History of Christian missions
According to the documents of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the Biblical authority for missions begins quite early in Genesis 12:1-3, in which Abraham is blessed so that through him and his descendants, all the “peoples” of the world would be blessed. Others point to God’s wish, often expressed in the Bible, that all peoples of the earth would worship Him. Therefore, Christian missions go where worship is not, in order to bring worship to God.
In this view, the early historical Jewish mission is that of being a people placed in the midst of the other nations, situated so that they could proclaim the Creator God that blessed them. This view is confirmed in many OT scriptures, (cf. Exodus 19:4-6, Psalm 67) as well as the nature of the temple (its outer court was “the court of the gentiles”).
Several teachers including John R. W. Stott believe that a prominent prophecy in the Old Testament often unfolds continually and is certainly manifested in three situations, an immediate historical situation following the prophecy, a church-based intermediate situation, and an eschatological, end-of-time situation. Of course, Gen. 12:1-3 is such a prominent passage.
In the early Christian era, most missions were by monks. Monasteries followed disciplines and supported missions, libraries and practical research, all of which were perceived as works to reduce human misery and suffering, thus enhancing the reputation of God. For example, Nestorian communities evangelized much of N. Africa before Muhammad. Cistercians evangelized much of Northern Europe, as well as developing most of European agriculture’s classic techniques.
In the 16th century the proselyization of Asia was linked to the Portuguese colonial policy. With the Papal bull Romanus Pontifex the patronage for the propagation of the Christian faith in Asia was given to the Portuguese, who were rewarded with the right of conquest. The Portuguese trade with Asia was profitable and as Jesuits came to India around 1540, the colonial government in Goa supported the mission with incentives for baptized Christians. Later, Jesuits were sent to China and further countries in Asia. With the decline of the Portuguese power other colonial powers and Christian organisations gain influence.
After the Reformation, for nearly a hundred years, occupied by their struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches were not missionary-sending churches. But in the centuries that followed, the Protestant churches began sending missionaries in increasing numbers, spreading the proclamation of the Christian message to previously unreached people. In North America, missionaries to the native Americans included Jonathan Edwards, the well known preacher of the Great Awakening, who in his later years retired from the very public life of his early career. He became a missionary to the Housatonic Native Americans and a staunch advocate for them against cultural imperialism.
As European culture has been established in the midst of indigenous peoples, the cultural distance between Christians of differing cultures has been difficult to overcome. One early solution was the creation of segregated “praying towns” of Christian natives. This pattern of grudging acceptance of converts was repeated in Hawaii later when missionaries from that same New England culture went there. In Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Catholic missionaries selected and learned among the languages of the Amerindians and devised writing systems for them. Then they preached to them in those languages (Quechua, Guarani, Nahuatl) instead of Spanish, to keep Indians away from “sinful” whites. An extreme case were the Guarani Reductions, a theocratic semiindependent region established by the Jesuits.
Around 1780, an indigent Baptist cobbler named William Carey began reading about James Cook‘s Polynesian journeys. His interest grew to a furious sort of “backwards homesickness,” inspiring him to obtain Baptist orders, and eventually write his famous 1792 pamphlet, “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of Heathen.” Far from a dry book of theology, Carey’s work used the best available geographic and ethnographic data to map and count the number of people who had never heard the Gospel. It formed a movement that has grown with increasing speed from his day to ours.
Carey’s example was followed by a number of missions to sea-side and port cities. The China Overseas Missionaries and Moravian Church are two of the more famous.
Thomas Coke, the first bishop of the American Methodists, has been called “the Father of Methodist Missions”. After spending time in the young American republic strengthening the infant Methodist Church alongside episcopal colleague Francis Asbury, the British-born Coke left for mission work. During his time in America, Coke worked vigorously to increase Methodist support of Christian missions and raising up mission workers. Coke died while on a mission trip to India, but his legacy among Methodists – his passion for missions – continues.
