Page images
PDF
EPUB

our

and the churches co-operated in maintaining his work among the Indians. John Harvard projected a college and the churches through a private corporation put their strength into it. But in the main the emergence of administrative responsibilities was deferred until the beginning of the 19th century when the Spirit of God stirred the hearts of the churches to begin mission work at home and abroad. Then it became necessary to establish some sort of an organism through which this work might be done. It is easy for us to imagine the churches of that day as saying "We believe in the principle of fellowship. We recognize that there are tasks for which a local church is insufficient. We already have our Councils and Associations with advisory functions. Let us extend principle to include this new situation which is upon us. We will organize representative bodies which on our behalf shall do our world-wide work." But the churches said nothing of the kind. If they definitely faced such a proposal, which presumably they did not, they said “We do not propose to create bodies clothed with any kind of authority as from us. We will encourage individuals to form such bodies as they will, and we will support them as long as we are satisfied with them. Moreover it appears to us that all such undertakings ought to be interdenominational. We have no desire to claim them.” So there came into existence one after another the missionary agencies which are now identified with Congregationalism. They have wrought on our behalf and wrought with conspicuous success. In every field of mission effort we have been pioneers and standard bearers. The sum of their achievements constitutes a noble chapter in our annals. So honorable is the record that one has no difficulty in believing that the fathers did the wise thing for their place and time.

None the less so long as two generations ago there began to be dissatisfaction with the plan. The Albany Convention of 1852 was in the nature of a protest against the home mission policies in vogue.

The first triennial Council in 1871 pondered long on the organization of its missionary agencies. And the Council which met at New Haven in 1874 had before it a report on missionary readjustment only less bulky than the one which is laid before you at this session. So it has been during all the intervening years. What is the meaning of it? Why have the churches not been content with the substantial achievements which have been described? The answer may be phrased in various ways. But the kernel of it is in the fact that like all things human these administrative undertakings had an admixture of frailty and failure for whose prevention or cure the churches were helpless save by the disastrous method of withdrawing support. Moreover it came to be felt that ours, the most democratic of organizations, was maintaining the most autocratic of agencies

autocratic not because of the intention or desire of their managers but because of the necessities of the situation. Naturally the question arose whether there was anything in the nature of the case which required the continuance of such an anomaly. We are all familiar with the varied forms in which this question has been asked for twenty or thirty years past. To refresh our memories as to the sort of things we have been saying I quote certain sections from an address by our honored Dr. Cyrus Northrup at the Council of 1907.

“We are astonished to notice that other denominations with genuine solidarity, and directed by the ablest and best men who can be selected for leadership, are increasing in numbers much more rapidly than we are as if we did not know that successful war cannot be carried on by independent companies under no matter how skilful captains."

“I certainly believe that the best interests of all our churches individually and collectively would be promoted by having in some form recognized leaders who should look after the interests of the denomination as a whole, so that the growth of the denomination should not be limited to the extraneous natural accretion of new material to the bodies already existing, but should follow the law of development of nations and religions alike, by expansion, concert of action, and unity of purpose."

What Dr. Northrup here says tens of thousands among us have been saying.

As the outcome of it all we came to see that not only was there nothing in our Congregational convictions to prevent a change of plan but that there was everything to suggest it. We came to see that our denominational reluctance to be responsible for machinery was somewhat beside the mark. Machinery we must have if we are to work together. The alternative is not between machinery and no machinery but between good machinery and bad machinery. So two years ago we agreed upon a new policy of administering our missionary affairs.

But the long process of discussion by which we reached this conclusion had compelled us to take a wider survey and had made us ready for the simultaneous adoption of measures which would make our ancient principle of fellowship operative not only in an orderly representative control of our mission agencies but through the whole broad field of our common interests. In submitting an analysis of the meaning of these measures I throw a wide variety of facts of current denominational history and recorded evidences of the denominational mind into three groups which to my apprehension cover the main part of the field of action outside the service which the local church can render to itself and of itself.

