For centuries, the work of foreign missions all over the world had been done by faithful missionaries going from nations like England or America, serving the Lord in some field white unto harvest, and then going off the scene back to their sending agency. That method was in need of changing, and the Rev. John Livingston Nevius would be the one who would change foreign mission methods forever.
Born on March 4, 1829 in western New York, John Nevius attended Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1850’s. Called while in seminary to the foreign mission field, he found the perfect mate in Helen Coan in 1853. Marrying her, they set sail for China.
At first they traveled, setting up missions and schools. Then they settled down in one province of that vast land. Observing the work of other missionaries in that nation, this Presbyterian missionary began to see the need to establish “self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing indigenous churches from the very beginning of a missionary’s work on the field. Interesting, even though this approach, which was eventually crystallized in a book, was first developed in China, it never really matured into reality there. But when broaching the same method in the land of Korea, it was received completed by the Korean church. And today, that land and its churches have taken the three “self’s” and followed them religiously.
John Nevius also in his plan suggested that Christian missionaries should only begin programs which the national church desired and supported. Further, the national church should call out and support their pastors. Intensive beliefs and doctrinal instruction should be provided each year by the missionaries. It is clear that the focus would not be on some Western culture and church, but rather on the mission field’s culture and church. Indeed, the missionary’s “job” was to work themselves out of that “job,” and leave it to the Christian church people to win their nation to Christ.
Countless church bodies have followed the Nevius plan. The Mission to the World agency of the Presbyterian Church in America employs this plan, often setting deadlines for establishing a Presbytery of pastors and churches, and then sending the missionary to some other field to continue the process.
John Livingstone Nevius died while in China on October 19, 1893 and is buried in China.
It is deeply interesting to ponder the Lord’s sovereign hand in the affairs of China, from that time until now, how the Lord has purified that Church. To read another missionary’s account, from 1927, click here.
Words to live by: When I hear of a church which has closed down when a pastor has left by moving on or by death, I reflect that this John Nevius plan wouldn’t be a bad one for our local American church scene. For reasons known only to the pastor and people, the work to equip the saints to do the work of service, as Ephesians 4:11, 12 states, had been missing in that closed church. Now it was the pastor’s fault. He wanted to think that he was irreplaceable. Or maybe the members resisted that Scriptural methodology. But whatever the reason was, the work came to an end when the pastor was removed from the scene. So here is my question? Pastors, are you equipping the saints to do the work of ministry? And members, are you zealous to be equipped to do the work of ministry? It is important to ask and answer these questions.
The Anti-opium League in China written by davidtmyers
This author earnestly hopes that none of our readers see another missionary biography in this post and respond with a ho-hum attitude. These dear servants of Christ, even in earlier centuries and countries, are important to acknowledge in the overall kingdom of Christ down through the ages. And our post today on August 19 is no exception to that rule.
His name was Hampden Coit DuBose. Born in 1845 in South Carolina, he was a Confederate soldier during the War Between the States. But of far more importance was that he was a Christian soldier in that eternal war between Christ and Satan. Graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary, he and his wife Pauline went to China under the American Presbyterian Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, aka Southern Presbyterian Church. Settling in Soochow, China, they began to preach the gospel to a people steeped in Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Over the next 38 years, in preaching in the market and the street, he claimed for his King this city in China.
Far beyond normal mission endeavors, his ministry entered the cultural mandate area in that he took on the opium trade in China. At the time, this crop in the land hindered greatly the gospel message as it brought Chinese citizens under its power. We are talking about millions addicted to it. Complicit in the use of this deadly narcotic were both England and America. Rev. DuBose was successful in bringing both nations to own their responsibility for the opium trade, and stop doing so. The Presbyterian missionary galvanized missionaries and Christian medical workers to organize the Anti-Opium League in China. Rev. DuBose became its first president.
It was on this day, August 19, around 1906, that the Presbyterian missionary placed a petition signed by 1,333 British and American missionaries and Christian medical personnel into the hands of the Chinese emperor, Giangxa, seeking to prohibit the trade and abuse of opium. The Emperor issued an imperial edict two weeks later, which was practically verbatim the petition DuBose had drafted and given to him.
Rev BuBose served as a Christian missionary until his death in 1910. Recognition for his service included a stone tablet at the time in Soochow, China. He had as well earlier been elected to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1891.
