Christians in the western world vs. Christians in other parts of the world
By Emma Frizsell…Below is a letter describing the mind of Christians in the western world vs. Christians in other parts of the world.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
God’s Word is so clear. God’s commands are so direct. God’s intentions for His church are so compelling. Yet, if that is true… why are more than 70 percent of the world’s evangelistic witness focused on the world’s historically Christian countries? Why does the church in the western world retain well over 90 percent of God’s resources for itself? Why is the bulk of sacrificial offerings directed toward buildings, staff salaries, and educational materials for those already in His Kingdom? Why is the church of the west willing to share only the leftovers with the nations? Why do unengaged and unreached people groups today still lack even minimal access to the gospel? Why do many seminaries in the west, filled with overflowing capable and committed students, send fewer than 40 percent of their graduates to the nations? (Jay Hildebrant) The answers to those questions are, of course, complex. But some of those answers are wrapped up in the lies that God’s people have heard, believed, and gradually incorporated into their hearts and minds.
The mind of Western Churches:
Reports of the mighty acts of God around the world are common. Stories from Central and South Asia tell of hundreds of thousands of baptisms, followed by waves of new churches being started. Stories from South America speak of remarkable spiritual and numerical growth. In the west, we find these stories both wonderful and exciting. But we also tend to believe that such things can only happen in faraway places. For whatever reason, we tend to believe that God does not do miracles here with us. But let’s just take a step back to look at this…Which is more miraculous, that they can divide Bibles by giving each person one torn out section of scripture or that we can own dozens of Bibles, along with music books and study materials? Which is more miraculous, that citizens of other countries are being healed by the hundreds of thousands and that maybe a thousand of them will come to discern that their healing has come from Jesus or that we have access to Christian doctors, nurses, and health care any time we choose? Which is more miraculous, that citizens of other countries move from house to house, meet on different days of the week at different times during the day trying to avoid disruption of the church and arrest or that we can gather together for worship all day every day and no one would ever think of arresting us for doing so? Which is more miraculous, that the view of prison by believers in other countries is that it is a theological training ground or that we can study in special schools set aside just for believers and their training? — What we dismiss as common is nothing other than the clear activity of God in our western church world! It is crucial that we see it, that we call it what it is, that we live in profound gratitude for all that God is doing, and that we recognize the depth of responsibility that accompanies miracles as great as these.
Every culture has filters through which God’s voice is discerned. Every person is culturally conditioned to hear God’s voice in certain ways. But religious structures and systems sometimes add even more filters and conditions. The longer a religious system is in place, the more requirements developed to guide and inform those who are part of that system. We claim, rightly, that God’s command is vital. We claim, rightly, that God’s call is crucial. It is. But our conversation about call should be focused on where we have been called rather than on if we have been called. Should I be called in India, Turkey, North Korea? Should I be serving at the ends of the earth? Now that is a conversation worth having! But have I been called? That question should be settled at the very beginning of our walk with Jesus. God’s Word is clear that we have, in fact, already been called.
Sending & Going to the Ends of The Earth:
Many westerners believe that God’s people in America are so deeply involved in local evangelism that they cannot possibly interrupt that important work to service in some other place. For most people a personal commitment to local evangelism is not the honest reason to avoid going to serve among the nations. This excuse may sound good, but it does not ring to be true. Obviously, there is great spiritual need in America. Obviously, there are many people here who need to hear the good news. And, obviously, God’s people have a mandate to share with their American friends and neighbors. But to say that we cannot go to the nations until the needs here are met means that we will never go to the nations. This is an excuse that many people find quite acceptable. The greatest hindrance to the growth of God’s Kingdom globally is racism. Despite our protest to the contrary, there are sometimes deeper “convictions.” And these deeper reasons are not unique to any particular group of people. Human beings are naturally drawn to “our own people.” But God seeks to transform what is “natural” to us into what is more in line with His character and heart. Within the Great Commission is one of the strongest words in all of Scripture confronting the sin of racism. Sometimes those who are despised are people who are far away. But more often than not, those who are despised are geographically close. These attitudes are deep, and they are often deeply held. And only the power of God can transform our hearts. Do we honestly believe that Jesus intends for the church to finish the task in Jerusalem before venturing into Judea? Do we honestly believe that Jesus intends for us to send teams into Africa while ignoring Africans living in our own neighborhoods? Do we honestly believe that working hard in America sets us free from the responsibility to care about and even go to the ends of the earth? Going just to “our people” and deciding for ourselves just how far God would have us go is very selfish of the good news and it is contrary to the nature of Christ.
