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MK forum • View topic - Picky, picky, picky: A thread for theological pedants

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2010 1:03 am 
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MK py, thank you for the historical perspective. That is valuable, and I totally overlooked to include it. In retrospect, you can almost see why, when NTM, Inc. first incorporated, they did so as a "church." After all, in those days, most of the local churches of which NTers were members didn't support them in their ambitions to evangelize the "new tribes." They were pretty much on their own. They prayed, sang and worshiped together to such an extent that NTM's early reputation became that they were anti-local church. As recently as 1978 (seems recent to me!), NTM was still saying that they should "function as a church." It took many years before they began to present themselves as "help[ing] local churches train, coordinate and send missionaries to these tribes." It is a subject of conjecture as to the motivation behind this image shift, but most people attribute it more to what is euphemistically called "practical con$ideration$" than doctrinal refinement. People can be so cynical.

How much did doctrinal, theological issues really have to do with it? I'm going to have to put my thinking cap on before I say much more on that, but I do see this as another possible place where defective doctrine undermined as well as underpinned NTM, Inc. Readers are encouraged to add their comments.

Humor is always a welcome relief, MK py. It's a challenge to sneak it into a forum such as this, but that only increases its value. Eventually, I think this thread might lighten up a bit; but we don't want to do that too soon, or too much. That would be indiscrete. But, there is potential for some smiles, if not belly laughs. For example, regarding mottos: I am compiling a list of mottos, slogans and assorted catch phrases that I loosely classify as "Theology by slogan" to be used on a future entry on this thread. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I just had a check in my heart. . . I feel led to add your examples as well!


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2010 9:14 am 
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I have not yet seen it in action completely, but what I've heard is that the local church (on the field and off the field) are being looked to by NTM leadership to provide for the spiritual leadership & discipleship of NTM members. Our home/sending church is very concerned for missionary care and has been very conscientious to make sure these questions are asked!

But I do agree that it is hard, nigh unto impossible, for NTM to transition to that role of employer rather than spiritual shepherd, and an employer with grace, without changing those that have been members for so long. Re-teaching needs to take place, but then can merely teaching something new cause a complete paradigm shift such as is needed???

When we went to the training, we wondered how much had changed from the time when we had gone through the Bible school (about a decade earlier) until then. We noticed that the teaching and mindset had changed a LOT! But in some areas I could tell that although the outward teaching/policy had changed, the spirit hadn't and it was evident through underlying comments and attitudes. Some "Well, sure that's true, but...."


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:19 am 
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In April 1987, announcing the change from Chairman to emeritus status that Ken Johnston, "of his own choosing," made in February 1987, NTM, Inc. said, "We believe God has, in one sense, allowed Paul Fleming's mantle to fall upon Ken." They really said that. Contact me if you want a scan of the actual page. To my shame, when I read that in 1987, I probably rolled my eyes and got on with the work. I foolishly believed that such nonsense didn't have any bearing on my life and ministry.

Yes, yes, we all know what they meant. But, if you ask ten of us just exactly what it was that they meant, you will get ten answers, all of them different, most of them contradictory. What we all really know, or hope, is that they did NOT mean in any sense that Paul Fleming had a mantle and that God had anything to do with it falling anywhere or on anyone.

The take-away message that the flock was to get from this ill-considered remark was that Ken Johnston was personally chosen by God. Say something often enough, loud enough, for long enough and it begins to take on a life of its own. Even the people saying it start to believe it. That is how these wonderful, warm and nice people were able to treat their employees so badly and still sleep at night.

In January 1995, the Executive Committee noted that some of the "older men on the Committee" were phasing out. "This means," they said, "we need some other men to join us on the Committee in the near future. Please be praying with us for the men of God's choosing." God, you see, is responsible for choosing these men. Therefore, they must be obeyed and deferred to by those not so chosen.

They wrapped up this short article by saying, "The Executive Committee ... will continue to have some of our other leadership sit in with us ... so they can become more familiar with the responsibility God has given us for the spiritual oversight of the work."

Slip-shod theology was the root, not the result, of the harsh leadership style of NTM, Inc. Even at the 1997 Grace Restoration, NTM, Inc. did not renounce this sort of theology; they embraced it, reaffirmed it, and promised to do a better job of exercising spiritual oversight. What else could they do? God had chosen them.

