Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Not Ashamed, But Not Stupid

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16 - TNIV)

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16 - TNIV)
I've recently gotten a note from a friend who is serving as a missionary in another country (for the sake of the friend's safety, both her name and the name of the country will not be used here). She was giving me an update on her family's recent move to another city.

One thing that I need to make clear about this friend: she is no way bashful about proclaiming her allegiance to Christ, nor about talking about the amazing things that God has done in her life. Even so, the thing I want to talk about here is the fact that every mention of a religious name in her letter is carefully edited, so that they come through as "G*d" and "L*rd." My friend does not do this because of a personal conviction that God's name is so holy as to avoid its use (as can be seen in some traditions). She does this because the area in which she and her family serves is not entirely secure. She knows that e-mail communications might be intercepted, and they occasionally screen for explicitly Christian names. The edited forms are used as a means of protection. But even beyond that, they are in some way a condition of her continuing to serve in this region. If she and her family were kicked out of the country (or worse), how would they be able to continue to bring the word of God to people in that region?

I'm reminded of a bit of a controversy at Fuller a few years ago when one of our three schools, then called the "School of World Mission," was renamed the "School of Intercultural Studies." Naturally, many of our donors and constituents assumed that this change was being made because of some "liberal" desire to move away from the word "mission." But that really wasn't the case at all. It was increasingly evident to us that the word "mission" was actively inhibiting our students' ability to actually do mission in certain foreign countries, often at the cost of the students own safety (not to mention that of their families!). Fuller realized that if they were to continue to bring God's word to these areas, they would have to be wiser about what words they used. A student with a "School of World Mission" diploma might not even be allowed into a country, whereas the same student whose diploma said "School of Intercultural Studies" would be perfectly welcome. By making this simple name change, more students would be enabled to spread God's word than was previously possible.

There's a sense out there in some circles that the word "compromise" is something to be avoided at all costs. I disagree. Not all compromise is good or desirable, but in many cases, it is simply necessary to make sure that good things get done. One's safety should perhaps not be the primary concern in matters of missiological importance. I am certainly glad that there are such people like my friend who are brave enough to go into these sometimes dangerous areas. But I would argue that they will do more good by continuing to live unharmed in these regions than they would as martyrs, and if a simple word change here or there is all that it takes for this to happen, and if the essential message itself is not damaged, I'm very glad that they are willing to make those changes.

1 comment:

  1. The following comment was left by a college friend via Facebook's "Networked Blogs" application. I thought it worth sharing here.

    "Great post. Even a very conservative Bible college in this area changed their name from Columbia Bible College to Columbia International University for the same reasons. Our local Christian radio station in the Charlotte area is a branch out from their ministry, so they are not in any way "ashamed of the gospel." Sometimes I think we forget how the early church had to operate because of persecution, not that they were ashamed, but because they wanted the mission to survive for the sake of the spread of the gospel. (The very reason for the "fish" symbol that I see so proudly displaced on people's cars today.)"

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