New Tribes Mission - planting tribal churches



To the Regions Beyond - Some Basic Issues




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Ken Johnston



NEW TRIBES MISSION came into existence for a very definite purpose. We believe that some BASIC ISSUES were laid heavily upon the heart of its founder, Paul Fleming, and those men who, with him, brought this Mission into being. Without question, the Holy Spirit directed them regarding these basic principles. If, as a Mission, we don't adhere to these, we have very little reason to exist. We could just as well then be merged into other existing missionary agencies. But, if the last tribe is to be reached in this generation, then we must faithfully adhere to these basic issues. They are absolutely essential.


To successfully reach the last tribe in this generation, it is the Lord's desire that every Christian become absorbed in this task to his maximum ability--not his minimum. God does not want to use many of His children a little or not at all and, at the same time, use a few a great deal. He wants to use EVERYONE to the utmost.



What Are the Qualifications?


He does not want to use only those who are between 21 and 30 years old. If a person is not in this age bracket, it does not mean that God cannot use him. Some of our very best missionaries came to us after they were 40 years old. If the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company can send men out to the foreign countries after they are 40, why can't THE LORD send them out? Is this unscriptural?


If a man is married and has a fair-sized family, why should this eliminate him from foreign missionary work? The Great Commission does not call for men over 21 and under 30, single, or married with less than three children. What right do we, then, have to make stipulations of this nature?


The Word of God does not say that one should have a perfect body to be usable in missionary work, either. The Apostle Paul did not seem to have such a body--nor did Timothy, as he seems to have had "often infirmities." It would be nice to have such a body, but God can use people who do not have such a body, too.


Education is good, especially the kind that the Holy Spirit gives people. The Word of God does not, however, advocate so many years in an accredited college or university, or that one should have some degree. We are told: "Study to shew (ourselves) approved unto God, (workmen) that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15). It is obvious that many times Christian men will not approve the man whom God approves.



God Can Use EVERY Christian


It seems that God has an altogether different way of picking out those whom He will use for His glory: "GOD HATH CHOSEN the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." Man does not do it this way: "And GOD HATH CHOSEN the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." Again, man does not pick them this way: "And base things of the world, and things which are despised, HATH GOD CHOSEN" (I Corinthians 1:27, 28a).


MAN chooses the classy, talented, strong, fluent, intelligent people, but GOD does not often choose them. We try hard to finally get the approval of man so we can qualify, only to find we have disqualified ourselves. God chooses "things which are not, to bring to NOUGHT things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence" (I Corinthians 1:28b, 29). It is difficult to work hard to get to be somebody, and still realize that we are nobody, and that it is still "God plus nothing" that will get the job done.


We believe that God wants to use EVERY Christian somewhere in this great world job. It is imperative that the Church realize this in these days. God wants His children to have a good knowledge of His Word--ALL can have this if they want it. He wants men and women who have burning hearts constrained by His Spirit to give this glorious Gospel to those who know it not--ALL can do this, too (II Corinthians 5:14, 15).


The truth of the matter is that "... The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few..." (Luke 10:2). God has raised up New Tribes Mission as a channel to help missionaries get out to this great harvest that is ripe and wasting for want of reapers. Our only qualifications are SPIRITUAL. Almost any Christian can qualify if he really wants to do so. This principle is a right one, and we need to hold squarely to it.


So much emphasis has been put on OTHER qualifications that it would be easy for us to retreat to this common opinion. As a Mission, we do not despise these other qualifications laid down by many missionary groups. If they wish to set up such standards, it is their prerogative. We do not believe our standards are unscriptural, so we should have the right to stand as we do for such principles. This is one of the reasons we exist.



A Faith Mission


These are days when many so-called faith organizations are not such anymore. My father was used of God to start an orphanage. It was called "Faith Home for Children." Because of age and health, he had to retire from active work in the orphanage in his later years. Before he died, he requested that the organization leave out the word "Faith" as it had stopped operating on that basis. It was a "Home for Children," doing a fine work, but not run on the faith basis any longer.


