(The Views Of Rufus Anderson)

We have seen that Anderson conceived of the missionary’s task solely in terms of the preaching of the gospel. The missionary must not attempt to transform heathen culture. He must preach and teach the blessed gospel and baptize those who are gathered into the church by that preaching. With this we are in hearty agreement. The aim of missions, according to Anderson, is the establishment of self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating, indigenous churches. To these principles we shall return, D.V., in later articles. For the present we are continuing our discussion of some of the more practical aspects of mission work which we began in the previous article. In that article, the reader will recall, we discussed the question of the missionary’s family, his children and their education. Should the missionary marry and have children? Anderson believed the missionary should be married. We agree. Not only is it possible for the missionary to be married and have children on the foreign field, it is desirable. Anderson was convinced it was not good for the missionary to be alone. 

The following are some of Anderson’s reasons for this conviction. (Bear in mind, Anderson labored in the mid 19th century.) In a document titled, An Introductory Essay On the Marriage of Missionaries, published in 1836, Anderson had this to say: “The reasons which make it proper and expedient for ministers at home to marry, all apply to the case of the missionary. As a man he possesses the same nature, and it is no better for him to be alone than it is for them. Nor are his circumstances better fitted to reconcile him to monastic life. They will rather give strength to that powerful law of nature which is operative alike in all countries and classes of people, producing the family state. It might seem indeed, that the perpetual cheerlessness of his habitation would urge him, as a Christian, to more frequent and intimate communion with his Savior, than is common with married men; but experience has long since demonstrated the cloister not to be the most favorable place for meditation, prayer, and a close walk with God. Indeed there are no reasons in favor of marriage in the minister who remains at home, which do not apply generally to the minister when sent abroad as a missionary. Regarding the wife as a friend, counselor, companion, the repository of her husband’s thoughts and feelings, the partaker of his joys, the sharer of his cares and sorrows, and one who is to lighten his toils, and become his nurse in sickness; the missionary needs such a helper far more than the minister. If he be going to reside among a savage people not migratory in their habits, he ought then always to be accompanied by a wife. The uncivilized character of the people, instead of being a reason why he should not be married, is in all ordinary cases a conclusive reason why he should be so. His wife, if judiciously chosen, will endure privations and encounter dangers with as much cheerfulness and fortitude as he, and among savages woman is the best earthly protector. No weapon of war should ever be seen in the hands or about the person of the missionary, and no symbol of peace is so significant or so well understood and appreciated by savages, as the presence of wives and children . . . . Moreover, in a barbarous or semi-barbarous country it is impossible for the missionary to secure regularity and comfort in his establishment, and such food, clothing, and retirement as habit has made necessary, without female assistance. In supplying his personal wants, he will be subjected to great disadvantages and loss of precious time, and the loneliness and vexations of his situation will waste upon his spirits, curtail his efforts, perhaps shorten his days . . . . The desire for the marriage state is part of the original constitution of human nature, and not a perversion of it. The married state is the natural state of man, and the missionary, if a resident in one place and sustained by the presence of a suitable wife, will bear up better against adverse circumstances than one who is unmarried, will be more of a man, a better Christian, a more contented, zealous, faithful, useful missionary . . . . The holy and blessed enterprise of protestant missions must not be spoiled by introducing into it the monastic principles of the Romish church.” (Rufus Anderson, R. Pierce Beaver, ed.; To Advance The Gospel Eerdmans, pp. 210, 211)

No one can deny that what Anderson wrote is true. Scripture reveals that God intends that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. There are exceptions to this, but this is the general rule. God says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” Anderson’s argument is that God did not ordain missionaries as a special class of men to whom the marriage ordinance does not apply. In fact he claims the difficulties and very nature of mission work make it even more important that a missionary be accompanied by a suitable wife. Let us be reminded that this is in the context of the 19th century when missionaries and their wives labored among peoples far more primitive than today. Anderson speaks of savages, barbarous and semi-barbarous peoples and countries. His position is biblical, and the experience of foreign missionaries has also proven him correct. 

