Types of “Great Missionaries”

What does it take to be a great missionary? I think there are different types of missionaries and there are different ways they can be seen as good.

  1. Innovator. Barnabas. Some missionaries do something that is highly innovative and as such establish patterns that guide missionaries long after them. Barnabas appears to be a great example of this with the strategy that he used for mentoring and then entering strategic locations for missions. Other could include Zeigenbald, and John Nevius.
  2. Theologian Paul. Some missionaries develop and (often) write theological works. Such works can be theology of mission, or missional theology. Paul, while certainly a very good missionary as shown in his 3 mission trips. However, what made him great was his writings— 13 letters to various churches. These letters were practical, pastoral, and personal. However, they were very much theological. Other missionaries also embraced theological writing might include Roland Allen and Leslie Newbigin.
  3. Promoter. David Livingstone. This is a bit more dubious. Many ask the question of whether David Livingstone was a great missionary. And in his work in Africa they may have a point. At the same time, Livingstone was great in inspiring people to support missions or give more to missions. An even more extreme case may be Henry Stanley, who perhaps could be described as a bad missionary (but a great promoter of missions). Other missionaries may be clearly be good missionaries but are still more recognized in their role of promoting missions. Some examples might include Lottie Moon, Albert Schweitzer, Luther Rice, and Amy Carmichael.
  4. Contextualizers. Ulfilas. Some successfully brought the Christian faith successfully into a new culture. Often this is most clearly visible in terms of translation of Bible and liturgy. There are some that are uncertain of Ulfilas because of his theology. No one, however, could fail to recognize his accomplishment in translating the Bible into Gothic language. Others might include Methodius, Cyril, and Ola Hanson.
  5. Trailblazers. Adoniram and Ann Judson. Some missionaries may not be innovators in the strictest sense, but trailblaze a new place of ministry— opening the door wide for follow-on missionaries to follow. The Judsons were the first to work in Burma, and their challenging work opened the door for others after. Sometimes they gain the title of “Apostle of _______.” Samuel Zwerner and Nicholas Kassachin are a couple of examples.
  6. Organizer. Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. Some may have not done much personally in terms of missions, but they created structures that were highly effective in missions. Von Zinzendorf wasn’t really a missionary, although he did some visits to missionaries in the field. However, he brought structure to the United Brethren (Moravians) creating the first major mission movement in Protestantism. Another would be Hudson Taylor.
  7. Faithful. Justinian Von Welz. In most vocations there are superstars. Nothing wrong with that. However, it would be ill-advised to assume that the greatest missionaries were necessarily the ones identified as great in our eyes. Von Welz was an innovator, but too ahead of his time to be recognized as such by most. By almost every measure he was a failure. However, he was faithful even to death. By pretty much every measure William Borden was a failure— rejecting family fortune only to die before reaching his final mission destination. But he was faithful to the call and faithful to the end. These were the Faithful Servant of the parable of Jesus.

There are other categories of greatness. However, I hope you see from the #7 that list in general is a bit dubious. I think it is good as a reminder that there is more than one way to be seen as great or effective. However, our ideas of greatness may NOT coincide with what is God’s view of greatness.

Nicholas Kassatkin

I am putting together notes and presentations and video for a Missions History class I was asked to teach.

One of the values of doing this is that one gets the opportunity to relearn how little one knows. I keep learning how little I know.

Going through “Encountering the History of Missions” (by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher), there were a couple of missionaries who were brought up as being truly excellent missionaries who really were not on my radar screen as individuals I might go to for inspiration.

One of those was Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. He was a Moravian missionary to India. I was familiar with him, but as I read more on him, there is much to be admired. Still, I generally knew about him.

The other was one who I had heard of briefly before, but I had learned so little that I did not remember his name when I came upon it.

This was Nicholas Kassatkin. Some put his name as Nicholas Kassathin. (I don’t know Cyrillic enough to know which spelling is closer to the original.)

Nicholas Kassatkin died in 1912 after serving in Japan for approximately 50 years. He was a Russian Orthodox monk her served in Japan. He was part of the Russian Orthodox mission movement that was especially active from the 1700s until the early 1900s. Kassatkin was different from most other Russian Orthodox missionaries during this period, and different from most other Christian missionaries during the “Great Century” in that he served in a place that was neither conquered lands nor colonized lands. He was a Russian Christian serving in Japan… neither conquered land nor colonized land of Russia or any other “Christian nation.”

