I. Organic Unity. By the Rt. Rev. M. N. Gilbert, D.D., Coadjutor Bishop of Minnesota
I COUNT it a happy and significant fact in the history of the Diocese of Minnesota, that its Church Club, still young in years, should inaugurate its larger work by arranging a course of lectures on the timely and all important subject of Church Unity. Is it not prophetic of the part which the laymen of the Church are to take in the near future, in actively cooperating to secure that unity which is so necessary to the full and unfettered development and progress of the Gospel of the Son of God? I trust that I have an adequate appreciation of the honor of opening this series of lectures, an honor which is heightened by the company of the learned brethren who are to follow me. It is my province simply to draw the outlines, to state the situation as it appears to-day, and as far as it lies within my power to forecast the outlook. With this [33/34] preamble, and with the prayer that God's Holy Spirit may give us a right judgment in all things, I crave your attention for a brief space.
Unobservant must that man be who fails to discern how large a place the subject of Church Unity occupies in the issues of the day. The religious newspaper is replete with it; it echoes from the rostrum; it is discussed in the clubs; it is a familiar subject in the confidences of the family circle. It is no longer a coming question, it is here now. Here to be fairly considered; here to be settled in God's own good time. Let us then, contribute our little grain of precipitant to-day. It will have no appreciable effect, but it is a component element in the process.
Do not confound the question of Christian Unity with that of Church Unity. They are essentially different. A recent formula of articles presented as a platform for unity by the Congregational body in this country, is an indication of a misapprehension of the real, specific, concrete end in view. Christian Unity has to do with the fundamentals of Christian belief, and [34/35] the principle of individual feeling and relationship. Church Unity is a question of organism. It deals with the adjustment of the institutional. One is the heart, the other the body; dependent upon each other, linked together, yet not the same.
We have Christian Unity, in fact. We have "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism." A common aim is ours: to spread Christ's kingdom among men, to uphold the banner of the Cross, to live as brethren, to maintain a Christian civilization, to observe the Lord's Day, to make the power of the Gospel dominant in the hearts of men. These things we have. They are the precious things, they are the necessary things. Without them all attempts to realize Organic Unity would be fruitless. The more potent these factors become in our lives, the simpler and speedier is the solution of the matter of outward unity.
When men love as brethren, then they will begin to live as brethren; then hand seeks hand, eye answers to eye, and lips frame the language of love. Theoretically, this fact has ever been [35/36] held; now I believe it is being realized practically. Until now the subject of Church organism was certain to produce contention. Christians were suspicious of one another. The good in other folds than their own was not recognized. The pulpit was often more vituperative than charitable. Too often men worked as if the true way to advance the reign of the Prince of Peace was to inaugurate war against Christian folk of other names. It is a sad story; our cheeks blush with shame as we think upon it.
It goes without the saying, that under such conditions, any hopeful consideration was not possible. The atmosphere is clearing, the vista is widening, the horizon has lifted. We can frankly and freely talk together now. What, then, is the outlook for Church Unity as viewed from the standpoint of the present? I express my own views.
In regard to Church Unity I am a prophet of optimism. To my eyes the outlook is replete with hope. In our day this hope will not be realized. It is too much to expect. The barriers [36/37] which have been hundreds of years in building cannot be broken down in one generation. We are now simply studying plans for their demolition. God's Spirit is moving on the face of the waters. It is ours to work and wait.
But before stating the hopeful outlook, let us frankly and fearlessly face the less cheering side of the picture. We cannot, even if we would, ignore it. To the common eye it is more discernible than the brighter side.
First, the feeling among many that the divisions in Christendom are an advantage in the upbuilding of the kingdom. They tell us in familiar language, which has a sacrilegious ring in it, that as competition is the life of trade, so in the spreading of the Gospel competition gives animation and impetus to the effort. That in the sharp emulation of separated churches there is a providential arrangement, that God in this way appeals to a very natural and very laudable characteristic in man, the principle of emulation and generous rivalry. This argument is propounded in all seriousness. It is not in my [37/38] province to answer it, although its utter fallaciousness and inconsistency are self-evident. The logical outcome of this spirit as witnessed on every side to-day, is its full condemnation.
Second, the very general prejudice which still exists against the fair and generous consideration of the positions and claims of Churches other than our own. This is an inheritance of the ages of ill-will and strife. Prejudice is Satan's own weapon, and he is employing it for its full worth.
Third, an unwillingness to yield any method of organism, or to adopt any practice which is markedly characteristic of another Christian body. This very prevalent condition arises from the feeling that such a sacrifice is a compromise of principle. The growing intelligence of men which recognizes a spirit of true and honest compromise as a noble and legitimate method in the accomplishment of desired results, will, I believe, gradually correct this condition.
Fourth, the vast property holdings of the separated denominations. To many men, this [38/39] difficulty is seemingly insuperable, but to my mind it is one of the minor obstacles. The adaptations of means to an end will readily follow in the wake of a great controlling purpose.
Fifth, the failure of all attempts thus far to arrange a basis of union. This argument is altogether superficial. Any other results at this stage would have been out of harmony with the acknowledged methods of history in dealing with the solution of ingrained evils.
Sixth, That, just at the present time, there is a marked recession in the movement toward Organic Unity.
The propositions made by our own Church, have been practically rejected by other Christian bodies. The action of our late General Convention on certain propositions closely related to the question, have been construed by many without, as a virtual repudiation of our own declarations. The impatience on the part of some among ourselves, with the methods proposed to bring about a reunion, and a disinclination [39/40] openly expressed, to take any further active steps in this direction.
I am not disposed to ignore or minimize these obstacles. They exist, they must be faced. The way to overcome them has not been found. I fix my eyes rather on the summits which are glowing with the rays of the rising sun. Discord is resolved by a larger emphasis upon the harmony.
Now let us consider some of the grounds whereon I build my hopes for unity.
On the one hand, there is a growing protest against mere absolutism. Absolutism was the primary cause of division. It crushed liberty of thought and action; it appropriated to itself all power; its weapons were interdicts and inquisitions. The world revolted; extremes produced extremes. This spirit in the Protestant world has not abated one jot or tittle. It is only larger, fuller and more reasonable. Protest is no longer confined to the Protestant world. Its voice is heard in the Roman Catholic as well. It is called progress, enlightenment. American [40/41] conditions are congenial to it. Liberalism has its leaders. They are men of power. They will not rest until that venerable Church adapts itself to the spirit of the age. Out of this condition will grow a possibility of union.
Then, again, on the other hand, the world is protesting against mere individualism. The liberation of men's consciences produced tyranny. It has led men into a country which, from a distance, appears most attractive, but where, in reality, "every man is a law unto himself." The logical outcome of individualism is unhampered division, the most objectionable form of sectism. Under the leadership of this spirit, Christendom is divided into almost two hundred bodies calling themselves orthodox. It needs no argument to convince the world of the utter folly of such a course. Men see it. They protest against it. They are striving to correct it. This very spirit of dissatisfaction with logical individualism, will force consideration of union. A common ground whereon reasonable authority and reasonable [41/42] individual liberty may exist will be found. To our mind, this outcome is logical, inevitable.
Again, this is an eminently utilitarian age. Men are nothing if not practical. Mere sentiment, no matter how venerable or fascinating, must yield to the demands of utility. How does this bear on the question of Church Unity? Do you not see? Our present divisions are a sad dissipation of energy, both of men and money. It is no uncommon thing to find a village of one thousand inhabitants with a dozen separate religious organizations therein. The congregations are small, the church edifices unattractive and unimposing, the minister poorly supported, an intense rivalry between these different organizations, competition stimulating sensationalism in the pulpit and practical bribery in the Sunday School; a condition of spiritual life which too often is manifested in mere proselytism. These evils are seen and known. Practical men are asking why they should continue. Why scatter all this abounding energy and abundant means, when concentration of effort would produce [42/43] larger and more beneficial results? Impatience with this unbusiness-like and harmful state of things will help to push churches to a consideration of union.
Again, the world is beginning to understand that mere opinions and theories are not of necessity fundamentals of the faith. Strange as it may seem, this is a recent discovery. From Reformation times Churches have considered a congerie of definitions a necessity to corporate existence. Nay, more than this, have asserted that the acceptance of them was necessary to eternal salvation. As a result, men have been in bondage in one age to a certain interpretation of doctrines which prevailed in an antecedent age. Confessions of faith and articles of belief may be valuable adjuncts to a proper presentation of the truth enshrined in the Church, but they are not that truth itself, and can never be imposed upon men's hearts and intellects as a finality. When this principle was discovered, Christian folk began to lift up their eyes and discern their oneness in Christ. These hedges in [43/44] the Lord's vineyard were found to be of men's planting. The everlasting verities were common to all, and were the only essential things.
This important discovery at once brings out the hope that these hedges can in some way be removed, and tends to encourage the discussion of plans of union. In the words of the late Dr. Döllinger: "We are all at bottom members of the Universal Church. In this great Garden of the Lord, let us shake hands over these confessional hedges, and let us break them down so as to be able to embrace one another altogether. These hedges are the doctrinal divisions about which either we or you are in error. If you are in the wrong, we do not hold you morally culpable, for your education, surroundings, knowledge and training make your adhering to these doctrines excusable and even right. Let us examine, compare and investigate the matter together, and we shall discover the precious pearls of religious peace and Church Unity, and then let us join hands in cultivating and cleansing the Garden of the Lord, which is overgrown with weeds."
