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CHRISTIAN DIVISION— A PRIOR CLAIM
The subject of church union is just now being discussed as a primary problem
of Christianity. But does the matter of organic unity really touch any profound
interest of ordinary men ? If church union is to be worth anything it must represent
a vital passion, and not a nice balancing of subtle distinctions. As a matter of fact
the great issue of today is the valuation of human life. Industrial and international
problems really involve the question whether men can manage to organize in a fellow-
ship which recognizes human rights. The fundamental test which Christianity must
apply is whether the Kingdom of Heaven is actually to come on earth by human
consecration and co-operation, or whether we shall despair of and depreciate ideals
of social evolution. Here is a fundamental cleavage in modern Christianity which
cannot be ignored.
What a dust of words the church has stirred up as it has
ploughed its slow way down the centuries! Even in this day,
when so much good time is being wasted wondering why
Smith does not go to church, the publishers continue to bring
out religious books in quantity almost equal to the ubiquitous
No will one deny that some of this verbal flood has
influenced mightily the course of history, despite Mr. Wells's
ability to tell the story of our race without mentioning John
Calvin. Yet there comes at times a suspicion, when one
views the massed rows of apologetics and homiletics and
apocalyptics and hermeneutics and all the rest (and remembers
how much larger an array of the same it is now impossible to
view) that we churchmen, if we have managed to obey the
apostolic injunction against thinking of ourselves and our
words more highly than we ought, have committed another
sin in taking ourselves and our words more seriously than we
have any business to.
Just now we are gushing forth on church union. Our con-
tributions range all the way from the suggestions of the
Anglican bishops at Lambeth, the Council on Faith and
CHRISTIAN DIVISION— A PRIOR CLAIM 141
Order, and the ill-fated "tendencies" of the Interchurch
World Movement, to the pronouncement of the Sage of
Emporia, Walt Mason, who finds in church division the root
of all our troubles, and in church union their solution. One
who makes an effort to keep abreast of Christian thought finds
it necessary to read a seemingly endless array of words, all
presumably contributing toward a union of the Christian
To what good ?
Read it all, if you have the patience. Then place your-
selves as far outside the influence of professional ecclesiastical
interests as it is possible for you to do, and ask this question:
What is there in all this that touches the spiritual problems
in which ordinary men are actually interested? What is
there here to which a man who cares little about churchly
traditions, but greatly about spiritual power, may run and
grip and shout, "See, here is something upon which we may
plant a church that will challenge mankind!" ?
As it was in the beginning, so is it now (and one fears will
be) — polite preachers piously proposing improbable perform-
ances, as they would say in the type catalogues. Schemes
evolved in committee rooms; discussions that have had their
birth in musty studies — parson talk, all of it, even when
spoken by laymen, and useless because it has so little connec-
tion with the vital issues of life.
The tragedy of our preoccupation with this illusion stands
the more starkly in the presence of our failure to deal with
issues that are vital, and have their direct application to the
same questions of church division and union. For while we
palaver of orders and ordinations and the acts of legates long
dead— and better so!— we are blind to true divisions that
spell weal or woe for humanity, establishment or loss for the
Kingdom of Heaven.
Sometimes I have heard my clerical friends, especially
from among the Anglicans, say that we must have a church
142 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION
so broad that it can include the symbolism of the high church-
man at the same time with the exuberance of the Salvation
Army evangelist. But this is not something to be attained
by a nice balancing of tradition. If it ever comes it will come
spontaneously. If those who work for a union of the churches
would think deeper they would see that before we can have a
vital church union we must have a vital church division.
Today we are mixed up about standards that mean little;
at times nothing at all. But let us dare to admit our real
lines of division, and we shall perforce find ourselves regroup-
ing in units that will cut across and transcend our present
herdings. We shall then have a unity with meaning.
Christian division is an actuality of immense importance to
the world. Unfortunately, the church so far has refused to
admit this actuality and so, in its very presuppositions, serves
notice that it is not a servant of reality, and therefore is
unable to play a great part in the problems of our time. If
you doubt this, regard our attitude toward two fundamental
We are divided in our conception of the value of the indi-
vidual and in our attitude toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
These are not "the flaccid tissues of long dead issues," but
vitalities that cut to the heart of the world's hope. Yet here
we are divided, and refuse to face the division.
Always, theoretically, the individual has held supreme
value in the Christian church. It is this that has made the
Bible such a dangerous book. The depiction of man standing
only "a little lower than God" has inspired many a lofty
flight of pulpit eloquence.
We are past the day when eloquence will save us. Reality
is the demand. We face the test of our action as to whether
the welfare of every human being is the supremely important
matter, be its effect what it may upon the stocks and bonds
of our material civilization.
CHRISTIAN DIVISION— A PRIOR CLAIM 143
This goes deep. It goes clear down to the fundamental
upon which all such conceptions as a League of Nations, and
the like, must rest. For, as that brilliant Englishman, Edward
Shillito, said not long ago, "Nations must live together; but
how can they live in the same house in peace unless they are
agreed upon the meaning of human life, and upon its true
values and its destiny ? " What is true for nations, controlling
life politically, is as true for those who control it in any of
its other relationships.
Let us admit that it will be hard to force most of the
churches to face this demand. It is too easy to sidestep it
with words, social creeds, the reports of commissions, and
other means of testifying to our verbal impeccability. But
this is just the issue. If there is reality in the mission of the
church just now, it dare not confine its passion to words.
