Tuesday, September 18, 2007

By what authority?

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 2

Fifty years ago, the West and its missionaries thought that the entire world will become Christian. However, this somewhat prideful forecast about the conversion of the entire world to Christianity is not happening. In fact, as Newbigin himself claims, the West is now largely secularized and become itself is becoming a missionary field as well.

The Western Christians believe that because of their “better culture,” progressive civilization and wealth have become the authority to make the world a better place. And missionaries brought this idea with them. They think that because they are ministering to primitive, backward and poor countries, they could use those qualities as the source of their authority in spreading Christianity. Apparently, according to Newbigin this is not in anyway true.

After fifty years, nations that are predominantly Islam, Buddhist and High-Caste Hindu consistently refuse to accept Christianity and its missionaries. They asked the question: “What right do Christians have to preach to them?” If mission is understood to involve merely calling people of other faith to conversion then other religions would questions its validity. In fact, if this is the only reason in doing mission, even from within Christianity itself, its validity will always be questioned.

As missionaries do the task in which they are called to do, the question “by what authority you do this?” will always be asked. To answer simplistically by quoting the Scripture would not work. This question could not be answered with the usual “in Jesus’ name” for it entails another question, “who is Jesus?” who obviously is not known outside Western Christendom.

Newbigin proposes several answers to this question. First, he answers it with a confession. “I believe. It is a personal commitment to faith that cannot be demonstrated on grounds establish from the point of view of another commitment. A Christian commitment is distinguished that it is a commitment to a belief about meaning of the whole experience in its entirety—namely the belief that this meaning is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ.” (15)

Second, this confession is that Jesus is the supreme authority—that Jesus is Lord. This implies public, universal claim that was bound eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire. The confession “Jesus is Lord” implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world—its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.” (17) The Christian mission is thus to act out the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

Third, Newbigin believes that God chooses whom he will and calls them to his service. The authority to preach the gospel actually lies on the doctrine of election. (A chapter of this book is dedicated to explain this view). It is God who chooses, calls and sends. If he was asked about his authority to preach, Newbigin would answer that he is only a simple servant of one whom God has chosen and for the sake of all—Jesus Christ.

So what is our authority to preach the gospel? The answer—the authority is the announcement of the gospel itself. I couldn't agree more. The gospel in itself is powerful and authoritative. We can not make it more or less authoritative. I feel terrible when somebody (usually a missionary) would belittle a proclamation of the gospel for not being done according to their learned effective method. As if their own way of presenting the gospel is what makes it authoritative. The gospel is God's Word, the gospel is Christ, proclaim through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then tell me, what is more authoritative than that? It is authoritative whether one recognized it or not.

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