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CRITICISMS AND QUERIES 

IS THERE A RELIGIOUS BREAKDOWN OF THE MINISTRY? 

My colleague has given us a trenchant article, and I find myself 
in hearty accord with his main contention that "the minister is a guide 
and inspirer of social ends and motives," and that there is lamentable 
ignorance among the members of our churches of what are the Christian 
social ends to be sought, and what are the Christian motives by which 
they can be attained. The most serious weakness of current preaching 
is that it so seldom enlightens. It exhorts too much and informs too 
little. One rarely learns anything from the average sermon. Preachers 
take for granted that their congregations know what the Christian life 
is, and expend their energies in urging them to it. But the Christian 
life is, as its earliest devotees termed it, "the Way"; and the road 
enters a different stretch of country with each generation, and must be 
laid out for them. It is always "towards Christ," but the Christian 
ideal has to be interpreted afresh in view of the contemporary situation. 
In 1620 it meant for our Pilgrim Fathers voluntary exile from their loved 
native land and the attempt to set up in a new world the divine 
commonwealth which they found planned in the Bible. In 1920 it 
has meant to many of us the gathering of the nations, with their industries 
and commerce, their homes and schools, their whole life, into a world- 
wide commonwealth inspired and governed by the spirit of Christ. 

It is the interpretation of what this reign of God involves which is too 
rarely given. What are the ends a Christian citizen must seek for his 
country and his community? What are his duties in the industrial 
world as a producer, a consumer, an owner, an investor, an employer, or 
an employee ? These and kindred questions must be dealt with explicitly 
in the light of the gospel of Christ. And because they are not thus 
handled there is much vagueness as to what is meant by "accepting 
Christ," and the members of our churches are hazy as to the purpose 
to which they have committed themselves. Dr. Coe correctly stresses 
the supreme need of a teaching ministry, and of instruction along the 
particular lines which have to do with our economic and political life. 
No church is worthily fulfilling its duty in supplying inspirations and 
guidance to citizens of a democracy which fails to render this informing 
service. 

187 



188 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

There are minor points in Professor Coe's article which raise some 
questions. Is his title aptly chosen ? Does not a "breakdown" imply 
a previous healthy functioning of the ministry ? and has there been any 
time in the recent history of the Christian church when its ministers 
gave an adequate treatment of "social ends and motives"? Was not 
the lack of such teaching throughout Christendom a primary cause of the 
recent war, and of our inability to arrive at a satisfactory peace ? Is 
not such an article as Dr. Coe's a wholesome indication that our genera- 
tion is turning its attention to the development of this sorely neglected 
and urgently needed element of the Christian message? 

Again, is the "breakdown" (for which I should prefer to use the 
word "weakness") as Dr. Coe analyzes it "religious"? Is not his 
diagnosis of the situation ethical rather than religious? Christianity 
is an ethical religion, and ethics and religion are inseparable in it; but 
"social ends and motives" as he has treated them seem to he within its 
sphere as ethic. 

And this brings me to the main addition I should like to make to the 
discussion which he has so admirably opened. In my judgment there 
is a serious "religious" weakness in many ministries, and it is sometimes 
apparent in those which devote much preaching to "social ends and 
motives." The Christian life is a fellowship through Christ with God 
and with his children in his purpose. Dr. Coe emphasizes the necessity 
of making clear the purpose. I should like to add also the necessity of 
teaching Christians to realize their fellowship with the living God in 
that purpose. Every pastor is aware how many of those reared in 
our Sunday schools and fairly frequent in their attendance at church 
services do not know how to find reinforcements and guidance in God. 
Christianity is both a faith and a purpose, and without the faith the 
purpose can never be bravely and hopefully enterprised. "The people 
that know their God shall be strong and do exploits." Here again what 
is needed is a teaching ministry. It is not enough to harp constantly 
on the necessity of communion with God, but to show men who he is, 
and what are his relations with them and with the world. This is the 
preaching of Christian doctrine, as Dr. Coe commends the preaching 
of Christian social ethics. We have to teach men what may be theirs 
in the life with God through Christ, that they may be induced to explore 
for themselves and make their own enriching discoveries. 

