Te Rongopai and the Vineyard

by David MacGregor

"The Treaty of Waitangi is a document of profound importance to Christians in New Zealand in the 21st Century.”

This was the message I clearly felt God speak to me during my Sabbatical in 2009. I had been travelling around the North Island, not looking for any cultural experience, but rather feeling the Lord say “Let me show you what I am doing in this nation, and what I want to do.” I was taken completely by surprise when I felt led to visit Waitangi, and there, for the first time I discovered that the Treaty of Waitangi had been birthed in the hearts of the early christian missionaries, heavily influenced by William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Their desire was to see Maori people not ripped off by the European settlers who were arriving in boatloads, eager to get land at a cheap price.

Missionaries, contrary to what we were taught in school, were great friends of the Maori, and were desperate to ensure that iwi (tribes) were able to keep their land, possessions and resources, and treated fairly in all transactions. They appealed to Queen Victoria to sign a treaty, ensuring Maori were able to keep their land and resources, and be treated lawfully as British Subjects. Many Maori chiefs were hesitant about signing the Treaty, for fear of being ripped off, but in the end most of them signed for one simple reason… they trusted the missionaries.

One of the leading chiefs, Hone Heke, who was the first to sign the Treaty, made a rousing speech the day before, encouraging chiefs to put aside their fear and just trust the missionaries. He felt that while Maori didn’t really understand all the implications of the Treaty, their friendship and trust with the missionaries was enough know that they would not be betrayed. Heke remarked:

Maori believed that the Treaty would give them a special relationship with Pakeha that they call “Kotahitanga”… living together in one accord.

“The native mind could not comprehend these things: they must trust to the advice of the missionaries”

Maori saw that Treaty as a sacred covenant where two peoples would come and live together peacefully. Maori had converted to Christianity in huge numbers across the country, and some estimate that as many as 70% of Maori people had become committed christians in the mid 1800s. Maori believed that the Treaty would give them a special relationship with Pakeha that they call “Kotahitanga”… living together in one accord.

Sadly the Treaty had the opposite effect. To the dismay of both missionaries and Maori, the Treaty was used by the British to enact corrupt laws, and enable the widespread confiscation of land, resources and destroy livelihoods.

Five years after the Treaty was signed, the same Hone Heke, wrote to his close friend Henry Williams, the missionary who had persuaded them to sign the Treaty, and said:

“The Treaty is all soap. It is very smooth and oily, but treachery is hidden underneath it.”

Another missionary, Octavius Hadfield, wrote to his mother in England, two years after the Treaty was signed: 

“But now that a footing has been made here, a different ground is being taken and it is broadly hinted that the treaty was not a bona fide act but a mere blind to deceive foreign powers. The Queen takes possession of the soil and the natives looked upon as nonentities, and what the result must be requires not any extraordinary foresight to determine.”

It is heartbreaking to read letters of protest written by Christian Maori chiefs to Parliamentarians, using many scriptures to appeal for justice and fairness, and to work things out in a christian way.

In the years to come, Maori became very disillusioned with christianity, as they felt betrayed by the missionaries, the church, and Pakeha in general, and left the church in great numbers. This is such a tragedy, because Maori had been impacted by Christianity in such huge numbers, and New Zealand had seen some of the largest revivals ever known in the world per capita.

Today, many Maori still feel very bitter towards the church, and feel that it was just a tool for colonisation. They feel that their trust in the missionaries was a betrayal, and that after the Treaty, missionaries and church people had no interest in friendship and working together.  This was not helped by the fact that some leading church ministers betrayed Maori to the British in the Land Wars.

The first 40 years of the gospel in New Zealand are an astounding record of revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The years after the Treaty are a staggering reversal of all the things God had been doing in the nation.

This year is the 200th Anniversary of the preaching of the first sermon in New Zealand by Samuel Marsden, in Oihi Bay on 25th December 1814. The first 40 years of the gospel in New Zealand are an astounding record of revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The years after the Treaty are a staggering reversal of all the things God had been doing in the nation. Alistair Reese has a term that sums it up well… “Mission Interrupted!”

I was so profoundly impacted by the Lord speaking to me on my Sabbatical in 2009 that my view of history has been completely changed.  I now realise that the Treaty is a sacred document, birthed through the prayer of godly people in both England and New Zealand and signed in good faith by a group of trusting chiefs who had put their faith in the integrity of missionaries, and their new found belief if God.

The following years of unjust land confiscation, genocide, corruption, deception and rampant evil amongst the European settlers and early Governors and Governments makes our nations current racial problems totally understandable. In those early years, most of the well known Christian pioneers and missionaries fiercely fought for Maori rights, and for justice in the face of extreme evil and betrayal. Sadly over the years, much of the church has joined the rest of “white New Zealand” in wanting to “just move on.”

This 200th Anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to learn our own history, to read the incredible stories of massive revival and miracles, which are extremely well documented, and to capture the excitement for what God could do again in this nation. 

The exciting part of our history is that the story is not over! It started with amazing revival… plunged into war and betrayal, but God’s story is not finished!  I truly believe that God wants to move again powerfully in this nation. The mission has only been “interrupted.”

So what will happen on our watch? What part will our movement play in the story?

At Grace Vineyard, we have spent 7 weeks telling the stories, the good the bad and the ugly, and it has been a very positive time of gaining understanding for how to move forward as a nation.

My prayer is that our whole Vineyard movement would have a desire to know the story of Aotearoa, understand what has gone wrong in our nation, and be part of a movement to see God move powerfully amongst our Maori people again, as reconciliation and forgiveness become our passion.

Our resolve as a church has been to learn our history well, come to value our Maori brothers and sisters and their language and culture, and to dialogue together as to how we can move forward in a spirit of “kotahitanga”.

The best book I have read on this subject is called The Bible and the Treaty by Christian author Keith Newman. There is also an excellent DVD called Te Rongopai (the Good News) put out by Presbyterian minister Stuart Lange. Prayerfully studying these materials may give us all a sense of what God’s plan is for the future of our nation.

My prayer is that our whole Vineyard movement would have a desire to know the story of Aotearoa, understand what has gone wrong in our nation, and be part of a movement to see God move powerfully amongst our Maori people again, as reconciliation and forgiveness become our passion.

I know that God is part of our journey, because he has been visiting us recently with exciting supernatural signs. 

During ministry times, some of our team have prayed over Maori people in tongues, and it has turned out they have been praying fluent Maori… even though they haven’t learnt the language. We have one young woman who felt led to get up and give a word in tongues, and Maori people present said she was speaking in fluent Maori, in an old formal form of the language (which she had never learnt). This was the message:

“I am calling you all as Maori and Pakeha to go forward together as my warriors.”