A major shift in missions thinking is needed for effective engagement with an unreached people group numbering millions in Europe and other western nations, according to a Lausanne network task force which met last month in Hong Kong.
Ole Skjerbaek Madsen and Lars Johansson, two members of this task force, reported this insight to participants of the second Evangelism in a New Age consultation in Basel last week.
Followers of new religions (NR) and new spiritualities (NS) should be engaged as unreached peoples. That involved building friendships, studying and understanding their beliefs, practices, hopes, hurts and fears, they stressed.
It also meant abandoning the atmosphere of fear towards NR adherents, the automatic demonisation of their spiritual practices, and type-casting them as spiritual enemies.
Instead, Christians should regard those involved in New Spiritualities as potential disciples of Jesus, as people God loves and as neighbours for whom Christ died on the cross.
Such spiritual seekers represented possibly the biggest mission field in the western hemisphere, the Lausanne group found. This reality called for new priorities in mission and witness for the western church and evangelical believers. Globalisation was quickly spreading this development to the big cities of the two-thirds world, making it a global issue.
“Some of the adherents are deeply hurt and have suffered from rejection and suspicion from Christians,” reported Madsen and Johansson from the Hong Kong consultation. Spiritual discernment was still necessary, of course, as many had found inspiration in Eastern religions and contemporary pagan, occult and esoteric practices. At the same time Christians needed to learn from aspects of the new movements as they reflected ‘unpaid bills of the Church’, i.e. truths and emphases neglected by believers.
While many had misunderstood Christian doctrines and practices, much could be learnt from these movements about the questions of post-modern men and women. This would help Christians address actual concerns instead of answering questions not being asked, it was reported.
A global conference to promote such a shift has been called for by the Lausanne network, to be held in 2008 at Trinity International University in Illinois, USA, entitled Post-Christendom Spiritualities: the New Unreached People Groups.
Meanwhile, the Basel consultation last week offered various models for creative engagement with European seekers. Madsen, a Lutheran priest, began a series of devotional meetings under the name In the Master’s Light (IML) over ten years ago, announced in New Age magazines. IML has developed into a broader ministry in eight locations in Denmark, Norway and will soon be in Sweden, offering retreats, discipleship courses and workshops in fairs and festivals. Over 2000 guests each year are invited to experience healing of the heart in their relationship with God, themselves, family and friends.
Madsen began a Bible study group with Tarot card readers after some of them read in the newspaper about how the pictures on the Tarot cards were being used to explain the gospel by some evangelists. They realised they needed to get to know the Bible better in order to understand the cards, many of which are based on biblical scenarios.
Swiss evangelist Daniel Hari came to the consultation fresh from this year’s PSI-Tagen fair in Basel, where he had held numerous healing demonstrations. He had also encouraged those healed to phone sick friends and relatives on their mobiles on the spot so that he could pray for them. One woman healed through such a phone call had suffered deep depression. She confessed that ‘a thousand horses would not have dragged her to a healing meeting’. “There seem to be many believing unbelievers and unbelieving believers when it comes to healing,” Hari explained to the consultation participants, adding that he invited his listeners to a retreat in a Swiss hotel to explain the way of Jesus. Included among those he is now discipling are former Christian Scientists, a former psychic healer and the former president of a Freemason’s Lodge.
That the hunger for spiritual reality was great among millions of Europeans was clear from our consultation. But also clear was that a major shift in missions thinking was needed to reach them.
Till next week,
Till next week,