History of Missions Lecture 9: New Beginnings 1600-1800

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

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Lecture 9 will focus mainly on Russian missions, and the new Protestant Reformation missions.

Russian Mission & Peter the Great (Emperor of Russia) 1672-1725

  • Peter the Great wrote that “he should… seek out a virtuous and learned man of good and blameless life;… (who) with God’s help shall gradually bring those peoples in Siberia and China who live in the blindness of idolatry, and generally in ignorance, to the knowledge, the service, and the worship of the true and living God.”
  • What came were seven stages of mission:
A rough idea of where each mission took place. 
  1.  Mission in West Siberia. Churches increased in number from 160 to 448. There is said to have been 40,000 converts baptised. However, it is worrying that those who became Christian would not have to pay taxes, so it could have been caused by more bribery than belief.
  2. Mission to China  This mission did not go so well, a few Chinese were converted, but by 1795 (a hundred years later) there was a total of 25 Russian Christians, and 10 Chinese Christians in the Church of Peking.
  3. Mission to the Kalmucks. The Kalmucks were a wandering people, they did not stay in one place, but travelled. This made mission very difficult because a priest could rarely travel with them. Those that did become Christians didn’t really act like Christians.
  4. Mission on the Middle Volga. Again people were tempted into becoming Christians by being given rewards. Very few knew a Christian prayer or make the sign of the cross. Some had even been baptised three or mores times in order to gain the presents offered to them. Later missions did work better though.
  5. Mission of East Siberia. One amazing man was called Cyril Vasilyevich Suchanov (1741-1814). He devoted his life to mission. He believed that missionary work depended more on quality of life than spoken word, so reduced his belongings to what he could carry in a bag and moved among the travelling people. He won their affection and in 1776 he built his first church. He taught people the Christian faith but also agriculture and craft. He was not a priest, but was ordained later.
  6. Mission to Kamschatka. This area is made up mostly of volcanoes, and the temperature very low. The first Christian witness there converted a number of people but was murdered soon after. However, the mission continued, and eventually there was a Christian population of 11,574 people. Sadly many of these died when smallpox broke out. The church did not recover until the 19th century.
  7. The “American” Mission. The area between America and Russia was a place where the Aleutians lived. They feared evil spirits, and God was distant and therefore they didn’t worship him. They were keen to accept baptism and in one winter 6000 people were baptised. The mission continued to succeed, but sadly alcohol and disease destroyed a lot of the church, so now only a small part of it remains.

Lessons learnt from Russian mission:

  • Bribery is not ever a good way to gain true believing Christians.
  • Mission can be extremely difficult, BUT can be amazing when your heart is really led to a certain place or people.
  • Sometimes you are required to give up almost everything in order to teach others about Jesus Christ.
  • Spreading the gospel is urgent. We could drop dead tomorrow, but life is always better having known Jesus.
  • It is important to know the people you minister to. If you care about them, they will respond to you.

Post-Protestant Reformation

Robert Bellarmine said: “Catholics have converted many thousands of heathens in the new world. Every year a certain number of Jews are converted and baptized at Rome by Catholics… The Lutherans compare themselves to the apostles and the evangelists; (but) they have hardly converted even so much as a handful.”

The Protestants were not happy with this, but they didn’t do much about it for awhile either. It was only when politics took the English and Dutch people to places like Indonesia that mission really happened. Many people were converted, but whether they really believed is hard to say.

John Eliot (1604-90) was an exception. He arrived in America, and in 1651 noticed that a man within the Iroquois tribe would find it very hard, if not impossible, to live a Christian life whilst still part of the tribal village. So he set up “Praying Towns”. By 1671, twenty years later, he had gathered 3,600 Christian Indians in fourteen settlements. He had also started training preachers. Each person who came to the settlements had to make a covenant:

The grace of Christ helping us, we do give ourselves and our children to God to be his people. He shall rule over us in all our affairs, not only in our religion and the affairs of the Church, but also in all our works and affairs of the world.”

He also managed to translate the Old and NEw Testament into the Moheecan language. Sadly, due to wars between the Indians and the English, many of the settlements were later destroyed.

Bartholomew Ziegenbalg & Henry Plutschau came from Germany and arrived in south-east India in 1706. They set out five main principles from the beginning of the mission:

  1. Church and school must go together. Children must be able to read the Word of God and so all Christian children must be educated.
  2. If Christian children are to read the Word of God, that word must be available in their own language.
  3. Preaching of the Gospel must be based on an accurate knowledge of the mind of the people.
  4. The aim must be definite and personal conversion. They tried to only baptise those they knew really believed.
  5. At the earliest date possible an Indian Church, with its own Indian ministry, must come into being.
    (The first Indian pastor, Aaron, was a convert from Hinduism, and he served faithfully in the area from 1733 until his death in 1745.)

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Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions (Penguins Books, Great Britain, 1964).

Bellarminus, R. Controversiae, Book IV; quoted in C. Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und des Romischen Katholizismus (3rd ed. 1911).

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