The 700s saw the emergence of fierce Viking raiding parties that pillaged and plundered much of Western Europe. Not long after that, Christian missionaries began arriving in Scandinavia. Then, within about 400 years, Christianity had become the dominant religion in Viking lands.
How was this possible? Through what means or patterns of evangelism were people viewed as savage pirates transformed into Christians?
Three main factors form what might be seen as the strategy employed to evangelize the Viking peoples. This strategy (or perhaps more correctly, "pattern") is similar in some aspects to what happened in the earlier evangelization of the Germanic peoples. [ read more ]
This third feature of the Viking evangelism pattern is particularly interesting as one looks at what went on in the later Vasco de Gama period. The opposite thing happened then. During the Western colonial period, the dominant colonial powers furnished Christian missionaries for subject peoples. The lack of suspicion that early English missionaries encountered in Viking lands stands in contrast to the political opposition that Western missionaries have often encountered in third- and even second-world countries.
For instance, my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, had two American missionaries imprisoned for a time in Mozambique when a Marxist government came to power when that country gained its independence from Portugal. One wonders if these missionaries would have been imprisoned if their sending base had been a country seen as politically less threatening. A study of the evangelization of the Vikings (and of the Germanic peoples, too) should give missionary-sending agencies further encouragement to embrace the trend of developing a strong missionary force from third-world countries.
I think of my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene. About 75% of our world membership lives in countries other than the U.S., Canada and the British Isles. Yet, a large part of our missionary force carries passports from those three countries. Fortunately, there is interest in the top leadership to increase the percentage of Nazarene missionaries from other countries.5 [Note: By 2021, we arrived at the point where Nazarene missionaries were being sent out from about 60 different countries. ]
May the Lord continue to guide us as we learn lessons from the entire history of the expansion of Christianity.
-- Howard Culbertson,
1 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of
Christianity, rev. ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 386.
3 William Richey Hogg, "The Rise of Protestant Missionary Concerns," The Theology of the Christian Mission, Gerald H. Anderson, ed. (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1961), p. 97
4 Latourette, op. cit.
5 Jerald Johnson, "Report of Department of World Missions" in Journal of the Nineteenth General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene (Meeting held in Dallas, Texas, June 20-25, 1976, no publisher given, p.474