Contemporary Issues In Mission: What Christians Need To Know

Volume One

Textbook, 2015

88 Pages



Abbreviations for Books of the Bible


The Gospel and Mission

Submission and Mission

Biographical Notes

Abbreviations for Books of the Bible

Old Testament

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

New Testament

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


It is now twenty years ago that I first got involved in cross-cultural mission.

Since then there have been many positive changes in evangelical mission thought and practice. Mission, for example, is no longer understood by evangelical Christians as an activity going out from the West to the rest of the world. Mission in the 21st century is understood as a global endeavour from everywhere to everywhere. As a result of this paradigm shift many Western evangelical mission organisations seek to be more international and multi-cultural, partnering with missionaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today we find African Christians being involved in a church plant in London and Korean mission partners working in theological education in Kenya. However, there are also some problematic developments which have an impact on everyone involved in cross-cultural mission. In this first volume of Contemporary Issues In Mission: What Christians Need To Know I look at two such developments.

There are an increasing number of missionaries and church leaders in Africa and Europe whose views of the gospel and the principle of submission are not very clear. Some views of the gospel are obviously shaped by postmodernism, feminism or liberation theology; and while some church and mission leaders understand submission in authoritarian terms others favour a laissez- faire approach. These different views and attitudes, however, raise some important questions: How can missionaries work together in a team or cooperate with indigenous churches if they do not agree on the nature of the gospel? What motivates missionaries for ministry if it is not the Good News as we can find it in the Bible? How can missionaries serve on the mission field if they hold to or are confronted with an unbiblical view of submission?

The first part of this book examines several false versions of the gospel which Christians encounter on the mission field in Africa and elsewhere today. Furthermore, it looks at the difference the biblical gospel makes in our lives and calls us back to the cross of Christ as our only hope. The second part of this book examines the complex issues of submission, authority and accountability in the various relationships that exist whenever a missionary goes out to serve the Lord. Some of the most vivid contemporary problems are addressed from a biblical perspective. It is my hope that everyone, from sending church, mission organisation, receiving church and missionaries themselves will find this book an important read to clarify the issues and be better prepared to serve in cross-cultural mission.

I am very grateful to Wenonah Barton, Alan Purser and Peter Ryan for all their comments and corrections. I dedicate this book to all faithful partners in the gospel, but especially to the following churches: All Saints Preston, Cornerstone Church Nottingham, Evangelische Sankt Martini Gemeinde Bremen, Evangelische Stadtmission Windhoek, Nottingham Chinese Christian Church, and the Rhenish Church in Namibia.

Thorsten Prill

The Gospel and Mission

In his book Evangelical Truth John Stott (2003:96) writes about mission: ‘The Christian Church is called to mission, but there can be no mission without message. So what is our message for the world?’ Most mission scholars and practitioners answer that question by pointing to the gospel.[1] There is wide agreement that the gospel constitutes the message of mission. Keith Ferdinando (2007:140), for example, writes that mission and gospel are intrinsically linked to each other, they are, as he puts it, ‘indivisible’. ‘Good News’, he argues’ ‘must be declared; otherwise, it is not news, let alone good’. Köstenberger and O’Brien (2006:269) write about the role of the gospel in mission:

The mission of the exalted Jesus is accomplished through the witness of the apostles in the power of the Holy Spirit. The one who is himself sent by God sends his representatives to bear testimony to his salvation, to announce the forgiveness of sins and to make disciples of all nations. In other words, his witnesses continue the mission of Jesus by declaring to men and women everywhere the glorious gospel of the grace of God.

The English word gospel is the translation of the Greek word euangelion, which means ‘an announcement of good news’. Instead of gospel we can simply speak of ‘good news’. But what is this good news about? And to whom is it good news? While Köstenberger and O’Brien speak of a message of salvation and forgiveness which is for all nations, Christians in sub-Saharan African countries (and elsewhere) are often confronted with different answers.

The prosperity gospel

For some, the Christian gospel is the good news that God wants to give us power, success, wealth and health, or as Young (2014:10) puts it: ‘Prosperity teaching principally teaches that Christian people have the right (and even the responsibility) to be prosperous in all areas of life, especially in terms of financial prosperity and health.’ Various versions of the prosperity gospel are promoted not only by African preachers but also through the books and TV programmes of well-known mega church leaders. Ogbu Kalu (2008:259) notes:

It should be pointed out that the prosperity message flowed into Africa from many places besides the United States. Preachers from Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and the United Kingdom also generated versions of the teaching. Each offered their own variety of the prosperity gospel to an avid consumer market. Some African pastors propagated it within the continent through Bible schools that offered scholarships to a number of Africa students […] the popularity of the message was buttressed in its resonance with African indigenous concepts of salvation, abundant life, and goals of worship.

