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Archives / 1939 / April

 

 

International Missionary Conference

R.B. Thurber

By R. B. THURBER, Editor, Oriental Watchman, India

 

With all the dignity which crowns his commanding stature, his seventy-three years, and his, long experience as a conspicuous Christian leader, Dr. John R. Mott, chairman of the International Mission­ary Council, delivered, his masterly keynote address from memory, and impressed all who listened with the momentous issues the world faces and with the necessity for Christian equipment to face them bravely and success­fully. "We have assembled at one of the most fateful moments in the life of mankind," he declared, "but we are not in despair." He stressed the central objective—"to present every man perfect in Christ"—and to that end the building up of the younger and older churches for the spreading of the Christian

There could be no question about the clear call sounded for the converted and sanctified life as a prime necessity for doing something creative during the conference. But in these days when old Bible phrases have taken on new and strange meanings in the minds of many Christian leaders, one is not so sure that conversion and sanctification mean what they once did to Bible lovers. Throughout the con­ference the spirit of unity was emphasized, rather than organic unity of the churches. There was no attempt to do away with differ­ences. The attempt was to discover how far the church is in agreement in faith and prac­tice. That agreement was expressed in these words:

"In Jesus Christ, God has conquered the power of sin and death. Through His risen and iiving presence men become partakers with Him of eternal life. Through dedication to Him and fellowship with His sufferings, they have fellowship with God, and in the strength and joy of forgiveness, daily renewed at the foot of the cross, they are made more than con­querors over every evil."

As to the spiritual heritage of the church, the Madras conference declared:

"The church is called to bear courageous and un­flinching witness to the will of the holy and com­passionate God, to speak fearlessly against aggres­sion, brutality, persecution, and wanton destruction of human life, and the torturing of human souls. She is called to succor and console all those in distress, while striving for the creation of a more just society. Above all, her task is to preach the gospel of the compassion and pardon of God."

In all the utterances which have come from the conference, one is impressed with the pro­found seriousness with which these men and women of might in the churches are going about to find out why Christianity is not measuring up in power and accomplishment to the world's dire need at the present time. We are compelled to admire their sincerity, and their faith in the future. Since their avowed purpose in meeting was not so much action as it was study, perhaps we should not expect more of the conference than a statement of aims, a suggestion of methods, and an ex­pression of hopes. The harvest from the dis­cussions, which would no doubt fill a volume, will now be placed before the Christian churches of the world for planting and cultivation.

Reaction of Non-Christian World

It will doubtless be of interest to Ministry readers to know the reaction of non-Christian India to such a council. We have as groups the political nationalists, the social uplifters, the economic-betterment fraternities, and the communal, or religious, classes. To them this council was an invasion, a bold and unwar­ranted assumption. The religious and intel­lectual leaders of India believe that little or nothing can be added to the spiritual values of Indians from the outside, and especially not from the Christian West. To them Christian­ity has failed dismally. And when we keep in mind that unless "imported ideas" can con­tribute, with almost immediate effect, to the political freedom, economic welfare, and social and cultural benefit of the people, they are un­welcome to Indians, we can better understand such an attitude. An editorial in the Indian conversion and sanctification means what they watering.

"The World Christian Missionary Conference at Tambaram, Madras, has practically passed unnoticed in the Indian press. . . . Chiefly, the indifference of the press reflects the general feeling that Christianity has sadly failed in Europe, where, for over a mil­lennium, it had the monopoly of the field under the aegis of the secular powers. To put it bluntly, it is due to the feeling that Christianity, as expounded by Christian missions, has no spiritual content that may be of use to India and the world. Thirty years ago a conference like that at Tambaram would have created great interest in Indian intellectual and cultural circles. T6day there is a widespread feeling of disillusionment in this country regarding the claims made, and in large part accepted, for Christianity. Many people feel more than disillusionment. They feel they have been deceived. The World War was a staggering blow to world Christianity. And what has followed has been even more devastating. A thousand years of Christian influence in Europe (and America which is spiritually and culturally yet an appendage of Europe) has had apparently very little effect on primitive human nature. Still the mission­aries come to India to reclaim the heathen as if there was not worse than heathenism to reclaim in their own homelands. . . .

"In a word, Christianity in this country has ceased to be a challenge and has become an apology. Mis­sions have done good work in their educational in­stitutions and hospitals, but this has nothing to do with Christianity any more than the action of the good Samaritan was a proof of the truth of the Samaritan religion. The time is come for the old missionary system to be scrapped. Christianity stands as much in need of learning from non-Christian faiths as the latter have certainly to learn from it. The idea of fellowship of faiths has gained ground rapidly. In the struggle against the ten­dencies which threaten religion with destruction, it behooves all religions and religious-minded people to cooperate in establishing the supremacy of the spirit­ual over the temporal. The first step toward the rehabilitation of Christianity in India is to stop proselytizing."

We Adventists cannot but believe that the nominally Christian cause in India deserves all it gets in the foregoing appraisement and de­- nunciation. In many missions, conversion has largely been given up, and the outcastes have been given the incentive of social and economic uplift alone as a reward for the acceptance of Christ. The whole purpose in, and force be­hind, true Christianity is misunderstood, not so much because of lack of comprehension on the part of the Indians, but because of an emasculated gospel which has been preached in late years and which cuts the very heart out of the Christian evangel.

We comment thus on the situation here in India, since we are persuaded that this miscomprehension of Christianity is not con­fined to India, but is prevalent in all non-Christian lands.

Reaction of Christian World

At this writing, we have not yet heard how the Christian world has reacted to the findings and pronouncements of the Madras confer­ence. To us it was a disappointment. Sev­enth-day Adventists had no part in the coun­cil, and nondelegates were not allowed to at­tend. But for 464 delegates, representing 70 nations from all over the world, to come to­gether at enormous expense, after ten years of preparatory surveys, to deplore that they had not accomplished a tithe of what they might have done for world betterment, to explore one another's opinions and the possibilities of unity, and to implore Christians everywhere to work together for world peace, seems to be a gesture that i3 sure to lack results com­mensurate with the effort. We cannot imagine a conference of Careys, Judsons, Duffs, Patons, Morrisons, Livingstones,

Martyns, and Hebers, being satisfied with the conclusions of the conference just past.

The conference gave the impression of working out a century-long-b plan of unity within and peace without which presages long years of agitation and education, taking ten years to do what the world is crying to have done in one. It spent precious time and well-equipped effort on the problem of the evolu­tion of society ; but what the world needs is regeneration of the human heart. Intermin­able discussions were largely academic and exploratory. There was a feeling out for something just out of reach, yet quite beyond reach. There was a shaking of hands over differences, an agreeing to disagree and calling it unity. There was a declaring that doctrinal beliefs do not matter, that we are all rubbing shoulders at the same crossroads even though we are headed in many directions, and there­fore the outlook is not so bad.

While saying all this, we fully sympathize with these men of missions in the intricate and baffling problems they had to face. They were imbued with the spirit of unity, yet they dared not come out strongly on certain world issues ; for there were sincere delegates pres­ent from nations which are diametrically op­posed in racial, religious, political, economic, and social beliefs. Under such circumstances it is so easy to yield to the temptation to make declarations with mental reservations, and to succumb to the fascination of well-rounded rhetorical phrases and the intoxication of words. We were disappointed, not because the conference put forth no constructive program, but because we had prayed for ringing affirma­tions of the one great need of saving men's souls through Jesus Christ.

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