The Apostle Paul in Lockdown

Do you think the Apostle Paul ever felt “stuck”? Did he ever feel frustrated at not being able to obey God’s call on his life because of external circumstances? If I found myself in his shoes, I might have. 

This past year, a lot of people (including myself) have felt stuck and hindered by external circumstances, largely as a result of government restrictions in response to COVID-19.  Plans have been frustrated and new plans were also frustrated, and then the most gingerly held and tentative plans were also frustrated.  “Surely, by such-and-such a time, things should be getting back to normal” was in the thoughts and on the lips of many of us, but that confidence that it would only be a bit longer was continually upended.  

But what does the train wreck of 2020 (and 2021?) have to do with the Apostle Paul?

COVID-19 and Why the Incarnation of Christ Was Essential

This Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the incarnation of Christ because of all the restrictions that we’ve lived under due to government responses to COVID-19.  The Son of God came to the world in-the-flesh, in-person, but for much of this year many of us have been unable to see each other in person. Everyone has been doing the best they can given the circumstances, and there is much to be thankful for, including the miracle of digital communication that enables us to be “present” to some degree for one another. In messaging from the government, we’ve heard a lot about “essential” and “non-essential” activities, but many times “church” has been relegated to the “non-essential” list.  For that reason, in this post I wanted to reflect briefly on why God thought it was essential to send His son in-person, in-the-flesh, for us and our salvation. Was the incarnation essential? How does the incarnation of Christ relate to the limited ability to gather with others in-person in the time of COVID-19?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Church Growth in Thailand - Why So Slow?

One of the perennial questions about Christianity in Thailand is why the church has traditionally grown so slowly compared to other countries where Protestant missionaries arrived around the same time. Ultimately, we don’t know for sure why the church grows more slowly or more quickly in a given place. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills and we don’t know where He will move or when (John 3:8). However, God does use people and methods in his work. So, from a human perspective, it is worth considering some of the factors why church growth has been slow in Thailand.

A primary reason for slow church growth has been a strong association of Buddhism with national identity. This has been true for hundreds of years but received a great boost in the early 20th century when Buddhism began to be strongly promoted as a mark of national pride. Thai leaders were eager to modernize their country in the areas of education, medicine, communication, transportation, etc. but becoming more modern did not mean becoming more secular. Buddhism has always been retained as a force for unifying the people of Thailand. As the Thai say, “To be Thai is to be Buddhist.”  In China and Korea, which have both seen strong church growth, no single religion has been tied to being a loyal citizen. The strongest church growth in Thailand has been in the North where minority tribal groups with their own cultural identity have been historically influenced more by local animistic beliefs than Buddhism.

How Two World Wars and Secularism Have Benefitted the Western Missionary Movement

World War I and II were greatly disruptive to missionary work worldwide but they were also a blessing in disguise to the missionary cause. For years, Western missionaries had claimed that the superiority of Western civilization was due to Christianity. They thought this was a great apologetic for why non-Christian people in other parts of the world should believe in Christianity.
 
See what fruit Christianity has borne in Christian nations?  
You too can have that if you believe in Christ!
 
Well, the rest of the world certainly did see as the countries of Europe, the supposed pinnacle of human civilization, tore each other apart.  So that apologetic was not very useful anymore if it ever was. 
 
When the rug was pulled out from under the feet of this missionary apologetic, missionaries were humbled and forced to ask themselves “What IS the fruit of the gospel?” and “What ARE the real benefits of believing in Christ that we can tell non-Christian people?”  The two world wars forced missionaries to draw a sharper dividing line between Christian faith and Western civilization; And that was a helpful thing because missionaries should be preaching the glories of Christ and not the glories of their home countries as supposed proof of the glories of Christ. 
 

Bats, Cats, Rats and COVID-19 ~ a Missionary’s Perspective

Guest post by Larry Dinkins

Despite being the most scrutinized pandemic in history, the Corona Virus leaves numerous questions unanswered. Many of these questions will no doubt remain unanswered, but there is one that topped the list with SARS as well as Ebola and remains the key question with this present virus: Precisely how did Covid-19 originate? The answer to this $64,000 question could go a long way in helping remove the source of the next potentially devastating global pandemic. Helping scientists in this task has been the work done by Chinese researchers in 2017 who traced the last Corona type pandemic (SARS) “ … through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan province.”[1] In the case of Covid-19 most research points to the wet-markets of Wuhan province that sell live animals like bats and pangolins.  The mention of people eating such exotic animals is actually addressed in the Old Testament and has caused me to look afresh at what the Bible has to say about Old Testament dietary laws.

bat IMG 3688

Book Review - The Unfinished Mission in Thailand by Samuel Kim

Kim, Samuel I., The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, Seoul: East-West Center for Missions Research and Development, 1980

the unfinished mission in thailand sameul kimThere are not too many books on the history of the church in Thailand and my most common go-to books are S.G. McFarland’s Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions 1828-1928 and Alex Smith’s Siamese Gold, which brings the story of the Thai church up to 1982.  Both books, however, do a better job with chronicling earlier Thai church history (pre-WWII) than post-war.  Truth be told, Smith’s book does cover the post-war period, though he provides more information on evangelical missions working apart from the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) than he does the CCT itself. Kenneth Wells’ History of Protestant Work in Thailand, 1828-1958 is somewhat useful if you want an official sanitized version of the American Presbyterian Mission and CCT in the post-war period but if you compare Wells’ book with Samuel Kim’s The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a lot of dirty laundry that Wells left out.

Samuel Kim begins his book with a couple of general chapters discussing Thailand, Buddhism, and the history of Christian missions in Thailand up through WWII, most of which you can easily find in the other books I’ve just mentioned.  However, beginning with chapter 3, he begins discussing tensions between the American Presbyterian missionaries and Thai Christians leaders after World War II up through the late 1970s.  It is this second part of the book that is the most valuable and forms Kim’s unique contribution to understanding the history of Christianity in Thailand.

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