Project Canterbury

The American Priest at Work
A Symposium of Papers

Edited by the Rev. Edward Macomb Duff, A.M.,
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, Buffalo, N.Y.

Milwakuee: The Young Churchman, 1900.
London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1900.

Chapter IV.
The Priest As a Teacher (a) The Sunday School and Bible Class
By the Rev. H.P. Nichols
Rector of Holy Trinity Church, New York City.

A TEACHING ministry is needed for the religious life of the twentieth century to make that life real, to hold religion in its supreme place.

An eagerness for knowledge is abroad. When it turns its attention to religion, it is partly critical, to bring the facts and claims of religion into line with other historical and philosophical studies; partly troubled, questioning whether what is held dear rests on a firm basis of fact and of reason.

This eagerness for religious knowledge is not to be met by authority, save as authority rests on scholarship and commends it.

"Instructions," technically so-called, are naturally and properly resented by those who think for themselves.

This teaching ministry finds its opportunity in every department of the priest's work: in his preaching, in his pastoral visits, in his incidental conversation, in the impress he makes on the community. He is understood to be an expert in the Christian religion. An expert knows what the past has treasured in his department, what the present is gathering fresh every day, the best way to handle the material to make it real and effective for those who look to him as teacher. The teaching ministry should be known in pulpit and class room, in library and parlor, among men throughout the town, as well versed in the arcana of religion, as alive to its latest word, as able to think and to put thought thereon in a way to be remembered and used. The teaching ministry should be worthy to be quoted as a trustworthy and stimulating authority on its specialty, religion.

There are, however, departments of ministerial work whose distinctive function is teaching. These are notably the Sunday School, the Confirmation Class, and the Bible Class. These are three grades of teaching corresponding pretty nearly to Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Communion, and caring for Christian instruction from infancy to the end of life.


The Sunday School is the Church associated for her teaching work. In this sense the Bible Class is part of the Sunday School, carrying its work to the highest grade.

This paper does not argue the value of the Sunday School; does not combat the plausible objections to its being and its usefulness. It accepts the Sunday School as an existing institution, perhaps the oldest and most prominent of the voluntary associations within the Church for doing a particular part of the Church's duty. The Sunday School is here, the Church at the organized teaching work of its children regarded as pupils. The Sunday School must be reckoned with. An existing and in a measure a necessary institution, it must be used for its worth. The parish priest must deal with the Sunday School, form a right conception of its place and work, adopt right methods for their accomplishment.

The Rector is Commander-in-Chief. A wise commander knows how to choose and to use his officers. He will have a lay-superintendent whom he can trust, who shares his idea, to whom he leaves the fullest freedom in details, confident that the results will be what the Rector wants, while the methods will be largely the Superintendent's own. He will be seen and known in the Sunday School; like Caesar, he can name his teachers and even his scholars. He has a word of pleasant greeting; he usually, not always, conducts the worship of the school; he is the recognized authority, not as an appeal for the disaffected, but as the source and support of the school's policy. He has it all in hand, is the centre of its unity, binds officers and teachers and scholars into harmonious co-operation in support of its conception and its methods. What are these?

(1) The Conception of the Sunday School: The aim of the Sunday School is to train the Church's children into an intelligent Churchmanship.

Four marks commend our Church: Her history, her Prayer Book, her Creed, her Gospel. The Church's Gospel is a Gospel of Growth into Personal Religion. The child belongs to God. His sonship to the Heavenly Father is formally made by Baptism in his infancy. He is never to know himself as outside the Heavenly Father's family. He is trained as one who belongs to Christ, one who must realize and claim his heritage.

Herein the Church's conception of the Sunday School differs from that of other Christian bodies. The child is being trained to know and to claim what already belongs to him as Christian and Churchman. He is not a heathen, an outsider, to be induced by Sunday-School teaching to come inside. He is a child of the Church, learning what that means. So the public school system in the nation treats the children of the people, trains them to appreciate and exercise the privilege of citizenship already theirs. Wise educational methods are taking on wider and wider scope. The Sunday School as a training school for Christians of the twentieth century, must deal with the intellect, the affections, and the will. None of these can be ignored, else the Christian character will fail under trial.

(2) The methods of Sunday-School training.

To teach what a Christian ought to know and believe for his soul's health, in a way by which he will come to know and to believe it under to-day's stress.

The story of God's educative work with the race; the story of the Incarnation of the Son of God; the story of the founding of the Christian Church, of the essentials of its faith and practice; the principles of Christian character as exemplified in human lives written for our learning; the mission and the opportunity of the Christian Church-all these things, not scrappily, not as abstractions, but in an orderly fashion, year after year, till the necessary course has been completed, and the round of instruction begins again.

