Billeder på siden

faith and who desire to be accounted Christians. An impartial observer can scarcely doubt that this disbelief has come to stay. What is going to be done with it? What shall be done with a dissent which has become settled and substantially ineradicable?

To this question there are three chief answers. First, it is proposed formally to abolish all creeds, to leave to each member unlimited liberty of opinion. This would practically do away with dissent, since dissent implies an authoritative creed to dissent from. As our topic this morning is Dissent, we are not primarily concerned with this method of meeting the difficulty in question. We may touch upon it incidentally.

A second and more widely advocated method for the disposal of dissent is to preserve rigidly the ancient shibboleths and insist that the dissenter pursue the only natural and honorable course of withdrawing from the church in which he is a dissenter and find or organize a society adapted to his views and needs. The consideration of this solution like the preceding does not properly belong to our task; for our topic is Dissent within, not outside, the church.

The third answer to the question, what shall be done with dissent, proposes that the churches shall tacitly recognize a limited right of dissent within the organization, resorting to liberal interpretation, mental reservations, and similar devices to secure the necessary stretching of the boundaries.

It is hardly necessary to remark that this third solutionof the difficulty is that which is being gradually adopted in actual practice. It commends itself to the opportunist spirit, to the tolerant disposition, to the desire for peace, and to the patriotic anxiety to maintain the prestige of numbers and wealth. Nation remarked a few years ago, we have passed the age of "come-outers"; we have reached that of the "stay-inners. "

As the New York

It is undoubtedly too late for any considerable increase in the number of sects. On the other hand, it is too early to look for the adoption of the no-creed policy. It is indeed doubtful whether such a plan will ever commend itself to practical men. A church is not a university or an academy of science. It is a practical organization having objects, the successful prosecution of which depends in large measure on unity of opinion, spirit, and method. In any case the solution demanding our attention is that which grants a right of dissent within the church. This proposal we have to consider briefly in two aspects; viz., the justice of such a course, and its expediency.

First, then, is it just that the doubting member should claim and the church grant a limited right of dissent? Is there in reason any ground for asserting the reality of such a right? Here, of course, we are speaking not of a legal but of a moral right. Now, it is highly probable that to a great many persons the assertion of a right of dissent within the church seems almost a contradiction in terms. (6 "Grace," they would say "is surely the utmost that the dissenter can ask. Some sort of case might have been made out when there was but one church and when membership in it was compulsory. But now, when the organization is purely voluntary, if a man comes to reject the standards of the body to which he belongs, he surely can make no just claim to stay in the church. In joining, he relinquished his right to think for himself on certain defined subjects. He agreed to think in accord with certain definite formulae. When he can no longer do so with a good conscience, his course is plain. He should get out and go where his views are in accord with the standards." It is even urged that there is something positively dishonorable in trying to stick to the church under such conditions. Especially is this

declared to be true if one is an authorized teacher or preacher. His insisting upon a right to stay is stigmatized as even dishonest. His appointment was given him that he might teach or preach the particular doctrines approved by the organization as a whole. The money which supports him is usually given with that understanding. He is almost an embezzler.

It is worthy of note that this position is taken not merely by church authorities, who may be presumed to be prejudiced parties; it is maintained as well by the outside public, by the secular press, by men quite in sympathy with the dissenter, by men who could scarcely find a church sufficiently liberal to let them in. "A church," they say "is like any other organization. It has a will and an opinion determined and declared by certain defined processes. Of course it is legitimate for any member to endeavor to alter the decisions of this will in accord with his own opinion through the regularly appointed means. But, when this fails, when the decision goes against him, plainly there is nothing left but to get out.'

These views are of course familiar. All have heard them many times. It is seldom that the opposite side is presented. It is doubtless assumed by most that there is no other side. Yet it is highly improbable that there is nothing to be said for the "stay-inner." The above reasoning is of great weight, but it does not wholly exhaust the case. Upon all such reasoning the chief criticism to be made is that it implies a conception of organizations, especially of church organizations, decidedly too mechanical. It implies that church relations are formed with perfect freedom and with full comprehension of all the limitations involved. It implies that such relations, once formed, create no rights, moral claims, or obligations save those nominated in the bond. It implies that those relations

can be severed without inconvenience, and that the severing of those relations puts a man back exactly where he was when they were formed. Now, are these implications warranted? Let us consider some reasons for a contrary opinion.


In the first place, am I estopped from dissent because in entering the organization, I, with full, conscious freedom choose this particular church in preference to all others? Surely a negative answer only is possible. Nine-tenths of the members of the great evangelical churches have joined under conditions almost wholly precluding any such free, conscious, responsible action. For, first, of a large number of church members it may be said with scarcely any misuse of language that they are born into the church. Their parents are members and make it their duty and their pleasure to treat the child as did the Jews of old. From the very cradle he is devoted to the Lord. While yet a babe in arms, he is baptized. As soon as he can walk, he is put into the Sunday School. When revival meetings occur, he is encouraged, even urged, to take a stand on the side of religion. Nowadays he is frequently taken into formal relations with the church before he has reached his tenth year. Almost always he joins while still a minor, while still thought of as unfit to bear the responsibilities of citizenship, to settle the petty questions as to who shall be mayor or councilman or path-master; and yet he is asserted to be able with full, conscious freedom to decide whether or not he believes in the trinity, in the doctrine of divine sovereignty, in the inerrancy of scriptures, in the final impenitence of the wicked, in a host of dogmas fit for the consideration of only the ablest and maturest minds. Now, when at some future time some such person objects to a part of the church's doctrine or discipline, will it be just fair to say to

him, "My brother, when you joined the church you formally consented in the presence of God and his people to abide by its rules, you freely assented to its doctrines. You alone are responsible for the position in which you find yourself. You must in good faith abide by the vows you then took or withdraw from the church." Surely such words are little short of mockery.


But, is the case materially different with older people who get into the church at a later period of life? Not greatly; especially not with the class of persons who make trouble as dissenters from the church's doctrine and discipline. Some are urged so persistently and strongly that they have no intelligent freedom in the matter. Some are practically wheedled A considerable number enter the church with a definite understanding between themselves and the pastor that mental reservations are expected. The history of many a case would read something like this. The pastor solicits the person in question to come and take his stand with the church. The person solicited admits his sense of the need of religion and his general sympathy with Christian people but urges his disbelief in certain accepted doctrines or his objection to certain rules of discipline. The pastor, thereupon, assures him that these are not essential matters; that no two of the clergy even, understand the tenets of theology in the same sense; that in the opinion of the pastor matters of private conduct must be determined by each according to the dictates of his own conscience. Whereupon the solicited one concludes to accept the invitation. Please do not imagine this a fancy sketch. I know whereof I speak. I know a young man who entered into active relations in an evangelical church in this city, after having explicitly informed the pastor that he did not believe

« ForrigeFortsæt »