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   Chapter 9 No.9

The War and Unity By Various Characters: 24857

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In the assurance, given us in the Gospel, of the love of God our Father to each of us and to all men, and in the faith that Jesus Christ, Who died, overcame death and has passed into the heavens, the first-fruits of them that sleep, we are made confident of the hope of Immortality, and trust to God our souls and the souls of the departed. We believe that the whole world must stand before the final Judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, with glad and solemn hearts, we look for the consummation and bliss of the life everlasting, wherein the people of God, freed for ever from sorrow and from sin, shall serve Him and see His face in the perfected communion of all saints in the Church triumphant.

The Committee on Constitution recommended a definite union of the Free Church denominations on the basis of a federation which should express their essential unity, promote evangelization, maintain their liberties and take action where authorised in all matters affecting the interests, duties, rights, and privileges of the federating churches, and to enter into communion and united action where possible with other branches of the church of Christ throughout the world. It is proposed that the federation shall work through a council consisting of about 200 representatives of the denominations in order to carry out their will. The Committee on Evangelization and the Ministry also suggested certain practical measures necessary for cooperation in these important branches of service. The scheme has been carefully thought out and elaborated, but at the same time is not too cumbrous for action, and if it can be carried out there is no doubt that it would secure the ends aimed at. In many ways the doctrinal declaration is the most important part of it, and shews a sufficient general agreement on essentials to ensure harmonious working. The fate of it lies of course with the different denominations concerned. By this time most of them have had an opportunity of considering it and, generally speaking, it has met with a favourable reception. The Baptists, Congregationalists, and United Methodists have declared their willingness to proceed to closer union on this basis. But the Presbyterians and Wesleyan Methodists have referred it back for further consideration. Rightly and naturally both of these denominations are more concerned for the moment with measures for union within their own borders. The Presbyterians are looking to a reunion of the Established and Free Churches in Scotland, while a great scheme for the reunion of all the Methodist bodies is before the Wesleyan Conference. If this can be carried out it should not prejudice but rather be in favour of any scheme for wider Free Church Union.

Nothing that has been done so far among the Free Churches is likely in any way to hinder the fulfilment of the desire which is now widely felt on all sides for better relations with the Anglican Church. It can easily be understood from the difficulties that have already emerged in the way of closer union among the Free Churches how much more difficult is the prospect of union with Anglicanism. There is no doubt that denominational feeling is still very strong among the rank and file of the churches. In spite of the changes which have taken place in emphasis and conditions in modern church thought, each denomination realises that it stands for something positive and is anxious to give its positive witness in the best possible way. It has therefore been an essential of reunion that any scheme proposed shall not interfere with the autonomy of any individual denomination and shall allow full scope for its genius. It is equally necessary that this should be preserved in any scheme contemplated for reunion with Anglicanism. The Free Churches are not disposed to bate anything of their freedom or to sink their identity in any national church. If, however, any scheme can be devised which will preserve their individuality and give them scope for their special witness and at the same time avoid the dissensions and divisions which have so marred their relations with Anglicanism in the past it is likely to meet with a very warm welcome. The war has brought home to all thinking men in the churches the imperative need that there is for closer union and for a more united testimony. And they are conscious that if they are to face the increasing difficulties of the future all the churches must be able to stand together, to cooperate in Christian service, and to speak with one voice.

It is therefore regarded by them as a welcome sign of the times that there should be a world-wide desire for Christian reunion, and that this should have begun to take practical shape just before the outbreak of the war. The movement was initiated by the Protestant Episcopal Church of America supported by practically all the churches in that country. It first took shape in proposals for a world-wide conference on Faith and Order with a view of promoting the visible unity of the body of Christ. But for the war this conference would have been held already, but under existing circumstances the work has had to be confined to preparations for it on both sides of the Atlantic. In this country the work has been mainly done by a joint Conference, consisting of representatives of the Committee appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and of commissions appointed by the various Free Churches, in order to promote the Faith and Order movement. This Conference has held repeated meetings in the historic Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster and elsewhere, and has published two interim reports "Towards Christian Unity" which are of the utmost importance. These reports represent the work of a sub-committee but have received the general sanction of the whole Conference. The first report contains the following statement of agreement on matters of faith, which is "offered not as a creed for subscription, or as committing in any way the churches thus represented, but as indicating a large measure of substantial agreement and also as affording material for further investigation and consideration":