Words to Live By:
Like Hampden DuBose, every Christian in these United States should be involved in a needy cultural mandate area which begs for a Christian witness. A biblical church ought to have at least one ministry in which it shines the light of the gospel into some needy area of culture. With Rev. DuBose, it was the opium trade which had captured large numbers of Chinese people to the exclusion of the gospel. Which arena of culture is it in your area of ministry? And are you being the salt of the earth to that area of culture? Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men?” (Matthew 5:13, NASB). May our Lord keep us from becoming good-for-nothing Christians and/or Christian churches, especially in this great hour of spiritual need in our land.
As historians write the story of American religion in the 20th century, they will continue to focus on out-front figures such as Billy Sunday, W. B. Riley, and Billy Graham. But countless others had major influence on how the Christian faith was preserved and extended, both in the United States and around the world. One was Lemuel Nelson Bell.
Best known as the father-in-law of Billy Graham, Nelson Bell was a significant figure in his own right: missionary surgeon to China, founder of two magazines, and leader for southern Presbyterian conservatives and American evangelicals. In many ways he represented the thought, hopes, and aspirations of the new evangelicalism of the mid–20th century—for there was a time when it appeared that God was going to revive America once again to reach the world with the gospel. That was Bell’s longing and vision as a missionary to the world.
Missionary to China
Born 120 years ago today on July 30, 1894, in Longsdale, Virginia, Bell was the child of hardworking Presbyterians: his father the superintendent of a mining company, his mother a doctor’s daughter. He grew up in Waynesboro, Virginia, where he gained a reputation as a straight arrow, a sharp student, and a strong athlete. He was especially good at baseball, developing a curveball that eventually brought him an offer to play in the minor leagues.
Central to Bell’s identity was his personal commitment to Jesus Christ. In 1906 he went forward at an evangelistic meeting at his home church, First Presbyterian in Waynesboro, and committed himself to be a disciple of Jesus. That commitment ultimately led him toward medicine with the intention of serving as a medical missionary. He graduated from Washington and Lee College in 1912 and the Medical College of Virginia in 1916. He was not yet 22 years old.
The year of his medical school graduation brought other gifts—marriage to his lifelong love, Virginia, and an assignment from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) mission board to Tsing-kiang-pu, China. There, the Bells would join a medical team led by Dr. James Woods. As Woods handed off leadership of the medical work to Bell, the Love and Mercy Hospital (as it was called in Chinese) at Tsing-kiang-pu would expand to become one of the largest medical dispensaries in the region.
This medical mission aimed to support evangelistic outreach and church planting. Each year the hospital hosted a week of evangelistic meetings. A church developed in connection with the mission work, soon overseen by a Chinese pastor and elders. They launched regular evangelistic forays into the countryside. Bell’s love for the Chinese he served brought him the native name “the Bell who is the lover of the people.” His passion for the mission work brought him into contact with Benjamin Clayton, a wealthy layman from First Presbyterian Church in Houston; through this connection, thousands of dollars would be directed to sustaining the mission.
While in China, Bell’s family multiplied: Rosa was born in 1918 and Ruth in 1920. After the family lost their newborn, Nelson Jr., in 1925, Virginia was born two years later. In 1934, the last child, Benjamin Clayton, was born. With a growing family came new risks, especially as the political situation in China deteriorated—both because of internal battles and external Japanese military threats. In 1927 the family was forced to evacuate because of the advance of the Nationalist army, and again in 1937 in advance of the invading Japanese army. In 1941 the Bells returned to the United States for good.
Missionary to America
Simply because they returned to America did not mean the Bells ceased to care about evangelism, missions, and the church. Even prior to returning permanently to Asheville, North Carolina, where he set up a surgical practice, Bell had grown concerned about the spread of theological and social liberalism in American Protestantism generally and in the PCUS in particular.
In order to combat this he helped start the Southern Presbyterian Journal in 1942. Although listed as the associate editor, Bell was the mainspring: he wrote more than anyone else, solicited articles, committed financial resources, and guided the policy of the board of directors. The magazine offered a blend of American religious and political conservatism. From the first issue, Bell and the other writers hammered American religion for replacing the gospel of redemption with a program of social reform. He believed that if the church would simply preach the good news faithfully, it could provide “the spiritual and moral stamina which is essential for world stabilization.” The result would be spiritual awakening and revival.
