INSTITUTIONS die hard. Especially religious institutions. They take a long time about it. Generations and centuries. The nostalgia of religious habits. The endowments and vested interests. Paganism and the mysteries lingered long in the Empire even after Constantine. It is doubtful if they ever did die entirely. Syncretism kept them alive even in the Church itself. Perhaps nothing really dies. Religious values at least assert the prerogative of immortality. They modify and affect the movements that absorb them.
But Protestantism as an organized religious force is moribund and shows signs of rapid disintegration.
This does not mean that the millions of Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and the two hundred other Protestant sects will come cringing and bowing down to the coped and mitred hierarchy, kissing the amethyst rings of bishops and cardinals, repentant prodigals begging for instruction and reception. Not at all. We are still too near the ages of persecution, the rack and thumbscrew, the Inquisition, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Westward Ho! and the religious wars to feel confidence in that direction. Anti-Roman prejudice is in the blood. A race inheritance. Protestantism will still protest.
Moreover the educated, the critically intellectual multitudes, — a rapidly increasing number, — show no disposition to submit to religious autocracy. If they have conceived of the Bible as a broken reed or a quagmire, there is no reason to think that they will turn to ecclesiastics swathed in the traditions of dead centuries for guidance to the high places of eternity. They share with the rabble a fixed antipathy to the graded hierarchy, the elaborate ceremonies, plaster images, meretricious decoration of churches, superstitions and fetishism, local Heavens and literal Hells, meticulous doctrines and obsolete philosophies, celibacy and monachism, the assumption of a superior and esoteric knowledge, the tendency to political domination, the assertion of a defined and certain finality in the possession of truth.
A disintegrated Protestantism will no more return to Rome than the troubled democracy of the day will return to the frozen archaism of the feudal system. If Protestantism as an organized religious force is dying in the twentieth century, by the same tokens of broken authority Rome died in the sixteenth.
Autocratic authority in religion is everywhere giving ground.
The famous historian, Bishop Stubbs of Oxford, who married his cook, used to advise his students to avoid generalization and idealization. It is good advice for the incipient historian. The Bishop’s books are dull reading, but they are eminently sound. It is temerarious to draw very definite conclusions about wide popular movements, and above all to make prophecies. But many able observers of the present condition of the religious world are persuaded that we are in the midst of a religious revolution. There is reason to believe that the historians of a hundred years from now will pronounce the present decade the crest of a movement more significant and portentous than the Reformation itself.
The Reformation, considered as a religious revolution, took its rise in the social and political consequences of the discoveries of the fifteenth century, the fall of Constantinople, the Renaissance, the rise of nations, the growth of commerce. The break from Rome in the sixteenth century was its crisis. For two centuries the religious settlements of that period stood secure. But about a hundred years ago, before the middle of the nineteenth century, new movements were set afoot which were destined to bring about a still greater crisis. With this crisis we are now face to face. As the authority of Rome was shattered in those nations which followed the trend of thought at the Reformation, so the Reformation settlements now find their authority shattered by the logical consequences of the position they then took.
If Rome appears to be little affected by the movements of the day, that is because the genius of Rome has never been expressed in intellectual leadership, but, by settled policy and highly developed organization, in deliberate conservatism. She has assimilated movements, not started them. Ministering as she does to the masses of uneducated and simple people, such a position is both reasonable and necessary. For there is nothing so unsettling to the stability of religious authority, and hence to morals, as a new idea. Rome kept on the Index Expurgatorius until 1829 every book that said the world was round. The theologians all knew better, but why disturb the masses? Are not the stars the eyes of the angels looking down from Heaven? And what difference does it make to the man with the hoe if they are not? Let girls in Spanish convents continue thus to regard the stars — and be good.
But Protestantism, which was the progressive party of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, with a sense of the unity of all truth and a passionate and even stupid literalism, must go on to complete the programme it then began. Having broken fearlessly with any authority that conflicted with its conscientious conception of truth, it is logically forced to continue the process. It must complete its work. No antique hocus-pocus, no prescriptive documentation, no hallowed tradition, may hold it back from the truth and freedom. Hitching its wagon to Betelgeuse, of which it knows the size and chemical constituents, Protestantism now determines to make a clean sweep of all the remnants of tyranny and obscurantism that have still bound it back from freedom. It proposes a twentieth-century revolution. At least it finds itself in the midst of one.
