"Those who think they are believers…"

This past Sunday, I attended a worship service at which a missionary from Poland spoke to the congregation for about five minutes. During this brief time, he explained his mission in Poland, detailing that there is roughly one missionary for every one million Pollacks. I was surprised by this statistic, because it sounded as if the majority of the nation was unchurched. Assuming that is the case, Christians would be outnumbered 1,000,000 to 1.

As he continued, however, he made a few revealing statements. First, he mentioned that the Roman Catholic Church is prominent in Poland. Second, he made a the following statement:

“There are people all over Poland who think they are believers, but they really need someone to show them how to live it out, people who really live out their faith”

Wait, what? How is it possible for someone to think they are believer and not actually be one? If someone has confessed Jesus as Lord and is active in the church, how could they not be considered a Christian? And even if that is possible, how would you or I ever know that is the case? Aren’t we incapable of knowing the heart of another person?

I was left with an awful taste in my mouth. I was frustrated because the whole think stunk of ignorance and arrogance. Ignorant because it demonstrated that this person didn’t know enough about the Roman Catholic Church. Ignorance, because he didn’t refer to them as Catholic Christians; rather, he named them Catholics (leaving out the Christian) who think they are believers. Arrogance, because he privileged his own faith tradition (evangelical) over another (Catholic) when both are clearly within the Christian tradition.

This was a tragedy for me, because the good work he was doing was concealed by his lack of generosity toward Christians who do not think like he does. With him, I believe that the Gospel is meant to spread – I’m an evangelical, and I’m not ashamed of that. However, I do not share his belief that evangelicals have something to teach Catholics with our lifestyle. But most significantly, I don’t think it is possible for us to discern who is “in” and who is “out.” Salvation is God’s work, and only God can know the human heart.

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One thought on “"Those who think they are believers…"

  1. While I think you are on the right track Ben, I am wondering if we need to give this particular missionary a little benefit of the doubt? I do think that they general lack of specificity in his rhetoric might not suggest doing so but I will none the less. It is quite possible that is a post-Christendom Europe that there are many people who are offically part of the state religion but have little or no personal knowledge of the person of Christ. While I am equally disturbed by the use of the statistics that you mentioned, it is quite possible that those statistics are accurate to some degree. I wish instead of speaking of the need of “conversion” that this missionary would be speaking of “renewal” of the church in Poland. While I can only imagine that general lack of tact used by this missionary when speaking of his work, I still want to hold out hope that on his good days his is more generous than his rhetoric would suggest. I do however think that on the whole that your view of the situation is (unfortunately) correct. I think this is just one more example of how important that as missionaries we partner with existing churches so that we can work alongside with the indigenous leaders that God was already working through. I suspect that mission would look radically different around the world if the West stopped operating out of a patronage mission philosophy.

    Good thoughts in your posts. You’re on my blog reader so I see them all.

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