by C. Darby Fulton
How can we work both with indigenous churches in other lands and (with) our own missionaries there, preserving the proper freedom and initiative of both? Thus a major mission board formulated a key question discussed at a convocation of missionaries.1
How can we work both with indigenous churches in other ands and (with) our own missionaries there, preserving the proper freedom and initiative of both? Thus a major mission board formulated a key question discussed at a convocation of missionaries.1
It is a timely subject, dealing with one of the most critical areas of tension in missions today, but it is not new. For a hundred years it has occupied the thought of able leaders at home and abroad, and the end is not yet. What appears as a relatively simple matter is actually quite intricate, complicated by the interplay of personalities, the pressures of nationalism, and the conflict of missionary philosophies. It is not likely that any one solution will be universally applicable, for situations vary widely from field to field, and theory must yield to some accommodation under changing circumstances.
The urgency of the problem derives from the very success of missionary efforts to establish the church all over the world. In many countries the missions now find themselves alongside indigenous church bodies with their own ecclesiastical organization and programs of service, and the question confronting almost every board and society is: "What should be the continuing relation of the missions to the national churches which are the fruit of their endeavor?" Answers vary widely, but they group themselves around two fairly well-defined concepts suggested by the words integration and cooperation..
1. In principle. The underlying principle supporting the integration idea teas stated clearly by the Rev. Albertus Pieters, M.A., missionary to Japan of the Reformed Church, in a hook written in 1912 when issues of church-mission relations were to the forefront in that country. That principle, with which he does not agree, is
". . . that upon the native church rests the responsibility of evangelizing the country, and that in this enterprise the American churches, if they are to work at all, must do so through the native church organization.2
The practical implications of this premise are far-reaching. In any given field the formal organization known as the "mission" is to be dissolved and the missionaries incorporated into the national church to be deployed by it as seems best; new missionaries are to be sent only on invitation of the church, which will also determine their specific assignments; all work funds are to be placed in the church’s hands, the entire program to be directed by it through its boards or committees; personal support and expenses of the missionaries are to continue from abroad; and boards in the sending countries are to become mainly subsidizing agencies to provide assistance in personnel and funds.
Thus the mission relinquishes its most important functions. It can no longer initiate action, open new fields of work, plan programs of activity, assign missionaries to their posts, prepare budgets, submit requests for work appropriations, formulate field policy, or select its method for presenting the Gospel. It no longer has a corporate voice, indeed virtually ceases to exist, and can wield little influence except as individuals express themselves in committees or courts to which they are assigned.
This system has gained rather wide acceptance, especially among the larger boards of North American churches; but it is not surprising that it has also encountered much resistance and criticism. Dr. Pieters, already quoted above, challenges the validity of the principle itself in the following forthright statement:
" . . We oppose to the above view a most emphatic contradiction. The American churches hold their commission to evangelize Japan, not from the church they have themselves called into being, but from a much higher source. Their responsibility to perform it does not continue through and in co-operation with the church…but independently of it, a responsibility to God alone…The allegedright of the church to demand that either we work according to its mind or leave the premises…is absolutely denied.3
Similar sentiment was expressed by Dr. Toyohiko Kagawa in a conference in Atlantic City just prior to World War II. His reaction to a suggestion that hereafter boards should send missionaries only on invitation from the national church, was almost startling. "No," he shouted, "you cannot do that. Your mandate comes from Christ, and you have no right to surrender this responsibility to any one else."
The national church in any land has a primary responsibility for the evangelization of its own people; but many will demur if this principle is pressed to the point where the church feels it must stand guard over its private preserve and exclude all who seek to enter except under its authority and terms. Such a view suggests a nationalistic bias which seems out of keeping with the broad concerns of Christian world responsibility. After all, the obligation "belongs most to the one that can best spare the strength required for it."4
There are few countries in which missionaries work today where as many as ten percent of the people have been won to the evangelical faith. Any philosophy of missions that diverts attention from this unfinished task and interprets our continuing role principally in terms of interchurch aid must be regarded as a major retreat in missionary strategy. It is recognized, of course, that all fruits of missionary endeavor should accrue to the national church and that the missions should not occupy territory or administer programs of work that the indigenous bodies are able to assume for themselves. But there is a continuing obligation to preach the Gospel to the unbelieving masses, and it is inconceivable that the coming into being of a small body of believers in any country should put an end to the initiative of men and women who have been called of God to evangelize the world.
