Paul Gilchrist Responds to Second Posting of Thomas Schirrmacher Regarding "The Ethics of Missions"


By Paul R. Gilchrist to Thomas Schirrmacher
This discussion started as a need to clarify and define a Code of Ethics for Missions, more specifically for Christian missions. Thus, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher and Dr. Thomas Johnston wrote co-authored an article “Why Evangelicals need a code of ethics for mission” (in IJRF vol. 3:1 (2010) pp. 23-37).[1] Some of this material had been presented in a speech as the representative of the WEA at an international consultation in Toulouse, France in August 2007. WEA then joined with the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to produce “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World.” One cannot help but notice the expanded scope from the need for a “code of ethics for missions” for Evangelicals to a broader, ill-defined “Christian witness in a multi-religious world” with an expressed purpose “to encourage churches, church councils and mission agencies to reflect on their current practices… for their witness and mission among the different religions…” (emphasis added). Nothing is said about civil servants who are Christians serving in “nations perceived to be Christian.” The subsequent discussions have clarified to a certain extent the issues that have concerned me. 
First, let me respond to Dr. Schirrmacher’s “Second Answer” where he admits that the distinctions that must be made between church and state are not addressed nor defined. He states: “In our evangelical code, we will certainly elaborate on this topic, but this topic was not on the agenda of the ecumenical commission preparing the code, which only had the designed task to write a code from the perspective of churches and missions.” This is precisely my point. It is rather strange that this topic will be elaborated in an evangelical code sometime in the future. The ecumenical code was designed for churches and missions.  I would respectfully say that it seems to me that WCC would have considered it to embrace more broadly because it fits with their pacifist political agenda.[2] This was part of my thinking about the document that as it stands it has unintended consequences and WRF should not be a party to it. 
For example, the recent eradication of terrorists Osama Bin Laden and more recently of Moammar Gadhafi, as military and political actions of the USA, has produced angst among many church leaders. This has moved leaders of mainline denominations further into the pacifist position and even some Evangelicals have moved in that direction.  In a recent gathering of a Baptist Peace Fellowship Conference at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the “Peace Camp” demanded that Christians must require absolute pacifism and reject all force. Speakers berated Israel without a word of criticism of Islamist terrorist enemies, denounced America undiscerningly, and even pushed for a homosexual and transgender agenda. Note that their focus of attention was not addressed to churches but to nations with their social and political agenda. They not only promoted the religious left pacifist position and big government agenda but also rejected the biblical teachings regarding marriage and God’s gift of male and female. In my view, the drift toward an unbiblical demand that the civil state practice pacifism reflects a distorted understanding of the world and of history. Traditional Christianity has always believed that God ordained civil government to restrain evil with force when necessary for justice and to promote order and to defend the innocent. Dare we forget that Europe was almost lost to Adolf Hitler because of Nevil Chamberlain’s pacifist views? 
The document “A Basis for Christian Witness…” and supporting articles do not distinguish what applies specifically to churches and missions and whether these matters apply more broadly to nations “perceived to be Christian” and more specifically to Christians in government service. The documents confuse mission and witness so that what applies to churches and missionaries seeking to fulfill the Great Commission also applies to “nations perceived to be Christian” and to Christians serving in such governments. Let me clarify. Generally, Christians would agree to points 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 under “A Basis for Christian Witness.” But does point 3 apply to nations perceived to be Christian? Likewise, point 6 seems to address activities by nations or secular groups who have “engaged in inappropriate and coercive means.” In the same vein, point 6 under “Principles” seems more applicable to governments perceived to be Christian when it states “They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts.” (Emphasis added).[3] 
Consequently, I would observe there are significant omissions in the documents and articles. Such passages as Genesis 9:5-7, Deuteronomy 17, Romans 13:1-7 (and related passages in the Prophets – e.g. Amos 1-2, Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 22:15-17, et al) need to be examined and addressed. The office of king as distinct from the offices of the priest and the prophet might also prove productive in addressing these matters. 
Furthermore, speaking of unintended consequences, how would this “A Basis for Christian Witness…” document be used by non-evangelical churches and organizations?  I have read some articles that point out the potential abuses against true Christian witness by positions in such a document.  A couple of recent examples of these unintended consequences may help.  
At a conference entitled “Am I my Brother’s Keeper: Confronting Islamophobia” in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the controversial cleric of the Ground Zero proposed mosque in Manhattan, led worshippers who uttered prayers from the Quran. What people heard was a warning against the irrational fear of Islam which was sweeping America. They were told that the “alleged purveyors of such fear – fundamentalist Christians, … and ‘Jewish neo-cons’ – needed to be silenced.” The syncretistic worship was joined by several speakers from Muslim, Jewish, liberal Christian, and Evangelical backgrounds at what was called an interfaith conference.[4]  
In another example, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, introduced a new program called “2011 Hours Against Hate.” It has been described as a “campaign to stop bigotry and promote respect across lines of culture, religion, tradition, class and gender.” It was produced by the Obama Administration’s special representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, and Hannah Rosenthal, Special Envoy to combat Anti-Semitism. They are urging young people to spend time to stop hate, i.e. to do something for someone who doesn’t like you, pray like you, or live like you. But it seems that this leftist position is working under the assumption that Christians are the persecutors, not the persecuted. They have little or no time to speak out against the hatred aimed at Christians. When they do, they try to point to some retaliatory or defensive action by the Christians thus claiming “atrocities on both sides.” The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 has the “primary responsibility” … “to advance the right to freedom of religion abroad, to denounce the violation of that right, and to recommend appropriate responses by the United States Government when this right is violated.” One may properly ask if the “2011 Hours Against Hate” program is really condemning all sorts of hatred, or if it is just another way to advance accusations of Islamophobia against Christians.[5] 