A democracy makes a huge demand upon faith — faith in the capaci- 
ties of plain men and women, faith in the power of ideals, faith in the 
universe as friendly to a fraternal commonwealth. The Christian 
conception of God supplies this faith — faith in him as incarnate in a 



CRITICISMS AND QUERIES 189 

plain Man, faith in him as the inspiring Spirit of Christlike ideals, faith 
in him as Lord of heaven and earth. One is often disheartened to observe 
how many Christians lack a thoroughly Christian conception of God. 
When once they possess that, they can be shown "social ends" that he 
and we can share, and "social motives" in which we may expect his 
empowering Spirit. 

I agree with my colleague that much of the preaching during the 
war was very remotely Christian. Many of the utterances were B.C. 
rather than a.d. I am not prepared, however, to agree wholly that 
"the clergy did count, and that splendidly, but it was not their religion 
that counted." When the clergy counted splendidly, it was not when 
they voiced on Sunday the same sentiments with which the press was 
filled throughout the week; but when they faced the ethical perplexities 
in which Christian consciences found themselves, pointed out that war 
was not and could never be called a Christian method of solving an 
international problem, but might under the circumstances be the less 
un-Christian method of ending an intolerable situation. On the one 
hand the minister had to preserve Christian standards when the psy- 
chology of war was destroying them; and on the other hand he had to 
show his people the course which lay in the Christian direction through 
circumstances in which an ideally Christian method was not one of the 
alternatives presented. And further he could assure them that in 
moving in the Christian direction, they could rely on the assistance of 
the God of righteousness. Where such discriminating preaching was 
given, and it was given by many pulpits, it was surely the religion of the 
clergy that counted. They linked the social end of the nation with 
the will of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. 

But my criticism of an occasional phrase in my colleague's article 
only serves to show my agreement with his main aim. He is pleading 
for an interpreting type of preaching and teaching which makes clear for 
what followers of Jesus must stand in the situations in which we find 
ourselves as kinsmen, citizens, workers, and churchmen. Only where 
such guidance is given, are Christians who "understand what the will 
of the Lord is" likely to be produced. The failure of the churches to 
produce enough Christians of this intelligent variety is probably their 
most serious weakness. May Dr. Coe's plea send us preachers to our 
proper task with renewed resolve to "teach every man in all wisdom 
that we may present every man perfect in Christ." 

Henry Sloane Coffin 
New York City 



iqo THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Professor Coe's vigorous discussion of the spiritual leadership of 
the ministry today will induce much soul-searching on the part of men 
eager to be true to their responsibilities. Stimulating as his discussion 
is, I question whether it has really touched the kernel of the matter. 

In the development of Christianity we are in the process of transition 
from a religion of authority to a more democratic type of religion. On 
the basis of an authoritative system the leadership of the minister is a 
relatively simple matter. Without regard to his own personal qualifi- 
cations he may become the mouthpiece of an imposing divine authority. 
Professor Coe recognizes this type of leadership in his footnote on page 
23, when he says: 

Every intelligent Catholic has definite and correct ideas as to what his 
priest stands for, and of the meaning of membership in the Catholic church. 
This gives the advantage of a unified and determined front, indeed, but the 
ulterior problem here concerns the ends prescribed by the hierarchy to the 
faithful. To save one's own soul by obeying an autocratic spiritual authority, 
and to contribute to the final and complete triumph of this autocracy — this 
conception of spiritual life, duty, and destiny makes the problem of the priest 
too simple. He can fulfill his essential functions by performing certain doc- 
trines and duties already strictly formulated. The problem of the Protestant 
minister goes many fathoms deeper than this. 

The thing which interested me in this footnote was Professor Coe's 
recognition of the fact that such kind of leadership is impossible for a 
Protestant minister. Indeed by implication such leadership is regarded 
as mechanical rather than spiritual. 

And yet is the article not really an arraignment of Protestant 
ministers because they are unable authoritatively to define what is 
and what is not Christian ? To be sure, Professor Coe insists that it is 
unjust "to demand of ministers such fabulous wisdom as to be able to 
tell just what to do in every troublesome situation." His duty is 
rather to discern ends which are worthy and to judge what kind of 
social organizations will promote these ends. And yet Professor Coe's 
culminating demand is to know whether "a system in which one works 
for wages, and another for profits, is fundamentally Christian, anti- 
Christian, or neutral." 

Now if the minister were in a position to quote the word of God on 
the subject, he could speak with the old-fashioned authority. But, 
again, this would be, by Professor Coe's own standard, mere mechanical 
dogmatism. The only alternative left, then, seems to be the possession 
of such knowledge concerning the intricacies of the wage system as will 
give one a right to pass judgment. But is any living man competent 



CRITICISMS AND QUERIES 191 

for this task ? Have the implications of the wage system been sufficiently 
analyzed and considered to furnish the data for any final judgment in so 
complicated a matter ? 

