« PreviousContinue »
The growing interest in the cause of Christian union is one of the most manifest and most auspicious signs of the times. In saying this, we would not exaggerate the disadvantages arising from the diversities that exist among Christians, such as are seen in their forms of organization and in their modes of worship and of Christian activity. It is not to be forgotten that in the ages when uniformity in these respects prevailed, ecclesiastical tyranny was at its height, superstition was rife, and Christian liberty suffered an eclipse. In the apostolic age, there were differences in opinion on subordinate questions, the polity of the churches was not cast in exactly the same mould, and there was flexibility in the public expressions of devotion. In all Christian times the struggle to secure uniformity has been the fountain of bitterness, the source of an incalculable amount of oppression and suffering. No lesson of Church History is more clear than that union may be obtained at too great a price. It is never safe, in the pursuit of an ideal, to ignore the actual imperfection of Christian character, as well as of Christian knowledge. The spectacle of a single great commonwealth of Christians, linked together by an organic bond, is not worth the cost of the loss of personal freedom, the sacrifice of an outspoken advocacy of cherished opinions even on questions not essential to the faith, or the relinquishment of those modes of worship which best conduce to the edification of any considerable portion of professing Christians. Whatever may be the design of Providence as regards the external union of the different branches of the Church, such a consummation is undesirable unless the way is first prepared for it by such a development of Christian intelligence and Christian character as will avail to avert the calamities that would otherwise follow.
The promotion of Christian union, as far as Christian union is practicable, must begin from within. The first and great thing that is wanted is to give heed to the new commandment of Christ to his disciples, that they should love one another. When the followers of Christ, under whatever organization they may stand, shall come fully and cordially to recognize themselves as brotherhood, in the sense attached to that term in the Apostolic days, with no false, sectarian reservation, the battle, as far as the evils of disunion are concerned, will be virtually won. When the Lord prayed for the unity of his followers, it was a spiritual unity that he had in mind. The cardinal truth for Christians to learn at
the present day is that, although there are many folds, there is but one flock. All the folds are under the guardianship of the one Shepherd. They are equally the objects of his love and care.
. Propositions looking towards organic unity are brought forward, from time to time, by different Christian bodies. The Church of Rome, through its chief pastor, on the calling of the Vatican Council, and on other occasions, has sent forth invitations of this nature to those who are without its pale. But those who are thus addressed are treated as engaged in an unlawful mutiny, and are really summoned, however affectionate may be the terms employed, to submit to the authority that has been renounced. At the same time we gladly recognize in appeals of this character a spirit of sincerity. While we are Protestants, and as such feel bound, on suitable occasions and in suitable ways, to protest against what we consider the aberrations of the Church of Rome from the simplicity of the Gospel, we are far from looking upon that church as an anti-Christian Communion. We follow the Reformers, even in the heat of their contest, in acknowledging the Roman Catholic body as a branch of the Church of Christ. We welcome the opportunities to cooperate with its members, clergy and laity, in the advancement of the cause of Christian truth and of Christian morals. We honor them for all the services which they may render to our common Christianity.
The Protestant Episcopal Church, both in this country and in Great Britain, has recently come forward with an olive branch in its hands, to meet Christians of other bodies, including those of Puritan descent. The doctrinal basis proposed by the Episcopalians is at once evangelical and liberal. The offer to give liberty to dispense with written forms of worship is, under all the circumstances, a large concession. But by insisting on what is styled “the historic episcopate” as an indispensable condition of union, an apparently impassable barrier is raised. We might urge that the best scholarship of the present day, even within the pale of the Episcopal Church, discountenances the opinion that episcopacy, even in its simplest form, was made a law for the Church by its founders. We might urge that the formularies of the Episcopal Church itself nowhere affirm the necessity of the Episcopate to the constitution of a church. But we are content to say simply, that we cannot consider it consonant with the spirit of the New Testament to make a circumstance of external order a matter of so vital moment,
and that the effect of establishing such a test could hardly fail to be to lend powerful encouragement to a sacerdotalism, which we cannot but consider at variance with New Testament Christianity.
While specific overtures in the direction of organic union are encouraging indications of the pacific spirit of the times, it is in the spontaneous movement, in which Christians of different eccle. siastical bodies are coming together, for the promotion of the cause of the gospel, that we find the most signal and gratifying harbingers of a better day that is coming. This voluntary coöperation, new forms of which are constantly arising in city and country, is breaking down the walls of sect. The power of Christian love, the dominating sense of a fraternal relation, a pity for the fallen, and a common desire to lift them up, are forces which work with an unresting energy. They will lead in their own way in God's own time, to whatever modes of ecclesiastical connection seem requisite for securing their ends. Union that takes root in such a soil will be permanent, because it is vital. It will shut out the baneful rivalry of sects. It will show to the world that Christians, however they may differ in minor things and things not without their importance, are nevertheless one, children of a common Father, disciples of the same Master.