Pedantry aside, to refer to God as NTM, Inc. did is about as clear a case of taking His Name in vain as can be found outside of profane blasphemy. And it did have a very negative bearing on many lives.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 11:13 am 
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Gene,

Thanks for sharing your observations about mantles, chosen by God and the like being the way NTM leadership has been "selected". It is hypocritical of NTM to, on the one hand, suggest that NTM is a "church" and its leaders "elders" when, as you pointed out, "the Paul Flemming's mantle fell on Ken Johnston". Also, the second example you mentioned is anything but the New Testament model for appointing church leaders. Church leaders were appointed (Timothy etc.) or recognized because they were already functioning as leaders and were respected by the members of the local body of believers. Those on the EC and field EDs were not selected this way it appears to me. In any event, leaders lead. Many of the leaders have driven and whipped the sheep rather than led them in a wise and loving way.

There are core values behind this style of leadership. I think that the military discipline dna explains a lot of this style of leadership. For example, when you join the army, the army owns you! You surrender your will to the army. The army then doles out leave time, tells you "at ease" "attentions" etc. Now, some may scoff at this analogy but if you ponder this line of thinking you can see similarities between military leadership in the NTM style of leadership.

Paul Flemming received a call from God and got his "marching orders". Sound familiar? Now, what does that mean? Marching orders to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all tribes, etc.? Sure. But how? With what style or structure of leadership? Was this style Biblical? Did anyone ask? If this was challenged no change was made. After all, who would question the call of God? Now, I think that the assumption was that Paul Flemming and close associates were seeking God's will and because of this, followers accepted their leadership. Why? They "signed up for it".

NTM's leadership style has been forced to moderate in more recent years but when push comes to shove, decisions are still arbitrary, unloving and unwise in many cases. Why? Lack of transparency and accountability and lack of true leaders. The apostle Paul rebuked Peter and embarrassed him in front of a group of believers because he caved into pressure from the legalists of the day. Why? Because "he was to blame". It seems cowardly of the EC to embarrass and humiliate missionaries under their leadership who for some reason crossed them (whether legit or not) but never be embarrasses themselves or be rebuked by other leaders PUBLICLY for being wrong themselves. This is a bully tactic, not transparent, loving, and gifted leadership as exemplified i the NT. I submit as evidence to you once again, that the core value that sets up the framework for this style of leadership is a militaristic paradigm that has been with NTM since Paul Flemming.

As we peal back the layers much like an onion, we may begin to see more clearly the core motivators and values that explain why NTM is structured like it is. Until one gets to the root cause, it is impossible to find true solutions.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 6:35 am 
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This thread is not really intended to be "The Gene Long and MK py Show." Others are welcome to contribute thoughts and ideas.

Someone once said, "There has never been in Church history a great error, a great deviation from Scripture, but an inadequate sense of the sinfulness of sin has had to do with it." They must have been reading I John!

In reality, all doctrine touches every aspect of our lives. But, doctrine and "real life" really get up close and personal when it comes to our understanding of sin. It becomes not so much a topic for debate as it does for retreat to the cross. Others may be worse than we are, but we, too, fall short of the glory of God. They are in the pit, we are on the mountain top. Neither of us can touch the stars.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm not altogether certain what I would do had I been, were I now, in the position of the Executive Board of NTM, Inc. This is not because I'm not sure what should be done, but because I have some doubts as to whether or not it would get done if it depended on me. It might be difficult to make things worse, but I'm probably capable of doing it. Not to detract from the efforts that are already making it worse, of course.

So, shall we shrink from the subject, lest our own defects of character, our own shortcomings, our own lack of love and compassion, our own sins be revealed? Hardly. That's part of what landed us all in this place to start with.

What do the atrocities committed at various NTM boarding schools around the world and their subsequent cover up tell us about the sense of the sinfulness of sin that must have prevailed among the leadership?

What does the present situation tell us about the sense of the sinfulness of sin which even now prevails in conference rooms in Sanford, away from the light of public scrutiny?

Why are churches reluctant to take a public stand in favor of justice for those who were abused as children? Does this state of affairs offer us any insight into the sense of the sinfulness of sin that can be found in our churches?

