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The Theology of Mission and the Strategy of the Finnish Lutheran Overseas Mission: Main Features

- Journal of Mission Theology. 1992. Vol. 2.

 

The Bible and its use

The absolute importance of the Bible, manifested in disseminating its teaching and in encouraging and making possible its use in local parishes, is one of the central points of departure for some of our strategic judgements. In several countries, culturally far apart from each other and with greatly different spiritual climates such as East Africa and Japan, the emphasis on Bible teaching has been dominant in many ways. In full harmony with the vision of our older cooperating mission (NLM), we have underlined Bible training for ordinary church members. Thus Bible school work is one of the permeating ingredients in our strategy for building up the Church of Christ. This line of activity has always proved to be well attended and has been received with much enthusiasm. This emphasis is deeply related with the doctrinal one.

The doctrinal emphasis is not necessarily equal to a strictly orthodox understanding of doctrinal substance, though the significance of this line of thought would be endorsed. In any case it implies an accent on the Christian message and its contents. The classic distinction of fides qua and fides quae is readily focused on and the quae-aspect, i.e., the substance of faith, is underlined. Consequently, we deplore the massive flow of literature on Christian and missionary strategy, planning, statistics and the like if and when it virtually omits reference to the subject matter of the Christian message. The message is assured, definite and well known, but it can never be taken for granted because the trends that seek to distort and overthrow it are a legion and constantly at work.

Bible translation is an offspring of this very emphasis on the Word of God. Our workers have been engaged in several translation projects over a number of years in a painstakingly and faithfully. Turkish, Pashto and Dari have been among the languages. A fourth one is the language of the tribal Orao(n)s (Leena: check this "n", please: what is the agreed spelling right now?) in north-western Bangladesh, sadri. A thoroughgoing expert study, by one of our workers in the field, of this minority language has been conducted over the past few years.


Proclamation and works of love

The relationship between these two aspects of the Christian missionary calling has never been seen as a problem in our own missiological discussions. Both have a legitimate place and exist in their own right. Works of love are not to be regarded as a means toward some other goal. The law of God simply requires them and ideally they are spontaneously produced by a heart that first has received the love of Christ in and through the forgiveness of sins. Our Norwegian friends in Ethiopia used to say that for anyone with the love of Christ in his heart it would have been an absolute impossibility to pass by the suffering so intense and immense. But there is something more to this truth. In the light of the totality of Christian mission the inference must be implied that where the proclamation of the Gospel message is absent, discredited or refuted, no reality worthy of the name of Christian mission would exist (tai indikatiivi). In the light of this we interpret the well-known missionary maxim "serving the whole man" as one in which the spiritual aspect is primary. This does in no way annul taking care of his physical and social needs. This, however, delineates the absolute order of priorities from the point of view of eternity.

In accordance with this basic premise we have understood our calling to be to seek avenues of service with a possibility to exercise the ministry of the word in all its various - and very numerable - forms. There has been a clear understanding that this emphasis is not there at the expense of other types of service and does not mean discrediting the works of love. Most of our missionary staff is engaged in non-preaching activities. The thought has never been raised that there would be two or more castes of missionaries judged by these criteria. This does not, however, hinder us from trying us to concentrate, if possible, on whatever openings and means there are for spreading the good news of Christ. It seems that there is a constant tendency to allow proclamation to be curtailed in one way or another. This drift must be, we believe, constantly counter-attacked.

It goes without saying that everybody has potentially on open door for witnessing for Christ in one way or another. This has been brought sharply in focus by circumstances in the so called closed Islamic countries where any form of public preaching has been strictly excluded. However, an active verbal witnessing can never be made even a non-official requirement, not even an outspoken general wish to be met by each and every missionary. However, as a general Christian principle it should be always underlined.


