Lecture 6

Missions and Indigenous Churches

This lecture begins with Simpson's vision for missions but moves on from there to look at some of the issues that developed in Alliance missions in the 20th century. There is a great difference in the way missions is done today as compared to the 1890's but there are some significant continuities as well. The Constitution of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance in 1887 stated the "Aim and Object" of the new organization to be "to carry the Gospel 'to all nations,' with special reference to the needs of the destitute and unoccupied fields of the heathen world." While the term "heathen world" has gone out of use, the idea that the Alliance would focus its efforts where the message of the Gospel of Jesus is most needed continues to characterize our current efforts.

But back in 1887, Simpson had this idea that a missionary sending organization could not survive all by itself. If there was to be the kind of commitment to missions necessary to undertake this important task, Simpson believed there needed to be a renewal of our commitment to Jesus. The Evangelical Missionary Alliance was to coexist along side the Christian Alliance whose role it was to promote the wide diffusion" of the teachings of the deeper life "and lead all the children of God into the practical experience of all the fullness of Jesus." First we must find Jesus as our all in all, then we can do missions. The merger brought these two organizations together into one in which both Christian nurture and missionary work were to have place. Some have argued that in the merger the missions agenda overwhelmed attention to promotion of the deeper life.1

The Reading "Aggressive Christianity" which you considered earlier in the week, shows this essential conviction of Simpson's approach to mission. This is a vital connection between our spiritual lives and the active working of this out in ministry. I've tried once again to illustrate this on my virtual chalkboard. On the one side we need to give attention to our spiritual life. Simpson Deeper Life and Missionsrefers to "intense spiritual earnestness" as one of the characteristic he hopes the Alliance will stand for. On the other side is the work we do for God in the world. Simpson suggests there should be "intense aggressiveness in its work for God" as the other key characteristic of the Alliance. Simpson's contention in this address is that "The Alliance movement therefore represents spiritual earnestness on the one hand and aggressive activity on the other."

Spirituality and activity are often view as opposite poles in how we take our religion; for some the contemplative life of prayer and for others the life of service and work in the world. Simpson's insight, which he believed to be the teaching of Scripture, was both are need for one sustains the other. That what those arrows are meant to represent on the above illustration. Deeper spiritual life leads us to activity and activity leads us back to the deeper spiritual life.

Simpsons uses the image of a lake to illustrate his point. If a lake has water pouring into it, and doesn't have any outlet, the lake dies. The lake develops a buildup of minerals and garbage and nothing can live in it. The spiritual application is clear, if the Spirit of God flows into us and has no opportunity to flow out, the Spirit dies. If we have the Spirit of God flowing into and out of us in activity or ministry, then it revitalizes us. I think part of this is that we need to experience the richness of the grace of God in Christ Jesus to really effectively communicate it. As we are trying to effectively communicate this message about the grace of God, we recognize how much more of the grace of God we need and that brings us back give attention to our spiritual life. It was actually in midst of activity, the doing of ministry that Simpson felt his own inadequacy which lead him deeper into God. To return to our understanding of Simpson 1874 crisis of sanctification, before this experience Simpson was a very active, very motivated, very able pastor working hard, doing good work yet still feeling that there was something missing, something not there. This lack drove him to find deeper sources of spiritual life. On the other side, Simpson testifies that his deeper spiritual life, particularly his experience of healing, has resulted in increased effectiveness in ministry.

"Aggressive Christianity" argues that the deeper spiritual life and activity for God are connected. If you take the deeper spiritual life away, all you have is a lot of activity. You take the activity away and the spiritual life dies because there is no outflow, it stagnates. It's only as the one leads to the other and back that we have growth, maturity, and the real dynamic quality which is what Simpson is calling us to here.

It is clear that this insight is not something which is specifically Alliance. Part of what Simpson wanted to do was to proclaim this message to the whole church of his day. I think the value of denominational heritage, the value of living tradition as I've outlined it in this course, is to remind ourselves what we call ourselves to. We need to recognize that we have identified ourselves as holding to certain values and committing ourselves to doing certain things and we need to remind ourselves of just what those things are. We need to be sure of what we are calling ourselves live out these commitments. If we do we may be able, as Simpson desired, to call all like-minded Christians to join us in this effort.

Missions begins with the deeper life, the whole gospel for the whole person, and wants to take it to the whole world. It is here that the call is issued for a Christianity which is "aggressive." What is intended by this it think is primarily and intense and focused work for God which cannot be sidetracked or easily led astray. However this idea carried with certain aspects of late 19th century approach to the world which we may not want to bring into the late 20th. Last week I asked you to look at this address and contrast it with Paul Rader's, with particular focus on the conflicts in the background. Rader's 1920 address had the First World War experience of the trenches, of long years half buried as big guns fired overhead to set the tone. The warfare imagery was tense, embattled and far from hopeful. By contrast, "Aggressive Christian" was set against the Spanish-American war. This conflict represented the first appearance of the United States of America on to the world stage. Before this the United States had been fairly insular and not really wanting to get involved in world affairs, especially military ones. The Spanish-American war was fought in 1899 and the United States assumed the role of making wrongs right. The conflict focused on the Spanish colonies of the Philippines and Cuba. While both inventions where caste as wars for the liberation of the local people, the result was both become American dependencies. With this background let's look at how Simpson weaves this conflict into his message. Simpson comments:

We gave a hundred thousand soldiers to emancipate this little island of Cuba from oppression. If we should also give a hundred thousand missionaries it would mean on missionary for every ten thousand of the human race, and with that army of workers the entire world could be evangelized.

