Project Canterbury

The Sacred Humanity
by Daniel A. McGregor

New Tracts for the Times, Number 3.
Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.

ROBINSON CRUSOE lived an unhealthy and abnormal life until he found Friday. Alone on his island he could know nothing of the richest values that life has for man. Love and fellowship, unselfishness and loyalty, must all be unknown to him in his loneliness. The highest joys of life could not be experienced nor the highest virtues practised. He could continue to live, and no doubt God would have mercy on him, but as long as he was alone he was shut out from the richest gifts of God.

Sentimental humanitarian optimism must not blind us to the facts that the possibilities of man's development are limited by the society in which he lives. The growth of the good in man needs social support. Great artists do not arise in societies that live for money, unless the philistinism of the majority drives a minority who have a love for the beautiful to form a group of their own. Then in this new and rebel society art can develop. Great saints do not appear in godless societies like the life of today, unless the minority who love God form a society of their own which is opposed to the world around them. Beauty and godliness need social support to develop healthily.

Christianity recognizes this social nature of the good life. The Bible story shows that the plan of God for man always included as an essential factor a society in which alone man could find salvation.

The Old Testament knows nothing of a hope for man outside of a specific society. Genesis tells us that God's first plan was in the family of Adam. God said that it was not good for man to be alone, that the hopes He had for man could only be fulfilled in a family life. When the family of Adam failed, God chose the family of Noah. When this family failed God chose Abraham, not to be saved himself but to found a nation which should be the people of God. The whole of the Old Testament is the record of the faith that God had chosen this nation to be His people, the bearers of His salvation. God's way of salvation was not by dealing with individuals by themselves, but as members of a chosen society. Man can learn and follow the ways of God fully only in a society which acknowledges God.

St. Paul teaches that Israel was really the chosen nation of God, but that when that people failed God chose the Church to be the object of His love and the heir of His promises. The change is not from the nation to the individual but from the nation to the Church. The modern idea that God deals with the individual alone, without reference to the society of which he forms a part, has absolutely no support in the Bible. Nor can it find any support in a modern psychology or sociology. It is a sheer bit of sentimentalism growing out of the exploded individualism of the nineteenth century. No generation of Christians has ever believed it except the decadent Christianity of individualistic Protestantism. The Scriptural and Christian idea has always been that man finds salvation in the fellowship of a social group which is owned of God.

It is the claim of the New Testament that the Christian Church is the group that is owned of God since Jesus Christ founded it. In Christ and His Church a new human phenomenon appeared on this earth, a society which was henceforth to be the bearer of salvation to man. It was a new creation of God in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God resided in the Church as He did not reside elsewhere. The coming of Jesus Christ and the founding of the Church were nothing less than a new beginning by God. In Christ there is a new irruption of an active God into human life. There is a sudden change in history. The hope of man for the fulfilment of his dreams and ideals is henceforth dependent on man's relation to this new reality.

Here is a tremendous claim. Is it reasonable? Do such sudden steps occur in life? Of course they do. Sudden steps do take place in the evolutionary process. The old-fashioned Darwinian evolution taught that all advance was by a long series of imperceptible gradations, but biologists do not accept that view today. They recognize that life has advanced partly by such gradual changes, but also by sudden leaps and starts. Biologists speak today of creative evolution; they see new forms of life springing into existence which could never have been foreseen. There are surprises in life; creation is still going on.

New forms of reality appear, coming out of the old, but having new powers that the old did not have. And these new forms are often the most important realities, for they are destined to control the future.

Once upon a time there was only inorganic matter on this earth. There was no power of growth or of reproduction. Then suddenly there appeared a new form of matter, made up of the old atoms but in a new pattern or order, and this new form had the amazing powers of growth and reproduction. That little spot of protoplasm was a new thing in the world, and it was more important than continents and mountains, for it was destined to conquer continents by virtue of its strange new powers. Here was a sudden change which bore within it all the promise of the future. All forward evolution was henceforth in and through this new reality.

A similar change occurred when man first appeared on this planet, for in him mind emerged. Man is an animal, but in him something is found which the other animals do not have, the thing we call reason. And this amazing possession of man is the most important thing in the evolutionary process since it appeared. It can change the direction of evolution, it can bring conscious plan and order into what was a blind struggle.

These two examples show that sudden irruptions do occur in evolution, and that sometimes they are the most important occurrences in the universe. How are we to explain them? The old ideas of mechanism are quite incapable of even describing them, much less explaining them. Biologists like C. Lloyd Morgan and philosophers like Prof. S. Alexander find themselves forced to speak of a living, creating God as their source.

