A Plea For Gospel Sanity in Missions: From East to West (Part 2)
I sit there, intrigued, as I listen to the man’s story. We are in an important (and extremely unreached) city in North India. Detail upon intricate detail mounts as he narrates the amazing events that caused him to renounce Sikhism for Christianity. I listen intently as he tells us of the healing his mother received from a life-threatening illness, his subsequent rise from rags to riches, the persecutions he has faced, and most importantly, the supernatural vision in which he saw a figure cloaked in white who squeezed his hand and told him, “I will bless you.”
He rubs his moistened eyes, wiping away tears…and then he tells us that though it has been over 20 years now, he can still feel the hand of that otherworldly figure squeezing his hand today. My Western friends listen, some of them wary, but a couple of them, enthralled…
My Indian co-laborer nudges me as we listen. We are all too familiar with the gimmick—this is something we’ve seen and heard many times before. The man finishes his story, and one of my Western friends, a sincere brother—in fact, one who is fairly solid in his theology—remarks, “Wow! Praise God! That’s such an awesome testimony, brother!”
Inwardly, I feel flabbergasted! How is it that even people who know their Bibles and understand the Gospel well get duped by this stuff?! Isn’t the complete absence of the gospel in his testimony obvious??
My Indian friend and I begin to explain to the man about the true forgiveness of sins that only Jesus can provide, about Christ’s death and resurrection and his sin-bearing substitutionary sacrifice on the cross…he looks puzzled, for he has no idea what we’re talking about! All he knows is that “Jesus is the only god who will bless you.” That’s why he became a Christian. That’s why he became a pastor. And he’s been a pastor for 20 years! He used to be a poor Sikh, but now he’s driving a posh SUV as a “Christian bishop.” He drives us to his “church” building, a multi-story mega-church that seats 3000, and tells us that he’s the “bishop” over a ministry that plants several hundred churches every six months. But one could replace the name “Jesus” everywhere in his testimony with the name of any other god, and it wouldn’t make a difference…
“All he knows is that “Jesus is the only god who will bless you.” That’s why he became a Christian. That’s why he became a pastor. And he’s been a pastor for 20 years! He used to be a poor Sikh, but now he’s driving a posh SUV as a “Christian bishop.””
And to make matters worse, this “bishop” has a Western missionary, totally taken in by his story, functioning almost like his foot-servant. Why not, since the missionary can report back all this bishop’s numbers as his own!
In my previous post, I talked about the evil fruit that results from a craze for numbers and “rapid growth” in missions in India. In this post, I want to focus on a second major problem—the West’s enchantment with the “supernatural.” My intent here is not to enter into the debate over whether God still operates supernaturally or not. Rather, I hope to alert my brothers and sisters in the West to the dangers of being allured by sensational stories that are devoid of the biblical gospel message. I also hope to call my brethren in both India and the West to keep the gospel message central in all our gospel work, and to prize the power of God’s holy and authoritative Word above all else.
Has the Holy Spirit Migrated from West to East?
The Beatles. Madonna. Julia Roberts. Eat, Pray, Love. College students without a job. One can think of a long list of people in the West who are fascinated with the otherworldliness of Eastern spirituality. And this trend has found its way into the Church as well. I’ve grown weary of hearing it over and over: “We Western Christians are so narrow-minded. We put God in a box! We place limits on what he can do. That’s why we don’t see God work supernaturally here like he does in the East.” Many of my brothers and sisters in the West have bought into this false idea that the Western church is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work today—while the third member of the Trinity is greatly active in the East, in places like India and China, where people are purportedly seeing dreams and visions and miracles are happening all over the place. In the West, people are fascinated and allured by all the amazing testimonies and reports they hear from what is happening “out there” on the mission field.
But sadly, this fascination with the “supernatural” is often accompanied with a loss of discernment. At times, Westerners get so googly-eyed with sensational stories from the East that they don’t even notice the non-existence of any form of the gospel message.
Westerners get so googly-eyed w/ sensational stories that they don’t notice the absence of the Gospel. - Tweet this
Beloved friends, Wake Up! The Holy Spirit has not transferred locations! He is just as active in the West as He is anywhere else in the world, doing what He has been sent to do—empowering witness to Christ (John 15:26–27; Acts 1:16; 1 Pet 1:12); convicting the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); leading the church into all truth (John 16:13); glorifying Christ by drawing people from darkness to light as the gospel message is proclaimed (2 Cor 3:12–4:6); and sealing God’s people for the Day of Redemption (Eph 1:13).
Oh that we would recognize that the greatest, most supernatural work of God is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of sinners to the glory of Christ, regenerating and renewing them through the proclamation of the gospel, so that they are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith! Do we not realize that the Spirit of God is sovereign and active, accomplishing this work in every place where Christ is faithfully proclaimed from the Scriptures?
I know of so many dear brothers and sisters in the West whose testimony goes something like this: “I grew up in a Christian home. From my youngest years, my parents taught me the Bible. My parents loved the Lord. They pointed me to Christ and told me of his sacrificial death on behalf of sinners. I was very young when I heard the gospel, repented of my sins, and trusted Christ for salvation. And so I’ve grown up almost all my life knowing the Lord.” Beloved friends, is this less glorious or less supernatural in any way? Is this not a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power to raise dead sinners to life? Have we forgotten the glory of the gospel? Have we forgotten that all heaven celebrates when one sinner comes to repentance?