I will quote from Richard Durmmond who was quoted by Terry and Gallagher:

The life and life fruits of Nicholas compel us to recognize him as one of the greatest missionaries of the modern era. In accordance with Orthodox tradition, he respected highly the language and cultural traditions of the people among whom he served. He respected the epeople and loved them as persons. He went beyond the common traditions of Orthodoxy in freeing his work to an extraordinary extent from the political aims and interests of his homeland. His apostleship was remarkably non-polemical for the day; he was in singular fashion an aposlte of peace among men. His method of evangelization was concentrated upon the family, and he stressed above all the raising up of national workers and the indigenization of the Church, even as he urged it to remember its distinctive association with the kingdom of God.

-Richard H. Drummond. “A History of Christianity in Japan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 354. Quoted by Terry and Gallagher on page 80.

He came to Japan shortly after the opening of the doors to outsiders, even though there still was considerable hostility to foreigners. He also came from a country that has had conflict with Japan. In fact, during his time in Japan, a war occurred between his country and Japan (in 1905). During that time, he struggled with his role as a foreigner. Japanese converts to Christ and Russian Orthodoxy were told by Kassatkin that they should be good Christians AND good Japanese citizens even if he himself could not go against his own country— Russia.

In his lifetime, he baptized approximately 20,000 converts. That is amazing in a country that has, generally, been very standoff-ish to Christianity. Actually, today, there are a little less than 10,000 Japanese who identify as Russian Orthodox. The church has not grown in the last century but considering wars and social upheavals in Japan and even more so the Russian Orthodox church, the endurance of the church in Japan shows the strength of the work of Kassatkin.

As Protestants, we may be tempted not to give proper due to Catholic missionaries, and even less to the Eastern Churches. But that is a mistake. There is much we can learn. I am glad I have had this chance.

Book Review: “Encountering the History of Missions”

The book, “Encountering the History of Mission: From the Early Church to Today” by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher, is part of the Encountering Missions series of books. It was published in 2017 by Baker Academic.

I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Christian missions— especially Evangelical Christian missions. I don’t have major problems with it— most of points are either positive or of a more neutral nature. Therefore I will list my points together.

