Project Canterbury

The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.

By John F. Spalding, S.T.D.,
Bishop of Colorado

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1888.

Chapter II. Lay Work in Religious Teaching

Daniel xi, 33: They that understand among the people shall instruct many.

TRUE religion is never the result of intuitive knowledge. It must always be imparted. It comes from definite instruction. Left to themselves and the light of nature, men gain religious ideas of the most variant and contradictory character, and of questionable moral influence. No religion except Christianity has ever made morals or virtue its chief aim. Religion and morality, as judged by all other religions, have had no necessary connection. If some systems of Christianity have yielded to this practical divorce of religion from goodness of character, as may be seen in the historical developments of religious error, it is clear that we must accept the Christian religion as it is divinely given, as its Founder taught it and exemplified it in His Divine Human Life on earth, and as always held by "the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth."

Our religion is objective, and hence it must be learned. It cannot be self-evolved from our own minds. The [18/19] brightest and best of men, rejecting external aids and endeavoring to think out and frame a religious system of their own from the elements of religious thought that have somehow come to be entertained, are certain to be led astray by false lights, and to grope their life-long way in darkness and delusion. The human mind is adapted to receive the truths of Christianity, and naturally craves, but is unable of itself to discover them. Such is the teaching of all history and all experience.

God is the author and source of all true religious knowledge. Granted that we can arrive naturally at some faint, inadequate idea of Him, all right apprehension of His nature and attributes has actually come to us, as of necessity it must come, from Revelation. The works of God but imperfectly reveal Him. The written Word is of prime importance. They who would impart religious knowledge must receive it from its source. All true religion is revealed, hence the authority it possesses. It is given to man because he needs it and is not complete without it. It must be taught him and learned by him, to enable him to fulfill the purposes of his being and to enter into the sphere of spiritual life, in which is the perfection of his nature.

Christianity is the full, completed Revelation. The Church is its embodiment. The Church witnesses to, preserves and hands it on and proclaims it. The Church is to make known in the Christian scheme the manifold wisdom [19/20] of God. (Eph. iii, 10.) Teaching is the great function of the Church. The office of the Christian teacher assumes the highest importance. He is to make known to all men the religion which is revealed of God in Christ, by which alone it is possible to live rightly or to die happily.

The preaching of the Word, or the giving of religious instruction, is one of the principal duties of the Christian Ministry, but it does not belong to them exclusively. If the Church had not her fixed, unvarying Faith, denned authoritatively, and received of all her children, it might have been necessary to restrict religious teaching to the specially authorized "Ministers of Christ and Stewards of the Mysteries of God." But such restriction has never prevailed in the Church. Whenever her life has been most effectively exhibited, she has used her laity as helpers to the Ministry in teaching, and in her various branches of practical work. "The brethren" were teachers according to their ability in Apostolic times, as the "Acts of the Apostles" witnesses. In the primitive Church there were distinguished lay preachers, apologists and teachers. In the catechetical instruction of the young and the immature of mind, as well as in the various works of Christian charity, the Clergy have always had the assistance of the laity, both men and women. And how invaluable has been the help in religious teaching of qualified laymen upon themes both of doctrine and duty, is illustrated in modern as well as in ancient times by many notable examples.

[21] Nor does it need such precedents to show that they who understand among the people must instruct others. "Ye are an holy Priesthood," says S. Peter in a catholic or general Epistle. The Priest's lips must not only keep knowledge, but impart it. It was to be a characteristic of the dispensation of the Spirit that all the people called of God should prophesy (Joel ii, 28; Acts ii, 17). All who have received the Word and Spirit of Christ must speak for God and tell what the Lord hath done for their souls. If the salvation of the soul and the whole future destiny in this life and in eternity depends on obedience to the will of God, every one who believes this and who accepts Christianity as the revelation of God's will, and feels its value and blessedness, must commend it by word and act. The Christian who appreciates the Faith of Christ will be unable to refrain from making it known. He must act upon the golden rule of right and duty and labor to confer upon others the blessings he enjoys.

How is this work to be done? How can you, who have been to some extent instructed, promote the religious instruction of others, of whatever class and whatever stage of intellectual development?

It is well to think first of the subjects of instruction, then of the means of conveying and adapting it so as to make it vital and effective to its ends.

