The State and Prospects of Our Church, As Indicated by Her Last General Convention: A Sermon in Christ Church, Cincinnati.
By Dudley Atkins Tyng.
Cincinnati: C. F. Bradley & Co., 1854.
“And the Apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter." Acts xv: 6.
The practice of meeting together to consult about matters of general interest tb the Church began, we perceive, during the lifetime of the Apostles. And in this first instance of an ecclesib astical assembly, it is gratifying to perceive all orders in the Church represented, and taking part in the consideration and settlement of the matter. For though in our text it is only said that "the apostles and elders came together," yet we immediately find that the "brethren" also were associated with them, joined in the discussion, and were recognized in the final letter of instructions.
If such conventions were necessary, even while the guidance of inspiration yet remained to the Church, they cannot be less so now that the supernatural teachings of the Spirit have ceased. Inevitable divergencies in sentiment and practice will need to be restrained by mutual conference and concession, and a Church widely extended over diverse regions and states of society will need legislation founded upon a thorough representation of the wants of all its sections. Much of the prosperity of the Church will depend upon the wisdom and efficiency of the bodies thus assembled, and the returning periods of their meeting will be occasions of great ithportance and interest to the Church at large.
It must be highly gratifying to Episcopalians to reflect how closely their assemblies are conformed to this apostolic pattern, and that of their General Conventions peculiarly, and almost solely, it can be said, that “the apostles, elders and brethren" "come together to consider" of matters important to the Church; Very primitive are our General Conventions in their constitution. May they always be equally primitive in the doctrine and spirit bf their members!
 The interest and importance of these conventions has steadily increased with the growth of the Church in numbers and influence, A very different body is the Episcopal Church as represented in this 25th General Convention, from what she was at the assembling of the 1st in 1785. Then her churches were few, her ministers fewer, and her members scattered and dispirited; while there was no one to oversee the dioceses, or. to ordain candidates for her ministry. Now she has 35 bishops, 1600 clergy, 2000 churches, and 100,000 communicants. Her dioceses reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and her missionaries are preaching on the most distant shores. Her communion is coextensive with our country, and embraces men of every class and social rank. The meeting of the great triennial council of such a biddy is certainly a matter of interest to all her members, and even to the community at large. Our whole Church is affected by its. action, and therefore, in some degree, the interests of religion generally. It is, moreover, a practical index of the state of our Church, and should therefore be attentively regarded by all who are concerned for the Church's welfare. The condition and prospects of the Church to which we belong must always be a matter of deep interest to us as a congregation, and may throw important light on our duty in regard to Church operations. I therefore occupy your attention with some observations suggested by the late meeting of the General Convention, at whose sessions I was personally present.
It was a large and highly respectable body, embracing men of Worth and standing in their respective communities; but, in comparison with previous conventions, very deficient in men of eminent abilities. The debates were courteous, but wanting in life and power. And while a very pleasing spirit of harmony and concession rendered it an agreeable Convention to its members the small amount of good speaking made it much less interesting than usual to spectators.
The first thing which struck me in the proceedings of the Convention was the absence of the usual concert of action among the High Church deputies. Heretofore they have moved together in solid phalanx, manifestly well organized and drilled as a party, and under able, and sometimes rather unscrupulous, leadership. It has been impossible to make an impression upon them by argument, or to divide them when it came to the vote. The equal diocesan representation gave them, in consequence of the number [4/5] of feeble High Church dioceses at the West and South, a majority in the General Convention, which they did not really possess in the Church, and this majority had been used in a way exceedingly offensive to Evangelical members. But the last Convention presented a striking and unexpected contrast. There was no recognized leader of the High Church deputies; there was no unity among their most prominent men; no party measure was attempted; no vote united their whole strength; no measure was pressed without modification to suit the views of as many as possible; no slurring remarks were made in regard to those who differed from them; but, on the contrary, respect, and deference, and courtesy characterized all their deportment. This was, of, course, just as it should be. But as it had not always been the case--as, up to this time, it had been increasingly the reverse--as it was most unexpected to many, and as the theological opinions of those gentlemen have not undergone any material change for the better, it is well worthy of remark, and of inquiry into the cause.
