Last year about this time, I sent a list of ethical dilemmas that missionaries might face. Here’s a new slate of challenges. Of course, some of you will think the answers are obvious: last year two different people responded saying that one of the ethical tensions was obvious—unfortunately, they both gave the opposite answer. So, I’d like to ask again that you pray for us to be filled with the skill of thinking correctly in each situation.
1. Should Christians tithe regardless of their financial circumstances?
If one of your church members lived in a one-room, corrugated iron shack away from his wife and child, and then one day got a $12 piece job, should he tithe on that amount? Give offerings? If he asked you what he should do, (remember he has a little girl and a wife to take care of as well), what Scripture would you counsel him with? Do you tell him to take care of his family because otherwise he has “denied the faith” according to 1 Timothy, or do you tell him to put money in the offering?
2. Should you teach new converts how to vote?
There are more than a dozen political parties in this country, and very few of them (I know of only two) are pro-life. The most popular ones are socialistic or communistic. Should you spend valuable teaching and instructing time on politics, or stick with the Gospel and issues around sanctification?
3. Should you pray for unconverted people in their presence?
We’re sitting at the Baloyi home for our weekly Bible study, and it is especially nice to have the father of the home there with us since he was back from work. What prayer requests do the believers have? The 16-year old daughter asks for public prayer for her father’s conversion. Is that unduly embarrassing or is that a good demonstration of evangelistic love?
4. Should you church discipline or otherwise dismiss church members who are nearly permanently absent because of work?
We haven’t seen the four men on our membership role in months. One of them hasn’t been to a service in two years. They are all away because of work, but they tell me on the phone that there are no churches near them that teach the Gospel. How can I watch for their souls and keep them accountable; and if we can’t do that, in what sense are they members of this body?
5. Should you give Bibles to people who can’t afford them?
Can’t afford them? What does that mean? It seems like everyone has money for satellite TV and cold drink (Coke). Should I just charge the list price, discount it, or give it free? And if you say, “Discount it. That’s the best of all options.” Then, how much?
6. Should you use slang in formal settings if that is what communicates?
We’re trying to add enduring traditions to the worldview of those to whom we minister. Sunday afternoons, I am teaching about character, and the women’s Bible study is doing something similar. So, shouldn’t we use the strongest, purest Tsonga rather than the blend of English, Zulu slang that all the young kids are using from TV. But if they don’t know the old, classic Tsonga words should we just use the slang since they understand it? Knowat I’m sayin?
7. Should you sing nominally Christian songs at a funeral?
Though a majority of people in my village claim to be Christian, I have learned that forms of syncretism are equally prevalent. So when at a funeral I hear the familiar song about Jesus which has as its complete lyrics “There is no one like you; we support ourselves by you,” should I join in to show solidarity or should I remain quiet because even Muslims could sing that song?
8. Should I take parental oversight of believers who do not have parents or at least do not have Christian parents?
Most of the young people in our church do not have dads at home or have never known their fathers. Should I take the initiative to insert myself into their lives to guide them in ways that a father would? Or, should I teach father-like counsel from the pulpit? Does a dad’s counsel always have to a Scripture verse, or can I sometimes just give good advice about life? For example, “You should work really hard to learn English now, so that you will be able to get a job in the future.”
9. Should you give new Christians jobs in church right away or wait until they prove faithful?
They’ve given their testimony and are prepared to be baptized. Now, should I find a place for them to serve, or is that being foolishly hasty?
10. Should missionaries restrain the size of their family so that missions dollars can be used to send more families with less children?
This is probably the most controversial issue, and most people would probably leave it to the missionary. Maybe they’re right. But maybe not. Furlough, saving for college, insurance, and the rest can be very expensive. Should the churches just offer a fixed amount, or may the missionary raise more support if he can’t keep the same standard of living with 4 (or 6 or 8) that he had with 2? And what about all the missionaries running on the treadmill of deputation?
Having worked through these issues, I have a position on most of them. But it’s profitable for God’s people to think clearly in applying Scripture to life, so I hope this letter will serve to that end. Your comments and advice are always welcome. Please continue to pray for us and our church.
Some of these are personal and perhaps a bit touchy. I'm not trying to start debates or endless questions. Instead I hoped to foster a familial spirit as you perhaps will recognize questions that you and your families have mulled over during a meal and wondered if other people felt the same!