This paper asks the question: What does Jesus Christ give to Ru (Confucian) leaders that enables these leaders to re-envision, reform and revive their role as stewards of the Chinese people and to exercise their important responsibility of bringing the people’s concerns to the awareness of those working at the political center who establish and promulgate instruction/policy for every sphere of human life?
To answer this question well, we must think within Chinese categories without blindly imposing Western categories and terms on the Chinese people. Thus, in section one of this essay, three critiques of Western modern thinking about religion suggest that the Western term religion is not necessarily helpful in answering the above question. The essay’s second section presents an overview of the developing complexity of human worship traditions, which lends support to the view that Jewish and Ru (Confucianism) traditions, among others, are better understood as reform movements within already well-established worship traditions. The third section presents significant parallels between monotheistic moral reform in ancient Israel and in ancient China in order to provide a shared context for appreciating what Jesus Christ brings to reformers of both these ancient heritages. The final section illumines what actually happens when Jesus Christ is received into the lives of those of Ru moral cultivation: enhancing their ability to lead as minister-advisors, on behalf of the people, to political centers today.[1]
Roman Polytheism and Latin Religio:[2] The modern expressions religions (in the plural), world religions, and religions of the world, which Western people have been using for only the last two centuries, bear three, not-often-recognized, connotations of polytheism, secular humanism, and nation-state rivalry/war.
First, within the ancient Roman polytheistic context, the term religio referred to ritual observances or worship owed to different deities. Obligatory rituals were performed either to get or not to get something from a deity (to get success in war, cure of illness, birth of a child; or not to get a flood, pestilence, drought). In this polytheistic context, humans make offerings to deities from the best humans have in order to get something even better back from a deity. In short, obligatory rituals or worship take place within a context of pragmatic exchange between human beings and a deity, with the human purpose of requesting a favor from a deity.
Second, as modern European peoples explored and colonized vast parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, they found groups of people engaging in worship in ways both similar and different from Christian ways of worship. To bring great pluralities of worship practices under some kind of rational control as they colonized, Europeans fabricated names like “Hinduism,” “Buddhism”, “Mohammedanism”, and “Confucianism.” For example, the Western, fabricated label of Hinduism refers to vastly different ways people of India worship 330 million deities. The term Buddhism refers to one path of yoga among many different paths of yoga practiced by people of India for release from the cycle of death and re-birth. The label “Mohammedanism” was fabricated and modeled on the name “Christian”: just as Christians follow Jesus, so also Mohammedans were presumed to follow Mohammad. Similarly, the term Confucianism is the Western, fabricated name for those who follow Confucius (Chinese: Kong Fuzi).[3]
These Western, fabricated names became popular during the Western Enlightenment period (late 18th and of 19th centuries). However, those whom Westerners have labeled with their fabricated names have their own names for themselves―names that are quite different in meaning from those Westerners have imposed.
Moreover, just as there is enormous variety among Christians, so also is there enormous variety among those labeled Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Confucian. Thus, to speak about Hinduism or Buddhism or Confucianism as a single religion or single anything is not only a Western colonial thing to do, it is also an enormously misguided thing to do. Thus, we need to be greatly cautious when we engage Western names for so-called “world religions.” Third, the Western colonial tendency to fabricate and to impose often misleading names on others went side-by-side with the Western, modern movement to lift up human reason as universally able to solve all human problems. As reason was promoted, obligatory ritual (worship) offered in exchange for favor from a deity has been gradually demoted, with four negative consequences:

  1. Whole worship-centered ways of living were reduced to mere belief systems and deemed illogical;
  2. Second, as universal reason was deemed to govern the public square, mere belief systems were pushed to the margins, to what people think privately, not publicly;
  3. Third, mere belief systems were linked with ethnic groups and as ethnic groups come into conflict, conflicting mere belief systems are blamed. In other words, mere belief systems cause war.[4]
  4. Fourth, since mere belief systems are linked with ethnic groups, just as one cannot change one’s ethnicity, so also voluntarily changing one’s mere belief systems makes no sense. So also mission to convert others to one’s mere belief systems makes no sense.

