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The Church and the Kingdom
A New Testament Study

By Jesse B. Thomas, D. D., LL.D



     Certain doubts have become current in many quarters as to the true interpretation of the New Testament allusions to the then coming Church. It is not intended here to discuss the problems suggested, much less to dogmatize concerning them. They ought, however, to receive a passing notice as indi­cating the wide range of suggestion bred by the topic in hand, and the need of careful and patient study of the theme as essential to a confident solution of them. Among the more radical of the problems thus pressed upon thinking men is the question:

     1. Whether there is any warrant for the existence of the organised Church, or any need for its persistence.

     (1) Radical criticism denies the trust­worthiness of the Gospel records, and consequently makes it impossible to ascertain what words Christ actually used. At the

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best he is represented as having employed the critical word ecclesia but twice, and that by only one of the Evangelists. And only one of these allusions is confidently relied on as genuine in so influential a work as Thayer's "Dictionary of New Testament Greek." Moreover, if he spoke Aramaic only, he could not have used the identical word in question, but only one reckoned by the reporter as its equivalent. In the only unquestioned case (Matthew 18:17) the allu­sion seems to be an existing institution, probably the synagogue. What evidence, then, remains that Christ ever expected or intended the arising of such an institution?

     (2) Even supposing it certain that he employed the word in question, or its equiv­alent, there remains still the doubt whether he had in mind or purpose a formally or­ganized body. The institutionalism of his time was frowned upon by him. He fore­shadowed a new era in which emphasis would attach to that which is "within" — a "worship in spirit," as contrasted with the sensuous externalism of Judaism. "Institu­tional Christianity" has accordingly been bitterly denounced as a perverse misrepre­sentation of Christ's fundamental idea. Pleas

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have been made for a "creedless, formless, nameless Christianity." The Young Men's Christian Associations have been denounced as "exponents of an effete theology and recruiting clubs for the old churches" be­cause they do not swing out upon the broad sea of so-called "Liberalism," and, ignoring the Church wholly, "work for ends that are purely moral and spiritual and Christian." A prominent minister in one of our large cities is reported as saying: "I don't believe Christ ever intended to found a Church in the modern sense of that term. . . . Jesus Christ came to establish God's kingdom on earth." And this from an "orthodox" pulpit.

     (3) Moreover, supposing the formal Church to have been a normal development in the beginning, there is room for doubt as to its permanent usefulness. Having been born of Judaism, and having taken on a Judaistic tinge, may it not have outgrown its earlier conditions? May it not now need to be put aside like other "childish" things inherited from "them of old time"? Roman Catholicism may have been a judiciously devised cocoon for a crude populace, but ought not such swaddling-clothes to be rec­ognized as outgrown? Ralph Waldo Emerson

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abandoned the ministry rather than share in the administration of a purely "carnal" ordinance — the Lord's Supper — alleging that it was "against his constitution." One writer remarks that "the theory seems to be gaining ground among advanced thinkers that just in the degree that the Kingdom of heaven gets itself established on earth, through the Church, perhaps, as chief agency, will the Church itself become a superfluity; and the ethical societies of America and Europe are already discussing the question, 'To what good purpose shall we devote church edifices when the organiza­tions that erected them, and used them one day out of seven for religious observances, shall have yielded place to organizations and methods better adapted to advance the intellectual and moral interests of the human family?'"

     2. Questions have arisen as to the normal constituency of a Christian church.

     (1) Must it, in order to merit the name lawfully, be composed exclusively of those who have voluntarily attached themselves to it? In some countries every citizen is, by virtue of his citizenship, constituted a member. In some communions birth into a

[p. 26]
Christian household carries the babe into membership. It is contended in some quar­ters that the "world," as a "subject of redemption," is itself a Church. And, again, baptism by an authorized hand is supposed to "christen," thus incorporating the bap­tized into the Church.