And it is greatly to be wished that, in the process of housecleaning, Protestantism shall sweep out into the dust heap of time its own superstitions and hypocrisies, its petty partisanships and false loyalties, its narrow nationalisms and racial peculiarities, its sentimental cant, its vapid prayer meetings, its redundant and verbose liturgies, its stodgy services, its preposterous confessions of faith, its bigotry and prejudices, its padded and fictitious martyrologies, its smug self-satisfactions, its holier-than-thou pose, its lay popes, its fond and fanatical trust in secular legislation, its bitter intolerance, its suspicious and terrible emotionalisms, its assumption that mere negation constitutes salvation, and the thousand and one other Pecksniffian attributes that in its name have so often brought all religion into contempt among sensible people. Let the good work be thoroughly done this time, and not stopped by any premature armistice.
That the revolution is well under way cannot be doubted. It had become apparent as early as the middle of the last century that the foundations upon which Protestantism rested — the Bible and the various Reformation settlements — were insecure. Dr. Ewer, in his Failure of Protestantism, pointed out the fallacy that the Bible, the books of which were selected by the authority of the Church, could properly supplant that authority. Logically the Bible was an instrument, not a foundation for the Church. There was a Church, with its creed, sacraments, and ministry, before the books of the New Testament were written, and centuries before the canon of Scripture was determined. Chillingworth’s dictum, ‘The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants,’ became an illogical absurdity. Ewer followed the Oxford Tractarians and the Anglican tradition.
But it remained for the German higher critics to reduce the stronghold of a superstitious reverence for the printed word. Protestantism, which had substituted a printed book for a living pope, was aghast. But its passion for truth has compelled it to admit the facts. Although the clamor of the war between the Fundamentalists and so-called Modernists still continues, it is evident to every scholarly observer that Fundamentalism is a lost cause.
As the cracks in the foundation appeared and their significance began to be grasped, Protestant enthusiasm weakened. The first evidence of this was in Sunday-school attendance. Up to the eighties the statistical curve had shown a steady increase. In the late eighties it began steadily to decline. It has fallen rapidly ever since. The latest report indicates that there are now over twenty-seven millions of American children, nominally Protestant, not enrolled in any Sunday school. And quite reasonably. The Protestant Sunday school has no systematized religion to teach. With the old Reformation catechisms and confessions gone increasingly out of use, and nothing but the Bible left as a book of instruction, the teachers — generally untrained and incompetent as teachers of anything — had depended for interest upon making little children learn the lists of the kings of Israel and Judah, the names of the bugs on the Plain of Esdraelon, who was Moses’ uncle, how long was the bed of Og, the king of Bashan, and the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Some elaborate books, like ‘The Christian Nurture Series,’ were indeed devised to meet the condition, but as these insisted on treating infants as though they were small philosophers, they were ineffective. The Sunday school, now called the church school, has become the despair or the joke of the Protestant ministry almost everywhere. The attendance of both teachers and pupils is generally small and irregular. Few ministers are able to keep up any system of devotion, spiritual value, or inspiration among the young. Nor has the week-day school of religion yet met the case. Parents, persuaded that the Bible as a document of scientific and historical facts is under fire, are no longer insistent upon sending their already weary children to such dull exercises.
The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, with daily religious instruction in their schools, using the clear-cut, definite, and positive teaching of the Baltimore catechism, with its system of doctrine, discipline, and worship, with daily attendance at Mass, continued the authoritative teaching in which the Church and not the Bible was the final court of appeal. The result is patent. Ask any Roman Catholic child a fundamental question about his religion and you get a categorical answer. You may not agree with the answer, but it is an answer. Ask, on the other hand, almost any Protestant child a similar question — well, just try it and see for yourself. Our Protestant grandparents had at least some definite religion as children. The present generation has none.