 Again, the historic method of treatment is being recognized and adopted. What do I mean by the historic method as applied to the ecclesiastical questions? Simply the use of that method in Church life and development which rests upon "antiquity, universality and consent." This gives the whole Christian world at once a fair field, for all Christian bodies spring out of a common seed plat of history. When Churches get to that position from which they can fairly, honestly and impartially study the question of what most nearly in the way of Church organism approximates to the "ancient, the universal and the common to all," that moment the whole matter of the Church upon which all can unite is in a hopeful condition of solution. We are, I confidently believe, approaching that condition.
The term, "Historic Continuity," so often used, is no longer an unmeaning, vague expression, but the epitomizing of a great fact,--a fact upon which rests the ultimate, legitimate authority of Creed, Sacrament and Orders.
Again, nothing is more hopefully prophetic of [45/46] results than an active agitation of a subject. The more deeply imbedded the evils, the longer must be the precedent discussion of them. This fact is so marked in all the history of the past that he who runs may read it. The whole creation groaned and travailed in the throes of the new birth of the human race in Jesus Christ, ere He came in the fulness of time to establish His Kingdom.
Three centuries and more of agitation in which truths and half-truths, heresies and half-heresies jostled themselves in strange and mystifying confusion were needed, ere the central truths of Christianity crystallized themselves once for all in the Nicene Formula.
Years followed years, marked by the disquisitions and discussions of the schoolmen, by the vain attempts at Basle and Constance, by the wanderings of Luther and the piteous cries of brave men everywhere seeking for light, ere the mighty epoch of the Protestant Reformation was ushered in. At the very moment when the solution of the problem seemed most hopeless, [46/47] then suddenly the difficulties disappeared, the clouds lifted, the way was plain.
This is the philosophy of history: apply it to the great problem of Church Unity. We are just entering upon the era of discussion. Until now the world had accepted in a dull, heavy, helpless way the evils of division. Now, it has become aroused. It is, as I said at the outset, the question of the day. It will grow in importance. Sometimes a lull will come, silence will reign, men will despair; then will dawn another awakening, and an advance will have been made, the end will be nearer. This process will go on for years. It is God's way. "A thousand years in His sight are but as one day.'' The sharper the contest, the speedier the solution. I rejoice in the combat. Its noise is the prelude of peace. Agitate, agitate, agitate! exclaimed one of the brave leaders of slavery abolition. So now, agitate! in press and pulpit, everywhere and always, and the very thunder of the elements is prophetic of a refreshed earth and clear sky.
Again the gradual, yet evident, return to the [47/48] use of a liturgical worship. This in itself is no small contribution to the cause of Church Unity. Give people a common language, and you encourage the upgrowth of ideas common to all. The use of a universal Liturgy, varient perhaps, in its arrangement, but virtually identical throughout, will surely bring about unity in methods and organism. The prejudice against the use of a precomposed service is gradually disappearing. The noble inheritance of the Christian Church in the rich devotional treasures of the whole past is being recognized and appreciated. The extemporized and impromptu ebullitions of a fervid piety have brought with them their own cure. Dignity and reverence in the worship of Almighty God are the essential corollaries of an imposing and uplifting service. The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, that unequalled treasure of devotion which has alike received the admiring criticism of friends within and without that Church, although perhaps not the exact formula of worship for the future united Church of [48/49] Christendom, will, doubtless, be the norm and model of such a service.
What a glorious day will be ushered in, when from adoring worshippers everywhere underneath the bending sky shall ascend heavenward, like the voice of many waters, the harmonious diapason of lips and hearts speaking to God in the oneness of a common language of worship! How will it draw myriad hearts closer together, and cause them to realize the fellowship of the whole household of Faith!
Let us now recapitulate the reasons advanced for my hopeful outlook into the future, as I have briefly placed them before you:
1. Dissatisfaction with absolutism.
2. Dissatisfaction with individualism.
3. The practical spirit of the age demanding conservation and concretion of energy.
4. The growing recognition of the truth that mere opinions and theories, confessions and articles are not the essentials of Faith and salvation.
 5. The recognition of the historic method in the treatment of Church Union.
6. The constant and ever growing agitation of the question.
7. The increase in the use of liturgical methods in public worship.
Other hopeful indications exist, but the limits of my time forbid my dwelling upon them, or even indicating them.
What is being done?
While in all Churches discussions have prevailed, yet only one, thus far has formulated and presented an authorized basis of organic unity. I refer to the declaration of the Anglican Church, known as the Chicago-Lambeth Articles. That the first overtures should come from this venerable and historic Church is eminently fitting. She occupies that strong conservative middle place in Christendom which gives her a vantage ground possessed by no other. Her voice is listened to with interest and respect, even if a deaf ear is turned to her appeals. The first three propositions have met with a general and [50/51] cordial reception. It is something, at any rate, that a certain fraction of a common standpoint has been found.