The next wave of missions, starting in the early 1850s, was to inland areas, led by Hudson Taylor with his China Inland Mission. Taylor was later supported by Henry Grattan Guinness who founded Cliff College which exists today for the purpose of training and equipping local and global mission.
The new wave of missions inspired by Taylor and Guinness have collectively been called “faith missions” and owe much to the ideas and example of Anthony Norris Groves. Taylor was a thorough-going nativist, offending the missionaries of his era by wearing Chinese clothing and speaking Chinese at home. His books, speaking and examples led to the formation of numerous inland missions, and the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), which from 1850 to about 1950 sent nearly 10,000 missionaries to inland areas, often at great personal sacrifice. Many early SVM missionaries to areas with endemic tropical diseases left with their belongings packed in a coffin, aware that 80% of them would die within two years.
In 1910, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference was held in Scotland. Presided over by active SVM leader (and future Nobel Peace Prize recipient) John R. Mott, an American Methodist layperson, the conference reviewed the state of evangelism, Bible translation, mobilization of church support, and the training of indigenous leadership. Looking to the future, conferees worked on strategies for worldwide evangelism and cooperation. The conference not only established greater ecumenical cooperation in missions, but also essentially launched the modern ecumenical movement.
The next wave of missions was started by two missionaries, Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran, around 1935. These men realized that although earlier missionaries had reached geographic areas, there were numerous ethnographic groups that were isolated by language, or class from the groups that missionaries had reached. Cameron formed Wycliffe Bible Translators to translate the Bible into native languages. McGavran concentrated on finding bridges to cross the class and cultural barriers in places like India, which has upwards of 4,600 peoples, separated by a combination of language, culture and caste. Despite democratic reforms, caste and class differences are still fundamental in many cultures.
An equally important dimension of missions strategy is the indigenous method of nationals reaching their own people. In Asia this wave of missions was pioneered by men like Dr G D James of Singapore, Rev Theodore Williams of India and Dr David Cho of Korea. The “two thirds Missions Movement” as it is referred to, is today a major force in missions.
Most modern missionaries and missionary societies have repudiated cultural imperialism, and elected to focus on spreading the Gospel and translating the Bible. Sometimes, missionaries have been vital in preserving and documenting the culture of the peoples among whom they live.
Often, missionaries provide welfare and health services, as a good deed or to make friends with the locals. Thousands of schools, orphanages, and hospitals have been established by missions. One of the quietest, yet most far-reaching services provided by missionaries started with the Each one, teach one literacy program begun by Dr. Frank Laubach in the Philippines in 1935. The program has since spread around the world and brought literacy to the least enabled members of many societies.
The word “mission” was historically often applied to the building, the “mission station” in which the missionary lives or works. In some colonies, these mission stations became a focus of settlement of displaced or formerly nomadic people. Particularly in rural Australia, missions have become localities or ghettoes on the edges of towns which are home to many Indigenous Australians. The word may be seen as derogatory when used in this context in a derogatory or racist way.
 Modern missionary methods and doctrines
A Christian missionary’s objective is to give an understandable presentation of their beliefs with the hope that people will choose to convert from other faiths to Christianity. As a matter of strategy, many evangelical Christians in Europe and North America now focus on what they call the “10/40 window,” a band of countries between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude and reaching from western Africa through Asia. Christian missions strategist Luis Bush pinpointed the need for a major focus of evangelism in the “10/40 Window,” a phrase he coined in his presentation at the missionary conference Lausanne 1989 in Manila. Sometimes referred to as the “Resistant Belt,” it is an area that includes 35% of the world’s land mass, 90% of the world’s poorest peoples and 95% of those who have yet to hear anything about Christianity.
In modern missionary strategy, mission stations are deprecated, because they were historically ineffective. Mission stations normally created disaffected individual converts, often seen as an outcast by their family and culture. In many cases, the only source of converts to a mission station were the orphans raised in the station’s orphanage. Also, many mission station’s converts were so alienated from surrounding cultures that they were unable to get work outside the mission station, let alone act as cultural ambassadors for Christianity. In some cases, these paid “rice bowl Christians” actively impeded Christian conversion in the mission’s schools and orphanages so that their own incomes would not be reduced as more Christians came to depend on the mission station.
