Reasons for growth in unity--Realization of oneness in fundamental truths--Realization of brotherhood in Christ--Chinese national and family characters--Ties--Unity in variety--Love of "order" and subordination to authority.
There are two reasons which lead me to consider it probable that this lesson of unity, in spite of variety, may be the one which Chinese Christianity is to teach Catholic Christendom. In the first place, there is that which I have already indicated, the extremely practical nature of Chinese thought. Now, it must be remembered that the Chinese approach the question of Church government and Church organization from a wholly different point of view to what Westerns do. We are brought up in our various communions, and it is a comparatively rare thing for any one to question the soundness of his position. We naturally adhere to the body in which we have found ourselves, and in the principles of which we have been instructed. But the Chinaman has been brought up in heathenism. Out of heathenism he has been brought to Christ, for few, if any, evangelists, in preaching to heathen, would attempt to complicate the question of faith by the introduction of denominational differences. When the convert is baptized his knowledge is probably confined to the main outlines of the Christian faith, as embodied, say, in the Apostles' Creed. He probably does not even know, he certainly does not consider, whether there is [272/273] any difference between an Anglican, or a Presbyterian, or a Baptist. The practical point in his mind is that he is a sinner, that Christ is a Saviour, and that through Baptism ho is brought into covenant union with Christ. After his baptism he is further taught in the principles of Christianity, and also in the particular principles of the mission which he has joined. Of the latter he will accept so much as he can understand; it may even be the case that he will become an eager partisan and advocate for his own denomination. But then the practical side of the Chinese character comes in. He sees side by side with himself many other Christians, who, like himself, have been brought out of heathenism. He sees that they have also been baptized into Christ, but by the agents of some other society. He sees that they believe the same gospel, acknowledge the same Lord, hold the same Faith. He sees that they bring forth the same fruits of righteousness in their lives, that they are inspired by the same Spirit. As he travels in the course of business, he attends the services of the Christians in whatever place he may be. He finds that he is welcomed as a brother in Christ; and even though he may not like their special form of service, yet he finds that the main substance of their teaching is the same as that which he has been taught. He converses with the pastors of other denominations, and he finds them to be, as Chinese pastors generally are, men of different attainments, indeed, but men of solid worth, of real piety, of true Christian zeal; and he sees the fruit of their work in the winning of souls and the foundation and building up of Churches. And when the fire of persecution breaks out, he sees his fellow-Christians of all denominations boldly confessing Christ, and laying down their lives for His Name's sake. It is impossible for his practical mind to accept the proposition, even if it has been taught him, that, owing to some ecclesiastical [273/274] difference, these men stand in a different relation to Christ to what he does. He may have been taught by his European instructor that a man who has been baptized in infancy is not really baptized; or that a Sacrament is no true Sacrament unless it is administered by one ordained in some special manner; or that the wearing of a surplice is a mark of the Beast; but to his practical mind there is nothing in comparison with facts, and when he sees that God gives to others the like gifts as He gives to himself and those of the body to which he belongs; that others also, of many and various denominations, are indeed baptized with the Holy Ghost, he will not believe that the grace of God is in any way confined to one particular system of Church organization. He may still very probably hold to the view that the system under which he has been taught and trained is the best and the most Scriptural; but, in spite of that, he will acknowledge an essential unity underlying the diversity, and will tend to draw towards his fellow-Christians as being indeed brethren in Christ.
