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Queen's Theological College, Kingston, Ontario 

The successful imion of four Presbyterian bodies into one church in 1875, ^°<i ^ 
similar union of four Methodist bodies in 1883 raised the question of an interdenomina- 
tional imion. The arguments in favor of such union are summarized in this article. 
The attitude of the Presbyterians in the negotiations is outlined. Citations are given 
from the documentary pronovmcements of the Baptists and the Episcopalians, idio 
declined to enter the union. 

Just about the time that Matthew Arnold was putting on 
record his dislike for the "dissidence of dissent" and "the 
Protestantism of the Protestant ReUgion," and was asserting 
that nonconformity was born to separation as the sparks fly 
upward, some of the denominations in Canada, notably the 
Methodist and the Presbyterian, were giving signs that no 
negative word, whether it be "dissent" or "nonconformity," 
described their real life. In 1 87 5 four Presbyterian bodies were 
united, and became the "Presbyterian Church in Canada," 
the product of a steady impulse toward union, uninterrupted 
except for the echo in Canada of the disruption in Scotland 
in 1843. Ill 1883, four Methodist bodies joined together 
imder the name of the "Methodist Church." It is to be 
regretted that in the religious life of this continent, as well as 
elsewhere, groups break off from their parent stem with what 
seems insufficient cause, freedom of worship having its defects 
as well as its advantages; but it can hardly be true, when all 
the facts are considered, that there is in Canada any inherent 
tendency toward division. 

The two great unions, that of 1875 and that of 1883, took 
place in time close to the confederation of the Provinces into 
the Dominion of Canada in 1867, and share in the spirit of that 
achievement. In lands so sparsely settled as the British 



Colonies then were, union, political and religious, may be said 
to have been essential. In the churches concerned the effects 
of union were felt immediately. In the Presbyterian church 
"a new note was struck, the note of national responsibility."' 
Under this impulse the church entered with enthusiasm upon 
mission work abroad and in the Northwest, beginning an epoch 
of expansion which "few would fail to call heroic"; while the 
record of growth in the Methodist church "tells eloquently 
in favor of the union of 1883."^ It is almost impossible to 
escape the conclusion that it was the happy experience of 
these two churches which made a stUl wider union a credibility. 
With this stimulating background negotiations for the 
larger union of Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presby- 
terians were cautiously begun more than seventeen years ago. 
At the very outset the committees appointed by the several 
churches entertained no greater hope than that of an increased 
friendly co-operation, especially in the field of home missions; 
but soon the discussion took on a deeper tone. As early as 
September, 1902, a committee of the Methodist church had 
reached the following conclusion : 

The time is opportune for a definite practical movement concen- 
trating attention on, and aiming at, the practical organic unity of those 
denominations aheady led by Providence into such close fraternal 

This advance was cordially met by the Presb5^erian church, 
which appointed a committee to confer with their Methodist 
and Congregationalist brethren, and as a result they jointly 
reached the decision that "organic union is both practicable 
and desirable." Perhaps it was at this moment that the die 
was cast. Union committees were thereupon struck by the 
three churches, and the new and wonderful movement was 
fairly launched. 

" Canada and Its Provinces, XI, 283. 


J Explanatory Statement. Toronto: Murray Printing Co., p. 6. 


It is not necessary to follow the negotiations in detail 
year by year. Perhaps expectations ran too high at the outset ; 
perhaps obstacles emerged; perhaps opposition had not had 
time to form. In any case the voyage of union was to be 
more stormy and uncertain than even its more moderate 
advocates had calculated. The strongest opposition developed 
in the Presbyterian church, and came from a section which 
found it advisable to organize into an association for the 
preservation of the Presbyterian church. In the Methodist 
and Congregational churches opposition also arose, but never 
to the same extent, and it was never formally organized. 

