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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Christian View of Missions.

Writing more than a century ago, J. Gresham Machen (formerly Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary) observed, in his work "What is Christianity?" observed an unhealthy trend in church mission in the USA. Little or no lesson has been learned in the century that followed - not only in the USA but in other nations, including Australia.

I cite herewith an extract from Machen's work:

"Some nineteen hundred years ago a remarkable movement emerged from the obscurity of Palestine into the cosmopolitan life of the Roman Empire' That movement was the Christian Church.

What were its characteristics in those first glorious days ?

This question is important for at least two reasons. In the first place. the Church in those first days had everything that it so signally lacks today. It had joy, it had power, it had life. Perhaps that life and that power may be regained if we return to what the Church was then. In the second place, by considering what the Church was then we can answer the question. What can rightly bear the name 'Christian' today. If we have a new thing, let us use a new name; but if we claim to be Christian, We must show some conformity to that to which the name 'Christian' was first applied.

But what was it to which the name was first applied; what was the Christian movement when it first appeared ?

With regard to that question, there may be a certain amount of agreement even between historians who are themselves Christians and historians who are not Christians, even between historians of widely diverse views. Difference of opinion prevails about the question whether Christianity is true; but about the question what Christianity is and what it was in those first days a certain amount of agreement may be attained.

One thing, at least, is clear, on the basis of all our sources of historical information. The earliest Christian Church was a missionary Church. If Christianity ever settles down to be the religion merely of one nation or of one group of nations, it will have become entirely untrue to the tradition which was established for it at the beginning. There was evidently a tremendous urge among those early Christians to carry their message to the ends of the earth.

What, then, was the mission of that missionary Church ? What was the Christianity that it propagated in that ancient Roman world ?

In the first place, the Christianity that it propagated did not present itself as a new religion. On the contrary, it appealed to an ancient revelation; and it claimed to stand in the full continuity of an age-long plan of God. It should never be forgotten - though it often is forgotten - that the Christian Church at the very beginning had a Bible. Its Bible was the Old Testament; and it regarded that Bible as the Word of God, just as Bible-believing Christians regard the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments today.

In so regarding the Old Testament, it was in exact accord with the person whom it presented as the foundation of its life - namely, Jesus Christ. One thing is clear to the historian. Jesus of Nazareth, whether we like it or not, did hold the view of the Old Testament which was generally accepted in the Israel of His day; He did hold the Old Testament to be true throughout; He did hold it to be authoritative and divine. When He said that some of its commands were temporary, and were to be superseded or modified in the new era which His sovereign coming ushered in, He did not at all mean that those commands were not commands of God, absolutely valid in the sphere and in the time in which they were intended by God to prevail. It is a fact of history that Jesus as well as His first disciples held the loftiest view of the divine authority and full truthfulness of the Old Testament Scriptures. From the beginning Christianity was a religion founded upon a Book.

That Book proclaimed, and the early Church proclaimed on the basis of it, in the first place, the one living and true God, Maker of heaven and earth; and that proclamation was the basis of ever5rthing else that the Church proclaimed. 'Ye turned to God' says Paul, in describing his missionary preaching, his preaching to unconverted people at Thessalonica, ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.'

I know that some men have represented that as though it were a mere piece of metaphysics that the Church could and can do without. The doctrine of 'fiat creation,' they tell us, has nothing to do with vital religion; and even in those early days, they tell us, Jesus could be accepted as Saviour-God without any settlement of the question regarding His connection with the Creator and Ruler of the world. But men who tell us that are entirely wrong. Certainly Jesus was God; but calling Jesus God has no meaning unless one first tells what one means by 'God'; and calling Jesus God while one is indifferent to the existence of a God who is Creator and Ruler of the world runs directly counter to the teaching of Jesus Himself. No, both Jesus and His earliest disciples were first of all monotheists; they believed that before the world was God was, that this universe came into being by the fiat of His will, and that He is eternally free as over against the things that He has made. That is what the Bible means by the living and holy God; and it was that living and holy God whom those first Christian missionaries proclaimed.

It is disturbing to see how far removed the so-called evangelical church, including the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney, has removed itself from the early Church. Ask most within the Diocese "Is Jesus Christ the Creator?" and you will get hesitancy followed, at best, by a grudging affirmative in reply. Similarly, ask them "Was man created at the beginning of Creation?" and you will again often get hesitancy and even denial - this actually being denial of the view of our Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 10:6). Only when the words of our Lord are cited do you get any intellectual 'feet-shuffling' and reluctant admission.

In eagerness to dismantle the Old Testament, particularly the first eleven chapters, just to stay in with the world there are many who contribute to a degenerate church far removed from that Church which began small some two thousand years ago yet conquered the world in the Name of Him Who is True.

Perhaps if several graduates of Moore Theological College would ditch their faith in Karl Barth (of whom Machen was a critic) and drew more from J. Gresham Machen's works the Diocese would be better equipped in faith in the Word of God and more useful in declaring that Word to the lost.

Sam Drucker

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