Let us not emphasize other things, for this has disastrous consequences…
The Fabrication of Testimonies that Titillate
In my last post, I talked about the corruption prevalent in ministries in India owing to an emphasis on numbers in the West—Inflated numbers and false reports of great revivals are generated in order to bring in Western cash. Likewise, the West’s fascination with sensational stories has a similar corrosive effect—testimonies are fabricated in order to dazzle and daze Western believers into generously giving financial support. And once again, I am sorry to say that my Western friends—even the theologically sound ones—are gullible.
In India, I have encountered professing Indian believers who don’t say much to me by way of testimony—why would they, since I am just a fellow Indian. But these very people, when they meet a Westerner, as soon as they see white skin, are quick to narrate stories of dreams, visions, and amazing supernatural experiences.
On more than one occasion, I have had the heartbreaking experience of meeting churches and believers in the West who have had the awful experience of being duped by Indian "ministries." For instance, one Indian "evangelist" hoodwinked a whole network of churches with his fantastic testimony:
He claimed to have been raised as a religious Hindu, and his family owned a snake that they worshipped daily. As an adult, he was gripped with religious fervor and zeal for Hinduism. He was on his way to attack and kill Christians when he saw a vision of Christ that halted him, and brought him to tears. He then became a Christian, resolving to proclaim the faith he once persecuted, and despite being rejected by his family and friends, he is following Christ and serving him as an evangelist.
Several churches and ministries supported this “man of God,” only to later learn that the entire story was made up! This man actually grew up as the son of a pastor in a “Christian home,” and fabricated this testimony because he learned that it is only testimonies like this that generate support from the West. And let me assure you that this story is not an isolated case! There are many, many others like this one… and in every case, my Western brothers and sisters are quick to be amazed—and sadly—deceived.
Such deception could be avoided by exercising more caution and discernment—by verifying every detail of such testimonies (especially in view of its extraordinary details) on the account of eye-witnesses; and by carefully checking if the person understands the biblical gospel and prizes it above such experiences.
The Propagation of the Prosperity “Gospel”
When Western believers unwittingly get carried away with sensational stories of the supernatural, not only does corruption thrive in India but so does false teaching. Even churches and believers who decry the evils of the heretical prosperity gospel actually promote its growth in India. How? By endorsing and supporting ministries in India that emphasize great miracles while teaching the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. Because the ministries in India that emphasize great miracles are also those that most often teach the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. They do not begin with the biblical gospel, so we should not be surprised to find that the content of their ministries is not the biblical gospel! Yes, it’s true. And this is also tied to the craze for numbers: the “prosperity gospel” prospers, and brings in the people by the droves. It thus boasts of both supernatural “miracles” and big numbers.
Let’s Put the Emphasis in the Right Place
My brothers and sisters, the only way for true gospel growth to happen in India is for us to remember how gospel growth comes—through the Gospel! The Gospel proclaims that all people everywhere have sinned and rebelled against God our Creator and stand justly condemned under his holy judgment; but God graciously saves sinners through his Son Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross as a substitute for sinners, and was raised from the dead, so that all who repent of their wickedness and trust in him alone receive full forgiveness of sins and eternal life through him. The story of God’s great and supernatural plan of salvation must take precedence over all other “supernatural stories.”
Let us not get carried away by stories of dreams and visions, but let us stand firm on the bedrock of the inspired Word of God. Even the apostle Peter, who was an eyewitness to the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, who heard the very voice of God and saw with his own eyes the Son of God in all his majestic glory, tells us that we have something more sure than his experience. Something “more fully confirmed, to which we would do well to pay attention”—the Bible (2 Pet 1:16–21).
The faithful Indian co-laborers that I know, who sincerely work for true gospel growth in the hardest regions of India do one simple thing when anyone comes to them with stories of a dream or vision or anything else. Open God’s Word. Point them to the Bible. Remind them that such “supernatural” occurrences might be shaky and uncertain, but the Scripture is steadfast and true. Do we thank God for dreams, visions, supernatural healings, deliverances and any other special acts of God’s providence that glorifies Christ? Absolutely. But the most supernatural work of all is when the Holy Spirit brings people to submit to the Supernatural Book.
My brothers and sisters in the West, will you hear me out? In your support of gospel work in India, will you be discerning and resolve not to get carried away by the sensational stuff? Will you remember that the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of the Scriptures are what produces a people conformed to Christ’s image? Will you ensure that any “gospel work” that you endorse or support is founded on the message of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners, the gospel of repentance and faith, and God’s holy and inspired Word? I pray that you will.
So the next time you hear a testimony from India (or anywhere), be careful to discern whether the person has truly understood the gospel. And be careful to ensure that God receives the glory above all else for his marvelous supernatural work in saving lost sinners.
In my next post, I will address another burning issue in missions in India—“contextualization.”