Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ)

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Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ; Evangelical Church of Java), the predominately Javanese Mennonite conference of the north central part of the island of Java, Indonesia, was formed on 30 May 1940, 81 years after the beginning of Dutch Mennonite mission work in the area around the Muria Mountain in the early 1850s. The new conference consisted of 10 congregations with their 30 branch congregations. It had 4,409 adult members. The original name of the conference was Patunggilanipun Para Pasamuan Kristen Tata Injil ing Wengkon Kabupatan Kudus, Pati Ian Jepara (current spelling; literally: Union of Gospel-Patterned Christian Churches in Kudus, Pati and Jepara Counties).

The Margorejo congregation had become independent of direct mission oversight in 1928 and in the 1930s some planning toward the formation of a conference body took place. However the actual formation of the conference in 1940 was a hurried response to the arrest and imprisonment of two of the four active men working with the Dutch Mennonite mission team, Hermann Schmitt and Otto Stauffer. Both were German citizens and both died when their prisoner transport was sunk. This imprisonment of German nationals by the Dutch colonial government was in response to the occupation of The Netherlands by the German army on 10 May 1940.

The board chosen to lead the new conference consisted of the two remaining missionaries, Daniel Amstutz and Dr. K. P. C. A. Gramberg, chairman and vice-chairman respectively; Sardjo Djojodihardjo, secretary; Wigeno Mororedjo, treasurer; and Soedjono Harsosoedirdjo and Samuel Saritruno as members. However, during the second assembly (May 1941) both of the missionaries resigned from their posts in the conference organization and were replaced in their roles by national leaders, Soedjono Harsosoedirdjo (pastor of the already independent Margorejo church) and Samuel Saritruno respectively.

Within a year these leaders were to be severely tested in a Muslim uprising at the time of the Japanese invasion in March 1942. The uprising resulted in the martyrdom of missionary Heusdens (on loan from another mission) at the Donorojo Leprosy Colony, and Leimena, the head of the plantation of the colony for the poor at Ngablak, and the attempted slaying of Dr. Ong, a Chinese Muslim staff doctor at the mission hospital in Tayu. It also resulted in the destruction of much property including the large, beautiful church building at Margorejo and the hospital in Tayu. The most serious damage, however, was spiritual—to the leaders and the members of the Margorejo, Tayu, and Ngeling congregations where the leaders, including Soedjono Harsosoedirdjo, Samuel Saritruno, Samuel Hadiwardojo, and Surat Timotius, were severely mistreated through efforts to try to force them to become Muslims. From that time to the present a series of capable leaders in addition to the above mentioned—including Sardjo Djojodihardjo, Soehadiweko Djojodihardjo, Sastroadi and Pirenamoelja—have led the Evangelical Church of Java through military occupation, persecution, famine, revolution, and political, religious and economic upheaval.

The severe hardship suffered during the church's first decade is indicated in the sharp decline in membership from 4,409 in 1940 to ca. 2,400 by 1949. From the 1950s through the 1970s, despite continuing difficulties, a pattern of remarkable growth developed. By 1969 the 18 member congregations and ca. 125 branch congregations numbered 18,483 baptized members. In 1988 60 member congregations and 105 branch congregations reported a membership of 50,000. This latter figure is an estimate and should be taken to include both the children of Christian families and perhaps as many as 6,000 people who at one time or another registered interest in becoming Christians but have never been baptized. In 1969 the statistics showed 6,944 such persons in addition to the figure for baptized members given above.

Three Streams of Influence

The present-day Evangelical Church of Java represents the blending of three distinct streams of Christian influence. The first stream is that of the missionaries of the Doopsgezinde Zendingsvereeniging (Dutch Mennonite Mission Society) and the mission church they established in the area surrounding the Muria Mountain in the second half of the 19th century. The second stream is that of the indigenous Javanese Christian movement springing up during the same time period in the same area under the leadership of the Javanese Christian evangelist, Kyai Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung. A third stream of influence is that of Dutch Reformed Christianity.

