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HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER VI AGENCIES OF CONSTRUCTION
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We have all been asking, “What is the matter with the Church? Why is it so weak and ineffective? Why does it exercise such a feeble influence in the world to-day? Why do men care so little for its message and its mission?” There are no doubt many answers to these questions, but one answer concerns us here. It is this: We who compose the Church do not sufficiently realize that God is a living God and that the Church is intended to be the living body through which he works in the world and through which he reveals himself. We think of him as far away in space and remote in time, a God who created once and who worked wonders in ancient times long past, but we do not, as we should, vividly think of him as a living reality, as near to us as the air is to the flying bird or the water to the swimming fish.[80] We suppose that the Church is made up of just people, and is a human convenience for getting things done in the world. We do not see as we should that it is meant to be both divine and human and that it never is properly a Church unless God lives in it, reveals himself by means of it and works his spiritual work in the world through it.
This truth of the real Presence breaks through many of Christ’s great sayings and was one of the most evident features of the experience of the early Church. “Wherever in all the world two or three shall gather in my name there am I in the midst of them.” “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” “Wherever there is one alone,” according to the newly found “saying” of Jesus, “I am with him. Raise the stone and there thou shalt find me; cleave the wood and there am I.”
Not once alone was the early Church invaded by a life and power from beyond itself as at Pentecost. The consciousness which characterized this “upper room” experience was repeated in some degree wherever a Church of the living God came into existence, as “a tiny island in a sea of surrounding paganism.” To belong to the Church meant to St. Paul to be “joined to the Lord in one spirit,” while the Church itself in his[81] great phrase is the body of Christ and each individual a member in particular of that body.
What a difference it would make if we could rise to the height of St. Paul’s expectation and be actually “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit!” We try plenty of other expedients. We popularize our message; we take up fads; we adjust as far as we can to the tendencies of the time; but only one thing really works after all and that is having the Church become the organ of the living God, and having it “charged” with what Paul so often calls the power of God—“the power that worketh in us.”
I saw a car wheel recently that had been running many miles with the brake clamped tight against it. It was white hot and it glowed with heat and light until it seemed almost transparent in its extraordinary luminosity. Those Christians in the upper room at Pentecost were baptized with fire so that the whole personality of each of them was glowing with heat and light, for the fire had gone all through them. They suddenly became conscious that their divine Leader who was no longer visible with them had become an invisible presence and a living power working through them. It is no wonder that all Jerusalem[82] and its multitudinous sojourners were at once awakened to the fact that something novel had happened.
Our controversies which have divided us have been controversies about things out at the periphery, not about realities at the heart and center. We disagree about baptism, and we are at variance over problems of organization, ministry, and ordination, but the thing that really matters is the depth of conviction, consciousness of God, certainty of communion and fellowship with the Spirit. These experiences unite and never divide.
There is after all, in spite of all our gaps and chasms, only one Church. It is the Church of the living God. We are named with many names. We bear the sign of a particular denomination, but if we belong truly to the Church, then we belong to the great Church of the living God. It is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the building, fitly framed together, grows into an holy temple in the Lord. This is “the blessed community,” the living, expanding fellowship of vital faith, and it has the promise of the future, whether conferences on “faith and order” succeed or not, because it is the Church of the living God.
We are coming more and more to realize that religion attaches to the simple, elemental aspects of our human life. We shall not look for it in a few rare, exalted, and so-called “sacred” aspects of life, separated off from the rest of life and raised to a place apart. Religion to be real and vital must be rooted in life itself and it must express itself through the whole life. It should begin, where all effective education must begin, in the home, which should be the nursery of spiritual life.
The Christian home is the highest product of civilization; in fact there is nothing that can be called civilization where the home is absent. The savage is on his way out of savagery as soon as he can create a home and make family life at all sacred. The real horror of the “slums” in our great cities is that there are no homes there, but human beings crowded indiscriminately into one room. It is the real trouble with the “poor whites” whether in the South or in the North that they have failed to preserve the home as a sacred center of life.
One of the first services of the foreign missionary is to help to establish homes among the people whom he hopes to Christianize. In short, the home is the true unit of society. It determines what the individual shall be; it shapes the social life; it makes the Church possible; it is the basis of the state and nation. A society of mere individual units is inconceivable. