ON SUNDAY, JULY 26, 1942
IN THE FIFTH CHAPTER of his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul says, "I speak concerning Christ and the Church," and I take those words as our text--"I speak concerning Christ and the Church."
We are living in a day of world-wide tragedy, suffering, and distress. In all recorded history there has been no such crisis for mankind as we are now facing. Today we are realizing afresh, men all over the world are realizing afresh, that there is only one Power great enough to bring peace and hope and brotherhood to men, only one Power great enough to meet the need of this world, and that is the Divine Guidance, the Divine Strength, the Divine Love, revealed and offered to this whole world in Jesus Christ. The one great need of this world, the one sufficient help for this world, the one way of hope for this world, is that men shall be brought to the knowledge, and the faith, and the fellowship of Christ.
And Christ has Himself provided the way in which this Divine and mighty help is to be given to all who will receive it. God's own appointed agency to bring this help to men is the Church. The Scriptures make this clear to us. The New Testament tells us this in wonderful and glorious words. And in the two great Creeds of Christendom, the Creeds which declare the Faith as it has been held by Christians all over the world from the beginning, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, we say, I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The Holy Catholic Church is not a matter of theory, or of opinion. It is a matter of actual historical fact. From the time when Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven where He now lives and reigns for us, from the [3/4] time when He gave His great command and commission to His Church, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," from that time to this, the Church of Christ has been here in this world, with its Faith, its Sacraments, and its Ministry, bringing men to Christ and ministering to them in Christ's Name and Power.
The Church has not always been faithful to Christ. On its human side, as represented by its Bishops, Clergy, and People, the Church has often fallen, and often still falls, sadly below the level of its true life and mission, but nevertheless the Church is God's appointed agency to bring this world to Christ. And wherever the Church has been faithful to its Divine Mission it has had the power which Christ promised and which He gives to it. In spite of its weaknesses and shortcomings on its human side, the Church of Christ has been the greatest, the holiest, the divinest influence this earth has known.
We know that Christ's power to help men is not limited or restricted. We know that wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name there is He in the midst of them. But the Church is the Divinely Appointed means and assurance of Christ's continued Presence and Work in this world, the Church is the pledged sphere of His grace and help still given to men. The New Testament tells us that the Church is God's appointed means to bring all mankind into the fellowship of His dear Son. And in the two great Creeds of Christendom which express the faith and the religious experience of Christians through all the centuries, we say, I believe in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
 And so, this morning, for the last of this series of sermons, our subject is, "The Present World Situation and Belief in the Holy Catholic Church." Let us consider, briefly and clearly, 1st--What is the Holy Catholic Church? 2nd--Is the Church necessary to the Gospel?--some think it is not. Do we need the Church in our lives as Christians? 3rd--Is there a danger that the Church may come between us and Christ, and that the Church may take the place in our Christian lives which belongs only to Christ Himself? 4th--What is the present hope and outlook for Christian Reunion so that the Church of Christ may again be one--one inwardly and spiritually and also outwardly and visibly as it was in the first days and for many centuries of its life and work in this world?
First, then, What is the Holy Catholic Church? In the Protestant Churches the belief generally held is that the Church is a humanly formed organization, a voluntary society formed by individual believers associating themselves together for religious work and fellowship. This view of the Church as a humanly formed association has led naturally to the ever-increasing divisions among Christians and to the fact that there are now more than two hundred different Churches in the United States, for if any group of men can found a Church it follows necessarily that any other group of men can do likewise. But according to the teaching of the New Testament and of the Church itself from the beginning, the Christian Church is not a humanly formed association. The New Testament tells us that the Church is constituted not by the beliefs, or by the will, of men, but by God Himself for the accomplishment of His eternal purpose for man kind. The Church is the Divinely Appointed Means to [5/6] bring men to Christ. The Church comes to us from Christ and His Apostles with her Creed, her Scriptures, her Sacraments, and her Ministry, all alike brought forth in the first days of the Church under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit. And this is what the words mean, and have always meant, when we say in the Creed, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.