Combined with the critical attitude of the age is the general laxity which always comes with financial success. ‘When the Puritans made their fortunes,’ said James Russell Lowell, ‘they lost their religion.’ Add the dazzling and wonderful strides of scientific discovery, the golf course, the automobile, and finally the radio, with comfortable sermons by famous preachers on Sunday for those disposed to listen, and you have some at least of the chief causes of a decline in church attendance. Life is speeded up. People are tired on Sunday. The fashion of going to church is falling off.
For the past twenty years desperate efforts have been made by Protestant leaders to keep up the failing enthusiasm for church organization. All kinds of leagues and conferences, sometimes with excellent, if temporary, results, were started. The Men and Religion Forward Movement, the Men’s Missionary Movement, Young People’s Movements, revivals of all kinds, swept the country. Finally Billy Sunday — a genius for the stirring of religious emotionalism — galvanized for his brief day the churches into a semblance of vitality. Every adult reader will remember these struggles to sustain the slipping structure. It was one hope, not so fully recognized during the war, that the Y. M. C. A. would perhaps take over the whole work of the Protestant churches and rehabilitate it. But, in spite of the millions of dollars in hand, it became evident that the men in the ranks did not feel that the combination of vaudeville and sermon which the ‘Y’ proposed to substitute for religion would do. The plan, if it was ever formulated, was given up.
Experts in the guise of secretaries were called in. After the war great sums of money were raised, or promised, in all the divisions of the Protestant world. Great missionary enterprises were planned. It was assumed that if interest in foreign missions could be aroused the interest in the old home church would be sustained. But within five years the churches were as much in debt as ever. The Inter-Church Federation, with very able men in its offices, studied the problem, and is even yet endeavoring to uphold the tottering steeples. Dr. Cadman preaches eloquently over the radio from the Bedford Branch of the Brooklyn Y. M. C. A. on Sunday afternoons with the same object, in a spirit of broad tolerance — one of the best things that Protestantism can do to foster liberal piety.
But the thing that has kept Protestantism alive as an organized force during recent years has undoubtedly been the Prohibition movement. For years the temperance societies, the W.C.T.U., and the Anti-Saloon League have kept total abstinence and the desire for legislative action against the Demon Rum as a rallying point for the organized activity of the Protestant churches. The recent revelations before the Senate investigating committee have shown the enormous sums of money collected by these agencies from the churches for use in this campaign. Billy Sunday always made it a chief article in his creed. (‘Hell has frozen over,’he declared when the Eighteenth Amendment was passed.) Other skilled and highly paid workers were employed to carry on. Methods not always scrupulous, but justified in the eyes of enthusiastic ‘dry’ Protestants on the ground that the end justified the means, — a theory that Protestants formerly strongly condemned in Jesuit practice, — were used in every state in the Union to ensure the success of this crusade. For years Prohibition formed the chief subject of Protestant preaching. It is probably no exaggeration to say that nearly every pastor of certain denominations either made it the theme of his Sunday sermon or at least referred to it strongly in his discourse, making it practically a sine qua non in religion.
It does not seem to have occurred to many that the Bible as an authoritative book in reality suffered more from the emphasis upon Prohibition than it had suffered from all the critical literature ever written by German or other critics. The critics had merely shown up the facts of historicity. They had allowed the moral and spiritual values to stand on their own intrinsic merits. But in advocating Prohibition the Protestant clergy were compelled to criticize the very morality of the Gospel. The marriage at Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine, when men had ‘well drunk,’became reprehensible. The advice to Timothy ‘to use a little wine’ was given in ignorance. The very matter of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was regarded as intrinsically evil. Unfermented grape juice was generally substituted. The Pauline discourses about the provocative character of negative legislation were always passed over. It was even proposed to get out an edition of the Bible with all the passages that referred to wine deleted. In short, the Bible in the house of its friends became a dangerous book. Many parts of it could not possibly be read in Protestant churches. They would contradict the sermon.
But now that the methods by which Prohibition was put over have been exposed,— its failure to freeze up Hell everywhere becoming apparent, the evils of it constantly more pressing, — reaction has set in. Division on the subject even in the ranks of the pastors will follow. Already the Lutherans have come out strongly against it. Episcopalians in increasing numbers refuse to praise its works. Conventions, synods, and assemblies are less unanimous in voting resolutions supporting the law. Prohibition as a religious rallying point will fail. In reality it is not a religious issue. Temperance, yes; but not Prohibition.
