An enlightening editorial in the Shane Quarterly ( January) is condensed in the Religious Digest for June. One paragraph reads as follows:
"It is conceivable that when the present war ends, the church will be in a worse light than it is today. It does not appear reasonable that thoughtful men and women will have very much patience with the great welter of Christian sects which existed before the war. It may be questioned whether even the major divisions of Roman, Greek, and Protestant will be tolerated. With a world-wide political order, any type of Christianity that is less than universal in its scope and outlook will have no place in the new setting and environment. The old denominationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will have no power to move the rising generation. . .. A united church after the pattern of the World Council of Churches, if nothing more, will give new light and influence to the institution, and will make it once more a determined power in the world."
Much might be said by way of comment upon this interesting paragraph. The effort made to see into the future of the church is commendable. Too often the church has lived only in its past, and has been found unprepared to meet developments out of the future. Statesmen are planning now how they may control postwar developments in political affairs. Economists are seeking ways of avoiding serious disruption in the economic fields after the war. The church would do well to take stock of itself and of its future. How can the church serve humanity after the war, and what kind of church must it be to meet postwar conditions?
The editor of the Shane Quarterly thinks that the church must become a great religious federation. He is not alone in this. Thoughtful men are looking for a world of the future politically united into a great confederation of nations and peoples, into a new sort of league of nations, powerful and effective. It is thought that, as. a a parallel, the church must become unified into a world council of churches, a confederation which will weld together into an efficient whole the many divisive elements in the church. Thus, it is said, the church can assert its claims to spiritual leadership, and can secure for itself a respect which its divisiveness and vacillation and uncertainty have virtually destroyed.
This thought sounds attractive. But there is in it a threat. In any plan of political confederation there is a threat to all peoples who feel that only in maintaining full national independence can they retain and give expression to their unique aspirations and evaluations of life.
There is for religion a similar threat in plans for a world council of churches. The threat must be seen by all religious bodies which feel that they dare not surrender, for the sake of the appearance of religious unity, any of the spiritual values in which they have found their origin, and which justify their separate existence. The threat is seen to be grave as it is recognized that not many religious groups would oppose a world-wide federation of churches, on these grounds, and the membership of those bodies which might object would probably constitute only a small minority of the whole.
In a great world church fellowship, hungry to secure hold of religious leadership in the world, there would be little likelihood of tolerance toward the wishes of small religious minorities, with the result that as far as such minorities are concerned, church federation could readily become church imperialism.
Ecclesiastical imperialism has been seen before. It was seen all through the Middle Ages, and bitter persecution accompanied the rule of the imperial church. There is nothing in human nature as we have seen it especially in the past decade, to assure us that persecution will not arise again. On the contrary, we know from prophecy that it will. It will be practiced by an imperial church, by a medieval Papacy restored to plenitude of power, and by a Protestantism which will again exert control over the minds and consciences of men as it has sometimes done in the past.
It must remain speculative whether restored papal control will be paralleled by a powerful world federation of churches, or by a great unified Protestant church. That the thoughtful Christian has here a situation and a prospect to ponder and pray over is obvious. A denomination like the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which feels its obligations to present to the world a unique message, no matter what the opposition, must view with concern efforts toward religious unification which might tend toward regimentation or intolerance.