“To Be or Not to Be”: The Indigenous Church Question -- By: Keith E. Eitel

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:2 (Spring 1996)
Article: “To Be or Not to Be”: The Indigenous Church Question
Author: Keith E. Eitel


“To Be or Not to Be”:
The Indigenous Church Question

Keith E. Eitel

Professor of Missions
Director, Lewis Adison Drummond
Center for Great Commission Studies
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

Introduction: The Problem1

The Mission has done its work in a particular central African country for about a century. Initially, missionaries braved the climate and expectations of a brief life to fulfill their manifest destiny of spreading the gospel, albeit shrouded in western forms, to all the nations of the world.

Many missionaries have come and gone in the last hundred years. Few have taken on the perspective of the people and engaged the culture enough to understand or appreciate the African worldviews that they contacted. Now a critical issue emerges. The secular government in the country is investigating the role of foreign residents and evaluating the need for maintaining visa quotas given to the Mission at the time of independence, some thirty-five years ago. Both the American sending agency at home, and the Mission administration on the field, are scrambling to assess their legitimacy and present a cogent argument for their raison detre in that country. The Mission acted paternalistically, just as it has done for a hundred years. The missionaries did not consult the Convention’s national leadership about how to respond to the government’s inquiries. They hold responsible offices in the Convention, but they are treated as if this investigation is none of their business. After a century of development, what should be the nature of the relationship between the Mission and the national Convention? Since the Mission still controls the basic cash flow within the Convention, how much of a voice can the nationals have realistically? Why is the Convention still dependent on foreign funding anyway? Are the national leaders titular heads or are they trusted with real authority? Is this Convention composed of indigenous churches? Does the term indigenous even have meaning in such a context?2 The Convention’s churches are in a position to muse over the significance of their existence as indigenous churches, even as Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered, whether “To be or not to be?”

The Objective

This article examines the subject of indigeneity. Associated terms also enter into the discussion. There are sections in this chapter which aim at defining each major term, surveying selectively the historic development of these concepts in the modern missions era, and providing a strategic assessment of the is...

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