Much has been said and written about the Edinburgh conference on church union, held in August, 1937. Some are prone to rule the subject out of serious consideration and examination as devoid of potential dangers. But we need to remember that all great movements, reforms, and changes—good or bad—are initiated in the minds of perhaps two per cent of the people. The remaining ninety-eight per cent blindly follow virile, aggressive leaders. That a church reunion movement is really on and progressing in dead earnest, is evidenced in the words of Hugh Martin in his pamphlet entitled, "Are We Uniting?"
"The pursuit of Christian unity is no afternoon saunter through pleasant meadows. It is a laborious climb up a boulder-strewn track with a heavy load in inclement weather. But the journey has been begun, and the number of stouthearted pilgrims is increasing every day."—Page 16.
In actual fact, there is so much of prophetic portent in this movement, and so much has already been accomplished toward Christian universalism that we must not fail to watch its progress and to preserve the lessons it has brought to us.
Church Unions Already Accomplished.
—The term "reunion" does not strictly mean the same as "mutual recognition," "intercommunion," or complete "federation," but using generalizations, we can list the following among many fruitful unity movements in recent years, and they serve to emphasize the fact that reunion is definitely on the march:
1925 Union of the churches of Canada.
1927 Formation of the Church of Christ in China, combining Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Reformed, United Brethren, United Church of Canada, and the independent Chinese churches of six English-speaking nations.
1929 Reunion of Scottish Presbyterian churches.
1932 Reunion of English Methodist churches.
Besides these, the Anglican Church is conducting a fruitful discussion with the Old Catholic Churches, and with the churches of Finland, Latvia, and Estonia. Many such reunions have taken place in America, which are fully listed in "A Decade of Objective Progress in Church Unity," by H. Paul Douglas (Harper, New York). It matters not that these unions have so far taken place between communions having racial, theological, or traditional similiarities. Where else could the movement be expected to begin but in the "easier situations"?
Early History of Movement.—Near the end of the nineteenth century (1888) an Anglican conference at Lambeth outlined a "Quadrilateral" foundation on which it was suggested Christendom might reunite. The main points, though unacceptable, were, in brief : (I) The acceptance of the Holy Scriptures as the basis of faith, (2) the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds to be the statement of faith, (3) holy communion and baptism as essential Christian ordinances, (4) the ministry to be based on historical episcopacy.
By 1910, men began to have real visions of a reunited church. It was at an international missionary conference in Edinburgh, presided over by Dr. John R. Mott, that men like Bishop Brent and Robert Hallowell Gardiner proclaimed their dreams and thereby launched a new ecumenical movement—a movement that has become pregnant with possibilities and symptomatic of a decided religious tendency today. These visionaries passed to rest, and reunion had to find new friends in a nottoo-friendly world.
Then the World War came, and with its passing, a new world outlook. After years of backstage preparation, the First World Conference on Faith and Order took place in 1927 at Lausanne, Switzerland. Reunion was not accomplished there, but advance was made. During the next ten years much literature on the subject was published, and an enormous amount of propaganda was carried on in all Protestant communions.
Not An Isolated Movement.—When Professor Basil Matthews issued his report of the first week's work at the Oxford Conference on Life and Work (immediately prior to the Edinburgh conference), he wrote:
"It would go far to turn the tide of the world's life if, under the hand of God, all the churches (outside the Roman communion), after centuries of separatist life, with divided counsels and at cross-purposes, should be able to arrive at a common mind, and frame their active advance around a burning central conviction on these supreme issues. An achievement so momentous and epoch making can come out of no single conference. 'Oxford 1937' is simply one milestone in a purposive pilgrimage. From the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, initiatives started that have carried through a series of conferences that bear the names of Stockholm, Lausanne, Jerusalem, and Mysore, and will now pass on through Oxford and Edinburgh and the International Missionary Council in Hangchow iii 1938 to the Ecumenical Youth World Conference in 1939."
Significant Opening Speeches.—Edinburgh, 1937, saw a gathering of 414 delegates from 122 Christian communions in 5o different countries. The opening speeches contained many pregnantly meaningful passages, some of them ominous in the extreme. Most of the delegates had come straight from Oxford, where Dr. Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, mentioned in his opening address his regret that the Roman Catholic Church had felt unable to send a delegation to the conference, "although leading Catholic scholars have cooperated in the preparation of documents for the conference."—"First General Article."
Before the Edinburgh conference was many minutes old, the chairman, Dr. William Temple, Archbishop of York, uttered a similar regret: "We deeply lament the absence from this collaboration of the great Church of Rome—the church which, more than any other, has known how to speak to the nations so that the nations hear."—Sermon in, St. Giles' Cathedral, Aug. 3, 1937. A few days later, the Archbishop of York read a letter to the delegates, from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, saying that he had hoped to attend "to explain to them personally the position of the Church of Rome, and why it has not participated in this conference."—Scotsman, Aug. 17, 1937. Another noted Catholic divine, preaching in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh, at the same time, said, "The World Conference presupposed that Christ's church is today divided and therefore needs putting together again. To take part in it one must admit this idea, and because of that the Roman Catholic Church can take no part." He said the Roman Catholic Church could take part only if this idea were excluded, "and he prayed . . . all eyes would turn to that church which already possessed the unity which they [the World Conference delegates] sought"— Father Maurice Bevenot, reported in Scotsman, Aug. 17, 1937.
Present Pope and Reunion.—It is a well-known fact that the present Pope, Pius XI, has for years been interested in a reunion of churches. A prominent British Roman Catholic, Captain William Teeling, recently wrote:
"He has admitted more than once that his great hope has been that he should go down to posterity as the Pdpe of reunion. He had hoped that he would be able to bring about the reunion of all, or almost all, the Christian churches. There seemed great difficulties over the prospect of such a reunion with Protestantism, but he thought there was considerable hope for reunion with the Orthodox churches." —"The Pope in Politics," p. 247.
"During the two holy years of 1925 and 1933, the Pope gave several signs in his pronouncements of his longing for peace, and his feeling that the best way to obtain it would be through the coming together of all Christian churches. Certainly if there could be peace amongst Christians, there would probably be peace in the world."—/d., p. 248.
The lessons to be drawn from all these utterances obviously are:
1. That reunion, in many Protestant minds, while it must necessarily first unite Protestantism, certainly includes some kind of peace and fusion with Rome. One American bishop, discussing salvation by grace, said rather forcefully in a certain important subcommittee of the conference, that he could easily discuss this doctrine without using the troublesome term "justification by faith." He said furthermore, that we were suffering much from what happened four hundred years ago —obviously referring to the Reformation. At this thrust, one could almost imagine a fierce frown passing across the face of the redoubtable John Knox, whose statue stood hard by in the quadrangle of the conference hall!
2. That many Protestant leaders are prepared to forswear the priceless liberties which the Reformation brought us, in exchange for the historically doubtful privilege of one universal Christian church imbued with the unscriptural idea of conquering the whole world for Christ.
3. That Rome's terms for reunion are unchanged,—the abandonment of Protestant liberties, and returning as penitents to the Roman fold.
4. That while Rome outwardly declines dealings with those whom she looks upon as her delinquent children, she nevertheless covertly cooperates in planning a great reunion which can do nought but enhance her own power and glory before the nations.
—To be continued in July