Francis John McConnell.

Democratic Christianity, some problems of the church in the days just ahead online

. (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




MACMILLAN & CO., Limited




Democratic Christianity



Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church

jQeto gork



±11 rights reserved


7 \Q\.\\

f^u BUG Library

astorVl-enox and

•ilden foundations

r\ 1S19 L


Copyright, 1919

Set up and electrotyped. Published, February, 1919


Many books have been written to show the in-
fluence of Christianity on the various movements to-
ward democracy which have become increasingly
significant in the world since the outbreak of the
Great War. It would be indeed difficult for the
least discerning vision to miss seeing the marks of
that influence. When the Founder of Christianity
declared it to be the duty of every man to love God
with all his life he spoke into the existence of the in-
dividual that inalienable dignity which is one of the
pillars of democracy. By that declaration every man
has value in the sight of God, and the love of every
man is sought by God. When we think of the
Protestant Reformation as an impulse toward de-
mocracy we are apt to think especially of the degree
to which that Reformation placed the individual in
the central place as the object of the divine care,
and placed upon the conscience of the individual the
responsibility for whole-hearted service of God. It
has been said of Calvin that his greatest achievement
was in forcing the individual person to see that he
stands alone in the presence of God. But the very
thought that a man can stand alone in the presence

vl Foreword

of God makes for a realization of the value of every

When the Founder of Christianity declared it
further to be the duty of every man to love his neigh-
bor as himself he set up another pillar of democracy.
If the first utterance puts upon the separate life a
great dignity the second ennobles all impulses to-
ward closer fellowship among men. All that is
needed to keep this double doctrine back of the demo-
cratic movement as a compelling force is an insist-
ence upon the duty of bringing more and more of
the acts of the individual under the conception of
divine service and more and more persons under the
term neighbor. The efficacy of the religion of Jesus
in such progress is beyond all question.

While the indebtedness of democracy to Christian-
ity has been abundantly recognized there is not such
plenteous recognition of the obligation of Christian-
ity to the spirit of democracy itself. Of course it is
permissible to say that the spirit of democracy it-
self is one of the mianifestations of the Christian
spirit. It may be well then to make our problem
more definite by thinking of the influence of the
democratic forces upon organized Christianity. We
have in mind the tasks of to-day as they confront the
Christian Church. To what extent are these tasks
set by the currents which make toward increasing
social control? What must the Church say and do
to make herself a real part and force in a world
in which democracv is the charmed word? What

Foreword vli

changes in the Church itself are already being
hinted at in the signs of the times?

It does not require any interpretation by philoso-
phers or historians or statesmen to convince us
that the present war has at heart to do with a world-
wide advance of democracy. The optimists who as-
sure us that a social millennium is just at hand are
very likely wide of the mark: but on the other hand
no institution will come out of this war in the same
form in which it went in — and the changes will al-
most certainly be away from everything suggestive
of autocracy and toryism. A gloomy publicist in
England has recently warned us against large hopes
for democratic gains in the near future. From the
fact that leaders who are now talking of large so-
cial advances have fought all such advances in the
past this publicist deduces that the talk is insincere.
But democratic speech on the part of hitherto con-
servative leaders is capable of another interpretation.
It may represent a sincere change of heart ; or it may
come out of a desire to get an anchor to windward
in the coming storm. Even if such advocacy of
marked social change is insincere however — even
if the forces of re-action are marshaling themselves
for self-defense as never before, the marks of the
control of the people will be upon every social in-
stitution henceforth as never before. The conflict
is a conflict of peoples — and the peoples who have
passed through the fires of the battle will never turn
back to the former day. A group of military or po-

viii Foreword

litical or industrial rulers here and there may en-
joy for a brief while the indulgence which comes
from services rendered in the days of war, but there
will be no mistaking or withstanding the mighty
tides which rise in the hearts of masses of men.
Those tides will play — are already playing — about
the Church. Can we foresee, — or guess — any of
the effects? We believe more and more that the
Church is a veritable organism and that the life that
pulses in her is essentially divine. The divineness,
however, must show itself in a power of adaptation
to the changes in the times. A living organism in-
deed shows itself alive by its power to impress it-
self upon its environment, but it shows the power not
by an uncompromising fight with the environment
but by adaptations and reactions in which the organ-
ism may be profoundly modified. The divine life
in the Church is suggested quite as much by the
changes in herself in the periods through which she
passes, as by the stamp which she sets upon those

And what of method? What better method can
there be than that of listening to the questions which
men are asking about the Church, and of heeding
the plain implications of the questions they are ask-
ing about other institutions. Better for the Church
to catch the import of these implications herself be-
fore she becomes a direct target of questionings. Is
autocracy or aristocracy or paternalism any more
lovely in an ecclesiastical organization than in a

