Contending for the Faith in Missions

This article by Dr. Steve Van Horn first appeared in the January-February 2006 issue of Voice Magazine An Independent Church Journal.

If I were to ask all of the members of your church to describe the conditions in Africa, the large majority would probably talk about HIV/AIDS, poverty, disease, malnutrition, and the number of widows and orphans.

Then if I asked them to describe the spiritual conditions in Africa, most of them would tell me
about the great spiritual harvest that is taking place on the continent and the number of churches that are being planted, and that is true as well.
Did you know that 48.4% of all Africans claim to be Christians? And did you know that researchers believe an additional 20,000 are
turning to Christ every day? Everywhere I go I hear about churches being planted. Churches and parachurch organizations alike are aggressively planting churches all over Africa, and Africans themselves are planting churches at an amazing rate.

So with this information planted in our minds and hearts, what would you say should be our focus in missions, using Africa as a model?
My Experience in Africa
In January of 1998, I ventured to Africa for the first time. I went to teach a two week course at the Nairobi International School of Theology, and I went with all of the thoughts and feelings about Africa mentioned above. But I immediately began to hear about and see evidences of a spiritual crisis that is taking place on the continent.

During my introduction to Africa, my host told me that “The church in Africa is described as a river a mile wide and an inch deep.” He then went on to explain syncretism to me. “African Christianity,” he explained, “is syncretistic. It is a blend of the African traditional religions, including witchcraft, animism, spiritism, and ancestor worship, with Christianity.” Another way to describe it is that Christianity in Africa is a lot of the African traditional religions with some Bible verses mixed in. But I did not understand the power and significance of those statements at the time.

In August of 1998 I made my second trip to teach a class at the same school. During that second class, one student from the Democratic Republic of Congo said to me, “The difference between a Christian and nonchristian in Africa is that the Christian goes to the witchdoctor at night.” We might laugh at that statement but it is powerful and paints a clear picture of syncretism in Africa. My understanding continued to grow with each subsequent trip.

During my introduction to Africa, my host told me that “The church in Africa is described as a river a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Missions and the Book of Jude
After more than thirty trips to Africa, ministering in seven different countries numerous times, and speaking to over two thousand pastors in groups and many one on one, I am convinced that there is a spiritual crisis on the continent of Africa that needs immediate attention, and that the church needs to take Jude’s appeal in his letter seriously. The church needs to get intentional about contending earnestly for the faith by confronting the false teaching and heresy that has taken the church captive. There are at least three biblical reasons for holding this conviction.

The first reason to take Jude’s appeal seriously is because contending earnestly for the faith defines what the church is supposed to be. In the middle of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he defined the church as “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus, in His prayer in John 17, referred to God’s Word as truth (John 17:17).

Paul commended the Thessalonian church for receiving it, “not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God.” The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and it Contending for the Faith in Missions is profitable for everything necessary for Christian growth and ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Word of God is the Word of the one and only living GOD, our eternal Creator.

Paul was very intentional about opposing the heresies and false teachers of his day. He told the Corinthians, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The church needs to follow Paul’s example, and become more intentional about opposing the serious errors that are dominating the pulpits and churches in the mission field.

The second reason to take Jude’s appeal seriously is because contending earnestly for the faith is a major part of the pastor’s call. In 1 Corinthians 4:1, we are called to be stewards of the  mysteries the Word of God. Paul exhorted Timothy, in both of his letters to his young disciple, to guard the treasure, the Word of God (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).

The pastor is also called to be on guard for the flock over which God has appointed him to be the overseer and shepherd (Acts 20:28). Paul makes this clear in his letter to Titus. He wrote that one qualification necessary for leading the church was the ability to hold fast the faithful word “so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Not only is the pastor to be able to proclaim the truth, but he is also to be able to oppose error.

But there is a third reason to take Jude’s appeal seriously, which is perhaps the strongest reason of all. The third reason is because the truth is under attack (Jude 4-13). Jude told his readers to be aware of false teachers who had entered the church unnoticed (v.4). They had embedded themselves into the churches activities and were making promises that were not fulfilled (v.12, 13). Jude exposed the motive of these false teachers. It was the money they could make through their evil schemes (v.11).

This is exactly what is happening on the continent of Africa. False teachers are taking advantage of the uneducated clergy, and the naïve, undiscerning, trusting, and unsuspecting believers. They are deceiving them with money-making schemes of all kinds. Christianity Today reported in July 2007, that what is commonly called “the prosperity gospel” is taking the continent by storm. Selfappointed super apostles charge large sums for their prayers. So called healers sell vials of “healing oil” at miracle crusades before taking an offering that goes to the false teacher, and self proclaimed prophets in Nigeria charge large sums of money for supposedly exorcising demons from young children who, they claim with no evidence, are witches. (, November 9, 2008)

Truth Under Attack
The truth has always been under attack. The attacks have come from Satan directly (Genesis 3:1-5, Matthew 4:1-8), and by many willing human instruments throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus warned of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned the Ephesian elders about false teachers that he referred to as savage wolves (Acts 20:29), and warned the Corinthians about false apostles who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). For his part, Peter devoted much of his second letter to the topic of false teachers (2 Peter 2).

Around the world today, Satan does all that he can do within his power to twist and distort the truth of the Word of God to keep people from responding and being saved, or to cause people to respond to a false gospel and think they are saved, or to keep truly saved individuals from becoming productive in the kingdom of God.

While the church is reaching out, in obedience and with compassion, to meet the overwhelming number of humanitarian needs around the world, it can’t ignore the fact that the church in many
places it being taken over by demoninspired false teachers. Unbelievers are being drawn to cults, given false assurance about salvation, and are being taken down blind spiritual alleys. False teachers, false prophets, and false apostles are taking advantage of unsuspecting, poor, undiscerning, biblically illiterate pastors and church-goers alike.

The church needs to take Jude’s appeal seriously, and be diligent and intentional about contending for the faith, not only here in the United States but even more so in the mission field where there are very few opportunities to hear truth. Not only do we need to be relentless in presenting truth, but we need to be equally relentless in graciously and humbly opposing error (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

The over whelming number of humanitarian needs throughout the world is clearly evident. But the number of people still needing to hear the gospel for the first time is even more staggering. Also essential is the task of contending for the faith, defending the truth.

So we, the church, must decide where to focus our missions efforts. If we focus primarily on meeting humanitarian needs, we will leave the pulpits unprotected. As a result, Satan will send false teachers in the back door for the purpose of attacking and distorting the truth. Satan will use the pulpits, meant for the proclamation of truth, to spread his poisonous lies.

I am not suggesting that we slow down our efforts to minister to the humanitarian needs that we see throughout the world. But I am suggesting that, at the same time, we involve ourselves and our churches in contending earnestly for the faith in missions by teaching truth, opposing error, and equipping pastors abroad to do the same.

Dr. Steve Van Horn is President of International Training and Equipping Ministries of Beaverton, OR. Learn more at or write him at He is a member of IFCA International.