On the 31st of May, 1792, William Carey preached his famous sermon, "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God," and thereby inaugurated a new era for the Christian church. It was largely through the zeal, earnestness, and faith of this English shoemaker that modern missions were born. Not content merely to preach concerning the needs of the heathen world, Carey offered himself for foreign mission service. After much opposition and difficulty, he succeeded in securing passage on a Dutch vessel, which landed in Calcutta, India, in the fall of 1793.
Thereafter the fires of mission zeal spread rapidly from place to place. Societies for the propagation of the gospel among heathen peoples were rapidly organized, one after another, in the early part of the nineteenth century, and for a hundred years Protestant denominations were deeply absorbed in the great foreign mission enterprise.
The movement went forward unchallenged except by an indifferent few in the Christian churches, certain hardy traders in remote corners of the world who were disturbed by missionary intrusion, and the entrenched forces of superstition and ignorance in non-Christian lands. Otherwise the missionary was welcomed as a great emancipator and benefactor. He went about preaching the gospel of love and peace, establishing schools, hospitals, and churches. The nationals of the great non-Christian nations soon began to appreciate the work which these emissaries of Christ were doing for the uplift of the masses. Schools became crowded with non-Christians seeking enlightenment and spiritual help, and there were large accessions to the church.
Now and then some who profited by the continued ignorance of the people or who desired to remain aloof from the world of progress, started reactionary movements. The great Boxer uprising was more antiforeign than anti-Christian, though many Christians lost their lives at that time. It was, in reality, a reaction against progress and an announcement to the world that China wished to be left alone to pursue her ancient ways. But this was only the view of the leaders of a corrupt and declining monarchy. From that event until the World War, missions in China made phenomenal progress. Mission schools became much more popular than government schools. Mission hospitals were sought out, and tens of thousands went away singing the praises of nurses and doctors.
This unchallenged progress of foreign missions continued all through the nineteenth century with greater and greater impetus, and surged on into the first decade of the twentieth century. Then suddenly, Christendom itself exploded in the greatest catastrophe of all history—the World War. As the non-Christian world viewed the shameful and bloody scene, many began to feel that Christianity was not the great depository of peace and light that it had represented itself to be.
The World War opened a new era in the history of mankind. So-called Christian nations became possessed of the passionate spirit of lawlessness, and began throwing all restraint to the winds. Morals tobogganed to the lowest levels; crime mounted to the highest peaks. Doubt and skepticism, once held in check, were now proclaimed from the housetops. Professors in Christian institutions, and even ministers of the gospel, openly and boldly uttered doctrines once taught by infidels alone. The God of creation, who had been proclaimed in all lands as the God of Christendom, was dethroned, and a god of science and reason was set up in His place.
A new kind of "missionary" movement then began in earnest. The philosophers of this modern Occident were invited to lecture in the national universities of the Orient. Such scholars as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell were hailed as the true representatives of Western culture. These men, who had practically repudiated Christianity at home, boldly declaimed against it in the classrooms abroad. This had an immediate detrimental effect on the attitude of non-Christians toward the gospel missionary. But one more step was needed to break down the prestige which Christian missions had held so long. This was taken when the "Modernist" missionary split the camp of foreign missions by beginning to sow seeds of doubt in non-Christian lands, regarding the fundamentals of Christian doctrine.
Now let us consider a typical example of a sincere non-Christian youth who attends a university in his own country. The young man attends the Chinese National University. Here he listens to a course of lectures given by Westerners who have been heralded far and wide as men of great wisdom. He learns that they have turned their backs on the faith of their fathers because they have been unable to reconcile religion with the findings of science. He hears a professor from an American university state, "It is a sin to send missionaries to such intelligent people as Japanese and Chinese."—The Peking Leader, April 7, 1922. He hears others say that Christianity impedes progress, fetters man's nature, and suppresses his personality.