Fissiparism is the evil genius of Protestantism. Indeed the theory of private judgment suggests that its ultimate and logical trend is toward sheer individualism. Certain it is that the efforts which have been made to draw the Protestant sects together, to economize expense, to prevent duplication of labor, to establish some sort of comity, to realize any degree of unity in organization, — such as the Edinburgh Conference, the Inter-Church Federation, the World Conference on Faith and Order, — have made no real progress in the elimination of the sectarian spirit. On the contrary. It is certain that at the present time there is less hope of church unity than there was twenty years ago. Some leaders even feel that division is an advantage and makes for progress in religious thought. Some look upon sectarianism as one would look upon the distinctions of family life. The nostalgia of accustomed habits holds them. They feel a suspicion of other forms of devotion.
The proposal to hold a World Conference on Faith and Order, originating in Anglican circles, lent some hope for a time that spiritual unity, if not corporate unity, could be attained. The commissions and secretariats responsible for this undertaking, however, have put off the actual conference from year to year on the plea that premature corporate unity would have worse results than the present condition. They have urged a general study of the causes of separation in small local conferences, questions of sacraments and episcopacy, and creeds and episcopacy, and the validity of orders and episcopacy, and liturgies and episcopacy, and church polity and episcopacy, and episcopacy, until the idea has gone abroad that the astute Anglican bishops who are behind the movement are in reality merely carrying on a campaign of education of the nonconformist ministry in the hope of persuading Protestantism to make a little pilgrimage to Canterbury or to go a few parasangs on the road to Rome. Bishops, whether Anglican, Oriental, or Roman, are monarchs who desire not to abdicate.
There is, then, no hope of unity among Protestants. That idea must be quite definitely laid aside. The cutthroat methods of rivalry, of overchurching, will continue. Every little group in every new community, obsessed by some racial or social inferiority complex, will insist upon having an ecclesiastical background upon which to display itself. Our small towns will continue to be dotted with buildings called churches, more suitable for garages than for teocallis, without dignity, without beauty either inside or out, their few members struggling to keep the sheriff from closing the doors on account of the unpaid coal bill, and starving the very soul out of the poor wretch of a pastor who presides in the pulpit on Sundays. The only persons benefited by the system are the secretaries, bishops, presiding elders, archdeacons, missionary boards, and other paid remote functionaries who thrive on division and justify their salaries by the published records of new enterprises.
The divisions that exist even inside the same denomination are equally deep. Anglicanism itself, which for many years looked upon itself as the via media, a possible rallying point for both Catholic and Protestant, is becoming little less than a line of cleavage. Two parties, Catholic and Protestant, threaten to tear the communion asunder. Among the sects the Fundamentalists and Modernists have so divided the groups that it is not too much to say that scarcely any two churches of the same denomination teach the same religion. And the rivalry that exists between two churches of different denominations is as naught compared with the rivalry that exists between two churches of the same denomination in the same town. At bottom there is the economic factor. A pastor cannot afford to let one sheep escape. It will affect the budget. The actual beliefs of the man in the pew become matters of comparative indifference— so long as he remains in the pew. If he goes to another church, he is a heretic.
It is not an evidence of disintegration or revolution that there are now over fifty-eight millions of Americans, nominally Protestant, not enrolled as members of any church, or that only one third of those so enrolled attend churches with any regularity or contribute to the support of churches. Careful surveys show this to be the case. But conditions were worse a hundred years ago. The percentage of those attending churches, where it was not compulsory, in Colonial days was smaller. That would not mean that the organization is necessarily breaking up. Religion comes in waves. It is emotional. Given a great cause or a spiritual access, the churches might be filled to-morrow. Even Roman Catholics have their ‘paschal lambs,’those who come only for their Easter duties. A revival of religious enthusiasm might sweep the country any day.