But another reason can, I think, be found for this sense of unity amongst Christians, which is so strongly manifested amongst the Chinese. This is the principle of filial piety, and of consequent brotherhood, which is inculcated by China's sages, and which largely pervades Chinese life. It has been suggested that one great influence which Chinese Christianity may have upon Catholic Christendom may be the deepening of the sense of the Fatherhood of God. Whether this may be the case or not, I do not propose to discuss now. It does seem to be probable that Chinese Christianity will tend to deepen the sense of the common brotherhood of Christians, as being the children of the one Divine Father. Attention has already been called to the importance of the family and clan in China. Membership in a family, [274/275] descent from a common ancestor, form a claim for sympathy and help which is always recognized. And, passing from the family to the nation, it is not too much to say that the national sense of unity in the midst of vanity is largely based on the principle which recognizes the emperor as the father of his people. "Within the four seas all are brethren." And so it seems to be with the Chinese Christians. The recognition of the Fatherhood of God leads to the acknowledgment of the brotherhood of all those who are called the children of God. Whether the Chinese will have anything to teach Western Christians as regards the Fatherhood of God is, I think, open to question. Few will be disposed to argue, in view of all the unhappy divisions of Western Christendom, that we of the West have not much to learn with regard to the brotherhood, and essential unity, of those who are God's people. It would, indeed, be a glorious mission if God were to put into the hands of the Chinese Church of the future the work of illustrating, it may be of restoring, the oneness of the Body of Christ.
But if this is to be their message, in what manner will it be delivered? The mind, as it dwells on this prospect, would fain forecast the manner in which this unity will finally be presented. But this is indeed no easy question to answer. Will the present unity in the midst of variety continue? Will the numberless denominations, into which the members of the one Body are now divided, be perpetuated? There are two leading features of Chinese life which seem to conduct us to exactly opposite conclusions. In the first place, it is quite in accord with Chinese habits of thought that the life of the nation should be broken up into numerous sections, without any breach in the unity of the nation. In all parts of the empire we find clans and families governing themselves. The Chinese love to form innumerable societies or clubs, [275/276] for political, social, or financial purposes. Yet the nation remains one, and acknowledges but one head; nor does the thought of division or separation appear to enter into the minds of those who are members of these clans or societies. And so it may be that it may be given to the Church of China to illustrate in practical life that which we Westerns have failed to recognize, viz. that it is possible to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, in spite of denominational differences; to acknowledge one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and so to live together and work together as brethren, children of the one Father; and at the same time to allow liberty of opinion and practice in matters of Church government.
And yet there is another feature of the Chinese character which seems, as I have said, to lead us to an opposite conclusion. The leading principle of Confucianism, a principle which has permeated the whole nation, is " order," due subordination to authority. They have their sectional clan governments, by which the family or clan is practically governed--it is not uncommon for the clan authorities even to exercise the power of life and death. But yet behind, or rather, above, the clan is the official, and above the official is the viceroy, and above him, again, is the emperor. With a vast amount of independent self-government, the one-man rule is nevertheless fully recognized, and the Chinese spirit of order leads the people to accept it as the natural and best principle. And this we see also to be a present feature of Chinese Christianity. Wherever a body of converts has been gathered together they have shown a remarkable aptitude for self-government, through local Church councils, under whatever name they may be called. Yet at the same time (I am speaking now of non-episcopal missions) there is always a tendency to acknowledge, and a readiness to [276/277] submit to, the ruling of one man, at present usually, though not invariably, the foreign missionary. To me it seems not improbable that, as time goes on, and the foreign missionaries pass away, the native Churches will still, from their sense of order, require that some one man should have authority, and will take measures for his due appointment. And so gradually the Church in China may come to acknowledge, and seek for, the benefits of the historic episcopate. But if this should be the case, it will, I think, be, as I have indicated, a natural evolution from the Chinese habits of life and love of order. It will not be brought about by the pressing of claims which the bulk of Chinese Christians, from the very circumstances of their early training in the faith, not to mention the strong independence of their character, would be slow to recognize. [With the statements concerning the character of the Chinese Christians and with the general conclusions of the paper I agree. It is reasonably certain that if the influence of the foreign missionaries were withdrawn, the Chinese Christians would coalesce into one body. This is becoming so apparent that the opinion of the Centenary Conference was expressed very plainly that we are being forced by this fact to insist upon our essential unity, and to teach only what is really fundamental in faith and order. It looks as if China were going to teach the world that the things which divide Christians are as nothing to the things which unite them. The Anglican Communion has a grave responsibility at this juncture. She is setting her own house in order that, through the heritage of the Catholic Faith and Order which she holds, she may perhaps in God's providence be used for great ends in the future Church of China.]