The Episcopal Church does not hold, or teach, that, as a Church we are the Holy Catholic Church, but the Episcopal Church does hold and teach that we belong to the Holy Catholic Church, and this is expressed in our Prayer Book from cover to cover. In common with all the historic Catholic Communions both of the East and of the West, in common with the whole world-wide Anglican Communion, in common, that is, with three-fourths of all the Christians in the world at this time, the Episcopal Church holds that the Church is of Divine Appointment and that with its Faith, its Sacraments, and its Ministry, it comes to us from Christ and His Apostles. This is the reason that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which it is a part cannot change, or compromise, or depart from, these great essentials of the Faith and Life of the Church, the Creed, the Sacraments, and the Ministry. The Episcopal Church has no power to change these things. These things come to us from Christ and His Apostles and are the Divinely Given Means to bring men to Christ. These things do not belong to the Episcopal Church or to the Anglican Communion, these things are of Divine Appointment and belong to the Faith and Life of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from the Apostles' time, and [6/7] therefore our Prayer Book calls upon us to hold faithfully to these essential things of the Church of Christ looking for the day, and praying for the day, when there shall be a true World-Wide Christian Reunion, a Reunion which shall include all the Truth for which the Catholic Churches stand and also all the Truth for which the Protestant Churches stand. It should be understood by everyone, though some do not seem to understand it, that this belief as to the Divine Nature and Commission of the Church and the Ministry is not the belief only of a party in the Episcopal Church, it is not "high church" or "low church," it is the belief which the Episcopal Church itself holds and for which it has stood through all its history. This belief as to the Church, the Sacraments, and the Ministry is expressed in all the official formularies of the Episcopal Church, it is expressed in the unvarying practice of the Church, and it is declared all through the Prayer Book, in the Prayers and the Worship, in the Offices for the Administration of the Sacraments, and in the Services for the Ordination and Consecration of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
Second: Some people ask today: "Is the Church necessary to the Gospel? Do we need the Church in our lives as Christians?" I will suggest three brief answers to this question. (1) Since Christ Himself founded and gave us the Church, and promised to be with the Church to the end of the world, it is evident that the Church is necessary. (2) The New Testament shows us that the Church is indispensable to the Gospel and is indeed part of the Gospel. The Gospel which the New Testament declares is the Gospel of Christ and His Church. Without the [7/8] Church the Gospel itself is incomplete. "I speak," Saint Paul says, "concerning Christ and the Church." It is the Church which is to carry the Gospel into effect and to make it a reality in the lives of men. (3) It is the simple fact, we can all observe it for ourselves, that without these Divinely Given means of grace, without the Church and the Sacraments, faith in Christ Himself tends to grow vague and uncertain and often disappears. And further, the Church is necessary to the Gospel because the Christian life cannot be a life of mere individualistic piety but must be a life of fellowship. Fellowship with Christ, and with others in Christ--this is the Christian life. And this is what the Church means and is. The necessity of the Church and the Sacraments to express the great corporate and social truth of the Gospel is being realized more clearly today in many of the Protestant Churches.
Third: Is there a danger, as some people think, that the Church may come between us and Christ and may take the place in our Christian lives which belongs only to Christ Himself? There is no danger of this if we under stand rightly the nature of the Church, and if the Church is true to its Divine Mission. We might as reasonably say that a mother will come between her children and their growth and development, or that a teacher will come between the student and his education. The whole teaching of the Scriptures and the Church is that the Church is not the end but the means. The Church is essential, it is the Divinely Given means, but it is not the end. The purpose of the Church and of everything in the Church, the Creed, the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the Ministry, is to bring men to Christ, not to come between them [8/9] and Christ. And the experience of Christians all over the world, today and from the Apostles' time, bears wit ness that wherever these Divinely Given helps and means are used faithfully, and sincerely, and believingly, they do bring men to Christ, and hold them near to Him. Last: We are to consider for a few moments what is the hope and outlook for Christian Reunion, so that the Church of Christ may again be visibly one, as it was in the first days and for many centuries of its life and work in the world. The Episcopal Church hopes and prays constantly for Reunion, but if the reunion is to be a true Christian Re union it must be in accordance with the mind and will of our Lord Jesus Christ as His mind and will are made known to us in the Scriptures and in the life and teaching of His Church from the Apostles' time. Reunion will come. It will come because it is the will of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Church on earth. But there can be no true unity in the Church unless there is unity of faith and unity of spirit, and this requires far more than the adoption of resolutions or mere changes in external organization. However well intended, premature at tempts to create unity by artificial and external measures, or by majority votes of conventions, will create disunity instead of unity and will make new wounds in the Body of Christ instead of healing old ones. Unity will come not through cleverly devised schemes and formulas but through the power of the Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of Christians. No matter what its organization, the Church cannot be the true Body of Christ unless the Spirit of God lives and moves in it. The plain truth is [9/10] that none of the Churches, including the Episcopal Church, are yet spiritually ready, or even nearly ready, for Reunion. We need more Faith, more Prayer, more of the Spirit of God, in all the Churches before we can be ready for the inestimable blessings of a Reunited Church.
I can say from actual and sad experience that in the Diocese of New York, where we had been growing markedly in brotherliness and in freedom from party spirit, the present movement to unite the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches by external and mechanical measures has created more disunity and more of the spirit of division among us than anything that has occurred in the past quarter of a century.
There is already a deep union between all sincere followers of Christ. When we are spiritually ready for it, Reunion will come in like a tide. For the present, I believe that our true course is, first, to maintain to the full between all Churches, the spirit of mutual appreciation and brotherly love, with cooperation in good works to the fullest extent possible without compromise of conviction; second, to strengthen the spirit of unity and brotherly love in our own Churches and especially to do everything in our power to get rid of party spirit and partisan bitterness in our own Churches; and third, for Methodists to strive to be more faithful Methodists, for Roman Catholics to strive to be more faithful Roman Catholics, for Presbyterians to strive to be more faithful Presbyterians, and for Episcopalians to strive to be more faithful Episcopalians, and for others to do likewise and if we do this we shall all be moving towards the day [10/11] when we shall be spiritually ready and when there will again be full and visible Unity of the Church of Christ on earth.
But there are two things which must always be kept in mind in our efforts for Reunion.
First: We cannot achieve Christian Unity by ignoring or disregarding the convictions of earnest Christians or by taking action which faithful members of the Church hold to be a repudiation of essential principles.
Second: Christian Reunion means a union not only of Protestants but a union of all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, in the fellowship of that One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church which comes to us from Christ and His Apostles. The Holy Catholic Church of Christ, with complete loyalty to the Faith and Order of the Apostolic Church, has room in it, and when we are spiritually ready for union we shall all realize that the Holy Catholic Church has room in it, and that it must freely and gladly give room, for every opinion, every method, every ritual expression or lack of ritual expression, every variety of spiritual experience, every practice of spiritual and devotional life, which is consistent with the Divine and full New Testament Gospel of Christ and His Church.