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The Social Trinity in the Life of the Church: An Evaluation from a Central American Perspective

This paper explores the dynamics between the trinitarian nature of God and ecclesiology in Central America in order to suggest a better theological understanding for the worship and mission of Churches of Christ in Central America. The history of Churches of Christ in Central America dates back to the 1960s.1 Salvadorian missionaries graduated from the Sunset Bible School in Texas and established the church in Nicaragua in 1969. Their formation was rooted in the spirit of the Texas tradition, which emphasized preaching as making plain God’s requirements in the plan of salvation and a focus on the marks of the true church found in Acts and the Pauline epistles, such as its name, terms of admission, and organization.2 In contrast, this paper argues that the Christian faith, practice, worship, and proclamation of Churches of Christ in Central America must be shaped by a holistic trinitarian vision inviting human beings to align with the life of the Holy Trinity.

There has been a reemergence of the doctrine of the Trinity in modern theology.3 This interest is, in large part, the result of the groundbreaking efforts of Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics.4 By placing the doctrine of the Trinity at the beginning of his theology, Barth challenges theologians to consider the experience of God as triune as the proper starting point for Christian theology.

Churches of Christ in Central America neglect the doctrine of the Trinity and its importance for Christian faith, worship, and community.5 This paper is a theological examination of the doctrine of the social Trinity from the perspective of liberation theology in particular. This paper proceeds in three steps. First, there is an examination of the doctrine of the social Trinity in the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Miroslav Volf. Second, there is an evaluation of the arguments pointing to key theological issues with the doctrine. Finally, this paper will offer suggestions for Churches of Christ in Central America to apply the doctrine of the social Trinity to its worship and mission.

There is a particular challenge, however, that the doctrine of the Trinity must overcome, namely its relevance for Christian ministry. Given the doctrine’s complex problems, including its central conceptual threeness-oneness relation, the Trinity is considered at best paradoxical or mysterious, at worst, contradictory.6 Further, this misguided perception of the Trinity as irrelevant for Christian ministry is, in part, rooted in the Western theological tradition, which emphasizes the unity or oneness of the Godhead, following the tradition of Augustine.7 Augustine used a series of “psychological” analogies which related the Trinity to the human person, including the mind, knowledge, and love.8 The Western tradition therefore tends to emphasize divine oneness in order to stress the equality of the three persons. The Eastern church, by contrast, was influenced by the Cappadocian fathers. They used more “social” analogies than Augustine.9 For instance, Peter, James and John all are persons who share a single, common humanity and could form a community.10 The Eastern tradition thus emphasizes the monarchy of the Father along with the threeness of the persons.

This general overview sheds light on a contemporary trinitarian emphasis that this paper takes up, namely the social model of the Trinity.11 The contemporary theological articulation of the social Trinity begins with Jürgen Moltmann. He rejects the individualistic concept of experience espoused by Schleiermacher and followed by Liberal Protestants.12 Likewise, Moltmann integrates the experience of the self into the experience of God. He writes that “experience of God has to be integrated into the trinitarian history of God with the world.”13 The image of God therefore should not be sought in human individuality alone but also in human sociality.14 The focus then is not only on the individual experience of God but also on social relationships and human society. The human experience of God as Triune is a communal experience of the revelation of the immanent Trinity. Moltmann argues for the significance of perichoresis. He writes that in the doctrine of the Trinity, the term perichoresis is used to capture the mutual indwelling of the equal divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.15 All life thus is community in communication.16 This implies that through their mutual indwelling the divine persons are giving each other themselves and the divine life in selfless love.17

The social emphasis of the doctrine of the Trinity finds support among liberation theologians. Some of the key representatives among liberation theologians from Latin America include Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff. They are relevant for discussing the social Trinity because they share the conviction that the church’s mission to the world includes challenging unjust political and social structures that oppress and marginalize human beings.18

Liberation theologians also highlight community and relationship at the core of the Trinity. Leonardo Boff writes, “By the name of God, Christian faith expresses the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in eternal correlation, interpenetration and love, to the extent that they form one God.”19 The divine community and interpenetration within the Trinity becomes a theological model for understanding human dynamics, including society.20

Boff explains that as creatures, humans are the image and likeness of God. The relationality of God as three personae with the creation means that God is absolute openness, supreme presence, total immediacy, eternal transcendence, and infinite communion.21 The implication of Boff’s argument is that God must be perceptible in true form in the historical revelation of Scripture.22 In order to recover God’s image, humans are invited to participate in communion with the Trinity, because to be a persona means to be in a relationship both with God and creation.

Ecclesiology plays a major theological role for Boff’s understanding of the social Trinity. He expresses that the church is the community of faith, hope, and love seeking to live the ideal of union proposed by Jesus “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21).23 Boff supports his ecclesiology with the help of Tertullian when he argues that the church is the body of the three divine Persons, suggesting that by the living out of faith, sharing in worship, and the holy organizing of the church, something is made known of the mystery of the Father, of the intelligence of the Son, and of the love of the Holy Spirit.24

Boff rejects the efforts of Barth and Rahner in replacing the term person in trinitarian language.25 He finds their terms insufficient because they are very abstract, and they fail to deal with the trinity of Persons and the relationships stirring among them. “Ultimately,” Boff adds, “these approaches do not manage to escape from monotheism, and they run the risk of modalism.”26

Gustavo Gutiérrez is another key liberation theologian. He explains the significance of the immanent Trinity in human experience. The encounter with God takes place in the encounter with our neighbor.27

Gutiérrez affirms that there is a close connection between creation and salvation.28 For Gutiérrez salvation encompasses a progression from “the less human to the more human.”29 Gutiérrez wants to avoid a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. Salvation should also contribute to concrete human life.30

The concern for reaching a better understanding of the Trinity in liberation theology comes from the way people experience God. The doctrine of the social Trinity therefore becomes an interpretative model for understanding God in relation to the world. Moreover, to speak of the Trinity in terms of community is to understand God as being relational in nature.31

During the 1960s, there were several revolutions going on in different Latin American countries. Some of these revolutions did not survive even a decade.32 Central America also experienced various revolutions during the 1980s. These war conflicts contributed to poverty and marginalization. How do humans experience God in these conflicts? Again, how does the church, the community of God, experience the Triune God in war and poverty? In view of such questions, community is a significant theological issue for those at the margins of society.33

The relational and communal nature of God is at the core of the doctrine of the Trinity. When Christians invoke God as Father and Son, they are using analogical language that refers to God in terms of parental and filial relationships.34 The practical implication of this trinitarian language is that it reveals to us a God who is relational and communal, thus humans too must be relational and in community.35

Social trinitarians, therefore, conceive a God who is both “one and three” and whose being consists in a relationality that derives from the “otherness-in-relation” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.36 Moreover, the objective of the revelation of the Triune God in human history is to invite creation to enter into the eternal relationality of the Trinity. Iain Taylor writes, “the triune God of reconciliation is the same triune God of creation.”37

The divine community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the origin of human community. The implication is that as the origin of human community, the Trinity is the model that human community, first the church and then society at large, should imitate. Moreover, this theological assumption is a variant of the Eastern Orthodox theme of divinization. Donald Fairbairn agrees when he writes that “the concept of deification was primarily a way to focus on the relational aspects of sonship . . . thus sharing by grace in the fellowship the Son has with the Father by nature.”38

Miroslav Volf, another social trinitarian, points to the novelty of the social implications of the theme of divinization. He argues that Nicholas Federov interprets the resurrection of Christ as a new ontological state for humanity.39 Likewise, this new ontological state has a major ethical implication for humanity. The gospel is more than just the good news of what God has done: “the Gospel is a social project humanity needs to accomplish.”40

But the question remains, is it possible for human society to imitate the relational and communal life of the Trinity? Moreover, given the influence of sin on humankind, to what extent is the Trinity a valid model for organizing human society and relationships? I will now evaluate the arguments of social trinitarians in order to highlight some key issues.

Ted Peters rejects the attempts of Federov and other social trinitarians to try to use the Trinity as a model for human society. He writes that what attracts social trinitarians is the category of community rather than personality for understanding God.41 In addition, Peters affirms that the ideal of a nonhierarchical community wherein relationships come prior to persons, as espoused by social trinitarians, is the product of the emerging postmodern Western mind.42 Peters therefore argues that the kingdom or reign of God is a better theological basis for human community.43 The symbol of the kingdom or reign of God includes the basic elements that social trinitarians argue for, including a call for social justice, images of a world community at peace, and an expectation of the eschatological kingdom of God.44

Volf is also aware of limitations of modeling human society on the Trinity.45 First, since ontically human beings are not divine, trinitarian concepts such as “person,” “relation,” and “perichoresis” should be applied to human community only in an analogous rather than a univocal sense.46 The implication is that as creatures, human beings can correspond to the uncreated God only in a creaturely way.47 The second limitation is human sin.48 Accordingly, in history human beings cannot be made into the perfect creaturely images of the Triune God because this will be realized in the coming of the eschatological kingdom. The implication of this second limitation is that human beings have the possibility to correspond to God in historical ways as well.49 That is, humans can act to shape history and society to speed up the coming of the kingdom.

Volf therefore revises the methodology of the doctrine of the social Trinity. He argues that the methodology of interpreting the Trinity as the model for human community should not start from above, that is, not from the doctrine of the Trinity down to a vision of social realities.50 Rather, Volf adds, the conceptual elaboration of the correspondences must be interpreted as a two-way street, both from above and from below.51

Mark Husbands rejects the methodology proposed by Volf.52 He examines the doctrine of the social Trinity defended by Volf and offers a critique of its theology. Accordingly, Husbands shares a basic rule to measure the relative value of a given proposal regarding the doctrine of the Trinity: “A theology that purports to be properly ‘trinitarian’—and by this I mean consistent with both the biblical witness and Nicene Christianity—must preserve an ontological distinction between God and humanity in order to maintain an order consistent with their distinct natures.”53 This rule is important because it helps to be aware of some of the dangers of the social Trinity presented by Volf and liberation theologians. First, failure to maintain the ontological distinction between the Trinity and human beings would lead to the eclipse of the doctrine of God by any number of contemporary social, cultural, or political agendas.54

Second, the proposal of Volf and social trinitarians from liberation theology runs the risk of reducing the doctrine of God to ecclesiology and the doctrine of ecclesiology to social practices.55 This critique echoes the concerns of the International Theological Commission, appointed by the Catholic Church after Vatican II to examine liberation theology. The Commission concluded that the force and dynamism of God’s word do not consist in its function of stimulating social and political change.56

Moreover, the practice of Christian faith cannot be reduced to changing conditions in society, because it also involves conscience formation, changes of attitude, and adoration of God.57 Therefore, a proper understanding of the doctrine of God and the practice of Christian faith are key elements for a vision of the Trinity that honors the biblical witness and Nicene Christianity.

What is the function of the doctrine of the social Trinity from a Central American perspective? The basic function must be to ground Christian faith, worship, and practice in a trinitarian vision of God that empowers the church to become a community in imitation of the revelation of the immanent Trinity. This paper will offer suggestions to Churches of Christ in Central America in order to stimulate interest in the doctrine of the social Trinity.

First, the theological heritage of Churches of Christ in Central America continues to ignore the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity for Christian faith, worship, and practice. Moreover, some parts of the region are constantly threatened by social injustice, political corruption, and poverty. While there is no such a thing as a “normative” liberation theory of salvation,58 there is one central emphasis to be observed: The view of God’s manifold activity for the sake of creation, described in the Scriptures as deliverance, redemption, justification, and salvation, should be understood holistically.59 Further, this holistic view challenges Churches of Christ in Central America not to limit the work of the Triune God to the “spiritual” area of life because salvation is integral, thus impacting all areas of human concern including social justice. The work of the Trinity frees human beings from sin while at the same time condemning injustice in any form, including political and social injustice.

Second, the mission of the church must also be transformed by the doctrine of the social Trinity. Bonino argues that mission is participation in the fullness of God’s mission; therefore evangelization cannot but be a testimony to God’s good creation and an announcement of God’s justice with a call to practice and serve it.60 The Trinity, nevertheless, should not be reduced to ecclesiology, but rather the Trinity should shape our understanding of the church as a community transformed by the Trinity to participate in the life of the Trinity.

Finally, the doctrine of the social Trinity proposed by Moltmann, and followed by Boff, Gutiérrez, and Volf must be qualified, lest the ontological distinction between God and man be blurred. Thus, Churches of Christ in Central America must proclaim that the New Testament speaks primarily of liberation from sin and death. Therefore, the New Testament stresses that no genuine change in society will occur except through conversion to Jesus Christ.61 Therefore, the Christian faith, practice, worship, and proclamation of Churches of Christ in Central America must be shaped by a holistic trinitarian vision inviting human beings to align with the life of the Holy Trinity. Human society will change only if it aligns with God.

Lenin Munguia (MDiv, Harding School of Theology) is a Nicaraguan missionary among Churches of Christ. He has served as Bible teacher in various undergraduate programs in Central America, as well as preacher and missionary in Honduras, Venezuela, and the US. Lenin and his wife and son, Mateo, are currently working with Churches of Christ in Managua, Nicaragua, as missionaries of the Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, TX.

1 See further D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds., The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice, 2013): 285–310.

2 Ibid., 152.

3 Norman Metzler, “The Trinity in Contemporary Theology: Questioning the Social Trinity,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003): 271.

4 Ibid. The significance of Barth cannot be overstated. Ted Peters affirms that his significance lies in the fact that Barth places the doctrine of the Trinity at the beginning of his systematic theology. Peter argues that the trinitarian distinctions belong to the primary utterances of the Christian experience. Our most primitive experience with God is as Father or as Son or as Spirit. See further Ted Peters, God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in Divine Life (Louisville: John Knox, 1993), 38–9.

5 This is the author’s understanding of Christian ministry among Churches of Christ in Central America since his ministry experience in the region began in 2003.

6 Thomas R. Thompson, “Trinitarianism Today: Doctrinal Renaissance, Ethical Relevance, Social Redolence,” Calvin Theological Journal 32 (1997): 9.

7 Daniel J. Treier and David Lauber, “Introduction,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, ed. Daniel J. Treier and David Lauber (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), 12.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid. However, this analogy, as well as other social analogies, runs the risk of tritheism.

11 Metzler, 271.

12 Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 4–5.

13 Ibid., 5.

14 Ibid., 199.

15 Jürgen Moltmann, “Perichoresis: An Old Magic World for a New Trinitarian Theology,” in Trinity, Community, and Power: Mapping Trajectories in Wesleyan Theology, ed. M. Douglas Meeks (Nashville: Kingswood, 2000), 114. Although the term perichoresis is not found in the New Testament, two passages traditionally used to describe its meaning are John 10:38 and 14:10. For a brief historical survey of the use of the term perichoresis see Michael G. Lawler, “Perichoresis: New Theological Wine in an Old Theological Wineskin,” Horizons 22 (1995): 49–54.

16 Moltmann, “Perichoresis,” 113.

17 Ibid., 115.

18 Mary E. Hines, “Community for Liberation,” in Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, ed. Catherine Mowry LaCugna (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 165.

19 Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 9.

20 Ibid.

21 Leonardo Boff, “Trinitarian Community and Social Liberation,” Cross Currents 38 (1988): 295.

22 Ibid.

23 Leonardo Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, trans. Phillip Berryman (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000), 43. All biblical references in this paper are taken from the English Standard Version.

24 Ibid., 44. The organization here refers to the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The ecclesiology of the majority of Churches of Christ in Central America is structured around the figure of the preacher.

25 Ibid., 51. Boff rejects Barth’s “three modes of being” and Rahner’s “three modes of subsistence.”

26 Ibid., 52.

27 Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Toward a Theology of Liberation,” in Liberation Theology: A Documentary History, trans. and ed. Alfred T. Hennelly (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990), 74.

28 Ibid., 71.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 73.

31 Luis G. Pedraja, “Trinity,” in Handbook of U.S. Theologies of Liberation, ed. Miguel A. De La Torre (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), 53.

32 Phillip Berryman, “Latin American Liberation Theology,” in Handbook of U.S. Theologies of Liberation, ed. Miguel A. De La Torre (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004), 142.

33 Pedraja, 53.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Quentin P. Kinnison, “The Social Trinity and the Southwest: Toward a Local Theology in the Borderlands,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 35 (2008): 262.

37 Iain Taylor, Pannenberg on the Triune God (New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 139. Taylor explains that Pannenberg affirms that the work of the Spirit in reconciliation is the continuation of his creative work as the origin of all life.

38 Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), 9.

39 Miroslav Volf, “The Trinity Is Our Social Program: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Shape of Social Engagement,” Modern Theology 14 (1998): 403.

40 Ibid.

41 Ted Peters, God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in Divine Life (Louisville: John Knox, 1993), 184.

42 Ibid., 185.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Volf, 405.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid. For Volf, then, the doctrine of the Trinity first functions to name the reality that human communities ought to image, and then the doctrines of creation and sin inform the way in which human communities can image the Triune God. See Ibid., 406.

52 Mark Husbands, “The Trinity Is Not Our Social Program: Volf, Gregory of Nyssa and Barth,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, ed. Daniel J. Treier and David Lauber (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), 120–41.

53 Ibid., 121.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 122.

56 Arthur F. McGovern, Liberation Theology and Its Critics: Toward an Assessment (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989), 51.

57 Ibid.

58 José Míguez Bonino, “Salvation as the Work of the Trinity: An Attempt at a Holistic Understanding from a Latin American Perspective,” in Trinity, Community, and Power: Mapping Trajectories in Wesleyan Theology, ed. M. Douglas Meeks (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 2000), 71.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid., 82.

