Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa, Indonesia
GITJ is by far the oldest Mennonite church outside Europe and North America, as what would become its first congregation was founded in 1854 by the first mission efforts of the Dutch Mennonite church (Yoder). Pieter Jansz was the first missionary to be sent out by the Dutch Mennonite Mission Society, and he and his family arrived in Java in 1851. Jansz worked as a teacher for several years, slowly building a congregation after the first baptisms of 1854. Jansz baptized and taught despite the strong influences of Islam and an indigenous Christian movement (Hoekema 30). In these early years, Jansz prepared Javanese Christians for evangelization and taught at a school for Javanese children, Jansz developing a network that would eventually see expansion into GITJ (Hoekema 31). Jansz himself was not “a real Anabaptist theologian,” – he was not a pacifist, and did not speak strongly on the oath – but adult baptism stood out as the most significant difference between his mission work and that of other missionaries (Hoekema 44). Russian Mennonite missionaries joined in the mission in the 1880s, followed by German Mennonites in the 1920s and Swiss Mennonites in the 1930s (Yoder). With the help of Russian Mennonite missionaries, Jansz and his son later worked toward establishing Mennonite “colonies,” like Margorejo in the Muria area of central Java, with the goal of improving the social standing of the Javanese (Hoekema 93). The official establishment of the GITJ occurred on May 30, 1940, as World War II began initiating independence movements among these churches.
The practice of baptism upon confession of faith is explicitly stated in the church’s constitution, and pacifism was also stated in the conference constitution that established the church in 1940. However, after a church conflict over whether members could be involved in resistance to Dutch colonialism, some young men were allowed to participate in violent resistance. Hoekema notes that in ecumenical arguments, the “principle of defenselessness…does not appear anywhere…it was not prominently present among Mennonites themselves in the nineteenth century, nor was it truly a sign of identity in the first decades of the twentieth century” (141). More recently, some members still serve in the military, but peacebuilding and witness are an important part of the GITJ seminary’s curriculum, and “after 1955 the GITJ…worked hard at lay training, and the matter of a specifically Anabaptist identity received more emphasis” (108).
Ties to the Larger Church
As a former mission church, GITJ has historical connections with the Dutch Mennonite church, but since 1949 several hundred American and Canadian Mennonites have worked with these churches. In that time period, several Dutch, Swiss, American and Canadian Mennonite theologians have also taught at an early pastor training institution as well as the church’s college level seminary, the Akademi Kristen Wiyata Wacana, or Christian Academy for Disciples of the Word, which was established in 1965 in Pati(Yoder). This academy is one of the church’s means of maintaining Anabaptist traditions. It has employed professors from Holland, Switzerland, Canada and the US in order to emphasize “Anabaptist distinctives,” has a library of Anabaptist materials, and also functions as a study center (Yoder). The church has also sent many youth abroad to US and Canadian Mennonite communities to serve and study since the late 1960s, as part of MCC’s International Exchange Visitor Program. Many youth from North America and other global Mennonite churches have also spent year long terms in GITJ churches sharing and serving (Yoder).
Challenges and Questions
As a Christian church within an overwhelmingly Islamic Indonesia, one of GITJ’s major challenges is the pressure that’s being placed on many Christian communities by the Islamic majority. Lawrence Yoder suggests that the church’s real challenge is “to engage these Muslims in a creative and peaceable way, building open relationships.” With a history of conflict with Islam in the country, and a continuing pattern of strained relationships, maintaining a truly Anabaptist relationship with such a dominant religious and social force is difficult. Another issue the GITJ faces is the erasure of any sense of a strong Anabaptist identity, caused by the fact that ministerial students are being educated in ecumenical universities and seminaries. This ecumenical training is making it difficult for church leaders to get a strong grasp on a uniquely Anabaptist vision within Indonesia, and preventing an Anabaptist approach to relationships with and mission work among Muslims (Yoder). It has been difficult to translate Anabaptism into a “totally different cultural, religious and political context,” according to Hoekema, and this difficulty is reflected in a sometimes weakened idea of Anabaptist principles (114). Issues like pacifism, for example, have historically been challenged, and today the church allows some members to participate in the military. Church unity and structure is also a question, considering the church’s split boards from 1996 to 2000.
Looking to the Future
Church growth will be one of the most important factors for the GITJ as it moves forward, as “from the sixties on, congregations began to grow fast as a result of active evangelism and also as a result of insecure social and political circumstances in the country” (Hoekema). The church has grown incredibly rapidly over the last sixty years, from 2000 members to over forty thousand and about six congregations to about 100 (Yoder). In the near future, this pattern will probably continue, despite pressure from an Islamic society, but in the distant future the church will probably either expand at a slower rate or begin to decline as it faces the powerful cultural force of Islam. Another important question going into the future is the church’s relationship with other Christian churches in the area. The Muria Chinese Church is a separate Mennonite conference that grew as a result of “spontaneous combustion” due to the failure of Mennonite missions to relate to Chinese Indonesians in Muria (Yoder 366). Attempts to merge these churches have been made, as they have “basically the same theological convictions,” but “remain sharply distinct and organizationally separate” (367). Also significant is the GITJ’s history of ecumenical interactions, connections that have endangered Anabaptist convictions but which have led to frequent collaboration and discussion with other evangelical churches. Mergers and relationships with different faith groups, as well as evangelization and expansion, could shift the church away from its “Anabaptist” features, but they could also provide a source of new life and strength.