The relationship between the first two of these streams was, in many respects, a contrapuntal one for several decades until after the death of Tunggul Wulung in 1885. Tunggul Wulung and his followers called themselves Kristen Jowo (Javanese Christians), while calling the Javanese followers of the Mennonite missionaries Kristen Londo (Dutch Christians). They viewed the Christianity of the Mennonite mission church as heavily compromised by its identification with the oppressive colonial regime and European culture in general. On the other hand, Jansz and his colleagues viewed Tunggul Wulung and his movement as a pathetic mixture of a few Christian ideas and practices with seemingly immoral Javanese cultural practices and superstitions. At one point Jansz confronted Tunggul Wulung with this question: "Why do you give the people mere pebbles of spiritual truth when you have the true pearls of the gospel to share?" Tunggul Wulung responded, "I'll just leave the sharing of the pearls to you." The fact was that 10 times as many people responded to Tungul Wulung's teaching and joined the Christian villages that he started than joined the mission churches. Could it be that Jansz just was not able to see pearls the Javanese people saw in Tunggul Wulung's teaching?

In the two decades following Tunggul Wulung's death the mission succeeded in drawing virtually all of the 1,000-member indigenous movement into the circle of the mission, whose congregations in 1879 had a mere 78 members. In the process the congregations of the movement were demoted to the status of being branches of the mission congregations as part of an effort to purify them and suppress their supposed syncretistic impulses. In the succeeding century many of the most capable leaders of the mission church would be drawn from the stream of the indigenous movement. However only with the formation of the Evangelical Church of Java as an independent body in 1940 and its rapid growth and development in more recent decades has the church been able to come to a more open appreciation of the part of its spiritual and cultural heritage that flows from the early indigenous movement. And only in the 1970s have the congregations that can be traced directly to the indigenous movement—Bondo, Banyutowo and Tegalombo—been recognized once more as mature, self-reliant full members of the conference.

The Mission Stream

More than any other person Pieter Jansz (1820-1904) shaped the character of the early Javanese Mennonite Mission church. As the first Mennonite missionary to be sent to a country of the non-Western world, Jansz went to Java in 1851 where he settled down to nearly 30 years of continuous mission work in the ancient port town of Jepara. He was joined for varying periods by other missionaries (H. Klinkert, Thomas Doyer, N. D. Schuurmans) and was finally succeeded by his son, Pieter Anthonie Jansz in 1881. The elder Jansz was a teacher and a thoroughgoing pietist who expected his disciples to be able to testify to a clear experience of repentance from sin and conversion resulting in a distinctly new pattern of life. He also had a deep sense of the unjust and oppressive character of the Dutch colonial rule. This sensitivity came out in his various conflicts with government officials over his right to preach and teach the gospel, but was also very much present in his vision for a new and just agricultural community where Christian and non-Christian alike could live free from the grosser evils of colonial Javanese society.

Jansz was a gifted linguist who put forth a great deal of effort to (re)translate the Bible into Javanese and then revise his translation, creating dictionaries and grammars in the process. He was ultimately knighted by the queen of The Netherlands for his contribution to the knowledge of the Javanese language. But not unlike most of his missionary colleagues, Jansz had limited appreciation for the Javanese culture as a vehicle for the communication and expression of the Christian faith. Many Javanese customs and practices, in his view, had to be abandoned if Javanese people were to become truly Christian.

