Read an Excerpt
To All Nations from All Nations
A History of the Christian Missionary Movement
By Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, Justo L. González
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Few biblical texts are quoted as often as are these words, usually known as the Great Commission. Over the centuries, these words have inspired thousands of believers to take the gospel to the farthest corners of the earth. Some have simply crossed the street; others have crossed rivers, borders, and oceans. Some have given money; others have given their lives. Some were well received, and others died as martyrs at the hand of those whom they sought to evangelize. Churches have been built, schools and hospitals founded, injustice undone, and women liberated from the oppression of ancestral customs. Millions have learned how to improve their livestock, how to care for their health, and how to read. Hundreds of languages that only existed orally have been reduced to writing.
If that were the entire story, there would be ample reason for Christians to be proud of their work and their history. But there is the other side of the coin. Through the centuries, and even to this day, Christians have used the words of Jesus as justification for lucre and for imperialistic purposes. Christians have taken the missionary injunction as an indication of their own superiority, and with that sense of superiority, they have destroyed cultures and civilizations; they have established and supported despotic regimes; they have employed armed violence to force others to believe as they do. In brief, they have justified the unjustifiable.
Such havoc has not always been the result of hypocrisy, nor has it always been brought about by people consciously using the Christian faith for their own ends. It has also resulted from the work of sincere Christians convinced that the expansion of their faith justified their actions and that they were truly in the service of God. Convinced as they were of the truth of their belief, many took this to be a sign of the superiority of their culture and, with that sense of superiority, rode roughshod over cultures and identities and oppressed the defenseless.
More recently, however, the spread of the gospel comes from immigrants and refugees who become evangelizers in a strange land. Christian missionaries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America move across Southern Hemisphere boundaries to share the story of Jesus. Christian missionaries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America come to the United States, Canada, and Europe with extremely limited financial resources but with a deep zeal for sharing and embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is for these reasons that the study of the history of the missionary movement is both crucial and urgent. The history of the expansion of Christianity is at the same time both inspiring and terrifying. It is both a call and a warning. It calls us to join the shining legacy of those who witnessed to their faith. And it warns us of the danger of imagining that, because we are faithful Christians, we need not be concerned over the consequences of our attitudes and our actions.
At this point, it may be well to look again at the Great Commission itself. It begins with the words go therefore. The word therefore requires an antecedent, a reason for what follows. In this case, that antecedent is the word of Jesus, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. In the final analysis, the reason why believers are to go to all nations is not that we feel sorry for those who are lost, or that our culture is superior, or even that we have something to teach others. The reason for our going is the universal lordship of Christ, who tells us that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. There is no place where he is not present. There is no place where he needs believers to take him. The Lord who was at the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, the light that enlightens everyone, is already there. Christ is active in individuals and cultures, even though they may not be aware of it and even through an anonymous presence. Thus, the most that believers can do as they bear witness and invite others to believe is to present the name of Jesus, his teachings, his promises. But they are not taking him anywhere where he was not!
If Christ is already there before we arrive, this means that in the missionary enterprise we go out to meet not only those who do not believe but also the Christ in whom we believe. As Christians go to places over which his authority is real—even though unrecognized—we learn more of him and of his purposes. It was thus that Peter learned much as he met Cornelius, and the ancient church also learned much as it made its way through Greco-Roman culture.
This means that, properly understood, the history of missions is not only the history of the expansion of Christianity but also the history of its own many conversions—of what the church has learned and discovered as its faith becomes incarnate in various times, places, and cultures.