Dialogue

Dialogue, understood as a method of communicating the Gospel, is a most natural means of mission. In this case the idea of sympathetic identification with the people we are trying to reach with the Christian is close related with dialogue. In the present missiological discussion, however, the fact seems to be overlooked that there is not only something called "dialogue" but that widely differing views of dialogue are represented. The question is never whether there should be dialogue or not in cross-cultural communication. Instead, the alternatives are between various basic theological conceptions of what dialogue is and should be. Dialogue and proclamation are in no way opposite when the specific historical Christian presuppositions are professedly adhered to. An interpretation of dialogue whereby the Christian is said to have to risk his basic convictions about the Christian faith in order to be "genuine" in his dialogue, is not dialogue but a game in which life and death are at stake.
Another basically distorted point of departure for dialogue is one where the non-Christian is supposed to be in possession of "saving truths" by virtue of his knowledge of his non-Christian tradition. This manner of thought thoroughly nullifies the distinction between revelatio generalis on the one hand and revelatio specialis sive Christiana, i.e. the Bible and Christ, on the other. The so called general revelation is a reality but carries with it no saving knowledge (Romans 1-2). It is obvious that the frame of theological thought propounded by, for example, a great number of representative voices in the WCC, is not one within which dialogue in its simple biblical form with a missionary intention could be nurtured.


Reaching the unreached

and proceeding to new areas has been set as one of the strategic priorities in our long-range planning. In some fields the instabilities of political and religious life constantly endanger the expatriate missionary presence. It seems that proportionately a very high percentage of our workers are serving in this kind of areas. This has added immensely to the urgency of finding new avenues of service should the present work be abruptly terminated in any one of our existing fields. In actual practice, due to the obligations and pressures of the present commitments, the tangible planning and surveying new potential fields have been relatively limited. However, new geographical areas have been added little by little. Indisputably, establishing the integrity of the expressed intentions to take the Gospel to new areas is a constant challenge. New openings among hitherto closed people in central Asia, certain areas in Africa and some muslim populations loom large in the present planning for a few impending years. Another aspect of the quest for pioneering opportunities is the explicated aim of working actively for full Christ-dependence for the cooperating churches in the areas of self-propagation (mission), administration and financial resources.

FLOM has also been led to avail itself of the new open atmosphere in the Soviet Union for Christian involvement. Together with other Finnish organizations there have been contacts with local parishes and individual Christians in Estonia, as well as with the Ingrian Christians. Assistance to the new Lutheran Church in Ingria in her efforts to reach the people of Mordva in Russia is being planned together with other Finnish Lutheran agencies.


Islam

Islam as been one the points of gravity in our over-all strategy. The fact that the visible results are seemingly rather minimal in several muslim areas has never been even discussed as an obstacle for investing considerably in this field. In all of our eight fields except for one, Japan, we affront Islam by way of encountering muslims and/or being deeply surrounded, even engulfed by tensions created for the most part due to Islamic influence. Where Islam meets modern culture, the West, forthright atheism, or the faith and the people of Israel, strong and stormy currents of passionate outbursts of emotion, antagonism, and belligerency of all kinds are certain to be born.

As to the Christian faith, an unbridgeable gulf exists. At the same time, a most friendly and fruitful friendship may exist between muslim individuals and the Christian messengers willing to identify with the muslim constituency among whom they live. Our workers in their encounter with Islam could come with innumerable testimonies for this. The strategy in reaching muslims for the faith cries for close relating with the people at the grass root level and practical, far-reaching caring in the outworking of personal Christian love in all its ingenuity. All this does not and must not mean an existential or theological compromise of any kind as far as the basically and mutually exclusive aversion of the two faiths is concerned. What is said of identification with people of Islam is, of course, similarly pertinent to adherents of any other non-Christian faiths.


Baptism and Communion

In the absence the a fixed pattern of an established cooperating church, the following, formulated in rather general terms, could furnish some of the basic guidelines in our practical mission theology. In leading the seeker to baptism, the pattern of becoming Christians by family and village is recommended in tribal and other comparable circumstances. In some cases where the local situation seems to require this, as in Ethiopia, the adults are advised to confess in public, firstly, that they want to believe in Christ, and, secondly, that they want to renounce Satan. There have been examples of national pastors who administered Baptism at a very early stage, on the basis of Acts. 8:35, 16: 30.