It is impossible in a "fierce abridgment" to do even the 
scantest justice to the arguments of those who opposed union. 
Perhaps the strongest sentiment found in their ranks is the 
quite legitimate feeling of pride in the history and work of their 
own special denomination, and an unpleasant premonition of 
insecurity and loss of identity. This conservative dislike of 
change is in its way just, and can rightly claim that arguments 
in favor of church union must be of the most cogent character. 
But, in addition to this general aversion to what seems to 
some to be violent and uncalled-for agitations, there are, one 
may venture to say, also more special grounds of objection. 
Methodists desire to be insured against the encroachments 
of spiritual deadness, Presbyterians against the lowering of the 
academic standards and a limitation of the right of free inquiry, 
and Congregationalists against a mechanical church autocracy. 
Needless to say, these are all real evils, into which any church, 
united or otherwise, may fall, and the more pronounced is the 
antagonism to them, the better for the fortunes of the united 

The arguments in support of union may be summarized as 

I . The argument from expediency. — Men and money would be 
saved by union, manses would be more commodious, libraries 
more complete, congregations larger, and traveling curtailed. 


2. The argument from efficiency. — ^Rivalries would diminish, 
at least within the bounds of the three churches, and prose- 
lytizing cease. The number of colleges would be reduced 
from about sixteen to eight with a marked gain in teaching 

3. The argument from the past. — If the results of previous 
unions can be used as a basis, a leap forward would be made 
in all church work, expecially in mission enterprise at home 
and abroad. PubUcations would have larger circulations and 
attract higher talent. 

4. The argument from diversity. — ^Union, it is urged, is not 
a compromise, according to which each denomination drops 
its personal qualities and accepts a weak amalgam, but a 
imion in which all valuable individual features would have 
fuUer scope. The doctrinal independence of the Congregation- 
alists, the religious fervor of the Methodists, and the scholar- 
ship of the Presbyterians would all leaven the united body, 
the new church being enriched by the special gift of each 

5. The practical argument. — From time to time the sparser 
populations of the West, little influenced by older communi- 
ties, and impelled by self-preservation, have already taken 
matters into their own control, and formed union churches. 
At present nearly five hundred such community congregations, 
shaking themselves loose from denominational ties and setting 
up church for themselves, are dotted thickly over the prairies 
and are impatiently awaiting union. To preserve these and 
other groups to the united church is a matter of the first 

6. The race and language argument. — ^The foreign, or as we 
now term it, the "New-Canadian" problem becomes easier 
to solve. In the provinces of the West, British Columbia, 
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and also in New 
Ontario, the percentage of the non-Enghsh varies from forty 
to forty-five according to the province. Under existing con- 


ditions the New Canadians, finding no distinctively Canadian 
church, may be said to be encouraged to hive oflf by themselves, 
and perpetuate on Canadian soU their European exclusiveness. 
Everywhere in the Northwest can be found little match-box 
churches built by the New Canadians in imitation of the 
match-box churches built by the Enghsh-speaking, all poorly 
equipped, poorly heated, lighted, and ventilated, the congre- 
gation small and struggling, and the minister inadequately 
paid. It is a colorable proposition that many of these New 
Canadians will seek to attach themselves to a distinctively 
Canadian church. 

7. The spiritual argument. — ^This argument cannot be 
ignored. It pleads not for forms or mass-movement or 
mechanisms, but for more abundant life, not for the dead 
hand but the free hand, the carrying forward of the living past 
into the living future; it argues for wider fellowship and for 
machinery adequate to a Christian brotherhood. While seek- 
ing inamediate practical unity with those organizations, which 
are open to consider it, it turns a friendly face toward all 
Christian bodies everywhere in all lands, believing that the 
ultimate reunion will be effected not by an instantaneous 
avalanche at some far-distant and problematical day, but by 
direct action today, wherever the soil has been by fraternal 
relations prepared beforehand. Union thus may come not by 
bemg staged, and not by observation, but quietly like the 
dawn; and the speed of its breaking will be in proportion 
to our faith in the communion and fellowship of man with 
man and church with church under the guidance of the 
Spirit of God. 

In the course of the ''long-drawn-out" controversies 
extending over a number of years a popular vote was taken 
in each of the three churches, of a very satisfactory and 
decisive character in the Methodist and Congregational 
churches, but less conclusive in the Presbyterian, where the 
vote was broadly 70 per cent in favor, and 30 per cent against. 


