Welcome to the discussion!
As the articles below indicate, for a number of years I have being trying to understand the changing concept and practice of mission.
My search has moved progressively from ‘Is there still a need for mission?’ to ‘What should the new focus for mission be?’ and finally to ‘Where can we find examples for this new direction?’
Some progress has been made but the effort to get this far has brought up a wider question. Why are so few people doing the practical reflection and research that is necessary to bring mission out of its present decline?
Theologians produce books on the academic aspects of mission but those actively engaged in cross-cultural mission are not writing about the real-life is
I’m sure there are many answers to this complex question but by naming them, one by one, we may get a better idea of where the problem lies and what can de done about it.
Have you any ideas to share on this topic?
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Monday, 19 March 2012
Thanks to restrictive cultures, such as those of China, India and the Islamic countries, we are reminded of how narrow our vision of mission has become. They do not permit what we had come to see as the normal means of mission (parish and welfare ministries run by foreigners) but that does not mean mission is impossible there. Rather we are led to rediscover the original and precise task of frontline mission. This is fortunate because in the immediate future the number of missionaries is likely to be small and they have to be aware of where and how they can be most effective in the modern world.
Before the arrival of the Jesuits in 1580 there had been a number of attempts, going back to the Nestorians in 635, to bring the Christian message to China. They had little success mainly because they made no deliberate effort to adapt the Christian message to the religious traditions and spiritual heritage of the people.
The Jesuits were the first to recognize the importance of making the message understandable and acceptable in the Chinese language and Confucian world view.
The Jesuit Accommodation
It took twenty years for the Jesuits who entered China in 1580 to work their way up to Beijing and get acceptance from the Emperor. By showing deep respect for the Chinese way of life and offering their services to the court they were given a degree of freedom to evangelize inside and outside Beijing. For the next 120 years they had comparative freedom to introduce Christianity in Chinese terminology and religious experience. By 1700 there were about 200,000 Catholics in the country, mainly in the countryside
The ‘Chinese Rites’ controversy brought their efforts to an abrupt end. The Dominicans opposed the Jesuit’s policy of honoring Confucius and ancestral tablets and in 1701 the Vatican banned participation in sacrifices for Confucius or ancestors. In response to this snub to Chinese culture the Emperor Kiangxi, who had been very favorable to the Catholic Church until then, prohibited all forms of evangelization.
The Yongzheng Emperor, for similar political reasons, renewed the ban on Christianity and expelled all missionaries. This policy was continued under the Emperor Qianlong, who reigned for sixty years from 1735.
It is interesting that all three emperors befriended individual Jesuits and allowed as many as twenty of them to continue working for the court in Beijing. However they were not allowed to preach.
The Chinese Church Left on Its Own
The initial effort to inculturate by the Jesuits was followed by 120 years of oppression and persecution when the Chinese Catholics were more or less left to themselves without foreigners or priests. Rather than continuing the Jesuit’s efforts to adapt Catholic tradition to the local culture, they allowed church practices to merge with traditional religiosity to the extent that a modern scholar could accuse their church of becoming “as much a folk religion as a world religion.”
From 1742 to 1842 small numbers of Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans were able to make covert visits to the countryside and tried to provide basic pastoral services. However, their visits to the scattered communities were irregular and in the absence of priests the local Catholic leaders (jiao-tu and hui-zhang) led the communities on a permanent basis.
Most of them had little training in the official teachings of the church and were open to the influences of the traditional popular religion around them. Thus a form of ‘indigenized Christianity’ developed that would shape the Catholic church in China up to modern times. Since the Korean church got many of its practices from China, it too was to be deeply influenced by these developments.
An Indigenous Chinese Church?
The distinctive form of the Chinese church, evolved over 120 years outside foreign supervision, is an interesting example of how a Local Church might emerge if left to the ordinary people. It poses the question whether it ended up more Chinese than Christian?
According to Daniel Bays, (A New History of Christianity in China, 2011, p 25) in the 1700s, “The religious consciousness of Catholic congregations in the countryside was to a great extent drenched in the world of miracles, visions and other manifestations of the supernatural.” The ‘new’ Christian world differed little from the religious world the people had always known, with Christian saints replacing traditional spirits and rituals taking forms that resembled those of popular religions.
The mainly rural church conformed to its local environment in a number of ways.
