Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 11 - Missions Outside Europe (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-011 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> PAUL: Professors, I serve congregation in Florida which is home to many Haitian immigrants. My work with these people, even at this very early stage of my service to them, has increased my awareness of the importance of missions in the church. I've gained an appreciation for the hard work that is involved in understanding a new culture and in communicating the gospel. So I'd like to ask you to begin to provide us some information on the history of mission work. Let's start at the very beginning. When and how did the church begin spreading significantly outside Europe? >> SPEAKER: Paul, that's a great question, and it�s going to take us in a whole new direction I think in our study into a consideration of what we probably refer to as mission history. But it's really simply a dimension of the history of the church as a worldwide faith. Because after all, Christianity never was a European religion. It didn't start in Europe. It started in the ancient Near East. And in the first centuries of the church�s existence, it actually spread in all directions from there. It spread not only through the Near East and eastward into Persia and even as far as India. It also spread westward across North Africa, south from there into Ethiopia, and of course also into Europe. The church was planted in Europe in its first centuries as part of the rapid expansion of Christianity really in all directions. So it's not a European religion, even though much of the way we study the history of the church can give the impression that Europe is somehow the center of Christianity. I think that your question leads us to understand that that's not necessarily true. And it'll be very interesting to explore the ways in which the church expands around the world outside the bounds of Europe and its history there. Of course, once the church had spread in those initial centuries, it encountered challenges and difficulties and most significantly with the rise of Islam. In the seventh century, Islam spread throughout plans that had been rather thoroughly evangelized and Christianized, were part of the Christian world but fell under the power and control of Muslim rulers. And in many cases, the church virtually died out. Jerusalem fell to Muslims in the 638. The city of Alexandria in northern Egypt fell in 642. Carthage in North Africa fell in 697. And by 715, virtually the whole of Spain was under the control of Muslim rulers. This rapid expansion of Islam brought with it a very dramatic change in circumstances for Christians and churches in that area. Churches that had previously been strong and flourishing were suddenly a persecuted minority, not always subject to violent persecution, although that did happen in some places and at some times, but discouraged and disadvantaged in various ways. And, as I said, in many places the church virtually died out. The advance of Islam into Europe through Spain and Portugal was finally brought to an end at the Battle of Tours in 732 when European Christians finally defeated the Muslim armies and sort of drew a line at the Spanish border as the furthest extent of Muslim advance into Europe. But even so, the island of Sicily came under Muslim control about the year 900. Even Constantinople itself which had been the Christian capital of the Eastern Roman Empire fell to the Muslims in 1453. So you see, there was a constant tension and conflict between Christians and Muslims since the rise of Islam in the seventh century. That has several far reaching consequences. For one thing, it means that the churches that survived outside of Europe were cut off from the European churches. And there was very little contact, virtually no contact, between these surviving churches in Mesopotamia and Persia and India and Ethiopia and the European churches which managed to fight off the advance of Islam. There was no contact, and these churches developed in different ways because of their isolation from the European churches. It also meant that the relationship of the European Christians with the outside world was largely defined by this conflict, by this hostility toward Islam. European Christians were no longer really very much aware of the rest of the world and its peoples and faiths. The idea of non-Christians basically meant Muslims who were always a threat and an enemy. Europeans had very little contact with other non-Christians beyond the military conflict that they had with Muslims. So the isolation of non-European churches and the relationship of conflict between Christians and Muslims had very, very far reaching conflicts that stayed with Christianity for centuries really. That conflict perhaps is most vividly captured in the period that we refer to as the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of religious wars waged over almost two centuries in which European Christian armies attempted to regain control over the holy places in Palestine. And those were largely ineffective in the long run. Military success was negligible, but they did bring Christians into contact with the outside world and made them aware of a larger world in new ways. There were a couple of examples of a different way of relating to the world as Christians that came out of this period of the Crusades, and I�d like to mention two names that are part of that. The first is Francis of Assisi, whom I am sure you�ve heard of. Francis lived and worked in the beginning of the 13th century, the 1200's. This was a period when the Crusades were in progress, and the natural relationship of most European Christians to Muslims was a relationship of conflict and hostility. Francis took a different approach and was convinced that if he would go humbly and gently and present the gospel, that it had a good chance of gaining a hearing and even persuading the leaders of Islam. So he managed on his own to make his way to the sultan of Egypt and to gain a hearing and actually went and presented the gospel to the sultan. Now, the sultan was not converted. He found Francis's mission interesting perhaps but ultimately unconvincing. So there aren't any tangible fruits of Francis's efforts. The importance of it is that St. Francis actually defined a different way of relating to these of foreigners, these non-Christians, these Muslims, than simply on the battlefield. The other example I'll mention is Raymond Lull. Lull was a Spanish nobleman who was raised, you could say, on the front lines of this conflict between Christians and Muslims. That was the environment he knew. But as an adult, he underwent a profound conversion experience and became convinced that the best way to reach Muslims and convince them of Christianity was first of all to learn their language and then to study their literature and writings so that on the basis of that, you could argue with them in a reasonable way and make an intellectual presentation of the gospel that would be persuasive. And Lull devoted his life precisely to those scholarly pursuits which he connected to what we would call mission work. For him, it was simply a matter of being eager to share this gospel also with one's enemies. Lull�s efforts to convert Muslims by this reasonable conversation and discussion were ultimately unsuccessful as well. Except in one sense, he had always hoped that he might have the privilege of dying for the gospel. He was martyred after getting into an argument with some Muslims in North