     (2) What of the requirement of definite belief in Christ, or salvation through his intervention in any form? The "Broad Church," the "liberals," the "ethical reform­ers," sharply assail credalism as obstructive, if not destructive, in tendency. Formulas of all kinds, it is said, have arrested develop­ment, bred tyranny, and ended in persecu­tion. "He can't be wrong whose life is in the right." "Out of the heart," not out of the head, are "the issues of life." The Presbyterian Church requires subscription to a creed only of the ordained. Anglicans rebel against such subscription as "a yoke that neither we nor our fathers could bear." But why should any informal profession of faith be required, since sincerely good intent, wholly apart from intellectual attitude, is alone essential?

     (3) Is there need of any prior experience of inward change — any hint of what is

[p. 27]
known as regeneration — to be insisted on? Is regeneration to be regarded as a condi­tion, or, at best, an inseparable sequence, if not a product, of baptism? The followers of Alexander Campbell have long been es­tranged from their baptismal coreligionists because of the impression, whether truly or falsely derived from their utterances, that they regard baptism as strictly "christening" its recipient, apart from any anterior experi­ence other than intellectual and voluntary. It is plausibly urged by them that acceptance of Christ as Teacher and King may be definitely shown in submission to his com­mand. All avowal of emotional change is unverifiable and apt to be delusive. What­ever may have been his occult experiences, therefore, he becomes overtly a "Christian" only through the appointed channel of out­ward expression of discipleship.

     (4) Is baptism, as an outward act, es­sential to legitimate membership in a nor­mally constituted church? The Friends, for instance, a most devout and gracious people, wholly repudiate all obligation to observe ordinances in literal form. The disposition to remand varying forms of baptism to non-essentialism, as touching an "externality

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of an externality," has much increased in later days. The hunger for ecclesiastical unity tends to benumb and stifle any too curious inquiry into the cogency of tra­ditional scruples as to departure from exact obedience. Why should the "seamless coat" of Christ be rent through obstinate clinging to divisive externalisms? In some churches resort has been had to "affiliated member­ship." In England "mixed" churches, often having pastors of variant faith, abound. It is not unusual to invite to the Lord's table all those who count themselves Christians, without regard to open profession of faith and baptism, or alliance with any church.

     3. Serious questioning of the wisdom of prolonging of denominational distinctions begins to become insistent.

     The alleged weakness of divided Protestantism over against the compactness of the Church of Rome, the growth of social and national tendencies toward unification in organiza­tion, and especially the expressed desire of our Lord for the oneness of his followers, have awakened renewed doubts as to the legitimacy of the partition lines that now isolate Christendom into sects. Such ques­tions as these are becoming rife; viz:

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     (1) Was the original breaking up of Protestantism into Lutheran and Reformed bodies needful or wise? It is remarked that the tendency so initiated has gone on with increasing intensity until resultant bodies have grown "thick as leaves in Vallom-brosa." As a result, there have followed friction, individual weakening, fossilization, and unfavorable impression on the outward world. "I have lived too long in a country where people worship cows." said Lord Macaulay, "to think much of the differences that part Christians from Christians." Pres. A. D. White, in 1875, denounced the intru­sion of denominationalism into education. He insisted that it had created "only a multitude of little sectarian schools with pompous name and poor equipment, each doing its best to prevent the establishment of any institution broader and better."

     On the other hand, Dr. Philip Schaff, a most competent authority, vigorously de­fended the existing order. "Denomina­tions," he asserted, "are most numerous in the most advanced and active sections of the world. A stagnant church is a sterile mother. . . . Sects are a sign of life and interest in religion. The most important

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periods of the Church — the Nicene age and the age of the Reformation — were full of controversy."

     An earnest plea for the revival of de­nominational enthusiasm was also later is­sued by an influential Presbyterian paper. It claimed that "diffusive Christianity is no more effective in saving men than sheet-lightning shimmering over summer clouds." The editor thinks that all the Christianity in the world has been almost entirely the product of denominational zeal and enter­prise. He feels assured that Christian work, to be greatly and permanently effective, should be divided up, carried on and sus­tained by denominations, and in furtherance of this view continues:

     "Denominationalism, intense, intelligent and loyal, forcing itself into power by sav­ing men, is not a curse, but a blessing. If the world is saved, it will be saved in this way. Undenominational efforts, however well meant, and however apparently success­ful, have always failed of permanent re­sults, and as long as human nature exists as it is, always will fail. Denominationalism is not what is popularly called sectarianism; it does not promote bigotry. The most

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abominable dogmatism extant is among those who boast that they have no creeds. It is a sort of headless monster, flopping itself about without law of existence, unregulated by the equities of truth or charity."

