Volume 10 - Issue 2
Caste, mission and church growthBy Philip Lewis
Dr Donald McGavran (b. 1897) is the founding father and inspiration of the ‘Church Growth’ school of missiology. As its name suggests, this school stresses numerical increase in missionary activity and considers it the central concern of the church. It claims to offer a methodology for studying church growth in the past, drawing on the best insights of sociology, anthropology and the behavioural sciences, so as to identify which segments of society were responsive to the gospel. Such a study is seen as providing essential clues for devising an effective strategy today. The activity of the church and of missionary agencies—educational, medical, development—is assessed and evaluated in terms of its contribution to promoting numerical increase. Such concerns are institutionalized in the influential Institute of Church Growth of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary, USA, and disseminated through a Church Growth Bulletin and many monographs—often written by missionaries on leave at Fuller—some of which have been published by the William Carey Library. McGavran, then, is no voice crying unheard in the wilderness, but has gathered an able and devoted team around him, fired by his enthusiasm ‘to proclaim Christ and to persuade men to become his disciples and responsible members of his Church.’1
No thought, missiological or otherwise, exists in a vacuum. Therefore to understand and evaluate McGavran’s ideas we need to treat them as first and foremost a response to his experience as a missionary in India. Here he was born into a missionary family in 1897; to India he returned after his ordination in the USA in 1923 and worked for thirty years, largely in the fields of education and hospital administration. This is the logical starting point since ‘India still conditions his thinking and behaviour, in spite of his world vision’.2 We will then cross the border into Pakistan and assess the relevance of his missiology to a post-partition, independent Muslim country. This seems legitimate since McGavran makes large claims3 for his missiology and has not seen fit to confine its relevance to Hindus in pre-partition British India. Finally, we will consider to what extent his missiology is securely rooted in the Bible. Sadly, missiology has often been the Cinderella of theology and biblical studies with the result that ‘missiologists have far too often used the Bible in naive and superficial ways’.4
Pickett as precursor to McGavran
The oldest Christian community in India, the Syrian Christians of Malabar in the south-west, claim St Thomas as their founder. Its origins and early history remain largely opaque and its existence only became well-known to the West in the sixteenth century with the advent of the Portuguese, who brought in their wake the Roman Catholic missions. However, the majority of Christians in India today are the product of group conversions, from within the depressed classes of Hinduism, between 1880 and 1930. In Pakistan today perhaps 95% of all Christians, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, are descendants of the Chuhra caste, a caste of untouchable sweepers and landless labourers of the Punjab.5 This pattern of movement into the church in this period holds good for most of India.
These dramatic group conversions generated considerable discussion and controversy within the missionary community in India and among Christian agencies throughout the world. For this reason the National Christian Council of India, Burma and Ceylon commissioned J. Waskom Pickett, to make ‘an extensive, penetrating and objective study’6 of the movement. Pickett’s celebrated study, the fruit of three and a half years’ intensive team work, was published in 1933.7 Its findings allayed many fears. Firstly, it defended, in the face of Western individualism, the idea of a ‘group decision’ for Christ. In India life is lived as part of extended families and castes with important decisions, necessarily and properly, corporate. Moreover, the extended family and kinship network is the source of economic, psychological and emotional security. Pickett’s study reassuringly showed that what was decisive for continued Christian growth and maturity was good teaching and pastoral oversight rather than the motives for becoming Christian. Secondly, the impact of group decisions on the wider community was favourably contrasted with the effects of drawing individual converts within the orbit of a ‘mission station’8 and its associated institutions such as hospitals and schools. The latter pattern too often uprooted the convert from his family, rendered him incapable of influencing them through the natural network of kinship and caste, drew him into a missionary ghetto in which Western habits were adopted, where he even ‘lost (his) pride in Indian nationalism’9 and where he was habituated to a dependence on missionaries for livelihood, marriage and so on. Group conversion