But it is significant of a decided change that in very many churches the old type of devotion, the solemnity of religious worship, the serious and long sermon, have passed away. The pastors, even when fine orators, men of ability and magnetic force and learning, are put to it more and more to fill their auditoriums. There is a general tendency to resort to popular lectures, moving pictures, Rotarian methods, church suppers, wild advertising, a studied display of the ‘glad hand,’follow-up letters, a paid official to detect the arrival of any newcomer to town and sign him up, programmes of sensational sermon courses, cartoonists, whistlers, comedians, enormous signs on the church porch, dwarfs, Indians, Negro Jubilee singers, freaks of all sorts, free ginger ale, services conducted exclusively by children, and a thousand other Chautauqua devices, in the hope of drawing a crowd — a crowd that pays nothing.
The fact is that the old feeling of an obligation to attend service on the part of the laity has almost vanished from the earth. The members of churches feel no obligation whatever. They go or stay away as they like. They also pay what they like. The average Protestant church is like a club in which there are no conditions of membership, no dues, no responsibilities. It has become a purely voluntary association of individuals who determine for themselves the articles of their belief, and whose motive for church attendance is not much higher in many instances than their motive for attending a theatre, a popular lecture, a concert, or a motion picture. Recognition of authority or religious obligation has almost disappeared. Pressure of any sort to compel such recognition would instantly be resented and usually result in withdrawal from the church.
Under these circumstances what likelihood is there that organization can long continue to exist?
But the actual force that is disrupting Protestantism is the force of money. As in all revolutionary movements, the economic factor is the final cause. Almost any organization can withstand attacks from without and weakness within so long as the purse strings are in the hands of the leaders. The natural leaders of the Protestant churches are the ministers. But the money of most of these churches is controlled by laymen. In those churches where the controlling laymen are quasi-ecclesiastics — deacons, elders, men of prayer — conditions are less bad than in those where the laymen have no spiritual status. But generally speaking the control of the finances is in the wrong hands. If the ministers who do the preaching and thereby raise the money also had the spending of it, the organizations would hold out long against time and storm.
This is an idea very foreign, however, to the Protestant mind. Most Protestants, speaking religiously, regard the idea of handling filthy lucre as something improper for a spiritual man. They think of the saying in the Book of Acts about the serving of tables, but forget that other passage about laying the money derived from the sale of their lands at the apostles’ feet. Historically it is clear that down to the time of the Reformation the clergy always controlled the affairs of the Church. And the Church grew rich — some say too rich. In the Roman Church it is the clergy who handle the money yet, and there is no business in the world so well handled.
Now the minister is responsible for the financial success of every church. Even if he happens to be backed by some millionaire, he has attracted the millionaire. If money does not come in as the result of his preaching and work, he is a failure. But it is the lay board, the vestry, the trustees, who take the money he secures, determine his salary, and pay the bills of the church. They themselves give usually but a small portion of the amount raised. The minister has a life-anddeath stake in the matter. The laymen have none.
It follows that the minister, who may be presumed to have a professional knowledge of the needs of his church, of the kind of building that should be erected, of the type of music to be hired, of all the details of the enterprise, is not the real director of the affairs of the church, but merely an employee of a lay group. It is an anomalous position. He is the nominal head of a business with none of the authority of the head. There are exceptions, of course, but the scene in the first act of Mr. Golden’s production, Thank You, is not in the least exaggerated.
The men on the lay boards are either men of such large affairs that the business of a church is too petty for their consideration — it has become increasingly difficult to get meetings of such men, as every director of a big business knows—or they are apt to be men of petty minds and small experience, without faith and without vision. Able and devoted men in such offices are becoming rare, and are confined mostly to the large cities. Not infrequently these church officials are very difficult for the average minister, unused to dealing with people under the rough conditions of the business world. Since they hold the purse strings, he is powerless.
The consequences of this method of administration, except in the case of pastors of unusual genius and powerful personality, can be clearly defined. Without knowledge, without vision, without faith, with no higher motive than economy and the fear of venture, many lay boards erect mean, cheap structures on obscure, cheap sites. Their chief concern is to scale down the architect’s dream and to save money. The glory of God and the splendor of worship seldom enter their heads. Every pastor who has built a church, and every architect, knows the infinite ineptitude of these men. It is not so much their fault, however, as the fault of the system which places them in a position they are unfitted to occupy. And it is this same system which, making the real head of church affairs not the pastor but an irresponsible lay board, puts so much of the church work in many places into the hands of the ’little mousey men who are religious,’ to the annoyance and despair of the nominal leader, who is powerless to direct affairs because he is a mere hired man.
