Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The prime directive

The other night I was watching “I, Robot”, the movie with Will Smith as a detective in the 21st century who doesn’t trust robots.  It turns out he is right not to trust them.  The main computer system, VIKI, who controls all the robots, has basically declared war on the human race.  

Well, actually VIKI hasn’t given up or changed its prime directive.  “She” has in fact rather misunderstood or over-interpreted the prime directive.  Of course her prime directive was to protect and serve the human race.  Since she has determined that the human race is its own worst enemy, she has decided to use the army of “servant” robots to keep humans from exterminating each other. She will do anything necessary, even if it means enslaving all humans and killing some.

Fortunately for the 21st century Will Smith is able to save the day with the help of a rogue robot, who has been designed and programmed by the maker for just this eventuality.  Once again robots return to following Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
I haven’t indulged in this movie review for the sake of boring you or reviewing potential disaster or End Times scenarios.  The movie made me think. I started thinking about the prime directive and the importance of a prime directive.

What prime directive have we been given as Christians?  Obviously the first and foremost for any missionary is:  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19, 20.

For evangelical Christians and especially evangelical missionaries the Great Commission is our prime directive.  All of us are doing all we can and investing all of our efforts whatever we do to see that this prime directive is fulfilled.

All mission agencies have a prime directive.  In one way or another, the Great Commission is behind their prime directive. Though all these groups aim at the same goal, each agency has a different focus since not all agencies do the same thing. Some missions are aimed at reaching so far unreached or least reached peoples.  Other agencies focus on things like Bible translation.  Their goal is to advance the cause of world evangelization by making God’s Word available in the languages of each and every people group.

When we joined Greater Europe Mission in 1984 GEM had a motto: “Training Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe”.  Our Bible verse was 2 Timothy 2:2 “and the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses the same entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Greater Europe Mission was the “Bible Institute” mission.  GEM started with the founding of the European Bible Institute in Paris, France.  GEM missionaries went on to found the German Bible Institute, the Nordic Bible Institute, the Spanish Bible Institute, the Italian Bible Institute, the Portuguese Bible Institute, the Greek Bible Institute, Eastern European Bible Institute, Zaporozhye Bible College, the German Theological Seminary, the Spanish Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands.

The goal of each of these Bible Institutes and Seminaries was to train Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe.  Dr. Bob Evans, the founder of GEM (and Tyndale), felt that it would be much more efficient in the long run if missionaries trained Europeans to evangelize Europeans.  Missionaries trying to evangelize Europeans would have to spend a lot of time and effort to understand various European cultures.  Whereas, Europeans trained by missionaries would be able to adapt and apply the teaching so that they, the Europeans, would be better evangelists.

When we went to Yugoslavia back in 1986 with the goal of learning Serbo-Croatian the prime directive was to learn the language well enough to teach Yugoslavs at the Eastern European Bible Institute, so that they could reach their country for Christ serving as pastors, teachers, and evangelists.  My personal goal was to train apologists, people who would engage the contemporary culture and present convincing evidence for the credibility of Christianity.  During our time in Yugoslavia and with the Eastern European Bible Institute from 1986 – 1994 we did just that: we trained Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe or more specifically we trained Yugoslavs (Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Albanians, Macedonians) to evangelize Yugoslavia.

When we left Yugoslavia for a year in the US and then went on to Belgium where I did my doctoral studies our goal was still GEM’s prime directive: training Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe. While in Belgium I studied most of the current European philosophical trends and schools.  My goal was to be able to train European apologists, those who would engage the minds of their countrymen and make a persuasive case for Christianity.

During our time in Belgium we were not a part of a formal Bible Institute or Seminary, but our goal was still the same.  While in Belgium we were very active in the ministry of the International Church of Evangelicals in Leuven (ICEL).  We led Bible studies, led worship, preached and evangelized among the international students at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain).  We had teams come to help reach these students.  We held special evenings of outreach along with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).  I held a series of philosophical evenings.  All of these events and activities were aimed at the prime directive of the Great Commission, but in some ways they were not completely in line with GEM’s prime directive: Training Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe.  But our goal was to return to a teaching ministry as soon as possible after required residential study at the university.

Initially Greater Europe Mission did not encourage sending American evangelists and church planters to Europe, since the idea was that the Europeans trained in the Bible Institutes would do these tasks.  However, eventually it was felt that some evangelists and church planters would be sent to model these activities for the Europeans being trained.  In time due to the indigenization of the Bible Institutes and Seminaries Greater Europe Mission’s focus shifted from founding and running Bible Institutes and Seminaries to evangelism and church planting more specifically.  The prime directive of Matthew 28:19, 20 (The Great Commission) is still the main goal, though the method of reaching Europe has changed.

As our time in Belgium drew to an end we considered various teaching ministries, mainly seminaries, in various Eastern European locations.  Due to our children having learned Dutch and their need to finish high school in one place (in English) we accepted the invitation of Dr. Art Johnston, Phil’s advisor from seminary, to join Tyndale Theological Seminary, near Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  Tyndale was founded to be the seminary founded GEM to train any Europeans from all over Europe who needed a Master’s level training in English, if they came from countries where there was no seminary in their language.  

As in Belgium at ICEL our scope of ministry here at Tyndale has been very broad.  We have many European students from eastern and western Europe, especially a lot of eastern Europeans: Bosnians, Bulgarians, Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Serbs, Slovenes among others.  Besides Europeans we are also training Africans and Asians.  Some of the Africans are involved in evangelizing Europeans and planting churches, even here in the Netherlands.  So, although our student body is broader than Europeans, our goal is primarily to train Europeans so that Europe will be evangelized.

So, our prime directive still is: Training Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe.  Our method is still basically the same: classroom instruction and hands on life-on-life discipleship.  Times change and economic circumstances may force us to change our methods, but the most effective way to evangelize Greater Europe is still to train Europeans to evangelize Greater Europe.

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