Missionary Witnesses

Some of my Evangelical friends argue that the Catholic Church is not a missionary Church.

Amy Welborn has a post with statistics on the number of Catholic missionaries who gave their life for the faith in 2006.

When we take the trouble to read the history of the Catholic Church we learn that in every age it has been a missionary church, and that in every age these missionaries gave their lives for the gospel.

This is not to say that our separated brethren do not have their own batch of courageous missionaries and martyrs. They do. This is simply correcting the illusion that Catholics are not involved in cutting edge missionary work.

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  • DGus

    May God bless and glorify these people.Citing them as proof of RC evangelizing begs the question, from the perspective of those of us who are unsure what the RCC thinks “missionaries” do. The only RC missionary I remember ever meeting myself was a Maryknoll sister in Phnom Penh, who made it quite clear that she had no thought that any Cambodian needed to change his religion and accept Christianity. Her “missionary” work consisted of teaching English at PP University–which was a generous, beneficial, and sacrificial work. But it really isn’t missionary work. If you were to insist, to the contrary, that teaching English and no Gospel IS missionary work, then you would support the point that the RCC doesn’t know what missionary work is.I know you think otherwise. Authentic “Missionary” work is oriented toward an eventual overt witness to the Gospel, in view of the need of non-Christians to become Christians. Would you agree?I hope it is true that these Catholics who died in 2006 were martyrs killed for their witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. Confirmation of that fact would be very encouraging.In any event, God bless them.

  • This is to simplify a complex question. Is a contemplative nun in mission territory a missionary? It is arguable that the work could not go on without her. Is an Evangelical airplane pilot who provides infrastructure a ‘missionary’ even though it is not his task to preach? I think so.I am sure there are some Catholics working overseas who do not wish to convert those with whom they work, but there are many liberal Evangelical ‘missionaries’ with the same ‘just give em a sandwich’ approach to missions.Was Mother Teresa of Calcutta a missionary by Evangelical standards? Probably not, after all, she ‘only ministered to their physical needs.’My own view (for what its worth) is that a missionary is a missionary if they say they’re a missionary and we’ll let God be the judge of their results.Finally, we have to weigh up the missionary endeavors of the whole Catholic Church down the ages. Look again, and you’ll find Evangelicals are newcomers on the world mission scene. The great Catholic missionaries of the 16 and 17 centuries were out there on the scene setting the standard.

  • DGus

    Father:Your approach is: “a missionary is a missionary if they say they’re a missionary and we’ll let God be the judge of their results.”Thank you for your candor. Do not suppose, however, that you will ever persuade an Evangelical that the RCC is engaged in substantial mission work if you are candid about your definition. We fear that, by and large, RC missionaries are social workers with religious motives–and you leave that fear unanswered.My definition of missionary work (as “oriented toward an eventual overt witness”) was intended to encompass the pilot (whose work is not evangelism per se, but is oriented toward it) and the Christian contemplative in, say, a Muslim country (where overt witness is illegal, and where presence and prayer is all that is permitted, but the prayer is for the conversion of souls–this is an undercover missionary behind enemy lines).But we shouldn’t let these missionaries who are on the margins detract from the obvious and simple truth that a missionary is someone who preaches the Gospel in fulfillment of the Great Commission. May God grant that the RCC will send out such missionaries by the hundreds.

  • dgus, For what its worth, the Vatican news release identifies these folks as having been involved in the spread of the Gospel. Otherwise, I agree with you, except that I think such missionaries as you envisage should be sent out by the thousands.

  • I think there is a negative spirit in this discussion. If we looked at the whole situation critically, I would argue that there are far more Protestant ‘social workers with a Christian motive’ than Catholic. I suspect that Evangelical Protestants who unashamedly preach the gospel are in the minority amongst Protestant overseas ‘missionaries’ and that the majority are Christian social workers. The Evangelical will say however, “Well, they’re not really my type of Protestant” thus conveniently ignoring the fact that Protestants actually invented the social gospel.Instead of throwing stones however, I think the Catholics should look positively for all the Protestants they can find who are doing ‘primary mission work’. (We would charitably overlook all the Evangelical missionaries who are sent to ‘convert Catholics’)For their part, the Protestant critics could spend their time far more wisely and charitably looking for all the wonderful Catholic missionaries alive today and down the ages who have (and are) engaged in primary missionary work.

  • DGus

    “Negative spirit”? Hmmm. I guess that would be me. Sorry about that. You da boss about what belongs here, so please excuse me for not being in the groove. Your original post pertains very much to perennial concerns of mine about the RCC: semi-universalism? belief that everyone is already saved? an anti-triumphalist misplaced humility that declines to affirm the lostness of non-Christians, and their need of explicit faith in the Savior? an assumption that Jews who reject Jesus will nonetheless be saved by fidelity to Judaism? And yes, I have the same fears (or, in fact, a despairing certainty) about liberal Protestantism.I hope the missionaries you mentioned are evidence that my fears about are RCC are exaggerated.

  • Well, actually DGus, I was thinking that I was being a little bit negative too.The concerns you voice many Catholics share, but as you say, they are a feature of liberal Christianity generally, and not just Catholicism.The salvation of non-Christian religious people has always been a discussion point. We say that all are saved through the redemptive work of Christ. Just how that happens in difficult cases is still open for discussion.All the formal Catholic teaching I know of says there are ways that non-Christians may be saved by Christ, but because it is uncertain missionary work is always still called for.

  • DGus

    So we evangelize just in case there might be some non-Christians who may not be saved without Christ?Like I said …

  • No, we evangelize tirelessly, with a burning passion to save souls, trusting in God’s mysterious mercy that some may be saved by his grace and by Christ’s saving work even if we haven’t got there in time.

  • DGus

    May it be as you have said.

  • If I decide to be stingy in my conferring the title “missionary” only on the someone who, in my opinion, is fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), one of the problems I will have to address is what exactly does the Great Commission commission missionaries to DO? OK, let’s think this one through: there’s the part about “going” out to “all nations” — yes, that’s the part everyone agrees with: leaving home, good. Then there’s the part about “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” … well, not all who call themselves missionaries are going to do that! A lot of Evangelical missionaries I have met specifically refrain from doing baptisms, on the grounds that baptisms should be performed by one’s “home church” pastor and not by a missionary! And finally, the part about “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” — Yes, “all things” — that’s the biggest problem there is! I dare say no agreement has ever been reached, at least not among Evangelicals, about what the “all things” entails, so more often than not they just tend to ignore the “all things” big while clinging to the first part of the verse, where it says going to all the nations. All the same, may God bless all those, Catholic or Protestant, who went and did the first part: it may stand them better in the Last Day than for those who only sat and posted like me.

  • Very perceptive post Jonathan! Thanks for contributing.

  • Seems to me that Catholic missionaries for two millenia have turned pagans into Christians, then non-Catholic Christian missionaries go and try to convert Catholics into their fold. Does saving people who are already Christian count as missionary work? I think not.