Those who have studied religion from the point of view of history 
and of psychology are perfectly familiar with the thesis that religious 
values are worked out with very much of the trial-and-error method in 
the process of social development. It took three centuries for religious 
leaders in the ancient church to determine just what was the " Christian 
view" of the nature of Jesus. How long did it take the church to 
ascertain whether slavery was or was not in accordance with Christian 
ideals ? The fact is that by all the laws of social psychology the real 
leader must be a member of a democratic society working out problems 
along with other people rather than an oracle capable of deciding ques- 
tions by means unknown to people as a whole. If it be true that during 
the war the Christian pulpit had no distinctively Christian message 
(a thesis open to serious question), may not the explanation be that 
the influence of centuries of Christian idealism made possible under 
the stress of a great emotion a popular Christian appraisal of the dis- 
turbed situation in which humanity found itself ? What finer expression 
of genuinely Christian ideals could be found than in the extraordinary 
sense of consecration to the cause of human values which pervaded our 
country ? 

Instead of speaking of the religious breakdown of the ministry, 
would it not be truer to speak of the beginnings of a new kind of religious 
leadership ? For better or for worse, the type of Christianity in which 
Professor Coe believes has turned its back upon the conception that 
solutions for our problems can be brought to us, as the Catholic church 
furnishes programs for its members. Solutions must be worked out 
by social co-operation. As we all struggle together for better light, 
gifted individuals here and there will appear who with peculiar insight 
voice ideals and values toward which we all are groping. But in a 
democratic society, it is not to be expected that these leaders will all 
come from the ministry. Indeed, it would seem that a peculiar responsi- 
bility for developing such leadership in relation to problems of industry 
rests upon those who know industry best. President Wilson was the 
real prophet of a humane internationalism. And when thousands of 
pulpits reinforced and interpreted his prophetic words, was the leadership 
of the pulpit any less religious because the ministry did not originate 
the message? 

It is somewhat surprising that Professor Coe, who knows so well 
that religious values are socially created, should perpetuate in his 



192 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

article the picture of a " Christianity" so distinct from the social develop- 
ment of which it is a part that it can furnish authoritative judgments; 
and to demand of the ministry a quasi-official ability to declare what is 
" Christian," as if complicated questions could thereby be settled. The 
"religious breakdown" of that kind of pretension is inevitable in a 
democratic society. It scarcely deserves the attention which Professor 
Coe bestows upon it. Our present understanding of the social character 
of religion reveals the positive value of a ministry which struggles for 
light in a struggling world, and which serves to give publicity and religious 
carrying power to the messages of hope and courage and determination 
which, of course, are uttered by any- and everyone in a democratic 
society. 

Let me ask again, are we not really facing the beginnings of a new 
kind of religious ministry ? And its day will be hastened if we frankly 
accept the " breakdown " of an impossible pretension instead of suggesting 
that we ought by some frantic means to reinstate it. 

Gerald Birney Smith 
University or Chicago 



It seems to me that Professor Coe considers too lightly the work 
which he admits the church is doing in the realm of individual upbuilding. 
At the center of all moral and religious fife must of course stand the 
will to do right. The church seems to me to be doing much more in 
arousing and strengthening that central purpose to do right than we 
sometimes realize. I am well aware of the ignorance — on the part of 
young people everywhere — revealed by the answers to questions asked 
of soldiers during the war. For four months I myself worked among 
soldiers. It is true that very few could make any sort of statement as to 
what the purpose of the church is, or should be. But it is also true that 
almost all would quickly condemn meanness or smallness on the part 
of the professed Christian. " He's a pretty sort of Christian, isn't he ? " 
would be the almost invariable comment on the professed Christian 
who fell short. And by the time the one voicing such a criticism 
had finished it would be tolerably clear that he expected professed 
Christians to try to act like Christ. That general expectation the 
church has, I think, sunk deeply into the common consciousness. Moral 
and spiritual progress consists, it is obvious, in informing more and 
more of our acts with the moral spirit and in bringing more and more 
persons within the sphere of Christly contact. The sad fact is that the 
central will to do right— as demanded by the church— reaches out to 
such a limited circumference. 



