William Herbert Perry Faunce.

What does Christianity mean? online

. (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

V av\\ri ce>

L t/L

what Does Christianity Mean?


What Does Christianity Mean?

By W. H, P. Faunce.

Cloth net i.as


Some Great Leaders in the World


By Robert E. Speer.

Cloth net 1.25


In the School of Christ

By Bishop William Fraser McDowell
Cloth net 1.25


Jesus the Worker

By Charles McTyeire Bishop, D.D.
Cloth net 1.25


The Fact of Conversion

By George Jackson, B.A.

Cloth net 1.25


God's Message to the Human Soul

By John Watson (Ian Maclaren). The
Cole Lectures prepared but not delivered.
Cloth net 1.25


Christ and Science

By Francis Henry Smith, University of


Cloth net 1.25


The Universal Elements of the

Christian Religion

By Charles Cmthbert Hall.

Cloth net 1.25


The Religion of the Incarnation

By Bishop Eugene Russell Hendrix.
Cioth net i.oo

The Cole Lectures for 1912
delivered before Vanderhilt University

What Does Christianity

William Herbert Perry Faunce

President of Brown University

\ ■:


New York Chicago Toronto

Fleming H. R^yidll Company.'

London and , ^pi^jp.ttpgh


Copyright, 191 2, by


Lie L;,3R^nY


/'"TOR. T.- ox AND

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
Chicago: 125 N. Wabash Ave.
Toronto: 25 Richmond St., W.
London: 21 Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street


THE late Colonel E. W. Cole, of Nashville, Ten-
nessee, donated to Vanderbilt University the sum
of five thousand dollars, afterwards increased by
Mrs. E. W. Cole to ten thousand, the design and conditions
of which gift are stated as follows :

"The object of this fund is to establish a foundation
for a perpetual Lectureship in connection with the Bib-
lical Department of the University, to be restricted in its
scope to a defence and advocacy of the Christian religion.
The lectures shall be delivered at such intervals, from time
to time, as shall be deemed best by the Board of Trust;
and the particular theme and lecturer shall be determined
by nomination of the Theological Faculty and confirma-
tion of the College of Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, South. Said lecture shall always be reduced to
writing in full, and the manuscript of the same shall be the
property of the University, to be published or disposed of
by the Board of Trust at its discretion, the net proceeds
arising therefrom to be added to the foundation fund, or
otherwise used for the benefit of the Biblical Department."


field of religious history pub-
lished twelve years ago his
volume: "What is Christianity?" and
multitudes who could not fully accept
his answer were stimulated and ferti-
lized by Harnack's vivifying thought.
The following lectures attempt the far
humbler task of asking: What does
our faith mean? Touching briefly on
the question of " essence," they pass
at once into the broader inquiry: What
does Christianity intend, imply, in-
volve? What is it trying to do in the
modern world? Does Christianity
mean any one thing, — one thing that
can be stated? or does it mean every-
thing, and therefore nothing?

Our current conceptions of the
^Christian faith not only lack unity, but
they often revel in diversity and di-


vergence. But uncoordinated think-
ing means disorganized and incoherent
living. We cannot achieve serenity
and conquest, until we know what we
are really trying to give the confused
and struggling world.

Of course any attempt at a unifying
conception may succeed only by sacri-
ficing what some consider vital. Cer-
tainly we cannot include all things that
all Christians have thought needful.
We must leave many cars standing on
side-tracks if we are to keep the main
line open for through trains. Some
men will doubtless mourn that their
private car was left on a siding. But
others may welcome a simple attempt
to show what one busy man believes
the main line to be.

W. H. P. Faunce.


I. The Essence of Christianity 13
II. The Meaning of God . . 59

III. The Basis and Test of Char

ACTER ....

IV. The Principle of Fellow

SHIP ....

V. The Aim of Education .
VI. The Goal of Our Effort





May we know what this new teaching is?

Acts 17:19

Let him take the best and most irrefragable
of human notions, and let this be the raft upon
which he sails through life — not without risk,
as I admit, if he cannot find some word of God
which will more surely and safely carry him.