We need to bear in mind the difference between a mission and a national church in function, aim and responsibility. The church is an organized ecclesiastical body with a wide range of interests of which missions is only one, and frequently not the principal one. It must concern itself with matters of its own internal organization, its institutions, agencies, creed, discipline, support of the ministry, worship and other aspects of its ad intra life. This internal work is the first drain upon the strength of the church. It is so, even in the United States and Canada where more than nine-tenths of all church resources are devoted to these ends. The national church is all the more under pressure to use available help for the development of its own program in all its phases. It is not a distinctively missionary organization.
A mission, on the other hand, is supremely concerned with the ad extra work of outreach and extension, and missionaries are zealous to keep this emphasis. It is in line with their own deep sense of vocation. For this they have left home and native land. It is this to which they were commissioned in the intention of the churches that sent them and in which they are supported through prayer and sacrificial giving. They want to support the growing church on the field in every possible way, to give it their love and cooperation, to serve it at all times as may be consistent with their primary obligation; but they will not easily accept interchurch aid as a substitute for missions. Their first interest is in winning new believers and establishing new churches; not in subsidizing existing ones.
But why cannot the missionary’s commitment to outreach be carried out through the channels of the national church in an integrated relationship? The answer is found in the multiple involvements of the church as just described and its preoccupation with its own internal problems. The sharpness of the missions’ target, "this one thing I do," becomes diffused amongthe general concerns with which the church is necessarily engaged. The criticism of the integration idea in principle, then, is that it is too church-centered and not enough proclamation-centered. The tendency is to accommodate the missionary effort to the ad intro viewpoint of the church, to the weakening of the ad extra thrust toward the unfinished task.
Let the streams of grace flow freely! They must not be limited to the narrow channels that nascent churches may be able to provide. There is something paradoxical about a theory of missions that integrates missionaries with the national church, then urges boards not to send too many missionaries lest they influence unduly the forms and life of that church!5 It is at this point that church-centered or church-based policies may become church-bound.
2. In practice.
a. Consideration affecting the national churches. It is the opinion of this writer that the policy in question is not in the best interest of the national churches themselves. While appearing to foster their autonomy, it is actually a step backward, introducing missionary personnel and money a second time into the structure of the indigenous organization. There is something ironic about working so hard to establish autonomous churches, then immediately to compromise that autonomy by bringing them again under foreign influence and fiscal dependence. National church bodies which have operated for years on their own resources have, under this system, been returned to a subsidized basis.
This is not to question the propriety of single nonrecurring gifts, even of sizeable amounts, for special needs or projects. Nor does it rule out temporary grants to tide over a period of adjustment or transfer of responsibility. Rather, the reference is to a policy of regular and continued subventions.
Self-support is more than a matter of money. It is essential to self-respect, self-reliance and self-determination, and injury can be done to the character of a church by placing at its disposal resources that it has not worked to provide. Churches, like individuals, grow in stature through struggle and sacrifice; and, while money may represent power, it also has the power to enslave. It easily fosters a habit of dependence on outside aid. The help given comes to be accepted as a right, with consequent weakening of the sense of stewardship and responsibility. Indeed, suggestions have been made that boards make their grants-in-aid automatic so as to spare the churches the indignity of having to submit askings or make any report of the use of the funds. Even the capacity to be grateful can be lost, with a show of petulance when askings are not met in full. National churches can hardly be expected to develop a sense of their own missionary responsibility under such a policy but tend to be confirmed as "receiving churches." The administrative burden imposed upon the national church under integration consumes the time of many of its most competent ministers, puts them behind desks with office responsibilities, multiplies church machinery, and curtails the capacity, and possibly the interest, of the church in evangelistic work.
