History of Denominational and Christian Missions
Religious makeup of the city of Perth is important to know where to begin. The following is information about the denominations and religions in the area. Protestants, predominantly Anglican, make up approximately 28% of the population. Perth is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Perth and of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth. Roman Catholics make up about 23% of the population, and Catholicism is the most common single denomination. Perth is also home to 12,000 Latter-day Saints and the Perth Australia Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Perth, Western Australia) Buddhism and Islam each claim more than 20,000 adherents. Perth has one of the larger Jewish populations in Australia, numbering approximately 20,000, with both Orthodox and Progressive synagogues and a Jewish Day School. The Bahá'í community in Perth numbers around 1,500. Hinduism has over 20,000 adherents in Perth; the Diwali (festival of lights) celebration in 2009 attracted over 20,000 visitors. There are Hindu temples in Canning Vale, Anketell and a Swaminarayan temple north of the Swan River. Approximately one in five people from Perth profess to having no religion, with 11% of people not specific as to their beliefs (Perth, Western Australia).
As can be seen from the above information Perth is naturally as diverse religiously as it is culturally. How these denominations and religions came to be established in Perth is also helpful to know. Most of these religions originated somewhere other than Australia. “The religious struggles that raged around the United Kingdom, from the Reformation through to Catholic emancipation, not to mention their continuing impact upon Europe, had little direct influence on Australia. It was not like the United States in this respect, and comparisons between the two societies are often quite misleading” (Carey). Because Australia was an English colony there was a strong presence early on and still is of the Anglican Church or Church of England. With the resources and man-power of the Catholic Church, they too were able to establish roots on the colony and eventually move into the Perth area. As the years progressed and immigration continued to increase, other denominations and religions came along as well.
As for the presence of the church of the New Testament in Australia, many might point to American missionaries who came out of the Restoration Movement in the United States during the 19th century. To take it a step further, it is often believed that all non-Catholic churches are Protestant denominations which resulted from the even earlier Reformation Movement of the 17th and 16th centuries. While this may be true for most, it is not however, the case for all. Since the day it was established, the church of Christ has always existed. As long as there have been believers in Christ who have been immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins, who practice and teach the doctrines concerning the gospel and the church of the New Testament, then there has been that church. One writer says the church of Christ is: “those who submit to biblical authority, the teachings of Christ, rather than the innovations of man” (Sisman 6). Therefore, wherever there is a Bible there is opportunity for Christ’s church to be present. That is why there is no reason to doubt such a presence around the world, especially in Europe and in particular, Great Britain.
Because of persecution and oppression from other religious groups, that presence however may have been small in comparison to others and to what it is today. Because of the character and autonomous nature of the Lord’s church, there is no way to know for sure when or where the first congregation began in Australia. However, if there were Christians coming from the U.K. then they would naturally have brought the teachings and practices of the New Testament church with them. What has been called the “first colonial church of Christ” was actually founded in New Zealand by a man named Thomas Jackson and his wife who had sailed from England in 1843. In a letter written in August of 1844 to a man named Wallis, Jackson said, “When I arrived there was not one Christian Disciple to be found in this part of the island, and I am much persecuted for assuming such a name. It is with great pleasure that I have tried to plant this small place a congregation according to the apostolic order. On March 2, 1844, I preached the same gospel that Peter did at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. I have baptised the House of Thomas Butler and this makes us five in number” (Roper 96).
A Baptist preacher by the name of Thomas Magarey who was also living in New Zealand heard of Jackson and his church, and would eventually start attending their meetings. On March 19, 1845 he was baptized for the forgiveness of his sins and added to the Lord’s body. Due to persecution from the Maori people many moved from the area, including Magarey who went to South Australia. Preaching the gospel of the New Testament, Magarey is viewed as on of the first known Christian evangelists in Australia, which would lead to the first known congregation being established just outside of Adelaide (Roper 98-100).
Given the lack of New Testament Christians, as well as evangelists, growth on the continent was slow. In the latter part of the nineteenth century there would be several influential missionary preachers who would come from the U.K. as well as the U.S. The American missionaries played an especially crucial role in bringing souls to Christ and growing the church in Australia during these years. Among them were men such as Jesse James Haley and H.L. Geeslin. There are many factors which could account for the success these preachers had; however, there are a few specific ones worth noting. Such factors are: a degree of novelty; the high-level of training they had; the work ethic they possessed; the means to travel significant distances; a great passion for winning souls; they believed in training others to be evangelists as well; a lack of leadership among the Australian churches which came from Britain (Roper 165).
Whatever the reason, growth was beginning to take place.