In a comment on yesterday’s post, Maya asked why the three-selves is an issue? I think it is an issue, because for many people this formula is almost as indisputable as the gospel. Obviously, if they are correct in believing that the three-selves formula summarises everything we need to know about indigenous churches, then I’m happy with the situation. But what if they are wrong? How could this influence people’s involvement in missions?
Rowell discusses the background of this paradigm as formulated by Henry Venn in detail. I’ll try to summarise in a few sentences what he writes in an entire chapter: For more than 30 years, Venn was the director of the Anglican Church Mission Society. He had three primary goals which he wanted to achieve:
- to end the African slave trade
- to assert the basic rights of indigenous peoples living under British rule in the various British colonies
- to reform the British missionary practice of insisting on foreign control of national congregations
If Rowell is correct (and I believe he is, as this history is well documented in his book) then it seems as if the three-selves were formulated, not primarily to convince the mission churches to become more indigenous, but rather to force the missionaries and the home church in England to allow the mission churches to become more indigenous. Mainly Venn was concerned that the local people should govern their own church instead of having people from outside deciding how things should be done.
Another interesting fact which he mentions is that Venn, when implementing the self-supporting part of the formula in practice in his own ministry, had little concern that financial assistance was given from outside. What he was more concerned about was that there should be one fund only into which all money is paid and that the local church leaders then take responsibility on how to distribute the money.
My personal concern (Maya – the reason why I consider this to be an important issue) is that many Christians may be using a misinterpreted understanding of Venn and Anderson’s Three-Selves formula to free themselves of Godly obligations towards Christians who are truly in dire need. Should we understand the background of this formula more correctly, it may mean that we could become involved with churches who are not financially as strong as we are, without jeopardising their wish to be truly indigenous. But we’re not through with the topic yet, because I also realise that its not a matter of either this viewpoint or that viewpoint.
A last remark for today: I’ve had quite a lot of thoughtful responses on this topic. I really appreciate you spending your valuable time reading my posts and then spending even more time in leaving your thoughts. Please keep on reading and responding.