A Response from WRF Member Dr. Paul Gilchrist to WRF Member Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher's "Open Letter"

      REBUTTAL TO OPEN LETTER ON MISSIONS CODE OF ETHICS

                                                              By Paul R. Gilchrist

 

I want to thank Thomas Schirrmacher for his extended response to my concerns and his further exposition of “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World.”[1]  I have read and reread all of the material seeking to understand the documents.  In addition, I have had some correspondence with Dr. Edwin Walker, who has served as a career foreign missionary in Haiti and later became head of his mission organization.  He has given me some very helpful insights into the issues addressed.  Frankly, I agree with so much that I have read, but I feel that my concerns have not really been answered.  Rather than responding to each paragraph (it would take a book), let me see if I can express myself in terms of just a few salient matters. 

First, it seems clear that one of the burning issues calling for a “Missions Code of Ethics” is the emergence of an expanding Muslim influence throughout the world, more so than the growth and expansion of Buddhism and the influences of other non-Christian religions.  Given the globalization of the world, there is a need to establish parameters for Christians as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission.  This becomes doubly important when we realize that Islam is not “merely” a religion but also a political entity which uses the “power of the sword” to promote its expansion.[2]

Second, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, not to speak of African and other peoples who do not have a concept of separation of church and state draw the conclusion that since Christian missionaries come from America (perceived as a “Christian nation”) that therefore the “atrocities” committed by Americans were done by Christians.  Ed Walker put it this way: 

“While we make a distinction between reformed/evangelicals and Christendom in general, much of the world does not.  Globally we are often perceived as being like the worst elements of Christendom; therefore we must present ourselves as different.  In our North American culture we make a clear distinction between church and state but in much of the world this concept is not understood.  The religion and the state are one; what the state does the religion of that state does, and what the religion does the state does.”[3] 

He further adds: “This is a greater problem in holistic cultures but it is not even well understood in Europe with its secular cultures where they have a state church.  We need to remember that this document is a global document and should communicate clearly in all of the diverse cultures of the world.  In the thinking of much of the world the sword of the nation is also the sword of the religion of that state.”  

Dr. Schirrmacher echoes these thoughts when he states:  “Most Christian countries are ‘Christian countries’ because of wars, political developments or colonialism.” (emphasis added).   In a similar vein, elsewhere he mentions: “We were urged to do what we did by Christians from countries where Christians are persecuted minorities and seen as a spearhead of a political expansion of Christianity.  We also were urged by politicians interested in defending mission as part of religious freedom to state clearly that mission is not a political power game.” (emphasis added).

These underlying issues, it seems to me, are at the crux of the problem.  As I read “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” in light of the several articles there is a lack of clarity as to the addressees:  1)  ethics for missions of evangelicals and Reformed churches,  2) ethics for missions of the broad range of “Christian” churches, whether Roman, Orthodox, Syrian, Coptic, et al, and 3)  ethics for “Christendom” which includes nations perceived to be “Christian,” and possibly 4) all three groups described.  One might reduce it to two entities:  1) churches, and 2) states, or nations perceived to be Christian by non-western peoples.  Another evidence of lack of clarity seems to come from the fact that one must read several articles explaining the document in order to understand what really is at the heart of it.

If the proposed statement is for the churches, it fails to differentiate and clarify that the Scriptures clearly do not give the power of the sword to the church, but the power of the word, i.e. preaching and persuasion.  Even when the Scriptures speak of church discipline, the only authority it has is to suspend and excommunicate from the community of believers, and even this must be done with tears and deep sorrow.  Neither proclamation nor discipline may be accompanied by the power of the sword.  This was dramatically expressed when at his betrayal Christ told Peter in Gethsemane, “Put your sword into the sheath.” (John 18:11).

On the other hand, if the proposed statement includes terms of ethics for nations perceived to be Christian as well as church missions, then the proposed statement fails to address the biblical ethical standards for governments, including Christian leaders in positions of power – whether administrative, judicial, military or police power, etc.  This silence is all the more glaring in light of Romans 13:1-5, which states so clearly that governing authorities do “not bear the sword in vain.”    As it stands, the proposed statement can be understood as advocating the pacifist line.  Thus it falls right in with the position of the WCC advocating:  “a) complete disarmament of the nations, b) unilateral disarmament, c) negotiations rather than armed defense in the face of aggression, and d) the recognition of those who are aggressors without just punishment of any kind.”[4]  The Westminster Confession states that civil magistrates (even if they are Christians) “may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.”[5]  A very insightful article on the Just War Theory is on the WRF website written by Dr. Michael Milton, the chancellor/CEO elect of Reformed Theological Seminary.[6]

In any case, given the silence on this matter, there is no guidance for ethical conduct for the Christian witness of a leader in national and/or international position.  For example, since there is such pressure on cities, states, countries[7] from significant minorities of Muslims to establish and practice Sharia Laws replacing the constitutional laws,[8] may political leaders and legislators oppose these and propose legal measures to counteract such influences?  Muslim leaders object that they are not being given their “right” to practice their religion, such as honor killings, polygamous marriages, degrading of women, etc. Any opposition is deemed offensive by their lawyers, and often the voices of government leaders are silenced and cowed into inaction.  It goes without saying that such government leaders must deal with mutual respect and dignity when working with such people, but that doesn’t mean they are to be silent and take no appropriate action.  In the Appendix (#3) there is a quote from a consultation: “We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others’ rights and religious sensibilities.” (emphasis added).  Thus, when a Muslim claims he is offended, should leaders then be silenced by fear that they have violated the “rights and religious sensibilities”?  When a mosque in Iraq or New York City is used to store weapons for warfare, may the military not intrude because it is a religious house of worship?

