Part 3, Church expands around the world. Lesson 8 of 10.
Lesson 16. Protestants in Asia
Through this lesson, we hope you will be moved by the many people God has sent to Asia, and dedicate yourself to being part of God’s plan for the world today.
- Golden age. The 1800’s were the golden age of missions for the Christian church. The process started when, in 1792, William Carey published a book encouraging people to spread the gospel to people in far away countries. He was a Baptist, a shoemaker, who lived in England. His book made a huge impact on people and can be said to be the beginning of the “great” movement of Christian expansion around the world. He and twelve others established a group called the Baptist Missionary Society, one of the first Christian mission groups. They agreed to contribute to it, even though they were not rich.
- Independent missions. Thousands of Christian then volunteered to be missionaries, and hundreds of thousands supported them. At first, the missionaries were not sent by a church, but by interested groups of individuals. The members of the churches donated money to support the missionaries. In addition, there are many independent mission sending agencies. These groups allow people from different denominations to join together in spreading the gospel. In most cases, the missionaries must spend many months traveling around their home country to explain their work and invite people to promise to support them financially. Later, denominations began to send out missionaries. Today almost every denomination has a society for missions. In the world today, there are about 3000 Christian denominations and mission agencies, sending about 200,000 Christian missionaries.
- India. The Lutheran missionaries sent by the King of Denmark in 1706 set the pattern for future missionaries by spending time to understand the language and religion of the host country. By the time three years had gone by, one of them had translated the New Testament into one of the languages of India, and in addition wrote a dictionary. By 1719, 355 people had become Christians. Additional missionaries trained local people, who traveled throughout India. Sometimes the Indian Christians would lead mass movements of entire villages to believe in Christ.
- Carey . In 1793 Carey took his family and two other missionaries to India. His methods became a model for later missionaries. The Portuguese would not let him settle in the areas they controlled, because they wanted to protect the Catholic missions, so he settled in a city controlled by Denmark. Two other missionaries soon joined him. Progress was slow at first, but by 1825, 700 people had come to faith. The reason for overcoming the slow start may have been due to a change in emphasis in his preaching. When he first came, he emphasized criticizing Hinduism, but then he changed to emphasizing the cross of Christ. He was gifted as a linguist, and translated parts of the Bible into 34 different languages of India. In 1819 Carey established a Christian College in India so the students would be able to take the gospel to their own people. Unlike most missionaries, Carey wanted to study Indian culture, not to change it into European culture. The only customs he hoped to change were killing unwanted infants, child prostitution, and the custom of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral fire.
- Strategy. Carey is considered a pioneer in missionary strategy. He believed that missionaries should be self-supporting, and set an example by working as the manager of two factories. He believed that local people would be able to take over church leadership after they had the Bible in their own language and proper training. He recognized the need to make use of women missionaries, which was a radical move in India where women were usually kept out of sight. He believed that missionaries living together in a harmonious community would make a strong impact on non-Christians, and so he formed his missionary band into a close-knit group, almost like monks in a monastery, except that they were married. As a result of Carey’s work, Christians were stirred into action and other missions were quickly established.
- Further Development. During the 1800’s, many missionaries from many other denominations came to India. In 1812 the first American missionaries came to India; they were sent by the Congregational church. Seminaries were developed to train Indian pastors. In 1850 the first Indian who could not speak English was ordained as a pastor. After 1813, missionaries sometimes were in conflict with expanding British imperialism. British law gave freedom to missionaries, but in practice they were not always encouraged, because the British needed the cooperation of the Hindus in order to maintain control. Nevertheless, Christianity continued to expand. In 1947, India became independent from Britain. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but conversions are discouraged and foreign missionaries are restricted. Christians stand at about 2.5 per cent of the population.
- Churches Uniting. A common problem for missionaries is answering the question “why are Christians divided into so many groups?” Therefore there is a trend in mission countries to re-evaluate the need to have separate organizations, and to avoid carrying European problems of division into new countries. On the mission field, there is a lot of cooperation between churches. An example of cooperation was when in 1947 the Church of South India was formed by uniting most of the reformed churches; the Church of North India was formed in a similar way in 1970.
