Three Shifts in Protestant Mission Emphasis
Continental or Coastland Mission Era. The modern Protestant missionary movement (1800s- to the present) – of which the SDA church grew out of – began with an English shoemaker who became an ordained Baptist minister and later a missionary by the name of William Carey (1761-1834). Back in those days, foreign missions was almost non-existent. He was convinced that the non-Christians in foreign lands also needed to hear the gospel. He was so impressed with the dedication of early Moravian missionaries who sold themselves as slaves to a British planter so they can share Christ to the 3,000 slaves in his West Indies plantation island. He would go to bed with his Bible and a world map tucked under his pillow. He wrote a pamphlet to challenge the Protestants entitled: “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” He was not only up against the indifference of common members towards the plight of the unreached, even church officials were resistant to his plea. One of the higher clergies of his day actually scolded him saying: “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me.” In 1792, he organized a missionary society which was instrumental in sending him and his family to India. Eventually, he saw in his lifetime the beginning of a small movement of British and American missionaries to different continents. We owe William Carey the famous missionary motto: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” He is credited as the “Father of Modern Mission.” He himself served in India for the rest of his entire life. He started a mission movement with the goal of going to every continent with the message of Chris. It was the continental or coastland era of mission (1800-1910). If they had one watchword, it would probably be: “Reaching Unreached Continents.” Their goal was eventually reached. Today there is no continent without a Christian church.
How did the continental, coastland Protestant mission trends affect Adventist mission? The same rationale that Protestants had for leaving the shores of Christian Europe and America to the non-Christian continents represented the rationale that Adventists had, except that for Adventists, the target initially and predominantly were Protestants and Catholics even when Adventist missionaries went to non-Christian continents. The Adventist Church also launched not just its own mission board along the lines of Protestant American mission boards; we also started our own Missionary Volunteer Society. This is a carry-over of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Mission that had mobilized thousands of college graduates all over America and Britain.
Inland Territories or Country Mission Era. In 1865, a young missionary to China named Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) felt a burden to bring the gospel to the interior provinces of China. Back then, mission agencies only worked in coastland cities like Shanghai. Going to the interior, far from the comforts of port cities was not part of the mission strategy of the day. Hudson Taylor found a mission agency with the intent of going to the interior of China. His mission organization, called the China Inland Mission, founded on the “Faith Principle,” which means that missionaries wait on God “to provide, not on a salary from their mission board”,[i] succeeded in recruiting several hundreds of missionaries for the interior of China. Hudson Taylor began the so-called Inland Mission movement. His agency (now called Overseas Missionary Fellowship or OMF), gave rise to “faith missions” such as Sudan Inland Mission, Africa Inland Mission, Korea Inland Mission, etc. From 1865 to 1980, the inland mission mentality was very much the thrust of missions. Mission agencies, even those that were not “faith missions” aimed at penetrating every country in the map. The strategic terminologies for this mentality are “territories”, “countries” and “inland.” The goal was to establish a beach head or “presence” in each country. The goal was geographically defined. If there was a slogan back then, it would be: Reaching Unentered Countries. Again, as in the previous mission era, the second era of mission pretty much have accomplish its mission goal of reaching every country with the gospel. Except for the fact that new countries are born with the shifting of power in old countries, all the countries mission agencies targeted during this era eventually had a Christian presence, if not a church.
How did the inland missions affect Adventist mission? The faith mission principle encouraged many “supporting ministries” and “independent ministries” to launch out on their one without the funding or the blessing of the denomination. Many went out to go to countries and territories where the Seventh-day Adventist Church did not exist doing the work that the denomination is either unable to do or are not doing enough.
Unreached Peoples or Frontier Mission Era. In the late 1970s, three evangelical missionaries came to the scene to redefine the emphasis in mission strategy. Cameron Townsend was a young Bible translator in Guatemala who, like William Carey and Hudson Taylor, “saw that there were still unreached frontiers”[ii] for the Christian Church. He realized that while there have been many churches established in Guatemala already, there were hundreds of tribes in the Amazon jungle that are unreached. He also perceived that these tribes represented thousands of languages worldwide where the Bible has not yet been translated in. He tried to encourage mission boards to target these overlooked tribal peoples of the world but ended up starting his own mission agency called Wycliffe Bible Translators (which eventually led to the founding of the Summer Institute of Linguistics). While Cameron Townsend was taking seriously the linguistic barrier to missions, a missionary in India, by the name of Donald McGavran, began highlighting the seriousness of social and cultural diversity. He began promoting the concept of working with what he called “homogenous units” (known today as “people groups.”) He founded the school of world mission in Fuller Seminary (Pasadena, California) and became the “Father of the Church Growth Movement.” A third person, who took up the concepts already being promoted since 1980s by Townsend and McGavran, was Ralph D. Winter. He was a missionary professor who was instrumental in calling people’s attention to thousands of people groups all over the world that are unreached. He promoted the concept of frontier missions. This third era of mission has been ongoing up to the present. The watchword in Protestant mission today is “Reaching Unreached People Groups.”[iii] A slogan shortened to “Reaching the Unreached,” which the Adventist Church has keenly been using since 1985 when Neal Wilson challenged the church to reach the unreached.
How did this third mission innovation affect the Seventh-day Adventist missiological thinking? We began to use terminologies like “unreached,” “people groups”, and slogans like “reaching the unreached.” We also began to make use of Protestant resources to research the status of many of the unreached peoples in our territories. The frontier mission emphasis also was foundational to the organization of lay Adventist mission agencies like Adventist Frontier Missions and its sister organizations (Philippine Frontier Missions and Myanmar Frontier Missions), which, while they are not part of the denominational structure work closely with the SDA Church. It also influenced many of the leaders of the Church to restudy how missions are being done among the non-Christians. The Global Mission initiative was founded on the principle of reaching unreached people groups (although Adventists decided to change their definition of the unreached as being a population segment of 1 million without an Adventist presence, instead of the more realistic Protestant definition that is based on ethno-linguistic characteristics rather than population size).
[i] (Winter, 2009, p. 271).
[ii] (Winter, 2009, p. 274).
[iii] A people group is defined as “significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc., or combinations of these” (Winter & Koch, p. 536). An unreached people group, therefore, is an ethnic or linguistic people group within which there is no indigenous church that is “able to evangelize this people group” (Winter & Koch, p. 536). Meaning, there is not enough indigenous Christians who can “communicate the gospel in a culturally relevant and understandable way” to this people group (Ott, Strauss, & Tennent, 2010, p. xvii). From an Adventist perspective, that would mean, not having an organized Seventh-day Adventist congregation.