CRITICISMS AND QUERIES 193 

There is a prophetic accent in Professor Coe's word as he rebukes us 
all for the breakdown of the church in the presence of some moral 
issues growing out of the war, and in the presence of the need of the 
reorganization of society and industry on a more Christian basis. While 
I appreciate the moral fervor which prompts Dr. Coe to cry aloud and 
spare not I do not find it possible myself to get into quite such an attitude 
of condemnation. The trouble does not seem to me to be so much a 
moral fault as an intellectual shortcoming or inadequacy. Looking 
back now we can see that the world-war came as the logical culmination 
of the forces of economic imperialism, but not all of us saw this at the 
time. It was a great deal as if some supernal meddler had got hold of 
the levers of planets and had switched the earth out of its orbit in 
toward the sun with a change of time measures and of the seasonal 
processions and with a fearful increase of the heat of the climate. Every- 
body was at a loss, not so much morally as intellectually. Professor 
Coe has "come to" sooner than some of the rest of us. 

The Professor puts very sharply the question as to whether a profit- 
seeking industrialism can be thought of as Christian. Here again I 
do not think the trouble with the ministry is so much a moral breakdown 
as an intellectual unpreparedness, for which the ministry is not alto- 
gether to blame. What Professor Coe really calls for is a message 
which challenges the entire attitude of practically all America toward 
industrial processes. I trust he will not become too impatient with me 
when I suggest that the mass of American preachers will have to get 
very considerable mental enlightenment before they catch the force of 
the Professor's questions, or discern the implications of them. It is 
sometimes said that the United States is backward in the popular 
understanding of the issues at stake in industrial and social conflict. 
If this is true we must remember that the generation in the United 
States which has just passed off the scene completed the conquest of 
the frontier under conditions which called for and gave free play to 
individual initiative, and which produced an individualist type of 
democracy. The present generation indeed faces a new task. A more 
socialized type of life — political, industrial, social — is the next require- 
ment. But the whole atmosphere in which the present generation has 
been reared has made for individualism, and for the search for as much 
personal profit as can be found anywhere. The rule has been, "Every 
man for himself and the devil take the hindmost." The fact that the devil 
has got not only the hindmost but more than he should of the foremost 
has not indeed disturbed us as it ought; but still the need is funda- 
mentally for sound instruction from a changed point of view. The 
problem is that of the transformation of an entire social climate. 



194 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

The hope in the situation comes from lifting the whole problem up 
to that emphasis on the human values which is essentially Christian. 
My official duties have made it necessary for me to travel about forty 
thousand miles a year for the past eight years, dealing almost wholly 
with ministers and their problems. As soon as a social question is seen 
by ministers to be clearly moral there need be no doubt as to the attitude 
of most of them. Professor Coe was good enough to refer to the Inter- 
Church Steel Strike Report. As chairman of the Commission that 
made that Report, may I state that the Commission expected severe 
cudgeling — and got it. It may be of interest to know that those who 
went out of their way to express encouragement to some of us on the 
Commission were mostly ministers — ministers, too, from the centers 
of the steel industry. 

I have read everything that Professor Coe has ever published and 
am greatly in his debt. My interest in this present article is not merely 
in the fact that it is Professor Coe's but also in the fact that it comes out of 
a theological school. The theological schools more than any other 
agencies bear the responsibility for the change of emphasis which we 
need. How many of us who left theological school a quarter of a 
century ago had had any hard training in the social sciences? One 
of the good signs of the times is that an article like this has been written 
by a theological professor and that it has been published in a theological 
journal. Inasmuch as the problem is so largely intellectual it is necessary 
that intellectual agencies take the lead. Granting all that the article 
says about not expecting the minister to be an expert on programs of 
social reconstruction we all nevertheless expect to find such experts on 
theological faculties. There is a growing indisposition among the most 
earnest spirits in the ministry to talk unless they know what they are 
talking about. R. H. Tawney, foremost advocate of the nationalization 
of England's coal mines, has recently urged upon us that in so complex 
a problem as that in which he is most interested, the use of hazily 
defined terms by high-minded reformers is doing more harm than good. 
He urges the advocates of the reform to learn exactness and precision 
of speech. Professor Coe's entire career has been given to like emphasis. 
There is immense heat in the conscience of the ministry but it will burst 
into the flame that really gives light only under expert guidance. 

Francis J. McConnell 
Pittsburgh, Pa.