A second vote in the Presbyterian church was even less satis- 
factory, and many, irrespective of their own convictions, were 
afraid that to precipitate union would spUt the church. That 
view became quite pronounced at the meeting of the General 
Assembly held in Montreal in 191 7. As a consequence a truce 
was called for the period of the war. When the discussion 
was resiuned in 192 1 in Toronto nearly everyone believed 
that the time had arrived for a decision, and with intense 
though suppressed interest the Assembly addressed itself to 
the debate. The committee in charge had framed a recom- 
mendation based on a strong desire to avoid disruption. 
Without a dissenting voice this committee affirmed the great 
and crying need of a more effective co-operation among the 
branches of the Christian church, and deplored rivalry. They 
did not break apart even at the prospect of union, but only 
upon the immediate step which it was thought wise for the 
church to take. The majority of the committee finally Uned 
themselves behind the following resolution: 

Whereas the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 
Canada has already by a large majority expressed ItseK in favor of organic 
union with the Methodist and Congregational Churches of Canada, 

Whereas two appeals to the members and adherents of the Presby- 
terian Chiurch in Canada have resulted in a similar way, 

Whereas, during the time when by general agreement, the matter 
of union was not discussed, nothing has occurred to change the mind 
of the Church, but rather to confirm and strengthen its previous decision, 
Therefore be it 

Resolved that this General Assembly take such steps as may be 
deemed best to consummate organic union with the above-named 
Churches as expeditiously as possible. 

The Amendment was as follows: 

Whereas previous assembUes in discussing the question of Organic 
Union with the Methodist and Congregational Churches declared that 
"The union of the Churches to be real and lasting must carry the consent 
of the entire membership," and expressed the hope of practically 
unanimous action within a reasonable time. 


Whereas the question having been twice submitted to the people, 
the results were that only approximately one-third of the membership 
declared themselves in favor of Organic Union, the second vote showing 
increased opposition, 

Whereas nothing has occurred during the last six years to indicate 
any increase in favor of Organic Union on the part of the membership, 

Whereas the preservation of peace in the Church is necessary for 
the successful completion of the Forward Movement, as well as for the 
maintenance of the normal activities of the Church, Therefore be it 

Resolved that in order to keep faith with our own people the Assem- 
bly refrain from any action that would disturb the peace, unity and prog- 
ress that have so largely prevailed during the last four years; and that 
the Assembly at no time seek the consummation of union without a clear 
and immistakable mandate from the people; and that the Assembly 
express its desire for cordial co-operation with all other Christian com- 

At several sederunts the union debate had the full right 
of way, the parliamentary practice being followed that the 
two sides should present their cases alternately. It is but 
simple justice to say that, no matter what the view of the 
individual commissioner might have been, he was proud that 
the debate was carried on with such breadth of tolerance. 
The final result was perhaps never in much doubt, although 
the actual majority of four to one was a signal triumph for 
the union cause. 

The futiure is not yet clear. The indications are that the 
minority is prepared to stand by the position assumed in the 
Assembly, and will make no move so long as the bounds of 
co-operation are not overstepped without a previous appeal 
to the Presbyterian people. With wisdom, patience, and for- 
bearance Presbyterians may yet enter union as an undivided 

So far actual conversations have embraced only the three 
churches already considered. However at an early stage of 
the pour-parlers Baptists and Episcopalians were invited 
to take part, and to the general invitation extended by a 
joint committee of the three churches repUes were in due 


time received. From the somewhat lengthy deliverance of 
the Baptist convention of Ontario and Quebec I make the 
following extracts: 

1. The Baptist people rejoice in all the manifestations of mutual 
love among the followers of Jesus Christ, and seek on their own part 
to cultivate a holy fellowship with all Christians. They recognize with 
thankfulness the gracious operation of the Spirit of God among their 
brethren of other denominations, and feel themselves to be one with 
them in many of those things which concern the progress of the Kingdom 
of God on earth. At the same time they do not admit that the organic 
union of all Christians is an essential condition of Christian unity, or 
even necessarily promotive of it. For Christians who differ on questions 
which some of them hold to be of vital importance, it is surely better to 
admit the impracticability of corporate union, than to seek to compass 
such a union at the cost of sacrificing cherished convictions 

