Tag Archives: August Hermann Francke (1663-1727)

Missions and Empire: Are Protestant Missionaries Colonists?

A Historical Inquiry

In some colonial contexts, nominally Christian religion was forced upon natives as part and parcel of the endeavor of colonization. This being the case, many missionary groups have historically been denied state support, even when tolerated by monarchs; others, like the Donatists (4th to 6th c.) and the Brethren (19th c.), would not accept such support if it was offered. The charge of colonialism, so often levied against the Christian religion, may not be applied equally to all Christian groups, since they have quite different visions of the state-church relation.

If we try to draw together a broad treatment of the relation between Protestant missionaries and their home governments, what we find historically falls into three categories: missions and empire in unity, missions and empire at odds, and missions and empire at distance.

Missions and Empire in Unity

Catholics in Latin America

As someone who publishes books on pioneer missions, I often come across the platitude that Christian missions is “the handmaid of empire”. This sweeping criticism is held up as a banner by detractors of Christianity, secular and religious alike. It is a just verdict in particular of the Iberian colonial powers, whose vision of Catholic Christianity was that of an unchallenged state religion.

Unlike other European colonizing powers such as England or the Netherlands, Spain insisted on converting the natives of the lands it conquered to its state religion.

Adriaan C. van Oss, Catholic Colonialism, p. xi

Even there, reformers arose to oppose the systematic violence against indigenous peoples. Dominican friars Antonio de Montesinos, Pedro de Córdoba, and Bartolomé de las Casas were bright spots in a dark tide of bloodshed, as they chose in 1511 to denounce violence against the people of Hispaniola.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Protestant Reformation did not immediately lead to any change in church-state relations. Luther and Zwingli were not more tolerant than their predecessors in Germany and Switzerland. Likewise, Protestant missionaries of the seventeenth century were not so different from Catholic missionaries of the sixteenth. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded with an explicitly eschatological vision of a Christian utopia, with no room for plurality of religions. This included the intention of converting and civilizing natives, as the 1629 Charter spells out.

. . . whereby our said People, Inhabitants there, may be soe religiously, peaceablie, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderlie Conversacon, maie wynn and incite the Natives of [the] Country, to the KnowIedg and Obedience of the onlie true God and [Savior] of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which in our Royall Intencon, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantacion.

Massachusetts Bay Charter, 1629

Evangelization of indigenous did not precede settlement though, as is sometimes described. John Eliot did not attempt to preach to the Indians until 1646. Charlotte M. Yonge writes that Eliot thought that faith would lead to civilization. Though he worked with approval from colonial authorities, Eliot may also be regarded as a voice crying in the wilderness, since so few shared in this work at that time.

Anglican Missions

For two more centuries, the unity of missions and empire remained prevalent among Church of England missionaries—mainly working within the British Empire—but it declined as independent and evangelical Protestant churches began to proliferate. In 1900, the Governor of Bengal viewed missions as an “unofficial auxiliary” of British government there.

I view, then, the missionary work as an indispensable, unofficial, voluntary auxiliary of the government in carrying out in India its highest aspirations, the ennobling of the whole Hindu people.

Sir Charles Elliott, Governor of Bengal, quoted in Jacob Chamberlain, The Cobra’s Den, 1900, ch. 26

The sentiment was sometimes reciprocal. The President of the Church Missionary Society wrote as late as 1907:

[A. B. Lloyd] has been bearing his share of “the white man’s burden” of ruling, civilising, and Christianising the “silent peoples,” of whom John Bull carries no less than 350 millions on his back.

Sir John H. Kennaway, Preface to A. B. Lloyd’s In Dwarf Land and Cannibal Country: A Record of Travel and Discovery in Central Africa, 1907, p. 7.

But even at that time, these were becoming outmoded ways of discussing a Christian’s role in reaching indigenous people. In a way, another reformation had been slowly spreading in European Christianity: evangelicalism. It was the focus on individual faith, rather than institutional loyalty, that began to lead to a major shift in Christian attitudes toward the state.

The First Evangelicals

To understand how all this began to change, we need to understand the beginnings of evangelicalism. In 1688 and 1689, at the university in Leipzig, August Francke and Philip Spener began holding a series of meetings in which the New Testament was read and discussed. They focused on a personal and living faith, but this was seen as an affront to the concept of a state church. Teaching individual conversion was controversial, and Francke became embroiled in conflict. After being prohibited from teaching in Leipzig, he began ministry in Erfurt; after fifteen months in Erfurt, he was expelled by the local authorities and given forty-eight hours to leave the city. All this happened in spite of his Lutheranism.

