Friday, August 29, 2008

Forty Years in South China Church Union

Missionary work in its initial stage has only to do with first principles.
Given shelter, food, power of utterance in a foreign tongue, a preaching spot, a company of hearers, and you have bounded the horizon for the present.
No sooner, however, is a goodly company of believers gathered, but problems, numerous and weighty, confront the missionary.
How shall the company of believers be organized and governed? Shall it be exactly on the model of the church which the missionary represents? If not, what modifications shall be made? Shall the seedling ten thousand miles away be roped to the mother tree or shall it be encouraged to stand alone? What advantages in independence? What perils? What shall be the status of the foreign missionary before the native church just organizing? What relation shall he sustain to the home church?
The answers to these questions have been as various as the denominations represented in Oriental lands. The answers of missionaries representing the same denomination have not even tallied.
After the gracious awakening and ingathering at Amoy and in the region about, had taken place, the question of church organization became foremost. The missionaries gave the subject earnest thought. Men like Elihu Doty and John Van Nest Talmage and Carstairs Douglas, were not likely to come to conclusions hastily.
But they were born pioneers. Conservative enough never to lose their equilibrium, they had adaptability to new circumstances.
Quite willing to follow the beaten path so long as there was promise of harvest returns, they were prepared nevertheless to blaze a new road into the trackless forest if they were sure some of God's treasure-trove could be brought back on it. There was no divergence of view as to what the foundation of the new church-structure must be. 'For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.' So long, however, as the general proportions were the same, there was no fear that the new edifice would topple over if it did not conform exactly in height and length and breadth, in column and pilaster and facade, to the venerated model in the mother countries. The brethren expressed their views to the churches in the home land. They did more. They plead their cause and hoped for endorsement. The following is part of a lengthy but very interesting communication written by Mr. Talmage and sent to the Synod of the Reformed Church in 1856:
"Amoy, China, Sept. 17, 1856.
"To the General Synod of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church.
"Fathers and Brethren: We your missionaries at Amoy, China, have, by the blessing of the Head of the Church on our labors, arrived at a stage of progress in our work which imposes on us weighty responsibilities, and we feel the need of counsel and advice. It will be proper for us to give a brief account of our Mission, of our work, of the blessing of God on our labors, of our peculiar circumstances, and of the principles on which we have acted hitherto, and which we think should still guide us in our efforts to establish the Kingdom of Christ in this land, that you may praise God in our behalf and in behalf of this people, and assist us by your sympathies, prayers, and counsels. Our Mission was commenced at Amoy by the late Rev. David Abeel, D.D. Mr. Abeel arrived at Amoy in company with the Rev. Boone, on the 24th of February, 1842. On the 22d of June, 1844, Rev. E. Doty and Rev. Wm. J. Pohlman arrived at Amoy from Borneo. In Dec., 1844, Mr. Abeel in consequence of continued and increasing ill health left Amoy on his return to the United States. Mrs. Pohlman and Mrs. Doty having been removed by death, Mr. Doty left Amoy for the United States, Nov. 12, 1845, with his own and Mr. Pohlman's children. Rev. J. V. N. Talmage accompanied Mr. Doty on his return to Amoy, arriving Aug. 19, 1847. Mr. Pohlman was lost at sea Jan. 5, or 6, 1849. Mr. Talmage was away from Amoy from March 24, 1849 to July 16, 1850. Rev. J. Joralmon arrived at Amoy, April 21, 1856.
"Mr. Boone, of the Episcopal Church of the United States, was at Amoy but a short time. After him there have been no missionaries of that church at Amoy. The mission of the American Presbyterian Board at Amoy was commenced by the arrival of Rev. T. L. McBryde, in June, 1842. He left Amoy in January, 1843. James C. Hepburn, M.D., arrived in 1843, and retired in 1845. Rev. John Lloyd arrived in Dec., 1844. Rev. H. A. Brown arrived in 1845 and left Amoy for the United States in Dec., 1847. Mr. Lloyd died in Dec., 1848. Since then that mission has not been continued at Amoy.
"W. H. Cumming, M.D., a medical missionary, but not connected with any missionary society, arrived at Amoy, June, 1842, and left Amoy in the early part of 1847. The London Missionary Society's Mission at Amoy was commenced by the arrival of Rev. Messrs. J. Stronach and William Young, in July, 1844. Since then other agents of that society have arrived, some of whom have again left and some still remain. They now number three ministers of the Gospel and one physician.
