The Worldwide Mission of the Church

Chapter 1 of Mission to the World -- The story of global missions in the Church of the Nazarene through 1985 by J. Fred Parker

Originally published by Nazarene Publishing House (now called The Foundry), 1988. This material is reproduced under the educational "Fair Use" provision of U.S. copyright acts.

"Go and make disciples of all nations" was Jesus' parting command to His disciples (Matthew 28:19). To the Jewish mind, this was a revolutionary idea. Historically they had seen themselves as a "chosen people," the selected custodians of divine revelation. Sadly, it was an ingrown, walled-in mentality that excluded all other peoples. Alien nations were to be shunned, not shared with.

Now these disciples were to become apostles — sent ones — emissaries of the risen Lord to all the world. Jerusalem was only the beginning point, for the message was to be carried "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). That arena of action was limitless, not confined to their Palestinian enclave.

The Messiah of the Jews was really the Savior of the world. The announcement had been made at Jesus' baptism that He would take away "the sin of the world" (John 1:29). And had not the charter of the Kingdom been enunciated in Jesus' own words: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, italics added)?

Confirmation came at Pentecost when the gift of languages made the testimony of the exuberant, Spirit-filled disciples intelligible to those of many nations. Subsequently, Thomas took the message eastward, possibly as far as India, to establish the gospel in Asia. The apostle Paul championed the Gentile cause and rooted the gospel in Europe, while Mark is reported to have first preached the gospel in Egypt and founded the church in Alexandria for a toehold in Africa. Other apostles and their followers went in different directions, and by the middle of the fourth century, Christianity had won the support of the Roman emperor Constantine.

In the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, and as Europe fell into the period of the Dark Ages (500-1500), the gospel candle flickered low but was never fully extinguished. Out of the darkness shone such bright lights as Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome 590-604, who possessed great missionary zeal. It was he who sent Augustine to England in 596. Not long before, in 563, Columba had taken the gospel to Scotland; and over a century before that, Patrick had gone to Ireland, thus making the British Isles a stronghold of the Christian faith.

Then came Boniface (ca. 675-755), the Apostle of Germany, whom Stephen Neill has characterized as "the greatest of all the missionaries of the Dark Ages."1 [ more on Boniface ]

Early in the sixth century, the Nestorians of Asia Minor began their great missionary movement eastward that ultimately reached China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. (Note: This book has a section on the history of Nazarene work in Japan).

In the midst of these advances, a new threat to Christianity came from the Muslims, the followers of Muhammad. They marched steadily across the southern shores of the Mediterranean and thence across into Europe's Iberian Peninsula. It was as much a military operation as a missionary one, which eventuated in the confrontation with Christian forces at Tours in the heart of France in 732. There it was soundly repelled.

By the time Charlemagne (742-814) came on the scene, the church in Europe was ready for explosive advance. This great military leader and statesman "brought nominal Christianity to vast portions of Europe and was the prime mover in the Carolingian Renaissance that fostered learning and a wide variety of Christian activity."2

A disastrous interlude in the story of Christianity's advance was the period of the Crusades (1095-1291). This costly, misguided effort to drive the Muslims by military force from the Holy Land resulted in more than mere military defeat. Of greater consequence was the diversion of much fervor and energy from the Church's true mission. Ralph Winter, in "The Kingdom Strikes Back," appraises the Crusades as "the most massive, tragic misconstrual of Christian mission in all history."3>

The next threat came from the invading Vikings from the north. These fearsome warriors plundered the monastery outposts of the church and even penetrated into the heart of Europe. Their incursions were particularly damaging in the British Isles, where Christianity was well-nigh stamped out.

Devastating as these attacks and attempted conquests were, however, they could have been withstood more effectively had it not been for the corruption within the church itself. A degenerate papacy brought discredit to the church and virtually destroyed its effectiveness as an evangelizing force.

But "God has always had a people," and in this dark hour, great spiritual leaders arose. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a true evangelist who caught the wave of monastery reform begun at Cluny a century before and began a widespread revival movement throughout Europe. He was followed by the revered Francis of Assisi (1181[2?]-1226). The friars (preaching monks) were the evangelists of the day.

The Waldensians were the first "Protestants" who sought to restore the fervor of New Testament Christianity to the church. Their influence from the 12th to the 15th centuries was significant. Other reformers followed in their train until the 16th-century Protestant Reformation burst upon the scene, dispelling much of the darkness of the previous millennium. Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Knox were the most influential of the Reformers. However, the emergence of the Protestant church was not the boon to evangelism that might have been anticipated. It revitalized the people within the immediate orbit of the church, but global outreach was not a vital concern.

The Pietists and their successors, the Moravians, however, did catch the spirit of the Great Commission and developed a network of mission stations around the world. As Stephen Neill observes, they "tended to go to the most remote, unfavorable, and neglected part of the surface of the earth."4 It was the Moravians who had such a profound spiritual influence on John Wesley during his voyage to America. This eventuated in the life-changing experience that propelled him into the leadership of the great 18th-century evangelical revival in England.

