Indonesia

There are slight traces of Christianity in Indonesia from the seventh century, but little is known. The first Franciscan mission reached the Spice Islands with the Portuguese in 1522 and saw mass conversions in Halmahera (1534) and other places. Francis Xavier* spent a short period on Indonesian soil. An anti-Portuguese reaction, however, severely reduced the number of Indonesian converts: the first martyrdoms on Halmahera also occurred in 1534. When the Dutch ousted the Portuguese in 1605, some 30,000 Indonesian Christians became Protestants, following the faith of their new masters. The Dutch East India Company church, however, catered chiefly for its Dutch employees, and local evangelization was scant and superficial. Most converts “turned” in social groups, their Christian knowledge was small and their zeal less-Sanghir Christians, it was reported, thought Christ had died on Christmas Day! The Bible was nevertheless translated into Malay, the trade language; a manuscript of the Lord's Prayer dates to 1627. The NT was published in 1688, and the whole Bible translated by Leydekker in 1733. Some 55,000 baptized Indonesian Christians (although only about a thousand were communicants) were counted in 1727. By the end of the company regime in 1799 there were hardly any more.

The evangelical (Pietistic) movement in Europe transformed the picture. The first efforts to evangelize Java were made, separately, by Coolen (1770-1863) and Emde (1774-1859), a planter and a watchmaker respectively, in the east of the island. Raffles, the British governor (1811-15), was the first to instigate missionary work, and thereafter Dutch and German missionaries gave themselves to the Indies. The Dutch government kept strict control over them and the churches they planted, and prohibited work in politically sensitive areas such as Atjeh and Bali. Churches were planted all over the country: in nineteen ethnic areas the whole people turned to Christianity, and at least as many “gathered” churches were planted elsewhere. L.I. Nommensen* evangelized the animistic Bataks of Sumatra; Kam (1772- 1833) earned by his labors in the nominally Christian eastern islands the title of “Apostle of the Moluccas”; Bruckner (1783- 1847) pioneered in Central Java. These are only a few among many. Portions of Scripture were produced in a score of local languages. Most of the schools and hospitals of the colonial era were provided by missions, education in particular being fruitful as a method of evangelization.

Nowhere else in the world was so large a church established in the midst of Islam. Its weakness was that it was totally under missionary control and financed from Europe. Shocked by the obvious weakness of the state church, Schuurman opened the Depok Seminary in 1878 to train indigenous evangelists. Depok was closed in 1926, but its work was continued by the Djakarta Theological Seminary, founded in 1934. In Dutch days, however, missionaries were supreme-only a Dutch pastor could baptize, for instance. The credit for altering the situation belongs largely to H. Kraemer,* who after many study-tours (1926-35) recommended that the churches should be freed from foreign control and that missionaries “turn from chiefs into teachers of independence.” In the following decade many churches (differentiated largely by ethnic, linguistic, and geographical factors rather than by theology) received independence: the Batak Church in 1930, the East Java Church in 1931, the National Protestant Church in 1935. Even after independence, however, most of the church finances originated from Europe. Similar progress was being made in other areas when the Japanese occupation in 1942 abruptly brought the period of tutelage to an end. With their missionaries in concentration camps, Indonesian Christians were compelled to take responsibility for their own church life.

Since independence, Indonesian Christians have lost the state protection they formerly enjoyed, but have shared the full religious liberty granted by the constitution. A great effort began to equip the whole church with Indonesian literature, with theological colleges, with a trained ministry, and an Indonesian pattern of life and worship.

The two distinctive features during this period have perhaps been the ecumenical movement and the mass turnings to Christianity. The Indonesian Council of Churches (DGI) was formed in 1951 and is supported by thirty-seven member bodies. It has always hoped to unite all the Christian bodies of the country, but this remains an ideal. In the twentieth century there has been a great deal of Anglo-Saxon missionary effort in Indonesia, and the churches which have resulted from this effort (including the majority of the Pentecostal groups) do not support the national council, largely because of their suspicions of the ecumenical movement as a whole.

Mass turnings have always been a feature of the Indonesian church scene. Recently, especially after the abortive Communist coup d'état in 1965, there has been a flood of “new converts” seeking to enter the Christian Church, particularly in North Sumatra, Central and East Java, and other places. There are good sociological explanations for this phenomenon, but in some areas, particularly the island of Timor, numerous miraculous events have been reported. Sadly, many of the existing churches were not prepared for an influx of converts seeking instruction. In some places little teaching was or could be given, and by 1970 the mass movements in many places had slowed down.

Apart from the mainstream of Indonesian Protestantism, Roman Catholicism has made steady progress since it was permitted by the Dutch government to enter Indonesia in the nineteenth century. Flores and N Timor in the Lesser Sunda Islands have become Catholic strongholds. With a membership of about two million, the Roman Catholic Church was granted an independent hierarchy in 1962 and has in recent years experienced the same rapid growth as the Protestant community.

The Chinese in Indonesia, too, have not gone unevangelized. The most notable events in their history were the visits of John Sung the evangelist, just before the Japanese war. He began a revival movement of which the effects can still be felt. There is a large Indonesian-Chinese community with its own churches, and several Chinese-language churches, mostly independent of each other.

Both Protestant and Catholic communities have their own political party, and individual Christians have held high office in the government. In a society subject to disintegrating pressures the Indonesian Church, still predominantly rural, is one of the factors making for national unity; although numbering only one-tenth of the total population, it is truly part of the life of the nation.

In addition to general books on missions and an extensive literature in Dutch and German, volumes in English include the following: H. Kraemer, From Mission Field to Independent Church (1958); N. de Waard, Pioneer in Sumatra (1960); S. Houliston, Borneo Breakthrough (1963); D. Bentley-Taylor, The Weathercock's Reward (1967); F.L. Cooley, Indonesia: Church and Society (1968); R. Peterson, Storm over Borneo (1968); P. van Akkeren, Sri and Christ (1970); K. Koch, The Revival in Indonesia (1970); P.B. Pedeusen, Batak Blood and Protestant Soul (1970); [Christian name unknown], Christian Opportunity in Indonesia (1970); E.C. Smith, God's Miracles in Indonesian Church Growth (1970); J. Warneck, The Living Christ and Dying Heathenism (n.d.).