In 1928 a book called Nestorian Missionary Enterpriseby the Reverend John Stewart was published. It shattered a misconception I held and brought to light valuable lessons. I thought that much of China, northern India, Afghanistan, Mongolia and the nomadic regions had little exposure to the gospel. In reality, by the middle of the sixth century, Nestorian missionaries canvassed India, Ceylon, China, and Mongolia. Professor P.Y. Saeki states that “the leaven of Nestorianism has penetrated the whole of Chinese literature.” From China the gospel spread to Japan and the Empress Komyo in the eight century was reputedly a Christian. While Genghis Khan and his heirs wiped out millions of people through his brutal campaign across Asia and into parts of Europe, his grandson Guyuk was a Christian and under his leadership Christianity flourished across the Mongol empire.
The Assyrian Church of the East began in Edessa in the first century. From Edessa, teaching spread to the Persian Empire. By the third century, this empire welcomed refugees from the Roman Empire where Christians were not tolerated. “By the fifth century, the Nestorian controversy concerning the unity of the divine and human nature in Christ had far reaching consequences.” The Church of the East was not involved in this controversy. John Nestorius was not Assyrian and he did not understand the Syriac language. This was a theological dispute within the Roman Empire. However, over time, the Assyrian Church was linked to Nestorius and its members were labeled Nestorians. It is not my intent to debate or discuss the views of Nestorius but rather to point out that the Nestorian church once had great missionaries who fervently carried the gospel across Asia.
Without direct funding or organized missions to direct their activities, men and women proclaimed the Gospel often at significant personal cost and martyrdom. Wherever they went, they preached, taught and brought healing. By the end of the eleventh century, the Nestorian Church was the largest Christian denomination. John Stewart writes:
Whole peoples with their rulers had become Christians and it seems certain that there were few places in the whole Asia that were not reached at some time or other as the outcome of the marvelous activity of that wonderful church which extended from China to Jerusalem and Cyprus, and in the eleventh century is said to have outnumbered the Greek and Roman churches combined.
The Nestorians stretched from the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Mediterranean in the West; from the Black Sea and Siberia to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea; Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Manchuria, and Turkistan. Yet by the fourteenth century, this missionary enterprise rapidly began to decline. Three things led to almost total extinction of this church: complacency, deception, and persecution. When the Nestorians prospered, they lost their resolve to spread their faith, to study the Word intently, and to live holy lives. Complacency set them up for a second problem. Hindu Brahmins invented teaching about Krishna who was so patterned after Christ that many fell away and became Hindus. A close examination of Hindu writings called the Gita shows “striking and numerous parallels between the Gospel of St. John and the Gita.” Buddhism also drew away many followers of Christ. Finally, intense persecution by Islamic and Hindu rulers resulted in countless believers either renouncing their faith or fleeing altogether. Those who would not forsake Christ lost their property, were forced to wear certain attire, were physically tortured or murdered. Extermination by the Mongols eradicated entire cities. Large parts of the Gobi desert now cover these ruins and the skeletons of countless God-fearers. Today, in lands where Nestorian missionaries once joyfully shared their faith, there are no traces of Christianity. We can learn a lot from history. The question is, “Will we?”
Judges 2:10-14--That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the LORDor the works He had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the LORD's sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the LORD, for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. The LORD's anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, so that they could no longer resist their enemies.
©2011 Daniel York ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
Ecclesiastes 12:10-The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and to accurately write words of truth. (Holman CSB)
1.John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark). Except as noted, all information regarding the Nestorian Church shared in this article was taken from Stewart’s work.