Generally, it is evident that they who are to be taught Christianity are all mankind, people of all races. Christ [21/22] died for all. The mission of the Church is to all. The power of Christ's Gospel has been abundantly shown in the elevation of the most degraded to the appreciation of its privileges and the enjoyment of its blessing. The fact has been made sufficiently clear that Christianity is adapted to the regeneration of all men, by the signal examples of its influence in raising to the highest type of character, men of what are called inferior and degraded races. We have among us the Chinese, the Negro, the Indian. Some of one or more of these are in most of our communities. We do not need to go to Africa or China to find them. We can begin our so-called foreign missionary work at home. There may be little romance in gathering in classes of these for Christian instruction. It is easier to take credit for missionary work that is done by proxy in far distant lands. But that the heathen are among us is a providential indication of our duty. These, as we ourselves are Christians, we must teach the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

But it is not those of foreign race that we now have specially in view. There is a vast mass of ignorance all about us in those kindred to us in blood and language. Judged by the highest standard of Christian knowledge, all are in ignorance, and all need enlightenment. Ignorance is relative. All have something to learn. All Christians have something to teach. The least in the Kingdom of God is in respect of knowledge greater than John the [22/23] Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets before Christ; and greater by consequence than any who are still out of the Kingdom, and ignorant of the faith and of the elements of Christian duty. The learned of this world have often stood confounded by the wisdom of mere babes in Christ, because "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." There is no Christian who is not called to be a teacher in respect to those things which he knows, and a learner in respect to those things of which he is ignorant. All who are out of Christ are to be led to Him and assisted to the attainment of a right faith and the spirit of love and obedience, by all those who have the truth and know the way. I need not qualify this by saying all who have opportunities, for opportunities are to be made. Watchfulness, interest and earnest effort will easily find them.

Next to the unregenerate and unconverted are those whose faith is imperfect, those whose impressions or ideas of Christianity have come from their associations in a society that is nominally Christian, or who are the passive adherents of one or other of the variant sectarian systems in which there is always a combination of partial truth and partial error. It is usually dangerous to attack and destroy what faith a man has, even though it be defective; but it is always right, and always a duty, to seek to supplement it, and give it accuracy and completeness. Hence, all who are under the influence of the imperfect or erroneous [23/24] systems referred to, the unconscious victims of any of the "isms," which are the reproach of Christianity and the main obstacles to that unity of faith and order for which the Lord prayed (S. John, xvii), and His Apostles labored (1 Cor., iii), are to be led back to the primitive, Apostolic and catholic position, the true resting-place and ark of safety for saints and sinners.

But we are to have in view, especially, what are called the masses, the laboring men, who are the most numerous, and most important class in every community, and who are, to a large extent, alienated from Christianity. They are in danger now of coming under organized influences which are hostile to the Church. Secularism, Socialism, Anarchism, are claiming the allegiance of working men, and by specious sophistries arraying them against the faith that alone can really befriend them, and bestow what they really want. For it is Christianity alone that, by the Incarnation of the Son of God, levels all caste and race distinctions, and teaches practically that all men are brethren, and all "members one of another." These are to be conciliated and instructed, and shown their true interests. It is to be proved to them by deeds, how thoroughly and consistently Christianity recognizes the value of man as man, and how potent its instrumentalities to fulfill its great aim and purpose to elevate him in the scale of being, and enable him to attain his true place, and the dignity and glory of his manhood.

[25] Finally, there is a most important subdivision of this class, the children and youth of families in moderate circumstances in the ordinary walks of life. Multitudes of these are growing up without religious knowledge or training, without God and without hope. What they learn in the streets is mostly evil. What they learn at school adds but little to their moral and religious culture. They are mostly deprived by their circumstances of any teaching in regard to the highest matters that concern immortal beings. Their higher spiritual reason and conscience is for the most part undeveloped and untrained.

It is not so difficult to teach the young as it is those who have reached maturity. Their minds are more receptive. Their hearts are more easily reached. They learn more easily. They have less to unlearn. Their habits of thought, feeling and conduct are not so fixed. The twig can be bent. The growth of the sapling can be directed, but the tree becomes rigid and immovable.

Of course, it is not meant that religious instruction is to be restricted to any class or classes of youth, or of adults who are children so far as concerns religious teaching and discipline. All require it. The effort is to be made persistently and with all the zeal and devotion of which loving hearts are capable, by all among the people who have understanding, to instruct the many. What a work is here! How can it be undertaken, and how carried on with success?