"The Mission of the English Presbyterian Church at Amoy was commenced by the arrival of James H. Young, M.D., in May, 1850. Rev. W. C. Burns arrived in July, 1851. Rev. James Johnston arrived in Dec., 1853. Dr. Young and Mr. Burns left Amoy in August, 1854. Mr. Johnston left Amoy in May, 1855. Rev. C. Douglas arrived at Amoy in July, 1855. He is now the only member of that Mission at Amoy. All the members of this Mission, although sent out by the English Presbyterian Church, were originally members of the Free Church of Scotland.
"The present missionary force at Amoy are three ministers and one physician of the London Missionary Society , one minister of the English Presbyterian Church, and ourselves, three ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church.
"The first converts received into the Christian Church at Amoy were two old men, baptized by Mr. Pohlman in April, 1846. The next converts received were two men baptized by Mr. A. Stronach, of the London Missionary Society, in March, 1848. A few months later Mr. Stronach baptized one more. Since then every year has witnessed additions to the church. We received into our church by baptism in 1849 three persons; in 1850 five; in 1851 eight; in 1852 two; in 1853 six; in 1854 including those baptized at Peh-chui-ia, fifty-three; in 1855 including Peh-chui-ia and Chioh-be, seventy-two; during the present year thus far, also including Pehchui-ia and Chioh-be, fifty. The whole number now connected with our church at Amoy is one hundred and twenty-one. The number at Peh-chui-ia is forty-two. The number at Chioh-be is thirty-one. In all, the number is one hundred and ninety-four. The London Mission has also been greatly blessed. They now have in connection with their church at Amoy and in vicinity one hundred and fifty-one members. After acquiring the language of this people, we have felt that our great work is to preach the Gospel. Every other department of labor must be entirely secondary to this. The Scriptures are clearly in favor of these views, and our own experience has confirmed these views until they have become very decided. We have already mentioned the name of Mr. Burns as uniting in labors with our church members. The brethren of the English Presbyterian Church, in the providence of God, have been brought very near to us. We have rendered each other much assistance and often have labored together almost as one Mission.
"When Mr. Burns arrived at Amoy, providentially he found and secured a room not far from our church edifice, and near to the residences of several of our church members. As soon as he was able to use the dialect of Amoy, many of our church members and inquirers were glad of the privilege of meeting with him daily for the study of the Scriptures and for prayer. Mr. Burns came to Amoy for the simple purpose of preaching the Gospel. He did not wish to take the responsibility of organizing a separate church. He was ready to co-operate with us or with the London brethren. He often rendered them assistance likewise. When he became able to use the language with freedom, he often preached in our church. When he went out for street preaching, or went out to visit the towns and villages around, he always took with him native Christians, usually the members of our church, having been providentially placed among them. Early in the year 1854, Mr. Burns with some of our church members visited the region of Peh-chui-ia. Much interest was awakened in that region in the subject of Christianity. A goodly number, we trust, were born of the Spirit. Mr. Burns did not wish to take the responsibility of a pastor, desiring to keep himself free for evangelistic labors wherever a door might be opened before him. He requested us to examine the candidates for baptism and receive those whom we deemed worthy, and take the pastoral care of them. We yielded to the desires of Mr. Burns and took charge of Pehchui-ia.
"Mr. Burns continued to spend much of his time in that place and vicinity until he was called to leave Amoy. Shortly after the departure of Mr. Burns, learning that the English Presbyterians would have been glad to retain Peh-chui-ia, and Mr. Johnston being willing to take charge there as far as he was able, we very willingly relinquished it to them. He was still unable to use the language with freedom, so we continued to visit the place as often as we could. Before Mr. Johnston's knowledge was sufficient to relieve us of the pastoral care of that interesting church, his ill-health compelled him to return to his native land. His place was soon supplied by the arrival of Mr. Douglas. We have continued the same pastoral care of that church. Lately our visits to the place have become less frequent, as Mr. Douglas has become better acquainted with the language.