The methods of secular education, so-called, may be wisely adopted, because as respects teaching they are the methods of experts. These include a grading of the scholars; promotion at stated periods; examinations; a full course of study; and graduation. Some modification on these methods may be necessary in view of the incompetency of teachers; of the inability to compel attendance or to retain scholars long enough to complete the course; and, above all, of the greater importance in Sunday School of personal influence and moral results. A higher standard in Sunday Schools will constantly minimize this difficulty of maintaining recognized educational methods in their conduct.

Leaflets and lesson-books abound. None can be recommended authoritatively. ISTo series should be used that does not contemplate a complete course of study and require thinking on the part of the scholar.

The Catechism stands in its old place of value, certainly for Churchmen. Its use may be said to be liturgical, to be first and early committed to memory; then to he translated and explained to our present-day need.

The teachers in a Sunday School are proverbially unsatisfactory. Their motive for teaching is too often emotional or social. They lack training. They are all we have. The foundation of Christian character and purpose is surely theirs. They are awake, alive, and ambitious. They will not long be content with their incompetency unless the priest is content to let them and their methods alone. A weekly teachers' class if possible; monthly teachers' meetings, with prepared papers and practical topics under discussion; "helps," and new books suggested--all under the Rector's oversight--are essentials to-day.

The aim of the Sunday School is that children take their full place in the Church as thoughtful, active, spiritual members; that grown folk, like children only without their docility, unlearn their cherished ignorance and fall into line with present Christian thought and work.

The next step to the Sunday School for the children is the Confirmation Class, to be treated fully in a later paper. That class affords special and valuable opportunity for creating an intelligent Churchmanship, The members, whether our own children, or from other folds, put themselves forward for instruction. The fundamentals must be gone over anew, with fresh reading and fresh thought: Why be a Christian, why be a Churchman, why be a Communicant? No last year's "instructions" will meet this year's need. The congregation itself may be treated every few years as a Confirmation Class, and courses given on the Catechism, the Creed, the Church, the Essentials of Religion, six successive Sunday evenings.


The Bible Class is Sunday School and Confirmation Class continued indefinitely to the end of life. It deals with the same subjects, rather limiting the range, but deals with them much more in detail, and presuming a stage far in advance of childhood or perhaps of average Christian attainment. The Bible Class is the post-graduate course of the Sunday School. In its membership should be found all intelligent scholars who have completed the regular course of study, as well as full ranks from the adults of the congregation who have forgotten they are Sunday-School scholars altogether.

The matter of the Bible Class should be: the Bible as a whole, its literature, history, relations among the books; the Bible, book by book, canonicity, authorship, place in God's Word; the Bible in detail under the full, fierce light of modern study; the Bible as the Book of books, with a message to the soul--all those aspects of the Bible on which Church members are so ignorant, on which scholars are keen, on which good people finding comfort for themselves cannot commend it to others because their comfort is absolutely unintelligent.

Such study needs courage, scholarship, consecration. The priest should be behind it, conducting it himself if possible, else sharing in full the spirit and methods of the teacher. No pastor should permit this highest forming work for his people to be other than work after his own heart. The best-books should be at command, old and new. Work should be secured from the members; under stimulus of enthusiasm it is surprising how eager Bible classes are to think and to read. The aim should be to lift both the thought and the character.

The lesson is before us, whether a whole book, or a limited portion. Questions have been assigned to individuals. They have been urged and trained to think for themselves. Authorities have been suggested, to be consulted after thinking. These authorities cover a wide range of matter and approach. Some of them should be cherished in one's own library. Bruce's Apologetics, Dod's and Salmon's Introduction, Westcott On the Canon, and Sanday on Inspiration, George Adam Smith's Geography of the Holy Land, Geikie and Stanley and Rawlinson and Sayce, the International Critical Commentary and individual commentators who treat difficult passages courageously. Now for the lesson. Does the passage belong in the Bible, Why or why not--Textual criticism and Canonicity? Who wrote it and what was his message--Inspiration? Is it poetry or prose, history, philosophy or sermon? and how do these determine our use of it--Literature? What relation does it bear to other parts of the Bible? to its own immediate context? Fit it into its place. Interpretation: Are there words or sentences that need fresh translation, explanation and illustration? What universal and eternal principle lies hid in the temporary and local story, psalm, prophecy, letter, word or work of Christ? What application in this century, in this country, community, parish, in your own heart? Ask any questions freely, without fear of rebuke, or what is worse, ridicule. Now, the keen live hour running over, let us look to God for His blessing on what we have done. So the Spiritual waits in a teaching ministry on the Intellectual.

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