Home > Uncategorized > The Missionary’s One Purpose. Roland Allen (1868-1947)

The Missionary’s One Purpose. Roland Allen (1868-1947)

Roland Allen in China (1895-1903)

Roland Allen in China (1895-1903)

“That missionaries should set out to inaugurate and conduct social reforms [schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.] is so familiar to us that we scarcely question it; but if we look at the New Testament account of the work of the apostles, we see at once how strange it appears.

If we try to imagine St. Paul, for instance, setting out to serve the people of Macedonia in the sense in which we set out to serve the peoples of China or Africa; if we try to imagine him discussing the question, ‘Upon what few things should we concentrate our strength so as to be of the greatest service to the peoples of Galatia or of Macedonia,’ we find that we cannot imagine any such thing. It becomes inconceivable.

And the reason? ‘Because times have changed?’ Certainly not; it is because there is a great gulf between our ideas of direct social service as the work of a missionary of the gospel and his conception of his work as a missionary of the gospel. He could not have contemplated the possibility of undertaking ‘a few things.’ He had one end, one purpose, one work.

St. Paul could not have looked upon the service of the people of Macedonia, in our sense of the words, as his work; he could not have attempted to reform social evils directly; he could not have dreamed of attempting to impress the people of Macedonia with the excellence of his social activities, so that they might hail him as a benefactor and welcome him because he provided schools for their children, orphanages for their waifs, or hospitals for their sick; he could not have imagined the possibility of revealing the power of the gospel in any such manner, or by such activities.

The churches he established did those things, or things like them; they soon began to bury outcast dead, to purchase the freedom of slaves, and to do other pious works which appealed to them as proper expressions of Christian charity; but St. Paul himself never directly engaged in any such work nor endeavored to direct the Christian churches of his foundation in the doing of them. He could not have done so.

Social activity of this kind was a fruit of the Spirit and it could not be expected to appear UNTIL the apostles had done their work and had ministered the Spirit.

Then the charity of the Spirit expressed itself in these forms. It was the business of the missionary to minister the Spirit, it was the business of the [newly founded] Church to express the Spirit in social service… When we do this kind of work as missionaries we simply confound the work of a missionary with the work of a [local] leader of a settled Christian church. But that is what we are always doing; and the result is hopeless confusion.”

Roland Allen (1868-1947) — “I was ill, and came home for two years, and began to study the methods of the Apostle St. Paul. From that day forward I began to see light.”

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