Mission (christianity)

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The apostle Paul preaches in Athens, sketch after Raphael
The missionary Eric Jansson baptizing in Brazil, 1910

The term mission is derived from the Latin missio (mission) and describes the spread of the Christian faith ( gospel ), to which every baptized Christian is initially called. This task is especially assigned to missionaries ("messengers") who are sent out . Mission is to be understood as a general Christian mandate, but is often aimed at specific areas or target groups and pursues the goal of bringing people into contact with the message of Jesus Christ . A personal turn of the audience towards Jesus Christ means both salvation and an offer for a successful, meaningful life. Special missionaries are sent and financially supported by a church institution, an interdenominational missionary organization, an individual Christian community or the missionaries' personal circle of friends. In the 21st century, both an intensification and a pluralization of forms of Christian-missionary interactions can be observed globally .

Related terms for Christian mission are evangelization and evangelism .

Biblical basics

Before his crucifixion, according to the Bible, the Jew Jesus spoke out against a mission by non-Jews:

“Jesus sent these twelve out, commanded them, and said: Do not go the way to the Gentiles or go to a Samaritan city, but go to the lost sheep from the house of Israel. But go and preach and say: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. "

- Mt 10,5f  LUT

Christian missionary activity is based on passages of the Bible , in particular on the missionary command of the risen One - Jesus Christ - to his disciples. The Gospel of Matthew is used as evidence, which ends with the so-called missionary command:

“And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations: baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep all that I have commanded you. And see, I am with you every day until the end of the world. "

- Mt 28 : 18-20  LUT

Such a missionary mandate can be found in all the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles ( Mk 16.15f.  EU ; Lk 24.46-48  EU ; Joh 20.21  EU ; Acts 1.8  EU ).

The historically frequent connection between mission and violence is based on Luke 14.23  EU . In Jesus' parable of the Great Supper , the master of the house makes people from the street “compel people to come in” (in the translation of the Vulgate : “compelle intrare”) to fill the house before a wedding . These two words became the “standard formula” to express “the coercive nature of the modern European mission in particular” and to combine it with the teaching of the just war .

However, the basis for the commission for Christian mission is not limited to the New Testament scriptures. Christian theology already finds statements in the Old Testament that emphasize the universal claim of God's revelation - that God's message and love apply not only to the people of Israel, but to all of humanity. Thus God's address to Abraham , which mentions all humanity, is read in Christianity in the context of the missionary command: “Through you all the generations of the earth are to receive a blessing” ( 1 Mo 12: 3 according to the standard translation ).


English traveling missionary in Mongolia 1904
David Brainerd, missionary to the Delaware goods
Missionary on Nauru , 1916–17
Greenland missionary Aron von Kangeq , 19th century

There are numerous phases in Christian mission in which certain churches or groups were particularly active in certain areas. Here are references to representations elsewhere:

Example: North America

"If there is only one religion, why do you white people talk about it so differently?"

- Seneca chief

The mission, which often took place in competition with different denominations, played an important - albeit ambivalent - role in the history of the North American Indians . The missionaries are mainly accused of paternalism (paternalism, seizure of spiritual "domination") and ethnocide (infiltration and erasure of the spiritual basis of traditional cultures ). Sometimes undertaken by individuals according to personal requirements, the missionary work and cultural assimilation of the indigenous population also took place in organized cooperation between state and church, e.g. B. in Canada with the help of the state-organized denominational school system (so-called residential schools ) intended exclusively for children of the First Nations , the Inuit and the Métis .

The Christian missionary order was often used by the colonial powers as a justification for their conquest . The recruiters of the first English colony, Jamestown , stated that "land for right faith" would be exchanged here on a voluntary basis. In fact, the famous daughter of the chief, Pocahontas, remained the only Christian of her people for a long time. Christianization among the Puritans of New England only succeeded when the indigenous people were already considerably decimated and demoralized and adopting the faith was the only way to survive under the new rulers. The mission in New France took a similar course , as the locals found little interest in the Christian God as long as their traditional socio-cultural structures were still intact. Until well into the 19th century, there was a confrontation between medicine men and missionaries in many unconquered tribes . The people tried to assess which spiritual power was greater; what faith could bring greater salvation to the individual . Basically the idea of ​​a universal religion was alien to the Indians, so that there had to be solid reasons for the will to convert. The emerging alcoholism among many Indians, who were in regular contact with whites, led to social problems, the solution of which was often more likely to be attributed to the Christians. Some Indians also assumed that the power of the white god could be seen in the technology of the conquerors. Often, however, they were disappointed when a pastor could not prove it. The success of the mission depended very much on the skill and cultural empathy of the respective missionary. In principle, the willingness to integrate into the indigenous community was beneficial.