It supported filial piety and family solidarity despite the Vatican condemnation of ancestral tablets.
The separation of men and women in gatherings was strictly observed, sometimes leading to separate services.
In line with Confucian thinking, the people were motivated by a desire to develop the innate human goodness within people than a remorse for original sin. As a result, confessing a felt need for redemption was not a major step in converting to Christianity.
The practicality of the people also led to compromise on the church’s insistence on monogamy and some other moral demands. Strong millenarian traditions in the Chinese countryside began to find expression in Catholic communities.
Religious identity centered around Christian symbols (holy water, crosses and statues), rituals (baptism, marriage and funerals) and the observance of Church holydays.
All this has led scholars such as Jacques Gernet to question whether conversions at that time were authentic since they often seemed to come with a desire to gain benefits (healing, effectiveness, power) rather than an understanding of the teachings of the gospels.
For such reasons the Chinese church of that period has been likened to folk Buddhist sects. Local persecutions were sometimes caused by the authorities fearing that its Buddhist-like millenarianism might cause disturbances at times of crises.
Korea, a Mirror Image
Working in Korea in the early 1960s, I could see many of the above characteristics (except the millenarianism) still visible in remote rural outstations which might be visited by a priest only once or twice a year. They were run by lay leaders (hui-zhangs), had a daily schedule of morning and evening prayers and large gatherings on Sunday or when the priest visited.
The leader performed baptisms and funerals, though often baptisms and first communions were held over for the priest’s annual visit when marriages were also held solemnized. Being able to recite the catechism, as taught by the leaders, was the main condition for baptism.
Communal Faith and Individual Faith
While this is a fairly broad sketch of an era and situation for which little historical data exists, it does illustrate a question that has troubled missionaries for centuries. When are communities or individuals considered genuinely Christian or when are they just practitioners of ancient popular religion with some Christian externals?
In any rural Catholic communities of that time, in Europe and elsewhere, the same questioning could just as easily have been posed. Is it sufficient to be baptized, observe certain festivals and rituals and, as best one can, observe certain rules of morality, to be considered a true Christian?
On the one hand it can be asked whether a person who claims to be a Christian should not at least be aware of the main message of the gospel and try to follow Christ. Many members of the rural Catholic communities in China, and elsewhere, would have failed if that was a requirement. They were more familiar with God than with Christ, and with a divine Christ rather than a human Christ. God was a remote potential helper or judge rather than a living inspiration and example who too form in a person like Christ. For them the Kingdom of God was to be experienced in the next world, not this one.
The Case for Popular Catholicism
On the other hand, it could be claimed that the rituals, prayers and symbols of the Church, formal and foreign as they might be, were effective. They could bring a deeper awareness of God’s presence, concern and assistance into the lives of people than their previous understanding and practices were able to do. After all, deepening the relationship between God and people are the ultimate goal of religion and Christianity.
It was the indigenous practices of the Catholic communities that kept the faith alive during the 120 year of persecution and also in the later period of Communist suppression. Today it is the background from which most of the new leaders -- priests, Religious and lay -- have emerged. It must have certain strengths and value.
When the Catholic faith was strong in Ireland it did provide this function for most of the population. The doctrines of the church may not have been deeply understood, and often seemed unrelated to the realities of daily life, but its practices helped to keep the sacred alive in people’s lives and gave them inspiration as to how they should live and die.
These are not just academic or armchair concerns, at least two realities demand that the question be taken seriously and some agreement reached on how to deal with them.
First, in our developing understanding of the Christian message today, does the gospel not seem to demand a personal relationship with Christ, a sense of being called, of relationship developed through reflection and prayer and a conscious effort to practice charity? How do modern Christian match that description? Missionary and pastoral responses depend on knowing the answer.
Second, rural communities that supported a family or community style faith, centered on ritual and a publicly supported morality are disappearing as people move to cities. In an unfamiliar urban setting they had to depend on their own resources, find an individual relationship with God and develop a personal conscience.
While it can be said that communal faith provided a useful function in the past, it is not adequate in the modern urban situation. A new attitude to evangelization is inevitable.
A Further Stage
For Chinese Christians, these realities became urgent as their county moved towards the modern era.
On consequence was that on the eve of the Communist takeover in 1949, the number of Catholics was over three million while Protestants numbered one million. Yet, the proportion was reversed by 1978 when the communist government relaxed restrictions. Then there were 15 million Protestants and just 5 million Catholics. How this came to happen will be addressed another time.
