The termination of colonial rule in Africa and. Asia has left the liberated new countries in a confused and confusing situation. The ideological argument that these countries used in their fight for independence was basically the same everywhere. Ever since President Wilson proclaimed that every nation had a right to be independent, colonial rule could no longer be continued merely on the basis of the Western powers’ military and economic superiority. In a world in which the very foundation of international law had been destroyed by the reckless disregard for it shown by the belligerent powers in World War I, Wilson’s principle seemed to be the promising beginning of a new world order based upon reason and nature. There was only one way whereby the colonial powers could justify continuation of their regime: to contend that the nations under their tutelage were not yet sufficiently developed to lead a sovereign existence in the commonwealth of nations. And this argument was losing strength increasingly as young men from the colonies came to attend the colleges and universities of the West and returned home with the splendor of academic degrees. Between the world wars they established themselves as the political leaders of their countries. Through them the demands for national freedom became articulate. It was this group of intellectuals, an infinitesimal fraction of their various nations, who would claim that their academic training enabled them to take the place of the colonial administrators. While Western nations thought the capability for self-rule lay in a very distant future, these native leaders claimed that the goal had been reached.
The difficulties that the colonial powers experienced have led to a paradoxical result. With a few exceptions, all the nations of Asia and Africa that had been under foreign rule now enjoy sovereignty. Yet at the same time they are treated by the Western powers as “undeveloped” and “underdeveloped” countries. The new nations recognize this fact by applying to the United Nations, the World Bank, and other agencies for economic, cultural, and military support. Their leaders have to admit that their education, no matter how brilliant, has not yet reached the masses. There is a wide gap between a Ph.D. degree and the ability to build a modern economy and a democratic state.
In this painful and vexing predicament, the leaders of the “young nations” find it difficult to hold their own. In the modern world no country can prosper unless it adopts modern technology and scientific methods, and this in turn requires a universal education, such as that which the West has developed. Not only has none of the “liberated” countries reached that level yet; even the most advanced of them, such as Nigeria and India, are far from being able to vie with the industrial countries of Europe or the United States. Pathetically, their vitality and the resulting high birth rate tend to widen the gap between needs and accomplishments. No wonder that Sr. Galvao, who not long ago had attempted an insurrection in Portuguese Angola, could recently state before the Trusteeship Committee of the United Nations that in his opinion Angola was not yet prepared for self-government. The furor of the African delegates to the United Nations should surprise no one. They sensed that Sr. Galvao’s argument implied a condemnation of the whole African experiment.
In order to forestall an international development of momentous consequences for the new countries, their leaders have shifted their argument. The independence they claim is, in the first place, founded not upon their ability to govern themselves but rather upon their “racial” or ethnic character. Hitler’s advocacy of Germanity (Deutschtum) has now its counterpart in Africanity or in Arabism, as far as Africa is concerned; and in a similar way the liberated countries of Southeast Asia are emphasizing their determination to live in accordance with their “national” or ethnic particularity. For this reason they do not want to be governed by nations belonging to another “race,” and they resent any meddling of the foreign powers in African or Asian affairs. Anybody who meets the natives of Africa or Asia realizes the uneasiness his very presence creates.
As a result, life in the new countries witnesses to strange crosscurrents. On the one hand, the leadership is craving for a share in Western education and Western technology. While with the masses the image of leadership may still be associated with that of native chieftains or princes, the new group of leaders instinctively recognize that it was the Western type of administration that lifted their country up to the level at which it could participate in world affairs. Thus they are proud of their academic degrees and are anxious to adopt the Western style of life.
Yet the recent developments in Africa and Asia would be completely misunderstood if the tendency toward Westernization were interpreted as wholly dominating the younger nations. The eagerness with which they accept the help of the American Peace Corps, the German Volunteers, or the scholarships at the Lumumba University of Moscow too easily hides from the observer their wish to intensify the specifically African, Arabic, or Asian features of their national life. The fight for independence and the new pride of a sovereignty finally gained have vitalized the desire for indigenization. Of course, to implement this tendency is not easy. In North Africa and the Near East, the goal is seen in a renewed Islam. This movement, whose center is Cairo, could resort to a historical heritage. In Southeast Asia, a revitalized Buddhism seems to serve as the medium through which the “ethnic” aspirations can be expressed. The situation is more difficult in Africa south of the Sahara, where the native population lacks historical recollections and the culture has not yet reached a high level. Perhaps the indigenous character will first become articulate in music.
