Missions Conference highlights a Third Way regarding indigenous missions and new expressions of church.

December 29th marked the culmination of a great international missions conference. Highlights were a Christmas morning resolution, drafted by the Japanese and Chinese delegates and adopted unanimously, and a long series of talks that dealt with, among other issues, the increasing interest of the gospel among Muslims, Muslim secret believers, indigenous churches, relating to other religions, explaining the “Trinity” to Muslims, and new expressions of church.

Here are some quotes worth reading.

New Expressions of Church

An official group from the conference released some “Findings”. Two of these stand out to me:

1. “The Church is called to a fuller and more adequate understanding of other religious faiths as total systems of life.” 

2. “The Church is called to make experiments in the enrichment of the Christian group life.”

“It is an encouraging sign that among certain of the younger churches experiments are being made in new expressions of Christian witness. In India the Christian Asram is a centre of simple community life shared by men who are engaged in some common work, connected with education, medicine or research. In China, a Christian monastery holds a similar position. The churches of Japan feel the need of a visible demonstration of the Christian life expressed in terms of social relationships, and some such fellowships have been begun.”

Secret Muslim Believers

“How can the ‘secret believer’ who wants to witness for Christ among his own people by remaining one of them but nurtured and strengthened in his Christian faith and experience?  . . [T]he fact that there are, in the aggregate, a fairly large number of Muslims who are trying to live for Christ while remaining in the Muslim community seems to call for very definite efforts to hold and strengthen and encourage such believers in their effort to make their new-found Saviour known without being cast out. The method for this must be prayerfully sought and worked out.”

Indigenous Missions

“In India there has been a strong tendency to identify western social patterns and customs with Christianity. SIngle converts, cut off from the society from which they were accustomed, have tended to abandon its patterns and customs for those of their western confreres in religion. This tendency has been a menace to the welfare of the church and of the nation because of influences it has exerted, for instance, that many Indian Christians, whose conversion has involved a break with relatives and caste or community associates, have lost pride in Indian nationalism.”


“The programme for improving economic conditions has in the past been too much centred in institutions . . . Co-operative societies have produced better results but have in some instances done more harm than good because of poor management and the intrusion of ‘charity’.”

Insider Movements

In Indonesia, two approaches to missions were discussed. While Father Emde in Sourabaya was using a very Western approach of worship meetings and distributing Christian pamphlets, C.L. Coolen, the son of Russian and Indonesian parents, “preached the Gospel in Javanese style and tried to rid Christianity of its Western forms. This was very unlike Emde, who was demonstrating that “acceptance of Christianity was on a par with appropriation of western customs and manners.”

Relating to Non-Christian Religions

Regarding our approach to non-Christian religions, one good suggestion from Karl H. was to avoid the two traps of superiority and sympathy and instead find a “third way” of approaching non-Christian religions, a way that is “saturated with the fulness fo biblical views”. His third way is described as

1) the way of “true translation” which calls for a thorough knowledge of their language, life and existence,

2) a “sincere and human attitude towards the others” in which requires love and patience. 

3) the need for radical decision in calling out people to the feet of Christ.

Summing up, Karl says “To proclaim truth in humility, that is the central task and the lifelong work of a man who is called to be an ambassador of Christ. 

The meeting that concluded on Dec 29, the gathering that I have just quoted from, was officially named the International Missionary Council Meeting and it happend in Tambaram, Madras from December 12th to 29th, 1938. 

And . . . NO . .   I wasnt there despite being in my late 40’s.

It amazes me how the same issues continue to rotate through our more recent mission gatherings, and yet with little resolve. 

It may interest you to know that Karl Hartenstein, who gave such a good balance to the conversation in 1938 with his “third way”, would later coin the term “Missio Dei” in the 1950’s.

Let me finish with one more quote on the younger churches [what we sometimes call emerging churches]

“An indigenous church, young or old, in the East or in the West, is a church which, rooted in obedience to Christ, spontaneously uses forms of thought and modes of action natural and familiar in its own environment. Such a church arises in response to Christ’s own call. The younger churches will not be unmindful of the experiences and teachings which the older churches have recorded in their confessions and liturgies. But every younger church will seek further to bear witness to the same Gospel with new tongues also; that is, in a direct, clear, and close relationship with the cultural and religious heritage of its own country.” The Growing Church, Tambaram Madras Series, Volume II, Findings of Tambaram Meeting, Oxford University Press, 1938, page 297

Related on TSK:

Fourth Sector and Emerging Mission


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Excellent stuff here. The western church has barely started to understand the differences between exporting our culture and sharing the Truth.
    But it’s clear enough in the Bible, Paul had to persuade the Jerusalem church that Greeks could be Greeks AND follow Jesus without taking up Judaic customs first.
    Hello… Yahshua was not a modern or post modern westerner! We have the same problems. It’s the message that counts, not the wrapping.

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