The reign of dogmatic, theological Christianity is passing away. It has had its day—probably, also, its use—and people are no longer attracted to it by the inducements held out in the shape of a future reward to those complying with its requirements. Neither do they fear its anathemas—the "future punishment" awaiting those who go contrary to its teachings. It is thus robbed of its greatest two agencies for perpetuating its influence and power.
But there are certain other things that will continue to have some effect in holding the ecclesiastical organism together. Chief among these is the force of custom. People get into the habit of doing certain things, and it soon becomes easier to do them than not to do them. Thus a large number of people find their way to church from force of habit. It is the conventional thing to do—the Church is eminently respectable.
Of themselves, however, these things cannot indefinitely hold the institution intact. A prominent clergyman once said to me: "Spirituality is dead in the Church." Another of equal eminence said: "The longer I live the less plan can I see in creation; every year I become more pessimistic." And a leading New York minister recently remarked that "sectarianism has utterly failed, and infidelity is rampant in the land." I quote these sayings merely to show that there is a decided feeling of apprehension within the Church in regard to its own usefulness and future maintenance.
Costly edifices continue to be erected, but they are designed as churches for the few, not the many. Church attendance is steadily falling off, year by year; yet here and there will be found a church at which the attendance is large. Sometimes the reason for this exceptional success is the spiritual development of the minister, who, recognizing the needs of his congregation, honestly strives to do all in his power to assist them. As a rule, however, the full churches are the direct result of a certain kind of sensational preaching that has come in vogue in the last two decades. It assails individuals and parties, and is largely made up of denunciation and invective. Such preaching engenders anger and strife, but very little of the love of Christ; yet it undoubtedly proves attractive to a certain class of people.
Money continues to flow into the church coffers in great abundance; but money alone cannot accomplish everything, and thus far it has failed to keep the pews filled. It may be that the Church has devoted so much effort to Christianizing the "benighted heathen" that it has become lax in its home endeavors. It would almost appear, on the face of things, as if the "heathen" were making more converts in our own domain than the Church is making in pagan lands. Not that look upon the many teachers that come to us from foreign countries as "heathen," but this is certainly the Church view.
Looking over, then, the past and the present of Christianity, as taught by the Church, the conclusion is inevitable that, no matter what its past record may have been, it is ineffectual in its efforts of the present. We are thus led to ask ourselves, Is Christianity a failure? If viewed from the dogmatic, theological standpoint, it is not only a failure but a colossal one, in that it has perverted the very teachings of its Founder.
If we turn to Luke 4:17-20, we will find what Jesus declared his true mission to be. It was certainly not to construct a vast ecclesiastical system. His gospel was to be one of spiritual enlightenment—for the healing of persons that were diseased in either mind or body. There was no article of belief nor complex creed. In fact, the great requirement to fit a man for this world or for any other was love and service to God through love and service to man. Christ's idea of God was an all-loving Father, who dwelt in the hearts of His children and would direct their ways aright; that His loving presence in the life of man caused the healing of both mind and body; that He was likewise an all-merciful Father, caring for all His children and sending both rain and sunshine on good and bad alike; that He was kind to the unthankful and the evil, and that His love passed all human understanding.
Theological perversion of these great truths has taken the life out of Christianity and well nigh destroyed its usefulness. What the world needs today is an aggressive, optimistic, genuinely Christian religion: aggressive in the sense that it stands for the great fundamental truths of Being, and optimistic in that it proclaims a gospel of glad tidings, a gospel of peace and good-will to all, a gospel that not only heals the mind but gives health and strength to the body, thus showing a present, not a deferred, salvation—one that, moreover, does not exempt the body of man. Such a religion would kindle anew the spirit of true Christianity, and its influence would be felt in every part of the world. The pessimism of the age would dissolve before its progress, as the early morning mist before the rising sun.
Pessimism has no real abiding place in the minds of the people. It has been fostered by the lack of spirituality in the Church and the materialistic tendencies of the age. It is made up rather of the things men "don't know" than of what they do know.
