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Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 1

David Alexander August 2008

Evaluating Missionary-Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian

Churches, with Specific Reference to the Taiwan Context
David Alexander*

The Uses Of Hymns And Other Liturgical Texts

The people of God sing. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs comprise

significant portions of both Hebrew and Christian scriptures and of the lives of God’s

people. Music and song are vital in the life of God’s people today. Karl Barth opined

“singing is not an option for the people of God; it is one of the essential ministries of

the church.”1 Yet when we take the styles of singing into mind, these comprise highly

contested areas of concern in churches. Relevance to modern culture is cited by

advocates of more contemporary styles of worship. The danger of cultural

accommodation and its potential to distort the message of the gospel is cited by those

wishing to adhere to “the traditions.”2

In the earliest days of Reformed churches music was not thought fit for admission

to the public worship of Almighty God. Ulrich Zwingli, himself a very accomplished

musician, banned it. This pattern, initiated at Zurich and copied elsewhere, lasted well

into the 16th century. For these Sweitz-deutch Christians and their churches it was the

word which mattered. Emotion, sentimentality and musical accompaniment were

banned to preclude the possibility of the word becoming lost or obscured by artifice.3

John Calvin changed the pattern. The church at Geneva in 1536 held to the

Zwinglian pattern. Calvin soon suggested the restoration of music to the church

service “so that the coldness of the prayers of the people be removed and so that the

The author holds the MA in Theology degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in the USA
and the Ed.M. degree from Rutgers University Graduate School of Education and serves as
International Students’ Advisor at Tainan Theological College and Seminary.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, part 3, chapter 16, par. 72, #4.
Robert L. Foster , “A plea for new songs: a missional/theological reflection on Psalm 96.”
Currents in Theology and Mission - August 1, 2006
Howard Hageman, “Can Church Music Be Reformed?” The Reformed Review, Dec 1960 Vol 14,
No.2. p. 19.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 2
David Alexander August 2008

hearts of worshipers be incited to zeal and that those gathered come to invoke and

exalt the glory of God’s name by their praises.”4 This was rejected. When Calvin went

to Strasbourg he found Lutheran Protestants who had retained music in evangelical

worship. He re-introduced song to the Strasbourg Reformed congregation through use

of versifications of scripture texts. These were faithful to the originals with frequent

resort to additional material to fill out a line.5 He stuck to the scriptures in the belief

that attempts to sing new songs in our own words often result in singing about

ourselves rather than about God.6

The relationship between worship and theology is a two-way affair. There are

both theologies of worship and theologies from worship.7 Congregational singing both

expresses and forms Christian faith. Because people tend to remember the theology

they sing more than the theology that they hear preached, primacy is placed on the

meaning of the texts that are sung. Often it is through the sense of words sung that

believers learn of the nature and character of God and of the Christian life. Theology

implicit in the hymns is often the more powerful than theology preached. It gives

worshipers “food for thought” as they form their own ways of thinking and speaking

about God.

Hymns in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.

The use of music and of hymn singing in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan

(PCT) can be traced to 19th century missionaries from the UK and Canada. The British

mission to the south of Taiwan that began in 1865 was linked to Xiamen where, in

1854, a collection of 13 hymns in the Minnan language (the same as that in Taiwan)

Ibid, p. 20.
Ibid. p. 26
Gracia Grimdal, “On Translating Hymns: Outrageous Opinions and Personal Regrets” The
Hymn Vol 37 No. 2 April 1986, p. 20.
Susan J. White, Foundations of Christian Worship Louisville: Westminster, John Knox, 2006,
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 3
David Alexander August 2008

was in use.8 In 1859 this collection was expanded to 25 hymns and published there by

John Van Nest Talmage.9 Upon his baptism on 12th June 1886 Ko Tiun , the first

Taiwanese Protestant, was able to recite a few verses of scripture and sing 13 hymns,

presumably those from the 1854 collection.10

An 1872 collection of 59 hymns was published in Xiamen and subsequently

became available to church workers in Taiwan.11 This collection included all 13 of the

1854 book’s selections plus translations of English hymns and new songs written in

Minnan by Carstairs Douglas (of the English Presbyterian Mission) Alexander

Stronach (from the London Missionary Society) and John Van Nest Talmage (from

the Reformed Church in America.)12

George Mackay arrived in southern Taiwan early in 1872 where he conferred

with British missionaries. A few months later he was escorted northward to Tam-sui

and left there on his own. His first “native student,” A-hoa, accompanied him in

village preaching and hymn singing. Confronted one day with opposition in Keelung,

Mackay directed A-hoa to address the crowd. A-hoa froze, and Mackay resorted to the

use of an Isaac Watts hymn, “I am Not Afraid to Own My Lord” (found in the 1872

hymnbook). After they sang a couple of verses together the fear was banished and the

student became a preacher.13 A widow, Thah-so, is said to have sung her way across

the boundary to death with hymn Forever with the Lord from the 1872 collection.14

On evangelistic trips to Taiwan’s interior Mackay taught the gospel through song and

Ióng Sim Sin Si (Xiamen:1854)
John Lai, Taiwan Church News 2670, 4 May 2003, p.13.
John Lai, “The Historical Sources of Seng-si Songs” Taiwan Church News 2663, 16 March
2003, p. 13
John Lai,”Iong Sim Sin Si 59 Hymns” Taiwan Church News #1901 7 August 1988
Church Music Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Seng-si (Taipei: PCT, 1964)
Indexes pp 1-3. AND John Geddes, “The Hymn Book of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan” in
Cheung David, Christianity in Modern China: the Making of the First Native Protestant Church.
Leiden: Brill, 2004 p. 104.
George Leslie Mackay, From Far Formosa, 3rd Edition, Taipei: SMC Publishing Co, 1991) p. 147
Ibid. p. 151.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 4
David Alexander August 2008

judged the effectiveness of his proclamation by how hymn singing was taken up.15

When Japanese forces were battling to establish their rule in Taiwan (after the

island was ceded to Japan by the Chinese Imperial government in 1895) Thomas

Barclay, the founder of Tainan Theological College, was asked by the leading

Taiwanese businessmen of his city to negotiate a peaceful entry. Barclay approached

the invaders’ cantonment singing hymns in Taiwanese.16 During the early years of

Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan a hymnbook became a desirable possession among

some Taiwanese who wished to display to police authorities that they might be

deserving of careful treatment.17

Since 1900 the PCT has produced its own hymnals. The 1964 version, which

contains as many as 54 selections written by foreign missionaries in the Minnan

language, has been so popular that it remains in use even in 2008, though a

replacement has been scheduled for publication early in 2009.

