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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Perils of Missionary Service

E. L. Bynum

Available in tract form. Contact the Editor.

"Of the Jews five times I received forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches."  II Corinthians 11:24-28

Many perils threaten 20th Century missionary service. Communist domination and influence has made missionary service in many countries difficult and in others impossible. A revival among some pagan religions has made them strong opponents of true Christianity. Ecumenicalism has proven to be an enemy of scriptural missions. A rising tide of nationalism in all parts of the world has caused emerging nations to distrust missionaries from the western world. In some nations this has resulted in a nationalized Church, whose affiliation with the anti-missionary World Council of Churches has resulted in Bible believing missionaries being expelled.

Unfortunately these difficulties have resulted in a pessimistic attitude, on the part of some, toward foreign missions. Some speak of phasing out foreign missions, while others speak of concentrating on the home field. Missionary candidates have become discouraged and sought other fields of service. Unless we understand the situation, the devil will surely use the difficulties to discourage us from doing the will of God. There are many open doors to missionary service, and golden opportunities await those who will heed the call of God.

The Roman World of Paul's Day

From a human standpoint, the world of Paul’s day seemed an impossible field to be evangelized. The known civilized world was ruled by Roman power, but it was anything but a calm, peaceful place to do missionary work.

“The empire at that time contained 120 million inhabitants. It extended from the Euphrates on the east to the Atlantic on the west, and from the deserts of Africa on the south to the Danube and Rhine on the north.

“Fully 100 different nations were included in this vast dominion, each speaking its own language and worshipping its own gods…Though tolerant of all religious beliefs in every nation they conquered, the Romans persecuted the Christians. This was due to the fact that they alone refused to offer sacrifice to the gods of the empire. They absented themselves from the games and feasts and were accustomed to hold their meetings at night. Soon they came to be regarded enemies of the state and were persecuted by even the best rulers. "(1)

Roman military might had succeeded in subduing the many nations that now made up the provinces of the Roman Empire, but there existed in most if not all of these former nations strong segments plotting rebellion. Rebellion was crushed in bloody wars. A case in point was the Jewish rebellion which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Many other similar internal conflicts troubled the Empire during the First Century. It was into this cross current of intrigue, revolution and immorality that the first missionaries plunged. Humanly speaking, there was no hope of success, but the Book of Acts reveals the marvelous success achieved by these missionary pioneers. These successes were not achieved without personal sacrifice and suffering, as our text clearly reveals. Neither were they achieved without the leadership and power of God.

"It is easy to see how much misery followed in the train of Rome's advancing greatness. Cruel suffering was a characteristic feature of the close of the Republic. Slave wars, civil wars, wars of conquest, had left their disastrous results behind them. No country recovers rapidly from the effects of a war which has been conducted within its frontier; and there was no district of the Empire which had not been the scene of some recent campaign . . . To take the case of Asia Minor. (Where Paul labored during his first missionary journey). It had been plundered and ravaged by successive generals . . . It would be a delusion to imagine that, when the world was reduced under one sceptre, any real principle of unity held its different parts together. The emperor was deified while untold numbers of men were enslaved. There was no true peace when Augustus closed the Temple of Janus. The Empire was the only order of external government, with a chaos both of opinions and morals within . .. It is true that a remarkable religious toleration was produced by this state of things: and it is probable that for some short time Christianity itself shared the advantage of it. But still the temper of the times was essential both cruel and profane; and the Apostles were exposed to its bitter persecution."(2)

The Perils Paul Faced

Paul and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and sent forth by the Holy Spirit and the Church at Antioch. In these early journeys of Paul we find some of the perils of missionary service. Strange as it may seem, 1900 years later, these are some of the same perils faced by God's missionaries today.

I.  The Peril of Demonic Opposition

On the island of Cyprus in the city of Paphos, they met with demonic opposition in the person of a sorcerer by the name of Elymas (Acts 13:6-12). He was a false prophet, a magician and a "child of the devil". His determined opposition to the Word and work of God had to be dealt with, if mission work was to succeed in that region of the world.

