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The Church - The Church Urban And Rural

THERE is a widely prevalent view that ecclesiastical Christianity is somehow much out of joint with the times; that it is seriously failing in its required function for the enlargement of the Kingdom. This view is grave. It merits honest, searching, and fearless examination. Is the view correct? Is the Church really a declining institution, something like a setting sun, long since having passed the zenith, and soon to sink down into night and darkness? If not, what is the real truth in the case? Is it possible that Christianity, even in the very presence of our uncomprehending vision, is clothing itself with new forms of life? Do we need a new viewpoint in order to test the radiance of its beauty, the majesty of its strength, the stride of its triumphs?

Many facts, statistics, studied by themselves alone, undoubtedly furnish food for pessimism. These facts should not be sidetracked. Whatever truth they give us, whatever lessons they convey, should be measured fully for what they are worth. Truth is truth, whether it be for or against our cherished preferences. As Mr. Lincoln said during the war, "It is not the question whether the Lord is on our side, but whether we are on the Lord's side." Whatever our views, traditions, or convictions, we shall finally make a safe landing only as we are found squarely in line with the truth. The subject of our inquiry is large and vital.

Ideals for which an institution stands furnish the severest standards of measurement as to the relative success or failure of the institution itself. Christian ideals furnish the standard by which the real successes or failures of the Church itself may best be measured. Judged from this standpoint, what report must be given? We are in the twentieth century of Christian history. The leaven of Christ's kingdom has long been working in civilization. Let it be fully credited that Christianity has achieved very great, even most divine, results in the world. Still a great question remains. Christianity has had a long history. At its command have been placed unmeasured resources. In its life have inhered vast potentialities. Central to its creed has been the faith of an unfailing divine guidance and the ever-present inspiration of the Holy Spirit in its life. All this makes supreme the question whether Christianity should not already have achieved, and should not now be achieving, immeasurably more than seems to be reported in the life of the Church.

Take a most casual survey of the American republic. This, of all lands, would seem to present the most favor-able conditions for the unimpeded progress and triumph of Christianity. The virgin soil of America, especially in New England, was colonized by a God-fearing people a people who sought refuge from the tyrannies of the Old World that they might build here a nation founded on Christian morality and characterized by religious freedom. In the long period of the nation's development, as State after State has been added to the national domain, distinct principles of Christian morality have found expression in the constitution of nearly every State. While the laws are framed to support the largest toleration and freedom of religious worship, yet far more than by implication our underlying national and State constitutions recognize this as a Christian government.

The facts to be emphasized are that Christian forces originally preempted this territory, and the laws of the land are all so shaped as to foster and protect the worship and institutions of Christianity. The ministry of the American Churches, representing the highest character, learning, and influence, have justly held a foremost rank in the moral citizenship of the nation. On the whole, it may be said that no other single force in the nation has wielded a greater or more wholesome intellectual and moral influence upon the people at large than has emanated from the Christian ministry. The Church, through the agencies of its presses and schools, has had great opportunity to mold the moral life of the people.

In any survey it is but fair that account should be taken of the immense immigration of alien peoples into American life. But, even so, the question comes back : "Why has not American Christianity shown itself vigorous enough to spiritually transform and assimilate these peoples?" Christianity is a missionary religion, and it would seem that there ought to be no place in the world where its power to attract and to evangelize alien races should be so efficient as under its own civilization and in the midst of its own institutions.

What are the general facts as to the status of the Christian Church in the American republic? By most expert authorities the conclusion is gravely reached that vast numbers in the population of the country are unchurched.' American Protestantism is divided into one hundred and sixty-four distinct denominations. This alone is a disgraceful chapter in our religious history. It tells the story of dissension and cleavages founded on causes entirely unworthy of the essential spirit of Christianity. It suggests the picture of what ought to be a solid and efficient army divided into small and rival camps, many of them magnifying some petty shibboleth, each claiming a monopolistic defense of orthodoxy, and each in the meantime in an attitude inoperative toward the larger unity of life and purpose in which alone Christianity can move forward to the moral conquest of the world. This spectacle of a multiplied and petty denominationalism is nothing less than a reproach to American Protestantism. From the standpoint of business efficiency, it not only means inherent weakness, but is so alien to the spirit characterizing the great and united movements of the day as to excite a sense of contempt and disgust in the minds of clear and broad-thinking men. The whole thing is a most damaging advertisement for Christianity in both Christian and pagan lands.

