The Church: Some Immediate Questions

THE last census informs us that there are in the United States one hundred and forty-seven religious denominations. Our curiosity is piqued as to the reason for this multiplicity and presumable diversity. If “ nothing walks with aimless feet,” may there not be some divine purpose and scientific reason in this prodigal outburst of religious energy ? It shows at least in how many forms the instinct of religion reveals itself, and how surely the hopes and fears and aspirations of mankind turn to religion for answer. Trivial as these sects often appear, they by no means reveal a weak side of human nature, but rather —if any criticism be made — a crude and untaught side. It is interesting also to note the central ideas out of which they spring. Yet few of them are original. All are based on Scripture read with literal exactness, and the special points usually refer to baptism, prophecy, the form of the Church, eschatology, and not a few involve the knottiest points in metaphysical theology, — such as a sect in Texas that flourishes under the name, “ Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists.” Others are perpetuations of the controversies of the Reformation, while the will and divine sovereignty and election — conditioned or unconditioned — are debated and reconciled as of yore. The proper day for the Sabbath and the millennium each represent a denomination, while the speedy end of the world stands for quite an enduring church that couples with its expectation “ the sleep of the dead.” These stand chiefly for outspoken beliefs of what lie hidden in the creeds of the older and greater churches, — survivals of what may still be found in ecclesiastical libraries.

This state of things had an early beginning. The New World was baptized in religion. Columbus no sooner touched the shore than he planted the cross. Church and conquest swept over the continent, — the grace of one poorly redeeming the cruelty of the other. The Church came to Jamestown with a full quota of clergy along with more vagabonds ; and a hard time Governor Berkeley had with them, but he thanked God that in addition to these troubles there were no schools. In Maryland, the Church fared somewhat better. In its first decade it won the distinction of opening the way in London to the establishment of the first foreign missionary society in the world. There also the Catholic Church found permanent footing, and spread an odor of toleration that still sweetens the air. The Friends found peaceful lodgment in Pennsylvania, where they multiplied, — dividing at last into two bands, — but have nearly run their race, having borne clear witness to the eternal truth of the Spirit. The Dutch brought to New York the Church as set forth by the Synod of Dort, while the Scotch stood by the Westminster Confession. The Pilgrims and the Puritans brought the latter with them, and also a full-fledged democracy that gave the keynote to the nation and dominates it still.

These were the few first sources of the Church in America, but hardly a generation had passed before the churches began to divide and to make room for others, until there came to be the present variety and multiplicity.

How shall we explain this strange phenomenon? Is it due to the fact that when the early settlers found themselves free in matters of religion they leaped exultingly into the privilege ? Or did the break with the Old World dissolve all ties as the people came to realize that their whole life was to be here and must be suffered to shape itself in all things as it would ? Doubtless this unrestrained play of the individual mind had much to do with it, and — being without king or bishop — they found a peculiar satisfaction in cleaving a denomination in twain, or in founding one without a hierarchy.

But not all the organizations named in the census are to be accounted as churches. Some do not belong to the solar system, — wandering stars thrown out of orbital movement by some dreamer who had a vision, or has discovered new meaning in a Greek particle; their significance, though numerically large, is too slight to call for measurement. And there are churches — notably the Mormon — so monstrous and so remote from religion that one is tempted to say of them what Blake said of the tiger, “ Did he who made the lamb make thee ? ” And others — such as the Christian Scientist — that have not sufficiently emerged from their humorous and tragical absurdities to justify their claim to be called a church. In what follows we shall speak of churches, denominations, and sects as interchangeable terms, — only declining to use the definite article as the special property of any one organization. Nor shall we use much space in dealing with the older contentions of the churches. Earnest and intelligent men to-day do not discuss the apostolic succession, nor the forms of baptism, nor endless punishment, nor the verbal inspiration of Scripture. The banners that used to wave with vigor over these doctrines are still carried, but the battles do not rage around them ; indeed, there are no battles beyond slight skirmishes, — only questions as to what is best to be done. Perhaps the most immediate question now before the churches pertains to this multiplicity already mentioned.

If it be the evil that it is generally assumed to be, it is still possible that there may be some soul of goodness in it if we will observingly distill it out. It should moderate criticism to remember that if it is an evil it is an inevitable one. The Church can neither keep out evils nor immediately rectify those that are in. The first point in the complaint is that the multiplicity engenders rivalry and hatred ; but rivalry is not hatred. It is only the ferment at the root that starts the sap along its organic path to the branches. Hatred is of the devil, but rivalry is the spice of human enterprise. Besides, it is not true that the denominations hate one another, except in small towns where all bounds of reason are passed and intolerance holds full sway. The picture of a Western village with a church for every hundred people is a distressing one, but take any city, East or West, and the picture changes. That it is over-churched is the least evil it is to be charged with. That there are two churches of different denominations side by side is a slight matter in comparison with the fact that there are parties and conflicting schools of thought in all denominations — most of all in those which make the loudest claim to unity — that test the spirit of charity far more keenly than ecclesiastical separation. A Calvinistic and an Arminian church side by side keep good fellowship in comparison with churches that differ over high and low, or old and new school. Fences are no enemy to good neighborhood, but their absence often is. The fact that “ France has forty soups and one religion while England has forty religions and but one soup ” is no sign that the former is the more godly nation. Were there in France no Holy Catholic Church, or along with it a multitude of true churches, and were there in England no Established Church, but as many as the people chose to make, both nations would be happier and better than they seem to be at present. It is the unalterable conviction of all believers, and of all thinkers as well, that the Church is one, and that religion is one; it is as fixed as the unity of God, and is because of his unity, but it is always an open question as to what constitutes oneness. As God is infinitely complex in form but one in spirit, so religion may wear many forms and bear many names, and yet have one spirit. Complexity is not the enemy of unity, but rather the cause of it, but the unity is of another kind than form or name. The multiplicity may be excessive, and then the bramble and forest must yield to make room for better and fewer growths. But the world is slowly finding out that the less the State meddles with the Church, and the less churches meddle with one another, the better it is for all concerned. Religion is an ethereal thing, so personal and sacred that every fine soul holds it to be a matter between himself and God.