Alongside this longing for revival he was determined to buttress American civilization, which was being undermined by a range of social and political enemies. One great enemy was global communism: Bell would write countless articles attacking the advance of communism in Russia and especially in China and castigate American political leaders for their policy of containment. Another enemy was racial integration: in numerous articles Bell laid out a case he considered racial moderation—no one should force integration; at the same time, within the boundaries of a segregated society, individuals should be treated equally before the law and violence should be eschewed. (One wishes that Bell’s love for gospel expansion around the world had translated to a more multiethnic vision for the church in the States.) A third enemy was moral license: as youth culture began to go astray, Bell blamed popular culture, especially movies and novels, that titillated and ultimately destroyed moral fiber. His defense of social conservatism would earn him seven awards from the right-wing Freedom’s Foundation of Valley Forge.
In order for America to be rescued from these enemies, God needed to send Spirit-filled evangelists who would turn America to God and fit her for a special place in worldwide evangelization. Bell had little idea that one such evangelist would be part of his own family when in 1943 Billy Graham married Bell’s daughter Ruth. However, as the Youth for Christ crusades drew stadium-filling crowds at the end of World War II and as Graham drew national attention during his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles, it appeared God was raising up such an evangelist.
Bell supported his son-in-law in every endeavor and became his private confidant and public defender. Eventually, their partnership would birth one of the most significant institutions of the new evangelicalism: Christianity Today, a magazine launched in 1956. Bell served on the original board of directors, secured financing from wealthy supporter J. Howard Pew, and contributed a regular column entitled “A Layman and His Faith.” It was part of an effort to provide a counterweight to Protestant liberalism and spark a spiritual renewal that would transform America.
Missionary to the World
Yet the work was never ultimately about America for Nelson Bell. His passion was for the gospel to spread throughout the world. That’s why his most thrilling times were the international crusades led by his son-in-law, especially the 1954 Harringay Crusade in London. When more than 36,000 people filled out decision cards at that campaign, it appeared God was on the move. Bell would challenge southern Presbyterians to pray “for a world-sweeping revival which will solve the problems of individuals and of nations.” And though the revival did not fully come in his time, he did not stop praying or working for it.
Bell served from 1948 until 1966 on the PCUS Board of World Missions, making a number of trips to encourage missionary workers: not only to Presbyterian works in Brazil and Korea, but also to a number of countries in Africa, Europe, and Palestine. Moreover, through his role on the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Bell played a role in the developing 1966 World Congress of Evangelism in West Berlin, Germany. And he supported Graham’s evangelistic efforts around the globe.
Even as his own denomination was fragmenting, Bell worked as a statesman to maintain a platform for global missions. To honor his efforts, the PCUS elected him to serve as moderator of its 1972 General Assembly. He used his moderator’s year to seek peace in his denomination, but also to promote the revival he knew must come if the church would be an agent for global evangelization. Two months after his term as moderator ended—on August 2, 1973—Bell died in the confidence of his Savior’s ultimate victory through the cross and empty tomb.
Bell’s significance to 20th-century evangelicalism is vastly underrated. He represented both the deep longing for revival and the passion for evangelism that has characterized the movement at its best. He also served as an example of the marriage of religious and social conservatism that has sometimes undercut evangelicalism’s gospel mission. Above all, Bell’s commitment to Christ’s cause gave him a global vision that made him a missionary to the world and faithful in his own generation.
Sean Michael Lucas is senior minister at the First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He taught previously at Covenant Theological Seminary and currently teaches for Reformed Theological Seminary-Jackson. He is the author of several books, including On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories.
Walter Macon Lowrie was born on February 18, 1819, and came to saving faith in Christ while in college, in 1834. Like Lyman Atwater of yesterday’s post, Walter soon determined to enter the ministry. He attended Princeton Seminary in preparation, and during those years resolved to become a missionary. The continent of Africa was particularly upon his heart, but following his ordination, the Board of Foreign Missions determined the need was greatest in China. Lowrie set sail in January of 1842. By August of 1847, he was dead, murdered by pirates.
God is sovereign, and even when death seems senseless. it is only because we lack the Lord’s wisdom and knowledge. Especially in such cases is it wrong to try to attach a reason; we can only trust in God’s goodness.
A few years after Walter died, his father assembled his son’s letters and writings and published a Memoir. Reading some of that Memoir in preparation for this post, the following letter gave a good insight into the character of Walter’s Christian faith. Note too how the Lord used a godly woman, insignificant in the eyes of the world, in confirming and resolving Lowrie’s interest in missions :
Letters While At College
Jefferson College, September 14th.