  1. The book is very readable in terms of content, style, and format. I found that I wanted to continue reading to finish a chapter, and then move to the next chapter to see “what happens next.” That in itself is strongly in its favor.
  2. It balances well between events, organizations, movements, and individuals. Missions history is primarily the work of God. Secondarily, it is the work of various religious, sociological, political movements. Third is the people involved. Missionaries did not MAKE missions happen, but responded positively to the work of God and their place in history. That is my view at least. Terry and Gallagher’s book balances things well.
  3. The book embraces what I might describe as a “Generous Orthodoxy” (drawing the term from Brian McLaren). The book is quite respectful of missions from a variety of Christian groups including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Celtic, “Nestorian,” Russian Orthodox, and many faith traditions among Protestant groups. Some negative portrayals are reserved for the Roman Catholic church (especially in ways it worked against Christian missions and Protestant missions), but the work of RC missionaries is portrayed more positively. The only “historically” Christian group involved in missions that seems to never be described positively (as far as I noticed) was the World Council of Churches, and it missions (“conciliar missions”). More on that later.
  4. The target audience for the book is Protestant Evangelical. A little over half the book is focused on Protestant missions. As the book nears the present, the focus moved more to Evangelical missions. That being said, non-Protestant, non-Evangelical missions is given its place of prominence, especially in past centuries.
  5. I struggled to get a grasp of what the authors’ definition of missions was. Perhaps a reread of the book would clarify this. However, in a couple of places, I found the issue of definition problematic. In Chapters 7 and 11, Christian missions seemed to include what I might call, “Getting people to leave their church to start attending my church.” Chapter 7 attempted to support the notion that the early reformers (most notably Martin Luther and John Calvin) were indeed missional— despite anything that I would consider good support of this. Their argument that Luther and Calvin were missional was based on the fact that and their followers worked hard to get people to leave their own churches and join their churches. Chapter 11 is supposed to be about Methodist Missions, with focus on the Wesleys. However, the great majority of the chapter spoke of their ministry to people who are already Christians. Perhaps the desire to include the Methodist movement, with its link to the Moravians, and to the later ‘Holiness Movement’ made the inclusion feel necessarily. Missions has often included denominational efforts to get people to change churches. I am an Evangelical missionary in the Philippines. Ministry work to get Catholics to become Evangelical is commonly seen as a valid form of Christian missions. However, in other parts of the book, it seems like missions about reaching those who don’t identify as Christian. Thus, I am a bit confused.
  6. Generally, the book did a pretty good job of separating between missions history and church history. To me at least, Church history tends to focus on Creeds, Councils, Controversies, and Conflicts. Generally, the book avoided these. Perhaps it would have been of benefit to integrate more of these in since missions history is in many ways an outworking of church history. For me, however, I feel like keeping the focus on missions was probably the correct choice.
  7. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter on Specialized Missions, a lot was ignored. There was little to nothing on Social Justice, Community Development, Missionary Member Care, Theological education, Interreligious Dialogue, and more. Not everything can be covered in one chapter of course. Still, I feel like some more important specializations in Christian missions should have been included.
  8. I feel like the absence of (positive) representation of conciliar missions was a bit of a failure in the book. I have worked with missionaries who could be described as part of conciliar missions, and often found them to be very faithful to God and capable in their work. While some of the concerns regarding conciliar missions in the book are all too valid, very often the authors had been willing to take the positive view of other missions movement rather than focusing on its worst. The book took a very generous view of the theology of Ulfilas, completely avoided the negative aspects of the work of St. Boniface, and the list goes on. Arguably, the Evangelical missions has benefited from conciliar missions as well. It was the Anglican component of the Evangelicals (such as Neill, Stott, and Newbigin) with one foot squarely in conciliar missions, that kept Evangelical missions from simply be subsumed by the theology (or lack of theology) of the Church Growth Movement. Additionally, conciliar missions has often been better in certain forms of missions than Evangelicals (social justice and interreligious dialogue being among them). I certainly see no reason to give conciliar missions an equal place in the book. I just suggest the overall generosity of the book could have been supplied here as well.
  9. Despite the tendency towards “generosity” to various people and movements, the book did not idealize. The authors were willing to provide kind critique, and occasionally harsh critique. The summary of the good and bad of Christian missions in the last chapter (drawn from Herbert Kane) was not only valuable, but was generally supported in the text of the book.
  10. The authors did not spend much time on theology of missions. I can understand why this was seen as generally outside the scope of the book. However, I was glad that the book did list down strategies and practices of many missionaries and mission movements. I found this quite helpful to understand them better, and to learn more about what I should and should not focus on as a missionary.

I am planning to use this work as the textbook for my upcoming class on missions history. With very few (and limited) reservations, I strongly recommend it to others.

First Protestant Missionary Hymn

Awake, Thou Spirit, who didst fire
The watchmen of the Church’s youth,
Who faced the Foe’s envenomed ire,
Who witnessed day and night Thy truth,
Whose voices loud are ringing still
And bringing hosts to know Thy will.

And let Thy Word have speedy course,
Thro’ every land be glorified,
Till all the heathen know its force
And fill Thy churches far and wide.
Oh, spread the conquest of Thy Word
And let Thy kingdom come, dear Lord!

–Karl Heinrich von Bogatsky (1750). This English version is from The Story of Lutheran Missions by Elsie Singmaster (1917), Chapter One. Available on Project Gutenberg– https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55819/55819-h/55819-h.htm

Hymnary.org adds two more verses, and notes that the English translation was by Catherine Winkworth. it shows the verses above as 1 and 4. Verses 2 and 3 are as follows:

Lord, let our earnest prayer be heard,
The prayer Thy Son hath bid us pray;
For, lo, Thy children’s hearts are stirred
In ev’ry land in this our day
To cry with fervent soul to Thee,
Oh, help us, Lord! So let it be!

3 Oh, haste to help ere we are lost!
Send preachers forth, in spirit strong,
Armed with Thy Word, a dauntless host,
Bold to attack the rule of wrong;
Let them the earth for Thee reclaim,
Thy heritage, to know Thy name.

https://hymnary.org/text/awake_thou_spirit_who_didst_fire

For the orginal German, “Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen” here is what I found at least:

Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen,

die auf der Mau’r als treue Wächter stehn,

die Tag und Nächte nimmer schweigen

und die getrost dem Feind entgegengehn,

ja deren Schall die ganze Welt durchdringt

und aller Völker Scharen zu dir bringt.