The Namibian theologian Basilius Kasera (2012:24) distinguishes between two dominant forms of the prosperity gospel: the militant and the diffused form. At the heart of the militant prosperity gospel lie radical, blatant claims, such as ‘God’s will for you is wealth’ or ‘God’s will for you is healing’ (:25). One principle promoted by the advocates of the militant prosperity gospel is the principle of a hundredfold return: The more money you give to God the more money you will receive from God in return (:26).

Jones and Woodbridge (2011:102) comment:

The prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving is built on faulty motives. Whereas Jesus taught his disciples to “lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35), prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return.

In contrast to the militant version, the diffused version of the prosperity gospel is much more subtle. It stresses that successful living is possible in a world without suffering, in a world with ‘limitless possibilities and victories’. (Kasera 2012:30). In such a world, Komolafe (2013:165) writes, ‘[h]ealings and miracles can be obtained by believing in the words and authority of the “man of God”. When not physically present at a revival meeting or crusade, the same faith can be exercised through the mediatory role of the television set.’, while Kasera (2012:30) notes:

Basically the path to successful living is to ignore all external symptoms of sickness, problems, bankruptcy, pain etc. Instead of thinking about the problems, one should concentrate on the opposite of any challenge. The idea is that positive thoughts coupled with faith, hope and right actions are guaranteed to always bring forth the desired outcome in every situation.

A well-known advocate of this version of the prosperity gospel is the American author and motivational speaker Joyce Meyer. Karen Soole (2014:29) calls Meyer’s teaching ‘prosperity theology combined with popular self-esteem psychology’. In June 2014 Meyer visited the Namibian capital Windhoek. She spoke at a conference which was attended by 2,600 church leaders (Shapwanale 2014). Two more events which took place in a local sports stadium attracted about 37,000 people. The organisers of Meyer’s Festival of Life did not spare the superlatives:

Joyce Meyer Ministries invites you to be part of this history-making event in Namibia, in June 2014! Joyce Meyer comes to Namibia for a one-of-a-kind experience to deliver life changing messages that are sure to build up and uplift lives. Joyce’s insightful messages will empower and equip you to live a victorious life! Teaming up with Joyce Meyer is the dynamic worship team from Hillsong, South Africa. While the incredible worship will take you to the inmost place of intimacy with God, the practical messages will teach you to enjoy every single day of your life! (Festival of Life Namibia 2013)

In a poverty-stricken African country like Namibia where traditional religion is ‘very pragmatic in nature’ (Harries 2013:15) and understands salvation as deliverance from any earthly afflictions Meyer’s message is undoubtedly an attractive one. Meyer understands God’s blessings in terms of material gain and success. In her book entitled Power Thoughts (2011) she claims that God’s ability to bless people depends on the kind of thoughts they have: ‘So often God wants to give us one of the desires of our hearts and He cannot do so because we refuse to have it’ (:202). In other words, positive thoughts will lead to material blessing from God. All it takes to be blessed by God is to think positively, especially about oneself. Meyer writes: ‘I strongly urge anyone with the same problem I had to begin seeing yourself in a new way. You are valuable and should have nice things. God wants to bless you, but you need a healthy self-image. See yourself with your needs met; say that God meets them; and get ready to come up to a new level of abundance in your life’ (:202-203). To emphasise her point about a person’s thoughts having the power to make God act in that person’s favour Meyer tells the following story:

We needed a new car. I wanted a certain kind, but when we went car shopping I was afraid to purchase what I really wanted. Instead, I said that I felt we should purchase a cheaper model. Dave felt strongly that I should get the car that I really wanted because we could afford it. I reasoned that, even though we could afford it, we would have more money left over each month if I settled for the car I didn’t like nearly as much but knew I could get by with. The payment for the car I really wanted was about fifty dollars a month more than the one I would have settled for, and eventually Dave won out and we got the more expensive model. I loved the car and felt really good driving it. To my amazement, about two weeks after we purchased it, I received an unexpected pay rise and what I cleared after taxes was almost fifty dollars a month (:201-202).

