“… all who were not baptized must receive the rite within a month, that those who declined to comply should be banished from the company of Christians, that any who relapsed into paganism should be reduced to slavery, that pagan worship was to cease, that such Christian practices as monogamy were to be adopted, that churches were to be built, that the neophytes must attend church on Sundays and feast days, that provision must be made for the support of the clergy, and that the converts must observe the Lenten fast, make their confessions to a priest at least once a year, and partake of the Communion at Easter.” A description of a treaty between Teutonic Knights in the 12th Century and conquered pagan Prussians. Quote of K.S. Latourette. ( in A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill, London: Penguin Books, 1990), pg 95
The above quote seems strange today. Most of us, I assume, are uncomfortable with the idea of forced conversion. Probably a majority of us would be uncomfortable with the idea that adjusting rules and lifestyles counts as genuine conversion anyway. But into the late 1700s (and later in some other places) many “Christian” countries felt that faith could be legislated and tied to territory. Even today, places like Saudi Arabia and the Maldives still hold this viewpoint.
However, in the 12th century, this was not such a strange thing. The heads of the Holy Roman Empire and Roman Catholic church had granted the Teutonic Knights (The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem) rights to conquer Prussia and later Lithuania. The goals were territorial, political, and religious. We see in these wars the problem of combining religious and monetary motivations, without religious ethics. It creates a desire, all too much based on power, glory, and wealth, to kill and destroy in the name of God.
Missiologically, the missions were highly successful. Prussia and Lithuania were effectively “Christianized” and Christianity (Prostestantism in Prussia/Germany and Roman Catholicism in Lithuania) remain the dominant religions in these countries to this day (if one ignores the religious aspects of Secularism). A similar tactic failed (missiologically, at least) in the Holy Land Crusades. There are fairly obvious reasons why. The European campaigns were against nearby tribes lacking cohesion. The Holy Land Crusades were far more distant, and, while the leaders in the Middle East had long since ceased to be highly united, they were less fragmented than the tribes in Northern Europe. Additionally, Animism (unless one considers Hinduism as a highly diverse and structured form of Animism) has not fared very well intellectually against Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, while still retaining some Arabian tribal animistic thought, is made more intellectually cohesive utilizing certain Jewish and Christian elements in its teachings. As such it was more resilient than most animistic belief structures. The Inquisition was used effectively to root out more durable faith systems in places like Spain, but it took longer.
Okay… why am I talking about this. Am I suggesting that we should return to this form of missions (“cross and sword” or gunboat missions)? Absolutely not. THE POINT IS THAT NUMERICAL SUCCESS IS NOT NOT NOT A GOOD JUDGE OF MISSION METHODS.
I have come across too many methods and missionaries who do mission work, where justification for what is done is “It Works.” Doing evil CAN be missiologically effective. Doing long-term harm CAN be short-term successful. Creating a group of people financially dependent on the church or missions group will create numerical success (as long as the money flow remains) but is that good missions?
My goal is not to have all missionaries doing the same thing. I believe that Christian missions is (and should be) methodologically broad. But I recall a story from 20+ years ago of a church that rented a gymnasium and invited people there for Friday night fun. When everyone was in the room, they chained the doors shut and began intense evangelism. I never spoke to the church. I am sure they saw things differently. But the community saw it as tantamount to kidnapping and imprisonment. Some people say, “If only one person comes to Christ, this,” whatever this may be, “was worth it.” But you know… that’s not true. If you have created hate in a community and have driven people away from Christ, the cost is too great.
Christian missions (and the Christian church) really needs to evaluate what we do and how we do it, to ensure we are in line with the will and character of God. Quantitative success is no success at all without this.