No mistake can be greater than to suppose that shutting up religious truths in binding forms — either of creed or church — acts otherwise than as a fetter. Forms preserve but deaden. They provoke a return to the heresies against which they protest, and rebellion against the authority which binds them. The general outcry against the denominational spirit, unlovely and unthrifty as it is, would, if it should prevail, shut the churches up within barriers sure to be soon broken down, or drive them into the open desert of total unbelief. There is one thing that man loves more than religion, and that is freedom : he has an instinct for each, but the latter conditions the former; when it is cramped religion itself shrivels.

Before we let our thoughts and plans go too far in bemoaning the long list, it would be well to assure ourselves that it is a cause for regret. “ Our unhappy divisions,” as they are sometimes called, might be more unhappy if they were absorbed in large unions. The experiment of uniting the Prussian Evangelical Church with the churches of the other German States — all holding substantially the same faith — has not proved a success. The General Superintendent, Poetter, recently said : “ I am not sure it is such a good thing. We have only put on one uniform, and are not more really united in spirit and doctrine than before ; ” and he adds these timely words : “ Why should all the regiments be dressed alike or have one name ? Zeal is often more stimulated when each body of Christians has the greatest opportunity to develop its own individuality.” It is an interesting fact that these united bodies of Lutheran churches are at variance over the question as to the best method of holding their own against the Roman Catholics, — a question not impossible here in the future ; in which case it is clear that the smaller the denomination that takes it up the better for all concerned, as it has all the elements of a long and bitter quarrel.

Nor should it be forgotten that a union for the sake of economy and effectiveness overlooks not only the fact that a union in belief could not thus be secured, but also if gained might develop and bring to the front once more the differences. These differences are real and do but sleep. The broadest line of cleavage in doctrinal belief in the Protestant churches in this country is that between Calvinism and Arminianism. Edwards devoted his great powers to stemming the growing tide of the latter, but in vain. He is honored by scholars and historians for his greatness and his service to the State, as his centuries come round, but the multitude is insensible to him while it pours out millions of money in memory of Wesley. The majority still confess the Westminster Creed, but while Presbyterians and Methodists live peacefully side by side and work effectively in social reforms — hardly knowing any difference — if they were organically related not to say united, the mixture of oil and water would but feebly describe their condition, so fundamentally do they differ. The proverb, “ Do not stir up a sleeping dog,” is not invidious, but prudent.

It would be equally difficult to bring the Congregational churches to a fresh assent to the Westminster Confession, to which the Presbyterian Church has recently renewed its adherence with some slight changes. Fraternal in their relations even to the extent of an open path between their pulpits, the number of Congregational ministers is steadily lessening who are ready to assent to the Confession in order to fill them. But greater hindrances to union than this stand in the way. The immediate and pressing question in the New England Congregational churches is, — can the schism of a century ago be healed ? If there is reason for union anywhere it is here. There are signs as deep as the yearning of heart for heart, and reasons as weighty as the fact that what ought not to have happened ought not to continue, why this mutual movement — if it can yet be called such — should be fostered and consummated when the hour is ripe, far off though it be.

Conditions should be well considered when such a question as a general union or federation of denominations is proposed. If there is to be union, it should not be made on a basis of mere economy and technical effectiveness, but on congeniality of thought and feeling, on like ethical and spiritual conceptions, on sympathy with humanity in its highest and most pressing needs, and — not a slight matter — on historic affiliations. It may be roughly said that if you prick the skin of a Congregationalist — orthodox or liberal — you will find a Puritan. There is need enough of him to-day, and he is still here, — ready for action if the needless schism were overcome. If there is reason for union anywhere in the wide world of denominations, it is where the disjecta membra of ancient Congregationalism are scattered in New England, but if it implies also union with denominations that still cherish the dogmas against which the Unitarians long ago justly protested it would defeat the most desirable movement in the churches now in sight.

The era of division or separation seems to be drawing to an end. It is doubtful if we soon shall see another denomination of importance that can be called Christian. There is great activity in the theological world, but it does not move in the direction of creedal organization. There is no less theology, — for theology will never go out of fashion, — but it looks toward explanation if not toward extinction of existing creeds, and to other changes that drop out or reinterpret old meanings and bring in new. Careful distinctions and definitions that determine the exact amount of freedom or necessity in the will are disregarded, because Christian faith is not now approached on that side of our nature. Emphasis is transferred from the field of speculation, where chiefly the denominations originated, to the field of action, to psychology and human society. The pressure of the past is less felt, or is felt as reverence rather than as authority. The fact of change — whatever its cause — can no longer be resisted, and the chief question that burdens thoughtful minds in the Church is : at what speed and by what road will it move into the region where it must go ; also, what shall be left behind and what carried forward ? The main question of all is : how to retain steadiness of mind in the confusion and rush that fill the air. Serious minds tremble before the changes that come thundering down upon them.