Another fact of ill-prophecy is, that while the rate of growth in church membership in the nineteenth century was relatively greater than that of population as a whole, that process has been reversed in the recent years, the rate of increase of church membership falling behind that of the population. Hand in hand with the relative decrease of growth in church membership there has been a corresponding diminution of benevolent and missionary contributions in the same period.

What about the Church and the city? The city by leaps and bounds is making itself the controlling power in modem civilization. Whatever may have been true in the past, it will remain true hereafter that the supreme problems of the race social, industrial, intellectual, andmoral will find their chief field of discussion and the solution, if at all, in the city. In the city will be located the university, the endowed foundation for the pro-motion of scientific knowledge, eleemosynary institutions, the commanding journalism, the great publishing houses, and many kindred and potent agencies for giving direction and character to public life. Within the walls of the city civilization itself is to win its supreme victories or to suffer its most tragic defeats. Christianity will be finally tested by its demonstrated ability or inability to meet and to overcome the moral obstacles of the city, and to establish there its seat of supremacy. It would seem significant that the apocalyptic prophecy locates the throne of the final and triumphant redemption of the race in the midst of a great city-a city with foundations resting upon a new earth, such a city in the beauty and purity of its life as might have literally come down from God out of heaven. The apocalyptic city, within whose gates there could enter nothing which worketh abomination or maketh unclean, and whose very adornings are typified by the most precious and costly material things of earth, is the foreprophecy of the city which in perfection of life and beauty shall arise in the earth when the kingdom of Christ shall come to full realization'. The perfect city is Christ's audacious prophecy for his kingdom. Its ideal is that it shall be the habitation of God's people, that righteousness shall sit in its seats of power, that integrity, virtue, and purity shall be the revealing features of its civic, social, and domestic life.

What about the great cities of Christendom in this year of our Lord? The licensed saloons, more numerous by far than the churches, police graft honey-combing and debauching the legal protectorate of the city's safety, gambling made a lucrative trade, organized traffic in white slavery, the merchandise of social impurity, so thriving that in every year thousands of the bodies and souls of women are murdered at its shrine and cast thence into the pit of oblivion as so much unclean spawn of the city's refuse, murder stalking unarrested in the dark alleys these, and their unholy ilk, are the crying evils of the city, evils which baffle the vigilant search of law and which flagrantly assert themselves as against the most vigorous protests of decency and righteousness.

The city is the capital seat of commerce. Its marts and exchanges are the channels through which flow the nation's trade and wealth. Here, as nowhere else, fortunes are quickly made and lost. The grave fact to be emphasized is that vast volumes of the city's trade are conducted without reference to, or restraint from, Christian ethics. The tragic thing is that too often men who in their homes and in private life are unexceptional are willing to act upon unethical methods in the market. Here they proceed upon the vicious proverb that "business is business."

Aside, however, from these evil features, only too general, what is the status of the Christian Church itself in the life of the great city? We are called upon for all reasons not to detract in the slightest from the good work which the Church is achieving in the city. The Church, however circumstances may be against her, is accomplishing a vital, an indispensable work a work without which the moral and spiritual life of the city would be impoverished beyond estimate. Yet, alas ! measured by almost any visible standard, how impotent, de facto, seems the Christian Church to cope with, much less to control, the life of a great city. Numerically measured, the Church at best succeeds in getting but a small proportion of the population under the direct message of its ministry. It is estimated that in our large cities, averaging three hundred thousand and more, not more than seventeen per cent of the people regularly attend church. Dr. R. F. Horton is authority for the statement that in London not more than five per cent of the population regularly attend church. Of the laboring men in this country it is probable also that not more than five per cent are habitual church-goers. Brooklyn, New York city, is traditionally known as the "City of Churches." In one of its best residential wards, under a most thorough recent house-to-house canvass made under the auspices of an organized federation of churches, it is revealed that out of every one thousand families who classify themselves as Protestants, two hundred and eighty, twenty-eight percent have no church affiliations whatsoever. If these alleged facts, as cited, are typical of general conditions throughout the great cities of the land, then, it seems but conservative to say that the Protestant Churches are failing disastrously in their hold upon those who ought to be the proper subjects for their ministry.