When Dr. Herbert Hensley Henson, now Bishop of Durham, visited this country he said that the great weakness of the Protestant churches both in Canada and in the United States was the dependence of the ministers on the good will of the people. He was right. And it is the failure of the clergy to control and direct the finances of their churches that makes them thus dependent. Barring the wild selfappointed preachers of the hills, the fanatics, the cranks, and the sentimental uplifters, the ordained and licensed Protestant ministers of the American towns and villages will compare favorably with any group of business or professional men. Generally better educated than the average of the congregations to whom they preach, better read, more open-minded, more ready to try new methods and to receive new ideas, certainly as competent. to direct and control the finances of their churches as the clergy of the Church of Rome, they find themselves merely hirelings of groups they are compelled to please and whom they dare not stimulate or rebuke.
The professional success of the Protestant minister depends upon his ability to raise money. That does not mean that he need even mention the subject. It means that he must have the qualities of leadership, of organization, of spiritual power, of eloquence or magnetism, in sufficient degree to cause people to give. The church must be kept out of debt, his own salary must be raised, the enormous demands of the bishops, boards, and secretaries in the general offices must be satisfied; otherwise the minister is a failure. It all depends upon him, yet the minister is considered too holy to be interested in who gives or what is given, to be too spiritual to attend to the business affairs of his church, too otherworldly to know enough to handle the finances of his parish.
It is a tribute to the ability of the Protestant ministry that they have managed so well with so impossible a system. But it accounts for the constant changes in the pastorate, the miserable salaries paid to ministers, and the decay of church organization. For the prayer of the average layman for his pastor seems to be, ‘O Lord, you keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor.'
Protestantism, then, is undergoing a revolution. The foundation of authority upon which it was built has certainly shifted, if not broken. Considered as an organization, or as organizations, the Protestant churches might weather that storm, just as the Roman Church has held together under centuries of criticism, were it not for the fact that the real leadership in Protestant organization is not in the hands of professional leaders, but in the hands of laymen. Such men, not having time, training, or a vital stake in the cause of religion, confused by external interests and doubts regarding the foundations of their churches, cannot rescue the sinking vessel. Protestantism is disintegrating and is doomed. It may outlast your life and mine, but ultimately America will see it no more.
It is my conviction that the sooner Protestantism disappears from American life the better. Its narrow sectarian spirit, fostering division, incapable of a large synthesis of values, of unity, unfits it to represent our national religious life. Its differences of polity and doctrine, of forms and customs, do not justify the expense of its duplication of effort and upkeep. It does not answer to the deep needs of human nature. As a moral guide it is superficial, depending on the exterior force of state legislation to effect the redemption of the race. As a mystical experience it is sentimental, without intelligence, and with narrow vision. As a teaching force it is vague, negative, and uncertain. As an organization it is illogical and chaotic.
Considered in relation to the idea of worship, Protestantism is particularly lacking. It began by eliminating the element of beauty from its meetinghouses, and it has never succeeded in bringing it back. At the best its services are coldly dignified. At the worst they are slovenly and drab. Without color. Without movement. But beauty is an attribute of God and should be expressed in worship. There is no wonder that men prefer the ceremonies of the lodge, with the vestments, lights, moving acolytes, and swinging incense, to the undecorated dullness of their Sunday worship.
The strength of Protestantism has been in preaching. But in these days of general culture, of the radio and the newspaper, even those to whom the sermon is still something of a saving ordinance find it less necessary to attend church for the purpose of hearing one. Why go to the trouble of dressing for the church parade when you can sit at home and hear a preacher of the first rank instead of the third-rate man who occupies the pulpit in the old home town? And preaching at its best does not reach down into the depths of the individual life sufficiently to have great moral value. It is too general. The average Protestant pastor is much like a physician who should find himself limited in practice to the giving of one or two lectures a week on the general subject of hygiene in the ward of a hospital. Compared with the individual relationship of the pastor to the sinner in the Catholic confessional, Protestantism with all its preaching is merely on the outside of life.