Not less perplexing is a sudden apparent dying out of interest in the churches, with corresponding indifference to religion in those classes where one would expect it to abide. Reasons of widest variety are given to account for this strange lapse and confusion which we take to be the chief feature of the religious condition of the Church at present. The causes oftenest alleged are evolution in science and the higher criticism. The vast majority of those who compose our one hundred and forty-seven denominations fail to comprehend their import beyond that they stand for change, which is always the signal for fear and outcry among the ignorant. But the more intelligent class, who perceive how thoroughly evolution modifies all thought and theories, and at the same time find it hardly recognized, or named only to be denounced in the pulpits, stay away, — not because evolution is not preached, but because the whole order of thought pertaining to it is passed by, and they find themselves in a dead world and out of gear with all that is said and with most of what is done. In the long run the man of thought will worship in the world in which he thinks ; and the more thoughtful he is, the more difficult he finds it to coöperate with a church that denies the ruling ideas and accepted facts that he encounters every day and receives as his own.

The same thing happens in connection with the higher criticism. It calls for reconsideration of cherished ideas of the inspiration of Scripture, — a truth so inwoven with the thoughts of religion in the mind of the average man that he is thrown into confusion whenever it seems to be questioned, and is ready to lapse into whatever gulf of doubt is best suited to his disposition. In any case, he becomes doubtful of the Church, and grows languid in his faith, or takes up some mild form of charity to fill its place in his conscience. The Church denounces or pities him, or makes some halfway concessions to the new thought and interpretation intended to break the force of their meaning; but instead it only awakens his resentment, for he has learned that evolution is no more partial than gravitation, and that the higher criticism deals simply with facts.

The Rev. Mr. Campbell of London, recently speaking at Northfield, was asked from the audience, “ how he got along with truth and evolution.” He replied, “ Truth and evolution ? Evolution is truth.” The question and answer indicate the relative positions of the churches in this country and in Great Britain. They are a generation in advance of us in their management of most theological questions. The contrast is due to the fact that preaching which involves evolution, eschatology, and biblical interpretation no longer disturbs the people ; these subjects are not technically preached but implied in the sermons, while here it is felt that the pulpit keeps something back. This is both true and not true. Few preachers in New England decry evolution and the higher criticism, and many wisely consider them as not proper topics for the pulpit if treated as pure science. The trouble lies in the preacher’s failure to come fully under these ruling ideas, and of course the people doubt either his sincerity or his ability to grasp them. The old saying “ like people, like priest ” is now only half true. When people and priest do not sympathize they part company. The preacher must conquer the people if he would keep them ; but he must be converted through and through to what he believes. When he fully submits himself to modern thought, and follows where it leads, he finds himself at the very heart of the revelations of God in nature and in Scripture. Such preachers are heard without disturbing the faith of simple believers or repelling those who think in the modern way. The pulpit has no more immediate task before it than to break into this open secret of effective preaching, — that is, preaching which the intelligent as well as the simple will hear gladly. The difficulty is great because of the different points of development at which the churches stand. The point of approach is, of course, or should be, the Theological Seminaries; but their relation to the churches and the tenure of their existence are such that while modern thought in science and exegesis is quietly accepted and even taught in nearly all, it is not pushed to its full meaning and real conclusions as to doctrine. Hence they fail to lodge in the students that commanding belief that should inspire and color their life and words. Young men go to the churches with esoteric notions instead of burning convictions, not wholly sorry to escape the reproach of being infected with “ new ideas.” Probably no more delusive word ever crept into popular nomenclature in theology than that of “ the good old Gospel.” Those who most use it to-day hold a theology that was once scouted as new, while those who are striving to bring it into accord with the words and spirit and ruling ideas of the Christ are denounced as bringers in of a new Gospel.

The Theological Seminary — as a part of the University — is the determining factor of the theological belief of the churches ; it exists chiefly for that end. It is not a gymnasium for teaching a certain amount of easily attained knowledge anda drill in sermonic composition. Instead its function is to teach students to see and feel the full force of a few eternal laws that govern the world and uphold society, and through them lead men to realize and achieve their destiny as the children of God. The Theological Seminary finds no data for a scientific, not to say practical, theism — the question of questions — until it searches it out and teaches it from evolution. Thus it finds ground for the truth that man has always sought for, and in higher moments asserted — the divine immanence in all things, and the like nature of God and man. If there is to be a theology in the future, it will be found in this region, in connection with the University which is to play a large part in its reconstruction ; that is, theology will spring from the whole circle of human knowledge. Only in this way can it bring the divine and the human into conscious relationship. To cut out of ancient creeds intolerable parts, leaving .a mangled remainder to live on, is a weak expedient which, if persisted in, results in a degenerate church and ministry ; for strong men shrink from feeble measures. If it is true that the pulpit is degenerating, it is in no small degree due to the fact that clear-eyed candidates will not put new wine into old bottles, and are equally unwilling to enter a ministry where there are neither wine nor bottles.