O dass dein Feuer bald entbrennte,

o möcht es doch in alle Lande gehn!

Ach Herr, gib doch in deine Ernte

viel Knechte, die in treuer Arbeit stehn.

O Herr der Ernte, siehe doch darein:

die Ernt ist groß, die Zahl der Knechte klein.

Dein Sohn hat ja mit klaren Worten

uns diese Bitt in unsern Mund gelegt.

O siehe, wie an allen Orten

sich deiner Kinder Herz und Sinn bewegt,

dich herzinbrünstig hierum anzuflehn;

drum hör, o Herr, und sprich: »Es soll geschehn.«

So gib dein Wort mit großen Scharen,

die in der Kraft Evangelisten sein;

lass eilend Hilf uns widerfahren

und brich in Satans Reich mit Macht hinein.

O breite Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

Personally, I don’t know if this is the oldest Protestant Missionary Hymn, although this is what is suggested by Elsie Singmaster . The fact that the hymn came out of the Pietist missionary movement from the University of Halle in the mid-1700s certainly places it at a key place in the History of Missions.

, Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

If I Try to Get You to Leave Your Church to Go to My Church, Is That Missions?

I was reading “Encountering the History of Missions” by John Mark Terry and Robert Gallagher. In the Reformers, particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin, they try to make the (what I consider to be) controversial argument that they were quite missional. Their argument, however, seems to boil down to, “See how much they tried to get people to leave other churches and join their own?”

In most cases, this church piracy involved trying to get people to leave the Roman Catholic church to join their own group. This is a big question for me since I serve in a missions role in the Philippines. Philippines is over 80% Roman Catholic, and over 90% Christian. Many Evangelical missionaries in the Philippines focus very intentionally on getting Catholics to “be born again.” However, since the Bible is pretty clear that only God knows the heart and we are only competent to examine our own selves not others, in practice it tends to devolve into getting people to switch churches.

Is that valid? As a ministry, I suppose it is. While I don’t really have a high opinion of those who try to harvest out of other people’s gardens, I don’t necessarily believe that all churches are equal and their membership roles sacrosanct. However, I feel like church fathers would not see see this as missions. If the Hellenistic house church groups in house church network in Antioch tried to draw away members from the Hebraic or Latin house church groups, I don’t think Paul or Barnabas would be seeing it as missions. In the case of Terry and Gallagher, they were at least consistent. In a later chapter on Jesuit missions, they saw Jesuit attempts to get Protestants to rejoin the Catholic church as a mission strategy. Again, however, I am not sure I would.

Arguments for seeking Roman Catholics to become Evangelicals as mission work seem to be either because of (1) “nominality” of RC believers, (2) dubious theological views of the Catholic church, or (3) rejecting them altogether as Christian.

The weakest of these is #3. I have seen websites describe Philippines as about 10% Christian. To come up with that number, one has to assume that (a) 0% of Catholics are Christian, and (b) 100% of everyone who calls themselves Christian who is not Catholic is indeed a Christian. I have, however, met many very devout Catholics who (as far as I can judge) devout in their behavior, and true in their faith. I have also met a large share of Evangelical Christians who are immoral and seemingly faithless. For me argument #3 is insulting at best to non-Evangelicals, and at worst, playing God.

In the middle is #2. is in the middle for me. Yes, there are a lot of problems (in my view) with Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. Some of the more egregious ones were fixed in Vatican II, but others still very much remain. One may make the argument then that these views are so bad that it is better for Christians to grow in their faith outside of the Catholic church. I think that argument can be made. My problem is that almost always, ministry work to Roman Catholics starts with trying to get them to say “The Sinner’s Prayer.” The first part reinforces the assumption that all Catholics are non-Christian, and supports the most dubious assumption that the Sinner’s Prayer is the same as salvation experience. Further, there seems to be the assumption that evanglizing fails if one is not able to get the person to leave the Catholic congregation for one’s own.

