Whenever I consider the question of the missionary calling I always think of the problem posed by patriotism and especially by nationalism, its distorted counterpart. Like most Americans, I love my country. It is part of God’s bounty to me. However, like all of God’s blessings, it is open to distortion.
It would be unnecessary – and foolhardy – to denounce patriotism, the normal pride that men and women have for their country’s national accomplishments. It is when that normal love is distorted into arrogant nationalism that we are on dangerous ground. Indeed, under the pressures of nationalism I have seen people succumb to all sorts of inordinate and unbiblical attitudes.
On the mission field one is particularly aware of the danger of nationalistic feelings. I have seen firsthand the condescendingly humiliating attitude that American missionaries have toward their African counterparts. In some places this paternalistic attitude has even generated hostility.
It would be a grave error, however, to suppose that this attitude is seen only in the English-speaking ghettos we maintain as ex-pats. Far more dangerous are our materialistic attitudes that make foreign nationals aspire to such meaningless forms of temporal aspiration as Western leisure and entertainment. I well remember the shock on the faces of my Ethiopian students when I told them that I never watch television. In modern Ethiopia, owning and viewing a TV set has become a mark of the “good life” to which most Ethiopians aspire. They fail to realize that, by creating the TV, Western man has created out of his affluence nothing but his own boredom.
Americans can be justly proud of their technological achievements that impel men to greater heights of comfort and human dignity. The problem lies in the grave and subtle danger posed by technology. Among other things, our materialistically-oriented society encourages earth-bound aspirations, including the frivolous “escapes” now seen in every foreign capital. Any glimpse of life to come is crowded out as men pursue their creature comforts. This spirit of materialism, in turn, creates a formidable barrier in appealing to the gospel as the solution to man’s helpless plight.
The church needs to become acutely aware that modern Western “values” have largely been shaped by pagan culture. After all, “seeker-sensitive” and “super-church” visions of ecclesiastical life are just as attractive in the Horn of Africa as they are in the Home of the Brave. Materialism is materialism whether it speaks English or Amharic.
When Becky and I go to Africa to make disciples, we go as ambassadors of the kingdom of God – not of America, or freedom, or democracy, or any of the West’s other counterfeit hopes. We are ambassadors of the King of kings.
August 20, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.