New Article on History of Missions

I recently finished an article titled, “Apostles/Evangelists of the First Three Centuries as Exemplars for Modern Missionaries.”

The abstract is as follows:

This paper considers the challenge of defining the term missionary in a way that is useful— neither excessively broad nor narrow in scope. It is suggested that rather than focusing on a definition for determining who is a missionary, which ultimately places attention on the boundaries of the term, a better choice is to focus on exemplars of missionaries. In an attempt to do this, the paper suggests that the pattern of apostles and evangelists of the first three centuries of church history provides such an exemplar. More specifically, since Paul and Barnabas are the most well-known and well-described of this group of ministers, they can serve as the exemplars for this group, and ultimately for modern missionaries. The purpose of this paper is not to determine who is a missionary and who is not, but rather utilize these exemplars to critique modern definitions of the term missionary. Through this, the author believes that a better understanding of the center, rather than the boundaries, of Christian missionaries and missions can be better understood.

If you are interested in reading it, it is now available on You can access it by CLICKING HERE.

Missionary Quote from St. Origen

The following quote is in response to charges made by Celsus, a pagan philosopher, against Christianity. (By the way, Celsus’s work is actually a very interesting read… strong recommendation.) This is part of the response from Origen of Alexandrai (185-253AD, more or less):

But since he is manifestly guilty of falsehood in the statements which follow, let us examine his assertion when he says, “If all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.” Now that the above statement is false is clear from this, that Christians do not neglect, as far as in them lies, to take measures to disseminate their doctrine throughout the whole world. Some of them, accordingly, have made it their business to itinerate not only through cities, but even villages and country houses, that they might make converts to God. And no one would maintain that they did this for the sake of gain, when sometimes they would not accept even necessary sustenance; or if at any time they were pressed by a necessity of this sort, were contented with the mere supply of their wants, although many were willing to share (their abundance) with them, and to bestow help upon them far above their need. At the present day, indeed, when, owing to the multitude of Christian believers, not only rich men, but persons of rank, and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of Christianity, some perhaps will dare to say that it is for the sake of a little glory s that certain individuals assume the office of Christian instructors. It is impossible, however, rationally to entertain such a suspicion with respect to Christianity in its beginnings, when the danger incurred, especially by its teachers, was great; while at the present day the discredit attaching to it among the rest of mankind is greater than any supposed honour enjoyed among those who hold the same belief, especially when such honour is not shared by all. It is false, then, from the very nature of the case, to say that “if all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.”

Against Celsus, by St. Origen, Book III, Chapter 9.


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In the response to the charge by Celsus that Christians don’t really want all people to become Christians, Origen points out that Christians do desire as much as possible to disseminate their faith throughout the world. He then talks about a certain class of Christian who travels from city to village to house to share the gospel message. The description fits the early church picture of an Apostle. As von Harnack noted, the two pimary characteristics (as indicated in the Didache, Shephard of Hermas particularly) of an apostle is mendicancy and zealous evangelizing. Over time, the term Apostle (which as time went on became more associated with “The Twelve”) fell out of fashion for these individuals and so would be usually called Evangelists. Later, the Latinized term, Missionary became popular. Here with Origen the terms he used were “teachers of Christianity” and “Christian instructors.”

What makes this quote import is that it was written in the third century when missionaries or apostles had seemed to have disapeared. Part of this was because of the movement towards power and offices being fully centered in the church… such that people such as Bishops Polycarp and Cyprian would be described as having a certain ‘apostolic’ authority, leading toward the later identification of apostle as being a position inside of the ecclesiastical hierarchy rather than outside. Such great focus was placed on the work within the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries that if it were not for Origen and later Eusebius we would hardly know of their existence. Even with them, with the exception of Pantaenus, they are missionaries who remain unnamed and unhonored. Strangely, that was the point of Origen. These people shared the Gospel without material reward. If some Christians of means do indeed help them with food or shelter in their travels. this small bit of honor is more than balanced by the dishonor heaped on them by the world around them.

What is a Missionary? Part 5. Solution?

I have already said some things that I think do NOT define a missionary. I don’t think professional status defines a missionary. I do not think working cross-culturally is a necessary condition as well. Neither do I see the popular Christian understanding of being “Called” as tied of necessity to being a missionary.

I pointed out that a broad definition for missionary is preferable by me since exclusivist terms often drive a wedge in ministry that need not be there. However, there are some people who abuse the term “missionary” to the point that one should either throw away the term or create solid limits.

I would suggest a few (somewhat vague) qualities that should define a missionary.

1.  Personal Qualities. Passion, Willingness, and Flexibility. A missionary must have a passion to serve God outside of the home church setting. A missionary must be willing act on God’s call (whether it is a general call or a personal call) to go wherever Christ would have them go. A missionary must have the flexibility to deal with different and changing cultural and ministerial situations.

2. Theological Qualities. A missionary must be orthodox in faith, Christ- centered, and people-focused.

For some, being orthodox in faith (as in correct doctrine) is obvious, while for some this seems silly. However, I am speaking from a Christian context… the original idea of missionary coming from the Latin “missio” or the Greek “apostolos”. The idea is in these terms is of being sent out. This suggests being sent out by the church and being sent out by God– and these drew from orthodox understandings of the church and God. So for me… a Buddhist can be a “Buddhist Missionary” or a Mormon can be a “Mormon Missionary”. But to be a “Missionary” one is serving within the context of the faith as given by Christ and passed onto the Apostles (the original missionaries).

Theologically speaking, a missionary must be Christ-centered. The Matthew version of the Great Commission states that the Apostles (and us ultimately) are to give the Good News of Christ, baptize them in the name of the Trinity, and guide people to obey Christ’s commands. The Acts 1 version of the Great Commission shows the main thrust is to be witnesses of Christ. The John version of the Great Commission points out that missionaries are sent out by Christ. A missionary who does not center his work on Christ and his charge to us… is not a missionary (once again as orthodox Christian missionary).

Missionaries must be people-focused. The Great Commandment makes it clear we are to Love God and Love Others. Missionaries must be interested and actively concerned about the physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being of those they work with and for.

Ministerially. I see three broad categories of ministry that apply to missionaries.

A.  Where the Church Is Not. Here, missionaries evangelize, set up churches, and train leaders.

B.  Where the Church Has Not. Some places churches exist but have not been involved in certain Christian ministries. Here missionaries can inspire, train, and empower.

C.  Where the Church Cannot. Some ministries, like publishing, orphanage work, or radio ministry, may be outside the ability of local churches to support and run themselves. In these cases, missionaries may need to serve to fill the gap.

Two of these three things are transitional in nature. As the missionary plants a church and trains leaders, he should be preparing himself for departure. A missionary may train and empower churches and local organizations for new ministries. Once again, this should be transitional. Only in ministries where the local church/organizations cannot take over fully should missionaries serve long-term. (Of course, missionaries may transition from outsider/foreigner to insider/local… but this takes a conscious effort).