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Empires & Missions

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 27, 2021 12:01 am

Empires & Missions

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 27, 2021 12:01 am

The 20th century was an age in which empires rose and fell and in which the reach of the gospel spread. Today, W. Robert Godfrey examines a century of great missionary endeavor and those who made it possible.

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Were the missionary efforts of the 20th century successful? 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, saw the missionaries as coming to advance the cause of the West, not the cause of Christ. When I was a young boy, I remember missionaries coming to our church, one in particular from Africa. He and his family would share stories of jungles, wild animals, and people groups that had never heard about Jesus. Books were written about missionaries like that, which inspired a large missionary movement in America and Europe.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. W. E. Robert Godfrey will explain how these missionary efforts, though sometimes slow, sometimes clumsy, helped the cause of Christ. Recently, I have been reading a book by Lawrence James entitled Churchill and Empire. I began to think there was nothing new that could be said about Winston Churchill. I'd read a lot about Winston Churchill, but this book is quite fascinating because it focuses on Churchill's ideal of the British Empire and what it ought to be and what it could accomplish in the world and how it influenced his life.

And near the beginning of that book, James makes an amazing statement. He said, in 1900, 85% of the world's surface was controlled by 10 imperial powers – Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, U.S. Now, that doesn't mention China, and it doesn't mention the Ottoman Empire. If you added those two, it must be that almost 100% of the world's surface would have been controlled, at least formally, by an empire. The world had been imperialized, and you notice that with the exception of Japan, those empires were almost entirely Western. Now, some of those empires were in significant decline.

The Dutch Empire – I hate to tell the Dutch people here – was in decline. The Spanish and Portuguese empires were also in decline, but other empires were significantly expanding – the British Empire, the German Empire, the Russian Empire. So, when we enter the 20th century, although we may not think of it very much still today, we were in a world that was very imperial. Now, we as Americans, of course, would say we didn't have an empire, but probably if you were in Cuba or Philippines, you might have felt like you were part of an American empire. Certainly, America had a sphere of influence that was very powerful, and this same author says that part of what was going on in the late 19th century was a rapid effort to accumulate colonies and to control more of the world, and that this competition is part of what set up Europe for the First World War, the conflict of empires.

James, as far as I can see a secular historian, observes about the late 19th century, contemporaries explained this rush for land in terms of Darwin's evolutionary theories. So, this is the struggle of the strongest to defeat the weakest and take over. I mention this because what a different world we live in. Britain still has a queen but doesn't have much of an empire. When I was in graduate school, my wife had a friend who was British who said to her, we still have Hong Kong and Gibraltar.

Well, now they only have Gibraltar. So, empires are in decline. The German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire have disappeared. At the beginning of the 20th century, these empires seem still quite powerful. Now, historians can look back and see various forces at work that might well have anticipated the dissolution of empires, but the Romanov family had been czars in Russia for centuries.

The Hohenzollerns in Germany had been around a long time, although they had only been emperors for a few decades, but the Habsburgs in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had been around for more than half a millennium as a major force in European history. At the beginning of the 20th century, old empires seemed fairly stable, very powerful, likely to continue, and yet that old world was to collapse like a house of cards in the First World War. And out of the First World War, Germany would come forth as a republic, not an empire.

Russia would come forth as a people's republic, not quite a democracy, but certainly not the old Romanov Empire. The Habsburgs would be gone. World War I was a watermark in the history of Western civilization in terms of change. I don't think it's too much to say that World War I didn't end until 1945. In a profound sense, there was just a 20-year truce.

World War II really is phase II of World War I, trying to cope with the aftermath of collapse. But at the beginning of the 20th century, 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. And 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, 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 have 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's just been a recent book, again by a secular historian, who's 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're 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. One scholar has said four-fifths of all the missionaries who went out in the 19th century were English-speaking. That shows how much the importance of America and Britain were to the missionary cause in the 19th century. There were other missionaries, of course, from the Netherlands, from Germany, from Scandinavia, but the backbone of the modern missionary movement came from English-speaking parts of the world. And it's a very interesting history but a little hard to tell because it's a history of individuals who go to different places and have different kinds of experiences, so it's a little hard to generalize.

But we can say a few things, both particular and general. We can say that in America, the great image of the missionary that inspired many in the 19th century was David Brainerd. I mean, I've heard of David Brainerd. David Brainerd was a young man born in America in 1718, and he lived to be only 29. He died in 1747, and he was a missionary really for only four years but gave himself wholeheartedly, passionately, sacrificially, sufferingly to trying to evangelize American Indians. And his devotion was so inspirational, particularly to Jonathan Edwards, that Jonathan Edwards, after the death of David Brainerd, wrote the biography of David Brainerd, and that biography became one of those hugely influential books that gripped many, many people with a vision and a desire to become a missionary and to go and serve Christ. And another even more famous figure that inspired folks, particularly in Britain, was William Carey. William Carey is often called the father of modern missions. Let me write those names on the board.