[26] I must first call your attention to an agency of great efficiency and value: the publication and generous distribution of Bibles and Prayer Books, and of religious books and tracts specially prepared for popular effect. The press has become a mighty engine both of good and evil, and I believe the good predominates. It is a means of diffusing every kind and variety of information, assisting thoughtful minds among all classes to form intelligent opinions upon every conceivable topic of human interest. It promotes the habit of general reading, excites inquiry, advances the general intelligence. We must grant, indeed, that its multitudinous issues; its books of every description, of which it would take more time than most could command, to keep up a knowledge even of the titles; its periodical literature, annual, semi-annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily, which form the sole reading of most intelligent men, must inevitably tend to produce narrow, superficial, ill-formed minds and crude intellectual character. Still, the facilities it gives to the masses of the people of gaining information, the facts and truths it communicates, the thought it quickens, the intellectual culture it subserves, are more than a compensation. As an instance of its importance, which will be most readily appreciated: What an absurdity without it, would not universal suffrage become in a federated Republic like ours? There are, indeed, multitudes who exercise this high prerogative of citizens without the slightest qualification. But how vastly [26/27] greater would be the number, were not the facilities of gaining knowledge and forming accurate opinions so abundant. Every politician well knows the power of the press. It is wielded with success not only by the high-principled and patriotic, but also by the ambitious demagogue and the unscrupulous political charlatan. Its best uses have become indispensable to the safety of our institutions. Its demoralization and abuse will too surely help on their destruction.

Surely, religion is justified in making large use of the press for its purposes of instruction. Sectaries of all descriptions have shown how effectually their tenets may be propagated through this agency. There is scarcely an intelligent person in the country who is not constantly receiving pamphlets and periodicals advocating the restoration of the Jewish Sabbath, giving information concerning the prophecies of the Lord's Second Advent, or the peculiar doctrines of Spiritualism or of Swedenborgianism. The extent and the volume of literature of these sorts is indeed surprising. It should teach us a lesson. It is the imperative duty of our Church people to sustain with like generosity our Bible and Prayer Book societies, and the publication of Church books, and tracts, and periodicals, and to be at least equally zealous in their circulation. By liberal support, by generous contributions, by all possible efforts to promote their wide distribution, we might vastly increase their usefulness.

[28] There are few families in which there is no Bible, though it be dust-covered and seldom read. The Prayer Book is to us the best and indispensable companion to the Bible, for it is the authoritative guide in its interpretation, embodying all doctrine and teaching all duty, and turning both into prayer, thus securing the entrance into the heart of all truth, and building up the Spiritual life. Let every Churchman keep on hand a good supply of Prayer Books. Sell them to those who can purchase. Give them to those who cannot buy. Patiently and lovingly explain the services to those who will use them. It would be impossible to estimate the number of those whom the Prayer Book has led to the Saviour, and instructed in saving knowledge. In many a dwelling in the wilderness it has gone before the Church and has fulfilled the offices of both Church and Ministry, until these could be solicited and obtained. No other book but the Bible has guided and trained so many souls for heaven.

Next in value are popular books and tracts on practical religion and the doctrine, polity and usages of the Church. How many have been taught by Thomas a Kempis to imitate Christ; by Jeremy Taylor to live holily, and to die happily; by Bunyan to overcome their spiritual enemies in life's pilgrimage; by Keble to follow our Lord's life in the observances of the Christian year, and walk in His blessed footsteps. He who writes a good book, or a good hymn, is among the world's greatest benefactors. The [28/29] precious treasures of Christian literature should be placed within reach of all. They who have understanding will spare no trouble or expense in this effort to instruct the people.

The great obstacle to the extension of the Church among the masses is ignorance and prejudice. Never was there a controversy with those who oppose us that did not greatly further our progress. Never was there a book or tract written with a high Christian motive and circulated and read in a dispassionate and prayerful spirit, that has not brought multitudes to rally beneath the standard of the Church. Chapman's "Sermons on the Church," Richardson's "Churchman's Reasons for His Faith and Practice," Kip's "Double Witness," Randall's "Why I Am a Churchman," Onderdonk's "Episcopacy Tested by Scripture," Timlow's "Plain Footprints," Little's "Reasons," and other like works should be in every Churchman's hands for generous and wide circulation among all people who would desire or can be induced to read them. Let us make full use of this agency, by which so much has been done and is doing, and make it as efficient as possible for Christ and the Church. Let us avail ourselves of the general fondness for reading. Let us give to the people a Christian literature, full of fact and of truth, and of divine and holy unction, such as will instruct, purify, reform and elevate the people. Infidelity is subsidizing the press to its own godless purposes. Every form of error and misbelief depends on the press for its [29/30] advocacy. Let the truth have free course. Give it a fair field. Let it grapple with error and falsehood. The result can not be doubtful.