The gospel of liberation

While the prosperity gospel is very popular in sub-Saharan Africa we can find also those who argue that the gospel is first and foremost to be understood in socio-political terms. They define it as the good news that God wants to make this world a more humane, just and stable place, and that he does so by helping people to liberate themselves from all kinds of political and social oppressions (e.g. Isaak 2000:80). The idea of personal sin, i.e. rebellion against God, from which people need to be saved, and the need of repentance are more or less missing. Zephania Kameeta (2006:83), the former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, writes:

The Church of Christ is sent into this world to proclaim the Good News to those who until today do not believe that they as human beings are not inferior, but equal to anybody. This cannot only be done by word, but [is] concurrent with a continuous process of empowering.

The gospel is almost exclusively seen as good news for the poor and oppressed. According to South African Dutch Reformed theologian Allan Boesak (2012:58) ‘Jesus of Nazareth captured the hearts and minds of the oppressed people of his time and of oppressed people of all times and places ever since.’ Boesak continues: ‘Jesus is Yahweh’s incarnated justice and, in so being, becomes Yahweh’s incarnated reconciliation. This is what we are called to when we are called to be “agents of reconciliation”’ (:58). For African liberation theologians Jesus is not only the Saviour but also the Victor and Liberator (cf. Isaak 2013:139). Consequently, Christians are seen as ‘minor liberators engaged in securing provisional and relative yet joyful victories of establishing healing and reconciling communities that are a reflection of God’s reign here on earth’ (:139).

The feminist gospel

Closely related to the gospel of liberation is the feminist gospel. As a matter of fact it may be considered a variant of the former (cf. Nkansah-Obrempong 2007:145). For advocates of the feminist gospel the good news is that women ‘have the right to name themselves (Kassian 1992:30)’. By this feminists mean the right of women to determine their roles in all areas of life including the Church. They hold that there are no differences between men and women as far as intellect, psyche and emotions are concerned (:31). Any differences between the two sexes are a result ‘of cultural conditioning rather than biological fact’ (:31), or as Chimwemwe Harawa-Katumbi (2012:105) from Malawi puts it: ‘[G]ender is not physiologically determined but socially constructed.’ In other words, women have been ‘wrongly named by men’ (Kassian 1992:31). This misconception, it is argued, needs to be corrected.

The correction of this misconception, feminists argue, must also be applied to the Church. Consequently, Christian feminists seek to deconstruct ‘the roles of men and women in the Church’ (Kassian 1992:33). In order to achieve such deconstruction many Christian feminists have set out to liberate what they consider to be a male-biased Bible ‘from the human fetters of misogyny’ that have shackled the Scriptures (:136). Some argue that a new hermeneutical approach is necessary in order to use the Bible in the teaching of gender and gender equality. Thus, the Kenyan theologian Hazel Ayanga (2012:90), for example, calls ‘for an interdisciplinary approach to the interpretation of texts related to gender’. Others argue either that particular Bible passages are culturally conditioned or that the authors were simply mistaken. Some do not even shy away from adding to the biblical texts in order to make them fit their agenda. An example of such an approach is Wilhelmina Shikomba (2013:90-91), a Namibian Lutheran theologian:

Furthermore, the ordained ministry of women should be read in the light of the Pentecost story. When the Holy Spirit filled the people, they were changed spiritually and all of them started to speak, women and men alike. At that moment, at the start of the Christian Church, both women and men were given the gift of preaching by the Holy Spirit. At that morning, on the day of the Pentecost, women and men had been equally empowered to be ministers of the Word of God and entrusted with the twofold ministry: to preach and to administer the Holy Sacraments […]. Women and men are capable of being used in God’s service. Jesus loves women, as illustrated in the New Testament, and there is no discrimination between Jesus Christ and women. In Pauline theology, there might be some mistakes in some of his utterances, but at the same time, Saint Paul forcefully and brilliantly emphasised the equality of all people in Galatians 3:28-29 […]

It is noteworthy that while liberation theologians emphasize structural sin, some feminist theologians have totally redefined the concept of sin. Female sin is no longer to be understood as rebellion against God. It is no longer to be understood as egocentric behaviour or selfish attitudes, such as pride. The sin of women is seen as ‘too much sacrificial love and not enough pride in themselves’ (Kassian 1992:32).

