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The Reunion of Christendom.

A Sermon Preached by the Bishop of Tinnevelly in St. Mark's Church, Bangalore, on Sunday, July 1, 1928.

By Norman Henry Tubbs.

Madras: The Diocesan Press, 1928.

LAST Friday was the festival of St. Peter, when our prayers and thoughts were especially directed towards the building of Christ's Church. 'On this rock I will build my Church.' By a happy coincidence, the Conference on Unity which is now sitting and at which Anglican, S. I. U. C, and Wesleyan delegates are present began its work on the same day, and, if by the blessing of God these negotiations are successfully completed, there will be in the Madras Presidency a great Church with some thirteen or fourteen dioceses, nearly 800 clergy and 6,385,000 baptized members. Such a development will have a profound influence on Christian and non-Christian alike not only in South India, but throughout the world. It is important, therefore, that the people of our Church should know exactly what is taking place, and be able to welcome this movement and pray for it intelligently. There are two ways of approach to this question of the Reunion of Christendom.

First, we may seek a Church which is visibly and obviously one, and which has without doubt the right to call herself the Church. Into this Church we must enter, and all the other so-called Churches are in error and must confess their error and return to the true fold. This is the policy of absorption.

The second method follows a different line of thought. It is this. The Church has ceased to be visibly one, but that it is found wherever the Spirit of Christ is found. Here is a sick man in hospital. He is alive, but owing to disease his body is not acting as it should. The limbs and members are out of gear. There is little co-operation. The mutual interaction of brain and hand and leg has ceased. Nevertheless he is alive, and when he is cured of his disease the whole body will act again together in perfect mutual co-operation. So is it with the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the one Universal Saviour. Wherever His spirit is working with redeeming life-giving power, there is His body; there He is moving His hands and His feet, although owing to [1/2] the disease of schism and sin those hands and feet are not working together, indeed may be working in opposition to each other. The Spirit of Christ is striving within this divided Body to heal its divisions and to restore it to perfect harmony and mutual cooperation.

This second method of approach is gaining ground rapidly. In recent years there has been a marked difference in the method and spirit of theological discussion. It used to be the gibe of 'the man in the street' that there was more courtesy, fair play and consideration shown to opponents in the sporting papers than in the religious press; but while Church and 'party' religious papers are not yet free from this reproach, there has unquestionably been a great improvement in this respect. The spirit of humility and charity is growing. Some pages in Church history make sad reading. Too often the Councils of the Church have been marred by violence, malice and all uncharitableness. In contrast to this spirit have been the great World Conference at Stockholm in 1925 on Life and Work, at Lausanne in 1927 on Faith and Order, at Jerusalem last March on the Missionary work of the Church. At these great meetings were gathered together men of every race and Church, men whose forefathers had fought bitterly and died for their faith, but there was never a word of hate or malice. In all lowliness each strove to understand the other's point of view. There was no hiding of conviction or truth, but it was speaking the truth in love. It is a great record of Christian courtesy and forbearance. So is it with this present Conference in Bangalore. We are not seeking the absorption of one Church by another. We Anglicans for example are not seeking to make the S. I. U. C, and the Wesleyans join our Church. God forbid that we should try to do so. We have too many faults and failures of our own to try and impose our Church upon others. Nor are we seeking to make a new Church. What we are trying to do is to show visibly to the world what we are already--'one in Christ.' The spirit of Christ has been teaching us all. In spite of our sins and weaknesses, in spite of our pride and stubbornness, our Lord has been working in each part of His divided body and He is now drawing us together so that we may share the good things which He has taught each of us in our separation. Reunion will mean'that we shall pool our spiritual resources.

