Self-Respect: The Indispensible Prerequisite for Self-Support

Frank Lide and Theological Training 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 (note: the sixth chapter is more or less a conclusion). This entry will focus on his final two major chapters, particularly the fifth, and briefly on his conclusion. In these chapters, Lide revealed his beliefs on the spiritual impetus behind indigeneity and the practical steps for getting there.

In the first chapter, Lide identified six NT principles of church leadership. In the second and into the third, Lide described the current paternalistic situation in China. In the latter half of the third chapter, he called missionaries to change their approach to native churches radically and introduced a paradigm for leadership training. Then, in the fourth chapter, he repeatedly emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in calling out new leaders.

Indigenous leaders are divinely called by the Holy Spirit through spiritual gifting and are raised out and identified through the prayer of the saints Also, leaders arise through the influence by older, established leaders, and through the calling of churches, or being raised up through Christian homes, or even through evangelistic involvement. The first two categories emphasize the supernatural activity of God in his providence—

“A seminary class made up of men conscious of their call would be a power house of spiritual fervor. They would go out with a holy passion to serve Christ and to redeem their country. The call of the Spirit is first and foremost in the successful evangelization of any people.”[1]

The last categories show the role of involvement in mission as a determining factor in an individual’s calling—“The churches and homes must work together in character-building and in the calling out of native leadership.”[2] Thus, God raises leadership within churches, while churches must remain vigilant in prayer and leadership development.

In Lide’s final major chapter, after tracing the role of a trained leadership from the NT through church history, he argues for a four-fold “method of training”:[3]

  1. Concentrate mission education upon the Christian community
  2. Make mission education thoroughly Christian.
  3. Train select few thoroughly, in the Chinese language, in both practical and Biblical theology
  4. Autonomous Chinese-led and governed institutions.

Leading him to seek a change, Lide lamented the situation in China: “It is no wonder that a greater impact has not been made upon China with so many poorly-trained and unlettered natives attempting to represent Christ as preachers.”[4] This was by no means an indictment of the ability of the Chinese—he thoroughly believed them to be capable to excel—but rather an indictment of the missionary system that did not invest in the Chinese Christians. Rather than training solid Christian leaders, missionaries educational methods focused on civilization-building and cultivating the higher classes (thus subverting the traditional Chinese examination system and widening the gulf between upper and lower classes all at the same time). Thus, this created “a great depletion in the ranks of Christian teachers and preachers. It made it difficult to secure the best type of men for strictly Christian service…[and it] caused tuition and other expenses so to advance in price as to leave out many Christian students.”[5] Furthermore, secular education (by missionaries) was exalted over religious education.[6] He lamented, “Our Baptist missions in China must have strong seminaries, or our best men will go elsewhere.”[7] Ultimately, his concern was that “The Chinese will thus be enabled to render their own contribution to theology and Bible interpretation.”[8]

“The Chinese will thus be enabled to render their own contribution to theology and Bible interpretation.”

Finally, in the concluding chapter, Lide further argued that self-government is the primary path towards self-support and indigeneity among churches in China: “The Chinese are having the burden thrown upon them whether they want it or not. They must bear the burden in the future or it will not be borne.”[9] He also further argued that “unconditional autonomy” is as much spiritual as it is material. He knew that both missionaries and Chinese needed revival: “A movement is greatly needed to show that Christianity is a things of the spirit and does not consist in foreign real estate.”[10] This combination of the emphasis on spiritual and methodological renewal made Lide’s participation and contribution to the Shantung revival much more important. He recognized the necessity of honoring the essential role of Chinese leadership in Chinese churches in a sense of true equality—

“Self-respect, self-government, self-propagation always precede self-support…autonomy would probably take away from Christianity the epithet ‘foreign religion.’”[11]

The missionary, as a co-worker and servant to the Chinese, then and only then, can make the contribution to the Chinese church it needs. He concludes:

If the missionary is willing to “spend and be spent” for Christ among the Chinese, he will prove himself indispensable. The majority of Christians want to view it as a joint enterprise of foreign missionaries and natives. However, natives must take the lead.[12]

It is this attitude that enabled Lide, and the other North China Mission missionaries, to ride the waves of the indigenous Shantung Revival movement.

[1] Frank P. Lide, “The Training of an Efficient Native Leadership for the Christian Churches,” Th.D. dissert., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1928, 66–7.

[2] Ibid., 74.

[3] Ibid., 78. Note: Lide also discussed the relationship missions schools should have towards government intervention in theological education. His discussion is important, but it does not add anything to a “method of training.”

[4] Ibid., 84.

[5] Ibid., 86.

[6] Ibid., 88.

[7] Ibid., 98.

[8] Ibid., 102.

[9] Ibid., 112.

[10] Ibid., 115.

[11] Ibid., 118.

[12] Ibid., 122.

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