avoided such dangers. Thirdly, the study was alert to the danger that converts would import caste prejudice and ethos into the church, but concluded that ‘in every area we found an awareness of this danger and systematic attempts to overcome it. On the whole the danger is most acute in the South, where certain sections of the Roman Catholics have permitted such extreme caste distinctions as the segregation of outcastes in church services and the priority of higher caste converts in receiving the sacraments of the Holy Communion’.10 Finally it urged mission agencies and churches to order their priorities aright so as to remove the anomaly whereby ‘groups who have professed the Christian faith … remain uninstructed and unled, while resources that might have met their needs are expended in trying to persuade others to do what they have done’.11
Anyone familiar with McGavran’s writings will recognize the lineaments of many of his ideas in Pickett’s study. This is not to belittle his missiology as merely derivative, but to reiterate that Pickett’s work and the situation it reflected is the essential catalyst of McGavran’s thinking. Pickett himself wrote that his attention was drawn to an early review of his book by McGavran which exhibited ‘an enthusiasm traditionally associated with new converts’.12
Pickett’s conclusions became, as it were, the point of departure for McGavran. Where Pickett was concerned that theological reservations and institutional inertia should not prevent missions from redeploying men and resources to maximize the results of group decisions, McGavran was more forthright. Since his concern was, unashamedly, church planting and numerical increase he went further than Pickett by rigorously evaluating other church and mission activities in terms of this criterion. In 1955 in an article in the International Review of Mission he even suggested a time limit of between fifteen and thirty years for a specific unit of work to be completed: ‘as peoples are disciplined, it becomes possible to avoid the idea that the task of missions is endless proclamation to a disobedient people, endless philanthropy to Gospel rejectors and endless service to static little Churches’.13 These emphases and priorities remain a constant in his thinking although, in his later work, he became more reticent about drawing up time-tables, since he became aware that the relationship between seed-sowing ministries and harvest is a good deal more complex and problematic.14
The second area in which McGavran developed the conclusions of Pickett’s study was that of ‘group decision’. One need not now be defensive about the concept, granted adequate follow-up, and its advantages in utilizing already existing kinship network in spreading the gospel seemed self-evident. McGavran developed this notion into what became known as the homogeneous unit (hu) principle, perhaps the central concept in his missiology. The hu is an elastic concept which denotes ‘simply a section of society in which all members have some characteristics in common … whether political allegiance, geographical location, common language …’.15 For our purposes we need to mention one type of hu, which has a ‘people consciousness’, e.g. ‘when its members think of themselves as a separate tribe, caste or class. (Such as) the orthodox Jews (or) the castes in India.’16
For McGavran the hu becomes the target group for church planting. The rationale for this is a combination of pragmatic, sociological, cultural and biblical reasons. Hence McGavran’s ‘well-known statement … that people “like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers.” That is, the barriers to the acceptance of the Gospel are often more sociological than theological: people reject the Gospel not because they think it is false but because it strikes them as alien. They imagine that in order to become Christians they must renounce their own culture, lose their own identity, and betray their own people.’17
McGavran is less troubled than Pickett and an earlier generation of missionaries at the prospect of the proliferation of one-caste churches. Therefore, he endorses the suggestion of Canjanam Gramaliel, a third-generation Lutheran minister in Kerala, South India, for whom caste should be recognized as one of ‘God’s orders of preservation’. Therefore churches should be planted in all castes, which ‘for some time would remain one-caste denominations …’18 McGavran shares his confidence that ‘becoming Christian and accepting the Bible as the only Scripture will destroy the religious sanctions which reinforce Hindu caste, and that with religious sanctions gone, the sense of separateness and class distinction will gradually disappear while conserving the richness of Indian culture’19 (my emphasis). One is left, then, with a clear impression that caste, far from being an abomination to the Christian conscience, is part of that cultural richness which Christians must preserve, once certain objectionable features are removed.
