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The Global Christian Mission: In the Wake

The King James Bible contributed to the spread of the gospel throughout the English-speaking world.

From the other end of Mexico lay the Pacific Ocean, an ocean which washed the shores of North America and South America. For many of the merchant vessels of Europe plying the Pacific, their best ruote for returning to Europe was not to head for the Straits of Magellan but to those bays and beaches of Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile, and then using land-carriers for what was purchased from Asia and the Pacific and trans-shipping them from Tampico, Veracruz, and the other Caribbean ports to recipients in Europe. It was Pedarias, an 80 year-old Spanish sea-captain who discovered that by sailing north of the Philippines by means of a northwest current toward Japan he was able to reach the Japanese current which washed southeast toward the shores of Northwest Mexico. This was the route that the Manila Galleons subsequently took. After docking at a western Mexican port, the Galleon unloaded the goods it carried to transported overland to Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. From whichever port they followed the course of the waves which washed north of Cuba and south of Florida and flowed into the Atlantic south of the Bahamas.

The point of all this information is that the ports of Asia, the major island groups and the Americas were those locations most likely to have Christian settlers and the emergence of churches while the interiors did not. Christian witness flowed from these local gatherings rather than from individuals sent out as missionaries. Confrontation between native peoples and people coming from abroad were far less likely along bays and shoreline where the exchange of goods was to the benefit of all concerned. New England had the hardwood timber needed for ship masts and fireplaces. The Pacific had fruits and coffee as well as other exotic fruits as grapefruit and cocoanut while the Indian Ocean and China had tea. Europe had finished goods from their various craftsmen, agriculturists, and hardware manufactures. Chinese seamen perfected compasses and astrolabes and their artisans perfected newsprint. This facilitated interchange and also the Christian witness. It also brought Christians from western Europe into contact with those Christians whose whereabouts were lost due to the invasions of the Turks and Mongols from the Eastern Asian Steppes into western Asia that had remade the character of Bactria (Afghanistan), Persia, Arabia, eastern Africa.

The focus on the Maritime or the Oceanic phase also has drawn attention away from what had been happening to Christians in Eastern Europe and from the Orthodox Churches situation from Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Armenia, and the areas north of the Black Sea such as The Ukraine and the eastern steppes of Russia. These had a part to play in the expansion of the Gospel and the major player in this missiological drama was Nikon of Russia and to a lesser degree, Patriarch Cyril Lukar in Constantinople, the city that was renamed Istanbul around 1500 by its Ottoman Turk conquerors.

The part that Cyril Lukar played was the furnishing of a copy of the textus receptus (The Received Text of the Greek manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments) to the scholars who produced the King James Translation of the Bible. This contribution enabled a more faithful rendering of the Scriptures for the English-speaking peoples. This was a signal contribution to the spread of the gospel throughout the English-speaking world from England to Singapore, from the United States of America to Australia.

Image: Clem Onojeghuo

The other major player in the global spread of the gospel was the Orthodox Churches of the East. At the time that western and central Europe was experiencing the fall-out of the Reformation that was lit by Luther, Calvin, and Simons, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Nikon took action during the Synod of 1652-1667. What Nikon did was to make an accommodation of Russian worship to the contemporary forms of Greek Orthodox worship. This created a division in the membership. The believers who wanted to retain the liturgical practices that existed before 1652 split away and were henceforth called the Old Believers. Russian speakers refer to this division as raskol, indicating one who cleaved apart. The Old Believers formed their own groupings, The Popovtsy and the Bezpopovtsy, and went their way. They scattered across the landscape of the Russian steppes and established their own houses of worship. Many left Russia altogether and went as far as Siberia in one direction, as well as to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and into central Europe in the Danube Delta of Romania.

Congregations of the Old Believers have since scattered all over the world from Europe to Australia, Alaska, Minnesota, New Zealand, and Argentina.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2019

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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