Should missionary societies have a position on creation/evolution?
The members of missionary societies are usually united in fundamental matters such as the need to preach the Gospel and plant churches, and are usually tolerant of each other’s points of view when it comes to matters of Christian doctrine on which there is more than one scriptural interpretation, such as the amount of water in baptism. So should missionary societies have a position on the creation/evolution issue? Is it one of the fundamental matters? Is it something on which more than one scriptural interpretation can be correct? Indeed, is it one of those things on which one should ‘refrain from pushing a point of view which might cause offence to other members’, to quote from one missionary society’s handbook?
Muslims in Indonesia performing ritual prayer to celebrate the end of Ramadan or Fast Month. Muslims do not worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Creator or Saviour.
Although the creation/evolution issue is well understood by regular readers of Creation magazine, lots of Christian missionaries have never thought about it, let alone considered that it may radically affect what they do in the area of missions and evangelism, why they do it, and even how they do it. A typical comment by missionaries I have spoken to on this subject is, ‘I’ve never thought about it. As far as I’m concerned God could have used the process of evolution. In any case the people we work among are not concerned about evolution.’
Regardless of whether missionaries have ever thought about evolution, or unreached people have ever heard of Darwin, the creation/evolution issue is what we believe about origins, including the origin of the universe, the earth, life, man, evil, sin, and death, and how these all affect the Gospel. For instance, if evolution is true (and thus death is part of the process that over millions of years produced man), then death cannot be the penalty for sin. If death is not the penalty for sin, then the death of Christ on the cross cannot be a sacrifice for sin, and there can be no saving Gospel for missionaries to proclaim.
Job specification for world evangelism
Let us consider for a moment what a missionary goes out to do. According to the Great Commission, as given in Matthew 28:18–20, the missionary’s job specification for world evangelism is:
- To preach the Gospel.
- To make disciples and teach them to obey all that Christ commanded.
- To baptize (of which the extension, following the Apostle Paul’s example, is to plant churches).
For anyone setting out to evangelize others, whoever they may be, it is certainly not wasted time to first find out what belief system the others already hold. For example, if people believe that there are millions of gods (as in Shintoism) or that God does not exist (as in atheism), then the words ‘God is love’ or ‘God loves you’ will have no meaning to either group. The missionary/evangelist dealing with either of these groups will first of all need to explain who God is, and he may also need to explain that love in this context is something other than sexual attraction.
Everyone in the world has a belief about the supernatural, even if it is only to affirm that it does not exist. However, there are comparatively few total atheists in the world. Most of the world religions are a form of evolutionary pantheism. That is, they deny the existence of a transcendent Creator, they begin with eternal chaotic matter, and they believe that change occurs through the power and intelligence of the universe itself.
These pantheistic religions include Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, Lamaism, Jainism, Sikhism, along with more modern forms of Eastern mysticism, such as Hare Krishnaism, Theosophy, and the New Age movement with its ‘Gaia’ or ‘Terra’ concept. (Gaia is the name of the ancient earth goddess, essentially the same as Mother Nature. It views the planet Earth as an actual living organism.) Another form of pantheism is the ‘anthropic principle’, which suggests that the entire universe is conscious in some sense and is inseparably tied in with the existence of human life on earth.1
Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Islam are special cases, in that both of these have a historical belief in the Book of Genesis. However, in modern or Reform Judaism the very idea of divine creation as well as of the traditional Jewish Messiah has been largely abandoned. Even before World War II the authoritative Jewish Encyclopedia said: ‘The doctrine of the Messiah is allied to that of physical evolution or Darwinism …’2 and ‘What is called the doctrine of the Messiah is, in reality, the belief in progress and hope.’3 Thus for many Jews, ‘Evolution has become not only their Creator, but also their Savior!’4
In the religion of Islam, the holy books include the Taurat or writings of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy), but Muslims believe that their Koran supersedes all previous revelations. Neither Judaism nor Islam believes that the Creator God was also the Son of God who died on a cross and rose from the dead to redeem mankind from sin.
Hong Kong, population 7 million. The major cities of any country are very strategic areas for missionary work, as they are centres of population, government, learning, commerce and travel.
Among native peoples of Africa, South America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia, etc., animism is the chief belief system. This is the worship of the ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’ that are believed to live in animals, plants, and inanimate objects such as rocks, trees, rivers, volcanoes, etc., as well as the spirits or ghosts of ancestors, and demons.5,6 Animists believe that these forces can help or hurt them, so they aim to discover what beings and forces are impacting them and they try to manipulate their power by appeasement or ritual.
There is usually no distinction between the spiritual and the material, the sacred and the secular. To an animist, everything is spirit based; no material thing ever originated by itself or changed by random selection, but was either birthed (e.g. the moon goddess gave birth to the stars) or was created by the spirits. The worldview of animism is pantheism: all the world is divine. And the logical consequence of this is polytheism: there are thousands or millions of gods.
