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History of the Indonesian Church

November 1998

The Dutch East India Company Church received some thousands of ‘converts’ into its fold after its arrival in Indonesia in 1605, but these had largely converted for social purposes. The Bible was, however, translated into Malay, the trade language, by 1733. Earnest Protestant missionary efforts did not commence until the nineteenth century, when numbers of tribal people joined the church from many ethnic areas, such as Sumatra (the Bataks), the Moluccas, and Central Java. In nineteen ethnic areas, the whole people turned to Christianity. Many Christian hospitals and schools were also founded.

During the twentieth century, the theologically liberal ecumenical movement grew in influence, and an Indonesian Council of Churches was formed in 1951. Roman Catholicism also experienced growth. Early this century, Chinese Indonesians were evangelised under the ministry of John Sung. The internment of many European missionaries in Japanese concentration camps during the Second World War, meant that the Indonesian Church was propelled into taking control of its own affairs.

Genuine revival?

Mass movements into the churches have continued during this century too, which is surprising in view of the large Muslim presence in Indonesia. Very often, these accessions have represented something less than true conversion. But there were genuine local awakenings during the 1960s and 1970s, amongst both nominal Christians and non-Christians. These sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit coincided with the emergence of the Charismatic and Jesus movements in the West. The latter movements sought to ‘hype’ up accounts of the Indonesian ‘revival’ and even ‘hijack’ it for their own purposes, reportedly with planeloads of western sightseers, bringing money and publicity. This hindered the spiritual work.

Whether or not the awakenings constituted a genuine revival remains problematic, since, to the outsider, it seems that no striking reformation of doctrine has emerged in the Indonesian churches. The most pressing need of all remains the rediscovery by the churches of the doctrines of grace.

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