Missionaries And Westernizing
Judging the work of the Protestant missionaries in Africa and Asia in its relation to present cultural tendencies, one can say that with a few minor exceptions they have Westernized the people to whom they announced the Gospel. The school would invariably be joined to the chapel in order to enable converts to study the Bible and Christian literature. It was probably inevitable that both curriculum and method in the mission school would be similar to what had been used in the training of the missionaries. Similarly, the gospel message itself in its Protestant presentation would reflect the experience and mentality of Northern Europe. The same observation holds good for the way of life the missionaries taught. They had to reckon with the fact that practically the whole daily life of the converts had originally been molded by their pagan religion, and would therefore insist that the separation from the former practices be as complete as possible. As an alternative, the missionary would point out the way in which he had been brought up, that is to say, a Christian way tinged in every respect by the outlook and the needs of the West. Often a native in East or South Africa will put off his native costume and don Western dress when he presents himself for baptism.
There is no good reason to blame the missionaries for doing this. Their methods reflected the rationalistic-humanistic identification of Western man with the true man, a view that has dominated the Western world since the eighteenth century. Similarly, when the missionaries started to train a native clergy they offered a modified version of the seminary training that they themselves had received. One should not marvel at the young native’s desire to go to a European university or to an American seminary. Did he not see daily the authority and the social standing that a degree from these institutions conferred upon its holder? No wonder that the native pastors insist the African seminaries should adopt the curriculum of the outstanding Western institutions, and that their level of scholarship should match that of the sending churches. The new impetus that the Theological Education Fund has given to the training of native ministers has greatly fostered this tendency. At the request of the indigenous clergy and against the advice of the European instructors, one recently established model institution has made Greek and Hebrew graduation requirements for the B.D. degree. The reason: that is what Princeton does! It is easy to see how the young African, who in addition to his tribal language has to master successively Bulu, French, and English, will spend a disproportionate amount of his time learning Greek and Hebrew.
The urge toward Westernization is counterbalanced, however, by the need for indigenization. The African or Asian minister, much more than the missionary, is aware of the strangeness that the traditional presentation of the Gospel carries with it. For some time a change has been taking place in church architecture. The Gothic or classicistic building that the missionary had erected in loving memory of his home sanctuary stands out as an alien in the African bush or in the jungle of Thailand. It is impossible, of course, to adjust the architecture of the pagoda to Christian purposes, because its structural elements and ornaments are filled with pagan symbolism. But ways have been found to adapt a church building to secular architecture while adding a note of indigenous grandeur or simplicity.
Church architecture is not a central problem in the younger churches, however. More important for the native minister is the adaptation of the saving message to the mentality of the natives. The revival of the indigenous religions on the one hand and the very active propaganda of Islam on the other have rendered this task more urgent than it was in the past generations. Like those religions, the Gospel has to be offered as a worthwhile way of life rather than as a theology. While any kind of syncretism is out of the question, the African and Asian Christians must be made to feel that their religion satisfies a need in their lives.
A leading Zulu pastor summed up the void that the missionary work had left in native civilization by stating that Christianity had taken the joy out of their lives. This was hardly an effect that the missionaries had intended. But equally interesting is the fact that they had not noticed it. African life follows the phases and seasons of agricultural life and the stages in the growth and development of the individual. Each occasion is accompanied by celebrations that include dancing, singing, and festive meals. With the animistic character of African religion, each of these feasts includes some pagan elements. No wonder that the missionaries insisted that Christians keep away from them. But this stern discipline cut the native Christian off from the most exciting and enjoyable part of village life and dried up the source of his most natural happiness.
Bringing Back The Joy
Gradually, native churches in Africa began to react against this impoverishment of indigenous life. Most promising is the endeavor to substitute African music for the Western tunes that the missionary imported from his home circle and denomination. The White Fathers have established an Institute of Church Music in the Congo that is probably the most advanced pioneer in this field. But the experimenting goes on all over Africa, and African and Asian students at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, are encouraged to modify the traditional hymn tunes so as to make them suit African rhythm and harmony. Hesitantly the native churches of Africa also try to introduce Christian feasts. Leadership lies with the rural congregations. Just as the missionary was not aware of the impoverishment that resulted from his strict church discipline because he had literature, art, music, and social life that compensated for the moral rigor, so the African town congregation has succeeded in finding joy of life in the urban civilization. But the village church begins to celebrate the relevant events in daily life in its own way. The forms, though adjusted to African life, are compatible with Christian standards.
