Ministry to Alternative Spiritualities in Religiously Plural America: Moving Beyond Confronting "Cults"
by John W. Morehead
First published in the Fall 2003 edition of Occasional Bulletin, published by Evangelical Missiological Society
(direct link to full text as reprinted at the Primum-Mobile. Net website):
In obedience to the Great Commission, missionaries and missiologists have devised effective evangelistic strategies in order to reach thousands of people groups within the world religions of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and folk and tribal religionists in their home countries. This is as it should be. Our Lord commanded the church to make disciples of the nations (Mat. 28:19), referring not to individuals defined by geopolitical boundaries so much as distinct people groups defined more by a social structure that incorporates not only the obvious elements such as language and cuisine, but also worldview and religious considerations as well.
But while the missions community has recognized the people groups of the world religions, it has not always recognized the importance of reaching the millions of unreached peoples involved in new religious movements, new age, and neo-Pagan groups and other religious traditions that have taken root in Western society. Estimates vary as to the number of new religions in North America, with a conservative estimate at somewhere between 700 and 1,000.2 Examples of growing new religions include not only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), but also the Brotherhood of the Cross and the Star, Iglesia ni Cristo, Mahikari, Rastafarianism, Santeria, Siddha Yoga, Umbanda, Western esotericism, the New Spirituality (or new age), as well as emerging Do-It-Yourself Spiritualities, Western Hinduism, Islam, and revitalized forms of missionary Judaism. The continuing forces of modernization, secularization, and globalization may provide the social context for the continued growth and spread of religious groups and movements such as these and others around the globe. The new religions and world religions in the West are no longer fringe cultural phenomena, but represent serious cultural and religious movements worthy of attention by missionary strategists, career missionaries, and evangelical academics.
In the article Morehead makes five specific proposals for future missionary work along the lines he is suggesting. The fifth of these five proposals is to develop new and innovative ways to train missionaries in how to effectively target Pagans, etc:
5. Provide seminary students with field experience. To raise awareness among a future generation of missionaries and missiologists, we might explore ways in which students pursuing missions studies can be given practical field experience in sharing the gospel with adherents of new religions. Such programs would include practical assignments such as an interview with a Mormon or a Wiccan high priestess, for example. This interview would then result in an essay prepared by the student where they would explore the theological, missiological, and apologetic issues that arise from such encounters.
Here is revealed, in all its glory, the true, unvarnished thinking of an unreconstructed Evangelical Christian, who views Mormons and Wiccans as equally "lost" and in need of having the gospel of jebus "shared" with them.
And here is how Morehead finishes up his article:
The challenge and opportunity posed by the new religions is monumental. If we do not respond in obedience to our evangelistic mandate, surely we must respond in order to perpetuate the Christian faith in our postmodern climate of religious diversity, where evangelicalism hovers on the cultural fringe. As David Hesselgrave has stated, "During the era of modern missions, evangelical missionaries have focused on adherents of the major religions and, especially, on folk religionists. As we enter a new century and new millennium it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must also focus on millions who are being caught up in new religious movements emanating from both East and West. They constitute not only a new 'mission field,' but also one of our most aggressive competitors for the allegiance of multiplied millions who are turning away from the faiths of their fathers." As international mission leaders prepare for Lausanne 2004 in Thailand, it is my hope that the often-neglected mission fields of the new religions and world religions receive the attention of the missions community in fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Sadly, John Morehead has met with more than a little success in his efforts at evangelizing Pagans and others who have turned "away from the faiths of their fathers". And what makes it truly sad is the eager assistance he has received from some prominent Pagans who now, wittingly or wittingly, are actively participating in Morehead's ongoing project to retool and rebrand the Great Commission.