Plato: PJiaedo

The Christian religion has been tried for
eighteen centuries ; but the religion of Christ re-
mains to be tried.




TO define a little and obvious
thing is often easy. To define
a great and pervasive thing is
often so hard as to be impossible.
All of us could define, or at least
describe, the house-key we carry in our
pockets. We hold the shining metal
in the hand, we are perfectly familiar
with its size, shape, weight, and use.
Because it is so small, so definite, so
sharply limited, so useless for all pur-
poses save one, we can define the key.
So we could define the house to which
the key admits us — possibly forty feet
by thirty, and three stories high. But
when we try to define the family that
dwells within the house, to define the
heredity which binds the children to
their parents, to set forth the nature


of parental affection and filial obliga-
tion and the relation of the family to
the conservation of the state — at once
we are moving among magnitudes too
big for our little formulas, forces so
impalpable and spiritual that they
'' break through language and escape."
A realization of this difficulty has
led many writers in recent years to
adopt an agnostic, or at least a
" positive " point of view, in dealing
with the deeper problems of life. Our
modern literature is all centrifugal —
it flees from any central reality, and is
quite content to touch a few points on
the outer rim of things. It has re-
acted from the bold syntheses of for-
mer generations, and on the really
great problems it is significantly silent.
Our historians modestly narrate events,
but are loath to pronounce on causes
and tendencies and destinies. Our
geologists will tell us of the strata in
any region and of the obvious work of
erosion; but about the origin or pur-
pose or meaning of the physical globe
they are deliberately dumb. Our


students of international law tell us
what the custom of modern nations
has been and is, — as to what it ought
to be, as to ideals of diplomacy, they
have little to say.

Even our school books reflect the
change. The tremendous inquiry that
startled the childhood of Robert Louis
Stevenson, " What is the whole duty
of man?'' has vanished from our edu-
cation, in favor of questions about the
number of pennyweights in an ounce
or the pints in a gallon — that startle
and summon nobody. The old-fash-
ioned school geography began in de-
ductive fashion with a definition of the
globe on which we live, its shape and
size, and later proceeded to discuss
localities around the pupil's home.
The new geographies have reacted
from all that. They often start with a
description of the child's door-yard;
then they consider the village street,
then the city, the state, the nation; but
long before the pupil reaches any
thought of the world as a whole, the
end of the term has arrived and the


study is over. Modern knowledge has
been so subdivided and partitioned off
that no one worker can see the whole
realm, and each is very shy about any
opinion as to the meaning of the whole.
Each of our many sciences shrinks from
the central questions of life, clings to
its little garden-plot, and conscien-
tiously evades the thing the world most
longs to know.

Now it is the peculiar gift and glory
of religion that it deals with the mean-
ing of life as a whole. It will not iden-
tify itself with any particular occupa-
tion, or science, or art. It has a
message for fishermen and for philos-
ophers; for oriental rabbis and for
" Caesar's household." It can flourish
under Ptolemaic or Copernican astron-
omy, in the cornfields of Galilee or the
purlieus of imperial Rome. '' This
thing was not done in a corner," and
it refuses to stay in any corner of
human life. It declines to be modest —
modesty belongs to the part and not
to the whole of things — and deliber-
ately intends to inherit the earth. It


is not an additional piece of furniture
to be thrust into an already crowded
room; it is the inflowing sunshine that
shows us the use and value of all
the furniture we have long possessed.
It refuses to concern itself mainly with
the characteristic question of science:
What is the fact? and passes to the
vastly deeper question: What is of
abiding significance and value?

Hence to define so vast and vital a
power as Christianity, so world-shak-
ing an innovation, may be quite be-
yond our abilities. Happily for us
we do not have to define Christianity
before we can live by it — any more
than we have to define the X-ray be-
fore we can use it. Yet a definition is
always a help, both because it clears
away wrong conceptions, and so
wrong uses, of any power, and be-
cause it makes us feel at home with
a power on which our lives may de-
pend. What, then, is Christianity?

