artefacts found in them. However, societies progressed and regressed often according to their circumstances and such dating methods are conjecture. Iron and bronze were available in the very earliest societies in Genesis.

Sunday 14 November 2010


From the previous discussions we can see the importance of culture in mission. How should we approach culture and other human sciences? By human sciences we mean not the study of chemistry or physics, but the study of man and his behaviour and history. Anthropology is the study of man, his nature, his society and his culture. It is an interesting and often very subjective field of study.

Archaeology is another category of anthropology. In the last 200 years a lot has been learnt about past civilizations by excavations, especially in Bible lands. Initially archaeologists were not able to confirm certain biblical narratives, such as the existence of the Hittite Empire.

In such cases rash archaeologists or media would announce that the Bible was inaccurate. They have always been proved wrong as archaeological work progressed. Whether it was about the Hittites, the occupation of Canaan under Joshua, the fall of Jericho, or the cultural practices of Abraham, the Bible has never been shown to be wrong. (See Werner Keller, The Bible As History.)

God acted out His redemption plan in history. The historical narratives of scripture, whether the history of nations, the history of creation, or the miracle ministry and resurrection of Jesus, are all literal historical events.

The Hebrew people did not use mythology or symbolic language when recording history. Governor’s names are given, cities and villages are identified and time periods are stated. All of these can be traced by independent historical sources and by archaeology. The Bible has not once been shown to be wrong after evidence has come to the surface.

Population Migrations

A study of human society down through the millennia has also verified the migration of humans from Mesopotamia after the Flood and Tower of Babel to all parts of the globe. Population levels in various parts of the world are consistent with a general migration from this biblical time period.

Cultures all over the earth have very similar stories in their history concerning the Tower of Babel, Flood, Creation and the Fall. (See anthropologist Don Richardson in Eternity in Their Hearts.) They also have similar constellations. They mostly perceive related pictures in the stars, showing a commonality in ancestry. There are many more myths that are common also.

Anthropology is also valuable in helping us to understand culture. Further below we will look at the extent to which anthropology may help us in the missionary task. First though, we see that anthropology helps us to refute false ideas about religion.

Saturday 13 November 2010

What Went Wrong in Asia

Looking at the history of missions allows us an opportunity to see what might have gone wrong. Why was the gospel lost in Asia and Africa after those early years? The Mongols of Asia and the Muslims invaded much of the area, but we believe that syncretism was the main problem.

Syncretism means mixing the gospel with local perspectives of the culture. This happened a lot in the early African church with the adoption of the worship of Mary replacing Isis, for example. It also happened in most places in Asia where the Nestorians preached.

The Nestorians, being more humanistic, celebrated novel gospel interpretations in new cultures. They also went so far away geographically in missions that their “supply lines” grew thin. They were cut off from the main theological development in other sectors of the church.

For example, Bishop Qing Qing of China wrote in 780AD, comparing the gospel to Buddhist Confucian karma. Qing claimed that we return to our original good nature by works. In his Sutra of Returning to Your Original Nature, he claimed:

Christ says: From goodness in past lives, people come to this religion and through the faith they find Happiness…Simon (Peter) know this: You ask me about the Triumphant Law. What your ancestors have done bears fruit in you; their karma finds its outcome in you. (Cited from Martin Palmer).

Here is a Christian Bishop making a Christian theology for China 1,227 years ago. He believed in reincarnation. He misquoted Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16. He claimed that the original nature of each man when born is good. He said we restore this original goodness through our good works. He said that Simon Peter was blessed, not by the free grace of his heavenly Father (Matt 16:17), but by his own good works. This is Buddhism, not Christianity. This is Nestorian humanism.

When Christianity is no different from local religions what is the point of it? It is absorbed into traditional religion like a chameleon lizard and disappears into the fabric of its environment. This is one of the greatest hazards of international mission. This was the issue Paul addressed in Galatians and was the main problem addressed in the book of Hebrews: the gospel was being mixed with Jewish culture. Paul said that the gospel was then lost.

We also must consider the importance of church mission influencing government. In countries where Christianity did not impact and influence government it eventually lost ground. In Ethiopia, Armenia and Europe it held its ground. It is true that the church was corrupted by government in Europe, but at least there was something there for the Reformation to correct.

The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the West in the early 4th Century brought relief to the Christians from the Roman persecution there. Persecution of Christians had become Roman policy, but Constantine made the Roman Empire Christian.

But Constantine’s coming led to a great increase of persecution against Christians in the East. The East and West were enemies then and Persia saw Christians in Persia as potential allies of Constantine in the West and spies. So the Western church celebrates Constantine, but maybe not the Eastern Church.

Friday 12 November 2010


The Nestorian college at Antioch developed a literalist hermeneutics to counter the allegory used by ascetics in northern Africa. But they took their literalism too far, denying all mysteries by making them only symbols.

In the 16th Century Luther argued against this approach. However, the humanist Zwingli defended it on matters related to the communion and baptism. Luther was not upholding Catholic sacramentalism, but refuting humanist Aristotelian logic that denies mysteries simply because they are not understood.

Luther’s position regarding scripture was that we should accept its plain meaning and not allow our personal experience or reason to override it. Luther took this stand to refute humanism, which he saw as the greatest risk in eroding the truth of God’s word. He was correct, as this humanism in Europe later developed into liberal theology that denied the supernatural.

We believe that Christ has one nature, which is fully God and fully human in incarnation. It is indeed a mystery! But this is the power of the gospel. It neither contextualizes (humanises) or denies human context. It accepts humanity, but meets it miraculously, not on humanity’s terms. The human context is sin. The remedy is His faith.

The humanism of Nestorians left certain legacies. One of these was based on their denial of total depravity. They were semi-Pelagian. Today this is often reflected in Arminianism. They believed that all human cultures contained something of God and could be used in theological development. They also believed in derived holiness by works, or progressive sanctification and power through spirituality.

This humanism meant two things: Nestorianism became the fastest and most successful mission movement in history up until today. It moved into foreign cultures with ease and dedication. But the very reason for its success became the reason for its failure. Look at where Nestorianism went. In every one of its mission fields the gospel was eventually lost. We do not want to repeat this today.

Thursday 11 November 2010


There is much more evidence of the extent of early missions. A Japanese professor P.Y. Saeki stated that Nestorian Christianity penetrated the whole of Chinese literature and that Asia was widely covered by missionaries. The Nestorians were an eastern branch of the church, which went out mainly from Persia (Iran).

Most of the world was reached in the first millennium. Australia and America are left out of this study. Leaving aside the theories of evolution it is doubtful that their populations were extensive. We need an anthropological study of migrations to show this. Philip Nicolai (1556-1608) claimed that European explorers to the Peruvians, Brazilians and West Indies found evidence of earlier Christian witness.

The Great Commission is not complete: it goes on in every generation. But this shows what a tremendous job the early church did. In the midst of persecution and heresy the European church dominated the continent by the 5th Century. The Nestorians, despite their humanism, made unbelievable strides and were highly dedicated to their task.

God does not require satellites and aircraft to fulfil the Great Commission. Current generations are not more able than past. We should use technology, but it is the gospel that is God’s power and God who makes His people willing in the day of His power.