Ecclesiastical Relations of Presbyterian Missionaries, especially of the Presbyterian Missionaries at Amoy, China.


We have recently received letters making inquiries concerning the Relations of the Missionaries of the English Presbyterian Church, and of the American Reformed Church to the Tai-hoey [Presbytery, or Classis,] of Amoy; stating views on certain points connected with the general subject of the organization of ecclesiastical Judicatories on Mission ground; and asking our views on the same. We have thought it best to state our answer so as to cover the whole subject of these several suggestions and inquiries, as (though they are from different sources) they form but one subject.

Our views are not hasty. They are the result of much thought, experience and observation. But we are now compelled to throw them together in much more haste than we could wish, for which, we trust, allowance will be made.

As preliminary we remark that we have actual and practical relations both to the home churches, and to the churches gathered here, and our Ecclesiastical relations should correspond thereto.

1. Our Relation to the Home Churches. We are their agents, sent by them to do a certain work, and supported by them in the doing of that work. Therefore so long as this relation continues, in all matters affecting our qualifications for that work, -- of course including "matters affecting ministerial character," -- we should remain subject to their jurisdiction. In accordance with this we retain our connection with our respective home Presbyteries or Classes.

2. Our Relation to the Church here. We are the actual pastors of the churches growing up under our care, until they are far enough advanced to have native pastors set over them. The first native pastors here were ordained by the missionaries to the office of "Minister of the Word," the same office that we ourselves hold. In all subsequent ordinations, and other ecclesiastical matters, the native pastors have been associated with the missionaries. The Tai-hoey at Amoy, in this manner, gradually grew up with perfect parity between the native and foreign members.

With these preliminary statements we proceed to notice the suggestions made and questions propounded. "To extend to the native churches on mission ground the lines of separation which exist among Presbyterian bodies" in home lands is acknowledged to be a great evil. To avoid this evil and to "bring all the native Presbyterians," in the same locality, "into one organization," two plans are suggested to us.

The first plan suggested (perhaps we should say mentioned for it is not advocated), we take to be that the missionaries become not only members of the ecclesiastical judicatories formed on mission ground, but also amenable to those judicatories in the same way, and in every respect, as their native members, their ecclesiastical relation to their home churches being entirely severed. This plan ignores the actual relation of missionaries to their home churches, as spoken of above. Surely the home churches cannot afford this.

Perhaps we should notice another plan sometimes acted on, but not mentioned in the letters we have now received. It is that the missionaries become members of the Mission Church Judicatories as above; but that these Judicatories be organized as parts of the home churches, so that the missionaries will still be under the jurisdiction of the home churches through the subjection of the Mission Judicatories to the higher at home. This plan can only work during the infancy of the mission churches, while the Mission Church Judicatories are still essentially foreign in their constituents. Soon the jurisdiction will be very imperfect. This imperfection will increase as fast as the mission churches increase. Moreover this plan will extend to the native churches the evil deprecated above.

The second plan suggested we take to be that the missionaries, while they remain the agents of the home churches, should retain their relation respectively to their home churches, and have only an advisory relation to the Presbytery on mission ground. This is greatly to be preferred to the first plan suggested. It corresponds to the relation of missionaries to their respective home churches. It takes into consideration also, but does not fully correspond to the relation of the missionaries to the churches on mission ground, at least does not fully correspond to the relation of the missionaries to the native churches at Amoy. Our actual relation to these churches seems to us to demand that as yet we take part with the native pastors in their government.

The peculiar relationship of the missionaries to Tai-hoey, viz., having full membership, without being subject to discipline by that body, -- is temporary, arising from the circumstances of this infant church, and rests on the will of Tai-hoey. This relationship has never been discussed, or even suggested for discussion in that body, so that our view of what is, or would be, the opinion of Tai-hoey on the subject we gather from the whole character of the working of that body from its first formation, and from the whole spirit manifested by the native members. Never till last year has there been a case of discipline even of a native member of Tai-hoey. We do not know that the thought that occasion may also arise for the discipline of missionaries, has ever suggested itself to any of the native members. If it has, we have no doubt they have taken for granted that the discipline of missionaries belongs to the churches which have sent them here. But we also have no doubt that Tai-hoey would exercise the right of refusing membership to any missionary if necessary.

It is suggested as an objection to the plan that has been adopted by the missionaries at Amoy, that "where two Presbyteries have jurisdiction over one man, it may not be always easy to define the line where the jurisdiction of the one ends and the other begins; and for the foreign Presbyter to have a control over the native Presbyter which the native cannot reciprocate, would be anomalous, and contrary to that view of the parity of Presbyters which the Scriptures present."

From our last paragraph above it will be seen that the "line" of demarcation alluded to in the first half of the above objection has certainly never yet been defined by Tai-hoey, but it will be seen likewise that we have no apprehension of any practical difficulty in the matter. The last half of the objection looks more serious, for if our plan really involves a violation of the doctrine of the parity of the ministry, this is a very serious objection -- fatal, indeed, unless perhaps the temporary character of the arrangement might give some sufferance to it in a developing church. It does not, however in our opinion, involve any such doctrine. It does not touch that doctrine at all.