The postmodern gospel

Another understanding of the Christian gospel which is gaining popularity especially among tertiary educated people in Southern Africa is the postmodern gospel (Light 2012:54). The postmodern gospel is ‘the good news that those who humble themselves before God will have a mighty experience that gives them inner peace. That peace can be maintained by regularly continuing to humble oneself before God’ (Wilkin 2007:8). Salvation is not so much about forgiveness of sin and eternal life but a new and transformed life in the here and now (:7). Since one cannot be sure of anything, the postmodern gospel makes no exclusive claims and allows for subjective experience and insights: Jesus is only one way towards a more fulfilling and happy life. This rejection of absolute truth, of the uniqueness of Christ and of the Bible as the authoritative written revelation of God has obvious consequences. Johan Malan (2010) mentions one of these consequences when he writes:

The people of Africa are also free to either practise ancestor worship from the premodern period or one other version of Christianity, or any of the non-Christian religions. They can also try to mix the various traditions. No pressure should be exerted on any person to conform exclusively to the principles of one or other system of faith.

The postmodern gospel allows Africans to maintain all their traditions, including those which cannot be reconciled with orthodox Christianity (Light 2012:53). Another reason why this gospel is increasingly appealing to many Africans is the wide spread ‘trust in subjective revelation stemming from belief in and experience of the spirit world’ (:53). Finally, similarly to the gospel of liberation the postmodern gospel hardly mentions sin. If it is mentioned, it is no longer considered an offence against a holy God but is simply viewed in terms of the damage it causes to human beings.

The syncretised gospel

Related to the postmodern gospel, at least in part, is the syncretised gospel. In most Southern African countries, African Initiated Churches (AICs), which are pre-Christendom in their theologies and pre-enlightenment in their worldviews (Bonk 2010:3), are very successful in reaching out to their countrymen and women. They take traditional African worldviews seriously and avoid the mistakes of many early missionaries who imposed Western culture on the indigenous population and did not equip African Christians ‘to deal with the spiritual realms that were real to them’ (Oduyoye 1993:41). In contrast to many nineteenth century missionaries, AICs recognise that ancestor worship, witchcraft and polygamy are relevant issues which churches need to deal with (Oduro et al 2008:40). However, it must be said that in some of these churches we find a blend of Christianity and traditional beliefs and practices (cf. Turaki 2007:138-139). As a result, Jesus is no longer at the centre of the gospel: his sacrifice on the cross competes with the sacrifice of goats and sheep which are slaughtered in order to remove a curse or to improve a person’s chances of employment. It was Jesus who said ‘Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Mt. 11:28), yet his teaching is against traditional witchdoctors and independent prophets who practice ancestor worship and offer solutions to all kinds of life problems.

Such practical syncretism, however, can also be found among members of mainstream churches. When facing a personal crisis, some members of Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed or Methodist churches consult the local witchdoctor but not their pastors. Gaylin Van Rheenen (2011) comments:

I have lived for many years in Africa and have empathized with Christians who also struggled with competing worldviews. Like their North American brothers and sisters in Christ, they believe that this is God’s world because He is the creator, that by the blood of Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God, and that the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome the sins of the body so that we might live. However, when a child becomes sick, a family member dies unexpectedly, or there is a drought in the land, they tend to seek immediate answers in the spirit realm rather than to wait on the Lord. While North American Christians tend to merge theism and secularism, Africa Christians syncretize theism and animism.

Tite Tienou (1990:22) not only identifies the reason for this phenomenon but also suggests a remedy:

[S]yncretism is practiced by many Christians in our churches because they have not been given clear scriptural teaching which has grappled with the realities of everyday living in Africa. Missionaries and pastors need to have a right attitude towards culture and a sympathetic understanding of it, if they are to help Christians out of this devastatingly syncretistic way of living. Practical syncretism will weaken Christianity even if our official theology remains orthodox.

The gospel of universalism

There are also those for whom the gospel is interpreted as good news of many ways that lead to God. It is the good news that eventually everyone will be saved (cf. Tiessen 2008:914). The argument goes that God loves all people whatever religion they have and whatever convictions they hold and as a result every human being will enjoy eternal life in God’s kingdom. Personal faith in Jesus Christ is not needed for salvation. Klaus Nürnberger (2007:84), a South African Lutheran theologian writes:

[T]hose who have practically lived a life that was in line with God’s redemptive intentions, or those who would have wanted to be part of it, if they had only encountered it in a clear and credible form, have consciously or unconsciously identified themselves with it and will most certainly not be cast out, even if they had not managed to go very far with it in their lives.