61 McGovern, 51.

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Stewardship of Creation

Ananias Moses

Environmental problems reveal the sinful nature of humanity that is characterized by greed, materialism, consumerism, and other harmful human activities. A response to the crisis, therefore, demands a radical transformation of character: people changing who they are in relation to the environment and becoming virtuous and faithful stewards of the creation of God.

Environmental problems such as global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification, drought, and pollutions of water, land, and air are not primarily scientific or natural problems. These are mostly moral or ethical problems caused by the sinful nature of humanity (anthropogenic activities). They reveal a moral character of humanity—a character corrupted by sins such as pride, greed, materialism, consumerism, egocentrism, and indiscriminate use of modern science and technology. As Clifford Cain posits:

The environmental problems we see and know are but the symptoms of an underlying disease—a disease that, like a cancer, lies at the center of our social body and threatens the health of the whole organism, as well as the integrity of earth’s ecosystem: And that disease is greed, materialism, consumerism, and short-term thinking.1

Since environmental problems primarily emanate from human morality, to avert them demands a radical change of character—a change of who people are in relation to God, others, and the environment. This understanding of the ecological crisis suggests that instead of merely asking what should be done to address the crisis, people should first and foremost ask who they are in relation to the environment. When people are who God created them to be—that is, faithful stewards of God’s creation—they embody an ecologically friendly attitude and a godly spirit that delights in God’s creation. Who people are shapes how they behave. In other words, behavior is a reflection of the inner, core being—the character. As Steven Bouma-Prediger rightly points out, “How we live depends on who we are, and who we are depends on the stories we identify with. Practices are rooted in character, and character is rooted in a story.”2 People are shaped by their community and individual stories, which eventually become embedded in their identity and culture.3 An ecological response, therefore, calls for people to identify with God’s creation story, which then defines their purpose of existence—they are stewards of God’s creation (Gen 2:15).

Ecological Problems

Human ability to alter the environment has increased tremendously, whereas the capacity of the environment to cope with these alterations is limited. With the rise of philosophies such as environmental possibilism, people believe they are in control of all possibilities.4 Through the use of science and technology, they have assumed power to alter the environment for their own good.

Many modern cultures are driven by material possessions and economic productivity to the extent that identity and success are defined in those terms. In pursuit of accumulation, humanity has become more egocentric and exploitative of each other and the earth.5 Materialism takes away the joy and happiness of the society, which comes from being who God created them to be—faithful stewards of creation.

When people see that their identity and worthiness are based on who God created them to be, and they daily live as stewards of God’s creation, they are freed from the “bondage of a materialistic consumer society . . . a hedonistic culture based on creating insatiable human consumers.”6 Through this story, God calls people to foster a spirit of contentment, temperance, appreciation of the beauty of the earth, and cooperation with God in taking care of it.

Materialism creates a consumeristic culture that views the earth as having only utilitarian value. Richard Young argues that “the growth of science and technology . . . coupled with economic structure of our society, has obliterated any notion of intrinsic value in the subhuman world. It has turned nature into a secularized object be to observed, analyzed, controlled, exploited, and used apart from any reference to God.”7 Yet, the earth has intrinsic value. God did not only create the earth to be utilized by people but also for his own purpose and pleasure. The whole earth belongs to him.

All living things depend on a healthy environment for survival. In addition, there is interdependence and interrelatedness within the creation. When a person is created, he is called adam in Hebrew because he is made from ⁽adamah (ground). Therefore, people are not totally distinct from the rest of creation—they are part of it. The psalter says, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14).8 The only difference between human beings and other creations is the image of God in them. When the environment suffers, human beings likewise suffer. So, to exploit nature is to do injustice to ourselves, God, and to deny creation its natural right to glorify God (Ps 148; 150). One characteristic of a godly and righteous person is taking care of other creatures (Prov 12:10). Materialism destroys the communal existence of creation and robs humanity of the blessings and grace of loving and taking care of the earth.

It is unfortunate that the church also falls into consumeristic culture. When this happens, the church forgets God’s creation story and its stewardship mission and hence detaches itself from the rest of creation. It only focuses on its own redemption and forgets God’s comprehensive redemption (including creation). Furthermore, the church often keeps silent while the predatory economy destroys the earth. No other institution or community should better understand its living relationship with creation than God’s community. If the church lives out its holistic mission (Gen 2:15), its lifestyle of benevolence and creation care may transform the watching world.9 The church should take its role as steward seriously in order to show the world true worthiness and identity is found in God’s creation story.

Christianity and Ecology

Even though Christianity is said to be ecologically oriented, many Christians have not lived as faithful stewards of God’s creation. Their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors tend to portray Christianity as an anti-ecological faith. According to Kellert and Berry, when people attend religious services frequently, they become less knowledgeable about “environmental issues and are more utilitarian.”10 Christians who only focus on the redemption story tend to forget that the biblical narrative begins with creation and ends envisioning a new creation. When Christians neglect the creation story, there is a need for humility to redefine their ecotheology because the Christian faith is not ecologically bankrupt.

In Genesis 1:28, people are commanded to subdue and have dominion over the earth. This text does not encourage Christians to neglect or exploit the earth as some scholars, like Lynn White Jr., have suggested.11 Instead, the text commands people to exercise authority and rule as God rules. God is a King; his sovereignty is characterized by compassion, love, justice, patience, humility, service, mercy, honesty, power, and wisdom. Similarly, Bouma-Prediger points out that to rule and have dominion in this context does not necessarily mean domination but service. “For Jesus, to rule is to serve. To exercise dominion is to suffer…for the good of the other.”12 In Genesis 2:15, YHWH commands people to work and keep the Garden of Eden. According to Christopher Wright, the verb ⁽abad means to serve. Moreover, human beings “are servants of creation, and that is the way they are to exercise their kingship over it. The verb samar means to keep something safe, with protection, care, and watchfulness. It means treating something (or someone) seriously as worthy of devoted attention.”13 Christian Scripture is not ecologically bankrupt, nor does it perpetuate exploitation of the earth. Rather, it is the followers of Scripture who fail to be faithful to it. God calls people to be like him by taking care of his creation, for the story of God’s people begins with caring for creation.

One of the reasons some Christians may neglect the task of creation stewardship is misunderstanding of the doctrine of eschatology. They argue that since Jesus Christ is coming soon to take saints with him and destroy the earth, it is therefore pointless to take care of the earth. Texts such 2 Pet 3:10–13 and 1 Thess 4:13–18 are sometimes used to support such beliefs. An alternative reading of these texts, however, shows that the earth will not be totally destroyed, and the saints will not escape from it. In 2 Pet 3: 10–13, the writer says the earth will be found (eurisko), and it will be redeemed, restored, and purified by fire.14 God is not going to make all new things but rather all things new. In 1 Thess 4: 13-18, Paul is talking about Christians joining Christ in the royal procession and ushering him to the earth as he comes down to redeem the whole creation and reign on a renewed earth. The verb apantao (v. 17) means “to go out and meet a visiting dignitary in the final stage of his journey in order to escort him back to your city (e.g., Matt 25:6; Acts 28:15).”15 The New Jerusalem will come down and there will be no separation between heaven and earth. God will dwell among his people on a redeemed earth. Redemption and salvation is not escape from the earth: rather, the Lord will descend and claim it for himself.

Virtues and Ecology

Godly character is the foundation of human life and stewardship of creation. It is indispensable for a healthy relationship with others and with nonhuman species. In Gal 5:22–23, Paul lists some of the fundamental virtues (fruit of the spirit) people should develop in order to have a godly character. If people were to be shaped by these virtues, their relation to earth would be godly, and they could avert some of the environmental problems the world is facing.

One of the virtues needed to nurture a godly ecological spirit and attitude is love. God creates everything out of his divine love and for his own purpose. His unconditional love is perfectly manifested in his relationship to his creation. Creation “highlights God’s closeness to and almost motherly care for creation.”16 God demonstrates his agape love by calling his creation to participate in his divine creativity. The earth is commanded to produce all other species (Gen 1:11), and every living thing is commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Furthermore, God does not leave his creation to run itself—he is in charge. Bouma-Prediger notes that the universe is not autonomous: “It exists solely because of the continuous care and sustenance of God its Creator.”17 He is the God who is involved in the affairs of his creation; he is transcendent yet immanent to his creation.

In 1 Cor 13, Paul highlights the importance of love that is humble, kind, patient, and not envious. If people were to be shaped by this love, they would reflect the character of God to the whole creation. God is kind, loving, patient, and humble to his creation, hence, those who love God should be like him. To love creation does not mean deifying it but to see and value it as the Creator does; he delights in his creation (Gen 1:31).

Love is the greatest theological virtue (1 Cor 13); on it the whole of the law and prophets rest (Matt 22:36–40). When people have love, they seek the best interests and well-being of other human beings and nonhuman things. In addition, they care, respect, and value God’s creation for its intrinsic value and not only for its utilitarian values. With love, people are temperate and disciplined; they are capable of controlling their behaviors and actions for the common good of others. People display proper attitudes and behavior toward the things they love. Lack of love leads to egocentrism and a disregard for the well-being of God’s creation. It also leads to dishonest dealing with others, including exploiting the earth.

Other important Christian virtues are faith and hope. Christian faith and hope are rooted in the creation, redemption, resurrection, and eschatology narratives. Faith is the assurance and confidence in God who created the universe and sustains it. It is by faith that God calls his people to share his story—the story of creation and redemption. In participating in the story, people identify with it, and it shapes their character. The story then becomes part of their lives. Where there is faith, there is also hope. There is hope that God is coming again to redeem and restore the earth. The Christian life should be characterized by faith and hope in the promises of God who will bring a perfect earthly future. According to Cameron Lee, “Hope, reorients our existence so that we live toward the promise of a consummated Kingdom. We enter the narrative by faith, and in hope, we actively direct ourselves towards the climax.”18 Nonhuman species also share this faith and hope. The whole creation is groaning in pains waiting for redemption (Rom 8:21–23).

Faith asserts that people are earth-keepers, hence they are morally obliged to act responsibly, preserve the earth, and act for the common good of other creatures in such a way that other species will continue to exist in the future. Without faith and hope, people lose their godly identity and purpose, and consequently they cannot envision a perfectly future earth where the whole creation will thrive. Additionally, without faith and hope, people become destructive to themselves and the earth.

With virtues such as love, faith, hope, patience, self-control, and others, people are able to embody a virtuous practice and spirit of Sabbath or rest. Their souls are able to find joy, peace, and contentment in Sabbath. Sabbath then becomes part of their lifestyle. Sabbath is one of the rare lifestyle practices in our consumerism driven society. Workaholism and restlessness are often celebrated by our community stories. Sabbath provides an opportunity for people to reflect upon their true identity as children of God and what is meaningful in their lives. It calls people to focus on something greater than themselves and their materials needs. Walter Brueggemann points out that the Sabbath calls people “to an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”19 The foundation of understanding rest as a virtuous practice is the creation narrative in Genesis. After completion of creation, God entered Sabbath; he took time to celebrate, appreciate, and enjoy the existence of his creation. Likewise, Sabbath gives people time to heal, share, reflect, and enjoy the presence of God, others, and creation. Furthermore, it reminds people that while work is good, it is not the sole purpose of human life, nor is the acquisition of goods. The goal of human life is to have a meaningful communion with God, one another, and the earth.20

Sabbath gives people an opportunity to renew their trust and dependence on God. It is in Sabbath where people see God not only as the Creator and Redeemer of the universe but also as the Sustainer and Provider of everything. It is such trust in God which cultivates a steadfast spirit and content heart. The Sabbath reminds people that God is in charge of his creation and not them.

Sabbath also applies to nonhuman things under the care of people. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites specific laws for taking care of the land and animals. This was meant to promote health and prevent creation from being exploited and overworked (Exod 23:10–12). Also, the book of Leviticus promotes proper sanitation. During wars, God demanded that the fruit trees not be indiscriminately destroyed (Deut 20:19–20). When the Sabbath becomes part of people’s character; they reflect the beautiful biblical narrative of creation, redemption, and imagery of well-being, gratitude, trust, faith, and love for God and his creation.21

In conclusion, our ecological crisis reveals the moral character of humanity. By our actions, we have shown that we have aligned ourselves with the consumerism story instead of God’s creation story. A response to the ecological crisis calls for a change of narrative and of character. It calls us to be virtuous and faithful stewards of God’s creation. And so, stewardship of creation becomes part of our identity and purpose. We share in the divine life and mission of God. We join him in cultivating and keeping the earth, and together we delight in the beauty of creation.

Ananias Moses lives in Oodi, Botswana, where he works as a minister. He also serves the community by facilitating health-related activities, particularly activities that sensitize and educate people about HIV/AIDS.

1 Clifford C. Cain, “Down to Earth Theology: Reclaiming our Responsibility for Creation and Embracing Biblical Stewardship,” American Baptist Quarterly, 30, nos. 3–4 (2011): 277.

2 Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian Vision for Creation Care (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 134.

3 In African culture, everything is summed up in the concept of God and religion. God is the Creator and Giver of every life, hence every life is sacred and should be preserved. There is mutual interdependence between human beings and the earth. The well-being of a person is closely connected to the well-being of the whole creation. In other words, a person is not distinct from his or her environment. The earth is considered to be the mother of all living things. She is kind, loving, caring, and generous to all her children. However, she is able to curse or withhold her blessings if she is mistreated or disrespected. Environmental issues such as famine, infertile soil, and rainfall variability are, therefore, seen as a sign that God and mother earth are displeased with the behavior of the earth’s inhabitants. When this happens, people have to pray and confess their sins to God. Some make sacrifices to appease the spirits (libations are poured to ancestors’ spirits). When mother earth is purified and appeased, the relationship between the mother and children is restored. Taboos are cultural conservation strategies which ensure that nonhuman species are protected and preserved from those who deviated from the cultural ecological norm. One should point out that this cultural ecological belief is changing due to the impact of secularization and postmodernity. In addition, the rise of industrialization has led to commercialization and consumeristic attitudes. Mother earth is less appreciated for her intrinsic values.

4 Environmental possibilism is a philosophical belief that human beings have the ability to change their environment to meet their needs. It emphasizes alterations of the environment, and it is different from environmental determinism, which states that the environment shapes human culture and behaviors. Charles Whynne-Hammond, Elements of Human Geography (London: Collins Educational, 1985), 6.

5 Earth and environment are used interchangeably in this paper.

6 Joseph K. Sheldon and David K. Foster, “What Knowledge is Required for Responsible Stewardship of Creation?” Christian Scholar’s Review 32, no. 4 (2003): 366.

7 Richard A. Young, Healing the Earth: A Theocentric Perspective on Environmental Problems and their Solutions (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 80.

8 All biblical quotations in this article are taken from English Standard Version (ESV).

9 Millard J. Erickson, “Biblical Ethics of Ecology,” in The Earth is the Lord’s: Christians and the Environment, ed. Richard D. Land and Louis Moore (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 76–78.

10 S. R. Kellert and J. K. Berry, “Phase III: Knowledge, Affection and Basic Attitudes Toward Animals in American Society,” (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1980), quoted in Joseph K. Sheldon and David K. Foster, “What Knowledge is Required for Responsible Stewardship of Creation?” Christian Scholar’s Review 32, no. 4 (2003): 366.

11 Critics of Christianity charge that Christianity perpetuates environmental degradation in its endeavor to obey the Scripture. Lynn White Jr. blames Christianity for the rise of modern science and technology which have given people uncontrolled power to exploit the earth. Furthermore, he claims that Christianity is one of the anthropocentric religions. Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science, n.s., 155, no. 3767 (1967): 1203–7.

12 Bouma-Prediger, 64.

13 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: a Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 51.

14 Bouma-Prediger, 68–69.

15 Bouma-Prediger, 69–70.

16 Kyle D. Fedler, Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 73.

17 Bouma-Prediger, 135.

18 Cameron Lee, Beyond Family Values: A Call to Christian Virtue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 195.

19 Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), xiv.

20 Fedler, 110.

21 Jama L. White, Amanda M. Blackburn, and Mary K. Plisco, “Rest as a Virtue: Theological Foundations and Application to Personal and Professional Life,” Journal of Psychology & Theology 43, no. 2 (2015): 115.

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Missional Spirituality: A Case Study in the Pauline Spirituality or Paul’s Model for Contemporary Missionaries

This paper describes the characteristics of missional spirituality and proposes a model that is less isolationist and more participatory and empathetic, less fragmentary and more holistic. Using examples from Paul’s life and teachings as a case study, this paper overviews approaches to spirituality that influence missions and concludes by considering the relevance of such missional spirituality for churches in Brazil.

Today’s spirituality is very anthropocentric (human-centered), meaning the spiritual life is all about the person’s needs, desires, and beliefs. Focused on the personal growth of one’s faith and spirituality in their relationship with God, this kind of self-centered spirituality views the world as a threat and consequently isolates itself and flees rather than engaging with and aiming to transform the world.

Biblical spirituality, by contrast, is centered in God and our neighbor: focused on loving God and our neighbor (Mark 12:30–31) and serving God and others (1 John 4:20–21). This spirituality is missional because it calls us to embrace the missio Dei and to join God in his mission to redeem, restore, and transform this world.

Missional spirituality sees all our acts of service to God and our neighbor as acts of devotion to, worship of, and intimacy with God. From this perspective, these acts must be done with love in order to be acceptable to God and transformative to those around us (1 Cor 13:1–3).

This article proposes a model of spirituality that is less isolationist and more participatory and empathetic, less fragmentary and more holistic, and less inspired by human triumphalist models and more shaped by Jesus’s example of humility, suffering, and obedience as it was taught and exemplified by Paul.

