Asia must reckon not only with Communist propagandists and their disdain for religion as the opiate of the masses, but with some Asian voices whose welcome for Western science and industrialization is mixed with antipathy for Christianity on the professed ground that “the Asian religions are best for the Orient.” This supposedly pro-Asian thrust is remarkably blind to the Asian roots of Hebrew-Christian redemptive religion. From the Garden of Eden to Ur of the Chaldees to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, the biblical narrative sets God’s special revelation in an Asian setting. The Gospel was first carried to the West, moreover, by Asians. Later, Westerners set missionary sights on the Orient—William Carey hastening to India, Adoniram Judson to Burma, Hudson Taylor to China, and so forth.
Some parts of Asia were early centers of virile Christian missionary activity. In a few places, the line of continuity still reaches back through long centuries, as in India by the Mar Toma Church. In most sectors in Asia, as in North Africa, the early Christian effort capitulated many centuries ago—for one reason or another—to other religions: to the sword of Mohammedanism sharpened 600 years after Christ; to Buddhism which reaches back 600 years before Christ; to Hinduism, Confucianism, and other pagan faiths.
How is it in Asia today with respect to the conflict between Christianity and the non-Christian religions? This sweeping question cannot be answered adequately by a generalized sampling. But some facts are plain.
While Communist leaders probe every international weakness to advance their global designs, with an immediate eye on the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf in the Near East, and on widening the Red frontier wherever possible in the Far East, it becomes increasingly clear that Asian resistance to communism is stiffening. Although Laos is a “no man’s land” poorly fortified and poorly defended, much of Asia today reflects an anti-Communist stand increasingly definite and clear-cut.
In the vast land of China, natural calamities have forced an admission of a failure to actualize Red agricultural goals. But mainland Chinese, whatever their discontents, remain fast in the grip of Communist totalitarianism. Displaced missionaries at best hope that the strange providence of God may yet bring the Church to new opportunity in China. Some dare to believe that in the future, when reaction and rebellion against communism are ripe, the overthrow of traditional Chinese institutions will serve to usher in an unparalleled opportunity for Christian challenge.
In Japan, Communist party membership has sagged in recent years from 140,000 to 45,000. In India, reaction to Nehru’s neutralism (socialism) gains momentum from leaders who are measuring the Red menace afresh. In Burma, the Army, entrenched in power to prevent U Nu’s government from toppling leftward, is determinedly aligned against communism. In Thailand, never a dependent foreign colony, the government has outlawed communism. The Red Chinese slaughter of 80,000 Tibetans (an estimate by Dalai Lama) and their installation of a puppet god-king, has served fresh notice upon Asian religious leaders of the ruthlessness of the Communists.
Free China on Formosa, and South Korea as well, maintain a witness to the prize of independence—whatever the hardships—in preference to enslavement to state absolutism. Although North Korea is larger in size than South Korea, the latter has a population of more than 22 million people compared to 8 million in the north—almost three times as many. But the south did not have this population from the beginning; at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, it had only about 16 million. The increase of 6 million represents mostly those who escaped Communist tyranny in the north—a convincing proof that the Korean people are against communism. Multitudes of Christian families in Korea have now been separated for 10 years, the divided members being unable to communicate. Conservative estimates place the number of Christians contained in North Korea at 200,000.
This stiffening resistance is also driving some leaders to see the need of a spiritual answer to communism. For communism always speaks most effectively to the vacuum of uncertainty in the hearts of men. So a new Asian interest also arises in the undergirding of religion. In some places, where a particular religion holds special place in the life of the state—as Moslemism in Malaya—this takes the form of special favor to the dominant religion and discrimination against all other religions. But other lands are assisting all entrenched religions to sharpen the spiritual concern of the masses and this in turn, as in Burma, has brought new opportunities to the Christian witness. In Thailand, dominantly Buddhist, student interest in the conflict between spiritual and nonspiritual interpretations of life and culture is prompting classroom study of the great world religions, including Christianity, even in government schools. So, in mysterious ways, the Christian witness faces new openings through the Communist challenge.
