The missionary movement had a huge impact on New Zealand, particularly on Māori, whose existing spiritual beliefs were either replaced by, or combined with, Christian ideas. The missionaries were also largely responsible for introducing Māori to the Western innovations of literacy, agriculture and trade.
Missionaries to New Zealand tended to remain for many years and often became fluent in the Māori language. This helped them to play an important political role as mediators and interpreters between Māori and government. At times when the government was openly at war with large sections of the Māori population, missionaries were key figures in keeping the channels of communication open between the two groups.
The London Missionary Society (LMS) was formed in 1795, several years before the Church Missionary Society. It sent a group of 30 missionaries to the ‘South Seas’, beginning in Tahiti. The LMS welcomed people from all churches, and its famous missionaries included John Williams (killed in Erromanga, Vanuatu in 1839), David Livingstone in Africa and Robert Morrison in China.
Church Missionary Society
The missionaries who came to New Zealand were part of a voluntary religious movement, rather than an official expansion of the church’s domain.
In 1701 some Anglicans had established the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. In the 1730s evangelicalism emerged in England, as John Wesley and his friends preached a ‘heart-warming’ experience of trusting Jesus Christ. Their followers left the Anglican Church to form the Wesleyan (or Methodist) Church.
In the 1780s some of these Methodists became convinced that the gospel must be preached throughout the world before the return of Christ. Evangelicals within the Anglican Church, such as the anti-slavery leader William Wilberforce and his ‘Clapham sect’ – a group of evangelical Anglican politicians – felt that Britain needed a moral purpose to atone for its role in the slave trade. So the Church Missionary Society (CMS) was founded in 1799.
At that time only a few Europeans, mainly traders and escaped convicts, were living in or visiting New Zealand. The CMS believed that the Māori population could be converted and gradually organised into a local, and Māori, version of the Anglican church.