Monday, 25 June 2018

Early NZ Church History

A Brief Incandescent Flame

In the annals of the Church the story of early missionary work amongst the savage Maori who populated New Zealand before the arrival of Europeans is one of the more riveting.  A few  missionaries had arrived by 1824.  The early years of labour were extremely difficult and dangerous.  But the 1840's witnessed the high tide mark of Maori acceptance of the Gospel of Christ.  They also saw the high water mark of Maori enterprise, save the more recent developments amongst the tribes as a result of recent Treaty settlements.  

Firstly, the high water marks of Christianity.  Harold Miller, Librarian of Victoria University College, describes the state of Christian faith and practice amongst the Maori.

When [Governor] Grey arrived in New Zealand in 1845 the great majority of Maori People had become at least nominal Christians, and many were becoming industrious and efficient farmers.  At this period visitors to remote districts were full of accounts of the remarkable transformation.  Thus in the early 'forties a visitor to the Thames valley reports that in one of the villages there had been a revolution and that a young chief had broken away from the old community and built a new village to be run on Christian lines.  At the gate he had stuck up a notice which ran: "My friends, listen to me, God has said: Thou shalt not commit adultery.  If any of us commit adultery, let him be put out of this pah.  God has said: Thou shalt not steal.  If any of us steal, let him be put out of this pah.  God has said: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  If any of us work on the Sabbath Day, let him be put out of this pah. . . . Listen, my friends: because of these things God's anger had come upon us; let us put them away that He may be appeased."
And these were not mere words: they were rigorously enforced.  The penalty for persistent offence was exclusion from the village.  Twenty years later Sir John Gorst was to report in glowing terms of the state of the district: law and order were strictly maintained, the traffic in ardent spirits had been rigorously put down, boarding schools had been established in several places and lands set apart for their support, and a thriving trade in foodstuffs with the town of Auckland had been established.

Everywhere in the 1840's religion was playing a part, sometimes a large part, in the lives of the whole community.  At one populous place in Cook Strait it was reported that nearly the whole of the population rose daily at sunrise for a service and attended a school that followed.  At another place, where the men set out to work before it was light, it was the custom to assemble at sea--sometimes sixty or seventy big canoes--and to sing a hymn and to say prayers before they began their fishing.
On Christmas Day, 1846, we are told that at Wanganui, where the Europeans were holding a race meeting, four thousand Maoris gathered to celebrate the Nativity.  Some of them had travelled a hundred and fifty miles.  In every Christian village a substantial building was set apart from religious purposes; and in some of the more populous centres new buildings were put up that would hold a thousand worshippers.  In one place in Upper Waikato the ridge-pole, nearly a hundred feet in length was dragged through the woods for three miles; and the windows had been carried for seventy miles over some very rough country on the backs of the chiefs. [Harold Miller, New Zealand (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1950), p. 43f.]
Marsden had arrived at the end of 1814; the Williams brothers (Henry and William) and their families came in 1823.  Richard Davis arrived with his family in 1824.  Within fifteen years the leadership of most (but not all) Maori tribes were either professing Christians, or regarded themselves as strong supporters of the missionaries.
  Most had turned their back upon cannibalism, inter-tribal utu or vengeance, and set themselves to live as Christians, in Christian settlements.  Many of these chiefs and their tribes became more fervent, faithful, and committed to Christ than many, if not the majority, European settlers who began to arrive in greater numbers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.  Europe had already begun the long slow decline into unbelief, matching the footsteps of Israel and Judah in the post-Solomonic Kingdom.

The Christian commitment of many Maori, particularly on the field of battle, was way beyond the faith of European settlers.
Upon the mass of the people  the effect of the change was no doubt superficial, but upon some of the ablest of the chiefs the effect was deep and lasting.  If the settlers were sometimes slow to appreciate their virtues, the British soldiers were never tired of singing their praises.  What the soldiers admired was mainly, perhaps, the simple old Maori virtues--courtesy and courage and generosity--the sort of thing that long prevented them from attacking lines of communication and moved them, when their enemies' ammunition ran out, to offer to replenish the supplies so that the fight could continue on even terms!  

But there was more than that.  When the troops entered the Gate Pah at Te Ranga they found the body of an old pupil of the mission school at Otaki; he had been killed during the night attempting to bring water through the British lines to a wounded officer; and on his body they round a copy of the Moair orders for the day, ending with the words: "If thine enemy hunger, give him food; if he thirst, give him drink."  "As good a lot of men," wrote Colonel Greaves, "as I have ever met before or since."  [Miller, p. 44.]

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