The Reformers and Overseas Mission

The question of the Reformation and Missions continues to niggle. Generations that took missionary commitment as core evidence of Christian faith, wondered why were the Reformers so slack about mission when they got everything else right. Or were they in fact slack about mission? And if they were slack about mission, was it due to lack of understanding or was it the result of a lack of opportunity? Are we even asking an appropriate question? Why do we think that 16th century Reformers ought to be like us? Why do those of us in the Reformed tradition still want to try and claim that Calvin and the other Reformers had to get everything right that mattered?

Lutherans and Calvinists can alike be touchy about this question, but it seems hard to avoid that not only opportunity, but also inclination, were absent. The Reformers did not share a 19th century commitment to overseas mission.

However it is another question again why that should present a problem.

Protestants of all streams, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, had to struggle politically to survive and some of their struggles were with other Protestants. Europe became involved with wars of religion, Protestant rulers were not interested in mission before the King of Denmark at the beginning of the 18th cenutry, the machinery to engage in cross-cultural mission was absent, and apart from threatening Turks, they had relatively little contact with non-Christian people before active settlement of the North American colonies and Protestant involvement in trade with Africa and Asia.

Ideologically the situation was also complicated by the model of overseas mission provided by Catholics, and the tendency of each to repudiate whatever the other practiced. Monasticism and missionary orders, were alike rejected. Fighting for their lives at home and the refuge of cuius regio eius religio was hardly likely to stimulate interest in global mission.

As Ian Breward has noted, the Reformers' significance for mission came later. "Their rediscovery of the Gospel, stress on the vocation of all Christians, recovery of vernacular Scriptures and liturgy, and emphasis on a literate and responsible laity were to prove profoundly important for the development of Christian Missions once Protestant countries acquired colonies and came into contact with other religions." (International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p.665.)

Timeline of New Zealand Presbyterians and Overseas Mission 1839-1988

1839    Rev John Dunmore Lang visits from New South Wales, writes New Zealand in 1839.

1840    Rev John Macfarlane arrives in Port Nicholson (Wellington) 20 February.

1843    Disruption. One third of the ministers and people resign from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland;
James Duncan sent by Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland as missionary to Manawatu Maori

1850s  Cooperation between Northern and Southern churches in New Hebrides Mission 

1868    Synod of Otago and Southland approves mission to Chinese in Otago

1868    Auckland Presbytery: William Watt appointed to the New Hebrides

1869    Peter Milne appointed to the New Hebrides – served to 1924

1878    Oscar Michelsen appointed to New Hebrides, retired aged 86 in 1931.

1886    Alexander Don missionary to Chinese in Central Otago

1892    Women’s Missionary Society, Dunedin;  Busy Bees founded by children of the Bluff Manse: Muriel and Dorothy Laishley

1892    Helen McGregor, first NZ Presbyterian woman missionary, to India

1901    George McNeur ordained to Canton Village Mission

1903    Women’s Training Institute to train women for the mission field

1905    Turakina Maori Girl’s College opened

1909    Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union (PWMU) was established

1910    World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh

1910    Dr W J Porteous sent to Punjab, the beginning of PCNZ medical and educational mission India

1918    Rua Kenana and John Laughton’s school opens at Maungapohatu

1927    China mission placed under local governance

1936     International Relations Committee

1937    A C Watson attends Life and Work Conference, Oxford and Faith and Order Conference, Edinburgh.

1938    Mr and Mrs McDiarmid attend International Missionary Conference, Tambaram, India

1941    National Council of Churches formed

1944   Council of Organisations for Relief Service Overseas (CORSO)

1948   World Council of Churches, Amsterdam attended by Alan Brash, T C Brash and James Baird

1948   Presbyterian Church of the New Hebrides inaugurated; half the Assembly budget spent on overseas mission; 29 overseas staff.

1951    Closure of Canton mission

1953    Recognition that missionaries serve under the local church

1959    Dr David Gray and Rev Ian Cairns to Indonesia; work with the London Missionary Society in Papua New Guinea approved; one third the Assembly budget spent on overseas mission.

1963    APW formed from PWMU and Women’s Fellowship

1964    Joint Commission on Church Union

1967    Act of Commitment by the Five Negotiating Churches

1970     Congregationalists join Presbyterian Church of NZ

1973    General Assembly sets aside 2% of Assembly Budget for disaster relief and development aid.

1976    Plan for Union fails

1984   Council for Mission and Ecumenical Cooperation (COMEC) formed from the Methodist – Presbyterian Joint Board for Mission Overseas, joint International Relations Committee and the Ecumenical Affairs Committee. Organised in five units with three secretaries: Unit 1 (Auckland), Polynesia; Unit 2 (Hamilton) North Asia; Unit 3 (Otago and Southland) Melanesia; Unit 4 (Christchurch) South and Southeast Asia; and Unit 5 (Wellington) Africa, Middle East, World Council of Churches and Council for World Mission.

1988    Hamilton and Dunedin units exchanged areas.

1988    Mission formulated around “Four Faces of Mission” centred on God’s mission: Proclamation, Nurture and Teaching, Loving Service, Transformation of Society.