I have experienced a version of this second issue. I have had Evangelical Christians (or more commonly Pentecostals) attempt to share the gospel with me. Once, I tell them that I share a common faith with them, they immediately continue into the second part of their presentation which is why I need to leave my faith tradition and my church and join their faith tradition and their church. I find this rather insulting and built on a very shaky understanding of Christ’s church. I feel like we can do better in training our memberships to recognize and appreciated the Unity and Diversity of the Body of Christ.

The best argument is #1. There is a LOT of nominality in the Roman Catholic church. This tends to happen when culture and faith tend to mix. With the prominence of the RC in Philippines, it is not surprising that their are many many cultural Catholics who have little to know discernible faith. However, the same could be said in many other settings. I am a Southern Baptist missionary serving in Asia. However, in the Southern United States, there are many places where community culture is very Southern Baptist. Not surprisingly, there can be an awful lot of nominality in the memberships of SB churches. BUT… then I ask myself a question— If a Christian denomination began targeting nominal SB members for evangelism and as part of that process intentionally seek to pull them out of the SB churches and into their own, would I consider that to be Missions?

The answer is NO. So although I still struggle with coming up with a satisfying definition of “Christian Mission,” I think that a good definition would NOT include intentional targeting of respondents from other Christian denominations with the intention of drawing them into one’s own denomination. <That being said, I don’t want to judge people in this matter. I teach missions classes overseas, and oversee a counseling center. Neither of these things hit the bullseye on traditional Christian missions either.>

Missions History versus Church History

I am working on teaching a course on Missions History. I have taught it before, but this version is for MaxFlex online learning which means I need to put more work in up front.

As I was developing it, I began thinking about Missions History in how it is different from Church History. Obviously the two are related, but there are stark differences. Any course on Church History would spend a lot of time talking about the Council of Nicea (325 AD). Another major event would be the “Great Schism” of 1054AD. I barely am mentioning the Council of Nicea, and I don’t think I will mention the Great Schism at all except obliquely.

Why is that? On first reflection, the obvious answer is that Missions History is a subset of Church History. This subset involves how the Christian church reaches out beyond itself to interact with and impact the broader world.

But as I thought more I realized that Church History is also a subset of something bigger. The History of the Church is very broad because the character, beliefs, activities, organizations, and participants associated with the Church over about two millennia is vast.

Obviously history cannot cover everything that happens. History is not reality, nor is it even a recording of reality. It is a artificial human construct to draw attention to patterns and meanings in the past.

Still, Church History is commonly much more narrow than it should be for having a name that sounds so broad. Typically, Church History is built around “Four C’s”:

-Creeds

-Councils

-Conflicts

-Controversies

This list is not all encompassing. I suppose that one could argue others as well (like Movements). However, many aspects of the church are not emphasized in Church History (at least as I have seen it presented). These include History of Local Church Ministry (member care and community ministry), History of Theology (thus having its own course, “Historical Theology.”), History of Liturgy, and more.

Missions History is definitely a subset of the History of the Church, but it is not really a subset of Church History as it is generally presented. This is fine— I have nothing wrong with that. However, I guess I wish that Church History was either a bit broader in its foci, or just call it what it is— “Conflicts and Movements in the History of the Church.”

DTIM (Dubious Thoughts in Missions) #1: We Need to Do Things Like St. Paul

One of my favorite classic books in Christian Missions is by Roland Allen: Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours; A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces. This looks at the activities Paul and Barnabas, and later Paul and Silas, did in the first two missionary journeys. The book identifies numerous principles (mission principles is really a better way of describing it than mission methods) from Paul, and Allen suggests that we should follow his principles today.

And I think Roland Allen has a lot of good points. We would gain much from understanding what Paul did, and why he did it. That being said, I still think the statement “We need to do things like Paul” is rather dubious.

First (and I admit this is a trivial point), the principles followed by Paul in the first two missionary journeys appear to have been developed by Barnabas, not Paul. The methods used were done from the very beginning of the first missionary journey, and Barnabas was the leader of the missionary band at this point of time, not Paul. And Barnabas was a mentor for Paul, so it is likely, Paul was following the direction of Barnabas not the other way around. Right or wrong, many Christians consider the actions of Paul as having a certain level of authority associated with them. Would they feel it is as authoritative if these came from Barnabas? Jesus and His disciples did travel as a missionary band. The Samaria Missions may have provided some insights as well as the founding of the church of Antioch, and perhaps others. In the end, however, the mission principles that appear to have been developed by Barnabas probably more from the experiences of others rather than on a divine scheme.