When the great historian of missions Kenneth Scott Latourette finished the seven volumes of his history, he was able to declare that the greatest event of the previous century—the nineteenth—was that for the first time Christianity had become truly universal, for it was now present in every region of the globe. Today, half a century later, we can say more. Not only is Christianity present in the farthest corners of the earth, but also many of those places that were previously considered corners have now become centers of vitality and numeric growth. In Latourette's time, Christianity, although present throughout the world, was still mostly the religion of the West, represented in the rest of the world by relatively small groups, many of them resulting from the Western missionary enterprise and still dependent on that enterprise. Today, although Christianity seems to be losing ground in its ancient centers in Europe and North America, it grows by leaps and bounds in Africa and in Asia. In Latin America, where in Latourette's time Christianity consisted mostly of a stagnant Roman Catholicism and a very small Protestant presence, today Catholicism is undergoing profound renewal, and Protestantism is growing to such a point that in several countries it embraces more than a quarter of the population.
These demographic changes point to the vitality of the Christian movement, the contextual nature of faith communities, the energy generated at the points of encounter among cultures and peoples, and the diversity of missionary theologies and practices that abound in the transmission and reception of the gospel. For this reason, it is our hope that this book will help its readers set aside a view of Christianity as a Western religion and rediscover its worldwide and cross-cultural nature. Thus, the vitality of Christianity in the global south becomes a prism through which one may reread and reevaluate missionary practice and theology. The study of the missionary enterprise reveals a multidirectional movement full of complexities and struggles that require a different frame of reference—from all the world to all the world!
However, if this history of the missionary movement is to serve as a tool for reflection for both the academy and the church, it is important to spell out what are the criteria, principles, and limits of the present work.
A. Missiology, Mission, and the History of Missions
Missiology is the discipline that studies all that relates to the mission of God and of the community of faith in a systematic and coherent fashion. It is a far-reaching discipline that relates to anthropology, economics, history, history of religions, systematic theology, and several other disciplines.
Strictly speaking, mission is the activity of God in the world. God is the protagonist of mission. By grace, God acts in the world to reconcile the world with God (2 Cor. 5:19). The church, as people of God, is born out of that mission and shares in it. The church is both the result and the co-protagonist of the mission of God. That is to say that the church discerns and shares in the activity of God in the world and thus becomes an active subject in that mission.
The term missions —in the plural form—is laden with a variety of meanings. This is not the place to discuss and analyze them, but it is the place to clarify what we mean by that term. Traditionally, this term has conveyed the image of a movement in one direction, from the Christian world to the non-Christian world. This has led to the association of missions with an ecclesiocentric enterprise in which the church is the main protagonist of mission.
In this book, missions refers to the movement of Christianity, including that movement within areas in which there is already a Christian presence. As we shall see throughout this history, Christianity—in its many forms—is introduced and reintroduced within a geographic area, thus creating varied and complex bodies and relations among those bodies. Therefore, missions are what the church has done—for good and not for good—in its effort to expand the faith both within and beyond the borders of its own context. This book is a "history of missions" and as such is part of Christian missiology. It collects data as well as critical reflection on the activity of the church. It is not a history of missiology (of the development of that discipline through the centuries); nor is it a history of the mission (of the activity of God and of the community of faith); nor is it a history of thought about mission (of the ideas, principles, and debates regarding the action of God and of the church in the world). It is rather a history of the action of the church in its effort to communicate the gospel both within and beyond its borders, a history of the expansion of Christian faith in the world. However, given the interdisciplinary nature of missiology, this history of missions is also shaped by the history of missiology and seeks to make a contribution to that discipline. It is part of a missiological and theological conversation on God's mission and on our own mission in the present days.
This history of the missionary movement (or of missions) also seeks to develop a "cartography" of missionary theology in various times and places. The relationship between the theology of mission and missionary practice is not unidirectional. Theology of mission informs and shapes missionary practice, and missionary practice informs and shapes the theology of mission. In this interdependent relationship, theologies and practices of mission clash and reciprocate, contest and accept, contradict and correspond, deny and affirm each other. The present history will show how both practice and theology evolve as historical circumstances modify them. It will also show that practices and theologies that had little success in one context had an entirely different result in another. For instance, as we shall see, what did not work in China was quite successful in Korea.
