This is an article from the September-October 2005 issue: Can We Trust Insider Movements

A People Reborn

Foundational Insights on People Movements

A People Reborn

[Christian Keysser] was born in Bavaria in 1877, went to Kaiser Wilhelm Land (East New Guinea) in 1899, and remained in or near Sattelberg as a missionary till 1921, when he returned to Germany.… A literal translation of [Keysser’s book] is A New Guinean Congregation. A truer, better title is: A People Reborn: Caring Communities, Their Birth and Development….

People Movements to Christ

… Around 1900 Keysser found himself evangelizing the Kate (pronounced Kawtai or kotte) tribe in the mountains near the sea.… Keysser’s genius recognized that Christianization ought to preserve this people consciousness, and transform it into Tribal Christianity or Folk Christianity.…

In 1935, largely through [Waskom] Pickett’s writings and lectures, I woke to a discipling of ethnic units. I accompanied him while he studied missions in Mid-India and contributed several chapters to his Christian Missions in Mid-India, 1938. I, too, saw that the goal was not one-by-one conversion out of the castes and tribes, but rather the conversion of social units which remained part of the caste or tribe, and continued living in their ancestral homes. For the next two decades I worked at encouraging a Satnami people movement to develop – and failed. In 1955, my Bridges of God called castewise or tribal movements to Christian Faith “people movements”.… What Keysser, Pickett and [Bruno] Gutmann had described in New Guinea, India and Tanganyika – Bridges of God – indebted only to Pickett, described in universal terms.

The discovery of all of us was that group decisions, which preserved the corporate life of the society and enabled men and women to become Christians without social dislocation, was the route by which most humans have moved to Christian Faith from non-Christian Faith, and was a good route. For all four of us, the discovery was difficult because missionaries came out of the most dedicated parts of the Western Church. They had learned that real Christians are those who individually and at great cost believe in Jesus Christ, love Him, obey His word, and venture out alone across the seven seas to do His bidding. They believed that “one-by-one-against-the-tide” was the right, the best, and often the only way for men and women to become Christians.…
Keysser’s discovery in 1903 should be seen against his common erroneous conviction. He broke through that mindset to see that for a people to come to Christ “with social structure intact” was the best possible way. He, of course, went on immediately to describe the way in which such a people movement should be nurtured, guarded against formalism, fed on the Word, and made strong through constant exercise of its Christian options. This is his great contribution. His book is essential reading for any who wish to understand a) that discipling ethnic units is a splendid way for multitudes to become Christian, and b) how discipling and perfecting can be done so they result in genuine Christians in a truly Christian Congregation – a true Homogeneous Unit Church.

The Objective Thinker

… The people movement really began to roll. The outlying clans and villages clamored to become Christian, precisely because they saw that the Christians had become greatly changed for the better. This is the fundamental reason why people movements occur. Human beings are highly intelligent. After all, man is homo sapiens. When he sees that the new order, the Church, is actually different from and superior to the old order, then homo sapiens in corporate decisions moves to Christian Faith. A chain reaction runs through the tribal fabric. Congregations multiply. In general, it may be said that the higher the standard of Christianity achieved by the first groups to become Christian, the more influential is their example. Keysser, the objective thinker, saw this.…

Forming a True Congregation

[Another reason] why missiologists will profit from this book is Keysser’s determined emphasis on the privilege and duty of the missionary to form a Christian congregation out of various villages and clans. By this he does not mean taking individuals, as separate pebbles, and forming them into a new organization called the church. Rather, he means taking the social organism, which the clan or village had been from time immemorial, and by exposing it to God’s will and God’s Word, and by leading it to act in a Christian fashion transforming it into a Christian tribe. This is not done simply by baptizing it. Hearing the Gospel, seeing the Gospel, receiving ample instruction, some of it in dramatic form, being baptized with clanal approval, and then for years led by the missionary and the Word, thinking through what in specific circumstances Christ requires the village, clan or tribe (the Christian Congregation) to do – all these steps are required to transform non-Christian social units into a Christian congregation.…

Dr. Keysser’s adverse judgments concerning the churches in Germany must be seen as part of his convictions concerning the True Church. Throughout this volume he criticizes congregations in Germany for not being true communities, i.e. true congregations.… When in 1922 Keysser went back to Germany, he experienced culture shock in reverse. He found “churches” which as churches exercised little if any pastoral care of their members.… The congregations were not real communities ….

Today, when the establishment of caring communities in western churches has become one of the main purposes of contemporary Christianity, Keysser’s comments about the German Church are particularly pertinent. They can be affirmed about the Church in most developed nations. When society becomes fragmented, individualism rages out of control and loneliness afflicts millions. The Church must provide loving, caring, powerful communities. Life is richest when lived in such. In the ancient world New Testament churches were such communities. Churches can again become such in New Guinea and New York, in Tokyo and Berlin, and in short, in every land. True Churches are functioning communities.

… Professor Keysser has given the world of mission many insights which will be of great use in the coming century. In his day, animistic tribes were turning to Christ by people movements and forming genuine communities (congregations) in the Christian fold. In the twenty-first century, we shall see great segments of developing and developed nations turn to Christian Faith without social dislocation. They will remain real communities in becoming real congregations. Modern missiology is indebted to Christian Keysser.


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