Foreword Ix

political or industrial system? Is a belief which
misses the great human values likely to be tolerated
in a church after such creeds are cast out of secular

The suffering through which men are passing in
these terrible days adds an unwonted directness to
their questionings. These are not times of slow and
careful logical advance from one interrogation to
the next. Experience with those who stand at the
vortex of the conflict shows that the questions — as,
for example, those of soldiers near the front — in-
dicate a lightning-like leaping over intermediate
steps. A formally logical method of dealing with
this theme of democratic Christianity might call for
a beginning with the democratization of a church
organization as a first and immediate step. Thence
we might travel to the Church's message for the so-
cial life of the times. Finally we might come to the
essential belief of the Church about God and des-
tiny. The thinking of the man in the street or the
soldiers in the camp or trench moves much more di-
rectly than this. The very first question is likely to
be: What about God? Where is He? What are we
to think of Him? After these questions we can ask
about the Church and specific messages for particu-
lar situations. Let us start then with the question —
How shall we think of God as society rushes on
toward vast democratic reorganization?



Foreword v

I The God of Liberty, Equality and

Fraternity i

II The Church of the People, by the

People, for the People .... 17

III The Part of the Church in Mak-

ing the World Safe for Democ-
racy 41

IV Preaching to Soldiers 76



An instructive story is told near the old-time
haunts of Andrew Jackson in Tennessee, of an en-
counter nearly a hundred years ago between a Cal-
vinist theologian and a politician who had drunk
deeply of the wine of Jacksonian democracy. Ac-
cording to the narrative an extreme Calvinist was
holding forth to an audience on the sovereignty
of God — maintaining that God had of His own
choice called some souls to eternal life and had
destined others to eternal death without any op-
portunity for human freedom whatsoever. As the
argument came to its climax the politician was on
his feet in mighty protest. " The argument may
be logical enough," avowed he, " but in this day
of democracy the people will never stand such de-

While the theologians of a former day would
probably think of this criticism of the politician as

2 Democratic Christianity

irreverent to the verge of blasphemy we of to-day
would be inclined to second the politician. If the
New Testament means anything it means that
God is of such nature as to be worthy of the free
service of men. God is set before us as reconcil-
ing men unto Himself — as winning their respect
and love. There is no irreverence whatsoever in
saying that in the end men will even^where vote
for God. To let our fancy play for the moment
suppose the throne of the universe were to be filled
by the suffrages of mankind. What kind of being
would be elected God? In a sense it may be said
the aim of the Christian movement is to bring men
to the place where they wHl accept God as re-
vealed in Christ not because they are compelled,
but because they are won.

The Dismissal of the Absolutes

How then must we think of God whom men
are freely to crown Lord of All? If present-day
tendencies are to give us any clew we cannot think
of God as Absolute in the old sense. The only
absolutes wc can respect are the absolutes of the
moral realm. We are in protest against absolutism
In rulers. The call of men to-day is for a limited
God — or at least for a God who comes close
enough to the affairs of thi. Hstracted earth to
feel the pressure of the burden upon men. The
God so Absolute that He could not come into any

The God of Liberty 3

vital relation to a limited world lest in the rela-
tion He Himself become limited and lose His abso-
lutism is not the God for the times in which we
find ourselves. What winsomeness could we find
in a Divine Being who could dwell apart from
the suffering of the world to-day? It is not a
mere coincidence that along with the recent
growth of the democratic idea there has gone a
tendency to insist upon the need of so thinking
of God as to bring Him closer to the streams of
human life. We can see one indication of the in-
timacy between theology and democracy in the
doctrine of the divine immanence. While much
of the objection to a transcendent God is mistaken
and even trivial yet the reason for the emphasis on
the immanent God is clear enough. Men are eager
to get God near. They prefer a God at work in
the slime and ooze of things to one who sitteth afar
off. For a time the doctrine of divine immanence
was in danger of wrecking itself in a pantheism
which would make all things alike divine. The
pressure here came largely from the desire to get a
God close at hand. Moreover this pressure has
made itself felt not only in the general conceptions
of immanence but also in such distinctive and orig-
inal systems as that of Henri Bergson and that of
William James. Bergson finds the moment of quick
intuition in a r ^^ struggle the most truly divine.
When James was protesting against the Hegelian
absolutism in the work of Josiah Royce he declared

4 Democratic Christianity

that his protest arose from a desire to find a living
God — the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
We have only to glance at the pages of H. G.
Wells to see a late manifestation of this same eager
desire. Mr. Wells's God is little short of a scandal
to the formal theologian — and the theologian's hor-
ror is at points entirely justified — but Mr. Wells
is seeking a God who is at least alive, and in such
a search the theologian is not always the best guide.

