In the 1920s, the concept of “indigenization” was debated along the ideological spectrum. Communists, liberal internationalists, and Christian missionaries all considered how to make their “universal” ideology local or “indigenous” to the culture it encountered. Focusing on German Protestants and Chinese Christians, this article examines the debates over the “indigenous church” within Christian missionary circles in China. The two groups shared much in common: both saw the indigenous church as a potential bulwark against the global dominance of American and British missionaries. While sharing common geopolitical aims, they diverged on crucial theological issues: German missionaries saw in the indigenous church the potential for inculcating orthodox Lutheranism, while Chinese Christians saw the indigenous church as way to liberate Chinese Christianity from the denominational squabbles in Europe. By examining these disagreements, this article highlights the unstable and indeterminate nature of the “indigenous church,” a fact often overlooked by church historians. The article also contextualizes the indigenization debates within broader international trends, such as the rise of competing secular international ideologies like Communism.

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