Autonomy and Indigenization
The Churches which set up their own Conferences in the nineteenth century were all under white leadership and with a considerable emigrant European membership (except in the case of France, where emigration was not a factor). The ‘threeself’ ideals – self-government, self-support and self-propagation – advanced by Rufus Anderson and Henry Venn from the middle of the century were widely shared in principle, but the day of self-government for Christians not of European stock was still remote. Susannah Wesley’s hero Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar, whose avowed aim was an Indian church with an Indian ministry, and who ordained a Hindu convert in 1733, was far ahead of his time. The WMMS centenary history, contrasting the failure of the first West Indian Conference with the Canadian, Australasian and South African Conferences, concluded:
It was evidently the common view that for autonomy to work ‘prosperous British communities’ were required, and so the transfer of authority to Africans and Asians had to wait. The desirability of training an indigenous ministry was not in question. The debates, over many years, were about how soon it was practicable, about the criteria by which to judge a person’s suitability, about the sort of training and probation that were required, about whether they should be under close supervision or allowed to minister in remote appointments, about how many native pastors could be effectively supervised, about what should be entrusted to them and expected of them in the missionary’s absence – and just possibly about how soon an indigenous circuit superintendent or District Chairman could be contemplated.