Unlike the French Jesuits, who were ready to go to nomadic tribes, Spanish missionaries only found their work promising in settled communities, so that their efforts were for a long time only directed towards the pueblo cultures . However, there was a theocratic social structure with a correspondingly strong influence of religious traditions and their powerful representatives, the Patowa priests . This quickly led to violent clashes with the help of the military, the consequence of which, however, was the expulsion of the Spaniards and a consolidation of the tribal religion. Even later missionary efforts only led to a syncretistic mixing of religions, in which Christian or traditional components are still dominant depending on the region . There are other examples of a return of already missionized groups to their traditional religion, which, however, was almost always influenced by Christianity.

Wherever the mission did not clearly distance itself from the secular, mostly “anti-Indian” goals of the Euro-Americans, it was granted little success. This was true for the Russian Orthodox missionaries in Alaska with the Northwest Coast cultures and also for the Protestant churches in the USA. The Catholics had better chances here. Another obstacle could lie in the social status of the converts: If outsiders or people of low rank turned to Christianity with the hope of being better off - which was not infrequent - the others distanced themselves from the missionaries. The mission often made use of indigenous preachers and catechists as mission helpers. This practice very often had the consequence that the Christian message was in part strongly falsified or adapted to the thoughts of the pagan people (a well-known example is the Lakota Black Elk ). On the other hand, it can be used to argue against the charge of ethnocide.

The Christian mission among the indigenous people of North America has produced various religious forms since the 16th century, ranging from a complete Christianization with the integration of some traditional customs (examples: Mi'kmaq , Iñupiat ) to more or less Christian influenced ethnic religions (examples: Dogrib , Apaches ) or "double religiosity" (also compartmentalization , examples: Pueblo cultures , Oklahoma Creek , James Bay Cree ) up to "Indian forms of Christianity" (→ Indian Shaker Church , Native American Church , longhouse religion ) pass.

Example: Latin America

Status of the Christian mission around 1890
António Vieira tried in the 17th century to save some tribes from slavery

“Our area once extended from the Curaray River to the Napo. We lost our territory with the arrival of the missionaries who worked with the oil industry. "

- Open letter from the Huaorani

Soon after the first Spaniards and Portuguese came the missionaries to convert the “pagan savages” of Latin America, who until the 16th century were equated by the Church with soulless animals. After that, they were considered "children". The Catholic Church thus supported the conquest and colonization of the indigenous peoples. The proselytizing took place with material pressure or even violence; Alternatives to baptism and conversion were not allowed. Often the missionaries worked hand in hand with the military rulers from Europe and tried to integrate the Indian population into the European value system through Christianization and to break the Indian resistance. Nevertheless, the Indians did everything to preserve their own deities and beliefs under the guise of Catholicism. To this day one can find many examples of syncretistic amalgamation of religions: In a Catholic mass in Guatemala, sacrifices are made with incense sticks and chants, and Pachamama ( Mother Earth ) is just as present in the Andean countries as the Virgin Mary. The cult of Mary in Mexico refers to the worship of fertility goddesses before the arrival of the Spaniards. Only in isolated cases did the church - or some of its representatives - also take on protective functions for their “children”. One example is the Jesuit priest António Vieira : He persuaded many Indians on the northeast coast of Brazil to convert to Christianity in the hope that this would save them from slavery.

