Project Canterbury

Neither Fundamentalism Nor Modernism, But Belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God

From the Sermon at the Consecration of the Right Reverend James E. Freeman, D.D.
Bishop of Washington.

By the Right Reverend William T. Manning, D.D.
Bishop of New York.


LET me say first that this is not a day of discouragement, or of misgiving, but of great, and perhaps unprecedented, opportunity for those who preach the Gospel of Christ.

Two things are opening the door wide to the preaching of the Gospel. One of these is the new hope that is now stirring in the hearts of men, the other is the world's present desperate need. Great visions of peace and world brotherhood are now before men's minds. It is the Christian Gospel which has produced these visions. It is the Gospel only, which can bring them to fulfillment. The development of the social conscience, the desire that justice and love shall be the controlling motive in all human relationships, the longing to put an end to war, are all evidences of the power of the Gospel, and of the openness of men's hearts to receive it. And never was the need of the Gospel more evident than it is now. The world is in upheaval and confusion. Vast changes are taking place. We are confronted with situations the outcome of which no man can foresee, with problems for which the wisest can offer no solution. Men are feeling their need of God. There is a deep stirring of the currents of religion. We are living in a time of the revival of faith. Men are adrift, confused, many of them wholly in doubt, as to what they believe. But they are asking questions. And this is itself an evidence of faith. It has been well said that faith may be shown by the asking of honest questions not less really, but more really, than by the credulous acceptance of answers. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which can give, and which alone can give, the answer to these longings and questions.

Religion for us can mean no less than the bringing together of God and man. It is this that we have in Jesus Christ. The supreme thing about Jesus Christ is not His teachings, but Himself, not what He said or did, but what, and who, He is. He shows us God and man brought together, He shows us what God is, and what we are meant to be, not by talking about it, but by being it. Jesus Christ satisfies us, meets our need, is the Gospel to us, because He is both God and man.

The way is now wonderfully open for the preaching of the Gospel. But there are three things which we who are called to be its messengers at this time need to make clear, so that men may not be kept from Jesus Christ by mistaken conceptions.

I. We must make it clear, to all who will heed, that the truth revealed in Jesus Christ is in no conflict with any truth or fact made known to us by science or scholarship. The view that science is in antagonism with religion, or that it excludes belief in the supernatural, is old fashioned and out of date. A quarter of a century ago such a view was held widely, but science has left it behind. It belongs to a day that is past.

And, on the other hand, there is no reason why religion should have any suspicion or fear of science. There is nothing in the Christian Faith which conflicts with the scientific theory of evolution. To many of us this hypothesis seems to make clearer both the glory of the Creator and the naturalness of His revelation of Himself in the Incarnation.

The present controversy, in some of the Protestant Communions, between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists, is confusing and misleading to many people. That controversy has no place among us in this Church. This Church, of which we are members, holds a position which is larger than that represented by either of these groups, and which includes that which is true in each of them. Those who call themselves Fundamentalists are unfortunately identifying themselves with a particular theory as to the inspiration of the Scriptures which is untenable, and which has never been a part of the Christian Faith. The ancient creeds of the Church contain no reference whatever to this theory. [Note] The sad feature of this is that many are being conscientiously led to suppose that the Christian Religion itself stands or falls with an untenable theory, and when it becomes clear that the theory is untenable their faith may suffer.. Recent scholarship has rendered great service to the Christian Faith. Even the scholarship which is unbelieving, or half believing, has helped to make the truth more clear. Scholarship as a whole has given us two great results. First, it has made the Bible a more living book, and its truth as the record of God's gradual revelation of Himself to mankind culminating in the Incarnation, more evident than ever. Second, it has brought us back to a fuller and clearer view of our Lord's human life, and in so doing has shown, once again, the impossibility of accounting for Him as only man.

We can have no true faith in Christ without full belief in the reality of His manhood. It is in His perfect and unequalled manhood that, along with the first disciples, we see revealed the truth and wonder of his Deity.

The question with us in this Church is not Fundamentalism or Modernism, but belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our attitude towards Modernism depends upon what is meant by it. If by Modernism is meant only the desire to be wholly loyal to truth, to use our minds honestly and freely, to recognize and rejoice in the fruits of modern knowledge and the results of scientific research, I suppose almost all of us in this Church are in full sympathy with it, and we need no special appellation to announce the fact. But if Modernism, or Liberalism, means, as in the hands of some of its exponents it unhappily does mean, the denial, or in veiled terms the undermining, of belief in our Lord Jesus Christ as God, then it is plain that it can have no rightful place in a Church which lives to propagate this belief, and whose whole life and work and worship are founded upon it.

2. We who preach the Gospel today must make it clear, especially to our younger people, that the Christian faith, belief in our Lord Jesus Christ as God made man for us, is not a barrier to our thinking, a restriction imposed upon our minds.