I don't want any of you making any mistakes in your notes. William Carey was born in 1761, was an Englishman, was not highly educated, had grown up in a non-conformist church, became a Baptist, became passionate as a Calvinist to go and preach the gospel to be used by God to bring the message of salvation to the elect around the world. He was confronted in England by a number of hyper-Calvinists who said, we don't need missionaries.

God will gather his elect on his own. And William Carey was a better Calvinist. I hate the word hyper-Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinists are not Calvinists at all.

They are fundamental distorters of Calvinism, and they shouldn't be allowed to be called Calvinists at all. Anyway, that's not really part of church history. But William Carey was passionate about his desire to go and preach and to make Christ known and became particularly foundational in carrying missions to India in 1793, where British influence was just beginning to grow. And Carey had a passion for all of those who were to be found in India and who did not know the gospel. And he pursued a strategy of missions that would be influential in later terms amongst many people. He studied the background and thought of the non-Christians who were there so he could understand how to communicate with them. He preached far and wide, traveling and distributing Bibles.

He established churches as quickly as possible and set about trying to train in indigenous ministry to staff those churches as quickly as possible. So Carey, right from the beginning, established a really model of missionary activity. And again, his story inspired people far and wide in the English-speaking world and beyond to be concerned about missions and to be involved in missions. By the middle of the 19th century, missions were growing much more dramatically. And some of the famous names of 19th-century missions, foundational missionaries, going really without much support, without any foundation, having to learn the language. We think of Robert Morrison going to China in the early 19th century, Adoniram Judson going to Burma, and then of course, very famously, David Livingston going to Africa. And these famous missionaries, these foundational missionaries, often had biographies written about them in their own lifetime or immediately after their death.

And those biographies had a tremendous impact on the churches, impacting people on the need and on the heroic character of missions. Now, we all know that when you actually get to a foreign country as a missionary, every day is not heroic. There are tough days. There are difficult days. There are frightening days.

There are discouraging days. But these biographies, not that they were at all dishonest, but these biographies were inspirational to many people and really helped to attract and to inspire and to direct many people to head to the mission work. After the middle of the 19th century, a new development in missions was the willingness of churches to send single women to the mission field.

Earlier they had thought that was inappropriate or undignified or dangerous, and the role of women on the mission field, particularly single women, came to be really remarkable and very, very powerful on the mission field. And one of the most famous missionaries on the mission field in the early 20th century was Mary Slessor. How many of you have ever heard of Mary Slessor? See, just a few remember Mary Slessor. Mary Slessor was born in 1848, lived down to 1915. I'm talking about her because she actually lived in the 20th century.

We're supposed to be talking about the 20th century, so I'm cheating a little bit. But Mary Slessor was born in Scotland. She was a Presbyterian, and she felt the call as a single woman when she was just 28 to head out to the mission field. And went to what was known then as the Calabar, Mary Slessor of the Calabar. She was famous in the early 20th century in Christian circles as Mary Slessor of the Calabar. David Livingston's nephew, I think, wrote a very famous biography of her, and that too carried her story and inspired many, many people. Today the Calabar is part of Nigeria, and Mary Slessor went into a part of Nigeria that was notoriously dangerous, violent tribes who were very suspicious of any strangers who would come into the tribe.

And Mary Slessor moved in initially to a kind of missionary compound on the coast that had been established by men and was relatively safe but was not able to accomplish very much because it was relatively isolated from the people. And Mary Slessor soon convinced herself that it was time for her to go up country, as she put it. And after she had been there about ten years, both her mother and her sister had died in Scotland, and she said, heaven is now nearer to me than Britain, and no one will be anxious about me if I go up country. So she felt a kind of liberty now to just do what she felt the Lord was calling her to do, and she set off up country, just a little short Scottish woman who went unafraid. And it's really an inspiring story. By the time of her death, she founded 50 churches and schools with 1,500 communicant members and several thousand other people attending and inquiring, and had really become a huge influence over about a 200-square-mile place out of her courage, out of her conviction, out of her love, and out of her kindness. And one of the things she wrote about her strategy has always stayed with me and has always intrigued me. She begins her observation by saying Christ was never in a hurry.

I think that's a fascinating statement. Christ was never in a hurry. There was no rushing forward, no anticipating, no fretting over what might be done.

Every day's duties were done as every day brought them, and the rest was left with God. That was her confidence. That was her assurance. I mean, there's a good Calvinist attitude, isn't it?

It is not by my fretful, frenetic activity that God's work needs to be done, but by doing faithfully what He's called me to do and going forth in His service. She wrote, I am ready to go anywhere, provided it be forward. Isn't that a great attitude?