Today evangelical groups are mainly active in the not yet missionized tribes of the Amazon region . In practice, they have often proven to be trailblazers for the oil companies: In Ecuador, for example, missionaries from the SIL International Institute concentrated the Huaorani people in mission stations with gifts and promises in the 1960s and 70s. They were supported by the Texaco oil company , which used the time to build a supply route to the Huaorani area. At the same time in Paraguay the resistance of the Ayoreo to the development of their habitat through proselytizing by Catholic and Protestant missionaries in connection with oil prospecting and fur trapping was broken. Military occupation and missionary activity made it easier for the indigenous groups of the Chaco cultural area to take possession of the area, especially by cattle breeders, which was initially quite cautious in the course of the 20th century, but has taken place at an ever increasing pace since 1985.

On the other hand, since the mid-20th century, missions have done a lot to help the Indian peoples organize themselves and be heard nationally and internationally. The Shuar organization in Ecuador, which was founded in the 1970s, emerged from the work of the Catholic mission.

Current situation

Peter Beyerhaus makes a difference between the large church and denominational mission on the one hand, where the understanding of the kingdom of God is easily identified with a particular church, and on the other hand the philanthropic Anglo-Saxon mission, which has improved conditions in the world in mind. The existence of non-denominational mission associations is often due to the fact that the missionaries did not succeed in getting their home church to found a mission.

In addition to the " Neuland Mission " in areas without Christian witnesses of faith ( pioneer mission or earlier " Gentile Mission "), the world mission of the Christian denominations has often developed into a partnership between the churches of the north and the churches of the traditional mission areas, most of which are today are independent, autonomous churches. Many of these independent churches run missions for their part: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania sends missionaries to Mozambique. Along with the USA, South Korea is the country that sends the most missionaries in the world in relation to the population of its own country.

With the help of their partners, diaconia also plays an important role in the “young churches”. Because health and education rarely ranks high on the government's to-do list in the countries of the South, the churches feel challenged to serve the people holistically. Evangelization and development aid, health work and social work is carried out by the member organizations of the EMW, Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland e. V., and the AEM, Working Group of Evangelical Missions , according to their own statements, viewed primarily.

Mission is closely associated with diakonia : The mission societies of the various Christian churches combine their work with practical development aid .

In the ecumenical dialogue within the framework of the World Missions Conference , the concept of mission has changed to Missio Dei . It says: God himself acts in his creation , and Christians only participate in it. In this spirit, we went to the World Missionary Conference in 2005 in Athens to the question of how Christian communities, parishes locally and all churches in the healing and reconciliation can participate, which urgently need the people and societies around them. Examples include the theology of liberation in Latin America or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Engl. Truth and Reconciliation Commission ) in South Africa . Through the interreligious dialogue with Muslims , Jews and members of other religions one tries to overcome old missionary positions.

Both the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany have recently been exposed to social - especially demographic and tax policy - changes. As early as 1999, a synod of the EKD in Leipzig named Inner Mission as the future core task of the church. In the new federal states in particular, the alienation of people from the church and from the Christian faith is seen as a major challenge. The task of missionary work is to approach people, to talk to them about their lives and to acquaint them with the faith in Jesus Christ . In a postmodern society, this could only happen - especially from the point of view of the national churches - if Christianity is clearly articulated as one offer among many. That is why a convincing communication of Christian values ​​is increasingly seen as indispensable.

Lay mission

Often missions are not carried out by permanently employed missionaries , but by lay people who spend between a week and about two years abroad and often support the permanently employed missionaries in their work. The line between permanent employment and layperson is fluid. Very short assignments of one to five weeks are a kind of holiday arrangement . Such missions can also be carried out in a group (for example as a youth group ).

These missions range from sailing trips on a mission ship to setting up camps for other children in a summer camp.


The Christian mission is criticized by both non-Christian and Christian sides, whereby this criticism is either of a fundamental nature or only rejects certain aspects of the mission. Are criticized z. B. Forced baptisms , as they occurred in Germany especially at the time of the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne in the 9th century, proselytism and the close connection of missionaries with the state colonial policy in the time of the Conquista and imperialism . Historically, however, the relationship between mission and colonial rule was highly complex and characterized as often by hostility as it was by support. There are different schools of thought within Christian mission, so most of the criticism of mission is between the different schools of thought.

The perception of Christian mission in secular non-fiction is complex in its own right. In the comment columns on the websites of secular newspapers, one can often find an understanding of mission that is close to the meaning of forced Christianization .

The Protestant World Mission Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 is considered to be a switch between the ecumenical and evangelical schools of thought, although there are still areas that are commonly accepted. Evangelical evangelism was accepted at the World Council of Churches' World Mission Conference in Amsterdam in 1948. The conference tradition, shaped by pietism and evangelicalism , began with its own world mission conferences in Berlin in 1966 and Lausanne in 1974.

After the violent death of the missionary John Allen Chau on North Sentinel Island in 2018, Toby Luckhurst asked the question: “Do missionaries help or harm?” And referred, among other things, to imperialist forms of missionary work and the continuation of colonial tradition through missions, also in connection with cooperation evangelical missionaries with raw material companies in the Amazon. The missionary work of uncontacted peoples is now an exception and is mainly promoted by fundamentalist groups such as the Joshua Project .

See also


  • Klaus Fiedler : The Faith Missions in Africa: History and Understanding of the Church , Luviri Press, 2018, ISBN 978-9-99606-600-9 .
  • Christine Freitag : School and educational aid in the concepts of Catholic mission societies . Böhlau, Cologne 1995, ISBN 3-412-02095-8 (= studies and documentation on comparative educational research , volume 63).
  • Kai Funkschmidt: Earthing the Vision. Structural reforms in the mission examined using the example of CEVAA (Paris), CWM (London) and UEM (Wuppertal) , Lembeck, Frankfurt 2000 ISBN 978-3-87476-371-4 .
  • Rebekka Habermas , Richard Hölzl (ed.): Mission global. A history of integration since the 19th century. Böhlau, Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-412-22203-1 .
  • Fritz Kohlbrunner: Mission. In: Volker Drehsen et al. (Ed.): Dictionary of Christianity. Orbis Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-572-00691-0 , pp. 811f.
  • Norman Lewis: The Missionaries. About the destruction of other cultures. An eyewitness report. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-608-95312-4 .
  • Johannes Meier : To the Edge of the World: Paths of Catholicism in the Age of Reformation and Baroque , Aschendorff, Münster 2018, ISBN 978-3-402-13256-2 .
  • Karl Müller SVD : Mission Theology. An Introduction With Contributions by Hans-Werner Gensichen and Horst Rzepkowski . Studia Instituti Missiologici Societatis Verbi Divini 39, Steyler, Nettetal 1987, ISBN 3-8050-0191-6 .
  • Karl Müller - Werner Ustorf (ed.): Introduction to the mission history. Tradition, situation and dynamics of Christianity , Kohlhammer Theologische Wissenschaft Vol. 18, Verlag W. Kohlhammer: Stuttgart 1995, 291 S., ISBN 3-17-011080-2 .
  • Stephen Neill: A History of Christian Missions (The Penguin History of the Church, Volume Six). 2nd revised edition, London 1990, ISBN 0-14-013763-7 .
  • Gert von Paczensky : Crimes in the name of Christ. Mission and Colonialism. Orbis Verlag 2002, ISBN 3-572-01177-9 .
  • Gert von Paczensky: The whites are coming. The real story of colonialism . Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1970, ISBN 3-455-05900-7 (later at Hädecke, Weil der Stadt ISBN 3-7750-3418-8 , revised new edition as Fischer paperback No. 3418 under the title: White rule. A story des Kolonialismus . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-596-23418-2 ).
  • Ute & Frank Paul (ed.): Accompanying instead of conquering. Missionaries as guests in Chaco, northern Argentina. Neufeld , Schwarzenfeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-937896-95-3 .
  • Neal Pirolo: Called to send. Practical Tips for Responsible Christians. Hänssler, Neuhausen-Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-7751-1977-9 .
  • Werner Raupp : Mission in source texts . Verlag der Evang.-Luth. Mission, Erlangen 1990, ISBN 3-87214-238-0 .
  • Wolfgang Reinbold: Propaganda and Mission in the oldest Christianity. An investigation into the modalities of the expansion of the early church (= FRLANT. Vol. 188). Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-53872-3 ( [1] on goedoc.uni-goettingen.de)
  • Horst Rzepkowski: Lexicon of the mission. History, theology, ethnology , Styria: Graz-Vienna-Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-222-12052-8 .
  • Michael Sievernich : The Christian Mission. Past and present . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-534-19515-2 .
  • Michael Sievernich: Christian Mission , European History Online Mainz 2011, accessed on: May 23, 2011.
  • Tinko Weibezahl: "'Therefore goes to all peoples' - The importance of Christian mission schools for elite education in Africa" , KAS-Auslandsinformationen 07/2011 , Berlin 2011, pp. 23–42.
  • Klaus Wetzel: Mission history of Germany. 2005, Korntaler series 2, VTR, ISBN 3-937965-18-1 .
  • Klaus Wetzel: Population Development and Mission. 2005, Korntaler series 4, VTR, ISBN 3-937965-47-5 .
  • Klaus Wetzel: The history of the Christian mission: from antiquity to the present - a compendium . Brunnen Verlag, Giessen 2020, ISBN 978-3-765577-16-1 .
  • Joachim Wietzke (Ed.): Mission explained. Ecumenical documents from 1972 to 1992 . Leipzig 1993 ISBN 3-374-01479-8 .
  • Henning Wrogemann : Mission theologies of the present. Global developments, contextual profiles and ecumenical challenges. ( Textbook Intercultural Theology / Mission Studies, Volume 2) Gütersloh 2013, ISBN 978-3-579-08142-7 .

