Part III: Church Expands into the World. Lesson 7 of 10
Lesson 15. Protestant Missionaries
Through this lesson, we hope you will be motivated to devote yourself to the spread of God’s word, following in the steps of the many who have taken that message around the world.
- Timing. After the reformation, the Protestants did not begin mission work right away. One reason was the years of religious wars in Europe. Countries fought each other to defend the rights of their preferred denominations, and later to keep one power from dominating the others. Protestants began to do mission work overseas after:
(1) in 1648 the years of war in Europe ended.
(2) spiritual renewal brought new insight into the Biblical basis for mission work, and
(3) Protestant nations began to explore and colonize around the world.The denominations, though, still continued having disagreements with one another.
- North America. A lot of money and energy was spent on establishing new churches in the United States and Canada. In 1607¹ European people began to come to live in North America. The earliest immigrants were devout Christians, and so their highest priority was to establish and maintain good churches in America. As the years went by, many people in the following generations fell away from the church, by 1700 the majority of Americans were no longer Christians. Moreover, many people moved away from the influence of churches by moving toward the west looking for more land. As settlers moved toward the west, special methods were used to reach them. Pastors would travel to a region and work together to provide outdoor meetings that lasted for several days. Farmers would come from long distances to hear the gospel. In two great revivals, one in the 1740’s and another one in the 1820’s, the majority of Americans became Christians, and still are to the present day. The churches that took the lead in organizing these movements were mostly Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterians, and therefore these churches became the largest denominations in America. When American missionaries began to take the gospel around the world, most missionaries carried with them the ideas of these denominations.
- Later immigrants. Later, whenever a new immigrant group came to America, the Christians in their homeland would feel responsible for them and send missionaries to America to help them. For example, the German Lutherans would send missionaries to make contact with the German immigrants; the Roman Catholics have sent priests to take care of the Catholics who immigrated. This is still being done today. For example, many of the Chinese who have immigrated to America are being reached by Chinese pastors who move to America to take care of them. In 2000, The United States plus Canada had 304m people, with 71m Roman Catholics and 73m Protestants.
- Indians. Some Protestants moved to American with the intention of working among the Indians. In 1607 the first English colonists had arrived in America. When the Puritans arrived in 1620, the Puritan colonists delegated one of their group to promote evangelism to the Indians. In 1628 the King of England announced that the main reason he was sending English people to make colonies in America was so that they could convert the Indians. In 1631 a Presbyterian pastor² began fifty years of mission work to Indians, and by the 1650’s, more than 3600 Indians had become Christians. He translated the Bible into their language. In 1649, he influenced the founding of a missionary agency, established in England with the purpose of sending missionaries to the Indians. One of them³ developed an alphabet for one of the Indian languages. The spread of Christianity was hindered, however, by conflicts with Europeans who wanted the Indian lands, and who finally succeeded in obtaining most of the Indians’ territory for use by the European settlers. In 2000, there were 2m Indians in America and Canada. Of these, 300,000 are members of a church.
- Slaves from Africa. In 1701 a mission society began working among black slaves in America. The gospel message had great appeal to slaves, because Jesus promised freedom to the oppressed. The Christian church became the strongest social institution among the African Americans.
- Pietists. In the late 1600’s, in Germany, a movement began among Lutherans which stressed heart-felt faith and personal devotion. This movement was called “Pietism.” When the King of Denmark wanted to send missionaries to India, he found two Pietists who were willing to go: In 1706, these two German Lutheran missionaries arrived in India. They were the first Protestant missionaries to Asia. A group of people from Moravia (today’s Czech Republic) came to Germany and were influenced by the Lutheran Pietist movement. Starting in 1732, the Moravians sent people to South America, Africa, and Greenland. Starting in 1742, they trained people to work among the Indians in America. They did not have much theological training, but God helped them and they bore much fruit. Their missions continue up to today.
- South America. The Spanish-speaking people of South American are predominately Roman Catholic. Therefore Protestant missions in South America began with the small, unreached people-groups, that is, poor Indians in remote villages. Chapter five mentioned the work of translating the Bible for these small groups. During the 1800’s, Protestants increased as people immigrated from Protestant countries. After 1950, American missionaries made much more effort in South America. Today, more than half of all the Protestants in Latin America live in Brazil: 20 million Protestants, about 15% of the people of Brazil (most of the people are Roman Catholics). Another outstanding example is Guatemala in Central America. During 50 years of war, starting in 1950, many people changed from Catholic to Protestant. The Protestant population grew from 2% in 1960 to 35% in 1990. On the one hand, people could see that the things of this world were not dependable, so they turned to hope for eternal life. At the same time, the missionaries, who were largely Pentecostal, promised that believing God could lead to economic prosperity in this life. Most Christians do not accept the idea that God will make you rich. However, Christians do agree that Jesus helps people to be more honest and to avoid bad habits, so they are able to keep jobs and support their families. Today every Protestant denomination has church organizations in South America.