The Limited God

Lest this search for a limited as over against an
absolute God seem to open the flood-gates to dread-
ful heresies, we hasten to remark that the Absolute
God of the philosophers is not the God of the New
Testament. The stoutest champion of the omnipo-
tence of God, for example, need not be dismayed
at remark about the limitation of God. The most
orthodox teachers have spoken of the self-limitation
of God. The instant God begins a work of crea-
tion He must limit Himself to one course rather
than another, if His work is not to be a series of
capricious freaks. If God creates a free man He
limits himself by that gift of freedom. The schools
have from the beginning told us that in the in-
carnation God has assumed very marked limita-
tions — and this on any theory- of incarnation. All
the modern movement calls for is that we shall get
God down from a distant circle of the heavens and

The God of Liberty 5

into the affairs of men. It is a problem not of a new
conception but of a new emphasis. Nothing catas-
trophic will happen to any reasoned and reasonable
theology worth the name, but God must be brought
nearer to men.

Power and Responsibility

God must be brought nearer to men not merely
for the sake of men but for the sake of God Him-
self — for the sake of a worthy ideal of God. The
social thought of the time puts together indissolu-
bly power and responsibility. It is manifestly un-
just to hold a person responsible where he has no
power; but it is altogether out-of-date in social
thinking to concede to any person power without
responsibility. Now no matter how much the philo-
sophical treatises have dealt with the justice of God,
the fact is that popular thinking has too often gone
on the assumption that God is irresponsible. Use-
ful as was the conception of the divine right of
kings as an instrument establishing a place for
earthly rulers as against encroaching papacy, the
condemnation of the notion was the assumption that
a divine right meant a right to do as one pleased.
The '' divine " rights have too often been those
which could not be brought under any restraint of
responsibility. Unfortunately this suggestion of ir-
responsibility lurks too close to much thought of
the divine government of the world. We may say

6 Democratic Christianity

that God can do as He pleases, that if we once
know His will that ends all discussion, that things
are so because He says so. Only the foolhardy would
deny the truth in these statements, but such state-
ments after all carry the flavor of irresponsibility.
Whereas the plain implication of the scriptural reve-
lation seems to be that God is the most deeply ob-
ligated being in the universe — obligated to that
moral law which is the expression of what He is —
obligated in a way even to the men whom He has
created. Christian sentiment seizes upon Abraham's
question: " Shall not the judge of all the earth do
right ? " as one of the highest peaks of Old Testa-
ment revelation both for what God is and for what
men dare to demand.

Two philosophers were once discussing together
the problem of human tragedy in the world. One
asked the other, " Do you believe God could have
made this world if He had known how it would
come out?" The other replied, "Do you believe
God could have made this world if He had not
known how it would come out? " The second had
the profounder moral insight. To have created a
world like this without knowing what was to come
of it would have argued moral irresponsibility in
the Creator. What power can compare in its fate-
ful possibilities with the power of creating human
souls? No man who comes into the world is asked
whether he will come or not. Every one of us is
drafted into the life here. We are granted a fear-

The God of Liberty 7

f ul boon of freedom : but is the user of the freedom
to act only with a sense of responsibility and not the
grantor of the freedom? The only relief here is in
faith in the inseparable union of power and moral
responsibility in God. We cannot be satisfied with
less in a powerful God than we would expect in a
powerful man.

God and the War

To get a glimpse at the uncertainty with which
we handle the responsibility of God, think for a
moment of some things which have been said about
God's relation to the vast catastrophe of the present
war. One group of believers, anxious to preserve a
pure ideal of God, will have it that the Almighty
has no relation to the present conflict whatever. It
is hard to tell just what such utterances mean. If
God is only a spectator of the affairs of men He can
hardly be the God of the Bible. Very likely such ut-
terances are just burning protests against involving
God in the wicked schemes of men. But God has
had to deal with wicked schemes ever since the com-
ing of man. We can not add much to a correct
thought of Him by lifting Him out of touch with
men. Another group of believers speak as if they
thought the Almighty was somehow taken by sur-
prise in the closing hours of July, 1914, and that
He has been plunged in more or less impotent grief
ever since. But it does not honor God to assume

8 Democratic Christianity

such surprised helplessness. If, on the contrar>% He
was not taken by surprise He must as a wise ruler
have provided resources to bring good out of the evil.
If the Creator is to work with men, He must work
with them as they are. It would indeed be blasphemy
to avow that war is God's method of progress, in
the sense that God prefers such a method. But it is
not blasphemous to say that in the divine order war
may come as a necessary instrument in a given situa-
tion. Either we must believe this or hold practically
to an irresponsible God. The responsibility of God
in the face of a world war is a conception loaded
with the most dangerous possibilities for human in-
tellects. But the possibilities of such a conception
are not so dangerous as those of the irresponsibility
of God. The only method by which we can com-
mend the Christian idea of God to the millions now
struggling in a deadly conflict is to preach that the
struggle means more for God than for any one else,
that a man battling for the right is battling for
God's cause, that God must do His part to bring
about a worthy outcome. God must be fair in His
dealings with men.