In this use of the press you must first become yourselves well instructed. Ignorance means indifference. With increasing knowledge there will be the growth of interest. Every family in the Church should take the best of the Church papers and periodicals. It is indispensable that you should be thoroughly conversant with the religious needs, with missionary intelligence at home and abroad, with all the various operations of the Church, Diocesan and General, and with the movements of thought and opinion in the Church and in the world about us. It is strange, indeed, that any intelligent Churchman should be content to remain in ignorance of the constitution of the Church; its polity, history and doctrine, and usages; its operations for human good; its progress; its wants; the instrumentalities employed in its extension. What is so indispensable to man individually and socially as Christianity? What institution is of such priceless value as the Church? Better that the government we love should fail, than that the Church of God should fall into decay and barrenness. If you are citizens of Christ's Kingdom, you will be sure of a heavenly country, though the earthly should perish. Why not give your interest to the more important? Why be indifferent to those things which are so intimately connected with the welfare of man here and [30/31] forever? For your own good, as well as for the good you can do, you should acquire familiarity with all the facts and truths it behooves you to know in reference to Christianity and the Church of Christ. Then, knowing the truth, you must proclaim it. Have your Church books and pamphlets, and periodicals, as an armory from which to draw whatever arms and ammunition may be needed to repel assaults of unbelief and of sectarianism, and to fight the battles of the Church.

But you must remember that after all, invaluable as it may be made, the press can only be an ally. Bibles and tracts alone can never convert and reform the world. Much practical harm has come from the common delusion that to secure the salvation of the sinner, it is only necessary to put a Bible and a few good tracts into his hands. It will not do to put a book in place of the Ministry, and reading in the place of direct personal teaching. If it has been thought by some that the Bible and a few good books of devotion and practical religion, translated and generally circulated in heathen lands, would disperse and scatter the old heathen religions and superstitions like the mists before the rising sun, or that here at home Bible and tract distribution is the sure means of Christianizing the people, little experience is needed to show the fatal mistake. There are many who cannot read; there are more who will not; still more who would not understand if they did. In Apostolic and primitive times the Church made greatest [31/32] progress and wrought her most stupendous victories without books. Christianity had been orally taught throughout the world, and multitudes were thoroughly instructed for the Kingdom of Heaven, partly before the New Testament had been written, and wholly before it had been collected in a volume and was in the hands of Christians. The Apostolic method, long so successful, can never give place to any other. The Church wants living teachers. The book or tract will seldom, of itself, awaken interest. This can ordinarily be done only by the living voice, from the heart of love and sympathy. Most of those who are indifferent to religion steel themselves against its influence. There must be found in every man some impressible side, some vulnerable point, at which your spiritual assaults may be successful. There are none so hardened, none so encased in unbelief and prejudice, that they may not be softened and subdued, and won to Christ and the Church by methods which a loving, gentle heart, full of human interest and sympathy, would find available. Gain the attention, excite the interest, win the good-will and confidence; then give your book, point out what is to be read, direct the manner of reading, and your time, expense and effort will be at last rewarded. Times of trouble, affliction or sickness, are precious opportunities not to be lost. The heart is more tender and susceptible, if rightly approached. In such times you may gain a ready ear for the truth, and [32/33] lead the weary and heavy-laden to the great source of rest and consolation.

But not confining your interest to these, let each member of the Church determine to make some person or persons the special object of prayer and intercession, leaving no effort untried to win their interest and lead them to Christ and His Church; can anybody doubt, that with God's help, success would in due time follow? How soon would you double your communicants and your stated worshippers. Even without that organized effort, by which the world has long since taught us the greatest results are attainable, each of you might bring in recruits for the Christian army from those of every age and rank in life. They would come gladly as volunteers, well instructed and eager for further knowledge. Each in turn would become a worker and a teacher. The many would be reached with the Gospel of love, and the truth of God's Word, which the Church upholds and proclaims, would be gloriously triumphant!

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