These two issues, the priority of numerical growth and the hu as the vehicle to maximize it, generated most discussion at the Lausanne consultation on the hu principle in 1977. Its report reflected the continued misgivings many participants felt when it stated that ‘we all understand the reasons why hu churches usually grow faster than heterogeneous or multicultural ones. Some of us, however, do not agree that the rapidity with which Churches grow is the only or even always the most important Christian priority. We know that an alien culture is a barrier to faith. But we also know that segregation and strife in the Church are barriers to faith. If, then, we have to choose between apparent acquiescence in segregation for the sake of numerical Church growth, we find ourselves in a painful dilemma. Some of us have had personal experience of the evils of tribalism in Africa, racism in America, caste in India, and economic injustice in Latin America … in such situations none of us could with a good conscience continue to develop hu Churches which seem to ignore the social problems and even tolerate them in the Church.’20
An attack on caste as the precondition for the mass movements
A recent study on caste, Christianity and the mass movements in India offers a way out of this impasse.21 This monograph fills in a crucial gap in our knowledge of the genesis of the mass movements. Pickett’s study was concerned to allay missionary fears and document the movement rather than ‘attempt a critical study of the Christian mass movements. That task must await the effort of a competent Church historian.’22 Forrester carefully documents the emergence of a consensus among Protestant missionaries by 1850 that caste was morally indefensible, incompatible with the gospel and thus demanded an uncompromising and systematic opposition.
Many missionaries were well aware that the conflicts within the Churches on the caste issue in the 1830s and 1840s had not only discouraged numerical growth but had led to notorious schisms, and the reversion to Hinduism of large numbers from many South Indian Churches; but they regarded the egalitarian principle as too fundamental an issue to be sacrificed for the sake of short-term numerical advantages … a corollary of the missionaries’ detestation of caste was their acceptance of the role of protagonists of the poor, virtually the only people of influence willing to risk schism in the Churches or public disturbance for the sake of the depressed.23
What is significant is that those from the depressed castes who turned to Christianity as part of their corporate identity crisis, in search of increased human dignity, improved educational opportunities and so on turned to Protestant denominations more readily than to Roman Catholicism. Forrester’s explanation is that Roman Catholicism ‘tended to be very much more tolerant of the caste system and … commonly regarded it as distinguishable from Hindu religion. They did not see conversion as necessarily affecting the social status of converts … (therefore) the tolerant Roman attitude to the caste system made conversion to Catholicism a less plausible escape from that system than conversion to Protestantism.’24 As a footnote to this discussion it is worth pondering a recent conversion movement of scheduled caste Hindus to Islam in 1981. It generated a good deal of controversy: some 325 families of the Pallar sub-caste in Meenakshipuram, a village in South India, became Muslim. Two Christian researchers documented the movement and asked the question: why did you consider Islam better than Christianity or Buddhism? They answered that ‘Hinduism has many gods, expensive religious ceremonies plus caste discrimination. Buddhism is not common in India. Christianity has one God, but caste discrimination is also there. Muslims have one God and no caste discrimination.’25
It is apparent that the prophetic critique of caste developed by the Protestant missionaries and persevered in, despite some reversions to Hinduism, was honoured by God. It highlights the dangers of McGavran’s preoccupation with numerical increase. Had his policy of tolerating caste been pursued earlier in the nineteenth century there probably would have been no mass movements. God is a surprising God and vindicated the missionary attack on caste in a most unexpected manner: the same missionaries who attacked caste were the proponents of individualism and thus did not anticipate the later group conversions!’
Pakistan: is McGavran’s missiology relevant to the Muslim world?