An old proverb says that "If man made the town, God made the country." Without knowledge to the contrary, it might readily be assumed that the rural districts would furnish fair and thriving fields for the churches. The relative importance of the rural church in the past would seem to be indicated by the testimony that fully seventy-five per cent of the business and religious leaders of the city were born and bred in the country. The vitality and ozone of the country have contributed to the city much of its best life. But the status of the country church proves distinctly disappointing to any hope based upon the theory of its natural advantage. A great and adverse change has come in recent years. The surveys of many representative and widely sundered sections furnish, with startling uniformity, reports of declining attendance upon the rural church.

The causes of this decline have been well ascertained. These causes are various, and they are not all equally operative in the same sections. In general, the appliances of modern life have worked signal changes within recent years in the habits of the rural communities. In the earlier periods the "team-haul" distance represented the measurement of the social and business boundaries of the average rural community. Within these limits there were the country store, the post office, the gristmill, the blacksmith shop, and one or more rural churches. The distances to be traveled for barter or worship were such as could be covered by the ordinary drive with the farmer's team. Within these limits there was much life with mutual interests. The people knew each other, and such social life as existed was here developed. The young people made each other's acquaintances, formed their attachments, and started their new homes, usually within these given limits. The life of these communities was largely sufficient to itself. The people raised their own bread, spun their own flax and wool, and had little occasion or desire to know luxuries which might be imported from far climes. The world-vision of these people was narrow and comparatively obscure. The days of the railroad, of the daily press, of the telegraph, and the telephone were still far distant. The people, old and young, were inured to toil. Life with them was no playday. Their worship was in keeping with the community type. To those who were religious, religion was a cherished asset. Their faith was simple and rugged. The articles of their creed were not numerous, but they were clearly defined, often somber and severe, and adhered to with dogmatic tenacity. Much of the most cherished life of these early communities was developed hand in hand with their worship in the primitive and simple rural church.

This type of community the nation over has pretty much disappeared. If we were to seek for contrasts which the appliances of modern life have effected as between the present and the past, we could hardly ask for any more vivid than those presented between the modern and former rural communities. To-day the rural delivery, the daily paper and the magazine, the telephone, the trolley car, the electric vehicle, machine planters, mowers, reapers, and harvesters, the piano and sewing machine, not to speak of a hundred other things, are the common possessions of rural life. The doors of superior educational opportunities are wide open to all the children of the farm, and the tastes, requirements, and styles of urban life have traveled into many country homes. The change effected by all this in the scope of educational concepts, social ideals, and even in religious faith, it is impossible to measure. One thing is certain the old rural life, with its simple habits, its social, industrial, and religious ideals and methods, has gone, never to be reproduced. The present generation, let it be headed which way it will, can never by any possibility put itself back into the ideals and methods of its forefathers. On general principles, vast revisions from the beliefs and customs of former generations were made inevitable in the transition from the older to the new life of to-day. In so general a modernizing movement the questions of worship and of faith could not fail to be involved.

The country church in general has not kept pace with modern progressive movements. In the single matter of church architecture, the rural church is generally and relatively far behind the city. Very many edifices throughout the country are old and dilapidated. They are not only unattractive in appearance, but they are practically uncomfortable for use. Many of them are single-roomed, or, at best, they have upstairs auditoriums and downstairs basements. These churches are built on lines that reflect the austere and primitive habits of former days. They do not invite to social life, much less to the cheer and enthusiasm of a glad spiritual worship.

