World War I and II were greatly disruptive to missionary work worldwide but they were also a blessing in disguise to the missionary cause. For years, Western missionaries had claimed that the superiority of Western civilization was due to Christianity. They thought this was a great apologetic for why non-Christian people in other parts of the world should believe in Christianity.
See what fruit Christianity has borne in Christian nations?
You too can have that if you believe in Christ!
Well, the rest of the world certainly did see as the countries of Europe, the supposed pinnacle of human civilization, tore each other apart. So that apologetic was not very useful anymore if it ever was.
When the rug was pulled out from under the feet of this missionary apologetic, missionaries were humbled and forced to ask themselves “What IS the fruit of the gospel?” and “What ARE the real benefits of believing in Christ that we can tell non-Christian people?” The two world wars forced missionaries to draw a sharper dividing line between Christian faith and Western civilization; And that was a helpful thing because missionaries should be preaching the glories of Christ and not the glories of their home countries as supposed proof of the glories of Christ.
In the present day, Western societies, the former “Christendom”, are moving further and further away from Christianity. Church attendance is low. Cultural values and priorities are increasingly formed without reference to the Christian faith, which is often seen as hostile to the progress of a humane and tolerant society. If missionaries one hundred years ago were close to heroes in Western culture, they are now closer to villains in the popular imagination. That is not an all bad thing. If missionaries have a clear idea of how hostile their home culture is to Christ, then they will go out to their field of service without the idea that they should be promoting their home culture as part and parcel of gospel proclamation. Christ stands in opposition to both the missionary’s home culture and the culture of their host country. It is a great thing that the last hundred years have disabused Western missionaries of the idea that the fruit of the gospel and the fruit of Western civilization are two sides of the same coin.
In our humanness, it is easy to get our motives entangled with one another and have a difficult time sorting out what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Christian in a particular cultural context. But praise God that he has a habit of bringing clarity in a myriad of surprising and unexpected ways.