We are fortunate in having a case-study of McGavran’s missiology applied to Pakistan. Fred and Margaret Stock after eleven years of evangelistic work in Pakistan had been worn down by the factionalism among Christians. Their outlook, however, was turned upside down and revitalized by a year’s study leave at Fuller Seminary in 1967. Here they drank deeply from the wells of church growth missiology and wrote their historical study of the mass movement to Christianity in the Punjab.26 Their research was controlled by four questions suggested by the School of World Mission faculty at Fuller: ‘(1) What caused the Church in the Punjab to grow at the turn of the century? (2) Which missionary methods were effective; which ineffective? (3) What segments of society proved responsive? (4) Are any of these factors part of the present-day scene?’27
This study, preceding Forrester’s work, pays scant attention to the earlier missionaries’ concerted attack on caste. Its conclusions are predictable given the questions with which they started: since most Punjabi Christians were the products of the mass movement among the ‘churas’, did similar groups exist today? The answer was that between half a million and a million such Hindu scheduled castes lived in the southern province of Pakistan, the Sind. Therefore the Stocks moved south. Consistent with McGavran’s principles they considered it was ‘essential that two divergent castes or tribes (should) not be integrated into one Christian congregation or Church organization … (since) we can trust to the Holy Spirit to gradually break down these barriers.’28 Such ideas have generated considerable controversy. Bishop Bashir Jivan of the southern diocese of Hyderabad, who has worked in this field for over twenty years, is deeply critical of tolerating one-caste churches. He maintains that much of the work has always been done across castes—e.g. different castes live together in Christian hostels—and feels that McGavran’s ideas simply serve to heighten caste awareness and exclusivism. The Bishop told me that, when McGavran came to Hyderabad in 1972 and insisted that evangelists should work within different caste groups, church elders from these different castes challenged him with the question: what then is the difference between Hinduism and Christianity?29
What is particularly disquieting about the Stocks’ book is that in practice the 97% of the population, who are Muslim, are ignored. To explore the reasons for this uncovers the extent to which McGavran’s assumptions are still shaped by his pre-partition experience among Hindus in India and exposes a serious logical flaw in his methodology. To ask historical questions about why a church grew in the past with a view to devising strategies for the present is a precarious enterprise. Any student of history knows how perilous it is to anticipate the future direction of events. Who in Pakistan at its creation in 1947 would have supposed that the Western trained, secular lawyer, Mr Jinnah would found a state, which thirty years after his death would claim his name as warrant for a process of fundamentalist, Islamic reconstruction?30 One can and should rejoice in the past growth of the church, but to take this movement as in some sense normative for future developments is to forget that it too was a product of a particular set of circumstances, which have now passed. To forget this is to find oneself in the Stocks’ position: because depressed Hindu castes converted in the past as part of ‘group decisions’, this becomes one’s norm for Pakistan today. This involves discounting the majority community who did not convert in great numbers. It overlooks or belittles the fact that some Muslims did convert and that the Pakistan churches owe much to them, especially in the areas of liturgy and apologetic writings.
The mass movements in the past could take place because in pre-partition India the British government allowed them to happen and could reduce persecution. Secondly, the converts had in the missionaries powerful patrons to intercede with government officials. Neither of these factors operates today. What prevents Muslim families from becoming Christians today is more likely to be fear than cultural factors. The convert from Islam risks everything: family, property and life. Should this sound alarmist the reader should read the first few pages of Bilquis Sheikh’s moving story of her recent conversion in Pakistan.31 The chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology—the ideological centre of the fundamentalist, Islamic renewal movement in Pakistan today—a few years ago wrote a book justifying the death penalty for apostates from Islam, and criticized an earlier liberal work by a retired Pakistani judge which had sought to argue that apostasy was a sin rather than a justiciable offence.32
In Pakistan today one is back in a New Testament situation where the gospel triggers intense conflict. One is reminded of our Lord’s frightening words: ‘do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword … a man’s foes will be those of his own household’ (Mt. 10:34a). For the Muslim convert today these words ring true. Often his choice is to stay in his village and risk death or flee to the anonymity of the burgeoning cities. In such an environment every conversion is a miracle, yet such miracles are increasingly evident in Pakistan today. To realize that God budgets for suffering is an encouragement both to the missionary and the convert. By focusing on cultural and sociological factors McGavran has side-stepped this crucial dimension which is written into every stratum of the New Testament. It seems he, and those influenced by him, are still writing mentally within a colonial era where the government often adopted an even-handed policy towards all religions and provided the freedom and security to convert. These days are largely gone, certainly for Pakistan and most of the Muslim world.
