Freedom Honors Its Father

The advent and growth of political freedom fostered an explosion in entrepreneurial ministry that has enabled the increased success of the Missionary Principle. Meanwhile, there is a trend to redefine freedom apart from its Christian roots.

The way we describe political freedom today is different from political freedom as defined by its early advocates. Some regard basic political rights to include housing, health care, retirement benefits, and even food.1 Postmodernism introduced a shift in political thinking from most acquisition being the result of personal responsibility to entitlement. But it wasn’t always that way. The birth of political freedom, as we understand it, began with the three concepts later described in the First Amendment as freedom of speech, press, and religion.2 They are tied together in such a way that to eliminate or diminish one can have an eroding or destructive effect on the other two.

Between 1700 and 1740, 75 to 80 percent of the American population attended church.3 It was in the churches that the revolution fomented in later years,4 in spite of the fact that a large number of people began abandoning churchgoing as the Revolution approached. According to Dr. John G. West Jr. of the Discovery Institute, “Ordinary people had stopped going to church. Many in the nation’s universities seemed actively hostile to traditional religion.”5 In the midst of this sorry state, the first great revival of American history broke out. The Great Awakening was the beginning of Evangelicalism becoming the central religious view in America. Evangelicalism provides tremendous fuel for missions.

When you consider it, the missionary venture is strange and unique. At a first reading of Matthew 28:19-20, the Missionary Principle doesn’t seem to lend itself to create organizations more significant than local churches. Nothing beyond that was ever directly stated in Jesus’ or the Apostle’s words. For the first two centuries of Christianity that was pretty much the case. Local churches were established, but as the church grew, it found the need to move to new areas of propagation through the establishment of educational centers. As its political influence grew, the church gradually came to wield tremendous influence and even control in the Roman Empire. The Christian Church’s great achievement also became a trap that corrupted its first intention, building churches–localized communities of faith. Nevertheless, for centuries the Christian church in all its varied forms operated primarily under the general model of local community (building churches), religious education, and political maneuvering. But by the 17th century, the missionary movement was beginning to transform by adopting a new attitude of entrepreneurship. Perhaps this was a natural result of the political changes in Europe combined with the discovery of the New World, improvements and new discoveries in seafaring trade and travel. Professor Alvin J. Schmidt notes, 

As missionaries circled the globe after Columbus, they established hospitals. They founded orphanages. They started rescue missions. They build almshouses. They opened soup kitchens. They incorporated charitable societies. They changed laws. They demonstrated love. They lived as if people mattered.6

Markets expanded. The New World offered the ability to create something from scratch–including community infrastructure. The New World being so far removed geographically from the Old allowed for a freer and more experimental atmosphere of economic and social development.

At the time, Christianity was still creating churches, church-centered communities, education centers, universities, and political movements. In the New World, Christianity branched out to humanitarian ventures with the Indian tribes, and the creation of social and other infrastructures. The new arrivals had to begin creating an economy, because there was no industry, very little trade, and no shopkeepers when they arrived. Sometimes they began with primitive ideas of economic socialism. When the Mayflower pilgrims landed, they organized the community as a collective, with disastrous results. The community put the produce of their labors into a “common stock.” All needs were met through community allocation of resources. What happened? Starvation happened. Laziness happened. Crime and corruption happened. When people weren’t working for themselves, they didn’t have the necessary motivation to work on behalf of others. William Bradford recorded in his book, History of Plymouth Plantation that the young men complained about having to “spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children.”7 During the first two years of Plymouth Plantation (1620-1622), nearly half the colonists died. Then a remarkable thing happened: Bradford abolished socialism in the colony. Instead, each family was given a parcel of land, told to farm it, and do whatever they wished with the produce. The result was that the colony never saw famine again and began to truly prosper. The first Thanksgiving announcement was actually a thanksgiving for God’s blessings through a free-market system. 

Where did Bradford, a well-intentioned Christian, get the idea for his free-market reform that saved the colony? From Moses, who ordered tracts of land be given as permanent possessions of each family before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In this way we might say that America’s settlers were the first socialists, long before Karl Marx. But their Christian wisdom won the day and helped establish the market principles that made the American nation free andprosperous.8

As the American society grew and new difficulties arose, those committed to the Missionary Principle created independent societies to solve problems of vice or poverty. They often used a contemporary issue as a vehicle to carry the Gospel, or biblical principles relevant to the issue, to their target audience. As industry grew, the church took up social causes, such as worker abuse during the industrial revolution, women’s rights in the 19th century and much more.9 By the 20th century the church branched out into traditionally non-church avenues of Gospel propagation such as business and community infrastructure development, which continues today. “Now two thousand years later, countless volunteer associations, church related, and non-church related, dispense a wide variety of charity, particularly in democratic countries where people are free to form and join voluntary organizations.”10 And, according to authors Michael Twaddle and Holger Bernt Hansen, 

Christian professionals from Western countries act as members of humanitarian NGOs in Third World countries and as monitors of human rights infringements worldwide. These professionals may not call themselves missionaries, but they act as Christian missionaries nonetheless.11

Even though many who launched into these ventures strayed from their original Gospel intentions, many kept with their original missionary calling to use such opportunities to foster the advancement of the Gospel.