I. It is not ritual. All the early
forms of religion current among sav-
age or barbarous tribes, consist chiefly


of ceremonies, incantations, and mag-
ical rites. A vast amount of natural
magic everywhere preceded spiritual
faith. Certain objects, stones fallen
from the sky, poles graven with sacred
symbols, certain ceremonies, such as
bathing in a special place, or eating
special food, certain forms of speech
used by the forefathers in the crises
of life — all these seemed to possess an
intrinsic efficacy to ward off evil, or to
win the favour of the deity. Of course
such beliefs were sheer superstition,
since they are a clear denial of the
law of cause and effect. Yet they still
survive amid all the lights of civiliza-
tion, and penetrate every stratum of
society. The man who will not begin
a journey on Friday, or will not
occupy a room bearing the number
thirteen, is denying that effects are
really due to causes. He believes they
are due to magic. The man who
wears an amulet to ward off disease
is denying all modern science and all
Christian faith, and asserting his irra-
tional belief in the magic power of a


bit of stone or metal. Both rational
and spiritual religion affirm that no
material object carried in the pocket
or worn next the skin can possibly
affect the spiritual life of man for
weal or woe. But superstition — belief
without evidence — disregards both sci-
ence and religion, and remains a bun-
dle of foolish fears and futile hopes.

Religion has never entirely extri-
cated itself from this belief in the
magic power of material things or set
forms of speech. Multitudes of excel-
lent people still hold to the liquefaction
of the blood of St. Januarius or the
healing power of the bones of St.
Anne's wrist. Multitudes still believe
that an infant dying before some cere-
monial has been performed over it
is a lost child, or that a dying man is
somehow not sure of eternal bliss un-
less some anointing is performed by
an authorized official. Many men
have journeyed to the Jordan that they
might bathe in its sacred waters.
Others even in our own time treasure
bits of olive-wood from Gethsemane or


stones from Calvary, with the childish
hope that in some mysterious fashion
" virtue " will come out of the wood
or the stone that Christ once touched.

Of course the use of these things
simply as symbols or memorials is fully
justified. So a man may carry with
him the photograph of a dead father,
simply to refresh his memory and
keep him in constant touch with happy
days that are no more. So the wife
wears her marriage ring, and the sol-
dier carries aloft his banner, and the
college uses its seal. So family heir-
looms are handed down from father
to son, and the old silver plate of a
past generation is worth far more to
us than its weight in sterling metal
untouched by those whom we revered
and loved.

So religion may and must have her
symbolic objects, as the cross, the
crown, the dove, the letters I.H.S.
They rivet attention, they utter much
in little, they are a kind of shorthand
by means of which we can pack the
story of two thousand years into a


little space. But if we imagine that
the cross on the church spire will save
the building from the lightning, or the
making of the sign of the cross over a
dying man will affect his spiritual
status, we have perverted the symbols
of religion into the tools of credulity
and superstition. The marriage ring
may and does help the wife to remem-
ber her vows, and remembering, to
keep them. But the ring itself has no
intrinsic efficacy in the soul of woman-
hood; it cannot work apart from her
consciousness and volition. The paint-
ing of doves in the chancel of the
church may help the devotion of the
people, but cannot insure the presence
of the eternal Spirit. No physical
object is of any spiritual value save
as by using it a man enters into new
desire and will. Persons may use
things, but things cannot save per-

This principle holds in all symbolic
action. The putting on of the uniform
cannot create the soldier. The don-
ning of cap and gown cannot make


the scholar. First there must be an
inside, an experience, — then we can
have an outside, a symbolic garb.
Doubtless the academic garb does help
scholarship. But the garb is primarily
effect, and not cause.