A brief chapter in the history of the Church on this matter is not to be expected, for the reason that the mass of the people must be brought up to the point where they will listen to the University. The ancient and the later churches there took shape and gained their permanent form. As they drop their outworn cast they must go again to the University for renewal. Stated otherwise, the man of to-day will turn to the highest and widest sources for the grounds of his belief. A universal religion must have as broad a basis. But slow as the change will be, the first fruits of such study are already a marked feature of the Church. They are to be found more and more in those pulpits trained to drop the phraseology and atmosphere of the University, but wise enough to keep its method of thought. They preserve a just balance between the opportunism that is so clamorous yet often so useful, and the idealism in which is hid the real meaning and power of religion. They have the confidence bred by wide studies in many fields ; the humility taught by the fact that no studies can compass the whole of any truth ; the earnestness and cheer that spring from the sense of having found their way out of a theology of negation and blind authority into a world where all knowledge utters one voice, and all life has but one law and one end. The enthusiasm of these preachers does not cry in the street nor fly to retreats. They may go to Northfield, or they may stay away. It chooses its own method, but wherever it leads, there is a man whose life is fed from within his own soul, who believes that to bring man into the consciousness of God is his supreme duty — felt with such passion as only a clear-seeing soul feels before unquestioned and eternal truth.

A man thus trained is quick to realize the confusion into which the churches have come in regard to creeds. He will sympathize with Mr. Brierley’s view as stated in the London Christian World (of July 2, 1903), who supplements his own insight with quotations from great names, which we give at length : —

“ There is to-day a feeling, not only amongst doubters, but in the most religious minds, a feeling so widespread that it may almost be called universal, that the creeds which in the orthodox historic churches stand for Christianity are, in their present form, the survival of a thought-world which has been outgrown, and that they are consequently a hindrance to faith rather than its bulwark.

“ The feeling crops up in the most unexpected places. Here, for instance, is Westcott, who, speaking of the ThirtyNine Articles, says : ‘ It is that I object to them altogether, and not to any particular doctrines. I have at times fancied it was presumption in us to attempt todefineand determine what Scripture has not defined. . . . The whole tenor of Scripture seems to me opposed to all dogmatism and full of all application.’ From another side John Wesley, after one of the fullest experiences ever given to mortal of the action of religion in human life, declares in his old age : ‘ I am sick of opinions. I am weary to bear them ; my soul loathes the frothy food. Give me solid, substantial religion; give me a humble, gentle lover of God and man, a man full of mercy and good faith, a man laying himself out in the work of faith ; the patience of hope, the labor of love. Let my soul be with those Christians wheresoever they be and whatsoever opinions they are of.’

“ The citation may be fittingly closed with these remarkable words from John Henry Newman: ‘Freedom from symbols and articles is abstractedly the highest state of the Christian communion and the peculiar privilege of the primitive Church. . . . Technicality and formalism are in their degree inevitable results of public confessions of faith. . . . When confessions do not exist the mysteries of Divine truth, instead of being exposed to the gaze of the profane and uninstructed, are kept hidden in the bosom of the Church far more fruitfully than is otherwise possible.’

“ These witnesses had all signed creeds; they belonged to churches which bristled with dogmatic propositions. Yet what is evident is that at the back of their minds lay a consciousness, not formulated, and therefore all the more powerful, that the strength and vitality of the Church lay quite otherwhere than in its tables of doctrine. And as we look through the history of the Christian centuries we find everywhere confirmation of this truth. The creeds arose out of the speculative, not the religious spirit. The ‘ heretics ’ speculated first, and the Church met them with counter speculations of its own. To wade through the literature of those early centuries, the literature which lies back of the creeds, is a discipline of incredible tediousness, but it helps one greatly to an estimate of the value of these products.”

Mr. Brierley goes on to say: —

“ This kind of inquiry wherever pursued gives the same results, and they are not favorable. But while theology and the Church, in the matter before us, yield only a negative outcome, another experience, in a different field, has meantime been accumulating its treasures, and, at an opportune moment, is able to offer them for the elucidation of our problem. That half-expressed feeling of the unsatisfactoriness of the Church formulas, as either a ground or a statement of the faith, which we found in a Westcott, a Wesley, and a Newman is, when we turn in another direction, suddenly illuminated, and shown as by a flash in its true logical relations, by the light which comes from another sphere.

“While the Church has been busy with its propositions, another power has been quietly rising by its side, and influencing with an ever-increasing potency the sphere of human affairs. This power is science, in its application to the arts of life. We talk of creeds. What are the creeds of science and how does it express them ? When we have understood the bearings of that question, and of its answer, we shall possess, if not the solution of our theological problem, at least a substantial help towards it.”

The solution will not be complete, however, unless by science is meant the whole encyclopædic view of the world, especially as it embraces human experience. If we do not find the illustration and vindication of the Faith in the heart and life of humanity, we shall find it nowhere. If we can interpret the human heart as it feels and hopes and strives in the natural relations of life ; if we can measure the play of the human mind in the family, in society, and in the nation, — we shall find both the field of the Gospel and the materials for a creed if we care for one. The thing to be done at present is not to crowd upon men a system conceived in some way to be true, nor to bind them down to a hard, literal, undiscerning reception of texts, but to set forth the identity of the Faith with the action of man’s nature in the natural relations of life; to show that the truth of God is also the truth of man. Truth is not actually truth until it gets past dogma, and beyond reverence for an external revelation, and awakens an intelligent and responsive consciousness of its reality ; it does not actually reach the man until then, and all previous action is unreal or merely disciplinary, useful indeed, but partial and without spiritual power.

