Eternity is a long time. The death of Mao Tse-tung last month in Peking brought forth great choruses of appeals for Mao and his thoughts to reign eternally. Said the official announcement of his death by Hsinhua, the Chinese press agency, “Eternal glory to our great leader and teacher Chairman Mao Tse-tung.”

Not all the praise for the revolutionary leader of mainland China has come from within the borders of that country. Much has come from without, and some from prominent Christian personalities. Some of their statements have come close to the Mao worship that is so apparent in the official notices.

Mao Tse-tung did have a long view of history, and he was a student of human nature. These facts explain in part why he was able to run a revolution and control a fifth of the world’s people for over a quarter of a century. His knowledge of eternity was deficient, however. The substitutes for religious faith and experience he offered were poor substitutes. They required the people to trust something or someone (particularly Mao) that could be here today and gone tomorrow.

A good example of this religious system, as it was offered to students, is given in David Adeney’s book China: Christian Students Face the Revolution (InterVarsity Press, 1973). Adeney writes that Chinese students were instructed, “Do not worship earth, do not worship heaven, only worship the effort of the people.” The Communist religious system includes the important elements of other faiths: holy writ (Mao’s Thoughts, or the “little red book”), objects of worship, concepts of sin and salvation, rituals for repentance, fellowship gatherings, and a hierarchy.

Maoist salvation, according to Adeney, “is concerned with the transformation of the man and of the society in which he lives. It is to be brought about by social, psychological and educational means. Because of their great emphasis upon scientific technology, the communists constantly confuse technical possibilities with moral capacity.”

Chairman Mao’s “theology” was its faultiest at the point of eternity. Adeney writes, “For the communist, there is no future life for the individual and therefore the only form of judgment which he recognizes is that which comes in this life. His reward is the satisfaction that he is having a part in the on-going process which will bring about the future communist society that later generations will enjoy.”

While Communist China’s leaders always protested that they allowed religious freedom, for over a quarter of a century they drummed their own doctrine into the whole population. In a variety of ways they stifled the free expression of contrary religious views. Most of the young people who have grown up in China during the past twenty-five years have had no opportunity to hear of any religion other than Mao’s man-centered brand. The ancient Chinese faiths, as well as Christianity, have dwindled or have been crushed.

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Yet the people are still interested in eternity. The words “forever” and “eternal” kept recurring in the messages of mourning. Columnist Joseph Kraft, in Peking at the time of Mao’s death, said wreaths were banned at a revolutionary monument. Instead, mourners fastened little white poppies to the fence around the monument. Messages were attached to the flowers, and one said, “Chairman Mao, you live forever in our minds.” The mourners gathered on a street called the Avenue of Eternal Peace. Mao was hailed as the creator of “heaven on earth.”

For all that he knew about people, Mao failed to take into account man’s real nature. An anonymous Chinese contributor to Christianity and the New China (William Carey Library, 1976) reports from inside the country, “Mao’s teachings, through pervasive indoctrination, have influenced to varying degrees the minds of the people. But Maoist thought reform has hardly touched the soul of the people, or brought a true conversion and rebirth in the image of a Maoist selfless man, which the Chairman himself is not. The Maoist revolution has changed the face of Chinese society and has greatly weakened traditional Chinese ideas and values, but it has not changed the individual to any great extent.”

Less than a month before Mao’s death, the Chinese Congress on World Evangelization was held in Hong Kong (see September 24 issue, page 60). Although at this unprecedented meeting of evangelical leaders nothing was said officially about evangelization on the mainland, it was a matter of concern to every delegate.

John Pollock said in his autobiography of L. Nelson Bell, A Foreign Devil in China, that Bell never wavered in his belief “that Christ’s Church remains, hidden to Western eyes, persecuted, yet virile, and that God is sovereign, working out His purposes, even through those who deny His existence and try to root out His word and liquidate His people.” Dr. Bell, a founder of this magazine, spent twenty-five years working among the Chinese as a medical missionary. His views represent those of thousands of other Christians who know the Chinese Church. The eternal God has his people there, and Christians in the rest of the world now owe them their prayers as never before.

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Diplomatic Expectations

A showdown appears to be imminent in South Africa, not to mention Rhodesia, and perhaps in South Korea, where the situation continues to deteriorate.

Non-white Africans are on the march after enduring generations of oppression. They appear ready to resort to violence on a large and unprecedented scale if they do not quickly get more of a say in the government. Henry Kissinger has for his task the prevention of open warfare. The best he can hope for is a guarantee that the white regime will agree to allow non-white political participation in time to prevent a military eruption. Kissinger cannot resolve the problem in a few weeks, and he cannot stave off bloodshed for long. Most black Africans want speed; most white Africans want delay. If no middle ground can be found, then deep trouble is almost certain.

