The attitude of the Christian churches toward foreign missions is of interest. We have come a long way from the frankly evangelical policy of the nineteenth century, when the avowed purpose of Christian missions was to teach the heathen that Jesus Christ died for his sins, that the ten commandments were the proper foundation of human conduct, that cruelty, witchcraft, drunken orgies, and bestiality were of the devil, and were to be put away.
Some twenty-five years ago, however, a change became apparent. So-called missitnaries still preached a so-called gospel. But in many instances it was a social gospel. There was good in all religion. Christianity did not have everything. Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, even animism, all had their good points. The thing to do was for all nations, all religions, to get together and pool their resources. By their so doing the world would be vastly improved.
Just what the religious result would be was not very clear. But we were not to disturb anyone's belief too much, especially if he seemed satisfied as he was. We could feed the hungry, we could teach the people of other lands to build roads and drain swamps and plant forests, to administer quinine, combat yellow fever, and use machinery. We could establish schools and teach children to read and prepare for government service, so that they could rise above the ignorance and squalor of their early surroundings.
As for the gospel of salvation from sin, a missionary could take it or leave it. If he taught it with the old-time zeal and fervor, he was likely to be smiled- upon by his more sophisticated brethren. The correct thing to do was to take people as you found them, give them material help or worldly wisdom, teach them modern trades, cultivate good relationships with their leaders, and leave them where they were.
Not that all missionaries followed such a plan. But too many did. The result was natural and inevitable. Missions lost their way. When a body of representative laymen made a tour of inspection some ten years ago to find out how missions were getting along, they decided that to a large degree the foreign mission program was not accomplishing enough to justify itself. Perhaps their indictment was not altogether warranted. But at any rate, their report certainly did not stimulate mission offerings in the homelands. During the last ten or fifteen years there has been a steady decline. Schools and mission stations have closed in many places. The burden of a perishing world, felt by Morrison and Paton and Livingstone, has been resting lightly on the hearts of the modernistic philosophers.
Lately, however, we see signs of concern on the part of some Protestant leaders. Recent events have aroused the world to some realization of just what the social gospel does for the world—that it merely puts a coat of varnish over the natural passions of the carnal heart and passes on, leaving the fires of selfishness and hatred to smolder and burst forth with deadly certainty. Roy L. Smith, editor of the Methodist Christian Advocate, remarks :
Awakened Concern Among Protestants
"Now, as never before, the missionary message is needed around the world. This is no time to close up our Nev' Testaments and silence our message of peace and good will. The angels that chorused their glorious anthem over the Judean hills that marvelous night so long ago must be sent singing again across the earth.
"No one can exaggerate the difficulties we face today as we attempt to preach the gospel of the Prince of Peace. Powerful forces are arrayed against us. The hatreds that make men fiends are deep-seated and virulent. The minds of men are so confused that it is hard for reason and wisdom to get a fair hearing. Motives are mixed, the good and the evil appearing in the same events. But difficulties never excuse us for cowardice or inaction.
"In such a direful hour as this, God is surely summoning the church to a new loyalty to the crucified and risen Lord... We believe that love is the greatest force in the world, and that even while love is being nailed to a cross it is triumphing. This message must be preached in the teeth of those who advocate hate, fury, retaliation, revenge, and 'annihilation.' . . .
"Christian fellowship must be maintained throughout the world. The strong hands of the American Church must reach across to China, Malaya, India, Africa, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, to keep alive the fires of faith and hope. Sentiment in favor of justice must be bolstered everywhere. Opinions that support concessions must be strengthened.
The faith of men in high moral principles must be preserved. The world must not be allowed to lose its confidence in the survival power of goodness.
"In thousands of mission stations in faraway places the fires are lighted. Little groups of Christians in the midst of jungles, and in inconspicuous chapels on crowded thoroughfares, are keeping the hope alive. They must not be deserted. The Japanese Christian who is attempting to strengthen a tolerant and peaceful minority in his goveinmcnt must be assured of the sympathy of his fellows in the faith. The German missionary who is sticking at his task in Ceylon, deprived of all support from his Christian friends at home, must be assured that he is still a member of the fellowship, and his mission must be provided for.