Another prominent advocate of universalism is the former archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu. Tutu (2013:9-18) strongly rejects the exclusivist position which claims that Jesus is the only way to God. He also rejects both the idea ‘that all religions are the same’ and Karl Rahner’s inclusivist idea of anonymous Christians, i.e. the view that ‘the adherents of other faiths are really Christians without knowing it’ (:6). Instead, Tutu insists that all human people worship the same transcendent being:

We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or another transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine – however named, however apprehended or conceived – is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely. So we should seek to share all insights we can and be ready to learn, for instance, from the techniques of the spiritual life that are available in religions other than our own (:6).

Norman Mackay (2001:43) describes Tutu’s view of biblical Christianity as only ‘one pattern within a kaleidoscope of religious and redemptive possibilities’. Consequently, within this framework, the concept of judgement and punishment for those who do not believe in Christ has to be strongly rejected. To Tutu (2013:16) a God who punishes those who do not believe in Christ is a ‘pervert’. Tutu argues that ‘God accepts as pleasing to him those who live by the best lights available to them, who are guided by the most sublime ideals they have been able to discern’ (:15). Put differently, heaven is open to all. In his book Made for Goodness he states:

Perhaps we too, are shaken by the thought that our enemies will not burn in Hades throughout eternity. But, ultimately, the reality of heaven cannot tolerate the existence of hell. Even our worst enemies are God’s beloved children [….]. If we believe in the good God, we must believe that we are all made to inhabit heaven (2010:134).

The gospel of holism and transformation

An increasing number of missionaries and church leaders in sub-Saharan Africa believe that the gospel is holistic and transformational in nature. In recent years their understanding of mission has broadened significantly and so has their understanding of the Christian gospel (cf. Herbst 2012:31; Prill 2012:89). Verbal communication of the gospel is no longer seen as the heartbeat of mission (Prill 2012:89-90). Evangelism, church planting and leadership training are considered to be merely some of the many dimensions of mission, all of which are equally important. Mission has become multidimensional (Conradie 2010:385). Among these other dimensions are, for example, development, political advocacy, and nature conservation work (e.g. Balog 2007; Daneel 1999; Nkansah-Obrempong 2009; Wright 2006). Philomena Njeri Mwaura (2006:184-185) writes about the mission of the African Church:

The Church in Africa should see her mission as bringing wholeness to people as Jesus did. Jesus’ ministry was grounded on Shalom, an Old Testament concept of peace that is inclusive of harmony and well-being. Shalom entails peace, justice, healed relations between individuals in the society, between God and humanity and between humanity and nature. The mission of the Church in Africa is to bring Shalom to all people and institutions.

Consequently, the gospel is much more than the message of salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. Daneel (1999:51) notes that ‘[t]he good news proclaimed and enacted by the earthkeeping church clearly extends beyond soul salvation and faith healing aimed at the wellbeing of human beings’. The gospel, he goes on to say, is also the good news ‘that the barren land will be clothed, that is, be protected by trees and plants. This form of salvation becomes manifest to the extent that the church fulfils its role as the keeper of creation […]’

As a matter of fact the gospel of holism and transformation shows many similarities to the gospel of liberation. Thus, Israel’s exodus from Egypt is considered ‘a missional-holistic model’ of redemption (Herbst 2012:32).

For Tobias Faix (2012:70), extraordinary professor of missiology at the University of South Africa and a prominent member of the emerging church movement, the exodus narrative plays a central role for a holistic understanding of salvation. The exodus narrative, Faix argues, shows that salvation has political, social, economic, cultural, and many other aspects (:71-72). Since the cross of Christ is the new exodus we must understand the gospel to have many components, too (:82). Faix writes that from the cross flows a power which can redeem, liberate and transform political, social, economic, cultural, ethical, ethnic, ecological, emancipatory, and spiritual aspects of human life (:83-85). In Faix’s view, another key text which describes the gospel in such terms is Luke 4:16-21. According to Faix this passage presents the heart of God’s mission, which is the gospel: the re-establishment of peace and justice on all relational levels (:79). He argues that the gospel is the good news that through Jesus’ death and resurrection people can be liberated from all their broken relationships: human being and God (Jn. 3:16), human being and self (Mt. 22:36-40), human being and neighbour (Mt. 5:38-48), and human being and nature (Jn. 3:17; 12:47). Faix writes that at the cross Jesus practises solidarity with all suffering and marginalised people (:83). At the same time the perpetrators are granted reconciliation. In the same way as the oppressed need to be liberated from their sufferings, the oppressors need to be liberated from the injustice which they have caused. The cross means reconciliation for sin, injustice and violence on this earth. Deyoung and Gilbert (2011:37) write about such an interpretation of Luke 4:

In popular explanations, Luke 4 underscores that Jesus’s mission focused on the materially destitute and downtrodden. In this interpretation, Jesus was both Messiah and social liberator. He came to bring the Year of Jubilee to the oppressed. He came to transform social structures and bring God’s creation back to shalom […]. Above all else, Luke 4 (it is argued) shows that Jesus’s mission was to serve the poor.

The gospel of apartheid and denominationalism

Finally, while the sinful system of apartheid (literally: separateness) came to an end in Namibia in 1990 and in South Africa four years later, the gospel of apartheid has somehow managed to survive in these countries. During the apartheid era, the gospel of apartheid was the good news that God had ordained different ethnic groups to be apart from one another (Loubser 1996). Consequently, these groups had ‘to respect and obey these ordinances’. If they did they would be both used and rewarded by God. Thus E.P Groenewald, an advocate of apartheid theology, notes: ‘The people who faithfully retained its identity could be sure of the blessing of the Lord’ (quoted by Loubser). The apartheid system was legitimised by a detailed use of both the Old and the New Testaments (Kee 2008:92). The main biblical-theological pillars of apartheid were the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) and the idea of Israel’s holiness, i.e. her purity and otherness, as well as a peculiar interpretation of the word ‘nations’ which we can find in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 (De Gruchy 2008:53). Others used the Hamitic Curse (Gen. 9:25-27) as a theological argument for apartheid (Corrado 2013:10). Buys and Nambala (2003:305) mention three destructive results of this false gospel: First, the worship of one’s own race; second, hatred towards those of a different ethnic background; and third, a fear of change which led to blind obedience to worldly authorities. In 1988 Desmond Tutu (2013:158-159), one of the most astute critics of the heretical apartheid system, said the following:

Apartheid has said that ultimately people are intended for separation […]. The Bible teaches quite unequivocally that people are created for fellowship, togetherness, not for alienation, apartness, enmity and division […]

Today the gospel of apartheid can still be found in the form of an ethnic denominationalism in Southern Africa. It is argued that mono-ethnic churches can reach out to members of their own ethnic group more effectively than other churches (cf. Smith 2014:126). Because of this popular church growth principle (also known as Homogenous Unit Principle) and a widespread ethnocentrism, many denominations and local churches are still organised along ethnic lines (Martin 2008:77-78). Tom Smith (2014:125), a South African born author, speaks of ‘homogenous bubbles’ which ‘inoculate’ people ‘from the gifts of diversity’. Where denominations embrace more than one tribal or ethnic group these groups often exist more or less separately from one another’ (Prill 2013:4). Some church leaders try very hard to remove their fellow leaders just because they do not share the same ethnic background. As Evans Chama (2010) observes:

In many African countries tribalism has determined who becomes president and holds important positions. Unfortunately, this has often also been an issue in both the appointment and reception of a new bishop. A person from a different tribe, especially when that tribe is a minority, is seen as an intruder coming to take away power. When we act like this way, not only do we abuse the positive development of having a local person as a shepherd, but also lose absolutely the sense of Church. That’s why, without making reference to any particular case, some people would receive it as an insult to have a foreign missionary appointed as their bishop.

In summary, there are people who consider that the gospel is good news for those who are willing to give away their money or stay apart from each other; others believe that the gospel is good news only for the poor, oppressed and marginalised or it is good news for all people regardless of their religious beliefs. But are these gospels of prosperity, liberation, feminism, postmodernism, universalism, transformation or apartheid identical to the good news that we can find in the Bible? The answer to that question has to be ‘No!’. These gospels are distortions of the Christian gospel. They are different gospels which, as harsh as it may sound, deserve a response like the one the apostle Paul gave to the Galatians: ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.’ (1:6-7). So what is meant by the gospel which the apostle and his co-workers preached and the Galatians accepted (:8-9)? What is meant by the word gospel that is mentioned in the New Testament seventy-six times?