- Africa. The southern half of Africa has changed in only one hundred years from being primarily animist to primarily Christian. (The northern half of Africa is predominantly Muslim.) One of the first major movements was when in 1787 English people bought land in Freetown, a city in West Africa, so poor blacks could form a community together. In 1792 Blacks from America began to move there, bringing their Methodist and Baptist beliefs. The Church of England later also supported the Christians there. A training school was established, and the graduates moved into the other countries of Africa as missionaries. Missions throughout Africa made great use of schools. Even when government began to take responsibility for education after 1920, government often contracted missionaries to continue to run the schools. After 1960, when African countries defeated colonialism and became independent countries, many of the leaders of the African nations had been educated in missionary schools.
9.. Christianity and culture. In 1841, an English missionary¹¹ began extensive explorations in Africa. He spoke against the slave trade and promoted the idea of bringing western civilization to Africa. After his death in 1873, and in response to his vision, in 1877 the church of England sent missionaries to the area now called Uganda in Africa. At first there was rejection. A bishop was killed, and 100 new African Christians were burned. But eventually the African leaders became Christian, and helped the entire society to become Christian. Christian leaders are more sensitive now to distinguish between their Christian faith and their culture, and no longer insist that people must reject their culture in order to become Christians. Missionaries now are more open to the idea that people of other cultures can keep their cultures and still become good Christians. A leading African theologian wrote that the culture of Africa could be seen not as something to be rejected, but as a “preparation” for the gospel, similar to the function that the Old Testament Laws had in preparing the Jewish people for the gospel.
10. Colonialism. The increasing dominance of European colonial rule started in 1890. Within 30 years, Africa had been divided among France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium. After World War I, Germany had to give its colonies to the others. Missionaries profited from the protection of the European powers, and at the same time often criticized abuses of power by the European powers. Sometimes African tribes that were defeated by European powers became interested in Christianity, because it represented “a modern way of life.”
11. African leaders. A major issue in Africa has been the conflict between those who wanted to support black leadership and those who felt that mission leadership was still needed. One of the most famous black leaders of the 19th century, in 1864 an African man became the first bishop of the Church of England in Africa. He was given a very difficult assignment, and because some criticized his work, he was not replaced by another African leader when he died in 1891.
12. Independent churches. Impatience at the slowness in allowing black leaders has led to the founding of many independent denominations with black leadership. To a greater or lesser degree, these independent churches mix in traditional African beliefs, so that each church needs to be studied carefully to see if the message of “justification by faith” is still prominent.
13. Pentecostal. Since 1950 a new “wave” of influence has come from American Pentecostals. Pentecostal churches emphasize supernatural power against sickness and diseases. Sometimes those who are not healed are told that they do not have enough faith. This can lead a person to despair. Most Christians believe that after praying, it is best to leave the problem in the Lord’s hands, because God is all-wise and will do the right thing. If God does not heal, we believe that God had His reasons. The Pentecostal churches have influenced other churches, which now talk about the Holy Spirit more, and often use Pentecostal songs.
14. South Africa. In 1652 immigrants from Holland began arriving in southern Africa. They belonged to the reformed church, influenced by Calvin. When the local black people became Christians, they organized their own separate reformed churches. In 1806 the English occupied South Africa, bringing the influence of the Church of England. In 1913 laws were passed restricting parts of the land for use only by white people. Starting at that time there was increasing conflict between blacks and whites, until in 1994 South Africa became independent and chose a black leader as president. During those years of conflict, Christians on both sides tried to bring peace. One of the greatest black church leaders was a church of England bishop named Desmond Tutu. In 1995 Tutu began to hold “truth and reconciliation” meetings in South Africa, at which blacks and whites confessed to one another about the evil things they had done to one another during the time of conflict, and forgave one another.
15. Statistics. The majority of Protestants are outside of Europe/America. These Protestant churches are growing. Most are conservative, Bible-believing churches.
Footnotes. 1) English people established Jamestown in Virginia in 1607. There had been a colony named Roanoke establshed in Virginia in 1585, but it did not survive. The Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519 and began to colonize and evangelize shortly after.
2) John Eliot 3) David Brainerd 11) David Livingstone