It is important to note that in addition to the above there is also a syncretistic veneer of animism spread over most of the non-Christian religions of the world. This is a fear of evil spirits, and it is manifested in the doing of things to placate these spirits, such as wearing lucky charms, offering blood sacrifices (e.g. of chickens), worshipping ancestors, consulting astrologers, the Zodiac, witchdoctors and mediums, and engaging in other occult practices.
The answer to animism is two-fold:
- The creation account in Genesis chapter 1, which says: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (v. 1) and which goes on to tell us that this personal Being, the Creator God, created all other things—the inanimate objects, the plants, the sun, moon and stars, the animals, and mankind.
- The fact that ‘All authority in heaven and on earth’ has been given to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18). And who is Jesus Christ? He is the Creator God (John 1:1–3, Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2–4).
In the West, the religion of secular humanism has replaced Christianity, as a natural consequence of the teaching of atheistic evolution as fact in our schools and universities for the past 60 or so years. The American Humanist Association describes it this way: ‘Humanism is the belief that man shapes his own destiny. It is a constructive philosophy, a non-Christian religion, a way of life …’7 (emphasis added).
The main difference between the evolutionary basis of this religion and that of the other non-Christian religions in the world is that in the West evolution is regarded as being totally atheistic, whereas in the others pantheism adds the dimension of ‘mind’ to raw chance as the agency of evolution.8 The ultimate result is the same, namely, man’s rebellion against God and his refusal to recognize God’s ‘ eternal power and divine nature’ which Paul affirms in Romans 1:20 (NIV) ‘have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’.
The above brief summary leads to the conclusion that almost the whole world believes in evolution, either overtly as in atheism, humanism, and liberal Christianity, or implicitly (perhaps even without realizing it) as in nearly all non-Christian religions.
So, in the light of the above, how important is it for a missionary society to have a position on the creation/evolution issue, and for a missionary candidate to know what he or she believes about the creation account in Genesis, especially in view of the modern ubiquitous but erroneous teaching of Darwinism as fact?
The creationist missionary
OMF missionary Ann Burgess working on a translation project with a lu Mien national in North Thailand. One of the major decisions for Bible translators is the choice of the name for God which will convey His holiness, omnipotence and supremacy without any animistic, idolatrous or evolutionary associations.
The missionary who is a confirmed creationist is particularly well equipped to carry out the missionary task. In this regard, the New Testament affirms that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual, not carnal, and the Apostle Paul lists these under the heading of ‘the full armour of God’ in Ephesians 6:10–18. The amazing thing about these is that the only weapon of attack given (apart from prayer) is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’. If this is the case, who is better able to wield this sword than the person who wholeheartedly believes in the complete truth of the Word of God?
Such a person understands the Genesis foundation for the Gospel in the Fall and the death of the first man Adam, the efficacy of the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, and the importance of the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus for our justification and as the guarantee of our own resurrection. He also understands that God’s role as Creator establishes His right to be Lawgiver, i.e. to set out His rules for holy living now, and to be Judge, i.e. to call all men to appear before Him to give account of their lives on the Day of Judgment.
The Apostle Paul’s example
Furthermore, the missionary who is a confirmed creationist can readily, and with entire enthusiasm, emulate Paul’s example when he addressed the polytheistic idol worshippers of Athens and used creation as the starting point for his missionary evangelism (Acts 17:16–34). His approach was, after establishing a point of contact by referring to their ‘unknown God’ (vs 22–23):
- There is one, and only one, true God—He is Lord of Heaven and Earth (vs 23–24).
- This God is the Creator—the world did not make itself (v. 24).
- Life comes from God—He gives all men life and breath, and everything else (v. 25).
- Their evolutionary worldview was incorrect—we are all descended from one man whom God made (v. 26).
- Their polytheistic/pantheistic worldview was incorrect—if they were God’s offspring (as they acknowledged), then God could not be made of gold or silver or stone, a product of man’s design and skill (v. 29).
- Repent! Only then did Paul go on to tell them that this personal Creator God commands all people everywhere to repent, because all mankind is accountable to Him and will one day be judged by the Man (Jesus Christ) whom God raised from the dead (vs 30–31).
Paul’s ‘creation evangelism’ was effective—it produced at least six converts (Acts 17:34), and in due course a church was established at Athens. Its first bishop is believed to have been one of these first Pauline converts, namely Dionysius.
This pattern of ‘creation evangelism’ from the Word of God should be regarded as a divine blueprint for the evangelism of Eastern pantheists and polytheists, as well as of Western atheists and agnostics, today.
The evolution-minded missionary
How well equipped to carry out the Great Commission is the Christian missionary who believes in some form of theistic evolution, such as that God used the process of evolution to create all things, or that He allowed evolution to happen in between His creative acts? And what of those who believe in some form of day-age theory or who read a gap into the Genesis record to allow for the formation of the fossils apart from the Flood?
Answer: As we have seen, there are three main elements to the Great Commission.
- With respect to preaching the Gospel, if a missionary believes the evolutionary principle that by death came man, it is hard to see how at the same time he can preach with conviction what Paul says in Romans 5:12–20 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 that by the disobedience of one man (Adam) came death, but by the obedience of one man (Jesus) shall many be made righteous.
