{21}     Missionary work

ERA 6 << Modern Church (2): Revival & Missions (AD 1700-1900) >> SESSION 4

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 30

        21.1.1  Background to missionary activities

·         Missionary centuries: The 16th-c was the great age of Catholic expansion and 19th-c was the great age of Protestant expansion.

·         Colonialism & missions: Missionary activities led to the founding of a truly universal church, encompassing peoples of all races and nations. Unfortunately, the expansion took place within the context of colonialism and economic imperialism. The relationship between colonialism and missions was very complex. There were accusations that missionaries were agents of colonialism but this is not true.

o        Positive & negative: Although it is partially true that some missionary work entered through a door opened by colonialism, it was also true that missionaries reached regions never visited by white traders and colonizers. Sometimes, colonial authorities and commercial interests opposed missionaries fearing that religious conflict would interrupt trade.

o        Occasional impediments: It is true that colonial expansion of the West coincided with Protestant missionary expansion but the two sometimes aided and sometimes impeded each other.

·         British gains: The Napoleonic wars turned Britain’s attention towards the colonies held by its enemies. When Napoleon became master of Europe, Britain was able to survive thanks to her naval superiority. When the wars ended, Britain was in possession of several former French and Dutch colonies.

·         Territorial expansion: With the industrial revolution, greater capital and wider markets became necessary. With new industrial and technological developments, more raw materials were required for industry. These were found in Latin America and Asia.

·         Different patterns: In Latin America, the pattern was neocolonialism. The former Spanish colonies won their independence. A great deal of foreign capital was invested in railroads, harbours, and processing plants. These investments were made with the consent and support of the ruling criollos. In Asia and in black Africa, colonialism took the traditional form of military conquest and overt political domination. Historical empires like China and Japan were forced to open trade with the West.

·         Ideas of white supremacy: Many colonists believed that God had placed the benefits of western civilization (industrialization, capitalism, democracy) and Christian faith in the hands of white people in order for them to share with the rest of the world. Such racial and cultural arrogance would later produce strong anticolonial reaction in 20th-c.


        21.2.1  Formation of missionary societies

·         Missionary spirit: The missionary enthusiasm was the result of revivalism among the pietists and Methodists and among the evangelicals of the Anglican Church. People wanted to convert others to the same joyous religious experience.

·         Early societies: Some of these societies were from a single denomination while others were based on cooperation between denominations. They were all voluntary societies supported by the public as churches and governments at that time did little to support missions. Two forerunners were founded by Anglicans: the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) [1698], and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) [1701].

·         William Carey (1761–1834)—He is often called “the father of modern missions” because:

o        Free access: Since the beginning, the British East India Company opposed missionary work, fearing that Christian preaching would produce tensions and riots that would hinder trade. Because of Carey’s effort, when the charter of the Company came up for renewal [1813], Parliament included a clause granting missionaries free access to areas under company control.

o        Impact on missions: His reports on missions inspired many missionaries to follow him. Carey helped found the Baptist Missionary Society [1792]. Many missionaries societies were founded because of his influence.

o        Impact on India: He went to India for missions [1793]. He learned many Indian languages and translated part of the Bible in 35 languages including Bangali and Sanskrit. He helped to end the Indian custom of burning the widows in their husbands’ funerals.

·         Publication of the Bible: Organizations were established to publish Bibles for missionary activities. The Religious Tract Society [1799] and the British and Foreign Bible Society [1804] were founded to spread the gospel through publications. Similarly, the American Bible Society was founded [1816]. Many missionaries also worked as translators of the Bible into native languages.

·         More societies:

o        The London Missionary Society (LMS) [1795]—It was the first large missionary society founded with interdenominational cooperation by Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. Later different denominations founded their own missionary societies.

o        Outside England: After the beginning of missionary activities in England, missionary societies were founded in Holland [1797], Switzerland [1815], Germany [1824], Norway [1842], and the United States—the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions [1822].

o        Anglican: The Church Missionary Society [1799] was founded by the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church led by Charles Simeon.

o        Methodist: The Methodists formed the Wesleyan Missionary Society [1813].

o        Baptist: The Baptists formed the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society [1814].

o        Lutheran: Evangelical Lutheran Church mission board was established [1837].

o        Reformed: The Board of Foreign Missions of Dutch Reformed Church was set up [1857].

o        Orthodox Church: The Orthodox Missionary Society founded [1870].

o        Disciples of Christ: The Foreign Christian Missionary Society was organized within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Church of Christ movements [1875].

o        The Women’s Union Missionary Society founded by Sarah Doremus [1861].

o        Oriental Missionary Society was founded by Charles Cowman (his wife is the compiler of popular devotional book Streams in the Desert).

