I have been teaching Missions History this term… one of my favorite
subjects, although I am not sure whether I do a good job with it. It is hard to make history “come alive.” But had a couple of interesting insights that came from the class… particularly from comments made by the students. There are only 6 in the class. Three are from the Philippines, one is from Myanmar, one is from South Korea, and one is from Papua New Guinea.
Insight #1. Balance in Missions Ministry.
We spent the first 3 weeks covering the first millenium of Christian Missions history. That is not a huge amount of time. But frankly, most Protestant Missions History books don’t spend that much time during the first millenium. If I remember right (not having the book in front of me at the moment), Stephen Neill‘s book only devotes something like 50 pages to the first 1500 years of Christian missions. So not sure I did that bad.
Anyway, after covering the first millenium, I asked the class to come up with all (or as many as possible) of the missions methods, missions strategies, and missions principles that were utilized in the first 1000 years of Christian missions. They came up with a pretty nice list. Here is a list that we came up with. They are all jumbled up topically, chronologically, and structurally… but that is okay.
- Care/Social Ministry
- Translation work (Scripture, liturgy, hymns)
- Cross-cultural ministry
- “Poverty” missions
- Monastic missions
- Power Encounter
- Mission teams (sodality structures)
- “Cross and Sword“
- Women in missions
- Government-sponsored missions
- Targeting community leaders
- School building work
- Mission centers (metropolitans, monasteries, etc.)
- Business in missions
- Giving gifts
- Miracle missions
- Faith-based missions
Then I asked to critique some of these… after all some are better than or worse than others. The “cross and sword” (or use of violence to expand the church) was recognized as a poor missions method (questionable in effectiveness, but highly problematic Biblically). Government-sponsored missions was also a concern because of the differing goals of government and church. Gift-giving was also seen as often not such a great idea because of a poor track record of bribing for spiritual change.
But one of my students brought up a really good point. He said, “I think one bad method is too much reliance on any one single method of missions.” Wow! I think that is a great point. Missions needs balance and broadness. A very narrow and unbalanced form of missions is probably not such a great idea. There should be balance in ministry.
Insight #2. Balance in Critique.
I was talking about missions in the time of Charlemagne (where missions through violence became popularized), and the Crusades (where missions through violence reached its pinnacle in Christian circles at least). Another student brought up an interest concern. She said, “When I hear all of these stories, it is difficult. I always think of Christians as good people.” Her concern was that there were an awful lot of bad people not only in the church, but even doing missions.
I said something like this. Probably not so well…
“One thing we really need when we study missions history is to find balance. Some people think the early church was only full of good people. That wasn’t true… check out the Bible for yourself. On the other hand, some people look at the ‘Dark Ages’ and think that the church was essentially dead… nothing good. That is also not true. At all points in history, there were bad people who describe themselves as Christians, and there were very good people who were Christians. Sometimes the common people seemed to be better than the leaders… the leaders perhaps become victims to the temptations of wealth and power. When we study Missions history we will see the good, the bad, and the really ugly… commonly existing and serving at the same time. We can learn from all of these. We can learn from their successes and their mistakes.
As we study them we need to remember that they are part of our family. We often think of Christians who are alive today as being brothers and sisters— family members— because of Christ. But those who have served before us… Celtic missionaries planting churches in Germany. Nestorian missionaries travelling through Central Asia on the Silk Road reaching the farthest points of Asia with the Gospel of Christ. Nuns serving with St. Boniface reaching Saxons and Frisians. They are our brothers and sisters in the same way as people today. The Church is not just about ‘the now’ but the past and future.
We need to study with balance… ready to applaud successes, but also acknowledge and learn from failures.”