Theological Evaluation of Hymns: Three Models from the First World

When Zwingli banned music in the churches of Zurich he sincerely believed that

nothing should be allowed to distract from the Word of God purely expressed and

expounded. But he ignored inherent problems of:1) the use of human language to

express divine intention; 2) the deterioration of meaning through successive

translation from one human idiom to another; 3) the messages carried by physical

arrangements in which people gather to hear the word; and 4) the ways

communication of the word can be nuanced through the use of voice or arrangement

on a printed page.

Human beings like melodies, rhythms and harmonies. Soldiers sing while

marching, adding melody and harmony to the rhythm of their steps without regard to

Ibid. pp. 218-9 and 222.
Edward Band, Barclay of Formosa Tokyo: Ginza, 1936 p. 99
Ibid. p. 117.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 5
David Alexander August 2008

the often bawdy lyrics they intone. Christians at worship join each other in melody,

harmony and rhythm. It is important to be together, and to sing together. The result is

that “bad theology” is often articulated in what is sung. The hymn of challenge, Once

to Every Man and Nation is moving and widely accepted in churches, but claiming

that God’s call upon “men” and nations is “once” is theologically questionable if not


1: A Mainline Church Model from America

In 1986 the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America endorsed and

adopted a paper offering a set of standards against which the entire spectrum of music

used by congregations could be judged. The paper poses nine questions.

1. What theology is expressed in our congregational singing?

2. Is it biblical?
3. Is it consistent with Reformed theology?
4. Is the range of what we sing representative of the "whole counsel of God?"
5. What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the sovereignty and grace
of God?
6. What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the life, death,
resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ?
7. What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the work of the Holy
8. What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the nature and
mission of the church?
9. What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the sacraments,
and the Christian life?18
Application of the standards assumes that a congregation or representative

committee thereof has at hand an overview of what the congregation uses habitually.

These standards are “general”. The synod called for a clearly stated, biblical,

Reformed, comprehensive theology to be articulated within the music of the church.

2: An Academic Model from the UK

Susan J. White is more expansive. She focuses on all “liturgical texts” (not
“The Theology and Place of Music in Worship” Report of the Commission on Christian
Worship, Reformed Church in America, Minutes of General Synod, 1986, pp 223-227.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 6
David Alexander August 2008

exclusively on what is sung) and offers 18 criteria:

1. What does this text say about God, and about God's attributes and actions?
From which sources are the images of God taken?
2 What does the text say about Jesus Christ? What is the relationship between
the risen Christ and the historical Jesus of Nazareth? From which sources are these
images taken?
3. What is the nature and action of the Holy Spirit?
4. What does this text say about the Trinity and about inter-trinitarian relations?
5. What does this text say about human beings or about communities of human
6. What does this text say about the nature of salvation? From what are we
saved? By whom? When, under what conditions, and how? Is it an event or a
process? What images are used to describe this event or process?
7. What is the nature of sin and judgment? How do these relate to redemption?
8. What does it say about the final destiny of things; the second coming; heaven
and hell; the Christian hope?
9. How does the text talk about goodness, power, suffering, and self-sacrifice?
10. What does this text say about the church, about its nature and mission?
What images are used to describe the church and from where do they come?
11. What is the nature of belief and faith? Are they essentially corporate or
12. How is the Bible treated in this text? What biblical images are used and how?
Do the biblical images come from one particular portion or book of the Bible?
13. How are certain key elements of Christian doctrine expressed and interpreted
(such as, incarnation, resurrection, crucifixion, atonement)?
14. What does this text say about the Christian sacraments? About their institution
and purpose?
15. Who is speaking in this text (for example, is it the voice "righteous redeemed"
or the "penitent sinner"; the "seeker"; the "church triumphant")?
16. Can anything be discerned about the historical or doctrinal context of this text
simply by reading it?
17. Are there any serious theological difficulties or inconsistencies in this text?
18. What would be an appropriate liturgical use for this text? 19
Dr. White specifically covers several points of Christian faith, life and tradition.

Her template can be used to evaluate individual songs, hymns, confessions of faith,

Susan J. White, Foundations of Christian Worship Louisville: Westminster, John Knox, 2006,
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 7
David Alexander August 2008

unison prayers, collects or other items. She does not ask that a text of a hymn or song

reflect any particular point of view, but that it HAVE a clearly discernable one.

3: An Evangelical Church Model from America

Preparing to publish a new hymnal for the Southern Baptist Convention (USA) in

2008, Lifeway Christian Resources convened a theological panel in October of 2007

to perform a theological review of songs to be included therein. The group was tasked

to rate doctrinal and theological soundness through use of the following criteria:

1. Does the hymn speak biblically of God?

2. Is it God-honoring?
3. Does the hymn present a biblical view of man?
4. Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?
5. Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness,
and devotion?
6. Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?
7. Does it engage the whole person - allowing a person to express his deepest
8. Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian’s Lord, Master and King?
(the idea of total submission)
9. Does the hymn present an Americanized/Westernized gospel? (civil religion)
10. Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship?
(immanence and transcendence)
11. Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?20
Like the previous two models, these Baptists are seeking to shape the texts of

what congregations will sing in accordance with their interpretations of the Bible. In

contrast to the model presented by the Reformed Church’s Commission on Worship,

which was intended for application to the breadth of a congregation’s singing, this

model (like Dr. White’s) is intended for the screening of specific texts.

