Membership, Community, Diversity

Have Christians traditionally sent out missionaries to convert others?

Christianity has historically been one of the three great missionary traditions, along with Islam and Buddhism. According to the Gospels, Jesus commissioned his followers to fan out into all the world and preach the Good News, baptizing as they went. Most famous among the early missionaries were Jesus’ twelve Apostles. Tradition soon associated Christian communities all over the Middle East, and points farther flung, with individual Apostles. Along India’s southwestern Malabar coast, for example, members of families that converted centuries ago still call themselves “Thomas Christians,” in honor of Thomas the Apostle who is said to have brought the Gospel there shortly after the death of Jesus. Missionary activity on a global scale naturally increased dramatically with the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth and later centuries. Orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits sent their most talented people abroad, hoping to penetrate the exotic cultures of India, China, and the Middle East. In modern times Roman Catholic orders and Protestant organizations dedicated solely to missionary work have multiplied throughout the world. Still, contemporary Christians generally take a different approach to sharing their Good News with others, balancing missionary outreach with inter-religious dialogue.


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