« PreviousContinue »
commend the work of the Council to the grateful attention and loyal support of the Congregational Churches in the United States.
MOVEMENTS TOWARD UNITY
By Rev. William Hayes Ward The subject of union with other denominations has engaged the interest of the National Council at former sessions, but during the last two years, as during the previous triennium, questions of polity have occupied the attention of the churches and no special effort has been made to resume negotiations for organic union. But meanwhile in other branches of the American Church efforts for union have not been intermitted.
The plan of union with the United Brethren and the Methodist Protestants, halted by the action of the National Council at Cleveland, has given fresh courage to those two denominations to agree upon a plan for their corporate union which has been accepted by the requisite majority of their local conferences, and is almost certain to be consummated at their coming General Conferences. Thus our efforts have borne fruit for others if not for ourselves. At the session of the General Conferences of the United Brethren and the Methodist Protestants in which they shall unite as one body it would be desirable that a committee from this body be present to convey our congratulations.
At an earlier period your committee had negotiations with the Free Baptists with a view to organic union, and a plan was harmoniously agreed upon, but was later defeated by the opposition of a leader in that denomination who feared its effect on the development of Keuka College, their connectional institution in New York. But the spirit of union did not fail with them, as within these last years the union of the Free Baptists with the Northern Baptists has been fully accomplished in New England and New York, and will surely follow in other states. The college spoken of has been put under the joint control of the Baptists, Free Baptists, and Disciples of Christ. Thus, again, organic union initiated with us, has yet reached other success; and the larger union of the Baptists and the Disciples of Christ is now under discussion.
The subject of organic union between the branches of Methodism is before the General Conferences, and an impetus has been given to it by an appeal for union between the Northern and Southern Methodists by the Hon. Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, and a member of the Southern Church.
What may be called the beginning of organic union between Protestant churches in the United States appeared in the plan of union between Congregationalists and Presbyterians in the beginning of the last century. But its result was rather division than union, excluding for nearly forty years Congregationalists from the new settlements outside of New England; and its effect appeared a little later in the division between the New School and the Old School Presbyterians. The history of successful organic union began with the union in 1870 of the New School Presbyterian Church with the remnant of the Old School Presbyterian Church left by the Civil War. These two branches united less than ten years after the secession of the Southern Presbyterian Church, the union being based on the standards pure and simple, without definition or explanation. The departure of the more conservative Presbyterians of the South made it easier for the Old School Presbyterians of the North to allow fellowship with their more liberal New School brethren who had so largely come out of Congregationalism. The union has been a happy one, although it involved separation on the part of the New School churches from fellowship with Congregationalists in home and foreign missions.
Since the union of these two great branches Presbyterians have taken the lead in the matter of union. They first organized a federation of denominations holding the Presbyterian system of government, with an able secretary and with the end in view of consolidating the members into a single denomination. The last of these unions was with the Cumberland Presbyterians and commissions are at work for union with other denominations of
the Presbyterian name, and of the German and Dutch Reformed Churches, and also, should that fail, as now seems likely, of union between the two Reformed Churches. Union between the Northern and the Southern Presbyterian Churches separated by the Civil War, often proposed, has been too long delayed. The Southern Church has demanded as the condition of union that the Northern Church should disavow the act of the Old School Presbyterian Church in condemning the secession of the Southern States, on the ground that it was a political deliverance. This the Northern Church declines to do, both because it does not care to do so, and because the action was that of a denomination now absorbed and extinct. Still further, the Southern Church has a suspicion of the doctrinal soundness of the Northern Church and at present there is no likelihood of this union.
The Lutheran Churches, of which there are a dozen separated by language and national origin are not insensible to the spirit of union, and are considering the duty. Their coming together would create one of the very largest of American denominations.
Organic union is a world movement. We do not need to dwell on the union almost achieved between denomi· nations so far apart in polity as the Methodists, Presby
terians and Congregationalists of Canada, who are setting the example to all of us. The union of two branches of Presbyterians into the United Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has had such a happy result that earnest and hopeful efforts are making to form a union with the established church of Scotland.
But it is in the mission fields that union is making most rapid progress. Churches created out of heathenism cannot understand why these sectarian lines should be maintained. In Japan all branches of Methodism are united as one, and equally the six denominations of Presbyterianism. Indeed in China as well as in Korea, India, Mexico, and Brazil, all Presbyterian and Reformed Churches work as one body in the organization of national churches. It has come to be the rule that kindred denominations working in any country must unite their churches
into one national body. Even those of different polities are sinking their differences and coming together as in South India, where Congregational and Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed bodies united in 1908, and so happy has been the result that last year the Marathi Mission of the American Board proposed to the neighboring Presbyterian mission a similar union of their churches in Western India. These are examples of the strength of the movement the world over.
As Secretary Arthur J. Brown of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions says:
“A directory of the present and prospective unions, with the barest accompanying outline of explanatory facts, would fill many pages, and it would require additions before it could be printed, so rapidly are new unions being formed.”
Surely the existence at present of over a hundred larger and smaller denominations is not creditable to American Protestantism. This gives sting to every criticism by the Roman Catholic Church. Men in the business world and the political world where the spirit of unity is so widely expressed and exemplified feel that it is not to the honor of our Christianity that old barriers, political, doctrinal and governmental should separate denominations that have almost forgotten the differences that originated them, and should maintain the old suspicion and remain divided, antagonistic and competing with one another. Surely it is time for Congregationalists to take up again the attempt to do our part in reducing the divisions of Protestant Christendom. To do this requires that there be found not merely those who believe in union, but those who will find the time and energy to do the large work required. It will cost thought and labor, and some expense for travel and conferences with other denominations. It seems to your committee that this should be an especial and leading part of the service required of the Secretary of the National Council, giving his aid and counsel to this committee as to other committees of the National Council. Nor is the field closed against us. We have never looked abroad without meeting sympathy and a readiness to consider any proposition we might make. There are denominations with a polity not adverse to ours ready to raise the question with us, union with which would be to the common advantage of all. Surely to lag while others are pressing forward would be a failure in duty as well as in strength.
RELATIONS WITH THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
By Rev. Newman Smyth
Your Committee has been charged by previous National Councils with two distinct but closely related functions: first, to receive any overtures from the Protestant Episcopal Church; second, to represent the Congregationalists in the preparation for the proposed World Conference. In both these relations we have to report important steps already taken, and hopeful endeavors for the coming season.
First — The Preparation for the World Conference The war has postponed the immediate convening of the World Conference, but it renders all the more imperative its call for a general assembly of representatives of the Churches from all lands as soon as possible after the war shall end. Christianity itself can never fail, but organized Christianity is now confronted by the challenge of à world at arms. In this tragic crisis shall it prove equal to the world's need of its Christ?
Although at the present time delegations from Great Britain and European countries cannot be brought together in one place, it is possible for a preliminary conference of representatives of the Churches of North America to be held; a call has been issued for such a preparatory Conference to meet in January next. Our Churches must come together at home for the sake of world-wide Christianity. At this preliminary conference we may well take counsel together concerning the relations of our several communions to the whole Church of God throughout the world; and, in that supreme relation of each Church to the whole, our relations as particular Churches to one another. The purpose and idea of the proposed World