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Everyone is a theologian. We may be biblical or unbiblical, diligent or lazy, but we are all theologians. If this can be said of the secular man and even the atheist, then it most certainly applies to the Christian missionary. The Great Commission is about carrying God’s truth to men in a manner that is unified, non-contradictory, and comprehendible. Therefore, whether the missionary likes it or not, he is a theologian involved in a decidedly theological endeavor. To think otherwise is absurd.

In spite of this truth, it is astounding how few missionaries concern themselves with the study of doctrine, and how few theologians concern themselves with the work of missions. It is a phenomenon that is observable even in Bible colleges and seminaries. The students who are given to the study of doctrine often want to stay within the confines of academia while those who are less inclined to study and more inclined toward the needs of humanity go to the field. This is a great contradiction. The greatest benefit we can render to humankind in every place and under every circumstance is to give them the Word of life, to communicate to them biblical truth. The world is destroyed for a lack of knowledge1 and a lack of the transforming power of the Spirit who works through the proclamation of that knowledge. Thus, one of the greatest needs on the mission field is missionaries who know their God, who know the Scriptures, and who consider the proclamation of truth to be their highest calling.

Although the Great Commission is a theological endeavor, it has become a common practice to send missionaries to the field with only the bare minimum of theological knowledge. Even those missionaries who are trained in Bible college or seminary often by-pass their foundational studies in Scripture2 in order to immerse themselves in pragmatic and oftentimes avant-garde strategies regarding missions, culture, church planting, and church growth. Therefore, they leave for the field with enough strategies to sink a barge, but their theological knowledge can be carried in their shirt pocket.

If the foundation is weak, the entire building will be weak. If the root of the tree is malignant, then the fruit flowing from it will be equally malignant, even noxious.

Paul Washer, Article 12
HeartCry Guide to Missions

The purpose of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Christ and to plant churches in people groups that have previously been unreached with the gospel. Consequently, what the missionary believes and teaches will oftentimes be the foundation of the church for an entire people group. If the foundation is weak, the entire building will be weak. If the root of the tree is malignant, then the fruit flowing from it will be equally malignant, even noxious. For this reason, we ought to send our best exegetes, theologians, and expositors to the mission field. At the very least, each missionary should have an adequate knowledge of hermeneutics, biblical languages, systematic theology, and church history. To set a person loose on the mission field who is governed by the most recent methodologies in church growth but is not grounded in the rule of Scripture is a dangerous thing. And yet, this has become a common practice. We must always remember that the enemy of the theologian is liberalism and the avant-garde, but the enemy of the missionary is zeal without knowledge and pragmatism.

A young man once wrote to an elder missionary asking if he could work alongside him on the mission field. The missionary inquired about the young man’s study of the Scriptures, his knowledge of doctrine, his prayer life, piety, and view of missions. The young man’s reply to each inquiry demonstrated that he was either unprepared, undisciplined, or had never given the subject even the slightest consideration. Finally, he exclaimed, “I do not know about these things, I only want to come to the mission field and give my life away!” To this, the elder missionary replied, “Young man, no one here needs your life. They need God, and they someone who can accurately tell them about Him.” After this hard word, the missionary patiently set before the young man a more biblical view of missions. He then invited him to visit and to work alongside him for a time. Later, the young man confessed to a friend that what he learned in that first conversation helped him understand the serious nature of missions and the great importance of being “a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”3

We need all kinds of gifts in the church and on the mission field. However, these gifts must function within the realm of biblical truth and they must result in the communication of that truth to others. If not, then all our activity is a contradiction of the Great Commission and will be a detriment to its advancement among any people group. We should never be a “hindrance” to a Christian who has been genuinely called of God to serve on the field. However, it may be wise to “hinder” them for a while until they have adequately prepared themselves in the knowledge of Scripture, the great doctrines of the faith, and the great disciplines of the Christian life.

[1] Hosea 4:6

[2] Foundational studies would include: hermeneutics, biblical languages, systematic theology, and church history.

[3] II Timothy 2:15

  1. Hosea 4:6
  2. Foundational studies would include: hermeneutics, biblical languages, systematic theology, and church history.
  3. II Timothy 2:15

Paul serves as the HeartCry Coordinator in Western Europe. He is currently overseeing our missionaries in Italy, Spain, and France. He is also the founder and director of the HeartCry Missionary Society. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.

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