Church growth missiology in biblical perspective
While our treatment of McGavran’s missiology has been critical, this in no way seeks to belittle his achievements. ‘Under his leadership Church growth analysis has advanced in sophistication to the point where it has become an indispensable tool for the study of local Churches … so rigorous is he in dispelling romantic notions and false theological rationalizations of non-growth that he may be said to have de-mythologized this subject.’33 Besides his preoccupation with numerical growth his missiology touches two crucial areas of contemporary concern: firstly, how to take cultural diversity seriously, thus avoiding the danger of missionaries exporting Christianity in an alien Western garb while affirming and demonstrating our oneness in Christ; secondly, how to hold together the great commission and the great commandment, proclamation (kerygma) and service (diakonia).34 Even when one may disagree with him, one must credit McGavran, and those whom he has inspired, with keeping such issues on church and missionary agency agendas.
This said, we may proceed to a consideration of three biblical themes, central to any serious missiological engagement with the Hindu and Muslim world. They will serve to evaluate the adequacy of McGavran’s missiology within a biblical perspective.
Table-fellowship open to all—an essential dimension of the gospel or theologically neutral?
By insisting that the barriers to accepting the gospel are more sociological than theological McGavran often gives the impression that sociological factors are thus theologically neutral. Thus if Hindu notions of purity and pollution serve as a dissuasive for them becoming Christian, since this would mean joining in the Lord’s Supper open to all castes, for McGavran the logic is clear: evangelize within one caste group.
The situation in the New Testament seems very different. What scandalized the Pharisee was Jesus’ open table: ‘the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Lk. 7:34). As J. Jeremias reminds us, ‘the mocking exaggeration should not give us the wrong idea that Jesus’ normal company at table … was limited to “sinners”; it was quite enough to offend Jesus’ opponents that He excluded no-one from it’35 (my emphasis). The scandal Jesus’ open table caused can only be understood when we realize that ‘the supreme religious duty for contemporary Judaism was to Keep away from sinners. Table fellowship in Qumran was open to the pure, to full members. For the Pharisee dealings with sinners put at risk the purity of the righteous and his membership within the realm of the holy and the divine.’36 Knowing this, Jesus did not consider an open table an optional, extra, which might be dispensed with if it unnecessarily antagonized a potential homogenous unit, whether Pharisee or Essene. The reason is that such expressions of table-fellowship cannot be reduced to merely social events demonstrating Jesus’ compassion, but they have a ‘deeper significance. They are an expression of the mission and message of Jesus (Mk. 2:17), eschatological meals, anticipatory celebrations of the feast of the end-time (Mt. 8:11) in which the community of the Saints is already being represented (Mk. 2:19). The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, achieved in table-fellowship, is the most meaningful expression of the message of the redeeming love of God’37 (my emphasis).
In the early church the open-table issue, this time involving Jewish and Gentile converts, again becomes a critical issue. Paul has to oppose Peter to his face at Antioch since ‘before certain men came from James, he ate with Gentiles; but when they came he drew back … fearing the circumcision party’ (Gal. 2:11–12; my emphasis). He and the Jerusalem leaders had the responsibility of commending the gospel to fellow Jews. In ad 44 Judaea reverted to the control of Roman procurators, which triggered an intensification of anti-Roman zealot activity. In such an environment the fact that Gentiles were being admitted on easy terms outside Palestine could compromise their mission. This in part seems the logic behind Peter’s withdrawal from table-fellowship at Antioch. Peter could be said here to endorse something like a McGavran stance. However, Paul was concerned with the impact of this withdrawal on the Gentiles who would infer from Barnabas’ and Peter’s withdrawal that they were, as uncircumcised, second-class citizens: thus the Acts 15 Jerusalem conference would be undone and Paul’s affirmation that in Christ (there is) ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ (Gal. 3:28) neutralized.38 It becomes apparent from these examples that C. René Padilla is right to insist that Christian fellowship across cultural barriers is ‘not an optional blessing to be enjoyed wherever circumstances were favourable to it … (but) essential to Christian commitment’.39
Jesus as one who, in the prophetic tradition, precipitates a crisis
McGavran’s preparedness to subordinate social responsibility to evangelism reflects a weakness in his missiology which betrays insufficient engagement with the Old Testament and the prophetic dimension of biblical faith.40 This is a serious weakness, since Jesus’ ministry stands very much within this tradition, his words and deeds inevitably precipitating a crisis: his open table challenges the self-assured piety of the Pharisee; his acts of healing are interpreted as usurping God’s prerogative to forgive sins and therefore blasphemous; far from adopting a low profile he deliberately triggers a confrontation with the corrupt Sadducee aristocracy by prophetically driving out the money changers from the temple thus fulfilling Zechariah 14:21.
