Zeal without knowledge

Daily Reading for October 14 • Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Bishop of Shanghai, 1906

There have, indeed, been missionaries who, almost immediately after their arrival, having picked up a few broken phrases, commenced, as they supposed, to preach the Gospel to the heathen, but which preaching most likely consisted in nothing more than uttering some sounds wholly unintelligible to the hearers. It can be fairly asserted that preaching the Gospel in such a manner is exhibiting a zeal without much knowledge. The Gospel of Christ is to be made honorable in every respect. Now, to preach in an incomprehensible gibberish to such a people as the Chinese, who, perhaps, more than any other people, are fastidious about language, is anything but making it honorable.

In my humble opinion it will require at least eighteen months’ very hard study before one would be enabled to express himself on any topic, not belonging to the routine of common life, intelligibly and clearly in a foreign tongue. This is true with reference to all other languages—some of the easy European languages, perhaps, excepted—but more especially is this the case with regard to the Chinese language. I say Chinese language; I should rather say the Chinese languages, for really one desiring to become usefully familiar with the speech of China has to study at least two, if not three distinct languages.

Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

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