There are thought-provoking insights to be gained from a study of why Protestant Churches entered the Communist ‘New China’ era in 1949 with only one million followers but emerged at the 1978 ‘reopening’ with 15 million. In the same period, the Catholic Church only increased from 3 million believers to 5 million.
Of course the persecution of the Catholic Church during that time, due to its close relationship with the ‘foreign’ Vatican, was more intensive but that is only part of the answer. To understand why Protestants were more effective in preserving and spreading their message, it is necessary to look at their history and methods in China.
In comparison with the Catholic Church, which entered ‘modern China’ in 1580, the first Protestant missionary did not arrive until 1807 and the Protestant effort only grew with the opening of the Treaty Ports, following the ‘Unequal Treaties’ from 1842.
Their approach was influenced by the secretaries of two of the major sending groups, Henry Vann and Rufus Anderson. They agreed that a) it was more important to preach the gospel than to educate or heal people and b) native converts should be put in charge of new churches as soon as possible. The first principle soon gave way to the undeniable effectiveness of running schools and hospitals but the second, under the influence of Anderson, gave rise to the ‘three-self’ principle of self-support, self-government and self-propagation, which the Communist government was later to adopt as its own. The Catholic approach, meanwhile, continued to depend on foreign leadership and support.
Between 1860 and 1902 the growth of Protestant churches was slow and mostly in the cities as a result of educational and medical services. The association of all Christians, but especially Protestants, with the ‘Unequal Treaties’, made many suspicious of their activities. This anti-Western mood found expression during the Boxer uprising of 1900 but, ironically, the many martyred at that time proved to be an inspiration for renewed foreign missionary efforts.
After the May Fourth Movement
Since Protestants were more involved in schools than Catholics were, they suffered more in the anti-foreign backlash of the May Fourth Movement (1919). In the early 1920s both the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist parties demonized the Western presence and called for Chinese control of mission schools. Many missionaries left China at that time.
To quote Daniel Bays, “In the first half of the 20th century, the foreign missionary movement in China matured, flourished, declined and died.”
The Protestant Churches matured and increased by putting on Chinese dress and letting Chinese leadership emerge. However, when the Communists liberated the county in 1949 there were only one million Protestants in China compared with the three million, mainly rural, Catholics. It is difficult to trace what happened during the Cultural Revolution but it was probably in the 1970s that the number of Protestants began to equal that of Catholics and by 1978 there were three times more Protestants than Catholics. How did this happen?
Urban and Educated
The fact that the Protestant Churches were heavily into education meant they actively contributed to the formation of a new Chinese middle class. After Chiang Kai-shek became a Christian in 1930, their influence increased and they inspired a number of efforts towards social reform. The YMCA and YWCA in Shanghai and elsewhere, through their night schools, helped in raising awareness of social issues. However, because of the conservatism of the rural Chinese elite and the business and industrial power structures in the cities, the over-all impact was limited. Yet these initiatives gave urban Protestant churches a positive and modern image and began a tradition of Christian involvement in intellectual and national affairs.
Protestant down-playing of the clerical role also empowered lay people to act with personal initiative and take up leadership roles. This encouraged the growth of small independent churches in the ‘hidden years’ of 1949 to 1978.
Jonathan Goforth, a Canadian Presbyterian in Henan, was impressed by the ‘great Wales revival' of 1903 and on hearing of the success of revival meetings in Korea, went there to participate in 1907. Stopping off in Manchuria on his way back to Henan, he shared his enthusiasm with the Presbyterians there and was invited to hold meetings which led to the ‘Manchurian revival’ of 1908.
Big-name Western evangelists like John R. Mott and Sherwood Eddy came to China and helped organize the movement up to the 1930s. Protestants in China were already divided between fundamentalist conservatives and liberal elements who accepted the higher criticism approach to the Bible and the primacy of social action over preaching. However in the 1920s, new and small groups of missionaries began to arrive that had little institutional support and focused on regenerating themselves and Chinese Christian converts in a context of pre-millennialist expectations. Revivalism as a mission strategy soon became more popular among conservative evangelical groups.
Pentecostalism, with its egalitarianism and direct revelation from God, proved to be attractive to 20th century Chinese. It opened the way further for independent churches.