"In the latter half of the year 1851, some of the Christians from Peh-chui-ia went to the large town of Chioh-be on business and preached the Gospel as they had opportunity. They found a few persons who listened to their message with interest and manifested a desire to hear more. When this fact, on their return, was reported to the churches of Peh-chui-ia and Amoy, other Christians went to Chioh-be. A great interest was awakened. A small house was rented for a chapel. This house was thronged every day throughout the day and evening. Soon as we had opportunity we visited the place to converse with inquirers and examine candidates for baptism. In January, 1855, the first converts at that place were baptized. The interest continued to increase. We found the premises we had rented entirely too small. As soon as a larger and more suitable place could be found it was secured. Soon after this a violent persecution broke out. The immediate effect was greatly to hinder the work. Only those who were sufficiently interested in the Gospel to raise them above the fear of man dared attend the place of worship. Still there has been constant progress.
"If the churches gathered by us are to be organized simply with respect to the glory of God and their own welfare, there is a fact in our circumstances which should have great weight in forming this organization. This fact is the intimate relation and hitherto oneness of the churches under our care and under the care of the missionaries of the English Presbyterian Church. In the foregoing short history of our work it will be seen that we have been and are closely connected with the missionaries of that Church. From the first we have had the pastoral care of their church gathered at Peh-chui-ia and in the surrounding region. They have not attempted the organization of any church at Amoy. By far the greater proportion of their influence and labors at Amoy has been in the direction of assisting us in our work. They have acted as though they thought it was of no importance whatever whether converts were received into church fellowship by us or them. Doubtless the church members, although perfectly aware that we and our English Presbyterian brethren are of different Churches and different countries, suppose that they form but one Church. When the time had arrived for a regular organization of our church in Amoy, the question presented itself: Shall we invite Mr. Douglas, then and still the only English Presbyterian missionary at Amoy, to unite with us in our deliberations? By the providence of God our missions had been brought closely together. We had been laboring together in the work of the Lord, were one in sympathy, held the same views in theology, and did not differ in regard to church polity. But one answer could be given to this question. We cordially invited him. He as cordially accepted of our invitation, and heartily engaged with us in our church meetings, held in reference to the election of church officers. He voted with us and our church members. He united with us in setting apart the officers-elect to their respective offices, and since then has usually united with us in our deliberations in our consistorial meetings. Surely in this matter we have acted according to the leadings of Providence and the spirit and instructions of the Gospel of Christ; for in Christ Jesus there is no distinction of nationalities. Our labors having thus far been so intermingled and our churches so intimately related and united together, we can see no sufficient reason for separation. If there be any advantage in the association of churches by the organization of Classes or Presbyteries, why should we deprive these churches in their infancy and weakness of this advantage? We have always taught our people to study the Word of God and make it their rule. Can we give them a sufficient reason for such separation? Doubtless if we were to tell them, that the churches by which we are sent out and sustained desire separate organizations, and therefore should recommend such organizations to them, they would acquiesce. They know that they cannot stand alone. Gratitude, also, and ardent affection for those churches by whose liberality they have been made acquainted with the Gospel, would lead them to do all in their power to please those churches. We can hardly suppose, however, that such separation would accord with their judgment, or with those Christian feelings which they have always exercised towards each other as members of the same Church. But we do not suppose that either our Church or the English Presbyterian Church will recommend such a separation. The Dutch Church in North America has always manifested an enlarged Christian spirit, and therefore we cannot doubt but that she will approve of an organization by which the churches here, which are one in doctrine and one in spirit, may also be one in ecclesiastical matters. Neither do we doubt but that the English Presbyterian Church will also approve of the same course. We do not know as much of that Church as we hope to know in the future. Yet we know enough of her already to love her. But if separation must come, let not our Church bear the responsibility.
"Another question of importance may arise. What shall be our relation as individuals to the Dutch Church in America? We see no reason and desire not to change the relation we have always sustained. We were set apart by that Church to do the work of evangelists. This is the work in which we still wish to be engaged. We must preach the Gospel. As God gives success to our labors we must organize churches, and take oversight of them as long as they need that oversight. When we find suitable men, we must 'ordain elders in every city.' Such is the commission we hold from our Church, and from the great Head of the Church. Theoretically, difficulties may be suggested. Practically, with the principles on which we have thus far acted, we see no serious difficulties in our way. We must seek for Divine guidance, take the Scriptures for our rule, and follow the leadings of Providence. We are all liable to err. But with these principles, assisted by your counsels, and especially by your prayers, we have reason to believe, and do believe, that the Spirit of truth will guide us in the way of truth."