So, what is the hardest task? Going? That might be difficult, but that is not the hardest task. The hardest task of all may be sending: giving and blessing our family, friends, sons, and daughters to go and serve the nations. Which is harder: dying on the cross or sending the most loved to die on the cross? Most parents would say they would willingly die on multiple crosses if that would keep their children from dying on one. But both the sending and the dying are intrinsic to the nature of God. When the Body of Christ recaptures the true responsibility of sending loved ones to the nations, it will either experience a profound season of renewal, or it will stop sending. The church of the western world often idolizes its children. Bargaining with God and holding back their children so that they might experience “the good life” or have the ability to live the American dream which is to believe a lie that ultimately causes the church to deny the nations the best the Father has to offer. And it ushers in the death of the church itself.
The common mistakes:
Western churches are eager (they say) to participate in living out God’s command, but they desperately want to participate on their own terms. Tens of thousands of Christians travel the globe each year to serve Him. From youth of all ages to retirees, planes and buses are filled with Christians going to the nations. Many of these Christians, blessedly, make every effort to fit in with the long- term ministry groups, while others perpetuate the unfortunate stereotype of the “missionary tourist.” Consider for a moment the mind-set and practice of some Christians who regularly go overseas. While clearly being a blessing in the overseas setting, the reaction of their sending church is perhaps less enthusiastic. Perhaps serving the cause of Christ overseas can seem glamorous and even exotic. Perhaps people feel more open in sharing a personal testimony in environments where they are not known…and where they will not be around long enough to reveal personal character. On the other hand, perhaps a brief time can be used by God to renew a commitment at home, or to focus a person’s attention on ministry close at hand. But the practice of going thousands of miles from home while neglecting lost, needy, and nearby neighbors points to a believing life that is badly out of balance. Christ has commanded all of His followers to incarnate Him wherever they happen to be. Ministry among the nations simply must be a natural extension of whatever ministry is happening at home. Being a poured-out and broken vessel among the people we know best is essential preparation- even more, it is a prerequisite for ministry among people we do not yet know.
If the majority of mission support is defined primarily by the giving of money to groups here at home or to overseas groups, as vital as financial support is, there can develop a line between the church and the field. This leads to a “them” and “us” mentality. Missions can become something the church does, rather than defining who the church is. Does a church pray “for” the missionaries or does it pray “with” the missionaries? Can church members articulate what missionaries have done with “their” money among the nation? We would be wise to erase the line between the church and the mission field. The offering that God requires most is not only financial; His offering requires ultimately to the giving of our lives and the willing surrender of children to God’s purpose. When those priceless gifts are offered, the local church is finally walking alongside the workers (here in the western world and the workers overseas) rather than seeing missions as simply another item in the church budget.