A Statement of Agreement on Matters of Faith

We, who belong to different Christian Communions and are engaged in the discussion of questions of Faith and Order, desire to affirm our agreement upon certain foundation truths as the basis of a spiritual and rational creed and life for all mankind. We express them as follows:

(1) As Christians we believe that, while there is some knowledge of God to be found among all races of men and some measure of divine grace and help is present to all, a unique, progressive and redemptive revelation of Himself was given by God to the Hebrew people through the agency of inspired prophets, "in many parts and in many manners," and that this revelation reaches its culmination and completeness in One Who is more than a prophet, Who is the Incarnate Son of God, our Saviour and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

(2) This distinctive revelation, accepted as the word of God, is the basis of the life of the Christian Church and is intended to be the formative influence upon the mind and character of the individual believer.

(3) This word of God is contained in the Old and New Testaments and constitutes the permanent spiritual value of the Bible.

(4) The root and centre of this revelation, as intellectually interpreted, consists in a positive and highly distinctive doctrine of God-His nature, character and will. From this doctrine of God follows a certain sequence of doctrines concerning creation, human nature and destiny, sin, individual and racial, redemption through the incarnation of the Son of God and His atoning death and resurrection, the mission and operation of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, the Church, the last things, and Christian life and duty, individual and social: all these cohere with and follow from this doctrine of God.

(5) Since Christianity offers an historical revelation of God, the coherence and sequence of Christian doctrine involve a necessary synthesis of idea and fact such as is presented to us in the New Testament and in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds: and these Creeds both in their statements of historical fact and in their statements of doctrine affirm essential elements of the Christian faith as contained in Scripture, which the Church could never abandon without abandoning its basis in the word of God.

(6) We hold that there is no contradiction between the acceptance of the miracles recited in the Creeds and the acceptance of the principle of order in nature as assumed in scientific enquiry, and we hold equally that the acceptance of miracles is not forbidden by the historical evidence candidly and impartially investigated by critical methods.

This was followed by a statement of agreement on matters relating to order as follows:

With thankfulness to the Head of the Church for the spirit of unity He has shed abroad in our hearts we go on to express our common conviction on the following matters:

(1) That it is the purpose of our Lord that believers in Him should be, as in the beginning they were, one visible society-His body with many members-which in every age and place should maintain the communion of saints in the unity of the Spirit and should be capable of a common witness and a common activity.

(2) That our Lord ordained, in addition to the preaching of His Gospel, the Sacraments of Baptism and of the Lord's Supper, as not only declaratory symbols, but also effective channels of His grace and gifts for the salvation and sanctification of men, and that these Sacraments being essentially social ordinances were intended to affirm the obligation of corporate fellowship as well as individual confession of Him.

(3) That our Lord, in addition to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit in a variety of gifts and graces upon the whole Church, also conferred upon it by the self-same Spirit a Ministry of manifold gifts and functions, to maintain the unity and continuity of its witness and work.

In subsequent discussions a very considerable advance was made on the positions here laid down. It was felt that if ever reunion was to become a reality the question of order must be frankly faced, and the following statements were put forth for the consideration of the churches concerned, not as a final solution, but as the necessary basis for discussion in framing a practical scheme:

1. That continuity with the historic Episcopate should be effectively preserved.

2. That in order that the rights and responsibilities of the whole Christian community in the government of the Church may be adequately recognised, the Episcopate should re-assume a constitutional form, both as regards the method of the election of the bishop as by clergy and people, and the method of government after election. It is perhaps necessary that we should call to mind that such was the primitive ideal and practice of Episcopacy and it so remains in many Episcopal communions to-day.

3. That acceptance of the fact of Episcopacy and not any theory as to its character should be all that is asked for. We think that this may be the more easily taken for granted as the acceptance of any such theory is not now required of ministers of the Church of England. It would no doubt be necessary before any arrangement for corporate reunion could be made to discuss the exact functions which it may be agreed to recognise as belonging to the Episcopate, but we think this can be left to the future.

