The Great Commission refers to the words Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection and before he ascended into Heaven. He gave a command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to everyone. The Gospel is the Good News that the way to be able to stand before God without sin is through faith in who Jesus is and what he accomplished by his death on the cross, burial and subsequent resurrection. To preach it is simply to tell people that the way to eternal life is through Jesus (John 14:6). There is no limit on who is to hear this Good News. It is for every nation, tribe and tongue of people everywhere. Those who take the Good News to lands foreign to them are called “missionaries,” and this field, like many others, benefits from specialized education to be the most productive. Here are some of the benefits of proper religious education.
All across the world there exists the concept of a divine being in supreme authority. When sharing the Gospel, the word “God” in different languages can bring to mind many different meanings. In the New Testament when the apostle Paul was in Athens, he noticed the whole city was given over to idolatry. In Acts 17:23 he takes advantage of seeing an altar dedicated “To The Unknown God” to teach the people the truth about the God he knew and the only begotten Son that paid the price of sin for all mankind. Missionary education to understand the complexities of the culture one is entering into prevents issues of doctrinal misunderstandings and helps the missionary to teach the bible without local beliefs and customs potentially adulterating the message.
Every culture uses idioms. To say it is “raining cats and dogs” is understood in the United States by English-speaking people to mean that it is pouring down rain. However, to literally translate this into the language of another culture could raise some eyebrows as people imagine canines and felines falling from the sky. To effectively participate in cross cultural ministries, missionaries should learn the ones of the people they are on a mission to reach.
A bible translation for a tribal language took Revelation 3:20 where it says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock . . .” and swapped out “knock” and put in “cough.” This seems absurd until it is understood that the people would stand outside an entrance and cough, not knock, when they sought to get into a place. It does not alter the integrity of the scripture at all. Instead, it makes it so that in the mind of the person of that culture reading it, the scripture makes perfect sense as it does to people who are used to people knocking on a door to gain entrance. A proper religious education gives missionaries the cultural idiomatic advantage they need to be effective.
The financial support of those in the mission field is critical to maintaining the work. Churches supporting a missionary appreciate reports of the return their investment in the missionary is producing. One might think that the work in the field as a missionary would be the most difficult, but the most difficult part of missions may end up being maintaining the passionate interest of participation in the church back home. A formal education teaches missionaries what they need to know to be productive in the land where God sent them, and it teaches them the importance of keeping the communication lines open back home where the financial support originates from. It is sad that missionaries can suffer from the out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude back home, and a formal education prepares workers to deal with this. Plus, churches that support missionary work may be more willing to agree to support missionaries who have received professional training.
When a missionary receives the command from God to go to a people halfway around the world and share the Gospel with them, the receiver of the command should diligently seek God’s instruction on what to do to prepare. The bible uses the example of those seeking the office in the church as a leader in 1 Timothy 3:6 to not be a “novice” (KJV). This refers to a “recent convert” as the NIV translates the word. The fundamental meaning is that these types of positions require responsibility and experience. For those who are responsible, a proper religious education can greatly help with experience.