To summarize, in the past two-hundred years, the coined expressions “religions,” “world religions,” as well as the individual names for each religion all bear connotations of being: 1) non-rational belief systems, 2) private, non-public, 3) the cause of war, and 4) missional for the sake of political/economic colonization.
Unfortunately, it was precisely with this polytheistic, illogical, contentious, colonizing understanding of the modern term religion, with Christianity as one of many world religions, that Western, Christian missionaries took passage aboard European ships, setting sail for the four corners of the world. Adopting this new Western, modern understanding of religion, many missionaries set out to promote Christianity as “the one true religion” (all other religions labeled false), rather than to offer Jesus Christ,[5] who would not harm a bruised reed,[6] as the “wounded healer”[7] and humble servant of every person in the world.
If we are to fathom God’s intentions in Jesus Christ who comes to every worshipful people, we must move beyond Western, modern ways of thinking about religion, world religions, and Christianity as one of many world religions.

Among modern scholars of religion(s), many have sought to describe discrete stages in the origin and development of religion. Some have affirmed linear progress. Others have affirmed that spiritual evolution runs ahead and informs material evolution.[8] Others have affirmed that material evolution will ultimately out run religion as the rational mind solves all problems.[9]
By way of example, I list my own discernment of four significant moments in the developing complexity of “worship” (a term I use instead of “religion”) and correlate (not causally) these moments with methods of subsistence and social organization.[10]

  1. Paleolithic age, half a million years ago up to 10,000 BCE: Evidence of ritual treatment of skulls, of various burial practices, and of cave paintings suggests that ancestors of family clans/tribes in small groups were associated with animal power. Hunting and gathering are the main means of human subsistence.
  2. Neolithic age, starting 10,000 BCE: Worship of the sky and patterns of the stars takes place alongside worship of clan/tribal ancestors of people living in larger groups. There is also worship of local rivers and mountains. Subsistence depends more upon agriculture.
  3. Age of town civilizations, beginning circa 3,500 BCE: As different people groups gather in towns, deities/spirits associated with these groups become ranked in a hierarchy that mirrors the political hierarchy among groups. Worship is aided by specially trained priests, sometimes kings serving as priests. The invention of writing gives more permanent record to worship practices involving mythic story enacted in rituals, among other practices. Existential questions as to the meaning of life and suffering emerge. Subsistence is aided by inventions, notably the plough, metals, and sturdy wheels for travel.
  4. Age of Reform, beginning circa 11th century to 6th BCE: Within already established worship traditions, monotheistic moral reform of polytheism takes centuries, even millennia, with the following results:
    Not only priests or kings but individual persons have direct access to divine or transcendent power;
    Access to divine or transcendental power is not only for the purpose of securing favor from a deity, including good life BEYOND this world, but also for the purpose of acting morally now IN this world;
    Access to divine or transcendental power of one group is opened out to others of other groups.
    From these reform movements have come what modern Westerners label world religions: Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam (formerly Mohammedanism), among others. Moreover, by continued focus on the above three aspects of monotheistic moral reform, these reform movements themselves have undergone continuous reform over 2,500 years.
    Trade, through increased means of travel, increases as greater numbers of people migrate from place to place looking for better means of survival. Towns and cities greatly expand and are occupied by a growing diversity of clans/tribes. Bloody war also marks this period as military power gathered feudal towns into unifying states, states into unifying alliances, and alliances into unifying empires.

Ancient Israel and Reform of Leadership by Primogeniture: As the Torah, prophets, and wisdom books of ancient Israel narrate, God takes initiative, through Abraham, to inform humanity about who God really is. God of Abraham is not to be considered one of many gods. Nor is he to be worshipped in the manner of worshipping many gods, by offering expensive sacrifices in order to request some favor in return from a god. Instead, God of Abraham affirms the later concept of “I am who I am”, and that relationship to God is not about what humans will ask God to do for them, but rather about what God is asking humanity to do for God. Put simply, God of Abraham is asking humanity to represent God, to be God’s ambassador here in the world. How? “By loving one another as God loves us”, by taking the interests of others as important as one’s own, by taking care of widows, orphans, and anyone marginalized, by releasing captives and redeeming the enslaved, by loving justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly with God.[12]
In asking humanity to love like God, to serve as God’s ambassador of love here in the world, God of Abraham was calling for a massive reform of polytheism, ancestor worship, and leadership based on blood-line patriarchy as follows:
God affirms there is but one God over all peoples and the earth and, thereby rejects polytheistic worship of ancestors and nature spirits;
God builds a trans-tribal unity, by asking all peoples under God to love those of other tribes as though they are of one’s own tribe;
God gives preference to the second son over the first-born son, and, thereby rejects leadership by primogeniture (right of succession to the first-born male child).
We now examine carefully each of these three reforms.
First, to affirm God over all peoples and all the earth, God of Abraham gives new understanding to an ancient, pre-Israel, political practice called “covenant”. Contemporary Jewish scholar, David Novak, in his book entitled Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory,[13] cogently expresses this new understanding of “covenant” as follows:

  1. God of Abraham creates and sustains just, right, and life-supporting order of the world. [35-39]
  2. As creator and sustainer, God has claim over every person and thing He creates. [77]
  3. God gives power to created persons and things, enabling them to respond to God’s claim upon them. [40-41, 45]
  4. God’s claims on humans and human claims upon God constitute an interactive covenant relationship that is rational, moral, and freely chosen. [73-84, 100].
  5. Like the covenant relationship between God and humans, covenant relationship between human persons also involves claims of persons on other persons who are created with power enough to respond to these claims.[84]
  6. In covenant relationships, under God’s created, just, right, and life-supporting order, there is one basic claim: love your neighbor as yourself. God has empowered all human persons with ability to respond to this claim. [117, 152]
  7. Covenant relationships are broken in two ways: a) first, when a person does not respond to a claim that God or another human person makes upon a person, even though that person has God-given ability to respond to that claim and b) second, when a person claims from God or other persons that which God has not intentionally established in the just, right, and life-supporting order of the created world. [40-45, 75-76]

Importantly, the ontological ground of all covenant relationships is God’s creating and sustaining just, right, and life-supporting order here in the world. [101, 116]
Second, God’s just, right, and life-supporting order requires all groups/tribes to recognize each other as equally under God, equally without privileged access to God, and equally enabled to love others. To build a trans-tribal unity under one God, as those of one tribe learn to love those of other tribes, God requests his people to establish in Canaan, a union of tribes, sometimes called a “confederation”, wherein no one tribe is to dominate over the others (Exodus). To lead this confederation of tribes, all in some sense equal under God, God sends leaders, known as judges (see Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra), whose decisions in governing the contentious tribes result in prosperity.
Third, to uphold this new moral understanding of covenant that privileges no one by bloodline birthright to lead God’s people known as Israel, God of Abraham, in a series of exemplary God-human interactions privileges the second or a younger son to lead, rather than the first-son, who would have become leader based on bloodline birthright. Consider the story of God preferring Abel’s offering to that of Cain (Gen. 4). Consider Abraham’s relating to Ishmael and Isaac, wherein the covenant of Abraham is passed not to Ishmael the first-born (as the Muslims understand it) but to Isaac (Gen. 16-17). Consider Isaac’s blessing going to Jacob (later named Israel), not to Esau, the first-born (Gen. 25-27). Consider the story of Joseph, Jacob’s younger son, who is sold into slavery in Egypt where he rises to become second in power (Gen. 37). Like Jacob himself, blessing is given to Joseph’s second son Ephraim, not Manasseh, Joseph’s first-born (Gen. 47). In all of these biblical stories, God of Abraham overturns leadership by bloodline birthright that privileges the eldest son. In so doing, by side-effect, God puts an end to ancestor worship.
Covenantal reform of the whole of life was difficult. Over time God’s people abandoned covenant relationship and the confederation of tribes; they reverted back to bloodline right to lead, primogeniture, ancestor worship, and polytheism. God’s people asked for a king, and God gave them a succession of kings, who in pursuit of self-interest did not lead the people well, until finally all were led captive to Babylon (587 BCE). In captivity, with the help of teachers who give instruction in God’s law, the remnant of Israel, God’s people, endeavored to live in accordance with God’s law. But in time, right relationship with God and neighbor − motivated by love, justice, and mercy in one’s heart – was replaced by ritualistic legalism, rigid hierarchy, and increasing, privileged access to God.
Into such ritualistic legalism came Jesus of Nazareth, like judges and prophets before him, to lead God’s people back to right relationship between God and neighbor by loving others as God loves us and to serving as ambassadors of God’s love here in the world. But there is something new with Jesus, who is unlike other teachers of the law. For by what Jesus does, he offers two free gifts of grace by which alone humanity is put in right relationship with God and neighbor and able to lead, not by relying on one’s own power and works, but by relying on God’s grace in these two free gifts.
We shall return to Jesus’ two free gifts and to Christian leadership on the basis of these two free gifts shortly. For the moment, we turn to a reform movement in ancient China that, in parallel ways to ancient Israel, moves in a similar direction of affirming leadership based on care and concern for others, not primogeniture, and upon loving others beyond those of one’s own group. This reform movement over 1000 years will give rise to what modern Western scholars have labeled “Confucianism” (the English term that translates the Chinese term “Ru”).[14]
Ancient China and Reform of Leadership Determined by Primogeniture: To understand Ru (Confucian) teachings, we need first an understanding of Chinese “family-ism”, the glue that holds all of Chinese society together. The Chinese family has always been ordered by xiao, sometimes translated as “filial piety”, but better translated as “rightly ordered family-clan affection.” When a person is born into a Chinese family, he or she is born into a vast array of relationships ordered in accordance with one principle: in each relationship, one person (the older or the male or both) is in the upper (superior) role and the other person is in the lower (inferior) role. The person in the upper role has responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter, and education to the person in the lower role. The person in the lower role has responsibility to be obedient, loyal, and grateful in response to receiving what the person in the upper role has provided. In every interaction, given that particular circumstance, each person must make careful discernment of and take action in accordance with one of the two roles. For over five millennia, learning role discernment and appropriate action accordingly has been the most important learning of any child.
There are five paradigmatic interactions between persons in these two roles:

