Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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It is incredible to think that the church of Jesus Christ can forget or minimize its prime function—that of witness bearing. Yet, many churches that claim Jesus as Lord do appear to act as though Missions is an option. A large congregation was given a test of Bible knowledge and the results indicated that the members generally understood and accepted the fact that God desires the reconciling of all men of all races to Christ and that this was God's principal goal for His Church, Yet, when asked to make choices relating to the ongoing program and the uses of funds of the church, these same people placed a greater importance upon parking lots, expansion of classroom facilities and other self-serving tools, than upon direct evangelism at home or abroad. In fact, the latter was curtailed in order to expand local services. Thank God that this is not true of all congregations. The church that is truly the body of Christ will place priority on the "discipling of the nations" in word and in deed.

This book offers Guidelines for World Evangelism for Christians involved in supporting outreach from the home base and for the men engaged in evangelism on the field. To place the study in historical perspective, a review will now be made of some key periods in the Protestant world outreach from the seventeenth century to the present. It is wise to learn from history and not to repeat the mistakes of others.

The Period of the Pioneers

In what we have termed the first period of critical reevaluation of the missionary enterprise, Dr. C. H. Carpenter, a Northern Baptist, wrote a book entitled Self-Support, Illustrated in the History of the Bassien-Karen Mission from 1840 to 1880, which was published by Rand Avery and Company, Boston, in 1883. In this book Dr. Carpenter explained the reasons for a change from the "subsidy system" to the self-support policy and described the process of the changeover and the rapid growth of the Karen church after the change of policy. The fact that the Karen church in Burma has taken roots and has grown as few other churches, appears to support Dr. Carpenter's contention that the change in missionary methods made the difference. Some have questioned this conclusion, however, pointing to local factors, such as the inferior position of the Karens in Burma and their animistic faith, as providing possible favorable circumstances for mass conversion.1 The Buddhist Burmese, they point out, were not very responsive to the message of this particular missionary. Their different type of religion may account for this fact. This work points up the need for further study in order to determine whether methods do make a difference.

The views of Dr. Carpenter were not popular in his day. According to a contemporary missionary to China:

... the Northern Baptist Board had sedulously kept the knowledge of the self-support movement in Burma from the people during all these forty years. They decapitated Dr. Carpenter for publishing the work.2

Dr. T. P. Crawford was sent to China as a missionary by the Southern Baptist Missionary Society in 1852. He soon became dissatisfied with what he called the "subsidy system" practiced by his mission and decided that a change of policy was needed. He began to agitate for a standard worldwide policy on the part of his mission board. But he, like Carpenter, ran into opposition, and his name was dropped from the roll of missionaries of the Southern Baptist Church. Dr. Crawford operated as an independent missionary in the latter days of his life. A book of his papers, entitled Evolution in my Mission Views, was published posthumously by a friend, J. A. Scarboro of Fulton, Kentucky, in 1903.

The policy advocated by Dr. Crawford and later put into practice in China by him after he became an independent consisted of three principles:

First —the gospel of Christ as the power of God unto salvation in every mission field, unaccompanied by any kind of pecuniary inducement to the people; or, in other words, through native support everywhere.

Second—the churches of Christ should, as organized bodies, singly or in cooperating groups, do their own mission work without the intervention of any outside convention, association, or board.

Third—self-denying labors for Christ's sake, both by the churches at home, and by the missionaries abroad.

A Gospel Mission Band of twelve persons, eight men and four women, was organized by Dr. Crawford to carry out his plans by following the principles that he advocated. They worked together from 1894 to 1900 and reported some success. Their labors were interrupted by the Boxer Rebellion, and the group was forced to flee the country. Dr. Crawford was unable to return to his work due to failing health and eventual death in 1902.

Dr. Crawford was unable to test adequately his theories of missionary methods in actual practice. No method seems to have been very successful in China.3 Some might claim that this was due to the fact that the Chinese were adherents of great world religions and not animists, as were the Karen Burmese. Hendrik Kraemer explains the lack of acceptance of Christianity in China as due, among other things, to a confused message from the West and to "faith in science and in modern humanism, which are rightly felt by their inherent relativism and pragmatism to be akin to Chinese mind patterns . . . "4

Dr. John L. Nevius was also a missionary in China, but he represented the Presbyterian Church. His principal contribution was a series of articles that appeared in the Chinese Recorder in 1885, these were later published in book form and came into the hands of a group of missionaries in Korea, who were in the early stages of the development of the mission program of the Presbyterians.