This same young man, seeking to know truth, attends the services of a Christian church. But, strange as it may seem, he hears much akin to what the university professor taught. He is given to understand that there is much in the Bible which cannot be accepted as truth. Boldly the "Christian" minister attacks the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, declaiming against missionaries who hold to such outmoded beliefs. After listening for a number of Sundays, he becomes bewildered. He begins to wonder why it is that these so-called "missionaries" have gone so far from home to preach a message which they themselves question.
Thus the ground is prepared for the reception of communistic doctrines. The young man feels that Christianity has the effect of opium upon the energies of his people. He concludes that the missionary has some ulterior motive behind it all, that these emissaries are but representatives of an aggressive imperialism. They have come to enslave the people with false doctrines by teaching love and humility. Such conclusions as these inaugurated the anti-Christian movement among the educated classes of China. In 1922, the students in the universities of Peking, with the approval of many of their teachers, formed an organized, anti-Christian, antireligion movement. A group of them issued a declaration, which was published in the newspapers. They said, in part:
"We are students of science. We oppose all belief that is opposed to science. . . . Naturally we oppose that religion which forbade 'our ancestors' not only not to eat, but to touch, 'the fruit of intelligence' (Genesis 2, 3). . . . We do not say that religion has not its function. It served certain purposes of the primitive people. But it lost its function in the modern society, where science and civilization predominate."—Ibid.
Many such declarations have appeared in China in recent years. A Chinese scholar and former official expressed himself as follows in a caustic article which appeared in the Shanghai Times of August 5, 1927:
"It is impossible by any system of thought sequences known to us to understand why it is that the Christian seed implanted by so many missionaries of such diverse types should blossom out into the Soviet flower with such consistency ; but the fact remains that today nearly 90 per cent of all the advocates of the Soviet form of government and civilization are or were originally, Christian educated people, and these people are the most articulate of our race bent on turning China into a second Russia."
Charles H. Coates, in his book, "Red Theology in the Far East," analyzes the situation thus:
"There is a plain connection between the rank Modernism which has been freely taught in most missionary universities in China and this demand for the evacuation of the missionary teacher. . . . For has not the missionary educationalist been doping the mind of young China for a quarter of a century with the doctrine of the authoritative and moral equality of Confucius and Christ and the equal spiritual authority of Buddha and Christ ? From that fatal betrayal of Christian truth, the Chinese chauvinist immediately drew the appropriate conclusion, that if China's own religions and literary sages were sufficient for her needs, then the presence of the missionary teacher was an anachronism."—Pages 161, 162.
Dr. Hu Shih, China's best-known modern scholar and philosopher, writing some time ago in the Forum, July, 1927, on "The Future of Christianity in China," concluded his article by saying:
"After all, Christianity itself is fighting its last battle, even in the so-called Christendoms. . . . They will realize that Young China was not far wrong in offering some opposition to a religion which in its glorious days fought religious wars and persecuted science, and which, in the broad daylight of the twentieth century, prayed for the victory of the belligerent nations in the World War, and which is still persecuting the teaching of science in certain quarters of Christendom."
The foreign mission movement is thus meeting opposition from many sides, and is facing a mighty challenge. Summarizing the situation, we find (1) that the fires of missionary zeal are burning low in the home churches because of uncertainty as to the content of the Christian message; (2) that in non-Christian lands there is disillusionment in regard to the basic worth of Christian culture because of the World War and its aftermath of lawlessness ; and (3) that the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy, which has been shamelessly carried even to mission lands, has caused many a sincere seeker for truth to turn away bewildered from a divided Christian church.
Will the church of Christ meet this challenge and answer the call of the Master to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Seventh-day Adventists, I am assured, will meet it and continue undaunted to carry forward their world-wide enterprise of foreign missions. But we should do it with an understanding of the times and the issues at stake.
More than ever before should there be careful selection of those who are to represent this truth in lands where everything the missionary does is watched with critical interest. The unwise course of just one person may condemn the whole movement in the minds of thousands. Therefore, sound judgment and earnest consecration are essential.
(A companion article by the same writer, "The Foreign Missionary Criticized," will appear in a forthcoming issue.—Editor.)