The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) is the oldest and biggest denomination in Taiwan. It was founded in 1865 with the arrival of medical missionary Dr. James L. Maxwell of the Presbyterian Church of England (now the United Reformed Church [URC]). He was originally from Scotland and set up his mission in southern Taiwan. In 1872, Rev. Dr. George L. Mackay of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission (the Presbyterian Church in Canada [PCC]) arrived and established his base in northern Taiwan. These early missionaries didn’t just plant churches but they engaged in medical, educational and minority ministries. Thus, the PCT has deep roots in the caring for the needs of the larger society and confronting unjust systems of oppression with the prophetic gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2015, the PCT celebrated its 150th anniversary. With 152 years of history, it is actually older than the current government of Taiwan with the name “the Republic of China (ROC)”, the latter being established in China in 1911 and is just 106 years old today. Before the rule of the ROC as the government of Taiwan since 1949, the PCT also experienced both the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and the Qing Dynasty rule. Therefore, the PCT is much more “rooted in the land” than all the occupying powers. The Presbyterian tradition has helped the Taiwanese society to come out of the colonial period and to enter a truly democratic era.
Today, the PCT has more than 1,200 local congregations spreading to almost every villages in Taiwan. About 500 are indigenous congregations. Every Sunday, the worship services are conducted in at least 17 languages, reflecting the rich multicultural diversity of Taiwan. However, some in Taiwan do not always see this cultural diversity as God’s blessing because part of Taiwan’s cultural and political heritage is intertwined with its history stemming from the occupations in the past. In the present post-colonial era, Taiwan is having to confront its heritage of its past. Among the struggles are the internal conflicts between and among cultural and ethnic groups. It is vital that all different cultural groups are respected and their cultural heritages be preserved.
In July 2017, the Rev. LYIM Hong-Tiong began his second term. He has a new team of colleagues.
The PCT has a tradition of contextual theology led by such notable ecumenical figures as Shoki Coe and C. S. Song. Their ecumenical engagement and writings have helped the Taiwanese churches to do theology and mission in the Taiwanese context. In the 1970s, when the ROC government was no longer recognized by most countries and the UN, the PCT raised its prophetic voice demanding democracy, self-determination for the people of Taiwan and social reform of the government. Such action caused many pastors and believers of the PCT great trouble at that time. However, such suffering with the people became the signs of hope for the society. The three famous statements at that time “Statement on Our National Fate (1971)”, “Our Appeal (1975)”, and “A Declaration on Human Rights (1977)” culminated in a “status confessions”, the “Confession of Faith” of the PCT in 1985.
Going into the new century, the PCT continues to go further with its spirit of ecumenism, contextual theology, and social justice emphasis. It continues to stress the importance of the Missio Dei (God’s Mission) as a holistic kind of mission, including not just the proclamation of the Gospel (evangelism), but also the nurturing of God’s children (education), service with love, transformation of the society, the caring for God’s creation, and “Gospel and Culture”. The first five are widely accepted in the ecumenical circle including CWM as five dimensions of mission. However, the PCT has added “Gospel and Culture” as the sixth dimension. This stems from its engagement with East Asian and Austronesian/indigenous cultures.
The PCT is an active member in the ecumenical movement and CWM has been its important partner since its founding in 1977. PCT members have played important leadership roles in the CWM including former moderator, secretary and assistant. Since 2014, the PCT has hosted the TIM programme, the first time that TIM is taking place in a non-English speaking country. Taiwan also served as host to the CWM EAR office.
Mission Programmes of the Church
With the election in 2016, Taiwan entered a new era. President Tsai Ing-wen is the first female president and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly for the first time. She promised to engage in “transitional justice” of the indigenous peoples and in pension reform to leave a better future for the next generation. The PCT agreed that these are right directions to venture into, but after a year, the PCT finds the progress slow and realizes that grassroot support is very important for such reforms.
Moreover, pressure from China has not changed or been resolved. China continues to isolate Taiwan in the international arena and Taiwan continues to exhibit its soft power in spite of such isolation in many different areas. Taiwan is not only one of the first democracies in Asia but also the first in terms of gender equality and diversity in both the church and the government. Taiwan also pioneers in the IT industry. However, these advancements also cause problem internally as the church is struggling to accept LGBTQ people and to become a truly inclusive life-affirming community. Also, God’s creation and people’s rights and dignity are very often sacrificed in the quest for “development.”
With the society becoming ever more aged, the PCT seems to be aging as well. The elderly people need to learn to listen to the younger generation and give them leadership roles in terms of real decision making. However, this can only be possible with changes in the polity of the church. The number of people aged more than 65 is also ever larger. In such a situation, the church can play an important role in the elderly’s ministry.
Taiwanese society is also becoming ever more diverse. After the end of the Martial Law period in 1987, Taiwan has yet to walk out of the long shadows of “White Terror.” In the past, the church suffered rejection by the government. Today, the church should stand up from its experience of rejection to embrace the rejected in the society. This includes the huge number of migrant workers who can help to diversify the Taiwanese society.
Vision for Tomorrow
With the new political situation in Taiwan, the PCT seeks to be a sharing church that is able to contribute to the ecumenical movement. It is essential for the PCT to continue to be prophetic and this requires the ecumenical movement to partner the PCT in face of the challenges of the 21st century. In this context, in keeping with its prophetic tradition, the PCT is strongly supporting the martial law era transitional justice process for the victims and their relatives. President Tsai has taken steps to begin to address this national tragedy. The PCT has equally strongly supported a transitional justice for the indigenous peoples. A Truth and Reconciliation Committee of 28 people has been hard at work since May 2016. The PCT is delighted that the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) General Council took note of this significant development at its Leipzig meeting in July 2017.
During the International Forum held by PCT in 2017, the partner churches and ecumenical organizations including CWM have supported the establishment of a “Taiwan Ecumenical Forum (TEF)” to accompany the PCT in a pilgrimage of justice and peace. The PCT hopes that this kind of partnership will help both the PCT and the ecumenical movement to continue to their meaningful engagement in the society today. In Leipzig, the WCRC adopted a resolution in support of the establishment of a TEF, noting the increasing isolation of Taiwan by the international community. In 2017 alone, Taiwan was excluded from participating in the World Health Organization Annual Assembly and was denied membership in the INTERPOL and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Since 2015, no Taiwanese was able to visit the United Nation as a tourist visitor or observe meetings without an official ID issued by China.