Missionary Through the Centuries
The spread of missionary work was a gradual process that had begun since the Anti-Nicene period. It is worth noting that early missionaries were mostly determined to spread the word of God among the Jews because of their initial belief that they were the real believers. Several factors, such as the development of the Roman road, and universal languages, such as English, played an instrumental role in encouraging the spread of missionary work across nations. More so, evangelists, such as Patrick of Ireland, and the Roman Catholic Missions were effective in spreading the word to different nations in the Far East, Americas, Africa, and Asia.1 The focus on nations was the initial task of early missionaries. However, this has changed in the contemporary mission work where they focus on groups of individuals rather than nations. The narrowing scope on the focus of missionary work is critical in making more individuals understand the word of God through its translation in their local languages.
This paper explicates mission work through the centuries beginning with the Ante-Nicene mission efforts, the dynamic growth in the second century, the post-Nicene era, the Renaissance and Medieval periods, the Roman Catholic Missions, and the Protestant Reformers.
The Ante-Nicene Mission Efforts (100-325)
It is worth noting that the early church was initially focused on spreading its influence among the Jews until after Acts 11:19 when the Gentiles gained more interest in Christianity. This period was characterized by the spread of the gospel and the subsequent establishment of churches in different regions such as Asia Minor, North America, Palestine, Cyprus, Rome, and Macedonia.2 The increase in the number of churches and missionaries catalyzed the understanding of the word of God despite high levels of persecution against Christians. The writings of early church leaders were critical to the development of Christianity at this period. For instance, it is understood that Mark went to Alexandria, Paul to Spain, Thaddeus to Edessa, Thomas to India, and Peter to Bithynia and Cappadocia.3 Several factors played an instrumental role in supporting the spread of mission work during this period. One of the most outstanding factors responsible for this growth was the improvement of the Roman road system that offered missionaries the opportunity to use proper roads and create a mapping system for reaching across different countries. The second factor was the use of the Greek language as the universal one in the first centuries. It was far much easier addressing the population in Greek. The third notable factor that fanned the growth of mission work was presence of Jewish synagogues that taught the values of a sound spiritual monotheism. They taught about one God and the belief in Him, hence attracting more Christians.
The Dynamic Growth in the Second Century
The gospel continued spreading with the improvement of the Roman road system. The dynamic growth of the second century was attributable to the high number of Greek and Latin-speaking evangelists who had appealed effectively to the educated and upper class. However, the growing Gnosticism, which mostly focused on mystical knowledge, was a threat to the efforts of missionaries during this period. Gnosticism stood out as the key challenge as more individuals seemed to embrace it, overlooking the word of God and its sensible meanings in their lives. However, Christianity remained firm and ensured that many people were able to receive the gospel. Nevertheless, the subsequent third and fourth centuries exhibited less dynamic growth in mission work, especially when Emperor Diocletian took over the Roman Empire. However, further growth was realized when Constantine took over the empire and attributed his success to the God of Christianity. In AD 312, he offered his Edict on the Tolerance of Christianity, hence leading to the increased spread of Christianity.4 One of the special characteristics of the early church at this time was the emergence of bishops. Bishops came into the church and advanced the work that had been done by prophets and missionaries. Thus, bishops were vital in the growth of the gospel through their teachings, church organizations, and training. Another characteristic feature was lay missionaries who spread the gospel as the church gained the freedom of expression. The lay missionaries included individuals such as businessmen who discussed about the Church and Christianity. Additionally, Roman soldiers and merchants continued talking about Christ, hence spreading the word of God to different places within the empire.
The Post-Nicene Era (AD 325-500)
The Nicene Council stood out as the first ecumenical conference of bishops that was focused on the unification of the Christian doctrine. The conference was vital in finding a common ground on diverse matters, including the deity of Christ, the date of Easter, and the acceptability of the Trinity in terms of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.5 The Nicene Council was presided over by Constantine in line with his title Pontif Maximus. Accordingly, Arianism had remained a conflict for years during this era, and it led to the break up between Roman Christianity and the Nestorian, Armenian, and Coptic Churches. The continued involvement and subsidy of the government offered an effective ground for the growth of the Church and the gospel. Nevertheless, the emerging pagan tribes posed a threat to the spread of Christianity in modern Europe. Constantine was not ready to oversee the decline of Christianity because he perceived it the best way to pacify warring tribes in his empire.
One of the key evangelists who had led to the spread of Christianity during this period was Patrick of Ireland (AD 389-461).6 Accordingly, he started the journey as a lay evangelist and later preached to the Irish Chieftains and diverse crowds in open fields. He also invested large amounts of cash with the aim of buying freedom for many slaves who had been imprisoned. His instrumental role in the world of Christianity especially in Ireland was critical in the conversion of many individuals hence leading to the strength of the gospel.
Several factors enhanced the spread of Christianity in the Post-Nicene Era. One of the factors for the continued growth of Christianity was increased conversion of the masses.7 As long as the ruler of some nation accepted Christianity, it was easier to baptize and convert the locals into Christianity even in cases where they did not understand the gospel.
Another factor for continued growth was the presence of the Roman Catholic Church, which went a long way into the provision of stability and security. For instance, it bridged the gap between the East (Constantinople) and the West (Rome), hence boosting the growth of Christianity.
The third relevant factor was the zealous missionary activities that mainly came from Irish missionaries who played the central role of re-evangelizing Britain after the Saxons had destroyed it and hampered the spread of Christianity.