Modern pioneering missionary doctrines now focus on inserting a culturally adapted seed of Christian doctrines into a self-selected, self-motivated group of native believers, without removing the natives from their culture in any way.
Modern mission techniques are sufficiently refined that within ten to fifteen years, most native churches are natively pastored, managed, taught, self-supporting and evangelizing. The process can be substantially faster if a preexisting translation of the Bible and higher pastoral education are already available, perhaps left-over from earlier, less effective missions.
A key approach is to let native cultural groups decide to adopt Christian doctrines and benefits, when (as in most cultures) such major decisions are normally made by groups. In this way, opinion leaders in the groups can persuade much or most of the groups to convert. When combined with training in church planting and other modern missionary doctrine, the result is an accelerating, self-propelled conversion of large portions of the culture.
A typical modern mission is a co-operative effort by many different ministries, often including several coordinating ministries, often with separate funding sources. One typical effort proceeded as follows:
- A missionary radio group recruits, trains and broadcasts in the main dialect of the target culture’s language. Broadcast content is carefully adapted to avoid syncretism yet help the Christian Gospel seem like a native, normal part of the target culture. Broadcast content often includes news, music, entertainment and education in the language, as well as purely Christian items.
- Broadcasts might advertise programs, inexpensive radios (possibly spring-wound), and a literature ministry that sells a Christian mail-order correspondence course at nominal costs. The literature ministry is key, and is normally a separate organization from the radio ministry. Modern literature missions are shifting to web-based content where it makes sense (as in Western Europe and Japan).
- When a person or group completes a correspondence course, they are invited to contact a church-planting missionary group from (if possible) a related cultural group. The church-planting ministry is usually a different ministry from either the literature or radio ministries. The church-planting ministry usually requires its missionaries to be fluent in the target language, and trained in modern church-planting techniques.
- The missionary then leads the group to start a church. Churches planted by these groups are usually a group that meets in a house. The object is the minimum organization that can perform the required character development and spiritual growth. Buildings, complex ministries and other expensive items are mentioned, but deprecated until the group naturally achieves the size and budget to afford them. The crucial training is how to set up a church (meet to study the Bible, and perform communion and worship), and how to become a Christian (the finer points of obeying God), usually in that order.
- A new generation of churches is created, and the growth begins to accelerate geometrically. Frequently, daughter churches are created only a few months after a church’s creation. In the fastest-growing Christian movements, the pastoral education is “pipelined”, flowing in a just-in-time fashion from the central churches to daughter churches. That is, planting of churches does not wait for the complete training of pastors.
The most crucial part of church planting is selection and training of leadership. Classically, leadership training required an expensive stay at a seminary, a Bible college. Modern church planters deprecate this because it substantially slows the growth of the church without much immediate benefit. Modern mission doctrines replace the seminary with programmed curricula or (even less expensive) books of discussion questions, and access to real theological books. The materials are usually made available in a major trading language in which most native leaders are likely to be fluent. In some cases, the materials can be adapted for oral use.
It turns out that new pastors’ practical needs for theology are well addressed by a combination of practical procedures for church planting, discussion in small groups, and motivated Bible-based study from diverse theological texts. As a culture’s church’s wealth increases, it will naturally form classic seminaries on its own.
Another related mission is Bible translation. The above-mentioned literature has to be translated. Missionaries actively experiment with advanced linguistic techniques to speed translation and literacy. Bible translation not only speeds a church’s growth by aiding self-training, but it also assures that Christian information becomes a permanent part of the native culture and literature. Some ministries also use modern recording techniques to reach groups with audio that could not be soon reached with literature.