Simpson goes on to talk about the money involved.

It would take just fifty millions of dollars, one quarter of the amount that the United States spent in a single year on the Cuban war…

The message: if a commitment could be made in personnel and financial resources to enter the conflict in Cuba, surely the people and money should be available for missions. Simpson goes on to suggest that there might even be something to learn from the methods used in Cuba. "Like the brave Rough Riders and Volunteers who helped to win the cause of Cuban freedom, they [men and women of the Missionary Training Institute] are the brave Volunteers and Irregulars in the army of Christ..." Here he is referring to the great popular heroes of the war. The Rough Riders were cowboys from the "wild west." Teddy Roosevelt, who went on to be President, recruited them and he developed an irregular cavalry which had no military discipline. They were a bunch of cowboys out to liberate Cuba from the Spanish. Simpson loved this image of people without much training, people without the regular rigors that it took to become a soldier, people full of enthusiasm, getting the job done. His vision of completing the missionary task in ten years was to use the missionary equivalent of the Rough Riders, to get people out quickly and to get the job done.

This idea of aggressive Christianity highlights a problem which wasn't apparent to most people involved in missions in the late 19th century but became a major issue in the 20th. Christian missions were often liked to colonialism and both the missionaries and the people receiving the Gospel found it difficult to distinguish what was Gospel and what was colonialism. Some will see the Spanish-American conflict as a war for freedom and others will see it as a imperialist action. The Philippines was open for the first time to Protestant missionaries as a result of the Spanish-American war and the Americans taking over. This was heralded by Simpson and others as a great victory for world mission. It was a great victory for America, but it was also the beginning of another colonial experience for the Philippines. This cut both ways good that the Gospel can be preached, but the Gospel is seen as the religion of the overlords. This pattern recurred all over the world, where it was assumed that a western colonial government meant freedom to the local populations. Rather than allowing a people to govern themselves their own way colonialism "liberated" by bringing the western "right" way of doing it. Local peoples were told that this was now freedom because western economic, social and political structures were put in place of whatever was there before. To return to the example of the Spanish-America War, Cubans and Filipinos were told that instead of doing it like the Spanish did it, which was oppression, it was now going to be the American way, which as freedom.

It took a long time for us to figure out that changing one group of masters for another group of masters wasn't necessarily seen as an improvement by a lot of people. This colonial past has been in the background of missions and, along with the good that was done as the Gospel was spread and preached, came this colonial baggage. What we want to look at next is at least one of the ways in which Alliance missions addressed this issue and attempted to consciously move away from a colonialist approach.

Right from the very beginning, the Evangelical Missionary Alliance wanted to establish churches which were consistent with local conditions rather than just export the North American model. The 1887 Constitution expressed it as follows.

In the prosecution of its foreign work, and the formation of native churches, the Alliance will leave each missionary and native community free to adopt such form of church government as may be preferred, only requiring in every case that the doctrinal basis and practice shall be in strict accordance with the Word of God, and in harmony with evangelical truth.

Alliance missionaries knew this was the goal, but how do you do it, particularly in an environment in which everybody assumed that the western democratic powers were the wave of the future? North American missionaries represented progress and freedom. In bringing the Gospel along with industry, western ways of doing things and democratic forms of government, it was understood to all be part of the same package and all of it was valuable. Particularly since the Second World War, one of the major thrusts of Alliance mission has been to make this idea of truly local churches, which was there from very beginning, really work. To figure out how to make indigenous churches indigenous churches and this hasn't been an easy process. L.L. King's paper on the indigenous church policy explores many of these difficulties. Dr. King was speaking to missionaries when he is giving this address. This is to front line people there is something of a scolding tone to it. If I had been one of the people hearing this in 1960 when he gave it, I would have been quite disheartened because his was that this policy was not succeeding because the missionaries did not really believe in it and were not making it happen.

The idea of founding indigenous churches is usually traced to Dr. Henry Venn of the Church Missionary Society back in the 18th century. An indigenous church was to be defined as self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. Dr. King defines these three elements and explores what it will take to make this happen on Alliance fields along with some of the things that get in the way. The goal of this strategy was to be that these independent, indigenous churches around the world would become involved missions themselves.