Western culture has attempted to cleanse faith of its rough edges. Our untested assumption is that, surely, God only wants what is best for me, my family, and my country. Given that assumption, when troubles, suffering, persecution, and even death come, we are quick to see those hard things as signs of God’s disfavor. It might be that western “Christianity” has diminished the heart of Biblical faith by removing the suffering and persecution that the New Testament promises is intrinsic to following Jesus. In reference to the Old Testament, many refuse to leave Joseph in jail and strive to provide rescue before the modern day Joseph’s ever have the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. And, as a result, well- intentioned choices actually work against the ultimate purposes of God. It is an extremely difficult decision to make, but those who advocate for the persecuted must spiritually discern when to leave Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison. As much as we might want to avoid the obvious conclusion, it may be time for believers in the western world to admit that they are afraid. Western Christians are being taught to be afraid, instilling fear in new believers is not merely a missiological mistake. It is also a sin. It is quite possible that this western fear has been learned from parents and church leaders. The belief that personal safety and the absence of risk is of paramount importance and that our need for safety should keep us from risking all for the Kingdom of God is a wicked lie that infects mission enterprises all around the world. –Fear is devastating. Fear paralyzes. Fear causes people to run and hide. Fear is a black hole that will deplete joy from the soul of a believer. Fear is a deadly enemy of the church. Your fear is the greatest tool you will ever give to Satan. Overcoming your fear is your greatest tool against Satan. We are told clearly in Scripture not to be afraid. With this being said, eternally the only safe place for everyone to be is within the will of God. To be clear; the will of God is not always the safest place to be but is the only place to be!
Works – the Right and Wrong:
If we want to see the people of God unleashed in the church, we need to start with the Gospel of God in Christians. After all, putting everything in our lives in front of Jesus is the natural overflow of the Gospel. Yet confusion abounds concerning the Gospel in the church today. Though Jesus was free from sin throughout His life, He bore the penalty of sin in His death. He took our place and our punishment, dying the death we deserved. Then He rose from the grave like a lion in victory over sin. –This is the Gospel! The Gospel saved us from our work, and now we are free from any effort to overcome our guilt before God. We can stop working and start believing!
All through the Bible we encounter an important truth, namely that the Gospel that saved us from work also saves us to work. Right after Paul identifies salvation by grace alone through faith alone, he says that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Right after James talks about belief in Christ Jesus, he says that faith without deeds is useless and dead. In John’s letter detailing the assurances we have in our salvation through faith in Jesus, he describes how anyone who sees his brother in need but has no pity on him does not have the love of God in him! Now, it is important to recognize what these passages mean by terms such as works, deeds, and acts of love. Often scripture refers to love in a negative sense, as actions fueled by the flesh that do not honor God. This is the way Paul frequently talks about works, and it is why he constantly condemns works as means of salvation. We are not saved by our works or through our works, for nothing we do can merit righteous before God. As mentioned earlier, the Gospel saves us from this kind of work.
There are also times when scripture refers to works in a positive sense, as actions fueled by faith. Every time James refers to works, deeds, or actions, he is talking about them positively. He is talking about love for the needy, mercy for the poor, and care for the suffering. Paul does the same thing when he talks about work produced by faith, every act being prompted by your faith, and expressing itself through acts of love. So, with all this being said, you need to know that so- called faith without acts prompted by faith is a lie. True and real faith always creates fruit!
I believe in the people of God. Or more specifically, I believe in the work of God’s Spirit through God’s Word in God’s people. The last thing we should want to do is rob Christians of the joy of making disciples by telling them that someone else can take care of that for them. Someone might ask, “But if a church has a gifted communicator or a gifted leader, would we not want as many people as possible to hear that person?” The answer here would be “not necessarily.” The goal of the church is never for one person to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ. The goal is always for all of God’s people to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ Jesus! I also believe in the plan of God. In Jesus’ simple command to “make disciples,” He has invited every one of His followers to share the life of Christ with others in a sacrificial, and intentional global effort to multiply the Gospel of Christ through others. He never intended to limit this invitation to the most effective communicators, the most brilliant organizers, or the most talented leaders and artists. Instead, the Spirit of God has empowered every follower of Christ to accomplish the purpose of God for the glory of God in the world. This includes the so- called wrong people: those who are the least effective, least brilliant, or least talented in the church. Building the right church, is dependent upon using all the “wrong” people.