Polly House, “Committee To Ensure Doctrine, Theology Of New Baptist Hymnal”
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 8
David Alexander August 2008

Jon Duncan, who led Lifeway Christian Resources’ theological review committee,

said, “… This hymnal, as with past Baptist Hymnals, serves many functions,

including providing a historical document of doctrinal beliefs of the family of faith

known as Baptists. Our major concern is that the hymnal represents a truly

"Christocentric" (Christ centered) and Trinitarian theology. While Baptists reflect

many theological systems, nearly all can find agreement that our theology is first and

foremost Christocentric. Our aim is that this hymnal, as with past ones, speaks

accurately of Jesus Christ - fully God, fully man and the only means to salvation.” He

went on to say, “Baptists have always been known for their high view of Scripture,

local autonomy, priesthood of believers, Trinitarian theology, and salvation through

Christ alone. In pluralistic times such as these, it is more vital than ever that our

hymnal presents a clear theology around which Baptists can wrap their arms. Some

may view this as "narrow" or "lacking" in terms of cultural progressiveness, but we

feel an obligation to remain faithful to our core doctrinal beliefs. It is not our desire to

dictate a particular theological system, such as "dispensational" vs. "covenantal," but

to provide a hymnal that reveals a full-orbed view of Christ that encourages the family

of faith to carry out the commandments to love God and love others.”21

Foundations of a Taiwan-Contextual Hymn Evaluaton Tool

1: Contextuality

Ng Chiong-hui (Shoki Coe) introduced the term “contextualization” in 1972 as

a new approach to understand the problematic relationship of faith and culture.

Preachers, he believed, were called to proclaim both the stories of their own suffering

peoples and the meanings of those stories in order to grasp the meaning of God’s

“Q&A With Jon Duncan, Leader Of Baptist Hymnal Theological Committee”
%25253D166392%252526M%2525 3D201117%2C00.html?
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 9
David Alexander August 2008

salvation.22 For Ng, contextualization presses beyond indigenization for a dynamic

concept which is both open to change and future-oriented. The particular historical

moment, its particular context in the light of the mission of the church, is the

important factor. Contextualization arises out of genuine encounter between God’s

Word and world, then moves out toward the purpose of challenging and changing a

situation through being rooted in and committed to a given historical situation. Ng

argued that contextual theology becomes truly catholic by taking the concrete

situation seriously; not colorlessly uniform but manifold and diverse as it responds to

different contexts. The theological ground for contextuality is the fact of the Son of

God incarnate within specific human histories and cultures by which grace has been

made available to all.23

Thought follows patterns set in the language used for thinking. There are

linguistic dissonances between Asian and Western religions in the lack of clearly

equivalent Chinese morphemes for the Western concepts “God” and “Heaven”.24

Many Western and Asian languages operate through alphabetic systems which depict

sounds. But China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea (to differing extents) use

ideographically written texts to depict ideas. Signifiers used in phonetically based

writing systems depict sounds, which indirectly lead to meanings. Chinese languages’

ideographs have concrete flavor and a suggestiveness of their own. They constitute a

framework for expressing perception and thought that closely associates form and

meaning.25 The ideographs used to write Chinese languages evoke images of those

22 Lo Kong-hi “The Lord Who Enters the World to Serve and to Save” September 2006
John Parratt, ed. An Introduction to Third World Theologies Cambridge: University Press, 2004
See also Huang Po-ho, “Retrospect and Prospect of Doing Contextual Theology in Taiwan”
Journal of Theologies and Cultures in Asia, Vol. 1 (2002) p. 88.
Beniot Vermander, “Theologizing in the Chinese Context” Studia Missionalia,Vol 45, 1996. pp.
Edmund Chia, ”The Sensus Fidelium of the People of God in Asia”
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 10
David Alexander August 2008

objects to which they refer. Conceptual abstraction, possible in languages utilizing

phonetic-based writing systems, is less possible when the signifiers themselves evoke

concrete images.

In the Western dualistic view of reality God is seen as the great Other, who

stands over-against God’s creation. The human body is likewise seen as different from

the human soul. This is in stark contrast to the Chinese concept of tao which posits a

fundamental unity of reality. There is no division of the divine from the created and

the human. In contrast to the “outward” and “upward” religious directionality of

Euro-American systems, those of Asia are oriented inwardly. Reality is gathered and

integrated. An integrated person rediscovers and realizes everything. This leads to a

sense of community within which people become aware both of their rights and of

their duties towards others.26

Cultural alienation (living outside of the context) arises from: 1) unwise

missiological methodologies of foreign evangelists and 2) ways in which churches in

Asia form sub-cultural identities. Solutions to alienation lie in the development of

contextual understandings upon which methodologies and identities can be based.

Non-contextual methodologies and ways of forming sub-cultural identities may

produce in Christian converts understandings of spirituality based on: a) following

particular devotional practices, b) wearing certain reminders of faith, and c) listening

to a particular style of foreign music. Though none of these may be wrong, any or all

of them can be the product of a particular context that may well not cross cultural


Western theologies retain systematic and historical methodology in contrast to

Eastern churches (with a few modern exceptions) which have not written theology in

a systematic way because the systematizing mindset derives from the modernist

Michael Amaladoss, S.J. “Contextual Theology And Integration” East Asia Pastoral Review Vol. 40,
No. 3, 2003.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 11
David Alexander August 2008

Western worldview. Christians in different contexts see Jesus differently. A North

American may primarily see a best friend who fulfills deep existential longings of

meaning and love. A Latin American may find in Jesus the one who restores justice

and brings peace. An East Asian mind may be more tuned to a Jesus who is the one

who has power over the spiritual reality. This is not subjectivity but a manifestation of

the depth and multi-faceted nature of the message of the Cross.27 The Apostle Paul

spoke about being a Jew with a Jew and a Gentile with a Gentile. Though in a

Calvinist understanding all cultures are fallen, experience demonstrates that all

cultures contain some truth due to the presence of the imago Dei in every human.

