Last weekend our campus swelled to receive 37 new students, their children, and short-term staff workers to care for those children. Fresh goodbyes and meeting all these ‘strangers’ had its own set of apprehensions but the EXCITEMENT was thick.
Within hours a genuine appreciation for each other’s commitment caused a bonding to start among students that we have come to expect to happen here. It’s fun to watch and be a part of. The individual hurdles and obstacles each of these students work through before they even arrive on campus could fill a book. No one ‘just shows up’ here. What an atmosphere to prepare gospel workers in!
A constant challenge before us as a staff is to keep our eye on the ball. We must say ‘no’ on a regular basis to a host of really great ideas and things we’d actually like to do. Decisions about what components of training we include and don’t include are made in light of many factors. Most sending organizations have their own ‘contingency and security’ training, thus we don’t feel we need to include that. There are countless good places to get advanced bible training… so although the scriptures are the backbone of all we teach we do not present ourselves as a purely ‘biblical training’ school. Radius is not a counseling center so folks with extreme needs in their personal lives, marriages, or children are encouraged to get those addressed before they come. I say all that to highlight two theological issues put front and center in our training here. “What is the gospel of grace?” and “How does the New Testament define a local church?”
The reasons we focus on gospel of grace and the clear communication of that gospel is that today a fuzziness or vagueness exists (at times a total confusion) regarding what IS the gospel and what is NOT the gospel. Even among God’s people. “I accepted Jesus, I prayed, Jesus hugged me, I obeyed, I love Jesus, I joined the church, I stopped drinking/porno/lying/, I made my peace with the Big Man” MAY actually be all he knows of how to express his gratitude for what Christ did on the cross to accomplish his salvation. But…JUST AS COMMONLY those phrases mask a fogginess that reveals this person actually doesn’t know how God accomplished his salvation through Christ alone. To assume that folks who have grown up in church, gone to Bible College, and yes even Seminary, can state with clarity and succinctness what the gospel is is to make a large assumption. No amount of fluency will enable the gospel messenger to overcome his own fogginess. Thus we put a LOT of time into establishing the gospel of grace clearly in the mind of each student. Biblical Foundations with an OT overview are taught… with the gospel clearly in mind. Spiritual Foundations with an emphasis on Ephesians and Galatians are carefully taught… with gospel clarity being the focus.
We have complete confidence in every applicant’s salvation or they would not be here being trained. But we do not assume they are highly capable of articulating the gospel. Today some widely accepted missions’ methods actually do not have the gospel of grace at the center of the message. ‘Obedience to God’, ‘Following Jesus’, ‘Praying to God’ ‘Join our group’…and a host of other terms are commonly substituted. In areas of this world where ‘doing things for God’ is common, such phrases and subtle shifts in focus easily generate syncretism. Thus our continued focus on the gospel.
Secondly, why do we teach so much on local church? Because in the NT we see the local church as the launching pad of the missionary team (Acts 13:1), the goal of the missionary team (Acts 14:23), and the overall authority of the missionary team (Acts 15:4). This never before heard of concept of Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female, young/old who have all found redemption in Christ is so unique that Paul will speak of it as ‘God’s Crown Jewel’ that is being shown off to rulers and authorities in heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10).
Today a truncated, minimalistic view of ‘local church’ is common. When Jesus says “…where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”, he is not offering us a definition of a local church. The context there is church discipline. An extended family coming to Christ and enjoying Christian fellowship is a wonderful thing, but it is not a local church. A bible study of fraternity brothers or fellow employees at an assembly plant in India is a wonderful thing, and may grow into a church. But the New Testament actually lays out some minimums for what a local church is: they regularly assemble and have a corporate/‘we are the people of Jesus’ identity that surpasses family or clan allegiances. Recognized mature leadership, the teaching of God’s Word, the Lords Supper, corporate giving… these ‘minimums’ are critical to a body of believers continually growing towards maturity and being able to nurture those who come to faith due to the clear witness of its people.
Again, we do not assume that our candidates have a developed view of the local church… in 21st Century USA our spiritual autonomy can be stunning. Without deliberate teaching on THE GOAL of their efforts overseas it is easy to stake out ‘converts, making disciples, starting a movement, alleviation of hunger, poverty, lack of education’ or some other goal that either takes less time or is not prioritized in scripture… and thus the worker decides for himself what his goals are. Because Paul felt there were adequate numbers of local churches he actually said, ‘My work here is DONE!!!’ (Rom 15:23). Having a clear goal is important, having a biblical goal is even more important.