Kissinger may also find himself pulled into the South Korean crisis, where an authoritarian state suppresses anti-government dissent. Christian clergymen have been jailed for offenses that are usually considered crimes only under Communism—which President Park claims to oppose.

In the midst of all this, North Americans and the Christian world should not expect too much of Secretary Kissinger’s efforts. Many socially conscious Christians idealistically cry for instant answers in South Africa and South Korea (while keeping silent about injustices elsewhere). Would it not be wiser to scale down our expectations in the light of our knowledge of human nature?

The situation in both areas is difficult for Christian missionaries. Some feel they must oppose the existing regimes; others believe their ministries require them to be more politically passive. It is especially important for missionary agencies to formulate strategies that will ensure their continued assistance to the cause of evangelization—whether missionaries go or stay. Christ’s ambassadors may be able to accomplish something in these trouble spots when others fail.

From Peoria To Paris

Edward O’Rourke is the Roman Catholic bishop of Peoria, Illinois (the town jocularly mentioned by so many journalists and politicians). He was a passenger aboard the Trans World Airlines flight from New York to Chicago that was hijacked to Paris by Croatian nationalists. O’Rourke refused an opportunity offered by the hijackers to leave the plane in Newfoundland. He is to be commended, as are the Air France crewmen who refused to leave when they were told in Uganda that all but the Jewish passengers were free to go.

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O’Rourke used the unexpected opportunity to minister to the captive passengers, at the captain’s request. Two passengers reportedly criticized the bishop later for frightening the passengers, and during the flight, an attendant apparently “upbraided” him for “depressing” the people. His offense was to urge over the public-address system that the people on board should get right with God.

It was not the bishop who frightened the people; it was their situation. If being in a plane commandeered by terrorists who are willing to sacrifice their lives (and the lives of others) is not enough to make one think of where he will spent eternity, it is unlikely that anything will. Perhaps God allowed certain people to be on that flight because he wanted them to face up to reality, eternal reality. (O’Rourke himself had been booked on an earlier flight that he missed because of a traffic jam on the way to the airport.) We commend Bishop O’Rourke for challenging his captive audience about the need for being reconciled with God.

There is a sense in which all of humanity is on a hijacked spaceship, the planet earth. Satan and his aides are assuring us that all will be well. But Christians know that all will be well only for those who accept the grace of God. The captain of the ship, God himself, has asked us to minister to the needs of our fellow passengers. Christians must carry out their duty no matter how much they are criticized by those who do not want to face the truth.

The Order Of Giving

One of the most challenging examples of giving reported in the Scriptures is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, verses one through five of chapter eight. The writer told the Corinthians (in what is now southern Greece) about the experience of the Macedonians (in what is now northern Greece). He did not waste words in making his point. The Macedonians, he wrote, not only “gave according to their means” but gave “beyond their means.” Moreover, they did this not from coercion but “of their own free will” (v. 3). In fact, believers in the north were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (v. 4). Perhaps one reason why we do not see more power today is that Christians, rather than begging to be allowed to give, have to be begged to give.

It is important to notice what preceded this commendable practice of bountiful giving: “First they gave themselves to the Lord” (v. 5). Having given themselves, they proceeded naturally to giving their possessions. They did not beg to give because they had a lot to spare. The Macedonian Christians had an “abundance of joy,” but as for material goods their “wealth of liberality” came out of “extreme poverty” (v. 2).

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Even prior to their giving of themselves stands an act of God. Paul begins the narrative by reminding his readers “about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia” (v. 1).

The order commended to the Corinthian church is the order modern believers should follow: first recognizing and receiving the grace of God, then giving one’s self, and then bountifully giving one’s possessions.

Incomplete Reading

Opposite the editorial page in the Washington Post the other day was a column beginning this way:

“I am a Hoosier and an American, a writer, a politician and a former alderman, a basketball fan, a moralist, a political scientist, a professor, a Presbyterian, and a reader of both Robert Benchley and Reinhold Niebuhr. I have been born, at most, once.”

We hope that this opinion-former’s reading will lead him, soon, to the truth that once-born men die twice and twice-born men die once.

Dreamers And Doers

No reports have reached us so far about the formation of a Martian Missionary Movement. Perhaps it is a bit early, since no astronauts have landed on Mars, and no little green men have yet been photographed by the United States spacecraft that did land there.

Then again, it might not be premature. An enterprising newspaper reporter managed to interview several leading churchmen on the possibilities of human life on Mars, and the resulting article made them appear to be fighting over whether or not it is time to evangelize that planet. And certainly, some travel promoter must be planning a conference there soon (with no-refund deposits now being accepted). And think of the broader base some of the ecumenical organizations could have if they were not restricted to working in this world.

We trust that while all the certified dreamers keep on dreaming about the Church’s responsibility to Mars, they will not forget the planet on which we live. And those of us who don’t or can’t dream have our assignment in the here and now.

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