A striking proof of the more charitable temper which is gradually spreading among the different Christian organizations is found in the fact that the spirit of antagonism is fast being superseded, or at least qualified, by a disposition to learn from one another, and thus to turn distinctive merits into a common possession. The several Christian bodies manifest a more open mind. They strive to discern what, if any, peculiar advantages may belong to ecclesiastical bodies with which they formerly stood in conflict, and to appropriate them, even when there is involved a modification of long-established systems. Systems are candidly studied, which were once the object of a sweeping condemnation. The tendency of this process, which moves forward of itself, is slowly to assimilate to one another ecclesiastical usages that began with being absolutely dissimilar.
It may be inferred from the foregoing remarks that while we regard specific propositions which are brought forward, from time to time, for the organic union of churches, as of little practical value, except as signs of a growing fraternal spirit, we hail the various, wide-spread, spontaneous forms of inter-denominational
coöperation in doing good, as the beginnings of a truer Christian unity than has existed in the past. They are more impressive than the voices of synods and bishops. They point towards the federation of churches for common Christian service. Such federal combinations of local churches of different denominations, in the several communities where they are situated, for philanthropic and charitable ends, should be promoted by all wise and proper
We recommend that the Council adopt the following resolution :
Resolved, that the National Council deems it of paramount importance that all who profess and call themselves Christians, whatever their ecclesiastical relations may be, should bear in mind the new commandment which Christ gave to his disciples; that we hail with devout satisfaction the progress of the spirit of fraternal union among Christian people of every name; that for the promotion of this end, we acknowledge the obligation to avoid the magnifying of minor points of difference, thereby losing sight of the essential principles of Christian faith and conduct; and that we regard with earnest sympathy and approval the increasing tendency of Christians of different branches of the Church to join hands in efforts to diffuse the blessings of the gospel.
GEORGE P. FISHER.
REV. SIMEON GILBERT.
THREE years ago, at the meeting of the National Council held in Worcester, an exceedingly thorough and instructive report was presented by Dr. F. E. Clark, in which a clear showing was made of the methods employed by the churches of our denomination in raising money for benevolent purposes. Letters of inquiry had been sent to nearly two thousand churches, and replies received from nearly one thousand. The independency of Congregationalism was pretty strongly exhibited in the diversity of methods used, although the “ envelope plan ” was found to be largely prevalent. Summing up the result of this study of all the facts brought out, the report urged this : “Systematize, but do not trust to system; inform; educate ; appeal to; arouse ; follow up.” There is no occasion, at this time, to go over that particular ground again. To the Committee on Systematic Benevolence, appointed to report at this meeting, the special form of the subject which has seemed to be most timely and pertinent, is not the question of method, but rather of proportion, in giving. The question to be now pressed for right answer is not How? but, How much?
| Page 22.
Many influences have been jointly at work preparing the mind of the churches for this higher, larger thought. There has been going on what may be termed the evolution of a Christianized common-sense. The duty of doing and giving for others has been set in the focus of a larger illumination. With the broadened outlook, “ the widening of the suns," there has been coming in a signally increased mood of sympathy. The saying of Mrs. Browning that people are “ kind when they think of it" has its truth ; but equally true is it now that people are getting more into the way of thinking of it.
Benevolence is the name for God. Benevolence is the life and soul of religion. Benevolence is the fundamental law of the Kingdom of Christ. It is the supreme business of the Church of Christ to get this law actually applied in every department of human relationships. The spirit of benevolence touches the mind, too, as well as the heart, and sets men to thinking. Benevolence that amounts to anything must do something; and the more really controlling it is, the more apt it will be to try to put into right proportion its giving and doing.
Already there is seen the dawning of an era of larger and more proportional giving. New standards of measurement are beginning to be applied. The spirit of Christian love has been out in the world, and has been taking note of the way men in secular affairs match expenditures of effort and of other costs to the mag. nitude of the enterprises, however stupendous, that are boldly taken in hand. Nor is the fact overlooked, that it is a “ billiondollar” country in which we live; a “ billion-dollar our life's opportunities are given us. And, unquestionably, the time is come when our churches, all along the line, might well be bombarded with these bigger ideas of measure and proportion in
age in which