Fellowship -Lesson 09 - Colonialism


Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of economic dominance. The colonising country seeks to benefit from the colonised country or land mass. In the process, colonisers impose their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Colonialism is the relationship of domination of indigenous by foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of their interests. It might then seem quite odd that we are to speak extensively on this topic within the discussion of fellowship, the reason will quickly become apparent.

Starting in the 15th century some European states established their own empires during the European colonial period. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Imperial Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the United States also acquired colonies, as did imperialist China and finally in the late 19th century the Germans and the Italians.

At first, European colonising countries followed policies of mercantilism, in order to strengthen the home economy, so agreements usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs.

Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the European controlled colonies because the metropoles were Christians. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84% of the globe.
Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers and acted in many ways as the "religious arm" of those powers. According to Edward Andrews, Christian missionaries were initially portrayed as "visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery". However, by the time the colonial era drew to a close in the last half of the twentieth century, missionaries became viewed as "ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them", colonialism's "agent, scribe and moral alibi."

Falola cites Jan H. Boer of the Sudan United Mission as saying, "Colonialism is a form of imperialism based on a divine mandate and designed to bring liberation - spiritual, cultural, economic and political - by sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under satanic oppression, ignorance and disease, effected by a combination of political, economic and religious forces that cooperate under a regime seeking the benefit of both ruler and ruled."

This historical backdrop led to some serious misunderstands and miscalculations upon the arrival of the Christadelphian Bible Mission into Tanzania in the late 1980s. Such incorrect ideas as:

•    The Bible missionary are there to dictate religious practices and culture to the indigenous people
•    The Bible missionary should spoon feed religious knowledge
•    Only the Bible missionary can baptize new members
•    The Bible mission should discipline the membership
•    The Bible mission should provide welfare and aid
•    The Bible mission should provide church buildings for groups to meet in

This understanding is completely incorrect, yet in the early years it was fueled by naive missionaries and hundreds of years of dominance of Western culture and colonialism.

Should the Bible missionary dictate religious practices and culture to the indigenous people?

The simple answer to this is no they should not. Whilst the teachings of the Bible should be fully followed many of the religious practices of visiting missionaries will have basis in tradition and culture, not basis in the Bible. There is a danger that some of these traditions may in reality completely contradict Bible teachings. The teaching of our Lord in Matthew 15:2-3 warns us of this great danger “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.  But Jesus answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?”.

Let us examine some very simple examples of this in practice and we will certainly realize the impact that colonial history has upon our fellowship not only with visiting missionaries but also within the Tanzanian brotherhood.

In England the tradition is to have one to four cups (depending on Ecclesia size) made of silver containing un-fermented wine or grape juice at the breaking of bread service. When prayer for the wine is made you stand up. In Australia the tradition is to have one small glass per person containing fermented wine. When prayer for the wine is made you sit down. In U.S.A. often it is different again. What do we do in Tanzania? Do we follow England, Australia or U.S.A.? What does the Bible say? Well actually the Bible never mentions wine in the context of the Lords table; it is always “fruit of the vine” or “the cup” but never wine. The disciples in the upper room were celebrating the Passover (see lesson 3), so actually there would be five cups there (don’t forget Elijah’s cup). So what should we do in Tanzania?

In England females often wear very tight trousers, bare their mid-rift or wear what we would consider extremely short skirts sometimes with no undergarments at all. Rarely would they cover their heads with a kanga or even a scarf. They happily walk in front of their husbands and sometimes even disagree with their husbands - even in the church! In Tanzania females rarely wear trousers - although we are seeing more of our young people doing so, maybe copying the West. Certainly our ladies cover their knees with their skirts; and we like to see heads covered. The clothing that we wear agrees with our traditions and our culture. But what does the Bible say? 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array”.

In England people meet in a big expensive buildings that many call a Church. In England this is quiet appropriate, because in England it rains a lot and sometimes it is so very cold that the rain turns into ice and snow. The English need to keep warm. In Tanzania the opposite is true. It is much better to listen to the Word of God in the open air under some shady tree with a cool breeze. What does the Bible say? Our Lord Jesus Christ taught on the lake side, on a hill, in the open field and also in the synagogues. Building Churches is unimportant, building people is very important.