It seemed to me two causes of this total change of tone among our High Church brethren were plainly discernible.
One is the many lamentable apostacies from their ranks to the Church of Rome. After all their indignant denials of the tendency of their views to Popery, they have had the chagrin of seeing many of their number steadily developing, until inconsistency was stretched into downright duplicity, and, they could no longer, with any semblance of honesty, remain even nominally Protestants. In the very city where the Convention assembled is settled, as a Romish priest, one who, in two General Conventions, was foremost as a leader of the High Church party, and loudest in the repudiation of any liability to Romish perversion. And since the previous Convention in Cincinnati, a Bishop who was head and front of American Puseyism, and in the sermon before the Convention of 1844 had made the most open stand for the sacramental theory, had deserted them under circumstances of great moral reproach, and given in an unexpected adhesion to Antichrist. Such events could not but shake the party to its center, and cause all who were not too far gone in their headlong course of error to start back from the precipice, down which it was now but too clear they might be compelled to leap. Infatuated with the Sacramental and High Church theories, they had closed their ears to all the cries of warning about the issue, and [5/6] banded together in the determination either to force all theme brethren into the same onward march with themselves, or to drive them out of the Church. But experience has done what prophecy could not. It has staggered the host. It has broken up their unity of purpose and fixedness of resolution. And if it has not effected any change of sentiment in the leaders, it has at least frightened the rank and file into hesitation and halting. It had produced ä feeling of insecurity, made men feel that this is no time for change, and aroused in many a desire to get back to their former position. It has produced, especially among the laity, a belief that the Church is safer in the hands of Low Churchmen. It was manifestly, therefore, not a time, could they have agreed among themselves upon a leader, to attempt any aggressive action, or to venture a trial of strength on any question that would doctrinally divide the Church. In this respect, therefore, the last General Convention is a very favorable index of the influence and prospects of the Evangelical portion of the Church.
Another cause of the altered bearing of our High Church brethren is to be found in the pecuniary state of our Domestic Missions. For several years past, the suspicions of Evangelical Members of the Church have been increasingly aroused in regard to the doctrinal views and teachings of our Domestic Missionaries. They have had reason to believe that our Domestic Missioits were, to a very considerable degree, made the instrument of spreading radically unsound High Church and Tractarian doctrines in the hewer portions of the Church. They have not only seen individual indications of this fact, but have also seen the new dioceses formed by these Missionaries, filing over to the High Church party, and becoming the most thorough-going partisans in the use of the law-making power. It was very slowly, and with great reluctance, that they were forced to admit this to be the case. But when, and as, they did believe it, they conscientiously withheld their contributions from the treasury by which such an agency was employed. The consequence has been a gradual cutting off of the supplies of the Domestic Committee; until during the last year the receipts, independently of legacies, amounted to only about $17,000. The Domestic Missions could not go on without a change. It became manifest that while the missionaries appointed were mainly High Church, by far the greater proportion of contributions had come from Evangelical [6/7] congregations. Unless these, therefore, could be induced to resume the missionary work, the missionaries could not be sustained. There was, indeed, one way by which this could have been effectually and satisfactorily done--the removal of the power of appointing the missionaries from the Bishop of each diocese to a committee who should represent the sentiments of the chief contributors. But this was not to be thought of for a moment by our High Church brethren. It would have revolutionized the theological character of our Domestic Missions. So there was a resolute ignoring of the real cause of all the difficulty, a general bewailing over the decline of the missionary spirit in the Church, and an earnest appeal from our High Church brethren to forget all past dissensions, to cultivate harmony and brotherly love, and to melt down all differences in a new union in the too long neglected work of Domestic Missions. They could not afford to remain any longer in alienation from their Evans gelical brethren, and therefore were very far from introducing or pressing any legislative measure that would be offensive to them. That there was any insincerity in this, I am very far from charging. It was very natural that they should feel just in that way. How should they realize our conscientious abhorrence of their doctrines, or understand that their own absorbing idea of outward unity is as nothing to us in comparison with purity of faith? It was natural for them to hope that our opposition could be as easily quieted as their own, more particularly as they were not smarting under the injustice of being both the chief contributors to missions, and the least consulted in the selection of the men.