[3] But it is idle to deny that this method of approach is not shared by all Christians. The first method of which I spoke, the method of absorption is the declared policy of a large number of Christians. For example, certain bodies of Lutherans and Baptists declare that they have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and salvation must be sought in their Church, the only true Church. The most famous and remarkable example of this attitude of course is the Church of Rome. Early in this year the newspapers were discussing the last Papal Encyclical which was, I take it, the Pope's reply to the Lausanne World Conference on Faith and Order and his summing up of the Malines Conference, where Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders met more or less unofficially to consider the 1920 Lambeth Appeal for unity. This Encyclical or Circular letter to all Christians came as a rude shock to most of us. Rightly or wrongly we thought we had at last reached a new age distinguished by a far more charitable and sympathetic attitude towards men of other Churches and other beliefs, but the Pope makes the position of his Church quite clear and definite. Rome is tne one true Church. There can be no Christian Reunion without submission to Rome. As I read this last encyclical of the Bishop of Rome, my thoughts went back to the first encyclical ever published by a Christian Bishop. You will find it in Acts xv. 23-29. I will read the passage from Moffatt's Modern English Translation. 'The apostles and the presbyters of the brotherhood to the brothers who belong to the Gentiles throughout Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: greeting. Having learned that some of our number, quite unauthorized by us, have unsettled you with their teaching and upset your souls, we have decided unanimously to select some of our number and send them to you along with our beloved Paul and Barnabas who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore send Judas and Silas with the following message, which they will also give to you orally. The Holy Spirit and we have decided not to impose any extra burden on you, apart from these essential requirements: abstain from food that has been offered to idols, from tasting blood, from the flesh of animals that have been strangled, and from sexual vice. Keep clear of all this and you will prosper. Good-bye.'

What was the problem which faced this first Christian Council. It is a problem which is strangely like what is happening to-day. [3/4] Antioch represents the Church on the Mission Field. It is the dynamic moving Church gathering in large numbers of converts. It is the Church with the spirit of adventure, prepared to run risks and inspired with a wide vision and a divine charity. The present movements towards an inclusive unity derive their momentum from the Church on the Mission Field. Lausanne was the fruit of the first Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. So it was in the days of St. Paul. Jerusalem the Church at the home base stood for exclusiveness. She was static, she was dazzled with the glories of her prestige and position. James, the head of the Jerusalem Church, was a conservative. His eyes looked to the past. The Jewish Church regarded the sacrament of circumcision and the Sabbath Day as Divine institutions. It had a high moral standard. A mass movement of Gentiles into the Church would mean a perilous lowering of moral ideas. In any case they must submit to the Jewish rite of initiation, circumcision. They must become Jews in order to become Christians. The rumours which reached the Bishop James from the Mission Field that large numbers of Gentiles were being baptized without being circumcised filled him with alarm. These missionaries were dangerous enthusiasts, modernists who were sapping the fundamentals of the Faith. But as Doctor Glover has pointed out Jesus of Nazareth was a son of fact and his disciples followed in his steps. The scientist, says Huxley, must sit down before a fact like a little child and that is what the first Christian Council did. James was in the chair and I can see his strong face hardening as he listens to the alarming accounts of the dangerous irregularities and the neglect of sacred traditions on the Mission Field. Then St. Peter stands up and tells of his experience at Caesarea and how Cornelius and his Gentile friends had been baptized into the Church because they were obviously filled with the Holy Spirit. Barnabas and Paul follow. They tell of the wide open doors in Antioch, in Pisidia, in Lystra, Iconium and Derbe. There was an immense mass movement in progress. These baptized Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit and showing the fruits of that Spirit in their lives. They had not been circumcised. They had not become Jews, but here was the fact--God had set His seal upon them as His children. And as James sat and listened, his eyes began to shine and his face lit up with a great hope. The conservative stay-at-home Christians sat in [4/5] astonished silence. This then was the glorious fulfilment of the ancient prophecies of a great ingathering of the Gentiles. The facts had done their work. There was no division, no vote. James the conservative has caught the fire. He sums up the unanimous judgement. We stand, he says, for the Church of the open door, the Church of divine charity and inclusive unity. What a mighty epoch-making decision that was! Was the Church to be an exclusive Jewish sect or the inclusive Catholic Church of Christ? Was the Church of living God to be a closed corporation, an institution with cast-iron rules and regulations? or was it to be a great adventure of the Spirit? Was it to be a highly organized and unchangeable machine or a living expanding organism? Was it to be a thing or a life? The first encyclical was emphatic and decisive. They stood for life, for adventure, for the Church of the open door.

