The Reunion of Christendom I,—The Anglican Position [The Bishop of
Middleton, who contributes this article, is Lecturer on the New Testament in the University of Manchester. He was Select Preacher at Cambridge in 1928; and has published an Essay on the Interpretation of Christ. He was also Joint Editor of the butline of Christianity in 1926.—En. Spectator.] PROM the fourth century to the present day Christian disunion has been more apparent to the world than Christian unity. For the greater part of the Christian era Christians have succeeded in vividly impressing upon mankind that they regard their fellow- Christians who do not see eye to eye with them as not merely wrong but damnably wrong ; fit objects for excommunication, persecution, and, where possible, de- struction. Odium theologicum has been admired as the finest of all forms of hatred, and wars of religion have been commended in the interests of the Prince of Peace. All this is clearly contrary to the intention of the Head of the Church, who teaches His disciples that they should love one another, and prays that they may all be one. As one reads the New Testament, it seems incredible that such things should ever have come to pass among people professing the religion which is there proclaimed. But fanaticism is still far from disappearing, even in the more civilized parts of Christen- dom. It is obstructing quite a number of Christian causes in England to-day.
Little more than half a century has passed since the tide began definitely to turn in the direction of Christian Reunion. It is now flowing broad and strong. But a variety of currents are making themselves felt in it, and it is well to distinguish them. There is a widespread stream of thought which aims solely at creating a better spirit among the different denominations, more charity, more readiness to live and let live, more co-operation in the fields of social service and reform. Let Christians agree to differ to any extent about doctrines, forms of worship, and modes of Church government ; let them only be polite and, if they can, respectful concerning the customs and convictions of those who differ from them, .and that is all that is needed. It is, indeed, useless to deny that there is still plenty of room for improvement . along these lines. 10u-denominational benevolence, however insufficient as an ultimate ideal of Christian unity, is an indispensible prerequisite to the realization of any fuller and more concrete kind of union. There are millions of church-going people who have still to learn that suspicion, contempt, and vituperation are entirely out of place in any Christian's relations with any other Christian. Whatever our views about Reunion, whatever our denomination, we should certainly be helping to make things better if we pledged ourselves to " maintain and set forwards, as much as lieth in us, quietness, peace, and love among all Christian people." But is this all that is needed ?
Another marked tendency of the day, especially among more definitely Protestant denominations, is inspired mainly by considerations of practical common sense. The wastefulness and extravagance of com- petition and overlapping, especially in the work of religious bodies which seem to the outsider hardly distinguishable, have led to a good deal of skilful re- adjustment and co-operation, both at home and in the mission field. Councils have been established, repre- sentative of large groups of kindred though distinct denominations, such as the National Free Church Council in England and the Council of Christian Churches in America. Denominational independence is still jealously guarded, but the mutual acceptance of one another's ministrations, of which the interchange of pulpits is taken as the outward and visible sign, is super- seding over wide areas of English-speaking Protestantism the older fissiparous characteristics of that type of Christianity. A loose federation of separate churches rather than an organic union into one Church seems to be at present the most popular ideal of Reunion in Protestant Christendom. It is a simple, practical ideal, not difficult to put into operation. It calls for no very deep reconsideration of principles nor for any very noticeable alterations in current practice. It makes a direct and natural appeal to the average Anglo- Saxon layman, brought up in the political principles pf the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States of America, Meanwhile, certain quite definite mergers of separated churches into corporate and organic union have taken place. The United Church of Canada has been created out of the Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches of that Dominion, by a skilful combination of the positive characteristics of each of the uniting bodies. The South India United Church is the result of a similar organic union of the Presbyterian, Congre- gationalist, and Lutheran Missions in that part of India. More influential, perhaps, in their effects, though less intricate in their formulation, are the yet more recent unions, reaching their completion now, between the Established and the United Free Presbyterian Churches of Scotland and the Wesleyan, the Primitive, and the United Methodists of England.
But are movements of this kind, important and welcome though they be, all that is needed ? There are those who think not, because none of them deals with the most fundamental of all the schisms of Christen- dom, that which divides Catholics from Protestants. There are still, it would seem, great numbers of Christians on either side of this chasm who are more than content that it should remain unbridged. But it is equally the case that on either side there are those who feel that this is the only schism that really matters, and, therefore, the one above all others which must be healed, if reunion is to be really worth while.
As things are at present there is only one Communion in all the world where there kneel side by side to receive the Sacrament of Unity men and women who know what it is to be a Catholic and what it is to be a Protestant, not by hearsay only, but by personal experience and practice. For this reason it is the peculiar function of the Anglican Communion to interpret Catholicism to Protestants and Protestantism to Catholics, both within its own fellowship and outside. Whatever may be thought of the Anglican synthesis—and it has never claimed to be final or immune from criticism— it is at any rate making a serious attempt to do a very difficult thing. Some Anglicans may appear to be more Roman than Rome, some more Protestant than Geneva ; but, in spite of the stress and strain due to the presence of these extremes, the great majority of Anglicans continue to show that it is possible to worship and work peaceably together within that framework of Catholic Faith, Sacraments, and Order which they have inherited from the ancient, undivided Church, while free to exercise that personal responsibility for belief and practice which is the fundamental prerogative of the Christian man vindicated and established by the Protestant Reformation.
For these reasons the Anglican Communion possesses potentialities for reunion which are unique in Christen- dom. Nor has it been lacking in a due realization of their significance. The records of successive Lambeth Conferences are sufficient proof of this. It- ought to be cautious, for if its opportunities are exploited for partisan advantage on either side their peculiar value is lost. It ought to be bold, for otherwise nothing worth doing will ever be done. It is easier and quicker to cut knots than to tie them. There are courses of action which might cut the knot which at present binds Catholic and Evangelical together in the fellowship of Anglicanism, without achieving any other fellowship of equal significance and potentiality in its place. There are other courses of action, which might have the effect Of convincing the world that the Anglican combination of Catholic and Protestant types of Christianity was nothing better than a sterile hybrid, doomed to perpetual isolation.
Proposals for reunion between certain Anglican and certain Protestant Missions in So'uth India are now being submitted to the various denominations in England and elsewhere, with which these missions are connected. They will be in the centre of interest at the Lambeth Conference next year. They have been drawn up on lines which, it is hoped, will not make reunion between those who accept them and the Catholic Churches any more difficult than it is at present. To many they will seem an extension and adaptation, at once cautious and bold, of the underlying ideals of Anglicanism to the needs and circumstances of the vigorous young Christianity which is springing up in India and Persia, China and Japan. It is a Christianity which is heroically impatient of the divisions which separate from one another the various Churches to which it owes its existence.
That such proposals as those which now reach us from South India should have been foroiulated at all is evidence that others besides Anglicans are realizing that the whole of Christ's grace and truth are to be found neither in Catholicism alone nor in Protestantism alone, but in something greater than them both. None of the forms into which Christianity has organized itself hitherto has made good- the claim to be the One Body of the One Spirit. The Church of Christ's ideal, holy, catholic, and apostolic, has yet to be perfected into one. And the most fruitful projects for Christian Reunion will be those which care more for the future than for the past.
[The next article in this series will give the View of the Orthodox Church, and will be written by Archbishop Germanos of Thyateira.—Ed. SPECTATOR.]