Commemorating May Fourth Movement's 100th Anniversary: Christians Today Should Talk Less About Doctrine and More About Practical Issues

Hu Shi
Hu Shi

This year is the 100th anniversary of the May 4th Movement. One hundred years ago, Mr. HU Shi published his article, "More Research on Practical Issues, Less Talk on 'Ism''', putting forward his own suggestions in response to the situation at that time.

One hundred years on, we today look back at the background and content of the debate that were triggered at that time. By taking off our politically colored glasses, we find that the background of the "issues and ism's" faced by Hu Shi is similar to today's Christian world.

After the impact of Western civilization, China's own culture had fallen into a deep crisis, coupled with the demise of the Qing Government - the end of the feudal monarchy, which lasted more than thousands of years. The ladder of career advancement through the Imperial examination system had also closed. So the question of where China was going was linked to the traditional issue of the fate of the elite with the aim of becoming an official. This was the social context of the prevailing thinking.

Therefore, during the May 4th Movement, all kinds of new cultures, new ideas and new "ism's" came one after the other. For the young people of the time, in the face of so many ism's and theories, it was very easy for them to be confused and follow them. As a result, they were highly vulnerable to being exploited by the traditional literati who had other motives. Various political speculators had joined the ranks of peddling their ideas as a way of rallying young people and capturing their zeal. Even Dr. Sun Yat-sen said that there were more than 57 kinds of socialism alone, so many that people could not decide which one was good and which was not.

Therefore, in that era of so many ism's emerging, Hu published "More Research on Practical Issues, Less Talk on 'Ism's''' in order to encourage the Chinese people to seriously study issues and not be confused so as to be led astray by many kinds of "ism's".

What is an "ism"? It is an established system, a ready-made closed system, which is similar to the teachings of a religion. In an "ism", there are only ready-made answers and no questionings because the issues have been solved by the 'ism's teaching'. At the same time, similar to religious teachings, an "ism" itself has its own exclusivity. So once a young person man falls into the closed system of an "ism" without examining the real issue, they loses their ability to be independent and are exploited by those who peddle it.

What is an "issue"? It is the exploration of a specific thing with openness and comprehensiveness. The exploration of an issue is not the pursuit of a standard answer, but a comprehensive examination of the cause, background, process, results and influence of that thing. In the process of exploration, an objective attitude and open questioning allows one's thoughts not to be closed, enabling not only the forming of one's own independent judgment but also an understanding of the real issue.

In Christianity, overemphasizing doctrine and glazing over issues, especially amongst college students who have just embarked on society, is particularly common and can be misleading to many. It is this overemphasis on doctrine "answering every question" and making any further discussion unnecessary that makes today's Christianity gradually lose its social influence in China.

The "close system" that various 'doctrines' in Christianity create has made us closed and exclusive when we become believers of the doctrine. For instance, some extreme Calvinist believers, seem to perceive that they are the only defenders of the truth and others who are different from them are wrong and therefore considered to be heretical or cultic. This narrow mindedness exhibits a strong sense of belligerence, taking on a political nature. Therefore, once you join this extreme Calvinism and become its adherent, there will no longer be an issue that needs further discussion or exploration because the "ism" or  'doctrine' itself has provided all the answers, and therefore refuse to think and examine the problem.

A problem-conscious believer, before accepting a theological doctrine or a kind of teaching, is bound to take a serious look at checking the background, source of thought, biblical basis, limitations and advantages of the doctrine, and, on the basis of this examination, think of what is advisable and what is not in the current context.

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus advocates similarly exploring issues and sternly criticizes blindly following doctrines.

What Jesus objected to was the legalism of the Pharisees. Legalism takes the law as an end and treats people as a means, so the law can only be complied with and cannot be questioned. Therefore Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath becomes an issue for the Pharisees who followed legalism.  Picking ears of wheat on Sabbath He washungry could also bring accusations by the Pharisees. When Jesus ate with people he was criticized for being at the table with sinners. Therefore by strictly following the law, man is only a pawn of the rules. And once he has gone wrong, he becomes its victim.

Jesus' sense of questioning was about examining the causes and purposes behind every law, and about God's mercy toward man, something that had been ignored in legalism and something Jesus wanted to restore.

Jesus' disciples had great doubts about many of Jesus' teachings, which were often brought up at the time of Jesus' preaching, and even argued with Jesus. According to 'doctrine's" teaching, Jesus is Lord and everything He says is indisputable. However Jesus' style was not a "closed system" and He respected His disciples' questions and doubts, answering them patiently every time. Even after His resurrection, Thomas suspected that Jesus' resurrection was fake, so he had to personally investigate Jesus' nail marks. And even in the face of this suspicion of himself, Jesus readily agreed. After touching the nail marks, Thomas' faith had a solid foundation and never wavered again.

Being aware of problems and issues does not destroy faith, but rather is the cornerstone of faith. Only through doubt and an investigation of issues can faith and confidence be built on a solid foundation.

Today's traditional Christianity consumes all its energy in promoting "doctrine" and thereby puts specific issues aside. Under the ready-made answer of 'doctrine', the whole of society is left out and the issue is avoided by accepting only the standard answer and not examining the issue further.

Thus, just as the mercy of God is not seen in legalism, today's "sectarianism" and emphasis on doctrine blinds us to see God, blinds us to see believers and others at the door of the church who need help, and blinds us to see the teachings of Jesus, let alone testify to His glory.

The most important thing for Christians today is to return to Jesus and avoid the 'doctrine' or "ism" mentality. What is most needed is to be conscious of  "issues". Only then can we follow in Jesus' steps.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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