Church unity movement in early twentieth-century China: Cheng Jingyi and the Church of Christ in China
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The pursuit of church indigeneity and unity was a two-fold theme throughout the history of twentieth-century Chinese Christianity. Modern scholarship has generated a good number of studies regarding church indigeneity, but has neglected the parallel trend towards interdenominational co-operation and church union in China. This thesis endeavours to remedy this deficiency. The thesis examines the process of the quest of Chinese Protestants for a united indigenous church, focusing on Cheng Jingyi (1881-1939), one of the key figures in the early twentieth-century ecumenical movement. Additionally, it pays particular attention to the Church of Christ in China as a case study. It discusses the feasibility of the ecumenical convictions which were shared by a considerable number of mainline Chinese Protestants, with Cheng Jingyi as a representative, and evaluates the legacy of the church unity movement in early twentieth-century China. The thesis argues that the church unity movement within the mainline Chinese churches differed from the ecumenical movement in the West, which aimed to realise fraternal co-operation and even union among various denominations. In China the aim was to establish a single national church on a federal pattern, reflecting a Chinese indigenous understanding of ecumenism and ecclesiology. It also reflected a broader vision of the Christian church than that exhibited by the majority of the independent Chinese Protestant groups or by the Chinese church under the control of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement during the 1950s. Based on the conviction of the universal nature of the church in which the Chinese church was an indispensable part, the church unity movement in China surpassed a narrowly nationalistic vision. Nonetheless, the good intentions of the Church of Christ in China were overshadowed by its dependence on foreign subsidies. The church never achieved ‘three-self’ status: it was self-governing and self-propagating, but never self supporting. As such its goal of indigeneity was never fully realised.
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