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At the end of October 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wittenberg, Germany to attend a Reformation 500 conference put on by the World Reformed Fellowship, and to visit some of the famous places associated with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg. In many ways, it was a surreal experience to be in Wittenberg and to walk where Luther walked, to see his house, his table, the Castle church, and to imagine what the village of Wittenberg would have been like 500 years ago. In this post, I want to share a few of my personal reflections on visiting Wittenberg in order to help all of us to gain some insight into the past and its relevance (or lack thereof) for the present.
1) The Commercialization of Luther
One of the remarkable things about the unremarkable little town of Wittenberg is the marketing of Luther and His image. This town has one claim to fame, and that’s Luther. So they are trying to milk Luther for all he is worth. You can buy anything imaginable with Luther’s image on it. Luther coffee mugs. Luther plates. Luther socks. Luther pasta. Luther cookie cutters. Luther t-shirts. Luther posters. Luther books. Luther mini-statues. Luther beer. Luther wine. Luther re-imagined as Che Guevara “Viva La Reformation!” It just seems like too much. Admittedly, I did buy a couple Luther posters, a mug, and postcards. And the Luther socks. They were hilarious. The calf is emblazoned with “Here I Stand. I Can Do No Other” and it struck my funny bone. That said, I came away wondering if Luther is more than a marketing opportunity for the residents of Wittenberg. Do the people selling Luther memorabilia embrace what the Reformer stood for, or is this just a way to make money?
Dear Friends & Family,Thailand has an evangelical Christian population of less than 1% so it might be fairly asked why we would spend a significant portion of our time discipling Thai Christians. Is not evangelism the more pressing task? Discipleship and evangelism are sometimes pitted against each other but they actually go hand in hand. The folks with whom we are studying the Bible, talking, and praying have much broader and deeper connections with the rest of society than we can ever hope to have as foreigners. If we can help Thai Christians become grounded in the Bible so that they are well equipped to both hold the faith and pass it on to their relatives and neighbors, then they will likely be more effective evangelists than we can ever be.
When a church building goes up on the mission field, everybody feels good. The missionary feels good. The local believers feel good. The church back home feels good. Having a church building gives the impression that a church has been established. It is a visible sign of the Christian faith in a community. Everybody feels good that the Gospel is advancing and the presence of a church building is a sign of that advance. Or is it?When the construction of a church building is largely funded by foreign money, the presence of a church building is not a true reflection of the strength and numbers of a local church. Also, if missionaries (or their home churches) are always standing by ready to supply money for newly established churches on the mission field to build church buildings, then this desire to be helpful can foster two wrong ideas: 1) church buildings are necessary in order to be a “real” church and, 2) if you need money, look to the missionary (or the well intentioned short-term visitors from their home church). When the foreign missionaries and their churches are seen as sure sources of money, then the local believers’ motivation to give financially to their own church is lessened and local believers are less likely to make decisions that the missionary doesn’t agree with. If they do, then there is the fear that perhaps the money supply will be cut off. In this way, independent decision making and partnership in the Gospel as equals is diminished. A patron-client relationship harkening back to the days of colonialism is unintentionally nurtured.