One of the perils of the 20th Century missions is the resurgence of demonism, Satanism, witchcraft and sorcery, in the world today. We may laugh at witchcraft, but it is no laughing matter for the missionary in Africa, Central and South America, Haiti, New Guinea, Indonesia and many other parts of the world. As the cloud of spiritual ignorance continues to darken our own country, we are seeing an increasing number of people turning to the occult. Make no mistake about it, witchcraft is an enemy of Christianity, and God's people must be willing to stand against it in any form it may be found.

It was here at Paphos, that Venus the goddess of love was born of the foam of the sea. The city had become the center of the "deification of lust", where every licentious sin imaginable was committed in the name of religion. For in the Grecian-Roman world, "love" was lowered to the awful level of "lust". In much of the world this is so today. Yet in this center of iniquity, Sergius Paulus, Roman Proconsul, became a believer.

II. The Peril of Doctrinal Error

Paul and Barnabas returned from their first mis­sionary journey, and reported the wonderful blessings of God to the Church at Antioch (Acts 14:26- 28). Their rejoicing was short lived, because of false doctrine being taught at Antioch (Acts 15:1-5). Certain Judaizers came from Jerusalem and taught that both Jew and Gentile must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved. This was a mixing of law and grace. This was in effect teaching that the Gentiles must become Jews to be saved. This would mean that Paul's Gentile converts and churches were unscriptural, and that his mission work was in vain.

This was perhaps the hardest trial that Paul faced in his ministry. The temptation to compromise for the sake of unity must have been very strong. However, Paul did not yield an inch, but withstood their false doctrine. He led a delegation from Antioch to Jerusalem, to see what the apostles and their elders had to say about this matter. Acts gives us the record of Paul’s victory in opposing this false misleading doctrine.

Doctrinal error is one of the perils of missionary service today. Missionaries have been known to compromise doctrine for the sake of unity on the foreign field. When professing Christians are a very small minority, it is a temptation to work with groups whose doctrinal teaching is unsound. On the other hand, missionaries have labored hard on the foreign field to adhere to the truth, only to return home to see that churches have changed their doctrinal stand and moral standards. This is heartbreaking to the missionary.

III.  The Peril of Deserting Helpers

When they landed at Perga on the Southern shore of Asia Minor (now Turkey), John Mark departed from them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). We do not know what excuse he gave. He could have sneezed twice and thus decided that the country was not a healthy place to live. He may have had an ingrown toenail or he may have been home sick for mother's cooking. News of his aging parents may have hastened his return. (Many have never considered the truth revealed in Luke 14:25-33).

"But it is more likely that the cause of his withdrawal was dismay at the dangers upon which they were about to enter. These were such as might well strike terror even in resolute hearts. Behind Perga rose the snow-clad peaks of the Taurus Mountains, which had to be penetrated through narrow passes, where crazy bridges spanned the rushing torrents, and the castles of robbers who watched for passing travelers to pounce upon, were hidden in positions so inaccessible that even the Roman arms had not been able to exterminate them."(3)

This may have been the "perils of water" and "perils of robbers" that Paul refers to in our text.

Whatever his reasons, Paul did not accept them, for he refused to take John Mark on the second missionary journey, which resulted in Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways. Years later Paul commends Mark in II Tim. 4:11, so he must have changed.

Departing, deserting helpers, present a problem in 20th Century mission work. The high turnover in missionary personnel is a definite hindrance to missions. It discourages those who remain on the field, for they are pleading for workers. It discourages the supporting churches, as they see sacred mission money wasted. Some desert the field for various reasons. Lack of ability, stability and stick-ability discourage some.

Others find strange cultures, unhealthy living conditions and physical hardships too much to bear. Lack of support, lack of results and lack of dedication puts some to packing. (Judson, pioneer missionary to Burma, labored 6 years before he made his first convert.) Others fail, because churches at home are not praying for them. Many do not last, because they have no Divine call from God. This may have been Mark's problem since nothing is mentioned of his receiving a call from God.