In this day of strong nationalistic feeling, the indigenous churches are naturally sensitive to the image they present to the eyes of their fellow-countrymen. How can they escape the stigma of religious colonialism as long as fraternal workers from abroad sit prominently in their councils, and budgets are replenished from year to year with liberal infusions of foreign aid? What would happen to such churches, geared to a policy of subsidization, if political changes required the sudden withdrawal of all outside help?
b. Considerations affecting the missionaries. Undoubtedly, some missionaries are fully content with integration. They speak enthusiastically of "partnership in obedience" and of the exhilarating sense of oneness with national comrades in work and fellowship.
Onthe other hand, there is widespread dissatisfaction and unrest among many over the policy in question. To most missionaries the call to service abroad comes primarily in terms of the need of the unevangelized millions. To find upon arrival on the field that they have lost the initiative in pursuing their missionary purpose and must accept an assignment within the structure of some existing church group comes to them as a bitter and disappointing experience. Indigenous churches have not always been prepared for the responsibility of using fraternal workers in their programs, and long periods of frustration have been experienced by some who have waited patiently for an assignment. Others have been given work for which they were not fitted. Some have found themselves serving as assistants to national pastors in local parishes, occupied with the running of errands and with the details of a local program, while all around are the unreached towns and villages to which by every missionary impulse they feel called to minister. Disappointment and heartache have been the lot of many, and some, in disillusionment, have left the field and returned to their homes. Not that they are unwilling to accept a subordinate place, but that they are thwarted in the visions and aims that led them in the first place to offer themselves for service. Turnover in missionary personnel is alarmingly high. Increasingly, replacements are short-term workers or "specialists" who, dedicated as they may be, lack facility in the language, leave little depth of historical perspective, and never become fully domesticated in the work. Continuity is difficult to maintain under these circumstances.
Many missionaries speak of a widening distance between themselves and their supporting boards. Policy-making under integration follows a home board-national church axis in which the missionary has little part except as he may be chosen to serve on some committee of the national church. He often feels lonely and forgotten, by-passed in decisions that closely affect his own work. It is recognized, of course, that ultimate responsibility for the formulation of policy must rest with the board or society, but such agencies would do well to exercise this prerogative in fullest consultation with their missionaries on the field. Failure to do this is to deprive themselves of invaluable counsel; for the corporate missionary body in any field is likely to be more competent in matters of its own everyday experience than the ablest board that could be assembled. Both courtesy and common sense would seem to urge the closest collaboration.
It is a fact that in most instances the integration policy has met with resistance from the missionaries, and in some cases has been imposed by higher authority in the face of the contrary judgment and strong objection of the missionary body.
This, in the opinion of the writer, is a better way. It is not offered as the inspired answer to every problem of churchmission relations. The success of any plan will depend on the spirit and attitude of those who are involved in it. But here is a pattern of working together that would solve many difficulties described in this paper.
Fifty-two years ago, in 1916, she Presbyterian Church of Brazil proposed a plan of cooperation to govern relations between itself and the American missions with which it was associated. Prior to that time the missionaries had worked in the church, holding membership in its ecclesiastical courts. The arrangement had given rise to much dissatisfaction, especially dally on the part of the nationals. Though the missionaries were a minority in the councils of the church, their influence was great, and actions usually reflected their way of thinking. At times missionaries did not agree among themselves. At other times they advocated measures that seemed unwise to the Brazilians. Resulting tensions had in 1903 caused a serious splitwithin the church when several thousand Presbyterians withdrew and organized a separate body, one reason for this action being the desire to rid themselves of missionary influence.
Out of this background carne the proposals of 1916 known as the Brazil Plan, put forward by the national church on its own initiative. Its main outlines were:
1. That the status of the foreign missionaries, who are at the same time members of the missionary corporations (missions) and of the national judicatories (church courts), has become anomalous in both bodies concerned.
2. That the Presbyterian Church of Brazil deems it more practical that a plan of cooperation be established in which the missionaries will be independent of the national judicatories.
3. That the present proposals therefore provide for an independent church working with independent missions.
4. That in areas of common concern the church and the missions cooperate in the planning and coordination of the work through a joint committee, to be known as the Modus Operandi Committee, composed of an equal number of nationals and missionaries.