Dr. Talmage also sent a communication to Dr. Thomas De Witt, then Corresponding Secretary for the Reformed Church in co-operation with the American Board. It reads:
"Oct. 1, 1856. There are some other facts arising out of the circumstances of this people, and of the nature of the Chinese language, which have a certain importance and perhaps should be laid before the Church. No part of the name of our Church, peculiar to our denomination, can be translated and applied to the church in Chinese without inconvenience or great detriment. The words, Protestant and Reformed, would be to the Chinese unintelligible, consequently inconvenient. The only translation we can give to the name Dutch Church, would be Church of Holland. This, besides conveying in part an incorrect idea, would be very detrimental to the interests of the Church among the Chinese. The Chinese know but little of foreign nations and have for ages looked upon them all as barbarians. Of course the views of the native Christians are entirely changed on this subject. But our great work is to gather converts from the heathen. We should be very careful not to use any terms by which they would be unnecessarily prejudiced against the Gospel. It is constantly charged upon the native Christians, both as a reproach and as an objection to Christianity, that they are following foreigners or have become foreigners. The reproach is not a light one, but the objection is easily answered. The answer would not be so easy if we were to fasten on the Christians a foreign name."
At the meeting of the General Synod, held in the village of Ithaca, New York, June, 1857, the following resolutions recommended by the Committee on Foreign Missions, Talbot W. Chambers, D.D., Chairman, were adopted:
"Among the papers submitted to the Synod is an elaborate document from the brethren at Amoy, giving the history of their work there, of its gradual progress, of their intimate connection with missionaries from other bodies, of the formation of the Church now existing there, and expressing their views as to the propriety and feasibility of forming a Classis at that station. In reply to so much of this paper as respects the establishment of individual churches, we must say that while we appreciate the peculiar circumstances of our brethren, and sympathize with their perplexities, yet it has always been considered a matter of course that ministers, receiving their commission through our Church, and sent forth under the auspices of our Board, would, when they formed converts from the heathen in an ecclesiastical body, mould the organization into a form approaching, as nearly as possible, that of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Churches in our own land. Seeing that the converted heathen, when associated together, must have some form of government, and seeing that our form is, in our view, entirely consistent with, if not required by the Scriptures, we expect that it will in all cases be adopted by our missionaries, subject, of course, to such modifications as their peculiar circumstances may for the time render necessary. The converts at Amoy, as at Arcot and elsewhere, are to be regarded as 'an integral part of our Church,' and as such are entitled to all the rights and privileges which we possess. And so in regard to the formation of a Classis. The Church at home will undoubtedly expect the brethren to associate themselves into a regular ecclesiastical organization, just as soon as enough materials are obtained to warrant such measure, with the hope that it will be permanent. We do not desire churches to be prematurely formed in order to get materials for a Classis, nor any other exercise of violent haste, but we equally deprecate unnecessary delay, believing that a regular organization will be alike useful to our brethren themselves and to those who, under them, are in training for the first office-bearers in the Christian Church on heathen ground. As to the difficulties suggested in the memorial, respecting the different Particular Synods to which the brethren belong, and the delays of carrying out a system of appellate jurisdiction covering America and China, it is enough to say:
"1. That the Presbyterian Church finds no insuperable difficulties in carrying into operation her system, which comprehends Presbyteries and Synods in India as well as here; and, 2. That whatever hindrances may at anytime arise, this body will, in humble reliance upon the Divine aid and blessing, undertake to meet and remove them as far as possible. The Church at home assumes the entire responsibility of this matter, and only ask the brethren abroad to carry out the policy held steadily in view from the first moment when our Missions began.
"The following resolutions are recommended:
"Resolved, 1. That the Synod view with great pleasure the formation of churches among the converts from heathenism, organized according to the established usages of our branch of Zion.
"2. That the brethren at Amoy be directed to apply to the Particular Synod of Albany to organize them into a Classis, so soon as they shall have formed churches enough to render the permanency of such organization reasonably certain."

No comments: