The Catholic Revival and the Kingdom of God
Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Sixth Catholic Congress of the Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, October 22 to 26, 1933
Milwaukee: Morehouse; London: A.R. Mowbray, 1933.
The Revival of Evangelism
THE REVEREND WILLIAM M. V. HOFFMAN, JR.
Assistant Superior S.S.J.E.
AS AN INTRODUCTION to the topic assigned for this address let me call your attention to a few sentences written by Dr. Burton S. Easton in a tract entitled, The Missionary Emphasis of the Gospels. He says:
"From Christ the believer receives light—but the moment he receives it the believer becomes in his turn a source of light for his fellows.
"The duty of positive action incumbent on all sons of the heavenly Father is for followers of Jesus Christ transposed, so to speak, to a higher plane.
"The Christian who is not in some sense or other a missionary is not a Christian at all.
"Missionary activity is not part of the work of the Church of Christ. The Church of Christ has no other work."
One other quotation from Dr. Easton will serve to make his point even more forcibly plain:
"The vital meaning of the universe in which we live is to be found in the nature of God. And the nature of God is active well-doing: 'making His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the just and the unjust.'
"By this ultimate standard, consequently, all human conduct is to be judged; men's actions take on a moral value when and only when they share in the divine quality of active well-doing."
Here then is our charter for the work of evangelism, imposing on us as sons the obligation of imitation. All of us [80/81] as Christians, with our differing capacities, energies, and opportunities, must so live the Christian life that we become spiritual centers from which the light of the gospel radiates to those about us.
There is no room in the Christianity presented to us in the New Testament for "static" Christians—men and women of whatever piety and regularity of devotion who for one reason or another make no Christian impression on their environment. Of all of us it should be possible to say, "They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus," even though few of us attain to the ultimate standard of St. Paul: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. . . . I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
Evangelism may, then, be considered as the work of Christians within Christ's mystical Body to spread the Faith either through personal contacts or through organizations devoted to the purposes of conversion. It is a work incumbent on both the priesthood and the laity, and it is, as Dr. Easton so cogently suggests, the primary purpose of the Catholic Church of Christ. Within the limits of this paper, we shall attempt to consider certain methods of evangelism which have conspicuously marked the Catholic Revival in the Anglican communion, ending with an estimate of the evangelistic opportunities and obligations of the coming generation of Churchmen. The matter of organized foreign and domestic missions will be covered in the paper following; my task concerns itself with parochial missions and with personal evangelism of various types.
In considering parochial missions, it is well to bear in mind the distinction between such missions and the evangelistic campaigns initiated in the century preceding the Oxford Movement by Protestant bodies, notably the Wesleyans. These may be summarized under the heading of "revivals," and, as such, they are still a familiar feature in the life of many Protestant denominations. Let us grant, at the outset, [81/82] that in some respects, the goals of these two evangelistic techniques are similar—the conversion of men and women to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; a definite break with sin of all kinds, accompanied by genuine repentance; a resolution to make a wholehearted surrender of one's life to God. Granting, however, these similarities, we find a wide divergence in method and result. For the Catholic Christian, loyalty to our Lord involves necessarily loyalty to the discipline, doctrine, and practice of the Holy Catholic Church. Consequently, the content of our missionary message will include a large measure of sacramental teaching. This lends to our preaching and teaching an objectivity which is sometimes lacking in the teaching of our Protestant brethren. We are protected, it would seem, from the extravagances of subjective religion which have in the past so often led to hysterical manifestations or to a type of piety which is overcharged with sentiment and dodges the tremendous realities involved in the transcendence of God.
Historically, moreover, the growth of parochial missions in the Anglican communion did not take its rise from the Wesleyan and other revivals but was rather taken over from the missionary practice of the Roman communion, where the preaching of parochial missions had for some years been a recognized feature of parish life, and had been especially developed by some of the Religious orders for men. We can hardly doubt the efficacy of this method of conversion in the Roman communion, when all of us have seen its fruits in modern Roman parishes—the crowds of working men and women getting up very early in the morning during a mission to attend Mass; the amazingly large congregations night after night at the mission services, and the definite impress often made on a whole community as a result of a mission conducted by well-trained missioners.