On the contrary, it is our duty to think honestly and fearlessly about our religion. Only so can we have a full and living faith. The truth has nothing to fear from free enquiry, and everything to gain from it. All truth is from God. The truth revealed in Christ cannot conflict with any other truth.

The Gospel which we believe is not the product of our own reasoning and speculation. It comes to us as a supernatural revelation from God. But it is not, on that account, less, or more, than the truth, and it is as such that it makes its appeal to us. The Faith comes to us with the sure witness of the Catholic Church throughout the whole world. This universal consensus of the Spirit-guided body is indeed overwhelming testimony. But the truth needs, and can have, no higher authority than itself. It bears its own witness if it be given free course. If that which we see in Christ were not in itself true, no authority of Church or Bible could make it so.

We believe the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ, not because some authority commands us to do so, but because it is the truth and speaks as such to our minds and souls.

We believe in Jesus Christ, God made man, because with our whole being, mind, heart, and soul, we recognize in Him the truth of God and of ourselves. And believing in Jesus Christ Himself, God made man for us, we believe the facts in regard to Him declared in the Scriptures and the Creed.

The Creed is all of one piece. It all holds together. If we believe its central article, all the rest follows naturally and surely.

The very meaning of the Gospel is that it was God who came Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to dwell among men. Believing, with the Apostles, with the New Testament, with the Church from the beginning, that it was God Himself who, out of His great love, came down here to stand beside us, to give us His help, to show Himself to us in Christ, we find it not difficult, but natural, to believe that He came in His own way, that He entered into our life by free act of His own power.

In the words of Dean Inge, those "who believe that Christ was a Divine and unique Being will certainly not be guilty of the presumption of denying that the circumstances of His birth into the world, and of His withdrawal in bodily presence from it, may well also have been unique."

3. We must make clear to all, clearer than we have done, what the Gospel is that we are sent to preach to them. We must make it clearer to men that our acceptance of the Christian Creed is not a matter of belief in intellectual propositions, or metaphysical abstractions, but of belief in Jesus Christ Himself the Son of God.

We are the preachers not of a message, or a doctrine, but of a Person, no less a Person than the Redeemer of the world. The Gospel that we preach is Jesus Christ Himself, who, because He is God, is able to bless us, to hear our prayer, to lift us into fellowship with the Father. We preach Jesus Christ, God made man for us, born of the Virgin, crucified for our sakes, risen, and ascended, not Christ only as He was on earth but Christ as He now is, not Christ the teacher only, but Christ the Redeemer and Lord and Judge.

We preach the divine and human Christ who makes God manifest to all of us, who brings God into all the common affairs of our daily lives, who brings God within the reach of plain men and women, within the reach of all mankind, the Christ of Bethlehem, the Christ of Calvary, the Risen, Ascended Christ who still dwells among us in His Church on earth, who in His holy Sacraments still ministers to us, still comes to bless and heal us with His living touch.

Fathers and Brethren: We stand in a world stricken, shaken, and bewildered, brought face to face with its need of God. What we now need is a new preaching of the Gospel in all its Divine truth and power. Men are looking now for strength and help from above.

What they need is not some esoteric, philosophic restatement, of the Christian Religion reduced, rationalized, and denatured, but the Gospel which has the Cross at its center, the simple Gospel of the Eternal Son of God, coming "from the Father's throne across the gulf that separates Creator from creation, across the gulf that separates holiness from sin," bringing God Himself into the very midst of our human life, lifting our manhood up into its true glory in the image and likeness of Him who made us.

This is the Gospel of the Apostles, of the New Testament, and of the Church from its beginning. This is the Gospel of which we are witnesses and which we are sent to preach. This is the Gospel which alone has power to deal with human agony and suffering, to overcome the sin of the world, to bring to fulfillment our visions of justice and brotherhood and peace among men.


The Communions chiefly involved in the present controversy are those which are committed to one or other of the Confessions of Faith drawn up in the XVI century, such for example as the Westminster Confession. These Confessions of Faith are elaborate doctrinal statements expressing the theological opinion of their own time in regard to the inspiration of the Bible, the meaning of the Atonement, and other subjects upon which there is wide room for difference of opinion among Christians. Other Communions which were formed later and did not put forth such doctrinal statements, nevertheless implicitly accept, as the basis of their belief, the opinions about the Bible which find expression in the XVI century formularies.

In this Church we are not bound by any of these XVI century Confessions of Faith.

The statement that the Thirty Nine Articles are the Creed of our Church is a mistake made only by those who are insufficiently informed. They are not, and have never been, our Creed. Our standard of belief is a far simpler, and more fundamental one, than this.

As. members of this Church, our Faith is contained in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, which declare the great facts about Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as these facts are stated in the Scriptures, and as they have been held and taught by the Christian Church from the beginning of its life on earth.

This great, simple, Creed of the Catholic Church throughout the whole world is the standard of our belief, and the charter of our Christian liberty.

Project Canterbury