In his book, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, Dr. John L. Nevius makes a strong plea for the planting and development of indigenous churches. By this Nevius meant that converts should be gathered into congregations which are native to their land and independent of the domination or control and support of the sending, “foreign” church.
As we continue our study of the missionary preaching of the Apostles we wish to concentrate on the preaching of the Apostle Peter to Cornelius and his household. The familiar narrative is found in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. Cornelius, a devout man who “prayed to God alway,” was an officer in the Roman army who resided in Caesarea.
In the previous article we dealt with the question: upon what system of church government ought mission churches to be established? In that connection we rejected the position of John L. Nevius who contented that the mission church ought to have the form of church government which is dictate by her needs and peculiar circumstances. (Cf. Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, pp. 55ff.). We emphasized that the Reformed or Presbyterian form of church government is based on sound, biblical principles which belong to the eternal truth of God’s Word.
Crucial to the methodology of Dr. John L. Nevius are a number of factors: 1) There are to be as few paid native preachers (helpers) as possible. 2) The converts ought to build and maintain their own places of worship. 3) Leaders of individual mission stations ought to remain in their station and calling in life. 4) Ideally every convert ought to be the pupil of one more advanced in the faith than he and the teacher of one less advanced than he. By following these methods, Nevius argued, truly indigenous churches can be planted and developed.
If the life of the Apostle Paul indicates anything at all it indicates that the work of a faithful missionary of the Gospel of sovereign grace is incredibly difficult. Acts 17records the history of the Apostle’s work in Thessalonica and Berea while on his second missionary journey. In both places there was much positive fruit upon the preaching of Paul. Many believed and churches were established. In both places, however, the Apostle encountered fierce opposition and persecution.
To accomplish the work of the ministry of the Word in China Dr. John L. Nevius made extensive use of native leaders. These men were unordained and unpaid by the mission. They remained in their station and calling in life while leading the worship and teaching classes in their mission stations. For various reasons, some of them practical, Nevius used as few paid native preachers as possible. (Cf. The Planting And Development of Missionary Churches, pp. 35 ff.). In our previous article [Missionary Methods (12)] we criticized Nevius at this point.
While there are many commendable features of the missionary methods proposed by Nevius which can and ought to be implemented by our own missionaries both at home and abroad there is one very serious weakness, namely, the lack of preachers and preaching. Whatever the details of methodology employed by the missionary, preaching must be at the heart of it. This will become even more apparent as we continue our study of the book, Planting And Development of Missionary Churches, by John L. Nevius.