When the churches reemerged in public after 1978, most of the Protestant congregations were salvational and revivalist with an emphasis on tongues, prophecies and healing. The largest drew on the foundations of popular movements such as The True Jesus Church, The Jesus Family and Watchman Ni’s ‘Local Church’ (Difang Jiaohui). These churches were founded in the early 1900s and had spread gradually. By the mid-40s, The True Jesus Church was the second largest in China, behind the Church of Christ in China (CCC). The founders of the three groups had been imprisoned on various charges in the early days of Communist rule and died before they were released. However, their communities survived persecution and continue to flourish today.
At the time of the regime change in 1949, a number of Protestant intellectuals were openly sympathetic to Communism and some urban believers were hopeful of good relations with the new government. Y T Wu, a national secretary of the YMCA, in 1948 wrote a scathing criticism of the Protestant establishment in Marxist terms and in the Spring of 1950 went with a small group of Christian ‘progressives’ to meet the new leaders, including Zhou Enlai. This encounter eventually led to the establishment of the government-promoted Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Efforts to unite all the Protestant churches under this banner seemed to have succeed when the leaders of The True Jesus Church and The Jesus Family as well as Watchman Ni disappeared from the scene.
However, around the mid-50s, ‘house churches’ began to appear as believers started to leave the politically correct TSPM. With few ordained clergy, church elders and laymen took the opportunity to preach, teach children, evangelize and perform marriages and funerals.
The Cultural Revolution brought a temporary suspension of the TSPM and closed all churches but, instead of quenching religion, it gave small churches a chance to grow on their own. The only congregations that could meet were house churches. Talented leader emerged and within the 12 years from 1966 to 1978, Protestants increased by a factor of five or six.
When churches were allowed to reopen during Christmas, 1978, Protestants began to enthusiastically build new houses of worship. By the early 21st century there were over 20,000 churches registered with the resurrected TSPM. However, hundreds of thousands of ‘house churches’ continue. They are not approved by the government but to a large degree they are tolerated unless they are labeled as ‘evil cults’ for being too extreme.
From Rural to Urban
During the 80s and 90s, the revival of both Protestantism and Catholicism was rural rather than urban. As the situation of farmers improved under Deng Xiaoping, evangelization increased. In the ‘new modern age’ ordinary people could find equivalents to traditional beliefs and practices in the Christian churches such as a millennial vision in the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and a savior figure like the Buddhist Guanyin.
Ways of petitioning the divine for healing and material blessing became available that seemed more modern and socially acceptable. Christianity was often judged for its effectiveness rather than its truths. Pentecostalism, in its Chinese version, tended to dominate in the countryside with its belief in miracles, divine intervention in people’s lives for healing, direct communications from God, speaking in tongues, dreams and visions. Gradually those practices spread to the cities.
Early in the 1990s, church growth slowed in the countryside and began to grow in the cities. This was partly due to the migration from farms to urban industries and the accompanying need for community in the new environment. However, congregations in central city churches soon began to take on a more polished image with professionals and white collar workers evident. This resulted in a move away from the forms of popular religiosity that were common in the countryside as membership became more educated and sophisticated. Today, most of the new city believers are more inclined to go to the registered churches as the intellectual level of the underground churches is lower.
By the 1990s, Christianity was becoming the subject of serious study in top universities and research institutes in China. Originally this was due to the government’s desire to understand better the increasing popularity of religion and the role of Christianity in Western culture. In particular there was academic curiosity in Weber’s thesis that the growth of capitalism was closely linked to reformed Christianity. Could the Protestant message assist China in developing a successful form of capitalism and dealing with new moral issues? At present there are at least 20 university-based centers for religious studies.
The spectacular growth of the Protestant churches in China has attracted world-wide attention. It is due in large part to the freedom the churches had, during a period of persecution, to adapt to the local situation.
Lay people were able to take over unfettered leadership in the absence of trained clergy and during the Cultural Revolution even the government-controlled TSPM was disbanded and unable to supervise their activities.
At present the Protestant churches are the most dynamic religious groups in China. Their main concern must be that too much freedom and individual initiative can lead to what the government would call ‘evil cults’and mainstream Christians regard as heretical sects. In the future, the main challenge will come from Buddhism as Chinese culture settles down and nationalistic considerations reemerge as a prime motivator.