Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Thoughts on World Missions, Part Two: An Historical Road Not Taken

Many years ago, I recall J. Christy Wilson saying, “Islam is the unpaid debt of the church. If we had been faithful and evangelized the Arabian Peninsula, think how differently history would have gone.”

With that in mind, let’s imagine a different timeline, where Islam never even came into being…

BY THE LATE third century, Nabatean missionaries had brought the gospel as far south as modern Yemen, the ancient Kingdom of Sheba. Most of the Arab tribes in the Hejaz region were at least partially evangelized. In the early seventh century a self-styled prophet named Muhammad arose briefly, a cult of radical monotheism and bloodshed (jihad), but his movement died out within a generation of his death.

Arab missionaries fanned out to the south and east, establishing churches as far away as India and even Indonesia and as far south as portions of East Africa. The Parthian Empire embraced Christianity as its state religion in 759 and the Parthian Orthodox Church became the driving agent in the evangelization of central Asia and portions of Southeast Asia. Parthian missionaries established a missions presence in China by 1050 and in Japan and Korea by 1300.

Catholic missionaries arrived in India and China often to find that they had proceeded by Arabs and Parthians. When the Reformation arrived in Europe in the 16th century, Arab evangelization of Africa and Parthian evangelization of India, China and the east continued unabated. Unfortunately nationalistic ambitions and an abortive war of conquest of Arabs by the Parthians slowed this process. Internal forces and Mongol invaders brought an end to the Parthian empire. However, in a manner similar to the Goths and Rome, the Mongols had at least been partially evangelized by Nestorian monks.

By the early 18th century, the Eastern Reformation swept through both the Arab Christian and Parthian-Mongol Christian world. So-called Eastern Protestantism was initially slow to resume missions work, but by the mid-19th century began to vigorously evangelize Africa, India, China and even as far away as some South Seas islands in the Pacific….

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