Following on from a question from the Mark Driscoll interview as reported here and some other thoughts here, I thought I'd share some of the things I've been thinking about strength, weakness and emptying the cross of its power.
As Glen says here, over our time in Vanuatu we have come to see how weak Christianity is here. When I consider how powerfully the gospel spread when it was first brought here in the nineteeth century it makes me wonder what went wrong.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons why things can go wrong over 150 years, so my thoughts here are pure speculation. I have not done any reading about it and have not even spoken with others about these ideas. So, please, no referring to this post as expert opinion in your next discourse on mission strategy.
I wonder to what extent we empty the cross of its power when our gospel message is accompanied with 'strength'. When the first missionaries came here, they left everything to travel across the seas to bring the gospel to the lost. To their own countrymen, the went, humanly speaking, in weakness, trusting only in the Holy Spirit, only in God. However, to those to whom they came, things could be viewed differently. They came to people who still lived in the stone age. People without iron tools, without gunpowder, without iron cooking pots, people to whom even a fishing-hook was a prized possession. Did these missionaries not come in human strength when viewed like this?
These missionaries were protected by the mighty British Navy, so even when it was against their will, and though they pleaded in tears for it not to be done, villages were sometimes bombarded by canon-fire as punishment for acts of violence against British subjects. While this would be ample reason for the villages NOT to convert... is not strength on the side of these people?
And once the church was established and supported by partner churches in wealthy countries, is not strength, power and wealth on the side of these people? Surely the mighty God is looking on these people with favour?
It just makes me wonder if many 'conversions' were not because the word of God was powerful but because the word of iron or the word of the musket or the word of the vatu was powerful. This is not because the word of God is not powerful but because so many other words were speaking.
Now that the country is developing and there are many other ways of gaining wealth, people seem to be leaving the presbyterian church, once so strong, in droves. The presbyterian church is locally funded and is not wealthy. Other sects and religions, funded from overseas, can offer education and services local churches can't hope to match. So much strength. So attractive.
When we came here, people came to our house not because we offered the word of God, but because we owned a fridge and could sell meat; because we owned a printer and could print photographs; because I have a sewing machine and can sew; because I have the secret of making cakes. You thought we were going in weakness. We came in strength. We have everything they want. But do they want the gospel? Do all these other words speak louder than the gospel? Are these things also emptying the cross of its power? If we came with nothing but the cross, would anyone be listening?
What if the cross was our only strength? What would life look like for us if it were?
If you've read this post, please also read this one, which clarifies a few things.