Now this may help to account for the-very peculiar and very delightful harmony, and mutual courtesy and concession, which certainly did prevail in the Convention. I praise God for it. And I would certainly desire to go as far as any one in burying forever all individual hostilities, and all personal unkindness between members of our Church. Would that both High Churchmen and Low Churchmen might strive which could treat the other with most personal kindness and Christian charity. Nevertheless, as there was a time when Paul thought it necessary to withstand Peter to his face, lest the purity of the Gospel should be compromised by his conduct, so I feel bound more than ever to affirm the deep and irreconcilable opposition between the Evangelical and Sacramental systems, and to declare that no personal affections whatever can justify us in contributing in [7/8] the least to the diffusion of the latter. I believe it to be a fundamental corruption of the Gospel of Christ. I believe it to be fatally delusive to the souls that rest in it. And if my own brother had embraced it, I could never contribute to support him in its dissemination.
Now, here, I think is the great danger which is likely to arise from our last General Convention. Nothing is more delightful than Christian harmony. Nothing more enticing to a Christian than union among those who are members of one Christian Church. We ought to be willing to go very far for its attainment. But we ought not to go the length of overlooking, or regarding with indifference, fundamental error in Christian doctrine. "The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable." To be willing to ignore fundamental difference on vital points, and to fraternize and coöperate with those whose views of the plan of salvation are antagonistic to our own, is no mark of attainment in grace, but rather of carnal indifference to the truth. If our object is merely to gain worldly honor and influence by pushing on our outward organization, then we can unite with all who have the same end in view, no matter what their other sentiments may be. But if the Church with us is secondary to Christ, and if the great object is to save sinners by showing them the way of life, there can be no coöperation in effort where there is opposition of doctrine about the plan of salvation. Of what value is the Protestant Episcopal Church, if she is not the candlestick from which shines the pure Gospel of Christ? What do we care about a Bishop in California or Oregon, if he does not carry with him that saving truth which bishops were commissioned by Christ to preach? What pride can we take in dotting over the great valley of the Mississippi with Episcopal Churches, if in those churches is to be heard only a sacramental system by which the Gospel is made of none effect? The Gospel before the Church, is the great principle of Evangelical Episcopalians. How greatly they mistake, who think that we are to be elated by long processions of bishops in lawn, or are willing to judge of our success in the Gospel by the records of baptisms upon a parish register! And yet so strong is their love of the outward institutions of the Church, their reverence for its unity and order, and their affection for its ritual among those, sometimes reproachfully, called Low Churchmen, that it has taken years to arouse them to a perception of the danger. False doctrine was [8/9] introduced, and spread, and developed, for years, before they could be made to understand that, under guise of the extension of the Church, the very cause of Christ and Salvation was being undermined. But now when they are thoroughly aroused, and those who have introduced the error see how steadfast and determined is their opposition, there is made the most strenuous attempt to quiet their apprehension, and by appealing to their Christian sensibilities and love of peace, to engage them again in diffusing they know not what. God forbid that they should succeed! Let us say to our High Church brethren, As men we would regard you with Christian love; as, members of our Church we will recognise your rights, and treat you with justice and kindness as long as you choose to stay in it; but conscientiously believing your sentimentse unsound and dangerous, we will do nothing whatever to extend them, and everything in our power to put them down. We can not support you as missionaries; we can not allow you to select missionaries for us; and we can not join with you in the work of missions on any other principle than that each shall be allowed to labor for the utmost to diffuse what he believes to be the truth."