The calls that are being made upon the American Christians are numerous and insistent. Many of them are most worthy. But of all the claims that are made today upon any Christian's dollar, none is more sacred or more urgent than the call of the missionary cause."—Oct. 9, 1941.
Unfortunately Doctor Smith says nothing of the second advent of Christ as the fruition of these hopes, as the only way by which lasting peace can come. But we are glad to see the official organ of a large part of the Christian world take note of the fact—for it is a fact—that the missionary cause is today a most urgent one.
Perils Confronting Seventh-day Adventists
Seventh-day Adventists are just as liable to forget this as Methodists are. The decline in gifts to missions should alarm us. Let us not be deceived and comforted by the fact that our total mission offerings are slowly increasing. Let us be shocked and grieved by the fact that here in North America, whereas for every dollar of tithe we gave sixty-seven cents to missions in 1926, we gave only fifty cents in 1940. This includes the amount raised in the Ingathering campaign, practically all of which comes from outside our ranks. The amount paid in to this fund by our people is doubtless offset by miscellaneous gifts to missions by non-Adventists. Excluding the Ingathering funds, Seventh-day Adventists gave to missions fifty cents for every dollar of tithe in 1926 and only thirty-three cents in 1940.
The Ingathering campaign is a good thing. Long may it prosper. But it should not be a substitute for personal benevolence. In 1940 we received more than nine hundred thousand dollars from the Ingathering. But if we were giving a fair amount to missions in 1926 in proportion to our tithe, all the 1940 Ingathering Fund accomplished was to replace what Adventists should have given from their own pockets. Indeed, it hardly did that, for if we had given 50.62 cents for every dollar of tithe in 1940, as we did in 1926, and had not raised a nickel in the Ingathering last year, mission funds would have been forty thousand dollars better off.
Now I don't know that 1926 is any particular criterion for mission giving. The figures for 1930 show 67.62 cents to mision offerings for each dollar of tithe, practically the same as in 1926. Eliminating Ingathering receipts the figure is forty-eight cents, as compared with fifty cents for 1926, still a long way ahead of 1940.
A good deal of energy is expended by the workers and the church members during the Ingathering campaign. It takes considerable huffing and puffing to reach the goal. Certainly it is a noble work, in which all should have a part. But our question is, Are we making it a substitute for personal liberality? It is all very well for us to talk about the wealth of the Gentiles flowing in. But of what advantage is that to us if the gifts of the chosen people decline in almost exact proportion ?
We may talk about foreign missions in our Sabbath schools and at our camp meetings. We may tell mission stories that cause our people to wonder and to weep and to rejoice. We may promote the Ingathering with fervent zeal, so that the index of the Forty-cent-a-week Fund crawls upward. But all this does not take the place of sacrificial giving on the part of the individual church member. The day is upon us when a great mission advance is to be made on a scale hitherto unthought of. We will never measure up to our opportunities if we allow mission liberality to perish. It is a perilous thing for the church of God to look to grand totals and allow the deceiver to blind us to our personal parsimony. The Lord of the harvest blesses self-denial. Without it, the most imposing mission fund is but a material resource.
This is a critical hour for our world-wide mission endeavor. Let none imagine that it is time to slacken our efforts or to shrink from the perils of the way. Difficulties will abound and increase. But opportunities will multiply. If it takes sacrifice for the nation to prepare for material defense, it will take much more sacrifice and much greater self-denial for the church to finish her spiritual war. Thousands of our church members are doing their utmost to support the cause of God. We honor them. Other thousands, we fear, have not fully realized the vital connection between spiritual growth and Christian liberality. May God clarify our vision as workers, widen our horizon, and deepen our devotion in this solemn hour !