Second, Dr. Schirrmacher questions my point about the God of Scripture being the starting point of ethics. I submit that all Biblical ethics begins with the God who is revealed in Scripture. God’s great act of creation is followed by the “creation mandate.” God’s initiative in seeking Adam and Eve to restore them following the fall is followed by responsibilities placed on restored mankind. God takes the initiative in establishing a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17, which is followed by promise and responsibility to “be perfect as I am perfect.” Likewise the covenants with Moses start with, “I am Yahweh your God,” followed by mention his great work of redemption from Egypt, and only then is it followed by the stipulations for covenant life. The Great Commission itself (in its five-fold expression) is introduced with the authority of God given to his Son, before the actual commission to his disciples. Note that it is God who has taken the initiative, sending his Son Jesus Christ, whose life and message is enscripturated with the Great Commission given after his resurrection. One may not read the epistles of Paul without noting that he gives practical application for conduct only after several chapters of teaching on God, the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and his Holy Spirit. This is what some scholars call “theistic ethics.”   It would thus seem to me that not to begin with God is to open ourselves to establishing ethical conduct on deontology (whether reason or intuition or even a few Bible verses quoted as prooftexts), on utilitarianism (happiness, power, wealth), on virtue (character traits desired), egoism (pleasure), etc., etc.  
Dr. Schirrmacher makes reference  to “dozens of Bible verses mentioned and quoted and several clear statements, that all missions comes from God and that Jesus is the ultimate witness.” All well and good, but the Sadducees were defenders of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Pharisees started out by defending their religious and ethical positions from the Old Testament Scriptures as well until they were outmaneuvered by the Sadducees and thus began the long tradition of the rabbis which led to the Mishna and eventually to the Talmud. Even though there is much to learn from the Sadducees, Pharisees and rabbis, one must go back to the original Scriptures and the God who revealed himself in them and gave us our ethical standards.[6] 
Third, Dr.Schirrmacher questions my analogy to the Ten Commandments. He states, “That is true for any theology.” That seems strange, for I have always understood the “Ten Commandments” to be the very expression of a code of conduct, i.e. ethics.  Why shouldn’t we use it, paraphrase it, enlarge upon it (as the Scriptures do by precept and example). In fact, he refers to the Westminster Confession. I would just note that the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism expand on the ethical teachings of the “Ten Commandments.” Are these only “true for any theology” or are they the ethical and practical application of our Reformed theology to every aspect of life?
I am even more surprised when he mentions that the document “A Basis for Christian Witness…” mentioned under recommendations “not to bear false witness” and then adds “but what has eg ‘commit no adultery’ or keeping the Sabbath have to do with an ethical code for missions?” Wow! Where do I begin? I grew up in South America in a Roman Catholic country. I remember seeing priests go into the house across the street from our home and when he came out he seemed quite happy, straightening out the ruffles on his frock. It was common knowledge that many priests had affairs with ladies in their parish. It was later when I realized there were quite a few orphanages existed in the convents. These convents were not just parochial schools. Here in the USA (but not limited to America) the scandal of the twentieth century in Roman Catholicism has been the homosexual activities of the priests with young boys in the church. Among some “evangelical” churches, we have seen and read of pastors (assistants and youth leaders) falling into sexual immorality. As a denominational administrator, I have been privy to violence committed by Christians (pastors, leaders, people) against their spouses. The story of battered wives is usually squelched and does not get the attention that it should.   With the coming of cyberspace and the internet, the problem of pornography has multiplied exponentially even among Christian leaders. These problems are not just in our churches, but also problems in missions around the world. 
As for Sabbath keeping, it seems that our culture and society has neglected this great “covenant word.”  Sabbath keeping is a great silent witness to who God is and what he has done. It is a witness to God’s resting from his labors. The Sabbath later was a witness to the rest of God following the redemption from slavery in the land of Egypt. Thus it is a silent witness to the God of redemption and the rest that He gives his people. Finally, Sabbath keeping is a silent witness to the great eschatological rest which Christians anticipate at the Second Coming of Christ. The people of Israel and Judah failed to observe the Sabbath and as a consequence the Lord sent them into exile to Babylon and elsewhere. One has to wonder, if western Christianity is experiencing a measure of decline and possible exile for the same reason. 
Let me say a word about the first and second commandments. It was not without significance that the Lord Jesus in dealing with the lawyers and Pharisees of his day made a point of the First and Greatest Commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” The Decalogue identifies first, that believers are to worship only the Triune God revealed in Scripture, and second, that believers are not to make images or idols and bow down to them to worship them. We are living in a day when there is a cacophony of voices calling us to worship Sophia, the goddess of Wisdom, or that God has revealed himself in the writings of the Buddhists, or even in the Quran. Furthermore, we are told that the Scriptures are not infallible guide for faith and practice but that the Pope is the infallible authority, or that the ancient Scriptures in the original languages lack authority because we are so far removed from those ancient cultures. Instead we are told that we should let our culture reinterpret Scripture and do what is politically correct in our interreligious dialogue. Not only is the first word of the covenant stipulation diminished if not negated, but the second word as well. For example one needs to take note of the so-called worship of Sophia in Ghana under the auspices of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as well as the Sophia worship among the women of the liberal churches in the National Council of Christian Churches in America – well documented with sexual orgies and homosexual actions and idolatrous parades in the aisles. Further, there is the constant temptation to syncretism – incorporating teachings and worship activities from other religions. In this category, I would include the current principles of the C-5 “insider movement” in missions.  It seems to me that both the first word and the second word of the covenants are also undermined by Bible translators who refuse to accurately translate the Bible, seeking to mollify certain readers by not speaking of Jesus as the Son of God, or of not referring to God as our Father, etc. 
Summary and Recommendations
 1.      I agree that it would be tremendously helpful to write a “Code of Ethics for Churches and Missions.” But it must be based on the God-given Scriptures which were revealed and inspired by our triune God. 