A Human Spirituality

Spirituality is too often associated with doing and hardly considered being. The idea seems to be that the more we do activities considered spiritual, the more spiritual we become, and the less human we become. This conception seems to ignore the complexity of life and our humanity filled with conflicts, doubts, struggles, fears, and anxieties. Our humanity is an integral part of our spirituality.

The tendency of Brazilian believers has been to mask or try to suppress the reality of our humanity with all its weaknesses, limitations, and imperfections, and to project a narcissistic ideal of being that does not reflect our reality and our identity as humans and children of God. We imagine that God loves only the future and improved version of us, and until we reach it, we will have little of God and the Christian life to enjoy.

By contrast, a missional spirituality does not ignore our sinful, flawed, limited human condition, nor does it encourage the careless resignation that covers up carnal sins and passions that alienate us from the will of God. Instead, it promotes a happy and courageous self-acceptance. This kind of more human spirituality not only makes the Christian recognize his need and dependence on Christ and the grace of God to complete his incompleteness but it opens him up and sensitizes him to the condition of all people. The spiritual person treats others with empathy and grace and not with intolerance and condemnatory judgment.

It is understood: we are all human, sinners and needy for God and his love, and in him we find the way to a new humanity transformed in the image of his Son Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29). According to Paul, our humanity and fragility is considered as strength and efficacy in the task of being the recipients and proclaimers of the treasures of God’s grace and His kingdom (2 Cor 4:7). How? Paul himself answers by affirming that the excellence of power is from God and not from us. To glorify God as a minister is to depend on the power of God!

Among Brazilian Churches of Christ, the expectation for a good missionary and minister, a successful worker, is that he hardly makes mistakes. He does not go through suffering, he does not get depressed, he does not fail in his projects, he does not get sick, and he will always be successful and popular. This picture certainly does not describe Paul’s ministry. Paul in his missionary work shows that the missionary also bleeds, weeps, suffers, sins, fails, grieves, falls ill, and dies. Paul speaks in several of his letters of his struggles and sufferings.

  • Physical suffering (2 Cor 6:4–10; 11:23–30; Phil 3:12–14).
  • Emotional suffering: Paul suffered the pain of concern for the well-being of the churches (Col 1:24; 2 Cor 11:28), emotional pain for the lost (Rom 9:2), sorrow for the suffering of their fellow men (Phil 2:27–29). He also experienced the emotional pain of rejection, betrayal, and disappointment with fellow ministers (2 Tim 1:8, 15) and the ill-treatment of those who were served and blessed by him (1 Cor 4:9–13).
  • Solitude: Paul experienced the pain of loneliness and abandonment in the moments that he most needed companions (2 Tim 1:15–18; 4:9–13).
  • Failure: Paul experienced many failures in his ministry, both in terms of evangelization (Acts 14:1–5; 16:11–15, 31) and teamwork (Acts 15:36–41) and of the continuity of his work in the lives of the people he trained (2Tim 1:15–18; 4:9–13).

Our imperfection highlights the perfection of God. Our weakness highlights the power of God. God can and will act through a broken and imperfect humanity to reach a broken and imperfect humanity. We see this when Paul experienced being empowered by God in his imperfections in order to be a more effective missionary (2 Cor 12:9–10).

A human spirituality is an incarnated spirituality, as demonstrated by Paul, who assumes his condition and longs for his redemption. It is a spirituality that follows in the footsteps of the Son of God, who took on humanity to build a new humanity for God (Eph 2:15). It is a spirituality in a constant state of transformation to promote transformation in others.

A Holistic Spirituality

The typical view of spirituality tends to define and restrict spirituality to the mystical, individual, and inner dimension of one’s relationship with God. The practical manifestation of this type of spirituality is perceived in an emphasis on and practice of the spiritual disciplines and in the individual and community moments of worship and church activities. This view creates a dichotomy between what is considered spiritual (worship, fasting, Bible study) and what is considered secular (work, school, fun). So self-centered Christians often think that what we do for God is just what we do in the church building, on Sunday, and in the worship service.

This fragmentary and dualistic view of life and spirituality does not correspond to the biblical view of a full life (our whole life belongs to God) and to a complete spirituality (doing everything to glorify God) (1 Cor 10:31). A holistic spirituality is not confined to the church’s Sunday worship, but it reverberates on the other days of the week and with all the people we relate to outside the church. Holistic spirituality covers every aspect of our lives, not just activities considered spiritual or religious. God wants to be part of not only a fragment of our life but of our whole being and our whole experience.

The concepts of mission and spirituality are very broad and inclusive in the New Testament and especially in the example and ministry of Paul. They include every action of the Christian in public and private life to bring us closer to God and bring others closer to him through the gospel. A missional Christian is someone who understands that every place he steps is a mission field (work, school, family, neighborhood, and so on) and everything he does for God and his neighbor is spiritual.

Holistic spirituality according to Paul is a spirituality grounded in faith in Christ and evidenced by the good works of love produced by this same faith (Gal 5:6; Eph 2:8–10). It is a spirituality that balances faith and Christian praxis, that transcends the personal and inner dimension of our daily devotional time and leads us to the collective and external dimension in contact with people and their needs, especially the most foundational and urgent need—the need for a relationship with God.

A Cruciform Spirituality

Cruciform spirituality is, first of all, Christocentric. True Christian spirituality in a nutshell is to seek to identify with Christ in every way. We must reflect the character of Christ in a life full of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23); we should serve in a dedicated, selfless, and humble way as Christ served others (Phil 2:5–11). Thus, the true goal and result of a Christocentric spirituality is “Christ being formed in us” (Gal. 4:19), pressing forward “until we reach maturity, reaching the full measure of Christ” (Eph 4:13). According to the teachings of Paul we understand that the true spiritual person is the one who relentlessly seeks to be like Jesus and do what Jesus did. In this Christocentric spirituality Jesus is the model, the content, and the goal of the spiritual life.

Furthermore, this cruciform spirituality understands and interprets the gospel, Christian life, and mission from the point of view of the cross. The “crucified Christ” is the lens through which we see and understand the Scriptures and life in community. Carrying the cross (Luke 14:27) and preaching the cross of Christ (1 Cor 2:2) identify and define a true spiritual Christian. Cruciform spirituality has two distinct marks: (1) self-emptying and humility and (2) obedience and suffering.

Self-emptying and humility

Philippians 2:7 states that Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” Paul cites this example of Jesus to teach about humility as an essential element for Christian unity. Many conflicts in and out of the church can be resolved by practicing this cruciform spirituality. A lot of transformation and growth can happen in our lives when we empty ourselves and recognize that we have much to learn and improve, if we keep an open heart and mind in order to receive the fullness of the Spirit (Eph 3:19; 5:18).

The more we empty ourselves, the more we create space to fill ourselves with Christ and the overflowing of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed life. Authentic spirituality is not measured by the amount of knowledge or by the abilities and gifts that we possess but by how much Christ fills us and how much he overflows around us.

Obedience and Suffering

Philippians 2:8 goes on to say, “. . . becoming obedient [even] unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Suffering is the result of emptying. This spirituality questions and confronts our ambitions and life goals. Those who prioritize safety, well-being, and prosperity will certainly not be attracted to the spirituality of the cross that leads to suffering, humiliation, and death. The success of the mission exemplified in Jesus is not in the victory against his enemies, the size of his projects, or his popularity but in submission to God’s will that he suffer and die for those who hated and crucified him. This obedient suffering is rewarded by God’s acceptance and glorification (Phil 2:9–11). This crucified spirituality is missionary and transforming because it sacrifices itself to serve, bless, and reach its neighbor for Christ and his kingdom.

A Relevant and Necessary Missional Spirituality among Brazilian Churches of Christ

The missional movement and the concept of missio Dei is fairly well known and practiced in Brazil among evangelical Christian churches in general, especially among the great historical denominations (Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.). Authors like John Stott, Alan Hirsch, Ed Stetzer, Tim Keller, Christopher Wright, and David Bosch are known and referenced in many articles and books published by Brazilian theologians and missiologists.

Brazilian Evangelical Publishers has published a considerable amount of missional material from renowned foreign authors and from Brazilian authors. Many missional conferences and lectureships are organized every year, calling on Brazilian Christian leadership to rethink the church’s mission and its responsibility in Brazil and in the world. Great global movements such as the Lausanne Movement, the missional movement, and, in Latin America, the Integral Mission Theology Movement, are studied and their influence is seen in the way many Brazilian churches develop their ministerial and missionary work.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said among the Churches of Christ in Brazil. As a member of the Churches of Christ now for more than thirty years, I do not remember hearing about the concept of the missio Dei, the distinction between missions and mission, between missionary and missional, or the concept of the kingdom of God that transcends the church in any of my tradition’s studies, conferences, articles, or books that address the subject of missions. I also have not heard about the concept of missional spirituality in my history with the Churches of Christ.

The reality of the Brazilian Churches of Christ in general shows that missional authors are unknown, or at least not mentioned, the global movements are ignored, and some events that promote in-depth missonal conversations are discarded and even rejected. Why? Perhaps the idea is that everything that originates from and is spread by denominational or even interdenominational leaders and organizations is harmful, wrong, and compromises our Christian faithfulness. What is the practical result of this isolationist and prejudiced attitude that we reap in terms of our mission and spirituality?

  • Institutionalized spirituality: In our Brazilian context there is a great emphasis on attending Sunday worship services and weekly congregational activities. This emphasis is perceived in the Christian’s definition of faithfulness and spirituality. The faithful member is considered to be one who does not miss Sunday service and weekly activities, even if he is not involved in any ministry that promotes mission, discipleship, and evangelism. If he is physically present at the right place and at the appointed time, he is a faithful and exemplary spiritual member. We know the importance and motivating power of the worship service and the activities that the church promotes (Heb 10:24–25), but an institutionalized spirituality focuses on this inner ecclesiastical environment and often ignores the external and community environment of our spirituality.
  • Proselytizing and reductionist mission: The lack of missional concepts makes the church reductionist in its mission. Then the church has only the conversion of people and the multiplication of churches as criteria of success and fidelity in the mission. If there are no converts or new churches planted, then are we not fulfilling the mission? What if a person has not yet been baptized but has already heard the gospel and her heart is already accepting the truths of Christ in her life, and she wants a different life with Jesus? Even though she has not yet been baptized but is already experiencing internal changes that we cannot measure, is the mission not being fulfilled? Have we been sent to sow the gospel or to convert people? If we cannot plant new churches in our city, but we bring the gospel and its transformation to people outside our congregation, is the mission not being fulfilled? In Brazil we fight against much corruption, poverty, low education, and violence, among other evils that affect our country. The number of professed Christians in the country has grown, and today we are 22.2% of the population, but these increased numbers are not alleviating the evils that affect the nation in a significant way. More self-centered churches and members are not necessarily the answer. The growth of missional Christians and missional churches, however, can be the determining factor of change. If the number of churches does not grow in the city, but if the Christians we have are transforming society in a significant way, fighting violence, corruption, immorality, and injustice, like salt of the earth and light of the world in their communities, are we not fulfilling the mission? The answer is a resounding yes!

What can be done to change this situation in Brazil? How can we become an ever more missional church that carries the gospel that saves, transforms, and unites people? I would like to suggest a few simple initiatives that can help our Brazilian congregations.

  • Missional training: Ministers in Brazilian Churches of Christ are well trained doctrinally, apologetically, and evangelistically, but they need more missional theological training in order to understand that the mission of the church is the mission of God and that the church continues the mission of Christ here on earth (John 20:21). The leaders must grasp that the church carries the mission to live the gospel, proclaim the gospel, and demonstrate the gospel in good works of love and mercy. How can this be implemented? I believe breaking the barrier of fear, mistrust, and prejudice toward authors, leaders, and missional events among other Christian traditions can help us grow in areas that need improvement. Some Brazilian Churches of Christ have broken these barriers and reaped positive and transformative fruits. We always have something to teach and something to learn from others of different religious traditions. I would love to see more leaders reading good missional authors, attending missionally minded events (there are plenty in our country!), listening to podcasts, and watching free videos on related concepts.
  • A missional pulpit: Our missionally trained Brazilian ministers will be able to train the church through the Sunday sermon and weekly classes and especially through their personal example. I heard a Brazilian evangelical missionary at a conference say, “There is no missional church without a missional pulpit.” He explained that he did not mean that all preaching and teaching will be about mission but that the leader should mentor the church in order to create a missionary environment for the church to absorb and live. In Brazil I have noticed that our pulpits are very apologetic and doctrinal but not very missional. Our people know a lot about what they have to believe and how they have to answer but very little of how to live as salt and light in the world. It is time to change, and this change starts with the leadership.
  • Evangelism and missionary discipleship: I strongly believe that in addition to changing the way we learn and the way we teach, it is also essential to change the way we evangelize and make disciples. Much of our evangelization—and I am a guilty of this—focuses on baptism. We evangelize in order to lead the person to baptism and then disciple him to be a good church member, someone who attends the worship services, brings offering, and participates in church ministries. This is good, but there is a much better way! What if we evangelize people to become a member of the kingdom of God and not only a member of the local church? What if we make disciples who not only come to the church but who also go out into the world to be light and salt of the earth? What if we make disciples who not only receive and learn but who also teach and give to others? What if we make disciples who serve not only our church ministries and programs but who also work in the world in ministries of mercy? What would that be like? What difference would that bring to our congregations and cities? A transformative difference! Just as it was in the early church!


The present Christian generation is suffocated by many models and manuals of spirituality, but perhaps it still lacks a coherent and healthy model of spirituality—one that does not isolate itself or focus on itself but seeks the transformation and growth of its community and the loving practice of faith.

In the Bible, the numerical growth of the church was the fruit of the church’s healthy spirituality and community life (Acts 2:42–47). The Pauline missional model of spirituality is the most relevant to our generation because it seeks to rescue Christ’s authentic, empathetic, comprehensive, transformative, humble, and obedient model of spiritual living.

If the Brazilian Churches of Christ embrace and propagate this missional model, we will experience a healthy spiritual growth and a sustainable and contagious numerical growth, rather than the present steady decline.

Joncilei Mendes da Silva is a native missionary from Manaus, Brazil, serving the Church of Christ in Itu, Brazil, with his wife Kária since 2006. Today he serves the congregation as the Missions Efforts Coordinator and Teaching Minister. He recently finished his degree in urban missions at The South American Theological Seminary (FTSA). Joncilei and Kária have two sons, Joab, who is seventeen, and Joel, who is ten. The Mendes Family loves to serve the kingdom together.

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Hope Is a Place

The Hope Mission was planted in Mozambique 23 years ago. Its founders, Geraldo Borges, and Kleber and Juracema Ribeiro, were sent by the Christian Churches in Brazil to start a mission work in the northern part of the country. Throughout the years, the missionaries have planted more than 100 churches, trained indigenous leaders, started a Christian school in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, and opened a house to take care of orphans and children at risk. In the school, more than a thousand kids receive free education that prepares them to go to high school afterwards. In the Hope Home, around sixty kids receive everything they need to thrive while living in a Christian environment. Kleber and Juracema Ribeiro were members of my home church in Goiânia, GO, Brazil, and I visited them for twenty days in order to learn about their work and to be a better advocate for them back in Brazil. As you can read below, I had a transformative experience, and I hope to give you a glimpse of what I saw.

To get there, first you need a visa to Mozambique. Then, you have to buy a plane ticket to Johannesburg or to another major city in South Africa. From there, you take another plane to a city called Nampula located in the northern part of Mozambique. While in the plane, you can see the so-called “square of asphalt” out the window—the only place in the city with paved streets. However, do not be so excited. You are not at Hope yet.

After becoming more familiar with the smell of the city, a mix of human odor and spice, you drive to a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. While crossing Nampula, you notice that the majority of its inhabitants are seated in front of their houses no matter what time it is. Some of them are talking, others are playing cards. Some just observe what is going on. You will soon discover they do not do it by choice. Just like Hope, jobs are a rare commodity in the city.

Still driving, you cross the railroad tracks. Next to the tracks, you see a bustling marketplace. Under the scorching hot sun, clothes are bought and sold. If you decide to stop and take a look at them, prepare to be surrounded by a great number of insistent sellers trying to convince you that they have the greatest deal to offer. However, do not be mad if they try to sell you used American clothes for an exorbitant price. Here, international visitors are like jobs and Hope: rare and valued.

Talking to some of the local people, you discover that the American clothes sold in the marketplace were sent to Mozambique for the purpose of being distributed to poor people. Unfortunately, you will realize soon that corruption has managed to transform charity into commerce. Probably hopeless at this point, you decide to get out of there. It is the perfect time to continue your trip to Hope.

Driving to your destination within the city, you ask yourself why you are here. Why have you decided to come? Why have you planned this trip? The dusty streets, the scorching sun, the strong odor, the unemployed people, and the busy marketplace have influenced all your questions. But do not allow them to stop you from finding Hope. You are almost there.

The gates are open and a thousand kids are playing among the trees. They are wearing uniforms: white shirts with purple skirts for the girls and purple shorts for the boys. You can feel the happiness in the air; it is contagious. While you are trying to decide what to do, one of them takes your hand and invites you to play. How can you say no? He points to the swing, hung from one of the trees. You swing him so high that he almost touches the sky. His laugh fills your heart with joy and Hope.

After the bell, you will see all of them entering their classrooms in a very organized way. To your surprise, warnings not to run are unnecessary. They know exactly what to do. It is lunch time. For most students, it will be the only meal of their day. Maybe, you imagine, this is one of the reasons why their Muslim parents allow them to attend a Christian school. The other reason, you know for sure, is the fact that the school also offers free quality education no matter the religious background of the child. This is Hope for you and for them.

