History of Missions Lecture 13: A Changing of Mind (1914~)

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 on the changes that occur politically and religiously in regards to a missionary’s aim. We will be looking briefly at colonialism, Marxism/Communism, Liberalism & Secularism.

The missionaries we have looked at have often tried very hard not to simply give a European Christianity to those they preached to – that wasn’t the aim. Introducing them to Jesus was the aim, and it was better to be done in someone’s own language, their culture, their worship music, etc. However, despite their best efforts Christianity had been spread most widely when it came with the European expansions, business, trade, government, etc.

This is commonly known as Colonialism. Colonies, settlements from Britain, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal had been started in Asia, Africa, America. These places were in a way ruled by those people who had come. The result of this includes the horrors of slavery. Power often brings corruption and even though missionaries had tried their best, governments didn’t necessarily treat the people living in these countries very well at all. We’ve seen this in the film The Mission, but it happened many other places too.

This gradually started to fall apart as countries realised that the idea of “Christendom” led by Europe was a myth. The West could no longer claim to be the only true civilisation or the only Christian place, and lost the influence it once had.

At the same time the Russian revolution had started, and it was a large anti-Christian force led by the Marxists. Marxism was an economic and social philosophy which wanted to get rid of capitalism, rulers, the monarchy, and instead to share power, wealth and lands out equally. As the European countries had ruled people with capitalism and Christianity, Christianity was rejected too.

“Religion is the opiat of the masses”. It was felt by Marxists that religion had been used to get people to obey, so the upper class could keep the riches to themselves. The Royal family in Russia were murdered, and Russian Communism soon included banning all religion, including Christianity. Christians were persecuted and still are in certain Communist countries, for example, China.

In one way the Communists were right in that Europe had treated other people badly. It was sadly wrong in assuming Christianity was the reason. The link between government and religion is rarely a good one.

This gave missionaries far more issues to go up against. Communism spread and the political reaction against it caused all sorts of issues.In South America missionaries, nuns and monks were killed just for showing kindness to the poor. People were tortured, and there are still families whose loved ones just disappeared never to be found.

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.” Dom Helder Camara (an Archbishop in Brazil)

Alongside this there was a change in the attitude towards other religions. Liberalism suggested that conversion was outdated, that Jesus might not be the only way, and that religions should work together. This is also where the idea of pluralism came from. Pluralism suggests that all religions can be true, that truth is relative. Unfortunately pluralism disagrees with its own argument, so was never a good way to go.

With liberalism there came secularism. Liberals asked for all religions to tell us about a spirituality within our lives. Secularism called it all superstition and asked for no religions at all. Still both of these meant that the certainty of a missionary was in question.

Still missionaries were going forth into countries across the world, and a large proportion of them were from the USA (27,733 out of 43,000). Christianity had expanded massively in the United States and this had happened mostly in the non-denominational groups. Pentecostalism had increased and lay a particular stress on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Many of these groups went to those countries and places which had a high degree of poverty and where people were in the greatest need for help.

We will be looking more at how modern missions has worked in these situations next week, and I will be suggesting some amazing books to go any read.

Short discussion time.

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

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