Justice and Love

Why, however, is it necessary in these democratic
days to lay such stress on the elementary virtues of a
sense of responsibility and of fairness in declaring
good news of God when we have the full gospel of

The God of Liberty 9

love of God? Simpl}^ because so much preaching
fails to emphasize that the love of God rests down
upon these primary bases. If the ** plain man "
has to choose between justice without love and love
without justice he will take justice without love.
There is a deep philosophy in the cry of the less
favored classes in modern society for more justice
and less philanthropy. We must have a God whom
we can respect as well as love, and who respects as
well as loves us. It seems a sacrilege against human
nature to say so, but human love is at times so
partial and doting and capricious as to be only a
travesty when taken as a gleam of divine love. The
divine love must be established in reason and justice
if it is to win the masses of mankind.

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

The great words of modern history, *' Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity," must be expressive of the di-
vine purpose toward men if we are to take the
Christian revelation for its obvious intent. If the
obligation is upon men to move toward larger lib-
erty, equality and fraternity, the obligation is upon
God to help in the movement. And the Christian in-
terpretation of liberty means, first of all, a chance
for every man. That ranges God on the side of
every movement, of whatever sort, which really gives
men a fairer chance. It is here, by the way, that
the democratic impulse comes in to the shaping of

lo Democratic Christianity

the doctrine of personal immortality. In face of the
fact that very few persons to-day even try to prove
immortality by scientific test, the belief nevertheless
persists in the thought of the masses. And this per-
sistence seems to come not merely out of desire to
live on but out of feeling that men ought to have
their chance. Taking the world over and the ages
through, the majority of men have died without their
chance. They have been too poor. They have been
too ignorant. An aristocratic heaven — a heaven
for a favored few — would be intolerable in a just
universe. Immortality must be a mass movement as
of a gulf-stream, not the trickle of a few personal
consciousnesses through eternity. A foremost Ameri-
can theologian, of very definite and fixed notions as
to eschatolog\% confessed that his theories of heaven
and hell had been knocked to splinters by a trip
through India. There is a legend to the effect that
Abraham Lincoln was once discussing in a private
circle the problem of personal survival of death.
One of the circle was arguing for conditional immor-
tality. Some persons, said the reasoner, attain such
moral worth that by the sheer force of moral mo-
mentum they outlast death, while others fall away
into non-existence. Lincoln is said to have remarked,
" Iminortality is for all or for none." Whether the
great democrat spoke thus or not, the sentiment is
entirely democratic. An easy-going amiability whicli
would give all men the same blessed eternity without
regard to moral desert would be morally inadequate,

The God of Liberty il

but a callous indifference which would allow the vast
majority to sink into nothingness without a chance
could not be the spirit of the God of the Scriptures.

The God of the Fair Chance

But we are writing primarily of the present life.
We must believe in the God of the fair chance for
men here and now — the chance to find those laws
of life the adjustment to which means the largest
liberty — laws which are the expressions of God's
own life — and mastery of which means communion
with Him. Progress in Christian liberty can only
mean increasing voluntary assumption of higher and
higher laws. But the search must be really the
movement of the free spirit. A kingdom of God
composed of those not freely consenting to the laws
of the kingdom would hardly be a democracy. No
hope of merely external rewards, no subtle inner
determinism, can be the compelling forces in build-
ing a kingdom of God.

Is God Paternalistic?

While, however, men must have divine help in
the free search for life, they must not have too much
help. In getting rid of the autocratic God, we must
not set up a paternalistic God. The growing inde-
pendence of the soul must be respected. The indi-
vidual must be given a chance to make his own

12 Democratic Christianity

blunders. It is indeed comforting to think of our-
selves as children of God: there come moments in
every life when such comfort is unspeakably
precious. The world's rough hand knocks us about
as if we were indeed infants of very tender years.
But this is not all of experience. In other words,
we may well think of ourselves not merely as chil-
dren of God but as sons of God — with choices and
wishes which the Father is bound to respect. If this
means that we make blunders, it also means that the
Father is patient with the blunders until the lessons
are learned. The father in the parable is spoken of
as having two sons — not two children. The
younger son made a bold request, but the father
granted it, and then waited patiently for the outcome.
The picture of the father gazing down the road for
the return of the son whom he would recognize by
the old familiar features is not altogether warranted
by the text. The suggestion seems rather to be that
the father waited for and finally hailed a figure
whose changed bearing meant a changed life. He
who looks for paternalism in God will not find it
in Luke's great parable.

What is Equality f

And God is the God of equality. Only the equal-
ity is not that of mere quantitative equivalence of
persons. Modern social tendencies sometimes look
toward a leveling of persons into sameness. The

The God of Liberty 13

only equality worth any society's seeking for Is an

1 3 4 5 6