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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Explosion in the Pacific

Looking Back

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Friday March 18 2022

Looking Back: Explosion in the Pacific

Published in March 1967, an account of the Church of Scotland's involvement in the spread of Christianity in the Pacific Islands

Headline: Explosion in the Pacific. C. S. Craig. Developments among the coral islands are described by the General Secretary of the Congregational Council for World Mission

THE nuclear explosion – the deadly mushroom cloud – we deplored. The population explosion creates problems for governments. The third explosion we greet with a cheer. By this I mean the ecumenical explosion.

In 1959 the churches in the Pacific had practically no contacts with one another. They grappled with their problems almost in isolation. But all that is now changed. The term “explosion” is not extravagant.

The maps show vast blue spaces of empty ocean, and so the Bishop of Polynesia once described his diocese as largely wind and water. Having travelled over most of it in a small ship I can confirm the description!

The islands of Micronesia are lovely little strips of coral and only half-a-mile wide. The highest point in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony is but fifteen feet above sea-level. Melanesia to the south and west has some sizeable land areas, but there is still an awful lot of water.

We had often talked of the need to bring the churches together but the problems of distance looked formidable. New influences and challenges were at work. The traditional forms of the churches would no longer suffice. It was into a rapidly changing Pacific the Christian witness had to be borne. If the churches could get together they might stimulate one another to new adventure.

In 1958 we began two years’ strenuous correspondence with all the churches and their associated missions. We were able as a result to assure the International Missionary Council that if it would sponsor a conference it would be warmly supported.

The first Pacific Conference was, therefore, held in Samoa in 1961. Every invited church was represented. With the distances, and the cost involved, this was quite remarkable.

In his speech of welcome the chairman of the Samoan Church said: “God has brought us together and we will never be separated again”. A new day had surely dawned.

“Law and Gospel” was the theme. The relevance of the Gospel, the unfinished task of evangelism, Christian marriage and family life, youth work and the ministry; studies begun along these lines have continued.

There are also blind spots. Concern that the ministry should match the new challenge has led to the establishment in Fiji of the Pacific Theological College. All co-operate in this united college, and the work of the colleges in the scattered island groups will be increasingly related to it. In Papua New Guinea, where many churches are in the same territory, there has been the formation of a Christian Council, and exploratory conversations with a view to church union.

Now more recently, involving the whole area of the Pacific, the second Conference of Churches has been held resulting in a permanent organisation within the World Council of Churches.

In 1796 evangelisation began with the arrival in Tahiti of the London Missionary Society. The work of the L.M.S., with islander evangelists playing a large part in it, and other missions joining in, has continued. But there is a carry-over of pre-Christian thought. Fear is sometimes transferred from gods to God without being Christianised. New insights of the Gospel are needed. This is what we are beginning to see. And it is something the churches are experiencing together. The best explosion has come at the right time.

Black and white image captioned: A young girl performs a traditional Gilbert and Ellice Islands dance

Black and white image of a South Sea Islander reading from the Bible in church.

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