The Expense And Waste Of Christian Disunion
THE most pressing problem of the Church in our day is that of Christian Unity: beside it all others fade into insignificance. The energies of Christendom are being frittered away in the competitions, controversies, jealousies, and friction engendered by its "unhappy divisions," and this in the face of such demands upon the Church and such opportunities for service as have never been presented before in its history. This era, that might be the most glorious in the career of the Church, may be compelled to record the story of its degeneration and defeat. The loss of influence that institutional Christianity is suffering today may be ascribed to many causes, but to none is it due in so large a measure as to disunion. The most difficult situations which the Church is called upon to meet, it has itself created: its worst enemies are of its own household. There is no task confronting it anywhere in the world which the Church might not accomplish if it could approach that task with a united front; and there is none to which it is fully equal so long as its forces are divided and its energies dissipated.
The first step in a constructive program for the reunion of Christendom is the frank recognition of the lengths to which the multiplication of sects has gone, and of the serious evils that flow therefrom. It is a futile waste of time to try to fix the blame for the existing situation. "Protestantism," Dr. James H. Ecob once said, "is divided and subdivided until it cannot count its own disjecta membra. This condition should be taken upon the conscience and heart of every serious man and woman as a burden and a shame." Another has declared that the divisions of Christendom might be classified into "sects and insects." But whatever truth there may be in such statements, sectarianism will never be scolded or ridiculed out of existence. It was not mere perversity that called any one of the denominations into being. Every denomination sincerely believes itself to have a right to be and to propagate its principles, even though to it every other may seem to be without excuse. The mistakes of the fathers were honestly made; and if we have a wider vision than they and are ready now to move out of the "low-vaulted past" and to set our hands to the building of a loftier temple, little is to be gained by stopping to rake over the ashes of dead controversies to discover how the foundations of earlier structures were laid. We may be quite willing to admit that the sectarian spirit has rendered valuable service to the cause of the Kingdom in the past, and yet be thoroughly convinced that its days of vigor and usefulness are gone and that it is ready for the grave, and that denominational-ism, as we know it, must be radically transformed if it is to meet the demands of the present day.
Knowledge of religious conditions existing in America to-day must convince even the firmest advocate of individualism and independence in religion that they have exceeded the bounds of liberty. Those who desire the statistics may consult the authoritative work of Dr. H. K. Carroll, The Religious Forces of the United States.
"The first impression one gets in studying the results of the census," says Dr. Carroll, "is that there is an infinite variety of religions in the United States. There are churches small and churches great, churches white and churches black, churches high and low, orthodox and heterodox, Christian and pagan, Catholic and Protestant, Liberal and Conservative, Calvinistic and Arminian, native and foreign, Trinitarian and Unitarian. All phases of thought are represented by them, all possible theologies, all varieties of polity, ritual, usage, forms of worship. . . . This we speak of as ' the land of the free.' No man has a property in any other man, or a right to dictate his religious principles or denominational attachment. No church has a claim on the State, and the State has no claim on any church. We scarcely appreciate our ad-vantages. Our citizens are free to choose a residence in any one of 50 states and territories, and to move from one to another as often as they have a mind to. There is even a wider range for choice and change in religion. One may be a pagan, a Jew, or a Christian, or each in turn. If he is a pagan, he may worship in one of the numerous temples de-voted to Buddha; if a Jew, he may be of the Orthodox or Reformed variety; if a Christian, he may select any one of 125 or 130 different kinds, or join every one of them in turn. He may be six kinds of an Adventist, seven kinds of a Catholic, twelve kinds of a Mennonite or Presbyterian, thirteen kinds of a Baptist, sixteen kinds of a Lutheran, or seventeen kinds of a Methodist. He may be a member of any one of 143 denominations, or of all in succession. If none of these suits him, he still has a choice among 150 separate and independent congregations, which have no denominational name, creed, or connection."
It affords a degree of comfort, however, to be assured that these rainbow-hued varieties of Christian practice may be reduced by a process of synthesis to a more manageable number. "A closer scrutiny of the list shows that many of these 143 denominations differ only in name. Without a single change in doctrine or polity, the 18 Methodist bodies could be reduced to three or four; the 12 Presbyterian to three; the 12 Mennonite to two; and so on. The differences in many cases are only sectional or historical. The slavery question was the cause of not a few divisions, and matters of discipline were responsible for a larger number. Arranging the denominations in groups or families, and counting as one family each of the 12 Mennonite, the 17 Methodist, the 13 Baptist bodies, and so on, we have, instead of 143, only 42 titles. In other words, if there could be a consolidation of each denominational group, the reproach of our division would be largely taken away."
