During the Great Century of missions, how did the colonial and imperial mindset of the west influence the practices of missionaries? What were some positive and negative outcomes of this mission mentality? Is this still a factor for today?
Making the distinction between Our Culture, Their Culture, and God's Culture wasn't easy for protestant missionaries for who took advantage of the nations' zeal to colonize distant lands in the 19th Century (the Great Century of missions). As a result, The Great Commission came back into focus and Christ was preached around the globe, but in a mixed message that challenged natives to extract the Truth of the gospel from the cultural baggage of Europe.
Every people (except those oppressed into submission) suffers from a Social Darwinism that naturally inclines them to assume Our Culture is God's Culture, naturally leaving Their Culture as inferior. Only those with means to express their ethnocentrism are the ones that make history. However, unlike Assyria, Babylon, or Rome, Europe girded their cultural expansion as a mandate from God (Gen 12:26-28), expanding man's dominion of the Earth to include their fellow man. While redefining racism as the White Man's Burden to “civilize” other cultures did bring new technology, medicine, and education it reaped few lasting benefits. Christianity was seen as inherently Western instead of as the good news of a redeemed relationship with God.
Whether we are called to share the gospel overseas, or to our neighbors across the street, we must relearn what the early Church realized at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), that Jesus Christ is the God of all cultures. If we expect the seeds of the gospel (Matt. 13) to look identical in every culture then, we'll repeat the past's mistakes by demanding a flower pot and hinder the gospel from rooting in each culture's native soil. This contextualization (1Cor 9:19-23) requires removing what blinds us to our native culture so we can best share Christ even if it impacts our ideas of what church and worship should look like. If we insist on patriotism or our personal traditions, then we too will elevate Our Culture over Their Culture calling it God's Culture.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.