Missions and the Market

When the average person thinks of missionary work, he might think of a lone man, or perhaps a family assigned to the jungles of South America, plains of Africa, or fields of Asia, ministering in impoverished communities. But what marks 21st-century mission work is industry and information technology. While there are thousands of missionaries working tirelessly in the traditional roles, thousands more defy the traditional model of micro-missions by working at the macro level. Among the many missionaries interviewed for this book, a good number work in areas not usually associated with traditional one-on-one or small group missions. Participants included a telecom worker in Turkey, an aviator in Botswana, a broadcaster, and a tour company manager in the Middle East. That’s just for starters. What non-traditional missionaries have accomplished, especially in the last 100 years, may blow your mind: Hospitals and medical clinics worldwide, local and community-based agricultural projects that feed and expand the economic base of whole communities. That’s not bad for non-profit, donor oriented, non-government supported missionaries and projects, right? But wait, there’s more: Hydroelectric power generation, communications-technology development, engineering consulting that contributes to community infrastructure. Churches and missionaries are involved in creating job-training centers, providing job creation through simple training in a basic skill, and it gets better: Missionaries in several countries have created aviation companies–private and humanitarian, Internet firms, construction companies, and even involved themselves in the mining industries in Africa and Asia. By applying a market application to the missionary principle, the Gospel has permeated into all levels of global society in ways not seen before the 20th century. An Internet search yields hundreds of examples. 

  • A church in Egypt created a program to train women in the garment industry. In the early 1990s they trained an average of 150 people a month.
  • In Mongolia, a Christian organization created the nation’s first independent television station, employing 80 staff, and facilitating western standards of journalism in Mongolia for the first time in the country’s history–along with sharing Christ.12
  • In Ghana, United Methodists financed a Cassava Mill for a local farming community to help them process their daily crops and get them to market quicker.13
  • Beginning in 1980, HCJB began a community development project to bring clean water to Rural Ecuadorians. In addition to building multiple hospitals, medical clinics, and media centers, the ministry has had a significant impact on the health of the community and community prosperity.14

There is a word for this tactic in modern missions. We call it, entrepreneurialism. Freedom that facilitated entrepreneurialism has spread to applications of the Missionary Principle across a broad range of fields. This is probably the most important way political freedom has facilitated the further advance of its father, faith. Evangelicalism itself may be described as entrepreneurial Christianity. Speaking of the unique nature of evangelicalism, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church told a Business Week reporter, “We’ve always been entrepreneurial.”15 Indeed, that spirit has always existed within the Christian church, from its early Catholic and Orthodox forms, and especially among today’s Evangelicals. Professor Thomas E. Woods Jr. notes of the early Christians, 

Wherever they went, the monks introduced crops, industries, or production methods with which the people had not been previously familiar. Here they would introduce the rearing of cattle and horses, there the brewing of beer or the raising of bees or fruit. In Sweden the corn trade owed its existence to the monks; in Parma it was cheese-making; in Ireland, salmon fisheries – and, in a great many places, the finest vineyards…. Although perhaps not as glamorous as some of the monks intellectual contributions, these crucial tasks were very nearly as important to building and preserving the civilization of the West.16

Former sociology professor Alvin J. Schmidt adds, 

The arrival of capitalism also preceded Calvin or Protestantism. For instance, the Medici of Florence, Italy, in the fourteenth century were productive businessmen. Some medieval banks in southern Germany even charged interest and were not condemned by existing usury prohibitions. And there were even some medieval monasteries that charged interest on loaned money.17

Capitalism is usually associated with American business. Some leaders around the world, such as the late Pope John Paul II, have called for international restrictions on capitalism.18  Yet the concept of free market capitalism as we understand it today, is uniquely Judeo-Christian. Consider what Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin says: 

“Atheism and business are not natural allies…The atheist himself recognizes that, to be true to his credo, he must reject the free market because it is appointed by a God in whom he does not believe. The world still awaits a society that has embraced atheism and also operates a successful free market.”19

Socialist leaders have propagandized the “evils” of capitalism.20 Yet the basic idea of entrepreneurial capitalism is people working creatively to become successful in their venture. In other words, it is a simple part of human nature to want to create and administer something that brings a personal benefit. As entrepreneurialism gained a foothold in Western culture over the last three centuries, that creative spirit found its way into the church (or perhaps it is better to say it was released, since the previous cultural and political realities prevented its full emergence).

