Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church

Ed: If ever a book on mission deserved to be read and re-read, it is Roland Allen's The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, and the Causes which Hinder it. Writing in 1927 from his perspective as a CMS Missionary in China, at the height of the world missionary movement, Allen concluded that whereas the Church in New Testament times expanded without being forced to do so, all the efforts of missionary expansion in the early twentieth century were hampered by the structural limitations imposed by the sponsoring denominations. In our own day, this book deserves to be read again in the light of the continuing decline of the Church of England in the United Kingdom. Read on:
Many years ago my experience in China taught me that if our object was to establish in that country a Church which might spread over the six provinces which then formed the diocese of North China, that object could only be attained if the first Christians who were converted by our labours, understood clearly that they could by themselves, without any further assistance from us, not only convert their neighbours, but establish Churches. That meant that the very first groups of converts must be so fully equipped with all spiritual authority that they could multiply themselves without any necessary reference to us: that, though, while we were there, they might regard us as helpful advisers, yet our removal should not at all mutilate the completeness of the Church, or deprive it of anything necessary for its unlimited expansion. Only in such a way did it seem to me to be possible for Churches to grow rapidly and securely over wide areas; for I saw that a single foreign Bishop could not establish the Church throughout the Six Provinces over which he was nominally set, by founding mission stations governed by superintending missionaries, even if he had an unlimited supply of men and money at his command. The restraint of ordination to a few natives specially trained by us, and dependent for their own maintenance and the maintenance of their families upon salaries provided either by us or by the small native Christian community, and the absolute denial of any native episcopate at the beginning, seemed to me to render any wide expansion of the Church impossible, and to suggest at the very beginning that there was something essentially foreign about the Church which demanded the direction of a foreign governor.

The years that have passed since that early experience, and an examination of our missionary work in other lands have tended more and more to confirm that impression. Read more

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