In that same essay, Anderson listed this as his second reason why the missionary should have a wife: “The heathen should have an opportunity of seeing Christian families. The domestic constitution among them is dreadfully disordered, and yet it is as true there as every where else, that the character of society is formed in the family. (By “domestic constitution” Anderson means marriage and family life, R.D.D.) To rectify it requires example as well as precept. The missionary must be able to illustrate the duties of the family state by means of his own household. Where the wife is a degraded slave having no conception of a better destiny, she will need to be taught everything that goes to constitute the virtuous, useful, praiseworthy wife and mother. And who shall instruct her? In what manner shall the images of domestic order, neatness, comfort, and whatever else sheds beauty and sweetness over domestic life, be imparted to her mind? She must have female teachers, living illustrations. She must see these things exemplified in actual life. And the Christian wife, mother, husband, father, family must all be found in all our missions to pagan and Mohammedan countries.” (Anderson, pp. 211, 212) 

Who can argue against this point? Scripture in many places instructs ministers to be examples or patterns of godliness to their flocks (Phil. 3:17-21I Tim. 4:12-16). What better, more effective witness could be left than that of a faithful husband and wife, father and mother and children? The truth of the gospel preached by the missionary must be seen in himself, his wife, and family. This truth has been amply illustrated over the years by the experience of faithful missionaries. Have we not found this to be true in our own limited mission experience? The wives of our missionaries and emissaries have been and still are of invaluable service in both Singapore and Jamaica. The younger women especially seek their advice and instruction. It is not long before they are able to confide in them. They observe in them examples of the virtuous woman. To many in Singapore and Jamaica the wives of our missionaries and emissaries have become as mothers and grandmothers. 

Perhaps the greatest problem faced by churches and married missionaries over the years is that of the education of the children of missionaries. It is a problem which our own churches and missionaries are currently facing and with which they wrestle. Our Foreign Mission Committee reports that “Rev. den Hartog and his wife continue to enjoy their labors in Singapore. However one source of deep concern to them is the education of their children especially the foreign language requirements.” (Cf. 1984 Agenda for Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, p. 38.) If the Lord should give us a missionary to labor in Jamaica, this will be a problem of no little proportions. Various solutions have been offered and attempted. Some of the larger missions have provided centrally located boarding schools where children of 12 and older are sent for nine or ten months of each year. (Cf. “Missionary Methods, 23;” The Standard Bearer, May 15, 1984.) This would not be possible in either Singapore or Jamaica. It was rather common practice in Anderson’s day to send missionary children home, i.e., back to England and the U.S. for their education. Children were tutored by their missionary parents until they were about twelve years of age. At that point they were sent back home to live with relatives or friends so that they could be instructed in the Christian schools. In spite of Anderson’s arguments in favor of this practice, it is less than satisfactory at best. (Cf. Anderson, pp. 215, 216.) It would be much better if the missionary and especially his wife would tutor their children if there are no satisfactory schools available on the field. As time goes on and the work expands, teachers ought to be called and prepared to instruct the children of missionaries. In any event, while we do not wish to minimize the problem, where God calls His church and servants to labor He will also provide the means and the solutions. This must not be viewed as an insurmountable obstacle to foreign mission work. 

Anderson concludes his essay with a quotation from an unpublished letter of a married missionary who described what the wife of the missionary ought to be. We think it is to the point. “It is not exegesis, it is not theology, it is not philosophy, it is not divinity, it is not law, it is not precept or command, which the people need; but it is the gospel, the pure gospel, which they want all day long. It is Christianity embodied, acted out, living, breathing. The missionary’s wife, as well as himself, should be a sort of moving commentary on the Bible; everything she says or does should remind the hearer or beholder of something in the Bible; her whole life should be altogether a New Testament life. The whole spirit of the New Testament should be inhaled, and the whole spirit of the New Testament should be breathed, in every breath” (Anderson, p. 217). 

(to be continued)