Peter & Kelly

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Peter & Kelly + Lukas + Emmet + Danai

Going to Heaven: The concept of heaven in the Bible and Christian teaching
Research Paper (All Nations Christian College) 2 June 2004 — Peter Passchier

Is participation in Freemasonry wholesome for disciples of Jesus?
Advanced Religions Paper (All Nations Christian College) 7 May 2004 — Peter Passchier

Passages from Colossians and Hebrews compared
Assignment Christology (All Nations Christian College) 5 December 2003 — Peter Passchier

Is Israel's election related to any inherent qualities?
Assignment Old Testament Theology (All Nations Christian College) 28 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

The Gospel and the Religions
Reading Report Theology of Mission (All Nations Christian College) 11 November 2003 — Peter Passchier

Efforts towards unity within the church
Assignment Churchplanting (All Nations Christian College) 27 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Jesus: transactional or transformational?
Assignment Leadership (All Nations Christian College) 20 June 2003 — Peter Passchier

Isaiah in crises
Assignment History and Literature of the Hebrew Bible (All Nations Christian College) 17 March 2003 — Peter Passchier

Do missionaries destroy cultures?
Assignment Social Anthropology (All Nations Christan College) 6 December 2002 — Peter Passchier

Temple Tumult
Assignment New Testament: Gospels and Acts (All Nations Christian College) 29 November 2002 — Peter Passchier

Initial Assignment (All Nations Christian College) 1 October 2002 — Peter Passchier

A Narrow Escape
A Narrow Escape (Creative writing) 13 September 2015 — Kelly Passchier

Assignment Social Anthropology (All Nations Christan College) 6 December 2002 — Peter Passchier

Do missionaries destroy cultures?


Ethical issues are often raised in connection with missionary work, particularly by those who would not call themselves followers of Jesus. Missionaries —actually all disciples of Jesus— focus on changing people and transforming communities to be closer to God. Objections to this goal or the way it is pursued —directed against Christianity in general— will not be our main focus here, although missionaries are actively and purposefully engaged in this pursuit. Missionaries live and engage in other cultures as witnesses of Jesus, in the context of His command to teach in all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Cultural Anthropologists have often encountered missionaries, especially in the more remote areas of this earth (Salamone 1986). The scientific Anthropological pursuit is concerned with treading as lightly as possible in order not to disrupt the culture under scrutiny, but alongside that, ideology —often not explicit— gives rise to an agenda of cultural preservation. A discipline of transforming cultures is not part of the dominant paradigm, and it would require instruments of evaluative assessment and teleological ethics; the means to make valid value judgments are lacking (Laidlaw 2002). Cultural Anthropologists are best equipped —and most likely— to make such judgments because of their training in cultural issues and their access to relevant information, and indeed have been the most prolific critics of missionary efforts.

The word destroy —breaking upward barriers of entropy, taking apart irreversibly, damaging irreparably— has heavily negative connotations in most cultures. Our subject question can thus be construed: do followers of Jesus active in other cultures influence those in an undesirable and irrevocable way? A majority of anthropologists believe this to be true, and more strongly so if they are young, male or inexperienced (Salamone 1986).

History: Have missionaries destroyed cultures?

Not a great deal of systematic anthropological research has been done on the way missionary activity has affected cultures. Reading through an essay collection like Hvalkof & Aaby (1981) or the polemics of Lewis (1988) clearly reveals a political-ideological agenda clouding an objective assessment — in all cases described there has been a strong influence of another, powerful culture promoting cultural disintegration, independent of missionary effort. These criticisms might even be taken as an alternative way for the remittal of sin — associated with previous Western colonialism, imperialism, exploitation and the resultant wealth & welfare gap still in existence. Scapegoats —missionaries, slave-traders, multinational corporations— get blamed, effectively absolving the accusers who have chosen to be on the right side. Another dynamic involved in anthropological criticism of missionary activity might be the similarity of both endeavours, and the anthropologists' desire to differentiate (Van der Geest 1990).

Missionaries —even the earlier ones— have on the whole been less disruptive towards cultures than political or commercial agents (Kraus 1998:9-16). But missionaries have tended to import their cultural forms —as opposed to metacultural concepts— into the native situation. Only in the last few decades has the awareness of this cultural imperialism risen sharply, both in anthropologists as in missionaries. When a lot has been given, a lot will be required, and the use of power and resources need to be accounted for as a general principle. Besides cultural forms, also Western naturalistic concepts have been transferred by missionaries (Miller 1973), and the church as a global community might need to become more aware of the secularizing influence of scientific —naturalistic— philosophy in areas like health care, economy, education and even theology.

Power: Can missionaries destroy cultures?

Who has given power to the missionaries to influence cultures? God? By His general gift of creative and moral power to every human being, or specifically to missionaries to do His work of transforming cultures to reflect His character better? Or the state authorities —backed up by power of arms— perceiving that missionary efforts might be beneficial to their agenda? Or the people —possibly the leaders— within the culture itself, by implementing suggested modifications, or even devising their own — working from concepts and ideas they have accepted as valuable and wholesome? Or forces of destruction, seeking to degrade human existence and promoting chaos whenever the occasion arises?