2. The Baptist people regard all truly religious affiliations as repos- 
ing, on the one hand, on God's gracious self-communication to human 
souls, and, on the other hand, on each man's free acceptance of the 
divine grace and obedience to the divine will. As we understand the 
Scriptiures, only those who are the subjects of such a spiritual experience 
are capable of participation in Christian fellowship or entitled to mem- 
bership in a Christian church. Believing, therefore, in the spirituality 
of the Christian church, that is, that a Christian church is constituted 
by a voluntary union of those alone who by personal repentance and 
faith — not by natural birth, nor by proxy, nor by ceremony, nor by any 
overt act of the church — have come into fellowship with God in Christ, 
they do not regard the claim to ecclesiastical succession in any of its 
forms as a matter of concern to them. They acknowledge an historical 
succession from Christ and His apostles; but its nature is spiritual not 
ecclesiastical, coming through personal influence and the proclamation 
of the Gospel, not by means of forms, rites, or ceremonies. 

3. The same principle prevents them from admitting knowingly to 
church membership any except those who have been spiritually renewed. 
Thus they cannot regard the children of Christian parents as entitled 
by birth or membership in a Christian household to a place in a Christian 
church or as a proper subject of its ordinances. It cannot be granted 
that the Christian ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper convey 
in any sense to their recipients the spiritual grace which they symbolize, 
for they have meaning and value only as they express the faith and grace 
already possessed by those who in these acts of obedience confess their 


relation to Christ. Hence the practice of infant baptism and the conse- 
quences which follow it are a fatal impediment to organic union between 
the Baptist and the Paedo-Baptist churches. Hence also the impossibil- 
ity of Baptists consenting to an alteration of the original mode of baptism, 
because without the immersion its representation of the believer's union 
with Christ in His death and resurrection is lost. Further, the doctrine 
of the spirituality of the Christian church demands that it avoid all 
alliance with secular authorities. Such alliances have been fruitful 

of evil 

4. It is because of these principles which represent to them the divine 
will that the Baptists find it necessary to maintain a separate organized 
existence. In relation to these matters they can make no compromise, 
but feel themselves under a divinely imposed obligation to propagate 
their views throughout the world.' 

From this pronouncement, which was intended to close 
out all prospect of organic union, the Baptist churches in 
Canada have not receded, and imion is accordingly not above 
the horizon. 

The latest contribution to the question of organic union 
in Canada is the action taken at Hamilton, Canada, by the 
Church of England in Canada regarding the "Appeal for 
Reunion," issued by the Lambeth Conference in 1920 in 
London. In this appeal it is proposed that mutual reordina- 
tion be arranged for, thus enabling a clergyman from either 
side to minister fully to the people of the whole united church. 
The exact wording is as follows : 

We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by 
the way of mutual deference to one another's consciences. To this end, 
we who send forth this appeal would say that if the authorities of other 
communions would so desire, we are persuaded that, terms of imion 
having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, Bishops and clergy of 
our communion would wiUingly accept from these authorities a form of 
commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their 
congregations, as having its place in the one family life. It is not in our 
power to know how far this suggestion may be acceptable to those to 
whom we offer it. We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as 

' Report of the General Assembly's Committee on Union vnth Other Churches. Toronto: 
Murray Printing Co. (1908), pp. 8-9. 


a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall 
be available for the service of our Lord in a united church. 

It is our hope that the same motive would lead ministers who have 
not received it to accept a commission through episcopal ordination, as 
obtaining for them a ministry throughout the whole fellowship.' 