Second (and this is probably a stronger point), Paul did not always use these methods. Paul, at least on two occasions (Ephesus and Corinth) broke the pattern of establishing churches, moving on, visiting churches, and moving on. In both Ephesus and Corinth he lingered for over a year. Additionally, in Paul’s so-called fourth missionary journey, he threw out the previous pattern entirely. Now, admittedly, I consider the fourth journey to be a deeply flawed idea (discouraged by both the Spirit of God and the local church leaders) that resulted in little if anything redemptive. The point is, however, that Paul did not believe that the pattern established in the first two journeys had to be followed religiously.

Third, Paul’s ministry setting had a great effect on his methodology. He was a Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jew from Asia Minor who for most of his time in ministry reached out to Greek-speaking Hellenitistic Jews and Greek-speaking Gentiles from areas adjoining the land of his upbringing. In most places he went to were pioneering missions (not counting Rome, Antioch, and his multiple attempts to minister in Jerusalem). For most missionaries today, these circumstances don’t exist. Most missionaries do not work in pioneering fields, and even those that do are not working in a culture very similar to their own, and in the same language as their upbringing. I believe that the missions principles of Barnabas and Paul and Jesus and Philip and others need to be studied and understood. But times change and circumstances change and so methods should change.

I was raised in a church tradition that has elements of “restorationism” associated with it. That is, the church tradition of my upbringing self-identified as seeking to restore the first century church. Actually, a lot of faith traditions (orthodox and heterodox alike) have sought to identify themselves with the first century church. However, the first century church no longer exists. And that is great, because the first century no longer exists neither. We live in the 21st century. We don’t need any first century churches. We need 21st century churches.

Actually, I just realized a dealt with TWO DTIMs, not just one.

NO… we are not supposed to do things like Paul.

NO… we are not supposed to restore the 1st century church for today.

We are to learn from the earliest Christians, but not copy them.

I have written on this topic before. More information is below:

Blogpost: “Missionary Methods: St. Barnabbas’ or Ours?” (March 7, 2011)

Article: “Apostles/Evangelists of the First Three Centuries as Exemplars for Modern Missionaries” (2021)

From Minnesota to Kachinland

Okay. So I started out with the intent of discussing (complaining) about a well-known quote by John Piper. It goes like this:

Mission Exists Because Worship Doesn’t

The statement has a certain appeal to it from a position of pietism. However, it feels to me as if it does not really stand up to scrutiny. I don’t really want to go into this too far since my post is about to go off in a very random direction. However, when one looks in the Bible at ideal relationships between God and Man, one commonly does not find settings that seem all that worshipful. Genesis 1 -3 show the ideal as more of God and Man sharing paradise together in the cool of the morning. Enoch (although the language is wildly open to interpretation) seems to have a relationship that is more intimate with God than is suggestive by the term “worship.” Jesus seemed to promote intimate friendship over worship with His disciples. Jesus certainly is worthy of worship (as the P&W song goes) but it does not seem as if He craves it particularly. While some scenes in Heaven in Revelation fit the classic imagery of worship, others point more to something more akin to Genesis 1-3. Of course, the term ‘worship’ is a bit loaded. We often picture a very physical activity (prostrating, bowing, raising hands, folding hands, jumping, whatever), but worship is far more the activity of the heart than of activity. However, saying that mission exists because worship doesn’t… well… I guess it may in a sense be true… but it gives an image that seems to be outside what the Bible gives when calling for missions.

Yeah… I better stop going in that direction. I said that it veered off. Anyway, I am not really a student of John Piper. I haven’t really read much of anything that he has written, so I did not want to be taking this quote of his out of context… so I web-browsed, and found an article titled, “Missions Exists Because Worship Doesn’t.” You can click on the name to read the article.

What amazed me was a paragraph towards the beginning:

In 1890 (122 years ago) Bethlehem (a 29-year-old Swedish Baptist Church) sent Mini and Ola Hanson from our own membership to an unreached people group in Burma called the Kachin. They were known as vengeful, cruel, and treacherous. The King of Burma declared to Hanson when he got there, “So you are to teach the Kachins! Do you see my dogs over there? I tell you, it will be easier to convert and teach these dogs. You are wasting your life.”

-John Piper, at the link above

The section about the Hansons is longer. I would recommend reading it in the article I mentioned above. I have had MANY students in seminary who are Kachin. They look on Mini and Ola Hanson with such respect, even decades after their passing. They learned the Kachin Language. (Technically, they learned Jinpo, the largest language in the Kachin language group.) They developed an alphabet, and translated the Bible into Kachin (Jinpo). If I remember right, talking to my students, that Bible is still used.

The durability of their faith in (let’s just cautiously say) politically challenging times, is impressive and atestimony to the dedication of the Hansons. But dedication is not really enough. A lot of missionaries are dedicated.

Based on my conversations with Kachin, I think they truly felt the love of the Hansons for them… and in that love, believe that they saw the Love of Christ for them. Truthfully, in may ways, the traditional religion of the Kachin was not so greatly differently from Christianity. They believed in one god— the god of the heavens. They believed that they were separated from god by sin, and saw the need for sacrifice to make peace with god. What they needed was to know that the God of the Heavens loved them and sent Jesus for them… taking away the burden of sacrifice.

The Kachin responded to the love of God by loving Him back, based on what they saw through the love demonstrated by the Hansons.

I guess that brings things full circle to a modified quote:

Missions Exists because Love Doesn’t

Missionaries and Nationalism. Part Two

Continuing thoughts on the 1970s era book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Written in the time of the many independence movements around the world as well as the height of the Cold War, it has much more to say on the relationship between missionaries and nationalism than more recent works. For Part Two, I am looking at what Kane said regarding the fact that national churches in colonies (I assume he is speaking of Evangelical churches… some other churches definitionally embraced Liberation Theology and independence) have often been little involved in independence movements. He gives a number of reasons.

A. Mission churches were the products of missionaries, who were typically Westerners. Mission churches were essentially a product of colonization.

B. Mission churches were founded by missionaries, and missionaries commonly have little interest in politics. I can relate to this. I have little interest in politics and so if people I supervise are highly political (and a few have been) they are that way in spite of me rather than because of me. I recall Billy Graham saying that if one wants social change in a country… then focus on evangelism. Social change will happen naturally as more are saved. I don’t know if he truly believed that or was being self-serving… but that is simply not how it is. If missionaries and churches focus on evangelism and ignore social injustice, they will create new Christians and churches with little interest in social injustice or political change. The fruit you get depends on the seeds you plant.

C. In many countries, Christians were a small, and sometimes persecuted group. Many believe (often correctly) that independence movements are not likely to benefit Christians. Often the opposite could be expected.

D. Many nationalistic movements were linked to non-Christian groups… and sometimes anti-Christian groups. I am from the United States and among Evangelicals if one wants to crush a social justice initiative, all one has to do is suggest that those seeking justice are Communists. Of course, the result of this sort of fearmongering is that Evangelical Christians are identified as rejecting social justice, and Communists supporting the same. Of course, if a nation becomes independent, it is no benefit for the Christian churches to be seen as collaborators with the colonial powers.

E. In many mission churches, the majority of the people are poor and illiterate or semi-literate. This sounds a bit insulting. At the same time, in many places this could be true. Generally, changing which rich and powerful people are in charge has more of an effect on rich and powerful people. The destitute and working poor, often are little affected by such changes.

F. Perhaps most importantly, many mission churches, and even more missionaries were beholding churches, mission agencies and individual supporters from the colonizing countries. These supporters were often very much not in support of independence movements. And even if there were those who did support independence, it had to have been scary to risk loss of financial and other forms of tangible support

Although many of the exact situations have changed, the basic issue remain. We would do well to learn from the ambiguous lessons and examples of the past.

Missionaries and Nationalism. Part One

I have been reading a bit of a book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Originally published in the 1970s, the book is woefully out-of-date. And yet, it is that quality that makes it valuable in some ways. For example, it has a very interesting chapter on political involvement. A major part of that is on the issues of colonialism and nationalism. Nowadays, we may talk about semi-autonomous regions, national territories, or spheres of hegemony— but we rarely think in terms of colonial powers and colonies. However, in the 1970s, this was very much a still current issue. At that time, the colonial powers were rapidly disintegrating as national independence movements were moving towards final victory. It was also the time of the Cold War, so much of this process is also seen occurring linked to the geopolitical chess match between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Much of the discussion is out of date because many of the questions have shifted… and yet the broader questions remain. Today, many look on with disdain at missionaries in history as being supporters of colonization, and also waging a war of cultural imperialism. As vigorously as some have argued these points, others have challenged these views. Some have portrayed missionaries as empowering nationalistic movements.