  1. Parents (upper role) and children (lower role);
  2. Husband (upper role) and wife (lower role);
  3. Older brother (upper role) and younger brother (lower role);
  4. A friend who is older or male (upper role) and a friend who is younger or female (lower role); and
  5. The leader, like a parent (upper role) and the people, like children (lower role).

Today, leaders of China, like parents, have responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter and education for 1.4 billion people and the people who receive these provisions are to be obedient, loyal, and grateful in return.
The above-described family-ism is at the core of Ru, but Chinese family-ism existed long before Kongzi (Confucius) (551-479) walked the earth. What Kongzi brought to this tradition of family-ism was increased focus on moral innovative changes that began with the founding of the Zhou dynasty (circa 1025 BCE), roughly the time of God’s call to Abraham.
Zhou innovative changes moved away from leadership based family-ism and primogeniture towards leadership based on moral character. The first of these Zhou innovative changes argued for the right to lead the people based not on bloodline, but on cultivating “illustrious de (a power that can accrue through beneficial acts on behalf of others).” The second Zhou innovative change inverted the hierarchical family order by allowing a teacher in the role of minister-advisor to serve in the upper role giving instruction to the political leader at the center of power in the lower role. A third Zhou innovative change involved extending care and concern for others beyond one’s own family. These three innovative changes of the Zhou that affirm moral character as the basis of leadership, not on primogeniture, are the distinguishing characteristics of the Ru tradition, not family-ism. We now detail each of these three Zhou innovative changes.
As to the first innovative change, namely, leadership based on moral character not bloodline, towards the end of the 12th century BCE, the Zhou Ji clan waged battle against the last degenerate ruler of the Shang Zu clan and won. The Zhou Ji clan claimed the victory was the victory of Tian (Heaven), which –having seen the plight of the people under the last oppressive Shang rulers, who were given to liquor and wasting of the people’s labors in useless wars– moved its mandate (ming) to lead from the Shang Zu clan to the Zhou Ji clan. The Zhou Ji clan had already demonstrated its care and concern for the people 1) by ordering of the people’s labors in accordance with Heaven’s seasons, 2) in restrained use of wine, 3) in provision for widows and orphans, and 4) in light use of punishment. In these benevolent acts, the Zhou Ji clan had rendered its “illustrious and bright” its de, which wafted up to Heaven as though a sweet fragrant offering. Although King Wen died in battle, his son, King Wu took victory, as Tian removed its mandate to lead from the Shang house and gave it to the Zhou house, as the records of the Zhou house carefully describe.[15]
The second innovative change, which inverts the normal family/hierarchical order by allowing a minister-advisor to take the upper role as teacher over the center of political power (in lower role), is paradigmatically portrayed in the relationship the Duke of Zhou had over King Wu’s son, King Cheng, who, at the age of eight or nine, succeeded his father as king. At the time of King Cheng’s succession, the remnant of the overthrown Shang Zu clan had initiated a counter-rebellion. The Duke of Zhou, brother to King Wu, serving as regent (minister advisor) to the young King Cheng, gave instruction to the young King Cheng as to how to quell the rebellion. The Duke of Zhou’s advising of young King Cheng in suppressing the rebellion was so decisive that some feared the Duke of Zhou was perhaps seeking to take hold of political power for himself. To these concerns expressed by the Duke of Shao, another brother in the clan, the Duke of Zhou responded as follows:

Now it rests with me, the little child Tan. I am as if floating on a great stream. I shall go and together with you, Shih, cross it. I, the little child, am just the same as when not yet in high position. Do not request me to retire, without encouragement I shall not succeed. If men who are old and of illustrious de do not condescend to help, to us of the Zhou then no singing bird will make itself heard; how much the less shall we be able to succeed…. The mandate which we have received, limitless is its beauty, but great are its difficulties…. You should brightly exert yourself to be a helpmate to the king and to the utmost carry on this great mandate. …I thereby exert myself for Heaven and the people. (Shujing [Book of Documents,” section entitled “Zhun shi”)[16]