Justice can be done both to this aspect of Jesus’ ministry and to evangelism when we recognize that ‘the whole life of the Church—worship, fellowship, preaching, service—has a missionary dimension, but not all has a missionary intention. When, following the death of Stephen, the Jerusalem Church was attacked and dispersed, the scattering of believers produced an enormous misisonary expansion (Acts 8), but there was no missionary intention. On the other hand, when, moved by the Spirit, the Church in Antioch laid hands on Saul and Barnabas and “sent them off” to preach among the Gentiles, the missionary intention was central …’.41
Protestant missionaries in nineteenth century India embodied this missionary dimension when they refused to compromise with caste in their medical and educational work. Indeed, as we have seen, the mass movements make little sense without this dimension. The fact is that McGavran himself furnishes many examples of this process. He instances the church in Puerto Rico which took up ‘the cudgels for the peasants, loaned them money at a fair percentage, and reversed the flow of land. When, after this display of social justice, she proclaimed the Gospel, many heard and followed in the way.’42 Similarly he documents how Korean Christians were active in the non-violent, non-co-operation movement launched by Koreans in 1919 against the Japanese to force them to grant self-government. Thus ‘the Church became the rallying point for the oppressed Korean people. Evangelism building on the pro-national stance of the Church produced a significant surge of growth in most provinces.’43 Having acknowledged the close relationship between prophetic witness and evangelism or missionary dimension and missionary intention, McGavran can still write: ‘Some Christian leaders under the circumstances prevailing in the 1960s (in the USA), and for a limited time, do well to turn from winning over to Christ to winning civil rights battles. But as a rule, the multiplying of cells of reborn Christians continues to have the higher priority.’44 By insisting on giving priority to one activity McGavran has misunderstood the thrust of the gospel which is to hold them together as complementary—the efficacy of which he himself has so richly documented.
Christian obedience and suffering winning the resistant
Before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem he weeps for his people. His words and deeds have precipitated a crisis for contemporary Judaism. The cross is the measure of the extent to which his own people were, in McGavran’s terminology, a resistant people. Yet his ‘suffering unto death’ creates a new situation: his disciples are reconstituted and forgiven by the risen Christ and empowered at Pentecost to witness to him. The first chapters of Acts show his suffering and resurrection challenging many who were formerly resistant, just as we are entitled to suppose that Stephen’s martyrdom began a series of events which led to the conversion of the resistant Paul.
Christian obedience, precipitating a crisis leading to suffering, is a pattern indelibly imprinted in the New Testament. Yet this dimension of the gospels seems largely missing from McGavran’s missiology, which makes little allowance for the gospel precipitating a crisis for Jews—and we may add Hindus and Muslims—with its inevitable corollary of suffering for those who witness to Christ. Even if one’s missiology is primarily rooted in Acts and Paul’s letters, as McGavran’s seems to be,45 it is difficult to understand his ‘blind spot’ since it is writ large here too.46
The gospel as it made its impact on the sub-continent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also precipitated a crisis among Hindus and Muslims which continues to this day. R. F. Young has documented Hindu responses to missionary preaching in Sanskrit writings in the nineteenth century in a provocatively entitled article, ‘Extra vedos nulla salus’.47 Young has deliberately sought to ‘convey the aggressive, inhospitable and uncompromising tenor of the original Sanskrit texts … symptomatic of resistant Hinduism.’ This is a necessary corrective to the emphasis usually given by Western scholars to ‘renascent’ Hinduism which absorbed and assimilated the Christian challenge by developing new expressions of Hinduism, often insecurely rooted in the Hindu tradition.