Africa. But apart from that, he left no tangible results in terms of converts, but he did have a lasting impact by pointing the way toward the different, nonviolent, nonaggressive way of presenting the gospel based on a detailed knowledge of the language and literature of the people you were trying to meet. Now, Francis of Assisi and Raymond Lull were men who were far ahead of their time. Very few others in their day followed in their footsteps or adopted their methods. They stand out as exceptions, but they stand out also because of the lasting influence they had on the church�s attitudes and approach. Raymond Lull and Francis of Assisi were medieval characters. This is the Middle Ages. As I said, they don't represent any significant inroads that Christianity makes outside of Europe. The spread of Christianity beyond Europe, when Christianity stops being a medieval European story and begins again to be what it originally was, a worldwide faith, that comes with the Age of Discovery when European explorers began to seek and find new routes to make contact with the rest of the world outside of their borders and the rest of the world beyond the world of Islam. The most important of these, of course, are Christopher Columbus with his famous transatlantic voyage of discovery in 1492 and several subsequent voyages as well. And of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, who in 1497 sailed around the southern tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean to reach India by sea. These voyages changed the world of the European Christians in ways that are hard for us to imagine. We're so accustomed today to thinking of the world as a big and diverse place. But it's difficult for us to imagine how limited the knowledge that Europeans had of the rest of the world around the year 1500. The fact of the matter is that they were motivated by rather unspiritual considerations. These explorers were hoping to find trade routes that would enable their countries, their sponsoring countries, to engage in a lucrative trade in spices and other goods with India, China, and the Far East. And in fact, they did establish such trade routes, not always in the ways they had expected. In the process, however, they discovered new lands that were previously entirely unknown to Europeans. The whole coast of Africa was simply a blank place on the map for Europeans before the Portuguese explorers of the 15th century. Europeans had no idea that the North and South American continents existed before Columbus's voyages. Not only these places on the map, but the people that inhabited them presented a completely new sort of challenge. These were not Christians. They were not Muslims. There were a different people altogether, and the Europeans began to think about a larger world with challenges and opportunities that they had never imagined before. So these voyages of discovery opened up literally a new world for European Christians to think about. And with that came new opportunities for the spread of Christianity because the explorers brought with them, as a matter of course, the faith that they held to. The explorers were in most cases serious about being Christians. Columbus, for instance, didn't have any priests with him on his first voyage, but on his second voyage, his return voyage the following year, he took with him five priests, including three Franciscan monks whose job it was to begin the process of Christianizing these new peoples that Columbus had encountered in the islands of the Americas. Of course, as it turns out, this is a vastly more difficult job than Columbus and the Franciscan monks that he took imagined. But they certainly envisioned part of their task as explorers to bring Christianity to previously unevangelized territories. The Portuguese explorers that made their way down the west coast of Africa eventually had some success in some places. The leader of the Congo people, the king of the Congo nation, actually converted to Christianity, and members of the royal family were sent back to Portugal for education and ultimately also ordination. They became priests and bishops and for decades it looked as if the Congo might be the first genuinely Christian kingdom in Africa since the advent of Islam, at least as far as the Europeans knew. They had lost contact with the Ethiopians by this time. When the Portuguese explorers reached India, they encountered something rather surprising. When the first European explorers reached India, they found that there were already Christians there. This was a very ancient church, thoroughly adapted and assimilated to the surrounding society. It was a very Indian church, and the church traced its tradition back to the apostle Thomas. They were called the Mar Thoma Christians. These are the Thoma for Thomas the apostle who, according to their tradition, had come to India and preached the gospel and founded churches. And that was the origin of these Christians who were living in India. This was both good news and bad news, I think, for the Portuguese explorers. Good news of course because they were delighted to find there were Christians already in India. The world was a large and largely hostile place, and they were, of course, very excited to find those in this far away land who already confessed the name of Christ. But bad news because the Mar Thoma Christians were not very much like the European Christians. In particular, they had no contact whatsoever with the pope and therefore really didn't fit into the structure and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church that the Portuguese explorers brought with them. This eventually led to conflict between the indigenous Mar Thoma Christians and the Roman Catholic Christianity that was brought by the explorers so that really there is more than one layer of Christianity in that part of India today because the Mar Thoma church still survives. If we look at the Americas for a moment, you'll remember that the Portuguese and Spanish had both settled in parts of the New World: the Portuguese along the coast of Brazil and the Spanish initially in the islands of the Caribbean and then Central America and South America. This would eventually lead them into conflict and competition. This was supposed to be settled by the intervention of the pope. Pope Alexander VI tried to settle this competitive environment, already in 1493, by taking a map of the known world and drawing a line from the North Pole to the South Pole and to the east of that line the Portuguese were to have control, and to the west of that line, the Spanish could have control of all the new territories and peoples that were discovered. That was important for the spread of Christianity because that meant that the king of Portugal was responsible for spreading Christianity in the territory that fell to him, that is in Brazil. The king of Spain was responsible for the spread of Christianity in the new lands to the west of the line, the territory that the pope had allotted to him. And these rulers then became key players in the spread of Christianity as they promoted and protected those who went and carried the gospel to these new places. To sum up then, the spread of Christianity outside of Europe really coincides with the spread of European discovery and exploration beginning around the year 1500, just a few years before that, but continuing really throughout the 16th century. And as European knowledge of the world spread and exploration spread, so Christianity was carried with that. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****