The other day I was reading a missionary book and ran across a story about a man who practiced sorcery and ended up believing, being baptized, and seeking discipleship from the missionary. The man was really well known in his city. Everyone believed that this man had a lot of power and could really change things. The people probably had some idea that the power he was using wasn't good (it was actually demonic) but it was really undeniable that this power was real. It doesn't take much for a man to claim he has a lot of power but this man was actually able to convince everyone that he was great.
The missionary was originally working in another part of the region. As the circumstances changed and pressure upon Christians grew, he decided to travel to another city. After he arrives God begins to do some great things. Actually, several miracles happen and people are delivered from major bondage. Revival was breaking out and people were really turning to the Lord!
The book didn't give all the details but apparently in all of that the sorcerer begins to recognize God's great power and see something he was really lacking in his life. He ends up believing and being baptized. Wow, can you imagine? The very man who all the city sees as being a great spiritual power hears the Gospel, believes it, and is baptized. Surely that didn't go unnoticed by everyone. I can only imagine how the other believers began to praise God because of it!
The next thing the man does is begin to follow the missionary and wants to learn more about everything about his ministry. What more would a missionary want? He travels to a town, the spiritual leader believes the Gospel, and seeks out discipleship from him. I like it because discipleship is so important in missionary work. That in itself is quite a story but as I kept reading the story took a drastic turn. What would happen if you just preach the Gospel, they believe, and then you leave?
The missionary is seeing such a response that he calls on some other missionary leaders to come down and help. So, a few of them came. During that time they begin pray for the new believers and God begins to physically manifest himself. The ex-sorcerer actually asks the missionary leaders if he can buy the ability to pray and God respond with clear physical manifestations. Rather than taking the money or gently correcting him, the leaders just flat our rebuke him, tell him that he is in sin, his heart isn't right with God and he better pray that God would forgive him ASAP. But rather than dropping to his knees and praying right there (as they said) he asks them to pray for him. The story stops there with quite an unexpected ending.
You might have noticed that I'm actually talking about Acts 8 when Phillip goes to Samaria and the story with Simon the Sorcerer. This story really brings out a few things to me.
- Discipleship is important. What if Phillip would have just assumed that since they all appeared to believe that his job was done? I don't know how much time was between Simon "believing" and him being exposed, but I'm sure it was more than a day or so. Good thing Phillip didn't send out a Facebook update about him being converted. That would have been awkward later to have to say it didn't all workout as he'd hoped. On the flip side, don't expect your missionary to always have great stories of conversions to tell. Sometimes it takes time to see fruit and made sure that it is indeed fruit from the Lord.
- Phillip didn't do it alone. I'm not sure why Phillip didn't see those things himself. Simon seemed to follow him around so surely he and Phillip had some time together. Also, remember Simon is well known in the community. If the head sorcerer was following you around, you'd probably pay a little bit of attention to him. Maybe it just never came up in an obvious way or maybe Phillip just didn't see it. Either way, by Phillip doing his mission work involving other missionaries (a team) there was safety.
- Simon was still the same. He was still an animist to the core. An animist is one who seeks to control the spiritual world for his own benefit. Before he might have wanted to do that by different sacrifices, rituals, and other spiritual acts. After Phillip came he seen a power that was greater than his and he wanted it. He was willing to give up whatever it took to do that but actually his heart never changed.
Let's stay on the animist thought for a moment. Isn't it amazing that Simon was willing to submit himself to another's teachings and higher powers that what he had? He followed Phillip around wanting to learn more and clearly wanted to be involved in the work of the church. Yet, his heart was never changed. At his core he still simply wanted to manipulate the sprit world, even Jehovah God, for his own gain. How many people in the world are involved in Christian sounding things yet their main purpose is just to manipulate God for their own benefit? I know, that's a deep and searching question but we should ask ourselves what's the difference between the African witch doctor and ourselves? Are we both just doing what we can save ourselves from some pain or confusion, either temporal or eternal?
Yes, the gospel does save us from a lot of things both temporal and eternal. But it's important to see that the center of our belief is that God is to be worshipped and served simply because He is worthy and not just because it's how we can receive more blessing. We can't allow animist thinking into our mind. God won't be manipulated and the great thing is that there is no need to even try. We've been accepted by God because of his dear Son and we know him to be Lord of lords. His acceptance of us should give us confidence and assurance. Knowing He is Supreme and worthy should be an overarching theme in all we do. We should already understand that everything actually works out for our own good and His glory. There is no need to try to act as an animist with God.
Doesn't it make sense that to have all these things rooted out of our lives we have to continue in discipleship with the teachings of Christ? And how much more important is it to have long term missionaries staying in a place to work alongside of new believers?