This very earnest and interesting proposal has a back- 
ground. In the year 1908, in answer to an invitation of the 
three churches then conducting negotiations to the Church 
of England in Canada to participate in these negotiations, 
the reply was made that the Chiurch of England in Canada 
was prepared to confer with other churches on the basis of 
of what is known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This basis 
involves the acceptance of the authority of the Holy Scrip- 
tures, the creed commonly called Nicene, the divinely insti- 
tuted sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion, and the 
Historic Episcopate. The three churches, while gladly recog- 
nizing the cordial and brotherly spirit of the conmiunication 
from the Bishops, rightly or wrongly regarded this reply as 
assenting to a limited conference only, since episcopal ordina- 
tion was insisted on as a necessary prerequisite.* The Bishops 
felt, no doubt, that they had no other recourse than to present 
the four Lambeth fundamentals. 

Thirteen years later, however, at Lambeth the Bishops 
modified their position, and now suggest the possibihty of 
some form of mutual ordination. It is idle perhaps to specu- 
late as to what will be the outcome of this new and hospitable 
attitude of the Church of England in Canada. It is, doubt- 
less, a genuine effort of the Church of England to realize its 
vision of a world-church. An influential committee of the 
Methodist church has issued the following resolutions : 

With regard to a yet wider and more inclusive union of churches we 
recall the resolution of the Winnipeg Conference in 1902, originally 

' Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion. London: Society for Pro- 
moting Christian Knowledge; New York: The Macmillan Co. (1920), p. 135. 

' Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of the Joint Committee on Church Union. 
Printed privately by the Committee. Toronto (1908), pp. 6-7, 19. 


declaring itself "in favor of a measure of organic unity wide enough to 
embrace all evangelical denominations in Canada," and adopting the 
present negotiations as the most practicable step towards that end. We 
have noted the appeal of the Lambeth Conference to all Christian people, 
and record our appreciation of the sincerity and depth of Christian 
feeling therein expressed. We recognize that this appeal indicates a 
solemn realization of the responsibiUty resting upon all Christian com- 
munions to express the unity of the spirit in one body, as well as in 
righteousness in life. 

We respectfully record our experience that the most fruitful results 
of such negotiations have been found when the bodies concerned are 
untrammelled by pre-estabhshed formulas. We are of opinion that in 
intimate and sympathetic consideration the spirit common to all would 
find an expression more adequate than can be provided by the proposals 
of any one communion. We beUeve that it is the duty of all Christian 
bodies both to discover and to express this common spirit.. We believe 
that our church would welcome such a development of Christian fellow- 
ship and intercourse between the Church of England and ourselves as 
would not delay the consummation of the union now pending, but would 
prepare the way for a more inclusive union.' 

This decision does not diverge greatly from the finding 
of the joint committee of the three negotiating churches in 
1908, when they declared their willingness and eagerness to 
meet the Church of England on "free and equal terms."* 

It is more than probable that no basis for union or reimion 
can be regarded as satisfactory, if reservations are made and 
positions laid down beforehand. But it is widely admitted 
that the action of the Church of England has made the general 
question more fluid, and, while it can hardly be advisable to 
interrupt the union movement, now so long under way, men 
of wisdom and wide charity have a superb opportunity to 
blaze the trail for a joint effort in the not-too-distant future to 
give shape to organized Christianity in Canada. 

Such a consummation would be in keeping with the recorded 
action of the negotiating churches. As early as September, 

' Quoted from a newspaper report. 

' Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of the Joint Committee on Church Union, p. 19, 


1902, the General Conference of the Methodist Church m 
Canada had expHcitly resolved that it would regard with 
great gratification a movement looking toward organic union 
of Methodists, Presbyterians, and CongregationaHsts "in no 
spirit of exclusiveness toward others not named,'" and in 
December, 1908, as a Christmas gift to Christianity in Canada 
the joint committee, in one of its last acts, decided that it 
would have been glad "to welcome to their conference repre- 
sentatives of other Christian commvmions, and, although 
this widening of the conference has not yet been found practi- 
cable, they hope that, in the event of a union of the negotiating 
churches, a still more comprehensive union may in the future 
be realized." 

The way may not be, and is not, yet wide open; but it is 
not blocked. 

' Explanatory Statement. Toronto: Murray Printing Co. (1906), p. 6.