Leaving the school, you will be invited to visit the orphanage located on the same property. There, forty kids receive three meals a day—something unimaginable in the reality of Mozambique. You will listen to some of their stories and discover that, in fact, the majority of them are not orphans. Their parents, in a desperate act, gave them to the missionaries. Hopeless, they decided to offer Hope to their kids.

With the faces of the kids in your mind, their laughter in your ears, and their stories in your heart, you will probably need a moment of silence—and so will I. Providentially, one of the workers will invite us to spend some time in the chapel located in the back of the lot. While going there, he will tell us his own story. He will talk about how the mission reached out to him in his remote village. He will tell us that he was one of the kids of the orphanage and one of the students at the school. With a smile on his face, he will tell us that he is now one of the teachers at Hope Mission. In that moment, looking at him, we will finally realize that Hope is real, and we have found it.

Renata Cabral Vicente is an ordained minister who works as Administrative Pastor at First Christian Church in Taguatinga Sul, Brazil. After working in advertising agencies in her hometown, Goiânia, for ten years, she answered her ministerial calling. She holds an MDiv in Theology from Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan College.

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Review of John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher, Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today

John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher. Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. 416 pp. Paperback. $25.60.

Teaching the history of Christian mission and expansion is a daunting task. Compressing two thousand years of Christian history from across the globe into one readable volume seems impossible. John Mark Terry, department chair and professor of missions at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and Robert L. Gallagher, department chair and associate professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College, take on this project in their book Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today. As part of the Encountering Mission series published by Baker Academic, Encountering the History of Missions is a missions history textbook written from a conservative American evangelical perspective for students who desire to pursue a vocation in cross-cultural missions (vi, viii). Their goal in writing this volume is to help contemporary and future missionaries avoid the mistakes of the past while also inspiring them to imitate the passion and dedication of their predecessors (361). The result is an ambitious, yet flawed attempt to write a comprehensive and accessible history of Christian missions.

The book begins with a chapter on “Missions in the Early Church,” where Terry and Gallagher set out to show how the church grew from Jesus’s small group of disciples to a religion that spanned the Mediterranean world by the time of the council of Nicaea in the fourth century (1). They do this by exploring what they identify as the missionary methods used by the early church so that they can distill a clear and straightforward set of methodological lessons for their readers to imbibe. Terry and Gallagher end the chapter with a case study and a set of reflection questions that urge students to apply what they learned in their reading to contemporary situations or problems that arise in the mission field (20–22). This approach to exploring the history of Christian mission sets the pattern for the rest of the book. Each chapter in the first two-thirds of the volume highlights the history and methods of specific Christian traditions, ranging from the Church of the East and Celtic Christianity to Jesuit and Methodist missionary efforts, followed by a case study and discussion questions. The final third of the book follows the same pattern but primarily focuses on evangelical missions, including a chapter on the Church Growth Movement. Terry and Gallagher end the book with an evaluation of evangelical missions based on J. Herbert Kane’s 1978 edition of Understanding Christian Missions. Here the authors reproduce Kane’s assertions and analyze what past missionaries did wrong, what they did right, and the tasks that remain for contemporary and future missionaries (355, 358, 360).

Encountering the History of Missions has two strengths in particular. First, the case studies and discussion questions that Terry and Gallagher present at the end of each chapter are a creative way to help students critically process and apply the historical material to contemporary situations and questions. Second, the broad scope of Encountering the History of Missions is likely to introduce students to movements, characters, and stories of Christianity’s past that they have never encountered. Standard courses in church history rarely include, for example, the stories of the Church of the East and its encounter with Tang China or Orthodox missions in Japan and Alaska. The broad scope of the book will help students understand that Christianity has long been a global faith and not merely a Western one.

Attempting a project of this scope is going to have its drawbacks as the authors have to make difficult choices about what to include and what to leave out. Unfortunately, such decisions are overshadowed by three systematic faults that severely undercut the value of the book. First, Terry and Gallagher fail to set forth a clear and consistent definition of “mission” in their book. Rather, they take an approach that assumes such a definition is self-evident. This lack of definition becomes problematic when they choose what to include in their narrative and what they leave out. For example, chapter seven explores what they label “Reformation Missions” (130–149). Here, Terry and Gallagher portray the Reformed and Lutheran movements as self-conscious missionary movements spreading a biblical gospel throughout Europe to fight the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church (149). Luther and Calvin, however, did not think of themselves in this light. They understood themselves as working within the framework and borders of Christendom, not crossing boundaries into non-Christian territories. This unique perspective on the reformations of the early modern period raises questions that Terry and Gallagher never answer: What is mission? When do Christians become missionaries in different cultural, geographical, and temporal contexts? The answers to these questions are undoubtedly complicated, especially in our contemporary context, but they deserve a thorough investigation, especially at the outset of a project as ambitious as Encountering the History of Missions.

Second, and related to a precise definition of mission, the singular focus on the individuals the authors identify as missionaries and the missionaries’ methods is problematic. Over the last forty years, scholars such as Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh have shown that the mission and expansion of Christianity throughout its history is a dynamic process that affects those who carry the message and those who receive it. Namely, while missionaries serve as cross-cultural gospel bearers, the successful inculcation and inculturation of the Christian faith into a specific cultural context depends on the creativity and activity of receiving peoples, often despite the best efforts of the missionaries themselves. By ignoring the story of peoples who receive the gospel in this book, Terry and Gallagher present a skewed narrative that ignores the importance of indigenous agency in the history of the mission and serial expansion of Christianity.

Third and finally, a cursory reading of Encountering the History of Missions reveals that the authors have not digested the critical scholarship on the issue and, as a result, they have not presented their readers with the freshest material. For example, the sole source for their small section on “The Women’s Movement in Mission” is two editions of the same source: Ruth Tucker’s 1983 and 2004 editions of From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (265–68). While Tucker’s book is a fine popular overview of missionary biographies, it lacks reference to the scholarly work over the last three decades on the history of women in Christian mission. Careful, critical sources such as Dana Robert’s American Women in Mission: The Modern Mission Era 1792–1992, would have added depth and historical accuracy to their account. Indeed, throughout Encountering the History of Missions, this lack of reliance on critical scholarship often calls into question the assertions put forth in the book.

Encountering the History of Missions provides its readers with a wealth of information while also presenting a series of case studies that pushes them to consider critically the Christian missions history. Students who encounter this book in the classroom will find multiple launching points for a more in-depth study of the history of missions. The lack of a precise definition of mission, indigenous voices, and knowledge of critical scholarship on Christian missions, however, call into question the reliability of the book to provide a fresh and balanced narrative. At best, Terry and Gallagher’s volume is a bold but flawed attempt to provide a sweeping account of the history of Christian Missions. At worst, the authors imply that the conservative American evangelical missionary movement is the zenith of the missionary movement in Christian history.

Jeremy P. Hegi

PhD Candidate, Church History and World Christianity

Boston University

Boston, MA, USA

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Review of James L. Gorman, Among the Early Evangelicals: The Transatlantic Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement

JAMES L. GORMAN. Among the Early Evangelicals: The Transatlantic Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2017. 240 pp. $22.99.

In his book, Among the Early Evangelicals, a revision of his dissertation at Baylor University, James Gorman, Associate Professor of History at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee, argues “that the Campbell Movement in the United States emerged from transatlantic evangelical missions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The earliest Campbell tradition, as articulated in the Christian Association of Washington and its 1809 Declaration and Address was more indebted to the evangelical missionary movement than it was to the fertile frontier and democratic soil in the United States” (23). The Campbell Movement is part of the Restoration Movement or the Stone-Campbell Movement—a tradition that consists of three distinct denominations: the Churches of Christ, the Church of Christ/Christian Church, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He unpacks his thesis in eight chapters and a postscript.

Gorman’s chapter titles give the reader a glimpse into the book’s contents. For example, chapter one, titled “Reframing the Religious and Historical Context of the Campbell Movement,” describes how “the influences of the evangelical missionary movement that emerged throughout the transatlantic region in the 1790s was the clearest and most comprehensive context that produced the earliest manifestation of the Campbell Movement” (15). In chapter two, “The Rise of Transatlantic Evangelical Missions in the Eighteenth Century,” Gorman argues that before the end of that century evangelicals were deeply interested in missions. He concludes that, “They believed that denominationalism and confessionalism often provided criteria for the essence of Christianity that focused on the intellect but neglected new-birth experience”(53). Along the same lines, in chapter four, “Thomas Campbell’s Formative Background in Irish Evangelical Missions,” Gorman maintains, “the story of the evangelical missions in Ireland . . . shaped the theology and practices of Thomas and Alexander Campbell” (95–96). Chapter six is titled “From the British Isles to the United States: The Christian Association of Washington.” In this chapter, Gorman gives the historical background for the Declaration and Address, one of the two most important documents for understanding the Stone-Campbell Movement. Gorman states, “Traces of evangelical missions exude from nearly every page of the Declaration and Address. The plan of the Christian Association of Washington resembles the plans of the Evangelical Society of Ulster, London Missionary Society, Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home, and other evangelical societies” (161–2). The last chapter is entitled “The Campbell Movement’s Roots in Transatlantic Evangelical Missions.” In this chapter, Gorman’s conclusion, he reiterates his argument that “the Campbells’ [Thomas and Alexander’s] early ideals and practices, as expressed in 1809 [in the Declaration and Address], were not unique among transatlantic evangelicals of the era” (209).

Stone-Campbell Movement historians acknowledge Thomas and Alexander Campbell—father and son—together with Barton W. Stone, as the chief architects of the Stone-Campbell Movement; but they have conventionally identified “two” Alexander Campbells. In this book, Gorman argues for a “third” Campbell, if not “the earliest Campbell who, with his father, supported missionary societies for two decades; a ‘second’ who opposed them in The Christian Baptist; and a ‘third’ who eventually affirmed them” (197).

Among the Early Evangelicals revolutionizes Stone-Campbell historiography, and this “third Campbell” is one of the significant contributions that can be appropriated by Stone-Campbell Movement historians, because the three major branches of this fellowship “have constructed entire traditions based upon one or the other of these [“two”] Campbells” (216). For example, “the Churches of Christ, found a usable history in the ‘first’ Campbell, who was right to oppose missionary societies because they represented extra-congregational cooperation that was unbiblical in origin and denominational in direction” (216).

Although Gorman is concerned with the Campbells, his inclusion of Walter Scott’s contribution to the success of Campbell’s movement enriches the fellowship’s theological history. Scott’s “evangelistic tool, the five-finger exercise, was influential on missions practices, overall expansion, and soteriology in the Campbell Movement” (204–5). His five-finger exercise, also known as the “plan of salvation”—“have faith, repent, be baptised, receive remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life” (205)—is still the revered “plan of salvation” in Churches of Christ in the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa, where the movement is experiencing exponential growth.

Among the Early Evangelicals unshackles Stone-Campbell Movement historians from ungrounded ecclesiastical traditions. Stone-Campbell historians frequently argue that Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address was influenced by his education in Glasgow and involvement with the church in Ireland. Gorman acknowledges these facts but argues audaciously that “Thomas’s Christian Association of Washington and its Declaration and Address were reproductions of other evangelical missionary society charters, plans, organization, ideals, and means of evangelization” (209–10). In Ireland, Thomas Campbell cooperated with other denominations for missions, and the “first” Alexander espoused that belief. Gorman then urges “segments of the [Stone-Campbell] Movement who have completely rejected cooperation with other denominations, or even with other Stone-Campbell Movement congregations, to reconsider their own historical development and how they got to a place so different from anything Thomas Campbell envisioned at the beginning of the Movement” (216). If Thomas Campbell worked with other denominations, what is the origin of exclusivism and sectarianism, two significant characteristics that identify the Churches of Christ?

As an indigenous African, I highly recommend this book, which is not an easy read for the typical person in the pew, to every lecturer or teacher in Bible schools, preachers’ training colleges, and Christian colleges in sub-Saharan Africa, and anybody serious about the historical background of the Stone-Campbell Movement. It will unsettle our understanding of Stone-Campbell Movement history because “the earliest documents and actions of the Campbell Movement reveal its roots in evangelical missions . . . [through] pragmatic primitivism” that nurtured ecumenical cooperation (187). Pragmatic primitivism uses “the Bible generically (rather than a legalistically defined pattern) as a shared foundation on which denominations could unite for ‘simple evangelical gospel’ missions” (188n86). The Movement left pragmatic primitivism for patternist primitivism, which holds that the “New Testament contains a ‘pattern’ for worship. This primitivism focuses on identifying, extracting, and applying that primitive pattern in modern times” (188n86).

Therefore, historians need an informed understanding of these “vibrant roots [that] provide a corrective to old narratives, ones that embraced exclusion and sectarianism, as the original vision of the Campbells” (217). Regrettably, exclusivism and sectarianism, which were bequeathed to us in the Global South, with good intentions by our missionaries, are too often the hallmarks of the Churches of Christ.

The book has an extensive bibliography useful for Stone-Campbell historians, but one hopes that Gorman will include an index in the second edition.

Paul S. Chimhungwe


African Christian College

Manzini, Eswatini

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Review of Bryan Stone, Evangelism after Pluralism: The Ethics of Christian Witness

Bryan Stone. Evangelism after Pluralism: The Ethics of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. 151 pp. Paperback. $14.65.

You might not have heard the good news: we have reached the moment after pluralism. That, at least, is the provocative possibility that Bryan Stone’s new book Evangelism after Pluralism: The Ethics of Christian Witness entertains. Stone, who continues to write at the cutting edge of evangelism studies, unfurls an exciting argument. The new volume recapitulates and extends his Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. In addition to being more accessible than the previous work, Evangelism after Pluralism focuses more sharply by framing major dimensions of the post-Christendom context—Western imperialism, nationalistic militarism, violent politics, consumerism, and religious relativism—in terms of the metanarrative of pluralism. Furthermore, Stone foregrounds the extent to which the Christian practice of evangelism calls for an ethics shaped by a social imagination that moves beyond pluralism:

My ultimate hope is to identify a conterimagination that habituates the practice of evangelism in rather different directions and refuses the temptation to secure a space in the world for the good news. Within that alternative imagination, evangelism is the noncompetitive practice of bearing faithful and embodied witness in a particular context rather than an attempt to produce converts by first safeguarding the credibility or helpfulness of the good news. Shaped ecclesially through distinctive social practices, evangelism is the offer of beauty rather than an exercise in positioning the good news within a crowded marketplace in an attempt to fight off the competition. (13)

The problem that Stone takes up, then, is not simply how best to evangelize in a pluralistic or post-pluralistic context but how to free evangelism from the ethical limits of pluralism.

Stone launches the argument in ch. 2 by contrasting evangelism and proselytism ethically, identifying the latter with the competitive logic of pluralism. “Our evangelism is our ethics” (17), contends Stone, indicating that by standing in contrast (competition?!) to the ethics of pluralism, the way that the church bears witness to, embodies, and performs the gospel is itself the gospel. One might say that the communication of the gospel is compromised when the ethics of pluralism reigns, but that claim risks essentializing the gospel in abstraction from the life of the church in the way of Jesus. The gospel is not merely communicated by means of but, more profoundly, is manifest as the church’s alternative ethics. Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum, “The medium is the message,” seems to echo from the pages of Evangelism after Pluralism.

Chapters 3 and 4 finish framing the discussion by addressing notions of empire and salvation respectively. The book’s key concept is that pluralism, “the story we tell about plurality,” is actually “about how we are to comprehensively comprehend and make sense of the many” (10). The question remains: Whose comprehensive logic plots the story of pluralism? Stone’s answer is the piercingly insightful twist at the heart of the book. He first reaches for a postcolonial trope, reminding us that “empires expand and maintain their power by the homogenization of place through the imposition of a unified and totalizing ‘order’ that erases difference” (30). Then he identifies this imposition of unity as the plot of pluralism’s story! Thus, one of the shackles from which Stone would loose evangelism is the naïve postmodern imagination in which the logic of imperialism is only at work in Christianity’s religio-political acquisitiveness (read: “evangelistic” fervor), which pluralism purportedly subverts. The truth, rather, is that contemporary empire is “far less interested in securing and defending a single official religious sponsor or chaplain and more adept at domesticating all religions equally as purveyors and administrators of essentially private experiences” (32). By imposing the unifying category “religion” on diverse experiences and then defining religion as “private,” empire operates another mechanism of control. Therefore, following theological ethicists such as John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, Stone contends that the answer is not to beat empire at its own totalizing game but to understand the church as a “rival” politics (34). This leads directly into his brief discussion of “the ecclesiality of salvation” (ch. 4), whose premise is that the church’s alternative political, economic, ethical life is the embodiment of the gospel and, therefore, is not an optional instrument for or accompaniment to some other, churchless “salvation.” Indeed, “salvation is a way of naming our life together as Christians” (44).

With these basic claims established, Stone moves on to the meat of the book in chs. 5 to 8. These chapters thicken the ideas already introduced, now systematically addressing key themes: the civil religion of the nation-state, the utilitarian violence of empire, the competitive practice of consumerism, and the globalizing gaze of shallow religious pluralism versus the political imagination, pacifist ethics, and alternative economics of Christ’s way and the theological vision of God’s universal grace. In all of these discussions, Stone’s framework of pluralism, ethics, empire, and salvation holds the argument together, generating a variety of incisive insights. The final chapter, “Evangelism and Beauty,” takes an unexpected turn toward the aesthetic dimensions of the ethics of evangelism: “An ethics of evangelism for which beauty is central is not an ethics that identifies ahead of time some end at which we aim (the conversion of our neighbor or church growth, for instance). . . . The ethics of evangelism is instead an ethics of response and witness to a beauty that interrupts and lays claim on us, inviting us outward. It is an ethics of participation in a beauty that sanctifies and transforms” (122). Here as well, Stone gestures toward significant insights, if only in germinal form. The chapter ends appropriately with a discussion of beauty’s plurality. The book concludes with a Barthian epilogue on the meaninglessness of apologetics in view of a post-pluralistic ethics of evangelism. A reference list and index round out the volume.

