The conference of the Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (Muria Christian Churches of Indonesia), commonly called the Muria Synod or simply GKMI, was formed at the time of its first assembly on 18 to 22 April 1948. Originally called the Gereja-Gereja Doopsgezind/Tiong Hwa Kie Tok Kauw Hwee/Classis Muria (Muria Conference of the Chinese Mennonite Church) the conference consisted of eight Malay-speaking Chinese congregations in the towns of Kudus, Jepara, Pati, Welahan, Mayong, Tanjung, Bangsri, and Demak. These churches were all located in the area surrounding the Muria Mountain on the north coast of central Java, and at that time had a total of about 500 baptized members.
The first church of this conference was organized in the town of Kudus on 27 September 1925 as the Chineesche Doopsgezinde Christengemeente (Chinese Mennonite Christian Congregation) with about 100 baptized members including small branch congregations in Mayong and Tanjung. Six months later the new church made application to the government and on 3 February 1927 was granted official recognition as a church by the Governor-General of the Netherlands Indies (though still dependent on the mission for services of baptism and communion). As such the Chinese Mennonite Church in Kudus was the first Chinese church to be recognized by the government of Netherlands East Indies and the first independent non-Teutonic Mennonite church in the world.
The Chinese Christian group in Kudus began in about 1918 as a largely indigenous movement under the leadership of the newly converted Chinese businessman, Tee Siem Tat ("He Drove a Ford"). Tee, a follower of the traditional Chinese religions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism flowing together in a single stream—fell ill in about 1917 with an ailment that neither traditional healers nor western medical doctors were able to cure. Faced with her husband's recalcitrant ailment Sie Djoen Nio began to tell Tee of the many accounts of Jesus healing the sick that she had been secretly reading in a Bible a relative had given their daughter. Could it be that Jesus would heal Tee too?
Tee went to several Christian meetings in a relative's house in Rembang to learn more about Christianity and then invited the leader, the Ambonese Salvation Army Lieutenant Tanuhatu, to come to Kudus and teach his family and friends. Tee's gradual acceptance of the gospel was accompanied by his gradual healing. His growing faith was then confirmed in the sudden healing of his wife's niece. Tee's conversion precipitated a dramatic reorientation of his priorities. He turned most of the daily operations of his printing business and other commercial activities over to his children, and began to give increasing amounts of time to sharing his newfound faith with friends and relatives. Though there was sharp opposition from the supporters of the traditional religions, soon several dozen people were attending meetings in Tee's house.
The question of baptism eventually caused a reluctant disengagement between Tee's group and the Salvation Army (though they continued to use the Salvation Army songbook for more than 20 years). The group found itself unable to reconcile the Salvation Army's military-style induction ceremony with the practice of baptism they found in the Bible. Thus they began to seek out a relationship with some other established Christian body to give them teaching and guidance, to provide services of baptism and communion, and give a certain social and legal legitimacy to their group.
Tee contacted a Seventh Day Adventist missionary from Salib Putih near Salatiga who came to Kudus to share that church's teachings. Another group, the Salatiga Mission (of the New Church movement in Germany), was party to the inter-mission territorial comity agreements and was therefore unwilling to come to work with Tee in Kudus without at least contacting the Mennonite missionaries in whose area Kudus was located. The response of the Mennonite missionaries was to contact Tee and his group themselves. Whatever all of the factors entering into the consideration, the teachings of the Mennonite missionaries seemed to Tee very close to what he saw in the Bible and he finally asked for baptism from Russian Mennonite missionary Nicolai Thiessen. The first group of 25 persons was baptized in Kudus on 6 December 1920. Within a year another 24 people were baptized.
The energetic and independent character of the new group was demonstrated in their dynamic outreach activity and their moves to organize themselves and seek recognition from the government. Before long they began to feel restricted by mission policies. They expected more support from the mission but the mission was suffering the loss of its primary support base in the Mennonite colonies of the Ukraine caused by the Russian Revolution and Civil War. They also did not understand the mission's continuing reluctance to credential Tee or any of the groups' leaders as ministers in spite of the fact that it was Tee who had evangelized the group. Finally in 1927, without knowledge of the missionaries, the group applied directly to the government and received recognition for Tee and his associate, Oei Tjien Gie, as ministers for a church the government had officially recognized only that year. They also sought and received government license to evangelize the Chinese populace in the Muria area. When the Mission Conference was faced with these developments in its November 1927 meeting, it had little choice but to grant the group's request that they be acknowledged as an independent congregation.