The Duke of Zhou’s defense of his actions bears important themes for later Ru:

  1. Tian (Heaven) is transcendent/immanent order that is good, right, peaceful, harmonious, life-supporting, and provides for the people.
  2. Heaven mandates (ming) family order: first son, second son, third son, and so on.
  3. Family order is expressed in learned, prescribed rituals (li) that restrain emotion, thought, word, and deed.
  4. De is the presence of Heaven in a leader that enables him to provide for the people and all things as a good parent would.
  5. If a leader provides for the people and all things as a good parent would, he cultivates/enhances de.
  6. One studies the oral-written record of those of illustrious de in the past in order to cultivate/enhance illustrious de in oneself.
  7. Anyone of cultivated, illustrious de has responsibility to assist a leader in providing for the people as a good parent would.
  8. Although lower in rank, a person of cultivated, illustrious de, for the sake of assisting the king in his provision for the people, can serve as a teacher (in upper role) over the king (in lower role).

Emulation of the Duke of Zhou in his inversion of hierarchical order in order to give instruction to the king about how to provide for the people as a good parent would is a distinguishing mark of the Ru moral tradition. To those who serve as minister-instructors to the political center, a highly challenging role that often requires courageous critique of the political center, I have given the name “minister of the moral order.”[17]
The third innovative change of the Zhou, namely, extending care to others beyond one’s family, involves cultivation of ren (benevolence, goodness, kindness). Kongzi (Confucius) gave cultivation of ren primary focus and is remembered as China’s greatest teacher. Kongzi emphasized:

  1. One must cultivate the “interior side” (later called “the heart-mind” [xin]) of ritual as well as the “exterior side” (visible actions) of ritual.
  2. A lifetime of effort to practice putting aside self-interest for the sake of the larger whole cultivates ren.
  3. A person of ren is a true noble person (junzi), able to assist by giving instruction to those at the political center, who are responsible for providing for the people as a good parent would.
  4. Anyone able to offer a dried piece of meat, who, when shown one corner comes back with the other three, may be instructed in ren.

With these four emphases in the cultivation of ren, Kongzi inspired his students to study the record of former sage-kings, to examine inwardly their motives, to think rationally through how to apply old principles in new situations, and to take courage in assuming the role of instructor over the political center.
Importantly, Kongzi’s instruction did not involve coercion of any kind:
The Master said, “Lead the people with government regulations and keep them orderly using penal law, and sure enough, they will avoid punishment but be without a sense of shame. Lead them with de and keep them orderly with ritual, and they will develop a sense of shame and moreover, will order themselves.” (Analects 2.3)
Trusting, resting, and relying on Heaven’s way already in everything, already present in all prescribed ritual action, Kongzi did not fabricate any man-made order to impose from the top down. Seeking instead to align with Heaven’s “good, right, life-supporting, providing for the people, peaceful and harmonious” way, Kongzi taught that all that is needed to cultivate ren is 1) access to records of the moral way of ancient sage-kings,[18] 2) intelligence, 3) will to practice vigilantly, and 4) courage when one’s life is threatened. Heaven does the rest.
Over a lifetime of effort and practice, ren on the inside increasingly motivates outward, prescribed, ritual actions. Inner character expressed outwardly in appropriate, learned ritual action mattered most to Kongzi as the one effective way to restore manifestation of Heaven’s order in the world.
To summarize, in similar ways, God’s call to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants and Heaven’s call to the Zhou Ji clan, as transmitted by the Duke of Zhou, Kongzi, Mengzi, Xunzi, and their followers inspired “innovative, monotheistic, moral reform movements,” within polytheistic worship traditions already in place. These two reform movements share several elements in common. First, transcendental power was discerned as one, not many. Just as God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to worship God alone, so also leaders of the Zhou Ji clan, especially the Duke to Zhou, Kongzi, Mengzi, Xunzi, and their followers focused on Heaven and put worship of spirits at a distance. Second, God and Heaven were discerned to be concerned with the greater welfare of the people, whom leaders were called to serve. Third, leaders called to serve the people needed the help of instructors (prophets in the case of Israel and minister-advisors in the case of China) to put aside self-interest for the sake of the people and the kingdom.
However, with the passage of time, these two 1000-year-old, monotheistic moral reform movements (roughly 1000 BCE to 0 BCE) that innovatively moved away from royal-blood primogeniture as the basis of leadership and towards moral character as the basis of leadership, devolved back into bloodline-based primogeniture, family-ism, rigid social hierarchy, and ritual legalism, for which the Jewish tradition and the Ru tradition are misunderstood and rejected by many today.
Into Jewish primogeniture, family-ism, rigid social hierarchy, and ritualistic legalism came Jesus of Nazareth, like judges and prophets before him, to lead God’s people back 1) to right relationship between God and neighbor through loving others as God loves us and 2) to serving as ambassadors of God’s love here in the world. But there is something new with Jesus, for by what Jesus does, he offers two free gifts of grace by which alone humanity is put in right relationship with God and neighbor and able to lead, not by relying on one’s own power and works, but by relying on God’s grace in these two free gifts.
In the next section, we explore some ways that receiving Jesus’ two free gifts enable Ru leaders to re-envision, reform, and revive their role as stewards of the people and to exercise their important responsibility of bringing the people’s concerns to the awareness of those working at the political center who establish and promulgate instruction/policy for every sphere of human life.