Within the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in this country, parochial missions have exercised an [82/83] incalculable influence for good. Some of the distinguished mission preachers of the last generation went up and down England from one parish to another, preaching to great congregations, and securing innumerable conversions. Many a parish has never lost the memory of some especially powerful mission which resulted perhaps in hundreds of people definitely acknowledging our Lord as the Master of their lives and pledging themselves to a wholehearted following of the Catholic faith, with all that it involves of serious repentance, fasting, and discipline. It must have been the experience of any priest who has traveled about much in England or in this country to come across people who gratefully acknowledge that they were first brought to a realization of Jesus Christ at some mission service, and who say that they have gone faithfully on since then, exploring the height and depth of our holy religion.
It may be useful here to summarize briefly the technique of a parochial mission, partly for the instruction of those who may never have attended one, and partly to serve as a basis for such comments and criticisms as can be helpfully made. A mission is usually not to be attempted except in some settled parish where the rector has secured the loyalty and confidence of at least the greater portion of his flock, and where there is some prospect of permanence in his position. It is necessary, too, that the whole Catholic faith should have been painstakingly taught over a period of years, and there ought to be at least a nucleus of people who are definitely living the sacramental life in its fulness. A mission is not to be used to strengthen a weak parish where the weakness is chargeable to the rector, nor to introduce Catholic teaching which the rector himself has failed to inculcate through timidity of respect of persons.
Granted reasonably favorable conditions, a parish may start preparing for a mission at least six months or more in advance of the date set. The preparation will center in [83/84] persevering prayer for the conversion of souls, in making sure that the majority of the communicants will attend all the services of the mission, and in persuading as large a number as possible of unchurched or indifferent people to 'make the mission' in a spirit of honest inquiry. House to house visitation, cottage meetings, and newspaper publicity will all be used to further these ends.
The mission itself will last a week, ten days, or even two weeks, depending on the size of the parish and the combined judgment of the rector and the missioner as to the most effective duration. Each day there will be two or more celebrations of the Holy Communion, at hours so fixed that the largest possible number of people can conveniently attend. Each evening there will be an informal mission service—hymns, prayers, intercessions, sermon, instruction, perhaps a question box. During the day, the missioner will occupy himself with visiting the sick, having interviews with individuals, and hearing confessions. An assistant missioner may be engaged in running a complete mission for the children in the afternoon.
The subjects of the sermons and instructions will be the elementary truths about the soul and its relation to God, with the means provided in the Church for bringing souls step by step to the likeness of their Lord. A foundation will be laid by considering the nature of God, His love for us, and His claims on our allegiance; next, sin and its consequences, the possible loss of God here and hereafter; then, the good news of redemption and salvation; the urgency of the choice that is laid before us; the methods by which we can renounce the past and make solid progress in the life of virtue; the technique of prayer and the use of the Church's sacraments.
If the mission is a success, many souls will be brought to genuine repentance, manifested perhaps by first confessions; many who have lapsed from the faith and practice of the [84/85] Church will be brought back to the fold, and there may well be at the end of the mission a number of baptisms, both infant and adult, and the formation of a large class to be instructed for Confirmation.
As outlined above, it will be seen that a parochial mission preached in a well-prepared parish by a competent missioner is a means of inestimable power for the conversion of souls and the spreading of the gospel. A mission is an undertaking which can and should enlist the active help of every member of the parish; indeed, its success depends in no small measure on the enthusiasm which can be generated during the months of preparation and on the prayerful, painstaking work done by the local clergy with the full cooperation of the parish organizations and individual lay people. But at least in England, and perhaps in some sections of this country where missions have been an accepted fact for many years, there are indications that their effectiveness is somewhat diminishing. The chief weakness of parochial missions is that, on the whole, they are not apt to reach any considerable number of people outside the Church. This weakness may be to some extent counteracted by repeatedly insisting on the importance of each communicant's bringing with him to the mission some unbaptized or unconfirmed friend. But even with the best laid plans, it is hardly ever possible to secure this ideal condition.
There are many people who cannot be persuaded to enter a church, even to please a friend interested in their salvation. Perhaps the best work done by parochial missions is to reconvert parishioners who have become formalistic, conventional, or lax in their churchmanship. This is no small accomplishment, and we may be sure that for years to come the preaching of parochial missions will be an effective means for stimulating the spiritual life within our parishes, though some other agency may have to be developed to reach the vast multitudes of the indifferent or the unchurched. Another [85/86] difficulty met with in districts familiar with parochial missions is that, like too much Lenten preaching carried on by visiting clergy, they tend to develop sermon-tasters—men and women who run about from one mission to another, expecting spiritual thrills, and comparing with varying degrees of charity one mission with another. This is almost sure to be the case if missions are held too frequently in any one parish. Perhaps once in five years should be the minimum.