While all could agree with this strategy and this goal, the colonial context in which missions was born in the 19th and grew up in the 20th century made this policy difficult adhere to. Missionaries tend to be energetic people, with lots of vision, lots of determination and lots of ability. These are the kind of people we want to send overseas. But these are also the kind of people know what they want to do and know how to do it. So rather than discovering how this are done locally, the missionary takes over to get things done. Often both the missionary and the local people assumed that the missionary would know best and so an non-indigenous pattern is set.

The point that Dr. King was making in 1960 is that the Alliance has focused it missions narrowly on planing indigenous churches. Thus everything that it does needs to serve this goal. The way to achieve this according to Dr. King was to measure projects and activities by the three-self criteria. In each case the question needs to be asked, will the local group be able to support this activity, is there anything which will get in the way of true self government, will this lead to the church being equipped to lead others the Christ. There were and there continues to be other needs that could be addressed but these could lead away from the primary task. L.L. King was concerned that schools and medical missions, both things the Alliance had been involved in, might be diluting the focus. His challenge was something like this, "There is a role for this and in some cases this is particularly important. Our objective is planting churches and leading those churches to become indigenous and sometimes schools and hospitals get in the way of doing what we think we are about.. It's perfectly legitimate for an organization to send medical personnel to another country and relieve people's needs but the Alliance has made its focus the planting of churches and sometimes those two things don't go together well. We need to choose what our priorities will be." The basic principle is that everything we do needs to lead to these objectives. Everything we do needs to be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.

This document, as I read through it, seems like a fairly radical one. One which refocused Alliance missions, called it back to doing one particular thing and doing that well and that has been the main strategy of missions since 1960. It has by now become quite successful and now, when we are talking about refocusing Alliance missions, it is largely because the indigenous church policy actually worked out and so there are now many mission fields in which we are moving out of. For example, we are redeploying people out of Latin America to areas of the world with a greater need.

The success of the indigenization policy is reflected in another of your Readings. The article by David Moore, "How the C&MA relates to Overseas Churches" reflects some changes from 1960 through the middle 1980s. Moore suggests that relationships between the mission (the C&MA) and an overseas Church changes over time, like any human relationship. As the Church matures the role of the mission changes to that of a participant providing specialized services rather than direction. He also shows a variety of kinds of connections between the mission and the Churches from personal friendships through to the Alliance World Fellowship.

I think the existence of the Alliance World Fellowship and the fact that this is an opportunity for indigenous, independent Alliance Churches from all over the world to get together is, in many ways, a monument to Simpson's vision 110 years ago. This is what he established the Evangelical Missionary Alliance to do. Let me reflect for a minute or two on my experience of growing up with Alliance missionary conventions. I have been to close to 40 missionary conventions in my life (one for every year) The image of missions that I got from most of these was that missions was something that people who come to visit us do to other people out there somewhere. At first I didn't really question that but as I got into high school and university and started understanding issues of colonialism, racism and various other things, I got to wondering whether this was something we should be doing: sending all these white people other places to tell people what to do. When I first came across some of this material and began to understand how missions had changed, I had a whole new appreciation for the missionary task. The idea that Alliance missions are meant to build indigenous churches which are self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating, is really a very exciting prospect to me. The idea that we are sending people from here over there to tell other people what to do is not very exciting to me at all. I don't think that is something I want to support but the idea of supporting another church to maturity, to a point at which it can take over and join in the effort of world evangelization, is an exciting prospect. In Canada we have already benefited from this. Some of the first Chinese churches here were established by missionaries supported from the Church in Hong Kong coming to Canada to minoster. It's come back that way primarily among ethnic communities, but it seems that the rest of the population of Canada could use some missionaries as well.

One of the interesting things which is happening right now, is that one of these working agreements which David was talking about has just been entered into between the Alliance in Canada and Quebec. This is a type of working agreement, a missionary model working right within Canada as we are recognizing the complexities of reaching Quebec for Christ. I forget what the statistics are but they are pretty bad. Quebec is one of the least evangelized areas of the world.

It's quite exciting to see the things that are happening in missions these days. Increasingly churches which are a result of Alliance mission efforts, are joining in the mission task. The churches Peru, Hong Kong, Korea, the Philippines and others are all sending missionaries to minister in cross-cultural missionaries. Over the next number of years, the Canadian Alliance is working on a pilot project, which Dr. Craig Bundy is heading up, to work out a model of international missionary teams that will include people from a variety of nations working together to fulfill the great commission and this seems like a wonderful picture of what the church is supposed to be.

The next chapter in Alliance missions is still to be written. Things have changed quite dramatically in the years since Simpson had a vision for evangelizing the world, but with all the changes that founding vision is still alive as the Alliance continues to find innovative ways to bring the Gospel to those who haven't heard. While "aggressive" may not be the adjective we would chose to describe our Christianity, we need to continually deepen our engagement with the grace and mercy of God and from that resource move out to touch the world for Christ.


1 Lindsay Reynolds, Footprints, (Toronto: Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 1982) and the first chapter of Rebirth (Toronto: Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 1992).