Saturday, August 03, 2013

Chinese Christianity, missionary methods and local leadership

In Roland Allen's book Missionary Methods: St Paul's or Ours, the idea of promoting local leadership is strongly advocated. The book was one of the readings for the Ministry of Witness course in WSCAL. At the time of reading, I was puzzled over the strong advocacy of local leadership, noting that the case studies he gave seemed to me to be turning over leadership of the local church to immature and untrained leaders, which I am strongly against.

Recently, I have just read a book on the history of Christianity in China, for my current research and writing project. As an ethnic Chinese, there are certain "inconvenient truths" that are not exactly nice to read, notably the retaining of leadership positions of foreigners in the Church in China for decades, and the discrimination against Chinese Christians for leadership positions. That is certainly sinful behavior by Caucasian Christians. Yet on the other hand, it is certainly true that the level of Christian maturity of Chinese Christians weren't that high either. Knowing that Roland Allen was a missionary in China, his advocacy of local leadership now makes sense, even though I still don't agree with everything he has to say.

The problems with Christian missions to China is twofold. One, the level of teaching and instruction in the churches, even if they were high, did not impact the Chinese Christians. Since the Word is powerful, it is extremely likely that the level of teaching and instruction was actually low. We know that this main evangelical missionary impulse came about after the advent of pietism, revivalism, and broad evangelicalism. It also came about during the time of Darwin and the Enlightenment. I wouldn't be too surprised if the doctrines of creation and providence weren't well taught and applied for the purpose of evangelism during those times, nevermind discipleship.

Two, there doesn't seem to be any ecclesiological vision in all these missionary endeavors. This problem is prevalent even today wherever Evangelical missions are present. The whole idea of these missions seem to be just about "winning souls." All other matters, it seems, are not priorities. But then what do we do with all these new converts? Even for discipleship, is discipleship merely sharing some basic Christian truths, then teach them how to do evangelism and then send them out just like that? If the flock is not properly equipped with the whole counsel of God, is it not surprising that few Chinese Christians are capable for leadership in the Church?

Roland Allen's error is to make the idea of local leadership paramount. Given the choice between inept local leadership and capable foreign leadership, I hope most will opt for the latter all the time. Yes, local leadership IS important, but never at the expense of the welfare of the Church! The issue is not to try to hand over leadership to the locals as soon as a church is organized, or even worse, to adopt congregationalism by default (as described in one of Allen's case studies). The only thing worse than no leadership is bad leadership. The failings of the missionary enterprise in China is the failing to teach and instruct people deeply not just in the "Gospel" so they can evangelize, but in the whole counsel of God so that local leadership can rise up who ACTUALLY are capable to lead the flock. If the foreign missionaries in China, even after 60-70 years there, can't raise up capable Chinese Christian leadership, guess who's to blame?

Roland Allen's book, while perhaps seen as a corrective to "western imperialism," does not truly solve the problem. Even now, foreign missions in the OPC seem to be about aiding already existent local churches, if any are present. But surely how does this play out in places like modern-day China? Are we to help the apostate Three-Self churches (TPSM)? Does the "white man's burden" mean that in the foreign mission field, we cannot take a stand against liberal churches and denominations? I'm sorry, but I as an ethnic Chinese do not think uncritical affirmation is better than past blatant discrimination. It is absolutely ridiculous that every single stupidity (and heresy too) in the non-Western part of the globe is automatically celebrated as "diversity" in the Kingdom of God. All those stupid "Third-world theologies" for example are just as bereft of capital as Third-world economies. It does no one, neither Western nor non-Western Christians, any favors to celebrate stupidity just because it comes from the non-Western world. Wrong is wrong is wrong, regardless of skin color, language or ethnicity!

So yes, local leadership is important, but it should be done on the basis of meritocracy. Train up capable local leaders, and then pass the leadership of the new churches over to them. But do not just pass local leadership over to congregations which are immature in the faith, and then let the sheep wander around in all the mountains and valleys left to the mercy of wolves, all in the name of a fear of "imperialism."

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