Life without the true gospel

If we want to understand the meaning of the gospel we will first need to ‘understand how bad our situation is without it’ (Barry undated:1). The Bible tells us that every human being is by default a sinner. We have ‘all sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Ro. 3:23). We ‘have all gone astray’ (Ps. 14:3). The truth is that ‘there is no-one who does not sin’ (1 Ki. 8:46). We are by nature sinners, we are ‘by nature children of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3). As such we lead lives that are not pleasing to God. We lead rebellious lives. We rebel against God who created not only us but the whole universe. We try to keep our Creator out of our lives or let him play only a minor role. We may still call ourselves Christians, we may go to church on Sundays, sing the familiar hymns and songs, say our prayers, and pay our membership fees, but we give other things, activities or people the central position in our lives that only God deserves. These things, activities and people are not necessarily morally wrong but we sin against God by worshipping them. Instead of trusting in God who has provided us with all good things, we trust in our own abilities, in the power of money, the power of wealth, the power of sex, the power of alcohol, the power of drugs, the power of fame, or the power of power. We worship ourselves and all kinds of things but not the one, true God who deserves all our worship. We separate ourselves from God. Because of that sin the Bible calls us God’s enemies (Ro. 5:10).

As sinners, our lives are not driven by God and his moral standards but by Satan and our own human standards. As sinners, we disobey God and his moral law that we find summarised in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). The result is lives that are characterised by greed, hate, envy, deception, gossip, quarrelling, pride, boasting, unfaithfulness, adultery, murder etc. (see Ro. 1:29-31; 1Co. 6:9; 2Ti. 3:2-3). J.I Packer (1994:82) writes about our human rebellion against God:

Scripture diagnoses sin as a universal deformity of human nature, found at every point in every person […]. Both Testaments have names for it that display its ethical character as rebellion against God’s rule, missing the mark God set us to aim at, transgressing God’s law, disobeying God’s directives, offending God’s purity by defiling oneself, and incurring guilt before God the judge. This moral deformity is dynamic: sin stands revealed as an energy of irrational, negative and rebellious reaction to God’s call and command, a spirit of fighting God in order to play God. The root of sin is pride and enmity against God, the spirit seen in Adam’s first transgression; and sinful acts always have behind them thoughts, motives, and desires that one way or another express the wilful opposition of the fallen heart to God’s claims in our lives.

In Namibia we can see this kind of rebellion against God in many different areas of life. We can see it in men who think they are good men because they only have one mistress and not two or three like their friends. We can see it in young students who think that drugs and alcohol are the solution to all their problems. We can see it in male managers and supervisors who ask their female employees to sleep with them so that they can keep their jobs. We can see it in fathers who abuse their children and young mothers who literally dump their newborn babies in the garbage. We can see it in terrible traffic accidents caused by reckless driving. We can see it in business people and government employees who offer or take bribes. We can see it in students who steal exam papers. We can see it in families where people fight over money, land, or cattle and do not even refrain from bewitching one another. We can see it in the income gap between rich and poor (which is the highest in the world). We can see it in the divisions that still exist between different ethnic groups in this country. Yes, we can even see it in churches, where so called ‘pastors’ fight for power and influence instead of tending the flock.

The Bible tells us that such sinful lives have consequences, or as Cole (2009:70) puts it: ‘We are sinners and sin invites divine wrath and divine judgment.’ These consequences are rooted in the character of God. God has created us to be in a close and everlasting relationship with him, but as sinners we fail to stay in that relationship; we break relationship with him. God has created us to be holy and pure but as sinners we are frequently unholy and unclean. God, however, holds us accountable for the way we lead the lives he has given us (Ro. 3:19). And since he is a just and righteous God (Dt. 32:4) who hates sin (Ps. 45:7), the punishment of sin is unavoidable. It is God’s righteousness that demands such punishment. God’s word leaves us with no doubt about God’s punishment for human sin. We are told in the Bible that the punishment for sin, the punishment for our rebellion against God, is death (Jeffery, Ovey & Sach 2007:123). The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (6:23) while in his letter to the Ephesians he reminds his readers that they ‘were dead in their transgressions and sins’ (2:1) before God made them ‘alive in Christ’ (:4); and in his letter to the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11), the risen and ascended Christ, who holds ‘the keys of death and Hades’ (1:18), promises that those who stay faithful to him ‘will not be hurt at all by the second death’(2:11). Death in these passages refers to three realities. Firstly, it refers to physical death. All sinners die, no matter what their age, gender, education, ethnic background or status in society. Secondly, it refers to spiritual death. Sinners have a broken relationship with God, they are therefore spiritually dead. Thirdly, it refers to everlasting banishment from God and punishment in hell. Jesus himself often spoke about hell. He described it as a place of bondage, darkness, weeping (Mt. 22:13), and torment (Lk. 16:23). In his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God preached on 8th July 1741 Jonathan Edwards (quoted by McGrath 1996:361) said the following about the reality of punishment in hell:

There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by; thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?