Francke continued his ministry by teaching children. He established an orphanage in 1698, which eventually became the largest charitable organization in the world. In 1893, the Missionary Review of the World called him “the father of evangelical missions.”

Count Zinzendorf was educated at Francke’s Foundations in Halle. In 1722, Zinzendorf founded his famous Herrnhut community for the Moravian Brethren. In 1727, a revival occurred in Herrnhut which led to several men volunteering to become missionaries.

In 1738, George Whitefield and John Wesley went to Georgia as missionaries. Wesley was greatly impressed by the faith of the Moravian colonists on their ship. Whitefield had been ordained in the Church of England, but in time his outspokenness led to him being rejected by ecclesiastical authority, and he began to pave his own path. Wesley, in a similar position, went to Herrnhut to learn of the Moravians. In 1739 and 1740, John Wesley and George Whitefield began preaching in the open air and at “revival” meetings. Their preaching sparked the First Great Awakening in America.

Missions and Empire at Odds

The First Lutheran Missionaries in Tranquebar

In 1705, the King of Denmark, Frederick IV, asked August Francke to select two men to go to the Danish colony of Tranquebar, in present-day Tamil Nadu. These were the first Lutheran missionaries. Francke chose Batholomaüs Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau, both trained by him in Halle under a yoke of Prussian Pietism. Though they were sent by the king, as Pietists, their eschatology and missiology was very much at odds with the Danish colonial government, and they butted heads on several occasions. Theologian Joar Haga writes, “the king’s interest in mission activity has been quite a riddle for historians to explain”, but apparently he was impressed with Francke’s work in Halle.

In addition, the Lutheran theologians in Copenhagen had grave doubts about the legitimacy of mission work. The Gospel had already been declared all over the world by the Apostles, according to leading theologians such as Niels Hemmingsen (1513–1600) and Hans Resen (1561–1638). They had explained that the Gospel had been declared twice before Christ’s arrival. . . . []

Joar Haga, “Consecrating the New Jerusalem in Tranquebar.” p. 419.

Haga writes that “The idea of mission was not a part of the original plan for extending Danish rule to India.” (p. 420) The Danish East India Company had been present for almost a century (since 1616) before Ziegenbalg established a church for Indians. In addition, the missionaries were not allowed to use the church used by the Danish and Germans. Even though they had the support of the king, they lacked many supports on the mission field, being generally regarded as radicals. Missions is certainly not the “handmaid of empire” in their case.

When Zeigenbalg preached the consecration sermon for his New Jerusalem church, he stated that it should never be used for “worldly and domestic” use, but that it would be dedicated to spiritual use, meaning preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. Their stated goal on the mission field was always that polytheists would leave idolatry for the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Denmark.

Reform for Sati

The British East India Compny was very reluctant to interfere in native customs in India, to the extent that they did not even outlaw sati. Jemima Luke writes that the Baptist Missionary Society, the London (Congregational) Missionary Society, and the Church (Anglican) Missionary Society, along with many Hindus and Christians, including missionaries James Peggs and William Carey, sought reform for this practice, finally succeeding in 1829. Reforming native religion and practice was not conducive to resource colonialism (as opposed to the settler colonialism practiced in Latin America).

The East India Company and Independent Protestants

British colonial government had a tenuous relationship with those missionaries in its midst who were Protestant but unconnected to the state church. In a biography of Sarah Loveless, Richard Knill writes:

The East India Company would not allow Christian missionaries to sail in their ships; therefore Dr. Carey, Mr. Loveless, and many others, were glad to sail to British India in the ships of foreigners!

The Missionary’s Wife, 1839; quoted in Thomas Timpson, Memoirs of British Female Missionaries.

Most Protestant missionaries, without any support of a state church, did not have the backing to travel to mission fields within the British Empire. In 1804, the Lovelesses sailed on an American ship for Chennai. Knill comments that arriving on a foreign ship “made it very difficult for a missionary to labour there.”

In the same volume, Thomas Timpson narrates how this policy of the East India Company changed “after great opposition” from British Christians. He records how in 1813, 900 signatures were sent to Parliament.

Divine Providence appeared to open a wide door in the year 1813, especially by the renewal of the East India Company’s Charter. Religious liberty gained a most glorious triumph over avarice and infidelity in the new charter: for Christians of various classes, especially . . . the committees of the London and Baptist Missionary Societies, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, sent 900 petitions to Parliament, for permission to propagate the gospel in Hindustan; and after great opposition, a clause, introduced by the government, was carried in the House of Lords, July 20th, securing protection to Christian Missionaries residing in India!