·         Missionary education: This involved the education of missionaries in colleges, and the public education on missionary needs through magazines.

o        Colleges: The East London Training Institute for Home and Foreign Missions [1873]. Missionary Training College had the first class in New York City [1883]. Redcliffe Missionary Training College was founded in Chiswick (London) [1892].

o        Magazines: The American Baptist, the missionary periodical, was the oldest religious magazine in the U.S. [1803] The Heathen Women’s Friend [1869] was a missionary magazine published by the Methodist women. Missionary periodical The Gospel in All Lands was launched by A. B. Simpson of the Christian and Missionary Alliance [1880].

·         Involvement by women: Women gradually played an important role. They formed women missionary societies sending their missionaries. Some of them took up responsibilities that were forbidden at home, such as preaching and organizing churches. Medical Missionary Fellowship was formed in England to send out single women missionaries [1852]. Thus, the missionary movement is one of the roots of the feminist movement.

·         Cooperation: Missionary activities fostered a spirit of cooperation. Rivalries that seemed justifiable back home were a stumbling block for missionary work in the missions field. So the missionaries took steps to lower the barriers between denominations. They constantly sought to present a common witness and avoid competition, such as in the Liverpool Missionary Conference [1860]. This led to the ecumenical movement in 20th-c.

·         3-self churches: In a New York Missionary Conference [1854], the Church Missionary Society, sets out the ideal of establishing churches in mission fields with characteristics of: self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.


        21.3.1  Asia & Oceania

·         Marco Polo (1254–1325)—He brought news of fabulous riches in the courts of China and India. In 16th-c, the Portuguese established permanent trading posts in the area, including Goa in India [1510] and Macau in China [1535]. Soon after, the European nations began colonizing Asia. By early 20th-c, most Asian countries were under colonial rule.

·         Indian subcontinent:

o        16th-c: The Portuguese reached Goa in India [1510] where Jesuit monk Francis Xavier (1506–1552) worked briefly [1542].

o        17th-c: The British East India Company [founded 1600] established many strongholds in India in 17th-c. By the mid-19th-c, the whole Indian subcontinent was under British control.

o        18th-c: Missionary Johann Ernst Gruendler was sent by the Danish Mission Society [1709]; he worked in India until his death [1720]. Moravian missionaries were also sent to India [1760].

o        19th-c: After Carey, the next generation of missionaries concentrated on education. As missionaries insisted that the caste system in India was wrong, many from the lower classes were converted to Christianity, particularly the “untouchables” who found Protestantism a liberating force.

o        American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions opened work in Ceylon [1815].

o        First All-India Missionary Conference was held with 136 participants [1872].

o        Mass conversion occurred in Ongole [1878].

o        Salvation Army entered West Pakistan [1883].

o        Amy Carmichael (1867–1951)—She was influenced by Hudson Taylor in the Keswick Convention [1887]. She joined the Church Missionary Society and arrived in India [1895]. She opened an orphanage and a mission in Dohnavur. Her influence was mostly in the 35 books she wrote about her missionary experience.

·         Southeast Asia:

o        Burma: It was occupied by the British. Missionaries first arrived in Burma in 1825. Mass conversion began in the tribe of Karens under Protestant missionaries.

o        Thailand: The Netherlands Missionary Society sent missionaries to Thailand [1828], followed by Baptist missionaries [1833].

o        Indonesia: Rhenish Mission started work in Indonesia [1861].

o        Laos: Swiss members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Missions in Many Lands (CMML) enter Laos [1902].

o        Vietnam: Indochina was under French occupation and was under the influence of Catholic missionaries. The Christian & Missionary Alliance entered Cambodia and Vietnam [1911].

·         Japan & Korea:

o        16th-c to 18th-c: Jesuit Francis Xavier arrived in Japan [1549] where he worked 2 years, though with little results. But by 1614, the monks claimed that there were 300,000 Japanese followers. However, Christianity was later exterminated from Japan [1637].

o        19th-c: Japan was entirely closed to all western contact or influence. Commodore Perry of the US Navy forced the Japanese to sign a treaty [1854]. Then, a joint western force put an end to all resistance to foreign influence [1864]. Japan learned from the west and became an industrial and military power which defeated China and Russia, and annexed Korea [1910].

o        Protestant missionaries started coming to Japan and Korea after treaties with the West [1859]. Robert Thomas was the first Protestant martyr in Korea [1866]. Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries arrived in Korea [1885]. Massive revival meetings were held in Korea [1907].

o        20th-c: During the war, Japanese churches were forced to unite [1941].