Web links

Commons : Christian Mission  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Henning Wrogemann: Mission theologies of the present. Global developments, contextual profiles and ecumenical challenges. Textbook Intercultural Theology / Mission Studies, Volume 2, Gütersloh, ISBN 978-3-579-08142-7 .
  2. Franz Gmainer-Pranzl: Ent suitability. “Mission” as a paradigm of fundamental theological responsibility. In: Franz Gruber , Christoph Nobody , Ferdinand Reisinger (ed.): Geistes-Gegenwart. From reading, thinking and saying of faith. Festschrift for Peter Hofer, Franz Hubmann and Hanjo Sauer (= Linzer Philosophical-Theological Contributions. Vol. 17). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2009, pp. 179–200, here p. 180.
  3. ^ Native Americans and Christianity . encyclopedia.com, American Eras, 1997, accessed January 2, 2016.
  4. Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions , Vol. 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . Pp. 185–193, as well as partly 193ff.
  5. a b c d Birgitta Huse, Heidi Feldt, Ludgera Klemp, Sabine Speiser, Volker von Bremen: Indigenous peoples in Latin America: Background - facts. Suggestions for teaching. International further training and development InWEnt gGmbH, Düsseldorf -and- German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) GmbH, Eschborn 2005, ISBN 978-3-937235-85-1 . Pp. 20, 79, 85, 100.
  6. Peter Beyerhaus: All peoples for testimony. Biblical-theological reflection on the essence of mission. Theological Verlag Rolf Brockhaus, Wuppertal 1972, ISBN 3-7974-0041-1 , p. 71.
  7. Klaus Fiedler : Entirely on trust. History and Church Understanding of Faith Missions. Brunnen, Gießen / Basel 1992, ISBN 3-7655-9375-3 , p. 373.
  8. https://www.kath.net/news/34936 Pope reminds the mission organizations in his speech, "Help for the neighbor, justice for the poorest, ... fight against poverty, rehabilitation of the excluded, development aid for the people, overcoming of ethnic division and respect for life "
  9. http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/leben/gesellschaft/Missionseinsaetze-sind-trendy/story/24752486 (accessed on: April 19, 2012). (Comments at the bottom of the website)
  10. Arthur Johnston: Contested World Mission. Hänssler, Neuhausen-Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-7751-0896-3 , pp. 32 and 89f.
  11. Arthur Johnston: Contested World Mission. Hänssler, Neuhausen-Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-7751-0896-3 , pp. 158 and 292f.
  12. ^ Toby Luckhurst: Missionaries: Serving God or playing God? In: BBC . November 28, 2018, accessed February 5, 2019 .