Without God and his mercy we are in a hopeless situation. Without the gospel we are in a mess and we cannot pull ourselves out of it. It does not matter how hard we try. It does not matter how much money we give to the church or how much charitable work we do. It does not matter how much we help others in need. It does not matter how hard we try to live a morally good life. We will never be able to meet God’s standards. We will stay what we are: sinners who deserve God’s punishment. That is why we need the gospel desperately!

The gospel of salvation

God, however, is not only a just God who hates sin; he is also a God of love and grace who has started the greatest of all missions to save us from our bondage to sin, spiritual death, and everlasting destruction. Even before the creation of the world God decided that Jesus should fulfil the function of a Saviour for sinful human beings (1Pe. 1:20). When the first human beings, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God by doubting his word and eating from the tree (Ge. 3:1-5) they brought sin into the world. But even at this early stage God promised a Saviour who would crush Satan and destroy his power (Ge. 3:15). As a matter of fact the whole of the Old Testament points us to this Saviour. The prophet Isaiah, for example, wrote about him: ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed’ (53:5). The same Saviour is mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah:

The days are coming declares the LORD, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness (23:5-6).

When the time was right God sent this Saviour - whom he had promised and to whom the whole of the Old Testament is pointing - into the world. Jesus Christ, the Son of God entered our world, He was born to a virgin called Mary and he grew up in a first century Jewish family. He was a human being like you and me. However, he was also the Son of God who lived a perfect life and never committed any sin (Heb. 4:15). He was God’s Son who had been sent on a mission - a mission to save sinners like you and me. The whole Bible testifies about this, but it is in the New Testament that Jesus’ mission is described most clearly. When at the beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus came to be baptised by John the Baptist, he said about Jesus: ‘Look the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29). Later Jesus said about himself: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ (Lk. 19:10). After his death and resurrection, the apostles whom Jesus had appointed as his messengers also testified about Jesus’ mission of salvation. The apostle Paul wrote that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst’ (1Ti. 1:15), while the apostle Peter assured his Christian readers that through Jesus Christ they were receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls (1Pe. 1:9).

But how did Jesus achieve his mission of salvation? Well, since death is the punishment for sin, Jesus had to die. He died on the cross in order to save sinners like you and me. The cross of Calvary is the climax of the divine mission of salvation. On the cross Jesus died as a sacrifice for us (Heb. 9:26). He died in our place, paying the penalty which we deserved because of our sins: death and separation from God. On the cross Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God which we deserved as sinners. He died to meet a holy God’s requirements for justice (Ro. 3:25-26). On the cross Jesus died to reconcile sinful human beings with God and bring us back into fellowship with him (2Co. 5:18-19). On the cross Jesus died to redeem us from our bondage to sin and to Satan (Eph. 1:7). Only Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, could do that. Only God himself could deal with the horror of human sin. Only Jesus could die our death, suffer the punishment for our sins, satisfy the justice of God, reconcile us with God, and free us from the slavery of sin and the power of Satan. Only he could take our sins and give us his righteousness. ‘The cross’, as Josh Hooker writes (2013:79) ‘is the very definition of love; it is the place where God’s grace overwhelms the darkness of our hearts forever.’ In other words, the good news centres on the cross. It centres ‘on the fantastic news of a God who loves us, and who gave himself for us in Christ on the cross’ (Stott 2003:96).


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Contemporary Issues In Mission: What Christians Need To Know
Volume One
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Gospel, Biblical Gospel, Prosperity Gospel, Feminist Gospel, Gospel of Liberation, Postmodern Gospel, Syncretism, Transformation Theology, Heresies, Apartheid, Denominationalism, Namibia, Southern Africa, Gospel of Salvation, Missionaries, Mission Organisations, Submission, Submission in the Bible, Leadership, Accountability, Servanthood, Missiology
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Dr. Thorsten Prill (Author), 2015, Contemporary Issues In Mission: What Christians Need To Know, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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