While searching for something else, I recently stumbled across a Thai newspaper article announcing the discovery of a 19th century wooden house in Phrae, Thailand, that was the original residence of the first missionaries who arrived there in the 1890s. The Thai headline expressed my feelings exactly: "Shock! Wooden Missionary House in Phrae - over 100 years old!" And the house is in good shape too! I was totally fascinated by the modern photos of the type of house that I had only previously seen in small, grainy, black-and-white photos in Thai church history books and missionary biographies. I thought for sure that such residences were long gone but to find one still standing is simply fantastic. I was immediately stuck that the design of this house is extremely similar to old pictures I’ve seen of those in Chiang Mai and Petchburi. Here is the lead photo from the newspaper article showing the house in Phrae. The whole article (in Thai) with more photos can be found here.
Everyone who becomes a Christian has a unique story. The ultimate cause of salvation is God convicting a person of sin and graciously turning their heart to himself so that they might exercise faith and repentance. However, the secondary reasons that people are initially attracted to the Gospel are much more varied. For some people, a crisis in their life leads them to reach out for help. For others, they are impressed by the love and welcome of the Christian community. And still others have burning questions about the origin and meaning of life. One of the most unique and peculiar accounts that I have encountered is the story of Nān Inta, the first convert in the ministry of Daniel McGilvary. Regarded widely as the Father of the Church in Northern Thailand, McGilvary gives the following account in his autobiography:
Like most people, I don’t like going to the doctor or even listening to the doctor because I know that I am going to be told to do something that I don’t want to do. Like get a test, give some blood, take medicine, or get a further test for something that feels fine (just to double check, of course). I’d like to think that I have better things to do with my time because unless I am in severe pain, then everything is fine. For missionaries, or anyone else in Christian ministry, there is the added temptation to ignore doctor’s advice because it will take time away from the Lord’s work.I ran across a story in the autobiography of Daniel McGilvary that reminded me that doctors are sometimes ignored with dire consequences. McGilvary was a 19th century missionary pioneer to northern Thailand and we pick up the story as he returns home to Chiang Mai from an extended evangelistic tour through the jungles of Northern Thailand.
The title of this article may seem like an overstatement but it is not. Some may object, “But surely the sinner’s prayer has worked for some people. Even if many have fallen away after praying to receive Christ, not all have.” I happily concede the point that there are many Christians who continue to walk with the Lord and grow in their faith many years after having said the sinner’s prayer. But what I question is this, “Was it really the sinner’s prayer that converted them?” 19th century revival preacher Charles Finney, who is largely responsible for popularizing the use of the altar call and the sinner’s prayer, would probably have said yes.
Confessions of faith, creeds, and catechisms have largely fallen into disuse among evangelical Protestant churches. They are still around and used regularly in some churches but by and large have fallen by the wayside as many believers and churches have put more emphasis on experience and just loving Jesus. Or some have claimed that "we have no creed but the Bible" but as soon as you say "I believe that the Bible teaches such and such" you have made a summary statement about Biblical teaching. Such a summary is in essence a creed or confession. No statement of faith ever takes the place of the Bible but it can be a good tool to help people get an overview of what the Bible teaches and learning how to express what we believe the Bible teaches. Some confessions or creeds are better than others but a good one should contain nothing that can't be fairly clearly deduced from Scripture. Along these lines, I wanted to share a brief story from the autobiography of Daniel McGilvary, pioneer missionary to Northern Thailand:
"In May 1876, Nan Inta was ordained our first ruling elder. The story has oft been told that before his ordination the [Westminster] Confession of Faith was give him to read carefully, since he would be asked whether he subscribed to its doctrines. When he had finished the reading, he remarked that he saw nothing peculiar in its teachings. It was very much like what he had read in Paul's epistles!" (Daniel McGilvary, "A Half Century among the Siamese and Lao: An Autobiography", Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1912, p.169-170)