Thomas Timpson, “Elizabeth Harvard.” Memoirs of British Female Missionaries. 1841.

It is telling that Timpson, a Baptist, celebrates a unified victory of the British independent churches, and the Church of Scotland, seeking religious liberty—from their own government! Even after the change in policy, two missionaries who arrived in Bombay wrote that they were not supported beyond transportation. They were “as missionaries, unknown, unexpected, and even undesired.”

Other examples could be adduced. Recall that when Adoniram Judson and James Colman appealed directly to the Emperor of Burma in 1820 for the right to live and minister freely, they were denied. British aggression certainly did not serve his cause, and Judson was a prisoner of war to the Burmese for nearly two years, though an American. They could not help thinking that an English speaker would be helping their imperial enemy.

In his book on Unoccupied Fields (1900), Samuel M. Zwemer writes that the British government was happy for Muslims to advance their religion among pagans, but, except in Egypt, Christians were routinely prevented from doing so. Christian missionary activity in Muslim-majority lands was seen as provoking retaliation from local fanatics. Even alongside Anglican missionaries, who were sometimes seen as an approved “auxiliary” to British colonial governments, most British Protestant missionaries were considered a liability to their home governments.

Missions and Empire at Distance

Christians among Arabs

The criticism of colonial pretenses comes frequently from Muslims because, Islam being a political vision as much as a religious one, Muslim thinkers cannot help but believe that Christian missionaries work hand in hand with what they perceive to be Western, Christian governments—or, if not, they claim that that is how Protestant missions started.

This Islamic perception of Christians has been around since the earliest eras of Christian mission. Thus you will come across statements from pioneer missionaries in the Arab world, like the following:

I imagine his impression is, that we are sent out by the king of England.

Anthony Norris Groves, Baghdad, April 2, 1830; Journal of a Residence at Bagdad.

The prevailing idea is that we get so much money for every case from the Queen or our Consul in Jerusalem.

Archibald Forder, in a letter dated January 1893; With the Arabs in Tent and Town, ch. 2.

As a matter of fact, both Groves and Forder paved the way as pioneer missionaries apart from institutional backing; and both are held up today as early examples of “indigenizing” missionaries rather than colonizing missionaries. As a very early member of the Brethren movement, Groves absolutely rejected any entanglements between state and church. And Forder, far from “civilizing” Arabs, is regarded by two modern Arab academics as an example of “going native”. As much as was in his power, he dressed, travelled, and spoke like the Bedouins he worked among.

As evangelicalism began in Europe largely in the context of institutional opposition on the local scale—both among the Pietists in Germany and the Methodists in Britain—it now continues largely in the context of institutional apathy from Western governments. Today, most Protestant missionaries are not affiliated with a state church, but supported by independent churches and societies. Their home governments do nothing or almost nothing either to prevent or encourage them from overseas evangelism.

Conclusion

I conclude with these words from Susie Rijnhart, an unaffiliated missionary in Tibet.

Kind Christian friends have questioned our wisdom in entering Tibet. Why not have waited, they ask, until Tibet was opened by ‘the powers,’ so that missionaries could go under government protection?

The early apostles did not wait until the Roman Empire was ‘opened.’ . . . Persecutions came upon them from every side, but nothing, save death, could hinder their progress or silence their message. . . . So it has ever been in the history of Christianity. Had the missionaries waited till all countries were ready and willing to receive them, so that they could go forth without danger or sacrifice, England might still have been the home of barbarians. Livingstone’s footsteps would never have consecrated the African wilderness, there would have been no Carey in India, the South Sea Islanders would still be sunk in their cannibalism, and the thousands of Christians found in pagan lands would still be in the darkness and shadow of death.

Susie C. Rijnhart, With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple, 1901, p. 393–395.

Review: George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author:

Arthur Tappan (A. T.) Pierson (1837-1911) was an American Presbyterian pastor and a prolific author of biography, theology, and especially missions. He succeeded Charles Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit and was a key influencer in the Student Volunteer Movement.

Overview:

George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God (1899) is one of the great classics of Christian biography. George Müller served Christ for more than sixty years, managing Bible schools and an orphanage, as well as being a prominent public supporter of overseas missions. He is most famous for his orphanage and his lack of soliciting funds. The BBC writes,

When Müller died at the age of 92 in 1898, the Daily Telegraph wrote that he had “robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims and the workhouses of thousands of helpless waifs”.

The author, Arthur Pierson, was his son-in-law, and had a personal knowledge of Müller’s life. The book was published in the year after Müller died and, brief as it is, is the authoritative biography of George Müller. It also masterfully explains the principles by which Müller lived, Pierson himself being a famous preacher and teacher.

