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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 23: To Make the World Protestant (1700 – 1914) – Part I

Chapter 23: To Make the World Protestant (1700 – 1914) – Part I






Describe the overall effects Christian missionary activities had on the Maori population in New Zealand and the aboriginal peoples of Australia during the late 1780s – 1845.  What was Tonga’s affiliation with Britain and the Methodist Church?


File:Kendall Hongi Waikato.jpg

The chiefs Waikato and Hongi Hika with missionary Thomas Kendall in England, oil painting by James Barry, 1820. National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington


Christianity had a mixed effect for the Maori, both good and bad.  With Christianity came other Western influences such as the musket which dangerously escalated their wars with each other. European Christianity helped them understand Europe and helped them negotiate a peace with Britain.


The Christian mission was not so beneficial for the aboriginals.  Britain came with it and  decimated them.  Their nomadic way of life was destroyed with most of the good land being taken away. There was no interest by the British to preserve aboriginal culture.


Children who where half aboriginal were seized by the government to be educated as Europeans for their own good.  Although it was for their own good, they were not destined for white collar jobs, but menial labor in the “superior” western world.  The  movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence” illustrated this sad chapter of history.   Children ran away to try and return to their families.  They were guided back by following long fence built across the country to keep out agricultural pests.


Tonga escaped similar problems under colonial rule by establishing their own monarchy through a treaty with Britain and a Methodist church.  It followed the traditional path of consolidating power by suppressing other religions as cults.  Unfortunately an Australian Shirley Baker became prime minister and encouraged the king to form their own independent Methodist church which caused a bloody oppression of British Methodists which required intervention. This bloody chapter was a small blip in an otherwise stable situation.








On page 867 of CHRISTIANITY, MacCulloch makes the seemingly audacious statement: “… the Christian Bible, both Tanakh and New Testament, unmistakably takes the condition of slavery for granted.” The statement seems so true yet so wrong. It angers and saddens me. As I pondered the statement, I began to ask: “What is the meaning of slavery in the Bible?”  What is the Biblical definition of slavery?  What I found surprised me and made me realize I had just accepted what others had told me rather than checking the Bible itself.


My thesis, simply put, is that Biblical slavery is radically (and I would argue transcendently) different from our modern concept of slavery, which is essentially the African-American Slave Experience circa 1500-1800.


Five scripture quotes might suffice to make my point:   (ESV throughout)


  1. Exod 21:2 –   … he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free…
  2. Deut 15: 13, 18 –  And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed.  … for at half the cost of a hired servant he has served you for six years.
  3. Exod 21: 20, 26-27 –  When a man strikes his slave… and the slave dies… he shall be avenged.   When a man strikes the eye of his slave… (or) the tooth… he shall let the slave go free…
  4. Deut 23: 15-16 –  You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose… wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
  5. Lev 24:7 – If a man is found stealing one of his brothers… and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.



WOW! Imagine if even one of these Biblical dictates was followed in the African-American Slave Experience. What would have become of the institution if you had to free slaves after 6 years? And paid them? Would there have been any whippings and other cruelties? How many would have escaped – legally!?


So the real question is why were the Biblical dictates contorted to fit human desires and needs? And the answer class? … money, money, money! The desire of certain classes to exploit others for selfish economic gain still lives large in our times and culture. I would argue that there is actually MORE slavery today than at any other point in history. Just analyze the working conditions in the factories of China, Asian, African, South American… or even the USA and tell me that it is not slavery when a worker is “paid” 50 cents for manufacturing a pair of $300 Nike sneakers.


Seems the more I read the more the story stays the same. To me we are looking at a Church that has been (willingly) hijacked for secular purposes ever since its pact with Rome and Constantine in the 300’s. My question still remains, is this story the history of the TRUE Church?


NOTE: I admit to using the Scripture verses I have presented somewhat loosely. The Bible’s discussion of slavery is nuanced. It makes distinctions for brother and foreigner, Israelite and Gentile, Believer and Unbeliever and even male and female. But my point still holds clearly that there is NOWAY that the Bible can be used to condone, justify or promulgate the type of modern day slavery as defined by the African-American Experience. Transcendentally, the Bible seems to argue for the use of slavery (as it defines it) as a means to conversion and salvation. But this is another story.





Discuss the missionary fervor that seized all of the mainstream British Protestant Churches during the late 1790s and early 1800s.  How did this zeal for missions, especially to the Pacific islands (ie Oceania), parallel Britain’s political and economic expansions?  What were the aims and ambitions of the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the Pacific?  Describe their missionary activities in Tahiti.

