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.
THERE is a certain type of piety which involves danger to Christian character. It is based upon a theory which claims to be evangelical, but which is without New Testament or Apostolic sanction. It makes much of repentance, conversion of the heart to God, reliance on the Atonement and the finished work of Christ, and is so far right; but it stops there. It distrusts everything outward. It puts Christ and the Church, heart religion and working religion, the soul and the body of Christianity, in antagonism. It speaks of the outward and visible in the Gospel, as the husk or shell of religion, as if it were of no account; as if the Kingdom of Christ were dead; as if the Institution of Christianity, the Body of Christ, were not living by Christ's own life through His Spirit, growing in the world and maturing the fruits of righteousness. The full corn in the ear cannot grow and be matured without its living, outward envelopment. The shell in the [71/72] whole process of growth, is part of the living organism by which the life-germ in the acorn reaches its maturity. Life everywhere is dependent upon the organism; separate it therefrom and it is but an abstraction. It is only an outward, visible, organic thing that lives. The organism is essential to the life. If Christianity be vital, it must be through the organism that embodies it. Works must manifest inward faith. Life must be seen in its activities. The Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of the Kingdom. As a system of doctrines merely, making its own way as best it might, Christianity would be inoperative. It is Christianity organized and working, showing the fruits of life, it is the corporate vitality of Christ's own Institution, that is to reform and save the world. We must be organically, vitally in the Body of Christ, and each one of us must live and act out its life. So we grow up into Christ, the Head of the Body. So we get grace and grow in grace.
It is a great first principle of the divine economy, announced in every variety of form throughout the Holy Scriptures, that "he that watereth shall be watered also himself." Like all great truths, it has its negative as well as positive side. He who neglects this duty, shall find drought and barrenness in his own soul. He who declines to work for Christ, for His Church and for the best good of his fellow men, though apparently in all else an exemplary Christian, is not only unprofitable, but is in [72/73] himself worthless. He fails to get grace through the customary channels. He is in the Church what the barren fig-tree is in the field. He is an encumbrance rather than a blessing. But he who does not forget to do good and to communicate of his own store, which God has given him, whether of gifts or labors; who delights in words and acts of kindness, by which to show the spirit of his Master; who makes the cause of Christ and the Church his own, working therefor as zealously and self-denyingly as, under any circumstances, he would work for himself, receives far richer blessing than he can bestow. While he scatters, he increases. He reaps thirty, sixty and an hundredfold more than he sows. He saves his life by sacrificing it. It is of him it is said, "To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance." So it is of the Parish, and of the Diocese, and of the Church in the Nation.
The cultivation of such a spirit in every individual member of the Church is, therefore, a necessity. It is the true missionary spirit. With it a parish is almost omnipotent for good. Without it, it does little more than add one to the catalogue of Churches.
What are our defects in this regard? What are the modes by which this missionary spirit can be cultivated?
When we say that there is much too little missionary life and zeal among us, we make a statement which few will be disposed to question. Most of our parishes work [73/74] chiefly, almost exclusively, for themselves. And their highest aim would seem to be their temporal, financial prosperity. There are, indeed, many notable exceptions. There are congregations of the Church all over the land in which the evident desire and purpose is to give and work to the extent of the ability God giveth for the salvation and edification of others. In every congregation there are some who are alive to missionary duty. But the vast majority of professing Christians in the Church do not seem to be adequately conscious of the obligations resting upon them, and the fearful responsibilities they are neglecting.
Our Church has again and again proclaimed herself in her highest Council, a missionary society, and declared that every Christian is a member. Never was there a truer or nobler declaration of privilege and duty. But how few seem to be aware of this great fact. How few enter into this spirit. How few act as if they knew and felt themselves to be missionaries. Is it not the idea of most of us that a missionary is one who goes into a foreign land, or into wilderness regions to preach the Gospel to the heathen? Or that he is a missionary who receives his support wholly, or in part, from some Board of Missions, Diocesan or General? Did it never occur to you that Jesus Christ was the first and greatest missionary? That every one of the Apostles was a missionary? That all the Ministers of the Apostolic and early Church were [74/75] missionaries? That the same was true of all the Christians of the Apostolic and the primitive ages? That they all believed themselves to be missionaries, and lived, and acted upon this presumption? Why should it be different now? Why is not every Minister, wherever laboring, a missionary? Why is not every Christian? Why not you? Every man, woman and child who has received the grace of God, in Christ, in membership of His Body, who loves the Saviour, and prays for the extension of His Kingdom?
But the common theory has been the contradictory of this truth. Hence our great practical deficiencies. Our people not having been taught and not feeling that they are missionaries, have not actually been such. The members failing in this primary duty, the Body of Christ has failed to make increase in anything like the measure that ought to be expected. Our Church to-day is only ministering to a fraction of the people. Denominations that have nothing like our wealth or our social advantages, and whose instrumentalities of effort, as compared with ours, are extremely defective, would seem to be surpassing us in missionary zeal. They exhibit more esprit du corps. They support more loyally their own schools and other institutions. They have the most implicit faith in their imperfect systems. Faith is the inspiration of effort. Confidence brings success. They give and work with unselfish devotion, and God blesses them. They are [75/76] constantly anticipating us and doing work that is incumbent upon us. Till of late years they entered almost every new field before us. We had to glean where they had gathered the harvest. It is doubtless true that our Church on the whole is making greater progress than any of the denominations referred to. The work that is really done with us tells more. We organize and teach, and hold better what we gain. Our Apostolic and catholic system is an inestimable advantage. But it must be worked by living persons. It will not work itself. So far as we are not of its spirit we are but parasites upon its life, and it is barren and unfruitful.
We have, thank God, among our laity some true missionaries--some among our male, many more among our female membership. What progress the Church is making is largely due to these. The seal of God has been set upon their ministries. The success which has crowned their labors shows how grand and glorious might be the triumphs of the Church if all would unite for similar efforts. They do what they can. They are pained that they can do no more. They need to be reinforced by the whole body of communicants, even by every member. Look around you, in the community you live in. How many of both adults and children, whose antecedents would lead them to the Church, who are not spiritually incorporated into her membership! How many there are who have fallen away from all direct religious influence, [76/77] and for whom no religious body is caring! If we could get the statistics of all who, without reasonable excuse, keep away from all public worship, we should be surprised and alarmed at the number. In the West it is greater than at the East. It is to be feared that in many parishes public opinion is condoning, if not justifying, the use of the Lord's Day for drives and dinner parties and secular recreations. Young men who go out from Christian homes and associations and fall under the influence of this intense secularism and worldliness, are in the greatest peril. With so little to restrain and hold them to the Church, and the devout habits of Christian living, what wonder is it that so many of them fall? What wonder that so many of them, having become neglectful and non-religious, come to justify themselves by scepticism and denial of the truth of Christianity? What a work is before us, even at our own doors!
And then when we think of the call upon the Church for evangelizing labor in the country around us, in the great West and in the New West; in the poorer dioceses, with their teeming populations; in the missionary jurisdictions, where great empires are being born, which are going to be more important factors than we are apt to think, in determining the weal and the destinies of the nation; when we think of the foreign fields and the imperative demands of the foreign work, if we have the least sense of our responsibility, we ought to be filled with shame that we are doing [77/78] so little; we ought to see to it at once that the whole working capacity and strength of the Church shall be put in requisition; we ought to be aroused to immediate and most determined action, to be pursued with the most unremitting zeal and energy, and to the fullest extent of our ability.
In excuse for negligence, the proverb is often quoted, that "charity begins at home." Would that it might! If it would only begin in the hearts of all who profess 'to belong to Christ! If we could see the manifestation of that highest charity which would give the Gospel to those who are perishing without it; if it would but begin to prompt us to do to others what right feeling would prompt us to desire, if in their circumstances, they should do to us, there would surely be no fear of its ending. The work would be progressive, cumulative. Not only "at home," but all around us, and so far as we could extend our influence or our help, the "Word of God would have free course and be glorified," and "grow mightily and prevail."
There is a great truth that stands clearly revealed in God's Word, and is confirmed by all just reasoning, and everybody would admit it on its being once clearly pointed out. It is, that ability of every sort--intelligence, wealth, social position, and advantages--is a stewardship. It needs to be pressed home upon all people possessing such gifts that God has bestowed them as means of greater influence, and that they only heighten His claim for [78/79] personal service. The pulpit must speak out upon this subject. A public opinion ought to be created that would constrain Christians of position in the community to use faithfully all the influence their standing and attainments give them, for the good of others and the advancement of the cause of Christ. He calls them to work in His vineyard. He has given them all they have. Their intelligence, wealth or standing in the world are intended to increase their usefulness, their power for good among their fellow men. It is easy to see how much more effective would be their personal labors from the possession of these advantages. They might wield a mighty influence for Christ and the Church, if they would only make it their predominant aim. There are no considerations that can excuse them from the responsibilities of this stewardship.
