Teaching the Principles of Christianity
Belief in God. Buddhists do not believe in a Creator and divine Ruler of the universe. One of the first things that the evanelist should attempt to do is to lead his hearers to a belief in the true God. The apostle Paul considered himself the apostle to the Gentiles. His labors were directed mainly to the heathen, and he was successful in bringing many to an acceptance of Christianity. A study of his methods will give much insight into the problem of reaching non-Christians today. Paul's method of teaching the heathen of his day about the true God is no doubt the one that will prove to be the most successful in working for Buddhists. Ellen G. White gives this description of Paul's approach at Lystra :
The apostles endeavored to impart to these idolaters a knowledge of God the Creator, and of His Son, the Saviour of the human race. They first directed attention to the wonderful works of God, —the sun, the moon, and the stars, the beautiful order of the recurring seasons, the mighty snowcapped mountains, the lofty trees, and other varied wonders of nature, which showed a skill beyond human comprehension. Through these works of the Almighty, the apostles led the minds of the heathen to a contemplation of the great Ruler of the universe.
Having made plain these fundamental truths concerning the Creator, the apostles told the Lystrians of the Son of God, who came from heaven to our world because He loved the children of men. They spoke of His life and ministry, His rejection by those He came to save, His trial and crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven, there to act as man's advocate. Thus, in the Spirit and power of God, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Lystra.1
Origin of sin. Buddhists believe in evil spirits and live in constant fear of them. This subject appeals to them and should be presented very early in a series of studies or meetings. Freedom from the power of the spirits, as Saunders points out, is one of the strong appeals that Christianity can make to Buddhists. He says:
It is clear that Christianity can dispel the persistent superstitious terrors of demon-haunted villages and can lessen the horrors of the slums of the great cities. One who lives in a Christian country can scarcely imagine, much less estimate, the relief which is thus brought into the lives of thousands. A country like Burma is not interested in a new system of ethics. It is satisfied with what it already possesses in the way of moral standards. But it does sorely need and should heartily welcome the sense of spiritual freedom and power which Christianity can impart.2
Bible as the Word of God. Another question on the questionnaire was: "How and when do you endeavor to convince non-Christians that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God?" Some of the replies are quoted below:
In the early part of the campaign, by referring to it as the world's oldest book; also by preaching the signs of the end, and the fulfillment of prophecy.
As early as possible—as soon as they will listen to the evidence. The evidence is in the Book itself, not in what people say about it. Do not condemn the "sacred" writings of the non-Christians. State the claims which the Christian Bible makes for itself, and test those claims.
The plan of gradually introducing the Bible during the first few meetings is probably the most satisfactory. The evangelist should be very tactful about trying to prove the inspiration of the Bible, and should allow it to speak for itself and let the people convince themselves that the Bible is the Word of God.
Old Testament history. In order to prepare non-Christians for an understanding of the mission of Jesus to this earth and the plan of salvation, it is important to teach them something about God's dealings with the people of this earth and acquaint them with the outstanding characters of the Old Testament.
Seventh-day Adventist missionaries have commented as follows on the value of stories of Old Testament characters:
The stories of these Old Testament characters offer an excellent opportunity to teach the truths of the plan of salvation, and to show God's attitude toward sin and His care for His people.
I think it is important to teach non-Christians the stories of the Old Testament, as they provide insights into the character of God, and inspire people to live for God.
Several missionaries have suggested that these stories be presented as special features, preferably with slides, before the regular evangelistic sermon. Non-Christians will be able to understand the principles of the gospel much better if they are presented in connection with the lives of people. Therefore, evangelists should place more emphasis on the Old Testament in working for non-Christians than they have in the past.
Promises and prophecies of a Saviour. Since Buddhists do not have a Saviour in their religion, it is difficult for them to understand and appreciate the virtue of Christ's death on the cross. A knowledge of the prophecies that pointed forward to Christ will not only strengthen the faith of the non-Christian in the Bible, but will also help him to understand and appreciate the mission of Jesus to this earth. Again notice Paul's method in teaching the people of his day about Christ.
Our ministers need more of the wisdom that Paul had. When he went to labor for the Jews, he did not first make prominent the birth, betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, notwithstanding these were the special truths for that time. He first brought them down step by step over the promises that had been made of a Saviour, and over the prophecies that pointed Him out. After dwelling upon these until the specifications were distinct in the minds of all, and they knew that they were to have a Saviour, he then presented the fact that this Saviour had already come. Christ Jesus fulfilled every specification.3
Life and teachings of Jesus. The life and teachings of Jesus should receive heavy emphasis in evangelistic work for Buddhists.
