Missionary pioneers first entered Thailand in the nineteenth century, during the reign of King NangKlao (1824-1851), the third king of the Chakri Monarchy. They came from Germany and England (1828) and from North America (1834).
King MongKut (1851-1868) also welcomed missionaries and learned English from them. The earliest missionaries were able to teach the gospel both to Thailand’s ordinary citizens and to its royal family.
However, King MongKut, who had previously spent 27 years as a Buddhist monk, said to them: ‘What you teach us to do is admirable, but what you teach us to believe is foolish’.
This response seems to epitomise how it has been for the gospel in Thailand — an uphill struggle. Christians have long laboured with little apparent success.
Though a Buddhist country, Thais are free to practise the religion of their choice. According to the constitution, the Thai king is ‘upholder’ of all religions.
Missionary endeavour was renewed in Thailand after the Second World War, and soon reinforced by China Inland Mission missionaries unable to gain entry into China.
Advances and setbacks
In 1949 American missionaries established their first church in Bangkok, and during the next five years planted another seven churches there.
From Bangkok, they launched out into eleven other Thai provinces. Over the next generation this pattern of growth was replicated by various missionary agencies.
But by the mid-1980s, advances gave way to setbacks. Chief among adverse influences were the modernistic and Charismatic teachings, which had infiltrated many churches and many of Thailand’s 52 Bible colleges.
From affected seminaries, many Charismatic and modernist preachers have returned to their congregations to promote liberal theology and Charismatic practices.
The need in Thailand for the teaching of conservative, Reformed theology is immense. Bible colleges and churches that uphold Reformed doctrine and practice are few in number.
There are still a variety of means by which the gospel is propagated in Thailand. For example, there are several dozen Christian nurseries, schools and universities.
There are 32 Christian bookshops — the Christian Literature Crusade opened its first Christian bookroom in Bangkok in 1958. From Bangkok, the Far Eastern Broadcasting Company beams the gospel into every province of Thailand by radio.
Christianity in Thailand has come a long way since the early missionaries arrived two centuries ago. Official statistics record more than 300,000 professing Christians, but the number of born-again believers is probably much smaller. ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Timothy 2:19).
There is still much work to be done in Thailand. Jesus says: ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:37-38).
Let us ask the Lord to do so. Who knows? God may answer your prayers by sending you!