Here lies the vocation of the preacher to-day, yet his appeal to life must not consist in vague generalization and moralizing, nor in psychic analysis, unless the subject itself is weighty and lies close to the duty or the question of the hour. It is a very strenuous order of preaching demanded in this transition from the old to the new, and it is often met by giving up great themes half true for trivial ones wholly true, — a dash of poetry, an indefinite ethic, a fastidious culture, a string of anecdotes that hide the truth they would make plain, an avoidance of phrases that have been the watchwords of all holy living and high achievement since the world began, often without a church, or ritual, or discipline that goes to the bottom of character, — all seeming to show with how little religion we can get on, or how slight a thing it is when we have it; — better a century more of decadent Calvinism than such substitutes as these.

The creed of life, if we may so term it, will be definite, searching, severe in its penalties and as relentless as they are in life itself, urgent both on the restrictions and the possibilities of life, and never forgetful of those inspirations that always come when the full meaning and import of life are revealed. Its sacrifice will be more real than that of a vicarious oblation, for it will be of self and on the cross of obedience to truth and duty. There will be no original sin to confuse the mind, but enough of one’s own to be kept down and turned to moral uses. Its heaven will not be so clear and golden as that of old, but it will take on such color and form as overcoming life may give it, and become as real and present as life itself. The confusion of to-day will not be ended by blowing it away into thin mist, nor by explosions of criticism, but only by clear vision now opened by real life in a real world.

But the immediate question is not so much what the Church shall believe, as what it shall do. We find here the same confusion, which, however, is not wholly a bad sign. So long as the field of its faith lay in another world and its end was the salvation of the soul, its duties were few if great, and its thought subjective rather than social. All this is changing — slowly but in the right direction. Without set purpose of its own, and without knowing why, the churches are becoming aggressive in objective ways. There is thus coming about what has been called a 14 Priesthood of the People,” who are returning to the primitive idea of religion, and are taking the work of the Church into their own hands, and — for the most part — are dealing with it in wise ways ; certainly in the way of their own humanity. By their own thoughts and through their own selves they are determining what the Church shall be. It is thus that humanity is fulfilling itself and bringing out the divine image.

Remote as the cause may seem, this change is largely due to the democratic spirit that pervades the nation. A new conception of society and of human relations has led men to feel that their duties to others are equal if not paramount to those due to themselves. This impregnating idea is reinforced in no small degree by the pulpit, so far as it has come under the influence of modern thought and learned the real meaning of the New Testament. But the people have outrun the preacher and the church. Strong spiritual movements lay hold of the masses sooner than upon those who live and think among established theories. The Spirit is a wind and blows freest in the open. Consequently there are to-day movements going on in the churches of which they are only half aware or treat but slightingly. One must think twice before one speaks lightly of such lay bodies as the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Christian Union, the Christian Endeavor Society, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, the Epworth League, the Baptist Union, the Student Volunteer Movement, the Brotherhood of Andrew and Philip, the Girls’ Friendly Society, arid the King’s Daughters. These societies stand for an idea and a movement. No matter how crude or trifling they may appear, nor what mistakes they make, they cannot make more or worse than the churches from which they spring yet do not desert. If they are too enthusiastic, and too gregarious, they are still unconscious protests against the frequent meagreness and dullness of the churches. With the instinct of young life, they look to life for a field of action. Their philosophy is all the truer because it is so unconscious. They organize and discipline themselves into service, and learn how to bring things to pass. They are persistent and catholic and free. They insist on work, and are eager for results. They demonstrate the value of the ecclesia and its naturalness, and so avoid the barrenness of extreme individualism. It is a part of the confusion and blindness in the Churchworld that these movements have not been more closely examined and measured both pro and con. It might be expected that the churches would welcome such possible recruits in the desperate conflict that lies before them. They have undertaken to do the one safe and most necessary thing to be done in this world ; and that is to do good. Almost everything else is questioned, or soon will be. The only refuge of the churches is in planting themselves on this eternal thing which cannot be shaken. If these simple and spontaneous efforts to meet this prime duty shall prove failures because ill conceived or overladen with the faults of youth, they will at least have shown the churches where they are, and what they are to do when they are routed out of their strongholds of dogma by the critics — as they are sure to be. To wait, depending on what may be left, is blindness ; to betake them to what the critics have made doubly clear, and the unperverted spirit of the young has unconsciously attempted, is the only salvation.

But however it be, the churches should look well to their charities as a hidingplace against the coming storm. If men or churches are doing good, they can carry a heavy load of heresy or dead orthodoxy and still live. These charities consist in most churches of missions wherever they are needed, — next door or in the antipodes, education as the vehicle and prop of religion, deeds of humanity, and all works for promoting personal and civic righteousness. The conditions will shape the works. There is a spiritual thrift by which the Church lives, and to which it is as distinctly bound as the individual.

And here we are brought to consider, by way of comparison, one of the most immediate questions before us, that of the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Roswell Hitchcock, of Union Theological Seminary, not long before his death, said: “We should be very careful how we treat the Catholic Church : it has already been of great service to us and we shall need it again. It is defending the family, and is a stronghold of law and order.” The need which he did not name has been met by its position on the labor question. President Carroll D. Wright has recently said : “ I consider that the Encyclical of Leo XIII. on the labor question has given the foundation for the proper study of social science in this country. It is a vade mecum with me, and I know that it has had an immense influence in steadying the public mind.”