2: Contextual Theology

Contextualization is: 1) the manifestation of the imago Dei in humankind (the

revelation of the mystery of God's creative power as shown in creation, including

human minds that formulate various art forms), and 2) our participation in God's

continuous creation (letting God transform our culture and arts into dynamic media

that will effectively communicate and express the meanings of the Gospel to our

people).28 Within the history of Christian theology and its teaching there has been a

misunderstanding that European or Western theology is culturally “neutral.” This

misunderstanding was exported as a worldwide valid theology to non-western

cultures. The very idea that a “universal” theology could arise from the experience of

the small Euro-American context is a myth.29 Upon that misunderstanding rest local

theologies from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Latin America that merely echo those

from the academic West. Indeed, Every theology carries elements of the historical,

Ziya Meral, “ Cultural Alienation and Contextual Theology” 13 August 2004.
Loh I-to, “Contextualization versus Globalization: A Glimpse of Sounds and Symbols in Asian
Worship” Prism, New Haven: Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Volume 2, Autumn 2005
J. Deotis Roberts, Sr Contextual Theology: Liberation and Indigenization Christian Century,
January 28, 1976, p. 64.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 12
David Alexander August 2008

cultural, political and economic conditions in which it has developed. Contextual

theologians are called to acknowledge these conditions and to develop theologies that

are meaningful and relevant to the context out of which they are born.30

Dominus Iesus, released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of

the Faith in September 2000, is out of touch with the context of the manners in

which Asian Catholics relate with persons of other religions. A survey was

conducted to ascertain the Asian Catholic “sensus fidelium.” Responses indicated

that, should the document have been produced as an example of Asian contextual

theology (instead of as an academic paper out of Rome) it would have begun with

four faith affirmations: 1) I believe in one God, the Father Almighty. 2) I believe

in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God’s revelation and who is savior for Christians

as well as for all of humankind. 3) I believe that the Bible, the canonical books of

the Old and New Testaments, is the sacred Word of God. 4) I believe that the true

religion exists in Christianity in general and in the Catholic Church in particular.”

Notably lacking in this suggested preamble are two main points of Dominus Iesus:

a) Jesus as the only savior and b) the Church as necessary for salvation.31

Theologizing in context means understanding the way a pluralistic,

syncretic and all-encompassing cultural-religious system, such as is found where

Chinese cultures dominate, works. Chinese peoples tend to stress the “unity of all

religions”, both when it comes to their own tradition and when trying to integrate

the teachings of religions developed in foreign settings.32

3: One Taiwanese Contextual Theologian

Su, David Kwang-sun, “Asian Theology in a Changing Asia: Towards an Asian Theological
Agenda for the 21st Century”, CTC Bulletin, Special Supplement 1. p 25.
Chia, op. cit.
Vermander, op. cit.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 13
David Alexander August 2008

Dr. Huang Po-Ho, Vice President of Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan

and dean of that institution’s school of Theology, does contextual theological

reflection and construction through "reconfessing". He contends that the gospel can

neither be extracted from the cultural form inherent to it nor identified with any

particular cultural form. The gospel becomes enmeshed in the cultural environments

in which it takes root. Theologians must “do theology” using local resources as they

re-confess Christian faith in their particular contexts. This requires a clearly stated

theology of religions and dialogue with other religions about their own relationships

with the cultural millieux in which they “live, move and have their being”. He asks

that the churches of Taiwan do four things.

1. Re-examine traditional elements of Taiwanese customs and practices that

sustain value and meaning systems for people, such as ancestor worship,
festivals, and symbols.
2. Re-consider the relationship between Christianity and other religions in the
nation’s society through constructive dialogue.
3. Strive for Christian ecumenicity while upholding both the universality and
particularity of the gospel.
4. Construct relevant theology in the socio-political context of Taiwan and
participate in political movements of the people.
He sees freedom and identity as essential and inter-dependent elements of

individual humanity. Identity must be acknowledged if freedom, even the freedom

that comes through the gospel, is to be sustained. But since identity is tied up with

culture, which sustains it, re-confessing begins with self-determination, an essential

political and theological component of the effort to solve the crises at hand. Self-

determination, of one’s OWN identity has connections to all spiritual, cultural and

socio-political matters. Self-determination fulfills the need to achieve freedom while

preserving the identity of the people in Taiwan.33

Cheng Yang-en Life And Mission In The Church Of Taiwan Presentation at a CCA General
Committee Meeting in Taiwan on 11-16 May 2002
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David Alexander August 2008

4: Aspects of the Taiwan Context

A. Historical-Political

Originally populated by Austronesian peoples, Taiwan was gradually “settled”

by Han Chinese from Fujian beginning in the 16th century. The Ming Dynasty

government of imperial China considered the island and its dependencies as “no

man’s land.”34 In the early 17th century Spain and the Netherlands launched colonizing

expeditions. Since then Taiwan has been occupied by a succession of foreign rulers:

Dutch, Spanish, Manchurian, Japanese and Nationalist Chinese. Foreign occupiers

exploited native populations through the "divide and rule" policy. To this day ethnic

and clan hostilities, especially between the earlier and later immigrants, are manifest

in all social sectors.

From 1895 to 1945 Taiwan and its dependencies were a Japanese colony and

local peoples endured political oppression and cultural discrimination. There was both

violent and non-violent resistance, but some aspects of colonial rule were positive.