We are criticized for running our Mission on the basis of "faith." "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10:38). “... for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). If other groups wish to go on a different basis, it is all right. That is between them and the Lord. But why have we not the right to stand on such a scriptural principle? It is not as easy on the flesh, but it is pleasing to the Lord-and thrilling, too! This also is a right principle, and we must stick to it.



Indigenous Principles


Our Mission was brought into being to emphasize and to pursue indigenous church methods and principles. It is our strong conviction that worldwide evangelization will only be reached by these methods, as God's Word is spread abroad through His servants.


Catching FISHERS of men is more important than catching men. Winning a man to Christ, and then teaching him to go out and win other men and teach them, has utmost priority. It is hard to realize that this is more important to the overall program of world evangelization than even to go out and win the masses to Christ. The end results, of course, are what really count.


"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, WHO SHALL BE ABLE TO TEACH OTHERS ALSO" (II Timothy 2:2).

This is a basic New Testament principle. Jesus spent most of His 31/2 years of ministry on this earth with 12 men whom He taught and in whom He invested His life. From these has come the Church of Jesus Christ today. The months and years just following Jesus' death were the days of the Church's greatest growth and expansion in spite of terrible persecution and martyrdom. The early Church was working by these principles.





At first, the growth seems slow and somewhat tedious, but it is not long before it begins to "snowball," and, in a surprisingly short time, the job could be finished. If I were the only Christian, and this year I would win one to Christ and teach him, then next year the two of us each would win one and teach him, and then the next year the four of us would each go out and win and teach one; if this were done annually for 34 years, the total would be more than the entire world's population! Think how many Christians there are in the world today. If each were to win and teach one a year, we could see world evangelization in 10 or 15 years at the longest. Only by this method will we see this world job accomplished, so we had better not settle for anything less or for other methods.


Recently, I was listening to a fine radio program upholding AMERICANISM in the face of the onslaughts of Communism. The statement of the speaker regarding the only possible way to combat the red wave of Communism was very revealing. He said that all the great crusading against Communism in big mass meetings will not turn the tide. The only way it can be done is for every American to make it his objective to talk Americanism to at least one person every day. In this way, he said, we could not fail. The other way, he said, was doomed to failure.

It is not a few doing a lot but everybody constantly doing a little that will win. It is a New Testament principle. Christians, we must all become propagators!



Leave the Native Where He is!


Some missionaries have felt it necessary to bring their most promising converts--among either nationals or tribesmen--to America to train them, where they can have all the advantages America has to offer. In this way; it is thought that they would become more effective workers in their own country and among their own people.


The successes of this job of propagating the Gospel does not depend on an American school or what it has to offer a foreigner. So many who come to America for their education only get caught in our system and way of life--the ease, the plenty, and the luxury of it all. They do not want to go back to their people and their way of life. They have been spoiled for it. I speak from a spiritual point of view. If they do go back to their own country, it is with aspirations for position and material gain, and not for the propagation of the Gospel among their own people.


One of our American-born Filipino workers found it very hard to work in the Philippines. Unless she was very careful to thoroughly identify herself with them, rather than with Americans, little could be accomplished. While this is true with any missionary, it is even more touchy with one of their own. In other words, it creates barriers and problems that are not easily overcome. It does not help--it hurts.


What a hopeless thing to feel that these tribes people and nationals to whom we go can never really be usable to any extent unless they get the kind of education we have received in America! The wonderful thing about the Gospel is its simplicity: "... the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein" (Isaiah 35:8b). We cannot even enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we become as little children.


The Gospel works the same the world over. Sometimes the Lord can use a stevedore better than a college professor, even as Communism often does in propagating its doctrine. The thing that will make the difference is not their education or their lack of it, but the fact that they have met Jesus: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). This is another of these New Testament principles.




Help Build Their Churches?


Often missionaries have urged our American Christians to help the natives build their little churches. It has been said that $50 will build a native church: "See how far your money goes, and for such a good cause, too! It is so little compared to what our churches cost." Natives do not need stained-glass windows or even glass windows. They don't need hardwood floors or board floors, necessarily. They don't need tile or even metal roofs. Grass roofs are good.