Mennonite missionaries had been working in the Muria area since the 1850s. Though their efforts were primarily directed toward the majority Javanese population, there was recurrent missionary interest in the small populations of Chinese people in the smaller towns of the area. This interest extended at one point to the appointment of a Chinese evangelist from China to work among Muria-area Chinese. And they recruited other evangelists especially to work among the Chinese in the small towns of the area. The missionaries, however, expected the resulting small number of Chinese converts to become integrated into the Javanese congregations. They did not give adequate attention to the linguistic and cultural barriers inhibiting such integration. Nor did they recognize that the Chinese communities of the area were made up predominantly of people "of Chinese descent" (Kiauwseng) who had abandoned Chinese language and ties with China in favor of the language and land where they had settled. "Overseas Chinese" (hoakiao) evangelists who preferred to speak Chinese and had a strong orientation toward China found limited acceptance in the Malay-speaking Kiauwseng communities of the Muria area. By the second decade of the century the mission, with its rural orientation, had only a handful of Chinese Christians in its care and had made virtually no effort to minister in Kudus, the largest town of the Muria area, much less to evangelize the Chinese population of that town. It was this situation which provided the setting for the rise of a strong indigenous Chinese Christian movement in the Muria area centering in Kudus.
After gaining recognition as an independent church the Chinese Mennonite Christian Church faced some new challenges. Working out a new kind of working relationship with the mission became a source of considerable misunderstanding. On the one hand since the government had granted the new Chinese church the license to evangelize the Chinese population in the whole Muria area, the mission wanted to turn all responsibility for the work it was doing among the Chinese in the other towns of the area over to the church.
On the other hand, Tee felt the mission wanted to leave him in the lurch with no support for evangelization among the Chinese. His feelings were exacerbated when the mission proceeded to place a missionary in Kudus to work among the Javanese people there. This seemed to Tee to be an effort to compete with his group. If the mission had money to place a missionary in Kudus, why was there no money for the evangelistic work of the new Chinese church. The final result of these misunderstandings was that Tee wrote a letter to the mission announcing the decision that he and the members of the church had made to separate the church completely from the mission, that is abandon its Doopsgezind (Mennonite) name and stop sending reports to the Mennonite Mission Board. While Tee did not follow through with a legal change of name, this action illustrates the difficulty of the transition from mission to independent and indigenous church.
Soon there were efforts to iron out these misunderstandings, but this crisis was the trigger that precipitated a major departure in ministry activity for the church. Now there were more deliberate efforts to evangelize the Chinese populations of neighboring towns and to form new congregations. During the 1930s new Chinese congregations were established in Jepara, Bangsri, Pati, and Welahan. Work begun in several other towns did not yet produce permanent results. The vigor of the Jepara group soon began to rival that of the Kudus group. One of the leaders of the Jepara group, Sie Giok Gian (later called Gombak Sugung), had converted to Christian faith from a position of leadership in the traditional Chinese religious and social organization, the Tiong Hwa Hwie Kwan. He was thus well-positioned to introduce the Christian gospel into the heart of the Chinese community and pursuade many people to become Christians. The Jepara people also soon became active in outreach to other towns in the area.
As these new congregations developed the question of their relationship to the Kudus congregation arose. From the perspective of Kudus it seemed that the new groups were branches of Kudus. This concept seemed appropriate to the small groups in Mayong and Tanjung, but it seemed less appropriate to large, growing congregations like Jepara. During the 1930s the Chinese churches in other parts of Java with the encouragement of the various mission agencies were organized into conferences or synods. Because of the early independence of the Chinese church in Kudus and because of the weakness of the vision of the Mennonite missionaries for development of a national church organization, there was less mission guidance in this area. Further, the activity of the charismatic figure of Tee Siem Tat, traveling and ministering frequently among the Churches in the Muria area, seemed to obviate the need for an inter-congregational organization, although the articles of incorporation of the Jepara church (1935) seem to reach in that direction.
The 1940s brought a whole new set of challenges to the church. They began (May 1940) with the imprisonment and later death of Herman Schmitt, the young (German) Mennonite missionary most closely involved with the Chinese Mennonite churches. This was followed on 2 October 1940, by the death of the charismatic founder of the movement, Tee Siem Tat. Then came the anti-Chinese, anti-Christian Muslim uprising in March 1942, the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) and the revolutionary struggle (1945-1950). These represented a great challenge to the new leadership of the Muria Church.