The Family; obedience to Law; Labor : these are the problems with which the nation and the churches are struggling, but no church is doing more to safeguard these vital interests than the Roman Catholic. The question how it happens to have this influence may go by ; that it has it is sufficient at present.

It would be idle to prophesy that the church which first set foot on the continent will stay longest. It is enough that it will stay and is already a power. It may retain a formal and harmless allegiance to the Pope, and thus even draw from him something of use, — like the last Encyclical of Leo XIII.; but if the Propaganda should urge the temporal power, King John’s answer to the Pope’s Legate would be repeated here in no uncertain tones: “No Italian priest shall tithe or toll in our dominions.” It would be worse than idle, it would be calamitous, to oppose the Catholic Church in the present juncture of our affairs. Protestantism has not only nothing to fear, but much to learn from it, as to organization, worship, and fundamental ethics. It contains what George Eliot called “ the ardent and massive experience of man.” It is enough that it is a Christian Church. Its theology is substantially Augustinian orthodoxy, which it shares with large Protestant bodies. Ecclesiastically, it is at variance with Protestantism, but that question will take care of itself. It is full of superstitions, most of them harmless, while some hide a truth. It stands for sound ethics, for humanity, for learning, and also for science and progress and modern thought, but in a somewhat hampered sense, — encyclieally denied, but practically recognized.

It is specially needed so long as the growing majority of our immigration is Catholic and largely Latin. The country could not safely contain these hordes nor govern them without Catholic influence. Our hope is that they will be Americanized. We cannot in the future see a day when the Catholic Church will not be of measureless value to the nation ; nor can a day be foreseen when the nation will not be Protestant. In this sure diversity lies its safety and also its strength. What of wisdom and Christian faith twenty centuries have wrought out should not fail of use in this New World ; what is not of truth and wisdom may be left to its own self-eviction.

The churches of the country, regarded as a whole, have been from the first of immediate and permanent value. Over and over again they have saved and are still saving the nation. To forget it is folly ; to undo it is disaster. All lovers of their country, and all who have skill in detecting the play of cause and effect, are watching closely the course of things, to see if they are still fulfilling the high vocation to which they gave themselves at the beginning. There are those who take a closer view of the situation, and ask if religion itself is to die out of the hearts of the people. These questions do not spring from a pessimistic temper, but from, the apprehensions of thoughtful minds as they watch certain tendencies that are steadily gaining ground. The most noticeable is the lessening hold of the Church upon the people at large. The industrial classes in great numbers are deserting it, with the result that those who still remain are forced into becoming a class, and are no longer the people ; and as the note of universality is growing less distinct, the pulpit is a waning influence. While the great preachers, like Beecher and Bushnell and Brooks, are rare, there never was a time when the average of ability in the pulpit was so high as it is to-day. Nevertheless it is heard by lessening congregations, and certainly with diminished influence. The industrial classes might be won back if the Church should bring itself into profounder sympathy with the eternal laws of justice and humanity and equality that are its foundation. A plainer word and a far different administration are needed before Labor returns to the Church.

Graver apprehension is felt on account of the note of question and uncertainty that pervades the Church. Everything is doubted, or is vehemently defended because it is doubted. The result is perplexity and languid interest; the ties are easily dissolved ; the great realities — or what have been regarded as such — fade out; so much is gone, why not all? It would be useless to call attention to these things if they were signs of fatal decay, or anything but signs of a temporary condition due largely to confusion of thought in matters of faith. The Sunday newspaper, the secularization of Sunday, the absorption in business and social folly are effects, not causes. The Church will hold its own against such things when it has attained — not returned — to the faith that awaits it. But this is the crucial point. Can the Church endure the strain of the transition from faith in what have been regarded as the foundations of religion, to those that lie before it and will not be put aside? “Faith follows opinion,” as Aristotle long ago said, but it often follows afar off. The scientific habit of thought is recognized generally but not specifically. Exception is made of religion where it faces the old questions of miracle, inspiration, and eschatology ; and as these questions are thought to turn on the infallibility of the Bible, the stream of criticism is now falling heavily upon its students, with corresponding confusion among the people. If they could be led — by the pulpit and the religious press — to accept Tillotson’s definition of infallibility as “the highest perfection of the knowing faculty,” the greatest stumbling-block now in the way of the churches would be removed. And if some such view of miracle as that in Bushnell’s Nature and the Supernatural could once more be made familiar, it would go far to silence the alarms that are sounded by those who know neither Bushnell nor the scientists of the day. The people could be quieted if the preachers would let it appear where the Church stands or may stand on these subjects, rather than raise questions which, while unanswered, are sapping their faith.

That these and like apprehensions indicate a general breaking up of the churches, or that they involve the whole world of religious thought, is not to be allowed. It is not the final result that is to be feared, but the long and weary tract of ignorance and timidity and mistaken faith and invested interests and blind conservatism that must be crossed before the inevitable result is gained. To let matters drift and suffer the churches to lapse into ethical clubs, or, by violent reaction, into peaceful retreats where neither thought nor doubt enter, is not the American way of handling difficult questions. They will be settled when the churches suffer themselves to be led out of regions of thought and methods of action that lie behind them, and enter into the New World that time and knowledge have opened. The present confusion will not yield to minor remedies, but only to fuller knowledge of the subjects in hand. This knowledge is slowly growing, but it is hindered by the very democracy that is the life-blood of every true American Church; the ignorant masses hang on the skirts of those who would fight the battle that cannot be shunned. No radical change of organization and especially no consolidation are now wanted ; they would simply increase and bring out the lingering majority that hinder those who are leading them out of their confusion and darkness into order and light.