Evangelism after Pluralism is a vital, innovative contribution to the study of ecclesiology, evangelism, and ethics alike. It is well-written and concise and will likely prove indispensable to teachers of evangelism in the American context for the foreseeable future. A few critical issues are especially noteworthy, however. First, Stone needs to address the tension that arises from the fact that his non-competitive ethics is in competition (“rivalry”) with the plurality of alternatives. Second, the argument needs to deal more thoroughly with the dimensions of the gospel that touch upon personal reconciliation with God. Stone’s critique of individualistic, spiritualized notions of salvation treads near caricature, but more importantly it subdues elements of evangelism that are in need of ethical mediation, not least the prophetic call to personal repentance that is ineradicably part of Jesus’s way. Finally, the reader may naturally wonder whether Stone’s ethics itself becomes a totalizing story about the way the church’s embodiment of the gospel relates to the politics, economics, and religions of the pluralistic empire. Can the practice of evangelism be contextualized in a variety of ways, or does Stone’s understanding of the way of Christ exclude other possibilities? Granting that, in the absence of competitiveness or coercion, the logic of Stone’s ethics is not totalizing in the proper sense, nonetheless the postliberal sensibilities that underlie the argument suggest that his ethics is potentially insular—bound to an internal logic that is not subject to extra-systemic influences and therefore resistant to contextualization. While Stone addresses some of these matters in other writings, and he need not say everything here, the book’s modest page count leaves room to expand on these important points in a second edition. Then again, perhaps the ability to provoke readers’ plural answers to such questions commends the volume more than would a single attempt to answer them.

Greg McKinzie

PhD Candidate

Fuller Theological Seminary

Pasadena, CA, USA

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Majority World: A Minority Report (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Mine is not a Majority World voice. Indeed, the preface of this issue was meant to be written by a Majority World scholar. These things do not always unfold as planned, so I find myself pondering the most useful—and briefest—way to frame the articles marshalled under the heading “Majority World Voices.” My suspicion is that the title of the theme itself needs a comment or two.

From the perspective of an editor, the terminology is an interesting question. Third World was once in vogue, but it refers to a Cold War division of the world into First World (NATO countries), Second World (Communist Bloc countries), and everyone else.1 Aside from the fact that the Cold War ended some time ago, the numerical preeminence of the First World is a not-so-subtle hint as to the bias built into these categories.

Furthermore, the economic nature of the battle between capitalists and communists quickly led to a characterization of the Third World primarily in terms of “development” rather than geo-political alignment.2 The presumption of labeling the Third World as “underdeveloped” or “developing” (where “developed” refers largely to Western bourgeois lifestyle) has become clear.3 Yet, despite the problems of developmentalism, many persist in referring to the Developing World. I consider that categorization a nonstarter.

Others have hitched their jargon to roughly geographical designations. It turns out that many economically poor countries are south of the Equator, so Global South has gained currency. This has some merit, since East and West are widely used conventions. (Of course, on a spherical planet, those designations are not only arbitrary but say a great deal about who established the conventions: the East is only east of the West from the West’s perspective.) Frequently, however, non-Western also sneaks in, suggesting clearly the notion of Western normativity: there is Western culture and there are those that lack the quality of Westernness—non-Westerners. And, as it happens, some not-so-Western (and economically “developed”!) cultures are located north of the Equator. It seems to me that Global South is the sort of generalization that ends up being uselessly inaccurate.

Majority World, however, possesses the qualities of both accuracy and irony, the latter of which I find especially endearing. As a matter of mathematical fact, ostensibly Western cultures are a minority. Among Christians, especially those who attend to missiology, this fact accompanies another of great contemporary significance: the majority of the church now lives amidst the global majority. The irony, of course, is that the West is historically marked by a democratic ethos that grants the majority significant privilege. In view of these observations, Missio Dei prefers the terminology Majority World above other options (including similar contenders such as Two-Thirds World and Three-Fourths World, which seem pointlessly specific). For our purposes, the phrase Majority World appropriately touches upon the historic, joyous reality that the world church’s majority is now to be found among countries once called Third World, underdeveloped, and non-Western.4 Thanks be to God!

This issue seeks to amplify the voices of Majority World mission practitioners and scholars who identify with the Stone-Campbell Movement. These perspectives deserve special attention. Despite the numerical reality of the Majority World church, there are few in it who articulate their views according to the conventions that constrain Missio Dei, much less who can do so in English. We recognize, therefore, both the weakness and vulnerability of our position as publishers of English-language perspectives and the great privilege of hearing even a few voices of our sisters and brothers from Eswatini, South Korea, China, Nicaragua, Botswana, and Brazil.

No doubt, some things are lost in translation. And perhaps some are gained. In any case, our job as readers is to listen carefully, openly, and generously. To this task I commend our readers, with hope.

Soli Deo gloria.

1 For a thorough analysis, see B. R. Tomlinson “What Was the Third World?” Journal of Contemporary History 38, no. 2 (2003): 307–21.

2 A thick, if technical, discussion of the evolution of development language and theory can be found in Bengi Akbulut, Fikret Adaman, and Yahya M. Madra, “The Decimation and Displacement of Development Economics,” Development and Change 46, no. 4 (2015): 733–61.

3 Immanuel Wallerstein, “After Developmentalism and Globalization, What?” Social Forces 83, no. 3 (2005), 1264, states that by the height of developmentalism in the 1970s, “the term and the objective seemed virtually a piety.” As in the complex intertwining of Christian mission and the “civilizing mission” (1263) of colonialism, the moral dimensions of development have often obscured the (in retrospect) obviously imperialist assumptions about human good and social wellbeing, to say nothing of the rapacious interests of many who called for and invested in the development of economically weaker countries. So Wallerstein can claim without irony, “The whole discussion from 1945 to today has indeed been one long effort to take seriously the reality that the world-system is not only polarized but polarizing, and that this reality is both morally and politically intolerable” (1265). The broad ascription of these relatively noble motives does little, however, to mitigate the presumptuousness of defining the majority of the world by identifying it with is failure to achieve the West’s level of economic “progress.”

4 In this, Missio Dei follows a convention established at the The 2004 Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization. Timothy Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), xix, writes: “The 2004 Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization, which I attended in Pattaya, Thailand, dedicated an entire working group to the theme, ‘The Two-Thirds World Church.’ It included participants from across the world, and one of their formal actions was to vote unanimously that the phrase ‘Majority World Church’ be used. This is the best phrase currently available.”

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Unintentional Contextualization in the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe: A Case Study of the Premillennialist Branch’s Organizational Structure

This paper describes the organizational structure of the Ruwa-Premillennialist branch of Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe, contrasting it with congregational autonomy that was championed by the majority of missionaries from Churches of Christ. This structure was developed by two premillennialist missionaries and is headed by a board of trustees without usurping the powers invested in congregational autonomy. These two missionaries, by default, contextualized an organizational structure that serendipitously suits the indigenous African leadership environment and psyche. Congregations in the Global South can adopt it with modifications.

S. Dewitt Garrett and Robert L. Garrett—father and son respectively—contextualized an indigenous church polity that espoused ownership, partnership, and transparency while retaining congregational autonomy, in their quest to spread premillennialism in Zimbabwe since the early forties.1 The older polity of strict congregational autonomy was transplanted by Euro-American missionaries associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement who arrived in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1896. They taught that congregational autonomy was the only biblical ecclesiastical structure and leadership format acceptable in their sending congregations.2 Proponents of congregational autonomy insist that this structure is based on NT teachings where each congregation was led by a plurality of elders/bishops/presbyters with the assistance of deacons (cf. Phil 1:1; Tit 1:5).3 For them, this is one of the sine qua non marks of the true church, and any deviation from this structure is considered heretical. Congregations of the same faith, however, can cooperate without forming a hierarchical decision-making body.4

The Need for a Different Organizational Structure

After spending decades planting churches in Kenya as a missionary from the Churches of Christ, Monte Cox questions the traditional structure.5 He contends for “replacing the concept of ‘local church autonomy’ and its negative connotations of separateness and isolation with a healthier understanding of the interdependency of churches in Kenya and beyond. To do that, those involved must ask hard questions about their commitment to strict congregational polity. Is this commitment rooted more in the democratic spirit of the founders than in clear biblical teaching? Does Scripture really prescribe only the sorts of interchurch cooperative efforts that are accepted by Churches of Christ in the United States? Is there any room for innovation on the mission field?”6 His hard questions, which can be viewed by others in Churches of Christ as the introduction of false teaching, have been answered pragmatically by the premillennialist branch of Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe. This branch contextualized its organizational structure to suit Zimbabwe’s economic, social, and legal context, which is diametrically opposite to the supposedly scriptural North American model that has been transplanted to every country by missionaries from this fellowship.7 Who are the premillennialists in the historical context of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Zimbabwe?

History of the Premillennialists in Zimbabwe

John Sherriff, the stone-mason-cum-missionary, laid the foundation of the Stone-Campbell Movement churches in Zimbabwe with his arrival in 1896. Sherriff was from the Associated Churches of Christ in New Zealand. After working for almost twenty years, he was joined by W. N. Short from the Churches of Christ in the USA, with S. Dewitt Garrett joining the team in 1930. Garrett was briefly stationed at Wuyu Wuyu Mission, where his son Robert was born in 1931.8 He openly taught that baptismal candidates must believe premillennialism when he started working with the Harari (Mbare) congregation after shifting to Salisbury from Wuyu Wuyu around 1931. In Salisbury, he was working with Goliath Nchena, the founding preacher of the Harari congregation.9 Around 1949, Nhowe Mission—one of the Churches of Christ owned boarding schools—was rocked by this doctrine, with Vernon Lawyer as its chief proponent. William Leslie (W. L.) Brown had left Lawyer as the acting superintendent in 1949 when he went to fundraise in the USA. In turn, Lawyer invited Arthur Phillips in 1949 to deliver lectures on premillennialism, a doctrine that was unacceptable to the majority at the mission.10 It ended with the resignation of Brown while traveling from the USA to Rhodesia.11 His supporting congregation, Central Church of Christ (Nashville, Tennessee), requested that he resign in December 1949, paving the way for Boyd Reese, who was in Northern Rhodesia, to become the superintendent of Nhowe Mission in 1950.

Between 1950 and 1960, S. D. Garrett was privately indoctrinating his followers, leading to the genesis of the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure that was initially implemented in Southern Rhodesia in 1961.12 His son strengthened it when he arrived during the last quarter of 1961. Both father and son viewed premillennialism, in spite of its divisive effects, as essential for salvation. After his father’s death in 1972, Robert Garrett wrote:

But I want to reveal a significant part of his character and faith in Christ. Considerable pressure was put on him many years ago by personal friends and brethren to renounce the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. One church somewhere in Kentucky which had been contributing to him stopped their support in 1945 and urged him in two letters as well as personally to change his views and premillennial associates and if he did, then they promised to gain for him ‘more hearty support.’ But he was a servant of Christ and was not for sale.13

S. D. Garrett died as a premillennialist, and his son has continued teaching this doctrine. In a recent interview, he said, “Some people from your branch [pointing to me] might believe that we will one day join and become one group. That is false; I will die a premillennialist and nearly all the Christians that work with us believe that doctrine. Christ’s reign on earth for 1,000 years is central in what we teach and preach.”14

Garrett got most of his theology from his father whom he worked with for twelve years in Southern Rhodesia, although he also went to college in the USA. After his father’s death, he became the sole leader and missionary for the premillennialists, strengthening the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure. Churches of Christ in Salisbury (now Highfields and Mufakose) were and still are divided because of premillennialism.15 Robert Garrett worked harmoniously with the Board of Trustees of the premillennialist Churches of Christ, leading to the construction of that branch’s “head-office,” Rockwood Bible Camp in Ruwa, about thirty kilometers east of Harare.16 The camp comprises a church building that can accommodate eight hundred people, a well-equipped kitchen with a cold room, six classroom blocks that double as sleeping houses, and bathrooms. It also has a full-fledged functioning mechanical workshop.17

The camp is used to host retreats for youth, men, and women from the premillennialist congregations.18 In addition to that, it is an income-generating project, raising money from rentals to other Christian groups like Scripture Union and university students that hire it for their religious functions. Garrett said, “Rockwood Camp was financed from the Churches of Christ in the USA, and my brothers and sisters in this country contributed most of the labor. Therefore, I can proudly say this project is a partnership between the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe and those in the USA, and it is led by local Christians.”19 The establishment of Rockwood Bible Camp is a success story because the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure operates through the Board of Trustees of the Churches of Christ.

The Constitution

Although the indigenous leadership is not privy to the amount of money that the North American congregations contribute through Garrett, the premillennialists, as already pointed out above, have a legally binding constitution, registered with the Zimbabwe Government, that guides the leadership of the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe to control, supervise, and own immovable property. Its preamble reads: “The CHURCHES OF CHRIST BOARD OF TRUSTEES was formed on July 29, 1961, being a joint effort of a number of independent congregations of the Churches of Christ to establish a means of joint ownership, especially of immovable property. As the acquiring of stands [plots to build church buildings] and financing of construction and the protection of property was difficult or beyond the individual capabilities of many congregations, it was felt that by working together we could accomplish much more for the kingdom of God.”20 According to Garrett, premillennialist congregations were prompted to form this body after dividing with the mainstream Churches of Christ over eschatology. Individuals like Fred Mupfawi from Highfields and Simon Nheweyembwa from the Harari congregation, who had worked tirelessly with S. D. Garrett, joined hands with R. L. Garrett to pull together congregations in Harari, Mufakose, and Tafara, and others around the capital city (then called Salisbury, now Harare), forming the nucleus of the premillennialists in Southern Rhodesia (Harari is now Mbare, while Salisbury is now Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.). The establishment of a board of trustees was not acceptable to those in the mainstream Churches of Christ, but in hindsight, it has functioned well for the premillennialists, especially regarding the security of their church buildings.

The sale of immovable property, such as church buildings and preachers’ houses, was a thorny issue during the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe (1976–1990). Some missionaries left church buildings in the hands of supposed church leaders who ended up selling them to other denominations. It was therefore prudent of Garrett to incorporate an institution called the Churches of Christ to stabilize the situation. Independent congregations have proven able to work voluntarily with this incorporated body and still retain their autonomy. Garret claims, “Congregations retain their complete autonomy—independence—they are are not governed by the Board of Trustees, but the board can guide congregations on their properties. To show this autonomy—congregations can hire, pay, fire preachers; they can voluntarily contribute to the activities supervised by the Board of Trustees like evangelism and so on. No one is forced, but we now have close to forty congregations that make up our group. This is what we call growth.”21 A typical case is that of the Waterfalls Church of Christ building that was sold to the United Methodist Church. Nyakudya narrated the story of how they nearly lost the Waterfalls church building after it was sold to the United Methodist Church by one individual who had the title deeds. After selling the building, he left the country. The following Sunday there were two groups: the Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. After some discussion they repurchased the building.22 Fortunately, the church managed to repurchase it, and it was such cases that encouraged Garrett and the board of trustees to strengthen the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure. The constitution safeguards immovable buildings from those who have departed from the premillennialist faith. It reads, “If in the opinion of the Board, any congregation has departed from the faith and practice of the New Testament, that congregation may be barred from the use of any church property under the control of the board.”23


The Ruwa-Premillennialist structure is made up of thirty-three congregations and “the board of trustees is made up of members from all congregations.”24 The constitution stipulates, “Each member congregation . . . of the Churches of Christ is entitled to elect and send two representatives to the Board who shall serve as Trustees for the time being.25 These Representatives must be members in good standing within the congregations they represent.”26 This functional organizational structure allows each congregation to operate independently of other congregations but cooperate towards maintaining a united body of Christ and the perpetual existence of the church in Zimbabwe. The ownership of church buildings is vested to the board of trustees because it is responsible for drawing the architectural plans, constructing the steel structures, providing roofing material, and supervising the phased construction of buildings. In turn, the congregation is, in some cases, responsible for providing bricks and partially paying the building contractor and maintenance. At the church’s annual general meeting, the board announces locations that need church buildings and lays out a strategic construction plan.

Although Garrett is the linchpin of this model, his role has been gradually diminishing over the last ten years. He permanently stays in the USA raising funds and travels to Zimbabwe twice a year for periods not exceeding two months. He is being replaced by what Cox suggests as “the church-centered organizational” structure instead of a “missionary-centered model.”27 For years Garrett and his father, worked under a missionary-centered model that was fraught with challenges, while the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure “minimizes the risks of a loss of trust between missionaries and nationals over various decisions which nationals often think the missionaries make on their own.”28 The structure is not only concerned with physical matters, but spiritual issues are at its core.

Spiritual Matters

The board strategically plans the planting of new congregations through deliberations at the men’s monthly meeting and the annual general meeting. The church will identify an area in need of a new congregation and the executive will deliberate on the logistics: funding for the preacher/evangelists’ upkeep, temporary meeting shelter, and other ancillaries. The board of trustees, with the support of elders from congregations, deliberately plans church programs and, without denying the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, does not “believe the Holy Spirit will eventually resolve . . . [spiritual] issues.”29 This strategy has resulted in the Ruwa-Premillennialist structure planting Church of Christ congregations in rural and remote villages like Binga, Zimbabwe’s most underdeveloped district. In addition to this, the board advises and assists congregations in the hiring and deployment of ministers. A preacher is deployed to a specific congregation after being vetted by the board of trustees even if the congregation is solely responsible for paying his salary. Lastly, the board plans annual lectureship retreats for men, women, and the youth and coordinates lectureship themes, lessons, speakers, and accommodation. These examples show that the nurturing of souls is pivotal for the board of trustees. This model is a success story because congregations contribute funds that are administered by the board for shared benefit.

