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The Sudan United Mission British Branch 1934-1977: An Examination of the Mission’s Indigenous Church Policy

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The Sudan United Mission British Branch 1934-1977: An Examination of the Mission’s Indigenous Church Policy.


The indigenous church policy, which centred on the three-self principle of self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation, was the subject of much debate in mission circles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Sudan United Mission British Branch (S.U.M., B.B.) successfully implemented the policy. There are three problems which this research addressed. Some converts on the mission field of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (C.O.C.I.N.) were over pampered; they were not encouraged to be self-reliant as a church from the outset.

The researcher’s findings have addressed this deficiency. The current wide gap in the relationship between S.U.M., B.B. (now Pioneers UK) and C.O.C.I.N. is another problem of the study. This has roots deep in the mission’s interpretation and implementation of the three-self policy; and has affected the development of human resources in the church. There is also the problem of lack of document on how the mission implemented the policy.

Therefore, as its aim, this research examined the Mission’s indigenous church policy, why it was adopted, how it was implemented, the reaction of indigenous Christians to the policy, how the Mission handled that reaction, and the impact of the policy on the Church and the Mission. The primary sources that were used for this study include the magazine of the Mission, newsletters, oral sources, and archival materials such as minutes, correspondence and diaries.


By and large, from 1648 until about the middle of the 18th century dead orthodoxy prevailed in Protestantism in England. But with the revival movement led by the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield, the situation began to change. According to B.G. Worrall, That revival had been a protest against dull rationalism and conventional religion in favour of a more emotional response to the gospel. Theologically it had been a recovery of some of the insights of the sixteenth-century Reformation, especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

This revival gave rise to the Evangelicals which became ‘[…] the most numerous and influential of the church parties’ in England in the 19th century (Worrall 7). The British Evangelicals of the 19th century gave prominence to the Bible, the cross, conversion and activity (Bebbington 20-21). The Bible was the supreme court of appeal of the Evangelicals in matters of faith and practice. Therefore, the scriptures were used not only for public worship but also for daily private or family devotions (Bebbington 21-22).

Besides the Bible, the cross of Christ became the focus of Evangelical Christianity. The Evangelicals saw Jesus’ death on the cross as the supreme means of salvation (Bebbington 25, 26). In addition to the Bible and the cross, the Evangelicals stressed personal conversion as against ‘nominal Christianity’ (Bebbington 29-30). Bebbington notes that a logical corollary of interest in the Bible, interest in the passion of Christ and emphasis on conversion was the deep eagerness to be up and doing for God in sharing the good news of salvation with those who were yet to partake of it. 


1 There were outreaches to the surrounding tribes from these centres.

2 The first name of the Church was Ekklesiyar Kristi a Sudan (E.K.A.S.), meaning the
Church of Christ in the Sudan. Later it was changed to Ekklesiyar Kristi a Nigeria
(E.K.A.N.). Today it bears the English equivalent of E.K.A.N., Church of Christ in
Nigeria (C.O.C.I.N.).

3 By 1923 the question of the kind of Church the Mission should establish had become a
pressing issue. It was against this background that a paper on the three-self principle was
presented at the 1923 Wukari conference.

4 This book is largely a primary source. Maxwell was one of the earliest missionaries of
the Mission.

5 His work is on the British Branch of the S.U.M. (see page 117).

6 The identity of the sender of this letter is not clear as the sender did not append his

7 In historical studies there are times when a researcher may come across different stories
or dates concerning an event. By comparing the variant stories or dates or their sources
and by probing into what could give rise to such information we can avoid documenting
subjective stories or incorrect dates. Where necessary, the reason (s) for discriminating
against certain information or dates shall be given in the footnote.

CSN Team.

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