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Christian Unity Through Federation

THE unity of the Church will never be thought out until it has been worked out. "Union will not come," said a missionary in China in discussing the problem upon the missionary field, "simply by good-will, or by doctrinal adroitness to bring it about. It will come by those who unitedly love the Lord and who wish to serve him, working together." The results of the repeated attempts that have been made to secure agreement in matters of faith and order among the divided bodies of Christendom have not thus far proved very encouraging, while the results of endeavors through co-operation in all forms of Christian effort in which co-operation can be secured, to reach the degree of practical unity which is al-ready possible, are beginning to transform the Christian world, and are fostering that spirit of mutual appreciation and that common understanding which are essential to the achievement of any form of union more ideal. It is becoming increasingly evident that the latter is the hopeful and logical order of procedure. Let the churches that now find it difficult to worship together unite in some great moral crusade, for the eradication of white slavery, or for the restriction of the evils of the liquor traffic. Let the churches that can worship together, but that cannot commune together; that can commune together, but cannot dismiss members one to the other, or acknowledge the validity of one another's administration of the ordinances, organize union evangelistic compaigns, and pray much together. If the members of the various churches unite in labor and in prayer, we need not fear but that they will learn to love one another better and to see more clearly eye to eye; and they will find a way for a closer and ever closer union. The Apostle Paul bade the Ephesian Christians endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" until a doctrinal unity, sure to flow from it, should be possible, "till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God."

The last decade has seen a remarkable crystallization of the sentiment of Christian unity in the organization of various forms of associations, national, state, and local, through which American Protestantism may co-operate in common tasks. Fore-most among these is the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, which was organized in 1905. Its growth in influence and usefulness since its organization has been steadily advancing, until it includes at the present date 29 constituent bodies, to which should be added the Protestant Episcopal Church, which is affiliated through its Commissions on Christian Unity and Social Service. These de-nominations thus united for service contain a total of over 138,000 churches with almost 17,000,000 communicants, and include practically all the larger Protestant bodies. The purpose of the Council is well indicated in the preamble to its Constitution, which states: "In the providence of God the time has come when it seems fitting more fully to manifest the essential oneness of the Christian churches of America in Jesus Christ as their divine Lord and Saviour, and to promote the spirit of fellowship, service, and co-operation among them." The limitations of its functions are specifically stated in the constitutional provision that "The Federal Council shall have no authority over the constituent bodies adhering to it; but its province shall be limited to the expression of its counsel and the recommending of a course of action in matters of common interest to the churches, local councils, and individual Christians. It has no authority to draw up a common creed, or form of government or worship; or in any way to limit the full autonomy of the Christian churches adhering to it." Yet under these limitations the influence it has exerted upon its constituent bodies and upon public opinion at large has been a steadily increasing factor in the religious and moral life of the country. Through it the united voice of Protestantism has been heard for the first time in America, upon the great moral questions that concern the welfare of all the people. Various practical undertakings have been successfully prosecuted, such as no single denomination could have accomplished alone, and great causes have felt behind them, through its activities, the united force of the churches. Through the Federal Council, which meets quadrennially and which consists of about 400 qualified delegates, the degree of unity that already exists has been impressively exhibited, and the movement toward a still more effective union has been greatly stimulated. The scope of the work of the Council is indicated by the names of the Commissions through which it is accomplished, which are as follows: State and Local Federations, Foreign Missions, Home Missions, Religious Education, Social Service, Evangelism, Family Life, Sunday Observance, Temperance, and Peace and Arbitration. Three of these Commissions,-those on Peace and Arbitration, Evangelism, and Social Service, employ executive secretaries in the direction of their work. The general work of the Council is conducted by a secretary, the Rev. Charles S. Macfarland, with an office in New York, and an associate secretary, the Rev. Henry K. Carroll, with an office in Washington.

It is natural that thus far the work of the Commission on Social Service should have been the most largely developed and fruitful. In this field all the constituent denominations, however varied their ecclesiastical polity and creedal statements, find a platform upon which they may stand and labor together. At the quadrennial meeting in Chicago in 1913 the Council adopted as its social creed a comprehensive statement so admirable and so far-reaching in its outlook that it will furnish for the Christian forces of America a program of social service that will suffice for years to come. The Council affirmed that the Churches must stand:

1. For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.

2. For the protection of the family, by the single standard of purity, uniform divorce laws, proper regulation of marriage, and proper housing.