It was of course an enormous risk. To throw down the careful barriers which had preserved the purity of the Jewish Church in the midst of paganism was a terrifying hazard. Those first Christians let the Church run the risk of the open world. The infant Church cut its mother's apron strings and ran the splendid hazard of freedom. It was a risk and yet it would not have been the Church of the living God had they not done so, for see how God takes risks. When He gave men free will, He risked His whole purpose. We men are not clocks, not machines. God is not a mechanic but a Father. But what if men misused this dangerous gift of freedom and thwarted God's purpose? Then when sin entered the world, why did not God blot men out? Yet He forbore. Man in his rebellion might misunderstand and think that God's forbearance meant that God was indifferent to sin and that God was not Holy. Yes, God not only risked His purpose but He risked His character. God made man free and risked His purpose. God was merciful and forbearing and risked His character--but still more. You remember the parable of wicked husbandmen. God has sent His prophets and men took no heed. Last of all, He sent His son. 'They will reverence my son'--God risked His Love in the great adventure of the Incarnation and the result of this great and amazing hazard is not yet decided.

And thus does it not appear that this first encyclical of St. James and this last encyclical of the Pope present us with a [5/6] direct issue? What sort of a God do we believe in? Is He the living God or is He a God who in the distant past created the world and left it to itself? Is His Church a mechanical organization or a living organism? Is the Christian religion a religion of authority and security or a religion of freedom and adventure?

Father Ronald Knox in a recent apologia for Romanism claims that His Church is always and everywhere the same--the one unchanging phenomenon in a world of shifting fashions. The Pope's encyclical practically makes the same claim.

I cannot doubt that the Jerusalem Church when it sacrificed safety for freedom, security for adventure showed itself indeed the Church of the Living God. In the annals of the British Navy it is recorded that on one occasion a man-of-war was anchored in harbour in the West Indies. There were five other foreign men-of-war in the same harbour. Suddenly a cyclone sprang up and heavy seas and a terrific wind swept into the harbour. The British Captain at once realized his imminent peril, weighed anchor and steamed straight out to sea in the teeth of the storm. Two days later he returned battered but safe, to find the other five ships piled up, wrecked on the foreshore. They had refused adventure, they had sought security, but safety only lay with adventure.

I do not desire to attack Rome. She is a wonderful Church. Her saints, her martyrs, her self-sacrifice, her devotion compel our admiration. Think of all the devoted monks and nuns who in this country give themselves without pay and without comfort to the work of schools and hospitals. Can our Church point to similar sacrifice? Are our young men and women willing to come forward with the same enthusiasm? Rome has much to give us, much to teach us. But we can never forget that since the Reformation the Roman Church has developed almost entirely under Latin guidance and tutorship. The northern races of Europe with their intense love of freedom and adventure have developed their own religious life apart. We have lost what Rome could have given us--thus we have over-emphasized freedom and the doctrine of free grace. The result is our unhappy divisions, the sin and scandal of Christendom. Rome too has lost what we could have given. She has over-emphasized authority and the doctrine of the Divine Society. The result is [6/7] a cast-iron organization, extremely efficient, but the foe of intellectual freedom and the despair of a progressive scientific age. Can we doubt that, if Rome won back temporal power, she would persecute in matters of faith and religion, just as Mussolini has crushed freedom of political thought in Italy? The path to the Reunion of Christendom is a long and arduous one. We can hardly dare to hope that in our time and generation we shall see the fruition of our hopes and prayers, but we are preparing the way for a great adventure which in God's good time will bring us altogether. The Pope's encyclical is only a temporary set-back. Sooner or later Rome will have to face the facts, as that first Council of Jerusalem did.

Meanwhile our most hopeful line of advance is reunion with those of our own kith and kin in Britain, Northern Europe, America and throughout the Empire. There is also an encouraging movement towards unity between the Anglican and the great Orthodox Church of the East. If by God's grace we can bring about reunion between all the great non-Roman communions, our disunion which is the greatest stumbling block to the earnest Roman Catholic will be removed, and Rome will be compelled to face the facts and to learn, and when people are willing to learn they are willing to change. I will close with the striking words which Bishop Gore used in a letter to the Times, August 24, 1927.

'Lausanne Conference will bear fruit exactly in proportion as those it represents acknowledge that true Catholicism is wider and more comprehensive than anything embodied in any single communion; or more generally that there is a true witness borne by the different Protestant communities which Catholicism as commonly understood needs for its own sake and has in history failed to realize, and on the other hand that Protestantism needs to make its own what has been the strength and glory of Catholicism. The real question is--will the different communions deliberately set themselves to acknowledge their own limitations, and encourage themselves in the recognition that the true Catholicism, or the true Christianity is something larger and richer than anyone of the existing traditions?'

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