The Nevius Plan, as reiterated by a Korean Presbyterian missionary,5 may be summarized briefly as including:

1. A policy of native self-support. The native Christians must provide their own schools with only small mission subsidies to be expected in the early stages of the program.

2. A policy of self-propagation. Every believer to be both a learner from someone who knows more than he does and a teacher of someone who knows less. Lay preachers and other church leaders must support themselves and teach until the native church can assume the burden of their support.

3. A policy of self-government. Every church must be under its own self-chosen unpaid leaders. A pastor should be chosen when the church is able to support him.

4. A policy of wide itineration on the part of the missionary.

5. A policy of strict church discipline.

6. A policy of benevolence by the native Christians.

The Nevius Plan contains other provisions, but the ones mentioned are basic. Clark felt that the fundamental idea of the Plan was self-support. A mission historian gives the following account of the adoption of the Nevius Methods:

Mr. Underwood was interested in these methods with a view to applying them to the work of the Mission. Aside from this also, he felt the need of advice and guidance from some of our older missionaries in China and "had repeatedly written that some one of experience might be sent." It was a determining factor in the history of the Mission therefore, when Dr. and Mrs. Nevius came from Chefoo , China, in June 1890, and spent two weeks in Seoul with the seven members of the Mission. The result was, as Mr. Underwood states, "After careful and prayerful consideration, we were led in the main, to adopt these (the Nevius Methods)."6

The progress of the Presbyterian Church in Korea was slow at first but growth mushroomed after the first few years. In less than fifty years there were about half a million Protestants in Korea with nearly three-fourths of them Presbyterians.7 Rhodes, the mission historian, notes this phenomenal growth but does not affirm that the Nevius Methods were a dominant influence on the growth. He writes: "Whether the church flourishes because of the system or the system is possible because of the flourishing condition of the church is a question that might be argued." And it was argued. Latourette claims that "the reasons for the rapid advance after 1895 and especially between 1906 and 1910 appear to have been mixed."8

One could not deny that the reasons for the rapid advance were mixed, but in this instance, where missionaries were dealing with people of the great religions, and where the Presbyterians, who were practicing the Nevius Plan, far outstripped all other denominations, including the Catholics, in growth, the evidence seems to support the methods as having had a definite bearing on the success of the mission project.

Dr. Roland Allen was the last of the great pioneer advocates of the indigenous church, and perhaps the most effective in stating the principles involved and in publicizing the concept. He was a prolific writer. The World Dominion Press in London published his two major books: Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours in 1912 (it has gone into a number of editions and is presently published in paperback by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan) and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (in 1960 it was in its fourth edition). In addition to these books, Roland Allen also wrote a great deal for the missionary magazine World Dominion, which has since changed its name to Frontier.

Roland Allen recommended that missionaries adopt the methods of the Apostle Paul in doing mission work. These methods he set forth as:

  1. Begin the work in strategic centers of population and influence.
  2. Do not aim at any particular class.
  3. Do not take money from the people to whom you are ministering at the time.
  4. Don't take money from other churches to give, to the mission church.
  5. Do not administer local church funds.
  6. Make the churches self-supporting from their inception.
  7. Preach a simple doctrine as Paul did.
  8. Organize the churches in a simple New Testament pattern.
  9. Encourage self-discipline on the part of the new churches.

The contribution of Roland Allen was principally that of widely publicizing the concepts advocated by earlier missionaries. He did not demonstrate the effectiveness of the principles but he popularized them.

The Period of the Social Gospel

In the year 1928, the Jerusalem Missionary Conference was held. According to Harold Lindsell, the trend of this meeting was toward "the social gospel, the ethnic concept of religion in which Christianity was denominated as differing in degree rather than in kind from other religions."9 This was consistent with the generally accepted philosophy of history—the idea of progress. The current conviction associated with this idea was that of believing that one had only to be true to his conscience or to live up to the light he had. It was in this theological climate that the next major investigation of missionary methods and motives took place.