To understand how reception of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord can reform and revive Ru moral cultivation for leadership, we first present what Jesus’ two free gifts are:
The First Free Gift: Resurrection and Justification: Through Jesus Christ’s passion on the Cross, death, and resurrection, we who by God’s grace receive Him are justified, that is, put in right relationship with God:

    1. We have been declared not guilty or “not shamed”, for by His sacrifice, He has taken our sin
    2. into death once and for all, remembered no more – “it is finished” (Jn 19:30);
    3. We are liberated from slavery to sin, death, and evil as Jesus Christ’s resurrection declares victory over Satan, and

We are healed as we are taken up into new life in Jesus Christ.

The Second Free Gift: Pentecost and Sanctification: At Pentecost by God’s grace, the Father, through the Son, sent the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the second free gift, and sanctification begins whereby the salvific change that has taken place invisibly inside us begins to manifest visibly on the outside – to reveal itself through the clay of our lives: in feelings, thoughts, words, gestures, actions, buildings, institutions, and every manner of stewardship.
The Chinese call this clay, this material stuff of our lives, qi, meaning the entire range of physicality from the subtlest form of energy to giant boulders of rock. In sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, the life-offering love of God increasingly manifests in qi, the material clay of our lives, in the way we breathe and feel, in what we say, do, build, organize, and steward.
Sanctification by the Holy Spirit in some ways is parallel in movement with what Chinese people call dao (way), which moves from inward invisibility into outward visibility. Not only this, just as Jesus Christ is both the “way” and the “word” of God, so also the Chinese term dao means both “way” and “to speak.” In Chinese discernment, dao, the true, living way of Heaven, is moving from invisibility to visibility, moving from inaudibility into greater audibility.
As has been the story around the world for the last 2,000 years, when Jesus Christ is received as Savior and Lord, inherited and precious heritages of ways of living are not destroyed, but corrected, reformed, and transfigured. The same is true for Ru leaders who receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As Jesus Christ incarnates −gently and non-impositionally− into Ru ways of living, there is rectification, transfiguration, and fulfillment through rebirth of the human heart-mind (xin).
In Chinese discernment, manifesting (making outwardly visible) Heaven’s good, right, life-supporting, harmonious way already within one is the responsibility of the human heart-mind (xin). If Heaven’s way is not visible here in the world, the problem is with the human heart-mind. So what is the difficulty? Does the human heart-mind lack focused reflection? Is the lack of focused attention due to a lack of will? And is the lack of will due perhaps to something lacking in human nature?
Over 2500 years, Ru have pondered these questions with regard to the human heart-mind and offered every variety of answer giving rise to multiple schools within the Ru tradition. Common to all Ru schools is instruction on how to cultivate the human heart-mind, first, by pruning away self-interest for the sake of the larger whole and second, by practicing vigilantly the moral way of the ancient sage-kings, making the old way new in today’s world. Study, effort, practice, study, effort, practice. No special divine assistance here.
But what if there were divine assistance? What if Jesus Christ takes the lack of focused reflection, the lack of will, the burden of choices one never wanted to make, the overwhelming grief over what has been lost through one’s choices, the continuing agony that one did not do better for one’s family, for one’s friends, for one’s community, for one’s people, although Heaven knows how much one tried? What if Jesus Christ takes all this fallenness into death upon the Cross, and it is remembered no more? The first free gift.
A new heart shall I give you, and will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a new heart of flesh. And I shall put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes (Ezek. 36:26-27).
And what if God the Father, through the Son, Jesus Christ, sends the Holy Spirit to strengthen and to hold steady the human heart-mind made new in Jesus Christ? With the Holy Spirit aligning human heart-minds with the heart-mind of Christ, Ru ways of living are corrected, reformed, and transfigured in Jesus Christ. The second free gift.
Romans 12: 1-21 (NIV) describes precisely how by God’s grace the two free gifts of Jesus Christ correct, reform, and transfigure the whole of human life:

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Generations of authentic, ecclesial community sorting through former ways of living –saying “yes” to this and “no” to that− gradually incarnate Jesus Christ in inherited ways of living being ever corrected, reformed, and transfigured by the Holy Spirit.
In this Holy Spirit-led transfiguring process, two areas of Ru leadership need particular attention: earning and spending.
As to the first, in all regions where Ru learning and practice have gained sway, there is a pervading message that one can and should “earn” one’s way to merited positions of power and responsibility. By contrast Luke 15, with its three parables, affirms that God’s love and salvation cannot be earned nor merited but are simply given by God’s grace alone.
Relatedly, how does one “spend” God’s graciously given love and salvation? Here, Luke 16 has important instruction: with gratitude in our hearts toward God for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ (which we have not merited), we are to offer compassion, mercy, and forgiveness to others, again without regard to merit.
As Christian love transfigures Ru leadership, those who lead in an upper role walk more humbly with those in lower role for whom they are responsible to provide food, clothing, shelter, and education. They do so by listening and responding to those whom they serve, taking others’ interests to heart, rather than imposing policies merely from the top-down. Reformed in Jesus Christ, Ru leadership is less vertical and far more horizontal as leaders share responsibilities rather than allowing one person to dominate from the top down. Instead, from the bottom up, encouraging harmonious offering of gifts, talents, and wisdom that God has given His people brings out their best and their grateful, responsible stewardship of others. Love extends beyond the natal family to all members of one family in Jesus Christ.
Importantly, receiving the two free gifts of Jesus Christ enables Ru leaders to rely on God’s grace as they re-envision, reform, and revive the minister-advisor role as stewards of the people and to exercise their important responsibility of bringing the people’s concerns to the awareness of those working at the political center who establish and promulgate policy for every domain of life. Prior to receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, Ru leaders rely on the own vigilant study, cultivated will, practiced courage, and cumulative ren as they face possible demotion, exile, even death when, for the sake of the people, they dare to give wise counsel (in upper role) to those of political power (in lower role).
Receiving and resting in the two free gifts of Jesus Christ, Ru “minister-advisors of the moral order” no longer depend solely on themselves to cultivate moral character. Receivers of Jesus Christ not only have ancient sage-kings and ministers as models, they have Jesus Christ, who is the original servant leader (Eph. 2) in whom all servant-leaders by the Holy Spirit live, move, and have their being. Moreover, it is not mere contentment in good times or bad that characterizes a Christian “minister-advisor of the moral order” but overflowing gratitude for what God has done and continues to do to enable each and every person to be the person God intends her/him to be.
Whereas Kongzi (Confucius) was innovative in his seeking frugality and selflessness in the practice of ritual, which for him mirrored Heaven’s way, Christian “minister-advisors of the moral order” go further: by the Holy Spirit they abound in compassion and mercy, seek justice and the release of captives. Whereas the masses of people have depended on Ru leaders to speak on their behalf, they also have despised these same leaders who, having entered the circle of self-centered political power, often turned from the people and even against the people in pursuit of profit. By contrast, Christian “minister-advisors of the moral order,” alive in Jesus Christ, surrender pride, arrogance, merit, prestige as they partake of their Savior’s “wounded healing,” steer away from primogeniture, rigid hierarchy, legalism, and ritualism, and are beloved, cherished, and remembered for their deep sacrifices on behalf of others, just as He.