Funds Controlled by the Board of Trustees

As the legal custodians of church property, the board is responsible for the building fund. Nyakudya explains that “small congregations pay US$25 for the building fund and big congregations pay US$50 every month.”30 The board receives, banks, and disburses the funds on behalf of congregations. To increase transparency “the Treasurer . . . prepare[s] Monthly Financial Reports. These are to be presented to the General Meetings of the CHURCH OF CHRIST MISSION, and an annual Audited Report shall be prepared by [external] Auditors and presented to the A.G.M of the Board.”31 (I had the privilege of seeing the board’s detailed monthly financial statements, including bank statements and board minutes that are filed and kept at Rockwood.)32

In addition to building fund contributions, the board receives financial contributions that are categorized into four significant areas:

  1. An evangelism/gospel fund that is used to pay preachers and evangelists who are working for congregations that cannot afford to pay. Currently, the board is responsible for three preachers.
  2. A funeral fund that provides for expenses connected with the burial of preachers and their immediate family members who are not covered by funeral policies.
  3. A transportation fund that takes care of evangelists’ traveling expenses.
  4. A widows’ fund. Most preachers do not have an adequate pension fund, and the board augments it with the widows’ fund that caters for preachers’ wives after the death of their husbands.33

Since the board handles substantial amounts of money on behalf of congregations, accountability and transparency are imperative.

Annual General Meeting

The board is accountable to congregations through monthly meetings and at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) that are held either at Rockwood Bible Camp, Ruwa, or at the Mbare congregation, in Harare.34 The constitution stipulates that “most business meetings shall be at the premises of the Church of Christ . . . Mbare.”35 It empowers the board to expedite decisions by having “a Standing EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE which shall have power to deal expeditiously with any matter arising which cannot wait for a full Board meeting. It shall have power to deal with any task which the Board may delegate to it from time to time. All decisions taken by the Executive Committee must be subsequently approved by the Board unless the Board previously grants full authority to the Executive Committee to act in its place in a particular designated task.”36 According to Nyakudya, “the Executive Committee meets once every month unless there is an emergency case that warrants meeting more than once, to discuss the business of the church.”37

Funding from Overseas

The Ruwa-Premillennialists raise their funds for the construction of church buildings, preachers’ salaries, development projects, and other activities. Garrett, through his fundraising activities overseas, finances some of their major projects. In a recent interview, Garrett said, “I do raise substantial amounts of money from congregations in the USA, and this finances some of the church programs in Zimbabwe.”38 Unfortunately, as expected, the board is not privy to the dollar figure, yet it is a partnership between Churches of Christ in the USA and Zimbabwe. Garrett alone reports to the benefactors—overseas congregations—and this is one of the significant challenges of the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure.

For that reason, in his call for a healthier financial partnership between North American congregations and congregations in the Global South, Cox suggests, “The financial partnership is best served if the missionary is not the middleman receiving and disbursing funds.”39 The missionary should, if possible, not handle funds because, according to Cox, “It is better for national church leaders to deal directly with their counterparts in the churches that send them funds. In the case of Churches of Christ, that means African elders should deal directly with American elders in discussing these matters.”40 Gradually, the Ruwa-Premillennialist model will likely implement some version of Cox’s suggestion, but in the meantime, this organizational structure still has some practical benefits for both Zimbabwean and North American Christians.

Practical Advantages of the Ruwa-Premillennialist Model

The Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure has real practical advantages over strict congregational autonomy. The overarching benefit is that this model promotes a healthy symbiotic relationship between indigenous leadership in congregations located in the Global South and their brothers and sisters in the West. Other advantages follow.

First, there is a cross-fertilization of ideas and exchange of best practices. If ordained leaders or, where necessary, their representatives come together as equal partners and learners they will share experiences that will create confidence in nurturing souls. Spiritually, nationals and internationals enjoy contextual diversities that enrich worship since, as anthropologist Paul Hiebert argues, “the gospel must not be equated with any particular human context, not even the biblical cultural context. . . . The gospel was revealed in the historical and sociocultural contexts of the Old and New Testaments, but those contexts are not normative for Christianity around the world.”41

Second, this model limits the duplication of programs and projects in a specific area. In this way, the Ruwa-Premillennialist Organization overcomes a significant drawback of congregational autonomy where different congregations working in the same area often replicate the same work without cooperation. In contrast, the board coordinates work and channels both human and financial resources where they are needed.

Third, the board implements the planned construction of enduring, strategically located infrastructure.42 For example, the premillennialists, with their fully equipped and functional workshop in Ruwa, construct and erect steel structures for all their church buildings utilizing money from their centralized building fund. To promote ownership, congregants of a particular congregation where a church building is under construction mold or provide bricks, labor, and roofing material. Although congregations contribute towards the building fund, “all congregations donate labor and time to make sure that a building under construction is finished in time.”43 All their church buildings are insured, and the board can negotiate better premiums because of the number and size of their buildings.

Fourth, although North American churches are shrinking, they still have abundant financial resources. As Justo González suggests, “From the point of view of vitality, missionary and evangelist zeal, and even theological creativity, the centres have been shifting south for some time.”44 González is arguing for churches in the West to assist in financing Christian activities in the Global South, and Cox suggests that such funding “should only be given for projects that can be maintained locally. . . . Aid given by foreign partners should be tied to what locals have already given.”45 This situation is partially happening at Ruwa where Garrett assists in funding projects that are jointly owned by the board and individual congregations. This healthy partnership promotes growth, ownership, interdependence, and unity, which are embedded in this model.

Fifth, Nyakudya points out that “this organizational structure promotes transparency” because “each time we meet, either as the board or men’s monthly meeting or during the AGM, we receive financial reports, business narrative reports, over all the projects that the board is supervising.”46 The Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure is a clear answer to Cox’s argument that “missionaries and nationals must clarify the relationship between churches, replacing the concept of ‘local church autonomy’ and its negative connotations of separateness and isolation with a healthier understanding of the interdependency of churches.”47 In the case of Zimbabwe, this paper argues that congregational autonomy, which is predicated on individualism—the seedbed of the Western psyche—undermines communalism. Laurenti Magesa writes, “The principle of individualism and self-interest as the sole criteria of autonomy fails to satisfy the African communitarian psyche.”48 The Shonas of Zimbabwe say “gunwe rimwe haritswanyi inda”: one thumb does not kill lice. The tested philosophy that each person has to identify with the community because, “a person is a person only with other persons, alone one is an animal” grounds the African communalism known as Ubuntu.49 Accordingly, a person functions fully in a community, and this can be extended to societal organizations like Churches of Christ congregations. A single congregation, as premised by congregational autonomy, a concept rooted in individualism, cannot function without the support of other congregations. Churches of Christ congregations can form a community that is a “social group whose members live together or share common property and interests,” as exemplified by the Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure.50

Sixth, adopting this model—with modifications to suit the contextual environment of a particular culture—will reduce financial and material misuse, which is common among those who claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Todd M. Johnson et al. argue, “Ecclesiastical crime, amounts embezzled by top custodians of Christian monies (U.S. dollar equivalents, per year) [was close to] 59 billion.”51 There are no documented cases of misuse of funds by missionaries from the Ruwa-Premillennialist Churches of Christ, but this model increases transparency since leaders from both sides of the oceans will share information at the regional and national levels because every leadership structure has some challenges.

One Challenge of the Ruwa-Premillennialist Model

The Ruwa-Premillennialist model has aided in stabilizing this branch of the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe, but it does not adequately address the role of women whose voices are silent in all the decision-making meetings, yet they are the majority of the membership. Garrett is convinced that God has kept women on the leadership periphery for reasons better known to him.52 Ladies can immensely contribute if the executive incorporates them in their decision-making bodies. My description of the problem is not a call for women elders or deaconesses but reflects a desire to empower them by tapping into their God-given wisdom and intellect.


This paper briefly unpacks the history of the premillennialist branch of the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe, zeroing in on its nuanced organizational structure, which can be used as a model by other Churches of Christ in the Global South where the church is enjoying phenomenal growth.53 The adoption of this model will stimulate healthy ownership of churches by the indigene in the case of sub-Saharan Africa and a stronger partnership between indigenous Christians and North American Christians. Of course, this adoption requires variations to suit specific geographical contexts. This assertion reflects Cox’s argument: “A church can be both ‘owned’ by nationals [indigenous] and partnered with internationals. A key ingredient in such a partnership is ‘participation,’ which inspires ownership.”54 Adopting this model will breathe “fresh air” into Churches of Christ in the Global South, whose spiritual and numerical growth has been stifled by the implementation of a congregational autonomy that functions well in the West where congregations can afford to hire or fire ministers and construct their own church buildings. Congregational autonomy thrives in the West because individualism is embedded in society, while communitarianism is the fulcrum of indigenous African communities. The Ruwa-Premillennialist organizational structure has some challenges, but its advantages outweigh these challenges and deserve further studying.

Paul S. Chimhungwe received his PhD in Christian Theology (Church History) from McMaster Divinity College. He teaches at African Christian College in Manzini, Eswatini.

1 Premillennialism ‘teaches that Christ will return to reign on earth for a thousand years before history is brought to a close.” R. Chia, “Eschatology.” in Global Dictionary of Theology, ed. William A. Dyrness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 2008), 277–82.

2 In this paper, congregation means, “a group that possesses a special name and recognized members who assemble regularly to celebrate a more universally practiced worship but who communicate with each other sufficiently to develop intrinsic patterns of conduct, outlook and story.” James F. Hopewell, Congregation: Stories and Structures (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 12–13; emphasis original.

3 This is the leadership at congregational level according to the NT—each congregation was led by a group of elders. We first read of “a clearly defined threefold church order in which monarchical episcopacy is the most important element. Center stage stands the bishop, the unquestioned leader of the Christian community in a given city, who presides over a council of elders and is assisted by deacons.” K. N. Giles. “Church Order, Government,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Marin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 219–226. In support of congregational autonomy, Everett Ferguson writes: “As presented in the New Testament, each local church [congregation] is the church, complete in itself. The ekklēsiai are not a splitting into parts of the universal ekklēsia, nor is the ekklēsia a sum of the ekklēsia. Each church [congregation] is the whole in miniature, a manifestation of the whole in a given locality.” Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 344; emphasis original.

4 In a theological essay, Ferguson argues: “The Restoration Movement was in part a revolt against creeds, denominational structures, and human organizations. The apostles left no hierarchy to replace their presence but commended local elders to God and his word. . . . The local church [therefore] should be free under Christ to conduct its work, worship, and life according to the instructions of the Bible. There is voluntary cooperation in all areas of concern among believers and churches of the same faith. But they do not create new decision-making organizations.” Everett Ferguson, “Four Freedoms of the Church,” Restoration Quarterly 35, no. 2 (1993): 67.

5 Monte B. Cox, “Finishing Well: Phase-Out or Partnership?” in 100 Years of African Missions: Essays in Honor of Wendell Broom, ed. Stanley E. Granberg (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2001), 291–320.

6 Cox, 303–4.

7 Contextualizing “means articulating biblical faith using vernacular terms and engaging local issues.” T. G. Gener, “Contextualization,” in Global Dictionary of Theology, ed. William A. Dryness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 192–96.

8 Robert Garrett was born in Harare (then Salisbury), although his parents were based at the Wuyu Wuyu Mission.

9 In addition to the usual work of a missionary, S. D. Garrett established Arcadia Children’s Home in Arcadia, Harare. The home is still in existence, although the congregation severed its relationship with the board of trustees. It received its title deeds for the church building. This shows that congregations have the freedom to leave the Ruwa-Premillennialist structure. Nevertheless, the Arcadia congregation remains premillennialist in faith.

10 Since the Church of Christ in Zimbabwe has two branches, the premillennialist and the mainstream (postmillennialist), I need to point out that in 1949, this doctrine was fully supported by W. L. Brown, as well as S. D. Garrett, who was based in Salisbury. Garrett had taught this doctrine during a gospel meeting at Wuyu Wuyu Mission, with George Hook opposing him. During those years, some of the outstanding missionaries based in the Rhodesias who did not support this doctrine were W. N. Short, J. D. Merritt, and J. C. Shewmaker. In 1950, however, J. C. Shewmaker’s $5 monthly support from Springfield Church of Christ was terminated after he was requested in writing to explain his position over this doctrine.

11 Ndhlukula, interview by author, Marondera, Zimbabwe, August 15, 2011. Although Eldred Echols, who worked at Nhowe Mission under Brown, wrote that Brown, the missionary-in-charge, was forced to resign because of the poor treatment he gave to the natives. Eldred Echols, Wings of the Morning: The Saga of an African Pilgrim (Forth Worth: Wings, 1989), 50.

12 During colonialism, only whites, Euro-Americans were allowed to start and register Christian churches with the colonial government; Africans could be arrested for starting a church.

13 Robert L. Garrett. “S. D. Garrett: His Works Do Follow Him: Tributes from the Field,” The Mission and the Work (November 1972): 318–19.

14 Robert L. Garrett, interview by the author, Ruwa, Zimbabwe, June 3, 2016.

15 From 2010 to 2016, unity initiatives between the premillennialists and the mainstream Churches of Christ have seen partial success. Some congregations have united, and both men and women from the divisions have held joint retreats since 2016.

16 The Premillennialists are pejoratively called in the Shona language “Chechi yaGarret” (“Garrett’s church”), and the Premillennialists call Robert Garrett “mukuru” (“the elder”).

17 The workshop has equipment used to construct steel structures for church buildings and steel window frames; they store construction machinery including a concrete mixer, scuff-folding and welding machines.

18 In 2017 and 2018, other non-premillennialist congregants have organised their retreats at Rockwood Bible Camp. This is a direct consequence of the unity initiative.

19 Garrett, interview.

20 “Constitution of the Churches of Christ,” prepared by representatives of the premillennial Churches of Christ in Southern Rhodesia, July 29, 1961, preamble, copy in possession of the author. (Garrett’s lawyers drafted the constitution, whose signatories are the chairman and secretary of the board of trustees. A duly constituted annual general meeting selects board members. Church representatives, that is, elders, deacons, preachers, or ordinary Christians, attend the AGM as voting delegates.)

21 Garrett, interview.

22 G. Nyakudya, interview by the author, Ruwa, Zimbabwe. September 1, 2017.

23 “Constitution of the Churches of Christ,” art. III, § d.

24 Nyakudya, interview. As already pointed out, Garrett says there are over forty congregations.

25 Appendix A of the constitution has a list of member congregations.

26 “Constitution of the Churches of Christ,” art. IV, § b.

27 Cox, 305–6.

28 Ibid., 306.

29 Cox, 302.

30 Nyakudya, interview. Any congregations with a membership of less than fifty adult members is defined as small, and those congregations with a membership above fifty members are classified as big. Since January 2009, Zimbabwe has been using the US Dollar as it major currency. Its own currency was eroded by hyperinflation resulting in the country printing a one trillion note in January 2009.

31 “Constitution of the Churches of Christ,” art III, § g.

32 Garrett, interview. He gave me the following:

  • A copy of the “Constitution of the Churches of Christ.”
  • Financial accounts for the month ending 31 May 2016.
  • A spreadsheet for gospel fund collections listing all the congregations in Zimbabwe that contributed to the fund.
  • A building fund spreadsheet that has a section for rentals that are received from the hire of church buildings and other properties like classrooms that are used as nurseries.

All title deeds for property owned by these premillennialist Church of Christ are kept in a safe at Ruwa.

33 This fund, although not substantial, gives widows dignity in the community because they are not abandoned by the church. This is one of the significant weaknesses of the strict autonomous organizational structure. At the demise of a preacher, the congregation will give the widow a small amount of money to cater for immediate needs, and after a few months, she will be struggling. All associated premillennial preachers, as employees of the Church of Christ Board of Trustees, are registered with the National Social Security Authority (NASSA) in Zimbabwe. The disbursements are a pittance, hence, the board established the widows’ purse to augment NASSA.

34 Harari is now Mbare, while Salisbury is now Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.

35 Churches of Christ, Constitution of the Churches of Christ, art. II.

36 “Constitution of the Churches of Christ,” art. V, § 5.3.j.

37 Nyakudya, interview.

38 Garrett, interview.

39 Cox, 312; emphasis original.

40 Ibid.

41 Paul G. Hiebert, The Gospel in Human Contexts: Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 31.

42 A term borrowed from Cox, 308–19.

43 Nyakudya, interview.

44 Justo González, The Changing Shape of Church History (St. Louis: Chalice, 2002), 43.

45 Cox, 311–12; emphasis original.

46 Nyakudya, interview.

47 Cox, 303.

48 Laurenti Magesa, What is Not Sacred? African Spirituality (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 45.

49 Magesa, 12.

50 Soro Soungalo, “Family and Community” in Africa Bible Commentary, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 1204.

51 Todd M. Johnson, Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing, “Christianity 2017: Five Hundred Years of Protestant Christianity,” International Bulletin of Mission Research 41, no. 1 (2017): 41–52.

52 Garrett, interview.

53 Johnson, et al., “Christianity 2017,” 15.

54 Cox, “Finishing Well,” 308–9.

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“Dong Suk Kee: Immigrant Laborer, Methodist Minister, and Restorationist,”

Missio Dei’s standard copyright does not apply to this article. Used by permission of the author. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from the author.

