Don’t Repeat the Past

Posted: January 3, 2012 in Evangelism
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I was hiking down a road in Iowa (County Road L31) south of Council Bluffs when I spotted an old grave yard.  The ancient tombstones caught my attention so I went in to investigate.  There was a marker for Samuel Allis, the first Presbyterian missionary to this area.  (Moses Merrill was the first Baptist in 1833, Allis arrive in 1834).  Allis ministered to the Pawnee people who liked him and let him live with and among them.  There were no conversions to Christianity during his time with them, though by the 1920’s about 25% of the tribe were members of a Protestant Church.  Allis wrote in May of 1837;

“There are so many difficulties and hindrances at present, among [the] Indians, the prospect of introducing Christianity among them at present is rather discouraging … it is a mistaken idea that many Christians have at the present time, thinking that nations of Indians are to be born to God in a day … I believe that many years will pass first.”

Allis had some great missional ideas; he lived among the people, he travelled with them during their semi-annual hunts, he learned their language, he even suggested to his mission board that it would be a good idea to marry into the tribe (for stability and credibility). The Mission Board became upset that the missionaries spent so much time travelling with the Pawnee and not establishing a permanent mission station.  The board and the rest of this first missionary movement had a fatal flaw; they believed they had to get the Native Americans to give up their traditional lifestyle and begin to live and act like New England farmers before they could become Christians.

Now, the lessons from the past.

1.  Our mission is NOT to convert them to our culture but to Jesus Christ. 

These early missionaries spent a lot of time trying to convince the Pawnee to stop their semi annual hunts and take up farming full time. Their goal was simply to fit the Pawnee into the missionaries idea of a church community; a building with people living around it.

We’ve been trapped in this mindset for some time.  We get a nice building, a nice sound system, a great worship service and then expect the people to come to us.  When they come we bad-mouth everything they like; rock music, tattoos, long hair, video games, MTV, etc…

When they meet Jesus, He’ll clean up their culture.  Getting people to act like us in not the goal, following Jesus is the goal.

2.  Living missionally among them is the right way.

We need to follow their example of living in the community, learning their language, participating in their world, and having some legitimacy there (no need to marry for that any longer).  We can’t go to a church activity every night and then expect to have time to connect with the natives.  Meet some people.  If a non-believer invites you into his world, go.  Redeem what you can, don’t do what you shouldn’t.

3.  It takes time, obedience to God is the plan. 

We are living in a post-Christian America.  They do not know our stories, nor do they naturally respect the institution of the church.  So we can’t expect that they understand us.  The Spirit of God has to move people a long way from their pagan, self-worshipping ways to an understanding of the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  This will take time.  Let’s let the Spirit work. We must love people, remain consistent in our obedience to Christ and continue to serve and minister to others.  Don’t get in a hurry and “force” the conversion.  Don’t give up, either.

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Comments
  1. Kathy says:

    Oh, what a RADICAL idea… I like radical. I just may BE, radical.
    You’re right, and to think that this is considered “radical” by a lotta church people! But then, Jesus spent some time in the synagogue, but it seems to me that He spent a lot more time with people in their element. Better yet, He spent time with the infirm, the stinky, the diseased, the scum of society. He tended to make people THINK in the temple, but He made BELIEVERS by offering true life in the midst of human brokeness, on the streets. Beautiful.

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