Edwin Hatch.

The organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 online

. (page 21 of 21)
Online LibraryEdwin HatchThe organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 → online text (page 21 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with all else that we know of God's government of

218 The Parish and the Cathedral. [lect.

the world ; the large variations of form in one age
as compared with another tend to show that the form
was meant to be elastic, and that the importance
which has frequently been attached to Jixity of form
has been exaggerated.

That there should be form of some kind is not only
inevitable but desirable : it may be admitted to the
full that the unity for which our Lord prayed is a
' unity of the Spirit,' a ' unity of the faith and of the
knowledge of the Son of God,' rather than a unity of
organization : and yet it would appear as though, in
the divine economy which has made human nature
what it is, it were owing in no small degree to the fact
of its organization that Christianity fills the place which
it does fill in the history of the world.

But the fact of the necessity and desirability of form
is no proof of the necessity and desirability of this
or that particular form. Nor is the fact that a parti-
cular form was good for a particular age a proof that it
is also good for another age. The history of the organ-
ization of Christianity has been in reality the history
of successive readjustments of form to altered circum-
stances. Its power of readjustment has been at once
a mark of its divinity and a secret of its strength.
Nor, if we look at it merely in its human aspect, is
there any sublimer spectacle in all the vast landscape
of history than this Tree of God, striking its roots
deeper and deeper into the deep strata of human life,
changing from age to age the fashion of its branches,
and changing also the hue of its blossom, and assimi-
lating to itself all the nurture which comes from the

viii.] The Parish and the Cathedral. 219

winds of God that blow and from the dew of heaven
that falls.

In the first ages of its history, while on the one hand
it was a great and living faith, so on the other hand it
was a vast and organized brotherhood. And, being
a brotherhood, it was a democracy : the ' multitude
which no man could number' stood before the throne
of God bound together in an equal union by the tie
of a common sonship, a common kingship, and a
common priesthood.

When the Eoman Empire fell, and the Western
World passed beneath the dominion of the vigorous
races who had no long past of organized administra-
tion upon which Christian administration could be
moulded, democracy gave way to monarchy. Democracy
was almost as impossible as it would be to entrust the
government of the mission communities of the South
Sea Islands to the new converts from Fetichism.

And now, at the close of the nineteenth century, the
Christian societies find themselves surrounded by new
conditions. There are new intellectual conditions, and
new social conditions. The question which presses for
answer, and which will not be evaded, is how much of
the form which grew out of, and was good for, earlier
and different circumstances, must be retained or
abandoned now. The contingency which has to be
faced is that the intellectual forces of the civilized
world may be arrayed against Christianity as once they
were in its favour : and that the social forces which
are drawing men into combination may draw them into
combinations in which Christianity will have no part.

220 The Parish and the Cathedral. [lect.

For these contingencies the Church of Christ is pre-
pared. It survived Gnosticism, and it will survive
Agnosticism. It survived Polytheism, and it will sur-
vive Atheism. It survived the disruption of European
society when the Koman Empire fell to pieces, it will
survive the possible disruption of European society
when, if ever, labour wins its victory over capital, and
socialism over aristocracy. But the survival of the
Church of Christ — that is, of ' the whole congregation
of Christian people dispersed throughout the world ' —
is not necessarily the survival of this or that existing
institution. After each of its earlier struggles there
was at least this mark of conflict, that there was a re-
adaptation of form. The supremacy of the episcopate
was the result of the struggle with Gnosticism, the
centralization of ecclesiastical government was the out-
come of the breaking up of the Empire. And if the
secret of the past be the key to the future, the institu-
tions of Christianity are destined in the providence
of God, in the days that are to come, to shape them-
selves in new forms to meet the new needs of men. To
the general character of those forms many indications
point. It would seem as though, in that vast secular
revolution which is accomplishing itself, all organiza-
tions, whether ecclesiastical or civil, must be, as the early
Churches were, more or less democratical : and the most
significant fact of modern Christian history is that,
within the last hundred years, many millions of our
own race and our own Church, without departing from
the ancient faith, have slipped from beneath the inelastic
framework of the ancient organization, and formed a

vin.] The Parish and the Cathedral. 11 1

group of new societies on the basis of a closer Christian
brotherhood and an almost absolute democracy.

But, whatever be the form in which they are destined
to be shaped, the work which the Christian societies,
as societies, have to do, in the days that are to come,
is not inferior to any work which has lain before them
at any epoch of their history. For the air is charged
with thunder, and the times that are coming may be
times of storm. There are phenomena beneath the
surface of society of which it would be hardly possible
to overrate the significance. There is a widening sepa-
ration of class from class : there is a growing social
strain : there is a disturbance of the political equi-
librium : there is the rise of an educated proletariat.
To the problems which these phenomena suggest
Christianity has the key. Its unaccomplished mission
is to reconstruct society on the basis of brotherhood.
What it has to do it does, and will do, in and through
organization. At once profoundly individual and pro-
foundly socialistic, its tendency to association is not so
much an incident of its history as an essential element
of its character. It spiritualizes that ineradicable in-
stinct which draws man to man and makes society not
a convention but a necessity. But the framing of its
organization is left to human hands. To you and me
and men like ourselves is committed, in these anxious
days, that which is at once an awful responsibility and
a splendid destiny — to transform this modern world
into a Christian society, to change the socialism which
is based on the assumption of clashing interests into

222 The Parish and the Cathedral.

the socialism which is based on the sense of spiritual
union, and to gather together the scattered forces of
a divided Christendom into a confederation in which
organization will be of less account than fellowship
with one Spirit and faith in one Lord — into a com-
munion wide as human life and deep as human need —
into a Church which shall outshine even the golden
glory of its dawn by the splendour of its eternal noon.


Date Due

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryEdwin HatchThe organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 → online text (page 21 of 21)