We face the same demand that St. James voiced in the first
century of the church's life: "Show me thy faith by thy
works." It will be recalled that much of the Epistle of
St. James deals with the relative importance of individuals.
What actuality have we faced when we talk about the
supreme value of every human soul ? We have various tests
for membership within our communions. Have any of us yet
dared place a test just here? Have any of us announced
that we will sternly exclude from our ranks any who, by
personal act or the pressure of securities owned, or in any other
manner, direct or indirect, lower by one atom the dignity of
a single life, or cause one of the world's little ones to stumble ?
The experience of the Interchurch World Movement with
its report on the steel industry, and of the Young Women's
Christian Association with its outline for a Christian order
in industry, shows that no such test as this can be made with-
out producing a real division. The moment the church acts
upon the implications of a belief in the supremacy of the wel-
fare of every man, that moment it will lose the support and
144 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION
arouse the antagonism of all the "practical" elements in its
ranks. Many, fearing this, will cry out against any such
test. It is only the Christian-minded who will welcome it.
For they will see that a church practical is a church damned,
and that there are modern applications of the experiences of
Moreover, they will see that this is not a question to be
answered on the basis of expediency, no matter how many
denominational colleges and benevolent boards may be hunt-
ing endowment. It is a question that tests the church's sense
of reality. Here is a division demanded by the condition of
the world at this hour. If the church avoids it she will show
great adroitness, astuteness, adaptability. And she will, in
the act, convince most men that she has no call to a task of
Inextricably bound up with this issue of the value of the
individual goes the question as to whether the Kingdom of
Heaven, as portrayed by Jesus, is actually to come on earth,
as we have for centuries been praying that it may come. If
this is to happen all individual, social, political life is due to
be transformed, and our race carried onward to a goal as
glorious as the present reality is disheartening.
A large part of Protestantism, and a vigorous part, denies
this expectation. An indication of the way in which the
church goes dallying along sidetracks is found in its attitude
toward these thoroughly consecrated, thoroughly conscien-
tious, and thoroughly calamitous members. Occasionally it
condescends to discuss with them subjects such as the theory
of scriptural inspiration or the probability of a thousand
years of messianic glory just before or after the bodily return
of Jesus to earth. But for the most part the church says,
"They're mistaken, but what of it?", blind to that vaster
heresy which these indorse, that denial of the supreme hope
Jesus planted when he taught of the Kingdom that is to be.
Here is a vital division.
CHRISTIAN DIVISION— A PRIOR CLAIM 145
One man says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is to be estab-
lished on earth by the gradual and unceasing upbuilding of
the rule of Christ." Another replies, "The Kingdom will
only be realized in some future state, when, by a sudden mir-
acle, the Lord will descend with a shout from the sky to sit
for a limited period upon a throne in Jerusalem."
One man says, "The race is progressing toward a far-off,
divine event, when evil will be overthrown and good completely
established." Another replies, "The race is getting worse
and worse. Church, state, society, everything, must go on
until all is utterly bad, and then the smash-up."
One man says, "I will give my life for the building of the
Kingdom." Another replies, "It is unscriptural for you to
express such a thought. The Kingdom is not to be built or
established, or anything else that implies any place for your
puny efforts in its securing. It is to be disclosed by an
omnipotent fiat in the hour when God, his patience at an end,
wipes out the last vestige of our sorry strivings."
One man says, "We must not rest until every last man has
been won to loving allegiance to the Kingdom and its King."
Another replies, "It is not the purpose of God to bring more
than a select remnant into his Kingdon. He has ordained
destruction for the rest."
One man knows Jesus as a savior; another awaits him as
a despot. Indeed, it is significant that one of the leaders of
the latter group should have written of him as "Kaiser Jesus."
This is a division. Either the church is concerned with
building the Kingdom in the world or it is not, and it is mean-
ingless to talk about a church unity which would harbor both
ideas within the same fold. The reality of such a division
serves to show the more clearly the unreality of the divisions
by which the denominations now group themselves.
Two men were looking out of the windows of the Mission-
ary Home in Shanghai last winter, watching the Chinese
crowds shifting past through the gathering dusk. One watched
146 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION
until the lines of pain were etched deep in his face, and when
he turned away his voice was scarcely under control.
"Doesn't it almost drive you mad," he cried, "to realize
that after all our work we have scarcely begun to affect the
edges of that multitude out there ?"
His companion replied without a moment of hesitation, and
with a complacency complete:
"It might, if you did not know that God has never planned
to have us reach those people anyway."
Both those men are casually grouped by their acquaint-
ances as Presbyterians. Yet it is folly to say that they belong
to the same church; that they are Christians of the same sort;
that they follow the same Christ; that they worship the same
In these two illustrations of the demand for clean division
there is nothing new. That fact renders the illustrations the
more illuminating! In every aspect of the life of the church
we are constantly showing an ability to ignore such questions
of real moment, the while we concern ourselves with artificial
schemes that revolve about shibboleths that are "old, far-
off, forgotten." Before vital Christian unity can ever come
there must be sharp cleavage where divisions truly exist, after
which we can, and will, rally about great facts and hopes
that outrange the artificial lines of our present demarcations.