Now there was a strong motivation for Chinese people to break off their longstanding sense of identity with the Dutch under whose colonial administration they had enjoyed certain (though not unmixed) benefits and advantages. But should they identify fully with the Indonesian nationalist movement? Only certain members of the younger generation took that option. Many of the Chinese population sought a new sense of identity in their Chineseness, though only a few of them could use much Chinese language. These cross-currents and changes are represented in the several revisions of the church order prepared during the 1940s. Early versions used many Dutch words. By the late 1940s these were replaced with many Chinese language terms. Later only Indonesian (Malay) language terms came to be used.
The key leader in this period was Tan King Ien, the son-in-law of Tee Siem Tat. It was finally through his leadership that the Muria Church conference was organized in 1948. Though a conference constitution was not created at this time patterns were set which served the conference reasonably well during its first decade. Tan King Ien remained conference chairman until 1956.
The appearance of Mennonite Central Committee workers in Central Java in the late 1940s made possible the sending of Tan Hao An (Herman Tann), the son of Tan King Ien, and his wife, Jo Nio, to study theology at several Mennonite colleges in the United States. When they returned they were quickly placed into positions of synod leadership. Expectations were high. On the one hand the Tans were now supposed to be able to teach what Mennonite theology and practice was really about since none of the earlier leaders had received any specific training from the Mennonite mission. They were expected to know how Mennonites organize things. On the other hand, Tan King Ien left a legacy of dissatisfaction for his apparently somewhat dominant style of leadership both in the Kudus congregation and in the conference. For his son to take over conference leadership seemed—in a time of exploding interest in democratic ideals—like nepotism to some. Further, there was a vocal minority that was opposed to sharpening the church's Mennonite identity at the expense of ecumenical relations with other Chinese churches.
The late 1950s were a period of growing social, economic and political turmoil in Indonesia. Conference assemblies were not held according to the established schedule. The government was pressuring people of Chinese descent to identify themselves clearly as Indonesians. The church had to deal with government pressure requiring that foreign language organizational names be replaced with Indonesian language names. They abandoned the Dutch language name of the conference and the Chinese language names they had started to use—Tiong Hwa Kie Tok Kauw Hwee (Chinese Christian Church) and Khu Hwee (conference)—and adopted the Indonesian (Malay) language name Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia. The ecumenists in the group wanted to use the name Gereja Kristen Indonesia (Christian Church of Indonesia) that other Chinese churches had adopted, but others insisted on using the place name Muria to replace the Dutch language term Doopsgezinde (Mennonite) asserting that for more than 100 years the name of the area had been associated with the Mennonite mission. To them "Muria" means "Mennonite." For a time, however, local congregations were called simply Kudus (or Jepara or Pati) Christian Church.
In 1958 an emergency meeting of the synod was called to take action on a Mennonite confession of faith that Herman Tann had prepared and modeled on an American Mennonite confession. Small booklets about Menno Simons and basic Mennonite beliefs were published and circulated in cooperation with the Javanese Mennonite Church (Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa) and the Dutch Mennonite Mission.
Herman Tann had two major influences on the Muria Church. First was his conviction that specifically Mennonite beliefs and practices were important enough to challenge the previously held position that the Mennonite churches should limit their work to the historically agreed upon Mennonite area, the area around the Muria mountain. In his opinion the Muria churches should follow their increasingly mobile members to other cities, gathering them together to become the nuclei of new congregations. But more than this the Tanns believed that the Muria churches had a responsibility to evangelize people beyond the Muria area and beyond the circles of Chinese community. In proclaiming his vision Tann faced substantial opposition from ecumenists in the churches who insisted that the Muria church should not compete with other churches outside the Muria. But in the late 1950s a new congregation was launched in the provincial capital city of Semarang where now several additional congregations and the synod headquarters are located. Soon the vision extended to Jakarta, the nation's capital and to the other cities of Java. Tann's mission convictions were stronger than his commitment to synod leadership. Soon he moved to Jakarta to set up a Christian radio station and worked toward the formation of churches there. He also nurtured a vision of involving American Mennonites in his vision for mission.
In 1965 under the leadership of Herman Tann and Thio Tjien Swie (Theopilus Muryadi Hadipraesetyo) a number of new departures in outreach began to develop. A mission board was formed. Its name, PIPKA, is an acronym for Pekabaran Injil dan Pelayanan Kasih (evangelization and service). However support for this mission board was not forthcoming either from the Muria churches or from overseas Mennonite agencies to the degree that the initiators had hoped for.