But most of the Christians of the class referred to, as judged by their lives, are totally oblivious of any obligation resting upon them for personal service in the cause of Christianity. They seem to think that pecuniary contributions, large or small, will purchase exemption from active duty, and that nothing more can be required. The general feeling among this class everywhere evidently is, that it is enough to attend Church of the Sunday morning, to bestow their mites at collections, and to assist in raising the Rector a salary, the amount of which is determined, too often, not by what is justly due him, not by [79/80] what his learning and talents would earn for him in another profession, but what he can be compelled to live on by an enforced frugality arid economy. Thus they regard themselves as in good and regular standing. They practically repel all further claims. If the parish is spiritually prosperous, if souls are gathered in and saved and edified, if the spiritual work which is the reason of the existence of the parish, is done, it must be by efforts not theirs, and to which they in no manner contribute. Who does not see that their position is wrong? Nothing could be more false to the teaching and spirit of Christianity. Personal, active co-operation in the work of the Church is what is required of them. The vows of their baptism, the grace of their confirmation, pledge them to this. By nothing else can they fulfill their bounden duty. They, as well as all others, must "have a mind" to work. In proportion as they have received, so must they freely give.
There is another great truth to be much insisted on. It is equally clear on its statement. All Christian people would do well to ponder it, to lay it to heart, and govern themselves accordingly. It is, that working for Christ naturally results in giving for His cause, while giving does not necessarily result in working. The working should be first. It is of primary importance. It is indispensable to lively interest. The heart becomes interested, when the mind and the will have aroused the active [80/81] energies. Desire of success, of accomplishing the ends aimed at, will lead to prayer for strength to labor, and the divine response to the prayer. The prayer of faith, and work in faith, meet at a point and become identical. Giving will be from the right principle. It will be for the accomplishment of that for which we are working. It will be liberal. It will be such as to involve sacrifice. It will be with a cheerful heart. It will avail, because it costs something. Work and prayer will attend the giving, and the blessing of God will follow it.
It should be, then, the great object of every Minister and of every Christian, to promote in all a thorough missionary spirit, by leading them to work, to pray, to give, to spend and be spent, for the great end of saving souls, and extending and strengthening the Church of Christ.
We must begin with the children in the Sunday-school; earlier even than this, in the family. All our youth should be taught, by precept and example, the blessedness of doing good, of making sacrifices for others, of not only serving God themselves, but promoting His service among their companions, by being always kind, loving and unselfish. But it is in the Sunday-school that children come consciously under the influence of the parochial life. Here there should be special teaching, such as will promote habits of active usefulness, and foster the missionary spirit. The Sunday-school should be, in fact, a missionary society, led by the Pastor, [81/82] superintendent, and teachers. In the school, as a whole, and in the several classes into which it is subdivided, there should be a corporate missionary life. This is realized to some extent in respect to contributions. The school, in general, and the separate classes, have their respective treasurers, and there is a wholesome emulation in giving, as in other duties. Every Lord's day each child is supposed to give to Christ Hi's portion, which otherwise might be selfishly hoarded or spent. At stated times, monthly, or according to the plan adopted, the several classes pour all their gifts into the general treasury, and they are dedicated to God upon His altar. Especially should this be done on the great Festival of the Children on Easter Day. The educational influence of such a system is invaluable. All, from their youth, are familiarized with the idea of giving to God. The duty is thoroughly impressed, as it is thus practically fulfilled. The habit is formed which, like all other habits of youth, especially when strengthened by long continuance, will generally last through life. Well had it been for all of us if we had had such a training. The treasury of the Church would be ample for every demand, made necessary by her growing exigencies. Frequent collections would be rejoiced in as opportunities for testifying our gratitude to Him from Whom we receive all we have, and the weekly offertory for outside missionary objects would be demanded by public sentiment. We should feel that we can never do too much for Him Who [82/83] hath redeemed us by the offering of His own life. We ought, therefore, to cherish a system which is intended to educate a generation of Christians who are soon to take our places, and who, in this regard, will be far more worthy to fill them.
But, as already shown, giving is secondary to working. Not only in the Sunday-school, but in the congregation, of which the Sunday-school is a part, the Church people should be made to feel a deep interest in the objects for which they give. Their feelings being enlisted, their prayers will be called forth and offered in faith, and they cannot but work for the attainment of the objects that are dear to them.
The missionary field begins in their very midst. How many there are all about us whom the love of Christ and of the work for which He came, should prompt and energize every Christian to strive to bring to Him in the Church, in which are the channels of His grace and blessings! The field should be gradually extended, as the needs are apprehended, to wider and wider circles, and as it is made apparent that the requirements of the Diocese are not secondary, and the Church of the Nation has also primary claims upon our allegiance and fealty. The intelligent, well-instructed Christian, who is really doing the missionary work of the local centre, will soon learn to recognize the great fact which the Gospel assumes, that no [83/84] part of the world is outside the field in which the Church is appointed to labor.