Missionary candidates must be recruited by theological reasons and not by psychological reasons. They must be prepared for hardship and not led to look upon missions as a romantic adventure. We dare not try to convince men to stay on the field whom God has not called. Neither should we discourage those whom God has called.

IV.  The Peril of Division Over Personalities

As Paul and Barnabas prepared to leave on their second tour of missionary service, a serious dispute arose over whether John Mark should go along with them. Barnabas desired to take his nephew along, but Paul was unyielding in his opposition. The contention was so great, that it resulted in Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways. Perhaps this was God's way in getting two missionary teams on the field instead of one. They parted never to work together again. However we do not believe that either one of them remained bitter over this experience. Later on Paul mentions both Barnabas and Mark with honor in his writings.

This is not an uncommon type experience in the Lord's work. Personalities sometimes clash to the extent that some cannot work together. However, it is sad when parties become bitter over such issues and try to ruin those who disagree with them. It is a mistake to try to force people to work together who obviously cannot get along. Most sharp disagreements between fundamental believers seem to arise over personality problems, rather than doctrine. Many times the devil uses this to seek to destroy the Lord's work at home and abroad.

V.  The Peril of Being Denounced By His Own Countrymen

In almost every place Paul went, the greatest opposition that he faced was by the Jews, his own countrymen (II Cor. 11:26). The Jews led in the opposition at Paphos, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra. It was the Jews who caused Paul to be stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19). Yet, these people had the same Bible that Paul used, and they spoke of the same Old Testament characters. Imagine how confusing this must have been to the Gentiles in these 'cities.

One of the greatest hindrances to modern day mission work is the American people. The American TOURIST with his big bankroll, his boorish manners, his immodest dress (shorts and mini­skirts), and his drunken habits, make a formidable obstacle to missions. Many American SERVICE MEN with their drunken ways, leaving a trail of illegitimate babies behind them, have done untold harm to missions. American MOVIES, shown round the world by theaters and television, with their heavy emphasis on sex and violence, present our nation in the worst possible light. The people on the mission field think of America as being a Christian nation. They identify the missionary with these impressions made by some of these worst elements in our society, and thus close their ears to the gospel message.

Perhaps the greatest threat to foreign missions is American RELIGION. The World Council of Churches is working to halt biblical missions around the world. Most of its influence, power and money come from the United States. It was their teaching and influence in the Congo (now Zaire), that caused a national church to be formed which is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. The law, as it stands in Congo now, prohibits anyone who is not a member of the "Church of Christ in Zaire" from preaching, giving religious teaching, or holding public services. Our missionaries left the country, rather than join such a church. Modernistic religion, with its social gospel and its socialistic teaching is an opponent of all scriptural mission work. Recently, two of our Independent Baptist Indian preachers in Chiapas, Mexico, were severely beaten and barely escaped with their lives. Why? Because Presbyterian-taught natives resented what our Baptist preachers were teaching on baptism.

False cults and unsound missionaries, sent and financed from America, are doing untold harm to the mission field. Recently I visited the scene where religious fanatics mobbed a missionary sent out from our church. Armed with machetes, guns, clubs and rocks, they screamed, "Long live Mary, the mother of God." God delivered the missionary, but the threat of physical peril is a constant danger on many mission fields.

VI.  The Peril of Dismissal From The Country

This was a constant peril in Paul's missionary work. During the early part of his ministry, he had to leave Damascus at night (Acts 9:20-25). He was "expelled" from Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50), and he had to flee from Iconium or be stoned (Acts 14:5,6). He was stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19). Yet, he returned to some of these places and preached later on (Acts 14:21). These experiences seem rather common in Paul's missionary work. When he was expelled from a city or country, he did not return to Antioch and report that the mission doors were closed. He did not sit down and wait to hear from the home churches before undertaking further work. Neither did he go back to his home country and seek an easy pastorate. When a new door was opened by the Lord, he did not have to return to Antioch and his other supporting Churches and explain to them why he was changing fields. When one door closed, he looked for another door that was open, because he saw every lost soul as a mission field.