The British like there big organs to sing along with. They like their hymns to be sung in a very somber way, and dancing would be a big no. In Tanzania we like to chant or sing unaccompanied or maybe with a drum or a dulcimer. We like to have a good beating rythem. We have dancing and ululation. What does the Bible say? Organs are not to be encouraged, just look at the life of Tubal-Cain (Genesis 4:22) to see where that got him. And David, well he danced before Yahweh (2 Samuel 6).

The truth of the matter is that many of the things that missionaries follow are traditions made up by the Brothers and Sisters of their home countries, and not necessarily based on Bible principles. When those traditions are broken or spoken against the visitors can get very upset, despite the C.B.M. handbook clearly stating “An awareness of what constitutes acceptable speech and conduct in the culture you will be entering is just as important as a ready familiarity with First Principles of doctrine”.

It is useful to be aware of these different traditions in order to avoid conflicts that may occur. We need to establish our own traditions. Not traditions based on what someone from the West dictates to us, but traditions soundly based upon what the Bible teaches. When we visit other surrounding Ecclesias, perhaps on business or as invited guest by that Ecclesia, then we have to remember that they may do things slightly differently to our home Ecclesia. Cultural differences are to be embraced, compared with Scripture and openly discussed. Following the traditions of the first Century Jewish believers is to be encouraged, following the world discouraged, dictation of non-Biblical traditions should be frowned upon and where traditions contradict with scripture those contradictions need to be shown in love to your Brothers and Sisters.

One of the prime concerns of fellowship is helping your Brothers and Sisters to change their mindset to mirror that of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And that includes the missionaries.

The Bible missionary should spoon feed religious knowledge

This idea has a most unsound basis. Essentially it is following the misconception that indigenous peoples are savages that lack intelligence and cannot work out Bible truths and principles for themselves. This was the teaching of the Churches for hundreds of years. The Churches even forbade the lay people from reading Bibles. It is this doctrine that promulgated the need for priests and pastors and the like. This teaching utterly contradicts what the Bible teaches. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life” (John 5:39).

Visiting missionaries from the West are just men and women like you and I. They are all simple fallible humans. Interesting to hear what they have to say, but we must be like those of Berea - “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11).

The same applies for any Brother that speaks at our meeting place whether a European or a local. None are infallible. If we want to be in the Kingdom then they are not the ones that are going to get us there, they cannot do all the work for us. We cannot be “spoon fed” eternal life. We all have to work ourselves - “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12). That means reading the Bible for ourselves. That means sharing our thoughts with our Brothers and Sisters that means talking to one another about the Word of God. That means altering our way of living so that it aligns with a Christ-like character. We have to have the four faces of the Cherubim (Ezekiel 1).

When we join in fellowship what do we talk about? We seem to talk about anything and everything but the Bible. The football, the weather, the traffic, the latest gossip… How much better would it be if after the Brother finished his Bible talk that we continued by discussing what he has spoken about, and debate “whether those things are so”. Our meetings are not just social gatherings, they should help those attending to change their mode of life so that they gain moral attitudes.

Only European Bible missionaries can baptize new members

This stems directly from the previous misconception, and again directly contradicts scriptural teaching. Can any man forbid baptism? “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” (Acts 10:47).

It is evident that men and women must know and understand the Gospel before they are immersed otherwise their baptism would be of no effect “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16). And for this reason for a short period in Tanzanian history it was necessary for Europeans to complete the interview process with candidates. This was not because there is anything special about Europeans, this was because there were not those with sufficient understanding of the beliefs of the Christadelphians living in Tanzania to fulfill this role. Now that there are those in Tanzania that are proficient in the interview process it is no longer a necessity for Europeans to interview for baptism. Indeed it is to be preferred that a Tanzanian now completes this work, so as to avoid translation errors creeping in.

