The latest mission strategy: “Insider Movements”

We’ve blogged about those translations of the Bible for Muslims that avoid little terms like “Son of God” in order, supposedly, to attract followers of Islam.  It turns out that such Bible translations are only one strategy in a whole new approach to mission work, one that encourages Christian converts to continue as members of their old religion!  Bill Nikides explains in Modern Reformation:

The most explosive issue in global missions within the evangelical church today is something called “Insider Movements.” . . .

It has become a go-to option for all sorts of traditional evangelicals working with ostensibly reputable missions organizations such as Navigators, Frontiers, Summer Institute of Linguistics (a branch of Wycliffe), Global Partners for Development, and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some embrace the Insider Movement label and identity; others prefer to remain low key. In many cases entire organizations—while in others, only some individual members—are committed to its core principles. Even worse, it appears that some missionaries and agencies are guilty of dissembling so as to maintain plausible deniability. . . .

Here are a couple of stock definitions to get us on our way. Insider Movements (IM) are variously defined as “popular movements to Christ that bypass both formal and explicit expressions of Christian religion” (Kevin Higgins, “The Key to Insider Movements,” Internal Journal of Frontier Missiology, Winter 2004). Another definition Higgins offers is that they are “movements to Jesus that remain to varying degrees inside the social fabric of Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, or other people groups.” In other words, as John Ridgeway of the Navigators relates, Insider Movements advocate “becoming faithful disciples of Jesus within the culture of their people group, including religious culture.”

Fundamentally, Insiders are those who profess faith in Christ but remain members of their original religious communities; Muslims remain Muslims, Hindus remain Hindus, and Buddhists remain Buddhists. In the Muslim world that means they must acknowledge one exclusive God, Allah, and that Mohammed is his final and greatest messenger. They remain members of the mosque, practice the five pillars of Islam, live openly in their cultures as Muslims, participate in Muslim sacrifices and feasts, and identify themselves as Muslims. In many cases, I’m familiar with baptized Christians who are persuaded to re-enter the mosque after renouncing their Christian identities. . . .

There are, of course, major problems with such an approach to missions and evangelism. First, Insiders make the unbiblical assumption that such biblical passages teach that true believers can have a purely inward faith that can be manifested inside any faith system, including that of other non-Christian religions.

Second, practitioners and Insider missiologists (or scholars of the theology of missions) ignore the fact that the Bible is loaded with texts, even entire books, devoted to distinguishing truth from error and true religion from false religion. In other words, doctrine matters and has to be central in our theology of missions. Unfortunately, doctrine is surprisingly absent from much Insider literature, and rarely do their proponents address the twin topics of idolatry and false religion. Instead, Insiders suppose that religions are relatively harmless cultural creations, that they are man-made and therefore disposable. Even Christian articles of faith, such as the church and the sacraments, can be said to be cultural creations that can simply be replaced with other things in Muslim cultures.

via Modern Reformation – Articles [subscription required].

Never mind about what the Bible says about syncretism, idolatry, having no other Gods, Church, etc., etc.  But this approach helps missionaries rack up bigger numbers of converts!

Here is an objective, fair and balanced Wikipedia account that  confirms that description.

This is an example of the mindset that I’m seeing more and more that is at the root of a lot of church issues today:  Christianity is just about becoming a Christian–having a conversion in which a person “accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior”–whereupon, since “once saved, always saved,” the Church and the Christian life don’t matter!

HT:  Jim Rademaker

An architect’s vocation

World Magazine has a  profile of architect David Greusel, who specializes in designing baseball stadiums.  In addition to a fascinating discussion of ball parks, focusing on the one hailed as the best in baseball–Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, which Greusel designed–the article by Janie Cheaney highlights the architect’s Christian faith and his sense of vocation.  This excerpt has wide-ranging implications:

Integrating work with family and faith shouldn’t be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called “God’s Trailer,” Greusel boldly states that “bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design”—meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that “form follows function,” seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God’s glory.

Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: “First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the “creation mandate” (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God’s work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man—whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.

via | All-star architecture | Janie B. Cheaney | Jun 30, 12.

Read Greusel’s entire essay God’s Trailer.  The contradiction he cites–”fundamentalists” buying into the dogmas of the “modernists”– is very telling.  By the same token, some of the biggest critics of pop culture are insisting on pop music in their worship.  And theological “conservatives” are arguing that the church must conform to the culture, the textbook definition of theological liberalism.

Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.

Matthew Harrison’s open letter

Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has issued an open letter from religious leaders to Americans, stating why they object to the Obamacare insurance mandate requiring coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients.  It’s getting some notable attention.

Putting Beliefs into Practice
An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans

Dear Friends,

Religious institutions are established because of religious beliefs and convictions. Such institutions include not only churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship, but also schools and colleges, shelters and community kitchens, adoption agencies and hospitals, organizations that provide care and services during natural disasters, and countless other organizations that exist to put specific religious beliefs into practice. Many such organizations have provided services and care to both members and non-members of their religious communities since before the Revolutionary War, saving and improving the lives of countless American citizens.

As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities, we are compelled to make known our protest against the incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the realm of religious liberty. HHS has mandated that religious institutions, with only a narrow religious exception, must provide access to certain contraceptive benefits, even if the covered medications or procedures are contradictory to their beliefs. We who oppose the application of this mandate to religious institutions include not only the leaders of religious groups morally opposed to contraception, but also leaders of other religious groups that do not share that particular moral conviction.

