Evangelical Unity in Thailand
How do very different denominations work together to do church planting? This is the big question that remains to be answered as the 7th Thailand Congress on Evangelism in Bangkok came to an end this past week. The conference brought together three of the largest Protestant church groups in Thailand - the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the Thailand Baptist Convention, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT). In the past, these large denominations didn’t get along very well so it is encouraging to see leaders and members of these different groups coming together in order to pursue the goal of proclaiming Christ throughout Thailand. A few years back, the involved denominations had formed the Thailand Evangelism Coordinating Committee (TEC) and came up with Vision 2010 which aims to see a church planted in every provincial district (อำเภอ), a Christian group in every sub-district (ตำบล), and a Christian presence in every neighborhood/village (หมู่บ้าน).
Throughout the conference pastors, Bible college professors, and other church leaders from the various groups preached on the themes of Obedience, Faithfulness, Unity, and Cooperation. Listening to the preachers, worship leaders, and other speakers up on stage, I got the sense that the goal of the week was not so much as to spell out how to work together in unity, but rather to rally the troops and encourage the people in attendance that unity is important and the God will work as we work together in obedience and faithfulness to the Great Commission.
There was one session during the week where everyone broke up into smaller groups according to province in order to discuss which districts and sub-districts had or did not yet have a Christian group of some sort. I had thought initially that this would be a time of some substantial planning, bringing together all the church leaders from the given province. Perhaps it was for some provincial groups but for my group and the groups of others whom I talked to, the provincial session didn’t amount to much more than checking off a list of which sub-districts had Christians in them. What that means is that the real work of planning is going to have to be done on the local level after the conference is done.
What does evangelical unity look like in Thailand? The preachers at the conference spoke in many general terms about the importance of unity and loving one another, and the wonderful blessings that flow from unity. The actual “how to” be united in Christ and how to pursue this vision of nationwide church planting was not spelled out. The real test of unity will come as provincial church leaders come together and discuss how to reach their provinces for Christ. Although it was barely mentioned at the evangelism congress, there are still very deep differences between the various groups in terms of theology and practice. Since that is the case, it would seem that evangelical unity in Thailand will not mean that Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and Baptists join together in planting churches. That would be unrealistic and unwise.
Positively, what evangelical unity in Thailand could mean is that Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and Baptists get together to pray for one another and pull out a map of their province to take a look at which districts and sub-districts don’t yet have churches and then decide who will take responsibility for outreach and church planting in which area. Talking to the Thai pastors and church leaders at the conference, I got the sense that even though differences exist, their feeling is that having a church of any variety in an area is better than none. And if a given church is truly preaching the Gospel in accordance with Scripture, than I agree. Since Christians still compose less than 1% of the Thai population , there is plenty of room for everybody to find their own area of work as there is lots of room for lots more churches to be planted everywhere. (click here for map of percent of Christians in Thailand, by district)
The Thai church needs much prayer as they push forward in pursuing this vision of a church in every provincial district (อำเภอ), a Christian group in every sub-district (ตำบล), and a Christian presence in every neighborhood/village (หมู่บ้าน). The temptation to compromise the Biblical gospel in the name of reaching people for Christ is strong. Bad theology from the West, particularly the prosperity gospel of health and wealth is making inroads in many churches. The pressure for Thai Christians to return to their former religion or to pursue worldly wealth and status is ever present. An easy believe-ism which regards salvation as nothing more than saying a prayer of confession is common. Although the majority of Thai come from broken homes, it is rare to hearing teaching on marriage and family in many Thai churches.
May Christ be proclaimed throughout Thailand, and Biblical disciples be made. Not merely converts but true disciples who learn to obey all that Jesus commanded, from a heart of gratitude for the abundant grace poured out through Jesus work on the cross.