That the splintering process from which the cause of religion has suffered has not altogether ceased is indicated in the bulletin of the Department of Commerce and Labor of figures gathered in 1906, which reports that during the sixteen years subsequent to the census of 1890, 41 new divisions were added to the unhappy list. There is, however, here also a gleam of comfort in that many of these are not Christian, and others can hardly be called churches, so small are they and insignificant.
The facts, however interpreted, are serious enough. There is no single characteristic of organized Christianity which has not served as a cause of division. In polity the churches are known as congregational, presbyterial, and episcopal. The question of ministerial orders has been a fruitful cause of division. The Roman Catholic Church admits the validity of the orders of the Greek Orthodox Church, but there is no fellowship between them. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches unite in denying validity to the orders of the Anglican and Protestant Episcopal Churches, while the latter refuse to recognize the orders of any churches except those that refuse to recognize theirs. Churches divide on the observance of ritual and on the manner of observance and significance of the ordinances. It is among the ironies of history that the ordinance of the Supper of our Lord, wherein it was intended that disciples should manifest their unity about a common table, has been a principal occasion and cause of division.
Should other sources of disagreement fail, there remain dogma and creed which may safely be depended upon to keep the followers of Jesus apart. It would be instructive to count the separate doctrines that are to be found in the creeds of Christendom, and to point out the manner in which the simple truths of the apostolic Church have taken on complexity with the years, and to note how, with every advance in the intricacy of belief, there has been a further scattering of believers. A few years ago there appeared a dispatch from Peru, announcing that the traditional treasure of the Incas, a sum of vast amount, had been discovered at Challacatta. The item concluded with the statement, "The discoverers are now quarreling over the treasure." Thus has the company of the disciples of our Lord been prevented from applying the wealth of the gospel to the needs of man by their disputes over its possession and administration.
For the disunion that has characterized the history of Protestantism we are paying the penalty, a penalty so severe that it threatens to bankrupt the resources of the Church. As a consequence of such disunion, organized Christianity has suffered irreparably, in the first place, from the loss of spiritual fellowship. There is much that the churches could learn from one another if they would. Every great denomination that has given proof of its endurance, and that has gathered into its fold large numbers of people, must have its peculiar virtues. If it has been able to minister to the spiritual needs of the multitude of its adherents, it must possess spiritual vitality and at least a modicum of spiritual truth. One does not gather figs of thistles. It is impossible to believe that God could so largely use any body of believers as he has used each of the several churches that make up the bulk of Christendom if it were devoid of any essential element of divine truth. Yet there is no church among them all but has its failings, none without its alloy of error, not one but that is impeded by a partial view of truth. Where one is strong, another is weak; where one fails, another succeeds.
It has been often said that denominational differences are temperamental, and that the various Christian bodies appeal to various types of men, their members being drawn to one another by a "consciousness of kind." If this be true in any degree, what is it but a confession of the partiality and bias of every such communion, and of the inability of any one of them to appeal to all sorts and conditions of men? But if that be true, does it not prove that no existing church reflects the fullorbed Christ, but only a fraction of his refulgence? Christ is "divided" among them. There is no church that sees more than a single facet of the jewel, not one but that is blind to the full glory of the revelation. For Christ himself appeals to every temperament and to the entire man, and the richer the man's personality, the more complete his development, the more rounded his character, the stronger the appeal. And if the appeal of the Church to the world is to be a universal appeal, attracting every type of man and revealing the complete Christ to the entire man, the fractional revelations of particular churches must be united. No one can fully understand Christ except in the fellowship of all kinds of believers. They who approach him from varied angles must bring their contributions to the common store, if the Church's conception of the Christ is to be rich enough and full enough to win the world. Some see the breadth, and some. the length, and others the depth, and still others the height; but if the Christian is ever to "be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge," and thus "be filled with all the fulness of God," it must be "with all the saints." No man or church, in our divided state, is large enough to comprehend this alone, and that is why our views are still prejudiced and partial and devoid of compelling power. If we are to understand the Christ, we must come to him together. Paul desired to visit the brethren in Rome that he might impart unto them "some spiritual gift"; that is, that he might share with them the product of an experience of the Christ that they did not possess; but he desired also to gain from them, for the strengthening and broadening of his own spiritual life, that which they had gained from another angle, "that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine."
The separate companies of the disciples of the Lord, therefore, have suffered irreparable damage through their long estrangement, in being deprived of that mutual enlargement that springs from spiritual fellowship. We are shut off from one another by denominational fences sometimes so high that we cannot see over them. Here are churches that lack the historic sense. They are but of yesterday, and have never experienced the charm or felt the conserving influence of Christian tradition; but they are moving vigorously forward with power under the influence of a mighty passion for the living Christ. Here, on the other hand, are churches adorned with the gifts of the centuries. They are like vases set in some cathedral at Easter time into which the worshipers, as they pass, drop rich garments and jewels. But they are burdened by the very wealth of their heritage, and the dignity of their ritual hampers the spirit. They lack freedom and spontaneity. Here are churches strong in doctrine: out of them have come the great theologians and teachers of Christendom. Here are others with a more popular and democratic appeal, who know better how to gain and keep the ear of the common people. Cannot the denominations learn from one another and share their gifts? The weakness of the witness of the Church lies in its disunion. Only a united Church can understand or reveal the Lord of the Church. It takes all the seven colors of the spectrum to make the sunlight: the sun cannot express itself through a single color. Nor can the Christ express himself through a broken fragment of his body, the Church: therefore he prayed, "That they may all be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that the world may believe that thou didst send me."
In a little book entitled In Praise of Legend, there is told the story of "a people living in a world which is divided into three countries, Cerulia, Rubia, and Flavia. Parsee-like, they worship the Sun. None could see the Sun itself, but each worshiped through the peculiar color seen as through a prism by each blue, red, or yellow. Each believed his own color to be the only color of the Deity:
'Cerulians see all things blue;
Each country holds that none can approach the
'Except along the path of light
And so each despises the other. . . . So they live their lives, each tenacious of his own creed, and all full of contempt for those who differ from them. At length one day a sage appears among them and tries to put them right. He tells them:
The lesson is," the author continues, "that Truth is only seen through prisms by the unit. Not until each sees the truth as seen by the whole will each grasp the fact that his own color is only one hue in it, and must blend with the other colors before it can be called the Truth. Each has his own quota to contribute and each will see more as he tries to see through the eyes of all. It is only the whole Church that can see the whole Truth."
Upon the administrative side of its activity also the Church has suffered a disastrous loss of efficiency through its divisions. This is evident in many quarters in the prevalence, to use an odious but seemingly indispensable term, of "over-churching." There will be differences of opinion as to the degree of its prevalence, and as to the point at which it makes its appearance, but no disagreement as to its existence.
From a study of the statistics of 1910, as given by Dr. Carroll, of the following larger divisions of Protestants within the United States, Baptists (Regular, North and South, and Free), Congregationalists, Disciples, Methodists (North and South), Presbyterians (North and South), and Protestant Episcopalians, it appears that in these bodies are 13,385,600 communicants, with 76,783 ministers and 116,012 edifices. From the statistics of the Roman Catholic Church of the same date it appears that for 12,425,947 communicants there are 17,084 priests and 13,461 churches. Thus for the Protestant denominations mentioned there was a church building to every 115 communicants, and a minister to every 173 communicants, while for the Roman Catholic Church there was a church building for every 923 communicants, and one priest, on the average, for 727 communicants. If we deduct 20 per cent. from the number of Protestant ministers, and 10 per cent. from the number of Roman Catholic priests, which have been suggested on plausible grounds as the proper percentages to include those who are superannuated, engaged in secretarial work, or as foreign missionaries, it would provide a Protestant minister to every 218 communicants, and a Roman Catholic priest to every 809 communicants. On the basis of the figures for all denominations for 1906, which is the latest date for which complete statistics are avail-able, the Rev. F. Marion Simms asserts that we had, at that date, " one active Protestant pastor in the United States for every 173 Protestant church members, which is one for every 597 non-Catholic population;" while, "on the average, each priest in the United States in 1906 cared for 1,040 souls."