If we have seemed to speak only of the darker side of the Church, it is because we have touched its immediate questions. A more general view would put it in the same light as the nation, for the Church is both its representative and, externally, its product. It reflects the nation, and shares its prevailing characteristics. For though the churches have largely made and shaped the nation, it is now exerting a return influence upon them. The Puritan gave the nation its political cast and temper of mind, but he did not impose upon it a religion. That was left to take care of itself ; hence its one hundred and forty-seven churches; — a calamity say some, while others see in them the very result that was to be expected when the field of religious thought was left wide open. The multiplicity of churches reveals several things of great importance ; — first, man’s ineradicable instinct for religion. The choice was open, as it never before had been, and he chose religion as his supreme portion ; second, it secured an almost universal spread of religion, for so it works when it is free; third, it reveals an unconscious tendency on the part of the churches to coördinate themselves with the nation, — a process that will come out more and more as time goes on. It will embrace both what is bad and what is good. The result cannot be escaped and must therefore be accepted. But before deprecating this fate it may be well to ask if the coordination will spring out of the fundamental and ruling ideas of the nation, or from the accidents and incidents of its passing history, — out of its nature, or the chance phases it displays. If the former, there will be as little need to despair of the Church as of the Republic. Had there been at first one predominant Church, and had coördination between it and the nation been attempted even in the slightest degree, we might be repeating the conflict now going on in England between the established and the free churches.

Overmuch contempt has been poured upon this multiplicity of churches. It has given religion —perhaps not of the highest order, but such as was at hand — to a vast number of people to whom it was religion indeed, and whom it saved from barbarism, — a danger narrowly escaped. But the multiplicity, so far as it is excessive, will cure itself. Education, modern thought, and the tendency to part with a local and take on a general type of belief, will bring to an end the least worthy. The rest are offshoots or excisions from the greater churches, to which they will naturally return. They were not without some real justification, though they may not have been wise, and were in almost every case the logical outcome of the prevalent doctrine of plenary inspiration of the Bible. With the incoming of a truer theory, the way will be open for return without need of apology on either side.

The question varies when we come to the greater and more thoroughly entrenched churches. In some of them the terms of membership are too severe, and the theology is too rigorous in its dogmatism to go along with the nation whose ruling idea breathes freedom and equality. Hence men, especially, shrink from assuming membership, not from lack of religious feeling, but because of their unwillingness to separate themselves from the great body of the people ; — the moral of which is that the terms should be broader and more catholic. By necessity the early Church was a peculiar people — favored by the Hebrew idea of separateness ; also a necessity so long as it stood out against a gross barbarism. But that day is passed. The essential idea of Christianity as the divine expression of humanity leads men to fellowship, and a sensitive nature shrinks from the Church except as it stands for and with a common humanity rather than apart from it.

The question varies somewhat when we come to the Liturgical Churches. This element was left behind when the Puritans came hither; they might well have gone back for it had the Established Church then been in a condition to give anything to anybody. Instead, Wesley sent over Methodism, — a possession worth all liturgies. The Presbyterian Church has a full and rich liturgical service, but it is unused. The Episcopal Church provides one for those who wish so to worship. By virtue of its liturgy and its doctrine pertaining to children it is winning a large place among the churches, and would win a larger were it not that — unnecessarily one would think — it is tied up by certain ecclesiastical notions and rubrics that violate democratic ideas, and run athwart the course if Church and Nation are to move on together. If these restraints were removed, it would open a path that many would delight to walk in ; but the paths in which Americans prefer to walk are those in which two can walk abreast within as well as without chancel bars. The nation forbids nothing in ritual or belief, and welcomes variety so long as there is unity of the spirit, but it requires that all churches shall think in accord with its spirit and its institutions. This is inevitable. The nation cannot say one thing and the churches another. The dominant spirit of the greater will silently find its way to the whole, and a free nation will create a free church by however many names it may be called. We do not say that the nation creates its religion, but only that it shapes and subdues it to its own complexion.

For its interpretation and real meaning the Church must go to the University ; and never was the necessity greater than to-day. The Puritan in the wilderness never forgot the University in England. Harvard and Yale from the first have steadily aimed to develop it into encyclopædic fullness, as the best means of getting at the truth of all important subjects. A college education is one thing; a university is another. One is a drill; the other is a court where reliable verdicts are looked for when all the evidence is in. It is there the Church must continually go to correct ancient mistakes, to measure the urgency of new truths, to clear itself of entanglements when old and new conflict, to shut out the clamor of the mob howling for a new dogma or decrying an old one, to keep eye and ear open for fresh visions of God and new accents of the Holy Ghost, and above all for seeing to it that great matters are held in their due proportion, and that all matters worthy of attention are studied until they are brought into reasonable harmony with one another and so conduce to the one end of all study — truth. The University is thus the refuge of the churches for help in all those questions that perplex them. Such has been its function in all ages, and such it will continue to be; for in the long run the man who knows most about a subject is the one who is at last heard. All this is qualified, however, by the question, whether the University is truly one, and so fit to treat important subjects in a universal way. The Church is finding its way out of the world of particular or special truths into that of universal truths. It is feeling after its own greatness and real mission. It might aid Missionary Boards to decide whether they shall resign their charters, or still hold the Church to be the guardian and minister of a universal and absolute religion. If it is such, it must have a universal exposition ; otherwise it goes with halting steps, — over-weighted by its conscious greatness and betrayed by its apparent weakness. It is a part of the confusion of thought in the churches at present that there is a subtle doubt as to whether or not Christianity is a local or a universal religion, — a question that involves its very nature.