Cultural change —positive or negative— can never be solely attributed to missionary effort. Missionaries are responsible for their actions —like any human being— but so are the 'bearers' of the culture, the participants — culture is —after all— an abstraction, a construct in the eye of the beholder. Even with large power differences between two parties, both are responsible for their actions, and although the more powerful party has a greater responsibility, there is still some freedom of choice for the less powerful. Missionaries have generally had far greater technical resources than the receptor culture, their efforts have been thoughtfully directed and purposefully planned. Great care should be taken to make sure their goals and the ways to achieve them are perceived as ethical by the people concerned (Kraft 1996:414-432).

Ethics: Should missionaries destroy cultures?

Apart from the obvious gut-reaction denouncement of pollution of a Rousseauan Noble Savage culture by anthropologists, is there an intrinsic ethic within the 'missionary culture' to destroy the fabric of the heathen way of life? This is an interesting question when viewed from an historical angle — because most anthropologists would agree with changing the Suttee practice of Hindu widows, or the abolition of slavery, or preventing cannibalism. These can all be ethically argued from the Bible — and although slavery has also been defended with the Bible in hand, eventually spiritual consensus triumphed over profiteering. In the cases mentioned, most people actually engaged in the culture have opposed such efforts — except for the victims. The change would have to be imposed on the culture —meeting resistance— yet would be considered ethical from within the current general global mindset. Indeed, all nation-states have laws preventing (sub)cultural outrage, effectively channeling freedom, and most people would agree such laws are necessary and therefore right — in spite of the fact that they limit individual or subcultural freedom.

Does God command cultural change? In Acts 15 the Lord's brother says "Therefore my judgment is that we don't trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood." In some cultures this will require change from the people who choose to follow God's ways, and if groups of people do this, (sub)culture will change. But noticeably lacking from this statement are many other areas of conduct where biblical ethical guidelines could be argued —and have been imposed on cultures— but are not specifically required. Eventually it is the responsibility of each decisionmaker how they try to follow Jesus and get to know Him better. The mandate of the missionary is to use Godgiven gifts and talents within the other culture to manifest God's glory — mainly through getting in touch, communicating with people. How people within a culture respond and adapt to that —especially the disciples of Jesus— their responsibility.

Transformation: How do cultures change?

A Hegelian model for the development of how Western culture has encountered other cultures has been put forward by Hiebert (1994:53-73). He describes a Colonial Era with an attitude of superiority and dominance, and selfcentered noncontextualization, where the cross-cultural —anthropologist or missionary— is an outsider to the receptor culture. Then followed an Anticolonial Era where these attitudes were scorned and renounced, where the cross-cultural is aiming to be an insider focusing on 'the other', uncritically contextualizing. After this era —full of uncertainties and relativism— temptation may be strong to take enlightened neocolonial stance, but a better way is conceptualized in the Global Era, a postmodern synthesis of both previous eras . Here a balance is found between absolute objectivism and relative subjectivism, with the cross-cultural incarnating within the culture, focusing on relationships. Instead of the old mapping of external forms with mental meanings, there is an appreciation of external reality outside of thought or language, where external forms can take their rightful place of symbolizing and pointing to ultimate realities without having to be something on their own.

Missionaries can play a key part in helping societies cope with the larger social environment with its potential commercial or political threats (Richardson 1992). The metaphor of incarnation applies to the Holy Spirit indwelling individual participants —constituents— of the receptor culture, but also the community of believers — seeking to embody God inside their culture, strengthening and bringing it towards fulfillment, making it flourish. The —incarnational— presence of missionaries serves as a catalyst, not dictating or even directing change, but to facilitate the growth of a local community of God-seekers and Jesus-followers.


In general, missionaries have been very sacrificial and compassionate towards the people they have tried to reach out to, and it is rather malevolent outside forces that have been destructive. The main task for missionaries is to be manifold incarnate witnesses to Jesus' presence within them, and facilitate His incarnation within (people of) the receptor culture.


Van der Geest, S. (1990) 'Anthropologists and Missionaries: Brothers under the skin', Man 25, pp.588-601.

Hiebert, P.G. (1994) Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker).

Hvalkof, S. & Aaby, P. (1981) Is God an American? (Copenhagen: IWGIA).

Kraft, C.H. (1996) Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll: Orbis).

Kraus, C.N. (1998) An Intrusive Gospel? (Downers Grove: IVP).

Laidlaw, J. (2002) 'For an Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8(2), pp.311-332.

Lewis, N. (1988) The Missionaries (London: Sekker & Warburg).

Miller, E.S. (1973) 'The Christian Missionary: Agent of Secularisation', MSY 1, pp.99-108.

Richardson, D. (1992) 'Do Missionaries Destroy Cultures?' in Ralph D. Winter & Steven C. Hawthorne (eds.) Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (Carlisle: Paternoster), pp.C137-148.

Salamone, F.A. (1986) 'Missionaries and Anthropologists: An Inquiry into Their Ambivalent Relationship', Missiology 14(1), pp.55-70.

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