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September 2012

| MISSIONS HISTORY OF INDONESIA | General Religious Background | Churches of Christ | Spiritual Needs/Challenges | General Editor | Contributors | Resource People | Sources Cited and Suggested Reading

Indonesia's government ideology of pancasila emphasizes monotheism and community unity. This emphasis on monotheism certainly finds its roots in the religion of Islam. The population is free, however, to choose Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam. Because of the numerical and political strength of the religion of Islam, however, preferential treatment is often given to this religion, and the expansion of Christianity is sometimes limited.

The present religious nature of the people is a reflection of many centuries of history. Both Hinduism and Buddhism entered the archipelago in the early centuries after the birth of Christ. In the 13th century, Islam became predominant. To a great degree, however, these three religions became an overlay and were amalgamated with the traditional animistic beliefs of the indigenous peoples. In the 16th century, the Dutch colonists introduced the theology of the Protestant Dutch Reformed Church.

After the attempted Communist coup of 1965 and the bloody result where the Muslims killed 500,000 Communist sympathizers, Protestantism seemed to have very excellent growth. These very fierce reprisals against the Communists seemed to have offended many.

General Religious Background

The Muslim strength in Indonesia is variously estimated to be between 78 percent and 88 percent of the population, but this must be qualified. It is true that in 1982 about 29 percent of the voters cast ballots for parties that favored Indonesia becoming an Islamic state. Some 43 percent of the people could be considered as Quranic Muslims who live by the major tenets of Islam. Another 35 percent of the people, however, are only statistical Muslims, who still retain belief in the traditional Javanese mystical religion or the animistic beliefs that predated Islam. One must therefore make some distinction between the Muslims of Indonesia and those of some Middle Eastern nations.

Islam is strongest on the islands of Sumatra and Java, and in some of the coastal areas to the east. Hindus presently make up about three percent of the people and are found mainly on the island of Bali and among the Tengger of eastern Java. Approximately five percent are still animistic. These are found among the Papuans of Irian Jaya as well as certain peoples on several islands. It must be recognized, however, that Folk Islam followed by the majority of the people is heavily influenced by animism. There are a very small percentage of people (1.4 percent) espousing Buddhism and an equally small number of non-religious/atheists and underground Communists.

One resource estimates the Christian population at approximately 8 percent. Of this number, the Roman Catholic religion is estimated to have about 3 percent of the population, primarily on Flores and East Timor. Protestant estimates vary between six and 10 percent. The largest Protestant groups are the Reformed Churches with both Dutch and Swiss missions, then Pentecostal, Lutheran, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Seventh Day Adventist, etc. In recent decades, people movements toward certain evangelical groups have taken place in particular regions of the country.

Churches of Christ

The churches of Christ entered Indonesia in 1967. By 1992 Churches of Christ had grown to 41 congregations with approximately 2,000 members. There were four congregations in the capital of Jakarta with 188 members, four congregations on Lampung with 180 members, and 14 churches in North Sumatra with 870 members.

In Irian Jaya, new congregations are being established among previously untouched tribes. In the Uhli congregation, 65 were baptized in the early months of 1990 and about 300 were attending the assembly of the church. Some of the most dramatic growth during the 1990s occurred Nias island just off the northeast coast of Sumatra where, by 1992 the church had grown to 59 congregations.

Medan Bible College was established in Medan on North Sumatra in 1980. It was merged with another school in Bogor, 60 kilometers from Jakarta, to form the Sekolah Tinggi Alkitab, The University of the Bible, in November 1988, with the actual transfer-taking place in 1990.

The primary purpose of the University of the Bible is to train religious teachers for government and private schools who can be self-supported preachers throughout Indonesia. The school also provides leadership training and basic Christian teaching for church members. It also furnishes a way for missionaries to work in Indonesia on a long-term basis, since visas are more available for professors than they are for evangelists (Shipp).
Indonesia--Missionaries Who Have Served.png
Rick Merkle, c/o Labora (IMLAC), J1 Gunung Agung #16, Bandung 40142 Jabat, Indonesia

There is presently some difficulty in missionaries obtaining permanent visas for Indonesia.

Spiritual Needs/Challenges

Although there is a desire for the Indonesianization of religious groups as well as other entities in the nation, which makes missionary visas more difficult to secure, there is presently an urgent Macedonian call for workers in Irian Jaya. The Church of Christ has been given permission by the government to work among approximately 145 untouched tribes in Irian Jaya. These tribes have been isolated from both the government and the gospel. They are almost completely unaware of the outside world.

For approximately the next 15 years as many as 20 families can go to specified areas and work in cooperation with the national workers and congregations being established within those tribes. On the coast, new towns are springing up with settlers who are transmigrating from the thickly populated islands such as Java. The lives of multitudes are experiencing great change. New relationships are being established. In such a fluid circumstance, there are many open doors for evangelizing.

The method of penetration of these tribes is gradual. The workers develop a friendship with the residents of a particular village who, after confidence is built, will introduce them to people in the next village, and the process continues. Duane Morgan affirms his belief that 100 congregations can be established in the next five years. In one area beyond Uhli, where a larger number of people live, no other religious group is found, and the people are inviting them to come and evangelize among them.

The workers in Indonesia need the prayers of Christians everywhere. Pray for the continued cooperation of the government. Pray for even greater doors for evangelism. Pray that these doors will remain open. Pray for more workers. Certain areas of this nation may provide a great harvest in the years ahead.

General Editor

Dr. Bob Waldron, Missions Consultant and Researcher


Glover Shipp
David Buzkirk, former missionary to Irian Jaya.
Winston Bolt, current missionary to Batam.

Resource People

In Indonesia:
  • Winston (Larry) Bolt, P.O. Box 514, Batam, Indonesia, Email here

In the States:

Sources Cited and Suggested Reading

Operation World. 2010. Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation. 7th Ed. Edited by Jason Mandryk. Colorado Springs, CO: Global Mapping International. Professional Version. DVD-ROM.

Shipp, Glover. 1992. Indonesia Nationscan. Abilene, TX: McCaleb Institute.