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Allen, Roland
1868 to 1947
Anglican
Kenya

Christ has given the apostles a world-wide commission, embracing all the nations; but intellectually they did not understand what He meant. They found that out as they followed the impulse of the Spirit. -- Roland Allen, Pentecost and the World, 1917
Roland Allen, a young English missionary, first in North China and later in East Africa, sought to change drastically the entire colonial and paternalistic system of mission governance. He became a leading missionary theorist and a controversial, prophetic challenger of the existing order.

The son of an Anglican clergyman, Allen was a graduate of St. John's College, Oxford, and then trained at the Leeds Clergy Training School before being sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) to China. Allen was ahead of his time in his theological views, and his personality managed to alienate most colleagues with whom he came in contact. After eight years in China, he resigned and returned to a parish in England, said it was a non-Christian place, and left it as well. Allen spent the rest of his life writing about mission issues and serving as a nonstipendiary minister, the model for ministry he favored from his reading of the New Testament. Drawing on 1 Peter 4:10, he argued that priesthood belonged inherently to all Christians.

He believed that indigenous peoples should be given control of their own churches--including control of finances--and responsibility for supporting their own churches. In a 1902 report he wrote:
The continued presence of a foreigner seems to me to produce an evil effect. The native genius is cramped by his presence and cannot work with him. The Christians tend to sit still and let him do everything for them, denying all responsibility .... I should feel disposed to group all foreigners together in one place to avoid having them reside in more places than can be helped. A visit of two or three months stirs up the Church. Long continued residence stifles it. [1]
He also proposed that local churches raise up their own spiritual leaders and present them to the bishop for ordination. Their devotion and commitment to the Christian Gospel and the support of their friends and neighbors should be the primary qualification for ordination. Allen wanted most clergy to earn their incomes from secular work, the tentmaker model St. Paul followed in the New Testament. His best-known book is Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? (1913), and in it and other works he was a tireless promoter for the autonomous self-funded, self-directed, locally led church.

Allen's feisty temperament made waves among the Nairobi settler community. While he was in Kenya during World War II he told the settler community not to wrap the Bible in the Union Jack, lest both be thrown out together, and when a local Colonel Blimp issued a blanket denunciation of everything German, Allen dueled back in the local paper, "I might ask him whether he 'hates' all drugs invented by German chemists, whether he 'hates' all German music; blind hatred is not Christian."

During a 1935 sermon in All Saints' Cathedral he urged the settler community to be their own ministers:
Sooner or later many of you, and your children, will go up country. There, Sunday after Sunday, you will have no Church to go to. You know that. Well then, what are you going to do?... Will you say,... "The Church is here where I am"? Would that person be "fighting a battle on Christ's behalf against the sloth which says, "If there is no chaplain to do things for us, we can do nothing, but hold a dance or a tennis tournament." You have the secret. You know what is the Christian fight, and that you are fighting it, and that Michael and all his angels are on your side? [2]
Eventually the local English bishop forbade Allen to preach, although he could celebrate the Eucharist. Among Africans he was a revered figure, called Bwana Mzee (the old gentlemen) for his mane of white hair.

Allen completely turned traditional missionary attitudes on their ear. In his emphasis on an immediate, intense, local experiencing of prayer and community, he lessened the need for hierarchical control of the institutional church. In his total trust of local congregations to raise up ministers, he presaged the sort of Canon III (locally ordained) ministries now recognized in Alaska and certain parts of the United States where seminary-trained clergy are not available. In his trusting of the Holy Spirit and welcoming of local leadership, Allen expressed ideas that a later generation of liberation theologians and post-Vatican II mission strategists would find important to the future of world mission.
To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling; it requires that the speaker should expect a response. --Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? {1913)

Frederick Quinn


Notes:

1. USPG: Africa & Asia, vol. 2, 1902, in Raymond Eveleigh, "Roland Allen: Prophet of Non-Stipendiary Ministry," www.revray.co.uk/ministry/nsm.html.
2. Sermon note for September 29, 1935, Rhodes House collection, in Hubert J. B. Allen, Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest, and Prophet (Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1995), 155.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from African Saints: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People from the Continent of Africa, copyright © 2002 by Frederick Quinn, Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, New York. All rights reserved.