The increasing necessity of the Church is enlightenment, and for this we must look to the University. Nothing of value is being said to-day on theology or ecclesiastical usage or practical ethics that does not proceed from it or bear its stamp. But the University must be of the true Comenius type, — based on nature and crowned with faith in God, balancing all attainable knowledge, and thus able to teach harmonious truths and true living.

More work lies before the churches than any so far achieved. All are on trial, however permanent they may claim to be. Nearly all have grown out of Old World conditions, either by extreme repulsion or exact reproduction. All wear a look of incompleteness, and easily fall into factions and schisms. There is a strange mingling of strength and weakness, absurdity and sound reason, mediæval gloom and modern light, bigotry and breadth, depths of triviality and summits of shining greatness, and — strangest of all — the most vital thing in the world, its free growth checked and thwarted. It would be a dismal outlook were it not that it can be regarded in the light of an evolution that has had as yet no final retrogression. What are deemed its faults and defects have their parallel in every phase of society. Were the Church faultless, it would be a wonder rather than an inspiration. It is still the moulder and the leader of the people, and lies at the bottom of nine tenths of the charity that relieves suffering and promotes virtue and fosters education. Above all, it refines manners and ratifies the laws by keeping alive a sense of eternal law. Christianity is the religion of humanity ; it is that or nothing. Humanity will have its own, and at last it will have it in perfect accord with its perfected self. Man will no more fail to go on without striving for the highest expression of himself than he will stop in his evolution, —and that is not in his own power. There are behind and within him spiritual and moral forces that will as surely carry him on to the perfection of these forces as those which have brought him thus far were sure in their action. There are no slips in a divinely organized universe. Prophet and poet and the indestructible sense of selfhood are not amiss on this point.

The Church is in its analytic stage of development, and awaits its synthetic period when its various elements of truth and power shall be brought into harmonious relations. It is now insisting on a few things, and antagonizing or ignoring many. But such is not the true church. It is a choir of chanting worshipers, it is a hospital, a school, a charity house, a company of preachers, of missionaries, of students ; it is a university in which all of God’s works and ways and all human institutions are massed for universal ends. Toward some such goal is the Church moving under the divine energy lodged within it. Nothing is diviner in the Christ than the impossibility to identify Him with any church, and yet He is in all; at some point each touches Him, and because of that touch they are moving toward Him, — sloughing off some corruption, dropping some worn-out superstition, expurgating their creeds of mistaken exegesis, reinterpreting his words until they no longer flame with retribution in after-worlds, putting reason and spirit in place of literalism that defied them, — a process that is surely going on. It is not, however, a process of mere elimination. Denial is not progress nor a way to freedom. True progress involves complexity, but it is made up of what is high and fine and beautiful and strong by reason of its pure unity.

As to the final form of the Church, it would be idle to forecast it. That there will be one only, save in some high mystical sense, belongs to the childhood of faith ; to contend for it now is to mistake its movement. Yet the Church is not a dream of our higher nature, nor a superstition of our lower nature. It is a vital thing, and stands not for a condition, but for a movement. Where it will lead, is not easy to determine. It is not moving in the prelatical way, but it will have organization ; nor in the ritualistic way, but it will have a ritual that is not bound by rubric lines. It will not follow the path of Calvin or of Arminius, but its freedom will not be unchartered. It will not accept Anselm’s answer to his question, “ Cur Deus Homo ? ” but it will insist on the divine humanity, and find its goal somewhere in the region of this profound phrase, — at once mystical and historical and scientific, — a phrase that represents the whole play of our nature. And we would say with emphasis, that while the way will be traced along the footsteps of great leaders of thought and through prophets and sacred books, no man nor church nor Bible will be authoritative or other than a guiding and inspiring light. The power and the light that are always leading toward the unattainable goal are in man himself, in the development of his nature, — not as a mere creation of God, but as one in whom God is immanent, and is ever unfolding himself in human ways that are also divine. Hence, while it is to be expected that the word trinity will not be insisted on, and — as Calvin said — might better have not been used, the phrase Father, Son, and Spirit will pass into the language of the soul because it defines the forces by which man lives and fulfills his destiny. This phrase does not spring out of Nicene renderings, nor from any later or present forms of them, — all of which are more or less bewildering. Its roots go deeper down than the creeds, — into man himself. When he has found himself he finds within him that which is in all nature, and he names himself a son of the Father of all; he knows himself as spirit, and he cannot otherwise define himself than as one with Him who was filled with the Spirit, and so was the Son of the Father. And as for the Church, it has no office but to lead men to realize the divine humanity in themselves. Thus, yet by no easy path, they find their way into the Eternal Reality out of which they spring.

Theodore T. Munger.