VII. The Peril of Being Directed To a New Field

During Paul's second missionary journey, he had to face the prospects of entering into Europe, which was a new and strange field. Europe was not Paul's choice, but it was God's direction that led him there. At this time, Paul was "forbidden" by "the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." Then when Paul planned "to go into Bithynia… the Spirit suffered them not."

Just how the Spirit revealed that these doors were closed to Paul, we are not told. It may have been by direct revela­tion, or by an inward Spirit direction. It could have been revealed by the borders of these countries being closed to Paul. God can open doors and He can close doors. Nevertheless, the night vision at Troas settled the matter for Paul. The Macedonian call, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us", was recognized as a call from God, for Paul and his companions immediately departed for Greece (Acts 16: 6-11).

We might well consider what might have happened if God had sent Paul to the east into India and China, instead of Europe. The East could have just as well have been Christian, and we of the West could have been heathen pagans bowing down to wood and stone as our ancestors did before the arrival of Christianity. If first century missionary work had been conducted as much 20th Century mission work is being done, we would all be heathen pagans. Thank God there were no denominational headquarters to bind and hinder the missionaries. Denominational Church Conventions were unknown and unformed; therefore, they did not exist to be "the holy spirit" for the missionaries. There was harmony between the churches and the missionaries, and the missionaries were free to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Philippi became the sight of Paul's first missionary labors in Europe. After early success in the conversion of Lydia, Paul and Silas soon were prisoners in the jail at Philippi. From a human standpoint, it looked as if they were at the end of the road. But even the jail proved to be a fruitful place for revival and soul winning. We must remember things are not always as they seem. Sometimes God may be working in unusual ways to bring us into His will. Temporary defeat and disaster do not always mean what they seem.

The 20th Century finds us living in the midst of a changing world. Some missionaries have been dismissed (expelled) from certain countries. Some have found closed doors and have been directed by the Holy Spirit to new fields of service. However, why all the gloom and pessimism in certain circles, about the future of foreign missions? The time has come for us to quit talking about the closed fields, and to START TALKING ABOUT THE OPEN FIELDS.

The Indians and the old time buffalo hunters, when seeking buffalo, would place one ear down against the ground. In this manner they could hear the noise made by herds of buffalo, even though they might be miles away. Even so, we need to get down on our knees, put one ear to the ground and the other one tuned to heaven. In this manner we can hear the news of changing events in the world and with the other. We can listen for heaven's directions in the fast changing missionary world. This is not a new method, but going back to the first Century methods of Paul. THE TRAGEDY OF THE HOUR, IS NOT THE CLOSED MISSION FIELDS, BUT THE TRAGEDY AND SHAME IS THE OPEN FIELDS THAT WE ARE NOT ENTERING.

In Paul's day, the Roman Empire controlled all of the then known civilized world. As far as we know, Paul never went beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire. This task was undertaken by others at a later date. We may safely say that the fields of missionary service open to Paul, were all to be found within the bounds of the Roman Empire. The total population of the Roman Empire was between 54 million and 120 million, according to various estimates. Today, the population of Latin America alone is about 300 million people. This includes Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands. Latin America is from 2 to 6 times as large a field as the Roman Empire was in the days of Paul. Most of this field is now open to the preaching of the gospel.

Why do we major on the closed doors and minor on the open doors. Less than 10 years ago, Indonesia was controlled by the Communists, and thus was not a likely place to do mission work. In 1966 the Communist Party was outlawed. It is an open field. Where are the workers for this needy field? We know of only one Independent Baptist Missionary preparing to go to Indonesia. Not all the changes on the fields of the World are bad. Here is a field that God has opened in the last few years. The population of Indonesia is over 120 million people, and this is at least as large as the Roman Empire in Paul's day.

The time has come for God's people to wake up to their responsibility.

It is time for churches to pray for workers to go into these unevangelized fields. We expect our missionaries to be dedicated and sacrificial in their labors. But we will never do the job until churches and Christians at home are as dedicated to the task, as the missionary who goes to the regions beyond.

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(1) The New Teachers' and Pupils' Cyclopaedia. Page 2444.

(2) The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by Conybeare and Howson

(3) The Life of St. Paul, by James Stalker