My dear father–
Yesterday was our communion here; and though it was so near to the end of the session, that we could not have much time for preparation, and no fast day was appointed, yet it was about as profitable a day as I ever spent. True, at the table, and whilst partaking of the elements, I was not happy; nay, before I rose from the table, I was almost as miserable as I ever was. Yet it was profitable. A temptation came across my mind to this effect: “I am not now enjoying communion with Jesus Christ; and therefore I am not a Christian. I may as well now give up all pretensions to religion, and quit acting the hypocrite any longer.” And although not willingly, I felt as if I ought to do so; but the thought rushed into my mind, “If I am so miserable under the hidings of God’s face only, how shall I bear His eternal wrath?” It was the first time I had ever been influenced more by fear than by other motives. I was miserable, however. But see the goodness of God and of Jesus Christ. After church, I was thinking of my conduct during the session, and meditating on the two verses, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God;” and all my anxious cares vanished. I had been impressed deeply with a sense of my sinfulness, and was wishing to make some resolutions; hereafter to live more to the glory of God, but felt almost afraid to do it. I knew I should fall away; and I felt that it would but aggravate my guilt, were I to sin against such renewed obligation. But the sentence, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” calmed my heart. I felt that it was my duty to follow present duty, and leave the future to God, without any anxious cares; and I was enabled to do so, and roll all my cares upon the Lord. Oh, the peace I at that moment possessed! I could scarce refrain from laughing, I was so joyful.
I determined then to live every day as if it were to be the last I should have to live, and to do my duty accordingly;—in reality, “to live by the day.” At secret prayer I was more full of God’s presence, and comprehended more of that view of Christ’s character, which is so great, grand, and incomprehensible, that I could scarcely proceed for joy, and from my own experience during the day, I could tell something of the difference between God’s presence and his absence. Today, I cannot say I feel, or have felt, as I could wish—not so much life and animation; but I have been enabled to mourn for it. During the sermon (Mark xvi. 15), I was enabled to see more of the greatness of the Christian religion than I ever did before, and to feel, too, that man could not be the author of such grand ideas as I saw there held out.
This evening I was walking out into the country for exercise and on my return I passed the cottage of a negro woman, commonly called “Old Katy.” She was out in the road, when I passed her. I shook hands with her, and spoke a few words to her. Before we had spoken three sentences, she was was talking about religion. She is a most eminent Christian, and we stood about ten or fifteen minutes there talking. She soon got to speaking about the missionary cause. Her heart was in the matter, and she said, “I am very poor, but as long as I live I will be something to it. I have often given a little to it, and I never laid out any money better. I could not do it. I never lost a cent by it.”
I wish I could give you some idea of the emphasis she used, but pen and ink cannot express her manner and the feeling she manifested. She very cordially asked me to call in and see her; “for it is food to me when any of God’s children come to see me; it is food.” She went on thus for some time, talking about various matters, but all of them religious. Oh! how little I felt when I heard her talk thus, and compared my attainments in the Christian course with hers.
Words to Live By:
Give yourselves wholly to the Lord, in all you say and do. See the Lord as your only gain in this life. See Him as your All in all. You will not regret it. You will not suffer true loss, but will only gain true eternal riches.
Some things just need to be repeated. I had another post ready for today, but felt this one to be more important.
A Christian of Exceptional Personality and Evangelistic Appeal
Charles Woodbridge, born January 24, 1902, was described by his fellow Reformed Christians as being no ordinary General Secretary. From his heritage as the fifteenth generation minister of his family line, dating back to 1493, from his own father who had been a missionary in China, from the fact that he married the daughter of a missionary, Charles Woodbridge would be known as “a man of exceptional personality and evangelistic appeal.” His spiritual gifts made him the perfect architect of a new mission strategy in reaching the world for Christ.
Yet the main line denomination of which he was a part, did not take kindly to this new mission upstart. Within a year, steps were taken to force him to abandon this new missions work, and when he chose not to follow their directives, Charles Woodbridge was censured by the church. He left in 1937 to become a pastor of the First Presbyterian church in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he labored until 1945.
Eventually, he went on to serve as a theological seminary professor and also as an author, always seeking to warn Christians of the danger of compromising the Word of God. He died not all that many years ago, on 16 July 1995, at the age of 93.
As the General Secretary of the Independent Board, Rev. Woodbridge composed, on behalf of the Independent Board, a “Statement as to Its Organization and Program.” The text that follows is a portion of that Statement:—
The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions
The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions is an agency established for the quickening of missionary zeal and the promotion of truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian foreign missions throughout the world.
It is independent in that it is not responsible, as an organization, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., or to any other ecclesiastical body.