It may be claimed by pessimists that they have as much ground for their lack of faith as the optimist has for his sufficiency; but this is a fallacy that can be easily exposed. Pessimism gives rise to gloom and despondency of mind, and indigestion and biliousness of body; while the bright, cheerful person that sees good in all things takes the most hopeful, optimistic view of life, and the body is strengthened and nourished—the man himself gaining much more of present happiness. Leaving, then, all question of future good out of consideration, the optimist, with his faith centered in the love of good, is infinitely better off than the one lacking in such faith.
Let this optimistic Christ-religion show man that God does not afflict him, but that all the evils of human life are occasioned by his own wrong-doing; that thought, whether it be true or false, must affect the life either for good or ill; that it is only as men come to a knowledge of their own powers and possibilities, properly using the talents wherewith they are endowed, that the health and happiness of life become abiding states; that lack of knowledge is at the bottom of all their woe; that, while they themselves have wrongly conditioned their lives, they have the inherent power to create new conditions; that real Christianity is living the life; that a belief or a faith that finds no expression in works is of no avail; and that, while the works are not to be regarded as of the greatest importance, yet they are the natural outcome of a living faith.
Above all, let this renewed and quickened Christianity stand for the omnipotence, the omniscience, and the omnipresence of God. Let it teach that all life is of the One Life; that the Power is both within and without; that all visible things are the expression of the power of God; that man has no existence apart from the One Life; that in God he lives and moves and has his being; that all intelligence is One Intelligence, entering into, controlling, and directing all things; that each soul is one with the great creative Spirit, drawing its life, its love, and its wisdom from an eternal Fount; and that man is related to God as a child to his parents; therefore, that all men are brothers.
People are hungering and thirsting for a faith that, ignoring non-essentials, goes directly to the heart of things: one that, ignoring outward works, has its inception in the life. The chief obstacles in their path are the dogmatic creed and the sectarian spirit, as put forward by the alleged "spiritual" teachers of the people. Let not these leaders bewail the fact that "infidelity is rampant in the land," or that the power of evil seems greater than that of the good; rather let them reverse their methods by putting aside the old things that have hampered their progress. Let them stand for a vital Christianity—one that will appeal to the very soul of man and show that real Christianity is practiced by leading the Christ life; that the different bodies composing the Christian Church, instead of fighting one another, should endeavor, so far as possible, to find points of agreement in their respective systems. Let the Church stand fairly and squarely on the great Christian law, as put forward by Jesus—the non-resistance of evil, or the overcoming of evil with good—instead of fighting windmills.
Truth is ever powerful. It alone overcomes evil and the darkness of the world. The Church that would abide must stand on the eternal foundation of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, with all that these adjectives imply, knowing that everything contradicting this position is only the vain imagination that exalts itself over and against a knowledge of good. Let the Church follow this course; let it make a new statement of the vital truths of the Christian religion; let it burn away the straw and stubble of the past and build on a new foundation, and there will be a new awakening such as the world has never seen. The churches, instead of being empty, will be filled to overflowing, because people are hungering and thirsting as never before for something to come into their lives that will bring peace and rest in its train.
The Christ-gospel is a gospel of peace: a gospel that brings rest to the soul—that brings life and immortality to light. The Church has all the physical equipment necessary for its propaganda; but in one thing it is lacking—spirituality. Will it forget the world!, and the things of the world, and seek after God? If it should, it has a future far greater than its past. Let it continue in the old ruts, preaching the dead doctrine, and the paralysis that year by year has been creeping steadily through its organism will become total, and, as with other human institutions, its day will soon be gone and its usefulness ended forever. It is now at its most crucial turning-point. It can no longer serve two masters. It must choose between the spirit of God and the spirit of the world. It must stand for something or for nothing.
In conclusion, I wish to say that this article has not been written in any spirit of fault-finding. In the writer's mind there is no thought of antagonism nor uncharitableness, but only a sincere desire that the leaders of the Church may be quick to apprehend the danger that evidently awaits it. It is menaced, not by any evil coming upon the institution from without—from people opposed to its teachings—but by a lack of vital force and power within—the need of greater Christian charity, more unity of thought and action, and the all-essential feeling of Christian love both for those within and for those without the fold. My earnest prayer is that the religious leaders of the day may realize this urgent need, and strive in every way to supply it—that the Christ-Church may reign triumphant in the hearts and minds of the people.
More from Charles Brodie Patterson
- Canadian New Thought author
- Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917