Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter XII. What of the Future?

The foregoing picture of the Church in Western China may have given the impression of immaturity, that it is less developed than in some of the neighbouring dioceses. This is probably true, and may be traced to various causes. One is the greater isolation of Szechwan from outside influences. Difficulties of communication reduce contact with other parts of China to a minimum, and Christians find little of the fellowship and inspiration of big conventions and gatherings of kindred spirits. Those who live in our own little island, where a few hours' railway journey brings us to any part of the coast, can hardly realize what this isolation means. For instance, delegates from Szechwan to the General Synod in Shanghai take three weeks to travel there, and perhaps a month or more on the return journey, for the up-river journey takes longer; travelling expenses for the whole trip would maintain a man for nearly three years! Another hindrance to progress is the low standard of education which prevails. In most of our churches fewer than thirty per cent of the members are literate, and only a small proportion of those are sufficiently well educated to read with profit anything but the simplest literature. The present movement towards mass education will in time put an end to this state of affairs.

In Chapter IV we saw the way in which intense Nationalism looked askance at the Church owing to its connexion with foreigners, and made necessary the transference of authority from the missionary body to the Church. During the first few years following this change of policy the pendulum has swung perhaps a little too far in the other direction. This has never been the fault of our Chinese friends, but some Westerners have become obsessed with the fear lest they should hinder the Church by making themselves too evident. Foreigners, they say, must confine themselves to the training of church leaders, but all contact with outsiders must be made by Chinese Christians, not by missionaries. Missionaries must not again take charge of parishes, and so on. This is, to say the least, a little unpractical, since there are not enough Chinese clergy to go round.

We are beginning to regain our balance. We shall serve the Church best by taking our place in it on an equal footing with Chinese workers, neither as masters nor servants, but as colleagues.

Race and colour must be forgotten, and the deciding factor in every instance must be a man's individual fitness for the task, not his nationality. The Church is recovering from its clash with Nationalism. It has stood the test and proved itself the stronger. It has boldly affirmed that in the Church there is neither East nor West but all are one in Christ, and this is the spirit that must now be fostered. If we pander to an exclusive national spirit, we are not giving China the whole of the Christian Gospel. Christianity is more than national, it is universal. Even some Chinese politicians are beginning to see the value of the Christian Church as a unifying force. It is not true to suggest that they are afraid of it because of its many denominations. Denominations as such are to be regretted, but they mean very little in China, and the Church as a whole has risen above them. In China to-day, torn by political unrest and party strife, which even the spirit of Nationalism has failed to conquer, the strongest influence towards national unity is the Christian Church, and it is the only influence towards international friendship.

The missionary too, as we have said before, must sink his racial consciousness. He is one of a team, together with his Chinese colleagues. Missionaries must enter into the spirit of the team. The only sound method of re-thinking missions is to learn to think in terms of the Church rather than the mission, and to regard ourselves as servants of the Church rather than as agents of a foreign society. Only in so far as we are real comrades to our Chinese brothers can we help them to press forward in the great adventure.

There is no greater argument for the deity of Christ than the Church in Szechwan. If it had been a merely human organization founded on the teaching of a dead man, it would have disappeared within a few years. If it had not a living Leader Who is more than man, Who knows no failure, and Whose Spirit is its life, the Church would have been overwhelmed by the apparent hopelessness of its task.

The foregoing chapters have attempted to give a true picture of this Church in Western China, with its weaknesses and its strength, its faults and its lovableness. It is a Church that, however imperfectly, is learning to manage its own affairs. Defects there are and must be, but there is no standing still. And what Church was ever perfect in its early decades? Whatever its shortcomings the Church in Western China is a living part of the Body of Christ. His Spirit is within, guiding, inspiring. The task before the Church seems overwhelming, yet it is not overwhelmed. Its message has scarcely touched the fringe of the population; multitudes have never yet heard. But the apparent hopelessness of the quest only makes it more alluring. The powers of hell have been let loose against the Church, but still it advances. It has been shaken, wounded, almost trampled down by the onrushing foe, but it has never retreated. It never will retreat. Those who have eyes to see have caught a vision of the light in the darkness, and by its gleam are pressing on to a brighter future. They are not dismayed by the tumult and the strife, for they look beyond it and see the victorious Christ with China at His feet.

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