Gregory Edward Reynolds
Ordained Servant: August 2006
Also in this issue
by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether
We moderns labor under the illusion that anything is possible, given the right technique and technology. Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, A Report by the President's Council on Bioethics (2003), asks some of the most important ethical questions that can be asked about human control over the "phenomena of life." The traditional domain of medicine has been the therapeutic, seeking to heal the human body of disease. Emerging biotechnologies, however, go beyond therapy to enhancement, from the frivolous (body-building steroids) to the pernicious (super-pathogens used by bio-terrorists). The quest to redesign humanity is supremely dangerous even if the goal is impossible to achieve. The political tyrannies of the last century are cautionary tales of the havoc that redefining the "good life" can inflict on whole nations.
Since Adam's fall autonomous man has sought to redefine the purposes and goals of human life according to his own rebellious, self-glorifying agenda. Thus, it should not be a surprise to church officers that, given the enormous power of modern technology, people should decide to redefine and redesign humanity itself. Rationalism and relativism form a perfect partnership in this insidious enterprise. The idea that we can control the created order and define that order as we wish is as old as Adam. But new capabilities have made the promise of this forbidden fruit all the more seductive and tempting.
While Christians understand that our humanity cannot be fundamentally altered, we must also recognize the dehumanizing tendencies of all modern technologies, especially when they are developed and used without asking about their purposes. We dare not underestimate the pervasiveness of the myth-I should say lie-that humanity has ultimate control over its own destiny. Nor should we as church officers think that the church is not susceptible to the subtler, as well as the more blatant, forms of this lie. "The myth of control" has made tremendous inroads into the American church. I regularly get mailings for fundraising claiming guaranteed results if the advertised technique is simply put into practice. There is no mention of prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit, or God's command to tithe. In short, it is all a matter of human technique. The supernatural God of the Bible is unnecessary. Schaeffer's troubling question about what difference the Holy Spirit actually makes in our lives and ministries is one we must ask.
I would like you to read the following excerpt from John Nevius's classic nineteenth-century work The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches. As Nevius explains how to begin a mission work, he gives a very clear statement of the spiritual nature of such work. Relying heavily on the book of Acts as his model for missions, he understands the spirituality of mission work to consist mainly of trusting God to bless as his appointed means are faithfully employed.
How Best Expend One's Time?
1. The dominant idea of a missionary should be duty, and not immediate individual success as judged by human standards. If the desire for tangible results should take the form of a wish to gather into the Church as soon as possible the greatest number of professed converts it may become a dangerous temptation and snare.
2. It will be nearly fifty years hence to determine with positive certainty what any individual life has or has not accomplished. Only in eternity will every man's work be fully made manifest of what sort it is. Results of apparently great importance may attract attention and secure general commendation, and yet prove only temporary and illusory. On the other hand, a good book or a word spoken in season, may produce important results, though the world may never be able to trace them to their true source....
Missionaries but Instruments in Spiritual Work
In the spiritual work of the conversion of souls and building up Christ's Kingdom on earth, we of ourselves can do nothing except as instruments.
1. This is a fact so familiarly known and universally acknowledged that it may well be regarded as a simple truism. Theoretically, we learned this lesson almost in infancy; practically, it is difficult for some of us fully to learn it in a lifetime. It is so natural for us to feel that with a good knowledge of the language, sincere earnestness and sympathy with the people, together with prudence, common sense, zeal, hard work and perseverance, sooner or later great spiritual results must certainly be accomplished. This is by no means the case. Our labors may combine all the above conditions and yet be fruitless in the conversion of souls. If we depend upon our gifts or acquisitions, our zeal in the use even of God's appointed means, with an underlying and insidious desire for a result which may be regarded as something which we ourselves have accomplished, we shall probably be disappointed. If we are cherishing a feeling of self-dependence in any form, God will probably humble us before He will use us. We must feel that if anything is accomplished it will be by the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit, and be ready to ascribe all the glory to Him. Otherwise He will probably leave us to ourselves to learn the lesson of our own weakness. The natural tendency to depend on self, or on anything else rather than God, has been a prominent sin of God's people from the earliest times. I am disposed to think that this tendency now prevails to a great extent among Christians at home and that missionaries commence work in foreign lands too much under the influence of it.
2. In this commercial age a commercial spirit has crept into the Church. As in business matters generally, so in religious enterprises, it is supposed that a certain amount of capital, judiciously expended, will naturally work out a certain result. The success of a mission society is gauged by the amount of money in its treasury. In order to secure more liberal contributions, only the more favorable and encouraging facts are welcomed and laid before the churches, so that they may feel that they are contributing not to a failing but to a prospering cause. Let me not be understood as implying that money is not important and that the duty of giving to missions should not be pressed home upon the hearts and consciences of all, whether native converts or home Christians. The danger I would guard against is of giving such disproportionate prominence to money as to divert the mind from what is of much greater importance. In a word, it is making money or what money can command, rather than the Holy Spirit, our main dependence. I am quite aware that all Christians would earnestly disavow any such intention. It is not an uncommon thing, however, to find ourselves doing indirectly, or unconsciously, what we could never be induced to do deliberately and knowingly. The work we are prosecuting is distinctly and emphatically a work of God's Spirit. If we fail to recognize and act upon this fact, the mission work will decline even with a full treasury; while with the Spirit's presence it will prosper even with a depleted one.
Nevius was remarkably prescient about the temptations facing the modern church. They were already evident in the western culture of his day.
No wonder so many people are troubled about the possibility of Barry Bonds (who may have been indicted on perjury and tax evasion charges by the time you read this) breaking Hank Aaron's all time home run record (755; Bonds has 35 to go). Bonds and Aaron have remarkably similar careers on paper. Each starting their major league careers in their early twenties and lasting for over two decades; each hitting forty or more home runs in a season eight times (the last time for both Aaron and Bonds at age 39); each hitting career highs in their mid-thirties (Aaron 47 at age 37; Bonds 73 at age 36). But the differences are evident even in the statistics. While Aaron's homers trail off in his last three seasons, Bonds's statistics ballooned like his upper body between 2000 and 2004. We have an innate sense that records like Aaron's ought to be achieved legitimately by employing human gifts in a disciplined way, and not through the augmentation of muscle-enhancing drugs.
So we ought to have an innate spiritual sense as Christian leaders that the building of Christ's kingdom can only be achieved by doing it God's way-as revealed in his word-and by his supernatural power.
 Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, A Report by the President's Council on Bioethics (New York: ReganBooks, 2003), 6.
 John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (Hancock, NH: Monadnock Press, 2003), 95-98.
Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds
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Ordained Servant: August 2006
Also in this issue
by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether
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