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Test everything. Hold on to the good.

May Scotch resolve to keep the faith, to hold fast to that which is good, and to promote learning and enquiry in a spirit of mutual respect and trust born of faith in Christ.

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In 1836 when James Forbes, founder of Scotch College, left Scotland to come to Melbourne there were 4,400 students at Scottish universities, while England, with a population eight times greater had less than 3,000 students. The greater emphasis on education in Scotland can be traced back to the Scottish Reformation.

In 16th century Scotland, John Knox envisioned a country re-formed by the Gospel of Christ; church services would be in the common language and emphasise the importance of personal faith in Christ. Parish communities would be transformed by education – a schoolmaster in every parish so all could read the Bible – and welfare (as the Bible required care of widows and orphans). Aberdeenshire, Forbes’ birthplace, was arguably the most educationally informed area of an educationally driven nation. He came to Port Phillip fired with zeal to evangelise, educate and develop the young settlement.

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James Forbes – an educational visionary

In 1989 the guest of honour at Scotch College Speech Night was the highly distinguished History Professor, Geoffrey Blainey. In his address Professor Blainey said that Chinese migrants in Australia valued education the way the Scots had done in the previous century. What explains such zeal for education in these two different ethnic groups?

In a recent book, Civilization: the West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson of Harvard explores the reasons for the ascendancy of the West from the year 1500. He identifies six ideas and institutions that gave the West advantage. He calls them ‘killer apps’ – each app an icon behind which lay an intricate and complex code. The first five ‘killer apps’ were Competition, The Scientific Revolution, Property Rights (Democracy), Modern Medicine and Consumerism. The sixth was Religion, especially in the form of the Protestant ethic of Work and Word.

The apps Ferguson has identified come imprinted with links to the Christian faith. Ferguson mentions the role of printers during that IT revolution we call the Reformation, the environment of personal trust in which democratic land rights could develop, the work of key Christians in the scientific revolution and the emergence of modern medicine.

I had my attention drawn to this whole discussion via the website of Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth who wrote about How China is reversing the decline and fall of Christianity. So I turned to Ferguson’s book which Sacks had quoted. Several encounters had quickened my interest.

In 2004 in Richmond I heard Brother Yun (云弟兄) aka Liu Zhenying (刘振营), tell his story of persecution of the unregistered House Church Movement. I arrived 30 minutes early, but the auditorium was already filled, mostly with Australian-born Chinese. I had to sit cross-legged on the floor of the foyer. In 2009 I spoke at South Camberwell Uniting Church Youth Camp. There were 60 enthusiastic Christian young people at the camp, almost all of Chinese ethnicity.

On May 17 this year, Foreign Correspondent (True Believers) explored the surge in Christian faith among young educated Chinese – they reported perhaps 10 per cent of South Eastern China are Christian. Subsequently, two adults from Mainland China, one a teacher, one a parent, have told me of their visits to their home towns. Both had discovered large new Christian congregations there.

In 1958 Chairman Mao proclaimed Wenzhou city ‘religion free’. Last year Stanford University Press published Constructing China’s Jerusalem, a book about ‘Christians, power, and place in contemporary Wenzhou’. The author, Nanlai Cao, is an academic at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Today Wenzhou is the heart of Christianity in China. Ferguson informs us that there were 480 churches in Wenzhou before the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the persecution the ‘Red Guards’ unleashed. Today there are 1,339 churches! Ironically, in 2007 the pastor of the Flower Garden Lane Church and vice-chairman of Wenzhou China Christian Council was Rev Yu Cheng Kun, a former Red Guard.

Ferguson was born in the West, in Glasgow, a city whose motto is ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’. However, this motto was originally much longer: ‘Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word and the singing of his praises’. Ferguson asks: ‘What happened to that old Protestant ethic?’ What indeed? He had already expressed his concerns in an article in the UK Telegraph in 2005:

‘G K Chesterton feared that if Christianity declined, “superstition” would “drown all your old rationalism and scepticism”. When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad ju-ju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me half so much as the moral vacuum our dechristianisation has created … a weekly dose of Christian doctrine will help provide an ethical framework for your life. And I certainly do not know where else you are going to get one.’

‘Test everything. Hold on to the good’ says the apostle Paul. As Scotch looks back on 160 years may we resolve to keep the faith, to hold fast to that which is good, and to promote learning and enquiry in a spirit of mutual respect and trust; respect and trust born of faith in the Christ who calls us all to be God’s people.

Chaplain Rev. Graham Bradbeer