Overland Monthly / OV234 - Creed Smashing Necessary for Federation-Congregational - Presbyterian and Methodist
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OV234 Creed Smashing Necessary
For Federation—Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist
By C. T. Russell Pastor Brooklyn and London Tabernacles
"Say ye not, A Federation, to all them to whom this people shall say, a Federation; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid."—#Isa 8:12
THE desirableness of oneness in the Church of Christ is beyond dispute. The impropriety of sectarianism or division is now generally conceded, although twenty years ago many defended the divided condition of the Church as being helpful. They pointed to our Lord’s words, I am the Vine and ye are the branches; every branch in me that beareth not fruit my Father, the Husbandman, taketh away. And every branch that beareth fruit he pruneth, that it may bring forth more fruit.—#Joh 15:1-5.
They claimed that the denominations were the branches. The evident teaching of the Master here is that his people are related to him in an individual sense and not as parties, sects or denominations, and that they are dealt with from the individual standpoint as one Church and not many.
St. Paul enunciated the same great truth (#1Co 12:13), declaring that the Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is his Body, and that as the human body has many members under the full control of the head, except when diseased, so the Church, as members in particular of the Body of Christ, are all to be subject to the Lord as their Head. They are all to be so connected with their Head, and thus with each other, that when one suffers, all suffer with it, and when one rejoices, all rejoice with it, because they all have fellowship in one spirit of the Head.
Hence the eye cannot say to the hand, nor the hand to the foot, I have no need for you, for every member is necessary to the prosperity of the Body as a whole. And as the joint supports and strengthens the limb and is joined thereto by sinews, etc., so individually God’s people are united to each other in the bonds of grace and truth and love.
Church Federation Quite Different.
It must be conceded that Church Federation or Confederacy is in many respects quite a different thing from the Church’s oneness illustrated by our Lord’s parable of the vine, and the Apostle’s illustration of the human body. Nevertheless, since a Federation is proposed as the nearest possible approach to the enjoined spiritual Union, it is proper that we and all Christians everywhere should enquire carefully the cost and the gain implied in the Federation movement. In this series of discussions the cost of Federation to the creeds of the most prominent denominations will be impartially considered.
First in the list let us consider the sacrifices of Congregationalism, Presbyterianism and Methodism.
(1) As to Church Government very slight concessions will be required of any of the Federating denominations. Denominational liberties as respects forms of worship and methods of government and discipline are to be permitted very loose rein. The Federation proposes chiefly the regulation of home and foreign mission work and a general watch-care over the interests
OV235 of the federated systems along the lines of political influence. The expectation is that the political power of the Federation will have considerable to do with moulding of legislation favorable to the Federation, and later on, unfavorable to the smaller denominations not associated in the Federation.
(2) It is along doctrinal lines that the sacrificing in the interest of Federation will be chiefly demanded.
Doctrinally Congregationalists and Presbyterians are one; hence we may consider their sacrifice of doctrine in the interests of Federation as the same. They both accept the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Calvinistic foundation—that God, before the foundation of the world, foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; that he predestinated an elect, saintly few to heavenly glory, and equally foreordained that the remainder of thousands of millions of non-elect should be maintained in life to all eternity, in order that they might suffer excruciating pains, both mental and physical, never-ending, as a part of the supposed penalty of the "Original Sin" committed by our first parents in Eden.
No Infants in Eternal Torment.
Evidently there will be few people in these highly intelligent Christian bodies ready to insist, as our forefathers did, that this element of faith is essential to salvation. Few of us would agree with Brother John Calvin, the great architect of this creed, that fellow-Christians rejecting this doctrine should be burned at the stake, as Brother Calvin decided in respect to Brother Servetus. No, thank God! We have outgrown some of the narrowness which so terribly fettered some of our brethren during the dark ages.
Few any longer believe that there are "infants in hell not a span long," because non-elect.
Even where the doctrine of Election is still blindly held, few have the temerity to state their belief that any innocent infant was predestinated to everlasting torture. But Brother Calvin’s contention, expressed in the Westminster Confession, is that there are no innocent infants—that the condemnation of Original Sin was to eternal torture and that Adam’s children, "born in sin and shapen in iniquity," were therefore not innocent, but guilty—born under the sentence of eternal torment and salvable from it only through membership in the Church of Christ.
The More Excellent Way.
Indeed we may say that this theory was still older than Calvin, for did not St.
Augustine first declare the danger of infants to eternal torture and the necessity of their being brought into the Church of Christ by baptism in order to escape eternal torture?
And is not the force of this teaching still manifest amongst both Protestants and Catholics, as evidenced by their fear to have an infant die unbaptized—so that some, in extreme cases, even practice "baptism in utero"?
Doctrinally Methodism is indirectly opposed to Calvinism in every sense of the word.
Possibly Methodists will have less to concede than Calvinists, because, although in Wesley’ s day the doctrine of Free Grace was combated on every hand, it is now the tacit faith of the vast majority of Christendom. The doctrine that God had premeditated and irrevocably foreordained the eternal torture of our race except a handful of the Elect was too horrible a one to stand.
So the Methodist doctrine of Divine Love for all and Free Grace as respects salvation has appealed more and more to the growing intelligence of mankind. Nevertheless we cannot do otherwise than concede that it will matter little to the thousands of millions which all "orthodox" creeds consign to eternal torture whether they shall suffer eternal agonies as a result of Divine lovelessness in foreordaining their sufferings or of Divine inability to outwork for their benefit the supposed advantages of Free Grace arranged for them by Divine Love.