The church Jansz started grew slowly. He was frequently frustrated because members and even leaders of the young church failed to live up to his expectations. The gospel as he expressed it seems not to have engaged the Javanese in their situation as clearly and cogently as he hoped it would. He seems to have assumed that the Javanese, whose world was basically animistic and pantheistic, should be able to apprehend and appropriate his (pietistic) expression of the gospel as readily as he himself and so many Europeans of his generation did. The pietistic interpretation of the gospel assumes on the part of the hearer a consciousness of a God who will hold humans accountable for their sins. The Javanese by-and-large live with a consciousness of a Deity that is something like the soul of the universe and permeates everything. They do not live in fear of punishment for moral infractions by a transcendent and holy God. Rather, their concern is with the myriad spiritual beings, forces, and ancestral spirits whom they might offend at any turn, and who might, therefore, retaliate by afflicting them with sickness or misfortune. As we shall see below Tunggul Wulung apparently had a better grasp of the situation of need in which the Javanese people lived and how the gospel of Jesus Christ could be appropriated to meet that need.

The mission team made initiatives in various areas. One of the most successful of the earlier initiatives was in response to inquiries coming from the village of Pulojati, located near the present-day town of Pecangaan about a third of the way between Jepara and the larger inland town of Kudus. The key leader in the fellowship that developed in Pulojati was Pasrah Karso who later led his followers in the formation of what became the first permanent mission congregation, Kedungpenjalin (1869). Over the following two decades the Kedungpenjalin congregation developed nicely without direct mission tutelage, growing in 20 years to more than 150 adult members. That was in spite of the attraction of the developing mission colony of Margorejo founded in the early 1880s. Pasrah Karso remained the leader of that congregation until his death in 1895, at which time he was replaced by a missionary from Russia, Johann Hübert.

Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the Javanese Mennonite mission church was the development of several mission agricultural colonies. As it took shape under the leadership of Pieter Antonie Jansz, beginning in 1882, the first colony in Margorejo deviated in substantial degree from the original vision of the elder Jansz. The original idea developed in Pieter Jansz' mind in the 1850s and 1860s in interaction with indigenous evangelist, Tunggul Wulung. Already before coming to the Muria area Tunggul Wulung had experienced the Javanese Christian plantation village of Ngoro in East Java under the leadership of the Indo-European planter, Coolen. Now his impulse was to gather his converts together in remote areas away from the evil influences of the town and the colonial government and establish new Christian' villages. Jansz liked the idea but preferred the new village be located in an area where he might be able to reside or at least visit readily to supervise the enterprise. Tunggul did not want such direct supervision by a European.

To the idea of creating a new Christian village, Jansz added the idea of obtaining a long-term lease from the government for the development of agricultural lands. In 1874 he described his full vision in a booklet titled, Landontginning en Evangelisatie op Java (Land Development and Evangelization on Java), and subtitled, "A Proposal to Friends of the Kingdom of God." The goal was to recruit Christian experts in agricultural enterprise who would lease a tract of land and set up a development corporation. Both Muslims and Christians would be invited to live in a settlement located there and work portions of the land in return for a portion of their produce. Expert advice and resources would be provided in both agriculture and marketing. No one would be required to participate in the government's system of forced crop production. Health services and schools would be provided. Opium and traditional dances would not be allowed. Missionaries would minister among the Christians of the settlement. They would run the schools. But they would not be allowed to have any influence in the management of the corporation, nor would they be allowed to pressure anyone to become a Christian.

In the actual formation of the Margorejo agricultural colony it was missionary P. A. Jansz who worked out the lease agreement with the government and took the initiative in setting up and managing the colony. Residents were to live according to "Christian" standards of conduct which meant, among other things, not working on Sunday, attending church services, and participating in other church activities. They were also required to send their children to the mission school and raise their children in a Christian way. Obedience to the owner, that is, the missionary, was emphasized. The profit motive of the original vision was abandoned, the primary goal now being the evangelization of the residents.

It is not difficult to see that from the beginning the missionary in Margorejo was in a dominant position, a fact that inhibited later efforts to bring the whole enterprise under the direction of national leaders. However, the colony at Margorejo was, in many ways, successful. The whole Jepara congregation moved there as did many people from other areas, including the Reformed Church congregation in Kayu Apu that had been established by the Nederlandsch Zendelingengenootschaft (Netherlands Missionary Society, NZG).