Recently, there has been a movement in the United States called home school mission in which a Christian is encouraged to train their children in the faith. This has arisen in the development of secular education that has increasingly excluded the Christian message. As a result many groups have focused missionary effort within the home to ensure that the children remain Christian rather than becoming secular as a result of daily training in secular schools.
 Controversy and Christian missionaries
Some governments (such as Islamic nations, Communist China and Russia), secular anthropologists and sociologists object to missionary work among isolated indigenous populations. Some consequences are claimed to have been apostasy from Islam, disloyalty to the Communist Party, cultural assimulation, reduction of native language speakers, and loss of native culture. In fact, Christian missionaries have been criticised for having a general lack of respect for native cultures throughout history, even actively working to undermine the religious customs and beliefs of many non-Christian countries. This has been called Ethnocide and Cultural genocide and Cultural Imperialism.
The Christian missionary mindset is generally depicted as that of simple religious folk with a pure desire to peacefully spread their gospel and message of love. In reality, their methods of propagation are often anything but peaceful and usually leave behind a native population stripped of their culture and often decimated…. In the words of one resident of Thailand, “They [Christian missionaries] seemed that they did not show any interest for our culture. Why? They are just eager to build big churches in every village. It seems that they are having two faces; under the title of help they suppress us. To the world, they gained their reputations as benefactors of disappearing tribes. They built their reputations on us for many years. The way they behaved with us seemed as if we did not know about god before they arrived here. Why do missionaries think they are the only ones who can perceive God?”
In India, it is charged by some that publicized persecution of Christians is, in fact, incited by the exclusivity and exceptionalism of Christian missionaries. These tensions have boiled over into violence. The governments of the affected states assert that most conversions undertaken by zealous evangelicals occur due to compulsion, inducement or fraud. In the Indian state of Tripura, the government has alleged financial and weapons-smuggling connections between Baptist missionaries and Christian terrorist groups like the Nagaland Rebels and the National Liberation Front of Tripura. Hindus have claimed that these organizations persecute and slaughter Hindus by the thousands. See also National Liberation Front of Tripura and .
You are probably wondering what is the aggression caused by Christians in India. You may wonder how can a minority religion that is only 3% of the population cause aggression in a nation of over 1,000,000,000 people. In the press, the aggression and “persecution” of Christians is often publicized. However, it is never publicized how Christian Fundamentalists often incite this cycle of violence and aggression…. Christians believe that they have been commanded by Christ to go and “save” (convert) the people of this world. This is also supposed to give them special merit when it comes to the day of final judgment. While there are many Christians who today do not believe in this exclusivity, there are a still large number of misguided Christians who still believe in the exclusivity of Christianity and the concept of saving souls. It is this misguided belief that breeds a hatred and intolerance for other religions. and from this hatred, these Christian Fundamentalists begin their aggression to convert. And often they will go to any means to convert even if it means violence. This website seeks to educate the world about the atrocities that conversions bring and to bring this aggressive nature of Christianity to an end.
Often, some assert, coercion comes in the form of a pressure to convert through the injecting of fear of dire consequences if they don’t. “Missionaries are actually in essence terrorists. Why? They come to us and say, ‘If you don’t do as we say, you are going to hell! You will die! You will be judged! You are not part of us! You are children of the Satan!’ etc.etc. Aren’t these sentences terrorising?”
The Vatican, of late, is taking a somewhat different view toward proselytizing.
“In mid-May, the Vatican was also co-sponsoring a meeting about how some religious groups abuse liberties by proselytizing, or by evangelizing in aggressive or deceptive ways. Iraq … has become an open field for foreigners looking for fresh converts. Some Catholic Church leaders and aid organizations have expressed concern about new Christian groups coming in and luring Iraqis to their churches with offers of cash, clothing, food or jobs…. Reports of aggressive proselytism and reportedly forced conversions in mostly Hindu India have fueled religious tensions and violence there and have prompted some regional governments to pass laws banning proselytism or religious conversion…. Sadhvi Vrnda Chaitanya, a Hindu monk from southern India, told CNS that India’s poor and uneducated are especially vulnerable to coercive or deceptive methods of evangelization…. Aid work must not hide any ulterior motives and avoid exploiting vulnerable people like children and the disabled, she said.”