Another blight on the rural churches is in the multiplication of denominations. In order to give a concrete illustration of this too general condition I cite literally a statement of experience of a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Charles B. Taylor, of McArthur, Ohio. He says :

In the field where I spent the last few years of my pastoral life, at the southern extremity of the field is the village of T, with about two hundred inhabitants. There are four churches in the place Methodist, United Brethren, Presbyterian, and Christian. Two miles east is another Methodist church, and a mile and a half north is another United Brethren church. The entire population living within convenient distance of these six churches is about nine hundred. The aggregate member-ship of these churches is about two hundred and seventy, or about forty-five to each church. Four ministers labored among these churches, their fields extending elsewhere over wide circuits. The Methodist Episcopal minister supplied five churches. On one Sunday he preached three times and rode eighteen miles. On the next Sunday he preached twice and rode ten miles. He conducted five series of special revival services during the year, and did a Iarge amount of pastoral work, visiting the sick and burying the dead. His salary was five hundred dollars a year and a parsonage.

The United Brethren minister had seven churches under his care. He preached at each place once in three weeks. During the year he held seven series of special services. The churches were widely scattered. The preacher's salary was four hundred and seventy-five dollars. With that pitiful amount he supported his family, paid house-rent, and kept a horse. The brother who ministered to the Christian church had four churches under his care. His salary was about four hundred and eighty dollars.

My field consisted of four little Presbyterian churches, extending along a line from north to south. On one Sunday I drove twenty-four miles and preached twice, and occasionally three times. On the next Sunday I drove eight miles and preached twice. The territory under my pastoral care was twenty-one miles long and eight miles wide. The visitation of the sick and the large number of funerals to which I was called added much to the burdens of the work. Like other brethren, I was expected to hold a series of special services at each church. I preached about two hundred sermons each year, and drove nearly two thousand miles over rough hills and, for the most part, red-clay roads. The winter trips were hard for a man of my age. My salary was eight hundred dollars.

Four preachers ministered to twenty churches, and the work broke down strong men. The other three received salaries which were pitifully inadequate. Our congregations were small. The little churches lacked the enthusiasm which comes with numbers. And the pity of it was that we covered practically the same ground, and crossed and recrossed the tracks of each other every day.

The results of such a situation are more negative than good. Undue emphasis is laid upon denominational differences. Conscientious people are held aloof from effective cooperation in needed Christian work. Ministers in such communities are meagerly supported, and hence, by an inevitable law, if they remain upon the ground, they lose both heart and effectiveness. Indeed, there is very little in such a community to in-spire either enthusiasm or hope in the average minister. A young man doomed to such a service will, as a rule, come after a while to accept the limitations of his environment. His personal support is insufficient. He can neither buy new books with which to feed and stimulate his mind, nor can he afford travel, by which he could refresh and enlarge his vision. The average young minister, whatever his native talent or his initial ad-vantages, will be sure in the end to succumb to a situation which does not admit of expansion. A small, unresponsive and unprogressive community presents conditions which are deadly to professional ambition. A live man will either escape such a situation, or, if he is held to its environment, he is so robbed of the stimuli of growth, of the incentive to endeavor, that he soon acquires the habit and mood of confirmed mediocrity. If a community pursues the policy of paying starvation wages, then that community will receive its reward in the services of an anaemic ministry a ministry victimized by chronic starvation of its social, intellectual, and spiritual faculties.

A largely underlying difficulty in the problem of the rural church is the lack of ready money in the average farming community. The farmer is proverbially frugal. There are reasons which make this inevitable. For the most part he handles very little money. In order to save at all he must be industrious, economical, careful at every point in his expenditures. It is the general testimony concerning good lands in Missouri that after having paid the legal rate of interest on his farm investment, there remains to the farmer only about enough to pay his store bills.1 Among six hundred and fifteen farmers located in the State of New York, near Cornell University, where the farmers are supposed to profit by the services of the Agricultural College, it was found on intensive investigation that these men averaged only about four hundred and twenty-three dollars each.' Iowa is supposed to be one of the best of the agricultural States. The editor of Wallace's Farmer is authority for the statement that the margin of profit in Iowa is the margin of child labor on the farm.2 It is much easier to interest the Iowa farmer in the purchase of up-to-date farming implements than it is to interest him in the improvement of the schools or the public highways. This means that he has more money to spend in improving his farm industry than he has to spend upon social or neighborhood improvements. In the country at large there are many States whose farming profits average lower rather than above those in the State of Iowa. It is easy to see how, under such general conditions, the country church is likely to receive only a meager financial support. This condition alone very largely accounts both for the poor quality of country church edifices and the insufficient salaries paid to preachers.