Capitalism did more than facilitate growth of the missionary venture through new ideas, it advanced missions in a way that state sponsorship never could. Probably the most important development capitalism contributed to missions is fundraising.

Fundraising is not a Dirty Word

Historically, missionary activity is funded through one of three ways: state sponsorship, vocational tent making, and freewill contributions. We have plenty of historical examples demonstrating which of these support strategies is effective and most appropriate. Space will not allow a detailed overview, but a few citations will suffice.

State Sponsorship was the primary means of spreading the knowledge of Christianity during Christendom’s heyday. It primarily consisted of tax-supported payments to the Roman or other state church to advance the mission of the church along with the state. It took the form of everything from traditional missionaries to educational instruction in church doctrines, to military conquests, like the Crusades. The day of state-supported missions is over. Only in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East do a small number of governments give official support to religions like Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism to propagate those faiths.21 Several governments also choose to spend tax revenues to build mosques, temples or other religious structures. 

Vocational Tent Making: There are two forms of vocational tent making. One is to use normal marketplace employment to self-support a ministry or ministry project. At times the Apostle Paul engaged in temporary “tent making” to support himself as he continued his ministry.22 Many business people in the United States have used their profits to create nonprofit foundations to develop missions projects overseas; or establish financial support structures for existing ministries through private foundations. The second type of vocational tent making is to select or be placed in a profession with the singular intention of evangelizing people in that profession. People involved in this strategy are sometimes referred to as marketplace missionaries. Some people prefer the concept of vocational tent making because they dislike state supported religion, and they don’t like people asking them for money.

Freewill Contributions (the third means of supporting missions) have been especially successful in modern times. This category includes the regular church tithe. Individual support of missions has brought greater creativity to the missionary venture. Donors who contribute significant sums often travel to check first-hand on the work they’re supporting. Then they often end up contributing their own ideas and become more involved financially. These donors take a capitalist approach in that they want their investments to return what is promised: changed lives. To support thousands of missionaries and projects worldwide, individuals, businesses and churches invest billions of dollars annually.23 Though the Apostle Paul sometimes resorted to tent making, he was usually supported through freewill contributions. 

Of these three strategies only one has no New Testament support as a preferred practice: State Sponsorship. The preferred method espoused in the New Testament is freewill contributions. There are no passages contained in the New Testament which give direct instruction or ancillary support for using government funds for the advancement of Christianity. In fact, whenever a missionary trip is discussed in the New Testament, the writer calls upon his readers to freely contribute, or praises those who have already contributed freely.24 Clearly, at the time of the New Testament’s writing, the Christian church did not possess the political legitimacy necessary to engage in State Sponsorship – nor were any principles given in anticipation of that day. 

Only one of these categories, freewill contributions, utilizes political freedom and economic prosperity to its fullest. State-sponsored missions often took advantage of men’s poverty. State-sponsored missions rob men of their choice of conscience. However, it should be noted in all fairness that state sponsorship of missions, and vocational tent making served the church well for many centuries, because, prior to the advent of easy global travel, modern banking and electronic fund transfers, freewill offerings were difficult to come by, much less distribute.

Beyond the philosophical reasons for preferring the freewill method of missions support, the results speak for themselves. In the last 50 years alone, more people have been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ through freewill supported missions than the previous 1,900 years combined. Two examples out of dozens available: Campus Crusade for Christ, International, reported a 6.1 billion exposures25 from 1951-2000, with 23.3 million decisions for Christ worldwide.26 The International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention reported 16,721 new churches started as a result of their efforts in 2003.27

Political freedom has facilitated economic opportunity that in turn provided missions with vast resources to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world many times over. Is it a coincidence that these and many other missionary organizations were started in free countries? How many successful and globe-reaching missionary movements are birthed out of oppressed countries like Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, or China? Short answer: None. By facilitating free enterprise within missionary strategies, political freedom has found unique ways to honor its heritage of faith. The politics of the oppressor honors none.