In an interview with Outlook Magazine, Sadhvi Vrnda Chaitanya said “If the Vatican could understand that every religious and spiritual tradition is as sacred as Christianity, and that they have a right to exist without being denigrated or extinguished, it will greatly serve the interests of dialogue, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence.”
The meeting of religious leaders from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Judaism and Yoruba faiths resulted in an agreement on ten points about proseltyzation, notably that if done, it be with respect for other cultures
The fictional movie The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford depicts this missionary mindset and the damage some feel it can wreak upon native peoples. Another movie, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, which is factually based, tells of similar destruction brought upon the Inuit culture by missionaries. See also Siqqitiq and these reference works on the subject.
 Aid and Evangelism
Another source of conflict regarding missionaries in the third world is the charge that the aid that comes in response to various world disasters comes with a condition: that assistance requires conversion. While there is a general agreement among most major aid organizations not to mix aid with proseltyzing, others see disasters as a means to spread the word. Innovative Minds, a Muslim software company “specialising in the application of internet and multimedia technology for promoting a better understanding of Islam in the west” has written a report about just such an occurrence, the tidal wave (tsunami) that devastated parts of Asia on December 26, 2004.
- “This (disaster) is one of the greatest opportunities God has given us to share his love with people,” said K.P. Yohannan, president of the Texas-based Gospel for Asia. In an interview, Yohannan said his 14,500 “native missionaries” in India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands are giving survivors Bibles and booklets about “how to find hope in this time through the word of God.” In Krabi, Thailand, a Southern Baptist church had been “praying for a way to make inroads” with a particular ethnic group of fishermen, according to Southern Baptist relief coordinator Pat Julian. Then came the tsunami, “a phenomenal opportunity” to provide ministry and care, Julian told the Baptist Press news service…. Not all evangelicals agree with these tactics. “It’s not appropriate in a crisis like this to take advantage of people who are hurting and suffering,” said the Rev. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse and son of evangelist Billy Graham.”.
The Christian Science Monitor echoes these concerns… “‘I think evangelists do this out of the best intentions, but there is a responsibility to try to understand other faith groups and their culture,’ says Vince Isner, director of FaithfulAmerica.org, a program of the National Council of Churches USA”.
The Bush administration has in fact recently made it easier for U.S. faith based groups and missionary societies to tie aid and church together.
- For decades, US policy has sought to avoid intermingling government programs and religious proselytizing. The aim is both to abide by the Constitution’s prohibition against a state religion and to ensure that aid recipients don’t forgo assistance because they don’t share the religion of the provider…. But many of those restrictions were removed by Bush in a little-noticed series of executive orders — a policy change that cleared the way for religious groups to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in additional government funding. It also helped change the message American aid workers bring to many corners of the world, from emphasizing religious neutrality to touting the healing powers of the Christian God.
 Christian counter-claims
One Christian organization, Voice of the Martyrs, in contrast to reports of Christian aggression in India, claims that Christians are also recipients of violent aggression in India from “radical Hindus” (presumably Hindu Nationalists). One example is the brutal murder of Australian Graham Staines and his family who had been evangelizing and conducting aid work since 1965. The perpetrators say that it was the disrespect of Hindu religious tradition following such conversions, such as the eating of beef (cows are considered sacred to Hindus) which set them off.
