The Great Growth Of Christianity in the 20th Century
As empires spread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so did missionary activity. From his teaching series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey reflects on several factors that helped and harmed the cause of missions.
It is interesting that at the same time Europe was reaching out around the world for colonies and empire, the 19th century was the great century of foreign missions. Of course, scholars today recognize that the imperial growth of Europe both profoundly helped the cause of missions and profoundly harmed the cause of missions. It profoundly helped the cause of missions because it made missionary activity so much more possible. It was easy for Europeans and Americans to travel to many parts of the world that previously had been difficult to reach or closed off because of this imperial spread. The wealth of the West enabled the churches to have money to send missionaries. Not that they paid them very well, but they had money to send them.
But the complicating factor was that many local people saw the missionaries as simply imperial agents. They saw the missionaries as coming to advance the cause of the West, not the cause of Christ. That was not true of most missionaries; it may have been true of some, but most missionaries were genuinely motivated by a desire to make Christ known. They may not always been greatly wise about how they set about to make Christ known, but they went for Christ. They went to serve Christ, and they did an amazing amount of good. There has just been a recent book, again by a secular historian, who has been arguing that the foundations, in many parts of the world, laid by Christian missionaries are bearing important fruit in political stability and economic growth. A kind word. I can’t remember the name of the book; I’ve got to find it because we don’t get many kind words, and we ought to remember them when they are spoken. But this missionary activity was profound and was huge and was remarkable, probably the greatest advance, the greatest growth of Christianity in a single century in the history of the church.