To the Editor of The Living Church:
IT is well known that since the Crapsey condemnation, the Radical party has been busy in its endeavor to lower the Church’s standard of doctrine, and make it more comprehensive. They are attached in a degree to the Church’s worship, but feel the strain upon their consciences of being obliged to utter in it statements of doctrine which they do not believe. It is the old story of the Low Churchmen, at the time of the Cummins movement, over again. More astute and clever than the straightforward Evangelicals, they will probably seek their end in the coming General Convention, in a more subtle manner. A meeting, we understand, has lately been held in New York, presided over by the Hon. Seth Low, and encouraged by letters from several Bishops, which considered the best methods of “Liberalizing the Church.” To the worldly and carnal-minded the cry of “liberalizing” will be a popular one. But to old-fashioned, conservative Churchmen of all schools, it will look like a method borrowed from Wall Street, known as “Watering the Stock.”
In favor of the plan, it will be urged that there is a considerable body of men now outside the Church’s organization who would willingly join her if from her doctrines the supernatural could be eliminated, and the Church be brought more into agreement with modern rationalistic, i.e., unbelieving thought.
But this, we may observe, is a mere gold-brick scheme. There is no such body of men desirous of joining the Church, and kept from it by her consistent witness to the Faith once delivered. For any such persons, there are already many organizations of a religious character open and glad to welcome their support, but they do not join them. The only effect upon this body of men would be to make them yet more contented in their present attitude of indifference. Men do not, or should not, join the Church because they like its form and service, but because, having been brought under conviction of sin, and converted, they come into it to find Christ their Saviour. Propositions to liberalize mean parting with some of the Church’s inherited faith, either in respect to her government, or her doctrines, and accepting in place a large amount of variable opinions produced in the theological workshops by the clash of modern thought.
Now the ancient doctrines and practices of the Church have upon them the stamp and signature of the Church in all ages, countries, and times. They are doctrines and practices which have borne the test of nineteen centuries. Their value has been demonstrated by the conversion of millions of people and the lives of saints. We are asked to surrender some portion of this true and good money for a lot of unauthorized “green goods.” It is a “green goods” game, which it will be well for the Church not to take part in.
Another delusive comment pressed, is that if we wish our Church to grow and become the Church of the land, it must be more “liberal.” But certainly the way to develop the real spiritual growth and efficiency of any religious body is not by letting down the bars, and by making matters of indifference of doctrines received from the beginning and held universally in the Church. It is just those bodies that have held more stringently to the Faith, and have more positively taught it, that in this age of unsettlement have drawn the greater number within their fold.
The spiritual growth of our own body depends, not upon liberalizing, i.e., minimizing the Faith, but upon more explicitly avowing our Catholic heritage, apostolic government, and sacramental system of worship.
An important factor in the plan of the liberals to enlarge our membership they overlook. They mistakenly think a number of half-breeds now partly Christian and partly infidel, will be drawn into the Church. But they do not stop to consider how many more they will drive out of this Church. No well instructed Christian Churchman could remain in a Church which, for instance, made formal recognition of the position taken by Professor Allen, i.e., that the Anglican Church has broken with the fourth Ecumenical Council, or any Ecumenical Council! The Church has affirmed again and again she has not done so. But if now the Protestant Episcopal Church takes that position, she breaks the thread of life that binds her to the Church as founded by Christ. She is no longer Catholic. She has committed spiritual suicide. And no loyal Churchman could remain in her communion. To one who might be drawn to her, those who left would be counted by the hundred.
There is, with some, a desire to see all Protestant bodies, as they are called, brought into some one great confederation. It goes along with the American trust-forming business spirit. Its dominant idea is the formation of a big concern. It measures strength by quantity, not quality. It thinks of the Kingdom of God as if it were a mere human-made society, or a combination of societies. It would make the Episcopal Church simply an annex or member of a man-made trust. If such indeed is the course that our Church is to take, our liberal friends cannot avoid adopting for it a new name. They would not, of course, take the title of “American Catholic.” They would want a title which would express the new attitude and the changed quality of the old Episcopal Church. A title we would therefore respectfully suggest for their consideration. Considering the left-handed connection with the sectarians involved and the embodiment of Unitarian principles, the title might well be “The Great American Liberal Morganatic Church.”
When the popular cry of Liberality is raised, it is well for Churchmen to consider that the word “liberal” means to make free with, and we have no right to make free or give away that which is not our own. Now the Faith has been given in trust to the Church. St. Paul’s command to Timothy was in the selection of clergy, to pick out “faithful men;” men, that is, who would be faithful to the Church. In our day, the Church is asked to embark, so to speak, in a speculation for its growth. Promises are made of an increased number of adherents, and of large sums of money, and of increased missionary enterprise. And it is proposed, in order to secure this great, enticing profit, that the Church shall put her hand into the strong-box of her creeds and abstract from that sacred deposit of her Faith some of her most valued possessions. The Church is being thus tempted to betray her trust and commit a crime; a crime worse than that of any embezzlement or defalcation of earthly money. Men who would abhor committing such a crime in respect to funds entrusted to them, think it right to be liberal or “make free with” the things of God.
This attempt to modify the Church’s Catholic position and doctrines breaks her continuity with the past, reduces her thereby into the condition of a sect, and under the specious promise of greater growth and earthly prosperity, it brings before the Christian mind the solemn scene of our Lord’s final temptation. Disguised as an angel of light, Satan proposed to the Master, simply on condition of His acknowledging his authority, to give Him all the kingdoms of the world. There was to be no crucifixion, no opposition on the part of man. It was a Broad Church offer. It had a business-like ring. Undoubtedly Satan could have done what the Radical party cannot do—deliver the goods. But the Kingdom of God was not to be a successful kingdom in the world, or for the world, or even over the world, but was to be built up and prepared for the eternal reign with Christ in glory of those who are dead to the world, and crucified with Christ.
We do not know what the plan of the liberalizing party is. It has been suggested that any legislation respecting the establishment of a Court of Appeals in matters of doctrine will be opposed. So long as none exists, the followers of Crapsey can say the Church has not condemned them. Or if a Court of Appeals must be had to complete our system, then they would have a small one, whom they might influence, composed of a few Bishops, clergy, and laity. Such an one would not be a Churchly one. The only Churchly Court on doctrine should be the House of Bishops. They are elected by the Church and represent her. Their number secures a balanced judgment. They have been especially commissioned by Christ as the guardians of the Faith.
C. C. Fond du Lac.