A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Both the Catholic and the Christian Reformed missions have tried a school approach to the Zunis. 'While the Catholics still retain the school, they have abandoned it as a method of evangelism. Most of their members have not come as a result of the school. The Zuni membership of the Christian Reformed Church, however, is almost entirely composed of people who have been through the mission school. This probably indicates the presence of strong sociological forces which restricts the membership to individuals who have had previous association with the mission. Thus the school approach has worked, but it has worked slowly and perpetuated the idea that Christianity is the white man's religion.

Is the school approach acceptable today at Zuni? A school approach works best in a primitive society where it serves to introduce change. In a society such as Zuni where secularism and materialism are fast spreading, there are better methods of evangelism. As McGavran says, "Under today's conditions, the school approach has little to commend It. It is too slow, too vulnerable, too foreign, and too smug."17 Earlier in the century, when the mission school was competing against tribal customs as an agent of change, it served a much more useful purpose. Today the mission school competes against the public schools and the other institutions in endeavoring to change Zuni society. Its influence is no longer so unique.

Another fault of the school approach is that it has its emphasis primarily with children. There are dangers in having the evangelistic effort primarily directed toward children. For one thing this leaves the impression that Christianity is not for mature people. Also children are likely to revert to the Zuni religion when they become adults.

Another important area in missions is the degree of identification, especially in the use of the Zuni language. The Baptist mission has fallen behind in this area while both the Catholic and Christian Reformed missions have made efforts to use the language. At least one of the Catholic priests can speak Zuni to some extent, and the Christian Reformed pastor is taking private lessons from the Wycliffe Bible Translator, Curtis Cook. In addition, the Christian Reformed Church has its Sunday evening service in the Zuni language with Rex Chimoni, the native evangelist, speaking. Unfortunately the songs at this time are in English. A few songs have been translated into Zuni, but even these have Western tunes. The Catholic Church has its services in English. Up until the time that Cook came, the Christian Reformed Church had been the mission that had done the most translation work (although their major work, the translation of the Gospel of John, did not read like a Zuni spoke). Also, it is this mission that has provided the most help to Cook as he has worked on the Zuni translation of the New Testament.

A word should be said about the use of a:wona:willona for "God." Cook is certain that the word has a singular meaning, while Bunzel records that the word is at least inclusive if not plural.18 Perhaps this is a case of the word having changed meaning over the years. For a plural word expressing deity to take on singular meaning is not unknown. For example, the name Elyon (Most High God) in Mesopotamia originally had a polytheistic flavor and yet lost it and is used as a title of Yahweh In the book of Daniel.19

One of the major problems which plagues the Protestant missions is the combination of the Anglo and Zuni ministries. A full time ministry cannot be carried on to either group and this hurts the thrust toward both. Probably a more workable program could be organized if the two ministries were separated in order that full time emphasis could be directed toward both groups. There is a need for a ministry among the whites as well as the Zunis, for white irreligion exerts a negative influence on the Zunis. And the whites are generally irreligious. This would seem to have almost always been the situation, for Fryling wrote in the early twenties, "the white people here in general have come to dwell amongst the Indians to make money and accumulate wealth by trade, and take no interest in religion or mission work."20 The same situation exists today. The Catholic mission, on the other hand, has not experienced this problem to a great degree. This is perhaps due to the ritualistic nature of the services.

As pointed out in the above section,21 the Christian Reformed Church has probably put too much emphasis on being separate from the Zuni society while the Catholics have been too compromising. This feeling of separateness has probably hindered church growth, but the missionaries today are hindered in framing the message in a more congenial form by some of the Zuni Christians who feel that to make the message more Zuni would be compromising the faith. This separateness has made the Zuni Christians to be looked down on by most Zunis, partly because they feel that the Christians are much too close to the white man.22 In fact, the possibility exists that the Zunis do not consider the witness of the Zuni evangelist valid since he has been to the white man's school and is being paid by the white man.

The differences between the Catholic and Protestant churches are recognized by the villagers. Those that are Protestant Christians are called Duda'tsi:kwe while the Catholics are called Kadali:kwe. The term "Christian" is rarely used a, a Zuni word, possibly because "r" is not in the Zuni phonology.23

While it is not within the scope of this paper to evaluate the message being presented by each of the missions in terms of its biblical basis, it is appropriate to examine the form that the message takes. For example, the pre-baptismal teachings of the Christian Reformed Church at Zuni are outlined in a little booklet entitled What You Must Know. It is divided into twenty-seven lessons and is in a question and answer format. Basically it covers the idea of salvation from sin by faith, the points of The Apostles Creed, baptism and the Lord's Supper as sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and a few other Christian doctrines. The material is presented in a traditional reformation fashion. Is this presentation meaningful to a Zuni? While very little is said in the booklet about idolatry, the Zunis have a religion that could very well be termed idolatrous. While the fate of an individual after death is uncertain in the Zuni religion, only one question is devoted to the resurrection. And many doctrines, while biblically based, are presented in their historical apologetic form.

For example, while there is abundant biblical evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, this doctrine is not worked out in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity was first set forth by Tertullian in his attempt to present the biblical teaching about God in an apologetic form to the Latins, i.e., in a form that used pagan Latin symbols rather than Christian symbols to convey the Christian teachings. The particular non-Christian symbolism which Tertullian took for his purpose came from Roman law. He especially made use of the terms personae and substantia. These terms are best known in the formulas three personae in one substantia. Since these are Roman legal terms, their English counterparts, i.e., "persons" and "substance," do not carry the same connotations. Tertullian maintained that without this non-Christian symbolism the Latins would not have been able to tell the difference between the Christian God of the Trinity and "the polytheism of the world at large."24 Thus, does the presentation of the nature of God using the apologetic form of the Trinity (especially since the English word "persons" has a different meaning than the Latin personae) present the Zunis with an idea of God that is opposed to polytheism or with an idea of the "Three Christian Gods."?

A better presentation would be either strictly biblical or in an apologetic specifically to the Zunis.25 It should be noted also that a good apologetic is difficult to produce. Many times an apologetic argument will either be misleading or unbiblical. The presentation might place more emphasis on God as the One who brings the rain and insures the fertility of women and crops and less on God as the One who is angry with man*s sin, especially since the Zunis do not have a strong sense of sin.26 This would be much more meaningful to the Zunis.

In conclusion, it can be said that most of the missionaries have generally had a poor understanding of the nature of culture. They have had very little training in anthropology or missionary principles. Such training would probably help produce a much better empathy with the people.

17McGavran, op. cit., p. 23. [return]

18Field Notes, personal communication with C. April 1971; and cf. Chapter 2, footnote 107. [return]

19Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, I, trans. J. A. Baker (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), p. 182. [return]

20Dolfin, op. cit., p. 338. [return]

21Cf. pp. 82, 83. [return]

22Cf. Chapter 2, footnote 11. [return]

23Field Notes, personal communication with C, May 1971. [return]

24James E. Sellers, The Outsider and the Word of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961), pp. 70-72. [return]

25Cf. post pp. 100-104. [return]

26Cf. Chapter 2, footnote 118. [return]

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