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THE STAKE OF PROTESTANTISM IN THE 
CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 



GEORGE CROSS 
Rochester Theological Seminary, Rochester, N.Y. 



The religious divisions in Protestantism are an expression of its inherent spirit 
of spontaneity and creative freedom. The movement toward Christian Union in 
Protestantism is due to the free sentiment of Protestant bodies rather than to the pro- 
mulgation of an ecclesiastical program. Its chief expression is in practical co-operation 
in missionary enterprise rather than in uniformity of doctrine or ritual. It goes hand 
in hand with the increasing laicizing of Protestantism. It is compatible with the 
historical as contrasted with the dogmatic conception of the authority of the Bible 
and creeds. 

This characteristic Protestant movement is now confronted with the movement 
for the reunion of Christendom, which seeks the bond of unity in a universal acceptance 
of certain prescribed creeds and rituals. Canon Headlam's recent book on Christian 
Reunion when critically examined really proposes the authority of a church which shall 
command obedience and shall exclude from fellowship all who do not submit to the 
ecclesiastical program. This ideal and that of Protestantism are so contradictory 
that one or the other must give way. " Protestantism is not repentant of its departure 
from Catholicism. " It has a mission for the future which it cannot abandon. 



The idea of Christian unity is in the air. With some 
people it is a matter of inner spirit, with others it is a matter 
of ecclesiastical organization and with still others it is a matter 
of both spirit and organization. Again, with those whose 
hearts are set on the dominance of a form of organization 
dating from the past the ecclesiastical problem lies in the task 
of reunion. But with those whose hearts are set on an order 
of things yet to be established the practical issue lies in the 
task of union — not of reunion. To the latter pertain almost 
entirely the members of the bodies calling themselves Protes- 
tants. 

Protestant Christians are trying to come together, and they 
are meeting with some success. Of several of the larger bodies 
it is true that they are actually coming together. For about 
four hundred years Protestant Christianity has been divided 
into sections, some of the divisions dating from the days of 
the Reformation but most of them arising within the last 

129 



130 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

hundred and fifty years. The new bodies have appeared 
principally among English-speaking Christians through suc- 
cessive revolts against the formalism, oppression, and spiritual 
dearth of the state churches and through a new emphasis appear- 
ing among bodies having no state connection. It is note- 
worthy that the recent multiplication of Protestant denomina- 
tions has occurred contemporaneously with the spread of 
Protestant Christianity as a living force of personal convic- 
tion among the masses of the people in the home lands and 
with the extension of their faith into many foreign lands. 
It is also noteworthy that the non-state churches have led in 
this foreign missionary enterprise. And naturally so, since 
the extension of a state church into foreign lands is interpret- 
able as an act of political aggression. 

The multiplication of sects or denominations of Protestants, 
whatever faults or errors may have occasioned them and what- 
ever peculiarities or extravagances may have been exhibited 
in their character and structure, is a mark of the spontaneity, 
freedom, and aggressiveness of the Protestant type of Chris- 
tianity. People have not been content to move along in fixed 
grooves — even "holy" grooves are felt to be artificial restric- 
tions upon the spiritual life — but they persistently turn to 
those practices, forms of teaching and associations that best 
suit their general way of looking at things, whatever may have 
been done in the past and whatever other people would fain 
direct them to do now. Without doubt, there is much good 
in all this. Better a multitude of divisions among live Chris- 
tians than the loss of enterprise and the stagnation and death 
that so often come with uniformity. 

But a change has been coming in the relation of various 
Protestant bodies to one another. The older and the larger 
denominations are co-operating increasingly. Peace, good will 
and harmony as between Baptists, Congregationalists, Method- 
ists, Presbyterians, and some of the more liberal sections of 
Episcopalians and Lutherans, have come to reign instead of 



PROTESTANTISM IN THE CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 131 

the old controversies and acrimonies. Old lines of cleavage 
are being obliterated. If new lines of cleavage are appearing 
they are cutting across the denominational lines. The hearts 
of the people in the different bodies are set upon one another 
as never before. These unions of heart are certain to be fol- 
lowed by denominational unions. 