Captain Cook’s First Voyage – Tahiti, 1769



During the late 1790s to the early 1810s, a zeal for missions gripped all of mainstream British Protestant Churches. A lot of this fervor came on the heals of the abolitionist endeavors in England that were occurring during this time.   After a decade of careful preparation, public interest had grown to send missionaries to Africa, British India and the Caribbean. The expeditionary voyages of Captain James Cook in the Pacific Ocean aroused much excitement to these newly discovered areas that England and the rest of the Western world knew very little about. Another cause for this zeal and sense of urgency to spread the gospel to all nations was spurred during the 1790s by the events of the French Revolution and a belief that the End Times were near; furthermore, when French revolutionaries imprisoned the Pope in 1798-9 where he would die in exile fueled this belief even further. Evangelicalism was making great strides among Protestant Christians during this time and many Evangelicals adopted and incorporated Romanticism into their devotional practices with its emphasis on emotional expressiveness. However, despite this fervor, many English bishops did not share this apocalyptic excitement and were reluctant to be involved in missionary activity.


By the 1840s this attitude by the Church hierarchy would change when the Archbishop of Canterbury William Howley aligned himself with the Church Missionary Society. It seems as if this change of opinion coincided with Britain’s growing political and economic global expansion; in other words, it was just a matter of time before the Church would join in and be part of Britain’s extension and development. With Britain’s dominating navy fleet and its network of commerce feeding its insatiable capabilities of industrial production, Britain was at the height of its power. Now with the Church’s involvement, a complex relationship between mission and imperial expansion would develop. Soon afterwards, it came to a point where almost everywhere British missions flourished, British official hegemony eventually followed. (loc. 17000)


In the 1790s the London Missionary Society (LMS) made the Pacific islands its top priority. The Society did not view going to the Pacific as being like heading to the Garden of Eden, but rather they were heading into areas of vast corruption, decadence (sexual promiscuity and homosexuality) and decay that were in dire need of Protestant remedy. Many missionaries saw native Polynesian religion as merely primitive nature-worship. The LMS went on its first voyage to Tahiti and its surrounding areas in 1796. The persons on board set out not to colonize but to set a strong Protestant example for the degraded islanders to witness. They wanted to spread the better moral aspects of European civilization along with the gospel in their travels. However, when they got there, many of the missionaries backslid from their godly aims and goals, and the LMS did not repeat the experiment. Many missionaries retreated to the rapidly growing city of Sydney, Australia leaving only a handful to witness to the Tahitians. Other Europeans arrived at Tahiti bearing alcohol and introduced new venereal diseases to the natives. Some local converts became Christian prophets who promised their native people that they would be rewarded in the afterlife with a whole impressive array of European goods. (loc. 17028)


Furthermore, the Christian God made little sense to Polynesians who were accustomed to visible, active deities, whose stories were told in a rich oral culture and through communal activities such as singing or dancing, and not through the weird and mysterious medium of a printed book called the Bible. They also found the Christian God’s extreme modesty very confusing and uninviting. However, the emphasis placed within the Polynesian religious system on sacred powers and taboos provided an opening for Christians to witness to them.


Despite all this, the missionary activities at Tahiti became the first large-scale success in founding Christian communities in the Pacific. (loc. 17032) Missionaries recognized the intense Polynesian interest in the written word; this desire for literacy seems to have been the strongest bond between the missionaries and their hosts. By 1801 a catechism appeared in Tahitian and in 1810 a substantial portion of the Bible had been translated and published, which necessarily required the creation of written Tahitian. Missions drew on the highly developed skills of Pacific peoples in seamanship, sending out local converts along old sea routes to other island groups, which led to the undermining of the power of local traditional cults and traditions. However, there were some missions that were not successful; for instance, the first Protestant mission to Micronesia in 1839 were more than likely cannibalized by the locals there.


This was an interesting part of the chapter to read because I do not believe many people know about missions to far remote places like Tahiti in the history of the church. It is my assumption that not much has changed in terms of missionary attitudes then and now to more remote or exotic locations. There is still a great zeal today among contemporary missionaries to carry the gospel message to every part of the world, just as these first Protestant missionaries did in the 19th century, but I would be curious to know if they still think of people and their culture as being “primitive” or “dark” or even “demonic/satanic”. (The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes!”.) It seems that along with the gospel message, missionaries then and now must also be ‘evangelizing’ Western values, culture and luxuries upon these different places as well. Have we so intertwined the gospel message with modern Western culture that it has become just another aspect of the Western imperialist mindset still prevalent today? Is the purpose not only to spread the gospel but also the gospel of Western industrialized capitalism as well? Like the British, now that the U.S. is the global dominant economic superpower, is this evangelical zeal to go to other nations another extension of America’s growing global and political expansion as well? It seems like economic self-interest and religious sentiment spur one another on in a parallel fashion for their own mutually beneficial relationship.




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