Moreover, there are many subjects upon which the Protestant preacher for various reasons can scarcely touch. Remember that above all things he must please his audience. Otherwise they will not come again, they will not support him, they will persuade his board, his trustees, his vestry, to get rid of him. The average pastor is paid less than a cook, less than a chauffeur, less than an unskilled laborer. If he gets out of a job, it is by no means easy for him to obtain another readily. The organizations of Protestant churches feel no obligation to provide him with a place. Unless he is a dominant personality with considerable gifts of leadership he must above all things avoid offense. If he has been long in the ministry and has given hostages to fortune, it is a tragedy for him to lose even the miserable pittance he receives. It is to the honor of the men in the profession that so many of them risk unpopularity and even livelihood by having the courage of their convictions.
Protestantism has never developed a moral theology. Consider, for instance, its dealing with the vital subject of sex. This vast and most important aspect of human life is seldom dealt with in any thorough fashion in Protestant teaching. If handled at all, it is touched upon very gingerly. Unsuitable for the subject of pulpit oratory, it has become the Great Taboo of the Protestant world. Protestantism can make no provision for the instruction of adolescent youth on this profound matter. It leaves youth to its own guidance, the guidance of ill-instructed parents, or such information as it may chance to pick up from whatever sources. And the consequences of this failure in religious instruction are abundantly apparent.
The old disciplinary systems by which the lay members of Protestant churches were bound to profess certain beliefs, to maintain certain rules of conduct, and to sustain certain obligations to the church on pain of loss of membership, have become as obsolete as the old formulæ, the confessions of faith. Where they still remain on the books they are practically dead letters. The decline in the numbers of the church membership, the desperate need of money, the intense rivalry of sectarianism, combined with the liberal spirit of the age, have swept them into the discard. Most churches will do anything for anybody — receive anybody, marry anybody, bury anybody. They hawk their sacred wares about the streets. They cry aloud for people to fill their large and empty buildings. They offer inducements for those connected with other churches to leave their accustomed pastures and try new ones. The organizations are without confidence and without dignity. They are breaking up.
But far more important than any study of these defects and conditions, now for a generation known and recognized, is the consideration of what will take the place of this outworn and dying system. What will follow the break-up of Protestantism?
Some have felt with Chesterton that Rome will be the residuary legatee, the Pope the universal landlord. They point to what Rome has to offer. In convenience. In uniformity. In artistic forms of worship. In architectural splendor. Rome is the least expensive church to belong to in all Christendom. Its system of finance, managed by the clerical order, is effective. Its elaborate and settled organization, its united front and vast size, give it weight politically and socially. Its lay members are not bothered with the necessity of thinking out religious problems for themselves. The complexity and variety of its cults and doctrines enable one to make choice of those features of Christianity that suit one’s temperament and mood. It is tolerant enough unless you venture to question too publicly. Perhaps for a time Roman Catholicism may become the fashion.
But, as I said at the beginning, the values of religious institutions never die. The undying values of Protestantism are the passionate assertion of liberty and truth. Protestantism shook off Rome once. It will never revert in any permanent and final way to the acceptance of religious authority. It is, in the present revolution, shaking off the remnants of such authority. The new generation will begin to think where such organization as Protestantism still supports leaves off, to assume the death of that for which it still argues.
Perhaps in dying as an organized force Protestantism will in reality save itself. The Church after all is a means to an end, not an end in itself. When the author of the Apocalypse saw the heavenly vision, he saw no temple there. The Church, in a sense, exists merely to do away with the need of its existence. But what new form the spirit of religion in the coming age may take, who can say?
Is it not reasonable to hope that, leaving the outworn dogmatisms and methods of the past, the children of the new age will construct out of those values which have been the real sources of inspiration and of power, both for Catholic and Protestant, a Church that will meet the needs of the day and generation, combining with the old the new wisdom of the present era, raising mankind to a higher plane of spiritual experience, a more vivid realization of eternal life?
‘Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.’