W. Austin Gardner
Myths Regarding Missions 9 The myth of the finished task
Missionary speakers have much to say these days about the indigenous churches on the mission field which are reported to be self-governing, self-propagating, and self supporting. And the question is raised: If the national churches are able to stand on their own feet, pay their own way, and manage their own affairs, why are missionaries still needed? This is a good question.
We should blush with shame should we have to confess that after 250 years of missionary work we had not yet produced any indigenous churches. The indigenous churches are indeed a fact. Some are large and strong; others are small and weak. We thank God for every one of them. When we remember the enormous difficulties of the pioneer days, we are amazed that so much was accomplished by so few. Every indigenous church is a monument to the grace of God and the power of the gospel.
But having said that, we must go on to state that the missionary mandate has not been fulfilled when we have established indigenous churches. The original mandate called for the evangelization of the world, which includes preaching the gospel to every creature and making disciples of all nations. And this performance must be repeated in every succeeding generation. That task is far from complete.
In some countries, such as Korea and Indonesia, the national churches are large and strong; but even there the Christians represent not more than 10 percent of the population. These churches are certainly able to maintain their own existence, but can they be expected to win the other 90 percent of the population without outside help?
And what about the other countries where the churches are small and weak and the Christians account for only 2 or 3 percent of the population? The churches in Japan are strong from some points of view, but weak from others; the Christians there represent less than 1 percent of the total population. The Japanese church lacks evangelistic vision and zeal.
Even the evangelical churches insist that the missionaries make the best evangelists.
In Thailand the situation is even less hopeful. For every Christian there are 999 Buddhists, most of whom are still without a knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Baptist church in Burma is very strong, but it is composed entirely of tribespeople, converts from animism. The 28 million Burmese who are Buddhists are practically untouched after 160 years of Christian work. Not more than 10,000 of them are Christians.
The Scriptures have been translated into 1,526 languages and dialects, but the complete Bible is available in only 255 languages. This means that millions of church members in the Third World have only the New Testament, and many of them don’t even have that. Wycliffe Bible Translators estimates that there are 2,000 tribes, representing 160 million people, who are still without any portion of the Word of God. Indeed, their languages have not yet been reduced to writing.
According to the most reliable estimates world Christianity is not holding its own against the non-Christian religions. In 1960 the Christians represented about 34 percent of the world’s population. Today the figure is around 30 percent and it continues to drop slowly year by year. There are more non-Christians in the two countries of China and India than there are Christians in the entire world.
Obviously the task of world evangelization is not complete. The indigenous churches still need help. In spite of all we have accomplished in the last 250 years we have barely scratched the surface
Kane, J. Herbert. The Making of a Missionary