I'm willing to go anywhere, provided it be forward. And so she went into areas where the men missionaries were afraid to go, and it was probably wise on both sides. The men would have been more threatening, and here she was, just this little woman who could be threatened by her. But the gates of hell were threatened by her. The devil was driven out by her. And she was a good Presbyterian, so whenever she would gather a group of believers, she would start a church and send for a man to pastor the church. And then she said, now the place is safe for the men. I'll move on. Someplace dangerous.

Someplace dangerous. There was a great story where a man came to visit her where she had started a new station and found her painting. And he said to her, Mary Slessor, you're painting on the Sabbath day? And she said, oh, I've lost track of time. I didn't know it was the Sabbath.

I thought Sabbath was tomorrow. And she was undone, not carefully keeping the Sabbath and realized she was so isolated, so alone, it was difficult to keep the days straight. And yet she was doing the work of the Lord. And although she was not really trained in medicine, she had enough just Western sense about medicine that she could do a great deal of good for people in the area, and they saw her love and were so persuaded. And the Spirit of God was at work to protect her and to use her in remarkable ways. When she observed the violence, even including cannibalism amongst the people, she said, man can do nothing with such a people.

Had I not felt my Savior close beside me, I would have lost my reason. And yet she did feel Him close. One of the interesting things is she had to prepare very carefully for her own death because she was very afraid that they would dig up her bones to use them in superstitious magic, those who had not been converted. And so she made careful care to make sure that she was buried where her grave could not be molested.

As her health deteriorated, she said, don't talk about the cold hand of death. It is the hand of Christ. Now you can see why those stories made such an impact, why those stories moved others to go on the mission field and why there was success and such power on the mission field. There were problems on the mission field. There was the problem of how do we disconnect the church from these imperial powers? How quickly do we move indigenous ministers into taking over the church? How dependent should the church be on the mission agency?

How quickly should we try to get them to be independent? And some missions did a lot better with those questions than other missions. In India, the missionaries provided a lot of food for people, but the concern became are the people coming to the missions just rice Christians as they were known? Do they come just for the food, or do they come for Christ?

How do we balance our social concern with our religious concern? And as I say, the missions sometimes kept the churches too dependent on the Westerners, didn't allow local leadership to take control soon enough. And we can look back and we can be very critical to a lot of these people, but they went, and they preached, and they loved, and they made a difference. And I think it's really important for us as Christians today to think that while many in Europe were going just for wealth and power and influence and empire, there was an army of people going for Christ and for his gospel and to plant his church. And today, we see the fruits of that all around the world. It's estimated that I think close to half the population of South Korea today is Christian by affiliation.

Certain regions of Nigeria are strongly Christian. The impact will really only be known in eternity, but the 19th century and on into the early 20th century, you know, changing from one century to another on the calendar doesn't mean that all historical events immediately shift gear. But the 19th century and on into the early 20th century were really the great period of missions and the great period in which the Lord was not only bringing many people to faith, but also laying foundations that would be powerfully used later. I remember talking to a pastor in Indonesia, and I said to him, you know, there's very little fruit in the 17th century to Dutch Reformed missions.

Was that effort really worth the effort? And he said, oh, they translated the Bible into our language. They gave us a Psalter in our language. Those foundations, although not powerfully fruitful in their own day, were wonderfully productive later in the history of the church. And that's part of what makes history so challenging. We can't always see how little beginnings will sometimes centuries later grow into great blessing. So it's wonderful to remember as we go into the 20th century with a variety of discouragements, as we bring this lecture to an end, that there are great encouragements in the 20th century. That's a good reminder, isn't it, that our efforts for Christ, no matter how weak and frail, can produce fruit.

We know that the Word of God does not return void. As we discovered today, those early 20th century missionaries influenced so much of the church culture through the 1950s and beyond, and it's easy to see why people's imaginations were sparked when they heard of men and women sacrificing for the gospel. We're glad you joined us for Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday. I'm Lee Webb, and all week we're featuring a portion of Dr. Robert Godfrey's series, A Survey of Church History. It's a complete examination of the growth of the church, and when you give a donation of any about today, we'll be glad to send you a portion of the series we're covering this week on the 20th century. There are 12 messages on two DVDs, and you can request them when you go online to or when you call us.

Our number is 800-435-4343. Here at Ligonier Ministries, our desire is to come alongside the local church to offer helpful resources on many subjects, including church history, but also on Christian living, worldview, biblical studies, and theology. Our founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul, thought it vital that we as Christians know what we believe and why we believe it. Dr. Godfrey's series is just one of many helpful resources we have produced over the years. And again, we'd be happy to send you this 12-DVD set for your donation of any amount. Our number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address is Sometimes we use words so often that they begin to lose their meaning. In the church culture of the 20th century, two words fell into that category, evangelical and fundamentalist. Tomorrow, Dr. Godfrey will define those terms and explore their impact on the church. So we hope you'll join us Wednesday for Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-25 00:50:26 / 2023-11-25 00:59:26 / 9

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