The application of water to the body
as the symbol of the cleansing and
purification of the soul is as old as
history. All oriental lands are filled
with ceremonial washings. Moham-
medan, Buddhist, Brahmin, living in
hot climates, find the washing away
of dust from the body the inevitable
expression of the renunciation of sin.
Christianity, originating in the Orient,
laid hold of the same natural and beau-
tiful symbolism. John the Baptist
summoned all Judea to a physical rite
as " meet for repentance," and Jesus
found it natural to bow in the waters
of the Jordan. While Jesus declined
himself to baptize anyone (as Paul
seems to have usually declined) yet his
disciples went everywhere baptizing
the nations. Obviously some of those
disciples confused the outward act with


the spiritual conversion. Such phrases
as " Baptism doth now save us," or
*^ Arise and wash away thy sins," are
surely phrases Jesus himself would not
have used. The only worship he re-
quired was worship in spirit and in
truth. Controversies about the mode
of baptism, however interesting his-
torically, do not touch the central
problem. The real question is this:
Can the application of water in any
form, to any person, by any person,
in itself cleanse the soul from evil?
Can baptism usher a man into heaven,
or insure present acceptance with
God? He who answers "yes" to that
question thereby breaks with all the
teachings of science and all the deeper
meanings of religion. He is returning
to paganism, with its naive trust in
the offering of beast and bird, or in
the vain repetition of prescribed words.
So primitive Christianity availed it-
self of the universal symbolism of a
common meal. To eat together al-
ways has been, always will be, the out-
ward and visible sign of the commun-


ion of spirits. It may greatly assist
such communion. But to believe that
without such an outward and visible
sign the highest communion with our
fellows and with God is impossible,
to hold that grace is locked up in the
bread and wine and is otherwise in-
accessible — that is belief in magic, and
thus is far removed from Christian
faith. Ritual acts are natural, often
beautiful, sometimes necessary; but
they are never rigid, stereotyped,
coercive. None of them can be of per-
petual validity. In the presence of any
form that would forever enchain the
conscience we must say as St. Paul
daringly said of the most sacred cere-
mony of his race: "Circumcision is

No ritual act, even the most appro-
priate and venerable, can ever take
rank with a moral and spiritual act.
The obligation to love our enemies is
eternal, written in the soul of man,
though never fully realized till Jesus
made it articulate in his teachings.
But an obligation to use wine or bread


or water in a certain way is not dis-
coverable in the soul of any man, is not
eternal, and our only knowledge of
such an obligation conies from a very
few ancient passages about whose
translation there is much dispute. The
teaching of Jesus about God and
prayer and forgiveness and the social
order and eternal life is so abundant
that no textual or historical criticism
can ever weaken it in the slightest de-
gree. The teaching of Jesus about
ritual is confined to two occasions in
his life, and the reports that have
reached us are so various as to con-
fuse the most loyal followers and give
rise to nineteen hundred years of con-
troversy. Three facts regarding all
Christian ceremonial stand out clear
and sharp:

(i) No ritual act can change the
soul of man, but it is the soul of man
that alone gives value to the ritual
act. (2) No command to perform a
ritual act can ever rank with the com-
mand to maintain spiritual attitudes
and relations, since one is written on


parchment, while the other is written
in the conscience of all men. (3) No
ritual can ever remain in its exact
original form, since we can never be
sure exactly what that form was. We
may have changed the hour of cele-
bration of the communion supper, may
have changed the number of cups used,
the posture of the communicants, the
nature of the v^ine. But the exact
form of any ceremony cannot be essen-
tial to him who believes that it is the
spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profit-
eth nothing.

Christianity has its ritual acts, sanc-
tioned by its founder, made venerable
by history, rich v^ith memory and sug-
gestion. We need them, for we are
flesh as well as spirit. A religion of
pure thought or pure feeling may be
enough for angels, but not for us. We
dwell in the realm of the visible, the
natural, the symbolic, and for us the
word must become flesh. But Chris-
tianity is not ritual; and if through
some failure of translation or trans-
mission it should lose every shred of


its original ceremonies, it would
straightway create new forms and
carve new physical channels for its
spiritual and eternal message.