I have seen many nice little churches with grass roofs, mud walls, packed dirt floors, and window openings only! Logs were trimmed down for pews--without backs. All this was made by the natives from materials they got without cost, only work, out of the jungles. You say it is not very good. It is as good as their own dwellings, and their own economy, and it is theirs! They built it, and they keep it up, too. They are proud, indeed, of it. Any group of natives or tribes people can build its own church if the people are ambitious. God does not dwell in temples made by hands, anymore. A building is not the Church. It is just the place where the Church meets. God uses people, not buildings.


The natives could meet under a tree or in someone's home, if need be. Let us keep the church theirs--even the building in which they worship: "... for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them...” (II Corinthians 6:16). In South America, where Sophie Muller, one of our missionaries, has been working among Indian tribes, there are now hundreds of churches. All have been built by the Indians. They belong to them and are kept up by them without a cent of American money. Let us keep the native Church strong and healthy. This, too, is another of these basic principles of New Testament church propagation.



Support the Native Workers?


It is hard to see native Christians get out into Gospel work and not subsidize them. Recently, on one of our fields, some national Christians, who were studying to evangelize their own people, left us to go with another group because they were paid a small amount by them. It was not much, but the benefits were still good in their economy. We could have kept them by offering them as much, I feel sure. However, that principle is a wrong principle.


On church bulletin boards around this country, and in some homes I go into, there are pictures of native workers being supported by Americans. Also, in meetings, I have heard missionaries urge giving to native workers. Their arguments are good, too. These natives live on a fraction of the money that a foreign missionary requires. "See how many more workers can be supported with the same amount of money. These nationals," they say, "speak the language more fluently and know the people better, too." All this is true, but it can spoil them almost unwittingly. They begin to look to America rather than to the Lord. For what they are given, they still live better than most natives, though the amount is very small.


If American missionaries and their money are cut off from these people, what will happen? Reports of missions that worked in China state they will never again be guilty of making "rice Christians" out of native workers paid from America. When the money stops, the propagation stops, too, for the most part. We will not get as many native workers this way at the start, but those we get will be REAL. Every indigenous church needs to be self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting. To insist on this is only a blessing. We cannot afford to have these workers or churches become spiritual "hothouse plants," but rather be the kind that can really stand the elements, and be sturdy and strong, like the oak.



In Conclusion


Often, when the subject of these basic issues is discussed, there are those missionaries who will say that, while all this is scriptural, is just will not work on their fields. Every missionary seems to have his reason why it could not work in his area.


Sophie Muller, in the past few years, has been used of the Lord to reach 12 tribes with the Gospel. She may have done some things wrong, but the things I have discussed she has adhered to faithfully. Multitudes have come to know Christ as their Savior. Their lives and whole communities have been changed and transformed. Their churches were built by the people themselves, and these churches are very adequate. The believers have their own ministers or overseers. They administer their own church discipline. While Sophie is a woman, each church is led by men. She has leaders in all these many churches. None is paid by her or with money from America. THEY keep HER, for the most part. Every 6 months, the Indians of the various tribes come together by tribes for their own great conferences. They travel by canoe with paddles. Different families in the various tribes go out to evangelize 2 or 3 months at a time. Others in their local villages take care of their gardens for them while they are gone.


The Gospel is going out, and not by American money, either. Some years ago, on the Isana River in Brazil, through opposition, our few missionaries were forced to leave. The Indian Christians there were by themselves for several years. However, the Gospel continued to go out, and new areas were reached by these native Christians.


God's Word is true! Let us keep true to these methods and principles. The Lord brought New Tribes Mission into being to propagate them. They need to be emphasized as never before. NOW is not the time to slacken in this spiritual warfare. Only as we do these things will this great task be successfully accomplished--and IN THIS GENERATION. May the Church of God in such a manner move, like a mighty army, till the last tribe is reached with the glorious Gospel--and Christ comes again for His own.



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