A brief history of Maori Christianity

Te ingoa o to ratou Atua, ko Tama i Rorokutia, he Atua pai, otira, ka ngaro ano te tangata. The name of their new God will be “The Son Who was Killed,” a good God, however the people will still be oppressed…

- East Coast patriarch Arama Toiroa, 1766, prophesying a new religion three years before Captain Cook arrived.

Christianity came to Aotearoa at the invitation of Maori. In 1811, Chief Ruatara invited Samuel Marsden to come to Aotearoa and preach the Gospel. It took Samuel Marsden 3 years to show up. This year is the 200th anniversary of the Gospel being invited into Aotearoa, and the 400th anniversary of the bible he brought with him.

Samuel Marsden preached the first Gospel message in Aotearoa on Christmas Day, 25 December 1814 at OihiBay. There was an exuberant Maori haka at the end of the service.

It was the fulfilment of the biblical prophecy in Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.''


The missionaries set up mission schools in Northland and Maori chiefs sent their sons there to learn to read and write – in both English and Maori. When the children returned back to their tribes, they brought the Gospel with them and Maori largely self-evangelised. Maori so welcomed the Gospel of Jesus Christ into Aotearoa that by the 1850’s over 60% of Maori were Christians.

Unfortunately whilst the missionaries and Maori had high ideals about what the Treaty signed in 1840 would bring about in Aotearoa, the New Zealand Company and the Crown had other ideas. In the second half of the 1800s Maori were severely oppressed, they had their lands stolen, their people wrongly imprisoned and suffered terribly at the hands of the land hungry government, land spruikers and settlers.

Whilst some missionaries tried to stop what was happening they were too few and far between and often ended up being viewed as traitors by the settlers and government and as spies by Maori. They were in no man’s land and this meant Maori were largely left to fend for themselves.

Whilst the Gospel the missionaries taught was the Good News of Jesus Christ, they didn’t teach Maori about the power of God.

Again Maori prophesied:

Northern prophet Aperahama Taonui in 1863 said “… The day is coming when you will see a man carrying his two books, the Bible and the Treaty of Waitangi. Listen to him.”

South Island prophet Hipa Te Maiharoa, chief of the Waitaha people, living at Arowhenua prophesied before his death in the late 1870s that “A very little child will come forth under Taranaki mountain; he will finish my works for Jehovah.”

He also stated “The one who will save you all will come forth in the Taranaki area; he will bring with him that for which you have waited so long, for he will be carrying with him two books.”

On 17 March 1918 just over 100 years after the Gospel was first preached in Aotearoa, God visited a Maori man Wiremu Ratana near Wanganui and the power of God was released among Maori. The sick were healed, the dead were raised and many mighty miracles occurred. Many Tohunga came to test their powers against Ratana and were sent back to their tribe as Christians, believers in Ihoa (Jehovah).

Again it was Maori who brought into being the next step of their relationship with God largely by themselves through the ministry of their prophets and Ratana.

Ratana’s ministry was also the beginning of the restoration to Maori of what had been stolen from them in the 1800’s. Ratana played a key role in establishing the Maori involvement in politics in New Zealand that has led to the Treaty settlements that we are now seeing in our country.

So Maori played a large role in their own connecting with God. They are intuitively spiritual people and connect with God very naturally.

The question is, did God just want to save Maori (as the missionaries rightly taught) or does He have much greater plans for Maori?

In the apostle Paul’s famous speech at Athens in Acts 17 he says in verses 26-28a, "And He (ie God) has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…”

So we see that God has pre-appointed where peoples should live and how they should seek Him. Maori already had a strong connection to God through the prophetic and in fact already recognised Him by His Maori name Io long before Captain Cook landed in Aotearoa.

If you look at Maori as a people group, another noticeable characteristic is their warrior spirit. They were fighting each other when the settlers arrived, they were distinguished soldiers in the Maori battalion, in the 1960’s they formed gangs and started fighting each other again. We  even do the haka before we play our national game. “Why has God given Maori such powerful spirituality and a mighty warrior spirit?”

Ephesians 6 states “Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

God’s purpose for Maori is for them to fight, but not to fight flesh and blood. Maori are powerfully gifted by God and are placed in Aotearoa by Him to wrestle against principalities, powers and rulers of darkness. The warfare God has called Maori to is spiritual warfare – and there’s a lot that needs to be done. But it is warfare under the authority of Ihoa as their King. It is His kingdom we are all called to spread on earth.

God is calling Maori to align themselves with Him. To join His kingdom and then to enforce His kingdom over the powers of darkness on planet earth. For people, the Gospel of the kingdom is a Gospel of love, reconciliation, restoration and power. In the spiritual realm it is a Gospel of warfare.

Rise up mighty warriors. Rise up into your destiny. Rise up and serve your King. Isaiah 12:6 says “Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!''

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Richard BP

Richard Braddon-Parsons currently resides in Palmerston North, New Zealand with his wife, two teenage daughters and son...


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