1. The first of these groups includes all the considerations which center around the decision to maintain CENTRALIZED REPRESENTATIVE WHICH DISCHARGE COMMON EXECUTIVE TASKS. I have already discussed the history which has led up to this decision and spoken of its essential nature. It is only necessary, therefore, to mention certain practical details. For one thing it is clear that such centralized control must continue to be partly national and partly by smaller units. In other words we have upon us the old problem of working out a federated system. The lesser administrative unit is and ought to be the state organization. The district association has its valuable functions but not in this field. The state conference or other state organization identical in membership must care for the interests which cannot wisely be assigned to national control. Uniformity of nomenclature and plan from state to state

CONTROL

OF

ALL

AGENCIES

and from cause to cause is of course far away.

Our modes of procedure must keep their roots in our traditions and history. We need not be unduly concerned as to uniformity. Such amount of it as is desirable will come as we patiently work together at the problems in hand.

The portion of administrative responsibility which should be nationally met being already assigned to the National Council we have an arrangement simple, obvious and flexible. Every group of churches large and small can make itself felt, if it desires, in the guidance of our world-wide work. We can easily change the method of representation if experience shall so suggest. We can introduce features to meet special conditions as in providing for members at large for one Board and another. We can provide agencies to advise the Council concerning the detail of its responsibilities such as the Commission on Missions. The Council by reason of the bulk and importance of the work under its care will command the interest of strong men and women. Decisions reached will be put into force without delay since all parts of the missionary structure are included in a unified view. Behind the whole will be the entire life of the churches, which ought surely to receive new vigor from closer and more responsible contact with these inspiring tasks.

2. The second group of decisions which are explicit or implicit in our current life have to do with the provision of DEFINITE AND RECOGNIZED LEADERSHIP ADEQUATELY EQUIPPED TO

LOCAL CHURCHES

DEVELOPING THEIR

EFFECTIVENESS. This is in no sense a new idea among us. We have long had a publishing agency, commissions and committees of State Conferences and of the National Council as well as various voluntary organizations charged with this precise duty. But they have been handicapped often to the point of uselessness by the lack of some of the conditions indicated in the words and phrases which qualify "leadership" above.

The matter presents itself in this wise. We have 6,100 churches bewildering in their variety of situation, personnel, ability, size, inclination and outlook. Each of

AID

THE

IN

FULL

these churches is under a sacred obligation to serve its community and the world in the wide four-fold field of Christian duty, viz.: - Evangelism, Christian Training, Missions and Social Service. If each is required to produce for itself the inspiration, the ideals, the methods, and the expert workers by which this huge task shall be rightly done it is foredoomed to failure. Only as there is an arrangement by which the study of specialists becomes available for all, by which the experience of each church becomes the possession of the many, by which the churches are brought together for inspirational gatherings and by which helps suited to the needs of their varied activities are placed in their hands can large things be expected from any save the most exceptional churches. But this cannot be brought about except through the most definite and systematic leadership of agencies equipped with sufficient funds and rightly co-ordinated one with another. The benefit to be derived by any local church from such agencies will of course depend entirely upon the use it makes of their service. But we must at least place such use within their reach.

Provision for this need is found in many of the features of our current plans. Central among them is the Religious Education Board recommended by the Commission on Missions. Accessory to these are the Commissions and Committees of the National Council, some of which must have more adequate funds if they are to do what needs to be done. State organizations too have their important place in this process. Our colleges and seminaries can render an indispensable service.

The demand for the kind of leadership thus outlined is patent and pressing. In the matter of our young people for instance the situation is critical. Their organized power · has experienced a sharp decline in recent years. They are not receiving from the denomination nor giving to the denomination so much as they ought. Our laymen are patently not enlisted to anything like the measure of their ability or inclination. We have not opened to them the door of service in an adequate way. It has lately been demonstrated that the spirit of evangelism

« PreviousContinue »