The age of exploration and colonization of the 18th and 19th centuries spawned still another missionary movement. The earliest colonizers were from the Roman Catholic countries of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy, and in each new establishment, a priest became a prominent figure. In many cases also, the most dominant building erected in the settlements was the cathedral. Unfortunately, the religion that developed among many of the native peoples was a sort of syncretism in which traditional tribal customs, practices, and beliefs were uncritically incorporated into Christian worship. With warlike zeal, the intrusion of any other religious group was violently opposed.

Where English and Dutch colonists went, Protestant missions were established. In the 13 American colonies, there was a lively interest in reaching the native Indians, and missionaries like John Eliot, David Brainerd, and the Whitmans became leaders in this endeavor.

The Modern Missionary Movement

In the post-Reformation era, the spread of the gospel did gain some momentum. However, it was not until the 19th century that organized missionary activity really took hold. Indeed, Latourette says the 19th century was "The Great Century" of missionary outreach.

The evangelical fervor created by the Great Awakening of the 18th century became the springboard. By this time, rationalism had peaked, and people were becoming more receptive to traditional values and "things of the heart." Non-Christian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam were also in semi-eclipse. Even Roman Catholicism was suffering reverses. The field was wide open to the true gospel.

Great Britain and North America became the centers of evangelistic activity. Not only was the church revived internally, there was also a new awareness of its worldwide mission. However, this awareness broke beyond the bounds of the organized church, and the major vehicle for this outreach activity became the missionary society. Some of these societies were denominationally oriented, but most were independent. It was strongly a lay movement, particularly from the support side. Latourette writes in his monumental History of the Expansion of Christianity: "Never before had Christianity or any other religion had so many individuals giving full time to the propagation of their faith. Never had so many hundreds of thousands contributed voluntarily of their means to assist the spread of Christianity or any other religion."5

The first of these missionary organizations was the Baptist Missionary Society, launched in 1792. It was followed three years later by the London Missionary Society and in 1797 by the Netherlands Missionary Society. The first United States group was the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (later abbreviated to American Board). It was organized in 1810 by Samuel Mills as a spin-off from the historic "haystack prayer meeting" a year or so before when a group of young college students committed themselves to missionary service.

Dozens more such societies were to follow. Perhaps the most significant was the China Inland Mission, founded by J. Hudson Taylor, which by the turn of the 20th century had over 600 missionaries and, at its peak just before World War I, was the largest Christian missionary organization in the world. [ more on Hudson Taylor ]

By 1861 there were 51 known missionary societies -- 22 in Great Britain, 15 on the Continent, and 14 in North America. About 2,000 missionaries were being supported in 1,200 mission stations. By 1900, however, the number of sending agencies had jumped to 600 with 62,000 missionaries deployed around the world.

Tucker points out that the missionary enterprise was greatly facilitated by colonialism and imperialism. Inadvertently these outpost settlements and trading posts often afforded a comparatively safe haven for missionaries who went out into the surrounding territory to preach the gospel. Sometimes the missionaries went out solely to serve the colonists, but this could not be classified as truly missionary work.

The British government was particularly supportive of missionary efforts, and since, at one time, a quarter of the earth's land surface was under the British flag, this was a considerable factor in the expansion of the gospel. The trading companies were far less cordial, however, particularly the East India Company, which considered missionaries and missionary work to be contrary to their interests.

It was important that the work of the church not be too closely associated with either colonialism, which tended to be patronizing, or imperialism, which was exploitative. Nor should Western culture be imposed. For this reason, some missionaries, such as Hudson Taylor, adopted the way of life of the people, including dress, food, and dwellings. Too often, however, Christianizing was identified with Westernizing.

Great Missionary Pioneers

The 19th-century missionary movement brought to the fore a great list of pioneers whose names became legends. These were the trailblazers who fueled the fires of missionary interest in the homeland by their heroic exploits.

One of the first of these, and generally recognized as the father of modern missions, was William Carey, English cobbler-turned-missionary, who went to India under the Baptist Missionary Society in 1793. His Serampore mission station near Calcutta became a model that others followed. There he spent 34 years chiefly in translating the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and Marathi. [ more on Carey ]

Following in Carey's footsteps was Adoniram Judson. He and his wife Anne were among the very first people from the United States to go abroad as missionaries. They arrived at Serampore in 1812 but soon went on to Burma to become its most famous missionary pioneers.

The London Missionary Society took a great interest in Africa, and its most renowned pioneer there was a Scotsman, Robert Moffat, who began his work in 1816. He won a wide reputation as an evangelist, translator, educator, diplomat, and explorer. His Kuruman station. 600 miles northeast of Cape Town. was the scene of 29 years work among the Africans. The last 15 years of his life were spent in England as a promoter mombilizer of missions.

Moffat's considerable achievements were somewhat dimmed by the glamour surrounding his son-in-law, David Livingstone, who was more explorer than missionary. With the support of the London Missionary Society and inspired by the words of Moffat, who told of having seen "the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been," he landed in Africa in 1841. His explorations won him great acclaim, including burial among history's greats in Westminster Abbey, but more importantly, he is credited with opening up the continent to missionary endeavor.