If we are duly to appreciate this movement there are some 
facts to be carefully noted. In the first place, it has not come 
about of set purpose or by the prevision, calculation, or regular 
guidance on the part of the ecclesiastical leaders, but it has 
come by the attraction of spiritual affinity and the pursuit 
of spiritual aims in common on the part of the multitudes of 
earnest, whole-souled, and active members of the churches. 
Some denominational interests to which they formerly gave 
themselves have been superseded by interests which they feel 
to be higher, with the result that the former seem an obstacle 
to the achievement of the latter. Thus the traditional divi- 
sions are becoming unnatural. The people are discarding 
them increasingly in their social relations and their moral and 
religious enterprises, and when the people do this the "leaders" 
must follow. When this occurs a danger-point in the move- 
ment is reached. But more of this later. 

In the second place, the origin of a type of spirituality 
common to multitudes in the different denominations has been 
accompanied by the recognition of the greatness of the task 
that falls to them in common. The definite commitment to 
the task of evangelizing the whole world of men and, with it, 
the growing recognition of the imperativeness of thoroughly 
permeating the whole of the organized activities, as well as the 
unorganized activities of men, with the spirit of the gospel 
have aroused an uneasiness of conscience at the spectacle of 
the confusion and waste through the overlapping of effort in 
territories occupied by them. This results in an undesirable 
and unnecessary limitation of effort in territories where the 
need is greater. Thus the control of the activities of individ- 



132 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

uals by their respective denominational organizations interferes 
with the pursuit of the higher ideals now before them — ideals 
that received no clear recognition or emphasis in the older 
creeds, liturgies, and orders. The people are not crying for 
greater official control but for the relaxing of it because it 
impedes their progress. Whatever organizations arise in 
obedience to the new movement must not be imposed upon it 
by authority or from without but must arise from within and 
be naturally organic to the higher aims that have come to the 
birth in the people's minds. 

In the third place, associated with the foregoing there has 
been going on before our eyes what we may call the swiftly 
growing laicizing of Protestantism. Protestantism is by its 
inmost character a layman's faith and has no place for priests. 
The growing sense of immediate personal responsibility and 
personal fellowship Godward has brought about, especially 
in recent years, a multiplication of organizations and agen- 
cies in the churches that were not created by the formal action 
of the regular ministry and have never been under their control. 
They are mainly officered by laymen, non-professional leaders, 
and men of the formally recognized ministry mingle freely 
with them in their activities and as equals. These new organi- 
zations have spread through all the great Protestant bodies 
and in some cases represent the major part of churchly activi- 
ties. Ordination cuts no figure there. It would bring no 
increment of power and it would give to no one who might 
have received it a recognizable advantage in this wider spiritual 
ministry. "Ordination" is now a mode of recognizing one's 
personal fitness for spiritual leadership and in no sense a 
means of conferring upon its subjects peculiar gifts. 

In the fourth place, thoroughly in keeping with the afore- 
mentioned movements, is that mighty current of influence 
proceeding from the modern literary, historical, and philoso- 
phical reinterpretation of the Christian faith. Much alarm 
has been aroused in some quarters because these studies have 