Thus the gospel itself precipitates a crisis, creating a deep and unresolved polarization within Hinduism. The same is true for Islam in the sub-continent. Today in Pakistan a fierce struggle is going on between a Western-educated group, nurtured on an apologetic Islamic literature—developed in the late nineteenth century to defend Islam against Christian criticisms48—and a neo-orthodox reaction. The former seek to present Islam as an enlightened, egalitarian creed supporting a progressive society characterized by monogamy, a liberal penal code, equality for women (etc.), while the latter insist on polygamy, traditional Islamic penalties in all their rigour, and separation of the sexes.49
To reiterate, it was largely the impact of the ‘Christian West’ which created this crisis in Hinduism and Islam. In a situation of dangerous polarization, as one finds in Pakistan today, obedience to Christ is costly. Yet, as with the early church, it is often suffering which wins over the resistant. We do not find Paul forever goading his congregation into a concern for numerical increase, but rather encouraging them to hold fast to God in Christ in times of trial. The latter is a precondition of the former.
All of us read the Bible with our own situation in mind. Our present experience need not distort, but can often illuminate the gospel and lead us to rediscover dimensions hitherto hidden to us. The charismatic movement had led to a rediscovery of this important dimension of the gospel. Similarly national and expatriate Christians living in Latin America and Asia have rediscovered the prophetic dimension of the Bible with its concern for justice in men’s dealings with each other. Those of us living and working in the Muslim world have begun to rediscover the centrality of suffering in the gospel, where witness (martyria) can so easily mean martyrdom.
1 A. R. Tippett (ed.), God, Man and Church Growth, a Festschrift on McGavran’s seventy-fifth birthday (Eerdmans, 1973), p. 38.
2 Ibid., p. 19.
3 ‘Till the ways of growth form part of the common knowledge of all those who are engaged in mission, the reconciling of men to God-in-Christ will limp when it should run’, D. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth(Eerdmans, 1970), p. 69. This work represents the most systematic treatment of his ideas.
4 Charles R. Taber, ‘Missiology and the Bible’, Missiology 11, no. 2 (April 1983), p. 229. The historical reasons for the marginal importance of missiology are given in a most useful article by David J. Bosch, ‘Theological Education in Missionary Perspective’, Missiology 10 (1982), pp. 13–33. For the situation in Britain see the same journal, pp. 229–243.
5 See F. and M. Stock’s People Movements in the Punjab (William Carey Library, 1975), foreword.
6 See God, Man and Church Growth, p. 6.
7 Christian Mass Movements in India: a Study with Recommendations (Lucknow, 1933).
8 Bishop L. Newbigin wryly observes that ‘since “mission” means going and “station” means standing still, one might think the “mission station” was the perfect contradiction in terms. It has been, nevertheless, the central element in the program of missions during most of the modern period.’ The Open Secret, Sketches for a Missionary Theology (SPCK, 1978), p. 136.
9 Christian Mass Movements, p. 342.
10 Ibid., pp. 324–325.
11 Ibid., p. 342.
12 God, Man and Church Growth, p. 7.
13 IRM vol. 44, pp. 400–401.
14 In his later work, Understanding Church Growth, he cites the case of Andrew Mellor, a Methodist missionary, who in 1954 had seen the ‘fanatical resistance’ of a Nigerian tribe yield before the gospel. ‘Andrew Mellor set off the decision, but the hundred and ten years of Christian work’ (my emphasis) lay behind it (p. 305).
15 Ibid., pp. 85–86.
16 Ibid., p. 190.
17 The Pasadena Consultation—Homogeneous Unit (Lausanne Occasional Papers, 1978), p. 3.
18 Understanding Church Growth, p. 319.
19 Ibid., p. 39.
20 The Pasadena Consultation, p. 5.
21 Duncan B. Forrester, Caste and Christianity. Attitudes and Policies on Caste of Anglo-Saxon Protestant Missions in India, London Studies on South Asia no. 1 (Curzon Press, 1980).