The Rev. E. Tallmadge Root, on the basis of the 1906 census, declares that "for the United States, Protestants provide 53,282,445 sittings for 20,287,742 communicants: so that if the maximum attendance equals the membership, which is not probable, they have two and one-half times as many sittings as are ever used; while the Catholics provide only 4,494,377 sittings for 12,079,142 communicants, almost exactly reversing the ratio of sittings and communicants." After all allowances are made for differences in the modes and conceptions of worship which distinguish Catholics from Protestants, and which permit the former to care for a larger number of worshipers in a single building than is possible to the latter, there is still reason to ask, with Mr. Root, whether it would not seem that Protestants are bearing a far larger burden in the maintenance of church equipment than should be necessary. Says the Rev. E. T. Tomlinson, "A careful study of the data presented (for the United States) shows that there are 192,795 church edifices (Protestant) with an average of 157 members per organization, and that the debt of the average body is nearly 50 per cent. of the value of the church property. This implies a heavy tax on the membership even before its legitimate work is begun. With a membership of 157, it is estimated that at least two-thirds of the membership are women. This leaves 52 male members, of whom doubtless a large proportion are boys too young to be of much financial assistance. If only one-third is deducted for non-resident members, there are left approximately 20 to 30 men upon whom must fall the chief burden of support of the 'average' church. What such a tax would be if raised for other than church purposes is apparent." An experienced Christian worker has stated it to be his opinion that any community can support a church to every 500 of the population; but the question at issue is not how small a number of people may conceivably maintain a church, but how large a population may be efficiently served by a single church and a single minister.
The penalty of the crowding of churches into one community is commonly the neglect of other and neighboring communities. During the last two or three years the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church (North), under the direction of its Department of Church and Country Life, has made extensive surveys of various parts of the country, from which interesting information as to the relation of the number of churches to the population may be gleaned. In Illinois the 44 communities investigated, which included rural districts and towns up to a population of 3,000 and a total population of 114,975, contained 225 churches, in which 20 different denominations were represented, an average of five churches to the community. Only 77 of these churches had grown in ten years. Forty-seven churches, abandoned during that period, were still standing, while many others had been torn down. Only 19 percent. of the population at-tended church regularly and 50 per cent. of the Protestant membership did not attend. There was one church to every 511 of the population, with an average attendance of 93. Meanwhile, there were 30 rural communities without a church within a radius of five miles, leaving 48 per cent. of the population absolutely untouched by the Church. In Pennsylvania 53 communities, with a population of 124,203, were studied, within which were 348 churches, or one to every 357 people. Forty-two per cent. of the population were church members, of whom 69 per cent. attended regularly, the church-goers constituting 29 per cent. of the population. Fifty per cent. of the churches were growing, 26 per cent. standing still, and 24 per cent. declining. Five communities were without a church within a radius of five miles. In Missouri there were found in 23 villages, averaging 240 in population, 56 churches, or one to every 100 people. Four villages had four churches each, and two of these villages had less than 225 inhabitants each. The surveys in Ohio and Indiana give results of a similar character.
Conditions such as these, examples of which might be furnished almost indefinitely from every section of the country, effectually dispose of the question whether over-churching exists. If further illustrations are desired, they may be obtained in the results of the intensive studies of Tompkins county, New York, and Windsor county, Vermont, by C. O. Gill and Gifford Pinchot, published in a volume entitled The Country Church. These studies tell the same story of the reduplication of churches, with the heavy burden of expense and loss of efficiency and the decreasing membership and attendance that go with it. Nor are these conditions confined to village and country communities. The cities suffer from them also, as many authorities agree.
The present generation is not so largely to blame for the disabilities under which it labors as are generations past, that, in a day when denominational feeling ran higher than now, felt driven to further their sectarian propaganda by the founding of churches wherever they could secure a foothold. But in very many communities the sour grapes of the fathers have set the children's teeth on edge. The children wrestle with problems which they should never have been called upon to face. In addition to the natural and inevitable difficulties of Christian work, especially in small communities, they must struggle with artificial hindrances set for them by the unwise zeal of their predecessors.
The consequence of the unbearable expense of maintenance, where churches are multiplied beyond the ability of communities adequately to sustain them, falls most heavily upon the ministry in the inadequacy of salaries. It is unfair to the many noble men who labor in such communities, in many instances with a rare degree of self-sacrifice, to re-quire them to expend their energies under the discouragement that comes from the suspicion or certainty that, because of the multiplication of churches, their efforts are not needed. But when such men, many of them with a training that has cost much in money and in time, are asked to toil for the wage of unskilled labor, it becomes a crime against the spirit of religion.