3. For the fullest possible development for every child, especially by the provision of proper education and recreation.

4. For the abolition of child labor.

5. For such regulation of the conditions of toil for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.

6. For the abatement and prevention of poverty.

7. For the protection of the individual and society from the social, economic, and moral waste of the liquor traffic.

8. For the conservation of health.

9. For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases and mortality.

10. For the right of all men to the opportunity for self-maintenance, for safeguarding this right against encroachments of every kind, and for the protection of workers from the hardships of enforced unemployment.

11. For suitable provision for the old age of the workers, and for those incapacitated by injury.

12. For the right of employees and employers alike to organize for adequate means of conciliation and arbitration in industrial disputes.

13. For a release from employment one day in seven.

14. For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human life.

15. For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for the highest wage that each industry can afford.

16. For a new emphasis upon the application of Christian principles to the acquisition and use of property, and for the most equitable division of the product of industry that can ultimately be devised.

If the Council had done no more than to secure the acceptance on the part of the accredited representatives of the great Protestant army of a social program so definite, constructive, and vital as this, it would have abundantly justified its existence. Protestant Christianity in America has long been accused of indifference toward the social movement, and to this apathy has been ascribed the alienation of the workingman from all forms of organized religion. As the churches apply themselves seriously to the task of Christianizing the world of industry, such a reproach, in so far as it has been true, will be taken away. It is a great step gained that there should be set before them for their guidance such a statement of duty as this to which the Christian conscience of America can subscribe.

The Commissions on Home Missions and Foreign Missions are in close co-operation with the Home Missions and Foreign Missions Councils, organizations of representatives of the various denominational societies or boards responsible for the conduct of missionary work. Through the Commission on Peace and Arbitration, the federated churches have both spoken and labored in the interest of world-wide peace with a force that has attracted the attention of the entire country. Lately, special efforts have been made by the Executive Committee of the Council to safeguard the moral and religious interests of the thousands of American soldiers and sailors. More recently the work of the Council has assumed an international aspect in the appointment, at the earnest solicitation of missionaries in Japan, of a Commission on Relations with Japan for the purpose of sending "an ambassador of the churches to convey a message to the Japanese people, or the Eastern peoples in general, from the Federal Council, as representing the Christian sentiment of America," and of extending "an invitation to some representative of the Japanese people to come to this country for the same purpose." The first half of this object has since been achieved in the visit to Japan, early in 1915, of Dr. Shailer Mathews, President of the Federal Council, and Prof. Sidney L. Gulick, as the accredited representatives of American Protestant Christianity. The cordial welcome given them, not only by the churches of Japan, but by the highest representatives of the government, local and national, made it possible for them to render a service of great value to the cause of international friendship, and to contribute to a better under-standing between the two countries. The appointment of this Commission "to study the entire question of the application of the teachings of Christ to our relations with Japan, and to promote such influences and activities as shall lead to the right relationships between the peoples of these two nations," marks the entrance of the Federal Council into a new and larger sphere of usefulness. The Council has now under advisement, also, the question of the calling of a World Congress to consider international relations from a Christian stand-point.

The latest expression of the desire of the Federal Council to promote the co-operative spirit is found in its proposal of the creation of a new "Commission on Federated Movements." For the promotion of the work of such a Commission, the Council lately appointed the Rev. Roy B. Guild as associate secretary. The purpose of the proposed Commission is indicated in the results of the Conference held, by invitation of the Council, at Atlantic City in June, 1915, when about one hundred leaders of denominational and interdenominational organizations met to formulate a plan under which the agencies they represent might be brought into harmonious co-operation. Among the eighteen organizations represented were the Federal Council, the International Sunday-School Association, the Missionary Education Movement, the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations, the Laymen's Missionary Movement, the Home Missions Council, the Christian Endeavor Society, and various denominational young people's societies and brotherhoods. These organizations have been con-ducting their campaigns, for the most part, independently of one another, with consequent confusion, conflict of dates, and unwise multiplication of appeals to the churches. In accordance with the recommendations of this Conference, the Federal Council will appoint the "Commission on Federated Movements," choosing its members "from persons eminently identified with interdenominational and undenominational religious organizations," and "from persons who have had characteristic experience in state and local city church federations."

While the Commission will have a purely advisory and unofficial relation to the organizations in whose interest it is formed, it will be in a position, through the cordial co-operation on their part, which appears to be already assured, to render a valuable and necessary service in the co-ordination of their activities. Its special field will be the study of the history and present status of federative organizations of all types, national, state, and local, to determine the most effective methods of church cooperation, and in what spheres it is immediately most possible, the fostering of existing city federations, and the forming of such federations where they are needed.