The Indigenous Stream

Having participated in the war of rebellion against the Dutch in the 1820s, according to tradition, and later becoming a hermit mystic, Tunggul Wulung was about 50 years of age when he finally became a Christian in East Java (ca. 1852). Coming to Jepara after brief training as an evangelist by Reformed (NZG) missionary Jellesma in East Java, Tunggul Wulung sought acceptance as a coworker of Pieter Jansz in 1853. Jansz was not impressed with Tunggul Wulung's command of basic Christian teachings and proposed that he become Jansz' understudy for a time, living together with Jansz in his house, after which he might be able to become Jansz' assistant. To Tunggul Wulung this proposal from a Dutchman 20 years his junior was unacceptable. To Tunggul Wulung not only did Jansz assume too much right to dominate Javanese Christians, his way of expressing the gospel was less than appropriate to the Javanese situation.

Tunggul Wulung worked and taught in a way that was highly questionable to the missionaries but reflected a clear understanding of the life situation of Javanese people. He knew that one of their greatest needs was to be freed from the fear of the myriad spiritual powers and forces impinging on their daily lives. In the Christian conviction that Jesus is Lord, Tunggul Wulung saw as the center of his ministry the power encounter that would deliver Javanese people from the oppressive spiritual environment in which they lived. Further, he knew the debilitating effect of the oppressive colonial rule on the Javanese people. For Tunggul Wulung, Christian belief in the coming fulfillment of the Kingdom of God was a source of hope for eventual deliverance from that oppressive rule.

To relate the gospel directly to the issues of life the Javanese people faced, Tunggul Wulung developed teaching devices that marked Christian faith off clearly from Islamic belief. Whereas Muslims regularly confessed in Arabic that "there is no god but God, and Mohammed is the Prophet of God," Tunggul Wulung taught a confession of faith that began in the same way as the Muslim confession but continued into a second line in the vernacular Javanese affirming that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Instead of nonsensical magical formulas to ward off dangerous spiritual influences that the Javanese received from their shamans, Tunggul Wulung taught model prayers which fostered a sense of dependence on the power of God to free from the power of evil. Pieter Jansz wrote a tract urging people to "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand," seeking thus to tie into the long-standing Javanese tradition of hope for the return of the Just Prince. In Tunggul Wulung's teaching there was a much closer correspondence between the traditional expectation of the return of the Just Prince to establish a just society and the Christian hope in the coming kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

Some of the beliefs, practices and reported activities of Tunggul Wulung and his followers were criticized by missionaries as entirely unacceptable for Christians. They thought Tunggul Wulung accepted too much honor from his followers, though it was customary for Javanese to kneel before Europeans in that day. But most galling was Tunggul Wulung's refusal to submit to the missionaries' direction and supervision.

On the other hand, Tunggul Wulung recognized that the mission was an important resource for him and his movement. He frequently went to Jansz' Bible lessons and was clearly one of his most inquisitive students. Later Tunggul Wulung sent his potential assistants to the mission schools for training. For a time he allowed the mission to establish a mission school in Bondo, until it became clear that the missionaries were using the school as a tool to draw the young people away from the indigenous movement and into the circle of the mission. Clearly Jansz and Tunggul Wulung learned much from each other. Hindsight suggests that greater openness on both sides might have made possible the development of a single united Christian movement in these early decades, a movement that would have been much more effective in evangelizing the surrounding society. In the final analysis, with later incorporation of the indigenous movement into the mission church Tunggul Wulung and his spiritual offspring have made an immeasurable contribution to the life and thought of the Evangelical Church of Java.

The Reformed Stream

The stream of Reformed influence is represented most concretely by the incorporation in 1898 of the Kayu Apu congregation near Kudus and its branch, Ngalapan, near Juana, into the circle of the Mennonite mission. These groups were formed beginning in the early 1850s under the care of missionaries of the Nederlandsch Zendelinggenootschap (Netherlands Missionary Society, NZG), but were finally turned over to the Mennonite Mission as part of NZG's strategy to concentrate its efforts and resources in East Java.