Dong Suk Kee (1881–1971) converted to Christianity while working as a laborer on a sugar plantation in Hawaii after leaving a career as a bureaucrat in the royal government of Korea. After studying theology at Northwestern University, he worked from 1914 to 1927 as a pastor of the Northern Methodist Church around Seoul and in Manchuria as well as participating in anti-Japanese independence movements. He then studied in the United States (1927–1930), encountering the Restoration Movement at Cincinnati Bible College and soon moving toward the Churches of Christ. Upon his return to Korea, he pioneered the Churches of Christ throughout the country.

The oldest of five children, Dong Suk Kee was born April 6, 1881, during the last years of the Chosun Dynasty, the eighteenth year of the reign of King Gojong. His father, Dong Ju Hong was a twenty-third generation member of the Dong family line, and his mother came from the Samchuk Kim clan. He was born to the Dong-ssi clan in Hamgyeong Nam-do Province, Bokchung-gun Region, Leegok-myeon County, Chori Area (also known as the Dong-ssi Village), Sang Ham-jun, which now lies in North Korea. (The phrase Dong-ssi denotes a village “with many members of the Dong family.”) The Dong clan had an excellent reputation in the region of Leegok-myeon and the wider province of Hamgyeong Nam-do.

The village’s thirty families lived a traditional farming existence, with the Dongs being a respectable middle class family. Their rice fields supported a modest but comfortable lifestyle. The family faithfully practiced traditional Confucian rites and counted Confucian scholars among their ancestors. Suk Kee received the customary education for boys in the village school. There he learned to copy the ancient texts, all in preparation for the civil service examinations that could give entry to a life away from the farm. He was tall and multitalented, intelligent, confident, and adventurous. Though he occasionally got into trouble for his mischievous behavior, he earned the respect of both teachers and fellow students. Because his father was open-minded in his approach to parenting, Suk Kee found that his opinion mattered, even when he got into trouble in school. His father accepted his behavior while also expecting much from him.

Still, the growing boy felt dissatisfied with his education and grew restless in his limited settings. He began to seek new academic and career opportunities beyond the village. He took opportunities to visit the cities to find adventure.

In 1894, aged thirteen and without parental permission, he traveled to the city of Hanyang (now Seoul) to discover new horizons. Upon his return home, the Dong clan tried to cure him of restlessness by instructing his parents to arrange a marriage for him. His father eventually bowed to the clan’s persistent demands, matching Suk Kee in the winter of 1897 to a fourteen-year-old bride, Kim Emme, from the Kimhae Kim clan. They met for the first time on their wedding day. Years later, he noted that he knew nothing of her previously, and indeed knew nothing of girls at all, since in traditional Confucian teaching, boys and girls should be kept separate after age seven. He adopted the topknot as the sign of the married man. His sense of adventure and curiosity remained untamed, however.

In 1899, he decided to leave the village in order to find a political job in the national capital Hanyang. He mortgaged his parents’ property and left home with the money, planning to return home a success. It was a period of great political turmoil, as Japanese influence grew over a Korea whose government was corrupt and always teetering on the brink of collapse. Government offices, including provincial governorships, were for sale, and Dong Suk Kee also purchased a newly established office position at the Gwangjaewon National Hospital, a health care center for the poor (including prisoners).

He held office at Gwangjaewon on an interim basis until October 1902, when his appointment was made permanent. The person who sold him the office kept asking for more money, however. After he refused to pay, that supervisor harassed him and eventually fired him from the position. Worst of all, the lender to whom he had mortgaged his parents’ property foreclosed on the loan, forcing his father to sell his farmland to pay off the debt. Disgraced, the young man could not return home. Years later, he reflected:

I wanted to become a governor, so I went to Hanyang with that hope. Because of that desire, I tried to get a position. I understood that I had to spend a lot of money to get such a position. I was only 19 years old when I got a government job. But after that, my parents had to sell their rice field to pay back the money I borrowed. It’s our custom that a father has to pay the debt a son borrows. Because people know my father sold the land to pay off his son’s debts, I could not borrow more money from anyone. I didn’t want to be a tenant farmer. I could not return home, and I could not stay in Hanyang.

His concern about what was happening led him to take a job as a physical laborer in order to raise money to repurchase his parents’ land for them. A diligent person, he tried to do even the smallest jobs in the best possible way.

Through his associates, he heard rumors of labor recruiting for sugar plantations in Hawaii. He saw an announcement of a program of the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) for immigrants to work in Hawaii, offering perfect weather, a place to stay, and long-term, year-around work for farmers, as well as legal protection. The salary of $15 dollars per month covered six days of work per week, with Sundays off. Fuel, housing, water, and healthcare were free. Most importantly, the program offered tuition-free education in English. (The 1903 migration marked the first wave of Korean immigration to the United States.)

The HSPA was led by Charles R. Bishop, who had been deputed to recruit laborers from Korea. During that time, Korea had experienced successive crop failures, outbreaks of cholera, and apathy on the part of officials more interested in buying and selling offices than in helping the populace. They used growing amounts of public money for unnecessary festivals. After Bishop came to Korea to recruit workers, he met the longtime Presbyterian medical missionary (and United States Minister to the Korean court) Horace Allen. Allen helped Bishop obtain the permission of King Gojong to recruit workers. The Soo Min Wan, or Department for Migrating People, helped the recruits obtain appropriate visas, despite which fewer farmers volunteered than had been anticipated.

To fill the quotas, Horace Allen next recruited George H. Jones, a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and pastor of the Naeli Methodist Church in Inchon, to be a spokesperson for the recruiting drive. He proved successful in the role with an effective speech: “It is God’s will to invite the people of Chosun, who are not well known in the world, to be immigrants to the most beautiful land of milk and honey.” Many more responded, with Christians making up a disproportionate percentage of the recruits.

The Life of the Immigrant

A year after the first Korean arrivals in the United States, Dong Suk Kee debarked in Honolulu from the Japanese ship America Maru on January 9, 1904, along with 88 other Korean immigrants.1 For Dong Suk Kee, this new life offered the twin attractions of sufficient pay and the opportunity for free schooling in English. He saw the opportunity to study as a gateway to an unknown world. To fulfill his personal dreams, he had left all his family without telling anyone about his plans. As he later reflected, “If I had gone back to my home, I would have had to be a tenant farmer. I had the chance to go to Hawaii. I was 23 when I arrived in 1903.2 So I went to Hawaii.”

Soon he found, however, that the life before him differed greatly from the promises made by the recruiters. The employers treated the Korean workers like prisoners or animals. Workers had no right to talk back to their overseers, and their self-respect was often crushed. Dong Suk Kee reflected again:

In the announcements, they said there was no winter here. It is always sunny, and you can make a lot of money. It was a paradise on earth. But every day except Sunday, we had to labor from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The daily wage was 50 or 60 cents. After work, you slept in the sort of tent only soldiers can sleep in. You had only one blanket. The overseers practiced racial discrimination. On a 100 degree day, you had to cut sugar cane with a knife. Hard labor. Back pain. Whenever you tried to rest, the overseer came by on his horse and cracked his leather whip on your back. Everybody had a nametag with a number, and they always called you by your number rather than by your name. Every morning we got up at 4:30, ate boiled rice, and got to the bus station by 5:00. During work, you weren’t allowed time to stretch your back or smoke. The luna, or overseer, treated you like a cow or horse and called you just by your number.

This condition was hard, but Dong Suk Kee accepted the fact that he could not change the situation. The gross salary of $15 or 57 won per month saw deductions to repay money borrowed for the trip over, as well as other expenses. The migrants often found themselves homesick and full of regret. They also succumbed to various diseases. The unfairness of their treatment led the workers to a decision to slow down their work and rest whenever they could.

Dong Suk Kee, however, decided that he would do his best, even in an unjust situation. He believed, as he later said, that heaven helps those who help themselves.

From Laborer to Minister

Adopting such an attitude, he was able to ignore overseers and landowners as he confidently worked hard at whatever assignment came to him. He realized that his employer was a sincere Methodist who treated his workers more respectfully than other owners did. After working about nine months, in September 1904, he heard from the owner an unexpected proposition: “Mr. Dong, you are a very diligent and truthful person. Other people try to have enough rest. I notice that you work twice as much as others do. So I’ve been carefully watching you. I feel sorry for the others, so I just cover my eyes. But you stand out.” He continued that Dong had more potential than being a laborer, and asked him what favor he could do for him.

At first Dong did not know how to respond, but he calmed himself and thought carefully as he tried to put his thoughts into words. He concluded, “I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t know how to have what I want since I’m only an immigrant. However, since I came here, I have decided that, no matter how hard things are, I will not give up my dream. Western education is what I want.”

His employer smiled with enthusiasm and offered to become his protector and mentor, as well as to back his studies financially. “Believe me—I will help you with everything as you study.” Because of his employer’s special offer, Dong Suk Kee was able to change his status from farm laborer to friend. He could fulfill his purpose in coming to Hawaii after only ten months. Before leaving Hawaii for the mainland, however, he had a very important experience. He began to have Christian faith. The preacher of the Northern Methodist congregation in Hawaii, one Dr. Waterman, baptized him by sprinkling late in 1904. He left the Territory of Hawaii in October.

Dong was impressed by the Christian teaching of grace and love. He wasn’t sure about the implications of faith in Christ, and later decided that his reasons for accepting baptism were inadequate. He saw a kind person, and concluded that becoming a Christian was not a bad idea. Conversion came out of curiosity more than conviction. As Dong himself put it later, “Of course I did not know anything about real baptism. I didn’t believe in heaven. I just wanted to be a clean, moral person.” After his baptism, he left Hawaii and traveled to Nebraska, entering the Central School in Omaha. He studied there from 1905 to 1909, taking middle and high school courses to prepare for college. After he finished there, his patron gave him an affidavit of support. With that and Waterman’s certification of baptism, he entered the Department of Law at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Meanwhile, during his time in the United States, the Japanese occupied Korea, taking control of the judiciary and prison systems. On June 24, 1910, they issued a statement assuming authority over the police as well. On August 22, 1910, Korea was formally annexed to the Japanese Empire.

At Northwestern, Dong Suk Kee met Paul Grove, a student in the theology department (Garrett Biblical Institute, now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). That meeting marked a turning point in Dong’s life, though he himself did not realize it at the time. Grove dreamed of being a missionary to Korea. One day, out of the blue, he asked Dong, “Brother Dong, I am Grove. Korea is known as the Hermit Nation, which is a Japanese colony. I have been praying and have decided to go there. I don’t yet have an answer from God, so I don’t know if my dream will be fulfilled. So that’s why I’ve come to you. Please pray that my dream will come true, so I can be a missionary to your country. I will appreciate that.” After hearing that Grove, a foreigner, had such a dream, Dong wondered what he could do for his own country and its future. He appreciated Grove’s attitude and felt ashamed of his own.

Dong prayed for him. One day, Grove came to him happy. “Brother Dong,” he said, “God has answered our prayers. I have permission to go to Korea as a missionary. Thank you, brother!” Receiving an answer to prayer stimulated Dong Suk Kee’s sense of calling, which led to a decision to become a minister. Right away, in 1911, Dong changed his course of study from law to theology. In June 1913, he received the BD degree.

Reflecting on his change of fortunes, he noted:

While I was working for nine months on a sugar plantation, I was becoming a Christian. I got rid of my bad habits of smoking, drinking, and gambling. That was hard. When I was home growing up, I never heard about the Gospel or spreading the Gospel. Right before I went to the United States, I was sprinkled by a Methodist preacher, Dr. Waterman. When I was in San Francisco, the earthquake and fire happened. During that time, I really converted. I believed what the Bible said. I did not know completely about the truth. I came to study at Northwestern, which is where Methodists came to study. I learned only about Wesleyanism. I received the BD degree from Garrett Theological Seminary, and I came back to Korea in 1913.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 had brought him to a realization of God’s existence and the limitations of human life. That realization led him to embrace God’s word as a guide for life. Even the most advanced science could not prevent earthquakes, a fact that led him to conclude that God was alive and powerful.

Dong’s mentor and former employer heard the delightful news of his graduation. He and other members of the Methodist Church (North) invited him to accept a pastorate in the United States. His mentor asked him, “Why can’t you work as a pastor in the Northern Methodist Church in the United States? If that is too much, how about going to graduate school, and after you get a doctorate, why not be a professor? If you want to go to graduate school, I can sponsor that too.” In spite of his sponsor’s earnest questions, Dong could not answer immediately. He spent time in prayer before reaching a decision, concluding at last that he could not ignore his own people. Korea was a Japanese colony, and its people were suffering. Therefore, he believed that God willed him to do mission work in his own country. After deep thinking, he explained carefully to his patron his decision to return to Korea. Though disappointed, his sponsor respected the decision and encouraged him. “When you change your mind, let me know,” he concluded.

On October 16, 1913, Dong found himself back in Korea. Newspapers that day reported his arrival aboard the SS Persia, a ship sailing from San Francisco to East Asia. Ten years after leaving as a farm laborer, he returned with an education as a pastor in the Northern Methodist Church, a community that had entered Korea twenty-eight years earlier with American church planters.

Early Ministry as a Methodist Pastor in Korea

As soon as he arrived in Korea, Dong went to visit the Methodist Church (North) missions office to register as an evangelist. The Methodist mission office sent him as a traveling evangelist to the Wonju Area in Gangwon-do. This ministerial duty as a Methodist preacher marked a great change of status from his last job as a farm laborer on a sugar plantation in Hawaii. As a circuit rider he traveled throughout a mission district as a colporteur carrying tracts or books.

During his time as a circuit rider, very few Korean evangelists had studied overseas. Most of the power in the Methodist Conference in Korea lay with the American missionaries, so Dong’s Western education brought pride to Koreans, who placed high expectations on him.

Six months after Dong Suk Kee’s return, in June 1914, he attended the seventh annual conference of the Korean Northern Methodist Church. At that conference, the attendees collected 471 won for the Baejae Middle and High School (Baejae Hagdang), of which 100 won came from Dong himself. (This was the first private secondary school in Korea.) Thirteen evangelists were accepted as students in the school. More importantly, Dong was ordained as jibsa moksa (provisional pastor) along with An Gyung Lok, entering full-fledged ministry.3 After receiving his ordination, he was sent to the Jaemulpo (now Inchon) area. After that, the Naeli Gyohae Church named him its sixth minister, in which role he served from June 1914 to April 1917. The church grew through his strong evangelistic efforts, and he remodeled the church’s sanctuary and parsonage. The church also operated the Yanghwa Hagdang, a modern elementary school system, whose playground he helped expand. While pastor of the Naeli Church, he also was deeply engaged in Christian education through the operation of the Yanghwa School. In 1917, partly through his work, the school added Yanghwa Yuchiwon or Preschool, one of the first in Korea.

Also during his time as evangelist there, in 1916, he decided to visit his hometown of Bukcheong and his family after a long absence. His family and friends had assumed he was dead, having already practiced the annual rites for dead ancestors for him. However, his arrival as a successful, good-looking pastor elicited a happy welcome from his family and townspeople.

Dong Suk Kee was happy to see them but also wondered where his wife was. He heard from his parents that since he had disappeared, they had assumed he had died, and so they had arranged for their daughter-in-law to marry a single man in the next village. Unfortunately, the new husband had sickened and died, and so she was a widow living alone. Dong Suk Kee was speechless at the news. He locked himself in his room, praying for a new start as a married couple. Since he had an American degree and was now an evangelist, he could have married someone else of higher status if he wanted. However, he did not feel free to do so because of the New Testament’s prohibitions of divorce (Matt 19; 1 Cor 7). So he decided to visit his wife, blaming himself for her desperate situation. Dong thought, “I cannot ignore my poor wife.”

So he went to visit his wife without warning. She, however, doubted his intentions. He knelt in front of her and begged her forgiveness for deserting her. He wanted to touch her scars with the love of Christ. “I want to accept you as my wife. Let’s go together.” The two of them said goodbye to their relatives and traveled back to Inchon. After she came to Inchon and the parsonage at the Naeli Church, they began a life like that of newlyweds.

At that time, Dong decided to make his wife the same offer that the owner of the sugar plantation had made him. He told her: “Honey, I will help you study from the beginning, from elementary school to the college level. The owner of the sugar plantation did that for me, and I want to become your supporter. I will support you so you can receive a modern education and become a new woman. I will support you in that. Trust me, and believe in me. Don’t worry about it. I want you to do your best to study hard.”

So at the Methodist conference of April 9, 1916, Dong was promoted to jangno moksa. A year later, in April 1917, at the tenth Methodist conference, he resigned from Naeli Church and took up the pastorate at Gyungsung Mapo Samgae Church in Seoul, remaining there until June 1918. While there, Dong Suk Kee also served as a professor at the Hyupsung Seminary, whose president was then Robert Hardy, a missionary and the school’s second president.4

During the June 11, 1918, Methodist conference, Dong was reassigned from the pastorate of the Samgae Church. After that, he became the eighth evangelist of the Namyang Church in the Namyang area of Suwon, south of Seoul in Gyeonggi Province. At the same time, he rode circuit as an evangelist to churches in Osan and Jaearmni.

The March 1 Independence Movement

The March 1 Movement of 1919, a protest against the abuses of the Japanese occupying government, involved a number of associates of Dong Suk Kee. Pak Hi Do, pastor of the Gyeongsong Central Church and YMCA official and later one of the thirty-three signatories of the Korean Declaration of Independence, and Kim Sae Won, a teacher at the Sam-il School in Suwon, were leaders of the movement in the area. Dong Suk Kee often discussed the independence movement with both of them. On January 20, 1919, the Ichuneup Church in Gyeongi-do had an evening revival meeting, at which Dong was the speaker. Pak Hi Do visited him there. After finishing his speech, Dong went with Pak to his room and had the following conversation: “It is time. The American President [Woodrow Wilson] has pointed out the right to national self-determination. It is time for us to be independent also. We really need to be careful. We had better not be stupid or careless.” Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” had advertised the right of each nation to decide its own fate free from outside interference.