·         Philippines:

o        16th-c to 19th-c: After the arrival of the Spanish, the Philippines was ruled by Spain as a territory of New Spain [1565]. Since then, they were under Catholic influence. At the end of 19th-c, Spain ceded the Philippines to the US as a result of the Spanish-American war [1898]. James Rodgers arrived in Philippines with the Presbyterian Mission [1899].

o        20th-c: Presbyterians and Methodists opened Union Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines [1907].

·         Australia & New Zealand:

o        18th-c to 19th-c: After Australia was explored by Captain James Cook [1770], the British came to colonize this new continent. Missionaries followed later, travelling to Pacific islands. By the end of 19th-c, most of the population of Polynesia was Christian.

        21.3.2  Africa

·         Early colonies: For centuries, Muslim power had blocked European expansion towards the south and the southeast. In 15th-c, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope [1497] and along the east coast of Africa reaching Mozambique. At the beginning of 19th-c, there were only a few enclaves in black Africa, including Dutch colony on the Cape of Good Hope [1652], French colony in Senegal [1677], and British colony in Sierra Leone [1799].

·         Rapid colonization: The European powers started large scale colonization after 1795 when the British seized the Dutch colony in south Africa. Subsequently, Britain, France, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy all established colonies in Africa. By 1914, the only independent states in Africa were Ethiopia and Liberia.

·         Missionary societies: North Africa Mission (now Arab World Ministries) was founded on work of Edward Glenny in Algeria [1881]. Africa Inland Mission was formed by Peter Cameron Scott [1895]. Heart of Africa Mission, now called WEC International, was established by C.T. Studd [1910].

·         Missionaries: Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries followed. The most famous was David Livingstone (1813–1873). Eventually, all colonies had some churches, even in remote villages.

o        Sierra Leone: Church Missionary Society sent missionaries to Sierra Leone [1804].

o        Namibia: Missionaries from LMS arrived in Namibia [1805].

o        Senegal: The Paris Evangelical Missionary Society opened work in Senegal [1862].

o        Nigeria: Missionary Mary Slessor arrived in Nigeria [1876].

o        Zaire: Christian and Missionary Alliance opened mission field in Zaire [1883].

o        Libya: The North Africa Mission entered Tripoli as first Protestant mission in Libya [1889].

o        Revivals: Revival began among Lutheran and LMS churches in Madagascar [1894]. Large-scale revival movements also occurred in Uganda and Congo [1914].

        21.3.3  Latin America

·         Protestant growth: The independence of Catholic churches in Latin America led to the founding of Protestant churches in every nation in Latin America. The governments wanted to follow the industrial revolution in Britain so they encouraged immigration. As many of the immigrants were Protestants, they passed a law guaranteeing freedom of religion to immigrants. Later, the same right was given to their own people. The immigrants started the missions work in 1860s. By 1914, there were significant numbers of Protestants in every country in Latin America.

o        Colombia: Presbyterians started work in Colombia with the arrival of Henry Pratt [1856].

o        Argentina: Baptists entered Argentina [1864]. Methodists started work in Argentina [1867].

o        Venezuela: Presbyterian Church began work in Venezuela [1897]. The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) opened work in Venezuela [1906].

o        Bolivia: The work of Canadian Baptists in Bolivia [1898] led to the guarantee of freedom of religion [1905]. Bolivian Indian Mission was founded by George Allen [1907].

o        Guatemala: Central American Mission entered Guatemala [1899].

o        Cuba: American Friends opened work in Cuba [1900].

o        Mexico: Church of the Nazarene entered Mexico [1903].

o        Chile: Pentecostal movement reached Chile through the ministry of American Methodist Willis Hoover [1909].

o        Central American Mission: It was founded by C. I. Scofield [1889].

·         Problem: One problem they needed to face was the presence of Roman Catholicism in the area. To organize missions was to declare that Catholics were not Christian so there was strong opposition by some Protestants.

·         Helping the needy: Most early missionaries were concerned not only with salvation of souls but also with physical wellbeing and intellectual development. Therefore, Protestants soon became known for their work in medicine and education.


        21.4.1  Cooperation leading to ecumenism

·         Definition: “Ecumenical” means “pertaining to the entire inhabited earth.” The emphasis is on the worldwide unity of Christians in all nations. One of the driving forces leading to the modern movement for Christian unity was the missionary movement.