Rethinking Missions is the report provided by the Laymen's Committee that was financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for the purpose of studying mission work and recommending future policy and methods. The motive for this project evolved from the conviction of the promoters of the importance of the work and the fact that the Missions were facing difficult times. The preface includes a statement to this effect:

It is doubtful whether any enterprise dependent entirely on continuous giving has so long sustained the interest of so many people as has the foreign mission . . . There is a growing conviction that the missionary enterprise is at a fork in the road, and that momentous decisions are called for.10

William Earnest Hocking, an outstanding philosopher and professor of Harvard University, was chosen to be chairman of the committee. He also served as co-editor of the report. These researchers worked independently of the large mission boards, but received helpful cooperation from them in carrying out their investigation. Countries chosen for investigation were India, Burma, China, and Japan. Groups were sent into each of these countries to study mission programs and collect data.

The Laymen's Report stated that ideally the first missionaries should have planted indigenous churches, as did the Apostle Paul, and permitted them to develop on their own. Since this was not the case, the group recommended certain changes for specific places and situations; but on the whole, the general policies suggested were:

  1. An eventual transfer of all authority in the churches and the institutions from the missionaries to the natives.
  2. Non-Christian religions should not be debated by missionaries.
  3. A positive presentation of Christian principles should be made.
  4. A sharing should take place between Christianity and non-Christian religions. Each should adopt the good points of the other.
  5. Ultimately, the missionary should become an advisor or minister in the service of the native church.

No little stir was created by the release of this report. There were many outcries, as evidenced by the following statement in the Christian Century:

It is true, of course, that the report has burst like a thunderclap on a great portion of the American church. It is true that mission boards and other forms of institutionalized religion are having a bad time trying to find some way of dealing with it. It is true that the assumptions on which the report is based as well as its specific contents, bring not only the missionary enterprise but the whole Christian church to a parting of the ways. The Presbyterian general council has already flatly said that the commission which wrote this report does not know what Christianity is—a statement that drives as sharp a line of demarcation as ever Luther drove between himself and the pope.11

Some objections to the Laymen's Report were as follows:

  1. The Holy Spirit and His work were not mentioned in the publication.12
  2. The group was directed by a philosopher, not a missionary or a theologian.13
  3. The attitude of appreciation of non-Christian faiths and synthesis sharing among faiths is extreme.14
  4. The report is basically a presentation of the philosophy of William Ernest Hocking, as stated in his book, Living Religions and a World Faith.15
  5. The group represented the most liberal Protestant denominations and had only Western Christians investigating Western missions.16
  6. The Laymen's Report failed to recognize the fact that God sent Jesus Christ into the world as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.17
The Laymen's Committee and Report served a good purpose in the judgment of this writer. It opened up the field of missionary endeavor to critical inspection. Such a development could be very significant as the barriers preventing progress could be recognized and steps could be taken toward the eventual elimination of these barriers.

Lindsell characterized Rethinking Missions as "theologically-arrived-at conclusions of the hour."18 To him it appeared that Hocking and his assistants had pronounced the death sentence on Missions. Others shared the same views and by the time of the Madras Ecumenical Conference of 1938, a shift of sentiment had taken place. The convention attacked "the social gospel."

The Neo-Orthodox Period

Dr. Hendrik Kraemer of the University of Leiden in Holland was asked by the International Missionary Council to prepare a book on the approach to the task of world evangelism and to "state the fundamental position of the Christian church as a witness-bearing body in the modem world."19 This book served as a keynote to the Madras World Missionary Conference in 1938.

