An outline history of Christianity in Malaysia 

See also

Early Christian presence may be traced to Nestorians and to traders in Melaka prior to the Portuguese conquest in 1511. The British acquired Penang in 1786, and in 1795 took over Melaka, which had been conquered by the Dutch in 1641.  Catholic priests from Thailand established the Major Seminary in Penang in 1810.  The LMS was based in Melaka and Penang from 1815, but most Protestant missions collapsed after 1842 when it became possible to enter China. Catholic leadership remained, but was divided between Portuguese and French.  Open Brethren ministry dates from 1860 and Methodist from 1885. Presbyterianism grew through Chinese churches in Johore and expatriate congregations in Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.  Mission to Sengoi indigenous people began in 1932.  Pentecostalism became a larger influence through the Charismatic Movement of the 1970s, but North American and Ceylonese pentecostal missionaries had been active from 1935.

Migration was an important factor in church growth. In Sabah, the Basle Mission began work among migrant Hakka Chinese in 1882, many of whom were Christian. Tamil migrants to Malaya included Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists. Migration increased after the Boxer Rebellion, particularly to Sitiawan and Sibu, still strong Chinese Methodist centers.  Mar Thoma and Syrian Orthodox Churches were established in the 1930s following migration from the Kerela Coast of India. 

In Sarawak the rule of Rajah Brooke included support for an Anglican ministry from 1847 and Catholics were later admitted. In 1928 the Australian Borneo Evangelical Mission, began work with modest resources which nevertheless resulted in the largest indigenous church in Malaysia today, the SIB

World War II saw the removal of expatriate leadership and a path towards an indigenous church was more clearly set. The Malayan Christian Council (MCC), founded in 1948, coordinated mission groups during the Malayan Emergency. Chinese relocated into "New Villages" were served by missionaries, sometimes ex-China, who worked alongside local Christians in social and medical work. However after independence in 1957, many churches were overdependent on expatriates. In the 1970s churches developed structures independent of Singapore as well as of overseas support. Recent growth in independent churches is another sign of a desire to establish a Malaysian Christian identity. 

Christian commitment to education has been strong through Anglican, Catholic and Methodist schools, now part of the government education system. Social concern is expressed through medical work, and organizations such as Malaysian CARE. The Salvation Army and YMCA/YWCAs make distinctive contributions.

Since 1983 the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) has provided a focus for evangelical and independent congregations. The Christian Federation of Malaysia incorporating the Christian Council of Malaysia (formerly MCC), Roman Catholics, and the NECF was formed in 1986. The Sabah Council of Churches and Association of Churches of Sarawak fulfill similar functions in East Malaysia. 

Malaysia is a multi-religious context where Western theological preoccupations are not always relevant. Lay leadership has developed strongly in most churches. Although there are many challenges through changing political and economic circumstances, like Malaysia itself, the churches are beginning to see that they have a contribution to make on a larger stage. 

John Roxborogh

Daniel Ho, "Malaysia", in Saphir Athyal, ed., Church in Asia Today Challenges and Opportunities, 1996, 266-298.

Robert Hunt, Lee Kam Hing and John Roxborogh, eds., Christianity in Malaysia. A Denominational History, 1992.

W John Roxborogh, A Bibliography of Christianity in Malaysia, 1990

Graham Saunders, Bishops and Brookes. The Anglican Mission and the Brooke Raj in Sarawak 1848-1941, 1992.