« PreviousContinue »
various new lines of effort calling for detailed oversight. While this feature of the Secretary's task cannot be and ought not to be entirely eliminated, it is desirable that it be reduced to as small bulk as possible in the interest of matters more important.
2. An exacting part of my functions has consisted of what may be called, for want of a better name, editorial work. Leaflets and hand books have been prepared, articles furnished the denominational press, reports and statements drawn up for interdenominational agencies and studies prepared of sundry denominational concerns in an amount quite unanticipated and constituting a heavy draft upon my time.
3. The care of the Apportionment Plan was confided by the Council of 1913, to the Commission on Missions, and the Secretary has, of course, been called upon to execute the measures decided upon. The report of the Commission indicates what has been done in this field. By far the most significant part of these activities has been the carrying forward of the plan of Every Church Visitation in which Secretary Merrill had made a beginning before his withdrawal.
4. A section of my time and strength has been put into the service of the Board of Ministerial Relief and of the Commissions on Evangelism, Social Service, Religious Education, and Comity, Federation and Unity. These with obligations to interdenominational bodies in which, as all are aware, our fellowship is enlisted to an exceptional degree, have called for interviews, committee meetings and office work in considerable amount.
The portion of the Secretary's service not included in the fields above mentioned and in which he must of necessity exercise a large mount of individual initiative is described by the Commission of Nineteen and the Constitution as follows:
“He shall be available for advice and help in matters of polity and constructive organization, and render to the churches such services as shall be appropriate to his office."
“As one widely acquainted with the interests of the Churches the Secretary will be in position, when invited, to give helpful advice in their problems and to make suggestions looking toward their greater efficiency. In the judgment of the Commission no larger service can be rendered by the Council in our portion of the Kingdom of God than that of assisting local churches toward a more vigorous and effective life. In this work, so far as permitted by the Churches themselves, the secretary would be the representative of the Council.”
It was the evident intention of the Commission and of the Council that this aspect of the Secretary's duties should have a primary place. It clearly demands that the Secretary shall make himself familiar with the denomination's life, shall be a student of its problems, shall welcome openings for its service in any form and shall use his best effort to promote its orderly and fruitful development. In this endeavor though he may and should avail himself of the wisdom of his co-workers the main lines of activity and the underlying conceptions must of necessity be his own.
Obedient to this understanding of the case a large section of my time and thought has been given to the field above described. This has involved first of all extensive travel. To acquire and maintain even a fragmentary knowledge of the people, the doings, the needs and the wishes of 6,100 churches, covering our great national area calls for an abundance of physical exertion. The number of miles travelled since the 1913 Council approximates sixty thousand.
Somewhat over a third of my time has been spent away from home. While these journeys have by no means been exclusively for the purpose of giving addresses they have naturally involved much public speech. The invitations for service of this sort have been numerous and varied, and I have accepted them to the full measure of my power. While the draft thus made upon the Secretary's time and strength is very large, I am glad to be able to testify to the pleasure I have had in the task, and to the warmth of gratitude with which I recall the gracious courtesy which has everywhere been shown me. These months of service will abide in my memory while memory lasts as a time when I realized as never before the sweetness of Christian fellowship.
The addresses given have been of many types to meet the wide variety of audiences addressed. But they have all been controlled by a single purpose, that of expounding or enforcing the view of organized Christian life for which Congregationalism stands. So profoundly do I believe that the ethical, rational and spiritual ideal of Christian thought and labor which we cherish is fundamental and sorely needed by the world that I have little temptation to dwell on anything else. Naturally I have not always attached a label of the sort indicated to what I had to say. But in a large proportion of cases I have sought in the most explicit way to enforce the thesis that Congregationalism embodies great principles, is laden with heavy obligations, has boundless possibilities and that it is our duty under God to make it widely effective in the life of the world.
In addition to addresses a considerable correspondence has been carried on relating to this department of the Secretary's field. There are indications that this is likely to increase and to constitute a considerable lien upon his time and thought. The process of integrating and correlating the working factors of our organization which has been actively going forward for the past ten years is, of course, far from complete. The Council's Secretary will have opportunity to aid the process to the full measure of his powers.
Mention has already been made of the endeavor to serve the churches through the printed page. In large degree this relates itself to the general field just passed in review.
In the endeavor to approach my duties intelligently, I have given much thought to our denominational history and the meaning of current phases of its development. In other words I have felt the need of conceiving clearly what we are trying to do and how it stands related to the whole sum of our life past and present, in order that I may have something by which to test the validity and importance of plans proposed or efforts launched. May I venture to place before you a statement of the general view of the case which I hold in the hope that it may be of some service to those who are thinking upon the same theme and that I may have the opportunity of correcting my own outlook by the thought of others.
At the outset of our history there was necessarily some negative element of protest in the principles of Congregationalism but they speedily took positive form and became the constructive force in an order of organized life as definite and homogeneous as was compatible with the wide liberty which lay at its foundation. We have long been agreed that these principles are primarily two, the sufficiency of the local church and the obligations of fellowship. Around these the ideals and the deeds of Congregationalism so far as it constitutes an organic force have centered. After a three hundred years' test these principles command our allegiance today as completely as they did that of our fathers. It is true that there are occasionally found among us, as among them, those who look longingly toward Episcopacy or Presbyterianism. But with these few exceptions we not only believe in the validity of those old-time affirmations, but also realize their significance for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God in a degree impossible to those who stood at the beginning of these three centuries of history. We know what they mean for freedom of thought. We know how they have unshackled the ministry. We know how they have made for individual initiative. We know how they have wrought for Christian unity. We know their potency to unmask pretentious shams. We know that they have taught men to rely not upon external forms and forces but upon the hidden life of the Spirit. In other words we see in Congregationalism a polity whose justification lies solely in its spiritual power. We echo with all our hearts Dr. Fairbairn's words spoken at our first International Council. “The Congregational system or ideal is not a mere theory of Church politics or government, but fundamentally a doctrine of religion, a way of apprehending and realizing the Christian faith. Its ecclesiastical polity is but its doctrine applied to the exercise and cultivation of the religious life. Catholicism is a splendid system, even without the religious idea that fills it; but Independency, apart from its religious basis and ideal, is at once mean and impotent, impracticable and visionary. Our fathers held that legislation, civil or ecclesiastical, could not create a church; conversion and converted men alone could. All were kings and priests unto God, and could exercise their functions only as they stood in open and immediate relation with Him. In His Church Christ did not reign, while officials governed; He both governed and reigned.
“This Council speaks of an independency that is ceasing to be an isolation and learning to become a brotherhood. There is nothing that has so little solidarity as an autocracy. It may secure cohesion, but cannot realize unity; its weapons are the mechanical forces and clamps that may aggregate and hold together atoms; they do not represent those vital principles and laws which can build up a living and productive and complete organism."
But the warmth of conviction with which we re-affirm the positions of the fathers does not signify that we believe Congregationalism to have learned nothing through the centuries nor that we think it incapable of further development. The careful student of its history will discover that it has from time to time found room within its principles for certain features not at first dreamed of and that like every organization which has not taken leave of its senses it has sometimes subordinated the rigid logic of its positions to the concrete exigencies of actual life.
The most conspicuous illustration of such development has been in a field not present to the minds of the fathers because it was essentially non existent. I refer to the field of common administrative responsibilities. At the outset there were no such responsibilities because there was nothing to administer. The churches had no missionary enterprises, no publishing necessities, no formal relations with other denominations. Provision for the care of these interests could not be made until the interests themselves appeared. They began to appear at a very early date. John Eliot constituted himself a missionary board