The “rule of law” and a structured (though ethnically discriminatory) education

system introduced Taiwan to modern concepts of science, law, medicine and

democracy. After the Second World War the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)

Government took temporary custodial care of Taiwan and the political interests of

Taiwan’s peoples were disregarded. The “custodians” were corrupt oppressors, and

the economy was soon ruined. An uprising that began the evening of February 27,

1947 was violently put down. Troops dispatched from China arrived at Keelung

harbor on March 8th and started to kill people indiscriminately. The "cleansing of the

countryside” that followed eventually racked up a death toll estimated between 10,000

John Wills, Jr. “The 17th Century Transformation” in Murray A Rubenstein, ed Taiwan: A New
History. Armonk NY, M.E. Sharpe 1999, p. 85.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 15
David Alexander August 2008

and 20,000. This historical period has come to be known as “the 2-28”.35 In the 1950’s

“temporary custodial care” turned into a permanent rule, and political dissent was

squashed.36 By 1971 the KMT government had become internationally isolated and

ruled without democratic legitimacy. The custodians aged and either emigrated to the

West or died. By the late 1980’s opposition parties began to be organized and

eventually their leaders won elections to office. In 1996 a free and fair election for

president was first held. The process has been repeated in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

B. Religious

The most common religions in Taiwan are Buddhism and Taoism, which are

practiced by the majority of the population. While only half of the population

identified themselves as Buddhist or Taoist in a government census,37 many of those

who indicate no religious belief follow some tenets or participate in some rituals and

practices associated with Buddhism and/or Taoism. Since neither Buddhism nor

Taoism is an exclusive religion, many people practice elements of both alongside

traditional folk religion. Buddhist bohdisatvas are often enshrined in Taoist temples,

and Taoist gods in Buddhist temples. Buddhist monks and priests are often called

upon to conduct funeral ceremonies, even for non-Buddhists. Many different sects of

Buddhism co-exist peacefully. The mostcommon are Chan (Zen) and Pure Land. In

addition to over 4,000 temples, Buddhist organizations have established seminaries,

secular colleges, high schools, kindergartens, nurseries, orphanages, a center for the

Taipei 228 Memorial Museum Visitor’s Guide “a Closer Look at the 2-28 Incident” and Stephen Philips, “Between
Assimilation and Indulgence” in Murray A Rubenstein, ed Taiwan: A New History. Armonk NY,
M.E. Sharpe 1999, p.293.
Peter Chen-main Wang, “A Bastion Created, A regime Reformed, An Economy Reengineered,
1949-1970”, in Murray A Rubenstein, ed Taiwan: A New History. Armonk NY, M.E. Sharpe 1999,
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 16
David Alexander August 2008

mentally challenged, medical clinics, libraries and publishing houses. All of these

organizations help to fulfill the Buddhist creed of selfless compassion for others.

Folk religion derives from the ancient Chinese animist concepts and includes a

host of deities and practices designed to give people a sense of control over life events

which can be dangerous, threatening or uncertain. Folk religion permeates Taiwan.

29% of respondents to the religious census identified themselves as belonging to “folk

religion” But this is so intermingled with Buddhist and Taoist practices that it is

difficult to distinguish affiliations.38

Yi Guan Dao, “the Religion of the One Unity” has roughly a million members.

It seeks to unify and identify commonalities among the world’s major religions,

including Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Members take a vow

to uphold the precepts of no adultery, lying, or drinking alcohol and to follow the

virtues of benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and faith. Adherents vow to

lead a life of personal sacrifice and to work for the common good. They are involved

in many social service activities, including kindergartens, orphanages, retirement

homes, clinics, libraries, and nurseries. Members follow a vegetarian diet and run

many vegetarian restaurants. Following the tradition’s belief in “the oneness of the

universe and in contributing one’s life to humanity” the tradition actively proselytizes

and seeks new members. Adherents feel that by doing good works and recruiting new

members they are helping to create the Buddhist “Western Paradise” on earth and

creating a world of brotherhood and benevolence as envisioned by Confucius.39

Taiwan is also the home of small sects which have developed out of Buddhism

and Taoism as well as “new religions” that were established during the Japanese

colonial era. Tenrikyo and Mahaikarikyo each continue, but with fewer than 40,000

local practitioners. Christian groups number almost a million adherents (the Protestant

Vermander, op. cit.
39 18 March 2008
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 17
David Alexander August 2008

churches have about 605,000 and the Catholics another 300,000). There are about

50,000 Muslims and a smattering of other groups. The constitution guarantees

freedom of religion to all recognized religions.. The Law Governing Religious Groups

provides regulation by requiring secular management of finances through statutes

regarding tax exemption and property ownership.40

C. Ethnic

Taiwan’s population is composed of five ethnic groups. The largest consists of

native-born Taiwanese (70%) who usually speak the Minnan language. These are

descendants of people who migrated from Fujian before 1895. The second group is

the Hakka (15%) whose ancestors migrated from Kwangtung before 1950.Their

language is Hakkanese. “Mainlanders,”(12%) arrived from China after 1945. These

three groups share Chinese (Han) ethnicity. The fourth group is collectively known as

“Aboriginals”, descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the island. They are racially

Austronesian and speak a collection of non-Chinese languages. Since the 1990’s a

fifth cohort has emerged. These are foreign laborers (from the Philippines, Indonesia,

Vietnam and Malaysia) and young women from South East Asia and China who have

been brought to Taiwan as brides. Aborigines, foreign laborers and foreign brides are

marginalized in Taiwan’s contemporary society and are virtually without influence in

social and political circles.41

Fallout from the 2-28 incident has plagued ethnic relations between the

"Mainlanders" and "native Taiwanese" since 1947. The "ethnic complex" growing out

of historical experience is seen in the areas of ethnic prejudice, ideology, and national


D. Linguistic
Wu Chung-li & Hsiao Cheng-tai, “Empowerment Theory and Ethnic Politics in Taiwan”
September 1-4, 2005. American Political Science Association, September 2005. pp.1-3 (f) 18 March 2008
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 18
David Alexander August 2008

After 1949 the KMT government established Mandarin Chinese (variously

known as Beijing Dialect, ordinary speech, and the National Language) as the

common language, suppressing local languages to ensure that everyone mastered it.

Mandarin is now the primary language used in schools, government and many

businesses. Notwithstanding government orders, there remain 14 languages and

dialects in use in Taiwan today.43 However, younger generations of Aborigines,

Hakkanese and Taiwanese who grew up in cities often can no longer converse in their

ancestral tongues.

A shared system of writing has been the primary unifying force among

Chinese since 206 B.C. In modern China this system simplified in the 1950’s.

Taiwan retains traditional ideographs, giving its people continuity with one portion of

their cultural heritage and the ability to read Chinese classics and other ancient

writings.44 Nonetheless, using only Chinese characters to write the Taiwanese and

Hakkanese languages is problematic because some idioms have come into Taiwan

from non-Chinese sources to which no ideographs have been “assigned”.

E. Ecclesial

Christian mission in Taiwan came in three waves. The 17th century efforts

disappeared soon after European colonizers were ousted in 1664. In the 19th century

Roman Catholic missions were established in Pingtung and Protestant mission,

facilitated by the Tien Chin Treaty of 1858, began in 1865. Early Protestant

missionaries adopted a comprehensive approach of social, medical and educational

work alongside their evangelistic preaching. Following the Second World War many

Christian denominations and independent churches accompanied the defeated KMT in

Government Information Office “Languages” 19 March 2008
“Taiwan’s Languages”
19 March 2008
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 19
David Alexander August 2008

its retreat from China. Church growth then stagnated in the 1970’s. Prophetic concern

for political development and the national future of Taiwan moved the PCT in 1977

to: call for social and political reforms; proclaim the right of Taiwanese people to self-

determination; and express hope for a "new and independent country." This led to

persecution and suppression by the KMT government. Protestant churches which did

not share the Presbyterians’ convictions criticized the PCT based on ideological and

ethnic considerations. Conflicting political ideologies and contrasting attitudes

towards the China-oriented policy formulated by the former KMT regime still alienate

Christian churches from each other in the 21st Century.45 In Taiwan’s Catholic church,

the priests were foreign and the hierarchy Mainlander even at the dawn of the 21st


A Tool For Taiwan-Context Theological Analysis Of Hymns

Asian musicologist Loh I-to demands that hymn texts should maintain an

interplay between biblical revelation and contemporary Asian realities.47 He has

accused ethnic Chinese churches of in-authenticity, saying that they:

1) looked yellow in their skin, but deep in their heart and mind they
wanted to be as white as Caucasians.
2) translated and borrowed theologies, having none of their own.
3) copied Western styles of musical composition, and illegally copied
Western published anthems.
4) retained secondhand liturgies introduced by missionaries over a
century ago.48
Loh demands contextualization in order to encourage an expression of Christian faith

that is Asian in nature and not merely a transplantation of Western Christianity.49

Cheng Yang-en, op. cit.
Br. Bima “A Challenge Proposal:From A Refugee-Migrant Church Towards A Rooted Taiwanese
Catholic Church”
Sound the Bamboo, 2nd edition Hong Kong: CCA, 2000 p. xi
Loh Ito, "Worshiping with Incarnated Music: My Mission" Lam-sin Sin-hak 2:1 (1991):113-32.
Loh I-to, “Contextualization versus Globalization: A Glimpse of Sounds and Symbols in
Asian Worship”
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 20
David Alexander August 2008

Decades ago the Sri Lankan Methodist D. T. Niles located the heart of the

problem in Asian churches’ focus on translating, imitating, and copying Western ways

of singing and worship, believing them to be the only authentic Christian expression.

Niles used the metaphor of gospel as a seed that is sown on different local soils and

produces different types of plants. When the seed of the Gospel is sown in Palestine, a

plant that can be called Palestinian Christianity grows.... The seed of the Gospel later

brought to America grows a plant of American Christianity. Missionaries to Asia

brought the seed, their own plant of Christianity, and their flower pots. Niles’

prescription was to break the flower pot, take out the seed of the Gospel, sow it in

Asian cultural soil, and let local versions of Christianity grow.50

Assembling criteria set forth by Ng Chiong-hui, D.T. Niles, Loh I-to, Michael

Amaladoss and Huang Po-ho into a “tool,” for Taiwan contextual theological

evaluation of hymns looks as follows.

a. Does the language of this hymn reflect current usage in Taiwan? (Ng)
b. Does this hymn reflect Taiwanese modes of spirituality?(Ng)
c. Does this hymn use resources drawn from Taiwan’s cultural
environment? (Huang)
d. Does this hymn celebrate traditional elements of Taiwan’s culture?
e. Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians to people of other religions?
f. Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians ecumenically? (Huang)
g. Is this hymn relevant to Taiwan’s socio-political context? (Huang)
h. Does this hymn move its singers towards freedom within their Taiwan
identity ? (Huang)
i. Does this hymn include interplay between biblical revelation and
contemporary Taiwan realities? (Loh)
j. If singers take this hymn to heart, will they bear fruit that will in some
way fit into Taiwan’s context? (Niles)
k. Does this hymn reflect a fundamental unity of reality? (Amaladoss)

Quoted by C. Michael Hawn, Gather into One: Praying and Singing Globally (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2003), 32
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 21
David Alexander August 2008

l. Does this hymn call all human beings to community? (Amaladoss)

Application of the Tool

Before application of this tool missionary-written hymns it must be tested

against a hymn written by a Taiwanese poet in Taiwan. It is assumed, perhaps falsely,

that this hymn will "pass" the test and be determined suitable for use in the Taiwan

context. If this is so, then the tool itself can also be assumed to be useful for

"measurement" of other materials presented for use in the modern Taiwan context.