[1]This presentation weaves together in significantly new ways several themes from my earlier writing; please see: Diane B. Obenchain, “Revelations of the Dragon: Observations on Christianity and Ru (Confucianism) in China Today”, the Henry Neumann Lecture presented at Princeton Theological Seminary on April 14, 1999 and published in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, July 2000;
—–“Jewish and Ru Moral Community: Compatibilities and Contributions to the Modern Era,” Edition Chōra: Verlag Fur Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften (Series for Asiatic and Comparative Philosophy), edited by Gűnter Wohlfart and Rolf Elberfeld (Cologne, Germany: Spring 2002);
—–“Youtaijiao – Jidujiao shengyue shehui yu rujia shehui: yu tian tong gong” (“Judeo-Christian Covenant Community and Ru [Confucian] Community: Co-partnership with Heaven”), trans. by Shin Yun, in Jidujiao Wenhua Yanjiu (Christian Culture Studies), August 2003;
—–“Reformed Perspectives on Christian Faith in a Multi-Religious World: Jesus Christ as Salt, Light, and Yeast for Reform”, for international conference on “Reformed Mission in an Age of World Christianity”, June 15-17, 2010 in conjunction with the Uniting General Conference (UGC), an assembly held Friday, June 18–27, 2010 to unite the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council into one ecclesiastical body, at Calvin College;
—–Reverend Dr. W. Donald McClure Endowed Lectures (3) and Chapel Service, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Sept. 28-29, 2009: Lecture #1 – What is the Problem with “Religion”? Lecture #2 – Why is “Religion” Especially Suspect in China? Lecture #3 – Who is a “Christian Minister of the Moral Order”? Chapel Service – Chinese Calvinism Today: Partners in Prayer”;
—–“If he really loved her, he would not have worried about the distance (Analects 9:30),” Guest Speaker at the Creative Arts Program Seminar “Eye on the World: Changing Landscapes,” at the National University of Singapore and the Gifted Education Unit, Ministry of Education, May 26-30, 1992;
—–“Ministers of the Moral Order: Innovations of the Early Chou [Zhou] Kings, the Duke of Chou [Zhou], Chongni [Zhongni] and Ju [Ru]”, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1984.
[2] See Wilfred C. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (NY: Macmillan, 1963; Fortress Press edition, 1991), primarily Ch. 2. This section is based on Smith, with updates from my own research.
[3] Diane B. Obenchain, —–“Ministers of the Moral Order: Innovations of the Early Chou [Zhou] Kings, the Duke of Chou [Zhou], Chongni [Zhongni] and Ju [Ru]”, op. cit.
[4] Samuel Huntington’s much criticized The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 2011 edition) is a convenient example.
[5] E. Stanley Jones, Christ of the India Road (Abingdon Press, 1915).
[6] Isaiah 42:3
[7] Henry Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (New York: Doubleday Books, 1972).
[8] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for example.
[9] Karl Marx, for example.
[10] This overview follows but substantially expands upon that of Frank Whaling (ed.), Theory and Method in Religious Studies: Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Religion, (Walter de Gruyter, 1984), Vol.1.
[11] Many scholars have compared ancient Israel and ancient China 1100-100 BCE. For a contemporary study, see Galia Patt-Shamir, To Broaden the Way: A Confucian-Jewish Dialogue (Studies in Comparative Philosophy and Religion, Lexington Books, 2006).
[12] Micah 6:8.
[13] David Novak, Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
[14] Obenchain, op. cit. The Chinese term ru (meaning “weak”) refers to well-versed scholars of the “Five Classics” in contrast with those of military expertise and prowess.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Shuching (Book of Documents). Translated by Bernard Karlgren in reprint of Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 22 (1950), 16, 18, 22, pp, 59-62, cited in Obenchain, op. cit., p. 92.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Since the Han dynasty (circa 200 BCE-200 CE), record of the moral way of ancient sage-kings is called the “Five Classics” (wu jing), consisting of 1) leaders’ pronouncements (Shu), 2) court poems (Shi), 3) codes of prescribed rituals (Li), 4) annals of noteworthy political events (Chunqiu), and 5) manuals for divining Heaven’s way (Yi).

* This paper was presented at the 2015 Forum of the Asian Society of Missiologists in Thailand. It is also published in the compendium of the same Forum.

Dr. Diane B. Obenchain is Professor of Religion and Director of the China Initiative in the School of Intercultural Studies (SIS) at Fuller Theological Seminary. A comparative historian of religion (PhD, Harvard University), her work has four foci: 1) Christian engagement with people of other faith, 2) East and Southeast Asian traditions of faith, with a focus on the Ru (Confucian) heritage, 3) the global, interactive history of faith from the Neolithic period to the present, and 4) cross-disciplinary methods in the study of faith and worship Her current work includes four book projects 1) Confucian Confusion: What’s in a Name?, 2) For China: Comparative Essays on Moral Leadership and Individual Responsibility, 3) Rethinking Mission, and 4) The Garden of a Spoonful of Water: Beloved Terrain of Emperors, Foreign Missions, Yenching University (Christian), Peking University , and China’s “Silicon Valley” Today.

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