Sadly, despite local Brethren now being available to interview for Baptism, many have waited many years for Europeans to arrive, sometimes falling asleep during the waiting process. Surely it would have been better to have been baptized and waited after baptism until someone came available to double check? This was the Lords command! “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Maybe it would have been necessary to be baptized again. But would that have mattered. Brother John Thomas (the founder of the Christadelphians) was baptized several times – some of which he even conducted on his own.

The Bible mission should discipline the membership

The visiting missionary from another country or another part of Tanzania is by definition a visitor. They are there as a guest of the Ecclesia that they are visiting. As a visitor they have no authority over the membership of the Ecclesia that they are visiting. They are purely a guest. No missionary, no linkman, no non-member of your Ecclesia has any authority within your Ecclesia it is out of their jurisdiction. Your Ecclesia is autonomous. The C.B.M. handbook states “Of course, in no circumstance would you give orders to local brethren. Remember you are a guest and you should act in the same manner as you would expect a visitor to do at your meeting.” It is down to local Ecclesias to discipline their membership. We do not ask linkmen to dis-fellowship our members. We can seek the advice and guidance of our visitors but we must remember their position and their lack of authority.

This attitude stems from the colonial land owner who used to discipline those who disobeyed him. Sometimes even flogging them to death.  We must ensure that we do not try to act as the colonials did in the past.  

The Bible mission should provide welfare and aid

The primary objective of the Bible mission is to save the lives of men and women, not through the provision of welfare and aid for the needs of this current life but through the preaching of the good news of the Gospel. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6).

There is a misconception that all Europeans must have more wealth than an African because they live in Europe. The Europeans all have greater affluence. This is rarely the case. There are actually more millionaires living in Africa than millionaires living in Europe. Brother Arthur and Sister Muriel East (whom many of you know) lived for many years in a caravan. This is effectively a tin box on wheels. It was less than 3 meters long and 2 meters wide. Many of the missionaries are people like Peter the Apostle who actually have very little money that they can call their own. What should they spend the precious little they have upon? There are now more Christadelphians living in Africa than living in the U.K. How should they split out the wealth that they have? Should they preach the Gospel or should they provide others with welfare handouts? What does the scripture teach?

Our fellowship with Brothers and Sisters particularly from Western countries can be damaged irreparably when seemingly all we seem to want them for is their money. Some missionaries and correspondence course tutors have become so disheartened by this attitude of constant begging letters, emails, and SMSs that they have ceased their involvement. The fellowship with them has been ripped apart.

This attitude stems from the colonial landowner who provided for the welfare of all those who served him.
Where is our pride in self provision? “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” (2 Thess. 3:11). Our dependency and trust needs to be upon the open hand of Yahweh, not upon the generosity and kindness of our new family in Christ.

We have to ask ourselves whether we care about just the now of our existence or our long term eternal welfare - “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt 6:31-33).

The Bible mission should provide church buildings for groups to meet in?

We have already mentioned that Church buildings are a thing of Western culture, but sometimes of necessity we do need a building. In lessons 1 and 3 we spoke about the Synagogue of the Jewish communities. The Synagogues were useful. They were places to meet to talk about the Word of God. They were places that were never closed, hives of activity, centres of fellowship and community lives. How sadly different to many of those buildings provided to us by the Brothers and Sisters of the U.K. Why we ask is that? The answer is ownership. Which of us feels that we actually own those halls that have been given to us? Do we keep them clean and tidy? Can we afford to keep them repaired?
Again, this attitude and belief that Europeans should provide us a Church stems from colonialism. The Europeans provided their servants churches and forced them to attend upon pain of death. It was their way of “taming the savages”.
We are not savages. Nor are we forced to attend. Compare this with the Israelite in the Wilderness. They complained and failed but one thing they did well, they provided the materials needed for their own meeting place. “And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.” (Exodus 36:5).

It is kind generosity from the Europeans that has given us halls, and we are grateful to the Heavenly Father for their great gift. We should therefore make the very best use of them ensuring that these great assets are not wasted.

But there is a far better way.

Let us be very aware of the colonial past. Let us make sure that colonialism remains in the past. Let us not allow colonialism to affect the now.   


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