It is commonly assumed that is we want to be a part of a growing church, we “need” a few simple elements. First, we “need” a good performance. In an entertainment- driven culture, we “need” someone who can captivate the audience. If we do not have a charismatic communicator, we are done for from the start. Next, we “need” a place to hold the people who will come. This usually means investing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in a facility to house the performance. The most “attractive” the environment, the “better.” Then once the crowds get there, we need something to keep them coming back. So, we start programs— first class, top of the line programs— for kids, youth, and families, and people of all ages. And in order to have those programs we “need” “professionals” to run them. That way parents can drop their kids off at the door, and the “professionals” can handle ministry for them. Because, we of course, do not want people trying this at home.
There it is: a performance at a place filled with programs run by professionals. The problem though is the one ‘p’ we have left out of the equation: the people of God.
What if growing the church was never intended to depend on creating a good performance of all the right people on the stage? Where did we get the idea that this was necessary? Certainly, Scripture instructs us to gather for worship. This is nonnegotiable but not necessarily in the way we usually think about it. Imagine being in a church on the other side of the world where it is illegal for the church to even exist. You wait until midnight, when everyone else is asleep, to quietly leave your house. Under the cover of darkness, you sneak down winding roads and past silent houses, looking around every corner to make sure no one is following you. You know that if you or anyone from your church is caught, you may never see your home again. For that matter, you may never see the light of day again either! Yet you continue on until you see the small house with a faint light emanating from it. Checking one last time to make sure you have not been followed, you slip inside. There you are, greeted by a small group of brothers and sisters who have made the same long trek. As you look at their weary, but expectant faces, you realize something: not one of them has come because a great communicator has been scheduled to speak. Not one of them has come because a cool and popular band is scheduled to perform. No, all are there simply because they desire to gather with the people of God, and they are willing to risk their lives to be together! Performance has nothing to do with it! People has everything to do with it!
When the church is fundamentally a gathering of committed people, the place where the church gathers hardly matters! Like said before, everything is laying in front of Jesus, and He will lead us in what is best. I realize that a lot of people in the western world have sacrificed greatly to make our gathering facilities a reality, and I am deeply grateful for God’s grace in them. At the same time, I am not convinced that large buildings are the best or only way to use God’s resources. You may ask, “what is wrong with constructing church buildings? Nowhere in the New Testament are we told that we should not build church buildings.” — But that is just it! There is also nothing in the New Testament that says we should construct church buildings. So whenever we plant or whenever a church starts to grow, why is the first thing we think, we need to spend masses of our resources on a building? Why would we spend an inordinate amount of our resources on something that is never prescribed or even encouraged in the New Testament? Instead, why do we not use these resources on something that which is explicitly promoted in the New Testament, such as sharing the Gospel with the lost or helping the poor in the church? As I write this, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world are living in slums. So, should we really be prioritizing bigger buildings for ourselves??
Paul says to the church of Corinth “do you not know that yourself is God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” He later tells them that our bodies are the temple of God. This is the astounding reality of the New Testament religion: we as Christians are the house of worship itself! So, with this being said, let’s gather wherever we can- in homes, in offices, in workplaces, in parks, or in any facility we can find! But, let’s also remember, that many of our brothers and sisters around the world meet simply outside. And let’s at least consider not spending such large amounts of our resources on building places when the priority of the New Testament is clearly on building people! There is no need whatsoever in building extravagant places; what needs to be built is extraordinary people! We need to be making disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples, and together will multiply the Gospel to all the people of the world! — This is the simple command that is to drive each of our lives!!
A little about me:
- I am 18 years old
- I graduated from the Caldwell Early College High School this past 2017-2018 school year
- I will be working at Camp Mundo Viasta as a camp counselor this summer
- I will be attending The College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary this fall to study Christian Worldview and Apologetics
- I am from Dudley Shoals
- I am the daughter of Charmion Frizsell and the Todd Frizsell
- I have 2 younger sisters: Ella and Alyta, a younger brother: Donovyn, and a twin brother: Elijah
- I love spending time with my family
- I love to run
- My goal is to proclaim the name of Christ Jesus to all people groups and make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples