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Seven Good Reasons for Not Joining "The Reformed Episcopal Church."

By the Rev. Richard Newton, D.D.
Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Philadelphia.

No place: no publisher, 1875.

"Be ready always to give . . . . .. to every man that asketh you A REASON." 1. Pet. iii., 16.

The apostle is using this language, in the Epistle where it occurs, with reference to the foundation of the Christian Faith. He says, "Be always ready to give an answer to every luau that asketh you a reason of the HOPE that is in you."

I propose now to take the language of our text, out of the connection in which it stands, and make an accommodated use of it.

Within a short time past, a new ecclesiastical organization, known as the "Reformed Episcopal Church," has been inaugurated in several places in this country. One of the leading men who has joined that organization, has published his "Reasons for joining the Reformed Church." I wish now to state, as briefly, as clearly, and as kindly as I can, seven sound, substantial "Reasons for NOT joining the Reformed Church."

I will put them all in a negative form, aiming to make them as sharp, as short, and as decisive as possible.

[2] I. The first reason, for not joining this church is, that to do so is--NOT WISE.

God says to His redeemed people, "Ye are my witnesses." But a witness to any truth is needed most, just where that truth is in danger from the prevalence of error. To go out from the presence of error, and proclaim the truth which is to neutralize and oppose it, in places where no one holds the error, is certainly not wise. The wisest and best thing to do with a remedy is to take it, and use it just where the disease, which it is designed to counteract, is the most prevalent. Would it be wise to collect all the salt in a country together, and keep it stored away in places where there was nothing needing preservation? Salt, to have any salutary effect, must be scattered about, and brought into direct and close contact with that which is exposed to corruption and decay. I do not claim that our dear old Church is perfect. I do not deny the existence of grave and serious errors within her borders. But then this very fact, as it seems to me, is rather a reason for staying in the Church, than for going out of it. The more clearly you can show the presence of unsoundness in the ecclesiastical body, the stronger becomes the duty of aiming to bring the salt of regenerating and saving truth just where there is the most danger front that unsoundness. And this is the opinion of the best and wisest men outside the borders of our Church, as well as within them.

Not long ago a learned and distinguished minister of the Church of England was greatly exercised as to his duty in view of the errors prevailing in that Church. He wished to get the opinion on this subject, of some large-hearted, intelligent, liberal-minded man of God in another branch of the Church of Christ. He selected for this purpose the Rev. Dr. Cumming, of London, one of the brightest [2/3] ornaments of the Scotch National Church, and, of course, a Presbyterian. He stated the case fairly to him, told him of the errors prevailing in the Church of England, and in the Episcopal Church in this country, and asked hint what he thought was the wisest course for an evangelical minister to pursue under the circumstances. I have not Dr. Cumming's letter at hand, and cannot undertake to quote his very words. But I have read those words, and here give the substance of them. Without a moment's hesitation he said, "My advice to you is to stay where you are. While left free to preach the whole truth as it is in Jesus, there is no place in the world where one who knows and loves that truth, can do more for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, than in the position which an evangelical minister occupies in your church." And then Dr. Cumming went on to say that he knew, on the best authority, that the good and great men who took the lead in the movement which separated the Free Church of Scotland from the old National Church, had changed their minds in regard to the wisdom of their action in making that movement; and that if Dr. Chalmers, and the heroic men who acted with him in that matter, had their part to act over again, their counsel now would he, that it were better to bear the ills they had, than fly to others they knew not of." To join the Reformed Church is not wise.

II. In the second place, it is--NOT RIGHT.

The standard by which we are to determine what is right or wrong, in connection with the Church of Christ, is simply the declaration of His will. There is no appeal from this will, wherever it is made known. But in one of His parables our Lord has given utterance to an expression of His will in a way that should determine the question of duty in a matter of this kind, with all who acknowledge [3/4] his authority, as the rule of their conduct. I refer here to the parable of the "Wheat and the Tares." Here the field in which the wheat and the tares were sowed together, represents the Church of Christ in the world. The wheat represents the pure truth of His word, or His own faithful people who are the embodiment of that truth. The tares represent the errors prevailing in the Church, or unfaithful men who support those errors. The proposal of the servants of the householder to gather up the tares, fairly represents the efforts of our Reforming Brethren, to fence off, and cultivate a part of the field, from which the tares shall all be excluded, and in which the wheat shall be found growing all by itself. The householder's prohibition of this procedure, and his emphatic injunction, "Let both grow together until the harvest," clearly expresses the mind of Jesus in reference to this matter. Now, whatever else this parable may be regarded as teaching, it is perfectly plain that it does teach this:--that it is the will, or design of Jesus, that His people should not unduly disturb themselves about the growth of the tares, or seek by acts of violent legislation to put down error in the Church; that they should not expect to have a church in which truth will be found to exist without any admixture of error. Whether the effort is made to secure this result either by pulling up the tares, or transplanting the wheat, to other parts of the field, it is equally in opposition to the will of our Master. His absolute prohibition--His authoritative mandate on this subject, is positively proclaimed when He says, "Let both grow together until the harvest!" This resolute determination to make a new church is simply an effort to act over again the part of the servants in the parable to pull up the tares, and to leave the wheat growing all by itself, or without the presence of the tares. And it is impossible to carry [4/5] out any such purpose without flying in the face of the words of Jesus. It is, in substance, to declare that the will of Christ shall not he our rule in this matter. It is for the disciples to assume that they are wiser than their Master, and the servants than their Lord. Certainly, this parable does make known to us the will of Christ in regard to any such efforts as these to separate the tares from the wheat. And if it be true that the will of Christ forms the only standard of right or wrong by which His people are to be governed, then those who join the Reformed Church are going contrary to this expression of the will of Christ. And this is a good reason for not doing so--that it is not right.

III. A third reason for not joining this church that to do so is--NOT KIND.

When David was sent by his father, Jesse, from the fields of Bethlehem to visit the army of Israel, for the purpose of inquiring about his brethren, and of bringing news from the army, his elder brother, Eliab, provoked at finding him, as he supposed, out of his place, and neglecting his duty, said to him, in anger, "With whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness?" Now if David had really done what his brother charged him with doing: if he had come down, to see the battle, neglecting his duty as shepherd, and leaving his sheep to wander unguarded into perilous paths, or exposed to the danger of being devoured by the wild beasts, then he would certainly have proved himself an unfaithful shepherd. He would, without question, have manifested a great want of kind and proper feeling for the welfare of the sheep that had been entrusted to him.

And now suppose that large numbers of the Evangelical clergy should leave their places in the old Church, and join the ranks of the new, what is to become of their congregations? They are not [5/6] prepared to make this change, even if their ministers are. In many places where there is but a single Episcopal Church, and that not very strong, it would be impossible to start a new church. What is to become of such congregations? As things are at present, while only here one, and there another of the clergy, make this change, there is no difficulty in supplying their places. But let this be done on a large scale--and what would remain for those churches but to be handed over to the tender mercies of "Romanists and Ritualists?" The people would be left in circumstances where they could not hear the gospel as they have been wont to hear it; and as it is essential to their comfort and edification that they should hear it. The hungry sheep would look up, and be not fed. And where would the blame lie for this? Would it not lie fairly at the feet of the absconding shepherds? And would there not be just ground for Jesus, the great Shepherd, to say to them, "With whom have ye left those few sheep in the wilderness?" It would be most disastrous to the interests of the members of the Church, if this course were taken generally by the clergy. But it is a good rule, in such cases, that what would not be right for all to do, is not right for any. And so, seeing that it would be fraught with the gravest peril to the best interests of large numbers of Christ's faithful people, if this change were generally, or very extensively made by the clergy now; and seeing that every man who makes this change, is using his whole influence to bring about this very result, it follows most conclusively that it is a good reason for declining to make this change, that it is--not kind.

IV. A fourth reason for refusing to take this step, is that it calls for an expenditure of means that is--NOT NECESSARY.

If the Reformed Church were giving itself to the [6/7] work of supplying destitute places with the means of grace, and of preaching the gospel to those who were not in the way of hearing it, then we could extend to it our cordial greeting, and bid it Godspeed. But this is not what it is attempting to do. Its spirit, in this respect, is very different from that which animated the great "Apostle to the Gentiles" in the carrying on of his labors. The rule which he adopted to govern him in this matter we find in Romans xv., 20: "Yea," says he, "so have I preached the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation." This is exactly like St. Paul. It is manly. It is noble. It is the natural expression of a high-toned Christian principle. You cannot help admiring the man who would thus speak and thus act. He would despise the thought of pressing into fields already occupied, and of pulling down what other ministers of Christ were laboring to build up. And if our Reforming friends were walking and working according to this good old apostolic rule, our feelings towards them would be very different from what they are. But they pursue a course the very opposite of that which the apostle pursued. Instead of adopting the rule of not building on other men's foundations, this is the very thing they put forth special efforts to do. In the congregations organized in this city, they have thrust themselves in where additional accommodations are no more needed than a sensible sane man needs another head on his shoulders, and where the precious gospel of Jesus is already preached as simply as clearly, as faithfully as it can be preached anywhere. And they not only thrust themselves in thus, where they are not needed, (so far as ample church accommodations for the neighborhood are concerned) but after doing this, they make use of the most unfair and persistent efforts to draw away [7/8] members from other evangelical churches. One clergyman, in this city, in whose immediate neighborhood a Reformed church was organized, told me that nearly every family in his parish had been visited, and urgently solicited to join the new movement. Now, if the people in those parishes did not hear the gospel in their own churches, and were perishing for lack of knowledge, then there would be good reason for the putting forth of such efforts in their behalf. But when the very opposite of this is the case, such proceedings are not only unnecessary, but, in the highest degree, dishonorable and unchristian. The simple truth is, that the efforts put forth in this cause, thus far, have been worse than useless. The money spent in these efforts would have done less harm if it had been thrown into the fire. The members of this new organization are aiming to build new churches, and support additional ministers, in localities whose spiritual necessities are already fully provided for. This is a useless multiplying of unneeded instrumentalities--it is a complete waste. And while the members of this church are spending their means, and wasting their energies, in multiplying instrumentalities where they are not needed, they will be unable, for years to come, to do anything in the way of ministering to the wants of those who are really destitute, and perishing. It is a good and substantial reason, therefore, for refusing to join this church, that it calls for an expenditure of means that is--not necessary.

V. A fifth reason for refusing to join the Reformed Church is, that the feeling which prompts any one to do this is--NOT CHARITABLE.

The necessary and inevitable tendency of this church is still further to rend asunder and divide the body of Christ. It alienates and separates those who hold to the Head, and are agreed in heart, so [8/9] far as regards the most important and saving truths of the gospel. It genders strife. It leads to bitterness and contention among those who should be keeping "the unity of spirit in the bond of peace." It adds still further to the "wounds with which" our blessed Lord "is wounded in the house of His friends." And the evils that result from these divisions it is impossible adequately to represent. And now to add another to the already existing, and needless, but painful divisions of the Protestant Church, is an evil so great, so terrible, that nothing can justify it but the most absolute necessity. If the iron hand of oppression were to come down upon us, interfering with the sacred liberty of conscience, and that dearest of all rights, the free and unfettered right of private judgment, this would be an evil to which we would be bound to "give place by subjection, no, not for an hour." But this is an evil which does not exist in our Protestant Church. No honest, truth-loving man, dare deny this assertion. And with this liberty allowed--with time-honored creeds and Articles as the foundations of our belief--scriptural, sound, and saving--no minor evils that can be encountered are sufficient to justify the tremendous misfortune of perpetrating another division of the Church of Christ. St. Paul tells us of a "CHARITY" which "beareth all thing,"--"believeth all things"--"hopeth all things" "endureth all things." But have our seceding brethren carried their "charity" to any thing like this extent? It is a very small part of the "all things" here spoken of, which they have been called upon to "endure." The apostle says again, that "charity never faileth." If charity like this had been in exercise, the Reformed Church would not have been organized. This charity must fail in every one who joins this church.

An incident mentioned in classic history, as [9/10] occurring in the life of Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror, may well be quoted here. A painter was commanded to make a sketch of the monarch. In one of his great battles he had been struck with a sword upon the forehead. This had left a large sear upon his right temple. The painter, who was a master hand in his art, sketched the great warrior, leaning on his elbow, with his finger covering the scar on his forehead. And so the likeness of the monarch was taken, but without the scar. Thus the true spirit of our Master will lead us to act in dealing with our fellow-Christians. And thus it will lead us to act in reference to our dear old mother Church. It will prompt us gently to lay the finger of charity upon any scar, or imperfection, that may belong to her. It is a good and legitimate reason for refusing to leave the old Church to say that the motive which prompts to such a course is--not charitable.

VI. A sixth reason for refusing to join the Reformed Church is, that such a course is--NOT EXPEDIENT.

The foundation on which this church is based is too narrow. The venerable Creeds and Articles of our grand old Church take in the gospel of Jesus in all the fullness and preciousness of its saving power. With the freest liberty to hold and preach all the glorious truths of the gospel, any reasonable man may well rest satisfied. The most strenuous advocate of the Reformed movement can not deny the existence of this liberty in the Protestant Episcopal Church. But to admit its existence, and then to break away from fellowship with this Church because there are certain expressions in some of the offices of the Church, which, it is alleged, cannot be reconciled with sound doctrine, is not a manly, or liberal, or Christian course to pursue. The "regenerate," as it occurs twice in [10/11] the office for Infant Baptism, is really the point of greatest difficulty with those, of the clergy at least, who have gone out from our Church. I know, indeed, that other points of difficulty have been raised, but this, after all, is the principal one. There is probably not one man among the ministers who have left our Church, that would have done so, had it not been for this difficulty. Now to attempt to form a new church, in whose foundation the omission of this word "regenerate" shall be the chief corner stone--the main point of difference between it and the old Church--is to select a platform that is too absurdly and ridiculously narrow. To think of committing one's self to a system so cramped as this, is a thing too dwarfing and belittling for thoughtful christian men, with any largeness of heart, and breadth of mental calibre.

But, it may be asked, Is it not true, however, that some men do believe in the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, and that others do not? Certainly. But what then? Are two churches needed for us on this account? Cannot intelligent men agree to differ about a matter of this kind, without splitting up into sects on account of it? But some men, it may he said, cannot conscientiously use this term, with any construction that can be put upon it. Very well: let them omit it then. And then the question may be asked, But was it not for this very thing that Dr. Cheney was deposed from the Ministry of our Church? I answer, No. That was not the case. He was tried for doing this, and was sentenced to temporary suspension from the exercise of his ministry. But he refused to submit to this sentence. He defied the authority of the Bishop, and thus became guilty of contumacy. And then he was deposed from the Ministry, not for the omission of this word, but for CONTEMPT OF THE BISHOP. And the very moment he took this [11/12] ground, a totally different issue was raised, and the result arrived at was inevitable. The Bishop could not help himself. There was nothing else left for him to do. He was compelled either to stultify himself, or to depose Dr. Cheney. But suppose Dr. Cheney had taken a different course: suppose he had submitted to the sentence of suspension, and had abstained from preaching for a while: and then suppose he had made a vigorous use of the press to ventilate this whole subject, and call the attention of the Church to the gross injustice that had been done to him. There cannot be a moment's doubt, that such a public sentiment would have been created on this subject, and such a degree of feeling called forth, as would have compelled the Bishop to remove the sentence of suspension, and to have restored Dr. Cheney to his position in the ministry. And that would have been the end of ecclesiastical proceedings against any minister in our Church on this ground.

One unhappy consequence to the Reformed Church, of the narrow ground on which it has planted itself, is that, in order to cover up this defect in her organization, her friends and followers are tempted to be defaming and Iris-representing the character of the Church they have left. Those who hear the accusations which are continually made against it, if they did not know to the contrary, might readily suppose that the Protestant Episcopal Church is an organization that is thoroughly and hopelessly corrupt. And yet it is precisely the same Church of which Bishop Cummins thus wrote in 1869, only nine years ago. In a letter to Bishop Whitehouse, of this date, in regard to the organization of a Society "for the promotion of Evangelical Religion in the Northwest," he thus speaks of the men who were engaged in this enterprise: "I am sure that they hold with myself, and [12/13] every Bishop of the evangelical school, that it is our duty to oppose those who seek to divide and destroy the Church, as well as those who seek to assimilate her to the corrupt and idolatrous communions of the Oriental and Papal churches. For myself, I love the Protestant Episcopal Church more fervently as life advances. To me she is the fair and pure Bride of Christ, 'the glory of the Reformed churches,' as Bishop Hobart called her, in 1814, in his sermon before the General Convention of that year. She is loyal to Christ and His truth, in her articles, offices, and homilies, and probably as far from imperfections as a church can be, composed of fallible men, in whom the work of God's grace is always incomplete."--GEO. D. CUMMINS, Assistant Bishop of Kentucky.

And when you see how narrow a platform this church has, you may well refuse to join it on the ground that such a step is--not expedient.

VII. And then, lastly, we may well refuse to connect ourselves with such an organization as this, because it is--NOT SAFE.

Jesus said that His Church was founded on a "rock," and that the "gates of hell should not prevail against it." And if we look for stability and permanence anywhere, certainly in our church relations we may well desire to find these properties. These relations have to do with all that is most sacred and dear to us: But what ever else there may be in the Reformed church, most certainly there is nothing about it that can give the promise of enduring stability. Bishop Cummins went off, and started this church in the exercise of his own self-will. He took no counsel with any one. He was feeling restive, and uncomfortable, in some of his ecclesiastical relations, and he resolved to escape all these troubles at once by starting a new church. But in doing this, he was endorsing a [13/14] most dangerous principle, and establishing a most ruinous precedent. For if it was right for him to withdraw from his old ecclesiastical relations, and start a new church, just because it suited him to do so, then it must be equally right for any member of the Reformed church to do the same, when ever he may feel inclined to do so. And if this principle be allowed, then the Church, which ought to be the most permanent and unchanging of all things, must become as unsettled and variable as the clouds of an April day. This Reformed church was started on a principle which must insure its overthrow. It is a house without a foundation, built on the shifting sand. The members of this church are taught, by the example of their founder, that no obligation rests on any of them to remain together any longer than it may suit their personal convenience, or fancy, to do so. Now, is it safe to enter into ecclesiastical relations with such a body? Who would care to go to sea in an iron steamer which had the heads taken off from all the rivets that were to hold the plates of the vessel together? What could he looked for, under such circumstances, in the first storm that vessel encountered? The very moment any pressure carne upon her, she would certainly go to pieces, and sink like lead in the mighty waters. But when Bishop Cummins took the responsibility of forming this new church, at the promptings of his own self-will, this is just what he did. He took the heads off all the rivets that hold his strange craft together. As soon as any strain comes upon it, from difference of opinion, or other causes, the minority, who cannot control things, and have matters their own way, have nothing to do but imitate the example set by their founder, by separating from their brethren, and setting up another Reformed church; and so on, again and again, to the end of the chapter. The right to do this is inwoven with the very fibre of this new church. It was [14/15] begun on this principle. It must continue on this principle; and, in the application of this principle, it must find its end! The frost-work that we find on our windows, on a winter's morning, is very beautiful. But we know how soon it was made; and while we gaze admiringly at it, as the first warm beams of the sun fall upon it, it melts away, and we know how soon it is marred. By a law of Nature, it is true, as a general thing, that which is easily made, is easily marred. Yonder is a giant oak. How majestic it is in its form, and bearing! How solid and enduring is the fibre of its wood! But it has taken that grand old tree more than a hundred years to attain its growth. Not far from that lordly oak there springs up a feeble little plant which we know as the mushroom. It is very rapid in its growth--springing up, like this new church, as it were, in a night. That little mushroom has its appointed mission to fulfil, and in its place is, no doubt, very useful. But would you ever think of employing the material of which that plant is composed in the making of any thing that required hard use, or long-continued service? A vessel, or a house, made of mushroom material, would not be worth much. But what should we expect from a mushroom church? An organization that sprung up mushroom-like, in the night, and from one man's brain--what reliance can be placed upon it? And how long may it be expected to last? There is great force in this last reason. We may well decline to connect ourselves with this new organization, because it is--not safe.

There is great force and meaning in all these Seven Reasons. And when we can say of any course of action, as we do here say of that about which we are arguing, that it is not wise--not right--not kind--not necessary--not charitable--not expedient--not safe--we may well rest satisfied not to take that course.

[16] I have no hard names to apply to the members of the Reformed Church. I have no denunciations to hurl against them. I only mourn over the great mistake which I feel sure they have made, in going into this movement. My prayer is, that it may please God to show them their error, and bring them back.

The true course for evangelical men to pursue, is to maintain their place in the Old Church, and contend here for the principles which they have always advocated. The needed and reasonable changes that we ask for, are sure to be granted in due time.

What we have to do is to stand firm at our posts, to assert and use the liberty we have, and seek for more if we need it. We know that this Church belongs to God. We will not forsake it, or leave it in the hands of its enemies. And this should be our determination too. For, while we can worship God here, according to the dictates of our consciences; while we can work for Him, when we please, where we please, and as we please; let those who will, get up, and go into new and untried organizations,--for ourselves we say, "Excuse us; but the old is better!"

We know perfectly well that God did bring us into this Church. We know that He has helped and guided, and blessed us in our work here. We hear no voice from above, calling us to leave. We see no finger warning us away. We know no good reason for joining the Reformed Church; but many good reasons for not doing so. Our plain, simple, positive duty, is to abide where we are, only concerned to seek grace which will enable us as living sacrifices to consecrate every energy to the service of God, and to "do our duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call us."

Thus let us live; thus let us labor: and "God, even our own God will give us his blessing."

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