Theological Training–The Route Towards Ending Paternalism

Frank Lide On Ending Paternalism in China

In January 1928, Frank P. Lide completed his dissertation for the Th.D. degree under Dr. William Owen Carver on the principle of self-government among indigenous churches in China. His dissertation is helpful for understanding part of the philosophy of mission carried out by the North China Mission in the 1930s. Lide divided his dissertation into six chapters. This entry will focus on his third chapter. In this chapter, he compared the situation in China, which he had described in chapter two, with the “ideals for leadership”, which he had identified in chapter one.

In the first sub-section of chapter three, Lide decried the evils of missionary paternalism: “Too much of the missionary’s work in recent years has been dolling out cut and dried packages of truth, and advice, rather than leading the native church out on a voyage of discovery.”[1]

“Too much of the missionary’s work in recent years has been dolling out cut and dried packages of truth, and advice, rather than leading the native church out on a voyage of discovery.”

By doing so, he argued, missionaries have belittled the Chinese and not afforded them a sense of equality in the faith. Poignantly he alluded to the imperialistic attitude of the missionaries as being akin to racial prejudices exuded by whites in general.[2] These attitudes had both stunted growth and reflected a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit, as well as the Chinese: “The Chinese Christians themselves must discover for themselves what are the essentials. The Holy Spirit, who guides into all truth, is guiding them.”[3] Furthermore, paternalism has kept the Christian faith foreign and extraneous to Chinese daily life and thought:

Well-defended and secured systems of theology and church government have been carried over with negligible change. Paternalism holds its stewardship over intellectual and moral values. It is a racial trait which has been an obstacle in the way of a most effective indigenous life. It has set up unchangeable theological and ecclesiastical barriers, instead of leading out free investigation and growth. In some cases, the missionary has been slow to trust the infant church and the Holy Spirit to work out a satisfactory expression of faith…Often the missionary has challenged the native church with non-essentials, thus failing to call out their most enthusiastic backing and support.[4]

To solve these problems, Lide called the missionaries to radical change“The national Christians, guided by the Holy Spirit, must increase, while the missionary decreases.”[5] These were bold and very important statements coming from a man who would return to the mission field and lead several seminaries overseas.

Reminiscent of chapter one, Lide argues that the authority for church government, evangelism, and ministry lie solely with the local church—the local national church. Thus, in the final sub-sections of the chapter Lide argues that the church should select its own divinely called pastors. This not only empowers the pastor, it empowers the church—

“A state of mutual dependence between pastor and people is necessary for a healthful, vigorous Christian growth. Such a state of dependence gives the church members a claim upon the pastor and spurs him to put forth his best efforts.”[6]

In light of the increasing role of the local church in governing itself, he turns to the subject of preparation of ministers. The missionary then is enabled to devote his or her time to training and preparing pastors of every level and in any field for service. For Lide, this meant providing both China’s urban and rural pastors with “as high theological training as possible.”[7] The final two chapters of Lide’s dissertation dealt exclusively with theological training; these will be discussed in a later post.


[1] Frank P. Lide, “The Training of an Efficient Native Leadership for the Christian Churches,” Th.D. dissert., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1928, 46.

[2] Ibid., 47–8.

[3] Ibid., 48.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 52.

[6] Ibid., 59.

[7] Ibid., 61–4.

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