PROTESTANTISM IN THE CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 133 

brought into question the adequacy and correctness of those 
interpretations of the Christian faith which have been formally 
sanctioned by the official action of the heads of great ecclesias- 
tical systems in the past. It is to be carefully noted that this 
newer attitude coincides in time and place with the rapid and 
wide extension of learning among the multitudes and the 
adoption of modern methods of education. As a consequence, 
the Christian Scriptures, the ecclesiastical traditions, the 
regular forms of ritual, and the accepted doctrines of the faith 
have been subjected to the test of the methods of inquiry 
which are followed in so-called secular learning or science. To 
some people it has seemed a process of putting the sacred and 
the profane on a common level and a dereligionizing of our 
humanity. But it is the reverse. That which may seem, 
from one point of view, a secularizing of the holy appears, 
from another point of view, as the sanctification of the common 
— and, therewith, the purification of the common. This 
great movement, conducted mainly through the leadership 
of the schools, is a part of the same democratizing of authority 
already referred to. Faith, wherever it may appear, whether 
in the Scriptures or anywhere else, is allowed to make its 
appeal directly to the human consciousness, the mental, moral, 
and religious judgment. The "authority" of priests, creeds, 
councils, and churches departs, like Kipling's "captains and 
kings,"and every man is urged to make a direct approach to 
the truth, to find help wherever he may, and to make his 
decisions on his own responsibility. The men of today are 
far better equipped than their ancestors to discover the genius 
and the worth of the Christian faith. 

It will be seen, I think, that the concurrent movements I 
have roughly sketched exhibit, in the final analysis, a single 
unitary character. Their combined force is having an impact 
upon the spiritual life of our time far beyond anything in the 
past. This it is, and not a regretful longing to return to con- 
ditions that were outlived ling ago, that has called forth the 



134 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

effort to bring forth a greater degree of unity in the activities 
of Protestant Christians at the present time. 

That we have now reached the danger-point referred to 
earlier in this article is evident from the number of books 
appearing from the pens of representatives of various church 
systems in the attempt to make their particular system norma- 
tive. One of these, 1 the Bampton Lectures for the year 1920, 
by Professor Arthur C. Headlam, of Oxford University, pro- 
ceeds from the standpoint of a theologian of the Church of 
England. These lectures constitute an essay in ecclesiastical 
politics. By a historical review of the doctrine and order of 
"the church" from apostolic times to the present, the lecturer 
— who seems to address himself particularly to the people of 
his own church — seeks to lay down a basis of union that will 
be adequate to the convictions and needs of the different 
divisions of a disunited Catholicism. He thinks also that it 
might be accepted by the old eastern churches, the churches 
of Scandinavia, the Reformed churches of the continent, and 
the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists through- 
out the world. The premises of the historical argument are 
to be found in the proposals of the closing lecture, entitled, 
"Reunion." 

The lecturer looks backward rather than forward. His 
ideals and standards are in the past rather than in the future. 
The church of the Nicene fathers is his model. Their discarded 
authority is to be reinstated, the Nicene creedal, ecclesiastical, 
and sacramental forms are to be re-established, the successive 
schisms and separations are to be annulled, and, instead of 
union on a new basis, there is to be reunion. We are to 
begin over again at the point where we left the "undivided 
church," acknowledge the formation of modern and ancient 
denominations of Christians to have been a mistake, and again 
make the boundaries of Christianity and churchianity coter- 

1 Arthur C. Headlam, The Doctrine of the Church and Christian Reunion, Being 
the Bampton Lectures for the Year 1920. New York: Longmans, pp. x+326. 



PROTESTANTISM IN THE CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 135 

minous. It scarcely needs to be said that the Roman 
Catholic church would reject 1 these proposals forthwith. It 
rightly holds that the claims made for the Nicene Council are 
equally valid for the Council of Trent and the Vatican Coun- 
cil of 1870, that the logical place for the Anglican Episcopacy 
that calls itself "Catholic" is in the Roman church and that 
the only logical alternative is a radical Protestantism. The 
situation ought to be equally plain to the churches that stand 
on the basis of an immediate personal faith in God revealed 
in Christ. 

The lecturer's argument rests on a fiction. It is the fiction 
of an actually existent undivided church, that is, using the 
term church in the sense of an organization with definitely 
recognized officers, rites, and doctrines. From the days of the 
Apostles down to the present the Christian faith has lived 
in and through the formation of many and various communities 
of Christians more or less in disagreement and more or less 
complementary to one another. It is likely to be so in the 
future. The Nicene bishops made good their claim to unity 
and universality by pronouncing all who dissented from their 
stand to be outside the church and unChristian. Canon Head- 
lam has nothing better to offer in the end. One will search 
his book in vain for an admission that the unbaptized are 
Christian, that baptism is not a sacrament of the church or 
that salvation is found outside the visible church. 