These proposals, accepted by the church and the missions, have formed the basis of a fruitful relationship through a halfcentury of testing. Though subject to review from time to time as the church has grown, no change has been made in the basic provisions, in spite of repeated pressures from influential sources in America to revert to a policy of integration. In 1954 the name of the Modus Operandi Committee was changed to the Inter-Presbyterian Council, with some broadening of its functions.6
The plan has worked well. It has brought significant gains both to the missions and to the church.
1. To the Missions. It has guaranteed the missions a continuing role in the evangelization of Brazil, releasing them for work that the national church was not prepared to do in pioneering and education. It has given them a sense of purpose and direction, and has offered the challenge of a specific responsibility. The missions have enjoyed a high degree of freedom within their assigned spheres of work-to open new fields, chart new enterprises, employ their own methods, seek needed support in personnel and funds, and to concert the efforts of missionaries through corporate planning and action. They have pushed into the interior in ever-widening circles, planting new congregations, nurturing these to maturity, then turning them over to the nearest presbytery, and repeating the process over and over. Today the missionary vanguard is a thousand miles inland from the established lines of 1916. Behind are the fields which once were the great unreached hinterland of Brazil, now dotted with congregations of believers who are the contribution of the missions to the national church. Meanwhile, the missions have also developed a comprehensive program of education, with scores of schools ranging from the primary level to colleges, Bible institutes and theological seminaries, serving the Christian community and preparing pastors, evangelists, lay workers, and other leaders.
All this is done, of course, in consultation with the InterPresbyterian Council, and with its cooperation and blessing.
2. To the Church. The plan has brought the church freedom from foreign interference in its internal affairs and has established its public image as an indigenous organization without ambiguity. It has developed the wholesome selfhood of the church and has strengthened its qualities of self-reliance and stewardship responsibility. Growth of the church under the plan has been extraordinary. From a struggling group of less than 15,000 communicants in 1916 it became by 1965 a vigorous, well-structured body with twelve synods, sixty-five presbyteries, 803 organized churches, 2,820 unorganized congregations and preaching points, and a communicant membership of more than 110,000.7 There is an able, well-prepared ministry which commands the respect of the whole Christian world. The church’s foreign mission board maintains work in several other lands, a similar agency for domestic missions is reaching out to undeveloped areas of Brazil, and the whole program is characterized by a warm evangelical fervor.
Part of this entire record of progress must be attributed to the acquisition by the church of scores of congregations and fields developed by the missions through their programs of outreach. Increasingly, too, the church is taking over the institutional work. Many schools founded by the missions have passed outright under church ownership and control; others, in various stages of devolution, are governed by boards of directors on which the church as equal or majority representation.
The Brazil Plan has been cited by way of example, but the pattern of church-mission relations here described has been employed with local modifications in many other countries, notably in Japan, Korea and Mexico.
The key word is cooperation-a mutual recognition by both church and mission of the autonomy of each, and a resolute mind to work in harmony of purpose and program. The functions of the two bodies are different. The mission is not a church. It does not engage in ecclesiastical functions nor aspire to ecclesiastical control. It therefore offers its services to the national church, not by merging with its councils and courts, but by presenting itself as a task force, an organized body of friends ready to help the church in its unfinished task.
This is a dignified arrangement in which we work together, not under or over, but side by side as coordinate brethren in Christ. Such a plan (1) insures the autonomy of the national church, (2) recognizes the entity and autonomy of the mission, (3) provides for joint consultation and planning, and (4) promotes an attitude of mutual respect and recognition.
Above all, we must bring to our endeavor the unfeigned humility of true servants, while we honor and love the churches which under the blessing of God are in part the glorious fruit of our toil.
1. "Today in World Missions." (Nashville, Tenn.: The Board of World Missions, Presbyterian Church, U.S., Spring 1967), p. 8a.
2. Albertus Pieters. Mission Problems in Japan (New York: The Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1912), p. 91. A timely volume, relevant to contemporary discussions though written fifty-five years ago.
3. Ibid., pp. 104, 5.
4. Ibid., p. 29.
5. "An Advisory Study" (New York: The Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, United Presbyterian Church, 1961), p. 36.
6. James E. Bear. Mission to Brazil (Nashville: The Board of World Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., 1961), pp. 203-210.
7. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil, Statistical Report, 1966.
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