In late 1996, as the Executive Committee was preparing the Grace Restoration letter to all the NTM missionaries, they talked to us about things that would not change. The first thing that was mentioned was "The unchangeable and eternal doctrines of the Word of God." Of course, to be pedantic, the unchangeable and eternal doctrines of the Word of God could never be changed; they are, after all, unchangeable and eternal. What they meant was "our understanding of the unchangeable and eternal doctrines of the Word of God." Are any changes in order?


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:58 am 
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εσται γαρ καιρος οτε της υγιαινουσης διδασκαλιας


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:46 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 3:07 pm 
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The military-like beginnings of some missions including NTM is an interesting one. A friend pointed out to me Carpenter's book, "Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism" and page 180ff specifically which mentions the beginnings of NTM and how charged up soldiers who had seen the technology that could break through barriers to get soldiers to remote jungle areas could also be used to make inroads for the gospel. (Better than my summary, read those pages for yourselves. The book text is available if you search on the internet.) It gives an idea where this modern mission business began. An interesting viewpoint, I think.

The modern equivalent maybe the idea that cell phones and podcasts will now reach the world. I have heard that on some radio broadcasts, recently. Too much is placed on technology, allthough tech can be a very useful tool.

This idea of push, push, push, to get world evangelism done (however it is done), won't necessarily get world evangelism done. On this website/blog we have seen the consequences of putting "the work" first.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 3:19 am 
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FrmrNTer refers to "the military-like beginnings" of NTM, Inc. Soldiers, battles, military accouterments and more are used in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, as metaphors of the Christian life. There is nothing wrong with reading, believing and applying those passages to our lives and ministry; there is a lot to be lost by ignoring them. A careful reading of the passages involved, however, will protect us from thinking we are "God's Army" and that it is the duty of our leaders to impose hardship on their charges, to require unquestioning obedience of the rank and file, to control every aspect of another person's life. These passages, however, have not always been read carefully. Instead, they were applied carelessly and implicitly, if not explicitly, used to justify the military mind-set of the Old New Tribes Mission. How did this happen?

It is when we get used to fanciful, if entertaining, interpretations and applications of God's Word that we go astray. It has been observed that Scriptures can be used to prove anything, to support any doctrinal position, any theory, any cult. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, use the Bible to support their religion.

In the hands of those who are skillful at deception, this is true; anything can be proved from the Bible. It helps (hurts) when the followers are in some sense dependent on the leaders, be it for employment, status, protection or shepherding. To return to the military mode, most soldiers are at least subconsciously aware that a General's jokes are funnier than a Captain's jokes. Most missionaries are more open to the interpretations and applications propounded by leadership than they are to those from fellow servants.

But, if the Bible is skillfully and carefully studied, interpreted by sound principles, and if all believers take seriously their personal responsibility to know what God's Word teaches, it is no longer possible to teach any old thing and claim to have Scriptural support. Hence the emphasis by sound Bible teachers on "rightly dividing the Word." That does not just mean "parroting the official line," either!

Even when rightly dividing the Word, of course, it is possible to study it and still come to some differing conclusions on a number of issues. But, it is not possible to come to just any conclusion, any interpretation, any application under the sun. That is why theological issues are so foundational, so important. Most people even loosely associated with NTM, Inc. will profess agreement with this.

Yet, somehow, Larry Brown was able to find undressing and embarrassment in the story of Naaman, topics which are actually read back into the text, not derived from it. Naaman's objection to washing in the Jordan was that there were better rivers in Damascus. There is no hint that he objected to undressing. In fact, his servants remonstrated with him based on the fact that it was such a simple thing to do. They did not say, "Well, you're a mighty general. This won't be easy, but you've won many battles. You can do this, too. Come on, Sir. First your shoes, then your tunic."

This was served up as encouragement from the Word for the faithful. Did they complain? Was Larry Brown's inbox filled with questions, complaints or calls for a review of basic hermeneutic principles?

Or, are the General's jokes still funny?


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 3:55 am 
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I agree that things were set up in a way that made for some unfortunate dictator-like behaviors, in NTM. But we must take care, lest our more well defined understanding of how things should be, causes us to become prideful in our own methods of judement. I also find that humor can at times be destructive when dealing with matters of such importance. For if we are trying to convey the tragic errors of someones ways, do we really want to lessen the impact with attempts at being funny? These are very serious matters. I think that maybe by taking a more somber and professional approach instead of a jovial or sarcastic one would show better, how serious we think the matter is.


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