This is substantially what was said on the floor of the General Convention, (without previous concert, though in immediate succession, and with perfect identity of sentiment,) by the clerical deputies from Ohio. But it had no other immediate effect than to defeat a resolution recommending to all the clergy to form local associations auxiliary to the Domestic and Foreign Committees of the Board of Missions. Both there and in the Board of Missions there was a determined closing of eyes upon the real cause of declension in Domestic Missions. And in the latter there was an attempt to restore public confidence by electing a comparatively Low Church Domestic Committee and General Secretary. A futile measure, inasmuch as the objection lay against the uncontrolled power of appointing missionaries vested in the bishops, and not against the fidelity of the receiving and disbursing Committee. Indeed the entire management of our Domestic operations was formally offered to some of our leading Evangelical men. But they refused to take it, clogged as it is, by the appointing power of Bishops. In a more private meeting of our Evangelical brethren, the subject of an independent Home Missionary Society was earnestly discussed, and a Committee was appointed to draft a Constitution. But a variety of reasons [9/10] prevented a general re-assembling at the adjourned meeting, and it was thought best to lay the project upon the table, to be taken up again, whenever the Chairman and Secretary should think it expedient to call another meeting. I was myself unavoidably absent on the occasion; and much regretted that they had not proceeded to immediate action; for I was, and still am, firmly convinced that an Evangelical Home Missionary Society is the great want of our Church at the present time. And never was there more encouragement to form it, or more reason to believe that it would be eminently successful in a revival of the purity and life of the Church. Not only did the whole aspect of the two parties at the Convention indicate that the way was being remarkably opened for Evangelical principles and measures; but the two most important measures passed by that body afford remarkable facilities for an immediate effort for their extension. I refer to the Canons respecting Deacons, and the Election and Institution of Ministers.
The law of the Church respecting Deacons has been so changed that the literary and theological examinations heretofore required are no longer necessary for admission to the lowest order of the ministry. They are now required for admission to Priest's orders; or, if undergone before, will entitle a Deacon to take charge of a parish. A man of piety and sound mind, calculated to be useful in the ministry, and desirous of its work, can now be ordained a Deacon after one year's candidateship, provided he be thoroughly versed in the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer. Thus ordained, he can not take charge of a parish, but he can become assistant to a settled minister,--perform all the duties described in the Ordinal as appertaining to the office of a Deacon,--preach, at the will of the Rector, either in the Parish Church, or in Missoinary Stations attached to the Parish,--or beyond the Parish, by consent of the Bishop. For these duties he may receive compensation, and while thus supported, and acquiring practical knowledge of the ministerial work, may prosecute his studies for admission to a higher grade of the ministry. It will be perceived that this gives us the opportunity of raising up at once within our parishes an order of men who shall not only be a future supply of Parish Ministers, but who will be immediately useful as a missionary force, radiating from all our stronger congregations into surrounding neighborhoods, and preparing the way for permanent establishment of [10/11] the Church. And whoever has observed the growth of the Methodist Church, first by local preachers, then by circuit-riders, finally by stationed ministers, can not fail to augur well for this change in our own operations. Heretofore we could not get men for this sort of work, because they were needed by organized parishes. Now we can use them before they are competent to become settled rectors. Every parish may have just as many missionary deacons at work, as it can find candidates for orders. And a suitable missionary association may sustain such a Deacon in any parish from which they think a missionary influence can radiate, and the coöperation of whose Rector they can secure. Many a feeble Evangelical parish, in a missionary region, may thus in a few years be multiplied into a dozen.
The other most important action of the Convention was the passage of the Canon of the Election and Institution of Ministers. The object of this Canon was to secure the Tight of any minister of good standing to go to any parish to which he may be elected, and the right of the Parish to have the minister of their choice, subject to no hindrance from the personal prejudice or theological opposition of the Bishop of the Diocese. I am sorry to say that this was most strenuously resisted by a majority of the Bishops. They objected that it did not give "sufficient discretion" to the Bishops. It was only another instance of the constant grasping at more power, and tenacious hold upon all that they gain, of which there have been divers instances, both in that Convention, and other official acts of the Bishops, both individually, and as a House; and which is, I fear, a rock upon which our Church may fatally split, unless the Clergy and Laity be thoroughly aroused in time. I was truly glad to see them so much aroused in the Convention, and led on by a clerical Deputy, whom it was quite surprising to behold in opposition to Episcopal prerogative. Several of the Bishops,--and among them, preeminently, the three who, by their martyr-like devotion to the cause of ministerial purity and the requirements of law, have entitled themselves to the undying gratitude of all who are concerned for the honor of our Church and of Religion,--were in favor of the Canon; but the determined opposition of the majority, I presume, could not have been overcome, had it not fortunately been discovered that, at the preceding General Convention, the House of Bishops, by adjourning without any action on a canon embodying the same principle, sent back to them amended, on the last day of the session, by the [11/12] Lower House, had, according to an article of the Constitution, given it the force of a law. When it was discovered, and proved, the Bishops, finding that the obnoxious principle of ministerial and congregational right was already the law, by their own default, gracefully withdrew thei opposition to the disputed canon, and submitted to the inevitable necessity of permitting their parishes to choose their own pastors without let or hindrance.