     (2) But, admitting that some lines of partition are advisable, and even inevitable, it remains to inquire at what point such par­tition becomes needful or advisable. Most denominations divide upon details of polity, upon creedal differences, or upon questions of ritual or outward detail. Baptists and Episcopalians are ordinarily singled out by a common instinct as chief obstructionists of the final reunion of Christendom. For it is seen that the points at which they dissent from other bodies are most radical. For Baptists pertinaciously adhere to immersion as the only authorized baptism, and there­fore essential to the normal constituency of a New Testament church. While the Epis­copalians, with equal fidelity, claim that ordination at the hands of the "historic episcopate" is essential to clerical efficiency, and therefore to legitimate baptism itself. Questions of polity or ritual are largely questions of expediency; but questions of supposed fidelity to express command or

[p. 32]
to divinely established order are not so.

     4. New social, political and other condi­tions are pressing anew upon us the inquiry as to the nature and range of the ftmctions of the Church.

     (1) Ought the Church any longer to at­tempt the supervision of private conduct by way of discipline; and, if so, for what? The English Church agrees with Augustine that the parable of the "tares" forbids any inter­ference with the growing crop; to root out offenders is to interfere with the work of the angels. Let all "grow together until the harvest." Although Charles Darwin was a professed agnostic up to his death, there was no hesitation in reading the burial service over him as having died in the "odor of sanctity." Trials for heresy have come to engender bitterer criticism of the heresy-hunter than of the heretic. He who boldly departs from and sneers at the common faith is no longer a "miscreant." He is more likely to be crowned, by the secular press at least, as a hero. "Worldly amuse­ments" were once thought to be deserving of ecclesiastical notice, and those who shared in them were subjected to the humiliation of being "labored with," and, if obstinate, of

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being cut off. But matters of personal be­havior are no longer the subject of espionage or adjudication in the Church — save in the case of criminal or other outrageous offense. What such relaxation of traditional "watch-care" may ultimately bring forth, is not yet clear.

     (2) Pre-eminent among the growing problems of the day, perhaps the one su­preme subject of hesitating inquiry is that of the relation of the Church, as such, to economic and other social questions. What attitude ought the Church to assume to­ward labor organizations, and toward the whole movement which they, in part, repre­sent? What of the work of "institutional churches," and official participation in efforts for social betterment among the poor and the vicious? How far may the Church properly go in seeking municipal or other corporate advance in such betterment? At what point ought the Church to stop in the effort to combine the ethical and the strictly religious? Is there any danger of swamping the latter in the former? It is needless to particularize further. The intricacies of the problem are labyrinthine.

     Dean Fremantle, in his book on ''The

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World as a Subject of Redemption," sharply repels the common notion that the mission of the Church is primarily to the individual. He there says: "Salvation is looked upon mainly as the deliverance of individuals. The idea of salvation of society has been ignored, though it stands out prominently in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. . . . The main object of Chris­tian effort is not to be found in either the saving individuals out of a ruined world, or in the organizing of a separate society des­tined always to hold aloof from the world, but in saving the world itself" (pp. 7, 9).

     Dr. R. J. Campbell, the brilliant suc­cessor of Joseph Parker in the City Temple, London, in his "New Theology Sermons," thus exalts the present social functions of the Church:

     "As to the function of Christianity. 'Other-worldism' has in reality nothing to do with Christianity. . . . The Church of Jesus originally knew of no commission to get men ready for a heaven beyond the tomb. . . . Co-operation must replace compe­tition; brotherhood must replace individual­ism; the weakest (morally and physically) must be the objects of the tenderest care

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which the community can show; selfishness must be driven out by love. This is the whole Christian programme" (Pref. IX. X.).

