The Christian History of New Zealand

Brief History of New Zealand

New Zealand Coat of ArmsNew Zealand was first discovered by the Dutch mariner, Abel Tasman, on 14th June, 1643. It was Tasman who gave this new-found land its name and who first prayed for its blessing: “May God Almighty, vouchsafe His blessing on this work.”

One hundred and twenty years later, Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand on 7th October 1769. James Cook carried the Word of God to New Zealand with many records confirming his Christian faith, e.g. “He refused to allow cursing and the use of profanity aboard his ships, and personally conducted divine services for his crew on Sundays. He also carried a Bible with him wherever he went, which he obviously put to good use as many of the places he discovered bear Biblical names.”

Early Christian History

As New Zealand is a nation of predominately British ancestry, it is Israelite in origin and is part of the prophecy to Abraham that Israel shall be a “nation and a company of nations”, fulfilled in Britain and her Commonwealth, of which New Zealand plays an integral part.

The missionary movement in New Zealand was initiated by the Rev. Samuel Marsden. During his seven voyages to New Zealand between 1814 and 1837, he was able to befriend and gain the respect of the native Maori chiefs. This contrasted with the fate of many of his countrymen who were killed and even eaten by some Maori tribes.

It has been said that no stronger or more dynamic personality than Marsden’s was ever seen in New Zealand. He was untiring in his efforts to convert the Maori to Christianity and unflinching in his personal bravery. This had such an impact on the history of New Zealand with the mission being a great success, that the door was opened for British influence and settlement, as well as inland explorations to proceed.

The conversion of the Maori people to Christianity continued with William Colenso bringing the first printing press to New Zealand. The first books to be printed were the books of Philippians and Ephesians in the New Testament, and by 1838 the complete New Testament (in Maori) had been printed by William Colenso and William Williams. This had a profound impact as the Maori language had no form of written script prior to the printing of the New Testament. By the middle of the 19th century, two thirds of the Maori had rejected their old ways and turned to the Christian message.

Revivals and Christian Leaders of the Past

The Catholic Apostolic Church (no relation to the Roman Catholic Church), founded in Great Britain by the Rev. Edward Irving, was the first church in New Zealand that freely acknowledged the Charismatic ministry. New Zealanders first heard sermons delivered by ministers from the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1863.

By 1879 the congregation had increased considerably and the first Catholic Apostolic Church building was opened on Webb Street, Wellington, in November 1890. The church continued to grow with people from other denominations being attracted to the services by the charismatic and apostolic emphasis.

In the following years, many preachers and evangelists visited New Zealand, laying the groundwork for the early Pentecostal movements. These men and their missions are outlined in the following paragraphs.

Henry Varley, a leading English evangelist, held very successful crusades in New Zealand during 1878-79. It was during one of his crusades in Wellington in 1879 that Harry Roberts was converted. His conversion was of profound significance, as Mr. H. Roberts would go on to become the main leader of the Pentecostal Church of New Zealand and would open the first Pentecostal church building, United Mission Hall, on 13th February, 1900.

Thomas Spurgeon, son of the great revivalist Charles Spurgeon, came to New Zealand in 1881. Within a few years his Auckland congregation had grown to become the largest in the South Pacific.

Pastor George Müller also visited New Zealand and spent week nights preaching in various churches in Wellington. Even though he was 83 years old, he ministered night after night, and hundreds of people experienced God in a greater way through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That same month saw the Rev. and Mrs. John Alexander Dowie arrive in Wellington. They also visited Dunedin where they were the guests of Mr. & Mrs. John A. D. Adams, who later founded the Roslyn City Road Mission in 1903 and supported Smith Wigglesworth when he campaigned in 1922.

In 1919 Herbert Booth, son of the late General Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) came to New Zealand. It was out of these crusades that “The Christian Covenanters Confederacy” was born. It was personally directed by Herbert Booth and in order to provide a platform for future activity a covenant was drawn up. The third term of this covenant reads as follows:

“III. I believe in the Holy Ghost the promised comforter Whose presence and baptism of power I claim as essential to a life of victory. I am determined to seek after the fullest measure of His infilling, the endowment of His gifts and the bestowal of His graces.”

At this time there were many people in New Zealand earnestly praying for revival and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These prayers were answered with the arrival of Smith Wigglesworth in January 1922. Many souls were won for Christ and many were also healed as can be seen in the following sworn affidavit, given by a milkman from Wellington:

"I attended the Town Hall on crutches; I saw others being healed and believed that God would heal me. I went forward, Mr Wigglesworth laid his hands on me, one of the workers anointed me with oil, Mr Wigglesworth told me to walk. I handed him my crutches and walked home. I felt as the healing came, as if a tight pair of stockings were being removed from my legs".

There were over 2000 decisions for Christ, about 800 people filled with the Holy Spirit with the signs of speaking in tongues, demons cast out and hundreds baptized in water.

There were so many new converts in Wellington that on 17th July, 1922, it was decided to call the emerging organization the “Wellington City Mission” with Pastor H. Roberts as the Missioner for the congregation.

This mission then went on to become the Pentecostal Church of New Zealand. Many of the groups did not stay with the Pentecostal Church of New Zealand, but affiliated with other bodies. Some of these associations then started negotiations in August 1949, to link up with the Elim Church of Great Britain founded by George and Stephen Jeffreys (see Christian History of Britain). After short crusades, Elim Churches were established in Blenheim in 1954, Christchurch in 1956, Nelson in 1959, and Hamilton in 1961.

The Assemblies of God in New Zealand were also born out of the Smith Wigglesworth crusades in Wellington. Belief in the present day operation of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, as in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, was proclaimed at the first General Council meeting on 27th September, 1927. A year later, Donald Gee, a famous Assemblies of God Pastor from Edinburgh, was very well received in New Zealand and his teaching ministry was of considerable help.

Lest We Forget

According to New Zealand’s official statistics agency (1996 census), the nation counts around 57,000 people affiliated with Pentecostal and Assembly of God churches. Although New Zealand was founded on strong Christian principles, these values are slowly being eroded away by modern doctrines. The last few years, for example, have seen moral decline with the legalisation of prostitution and the state’s recognition of homosexual unions. Youth suicides and broken homes have also risen over the years. The Bible clearly speaks of curses when nations turn away from God’s commandments:

“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee …” (DEUTERONOMY 28:15).

Today there are some with desires for New Zealand to become a republic and even to change the flag. Many New Zealanders fought and died under the New Zealand flag to ensure that it is indeed a free land as sung in the National anthem, “God Defend New Zealand”. It is interesting to note that this anthem is actually a hymn. The words were initially written as a poem by Thomas Bracken in 1870 and the score was composed by John Joseph Woods in 1876. It was not until 1976 that this hymn became the national anthem:

New Zealand FlagGod of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star,
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.


The key to New Zealand’s future freedom and prosperity lies in returning to those Christian values and principles that the country was founded upon. By experiencing a revival, this nation will be able to rest assured that satanic laws such as those mentioned above will no longer be a threat to our Christian heritage and testimony. Therefore, let us not forget the encouraging and prophetic words of Smith Wigglesworth, who once proclaimed and foresaw a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in New Zealand: "I cannot tell God's secrets, but you will remember what I say - this revival we have had is nothing to what God is yet going to do."

We must repent, remember our history as a Christian nation and turn back to God’s law. Then, and only then, can we expect God’s protection and blessing. "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (PROVERBS 22:28).

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 CHRONICLES 7:14).