2.      The document, “A Basis for Christian Witness” is inadequate and should be set aside and should not be adopted or approved by the WRF. First, it goes beyond a “code of ethics for missions” extending the scope to a broader, ill-defined “Christian witness” which includes “nations that are perceived to be Christian.” Second, it thus seems to have a hidden agenda for promoting pacifism thereby denying the proper role of civil governments to properly use the power of the sword to protect its citizens from harassment and terror and to redress corruption and evils.   Third, as written it will lead to unintended consequences, including the possibility of suppressing the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is especially true with respect to a Christian in the service of his government. In this connection, fourthly, it fails to define who will determine what is offensive or objectionable, or even what is violence or abusive. 

3.      If the Commission on Missions of the WRF feels that we should develop a “code of ethics for missions” from a Reformed and Evangelical perspective, I would support it wholeheartedly. But I would urge that it be based on a theistic ethics rather than a deontological ethics which may or may not be sprinkled with proof texts from Scripture.

4.      Finally, I want to thank Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Dr. Thomas Johnston and Dr. Edwin Walker and to my colleague Dr. Eric (Rick) Perrin for their great help in clearing the cobwebs out of my brains. There are yet many areas that need further discussion and clarification, but the materials that these men have provided have helped clarify some of the major issues. May the Lord bless us as “iron sharpens iron.”

[1]   There is much food for thought in this article, but there are shortcomings that time and space do not permit a more thorough review and critique.
[2]   This seems obvious from all the references to Christians having committed acts of violence in promoting their Christian mission. It is to be noted that practically all of these acts were by nations perceived to be Christian (e.g. colonialism, crusades, etc.) and not by missionaries of the church.
[3]   See more details on this in my original “Thoughts on a Missions Code of Ethics” under “Finally, I am concerned…”
[4]    Reported by Jeffrey H. Walton,“Facing Towards Mecca: Episcopal Cathedral Confronts ‘Islamophobia’” in Faith and Freedom, Summer 2011, pp. 10f.
[5]   Reported by Faith J. H. McDonnell, “Speak Out Against Hate … And Don’t Forget the Christians” in Faith and Freedom, Summer 2011, p. 8.
[6]   It might be instructive to be reminded that Satan tempted Christ by quoting from Deuteronomy three times. Thus, just quoting from the Bible is not enough for me.