Missionaries, however, say that “false reports” of forced conversion are a key weapon in the Hindu Nationalist fight against both Christian missionaries and native-born Christian Indians (this despite the fact that Hindu Nationalists such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh frequently cooperate with Christian groups in times of natural disaster and have a good relationship with many Catholic organizations overall). The government in India has passed anti-conversion laws in several states that are supposedly meant to prevent conversions from “force or allurement”, but are primarily used, they say, to persecute and criminalize voluntary conversion due to the government’s broad definition of “force and allurement.” Any gift received from a Christian in exchange for, or with the intention of, conversion is considered allurement. V.O.M. reports that aid-workers claim that they are being hindered from reaching people with much needed services as a result of this persecution. Alan de Lastic, Roman Catholic archbishop of New Delhi states that claims of forced conversion are false
“‘There are attacks practically every week, maybe not resulting in death, but still, violent attacks,’ Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India tells The Christian Science Monitor today. ‘They [India’s controlling BJP party] have created an atmosphere where minorities do feel insecure.'” According to Prakash Louis, director of the secular Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, “We are seeing a broad attempt to stifle religious minorities and their constitutional rights…Today, they say you have no right to convert, Tomorrow you have no right to worship in certain places.” Existing congregations, often during times of worship, are being persecuted. Properties are sometimes destroyed and burnt to the ground, while native pastors are sometimes beaten and left for dead.
- ^ Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag, p.33, 61-66. ISBN 3-87294-202-6.
- ^ The Burning Cross.
- ^ India: Concerns over more anti-conversion bills
- ^ Niyogi Committee Report On Christian Missionary Activities, Government of Madhya Pradesh 1956
- ^ Subir Bhaumik. Church backing Tripura rebels. BBC News date=18 April, 2000. Retrieved on August 9, 2007.
- ^ N.Krishna (April 10, 2005). Conversions with foreign fund. Retrieved on August 9, 2007.
- ^ Thirteen Years of Killings in Tripura by the NLFT. Retrieved on August 9, 2007.
- ^ christianaggression.org ChristianAggression.org.
- ^ Christian Missionaries in West Papua.
- ^ Carol Glatz (May 19, 2006). Legislating conversions: Weighing the message vs. the person. Catholic Online. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Seema Sirohi (October 2, 2006). Father Complex. OutlookIndia.com. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Report from inter-religious consultation on “Conversion – assessing the reality”. World Council of Churches (May 12-16, 2006). Retrieved on August 9, 2007.
- ^ Missionaries Preying on Tsunami Survivors (January 24,2005). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ In Asia, some Christian groups spread supplies – and the word. Knight-Ridder Newspapers (January 12, 2005). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Jane Lampman (January 31, 2005). Disaster Aid Furthers Fears of Proselytizing. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Bush brings faith to foreign aid. The Boston Globe (October 8, 2006). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Relief missions from Delhi. The Hindu (December 27, 2004). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Country Map – India. Persecution.com. Retrieved on August 7, 2007. (website requires anonymous creation of a username and password account to be able to view)
- ^ Hindus allege forced conversion. HinduNet.org. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Ted Olsen (September 1, 2003). Weblog: Missionaries in India Concerned as Hindu Activists Break Up Prayer Meeting. Christianity Today. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Ted Olsen. Weblog: Missionaries in India Concerned as Hindu Activists Break Up Prayer Meeting date=September 1, 2003. Christianity Today. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Christian murdered in Kerala. Christian Today – India Edition (February 14, 2007). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Two Nuns accused and held for trying to “convert” students. Evangelical Fellowship of India. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Five arrested for assaulting trainee priests in Panvel. Evangelical Fellowship of India (March 7, 2007). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Christians attacked in Jalampur, Dhamtari in Chhattisgarh. Evangelical Fellowship of India (January 10, 2006). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Jacob Chaterjee (February 12, 2007). Hindu radicals attack believers in Karnataka. Christian Today – India Edition. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Jacob Chaterjee (February 20, 2007). Hindu radicals attack Bible college students during outreach; two in critical condition. Christian Today – India Edition. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Jacob Chaterjee (February 6, 2007). Hindu radicals attack Christian prayer meeting in Bihar. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
- ^ Jacob Chaterjee (February 18, 2007). Hindu fanatics oppose Christian-run orphanage and Bible center in Himachal Pradesh. Christian Today – India Edition. Retrieved on August 7, 2007.