The first step in the consideration of the indigenous Church, in the opinion of Dr. Kraemer, author of The Christian Message in the Non-Christian World, is to consider well what the Church is. This we have already done in the first of this series of articles, but for convenience we here restate its essential characteristics. The Christian Church is the community or fellowship of those who have accepted for themselves the revelation of God in Christ and have associated themselves with God in His redemptive purpose for the world in the announcement of salvation through Jesus Christ. The function of the indigenous Church, then, is to express this revelation or to make the announcement in terms which the given local community can understand. The essence of the message will be the same for the whole world, the forms and colour will vary as each indigenous Church interprets the message intelligibly to its own group.
This conception of the indigenous Church applies not only to the thought-forms, but also to the social forms adopted. The social forms of the West, involving denominationalism and many other factors which have no meaning for the East, should not be arbitrarily imposed upon the new Churches. Holding fast, then, to the primary function of the Church, the most serviceable of the existing social forms will be employed in the indigenous Church, “because the indigenous has the right to be considered seriously and sympathetically as the vehicle of life-expression before any other possible vehicle.” As in speech a man expressed himself best in his own language, so in social forms the ones with which he is most familiar will be of greatest service. The ability to render best service should determine whether a given form should be adopted or abandoned. “It ought to become a fundamental law in missionary work that alien forms and methods of spiritual and ecclesiastical life are viewed with the same scrutinizing criticism as indigenous forms and methods are usually subjected to.” “The primary aim in building an indigenous Church, then, must be the fostering of a creative, spiritual life, so that the richness of the knowledge of Christ and the fruits of the spirit may develop ever more fully.” In some cases the Western forms may prove more serviceable. In that case they should be used. But Western forms should not be used merely because they are Western, and local forms should be used increasingly as they are found to be serviceable.
The author draws attention, however, to the great difference between being truly indigenous and being considered by the non-Christian Community as indigenous. Many have hoped that if the Younger Churches could sufficiently assume the local forms of their people, they would be accepted as indigenous. This is not the case, and will not be, until the Christian community acquires large proportions in the local population. The mere fact of clothing a strange message with local forms, however skilfully it may be done, cannot eliminate the strangeness of the message, or win unqualified acceptance for the group who have received the strange message into the total life of the community. That status can be won only with the passing of time, the increase of the numbers of Christians, and the permeation of the whole community with the Christian thought.
What of the vexing question of the degree of missionary control? In answering this question in the past finance has figured largely. The standpoint has been taken that ability to attain self-support should be the basis for deciding the question. There has been the added feeling, too, that if such a basis should not be adopted, there would be a tendency for indefinite leaning on foreign support which would operate against the welfare of the Younger Churches. Again, from the standpoint of the administrators of the funds from missionary societies, there devolves upon the administrators the duty of controlling the expenditure of the money entrusted to them by a great number of contributors.
While recognizing all these conditions, the author takes the view that “there are both practical and theoretical reasons for taking the standpoint that the measure of independence from missionary control should not depend upon the amount of financial support that is still granted by missionary agencies to self-governing indigenous Churches.” In many cases the Churches have had no control over the situations which would impose an impossible financial burden on them if they assumed it alone. “The cost implied in self-support, therefore, is still partly deter- mined by a machinery that has been set up without a thorough consideration of the indigenous economic foundations.” In this period of transition, it is scarcely just to withhold the right of self-governance from people who are otherwise prepared to exercise it. Furthermore, to determine the degree of independence by the ability to attain self-support, or “to distinguish between mission money and Church money” is psychologically unsound and spiritually irritating. The Younger Churches are the “fruit of missionary labour, but not the possession of missions, and it is on the side of missions a serious and fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the Church to consider any indigenous Church in any stage of development to be in an inferior position because it receives financial support.” The financial aid coming from Churches abroad to local churches is “no charity but fraternal help.”
One thing more which should be kept in mind in considering the indigenous Church is the unity of various Christian bodies. It is the author’s opinion that “the Christian Churches in the non-Christian world are by their many divisions much weaker than need be the case.” Although the Younger Churches are in their communities vigorous forces, they are decidedly in the minority, and much more so than they would be if the existing Christian groups could be united to make their joint influence more widely and strongly felt. “It is certainly no exaggeration to say that one of the cardinal problems of the Christian mission in the non-Christian world is whether Western Missionary agencies will find their faith and the courage to derive their orientation, in regard to these problems of denominationalism and unity in the mission field, neither from ecclesiastical indifference nor from ecclesiastical bias, but from confronting themselves with the dynamic conception of the Church as set before us in Biblical realism.”
“The heartening lesson,” the author says,” is that the gospel can be spread under any circumstances, provided a living and ardent faith burns in the hearts of men.” In this task, the indigenous Churches with an ever-increasing degree of independence to work out their own forms, should have a greatly enlarged participation.
The Malaysia Message
Vol. 48 No. 12