The Far East, first touched by the Nestorians in the sixth century and influenced by them long after, became strongly isolationist and resistant to Western influence. As a result, it was long closed to the gospel. But in 1807, English-born Robert Morrison was sent out by the London Missionary Society to establish a work in Canton, China. This was the only city outside of the tiny Portuguese colony of Macao where foreigners were allowed to reside. After over 25 years of labor, he had won but 12 converts. However, his translation work paved the way for missionary work when the country became open to the gospel after the Opium Wars of the late 1830s and early 1840s.

The one who made the most of this opening up of China was Hudson Taylor, another English missionary who left for China in 1853. He had a great vision for planting the gospel in every Chinese province. His crowning achievement was the organization of the earlier-mentioned China Inland Mission.

Jonathan Goforth, a Canadian, sailed to China in 1888 and became that country's greatest missionary evangelist. He kept up an exhausting schedule that included ministry in Korea and Manchuria until at age 73 when he was stricken blind.

The missionary trail went also to the South Pacific where John Williams became the Apostle of the South Seas. Beginning in Tahiti in 1818, he evangelized by boat, going from island to island. By 1834 it was said that "no single island of importance within 2,000 miles of Tahiti had been left unvisited." It was on a missionary safari to yet another island that he lost his life to cannibals in 1839.

John G. Paton, a Scotch Presbyterian, also left his indelible mark in the New Hebrides beginning in 1858. After a rough beginning, he became enormously successful and, in his later years, was somewhat of a missionary statesman.

James Chalmers will be ever remembered as the great missionary to New Guinea. After ten years on the Christianized island of Rarotonga, in 1877 he went to New Guinea, where Stone Age cannibals lived. He was known as a peacemaker, and, in five years, cannibalism had been abolished in the region where he worked. However, in seeking to reach a new tribe, he was murdered in 1901.

One other name should be mentioned: that of C. T. Studd, the famed cricket player converted to Christ under D. L. Moody. Studd served as a missionary in China for almost ten years. He returned to England in 1894 for six years of speaking tours and then went to India in 1900 to minister to an English-speaking congregation. In 1910, after an exploratory trip to Africa, he established the Heart of Africa Mission, whose name later was changed to the more inclusive Worldwide Evangelization Crusade. He personally served as a missionary in the Congo for 18 years.

The Shift to North America

It was during the 19th century that the center of missionary interest gradually shifted from the British Isles and continental Europe to America. Samuel J. Mills is considered the father of American missions. At Williams College in Massachusetts, he gathered together a group of six students who shared his interest in spreading the gospel to other lands. Caught in a thunderstorm one day, they sought refuge under a haystack where, as mentioned above, they held their now-historic prayer meeting in which each pledged himself to missionary service. Mills transferred to the newly established college in Andover, Mass., where he had a great influence on a fellow student, Adoniram Judson. Similar missionary fervor there resulted in the formation, in 1810, of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (American Board), the first such organization on that side of the Atlantic. Other societies were organized until by mid-century, there were more than a dozen of them in the United States.

Other missionary-oriented movements added fuel to the fire of overseas evangelism. The Student Volunteer Movement, which was launched at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, in 1886, was responsible for influencing some 20,000 students to go to the mission field before it began to wane after World War I. Still another force was the establishment across the United States of many training centers for future missionaries. One of the first of these was the Union Missionary Training Institute of Brooklyn, N.Y., founded by William B. Osborn in 1882. "A score of self-supporting missionary training schools [were] founded during the next 30 years."6

It was amid this mission-charged milieu that the Church of the Nazarene came into being. Several of those who became members of the new denomination were among the estimated 17,000 American missionaries serving on mission fields in the period of time. Some of those who became Nazarenes had been under the auspices of independent societies, while others were being supported by various holiness associations that united to form the Church of the Nazarene in 1908. Among them were the Schmelzenbachs in Africa, the Kiehns in China, the Tracys in India, and John Diaz in the Cape Verde Islands. The uniting of the Pentecostal Mission in 1915 brought in others in both Latin America and India, notably the R. S. Andersons of Guatemala.

From its inception, a strong, pervasive interest in missions, particularly in the East, characterized the Church of the Nazarene. Nor did that interest ever wane. The key leader who set this course for more than two decades was Dr. H. F. Reynolds. In an address before the 1932 General Assembly in Wichita, Kansas, General Superintendent J. B. Chapman said of him: "We as a church and people owe more to the early vision, enthusiasm, and zeal of H. F. Reynolds for the success of our missionary enterprise than to any other man."

     1Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 74.

     2Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids: Academic Books [Zondervan], 1983), 22.

     3Quoted ibid.

     4Neill, A History of Christian Missions, 237.

     5Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970 reprint), 6:443.

     6Charles Edwin Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867-1936 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1974), 54.

    -- minor editing by Howard Culbertson,

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