The first point to note in regard to the work of this Conference is the remarkable unanimity achieved in regard to Christian doctrine. While there is no intention of binding any of the parties to the ipsissima verba of any doctrinal declaration, but rather every desire to allow for varieties of expression, it is now perfectly clear that there is among all the churches concerned a substantial agreement on the main and essential matters of the Christian faith. This supplies the most real and hopeful basis for the vital union of churches thus minded, and makes their continued separation and antagonism intolerable. The more closely this aspect of the situation is explored the more clearly does it lead to the conclusion that those who are so largely one in aim, intention, and desire should find some genuine and practical expression of their unity. Th

e question of church order is more difficult; but here again much has happened of late to justify a reconsideration of the position on both sides. On the one hand recent investigations into early church history have shewn that no one form of church government can claim exclusive scriptural or Apostolic authority. Under the guidance of the Spirit of God the Church has in the past adapted herself and her organization to the needs of the times in order the better to do the work of the Kingdom. Men are coming now to see that the test of a true Church is not conformity to type but effectiveness in fulfilling the will of her Lord, and that therefore organization need not be of a single uniform type. So we find denominations like the Baptists and Congregationalists setting up superintendents (overseers, Bishops) over their churches because the needs of the time demand such supervision. And on the other hand we find Anglicans inclining to exchange prelacy for a more modest and elective form of episcopacy. In this respect the two extremes are drawing together to an extent which would have been incredible twenty years ago, and, given good will, it should be possible to find even here a real modus vivendi.

The same may be said with regard to other movements which have been recently set on foot in the direction of a better common understanding between Anglicans and Free Churchmen. It is recognised that one of the greatest obstacles is still the so-called religious education controversy. Both sides are becoming a little ashamed of their attitude to this question in the past. They realise that the true interests of education have been gravely imperilled by making it a bone of contention among the churches, and they are beginning to look at the whole matter afresh from the point of view of the good of the child rather than from that of their denominational interests. Some important conferences have been held at Lambeth in the course of which the Bishop of Oxford has put forth a scheme for relegating the conduct of religious teaching in the elementary schools to interdenominational committees elected ad hoc. This scheme is still under discussion and at the moment is not regarded very favourably by extremists on either side, but it is all to the good that the matter should have been raised in so friendly and conciliatory a spirit and, whenever the time is ripe, it may be hoped that the way to agreement will be more open than it has ever been yet.

Further the rise and rapid growth of the Life and Liberty movement within the Established Church is something like a portent and one that Nonconformists cannot but regard with the deepest interest and sympathy. They may perhaps be forgiven if they see in it an attempt to win from within the Church just those privileges and liberties for the sake of which their ancestors came out many years ago. With a great price they bought this freedom and they rejoice in this new movement as a real vindication of the cause for which they have so long contended and as representing a body of opinion within the establishment the existence of which, whatever may be its immediate result, is sure to make a common understanding in the future more attainable. They may have serious doubts whether the aims of the movement are ever to be obtained without the Disestablishment of the Church, but for all that they wish it well and rejoice in the spirit to which it points.

One more sign of the times may be mentioned. During the last 18 months yet another Conference has been set on foot, this time between Nonconformists and Evangelical Anglicans, and has come very near to a common understanding on such vital matters as intercommunion and interchange of pulpits. It is recognised that there can be no real Christian unity without such interchange, and the fact that a growing number of Anglican clergy are prepared to discuss the question and that there is no real difficulty on the Nonconformist side is again a ground of hope. It should be understood however that on the Nonconformist side there is no desire for universal and indiscriminate facilities in the directions indicated. They do not want a kind of general post among the pulpits of the land, nor do they ask that their people should desert their own ordinances for those of the Established Church. Their people indeed have no such desire. They love the simplicity and homeliness of their own communion services and would not exchange them if they could. But they do feel that to be debarred from communicating when there is no church of their own order available is a real hardship, and they know that nothing would make for comity among the churches so surely as an occasional interchange of pulpits. They recognise that it would all have to be carried out in due order and under conditions, and as long as the conditions cast no reflexion on their orders, or on the Christian standing of their members, they would loyally accept them. Under exceptional circumstances and given due authorization on both sides, it might be possible to do openly what is often now done in a more or less clandestine way. There is a growing body of opinion on both sides which would be favourable to such a course and it is certain that more will be heard of it after the war.

This leads up to another consideration which our ecclesiastical authorities would do well to bear in mind. For a long time past younger men and women in all the churches have been accustomed to meet together in the various Fellowships and the Student movement. They have learnt to work and pray together, to know one another's mind and to realise their fundamental oneness of spirit and aim. It must be remembered that these are the men and women in whose hands the future of the churches, humanly speaking, lies, and they will not tolerate an indefinite prospect of sectarian division and strife. While loyal to their own denominations they have seen a wider and more glorious vision, and they are already prepared for very definite steps in the direction of closer relations. The new and better spirit which they represent is spreading rapidly among the rank and file in the churches, and has been strongly reinforced by experiences at the front. There, under the rude stress of war, denominational exclusiveness has frankly broken down and attempts to maintain it have excited universal resentment and disgust. There is no doubt that after the war there will be a strong public opinion in favour of better relations among the churches, and no church or section of a church that clings to the old exclusiveness will be able to retain any hold upon the people. In this case at least it may be assumed that for once vox populi is vox dei.