B. Church History and the History of Missions
Church history should not be divorced from the history of missions. Critical reflection on the life of the church—its worship, theology, and pastoral practice—should not be severed from equally critical reflection on the work of the people of God, both in expanding the outreach of the faith and in renewing the life of society and of the church itself. Unfortunately, the manner in which these two disciplines—church history and the history of missions—have been defined manifests a dichotomy, a bipolar perspective, that tends to eclipse the unity of church and mission and that implies that there are chapters in the life of the church that are part of its "history" and other chapters that are merely part of its "missions."
Such dichotomy reflects the Eurocentric perspective of both disciplines as they are traditionally defined. Thus, the conflicts of early Christians with the Roman Empire and its culture are part of church history, but the conflicts between Christians and the Persian Empire are studied—if they are studied at all—as part of a different discipline. What took place in Germany in the sixteenth century is part of church history; but what took place in Mexico at the same time is part of the history of missions. The Great Awakening in North America in the eighteenth century is part of church history, but the Pentecostal awakening in Chile early in the twentieth is not. Clearly, it is time to correct such perspectives or at least to try to do so.
We do not expect this book to undo such dichotomy between historical disciplines in the life of the church. But we do wish to move in the direction of a historiography that takes into account the complex relations and interdependency between the centers and the peripheries—between what church history has traditionally studied and what this history of the missionary movement conveys. To move beyond that, developing a church history that is also a history of the missionary movement will be the task of an entire generation of historians—of historians representing a wide variety of perspectives and contexts. Thus, the present book is offered only as a temporary remedy, as a reminder of the vast reshaping of church history that must still be done.
Since we are convinced that history needs to integrate "church history" with the "history of missions," we will repeatedly point to the complex interaction between missionary activity at the margins of the church and the life of the church at the center from which such activity emerges. An example may be found in the section on missions in later antiquity, which shows how missions among the Germanic and Celtic "barbarians" transformed the missionary practices that the church at the center had taken as normative. It is important to point out, however, that our emphasis will not lie on the manner in which the missional policies of the center are challenged and changed—which would turn this book into a history of missiological thought—but rather on the activities, conditions, and protagonists at the edges of Christian lands. In other words, this book is a history of the missionary movement mostly at the periphery of Christianity and not of missionary thought at the centers.
It is our hope that the day will come when it will not be necessary—or even feasible—to study or write the history of missions apart from the history of the church. Furthermore, the last chapter of the present history will show why we are convinced that such a day is dawning and that if some do not notice it, this is due to a certain myopia that is typical of every center. But at present most curricula and programs in theological education, as well as the academic formation of most professors, tend to study church history from the perspective of the center, as if only that which takes place at the center were significant. As long as this attitude is not overcome, the study of the history of missions will be necessary, at least to remind us that the center exists by virtue of the periphery, and that a good portion of the total picture is excluded when we look only at what takes place in the centers—centers of economic resources, of theological studies, and so forth.
A second consequence of this dichotomy in historical studies is an "exponential" understanding of the growth of Christian faith. In this view, one takes for granted that Christian faith grows and continues to grow in a single direction, as the center widens its outreach with little or no change in the center itself—much as a balloon grows and continues to grow as more air is blown into it.
In this book, we depart from such a view of Christian growth and join the growing number of creative voices throughout the world that propose: (1) Christian growth is, so to speak, "in series," so that the faith moves from a center to a periphery, transforming both and creating new centers that in turn move toward new peripheries—peripheries that may well be the ancient centers! (2) This movement affects both the theology and the practice of communities of faith, not only at the center, but also in the periphery. (3) The missional activity of the periphery shows great vitality, due in part to its intersections with cultures that are rich in religious, ethnic, and theological diversity, and in part to the struggles for justice by oppressed and suppressed groups such as social classes, women, children, and ethnic minorities. (4) We become aware that Christianity has always been and will continue to be global, cross-cultural, and contextual, and this in turn requires new perspectives from which to observe and write the history of the church.
Excerpted from To All Nations from All Nations by Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, Justo L. González. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.