·         Cooperation for missions: In overseas missions, cooperation between denominations was mandatory.

o        [1] Limited resources: Bible translations prepared by missionaries of one denomination were used by all others. It soon became clear that coordination in such efforts would be good stewardship of limited resources.

o        [2] Avoid duplication: As there were vast regions waiting for the gospel, it made sense to divide the area to save duplication of effort.

o        [3] Avoid confusion: If different denominations preaching to people who never heard the gospel, even slightly different interpretations would confuse the listeners.

·         Carey’s plan: The great forerunner of the ecumenical movement was William Carey who suggested that an international missionary conference be convened at Capetown [1810]. He hoped that such a conference would bring together missionaries and missionary agencies from all over the world to exchange information and coordinate their plans. However, his plan was unsuccessful.

·         Student Volunteer Movement [1886]—It was an interdenominational agency in the US, under the leadership of John R. Mott (1865–1955). It was launched when 100 university and seminary students at Moody’s conference grounds at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, signed the Princeton Pledge which says: “I purpose, God willing, to become a foreign missionary.” The movement’s motto was: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” The 100 missionaries were deployed in one year in China under the China Inland Mission [1887]. The organization recruited missionaries by stimulating interests in missions. By 1945, it had recruited over 20,000 missionaries.

·         Ecumenical Missionary Conference [1900]—It was held in Carnegie Hall, New York, with 162 mission boards represented .

        21.4.2  World Missionary Conference [1910]

·         Objective: While there were smaller conferences in 19th-c, the first large scale conference met in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was stipulated that the conference would deal exclusively with missions among non-Christians, and that therefore there would be no discussion of Protestant missions among Catholics in Latin America, or among Eastern Orthodox in the Near East. It was also decided that questions of “faith and order” would be excluded because it was felt that such discussion could lead to division. The conference was attended mostly by representatives from Britain and North America.

o        Conference of British Missionary Societies was formed [1912].

o        Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) was founded [1917].

·         Impact: The conference achieved its basic goal of exchanging information. But its significance was far greater.

o        [1] Conferences on other subjects: It paved the way for other conferences where subjects other than missions would be discussed.

o        [2] International cooperation: The conference appointed a Continuation Committee indicating that such cooperation will continue. Eventually, the International Missionary Council would be formed.

o        [3] Ecumenical leaders: The conference gave international stature to many leaders of the ecumenical movement such as Methodist layman John R. Mott.

o        [4] Ecumenical movement: Out of the exclusion in this conference came the development of the Faith and Order movement and the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America. The former would lead to the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948.



[1] treasure our heritage

God’s church is a missionary church. Impact of the church on the world is greatest when the focus is outward.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God raised up a whole army of missionaries to save the world.

[3] avoid past errors

The work of the missionaries was no doubt made easier by imperialism but it also cause longlasting enmity from native people.

[4] apply our knowledge

Missionary work was often facilitated by assistance to the poor and the sick through orphanages, schools, and hospitals. It is important to look after the body in additional to the soul in missions.

[5] follow past saints

There were countless number of missionaries who sacrificed their whole lives to carry the gospel to dangerous places.



        How should missionaries balance the need of evangelization and upholding social justice in the missions field? How much accommodation to the local culture can be accepted?

o        Evangelism without ethical conduct is wrong. Missionaries need to consider both salvation and social justice for the native people. The solution and the balance may not be simple because of political and cultural considerations. Every situation is different. It requires wisdom from God.

o        Contextualization of Christianity to fit the local culture can help to reduce the resistance to the gospel. However, the accommodation must not violate the essential doctrines.

        How did the missionary movement lead to the ecumenical movement?

o        The founding of many missionary societies was based on cooperation between denominations, such as the London Missionary Society.

o        Rivalries that seemed justifiable back home were a stumbling block for missionary work in the missions field. So the missionaries took steps to lower the barriers between denominations. They constantly sought to present a common witness and avoid competition. This led to the ecumenical movement in the 20th-c.

        The World Missionary Conference in 1910 deliberately exclude the discussion of Protestant missions among Catholics in Latin America. Was this decision correct? Should the same decision be made again today?

o        The exclusion in 1910 was probably appropriate as there were many areas that had not heard of Christ. Moreover, missions among the Catholics almost implied that Roman Catholicism is not true Christianity.

o        Today, the situation is quite different. The gospel has reached almost the whole world even though there are still millions who have not received salvation. Experience has told us that many Catholics and Protestants were nominal Christians only. They still need to hear the true gospel. In reality, missionaries should be sent among Catholics and Protestants in Latin America and Europe.

        What were the impacts of the 1910 conference?

o        paved the way for more international cooperation among denominations

o        led to later formation of the International Missionary Council

o        gave international stature to the movement and some leaders

o        the exclusion led to the Faith and Order Movement which later developed into the World Council of Churches in 1948