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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

National Leadership ASAP

The image of Christianity has changed. No longer can Christianity in the Third World be identified with Western imperialism. The unholy alliance between the gospel and the gunboat is forever broken, and Christianity is free to chart its own course, develop its own structures, and project its own image without reference to Western patterns of thought.

Church leaders can now hold their heads high. No longer are they regarded as second-class citizens whose first allegiance is to Rome, London, Geneva, or New York.

All of this is to the good and bound to augur well for the future of Christianity in the Third World.

All is not sweetness and light, however. There are liabilities as well as assets so far as the Christian church is concerned. Since the advent of independence there has been a notable resurgence in the nonChristian religions.

Immigration laws have been tightened and Western missionaries find themselves denied access to countries which previously were open to missionary work. Bureaucratic red tape has increased to the point where missionaries are frustrated to tears by difficulties and delays which are costly in both time and money. One missionary had to wait two years to get his drivers license. Another had to wait six months to get his car through customs. In former days missionaries paid neither personal income taxes nor duty on their household effects. Now they pay both. In some countries the duty on an American car may run as high as three or four thousand dollars.

Mission schools and many mission hospitals have been nationalized. In Africa, where Christian missions had a virtual monopoly on education, only a few institutions remain under Christian control.

Some governments have passed laws against what they call proselytizing, making it a criminal offense to convert anyone under eighteen years of age.

Finally, the coming of independence has sometimes resulted in increased tension between church and mission. In some instances the missions were to blame.

They were too slow to see the handwriting on the wall and come to terms with the realities of the developing situation.

They kept the church waiting too long for independence.

In other cases the church leaders were to blame. Their new-found power went to their heads, and they made unrealistic demands which the missions could not conscientiously accept. So great has been this problem that a special conference on Church-Mission Tensions was called at Green Lake, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1971. Nearly four hundred mission leaders attended. The greatest weakness of the conference was the fact that only ten or twelve church leaders from the Third World were present.

J. Herbert Kane, Understanding Christian Missions

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