Notes

  1. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, December 10, 1948 (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html).
  2. Though the First Amendment was not included in the U.S. Constitution until 11 years after the Constitution was ratified, the Amendment was foreshadowed in the constitutions of the various states, as many where were originally penned in the mid-1770s and 1780s. Most of the State Constitutions placed rights to free speech, press, and religion at the head of the document. The Founding Fathers did not originally include a Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, believing that the rights were well protected by the States.
  3. Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, “Chapter II, Religion in Eighteenth Century America,” an exhibition of the Library of Congress. (lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel02.html).
  4. Ministers in the colonies often used Sunday sermons, and revival messages to support the idea of resistance to the British Crown. Some of the more famous messages included, Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, by Jonathon Mayhew; and God Arising And Pleading His People’s Cause, by Abraham Keteltas.
  5. God and Politics: Lessons from America’s Past, by John G. West, Jr. Heritage Foundation Lecture #583, March 25, 1997.
  6. How Christianity Changed the World, “Charity and Compassion: Their Christian Connection;” Page: 148. ©2001, 2004 Alvin J. Schmidt. Zondervan.
  7. History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford; 1650.
  8. Perhaps if Karl Marx had had a proper understanding of biblical principles, his name might not be identified along with Lenin’s–and a political ideology that lead to the suffering and death of more than 20 million people in the 20th century. 
  9. Examples of early American societies devoted to practical social issues can be found in author Marvin Olasky’s writings, including The Essence of American Compassion, American Compassion: Past and Present. (www.olasky.com)
  10. How Christianity Changed the World, “Charity and Compassion: Their Christian Connection;” Page: 137, ©2001, 2004 Alvin J. Schmidt. Zondervan.
  11. Michael Twaddleco-author with Holger Bernt Hansen of Christian Missionaries and the State of the Third World.
  12. History of Eagle Television online at www.amongfoundation.com. 
  13. Improving Daily Life in Ghana, UMCOR and Agricultural Missions (gbgm-umc.org/umcor/stories/dambaighana.cfm)
  14. General Healthcare Info, www.hcjb.org.
  15.  “Evangelism Gone Entrepreneurial,” William C. Symonds, ©May 23, 2005 Businessweek Online. (www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_21/b3934015_mz001.htm)
  16. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, “How the Monks Saved Civilization;” Pages 31 and 32. ©2005, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D. Regnery Publishing Inc.
  17. How Christianity Changed the World, “Labor and Economic Freedom Dignified;” pages 200-20, ©2001, 2004 Alvin J. Schmidt. Zondervan. 
  18. Pope Condemns Excesses of Capitalism in Americas Document, ©January 23, 1999, CNN (www.cnn.com/WORLD/americas/9901/23/pope.future/).
  19. America’s Real War, “God and Economics 101,” page 217, ©1999 Daniel Lapin, Multnomah Publishers.
  20. Between Things Ended and Things Begun, Ahmed Shawki, from the International Socialist Review, June-July 2001 (www.internationalsocialist.org/pdfs/ThingsEndedandBegun.pdf).
  21. Examples, according to the U.S. State Department, other than those already mentioned, include Maldives, Iran, Qatar, Sandi Arabia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Mauritania, just to name a few. (www.state.gov)
  22. Acts 18:1-5.
  23. Ministry incomes reported by sample organizations:
     The International Missions Board reported income over $133 million for fiscal 2003 (www.imb.org).
    Campus Crusade for Christ
     reported an income of over $381 million in fiscal 200l. 
    The Bible League reported a 2001 income of more than $33 million. 
    Christ for the Nations reported a 2003 income of $13 million.
    Compassion International reported a 2002 income of $122 million. 
    Gospel for Asia reported a 2002 income of $21 million. 
    HCJB World Radio reported a 2002 income of $30 million
    International Bible Society reported a 2003 income of $25 million
    Intervarsity Christian Fellowship reported a 2002 income of $58 million. 
    Jews for Jesus reported a 2002 income of $13 million. 
    Luis Palau Evangelistic Association reported a 2002 income of $11 million.
    Mission Aviation Fellowship reported a 2002 income of $27 million. 
    Navigators reported a 2003 income of $94 million. 
    OMS International reported a 2003 income of $27 million. 
    Prison Fellowship International reported a 2002 income of $45 million. 
    World Vision reported a 2002 income of $685 million. 
    Wycliffe Bible Translators reported a 2003 income of $120 million. 
    These figures, for only a few organizations, represent over $l.8 billion in ministry income. Reports on these, and hundreds of other mission organizations and ministries are freely accessible at www.ecfa.org and www.give.org. The public listing of these organizations denotes they have opened their accounting practices and books to outside organizations for the sake of accountably as one means of insuring donors they operate with integrity in their financial practices.
  24. I Corinthians 16:1-4, II Corinthians 8:1-4.
  25. An “exposure” to the Gospel is different from a confession of faith. An “exposure” count is simply the number of people who received at least one full explanation of the Gospel message. 
  26. Ministry Vital Signs 2000, an internal publication of Campus Crusade for Christ, International. ©2001. It should also be noted that there is a difference between an “exposure” to the Gospel and a “decision” for Christ. An exposure is a single presentation of the Gospel message. Exposures are usually ranked by the number of people who received the message. As an example, if one presentation of the Gospel message on radio was heard by 40,000 radio listeners from beginning to end, then the number of exposures is 40,000. A decision is defined as an individual who responds to an exposure by making a conscious decision to believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior.
  27. International Missions Board, Fast Facts, March 17, 2004 (www.imb.org/core/fastfacts.asp).

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