Since that time there has been much interaction and cooperation with other Indonesian churches many of which have a Dutch Reformed (or Rereformed) theological and ecclesiastical heritage, particularly in the area of ministerial training. There has been an especially close interaction with the other two larger Javanese churches, the Gereja Kristen Jawa (the Javanese Christian Church) of south central Java and the Gereja Kristen Jawi Wetan (the Christian Church of East Java). The first formal arrangement of this kind was the merging of the first theological school in Pati (1952-55) with the Bale Wiyoto Institute in Malang, East Java, which later merged with Duta Wacana Seminary in Yogyakarta. Mennonite missionaries from Europe (Europäisches Mennonitisches Evangelisationskomitee, EMEK), and North America Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers taught at Bale Wiyoto. The Evangelical Church of Java has had a strong presence at both the board and student levels at Duta Wacana Seminary and at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga. The most obvious expression of Reformed influence in the Evangelical Church of Java to the visitor is the pattern of worship and church organization which bears strong resemblance to traditional Dutch Reformed patterns.

Present-day Theology and Ministry

The Love Ethic. Daniel Amstutz resigned from his position as chairman of the conference in 1941 because the conference wished to liberalize the initial conference constitution's position on the nonparticipation of Christians in armed conflict. The groundswell of Indonesian hope for freedom after four centuries of oppressive colonial rule was being felt in all segments of Indonesian society. Youthful Christians were especially sensitive to taunts from the Muslim majority that as followers of the Dutch religion they were surely supporters of continued Dutch rule. How could Christians prove to fellow Indonesians that, though they were Christians, they were nevertheless for a free Indonesia and against continued colonial rule? The church was torn between those who wished to hold on to the nonresistant position and those—mostly younger people—who saw no alternative to active participation in a struggle against the colonial regime.

In 1988 the tension continued. During the revolution younger church leaders were involved in intelligence operations and other functions of the nationalist forces. In the intervening years some pastors have served as military chaplains. Though there is no military draft, some young men still join the armed forces. On the other hand, the response of Indonesian Christians to the needs of suffering people after the failed Communist coup in 1965 contrasted sharply with the radical Muslim declaration of Holy War against the assumed perpetrators of the coup. Many thousands of people were attracted to the Christian faith by the risk-taking love and care of Christians for the families of the people, who numbered ca. one million, who were killed or imprisoned in the aftermath of the coup attempt. This was a powerful demonstration of the compassion of the Suffering Servant.

Church Growth

It cannot be said that the reason for the remarkable growth of the Evangelical Church of Java has been the development of a highly organized program of evangelistic witness. The evangelistic ministry of the churches is generally in a low key and almost never involves anything like a public campaign. However there is a lively commitment among the leadership and membership to share their faith and respond to invitations to minister. Frequently this ministry will involve prayer for healing and deliverance from evil spiritual forces as well as encouragement to turn away from sin and commit oneself to Christ as Lord. Many Bible study groups and branch congregations have grown out of responses to such invitations.

During the late 1960s and the 1970s conference leaders expressed very live interest in fostering the formation and maturation of as many branch congregations as possible. Clear guidelines and procedures were set up for both the formation of branch congregations and the maturation of branch congregations into "adult" members of the conference no longer under the supervision of their mother congregations. Such rites of passage are carefully prepared for and celebrated publicly in a grand fashion. Thirty-five congregations achieved "adulthood" during the 1970s. That represented a 200 percent increase in the number of congregations. Ten of them were offspring of the Pati congregation.

Service Ministries

The restoration of the churches' educational ministry was first priority after the decade of war and revolution. In the late 1980s the conference school board, BOPKRI, oversaw the operation of about 12 elementary, junior and senior high schools.