22 Christian Mass Movements, p. 36.
23 Caste and Christianity, pp. 71–72.
24 Ibid., pp. 72–73.
25 See TRACI Journal, New Delhi, April 1982, p. 31.
26 People Movements in the Punjab with special reference to the United Presbyterian Church (William Carey Library, 1975). It contains an enthusiastic foreword by McGavran characterizing it as a ‘brilliant book … authentic Church history (with) great relevance for the Church and her leaders today.’
27 Ibid., preface.
28 Ibid., p. 227.
29 Another Pakistani, who works among Muslims, makes a similar point when he challenges McGavran’s assumption that people find it easier to become Christian with a particular hu. He would qualify this by saying that ‘some’ people find it easier: ‘… some converts … having become dissatisfied with their cultural milieu, wish to challenge it. They do not wish to remain within their racial, linguistic or class setting …’ Michael Nazir Ali, Islam. A Christian Perspective (Paternoster, 1983), p. 158.
30 This irony of history is explored by a retired Chief Justice of Pakistan, Muhammad Munir, in his book From Jinnah to Zia (Lahore: Vanguard Books, 1979).
31 I dared to call Him Father (Kingsway, 1978).
32 Dr Tanzil ul Rahman, The Islamic Law of Apostasy (Lahore: Law Publishing Co., 1972), in Urdu.
33 See James A. Scherer’s review of McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth in IRM 30 (1971), p. 127.
34 For those who want to pursue these issues Bishop L. Newbigin offers an excellent evaluation in chapter nine of his book, The Open Secret. David Bosch’s article, ‘The structure of Mission: an exposition of Matthew 28:16–20’, in Exploring Church Growth, ed. W. R. Shenk (Eerdmans, 1982), challenges the adequacy of McGavran’s exegesis of these crucial verses.
35 Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (SCM, 1971), p. 115.
36 Ibid., p. 118.
37 Ibid., p. 116.
38 Cf. F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Free Spirit (Paternoster, 1978), pp. 177, 178.
39 The Unity of the Church and the HU Principle’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research vol. 6, no. I (Jan. 1982), pp. 23–30.
40 Cf. God, Man and Church Growth: ‘McGavran’s use of Scripture is strongly New Testament. He uses the Old Testament very little’ (p. 21). The same writer argues that McGavran is not indifferent to social justice but rather ‘believes that men have to be made new in Christ as a first step and that having accepted Christ they must serve and fight for social justice’ (p. 37).
41 L. Newbigin, ‘Cross-currents in Ecumenical and Evangelical Understandings of Mission’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research vol. 6, no. 4 (1982), pp. 149–150. This distinction was developed by Hans-Werner Genischen in his work Glaube für die Welt (Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1971).
42 Understanding Church Growth, p. 187.
43 Ibid., p. 221.
44 Ibid., p. 33.
45 ‘McGavran is essentially a biblical missiologist … the precedents of the early Church are his guidelines and he is well versed in the writings of Paul’, God, Man and Church Growth, p. 20.
46 Acts 5:41; 7:60; 9:16; 14:23; 20:19; Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; etc. A similar point is made by B. R. Gaventa, who argues that ‘for Luke one characteristic of Mission is that it operates in adversity and with parresia, with boldness’, Missiology 10 (1982), p. 417.
47 Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft vol. 66, no. 2 (April 1982), pp. 81–95.
48 The most famous work in this genre is Saiyid Amir Ali’s The Spirit of Islam (1891). It is repeatedly reissued in Pakistan today. One historian has not unfairly accused Amir Ali of encouraging ‘a sterile narcissism among English-educated Muslims (and) he helped to create that educational chasm between the modern-educated and the traditionally-educated Muslims, where the one does not know the religion he is defending but defends it all the same, and the other knows his religion but does not know against what he is defending it.’ P. Hardy, The Muslims of British India (CUP, 1972), p. 107.
49 Munir, From Jinnah to Zia, is an excellent study of this ongoing struggle.
Christian Study Centre, Rawalpindi, Pakistan