Fellowship Baptist Church



200 years of Christianity in NZ!

Posted by Pastor Jono on December 11, 2014 at 3:25 PM

This Christmas day, 2014 will bring the 200 year anniversary of the first recorded gospel preaching in NZ. 

Samuel Marsden, an Anglican minister with a Methodist background preached to a crowd of around 400 Maori and a few Pakeha at Oihi Bay in the beautiful Bay of Islands.  How this momentous event transpired is a fascinating story.


Ruakawa was a Ngapuhi chief from the Oihi area.  It was he who had invited Marsden to visit NZ.  Ruakawa had been ill-treated by sailors when he helped crew a ship and had been abandoned in very bad health in Sydney.  Marsden was living in Sydney at the time and took Ruakawa into his care.  From this divine appointment a friendship and mutual admiration developed over the following six months of Ruakawa's stay.  Ruakawa urged Marsden to visit his homeland and organise a missionary work for the Bay of Islands - the first in New Zealand.  Marsden returned to England for a furlough and applied to the Church Missionary Society for help in establishing a missionary work in New Zealand.  This effort resulted in the raising of funds and enlisting of 3 Methodist laymen and their families to return to Australia and launch an outreach to Ruakawa's people. 


Upon arriving in Sydney Marsden discovered that there had been a massacre aboard a ship in the Bay of Islands.  In retaliation to many ships abducting and ill-treating Maori, the HMS Boyd was attacked and burned at anchor.  The crew of sixty-seven were killed and eaten.  With the recent massacre in the Bay of Islands no captain would convey Marsden and his fellow missionaries to their mission field.  So with the funds raised in England a small ship, the Active, was purchased and with a mixed crew of Maori and missionaries Marsden set sail.


Ruakawa welcomed Marsden when they arrived in the Bay on the 22nd of December 1814 but urged him not to come ashore for his safety.  Marsden refused and set foot on the beach with a boat load of animals new to the Maori.  When Marsden rode his horse on the beach Ruakawa was proved not to be a liar for telling his countrymen tales of huge dogs that could be ridden by men.  That night Marsden slept ashore surrounded by snoring warriors with their taiaha standing up in the sand next to them. 


On Christmas Eve Ruakawa cleared a large area for a church service.  Using overturned waka for pews and building a rough pulpit he made ready for the first sermon preached in New Zealand.  The next morning Samuel Marsden stood at that pulpit before the large crowd and opened his Bible to Luke 2:9-10. 


"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."


Ruakawa translated as Marsden expounded on the good news that the Creator God had sent His Son to be the peacemaker between holy God and sinful man.  That outdoor chapel reverberated with the truth of the humility of Christ, the love of Christ, the righteousness of Christ and the incredible redemption this Christ provided for ALL men.  Nearly 1800 years after the Saviour had cried "It is finished" on the hill of Calvary the news of His sacrifice for our sins had reached the hills of Oihi.  Praise God!


By the time Marsden died in 1838 the new leader of the work in New Zealand had this to say...


"We see here a whole nation of pagans converted to the faith. Thousands upon thousands of people, young and old, have received new hearts, are offering up daily their morning and evening prayers, are valuing the Word of God above every other gift, and all, in greater or less degree, are bringing forth some fruits of the influence of the Holy Spirit. What a marvelous demonstration of the power of the gospel."


200 years later, we have just as much work to do as in 1814.  New Zealand has become greatly pagan again.  We will need to be as dedicated as Marsden who woke at 5am each day for prayer and Bible study.  We will need to be as fearless as those first missionaries who let no excuse, even a massacre, keep them silent and safe at home.  And we will need to be as loving as Ruakawa who knew what his people needed most of all - the gospel.  This Christmas Day, celebrate what took place 200 years ago but remember this country has been overtaken by paganism again and needs the gospel just as much now as it did then.


May God use us this Christmas to bring 'tidings of great joy which shall be for all people'


Pastor Jono



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