In essence it might be said that the Laymen's Report tried to take the Holy Spirit out of Missions and Kraemer tried to put it back in. The Laymen's Report had equated the Church to the great faiths while Kraemer pointed up the uniqueness of the Church and of salvation through Christ. These points are made clear in Kraemer's summation:

The conclusion that we have in view is that the only valid motive and purpose of missions is and alone can be to call men and peoples to confront themselves with God's acts of revelation and salvation for man and the world as presented in Biblical realism, and to build up a community of those who have surrendered themselves to faith in and loving service of Jesus Christ.20

The Anthropological Period

The World Missionary Conference at Madras was also characterized by a new emphasis—a study of the relationship between Missions and the cultural context and the role of missionaries as carriers of culture. This led to the development of intensive research in cultural anthropology. In 1945 J. Merle Davis, a second generation missionary to Japan, published an anthropological study of Missions entitled New Buildings on Old Foundations.21 This work introduced a new dimension to Missions theory and research and since then cultural anthropology has become the science of the missionary. So much so that Harold Lindsell said in 1955:

It may be said dogmatically that the best missionaries have been good anthropologists. Perhaps they knew little or nothing about the formal side of the science, but they had an intuitive grasp of the science without formal training in it.22

The Church Growth Period

A natural outgrowth of the anthropological approach to a study of Missions is the present Church Growth philosophy. This school of thought centers around the person and ideas of Donald A. McGavran, the founder of the School of World Missions and Institute of Church Growth of Fuller Theological Seminary. It may be said that this period began in 1955 with the publication by McGavran of The Bridges of God.23 The basic premise of the Church Growth school of thought is its affirmation that the goal of Missions is church planting. The claim is that God wants church growth. This being true, the work of the student of Missions is set. He needs to be able to determine how churches grow and how to discover ripe fields. Cultural anthropology and sociology are indispensable tools in the process of seeking answers to both of these questions.24 McGavran's school of thought still dominates in Missions and his influence has reached all denominations, even the Roman Catholic Church.

The question may be raised, "What does all this have to do with churches of Christ today?" First of all, it puts a study of Missions in perspective and offers valuable data that can be helpful in avoiding the mistakes of others in the past and in planning a strategy for world evangelism for the present and the future.

In structuring Guidelines for World Evangelism, the areas of most vital concern for the understanding of present day Missions and the planning of a strategy for successful church planting were decided upon. Then a quest was made to find the most capable persons available to write on the topics relating to these areas, in which each had both practical experience and academic competence. Such a team was put together and the succeeding chapters which they have written are dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the planting of His church worldwide.


1Charles Iglehart, A Century of Protestant Christianity in Japan (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959), p. 343.

2T. P. Crawford, Evolution in My Mission Views (Fulton, Kentucky: J. A. Scarboro, publisher, 1903), p. 41.

3World Christian Handbook (London: World Dominion Press, 1962), p. 149.

4Hendrik Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 3rd ed., 1956), p. 249.

5C. A. Clark, The Nevius Plan of Mission Work in Korea (Seoul, Korea: Christian Literature Society, 1937), p. 32.

6Harry A. Rhodes (ed.), History of the Korean Mission Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., 1884-1934 (Seoul, Korea: Chosen Mission Presbyterian Church U. S. A., 1934), P. 86.

7Clark, op. cit.

8Clark, op. cit., p. 426.

9A Christian Philosophy of Missions (Wheaton, Illinois: The Van Kampen Press, 1949), p. 24.

10(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932), p. IX.

11Paul Hutchinson, Review of Rethinking Missions, ed. W. E. Hocking, Christian Century, Dec. 21, 1932, pp. 1577-78.

12Harold Lindsell Missionary Principles and Practices (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1955), p. 332.

13Lamott, op. cit., pp. 145-46.

14Ibid., p. 145.

15Lamott, op. cit., p. 145.

16Frederick B. Fisher, "Rethinking Missions," Christian Century, Dec. 14, 1932,p.1538.

17Kraemer, op. cit., p. 49.

18A Christian Philosophy of Missions, p. 28.

19Op. cit., p. v.

20Ibid., p. 292.

21(New York: International Missionary Council, 1945).

22Missionary Principles and Practices (New York: Fleming H, Revell Company, 1955), p. 278.

23(New York: Friendship Press, 1955).

24Randy Becton, "A Study of the Theological Basis of the Church Growth Philosophy of Missions" (unpublished Master's thesis, Abilene Christian University), p. 265.

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