The Christian task force must cross this threshold at once with bold venturesomeness and cautious reserve. While alert to the evil of communism, the Christian witness dare not become merely reactionary to dialectical materialism and hence primarily negative. It must set sights on the wickedness of all men and on the saving grace of God in Christ addressed to a fallen race. And so it is obliged to call the opponents of communism, no less than the Communists themselves, to repentance and regeneration. And it is obliged also, in the pantheon of world religions, even where some particular pagan religion has a special place in the life of the nation, to emphasize the uniqueness of the Hebrew-Christian revelation of God, and the stark contrast between revealed redemptive religion and the false religions.
The evangelistic witness of World Vision teams in the Orient, in some 30 pastors’ conferences held in 12 countries during the past six years, has undergirded this emphasis on the once-for-allness of redemptive religion. Evangelistic crusades by Dr. Bob Pierce, in India, the Philippine Islands, Korea and Japan, have stressed the impossibility of “merely adding Jesus Christ to your ‘god-shelf.’ ” Dr. Billy Graham’s crusade in India and his one-night meetings in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Taipei have sounded the note of “salvation in Christ alone,” already widely familiar to crusade cities throughout the Western world.
The relation of Christianity and the non-Christian religions, of redemptive versus non-redemptive religion, of revealed religion versus speculative religion, is being posed with new urgency in view of the failure of pagan faiths to provide adequate moral dynamic and spiritual vitality to cope firmly with the Communist threat. The growing response to the Gospel, especially among young people upon whom the pagan religions have lost their hold, is one of the significant developments in some Asian lands.
The task of the foreign evangelist, no less than that of the foreign missionary, is rendered doubly difficult through unwholesome Western influences in Asia’s big cities. American soldiers contributed to an unhappy impression of “Western morality” during and after World War II. The American colony—war or no war—often leaves a dominant impression of disinterest in spiritual things, and preoccupation with sex and wine.
In some cases, Asian government leaders have welcomed American Christian leaders for their spiritual challenge while the American embassy has been unaware, if not actually indifferent, to their mission. In fact, American propaganda beamed at other lands tends not infrequently to downgrade the relevance of the Christian religion and to upgrade the pagan religions. Whereas the sense of American destiny in the world was once centered in bringing Christ to the nations, and American citizens still provide much of the missionary personnel and financial means for the Christian world witness, American government propaganda seems at times to go out of its way to flatter the pagan religions, and indirectly to undercut America’s vital spiritual mission to the world.
While hardly reflective of the American political mission throughout the world, which exhibits much in the way of lofty idealism, The Ugly American flashes with just enough truth about some American embassies abroad (not merely Saigon) that the diplomatic wish that the book might be consigned to outer space is quite understandable. Government diplomatic missions abroad living on American standards atop Cloud Seven, their frustrated politicians unaware of deep issues posed by the cultural crisis, and themselves out of touch with the masses, but content to feed back the “party line” rather than the mood of multitudes at grass roots—this is only part of its complaint. Equally important is its emphasis—despite the book’s one-sided idolization of the Catholic priest—that American missionaries abroad, devoted to life’s durables, and really in touch with people as they are, have a realistic sense of the temper and convictions of the people.
In some cases, diplomatic attitudes abroad do not reflect the American vision nor the highest idealism of the State Department. One recalls the plea of Mrs. Lillian Dickson, Formosa’s “small woman,” to U. S. Information Service, for an educational film a week for the small colony of Christian lepers outside Taipei. The USIS representative replied: “The lepers are not politically important … and our work is political.” In an informal report to American supporters for her work of 32 years, Lil Dickson relayed this conversation as “reflective of America without Christ.” When a New York Sunday School posted a resolution of protest to the State Department, the USIS representative called on Formosa’s “mustard seed” (as Mrs. Dickson is known far and wide) to offer personal apology. Formosa’s lepers have seen USIS films ever since.
As a matter of fact, CHRISTIANITY TODAY knows of one South Asian land where Christians under American government appointment long met secretly out of fear of U.S. government reprisals. When they finally organized a Christian church, they were faced by veiled threats about termination of their contracts. When that church ordered a number of Bibles, the ambassador summoned the pastor (there is some evidence that the State Department had actually tried to block his going to that field in deference to the established state religion) and threatened to bring pressures against American government employees identified with the church.