     Not so confident or optimistic are the conclusions of a returned missionary as to the observed workings of this theory on the foreign field. As the result of long personal acquaintance with the facts, he notes that the ratio of conversions was never so small in proportion to the exertions put forth; that conversions among the heathen are not in the ratio of the difference of the means employed sixty years ago, while schoolteach-ing and general intelligence are greater; that respect for Christianity, through its mis­sionaries, has increased and is increasing, but, if we contrast the results of present activities as to conversions, the difference is most perceptible. He asks why this is so, and then gives reasons as follows:

     "It is not that the missionary is less in­dustrious and self-sacrificing; he is vastly better equipped in every way for his work. The trouble is that his exertions are too general. The attempt is made to cover too much ground. Besides, there has been the counteractive influence of the popular notion that Christianity is rather for the betterment

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of the race in its general conditions than for the saving of souls from eternal ruin.

     "The churches have fallen into the chan­nels of mere humanitarianism. The trend now is toward municipal Christianity. Chris­tian power is diverted to reputable secularities, ethics, and enfranchisements, in order to greater political liberty, until the opera­tion of Christian sacrifice comes in only incidentally, soul-saving being not the only, or even the main, end or object. Everybody is preaching everywhere to the masses, but who is preaching, and quietly bending all his energies, to save the individual? Where is the society for solitary auditors? Where is the house-to-house organization to wrestle with the unsaved alike in the slums and be­hind brownstone fronts? The name 'slums' generally shuts the door against all efforts in the more destitute portions of our cities. Work for the improvement of moral natures is spread out, like a little butter over a whole loaf."

     (3) The exclusion of the Bible from the public schools, and the consequent antagonism of the Roman Catholic clergy to them as "godless"; the embarrassments con­nected with stringent Sunday legislation; the

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scarcely concealed ambition and effort of Romish prelates to secure political predom­inance in the country — call for more definite conception of the duty of the Church and its ministry as to political affairs. Are we a "Christian nation," as our Supreme Court has affirmed, and, if so, has such a nation any duty to realize Christian ideals in its legislation, and what part, if any, in secur­ing such legislation belongs to the Church?

     5. Changing social and other conditions suggest new queries as to the true status and functions of the Christian ministry.

     (1) Is the ministry intrinsically a life­long office, and must it therefore be so continued? The motto, "Once a priest, always a priest," was inherited from the Romish Church, where even the pope could not efface the indelible seal of ordination. The notion of a clerical caste, thus engendered, was frowned upon by the early dissenters from Rome. The Independent churches, including the Baptists, ordained to a local pastorate only. That pastorate ending, his ministerial function ended with it. A new ordination must equip him for a new location. There were in those days no "reverend" coal-dealers or insurance agents, or ministers

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"without charge." The sacred and secular were not, indeed, far apart; for it was not thought indecorous for the church to set over it a "consecrated cobbler" or Bunyan-like "tinker." In our day, when the average pastor receives less than half the compensa­tion awarded to the skilled mechanic, there seems strong temptation to revert to the Pauline self-support as a final alternative.

     (2) A cognate question arises in view of the multiplication of itinerant workers, evangelistic and other. May one be lawfully ordained to a special form of non-pastoral service? May we rightly "lay hands" on a brother to accredit him specifically to the work of a missionary, as they did in the case of Barnabas and Saul, when they "sent them away" to the Gentiles? May one be ordained as a colporter, a Sunday-school organizer, a Bible reader, a "settlement" worker? Lay work rapidly takes on clerical aspects; may ordination be adjusted anew to its demands?

     6. The old question of the proposed "en­richment of the service" recurs with varying local atmosphere and increasing obeisance to the demands of higher esthetic culture. Shall we return to the rigorous observance

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of the Christian Year, to surpliced choirs, to a prescribed liturgy, to the recital of the Apostles' Creed and the Ten Command­ments? And can we all agree upon the same routine of service? Is there any dan­ger that in refusing, as John Wesley did, to "let the devil have all the good tunes," we may unwittingly install the devil also as choir-master? How far may we go in subsidizing sense to the help of spirit?

     Only a few of the perplexing queries that swarm out of the depths have been thus hinted at. Their intelligent solution is of the highest importance. But, in order to this, there is need of patient and thorough study of the preliminary question as to the divine ideal of the Church itself.


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