The reason why Tai-hoey does not claim the right of discipline over the missionaries is not because these are of a higher order than the other members, but because the missionaries have a most important relation to the home churches which the other members have not. The Tai-hoey respects the rights of those churches which have sent and are still sending the Gospel here, and has fullest confidence that they will exercise proper discipline over their missionaries. Whether they do this or not, the power of the Tai-hoey to cut off from its membership, or refuse to admit thereto, any missionary who might prove himself unworthy, gives ample security to that body and secures likewise the benefits of discipline. If time allowed us to give a full description of our Church work here it would be seen that the doctrine of the parity of all who hold the ministerial office so thoroughly permeates the whole, that it would seem impossible for mistake to arise on that point.

In connection with this subject it is also remarked "that where two races are combined in a Presbytery, there is a tendency to divide on questions according to the line of race."

With gratitude to God we are able to bear testimony that at Amoy we have not as yet seen the first sign of such tendency. We have heard of such tendency in some other mission fields. Possibly it may yet be manifested here. This, however, does not now seem probable. The native members of Tai-hoey, almost from the first, have outnumbered the foreign. The disproportion now is as three or four to one, and must continue to increase. It would seem, therefore, that there will now be no occasion for jealousy of the missionaries' influence to grow up on the part of the native members.

But, it may be asked, if the native members so far outnumber the foreign, of what avail is it that missionaries be more than advisory members? We answer: If we are in Tai-hoey as a foreign party, in opposition to the native members, even advisory membership will be of no avail. But if we are there in our true character, as we always have been, viz., as Presbyters and acting pastors of churches, part and parcel of the church Judicatories, on perfect equality and in full sympathy with the native Presbyters, our membership may be of much benefit to Tai-hoey. It must be of benefit if our theory of Church Government be correct.

Of the benefit of such membership we give one illustration, equally applicable also to other forms of government. It will be remembered that assemblies conducted on parliamentary principles were unknown in China. By our full and equal membership of Tai-hoey, being associated with the native members in the various offices, and in all kinds of committees, the native members have been more efficiently instructed in the manner of conducting business in such assemblies, than they could have been if we had only given them advice. At the first, almost the whole business was necessarily managed by the missionaries. Not so now. The missionaries still take an active part even in the routine of business, not so much to guard against error or mistake, as for the purpose of saving time and inculcating the importance of regularity and promptitude. Even the earnestness with which the missionaries differ from each other, so contrary to the duplicity supposed necessary by the rules of Chinese politeness, has not been without great benefit to the native members. Instead of there being any jealousy of the position occupied by the missionaries on the part of the native members, the missionaries withdraw themselves from prominent positions, and throw the responsibility on the native members, as fast as duty to Tai-hoey seems to allow, faster than the native members wish.

We now proceed to give answers to the definite questions propounded to us, though answers to some of them have been implied in the preceding remarks. We combine the questions from different sources, and slightly change the wording of them to suit the form of this paper, and for convenience we number them.

1. "Are the missionaries members of Tai-hoey in full and on a perfect equality with the native members?"

Answer. Yes; with the exception (if it be an exception) implied in the answer to the next question.

2. "Are missionaries subject to discipline by the Tai-hoey?"

Answer. No; except that their relation to Tai-hoey may be severed by that body.

3. "Is it not likely that the sooner the native churches become self-governing, the sooner they will be self-supporting and self-propagating?"

Answer. Yes. It would be a great misfortune for the native churches to be governed by the missionaries, or by the home churches. We think also it would be a great misfortune for the missionary to refuse all connection with the government of the mission churches while they are in whole or in part dependent on him for instruction, administration of the ordinances, and pastoral oversight. Self-support, self-government, and self-propagation are intimately related, acting and reacting on each other, and the native Church should be framed in them from the beginning of its existence.

4. "Is it the opinion of missionaries at Amoy that the native Presbyters are competent to manage the affairs of Presbytery, and could they safely be left to do so?"

Answer. Yes; the native Presbyters seem to us to be fully competent to manage the affairs of Presbytery, and we suppose it would be safe to leave them to do this entirely by themselves, if the providence of God should so direct. We think it much better, however, unless the providence of God direct otherwise, that the missionaries continue their present relation to the Tai-hoey until the native Church is farther developed.

5. "Is it likely that there can be but one Presbyterian Church in China? or are differences of dialect, etc., such as to make different organizations necessary and inevitable?"

Answer. All Presbyterians in China, as far as circumstances will allow, should unite in one Church organization. By all means avoid a plurality of Presbyterian denominations in the same locality. But differences of dialect and distance of separation seem at present to forbid the formation of one Presbyterian organization for the whole of China. Even though in process of time these difficulties be greatly overcome, It would seem that the vast number of the people will continue to render such formation impracticable, except on some such principle as that on which is formed the Pan-Presbyterian Council. One Presbyterian Church for China would be very

xii in memoriam
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