The average salary of ministers of all denominations in the United States was stated by the census report of 1906, the latest figures available, to be $663, or an average of $12.75 per week; and the aver-age for all denominations in communities outside the principal cities was reported to be $573, or $11.02 per week. Though the minister must be thoroughly and expensively trained, and is put to great expense to maintain his efficiency, his average wage is thus seen to be far below the level of the average paid to the mechanic. Taking for comparison the figures for the same year presented by the Bureau of Labor we find the following to have been the average wages paid at that date in the occupations named: brick-layers, $29.05 per week; carpenters, $15.46; plasterers, $27.82; glass-blowers (window glass), $38.29; compositors, $18.87; and cigar-makers, $17.42.
It seems probable, further, that the salaries of ministers, especially in rural communities, are growing smaller rather than larger. In the study of Windsor and Tompkins counties, already referred to, the authors say, "The churches of both counties are giving less and less pay to their ministers. Reckoned in dollars, there was an increase of 16 per cent. in Windsor county, while in Tompkins county the increase was less than one per cent. Reckoned in purchasing power, less real pay was given in each county during the second period than in the first (i. e., twenty years earlier). The amount of real pay declined seven per cent. in Windsor county and nearly 16 per cent. in Tompkins county."
Such salaries where they are insufficient to sustain their recipients at even a low degree of efficiency must be eked out with aid from state and national missionary boards, a large fraction of whose funds must go to the support of churches engaged in competitive and often superfluous activity. Mean-while great districts within the United States are without a church or religious privileges of any kind, and while the religious interests of many communities in the home land are actually depressed by a surplus of churches and ministers, the forces at work upon the foreign field cry for reinforcements.
These evils of over-churching, and consequent loss of spiritual fellowship between the various bodies of Christians who are forced into competition with one another, together with this waste of equipment and unnecessary expense of church maintenance, and handicapping of ministers through the payment of inadequate salaries, are a part of the price that Protestantism is paying for the luxury of its divisions. But these do not constitute the entire cost. There results from the disunion of Protestantism an incalculable loss in national and local prestige and leadership.
The usefulness of the Church in the local community is sadly impaired by this division of its forces. There is no argument for Christianity like the unity of Christians. When the voices of all the churches blend in a single message there is weight and power behind it. Competition between churches that claim to be servants of the same Master seems to the world so incongruous with the spirit of that Master as to impair the credentials of the institution that professes to represent him.
In its divided state the Church is unable to render to the nation the service which is rightfully expected of it. The State has relieved the Church of the burdens of taxation and accorded to it a place of special privilege with the expectation of certain services in return. The Church ought to be the incarnate conscience of the State. In the midst of the starving, hurried, restless populace, bent upon gain and power, it stands with spire pointing to the skies, a perpetual witness to truths whose values are eternal. It is the task of the Church to spiritualize the ideals of democracy; but from its often discordant and always divided witness what unity of impression upon the national life is possible? In the danger of a loss of influence that shall be complete and final the perils of disunion reach their culmination. All systematic religious education has been crowded out of the public schools, to their immeasurable loss and peril, largely because the churches cannot agree upon what teaching shall be furnished. The Church is losing its authority over family life. An increasing proportion of marriage ceremonies are performed by officers of the State without the sanction of religion, and the percentage of divorces advances rapidly. Large areas of thought have been permitted to pass beyond the controlling influence of the Church, and an increasing percentage of religious feeling and activity is to be found out-side of, and out of relation to it. Thus irreligion feeds upon the follies of the representatives of religion. The organized efforts for human betterment, whose passion has stirred our legislatures and courts of justice and commercial institutions, this new "enthusiasm of humanity" that has come upon the world in our day, is not led by the Church. Too often the Church is found near the rear of the procession, swept into it by the suction of the mighty movement as the army of progress marches by. Why does not the Church lead? Because it is paralyzed by its divisions, like a body in which a nerve is. cut, so that the members have lost their connection with each other and with the organizing brain, and cannot move together. There is danger that the Church will lose not only the place of leadership, but the capacity for it as well, unless it shall learn again, like the church at Philippi, how to "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel."
( Originally Published 1915 )
The Union Of Christian Forces:
The Expense And Waste Of Christian Disunion
The New Testament Ideal Of Christian Unity And What Became Of It
The Passing Of The Sectarian Spirit
The Growth Of The Spirit Of Christian Unity
Christian Unity Through Federation
The Union Of Christian Forces In Country And Village
Co-operation In Home Missions
Co-operation On The Foreign Mission Field
Organic Church Unity
The Basis Of Organic Unity