When it comes to the matter of concrete proposals they are 
summarized in three divisions, 2 namely, "unity of doctrine, 
unity of organization, unity of sacraments. " These, he says, 
characterize the true church everywhere. 

As respects the first: While it is affirmed that "the Holy 
Scriptures and the Creed are the doctrinal basis of Christian 
unity," we find that the church makes the canon by virtue of 

1 See, e.g., J. W. Poynter, Contemporary Review, December, 192 1; Lester J. Walker, 
S.J., The Problem of Reunion. 

"Headlam, op. cit., pp. 228 ft. 



136 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

the authority resident in her, that she writes the creed which 
alone has " undoubted ecumenical authority," 1 and that it is the 
Scriptures only as interpreted in the creed that become our 
guide into the truth. So also says, of course, the Roman 
Catholic — only he carries the claim to its logical, present-day 
conclusion. Plainly, Headlam's unity of doctrine depends on 
the unity of organization and his concern is really with the 
church rather than with the doctrine. 

As respects the second: While the lecturer recedes from 
the claims of an unbroken apostolic succession 2 in the sense 
of an order of officials proceeding without a break in their ordi- 
nation of one another from apostles who transmitted to them by 
tactful succession the gifts of the Spirit, he holds to the necessity 
of an unbroken church order 3 from the original church to the 
present. A few quotations are here given. The position of 
Cyprian is supported: 

That the work of the Church is the work of God; that He, in answer 
to the prayers of the Church, gives his Spirit. Ordination was sacra- 
mental .... that the essential of ordination always has been prayer 
with the laying on of hands. God answers the prayers of His Church. 
The Church orders the proper method of approaching Him. 

Christ .... created the church as a visible society. He instituted 
ministry and sacraments. He gave authority for legislation and discip- 
line Catholicism is a development, but a development of 

Gospel elements. The church was potentially Catholic from the begin- 
ning; it has not yet attained a full or complete Catholicity. 

Whether we look at the process of development or the source of its 
spiritual ministrations, it is the Church which is supreme. A baptism 
is valid because it is the baptism of the Church, whether administered 
within or outside; the authority of a bishop comes to him because it is 
conferred by the Church and even if he cease to be within the Church 
he can still perform Episcopal functions because he does not lose what the 
Church has given him. It is to the Catholic Church that the Spirit 
has been given, and therefore within the Church alone are all the gifts 
and blessings, sacramental and other, that the Spirit gives. 4 

1 Headlam, op. cit., p. 23 1. 3 Hid., Lecture VII. 

3 Ibid., pp. 264 ff. *Ibid.,pp. 133 ff. 



PROTESTANTISM IN THE CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 137 

As to the third of the essentials: The sacraments obtain 
after all the chief emphasis. The ultimate question is always 
the question of salvation. With Headlam, as with all Catholics, 
salvation is, in the final analysis, sacramental. The church 
is sacramentally constituted. 1 "It consists of the whole body 
of the faithful baptized." "The Church consists of all bap- 
tized Christians." "All baptized Christians are members 
of Christ's Holy Catholic Church." What about the Quakers, 
the hosts of other unbaptized believers, and unbaptized infants ? 
As to the sacraments of the Nonconformists: "They have 
valid sacraments because they obey Christ's command and 
intend to do what Christ bade them." 2 The "intention" is 
the significant and determinative factor in all the sacraments, 
according to the Catholic view. But who can possibly guaran- 
tee the intention of any administrator in the performance of 
any sacrament ? Nobody, in any case. The whole superstruc- 
ture of Dr. Headlam and of Catholicism rests on this insecure 
basis. They can give no assurance of salvation to a single soul. 
Their case becomes all the more evidently deplorable when we 
find the lecturer finally turning away from definitions of the 
meaning of the creed which he advocates and centering his 
interest on the obedient performance of the sacraments. 