A parochial mission is not, however, the only technique available for use in settled parishes. Often it will be advisable to lead up to a mission by means of less drastic procedures. A "conference" lasting three or four days gives a splendid opportunity for teaching; and if it is conducted by a visiting priest who will later be asked to hold a parochial mission, it enables the future missioner to meet a great many members of the parish and to develop personal contacts which will gain a more ready acceptance for the intensive message of the mission. Such conferences can center about some topic of general appeal—the Sacramental Life, the Life of a Christian at Work and at Home, Christian Virtues and Their Cultivation, and the like. It will be useful to call together the various guilds and other organizations of the parish during the days of the conference so that the visiting priest may address them informally on topics connected with their special work.
It is obvious that the parochial mission will fail in a large measure to accomplish its full results unless careful follow-up work is undertaken by the local clergy. The missioner himself should have no part in this, even though he may live only a short distance away. Indeed it is essential for the health of the parish that he should step out completely at the end of the mission and avoid so far as he possibly can either interviews or correspondence with the parishioners. If this principle is not scrupulously adhered to it is [86/87] sure to result in divided loyalties and a difficult situation for the rector.
There is one time, however, at which the missioner may profitably revisit a parish where he has preached a mission—that is, to conduct a School of Prayer a year or two later. This has been found most valuable. Ostensibly it aims at carrying on the spiritual life of those who have made a good start at the time of the mission, but actually it provides an opportunity for much more than this. The tone of a School of Prayer will, of course, be quiet and devotional as compared to a mission; the emphasis will be on instruction rather than exhortation; but it will not be unusual to secure almost as many conversions as at the time of the mission itself. Furthermore, the School of Prayer will furnish an admirable opportunity for rekindling the enthusiasm of those who may have lapsed since the mission. Perhaps the School of Prayer will be combined with a mission for the children in the afternoon, if for some reason this was not undertaken on the missioner's first visit.
Passing now to other methods of evangelism commonly used in the Church, mention should be made of outdoor preaching, either in churchyards, on the church steps, on street corners, or in public parks. Sometimes this is undertaken directly in connection with a church service. The preacher is accompanied by a vested choir and an attempt is made to lead a considerable portion of the audience back into the church where some simple devotional service is held. At other times the preacher may be alone and not vested. It would seem that this method of evangelism is of greater difficulty than those methods normally used within the church building. It requires definite qualifications of voice and personality and presence to be effective. On the other hand, where such an evangelistic attempt has been carefully planned and a strategic location selected, a great deal of [87/88] good work may be done. The greatest claim that outdoor preaching makes on our consideration is that it quite definitely addresses itself for the most part to those outside the Church, many of whom will have no other contact with Church teaching. It is impossible even to guess at the number of men and women throughout the land, both in cities and in rural districts, who have scarcely heard the name of Jesus Christ, and have certainly never been brought face to face with the tremendous challenge and the gracious appeal of the figure of our Lord.
Within the limits set for this paper there is no space to consider the work of evangelism that goes on year in and year out in any healthy parish. Much could, of course, be said of the use of preaching as an evangelistic medium, the definite attempt in confirmation instructions to arouse a real enthusiasm for living the Christian life at its highest, the endless opportunities in pastoral visiting to stir the hearts of our people and persuade them to strive harder for a life consciously lived to the glory of God. Each of these topics, which we must pass over in a sentence, could be profitably expanded into a paper by itself. In the brief time that remains I want to call your attention to a form of evangelism which is, perhaps, ultimately of more importance than any effort largely initiated by the clergy. It is, after all, personal evangelism, carried on by laymen and laywomen, on which the Church must chiefly depend for the conversion of the world. With all due respect to my brother clergy, may I venture to suggest that there is a definite limit to a priest's usefulness as an evangelist. There will, of course, always be able priests, especially gifted in the presentation of the truths of our religion, convincing preachers, loving pastors, who will lead innumerable souls to an increasingly vivid knowledge of the Lord Christ and an advancing sacrificial life in His service. But the majority of the clergy cannot, through pressure of other duties equally important, devote [88/89] more than a fraction of their time to work that might be definitely classed as evangelism. Our Lord has commissioned us to feed His sheep, and the faithful shepherd cannot spend all his time out on the hills seeking the lost sheep, lest those safely in the fold perish through want of proper care or nourishment. Indeed some of us have known cases where "the hungry sheep look up and are not fed" because their proper shepherd has mistakenly believed himself called to be almost continuously absent on evangelistic work.