Having lived ten years in America, Dong Suk Kee could understand American newspapers and had contacts with foreign officials. Because of his contacts, he was often tasked with leading the meetings of independence movement supporters. On Saturday, March 1, 1919, at 2:00 in the afternoon, activists declared Korea’s independence at the Taehwagwan Restaurant. Dong arrived an hour and a half late because he did not know that the venue had been changed from Tapgol (Pagoda) Park, the original location. By the time he arrived, the thirty-three leaders of the movement had left, but a student from Gyungsin School, Jung Jae Young read the declaration of independence. After that, the students marched shouting Daehan doklip manse, “Long Live Korean Independence.” (From the Korean word for “Long live,” manse, came one of the names of the movement, the Manse Undong.)

At that time, Dong Suk Kee came through Daehan Gate with the demonstrators. They passed out pamphlets as they marched among the major city gates of Seoul, sharing them with officials at the American and French embassies as a way of seeking international help for their movement. We do not know when the Japanese arrested Dong Suk Kee, but it is known that the police interrogated him.

During the March 1 Movement, the Jaearmni Church in Gyeongi-do was one of the most damaged by Japanese reprisals. When the church heard on March 15 that their circuit-riding pastor had been arrested, members began meeting by torchlight each night on a hill near the church, joining in the calls for independence.

On April 5, many church members gathered in the Balahn marketplace to listen to lectures by the youth group. The crowds cried out “Long Live Korean Independence” in front of the nearby Japanese police station. At the time, the chants spread to the marketplace as well. The surprised police officers attempted to control the crowds, beating them with their clubs. One person, Kim Sun Ha, was killed. The police bayoneted her in the belly. She died with the call for independence on her lips.

Ten days later, on April 15 at 2:00 p.m. in Suwon, a Japanese officer named Lieutenant Arita led a platoon of the military police of the 78th Regiment to the Jaearmni Church. They explained that they had come to apologize for hurting the protesters at the Balahn marketplace, especially Kim Sun Ha. “Therefore,” they said, “everyone who is a male above fifteen years old should go into the church sanctuary and have everyone gather there. If everybody gathers there, I will apologize to them.” The group believed him, and so the twenty-one male Christians of the church entered the sanctuary, whereupon the police nailed the doors shut, soaked the building in gasoline, and set it ablaze. They fired their weapons into the building as well, as the women begged for their husbands’ lives. The Japanese soldiers killed the women as well, burning their bodies afterwards. They then burned thirty houses of church members. The soldiers also executed six members of the nearby Gojuri Catholic Church and burned their bodies.

The missionaries heard about these unspeakable atrocities and reported them in the Western press. For example, the Canadian medical missionary Dr. Frank Schofield visited the Jaearmni area on April 17. He took photographs of everything there, including the bodies strewn everywhere. He transported the corpses by cart to a public cemetery and buried them near its entrance. He then wrote “A Report on the Japanese Army Atrocities in Suwon” and sent the document to America so the whole world could know about the massacre.

Dong Suk Kee’s whereabouts are unclear for the weeks after March 1, 1919. He apparently was not detained immediately after the marches, because he slept one night at the home of Professor B. W. Billings of Yonhi Junior College (now Yonsei University). W. A. Noble, an official of the Northern Methodist Church, met him on March 4, and later that night the secretary of the American Bible Society, Mr. Back, also met him. On March 14, however, he was interrogated and detained at the Gyungsung District Court Inspection Office for violating the national security laws. Therefore, his movements between March 5 and 13 are now obscure. In any case, he was sentenced to seven months of penal servitude followed by three years on probation. He was also forced to resign from the Jaearmni and Namyang Churches.

During the eight years after his release in November 1919, he served in pastorates of the Methodist Church in both Korea and Manchuria. His appointments included Ichon (1919–1920), the Chungyang Gongju area of Chungchunnam-do (1920–1922), and Yonggotop in Manchuria (1922–1927). In Chungyang, he built the congregation’s first building, founded a middle school for girls in order to improve their condition, began a music program associating the church and the community, and contributed to the Joseon Minlip Daehag Seolip Undong (Movement for the Foundation of Korean People’s Schools), a society for promoting the establishment of indigenous Korean universities.

During this time, the Dong-a Ilbo, a major Korean newspaper, reported that Dong Suk Kee and his church actively participated in the March 1 Movement, leading to constant surveillance by the Japanese police.5 The newspaper reported that on September 16, 1921, the Hong Song police arrested Dong Suk Kee and detained him briefly. The harassment prompted him to leave Korea and travel to Manchuria as a missionary.

During his five years in Manchuria, Dong Suk Kee represented the Northern Methodists and played a prominent role in working out a comity arrangement with the Presbyterians. He also established the Yongdong School inside the Yonggotop Church serving Korean immigrants in Manchuria, who would not otherwise have received a good education. He wanted to give students a good sense of Korean identity and self-discipline so as to equip them for self-reliance.

An unusual aspect of his work in Manchuria comes to the fore in his statement at the eighteenth church conference in 1925. He asked, “Is infant baptism biblical or unbiblical?” He requested an answer. He also asked, “If you are not an ordained minister or evangelist, can you baptize or conduct a funeral? Why has the Korean Church forbidden evangelists from doing these things if they’re not fully ordained?” The conference agreed to allow each congregation to decide freely on the issues. This may have been the moment at which Dong Suk Kee began asking the questions that inspired his move toward the Restoration Movement and the Churches of Christ.

Church of Christ Missionary

After this time, Dong Suk Kee felt empty in a corner of his heart, despite his success as a Methodist missionary. After meditation and prayer, he concluded that while trying to find political independence from Japan was important, mental and spiritual independence as a Christian were even more important for Koreans. “Above all,” he said, “I have to clear myself spiritually so as to lead others to be spiritually clear. But my spiritual life is very weak. Therefore, to recharge my spiritual life, I have to look for opportunities quickly to overcome my weak spirituality right away. I need to look for opportunities to recharge.”

He felt that he urgently needed an opportunity to recharge by going to graduate school. In 1927, he resigned from his work in Manchuria and registered as pastor of the Chongdong Church. In November of that year, he arrived in the United States. The December 29 issue of the Shinhan Minbo newspaper of San Francisco reported that, “about ten years ago, he received the BD from Northwestern University. Until about a month ago, he was doing mission work. But he has now traveled to Wisconsin after passing through the port of Seattle. He is visiting the Wisconsin churches to report on the state of the Korean churches.”

Soon after his arrival in America, he began searching for an appropriate Methodist graduate school. While looking, one day in August 1928, he discovered Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary, operated by the Christian Church. His reasons for matriculating there are obscure. In any case, for the first time he studied about the Restoration Movement. This was the first time he had thought about the nature of the early church established in Jerusalem. He later reflected on that opportunity to study: “I didn’t have any plan and didn’t expect to study at Cincinnati. I truly believe this was God’s plan. This school taught the Bible truly, as we teach it in the Church of Christ. At that time, they used the instrument, unlike the Church of Christ. But as I look back, I think God was leading me to go back to Korea and be dedicated as a leader in the Restoration Movement in order to start the Church of Christ there.” Dong Suk Kee concluded that the Restoration Movement emphasized the Bible’s sole authority, the primitive church, and a movement toward unity. He concluded that the Church of Christ was the only true church and so was nondenominational.

While he was studying at Cincinnati Bible College from September to December 1928, Dong Suk Kee was immersed by a Christian Church pastor named Trumph. The date and place are not known, however. After he was baptized, Dong Suk Kee resigned his ordination from the Korean Methodist Church. He then became a pastor in the Christian Church and a convinced member of the Restoration Movement. On January 15, 1930, the headquarters of the Korean Northern Methodist Church announced his resignation from the church’s ministry. He was officially removed from its roles.

Dong Suk Kee received a BA from Cincinnati Bible College in June 1929 and the MA in June 1930. His MA thesis was entitled, “The Early History of the Restoration Movement in the United States.” Its eight chapters traced the work of Stone, Campbell, and their contemporaries.

As a student at Cincinnati, he had engaged in several disputes with professors and fellow students. However, he returned to Korea carrying the recommendations of the Churches of Christ in America. He decided to go home as an independent missionary of the Restoration Movement. As he explained his actions, he concluded that churches were not made by people’s rules but must rest on the foundation of the New Testament. He would speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent. So he decided to go home, but worried about the return to Korea as an independent missionary. He decided to raise money for his work by visiting Christian Churches in the American South. While doing so, one day in Montgomery, Alabama, Church of Christ preachers named T. B. Thompson, F. A. Decker, and C. M. Pullias engaged him in a biblical discussion. After the discussion, Dong Suk Kee concluded that since the New Testament was silent about the use of instrumental music, he ought to abandon its use. That was a new conclusion for him.

At this time, Dong Suk Kee decided that the silence of the Bible constituted a strong denial of the validity of an action or idea. His interlocutor Thompson, however, pushed Dong further, begging him to meet other Church of Christ leaders. As Thompson put it, “Brother Dong, you should go to the Central Church of Christ and David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. I will contact them so that when you go there, I want you to meet Sam Peterman, C. R. Brewer, and H. L. Calhoun.” With Thompson’s help, Dong Suk Kee traveled to meet those leaders and fellowshipped with them. Through them, he learned about the principles guiding the Church of Christ. These leaders explained their understanding of the nature of the primitive church as revealed in the New Testament. Dong Suk Kee decided that the Church of Christ was closer to the primitive church than the Christian Church was.

Later he reflected on that time: “I went to Alabama and met T. B. Thompson and F. A. Decker. Up till then, I had never thought about instrumental music in worship. After that, I gave up using instrumental music in sincere worship. Worshiping God in truth and spirit with a pure heart led me to give up everything outside of the New Testament.” He wrote back to his friends in Cincinnati to withdraw himself from Christian Churches and announce his adherence to the Churches of Christ. After changing his status to being a minister in the Churches of Christ, he headed back to Korea, requesting help from American congregations in his efforts.

Churches of Christ in Tennessee who heard of his decision agreed to help him. The Waverly-Belmont Church of Christ in Nashville became his supporting church, collecting money from several congregations to help him. The churches saw him as a native Korean missionary coming from an oppressed Japanese colony and serving the suffering and persecuted Korean people. Through this process, Dong Suk Kee became the first missionary appointed by Churches of Christ to serve in Korea.

After this he severed ties with both Methodist and Christian Churches. He returned home as a Church of Christ native Korean missionary. Thus, his plan to do extension education through Cincinnati Bible College had recharged him. After his trips through the southern United States, he arrived in San Francisco on October 15, 1930, and sailed for Korea on the Hasama Maru on October 18. He had accomplished his purpose in coming to the United States. He joyfully anticipated his return to a new mission field. He was grateful to God for accompanying him on his journey.

According to a newspaper report in the Shinhan Minbo (October 16, 1930), he said:

The Waverly-Belmont Church of Christ and the 12th Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville, the Catoma Street Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as other churches and friends sent me to preach the Gospel in Korea. I am grateful to God for that. I am able to return to Korea because of their help, and I have enough money to go. My Lord will call the Korean people through my lips: “come to me, and I will give you rest. And I will build my church.” I can only say things like that because God is with me.

The newspaper continued to quote him: “I want to establish a free church (a Church of Christ) and be dedicated to mission work.” It also claimed that “Dong wanted to buy a car and take it with him to Korea. Dong was planning to leave October 18, 1930.” It is more likely that he wanted a bicycle, however, since one of his students, Yang Suk Moon, later reported that, “Pastor Dong Suk Kee, when he returned to Korea, brought a bicycle and rode it to evangelize. Wherever that bicycle could reach, a Church of Christ was established, one at a time.”

After he arrived in Korea, he started his ministry in the Bukchung area, his hometown, in the province of Hamgyeong-do. He did so because his involvement in the March 1 Movement (Sam-il Undong) made it difficult for him to work in the major cities. He went instead to his own village of origin and the immediate environs. He taught his wife first, and then his relatives and friends about his concepts of the New Testament church. Twenty were baptized as he founded the Hamjeon congregation, the first Church of Christ in Korea. The first baptisms took place in winter, requiring him to break the ice on the streams in order to carry them out.

From the time of his return to the liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, Dong Suk Kee founded seven congregations in his home province, far from Seoul. Thus the center of the Restoration Movement before the Korean War lay in what became North Korea. The churches usually met in houses converted into sanctuaries. In June 1935 he returned briefly to Nashville, preaching at the Waverly-Belmont Church of Christ, his sponsoring congregation. During that time he met Kang Myung Suk, who had recently earned the BD at Vanderbilt and was preparing for the Methodist pastorate. Dong confessed to Kang that during his own time as a Methodist pastor he had merely taught Methodist doctrine for 14 years. After his conversation with Dong, Kang was immersed following the church service, committing himself to being a missionary of the Churches of Christ in Korea.

After 1945, Dong Suk Kee moved to Seoul, where he began the Naesudong Church. He also founded three other churches in the south. He traveled again to the United States in early 1950 but was trapped there by the onset of the Korean War in June of that year. While in the United States, he preached to about 150 Korean soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia, and baptized 28. Meanwhile, American soldiers stationed in Daegu, Korea, wrote the elders of the 16th and Decatur Church of Christ in Washington, DC, to call for American missionaries to be sent to Korea. In 1954, Haskell Chesshir and Dale Richeson and their families joined Dong as church planters in Korea.

Dong Suk Kee retired in 1966 and passed away in 1971 in California at age 90. Twenty-five years after his death, President Kim Young Sam recognized him as an activist in the Independence Movement. His life had taken many turns, and along the way he had helped create a church movement whose legacy continues to this day.

His sincere and honest character showed through all his actions. He always sought to follow the Bible as he understood it, feeling free to change his mind and actions based on his growing understanding of Scripture. For that reason, he could gain an audience for his “back to the Bible” message even among his former colleagues in the Methodist Church. He fought for Christian unity, emphasizing weekly communion and baptism as marks of the primitive church. Training ministers in partnership with the Americans, he sought to build a sustainable church planting movement. The idea of speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where it is silent attracted him and his hearers. Almost ninety years after the beginning of the Churches of Christ in Korea, that model remains compelling.

Works by Dong Suk Kee

Some of these works were collected by Kee Joon Seo, “Suk Kee Dong and His Pioneer Work in Korea, 1930–1949,” Research Paper, Harding Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, TN, 1977. The current list is revised and expanded.

“The Early History of the Restoration Movement in the United States.” MA Thesis, Cincinnati Bible Seminary, 1929.

“The New Work in Korea.” Gospel Advocate 73 (September 3, 1931): 1106–7.

“Korea, its People and Religions.” Gospel Advocate 73 (September 7, 1931): 1138–39.

“Two Churches Organized and Over Fifty Baptisms during First Year: First Annual Report of Work of S. K. Dong in Korea.” Christian Standard 67 (January 16, 1932): 66.

“Number of Converts in Two Churches Await Baptism in Korea: Korean Letter.” Christian Standard 67 (June 4, 1932): 555–57.

“From the Field.” Christian Standard 67 (July 30, 1932): 746.

“A New Church Established in Korea: Second Report of the Church Established in Korea.” Christian Standard 68 (January 4, 1933): 4.

“Twenty-one Baptisms in Korea.” Christian Standard 68 (November 18, 1933): 932.

“Korea Mission Scene.” Gospel Advocate 77 (January 3, 1935): 18–19. [Photographs of Dong’s work.]

“Korea a Fertile Field.” Gospel Advocate 77 (March 28, 1935): 305.

“The Church in Korea.” In Abilene Christian College Bible Lectures 1951, 102–10. Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1951.

“Korea.” In The Harvest Field, 1947, ed. Howard L. Schug and Jesse P. Sewell, 267–85. Athens, AL: Bible School Bookstore, 1947.

“A Personal History of S. K. Dong.” Unpublished typewritten MS, October 1959.

“God Works for Man through Man.” Unpublished typewritten MS, n.d.

“Korea Calls.” Unpublished typewritten MS, n.d.

A number of Dong’s works, as well as information about and pictures of his grave, are collected online at

Jae Ryong Seo is the Director of the Church of Christ History Institute and Minister at Sejong Church of Christ in South Korea. He has studied at Korea Christian University (ThM in History of Theology) and Kangnam University (ThM in Practical Theology; PhD in Church History), where he also taught church history. He has recently published books (both published by the Church of Christ History Institute in South Korea) on Dong Suk Kee and Kang Myung Suck, ministers who laid the foundation of the Churches of Christ in Korea during the twentieth century.

The following article is mostly a translation and revision of chapters 1–10 of Seo Jae Ryong, 90 Nyeon Ae Bal Ja Chi, vol. 1, Dong Suk Kee (The Footsteps of 90 years, vol. 1, Dong Suk Kee) (Seoul: Church of Christ History Institute, 2018); published by the author’s permission.

1 Duk Hee Lee, Korean Passengers Arriving at Honolulu, 1903–1905 (Honolulu: Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawaii, 2004), 47.

2 Dong Suk Kee follows the lunar calendar when dating his arrival to November 22, 1903. He also reports his age in the Korean style, with the first months of life counting as year 1.

3 In the Methodist Church, there were two levels of minister: jibsa moksa (provisional pastor) and jangno moksa (regular pastor).

4 This information comes from police records about Dong made during the arrests after the March 1 Independence Movement in 1919. Under interrogation, Dong had admitted that he was a professor under Hardy at the seminary.

5 Dong-a Ilbo, September 20, 1921, and September 27, 1921.