Professor Headlam has rendered the great service of making 
it quite clear that the cleavage between the Catholicism which 
he and others who regard themselves as moderates represent, 
on the one side, and the free spiritual .movement which was 
sketched in the beginning of this article, on the other, is so 
vast and deep that one side or the other must give way. 

Protestantism is not repentant of its departure from Cathol- 
icism. The story of its career is not the recital of a growing 
mental darkness, or moral confusion, or religious doubt, but of 
an expanding, ever-deepening intellectual, moral, religious — 
in a word — human life. Protestantism is becoming less and 
less inclined to retraverse or renew the course of the old contro- 

' Ibid., pp. 224 ff. 'Ibid., p. 265; cf. p. 258. 



138 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

versies by which it sought in its early days to justify the 
separation, because it is no longer on the defensive but has 
become a confidently aggressive enterprise with a world-con- 
quering will. It is also becoming less and less minded to 
recall the ancient disputes between the different Protestant 
denominations because these disputes grew mainly out of their 
various retentions of specifically Catholic views. These old 
controversies are being forgotten in obedience to the vision of 
an enlarging task. 

The Protestant conception of the meaning and worth of 
our common human life far outstretches the Catholic concep- 
tion of that life. It has no derogatory estimate of the physical 
and spiritual universe in which we live and offers no apology 
for our being denizens of it. Its heroes are not the recluses 
who flee the world to escape its taint but the men of affairs 
who plunge into the world to bring to fulfilment in it the King- 
dom of God. Its saints are not the begowned and beaded 
ascetics who bear on their exterior and in their minds the marks 
of an exclusive "holiness," but its ideal life is that lived by the 
housewife and mother, by the husband and father whose hands 
are hard because of the daily struggle to make material reality 
a servant to human good, by the economist, the statesman and 
the teacher, whose minds endure the constant strain of 
"worldly" care — by all, indeed, who seek by means of the com- 
mon duties of the common earthly life to fulfil the purpose of 
that life divine which is revealed in Christ Jesus. 

Accordingly, the means of salvation for mankind are not 
found in a legal system of doctrines to be accepted by the 
obeisance of intellect to authority, or in a system of ecclesias- 
tical institutions or orders supposedly containing in themselves 
the sole deposit of divine grace, or in a system of rites to be 
observed; but they are to be found in all the natural contacts 
of men with one another. These are the channels along which 
the sanctifying divine Spirit moves from heart to heart and 
which bring men into a saving communion with one another 



PROTESTANTISM IN THE CHRISTIAN UNION MOVEMENT 139 

and with God. After giving all due credit to the famous 
preachers and teachers who have stood in the forefront of the 
public gaze in the progress of the Christian gospel, the chief 
evangelists have ever been its non-professional saints who 
have carried it along the highways of human travel and com- 
merce; who have established its power in the home, the social 
circle, and the state; who in the infinitely varied play of human 
affection and thought and will have seasoned all with the 
spirit of the gentleness, and purity, and goodness, and vicarious 
love of Jesus Christ. If there are to be sacraments of any kind, 
these are the divinely ordained means of grace ministered by 
all the members of that true church whose names are written 
in the book of life. 

The Christian churches of the future must be increasingly 
of the Protestant type. If they formulate their doctrines — 
as assuredly they will — these will be temporary records of 
their ever-growing interpretation of the faith which comes 
by the experience which men have of its power and by the new 
insight into its meaning which is furthered by the advance of 
science and philosophy. If they form ecclesiastical institutions, 
these will not be fixed by the dictates of formal legislation but 
they will be the modes of fellowship in faith and activity which 
are found to be most fruitful in promoting the faith. And if 
they observe the practice of regular and orderly public worship, 
be their liturgies simple or elaborate, they will do so knowing 
that these are only partially suited to express and to further the 
inward faith that is in them all and must be subject to altera- 
tion or disuse in accordance with the demands of a purer 
faith and a growing life.