There is indeed every reason to believe that opinion outside the churches is more ripe for action than within them. On both sides there is need for something like an educational campaign on the subject of reunion and of the duty of Christians in regard to it. Difficulties have to be faced of a very serious kind. On the Nonconformist side there are still many who feel very keenly the burden of the disabilities from which they have suffered, and to some extent still suffer. They know that in some country districts Nonconformists are subjected to petty social persecutions, and that their boys or girls who wish to become elementary school teachers are handicapped from the outset. Many of them have been brought up on bitter memories, and their inherited hostility to the State establishment of religion does not incline them to any rapprochement with its representatives. It is well that these facts should be faced, for they shew the need there is for the Free Churches to educate their own people.

To all this we have to add the vis inertiae which operates in all the churches alike. Many of them are entirely satisfied with things as they are, and are only anxious that we should let well alone. There is too among certain of the denominations a self-satisfaction amounting almost to Pharisaism. They are very busy with their own work and devoted to their denominational interests, and, so long as these can be maintained, they do not see the use of agitations for reunion. They do not believe that they have anything to gain from it and therefore they let it alone.

The same spirit shews itself too on the Anglican side and there becomes a serious obstacle to any advance. There are those who regard the Church of England, as by law established, as the only possible Church for England, and they cannot imagine why any people should want to change its present position. Dissenters they say are outsiders and schismatics, and must be left to go their own way. They should be thankful for the toleration which has been extended to them and not abuse it by asking for more. For all this kind of thing there is only one remedy, and that is a wider vision, and for this all Christians of good will should strenuously work and pray. It should surely be obvious that we can no longer treat any church or denomination as an end in itself. All alike exist for the great end of the Kingdom of God and are to be judged by their efficiency in promoting that end among men. So no system of church order can be regarded as of divine right in itself but only so far as it becomes a channel of the Spirit of God and mediates His gifts to men. All the churches as we know them to-day have grown up in controversy and represent a long process of development and adaptation. If we are to test them it should not be by the more or less artificial standards of any one age in their history, but rather by the spirit, and temper, and intentions of their Lord and Master Jesus Christ. When this is done, the differences between them fall into their proper proportions in view of the failure which is common to them all. On these terms too will the old antagonisms become a generous rivalry in good works and each church be ready to seek the welfare of others in the common interests of the Kingdom which they all serve.

So far we have dealt largely with the past and with the various movements in the direction of unity which have been set on foot. It now remains to say something of the motives which inspire and the principles which underlie them. First and foremost is the fact that it is the will of our Lord that His people should be one. This does not mean surely any mere uniformity of organization but unity of spirit, heart, and will. We seek this chiefly because it is a right thing. Anything short of it is evil. The Christian faith rests ultimately on the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and these can only be made real when all Christians accept them and make them the ground and basis of their relations with one another. Here we need to appeal to the conscience of the churches and challenge them to put the first things first and learn in the love of the brethren the love and service of God and His Church. Then we are bound to recognise in the next place that this unity is the prime condition of successful work and witness. The tasks awaiting the churches in the immediate future are gigantic and only as they stand together and learn to speak and act as one have they any chance of accomplishing them. They have to evangelize the world, and for this they will need above all things a common faith, a common witness, and a common sacrifice. They have to leaven society with the aims and principles of Jesus Christ, to bring His spirit to bear on all social, political, commercial, and industrial undertakings, and for this too they will need the united weight of all their influence and the passion of a great common crusade. The devil is a great master of strategy and knows that if he can keep our forces divided there is nothing in them that need be feared. We must therefore close up our ranks and present a united front, not merely as a measure of self-preservation but in order to do well the work that has been committed to us. This will involve some real self-sacrifice on the part of us all, but it is the way the Master went and His followers must not shrink from it. If we but keep our eyes fixed on the great vision of the Kingdom which He opened before us, we shall not faint but go forward steadfastly and together until the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of God and of His Christ.

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UNITY BETWEEN CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS

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