Hinduism was in India, the Middle East was Muslim, Buddhism stretched from Tibet to Japan, Russia was Marxist, Animism covered the remaining tribal areas, and the central piece was of course Christian.
In the first thousand years missions were meant to convert the colour of a nation from Animism, or any other religion, to Christian. This was successfully achieved all over Europe by the year 1000. After the Reformation the puzzle was complicated by colouring nations Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, or Roman.
It was Baptists who invented the variant of trying to persuade people to switch as individuals by baptism into their denomination. Anglicans reversed this by forcing Wesley's followers to become Methodists. Americans invented the patchwork quilt.
In the nineteenth century Evangelical missions decided that people of all religions and denominations needed to make a decision for Christ and be born again. It was however very difficult to count numbers for their supporters at home. Everybody knew that large numbers made this decision in evangelistic campaigns but only a small proportion of them became functioning Christians. The religious jigsaw puzzle now became a huge circle of all people of the world, and somewhere within it there was a small circle that God only knew were truly saved.
Some missions still thought that until an individual had the guts to count the cost and be baptized he or she should not be listed in the statistics.
If insufficient numbers were baptized as believers, Southern Baptists would recall the missionaries or close down the field to concentrate on better results.
Meanwhile Muslim mosques, Hindu temples, and Buddhist centres are mushrooming in every city of the so called Christian world. But in every denomination, except perhaps the Exclusive Brethren, there are people who pray like Muslims, meditate like Hindus, and experiment with every form of Buddhism and Taoism. And all over the world people attend mosques or Hindu temples and pray to God as Father, learn from the Son of God, and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and inspiration.
For the year 2,000 it is time to ask how God might see the confusion of our religious jigsaw. And that requires a model shift to a vertical dimension.
Evangelicals need to work hard at developing a model that might make sense to our missionaries, and eventually persuade their supporters to invest in.
I propose the following for discussion and correction.
1. Faith is not a decision to believe certain things and/or be baptized.
2. Faith is a direction of looking like Abraham (Romans 4).
3. There can be genuine looking to God together with ignorant explanation.
4. Christian mission is to correct people's explanation (Matt. 28:19).
5. Changing a person's religion is not part of our mission. It
may follow later.
That means that our puzzle could divide the world into the United Nations.
In any nation we might be able to evaluate how well people have been taught all that Jesus commanded. But there can be no statistics of how many people in any place daily look to God as Father. Or how many daily look to the Son as Lord, Saviour, Friend, Healer, Head of the Church.
Nor do we know how many people look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, inspiration, and impowering to love. God alone knows that, but if we are willing to get alongside people and ask, we can be wonderfully surprised. And the best question to begin the conversation is "Do you ever find yourself saying thank-you to God?"
(Posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association List, November 1998)