NTM missionaries are often confronted with the two-fold question, “Why teach tribal people chronologically from Creation all the way to Christ instead of just giving them the Gospel at the very beginning? Doesn’t that take up a lot of unnecessary time?”
NTM missionary Wayne Goddard, who works with the Paĩ Tavy Tera tribe in Paraguay, has an answer so simple it’s profound.
“The goal of the teaching is not just to get a person saved, but to lay the foundation that helps them grow after becoming a believer.”
In other words, unless death is imminent, salvation alone is too short-sighted a goal. We’ve all known people who have had a salvation experience – but that’s all. It didn’t translate into a permanently changed, fruit-producing life. Why?
Again, Wayne answers with clear simplicity.
He explains that it’s the gaps in our understanding about God that cause problems after salvation. And if we still have gaps in our own culture, even though we’ve had Christianity available on every street corner and coffee table for generations, then our gaps would be considered more like cracks in a sidewalk while tribal gaps are whole lengths of football fields.
“If these gaps are not addressed, the new believer will struggle and maybe even lose heart in their walk with Christ. The chronological teaching attempts to deal with the issues so that when a person becomes a believer they do not have gaps in their understanding that hinders their growth.”
Spiritual train wrecks after salvation are avoidable. But the track must be completed first. And this is where the issue of time comes into perspective.
If we “just give them the Gospel” and focus prematurely on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament, but leave huge gaps in the rest of their Gospel “track” as recorded in the Old Testament, we are essentially sending the train down an unfinished track and hoping it won’t crash.
But the likely derailment will be far messier and much more time consuming than giving them a clear understanding of God from the very beginning.
“Going back to try and fill in the gaps can take longer and be more painful for the believer than it ever would have been had they been able to study the chronological teaching from the start. With that in mind, it actually turns out to be fairly fast and is well worth the small investment of time.”
We seem to grasp this concept of “prerequisites” in the academic arena but not in the spiritual. We understand and accept that certain high school and college classes have prerequisites that students are obliged to fulfill first. Why?
Because we know that having an unprepared student, without the basic knowledge needed for the newly acquired principles to make any sense, only sets them up for confusion and ultimately, failure. This doesn’t do the teacher or the student any favors and only serves to slow down the educational process.
Considering the complicated and confusing animistic worldview that tribal people are coming from, their education is not only uniquely challenging, but even more fragile.
Having zero knowledge of God, no history of the world or how He has worked, and in some cases, not even having the concepts of, or words for, grace or forgiveness in their culture, skipping vital prerequisites in their case can turn even the most innocent looking short-cuts into virtual train wrecks.
If it’s important that we efficiently get our students through college and well-prepared for their careers, how much more important it is to efficiently prepare these tribal “students” spiritually for the rest of their lives and ultimately, their death.
And that involves the very necessary prerequisite of presenting the Gospel in all its richness and glory from the Old Testament before presenting it from the New. The panoramic “scenic route” toward salvation makes sure that tribal people don’t get “lost” on any short-cuts along the way.
The simple reality is this: taking approximately three to six months to teach chronologically through the Bible from Creation to Christ, actually is giving the Gospel – but in a way that tribal people can understand it and become growing believers afterward. And that’s only a fraction of the time we spend on our own studies. It’s equivalent to one semester. But like any good education, it pays far-reaching dividends.
The Paĩ people of Paraguay are still reaping the rewards today.
If Mario, a Paĩ believer who later became a teacher himself, had only heard a Gospel presentation and had a salvation experience, he would still live in fear of the spirits today.
“The Paĩ people believe that when a person dies their spirit becomes a bad spirit that seeks to do harm to relatives and others,” Wayne explains. “This spirit roams the earth at night going to familiar places. [So] the relatives move the house where the person dies in order to confuse this spirit.”
But Mario’s house will be staying put.
While teaching a group of people, he told them, “I used to be afraid of the angue (the bad spirit of a person after they die) thinking it would get me. But while hearing the chronological teaching, I understood how God controls everything and when a person dies their spirit goes either to the place of judgment or else to heaven. Now I no longer live in fear of the angue.”
The teaching also served to clear up their understanding of sin.
The Paĩ people believe that doing something bad is only a sin if someone finds out about it. So in their culture, anything goes and without any remorse – as long as nobody knows.
“The chronological teaching deals clearly with what sin is: the fact that we are born sinners, that God is the One who defines what sin is, and that God sees us and knows everything about us. So therefore, He knows when we sin,” clarifies Wayne.
“Without this important teaching, a Paĩ would have a hard time understanding his need of a Savior if just the Gospel presentation was given to him. Even if he did become a believer, his walk would be severely hindered by this incomplete understanding of sin.”
Why would anyone need a Savior if they’re so good at hiding their sin that they really don’t have any sin to be saved from? And if they did get saved, what would prevent them from believing that “becoming conformed to the image of Christ” means that they now need to strive to become an even better hider?
Another gap that was filled for the Paĩs was their understanding of Satan.
Claudia tells us her story. “I used to be really afraid of Satan even though I was a believer. [But] after hearing the chronological teaching, I [now] understand clearly how God is more powerful than Satan. God made Satan. He used to be called Lucifer until God sent him away from heaven. Now he wants to hurt anything that is God’s.
“But if God made Satan, then how can Satan be more powerful than God? If you make something, then you are smarter and more powerful than that thing you made. We are God’s children now and God is more powerful than Satan. So we don’t need to be afraid of Satan if we are part of God’s family.”
Claudia gets it – but not before the gaps in her track were mended.
Wayne Goddard and other NTM missionaries are patiently teaching tribal people all around the globe. But it’s not something they made up on their own.
Jesus took three years to make sure His disciples had a track firmly set in place before allowing His own death, burial and resurrection to barrel into powerful motion. That’s why the church He equipped them to plant is still thriving today. And He told them to prepare others the same way.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” Matthew 28:19
He didn’t tell them to make believers, He told them to make disciples. Why? Because disciples are believers who have been taught in such a way that they want to follow God with their whole heart, soul and mind for the rest of their lives – and nothing can persuade them to do otherwise.
Through careful, chronological, gap-filling, track-laying, no prerequisite skipping, foundational Bible teaching, NTM desires to plant tribal churches so bursting full of disciples that they will charge on through their own jungles like little locomotives, multiplying themselves many times over. That’s exactly what the original disciples did.
Why not just give the Gospel? NTM actually does – thoroughly.