The bearing of this upon our Home Missionary work is very clear. By the Constitution of our Board of Missions, the Bishop of a Diocese has the appointment of missionaries. No one can either select a place, or appoint a man, for missionary duty, in connection with our Church organization, except by consent of the Bishop. Nor, without this canon, could he say to a feeble parish, “If you will elect a minister whose principles I can approve, I will give you so much towards his support:" for it might happen that those principles did not suit the Bishop of a Diocese, and then, though a regular minister of our Church, the man elected might be refused admission to the Diocese. But now, under the guaranteed right of a vestry to have the minister whom they elect; wherever there is a feeble Evangelical congregation, we may effectually aid them in obtaining a pastor after their own heart, whatever may be the sentiments or overbearing temper of their Bishop. The way is providentially open for Domestic Missions in the shape of aiding our brethren to obtain and support a pastor. We can thus exercise our inherent right of selecting the places and persons for our own bounty, without molestation. And there is no limit to our ability to multiply Evangelical Missions, but our ability to find Evangelical ministers, and congregations willing to receive them.
In view of all the circumstances to which I have adverted, I think you will feel with me, that for many years there has not been so much encouragement to Evangelical members of our Church to go forward and labor, hoping for an abundant blessing. All we have to do is to avoid all "hollow and suspicious alliances," doing our own work, and leaving those who differ from us to do theirs. Instead of being wooed by their songs of peace and brotherly love to engage with them again in the work of Domestic Missions, let us leave the domestic department of our present Board of Missions in their hands, and seek other modes of operation which we are sure will not disappoint us. In 1835 there was a great Jubilee over the re-union of all parties, [12/13] and the merging of our Evangelical Missionary Association into one great Church Board. We were then completely deceived. And for eighteen years our Domestic Missions have been, not solely and openly, but on the whole and very effectually, spreading abroad, by contributions mainly derived frcn Evangelical Churches, High Church and Tractarian error, to the great dishonor and detriment of our Church, and to the great injury of souls. If we are again betrayed by a foolish and false desire for union, the work of Romanizing the Church may go on again for eighteen years to come. How much more of Christian confidence and opportunity of usefulness we shall by that time have forfeited, and how many more of our "Bishops and other clergy" will have apostatized to Anti-Christ, God only can tell. Let us not make the experiment. If we are a divided Church, let us have the honesty to acknowledge it. Let us be true to our Master, and to the faith once delivered to the saints! Let us go on, faithfully sowing the seeds of Evangelical truth, both from the pulpit and the press, and "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." My heart has not failed me since I met the brethren in our Evangelical Knowledge Society. There was such deep solemnity, such a sense of responsibility to God, such genuine godly sorrow over the evils whieh afflict the Church, such humbling of soul under divine chastisement, such strong dependence on God, such steadfast determination to go onward in duty, and such fervent pleading at the throne of grace, that I felt that the Lord had indeed "left us a remnant." We had a meeting for prayer. It was a night to be remembered. The whole assembly was melted down, and we parted with tears glistening in the eye, and love glowing at the heart, resolved that we would meet in spirit every Monday at the mercy-seat to implore God's blessing on our suffering Church. One of the brethren remarked in parting, “The day breaketh." It is even so. We will conquer on our knees. "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."