23 JUNE 1961, Page 25

The Thousand Creeds

!V1 R. WILSON has written an absorbingly interest- ing book, perhaps even more, to be commended for the questions it raises than for those it answers. What he has done is to take three current Christian sects and examine them from a sociological point of view. He describes their doctrines and beliefs. traces their developments in the light of discovering how and to what ex- tent they have become institutionalised. and de- scribes the type of person who forms the member- 'big of each and to whom each may appeal.

His three sects are the Elim Foursquare Gos- pel Church, the Christian Scientists and the Christadelphians. Elim (a subject on which he has apparently specialised) came to England from Ireland after the end of the First World

t War when Jeffreys, its leader, began revival work in Essex. It is a pentecostal movement, laying special emphasis on the practice of speaking with tongues. From Mr. Wilson's point of view it provides a splendid example of institutionalisa- tion, with the eventual discard of the charismatic

leader and his replacement by central govern- ment.

The reader does sometimes feel, however, that Mr. Wilson in his writing on Elim has been • inhibited by debts of gratitude to those who helped him to gather his information. In de- scribing Christian Science he has apparently felt no such restraints, and his account of its history, beliefs and adherents is often depress- ingly funny. (He mentions, incidentally, that the function of its Committee on Business is `to mobilise pressure by advertisers who are Christian Scientists to persuade editors not to publish articles hostile to the movement, or to accept "corrections" to articles.') Christadel- phians are Bible literalists who look forward to the establishment of God's kingdom on earth when they, but hardly anyone else, shall be saved. They shun institutionalisation and are rent with schisms.

Elim, Mr. Wilson says, appeals to ignorant people at, or nearly at, the bottom of the social ladder. It eschews intellect, gives scope for emotionalism and 'compensates the economically disinherited.' Christian Science typically appeals to middle-aged, middle-class women, with more than elementary education—for much reading is required—but not too much education, since rigid critical standards can clearly not be applied. Perceptively he points out that its emphasis on health makes a special appeal to hypochondriacs. Politically its members tend to be well satisfied with the existing social order, and worldly success is a tribute to the success of the faith. Christadelphianism. unusually among sects, appeals as strongly to men as to women, and particularly `to the poor and outcast, and perhaps especially to those who harbour some grudge against the prevailing social order'; an element of vengeance is perceptible towards those who now are first and eventually will be last. Christadelphianism does not, in its practices, allow scope for emotional release but—obviously within inevitable limits—advocates a rational approach to religion.

Fully to appreciate the differing minutia; of doctrine, practice and appeal this book must be read. Mr. Wilson's three sects splendidly con- trast and his approach is demonstrably a reward- ing one. But, as an approach, this kind of study is clearly in its infancy. Its utility will become apparent only when some broader generalisations can be made for which the material has not yet been examined. This is a source book which makes one long for the time of synthesis.

The questions crowd thick and fast. What does or should Christian mean? Can a sect usefully be called Christian if it makes a nominal attach- ment of its beliefs to Christianity but has none of more orthodox Christianity's content or ap- proach? How should one value such sects as these which, each in its different way, satisfy only some part of the complex of needs we com- monly think of as religious? What determines adherence to a specifically religious as opposed to a political sect? From Mr. Wilson's descrip- tion of the typical Christadelphian, one might suppose that Communism could often satisfy the need. And, with regard to that part of the study that deals with processes of organisation and institutionalisation, would not such secular organisations as the PEN Club and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1 mention two I happen to know) show developmental growths to no way significantly different from Those shown by religious sects? We must eagerly await ' further studies on this potentially most rewarding approach to human organisation and needs.