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The Making of the Christian Global Mission, Part 1: Jan Hus and the Moravians

Christian historian Woodrow Walton investigates the origins of the modern movements that inspired Christians to go and share the mission and message of Jesus throughout the world.


The Making of the Christian Global Mission

Part 1: Jan Hus and the Moravians

It may seem odd to associate the making of the Christian global mission to the trans-oceanic voyages of the maritime ventures of the merchant ships of Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, England, and the Baltic countries of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet it is not without reason when one considers what was happening in the world at that time. A trans-oceanic trade network was opened between East and West, North and South. The ports of entry receptive to the merchant marine also became the harbors who welcomed the newcomers who were tradesmen, many of whom were Christians.

1587 woodcut of Jan Hus by Christoph Murer.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

It would be easy to think of Western European Christians going overseas to the Americas or to the East Asian landmass without considering what was happening to Christians in central and eastern Europe, places where Christianity was more Orthodox than Catholic or Protestant. We seldom consider the reverberations of the Protestant Reformation upon those areas. We focus primarily upon Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Menno Simons, and William Tyndale who reshaped the Christian landscape of western Europe and the British Isles. We forget that it was a Christian priest in Moravia, now known as the Czech Republic, known as Jan Hus (also spelled John Huss), who lit the fire of the Reformation. Before the Lutherans, there were the makings of the Moravian Christians who in later years had a significant impact upon John Wesley. Another seldom considered contribution to the Christian world mission came out of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Among the Orthodox Churches, the Russian Orthodox were probably the most mission oriented, spreading Christianity across the Asian steppes and beyond the Ural Mountains. This became more so in the late 1600s as a result of Patriarch Nikon’s move to modernize the Liturgy of Worship which caused the first major split.

Those who split referred to themselves as the “Old Believers,” and it was they who spearheaded a mission clear across the top of Asia to Siberia and to the coast of the Bering Sea. That is a story in and of itself, and it becomes part of a larger story played out through the 18th and 19th centuries when Slavic Christians started spreading out beyond their initial homelands.

Jan Hus at the Council of Constance, by Karl Friedrich Lessing (1842).
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Reverse image of the German or Austrian 16th century Jan Hus Centenary Medal.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Category: Church History, Spring 2020

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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