Now it would be rather ridiculous to claim that the whole evolutionary process had reached its climax in the appearance of man. If one believes in an ever-living God, or if one believes in the continuance of evolution, one will ask what is the next step. And if one accepts either the Christian doctrine of God or the modern doctrine of emergent evolution, in either case one will recognize the possibility of sudden changes. The old doctrine of progress by gradual imperceptible change alone is not in accord with either Christianity or modern science. We look for gradual improvement, but we also look for something far more important, the emergence of new levels of life which will be rooted in the old but which will reveal new potencies.

What lies beyond man? Nietzsche says, "Man is something that must be surpassed." Both the Christian and the evolutionist will agree with him. Individual men may be improved, although it is not certain that modern man is a better or nobler being than the ancient Greeks or Jews. But we may also expect something new to appear, something rising out of human life and yet having a character that is new to human experience.

Toward what has God or the life force been striving since the day when man appeared on this earthly scene? Not toward a better physical type, for there is no proof of any great advance here. Nor has the process of life been marked by any great intellectual advance; we have not yet gone beyond Plato and Aristotle. Nor is it very enlightening to say that the line of evolution is spiritual, for this word "spiritual" is one of the most vague words in our language. It reaches toward the truth but its meaning is not clear.

The great object of human striving for the past five thousand years has been a satisfying social life. All men, everywhere, have been trying to find better ways of living together. Man achieved individuality thousands of years ago. Having reached that level in the emergence of mind, life in man has been reaching forward for a new experience of satisfying social life. Social life is not a mere appendix to the life of man; it is the one thing he hungers for beyond all other things. Fellowship with his kind, harmonious, satisfying relations with his family, his friends, and with strangers are the object of his constant efforts. All families, tribes, nations, and social organizations of every sort are the strivings of life in man to find a new level.

"Man is something that must be surpassed." Yes, but Nietzsche was wrong in supposing that the next step in evolution would be the appearance of a superman, a stronger individual. That which will surpass man is something super-individual, that is a society which will be more than any individual and which will yet make the individual more significant and valuable than he ever was by himself.

Evolution followed one line in the inorganic world making greater and greater physical masses. Then life appeared, at first apparently so weak and insignificant. But the important line of evolution was henceforth through this line of life. New forms of life appeared, the great dinosaurs and mammoths. But another new level emerged in rational man, and henceforth the rest of the world was of subordinate importance. Man made himself strong, clever, intelligent. He became intelligent enough to create great empires and wage world wars. But this was not his true line of development and man has been restless and hungry for something better. He feels that the divine urge within him is not for greater power for himself but for more satisfying social life with others. Man, having achieved rationality or intelligence, is ready for a new level of life where he may find that which intelligence could never give him, the full experience of love.

Man has made many efforts to achieve a new level of life where he would find a satisfying sociality. He has created tribes, kingdoms, and empires, but always there was something wrong with the pattern; his heart remained unsatisfied and his social structures fell. Social evolution was incomplete and blundering until there should appear from somewhere a social life and pattern which would have capacity to satisfy the hungry heart of man and also ability to endure the storms of life. When this should appear, a new era in history would begin, a new level of life would be reached.

The Christian Gospel is that this new life has appeared on earth, that it and it alone is rich enough to satisfy the heart of man, that it has the power to reproduce itself through the future, and that it can conquer the adverse forces of time and circumstance. This new life is the fellowship life of the Christian Church. It emerged in Jesus Christ and found its home in His disciple group. It is something new in the world, a new emergent in the evolutionary process, or a new creation of God in Christ Jesus.

Christianity is essentially a Church, that is, a social process. But it is a new kind of society, it has within it powers not possessed by any other type of society. Living organisms are formed of atoms, the same kind of atoms as are found in inorganic life, but living beings are related to and in a world of which inorganic matter knows nothing. And Christian people are human beings, the same kind of individuals as are non-Christians, but they have experiences, by virtue of their part in the Christian life, which are unknown to those who have never tasted this life. The Christian Church is the Sacred Humanity, its fellowship is the apex of evolution, it is the bearer of salvation and hope to man.

Christianity is the continuity of the new type of fellowship life which emerged in Jesus Christ. It is not primarily a doctrine nor a code of morals nor a philosophy nor a ritual, although all these are parts of it. It is first and foremost a new social creation which has the twofold power of satisfying the heart of man and of continuing through the ages. The Christian social attitude, that of brethren in a family, is the very heart of Christianity. This attitude is distorted and wrenched by the forces of life but it breeds true to type and every generation feels the divine impulse to be truly Christian. It is as a strain in a biological process which may be smothered by other strains, which may sometimes give no evidence of its existence in a particular generation, but which is always there ready to burst forth when opportunity offers.