The fourth proposition, for obvious reasons, I quote:
"The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."
Around this principle the contest centres. It is the broadest possible statement of the distinguishing characteristic of those Churches which hold to the necessity of Episcopal authority. The proposition could not be stated in any more liberal or concrete way without emptying it of its meaning. The question at issue turns on the necessity of the historic episcopate for the transferrence of Holy Orders. Its acceptance means the virtual repudiation of all self-constituted orders. The Anglican Church, without defining the method of operation, or requiring the adoption of any one settled theory regarding its origin or administration, [51/52] nevertheless insists that that ministry is at least incomplete which does not receive its authority through the episcopate. The proposition is founded upon the principle that what is received can be transmitted, and that no branch of the Catholic Church in any one age or land has the right to change that law of historic continuity. I shall hardly venture to defend in this paper, this crucial question; I leave this for another. From my point of view, it is entirely reasonable and necessary. Its acceptance would seem to carry with it the correction of so many of the evils which now spring from a self-constituted ministry. I am frank to say that any other basis of union less ancient or less lofty in its claims, or less universal in its prevalence, would not meet the situation. I do feel bound to say that the true meaning of the proposition has almost universally been misconstrued. It does not propose to take away anything from the ministry of other Christian bodies, it does not propose to absorb them into the Episcopal Church, but on the other hand, it does offer to [52/53] add something to them. The Anglican Church holds out her hand filled with this heritage of the past and offers to bestow it upon others who have lost it or never possessed it. This is the largest and freest way of defining the proposition, but that is just what it means. The adjustment of the parts in one harmonious whole, after the governing wheel has been put in place can be left to the wisdom of those whose hearts and minds, with God's help, are given to its solution.
Whether this basis of unity will be accepted or not, surely you will agree with me that it has been an honest and brave attempt on the part of one of the great bodies of Christians to bring separated brethren together in the fellowship and protection of a common household. It is part of the process of historical adjustment, and will open the door for further advance.
Already Christian leagues have been formed, representing the leading minds of three great Churches, which propose to work on this fourfold basis of union. I hail with joy all such [53/54] attempts to heal division. Men may ridicule them, and ask impatiently for immediate results, but none of these things will overthrow the movement. It is the inward and onward flow of the tide of a great sea, which no scornful, Canutish spirit can wave back or stay. "God sitteth above the water floods, be the people never so impatient."
So out into the future my eyes gaze hopefully, restfully. Flashes of light can be seen along the whole horizon. Even that Church which has seemed to isolate herself from this burning question of unity, is showing that she is not unmoved by the voice of the age, for does she not, through her august head, bid all people to pray for union? What shall be the form of that future great Church, I cannot tell; I do not care to know. I believe, in the words of another, that "the Church of the Reconciliation will be an historic and Catholic Church. It will be a unity within itself, its ministry, its faith, its sacraments, its work. It will inherit the divine [54/55] promises of its Lord and Founder. It will preserve for Christianity all that is primitive, Catholic and divine. It will adopt and use all instrumentalities that may be found in any existing Christian organization, if they can aid it in doing the Lord's work. It will put away all that is individual and sectarian. In a word, the test of Christian fellowship in that Church, will be that faith which rests upon antiquity, universality and consent, which has been held always, which has been held everywhere, and which has been held by all, and it will concede to every member of that Church, all that freedom of opinion which is part of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Some of us may have thought that the New Jerusalem, which is to descend out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, would simply represent our own views. We shall be cured of that and many other selfish dreams. Before that day shall dawn we shall concede, each to the other, all that a Christian may concede and yet hold the Catholic faith, pure and undefiled." [Bishop Whipple.]
 "The Spirit of God is moving on the lace of the waters."
As in that early ante-natal morn of the world, mid the chaos of form and force, mid the upheavals and catyclisms of nature's birth throes, there came forth a world so perfect in its organic symmetry and substance that God pronounced it good, so now, in the realm of Church and Creed, with its disjected members and its chaos of uncorrelated forces, the Spirit of God moves with the same supernal power, with the same sure prophecy of a Church emerging full-orbed, and standing like the mystic city above, "four square."
In that ideal Church which is sometime to be made real, we shall find that oneness for which the Saviour prayed, that oneness which is like to that above.
"Let all that now unites us
More sweet and lasting prove,
A closer bond of union
In that blest land of love.
Let war be learned no longer,
Let strife and tumult cease;
All earth His blessed kingdom,
The Lord and Prince of Peace.
 "O long-expected dawning,
Come with thy cheering ray!
When shall the morning brighten,
The shadows flee away?
O sweet anticipation,
It cheers the watchers on
To pray and hope and labor
Till the dark night be gone."