Pudjo Kartiko – Chair of the synod Timotius Katrisno – Second chair of the synod Zefanya Adi Walujo – According to Lawrence Yoder, Adi is the “younger and quite energetic” executive secretary of the synod, who is “a courageous young leader.” Adi was pastor at a congregation which was forbidden for years to meet in its church building due to Muslim activism in the area. Adi led worship in front of the building every week, and worked with local leaders until the congregation was permitted to reenter the church building.
1851 – Pieter Jansz arrives in Indonesia to begin first Mennonite mission work with the Dutch Mennonite Mission Society. He establishes himself at Jepara and opens a school for Javanese children (Shenk)
March 16, 1854 – First native Javanese are baptized as Christians by Jansz, signifying the establishment of the first congregation and thus the beginnings of the GITJ (Shenk)
1890 – Colony established at Margorejo, which would serve as center of Muria Mennonite mission for 50 years. Jansz hoped to develop social opportunities for the Javanese by creating economically successful Mennonite communities, with the belief that improving social standing was part of evangelism.
May 30, 1940 – Calls for independence sweep through churches in response to the approach of World War II, and in response the independent Muria Christian Church is formed at Kelet on this date. Only one Javanese minister had been ordained, and the rest of the administration and preaching was managed by either missionaries or lay-preachers (Shenk).
March 1942 – Japanese invasion of Java causes a Muslim uprising, which destroys the church building at Margorejo and puts pressure on the young church. Several church leaders are martyred and pressure is placed on many members to renounce their faith. These hardships are reflected in a drop in membership from 4,409 in 1940 to 2,400 in 1949 (Yoder).
September 1965 – Akademi Kristen WiyataWacana is established in Pati. This school would serve as a significant source of Anabaptist teachings, as well as a means of connecting with the larger church by the bringing in of professors from North America and Europe.
1996 – The church splits into two rival general boards after younger members hold their own general assembly to address concerns with the established synod leadership. No synod assembly had occurred since 1989, and it’s this failure in organization that causes the youth to organize a separate board. For four years these two boards compete for authority within the church.
2000 – The two boards are reconciled and reconvene into one, after a reconciliation process. New leadership is chosen through a revamped selection process.
Ens, Adolf. Javanese Mennonite Church Growth. 1967. Print
A description of the evangelical strategies and results of the GITJ in the 1960s, including statistics and claims of enormous growth as a result of specific evangelical strategies. Written by Indonesia’s MCC director at the time, it features a very positive, if slightly biased, view of the church in the middle of growth.
Hoekema, A. G. Dutch Mennonite Mission in Indonesia: Historical Essays. Elkhart, Ind: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2001. Print.
A collection of essays that describes much of the history of European missions in Indonesia, all the way up to discussions of the present day church, including GITJ, in terms of theology, education, and institutions. Most of the text is background historical context, but some description of GITJ’s modern positions and struggles, and of the unique nature of an Indonesian Mennonite Church, are provided.
Shenk, Wilbert R. The Development of the Mennonite Churches in Indonesia 1851-1959. Elkhart, Ind: W.R. Shenk, 1959. Print
A detailed and comprehensive look at the history and growth of the Mennonite church in Indonesia, told with a focus on missionary involvement, meaning GITJ is the main subject of discussion. Features several different essays on the church and its development, including descriptions of the colony system and historical moments like the church’s independence.
Straten, Ed van. "Javanese Mennonite Church Makes New Start." Mennonite World Conference. 16 Nov. 2000. Web. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/News/MWC/001116rls1.html.
A news article describing the reconciliation of GITJ after its split in 1996. Includes description of the split’s causes and the process that led to reconciliation, as well as a look into the possible future of the church in light of this conflict.
Sukoco, Sigit Heru and Yoder, Lawrence M. "Tata Injil di Bumi Muria: Sejarah Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa" (Way of the Gospel in the World of the Muria). Semarang, Indonesia: Pustaka Muria, 2010. 511 pages. Print. This history of Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (Evangelical Church of Java, otherwise knows as the Muria Javanese Mennonite Church) was researched and written under the auspices of the History Commission of the Muria Javanese Mennonite Church (GITJ). It represents a comprehensive history of the Muria Javanese Mennonite Church arising out of the mission work of the Dutch Mennonite Mission beginning in 1851 in Jepara and several Javanese Christian villages under the leadership of indigenous evangelist Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung.
Tan, Herman. Glimpses of Mennonite Missionary Expansion in Java from 1851-1936. 1955. Print. An attempt at historical analysis of the position of Mennonite missions in Indonesia, which covers much of the same content as Hoekema and Shenk’s texts, including descriptions of of Mennonite colonies and some statistics from one of these colonies. Also includes a discussion of the political and institutional issues surrounding the church and its growth within the country.
Yoder, Lawrence M. The Muria Story: A History of the Chinese Mennonite Churches of Indonesia. Kitchener, Ont: Pandora Press, 2006. Print.
Although this text by Yoder focuses on Indonesia’s Chinese Mennonite Churches, instead of those that rose out of the Dutch/European mission, it still gives deep historical context for the position of Mennonites in the country, and discusses the GITJ in the context of its relationship with these Chinese churches.
Yoder, Lawrence M. Personal interview. 16 April 2011. Yoder has been involved with the Mennonite church in Indonesia for many years, and provided his own perspective on the position of the church today and where he sees it heading in the future. He was able to point to historical and cultural issues that have shaped the church and suggest ways that they might affect it as it continues to grow.
Yoder, Lawrence M. “Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/G4745.html.
A comprehensive overview of the church’s history and current theological character, this article describes the church as the result of “three streams,” (Dutch Mennonite missions, the indigenous Javanese Christian movement, and Dutch Reformed Christianity). Includes discussion of the church’s connection with Anabaptist beliefs and some of its historical struggles with Anabaptist identity.