Let me conclude with one final thought.  I had observed that the great commission had not been quoted.  Dr. Schirrmacher responded that the proposed statement quotes all five existing commissions by Jesus.  Actually, they are not quoted but simply referenced in a parenthesis.  He mentioned that John Langlois had written the first draft and had actually started with the Great Commission but this was changed.  I suggested that if this is some kind of ethics for missions, that we start with God.  But the response is that this should not be a theological statement.  Ethics has to do with conduct, what ought or ought not to be.  However, if we don’t start with God, then the starting point is man, a set of rules based on whatever givens one may come up with.  I believe the Scriptures give us the very best code of ethics.[9]   So, let me suggest a brief and simple statement of ethics for doing Christian mission.  This might be more easily understandable and should be acceptable to all Christians.

 

“I am Yahweh God who created you and the universe, and redeemed you from the bondage of sin and the evil one.  I have given all authority in heaven and on earth to my Son Jesus Christ who purchased your salvation on the cross.

“You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Consequently:

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make any graven or molded idols in order to bow down and worship them, since I am a jealous God punishing your children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing merciful grace to thousands of generations who keep my instructions.

“Remember to honor the name of Yahweh your God and not take my name upon you in vain.

“Remember the Lord’s day to keep it holy.  You shall work six days, but the seventh is for rest and worship of Yahweh your God.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself for he is created and bears the image of God, and so must be treated with dignity and respect.  But especially love one another as I have loved you.  Consequently:

“Honor your mother and father that your days may be long on the earth all of which belongs to the Lord.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor near and far.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his employees, his animals or vehicles, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

“Now, even as my Father has sent me, so send I you into all the world to proclaim the good news of this redemption, to make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the Triune God and thus plant churches in all corners of the earth, to teach them to observe all things whatever I have taught and commanded, which among other things includes, teaching, healing, caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan.  Don’t carry with you sword or rifle to defend yourself for I have instituted governmental authorities to defend you.  Even so, be prepared for you will be persecuted even as they have persecuted me.  Nevertheless, do all of these things humbly and in the power of my Holy Spirit whom I have sent to dwell in your heart, and be assured that I am with you always even to the end of time.”

 

 



[1]   It is interesting to note that Christianity Today, April 2011, had a cover story entitled “Proselytizing in a Multi-Faith World” which addressed the issue of witness to Muslims.

[2]   References to the Quran and other Muslim documents expressing their goal of establishing Islam and Sharia Laws over all the countries of the world could be given, but space does not permit.

[3]   Email from Ed Walker to PRG, August 18, 2011.

[4]   G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes,”  P&R, Philadelphia, 1964, p. 242.

[5]   WCF 23, 2.

[6]   A brief quote is instructive:  The Just War Theory simply provides ethical standards drawn from the Bible, adopted and long practiced (and, yes, debated and refined) in Western Civilization, that aid our leaders in framing the salient issues. The Just War Theory and its biblical moorings not only guide us in when or when not to go to war, but also give direction to police and National Guard for legitimate responses to domestic aggression. Equally important is the fact that the soldier on the ground making split-second ethical decisions, in the fog of war, is guided by the Western values drawn from Just War. Even if he doesn't even know about Augustine or the Bible, he unknowingly draws from the spiritual and intellectual capital that remains, for now at least, in our culture.”

[7]   E.g. Dearborn, MI, Philadelphia, PA, the Netherlands, France, the UK, etc.  Several years ago, the Prime Minister of Australia responding to such pressures, said, “We are a constitutional society with our legally constituted laws.  If you want to live under Sharia Laws, then you are free to go to a country that practices such laws.”  Some Christian leaders vehemently decried such a response as being totally inappropriate.

[8]   This is abundantly  verified, as for example, when Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman and cofounder of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), stated in 2003 that if Muslims were to become a majority in the United States they would endeavor to replace the Constitution with Islamic law. (Jill Nelson, “CAIR’s cops”, World, Aug. 27, 2011, p. 11).  More recently, the Moslem Brotherhood has been pushing for Egypt to replace its constitution with Sharia Law.

[9]   I do not particularly care for the term “code”.  The word torah in essence means “instruction”.  As B. B. Warfield said, it is not so much a code as it is authoritative instruction.