Redevelopment of medical ministry, which had been a high priority during the mission era—with the hospitals in Kelet and Tayu with branches and clinics in various places and a large leprosarium in Donorojo—was also important to the conference leadership. Several clinics operated by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) volunteers in the 1950s were finally superseded in stages by a medical ministry operated by a conference board, the Yayasan Kesehatan Kristen Sekitar Muria (Muria Area Christian Health Board), formed in 1959 and 1964. This board was not able to regain control of the Kelet hospital or the Donorojo facility from the government but finally regained control of the remains of the Tayu facilities where in the late 1960s and early 1970s a large hospital of more than 100 beds has been constructed. It operated in 1988 without outside personnel or financial support.

Relief work was a major activity of MCC volunteers in the 1950s and 1960s. From the late 1960s to 1977 the Evangelical Church of Java, the Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI; Muria Christian Church of Indonesia), EMEK, and MCC worked cooperatively in economic development ministries through YAKEM, the Muria Cooperative Economic Development Foundation. Projects ranged from livestock production and fishing to irrigation and rice production. The venture was discontinued because of diversity of vision, management difficulties, and inadequate attention to internal controls. Other relief work has been carried out by PAKKRI for orphans with aid from Internationale Mennonitische Organization (IMO)). A Commission for Development outside Java (KPLJ) has arranged for the migration of hundreds of landless Javanese peasant families to southern Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulewesi and followed up by sending mission pastors to form churches among them and encouraging MCC to develop an extensive agricultural development program in those areas. The churches collected and sent some relief supplies during the early troubles on the island of Timor.

A very significant service ministry carried on cooperatively with the Muria Christian Church of Indonesia with financial support from EMEK and MCC was that of the Yayasan Beasiswa Mennonit (the Mennonite Scholarship Foundation), which provided scholarships for dozens of technical school and university students each year. It also administered an MCC and IMO) program for scholarships in the schools operated by the two Mennonite conferences in Java, the BOPKRI and Masehi schools.

Leadership Training

Besides the first theological school (1952-1955) and the joint programs with other churches in theological education mentioned above, the Evangelical Church of Java, in cooperation with the Muria Christian Church of Indonesia, EMEK, and MCC, established another theology school in Pati in 1965, Akademi Kristen Wiyata Wacana (AKWW). The graduates of this college-level school have had a key role to play in the many new congregations formed over the last decades.

In response to the government's policy to require school students to study the religion of their choice—Islam, Christianity, or Hindu/Buddhism and to train and hire people to teach these religion courses, the Evangelical Church of Java in 1970 formed PGAAK, a senior-high-school-level school for training teachers of Christian religion for elementary schools. This was followed in 1980 with the formation of a similar program in conjunction with AKWW for the training of teachers of Christian religion for high schools.

Ecumenical Relations

From the beginning the Evangelical Church of Java has been a member of the Dewan (now Persekutuan Gereja-Gereja di Indonesia (Council [now Communion] of Churches in Indonesia). This means that they have a basic commitment to interact with other churches and to be concerned with what concerns them. It also means that they have close awareness of questions about the place and role of the Christian community in the wider Indonesian society. At many points members of the Evangelical Church of Java have made significant contributions to the theological, ecclesiastical, and policy discussions of this organization.

The primary links the Evangelical Church of Java has with churches overseas were through the Doopsgezinde Zendingsraad (Dutch Mennonite Mission Board) and EMEK in Europe and through MCC in North America. The church has also participated in the Mennonite World Conference since 1952. Links with Mennonite churches in Asia have developed in limited degree through the reconciliation work camps and the Asian Mennonite Conference. One couple from the church has served for a period under Asian Mennonite Services and MCC in Bangladesh.


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Author(s) Lawrence M Yoder
Date Published 1990

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Yoder, Lawrence M. "Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 29 Sep 2023.

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Yoder, Lawrence M. (1990). Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 333-338. All rights reserved.

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