True unity

Daily Reading for June 8 • Roland Allen, Mission Strategist, 1947

If a traveler returns from visiting our Indian or Chinese Christians the first thing that he tells us is that he was delighted to find himself worshipping in a church where the language indeed was strange and the worshippers of another colour, but that in every other respect he felt quite at home. He found the same sort of ornaments, the same service, the same Prayer Book, the same hymns with which he was familiar. If a Chinese or an Indian convert comes to England he finds, of course, that England is not the Christian country which he imagined it to be, and that the majority of people do not observe many of the rules which he has been taught to keep, but within the circle of the Church he finds the same thing with which he was familiar in his own home. In all the outward forms of religion there is a practical uniformity. . . .

No emissaries from Europe or America ever return to accuse some native church of violating the law and the customs. No bishop ever hastens home to claim for the church of his foundation spiritual liberty, and to assert its right to disregard a rubric. None ventures to maintain the equality of one church with another, as equally with it a member of the Spirit-bearing body. A rule is made in London by a Conference of Western bishops and is applied indiscriminately to China and to Africa, and none dares to say that the Chinese have already settled this question for themselves in their own way, and that, though their decision may not approve itself to Englishmen, still it is certainly not a sufficient reason for breaking communion. . . .

The unity, therefore, which we maintain is practically uniformity of custom. It is essentially legal in its habit. When questions arise they are settled by the missionaries, and the missionaries have but one test and that test is agreement with Western practice. . . . By this means it must be admitted that we have succeeded in maintaining a kind of unity. Schism and heresy are almost unknown in our missions. But at what a price have we succeeded! If there has been no heresy, there has been no prophetic zeal. If there has been no schism, there has been no self-realization. If there has been no heresiarch, there has been no Church Father. If there have been no schismatics, there have been no apostles. If there has been no heresy, there has been no native theology. If there has been no schism, there has been no vigourous outburst of life.

From Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1962).

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