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Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D.
By L. S. Foster, 1909


      There are but two chapters in ecclesiastical history. One of them deals with the brief times in which individual Christians and worshipping congregations were living beings, having Jesus as the head of the framework, which was also the shrine of the Holy Spirit who was ever present to guide and inform. Oneness of heart and soul was the characteristic of this heavenly phenomenon. "I and the Father are one." "That they may all be one even as Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, that they may also be one in us." They "shall become one flock, one shepherd." I Corinthians xii: 27.

      In these first congregations, the abundant life and energy over-shadowed mere organization; and fraternal love with abounding charity was a stronger bond than external unity or loyalty to an institution. The ecclesias were electric lights, each distinct and separate, yet connected with the same great dynamo which sent out its currents to each and made them the light of the world. They were all shining in the world of darkness, being one in dependence upon the same source for life, unanimity and success. For the building up of this body there were gifts of the Holy Spirit, I Corinthians xii.

     In our ordinary sense there were no officers - no democracy, aristocracy, nor monarchy; no laity, no clergy, no rulers, no ruled. It was something new under the sun - a Christocracy in which the greater served the less and all were brethren. The ecclesia was to interpret by its manner of life the foundation words of its Architect: "I came not to be ministered unto but to minister."

      The second chapter deals with the transmutation of this divine ecclesia into one that lived and moved on human levels. The Greeks loved wisdom, and the Romans loved system and organization. Following the trend of the times Christocracy by degrees became monarchical. The churches began to lose contact with the source of divine power, and in their consequent weakness and isolation they began to turn to each other for help. First association, second confederation, third suppression of freedom, and conformity, fourth unification which ended in a spiritual empire, homogeneous with the Roman empire, which as an organization had already been depicted by an inspired writer as a beast with ten horns and seven heads, whose image had to be worshipped on the pain of death and whose mark on their person was the only license for buying and selling. There was always a protest against

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the inverted Christocracy and the enthroned orientalism under religious auspices. In modern times the protest comes from two sources, one political, the other religious - the modern political movements in favor of a fuller democracy, and the smaller religious movements to cut loose from tradition and return to New Testament theory and practice. The point of contact between these movements is the recognition of man's worth - his individuality.

      Dr. Crawford went to China as a missionary under the direction of the Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and was faithful in the performance of his duties. Cut off from home and immersed in the surrounding paganism, he began to scan New Testament times and preaching models. His experience on the field led him apart from some workers and in the simplicity of his truth-loving and truth-seeking heart, he returned to America to lay before the Board the truths as he saw them. Of course it ended in his being "dissolutioned," and in the loss of reputation at home in consequence of official opposition. True to its instincts an institution cannot say "I must decrease but he must increase." It is voiced rather by a certain high priest: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not." That is still the honest and very prevalent opinion that an institution is worth more than a man, that its welfare is more important than the prevalence of a particular truth.

      Dr. Crawford returned to his work. The majority of the Baptists at home favored his views, but power of an organized minority made it dangerous and unpopular for a minister to follow the leader who was trying more nearly to follow Christ. The truths he was upholding were partly handicapped by a following which was more political than religious in its natural distaste for an oligarchy, and which entirely missed the deeper meaning of self-abnegation in carrying out their marching orders. Others who were profounder in their convictions and clearer in their views stood with him to the end; while here and there the weaker and less conscientious began to seek more verdant fields of service, or a refuge from shafts of ridicule.

      He came to the grave in a ripe old age. He loved his brethren and was infinitely pained by their loss of fraternal regard and by the misrepresentations of his non-admirers, but he was moved by none of these things. "A man who is born the second time is born honest," was one of his characteristic expressions. He bought the truth and sold it not. He loved his brethren, but he loved the truth as he saw it more than his brethren. When it came to a choice between loyalty to an institution and to the truth, it seemed to him

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also to be better to obey God rather than man.

      In the current judgments of the day his life would not be called a success. No man out of the swim can succeed in the eyes of the many; but a juster estimate puts him into that class of men who stand apart and see more clearly the issue of things, and in their love of, and search for, the truth are separated from their fellows. He was wise by experience, deeply versed in the sacred writings, a profound philosopher, and yet he was simple and kind-hearted as a child, affable and instructive in his conversation, free from duplicity and guile, and, in short, a man whose presence was of a positive, elevating order. Most men find it hard to pull together occasionally their practice and their theory, but our brother Crawford's theory could be gathered from his practice. May his kind never perish from the earth!
      H. T. Cook
      Furman University
      Greenville, S. C.

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[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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