It is our duty, then, as priests to produce in our parishes missionary Christians—men and women so full of gratitude to God for what he has wrought in their lives that they cannot keep the good news to themselves, but must, however humbly, bear witness to the faith that is in them, and by prayer and conversation and every tactful effort bring others to share the unspeakable gift they have themselves received.
You will recall the forcible language of Dr. Easton quoted at the opening of this paper. "The Christian who is not in some sense or other a missionary is not a Christian at all." We have in our parishes a goodly number of devout folk, regular communicants, men and women who make generous financial contributions to the Church's work, people who can be counted on to be in their places Sunday after Sunday, and who will give of their time and service to some parochial guild—but how few people in the average parish can be called enthusiastic missionaries! Are there many communicants in any of our parishes who could claim to have brought fifty other souls into the fellowship of the Catholic Church?
The Brotherhood of St. Andrew has just this sort of activity as one of its main goals in the program it sets forth for men and boys. And in localities where the Brotherhood works under vigorous and competent leadership great things are accomplished in swelling the number of serious candidates for Confirmation [89/90] and adding definite practising Christians to the communicant list. But some of us may wonder why such an elementary Christian duty as missionary activity needs the emphasis of a special guild or society for its accomplishment.
Some prominence in Church news has been given in recent years to the organization known variously as the Oxford Groups or the First Century Christian Fellowship. Indeed the number of letters and articles both in Church papers and the secular press commenting on this religious movement is in itself proof of its vitality and significance. We have been deluged with testimony in praise of "the Groups" so extravagant as to lead to the implication that real Christianity has remained undiscovered since New Testament times until the advent of this movement; on the other hand many condemnations of its methods have appeared, so sweeping as to encourage one to flee it like the plague.
It is not part of my present task to hazard an estimate of the true value of this movement—a value which must lie, it would seem, somewhere between these two extremes. But whatever criticisms may justly be made of certain aspects of their work, the members of the Oxford Groups aim at, and frequently reach, two goals which should be paramount in the Church's evangelistic work—they produce Christians who feel a definite obligation to bring to others whatever knowledge of God they have themselves achieved, and they are immensely successful in reaching certain types of indifferent, blasé, agnostic people who could scarcely be persuaded to attend any sort of religious campaign in a church building. Until we can train in our own parishes an equal or greater number of missionary-minded Christians, we would do well to exercise charity toward what we may consider to be the inadequacies and defects of this movement.
There is no substitute, then, for the enthusiasm of thoroughly converted laity in bringing new members into the Church. [90/91] After all, the clergy are in the eyes of the world tainted with the curse of professionalism; religion is their bread and butter, their life work, and it is scarcely more surprising that they should cry up the value of their wares than that a doctor should sing the praises of medicine. However sincere our convictions, and however unceasing our missionary efforts, there is always room on the part of the pagan or agnostic outsider for a weary shrug of boredom or cynicism. After all, this is what we are paid for. Even a priest's upright and fine life may be discounted because of the odd idea current in the world that a priest has few temptations to sins of any glamor. But it is impossible to shake off so easily the impression made by the thoroughly converted layman, who, moving in the normal spheres of business and home life, brings to his work and to his social contacts a spirit of charity and zeal, of kindliness, patience, humility, optimism, and convincing joy which may seem out of all proportion to the material circumstances of his life. That sort of thing, where it is combined with manliness and a decent respect for the integrity of another's personality, arouses real curiosity in the outsider's mind; and if he comes to the point of asking of such a person where he finds the inspiration for this type of life, he is not likely soon to forget the answer—that any joy or usefulness his life may possess is the result of faith in Jesus Christ.
Is it not true that the astonishing progress of the Catholic Revival in our communion is due in no small measure to the revival of just this sort of evangelism? Again and again whole families have been brought to the practise of the Catholic faith through the enthusiasm and consistent Christian behavior of one member who has found in the sacramental life a new dynamic and a fresh vision of God. Indeed, such an enthusiasm may spread throughout a parish, doubling its numbers, and finally forcing a conservative and timid priest to provide those sacramental privileges which his people have learned to desire. [91/92] Ecclesiastical history witnesses again and again to vast movements of the spiritual life, such as the growth of Franciscanism, which took their rise from the laity, and swept the Church, clergy and all, toward a new level of spiritual experience. May it not be that the next forward step in the conversion of America to the Catholic faith waits upon some great movement of the Spirit among our laity which will transform multitudes of them into ardent missionaries, so filled with a devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ and with a love for souls that they will go out into the highways and byways of this great land and compel them to come in?