The ministry should not be, and as a matter of fact certainly is not, a mercenary profession. Young men do not enter this profession, as one might enter one of several other callings, with the hope that from services rendered a liberal, if not an affluent, income will be realized. All that can be looked for at best is a living income which, frugally husbanded, may serve to keep the family in respectable comfort, and possibly to pro-vide suitable educational advantages for the children. It may be questioned whether the members of any other high-grade profession have acquired, as have the families of ministers, the art of making a small in-come go so far in the direction of maintaining respectable appearances and a comfortable living. The pastor in any parish, if conscientiously faithful in discharge of duty, feels called upon to render innumerable services, many of which make heavy drafts upon his nervous force and sympathies. He has many diverse characters and interests to deal with, and is often subject to criticism which is both thoughtless and heartless. A writer in the Bibliotheca Sacra puts the situation as follows: "As a simple matter of truth the minister is the hardest-worked wage-earner in the country. No first-class carpenter or plumber or mason or other skilled artisan has to surrender so many personal rights and submit to so many indignities, both with respect to himself and his family, as the average minister of to-day; and the wages of the skilled artisan are now higher to boot."

It must be self-evident that no Christian minister can do his best work, under conditions of self-respect or of comfort for himself and family, who fails to receive a competent living support. But the ministerial profession is by odds the poorest paid profession in the nation. The average minister's salary in the United States, outside of one hundred and fifty largest cities, is five hundred and seventy-three dollars. The Commission appointed by President Roosevelt to settle the anthracite coal strike reported that the average earnings of certain classes of laborers in Pennsylvania were as follows:

Stablemen $689.52
Pumpmen 685.72
Carpenters 603.90
Blacksmiths 557.43

In the investigations of the conditions of The Country Church, by Charles Otis Gill and Gifford Pinchot, these authors feel compelled to emphasize the lack of adequate ministerial support as one of the principal causes in the decline of the rural church. Comparing periods twenty years apart, while it is shown that ministerial salaries generally in the same territories have been nominally increased, yet, in view of the present higher costs of living, the salaries now paid have by a considerable margin less purchasing power than was true of the smaller salaries of the earlier period.

On general principles, it ought to prove true that in the richer farming regions the rural church should receive the better support. And this in many sections is shown to be the fact. But in the larger and richer farming regions other conditions often intervene to disturb this natural tendency. In the better fanning sections it often happens that the land is owned by an absentee landlord. The farm is cultivated by a tenant, who pays rent for his privileges. In such case the rule is that neither the absentee owner nor the tenant feels much responsibility for the church. In many cases the well-to-do farmer moves into town either for the purpose of leading a retired life for himself, or of giving his children better educational advantages. In such case the same thing happens as before. The man so placed, as a rule, does not lend much financial aid either to the rural church which he has left nor to the town church which he attends.

A condition which has often worked depletion to the country church is in the fact that the children of farmers go from home for purposes of education. But the college-bred farmer's boy or girl rarely goes back to make a living on the old farm. It is from such stock that the city is constantly making heavy drafts for the reenforcement of its own most potent life.

It is also said, and probably with much truth, that the average college and seminary-bred preacher fails largely to adapt himself to the country congregation. The education he has received, the newspapers, the magazines, and the books which he reads, all are far less imbued with a spirit of country than of urban life. He unconsciously fails to put himself en rapport with the moods and habits of rural thought, and thus fails to command an enthusiastic following from his parishioners. So controlling is this tendency that, in the judgment of many experts on the rural church problem, the candidate for the rural pulpit ought, as part of his ministerial equipment, to take a thorough course in an agricultural college.

If these surveys of many representative and widely sundered sections furnish, and with startling uniformity, reports of declining attendance upon the rural church, we do not have to travel far to discover many reasons for such declension. These reasons in themselves, how-ever, do not much help our faith. An honest facing of the real facts seems to force upon us th unwelcome conclusion that in city and country alike the Church is falling gravely short of realizing the larger ideals of its mission.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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