The Chinese Evangelicals and the Anti-Japanese Movement
By Kevin Xiyi Yao
In the wake of the “9.18 Incident” or Japan’s seizure of three northeastern provinces of China in 1931, a debate about Christian attitude toward war and peace broke out within Chinese Protestant Church. While liberals no doubt played a leading role in the debate, the voice of evangelicals could also be heard. By focusing on their discussion on China’s national crisis, this study aims to trace the basic framework of Chinese evangelicals’ social-historical thinking.
1) In theological thinking of the Chinese evangelicals, the Calvinistic emphasis on sinful nature of human beings and God’s sovereignty was always influential. Therefore, the evangelicals’ view of society and history tended to be quite pessimistic. The world was under Satan’s power, and could only deteriorate. To the evangelicals, the current domestic and international chaos and looming threat of war actually supported their view. Furthermore, premillennialism also played a contributing role. In those evangelicals’ eyes, all signs of the times pointed to the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. The evangelicals’ position was in sharp contrast to liberals’ firm belief in endless progress.
2) For the Chinese evangelicals, history was eventually under God’s control. A nation’s fate eventually depended whether she obeyed God’s will or not. This was true to Israel as well as China. The key cause for China’s trouble lay here. Thus, according to them, the ultimate solution for China’s problems was repentance and turning to God, instead of military build-up or cultural reform. Evangelism was even said to be the pre-condition of solving the Sino-Japanese conflict. Consequently, spreading the Gospel took on new dimension and urgency.
3) There were some evangelicals who did propose Christian responses to national crisis other than spreading the Gospel. With less premillennialistic theological outlook, they advocated a more aggressive involvement in anti-Japanese campaign on the part of Chinese Christians at lease on practical level. Opposing the pacifists’ non-resistance, they tended to argue for China’s right to defend herself by military means.
In conclusion, the Chinese evangelicals’ responses to the national crisis were not just another manifestation of their traditional social-historical view, but also sharpening or hardening of their view. The evangelicals were thus further distanced from their liberal counterparts. Reflecting on the heritage they have left to us, we can learn a great deal and get wiser in our social and cultural engagements.