The most remarkable force in indigenizing Christianity is the numberless cults. The only help the pagan African knew against the many hidden forces and spirits that disturbed and threatened his life was the medicine man, a person presumed to have spiritual power that enabled him to discover the source of trouble and to curb it. Conversion to Christianity does not mean that this belief is discarded; it lingers on for generations. No wonder that Africans are looking for a type of ministry that gives evidence of spiritual power. The result is thousands of small congregations not affiliated with the organized churches but rather formed around people who manifest their spiritual power in ways that combine Christian and indigenous features. The missionaries came from denominations in which the specific character of Christianity had become articulate in some kind of theology. But theology is the result of a typically Western attitude. It rests upon the belief that the nature and the work of God can be apprehended in a rational way. All the prerequisites of such an understanding of the Christian faith are lacking in Africa. Inasmuch as theology is accepted, it is in the pursuit of Western ideals. Where the Christian religion has entered into the life of the people, it manifests itself in charismatic enthusiastic meetings in whose center the Spirit-powered leader stands.
In Asia, the situation is different. While the people to whom the Gospel was first brought in India, China, or Korea may have belonged to the lower classes, the Christian message nevertheless entered there into a world that has an ancient civilization. It is not surprising, therefore, that the theological type of Christianity should appeal to these people. But in Asia, too, the renaissance of nationalism and of Buddhism has raised new problems. The type of organized fellowship characteristic of Western Protestantism is an alien element in the Far East. The National Church of Japan (Kyodan) was forced upon the numerous denominations during the last war by the Japanese government. But the fact that it does not grow numerically is paradoxically due in the first place to the developed state of its theology. The ministers are preoccupied with academic theology, and thus with the theoretical problems of the West rather than with the spiritual needs of the Japanese people.
Much more in keeping with the Japanese character is the No-Church movement, which received its impetus from Kanzo Uchimura (1861–1930). Its approximately 200 groups are engaged in efforts to understand what the Bible message means for one’s personal life. There is no strict organization; each group consists of a leader and from 50 to 200 people who meet with him regularly. Some of the pioneers of this movement were masters of literary style and poets who tried to wed the genius of Japanese mentality with the Word of God. But the movement now seems to be in a state of stagnation.
A Protestant ‘Third Force’
A considerable step further in the process of indigenization is the Original Gospel movement, whose leader is Professor Ikuro Teshima. For some time he was associated with the No-Church movement, and his tabernacles resemble the No-Church assemblies in many respects. But the movement, with its 15,000 members, has become a “third force” in Japanese Protestantism and has a considerable influence upon the ministers of the Kyodan and the denominational churches. With the emphasis it places upon the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, it resembles the Pentecostal movement. But it differs from Pentecostalism in two regards. Whereas in Western Protestantism sin and the forgiveness of sin have been central, the stress falls here on soteria, wholeness and healing. The Holy Spirit is expected to enable the Christian to live a full life. Absence of legalism in any form and naturalness place the Original Gospel movement so near to certain forms of Japanese Buddhism that missionaries are prone to speak of syncretism. But that is precluded by its strict biblicism. The other characteristic feature is spiritual discipline. By methods like those of Buddhism, the believers raise themselves into a state of ecstasy and claim to experience the work of the Spirit in their hearts. But ecstasy is not a means of mystical contemplation, as with the ancient Egyptian monks. Rather, it enables people to live joyfully a Christian life of fellowship and love in a non-Christian, often hostile environment.
Indigenization and Westernization are in many respects conflicting tendencies. The ecumenical movement has on the whole bypassed the charismatic movements, and these in turn have looked with suspicion upon the manner in which the World Council of Churches and its Commission on Mission have envisaged the problem of church unity. Starting from the Western axiom that truth is basically propositional, the churches united in the WCC have attempted to provide a theological statement that would express their oneness in Christ. It is true that theologians in India and Japan have attempted to inject indigenous elements into the ecumenical discussion. But interesting as is their confrontation of classical theology with mythical or metaphysical elements of Hinduism or Buddhism, the debate remains thereby within the confines of a Western type of rational thought that is worlds apart from the speculative and meditative literature of the Far East. The charismatic movements, in turn, depend so obviously on the authority of their leaders that the emphasis falls on diversity rather than on oneness.
If the political development in Asia and Africa provides any clue at all, Christianity in these continents is moving toward diversity and particularism rather than organizational unity. While the “fraternal workers” that the churches of Europe and America send to those countries will plead for continuation and strengthening of ecclesiastical organization, they will find it increasingly difficult to overcome the resentment against their “Western” concept of the Church. The structure of the Roman Catholic Church, with a common spiritual head, will make it easier to combine the satisfaction of indigenous needs and wishes with solid, visible unity. For Protestantism, much will depend on a deepened understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and on a new type of fellowship (koinonia) willing to recognize the diversity of charismatic gifts.
Otto A. Piper is professor emeritus of New Testament literature and exegesis at Princeton Seminary. He holds the degrees of Th.D. (Goettingen), D.D. (Paris), and LL.D. (Wittenberg College). Previously he taught in Germany and in Wales. Among his books are “God in History” and “The Christian Interpretation of Sex.”
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