1A. Test Text

The one-verse hymn “For this our Nation we Ardently Pray” was written by

Chia Hong-bun in the 1990’s. It was published in Taiwanese in 2001. An English

translation, versified for singing,came out in 2007. Contextuality for Taiwan must

primarily be ascertained by using the Taiwanese text. For the sake of this project, a

literal translation into English (with modified punctuation and the addition of

capitalization which does not exist in the Taiwanese original) will be used. The

modified and versified version for singing in English can be found in a footnote.

For the sake of this piece land, we sincere heart pray.

May Lord’s truth as light whole land shine upon.
For these cities we humbly implore, may Lord grant life.
Give our people obtain salvation.
Grant, Almighty Heavenly Father God, your holy kingdom come down.
Grant poverty and grief all leave our hearts.
Grant Almighty Heavenly Father God, your will be done.
Grant hope and joy eternally dwell in our hearts.51

1B: Test Tool

Does the language of this hymn reflect current usage in Taiwan?
Does this hymn reflect Taiwanese modes of spirituality?

For this our nation we ardently pray. Come, truth of Jesus to enlighten our way.
Come to our cities, we humbly implore, fill us with Jesus’ love to our very core.
O Almighty Father, your kingdom come here, that sickness and poverty we may
not have to fear. Our Father in heaven, may your will be done. That peace, hope
and righteousness shine as bright as the sun.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 22
David Alexander August 2008

Does this hymn use resources drawn from Taiwan’s cultural environment?
Does this hymn celebrate traditional elements of Taiwan’s culture?
Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians to people of other religions?
Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians ecumenically?
Is this hymn relevant to Taiwan’s socio-political context?
Does this hymn move its singers towards freedom within their Taiwan
identity ?
Does this hymn include interplay between biblical revelation and
contemporary Taiwan realities?
If singers take this hymn to heart, will they bear fruit that will in some way
fit into Taiwan’s context?
Does this hymn reflect a fundamental unity of reality?
Does this hymn call all human beings to community?
1C: Analysis

Use of the term, "this piece of land" picks up on two aspects near to the heart of

the Taiwanese. First is the years of colonial oppression during which local people

were told that they were either subjects of the Japanese emperor (1895 to 1945) or the

heavy handed Nationalist dictatorship from 1945 until the mid-1990's during which a

"greater China" identity was promoted and Taiwan-consciousness was suppressed.

The other theme it draws on is the centuries of Taiwan's life as an agricultural society

during which connection to the land was of prime importance. The processes through

which Taiwan has changed, in the most recent five decades, from an agricultural,

through an industrial, into a service and consumer economy have strained and often

broken connection to the land among persons born after 1960. In the 21st century the

process of globalization threatens the connection to "this" piece of land. Through

usage of the phrase "for this piece of land" this hymn calls its users to Taiwan.

Taiwan's peoples are praying peoples. In traditional homes joss sticks are lit and

placed before the house gods or ancestral tablets every day. Though less common than

before, it is yet not uncommon to observe pedestrians, when passing a folk religion

temple, engaging in behaviour which could easily be compared to that of Roman

Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 23
David Alexander August 2008

Catholics in a church "genuflecting" before the altar. On March 19, 2004, the evening

of the day when Taiwan's then-president Chen Shui-bian had been shot, leaders of a

pre-election rally in Taipei called the crowds gathered there to be silent and led a

prayer to "Our Mother Taiwan" for his recovery and the safety of the land. This hymn,

a prayer for Taiwan, though Christian in much of its content, reflects a basic mode of

Taiwan spirituality.

In the mid-1990's the municipal government of Kaohsiung made a bid to host the

Asian Games. At that time a city motto, "Friendship, Sunshine, Passion" was coined.

This motto was derived from what the promoters sensed in the Kaohsiung

environment. The second line of the hymn, in which the truth of God is begged to fill

the land as light shines upon it picks up on this contemporary Taiwan reality.

Nevertheless, the hymn fails to celebrate any traditional elements of Taiwan's culture

and falls short of linking Christians with people of other religions. "Almighty

Heavenly Father God" is particularly Christian terminology. Notwithstanding that in

Chinese Folk Religion there is the Jade Emperor, or "God of Heaven", this eminence

has little to do with the lives of common people, who look to subordinate gods, ghosts

and ancestors for their particular needs.52

Taiwan's Christians are divided on many issues, not least of which are the terms

by which they refer to God. All Protestants and Roman Catholics could agree on the

terms used in this hymn and translated "Almighty Father" and "Heavenly Father", but

the term "Siong-te" which follows it is a bone of contention going back centuries.

Roman Catholics use "Thian-chu" (Lord of heaven), Presbyterians and some other

mainline Protestants use "Siong-te" (the emperor above) and free church Protestants

use "Sin" (spirit). The hymn, therefore, both succeeds and fails to link Taiwan's


David Jordan, Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors, (Berkley, University of California, 1968) p. xvi.
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 24
David Alexander August 2008

Insofar as relevance to Taiwan's socio-political context can be ascertained,

beyond use of the term "this piece of land", alluded to above, the hymn recognizes the

existence of sickness and grief, which are common in Taiwan (as most everywhere

else) and of fear of poverty, which was only eliminated (for the most part) in Taiwan

in the last generation. Mention of cities is highly relevant to the urbanized situation of

the vast majority of Taiwan's residents. Though it may have been more poetic and

beautiful to have sung of lofty Yu-shan, few Taiwanese will ever see it other than in a

photograph or on a TV screen. Biblical imagery is found in the next to last line where

the phrase "your will be done" is inserted. This, lifted from the Lord's prayer, connects

the hymn writer and hymn users to two millenia of church usage. Those who use the

hymn and take it to heart will come to care not only for themselves but for the land,

the cities and the people of this land.

1D: Summary

Of the twelve criteria posited for analysis of a hymn's contextual applicability to

Taiwan, this one meets ten and fails two. The failures are based on the contents and

form of the hymn itself, not on any defect in the instrument. Calibration thus

completed, and the instrument demonstrated to be effective, we now proceed to

testing other materials.