2. Christianity is not a series of
propositions. It is not intellectual
assent to a logical conclusion. Chris-
tianity is not a philosophy of the un-
seen; it is not an articulated creed.
Here we come against the oldest and
most persistent of heresies, and in
dealing with it we need clear discrimi-

Of course Christianity has a creed.
Every great experience of humanity is
capable of rational interpretation. It
can be thought out, and must be
thought out, if it is to be held as valid
for all men everywhere. The repudia-
tion of theology is the repudiation of
intelligence, for theology is simply the
religious experience analyzed, traced
back to its causes, brought into rela-
tion to the historical and natural order
of the world. The simple faith of the
fishermen of Galilee was quite suffi-
cient for Galileans. But it could never


have conquered Antioch and Rome
and Alexandria, had it not been trans-
lated into Greek forms of thought by
the Apostle Paul. To him it was not
enough to see the blinding light on the
road to Damascus and be convicted of
sin. At once his intelligence demanded
'' Who art thou, Lord? " and soon in the
silence of Arabia he v^as thinking out
the logical implications and sequences
of his great spiritual upheaval. A
Christianity v^hich is incapable of intel-
lectual formulation and rational de-
fence is surely an illusion. '' Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God v^ith all
thy mind " as v^ell as with all thy

Yet it remains true in the life of the
individual and the race, that religion
comes before theology, as stars come
before astronomy, as flowers before
botany. Theology is the effect, reli-
gion the cause. We must have the
religious experience before we can ex-
plicate and vindicate it in proposi-
tional form. And millions of men have
had that mighty inner experience, that


Opening of the soul to God, who are
totally unable to translate it into a
satisfactory creed.

If Christianity were creed, surely
somewhere in the New Testament we
should find a compact and convenient
credal formula, the signing of which
might give one admission to the King-
dom of Heaven. But the New Testa-
ment seems wholly indifferent to any
such formula. It is definite and urg-
ent on questions of duty. It has
explicit directions for slaves and their
masters, for parents and children, for
bishops and deacons. But as to the
theological questions that form the
backbone of the creeds of the church
the New Testament is eloquently
silent — either the writers have little
knowledge or little interest.

If Christianity were creed, then or-
thodoxy would mean Christ-likeness,
and those men and women who are
most sound in the faith would be
most unselfish and generous in char-
acter. But history shows no such con-
stant relation of theology to life. The


heretics in every communion have
often been the most lovable of men.
Granted that their theory w^s v^rong,
their hearts were right, and pectus est
quod facit theologum.

If Christianity were creed, we
should be forced to believe that eternal
bliss depends for every man on his
possessing a logical mind, and so arriv-
ing at a set of correct opinions.
" Whosoever will be saved," says the
creed of Athanasius, " before all things
it is necessary that he hold the Catho-
lic faith. . . . And the Catholic faith
is this, that we worship . . . neither
confounding the persons nor dividing
the substance."

But such teaching is not only with-
out support in Scripture or Christian
character, it is directly opposed to all
Scripture and all experience. '' What
doth the Lord thy God require of
thee," cries the Hebrew prophet, " but
to do justly, to love mercy and walk
humbly with thy God?" "Come, ye
blessed," says Christ in his picture of
the last judgment, '' for I was an


hungered and ye gave me meat/'
Opinions are the offspring of varying
temperament, growing apprehension,
changing environment. It is impos-
sible that a believer in the Copernican
system of astronomy should interpret
the ascension of Christ, v^hen '* he
w^ent up into heaven and a cloud re-
ceived him out of their sight," in the
same way as a believer in the Ptolemaic
idea that the earth is the centre of
the sky. It is impossible that the idea
of demoniacal possession should mean
the same thing to Simon Peter on the
one hand and to the devout Christian
Louis Pasteur on the other. The
"spirit of 1776" was a vital reality
long before it crystallized into the
Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution of the United States.
The spirit of Jesus controlling the
hearts of men was a vital power long
before Chalcedon or Nicaea, and will
survive the disappearance of all the
formulas of all the councils. Chris-
tianity has a creed, but Christianity is
not creed.


3. Christianity is not history. The
Christian faith indeed entered the
world at a definite time and place and
took its position in the historic order.
If the Word became flesh and dwelt
among us, it must have had a birthday
and a birthplace. If it is expressed
through a crucifixion, a resurrection, a
Pentecostal assembly, a series of mis-

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10