Lastly, monks from Britain oversaw the expansion of Christianity, as they became missionaries in the medieval church. They were determined and fearless in their task of ensuring that the word of God was spread to the masses. This automatically led to the increased understanding of the word of God throughout the empire.
The Renaissance and Medieval Periods (500-1792)
During this period, the Roman Church was the backbone of the expansion of the gospel of God. Influential personalities, such as Pope Gregory, ensured the continued spread of Christianity through messages focused on the essence of baptism. For instance, he talked about God’s ability to forgive individuals who had repented through baptism. He emphasized that baptism was highly effective in washing away Adam’s sin among human beings and ensuring they moved forward in the best ways possible. With the view of motivating individuals to embrace Christianity, Pope Gregory affirmed that forgiveness was threefold, involving repentance, confession, and meritorious works that could be exhibited through personal sacrifice. The increasing influence of Islam between 600 and 1216 posed a threat to the spread of Christianity in different regions, including Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East.8 It forced most individuals to convert to Islam or face the wrath of militants who had taken a dominant role in these respective regions. The influence of Islam witnessed the loss of more Eastern (Constantinople) than Western (Rome) Christians through their conversion to Islam. However, Christianity bounced back between 1072 and 1272 by mounting a series of crusades through both the Eastern and the Western Churches.9 This also set the ground for the continued expansion of the gospel and the assurance that individuals understood the message being communicated to them.
The Influence of the Roman Catholic Missions
Roman Catholic priests were not left behind in the course of spreading the word of God. They effectively joined explorers in Portugal and Spain, moving to the Americas, Asia, the Far East, and Asia. However, the Portuguese were more determined to convert Brazil and Africa to Christianity. Matteo Ricci’s Jesuit mission between 1583 and 1610 in China revolutionized the approach to missions.10 More so, the Roman Catholic Church set the pace in missionary work by training its people and ensuring they brought the word closer to people. The priests went a long way into the reformation of crusades and inquisitions and ensuring that everyone was fully informed of the significance of worshipping God and embracing the gospel in the most required manner. Despite the persecution they faced, they remained strong in the course of spreading Christianity.
Protestant Reformers (1517-1650)
Luther was at the center stage of the Protestant reformation. Among other individuals who had contributed to the reformation were Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli. The reformers mainly based their mission on Psalms 19 and Romans 10, and they were determined to fulfill the Great Commission. However, their efforts in the course of spreading Christianity were affected by their increasing rivalries with Rome and among themselves. For instance, there was a tough conflict between Lutherans and Calvinists as Rome began to split.11 The Protestant strategy was based on the rejection of monasticism that was the basis of the Roman Catholic mission. More so, they tried to catalyze the growth of Christianity through the establishment of their own churches where individuals could worship. Reform and Revival followed later with preaching about the end times, hence giving many individuals the challenge to be confined within the Christian faith.
Further Advances in Mission Work after Reform and Revival
After intensified efforts to improve mission work, colonialists started coming into different regions, hence paving way for increased missionary activities. They opened up different regions in Africa and Asia, which led to successful missionary work. For instance, they had created more routes that set the pace for the spread of the gospel to different regions around the globe.12 The most significant thing to note in this section is that missionary work went beyond the focus on different nations to the various groups of individuals within society. Focusing on different groups of individuals was deemed the most appropriate and new ways of spreading the word because of its convenience and the ability of individuals to understand the word of God in their local languages. This is a continuing trend in the contemporary world, as new missionaries made up of Christians from different denominations continue to reach out to individual groups through door-to-door preaching and organized crusades.13
In conclusion, the work of missionaries could be traced from time immemorial. Their work has been instrumental in leading to the understanding of the word of God in different regions of the world. Despite the different separations among Christian movements, the focus was not lost, as all of them remained determined on bringing more souls to Christ. As noted in the paper, the key points of separation among Christians were the deity of Christ and the nature of the Trinity where controversy emerged on how Christians should pray and respect God. The best thing about Christian missionary work is that it is an ongoing practice that continues to focus on groups of individuals rather than nations. Contemporary Christians are determined to bring the gospel closer by learning local languages.
1. Robert Charles Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History (New York: Zondervan, 2005), 51.
2. Don Fanning, “Brief History of Methods and Trends of Missions,” Trends and Issues in Missions (2009): 4.
3. Mark A Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Chicago: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 29.
4. Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought (Chicago: Baker Academic, 2006), 39.
5. Danna Agmon, “An Uneasy Alliance: Traders, Missionaries and Tamil Intermediaries in Eighteenth-Century French India” (Phd diss., The University of Michigan, 2011), 73.
6. Mike Barnett, Discovering the Mission of God: Best Missional Practices for the 21st Century (New York : InterVarsity Press, 2012), 47.
7. Ronald E Bartholomew, “The Patterns of Missionary Work and Emigration in Nineteenth Century Buckinghamshire, England,” International Journal of Mormon Studies no. 1 (2008): 113.
8. Joseph Paul Charles, “Global Christianity: Trends in Mission and the Relationship with Non-Western Missionaries Working Cross-Culturally in Thailand” (Th.M thesis, South African Theological Seminary, 2009), 58.
9. Nathan Nunn, “Christians in Colonial Africa” (Harvard University, 2011), 20.
10. Robert H. Munson, “The Role of Trade Routes in the Spread of Christianity in Asia During the First Millennium” (Dakilang Pag-Ibig DIADEM Ministries, Inc., 2008), 7.
11. Noll, Turning Points, 61.
12. Lane, A Concise History, 82.
13. Barnett. Discovering the Mission, 69.