2A: "When Creation’s Work Was Done"

This hymn, apparently written by John V. N. Talmage, was included in Iong-sim

Sin-si published in Xiamen in 1859. At that time missionary hymn writers were

creating both liturgy and literature for the churches they were establishing in China.

Congruent with the idea that "we sing what we believe", the missionaries were using

song to reinforce some of the beliefs which they were offering to the persons who,

leaving behind the faiths of their mothers and fathers, came to be united with the

fellowship of the Christian Church. This hymn demonstrates the missionaries' concern
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 25
David Alexander August 2008

that the newly established churches in Minan language regions articulate beliefs that:

1) the world had come into being through the creative will of God; 2) the Sabbath was

ordained for God's people from of old; 3) its celebration on Sunday (instead of

Saturday) was warranted by the resurrection of Christ on that day; and 4) history has a

destination, which will include an eternal state of rest. All of these are addressed,

affirmed, and sung in the hymn "When Creation's Work Was Done." The hymn is still

in use in Presbyterian Churches in Taiwan today.

As with the hymn used above to test the analytical tool, a more-or-less the

literal rendering of the original text into English will be used.

1) Heaven and earth made all complete, God rest and give blessing.
People learn God’s way, early have kept Sabbath day. Early have kept Sabbath day.

2) All people sin, Heaven is angered. Jesus descends for us to die.

Salvation completed and suffering ended, First day of week Lord arose. First day of week Lord arose.

3) Jesus loved us, saved souls. We should appreciate his great grace.
Thank, worship hearts true, often come keep Sabbath day. Often come keep Sabbath day.

4) God’s holy book says very truly, end day heaven and earth change to new. Jesus disciples receive
blessings Eternal rest in heaven kingdom. Eternal rest in heaven kingdom.
2B: Tool
Does the language of this hymn reflect current usage in Taiwan?
Does this hymn reflect Taiwanese modes of spirituality?
Does this hymn use resources drawn from Taiwan’s cultural environment?
Does this hymn celebrate traditional elements of Taiwan’s culture?
Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians to people of other religions?
Does this hymn link Taiwan’s Christians ecumenically?
Is this hymn relevant to Taiwan’s socio-political context?
Does this hymn move its singers towards freedom within their Taiwan
identity ?
Does this hymn include interplay between biblical revelation and
contemporary Taiwan realities?
If singers take this hymn to heart, will they bear fruit that will in some way
fit into Taiwan’s context?
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 26
David Alexander August 2008

Does this hymn reflect a fundamental unity of reality?

Does this hymn call all human beings to community?
2C: Analysis

Of the 12 criteria posited in the tool, this hymn fully meets only two: it links

Christians ecumenically (the command to keep a Sabbath being upheld, though not

necessarily kept, in all of Taiwan's Christian churches) and it offers Christians

freedom within their Taiwan Identity (because though it calls for Sabbath keeping, it

does not specifically state "Sabbatarian rules" for how this is to be done). It is partly

successful in its attempt to be relevant to Taiwan's socio-political context because in

21st century Taiwan is available away from work for most people on a weekly basis to

take both a Saturday AND a Sunday sabbath. The hymn also makes use of Biblical

material in all four verses, carrying singers through creation, fall, redemption and the

Second Coming of Christ. However, it does not link these to contemporary Taiwan


2D: Summary

The hymn fails to be relevant to the Taiwan context in many areas. Nothing in

traditional Taiwan spirituality calls for people to take any "sabbath rest". The text calls

Taiwan's Christians to separate themselves from their fellow citizens who are not

Christians or inclined to rest one day a week. Perhaps most seriously, it carries no

sense of a unity of reality. Heaven and earth are separate, Jesus "descends" from

heaven, only "souls" are saved, and eternal blessing is made available only for those

who can be identified as the disciples of Jesus.


For Taiwan

If the tool is useful when applied to hymn texts written in Minnan language by

foreign missionaries (whom we might presume to be somewhat familiar with the local
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 27
David Alexander August 2008

context), it can be applied also to the translations of hymn texts from other regions

which are commonly used in Taiwan’s churches today. Those that pass the test of

applicability (or at least, not fail the test absolutely) might be included in future hymn

collections. Those that fail might disappear quietly into obscurity.

The use of “out of context” texts is no more wrong than use of the deutero-

canonical books of the Bible is wrong. Some of the hymns, like some of the deutero-

canonicals, are helpful in broadening the spirituality of local Christians. But “out of

context” texts need to be clearly labeled for what they ARE. Texts and tunes

constructed from local cultural materials in local motifs are identifiable without much

trouble. Only “out of context” items presented for use in Taiwan’s churches need

additional treatment. For example: Silent Night would carry the notation “19th Century

Austrian”. Be Not Dismayed would be “20th Century American” and Jesus, Thou Joy

of Loving Hearts would come as “12th Century Latin”. Even hymns from South Asia

and Africa, the rhythmic and melodic qualities of which make them instantly

recognizable, should bear some identification as to nation (or people) of origin and

century (20th Century, Gambia, etc.).

For Asian Churches in General

Taiwan is a single corner of Asia. In each nation, and in separate regions of

several, there are ethnic, cultural, linguistic, historical, economic, ecclesial and

political factors that create unique contexts for the Christians of those places. Tools

for contextual evaluation of the hymns used in churches there might be developed

along the lines of the one presented here for Taiwan. These might serve churches not

only in evaluating the music that is presented to them in the denominational or

commercially produced hymnals that they use, but also to evaluate the mass of

material that comes electronically for projection on screens (in urban churches where
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21st Century Asian Churches 28
David Alexander August 2008

power is reliable and computer equipment is in use).

It is anticipated that much of what is evaluated will pass, and that which is not

from the context will be clearly seen inapplicable. This is not a call to purge our

churches of “out of context” materials, but to take a step to construct church

theologies and practices that are both living and local for the sake of sharing the good

news of a living and incarnate Lord Jesus Christ with all of our neighbors and to the

depths of our own being.