The formation of local federations of churches preceded the foundation of the Federal Council, but the latter has greatly stimulated such local manifestations of the spirit of co-operation throughout the land. At the last report' there were about 150 such federations in the country, of which 21 were state organizations; but the movement spreads so rapidly that statistics need continual revision. County federations, particularly in country districts, are furthering community surveys, and inaugurating forms of co-operation for the solution of the problems that they disclose. State federations, under various names, some of them with executive secretaries giving their entire time to the work of the organization, are fostering cooperative effort in city, town, and country, and are seeking to minimize the effects of over-churching and to care for neglected districts wherever discovered. Intensive studies of wide areas of the country have been made by state federations, and the spirit of denominational comity, which they express, is gradually transforming the competitive spirit into one of cordial fellowship in service.

Chaotic conditions of religious activity in the larger cities are slowly giving way, where effective federations under competent leadership have been organized, before the advance of a new program of a united campaign for righteousness. The city gives little heed to a single voice, however powerful it may be, when raised in protest against some flagrant evil; nor is it greatly stirred when an entire denomination unites in protest; but when churches of every name join forces and speak together, the whole city listens and the powers of evil tremble. Organized vice knows no divisive creeds: the saloon in politics is neither Baptist nor Methodist. The forces of evil know how to sink their differences in times of stress, and at the first sound of battle they unite for defense. The churches cannot postpone practical co-operation until their differences are composed, so long as problems of social justice cry for solution, and vice flaunts itself unrebuked, and a conspiracy of evil claims our sons and daughters, and corrupt political forces threaten the foundations of democracy itself. The churches have already learned that they can trust one another sufficiently to unite to labor for law-enforcement and the enthronement of justice and righteousness in social life; and with every successful attempt to work together in such enterprises there is secured added confidence and courage.

The strength of such union is evident not merely in protest and suppression; it is more effective still in the promotion of practical measures for the accomplishment of the positive tasks of the Church. Through practical co-operation in action, the churches are discovering that in the essential things they al-ready stand together and that they can work in Christian love for many ends without loss or sacrifice to any. A new conception of the interdependence of the churches is appearing. As in the federated unity of the body which Paul describes, "Whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it," so what harms a single church in the community injures all the churches; and any accession of strength to any church inures to the benefit of the rest. So long as the function of the Church was conceived to be exclusively remedial, and the numerical addition of adherents was the sole test of its success, there may have been some excuse for envy and competition; but if it is also the function of the Church to create an atmosphere wherein purity and integrity and unselfishness may flourish, and in which vice shall wither and die, then the larger the contribution of a single church to the result, the more the churches at large will profit.

The task of the modern city church is so exacting, and the failure of any single communion to cope in any adequate manner with the problems that press upon it in crowded centers is so apparent, that the necessity of united effort is imperative. To endure the waste of competition and of "overlap-ping," and the neglect of opportunity and duty through "overlooking" that is consequent upon it, is disloyal to the Lord of the Church. In the face of the need of the world, the luxury of isolation is maintained at an unwarrantable expense. We are merely scratching the surface of opportunity in the larger cities. The dense masses of foreign-speaking peoples have hardly been touched by Protestant influences. The task of instilling American and Christian ideals into the immigrant population must not be left to the Roman Catholic Church: Protestantism also is obliged to make its contribution. And it is worse than folly, when the task and the opportunity are so large and pressing, for individual churches or denominations to enter the field without consultation with one another, or under-standing what others are attempting. If a division of the foreign mission field into spheres of responsibility and influence is needed, such a division is as clearly necessary in all unoccupied fields in the home land. In many instances, efforts for the evangelization of foreign-speaking peoples may be undertaken by various denominations working together, with a far better prospect of success than would attend the work of a single denomination. If it is unwise to carry the minutioe of our denominational differences into China, is it wise to inflict them upon the Chinese in America?

It is a hopeful sign of a new day that five denominations are co-operating in the support and direction of the First Chinese Evangelical Church of Chicago. In 1911 there was organized upon the Pacific Coast the Oriental Workers' Association, to labor among the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, including, within its membership, Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Friends. One of the first results of the work of the Standing Committee was the transfer, with the cordial approval of both the denominations interested, of a mission from the Congregationalists to the Presbyterians, the former having no American church in the city in which the mission was located. The entire enterprise of city missions is an inviting field for interdenominational co-operation, as is illustrated by the activities of the Chicago Co-operative Council of City Missions which has recently been established to further the following aims: the evangelization of the foreign population of the city, the maintenance of churches in the central portion of the city, and the establishment of new churches in the residential sections.

