Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,
Let every soul be Jesus' guest;
Ye must not one be left behind,
For God hath bidden all mankind.
Sent by my Lord, on you I call,
The invitation is to all:
Come, all the world: come, sinner, thou!
All things in Christ are ready now.
- John Wesley, A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity
What is the relationship between missionaries and the culture and
society from which they come and that of the society they have entered?
Missionaries work to engender an ultimate value they consider capable of
changing peoples lives for the better. This "change for the
better" has many aspects. In essence, it means two things.
First, it aims to deepen the
dignity of each person. Second, it seeks to transform that person's relationship to the
world so that it corresponds to the reality of that world.
behalf of an ultimate value was the case for Methodist missionaries in the
much as it is for the modern workers. Contemporary examples include those who
try to develop literacy in
societies that cannot read or write and those working to provide a universal
education system where knowledge had previously been passed on through
daily life and forms of apprenticeship. All mission movements, all efforts
to engender a new ultimate value within a society, transform the culture,
society and its larger civil structure where such exists.
Culture is a verbal in Latin: cultura. For most of us, this is
easiest to understand when we think of culture not as a noun standing
alone but when it is part of other common words: L. agricultura = ager
field + cultura cultivation. "Agriculture",
"horticulture", the "culture" of bacteria growing in a laboratory all signal the active nature of culture, its
organic character. All are forms of communication and in a constant process of formation and reformation.
Missionaries wish to cultivate a new ultimate value within the
life of the women and men they encounter and befriend. In the case of
Christian missionaries, they come with a gospel proclaiming God is love, that life is not pitted against human nature and that it
is possible for each person to have a relationship with God. Similarly,
literacy workers come with a gospel proclaiming that the
ability to read and write grants access to the modern world, saving each
person from poverty and liberating a community or society from the bondage
The planting of a new ultimate idea into a culture transforms the
society through reordering the constellation of social relationships.
Often new institutions are established to reflect the new value.
Traditional relationships to authority are often reformed and new ethical
and moral values begin to take hold, which often reshape or replace
This relationship is never one-way, from missionary to the host
society. In looking at the period of the great spread of Christianity
and the large expansion of liberal democratic society, the evidence is
that the ultimate values of societies that have been the subject of
evangelization also take hold within missionaries, the church and secular
These new values are often seeded by missionaries and secular workers
in their home culture and society. This is an important part of the
history of the post-colonial period and the history of 19th and 20th century liberation movements throughout the world. Culture, cultura,
is the active ingredient of exchange and communication. This exchange is
at work not from the missionary and secular worker toward the society they
have entered, but from the host society back to the missionary and secular
worker so that it corresponds to the missionary's perception of the
reality of that world.