It has been noticed, that some people from whom evil spirits had been cast out (this applies to Ethiopia), did not remain in fellowship with the local church after their baptism, which was possibly administered too early. Normally the baptismal candidates are required of regular attendance in meetings and the appropriate baptismal instruction for a substantial period of time. However, it seems that the workers in some cases proceeded rather too carefully. Baptism should not be pushed off too long unnecessarily. The actual timing of Baptism remains open to debate - in hindsight it is safe to say that Baptism in many cases was delayed for long periods without a good reason.

The local congregation shall always be a mixed group. God alone knows the hearts of people. All willing to attend church service and other meetings should normally be encouraged to do so. Thus the message of salvation can be proclaimed to as large a group of people as possible. But this, of course, means that all who participate in the congregational meetings could not be given the same status in the structure and fellowship of the local church. Only the communing members could be given special tasks within the congregation, such as those of elders and deacons. The confirmation process and the instruction connected with it must vary from place to place. Normally, in frontier situations, those who confess their faith according to the three articles of the Apostles' Creed, and who are willing to answer in the affirmative certain questions concerning the contents of the creed, could be confirmed.


Instruction of new christians and national workers

The risk of having to leave right from the pioneer stage of the work has accentuated the urgency to disseminate basic Christian instruction at the grass-root level. In areas where new local congregations are born one of the greatest strategic problems at the initial stage is the lack of national workers. The constant dilemma is how to set balance between the requirements of the gigantic work and the quality of coworkers. A good strategy seems to be to concentrate a great deal of effort on certain individuals who could carry on with the work as the newly born congregations grow toward nascent maturity. The guiding principle was thus to find dependable men (2 Tim.), i.e., future leaders, teachers and pastors. The aim is always to have the national church attain self-determination and full responsibility at the earliest possible stage.

A fruitful pattern adopted for instruction, in the absence of established institutions and under restricted circumstances, is to present Christ, the Word of Life, to the coworkers-to-be at all times and everywhere where possible - at home, at the office, while traveling etc. The Gospel message has to be constantly re-preached to those who are being trained to carry on the responsibility for the work. The introductory subjects that could well comprise the initial instruction course would be the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Benediction, Baptism, the Holy Communion, Confession, the Bible and Bible Study, and Prayer. This pattern has been applied with some variation in our teaching situations. Luther's Smaller Cathecism, as can be seen from the cited points of basic teaching, is used as the book of instruction, together with the Bible.

The next stage for the new national workers is Bible school or systematic Christian teaching in other forms, as the TEE -program. We feel it is basic that national workers get a thorough and substantial instruction in the Bible and the Lutheran confession. It seems that there is a crying need for "village pastors" or "non-professional" pastors who could be trained without being sent to seminary or college for years. Besides these, men trained at higher institutions for pastoral work and tasks of leadership are, of course, indispensable for the new churches.


Ecumenical relations

FLOM is a confessional Lutheran organization. Wherever possible, the mission will carry out its work in Lutheran framework. Though confessional in its basic outlook, FLOM wants to retain open, brotherly relations with Christians of other denominations. In interdenominational contexts the workers are expected to adhere to their own confession but be willing to join hands with other Christians in service, prayer and Christian fellowship. The quest for Christian unity must be based on basic doctrinal unity. The choice is not between ecumenical relations and exclusivism, but between various modes of ecumenism. A decisive factor should be compatibility with the historic creeds of the early centuries which implies the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures and the unique, absolute and exclusive nature of the Christian faith revealed in it. >From this point of view the WCC furnishes no viable forum for the quest for universal Christian unity. The LWF has a clear basis, the Lutheran confession, but suffers from wide theological pluralism. In the areas of, for example, information and development we find an opening for cooperation with the LWF. From the point of view of world mission and warm Christian fellowship, the conservative Lausanne movement offers a workable solution. Consequently, the mission is actively seeking ways and means of relevant contact with this international movement and agencies close to it.

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