In the early 1970s the Mennonite Brethren Board for Missions and Services responded to overtures from Muria Church leadership to enter into a cooperative mission enterprise with PIPKA. Through this arrangement both personnel and funds from North America were administered by the national organization. Well over 50 new mission posts were started; by the late 1980s some moved steadily toward maturity. This initiative spurred Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which up to this time had been hesitant to support PIPKA, to become involved in a wholistic church planting ministry in Kalimantan. There they placed both MCC personnel and personnel seconded from Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (MC) on a mission team under Indonesian supervision with support levels identical to the Indonesian members of the team.
In the early 1960s a strong spiritual awakening among the youth of the Muria churches, facilitated in part by annual Bible camps, produced a substantialtial crop of new leaders for the church. Many of these people received theological education at a variety of schools, a few of them attending the new theological college in Pati, Akademi Kristen Wiyata Wacana, operated jointly with the Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa, Europäisches Mennonitisches Evangelisationskomitee (EMEK; European Mennonite Mission Board), and MCC. Though Herman Tann and his wife finally withdrew from the circle of the Muria church to launch a personal mission to the United States, they did not do so without making a profound impact on this new generation of leaders. Thus was the stage set for a major transition from a predominantly untrained lay leadership to the predominantly trained professional (paid) leadership characteristic of the Muria churches in the 1980s.
From the beginning in Kudus there was interest in providing Christian elementary and secondary schools for children of Christian and non-Christian families. These schools were clearly evangelistic in intent. Military occupation and revolution disrupted some of these schools. By the late 1980s, however, several of the churches—Kudus and Jepara in particular—had extensive educational programs. The Muria churches were also involved at the student, faculty, administration, and board level with the interdenominational Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga and Duta Wacana Christian University in Yogyakarta. They also participated with the Javanese Mennonite Churches in the cooperative Mennonite Scholarship Foundation which administered MCC and International Mennonite Organization scholarship programs for children attending the churches' schools and also provides scholarships for university and technical school students open to future service in church ministries.
In the 1950s interest arose in Kudus to begin a medical ministry. That vision produced by the late 1980s the more than 100-bed Mardi Rahayu Christian Hospital. Interest in economic development work precipitated the formation in the late 1960s of the Mennonite (later Muria) Economic Development Foundation in cooperation with the Javanese Mennonite Church, MCC, and EMEK. After functioning for about a decade this agency was disbanded because of differences of vision and management philosophy.
Already in the 1930s the Muria church experimented with a special church-run business to support church ministries. In the 1970s a local endowment and funds from Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) made possible a bus project operated by the conference's Dorcas Foundation. Herman Tann's early vision for a radio ministry in Jakarta has grown into the well-established ICHTHUS Radio Station in Semarang.
The most substantial ministry program of the Muria conference remained PIPKA, the mission board. The work of the mission among several different ethnic groups in Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan will in the future result in a clearly multicultural conference, a change that will require considerable sensitivity and adjustment both in practice and organization.
The Muria conference in 1983 had 18 congregations, some 50 branch congregations mostly under PIPKA auspices, with a total baptized membership of 4,583. In 2003 there were 42 congregations with 16,302 members.
Jensma, Th. Doopsgezinde Zending in Indonesia. 's-Gravenhage: Boekcentrum, 1968.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978:152-156.
Mennonite World Conference. "MWC - 2003 Asia/Pacific Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Accessed 17 May 2006. <http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/asiapacific.html>.
Yoder, Lawrence M. Tunas Kecil: Sejarah Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia. [Little Shoot: History of the Mura Christian Church of Indonesia] (Semarang: Komisi Literatur Sinode GKMichigan, USA), n.d. ), also available in English translation under the title: The Church of the Muria: A History of the Muria Christian Church of Indonesia. ThM thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1981.
Yoder, Lawrence M. "Onstaan en Groei van de Christelijke Kerk Bond de Muria in Indoinesië." Doopsgezinde Jaarboekje (1984): 61-78.
|Author(s)||Lawrence M Yoder|
Cite This Article
Yoder, Lawrence M. "Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI; Union of Muria Christian Churches of Indonesia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 30 May 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Persatuan_Gereja-Gereja_Kristen_Muria_Indonesia_(GKMI;_Union_of_Muria_Christian_Churches_of_Indonesia)&oldid=76983.
Yoder, Lawrence M. (1987). Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI; Union of Muria Christian Churches of Indonesia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Persatuan_Gereja-Gereja_Kristen_Muria_Indonesia_(GKMI;_Union_of_Muria_Christian_Churches_of_Indonesia)&oldid=76983.
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