Every member of the congregation should be taught to esteem rightly the Church's benefits to themselves, to the community they live in, to the country of which they are citizens. They cannot but feel the motives which should strongly actuate them to extend these benefits and to make others partakers of them. The Christian, duly esteeming ^his privileges and actuated by the convictions which his whole training in the Church must produce, cannot be true to himself, nor feel that he is faithful to trusts and responsibilities the most sacred, unless he become an active, efficient missionary and worker for Jesus Christ.
Success is God's gift. But as sure as He is true it will follow. And there are obvious reasons for the position that Christian laymen may succeed in gathering in the masses of people who are without, to membership of the congregation, and participation in many of the privileges and blessings of the Church. They are more in touch with all classes than the Clergy. They get from their more familiar intercourse with them, more intimate knowledge of their habits of thought and feeling. They can approach them when a Clergyman could not reach them. The fact of a man's being a Clergyman is enough to lead many people to avoid him. The earnest layman will have no such difficulty to overcome. He must be bold for Christ and earnest in this duty, and he will easily find [84/85] opportunities, to bring before men of all classes with whom he is in constant association, and in a manner that shall attract and not repel them, the great subject of personal religion, and Church attendance, and membership.
Not only Sunday-school teachers, but the brethren who can not be connected with the Sunday-school, must do what they can to build up the congregation. They should seek out the absent, those whom they have invited to come and who have not availed themselves as yet of the privilege; those who have not been connected with the Church, or have fallen out of all Church relations. They will patiently remove excuses, and by loving interest and persuasion "compel them to come in that God's House may be filled."
There is no class of Christians who cannot participate in such missionary work. Children may bring in children to Sunday-school and Church. Young men should be employed as ushers, and in other ways in and about the Church. In such societies as the St. Andrew's Brotherhood, they may be strengthened in their Christian purposes by being pledged to bring each some one person to every service, and to pray for the prosperity of the parish and the Church. Most persons, when any are sick or in affliction, can not only themselves give some personal attendance, relief or comfort, but can "call for the Elders of the Church," who will always be at hand with the authoritative ministrations of the Gospel. Christian women, [85/86] not only as organized in sisterhoods, but, whose duties are chiefly in their families and in society, can accomplish much by visiting regularly in convenient districts under pastoral direction, in bringing people to Church, ministering to the sick, bringing comfort to the afflicted, instructing and helping many souls in their Christian living. What opportunities may not be found by all Christian people, to exert some positive Christian influence in keeping up interest in the Church and in her Missions, in promoting religion among their companions, in rebuking profanity and vice, and imparting of their Christian knowledge, wherever there is a call for words fitly spoken, without obtrusiveness or the violation of obvious proprieties.
One thing especially should not be neglected. Boys who are fond of study should be led to entertain the question whether they are not called of God to prepare for the sacred Ministry. Every parish ought to be able to furnish recruits year by year for the Clerical ranks. If parents, pastors and teachers would frequently call the attention of the young to the matter, and impress upon them the duty of self-examination in reference to this work, large numbers of young men, who would otherwise enter upon secular avocations, would doubtless be led to engage in this holy calling as the profession and work of their lives. Many Christian parents should dedicate their sons to the Ministry from their baptism, and educate them with reference [86/87] thereto. It is in such ways that the Holy Spirit gives the call, and the knowledge and consciousness of the call, and prompts obedience thereto. Many are to-day in the Ministry from such a dedication in infancy, and a godly mother's teaching and prayers.
There is not time nor need to point out in detail all the missionary work that should enlist the sympathies and active co-operation of every one individually of the men and women of the parish. They whose hearts are in the work will find their appropriate spheres of labor in connection with the Sunday-school, district visiting, the parish societies and guilds, sewing-schools for girls, cottage lectures, clubs for men, mothers' meetings for women. Why should not the Vestry undertake, in earnest co-operation with the Rector, the work of increasing attendance at Church, looking up, visiting, introducing and otherwise showing acceptable attention to strangers, bringing to Church the poor and the working classes, and, in general, promoting the enlargement and edification of the congregation, and the meeting fully of all missionary obligations for the Diocese and the Church at large, not forgetting the great field which is the world, thus helping to build up the spiritual edifice as well as those interests that are material in their nature.
But we must not forget in all our plans for building up the Church, that there is no possible substitute for spiritual life. This cannot be produced by organization, [87/88] however perfect. Life is organic and results in growth. Life is first. This is the universal law. Unless we have the life of Christ and are constrained to effort by His love, all our schemes will be in vain.