Our suggestion is that now, in the
OV236 lapping time of this Gospel Age with the oncoming New Dispensation, as the arc light casts the candle of the past into the shadow, so the clearer light now shining from the pages of God’s Word casts into the shadow all the doctrines of the "dark ages," relieving us of the horrible nightmare which once beclouded our hearts and lives and made us fearful of our Creator as an all-powerful, but merciless sovereign.
In this blessed light now shining from God’s Book have we not a basis for Christian union? Let us see! If we can find in God’s Word that the doctrine of Election and the doctrine of Free Grace are both true, both Biblical, but that one belongs to the Church in this Gospel Age and the other to mankind in general in the coming Age, will not this solve our problem and give us doctrinal union instead of a mere federation based upon the ignoring of doctrine? We can all assent to this, therefore let us examine the facts.
The Bible assuredly declares a Divine election according to a Divine purpose foreordained—but not such an election as Brother Calvin outlined. God foreordained the selection of a Church, predestinating the number who would constitute its membership and the character of each one who would be acceptable as a member. He foreordained tests as to the worthiness of these members and the glorious reward that should be theirs and a great work which they shall be privileged to do for mankind—limitedly now, fully during the Kingdom reign. Accustomed to the election of fellow-citizens to the Presidency, to Congress, etc., where they will have the opportunity for blessing the non-elect, we should have carried this same thought to the Divine election of the Church. We should have discerned that the elect Church, the "Seed of Abraham" (#Ga 3:29), is specially intended to be the channel of Divine blessing to "all the families of the earth" (#Ge 28:14).
How strange that we overlooked this and the assurance that with the completion of the Church Messiah would exalt her in the "First Resurrection" to be his Bride and joint-heir in his Mediatorial Kingdom, to be established for the blessing of all mankind!
How strange that we did not notice that every text of Scripture used by our Methodist brethren to substantiate their doctrine of Free Grace belongs to the New Age! As, for instance, the Bible, after telling us of the completion of the Church, now espoused to the Lord, and after her marriage or union with him at his Second Coming, as "the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife," tells that then "the Spirit and the Bride shall say, Come, and whosoever will may come and take of the water of life freely."—#Re 22:17.
Failure to Rightly Divide the Word of Truth.
Ah, yes, we failed disastrously to keep the Apostle’s command, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth" (#2Ti 2:15). We failed to thus divide the Truth and to note the portion applicable now and the other portion applicable during the office of the Mediator. Thank God, we are not yet too old to learn. We surely have been thoroughly sickened by our mistaken interpretations of the past, which made nonsense of both the doctrines—Election and Free Grace—and worse than this, defamed and vilified our Heavenly Father, "the God of all Grace."
In the light now shining we may see that the terms of the Divine election of the Church are in every sense of the word without partiality, except as regards character and faithfulness. Those now called with the heavenly calling to be of "the elect" are indeed invited to eternal life on the spirit plane, to be like unto the angels, but more exalted, while the opportunities to be granted to the world in general during the Mediatorial reign will be inferior, earthly, restitutionary—yet grand.—#Ac 3:19-21.
OV237 But this difference of reward is counterbalanced by the severer trials and testings of those now called to be of the elect. They must walk by faith and not by sight. They must take up their cross and follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. They must count their lives not dear unto them, but willingly sacrifice their earthly interests that.they may be participators with their Redeemer in glory, honor and immortality, and in his great work of the future—the blessing of the world of mankind with a mental, moral, social and physical uplift.
The Proper View of Election.
Cannot we all, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Methodists, and all others of God’s people, unite as one body upon this Scriptural hypothesis? Are we not satisfied with the terms of this election—that they are sufficiently stringent to exclude all except the saintly? Hearken to the Apostle’s declaration, which we once so grievously misunderstood: He says of God’s election, "Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." In other words, when our Heavenly Father foreknew and predetermined to gather an elect Church as the Bride of Christ, he also predetermined that none could be members of it unless they attained through faith and obedience in the School of Christ character-likeness to Jesus—heart likeness to him—hence, as nearly as possible, an obedience of the flesh to his Law.
Surely no one will claim that any but a little flock has ever attained to this honored condition; hence our former ideas respecting the non-elect would consign the majority of our families, neighbors, friends and all the heathen to endless woe. But now how differently we see in God’s Word that the elect class is selected in advance, that in God’s due time, with the Redeemer, it may bless every creature with fullest opportunity to return to human perfection in a Paradise regained—restored during the Times of Restitution.
This proposition of the Scriptures includes those who have gone down to the prison-house of death—into Sheol, into Hades, both the evil and the good. All shall then know, from the least to the greatest, that "Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man." They shall know that the redeeming blood was not shed in vain, but will secure to each member of Adam’s race, not eternal life, but an opportunity to attain eternal life—either on the heavenly plane during this Age or on the earthly plane during the Messianic Kingdom.
Have we not, in this beautiful election of the Bible, the basis for the grandest of all hopes, the highest of all ambitions, to be "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord?" Can we want more than this for ourselves? And does it not enhance the glory of this prize to have the prospect of conquering the world for Jesus and for the Father during the Mediatorial Kingdom in the only way in which it ever can be conquered—God’s way?
Is it not for this Kingdom that our Redeemer taught us to pray, "Thy Kingdom come; Thy Will be done on earth as it is done in heaven?" Is it not for this Kingdom that he taught us to wait, saying, "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom"? (#Lu 12:32.) Is it not for this Kingdom that the world waits?
"Unto him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess." "The knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth." "All shall know him from the least to the greatest."
"And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from amongst the people."—#Ac 3:23.
Shall we, then, stop merely with an outward federation or confederacy? Shall we not rather unite our hearts and heads and hands along the lines of the Divine promise given to us—"In thee and in thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed?"—#Ga 3:29.