- Japan. In 1614, Japan declared faith in Jesus to be illegal, and Japan closed its doors to the western world. Believers were persecuted for hundreds of years. Pictures of Christ or Mary were put on the ground, and all the people in villages were required to trample on the pictures to show their rejection of Christ. Then in 1858 a treaty was signed with the western powers that allowed contact to continue, and allowed missionaries to re-enter. Catholic missionaries returned, and Christian missionaries entered the country for the first time. They were surprised to discover about 60,000 Japanese who had kept the Christian faith in secret for many generations. About half joined the Catholic Church, and about half kept their own traditional kind of Christianity. Some were killed by the government, because it was not until 1868 that Japan allowed religious freedom. The Protestant message was received mostly by the upper class, who wanted to learn about the “modern” world of the west. In 1932 some Christians refused to bow at a national shrine, and they were persecuted as unpatriotic. The Christian church solved this problem by saying that this was only a civil ceremony and was not a rejection of their faith.
- Later Developments.During the war of Japanese aggression (also called World War 2), in 1941, the government forced all the Protestant denominations to join into one church, and missionaries were deported or restricted. After the war, most Christians remained within this group, but others such as the Lutheran and Church of England re-established their independent organizations. Many converts did not like to be controlled by western organizations, so after the Second World War a lot of independent Japanese Christian churches were formed. They helped to make Christianity suitable for Japanese culture, but many of these groups did not continue after their founders died. Today Japan is about one per cent Christian.
10. Shinto. In Japan, missionaries learned to understand the traditional religion, which is called Shinto. Shinto designates certain locations as places where spirits live. There are thousands of these spirits. Everyone is expected to take part in the ceremonies at these places, so that someone who becomes a Christian will be seen as rejecting Japanese culture. Missionaries stress the love of Jesus, in contrast to the spirits, who do not show love. Missionaries stress forgiveness, because the Japanese have many cleansing ceremonies meant to take away guilt, so the message that Jesus really can take away guilt is very practical. Missionaries stress that Jesus is more powerful than every spirit, so the people do not need to fear the spirits if they stop worshipping them.
11. Korea. Starting in 1839, the government began to persecute people that believed in Christ. In 1884, Protestant missionaries entered Korea after the government signed treaties ensuring freedom of religion. Most of the missionaries were American Presbyterians and Methodists. After World War II, in 1945 Korea was divided into North and South Korea. North Korea tried to eradicate all religion. Many Christians there migrated to South Korea. After 1950 Pentecostal churches entered Korea, and the largest church in the world is a Pentecostal church in Seoul, Korea. It has over a million members. It divides these members into small groups that meet once a week on week-days. As in Japan, many Korean Christians did not want to belong to a western organization, and so they formed their own independent Christian churches. Today about thirty per cent of Koreans are Christians, and about half of them belong to independent churches.
12. Moon. Korea is the origin of a non-Christian group that uses Christian words. In 1954 Sun Myung Moon founded the “Unification Church.” In this church, many people believe that Moon is the Messiah, and that his wife is the Holy Spirit. He died in 2012.
13. Nepal. The growth of Christianity in Nepal has been amazing. Hinduism is the national religion, and no Christians were allowed until 1960. At that time there were 29 Christians, and by the year 2000 there were more than 400,000. In 1990, Nepal allowed multi-party democratic elections, and Christian prisoners were released. Today’s constitution allows freedom to choose religion but it is illegal to convert others. Therefore, arrests continue if Christians preach to Hindus. The increasing persecution of Christians in India encourages Hindus in Nepal to drive Christians from the country.
14. Southeast Asia. In 1813 an American Baptist missionary¹ arrived in Myanmar (Burma) , and had great success among a minority group in the mountains called the Karen tribe. Later other denominations arrived. In 1966 foreign missionaries had to leave Myanmar. In 1911, Protestant missions began in Vietnam. Of the 81 million people in Vietnam today, 5 million are Catholics, and 1 million are Christians; two-thirds of the Christians are members of mountain tribes. Since 1970, mission activity has not been allowed in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos, and sometimes there is persecution.
15. Philippines. The Philippines is predominately Roman Catholic. In 1898 America took control of the country away from Spain, and in 1899 American Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries began to arrive in the Philippines, soon followed by most of the other major denominations and independent mission agencies. Christians established two universities in the Philippines. In 1946 the Philippines became an independent country. Today many groups are involved in reaching small minority groups in the jungles and mountains, learning their languages and translating the Bible for them.
Footnotes: 1) Adoniram Judson