Kane does a good job of avoiding the extremes here (the extremes are almost always being wrong, as most people over the age of 22 typically learn). He notes several things (drawing from pages 252-255, of the 4th edition, 1986) that relate to missionaries who served in colonies.

#1. During the colonial age, imperialism was a way of international life. Perhaps I would say, it was the worldview. It was the world they were born into, and thus the system that makes sense. It is hard to picture a new reality, and so many missionaries supported colonialism simply because it is what everyone they were brought up with supported. Relatedly, even if they thought some colonialism is bad, it is likely that their brand of it (their own nations colonies) is better than other brands.

#2. Those missionaries who had concerns about colonialism often saw it as the ‘lesser of two evils.’ They saw suffering of various groups and believed that through colonialism, some of those evils could be addressed. Some believe that colonies brought CHRISTIANITY, COMMERCE, and CIVILIZATION. These were commonly seen as all inherently good. Even countries that eschewed colonialism could fall for that logic. The United States, a country that supposedly supported freedom from imperialists (at least from those lands that were not affected by the American belief of ‘Manifest Destiny’) still did embrace colonialism in certain places— specifically those lands they gained from the Spanish American War. While the US did not use the term “colony,” in practice that is what they were. However, the acquisition of these lands was couched in non-economic terms. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ argued that it was American responsibility to ‘help’ the Filipino by ruling over them— and President William McKinley also described the take-over in terms of benevolence. Frankly, I tend to see the “Lesser Evil” principle as an ethical weak position. I prefer the “Greater Good” principle, while acknowledging that good can be hard to find… especially in the political arena.

#3. Many accepted colonialism as part of the “Sovereignty of God.” Sadly, this is truly horrible theology. Kane himself did seem to find it hard to imagine that previous generation missionaries truly believed this. It is essentially states, “’What is’ is what is meant to be.” That seems to be way out of line from the Bible, where prophets and apostles pretty consistently state, “’What is’ needs to change.” Often God’s sovereignty becomes little more than a call for laissez-faire politics— for maintaining the ‘status quo.’ Yet, if a missionary felt called to stand against the status quo and seek to cause change, it certainly seems reasonable that he or she could claim to be acting according to the Sovereignty of God as well— especially if they succeed.

#4. Missionaries were commonly among the first to identify evils in the colonial system in which they resided. While missionaries sometimes flourished within the colonial system (at least when the colonial power was supportive of what they were doing and where they were doing it), they commonly stood against the many evils and exploitative practices carried out by colonialists. This is difficult. If one is asked to serve God within an evil and despicable system, should one focus on especially egregious abuses while ignoring the overall bad system, or attack the system itself?

#5. Missionaries have always (or at least mostly) saw themselves as ambassadors of Christ, not of the colonial government. I don’t think this viewpoint answers the question of what response is appropriate. Still, clearly, the charge that missionaries were pawns of the colonizers had more basis when their relationship with colonial powers were too chummy and when they embraced a sort of “Christendom” with church and state getting mixed up too much. As one who likes to minimize my relationship with all governments (a very healthy attitude I am prone to believe), I can see how focusing on one’s role as an ambassador of Christ may mean not dealing with problems that come from a tyrannical and/or corrupt government.

#6. Missionaries have stayed at their posts. With the transition to independent governments in countries that had been under colonial rule… missionaries have typically stayed to work, while other people from the colonial powers have generally left. That does, in some way, point out that their connection and commitment was to the people not the colonizers.

#7. Few missionaries have mourned the passing of the colonial era. Serving in the Philippines, I am thrilled that this nation achieved its full freedom in 1946. Would it have been better if they had gotten their full freedom in 1898? Perhaps, but that is something that cannot be changed. I have actually met a few Filipinos who wish that their country was never separated from the United States, but I can’t share that. I doubt things would have been better.

Part Two we will explore a similar but slightly different issue from Kane’s b