Christianity is not the same as a kindly, brotherly attitude. For such an attitude could be adopted by an individual even if he met with no response from any others. This would, of course, be good, but it would not be Christian. The Christian attitude is social, it cannot be known by an individual alone. The social response is part of the experience, it cannot be described in individualistic terms. In a word, a man cannot be a Christian unless he has a brother Christian. Christianity is a fellowship, a Church.

The character of the Christian social pattern will become more clear if we contrast it with other patterns which control human life. The pattern of the nation is that of a limited group of people standing in antagonistic attitudes to other similar groups. The inner bonds of a nation are the bonds of language or of race. Nations are limited groups which oppose other limited groups, and which ordinarily feed their national consciousness by antipathy to other groups.

Families are small groups limited by parenthood and standing in exclusive relations to other family groups. The family pattern is the nearest to the Christian pattern, but both the external scope and the internal attitude are affected by the limitation of parenthood.

Every civilization has its own characteristic social pattern. The pattern of capitalism is that of a counter in a store with two men bargaining across it. The pattern of feudalism is one of status, the relationships between persons are those of authority and obedience. The pattern of Christianity is first seen in a group of twelve men gathered around Jesus of Nazareth eating a humble common meal as one family on the shore of Galilee. This new social reality emerged in Jesus Christ; it has continued to this day owing its life and origin and character to Him.

The Church acknowledges that her members are human, all too human, but she claims to be more than the aggregation of her members, just as living tissue is more than the aggregation of the atoms which compose it. The Church claims that, by virtue of that which Jesus Christ was and that which He did, she herself is the new creation of God for the fulfilment of His will and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. To put this in modern language, the Church believes that she herself is the new divine emergent, the new level toward which the divine life has been reaching for millions of years. She is different from all other groups, for, weak and erring though her members be, she bears within herself the only hope of the future. She is the Sacred Humanity, the eternal priest mediating God to man.

Originally this new life, this new emergent, appeared on earth in the form of one human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Had He merely lived and passed away He would be of little interest to men today. He would have been an interesting "sport" or "freak" or "mutation" in the history of humanity, and indeed it is sadly true that many people who think themselves good Christians look on Him in this way, as one isolated from humanity. What is His place in human life? What is the relation of the Christian Church to Him? He was not simply an example of a new order, He was the beginning of a new order. He did not stand alone and apart from life, He entered into life.

Suppose we illustrate it from the field of horticulture. A gardener is breeding roses and in his garden he has many bushes of red and pink roses. He is striving for the perfect rose, which, let us say, would be white. One morning he goes up to his garden and finds to his surprise a perfect white rose growing on a red rose bush—this is a "sport" or "freak" or "mutation." Of course he is delighted with it and prizes it above all other roses. But he faces the problem that it will die in a few days and there is only one white rose. What can he do to keep it? He may cut it and preserve it in alcohol, but then it is only a curious specimen, not a living rose. The only thing he can do is to cross-breed it with the red roses of which he has plenty and by thus introducing the white rose strain into the red rose life he preserves it living.

The white rose life is speedily lost to sight among the red roses to which it has been cross-bred. But if the gardener is patient and skillful he can recover the white. He knows that he has but to follow intelligently Mendel's law. According to this law the second generation of cross-breeds will give him one white rose, two pink, and one red; then as these roses interbreed the next generation will give him a large number of varying shades of pink. It would appear that the white strain is lost altogether but the wise gardener knows that this is not so. If with great care he will select his roses for fifty generations he may be able to breed back to the white, to breed out the red and pink strains and to recover his lost white rose. But now he has not only one white rose, he has many, also he has established the species.

We may think of Jesus Christ as being the white rose emerging on the stem of humanity. He did not isolate Himself from life; He entered into the closest brotherly relations with others of His kind who were not as He was. The effect of His life was to introduce Himself, His pattern of living, into the lives of others. This pattern has been re-produced not biologically but sociologically. Often it has seemed that the pattern was lost, often those who bore His name have shown little resemblance to Him, but the strain of His life has been so powerful that it has reasserted itself times without number.

This is what the Church is. She is not an organization of those who like to remember Him who lived so long ago, she is the continuity of the life which emerged in Him. She is the new emergent of God which has found its new level and is working itself out until we shall come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

We cannot equate Jesus Christ with man any more than we can equate man with the animals or life with matter. We may find it difficult to state exactly the differences, but they are not the same. Nor is it enough to say that man is a better animal than the others, or that living matter is a better kind of inorganic matter. In each case the one is the bearer of something new and higher than the other ever knew. It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ was the great teacher or even the Revealer of God to tell us what God is like. He was the very bearer of the, life of God to humanity. In Him the divine life was made man. And the Church has always taught that this does not mean that God became a man but that God became Man; in Jesus Christ God entered into the very life of the race.