That we share an opposition to the mandate to religious institutions while disagreeing about specific moral teachings is a crucial fact. Religious freedom is the principle on which we stand. Because of differing understandings of moral and religious author- ity, people of good will can and often do come to different conclusions about moral questions. Yet, even we who hold differing convictions on specific moral issues are united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs. The issue is the First Amendment, not specific moral teachings or specific products or services.

The HHS mandate implicitly acknowledged that an incursion into religion is involved in the mandate. However, the narrowness of the proposed exemption is revealing for it applies only to religious organizations that serve or support their own members. In so doing, the government is establishing favored and disfavored religious organizations: a privatized religious organization that serves only itself is exempted from regulation, while one that believes it should also serve the public beyond its membership is denied a religious exemption. The so-called accommodation and the subsequent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (AN- PRM) do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning. The HHS mandate prevents this free exercise. For the well-being of our country, we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and plead for its retraction.

Sincerely yours,

Leith Anderson, President National Association of Evangelicals
Gary M. Benedict, President The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.
Bishop John F. Bradosky, North American Lutheran Church
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church Bishop, Fellowship of International Churches
The Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions, Chancellor Orthodox Church in America
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Baltimore Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. John A. Moldstad, President Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann, President Concordia Deaconess Conference The Lutheran Church MS
The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General of the Sisters of Life
Sister Barbara Anne Gooding, R.S.M. Director, Department of Religion Saint Francis Health System
Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p. Provincial Superior, Brooklyn Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Most Blessed Jonah, Archbishop  Orthodox Church in America
Imam Faizul R. Khan, Founder and Leader Islamic Society of Washington Area
The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Director of Interchurch Relations Orthodox Church in America
The Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore Chairman USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty
Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Chicago Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President NHCLC Hispanic Evangelical Association
Sister Joseph Marie Ruessmann, R.S.M., J.D., J.C.D., M.B.A. Generalate Secretary Religious Sisters of Mercy
The Rev. Mark Schroeder, President Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p., Communications Director Little Sisters of the Poor
Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent The General Council of the Assemblies of God

Commentary on Harrison’s “Open Letter”

Julia Polese of the Institute for Religion and Democracy on LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s open letter on the Obamacare insurance mandate. (I draw your attention to what pro-infanticide ethicist Peter Singer has to say on the topic.)

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) recently released a statement on religious freedom expressing solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church in their fight against the HHS mandate requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to employees. In a video statement on the Synod’s website, President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison emphasizes the first amendment guarantee that religious people not only have freedom of assembly, but mentions that “Congress cannot make laws that prevent the free exercise of religion in this country,” which not only means freedom to assemble but freedom to “practice our religion in the public sphere in institutions that we have and run as Christians or other religious people.” The statement was signed by an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people, from Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Imam Faizul R. Khan, the founder and leader of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

The statement comes at the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” events. Centered around local dioceses, the events intend to rally Catholic laypeople to the cause of religious liberty with special prayers and marches. The left has shown typical paranoia about these events, questioning their funding (because, as we all know, you scratch a Catholic and find a Koch brother) and motives (Sammie Moshenberg: “It’s a marketing ploy.”). The LCMS’s statement, however, shows that the HHS mandate is not only a Catholic problem, but one for all religious people in the United States.

Rev. Dr. Harrison identifies the crucial difference in the invocation of the First Amendment in this debate. For many supporters of the HHS mandate, freedom to assemble is reinterpreted to mean freedom from public engagement from a religious worldview. Professor Peter Singer, the notorious utilitarian who has argued for infanticide in the past, articulates this angle in his latest piece. He asserts “the Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities.”

This limitation is not true freedom of expression, but instead an implicit command for bifurcation of the religious person’s life. Freedom of conscience is great until it butts heads with the conscience shaped by thinkers like Rousseau and Bacon. At its root, it is moving any religious mindset to a private sphere. Leave your beliefs in church where they belong. In a blog on the Washington Post website this morning, Bishop Lori articulated what is wrong with this conception of religious liberty. He wrote: “As we often say, we serve people because we are Catholic, not because they are. It is why so many Catholic schools enroll so many non-Catholics; Catholic hospitals don’t ask for baptismal certificates upon admission; and Catholic soup kitchens don’t quiz the hungry on the Catechism.” As a Reformed Southern Baptist whose alma mater stands both on the Potomac and the opposite side of the Tiber, I am thankful for this impulse to service and I must say that my education was best when unapologetically Catholic. A shared worldview can form partnerships in the public square between the sons of Martin Luther and those loyal to the Pope.

The HHS mandate is only a symptom of a grander impulse to demand religious people to abandon their views that do not overlap with modern liberalism in the public square. It is not just about contraception, but a clash of worldviews. For this reason, the ecumenical statement from the LCMS in support of the Catholic Church is encouraging in its explicit recognition of this problem and the Mainline Left’s response (or lack thereof) reveals where its true intellectual heritage lies.

via Lutherans and Catholics Together « Juicy Ecumenism.

President Harrison makes a very useful distinction:  Religious liberty is not just  “freedom of assembly,” as in “the right to worship” behind four walls, which is how some officials are construing it.  The Constitution specifically protects the “free exercise” of religion, which takes it out of just the place of worship into the public arena.

Southern Baptists cracking down on Calvinism

So what’s this about Southern Baptists cracking down on the Calvinists in their midst?

See As Baptists Prepare to Meet, Calvinism Debate Shifts to Heresy Accusation | Christianity Today.

Do Lutherans have a dog in this fight?