So now I’ve slept on it I think I ought to be rebuked for making such idle speculations in the public arena. Possibly I have given totally the wrong impression about the work of the early missionaries. So let me say something in correction.
Firstly, the Bristish Navy didn’t patrol the waters coming by to check up that the ‘natives’ were treating the missionaries well. It came by only occasionally.
Secondly, it would have been unfair to give the impression that the early converts were ‘false’ converts having joined the ‘side’ of the missionaries because of their superior strength or possessions.
[For accurate history of the coming of the gospel to Vanuatu, read John Paton’s autobiography (Missionary to the New Hebrides) or the Live Series by Graham Miller.]
Many of the early missionaries were actually Pacific Islanders coming across from Polynesia, particularly Samoa. They worked under the leadership of ‘Western’ missionaries, taking the gospel into the bush, living in villages with the people of Vanuatu, learning their languages and speaking the gospel to them. Many of them were killed and many died of illness. As such, these workers came without the ‘strength’ to which I was referred. They came in ‘weakness’ and held out only the word of God.
Secondly, it was the changed life that comes from the gospel that attracted others to the word of God. As one village repented in faith, it was totally changed. Other villages saw this, liked it and wanted to know what had changed them. It was the attractiveness of which the word of God itself speaks (e.g. Matt 5:16; Titus 2:5, 8, 10). Its ‘strength’ was exactly what it should be.
Perhaps there were some ‘false converts’ among these, but we cannot know. It is always difficult to know when whole villages convert. Perhaps as momentum grew some converted because they wanted the power or influence being in the church gave. If they did, they would not be the first people to have done so.
Perhaps the weakness we see in the church now has less to do with ‘other words’ speaking in strength and more to do with the word of God not being spoken.
Having said all that, I do think that as western missionaries in developing countries we need to be careful about ‘which words’ we are speaking, and about what we do to make our message attractive. We may be in danger of drowning out our message and in so doing, empyting the cross of its power.