Welcome to the discussion!

As the articles below indicate, for a number of years I have being trying to understand the changing concept and practice of mission.

My search has moved progressively from ‘Is there still a need for mission?’ to ‘What should the new focus for mission be?’ and finally to ‘Where can we find examples for this new direction?’

Some progress has been made but the effort to get this far has brought up a wider question. Why are so few people doing the practical reflection and research that is necessary to bring mission out of its present decline?

Theologians produce books on the academic aspects of mission but those actively engaged in cross-cultural mission are not writing about the real-life issues that face them. In this age of dramatic changes most businesses and NGOs are plowing resources into research for their next step so why are Christian missionaries, especially Catholics, not doing so?

I’m sure there are many answers to this complex question but by naming them, one by one, we may get a better idea of where the problem lies and what can de done about it.

Have you any ideas to share on this topic?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Why Would a Confucianist Become a Christian?

Xu Guangqi was one of the >Three Pillars= of the Chinese church established by Matteo Ricci and his companions in the early 1600s. Why did this eminent Confucian scholar want to join a foreign religion? Hugh MacMahon offers a suggestion.           

A useful insight into why a Confucianist might want to become a Christian can be glimpsed from the story of Xu Guangqi.

Early years
      Born in 1562 to an impoverished rural family in Jiangxi, Xu managed to get a formal Confucian education. At the age of 19 he passed his first major exam but had difficulty making further progress. While continuing his studies he supported himself as a tutor and happened to encounter a Jesuit, Lazare Cattaneo, in 1596 at the home of a family that employed him. However it is not know whether this meeting had any impact on his thinking. 
       Later, having obtained the secondary chu‑jen degree, he passed through Nanjing on his way to take the metropolitan examinations in Beijing in 1600 and met Matteo Ricci. Xu was impressed by Ricci=s teaching and three years later he return to Nanjing to renew their friendship.  Ricci, however, had just left for Beijing and instead he made the acquaintance of Jean de Rocha who gave him a copy of Ricci=s book, Tian‑Zhu‑Shi‑I. The following day Xu came back asking for baptism. Eight days later he received the sacrament. He was already in his forties and an established scholar.

Later career
      In 1604 Xu received the highest degree in the national civil service exams and was invited to became a member of the prestigious Hanlin academy. The essay he had written for his degree reflected his interest in  practical questions such as local defense and waterworks and attracted the interest of high government officials. From then on he was entrusted with a number of important offices.
      In Beijing, besides performing his official duties, Xu worked with Ricci and others in translating Western works on mathematics, hydraulics, astronomy and geography. 
      Not long after Xu was baptized, his father, wife and son also entered the church. In 1607 when his father died, in accordance with Confucian custom, he resigned all his posts and began the three year mourning period at his home in Shanghai. There he build a church on his own estate and set the foundations for a Christian community and center that survives until today. The address of the present cathedral in Shanghai is >Xu Family Grounds=.

Final years

      In 1611 Xu returned to Beijing to serve in a number of official roles, consciously avoiding politics. For reasons of health he retired to an experiment farm for a number of years and attempted, among other projects, to produce grape wine.
      Five years later he was recalled to Beijing and was able to protect some of the foreign missionaries during a period of persecution. He served in a number of important posts including  president of the Board of Rites and member of the Council of State. He was asked to raise troops to fight off the invading Manchus. He died in 1633, highly respected for his service to his country and for introducing Western science through translations and practical application. 

Why Christianity?
      What led such an exemplary Confucian as Xu to decide to become a Christian? There were a number of  possible reasons.
      Xu was not the only scholar of his generation who realized that the world was changing due to the influx of Western ideas and other developments within Chinese society itself. There was a need to update their world view.
      The teachings of Ricci had many concepts and core values with which such scholars  were familiar such as the supreme god, Tian Zhu, a moral code like the Ten Commandments and a desire for human and spiritual improvement. They were not happy with Buddhism and were open to alternative systems and ideas.

The Social Contribution
      However one of the main attractions for Xu was the potential he saw in Christianity to re‑vitalize Confucianism. The role he described for Christianity was Ato supplement Confucianism and replace Buddhism@.
      As a traditional Confucianist, Xu believed that a person=s life was to be played out by taking up his or her social responsibilities and not avoiding them by retiring to a Buddhist or Taoist monastery.
      The form relationships should take and the correct attitude to self and society were contained in the writings of the ancients  who sought to live in accord with the true Way or Tao. It was the goal of a Confucian scholar to study their teaching and live, as closely as possible, in conformity  to the Way.
      This would explain Xu=s interest to Christianity. Even though it was foreign it addressed many of the moral and social questions with which he was concerned. Also, he had no difficulty in accepting that the will of the Heavenly God (Tian Zhu), as taught by Ricci and the other Jesuits, was the true Way. 

An Inducement to Morality
      The aspect of Christianity that seemed to have impressed him most was the motivational power of its world view. 

      Most Confucianists regarded the human spirit in a positive manner and believed that moral education, rather than the threat of punishment, was the way to create responsible citizens. Yet, in practice, numerous laws crept in to curb human weaknesses such as greed and selfishness. Xu felt that these laws had only a limited value. They might be able to regulate external behavior but had no influence on how people thought or desired. The good citizen might observe all the rules and regulations out of fear of reprimand but in his or her mind might remain full of envy, anger, pride or selfishness. The resulting lack of  sincerity or search for perfection would lead to a troubled and unfair society.
     He was convinced that what people needed was  an awareness of an outside power who guided and directed them and knew their innermost thoughts.
      In Christianity Xu found a personal God who could rectify this situation.
     He wrote:
      According to Christian teachings, the service of God (Shang‑ti) is the fundamental principle; the protection of the body and the salvation of the soul are of foremost importance; loyalty, filial piety, compassion and love are accomplishments; the reformation of errors and the practice of virtue are initial steps; repentance and the purification of sins are the prerequisites for personal improvement; the true happiness of celestial life is the glorious reward for doing good; and the eternal  misery of hell is the recompense of doing evil.

A Way for All People
      Xu believed that it was too difficult for the ordinary person to internalize the Confucian virtues and to have a sincere heart as well as correct external behavior. Only a few fortunate few could attain that perfection. Christianity, however, in its simplicity was accessible to all and everyone, no matter what their background or status, could avail of it to correct their thoughts as well as their actions.
      As long as they believed in God=s presence in their life they would have reason to overcome their weaknesses and follow the Way. A convinced Christian should find it impossible to do anything to offend God and would not even have evil thoughts.

A New Way or an Old?
      It seems Xu had no difficulty is accepting Christianity even though it was a foreign religion. If the rule of Tian Zhu extended to all the world, and China could benefit from it, why should it be rejected?
      However, he did not see it as replacing Confucianism. Rather it would revitalize the teachings of the Sage from within by inspiring  people to be better and more sincere Confucianists. The revigoration of society depended on each individual having a lively social conscience and taking responsibility. Being a loyal Christian and a loyal subject of the Ming Emperor was not a problem for Xu.
      Today Confucianism is not the force it used to be but there is a renewed interest in it either as a basis for national identity or a moral backbone for a society drifting into consumer‑materialism. Its influence remains deep in the Chinese psyche and Christianity has much in common with its belief in the goodness of human nature, the virtye of compassion (ren) and the importance of social responsibility.
      It was the possibility that Christianity could underpin and invigorate Confucianism which attracted Xu Guangqi and the dialogue needs to be continued today.

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