Meanwhile, even in Asia the Gospel bears undeniable fruit in both the spiritual reality and moral vitality it imports into the lives of believers.
One thinks, for example, of Korea. In the aftermath of the Communist invasion, 80 per cent of all social welfare work in Korea has been carried on by the Christian minority in that land.
In August, a few days after Formosa had been hit by the worst floods in 60 years, the Editor was privileged to speak in Taipei at the Church of the Lepers. Of the 1,000 lepers in that government colony, 420 have been baptized upon confession of faith in Christ. During announcements, an elder stated that a special offering would be received for the homeless flood victims, and that even in their own poverty they should remember Jesus’ blessing upon the widow’s mite. The lepers, having themselves experienced Christ’s compassion for lost and hopeless men, stood ready to open their hearts compassionately to others.
Embarrassed by such social concern in their midst, the pagan religions in some lands have been moved to parallel social effort in some realms in order to minimize the antithesis. But redemptive religion retains a dynamic that cannot be easily duplicated. It sets out with the proclamation of a holy God, of the supernatural regeneration of sinners, and of the Holy Spirit’s shaping of love and hope, joy and peace, gentleness and goodness, as everyday virtues. Such virtues as these hold the key to the healing of the nations, and they remain the unique fruit of revealed religion.
As Asia looks to the West, with an eye especially on science and democracy, the danger exists of leveling the West’s great heritage simply to these aspects, and regarding these as something automatic and extraneous to the spiritual inheritance and moral vision of the West. So the Asian free world stands in peril of emulating and copying simply the effects, and of forgetting the deep causes, of the West’s true greatness. It is vulnerable to the ever-present temptation to worship the flesh and to neglect the spirit. The West itself, in fact, retains only dim insight of the essential historical connection between the coming of Jesus Christ into the world and the best that the West knows and is. The whole world today seems overawed by the glory of fading material things. Perhaps Asia will rediscover the secret power that once lifted the West from paganism. And if so, should God mercifully prolong the course of history, perhaps in the generations to come the power of revealed religion, rising out of Asia and rediscovered there, will reach to a pagan West whose past glory has so widely become the rubble and ashes of a post-materialistic age.
Eisenhower, Khrushchev Talks Shadowed By A Red Moon
Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s visit, following Russia’s successful shot to the moon, confronts President Eisenhower with herculean tasks in his pursuit of a principled world peace. He must cope with the subtle propaganda of the communist “peace” offensive, designed for Red global dominion, and also with the psychological impact of Russian supremacy in rocket propulsion.
But the President’s responsibility—and he merits the prayers of all Christians—is larger still. In this effort to thaw the “cold war,” he stands—chief representative of a nation professedly “under God”—as a mirror of men who champion unchanging truth, fixed moral principles, and the dignity of all men as creatures answerable to a divine Creator.
Criticisms of Mr. Eisenhower’s venturesome invitation are tart and many. Does he not confer personal dignity upon “the butcher of the Kremlin,” symbol of political tyranny? Did not even Jesus speak of Herod, that ancient puppet of iniquity, as “that fox!”? Will not Khrushchev’s visit widen the slobbering sentimentality for the Soviet among men who stress peace more than justice?
The President bears the duty of guarding the exchange from conferring prestige on a power philosophy of naked naturalism and on the foes of freedom and Christianity. If Mr. Eisenhower can employ persuasion with a premier accustomed to renouncing persuasion for force; if he can promote the conversion of one who dismisses fixed moral principles as sheer prejudices; if he can reflect the spirit of good will America preaches to the nations; if he can let men of violence know our high faith in a holy God charting the destinies of nations, and our firm devotion to true freedom—much will be gained. Let President meet Premier with the prayers, if not the unqualified plaudits, of God’s people. Seldom is the testimony to justice and love best advanced by inter-personal ugliness. To let Khrushchev know that all the “powers that be” are divinely ordained to preserve justice and to retard iniquity is as fully important as to remind him of the sins of the Soviet. Only Americans sensing our own need of national repentance have truly earned their right to call loudly for the conversion of the communists.
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