Müller was strongly influenced by Anthony Norris Groves, who went to Baghdad in 1829 under a banner of Christian primitivism—meaning, he chose to travel with salary or no institutional backing. George Müller married Mary Groves in October 1830, and thus, Anthony Norris Groves became his brother-in-law; around this time, Müller also renounced his salary, believing that God called his ministers to live without a fixed income. This is known among evangelicals as “living by faith”, though it is something of a misnomer—implying, as it does, that those with fixed incomes are not living by faith—and thus, I place it between quotation marks for lack of a better term. For historical context, it’s worth noting that Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission and popularizer of “faith” missions, was not yet born at the time! Groves and Müller were very early adopters of the principles of evangelical “faith” missions.

In 1831, the Memoirs of August Hermann Francke was published, Müller soon read it. Francke had been a seminal figure in the beginnings of Protestant missions in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and he also educated and supported thousands of poor children.

Reading the life of Francke was likely a watershed moment for Müller who became, according to Pierson, “in [many] respects [Francke’s] counterpart”. Both Francke and Müller were Germans; both supported and educated poor children; both lived and ministered for decades without a fixed income; both distributed over a million Bibles and New Testaments; both supported the work of pioneer missonaries.

In February, 1832, [George Müller] had begun to read the biography of A. H. Francke, the founder of the Orphan Houses of Halle [in Germany]. As that life and work were undoubtedly used of God to make him a like instrument in a kindred service, and to mould even the methods of his philanthropy, a brief sketch of Francke’s career may be helpful.

August H. Francke was Müller’s fellow countryman. About 1696, at Halle in Prussia, he had commenced the largest enterprise for poor children then existing in the world. He trusted in God, and He whom he trusted did not fail him, but helped him throughout abundantly.

The institutions, which resembled rather a large street than a building, were erected, and in them about two thousand orphan children were housed, fed, clad, and taught. For about thirty years all went on under Francke’s own eyes, until 1727, when it pleased the Master to call the servant up higher; and after his departure his like-minded son-in-law became the director. Two hundred years have passed, and these Orphan Houses are still in existence, serving their noble purpose.

In 1834, Müller began a school in Bristol for teaching children the Bible. In 1836, this work was expanded to include an orphanage. This orphanage was the work for which Müller became most well known; but, like Francke, he was involved in a vast variety of charitable and educational endeavors. As he is presented here, Müller led a profoundly impactful life of charity based on faith and biblical principles.

The chapter on “The Word of God and Prayer” is noteworthy and is worth reading by itself. I have no other work that so clearly states the importance and practicality of using scripture in prayer. According to Pierson, Müller’s prayers were steeped in the Word of God, and were grounded in God’s promises.

The author gives ample space to describing both the principles and outcome of Müller’s prayer life; throughout the book, he often departs from the narrative to describe the theological background in which the events took place. In my view, this book is a perfect blend of biography, theology, and devotion. It constitutes a transition point between nineteenth-century memoirs, which merely list dates and events, and modern reflections which merely meditate on their meaning without giving a full historical account.

Plymouth Brethren and “Faith” Missions

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of Plymouth Brethren principles practiced by Müller, which are unfamiliar to many Americans. Several of my favorite theologians came out of the Plymouth Brethren, and they were a profound influence on Watchman Nee. As Pierson describes it, Plymouth Brethren doctrine involves an outright rejection of hierarchy in church organization. Thus, even group meetings do not have an appointed leader. “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31, NIV)

There are certain aspects of this book that have been exaggerated in the context of Christian fundraising. In certain circles, greatly influenced by lives like August Francke, Hudson Taylor, and George Müller, direct soliciting of funds is practically taboo, and ministers must be supported on a “faith” basis. In reality, Francke and Müller at least, had important believing patrons that had some awareness of the day-to-day needs of their institutions. Nonetheless, these lives are remarkable confirmations of Jesus’ words:

Food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” (Matthew 6:32, NLT)

I highly recommend this book to anyone embarking on a faith venture without a fixed salary. I would not advocate any restrictive version of this wherein no one may make their needs known to believers who are willing and ready to help. That’s not a principle I see in the New Testament. In my opinion, it is similar to denying medicine because you believe in healing; medicine may also be a method of healing! For all that, I have personally tested Jesus’ principles and found that our heavenly Father does know all our needs, and he does provide for his people out of his abundant mercy.

Read: You can read this book for free at Project Gutenberg, in the Kindle Store, and you can listen to it on LibriVox.