It is a function of church federation not merely to unite the churches, but to separate them, to extricate them from the entanglements and embarrassments incident to the competitive method, or lack of method, that has prevailed in the past. A vast amount of duplicative work may be avoided through the assignment to each federated church of a particular district or parish for which it shall accept responsibility. Under such a plan an entire city may be included in such areas of responsibility, each church being assigned a district within easy reach of its own building and, where necessary, a supplementary district at a distance. If each church will then canvass its district and maintain a directory, constantly revised, that will account for the denominational preference and church attendance of each individual within it, caring itself for the unattached and indifferent, and assigning to churches of their own faith all who express a particular denominational preference, such a plan will go far to solve the problem both of "overlapping" and "overlooking" within the city. When the Church knows the people within its district as intimately as the politician knows the voters in his ward or precinct, it will be better able to serve and to win them. System saves time and strength and makes for increased efficiency at a lower cost. Hap-hazard methods are as inadequate in religion as in business. Such a plan makes it possible for each church to conduct an intensive survey of its district, and to acquaint itself with the moral conditions and, needs of the people who dwell within it, and thus to render a more intelligent and helpful ministry. If a moral reform needs to be inaugurated within the district, here is the instrument ready to accomplish it. A diffused and general ministry that extends in about equal proportions over an entire city is not likely to be so effective for good as such a specialized ministry to a particular district thus thoroughly understood. Under such a plan, also, each church represents all the churches and is responsible to all the churches for the administration of the district which it has accepted, and feels behind it the power of the united Christian forces of the city and the encouragement of that added community respect that always results when denominations are found working together in such actual unity.

The opportunities for co-operation through federation are almost without limit, though the direction it takes in particular localities is determined by local needs and circumstances. Christian education is a fruitful field for united action, as is the promotion of missionary instruction and interest and, to a some-what narrower extent, evangelistic effort. But the field within which the churches can combine with the least probability of friction is that of constructive social service. Through federation the churches may make a united impression upon the community in the interest of every movement that strives for human betterment, and furnish substantial aid to every program of reform. The churches when federated may initiate and influence the course of legislation as single churches cannot, and may be rallied to the support of charities and philanthropies, to the cause of juvenile protection, public play-grounds, and social centers; thus federated Christianity may lead all the forces that labor for the welfare of humanity.

It has been said that such federal union is opportunism in religion, and it is probably true. It takes the half loaf that is immediately available and makes the most of it. It asks for no compromise of principle or surrender of ecclesiastical claims on the part of the churches that enter it, nor does it seek to commit any one of its constituent churches to co-operation in any enterprise undertaken by the federation where such co-operation appears inexpedient or impossible. Any church is free to with-draw from such a federation at its pleasure, or to withhold co-operation in particular instances while retaining its membership.

State federations are, like the Federal Council, associations of denominations, while county and city federations may be composed either of delegates from denominations or from individual churches. There is, however, no formal or official connection between the Federal Council and the state federations, or between those of states and the local federations within the states. Church Federation is a general name for groups of churches variously organized, and stands for the loosest, freest form of cooperative union possible in which efficiency, in the particular kinds of activity contemplated, can be preserved. Its strength lies in its weakness, as the bond of love and fellowship, and the friendship that springs from working together for practical ends are stronger than the compulsion of ecclesiastical authority. Such a form of co-operation has decided limitations: it is not claimed for it that it is the ideal form of Christian unity. It was forced upon the churches by the immediate necessity of facing with a united front their common problems and tasks, because it was the best form and method immediately possible. To have waited for the adjustment of ecclesiastical and theological differences, and for the attainment of organic unity, before attempting such tasks would have been to subject the cause of the kingdom of God to irreparable loss.

Imperfect and incomplete as are all such forms of federal union, they are rendering, wherever there is forceful leadership, a splendid service. Notable results have been accomplished in many communities. It is no light thing that the churches should have discovered that they can labor and pray together, and speak, on occasion, with a single voice. Experiments in federation have drawn the churches together and have disclosed the measure of unity that they already possess, and, by promoting the spirit of Christian love, have pointed out the direction from which must come any hopeful plan of closer fellowship. Religion is a life of love: theology is a philosophy. Religion dwells in the heart: theology is of the head; and the foundation of unity lies below the level at which we do our thinking.

( 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

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