The social implications of this truth are literally tremendous. It tells us that henceforth humanity is actually the tabernacle of God, insofar as humanity is related to Jesus Christ. The depths of mystery here are very great.

It tells us that we do not see and understand our Lord aright if we think of Him as an isolated individual in history. God was Man in Jesus Christ, not as the latter was a lonely human entity, but as our Lord was a part of humanity. That is, the social relations of Jesus Christ were essential to the Incarnation. We cannot know Him except by participating in the human fellowship of which He was the focus and creative center.

No man can be known or understood apart from his social relations. What a man is in his relations with his friends and fellows is an essential part of his being and character. A man is not an atomic, individual entity who then establishes external relations with other persons. A man's social life is a real part of himself.

Jesus Christ is not to be known except as one enters into that society of which He was a part and in which His life was lived. Modern Protestant Jesuolatry is closely connected with Protestant individualism. It is an ignoring of the social factor in our Lord's life. And not all the efforts to learn and practise Jesus' economics (miscalled a social gospel) can compensate for the loss of the experience of Jesus Christ in His chosen social group of friends. The liberal so-called social gospel is the most unsocial form of Christianity, it ignores the Christ who lived in a chosen fellowship and offers us instead a questionable economics.

If we are to know Jesus Christ we must meet Him in the fellowship of His Church. We do not need to ascribe to Him all the details of Church organization. But He did create the new fellowship of the Kingdom and He thus brought this group to a new experience of God. He did this not by telling the disciples new truths about God, but by living with them controlling and directing their attitudes to one another. In this new social life they found God.

The central point of interest to our Lord was the fellowship meal of the disciple group. His great command was "This do in remembrance of Me." This was a most natural admonition for Him to make, for He had been occupied in creating the new family of the Kingdom, and the center of the life of every family is the common meal. The ethos of the Kingdom revealed itself in the communal supper so clearly that Christians have always called it the Lord's Supper. The truest way to the knowledge of Christ is the way of the Holy Eucharist since here we meet our Lord in the fellowship of His brethren. They are part of His life, only with them can we know Him truly.

What, then, is the Church? It is not adequately described as a group of people who wish to follow Jesus. It is a social fellowship created by Jesus Christ and given the heritage of His own divine life. It is as truly descended from Him and it as truly lives by His life as every living organism on this earth is descended from the first little cell of protoplasm that once emerged in wonder. In the world of matter, life is a sacred thing; life is other than common inorganic matter and all hope of the development of matter to higher forms is in the possibility of its being transformed by the forces of life. In the world of man the Church is the Sacred Humanity by virtue of her descent from Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the fact that man's hope of advance to higher levels is his possibility of being assimilated into the new fellowship of Christ. Unworthy bearers we are of this sacred trust, nevertheless we are the bearers of it.

The Church as an historic fellowship is the bearer of the new life of society. The hope of the future lies in the continuity of this social pattern. Every other pattern will be discarded by man. The Church is the bearer of that life which alone can save man. She is the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, and she brings God to men, not as a memory of a distant past but as a living organism into which men can be assimilated and in which they will find life. The Church is nothing less than the new level on which the divine life works henceforth.

Too often we have thought of the Church as being a mere bulwark of respectability; a valuable help in keeping the old order going; a good institution for making men into good citizens. Instead of thinking of the Church as of value to the State, we may better ask what is the value of the State to the Church. For the State is the result of one of the unsatisfactory experiments of life. The State came about as life was reaching up to find its new level, but failed to reach it. The State is one of the bungled attempts of life as it tried to reach the levels of God. The State has been valuable as a stepping-stone to the Kingdom of God. It is ridiculous to make the Kingdom of God a stepping-stone to the State. The goal of the Church is not to make good citizens but to make over this world into a Christian family and this is the goal which God has been seeking for untold millions of years.

In the fellowship life of the Church we hold the key to the world's problems. We are a Kingdom of priests called and chosen of God to mediate His guidance and His blessings to a needy world. The gift which God gave to humanity in Jesus Christ was the gift of a new experience of Christian fellowship. That gift still abides in our trust. If we will dare to enter into that experience ourselves and minister it to others, if we will make real our membership in the fellowship of Christ's Church, we shall give to a needy world gifts which will satisfy the longing soul and fill the hungry soul with goodness. Then shall we be what God has called us to be, a Sacred Humanity in touch with whom men find God.

Project Canterbury