Some Seventh-day Adventist evangelists have not been spending much time on this subject. However, this was the main theme of the preaching of the disciples. Ellen G. White gives us this account of their preaching:
It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. The name was given them because Christ was the main theme of their preaching, their teaching, and their conversation. Continually they were recounting the incidents that had occurred during the days of His earthly ministry, when His disciples were blessed with His personal presence. Untiringly they dwelt upon His teachings and His miracles of healing. With quivering lips and tearful eyes they spoke of His agony in the garden, His betrayal, trial, and execution, the forbearance and humility with which He had endured the contumely and torture imposed upon Him by His enemies, and the Godlike pity with which He had prayed for those who persecuted Him. His resurrection and ascension, and His work in heaven as the Mediator for fallen man, were topics on which they rejoiced to dwel1.1
The first objective in working for Buddhists must be to lead them to an acceptance of Christ as their personal Saviour. The fact must be emphasized that Christianity is union with Christ and not merely the acceptance of a new set of rules to govern their conduct. Only then will they be in a position to appreciate and respond to distinctive Seventh-day Adventist doctrines.
Meeting the Challenge
For several years the Burma Union has been giving serious study to finding ways of interpreting the gospel more effectively to the Buddhist people of Burma. Early in 1962 a special committee was appointed to give study to this matter. The report of this committee was considered and approved by the union committee in September, 1962. A comprehensive plan was thus set in motion to strengthen the evangelistic program of the Seventh-day Adventist Church among the non-Christians in Burma.
One of the main features of this program was the preparation of various types of evangelistic material that would be beamed mainly to Buddhists. It was the plan to have R. H. Woolsey, who was on furlough at the time, spend practically his full time, on his return to Burma, in preparing these new materials. Pastor Woolsey had spent one term in Burma, had mastered the Burmese language, had done considerable evangelism in Burma, and had demonstrated a definite talent for writing. We felt that he was well qualified to prepare the new literature that was needed.
As the time came for him to return to Burma it was doubtful whether Brother Woolsey would obtain a visa, since a new government had recently come to power and had stopped the issuance of entry visas to missionaries. But God helped us to think of a plan to overcome this difficulty. We reasoned, "If Pastor Woolsey cannot return to Burma and prepare the evangelistic materials that are so urgently needed, why not have him begin working on them in the United States while he is waiting for a decision regarding his entry visa." The Southern Asia Division and the General Conference kindly acceded to our request and in September, 1963, he started working on this project.
Brother Woolsey's entry visa never did come through, so he has not been able to return to Burma. However, he continued working for the Burma Union for another full year and we are happy to report the completion of the four major projects listed below.
(1) A comprehensive manual on public evangelism for general audiences, but with particular emphasis on non-Christian evangelism.
(2) A set of 40 Bible study outlines with notes.
(3) A set of 40 evangelistic tracts, which cover the same subject as the Bible study outlines.
(4) A 20-lesson Bible correspondence course that covers the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
We have also felt that there was a need for a brief, full-message book for Buddhists. Some time ago we obtained a copy of the manuscript for a book entitled The Prince and the Rebel that Mrs. Ralph Neall prepared for use among the Buddhists of Cambodia. This manuscript has been adapted to Burma and will soon be printed in Burmese. It presents the Christian message in a simple, interesting way and we are confident that it will appeal to the Buddhists of Burma.
How These Materials Will Be Used
All prospective students of our Bible correspondence school who are non-Christians will be enrolled in the new introductory course. We believe this course will be much more meaningful for non-Christians and will provide the background information that will enable them to better understand the doctrinal course.
We are following the Bible Marking Plan that has been evolved by R. H. Libby as reported in the September, 1962, issue of THE MINISTRY. We feel this plan has many advantages, especially for non-Christian audiences. First of all, it is easier for the people to follow the study, since they have a paper in their hands that lists the questions and the Bible references. Second, the study is more definitely impressed upon their minds as they not only read the answer from the Bible but also write the answer on the paper. Third, the people have a permanent record of the Bible study that they have just completed to take home with them.
The evangelistic tracts will be given to people at the close of home Bible studies, to people who attend regular evangelistic meetings, to those who attend Bible-marking classes and will also be used in systematic distribution.
The new book The Prince and the Rebel will be used mainly for free distribution in the following ways: (1) as a gift to each person who purchases a copy of the book Health and Longevity, (2) as a gift to students who send donations to the Bible school, (3) for attendance awards in connection with evangelistic meetings, and (4) will be presented to patients at our hospital who manifest an interest in Christianity.
We are confident that this material is going to be the means of greatly strengthening the evangelistic program of the Burma Union. We look forward in faith to the time when a great host of the fine Buddhist people of Burma will take their stand with God's remnant people.
The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 180, 181.
2 Kenneth J. Saunders, Buddhism and Buddhists in Southern Asia, p. 20.
3 Evangelism, p. 141.
4 The Acts of the Apostles, p. 157.