- With respect to making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded, what will the theistic evolutionist missionary do with the 25 times that Christ referred to the Book of Genesis, including His teaching on marriage and divorce (Mark 10:2–9), and His Second Coming (Matthew 24:37–39)? Or the 200 times that the Book of Genesis is quoted from in the New Testament, with 63 references to the first three chapters of Genesis?
- With respect to planting churches and building up the believers in the faith, if the evolution-minded missionary gets around to teaching about origins, how will he convince his hearers that what he has to say is anything different from the evolution that they already believe in? And how will he convince anyone of the authority of the Word of God, if he regards that part of the Bible which is the basis for all Christian doctrine9 as theological poetry or myth?
If the only weapon we are authorized to use is the sword of the Spirit, of what use is it if it is blunted by the user’s non-acceptance of its total truth?
A fact that seems to be unknown among theistic evolutionists, or if it is known it is cheerfully ignored, is that the order of events given in Genesis chapter 1 is totally different from the order required for evolution. For example, God says that He made the earth before the sun, light before the sun and stars, oceans before dry land, plants before sea life or insects, birds before land animals including reptiles, and man before woman. (This, incidentally, is a real problem for day-agers: how could the flowers survive for an age of a thousand or a million years before the arrival of the insects necessary to fertilize them?) All of this means that if a missionary teaches theistic evolution as fact, he cannot teach Genesis as truth, and similarly, if he teaches Genesis as truth, he cannot teach theistic evolution as fact.
We have already seen that creation was the starting point of Paul’s evangelism of the pantheists of Athens. Don Richardson in his book Eternity in Their Hearts gives many examples of previously unreached peoples who had retained enough knowledge of the true God to recognize Him when missionaries spoke of the Creator, and then to respond gladly when the missionaries went on to explain the complete Gospel.10 But how can a missionary or preacher follow these examples and use creation as a starting point for evangelism if he is a theistic evolutionist?
To sum up then, and to answer the question posed in the title of this article:
Yes, the issue of origins, determining as it does whether man needs the Gospel, is of sufficient importance for missionary societies and churches to have a considered biblical position on the matter.
Yes, candidates applying to missionary societies (and for that matter ministers applying for positions in churches) should be asked what they believe about creation and evolution.
Yes, it does matter that missionaries, ministers, and laymen too should understand the Genesis foundation for the Gospel, and the Genesis starting point for missionary evangelism, and the Genesis basis for marriage, and the Genesis reason why (contrary to today’s post-modernism) there are such things as moral absolutes.
Yes, it does matter if our Christian leaders and missionary representatives are unaware that secular humanism has become the dominant worldview in the West today, and that Darwinism is the so-called ‘scientific’ justification for this rebellion against God.
Yes, it does matter if our Christian leaders and missionary representatives are unaware that the spiritual warfare between secular humanism and Christianity is, at foundational level, a matter of evolution versus creation, because this in turn is fundamentally a matter of chance versus intelligence, or ‘God does not exist’ versus ‘I Am That l Am’.
Yes, it does matter if missionaries teach theistic evolution in their expositions of Genesis to new converts in emerging churches, and so lay the foundation for the perpetuation of today’s secular humanism.
Yes, it is important that missionaries should be able to discuss creation/evolution with Christian students from their fields of work who have gone to Western countries and imbibed evolutionary humanism, and who then return home ready to take up positions of leadership in the local or national church.
Incredible as it may seem, the majority of theological and Bible colleges in the West teach some form of theistic evolution in their approach to Genesis 1–3. This suggests that Christians who feel called to missionary work (or the ministry) should ask some appropriate questions about the courses being offered at colleges before they decide where to do their theological training.
So, should missionary societies set the matter right in their orientation courses and candidate schools? YES!
The easiest thing and the very least that missionary and other Christian organizations should do for their potential workers is to have a required reading list of books or a viewing list of videos relevant to this subject. Resources listed on this page are available from Creation Ministries International. In addition, CMI regularly holds lectures and seminars, and gives other advice on request.
- Morris, H., The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1989, p. 123–24. Return to text.
- Article on ‘Judaism’, Jewish Encyclopedia, Shapiro, Vallentine, London, 1938, p. 335. Return to text.
- Article on ‘Messiah’, Jewish Encyclopedia, Shapiro, Vallentine, London, 1938, p. 423. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 232. Return to text.
- In Australian Aboriginal culture the Rainbow Serpent is a personification of fertility, abundance, and creativity of human beings and in nature. Return to text.
- A totem is an animal or other naturalistic entity that supposedly watches over or assists a family, a clan or a tribe. Return to text.
- Membership Brochure (San Jose, California), ‘What is Humanism?’, Humanist Community of San Jose. Return to text.
- Morris, H., The God Who is Real, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids (Michigan), 1988, p. 29. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., Genesis—the seedbed of all Christian doctrine. Return to text.
- Richardson, D., Eternity in their Hearts, Regal Books, California 93006, 1981. Return to text.