* * * *
Why Was the Independent Board Established?
Because a great many loyal Presbyterians have lost faith in the official Board of the largest of the Presbyterian churches, which is the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. They cannot in good conscience support an organization which they regard as disloyal to the Word of God; but they are more eager than ever, in view of the growing apostasy throughout the world, to further the cause of Biblical foreign missions to the uttermost ends of the earth.
Why have so many persons lost confidence in the official Board? Because in the last few years the Board, in its official actions, has been compromising with error in a most distressing way.
When the Laymen’s Appraisal Commission’s Report was issued last year, an attack against the very heart of the Christian message, the Board, instead of swiftly, directly, and uncompromisingly repudiating the Report, answered it in terms which were most vague and unsatisfactory.
When Pearl Buck offered her resignation to the PCUSA Board of Missions, it was accepted by the Board “with regret,” commending her work in China.
[At right, if you can’t make out the dust-jacket blurb by Pearl Buck, it says, in part, “… I think this is the only book I have ever read that seems literally true in its every observation and right in its every conclusion…” — The effrontery of Mrs. Buck’s statement is impossible to miss. By itself it is proof that the concerns of orthodox Christians were not misplaced.]
Some of the Modernist institutions in China which the Board helps to support are: the “Church of Christ in China”, controlled by Modernists, in opposition to which a large group of conservative Christians organized the Bible Union of China; the National Christian Council of China, in whose Bulletin one may read extracts which make the true Christian shudder — for example, in one of its articles, Sun Yat Sen, Lenin and Jesus Christ are treated as figures of comparable grandeur; the Christian Literature Society of China, where Modernist books are often printed; Yencheng University, a hotbed of “liberal” thought; these institutions, all destructive of Biblical Christianity, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. helps to maintain.
At the meeting of the General Assembly in May, 1933, an attempt was made to remedy the situation through ecclesiastical action.
An Overture was presented to the Assembly which, if passed, would have been a real step toward the purification of the Board of Foreign Missions. A document of 110 pages was written in support of the Overture. This document is entitled “Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.” by Dr. J. Gresham Machen, and may be had upon request to the office of the General Secretary. In a clear, logical way the author of this pamphlet marshalled his facts. He proved that the Board of Foreign Missions had been temporising in its attitude toward Modernism.
Instead of attempting to answer this document—and there was no satisfactory answer other than the entire reformation of the Board—the Board evaded the issue.
Instead of replying to the specific accusations which were levelled in black and white against its policies—accusations which to this day have never been disproved—The Board took refuge behind the career, character and personality of one of its leading secretaries, rallied the Assembly to the defense of a man, and, in the popular enthusiasm which was evoked, the Overture was lost.
Thus some of the events which led up to the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Dr. Woodbridge served as General Secretary of the IBPFM and also as the editor of the Independent Board Bulletin, from March 1935-June 1937. Some of his more important publications through the remainder of his life included the following: 1935 – “The Social Gospel: A Review of the Current Mission Study Text Books Recommended for Adults by the Board of Foreign Missions, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.,” Christianity Today 5.9 (February 1935): 209-211. 1937 – “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,”The Presbyterian Guardian 4.5 (12 June 1937): 69-71. Available here.
1945 – The Chronicle of Salimbene of Parma: A Thirteenth Century Christian Synthesis. Durham, NC: Duke University, Ph.D. dissertation, 305 p. 1947 – Standing on the Promises: Rich Truths from the Book of Acts. 1953 – A Handbook of Christian Truth, co-authored with Harold Lindsell. 1953 – Romans: The Epistle of Grace. 1962 – Bible Prophecy. 1969 – The New Evangelicalism.
• News clipping [publisher not known] from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook no. 1, page 34. • Cover of The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions: A Statement As to its Organization and Program, by Charles J. Woodbridge. (1934) • Dust-jacket of Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932.
Dr. Paul Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a segment on churches of Covenanter ancestry. Please keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. VI – The Churches of Covenanter Ancestry [Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 86.3 (March 1952): 25-26] […]
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Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a focus on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Our Monday and Tuesday posts will conclude this series. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. V […]
We continue today with Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Presbyterians in Americaby Rev. Paul Woolley IV […]
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“The day in which we live, and the present circumstances which the people of God and these nations are under, do loudly proclaim a very great necessity of being in this broken and tender frame; for who can foresee what will be the issue of these violent fermentations that are amongst us?” Returning after a […]
Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotlandby Rev. David T. Myers You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States? And that is a fair question. But it is quickly answered […]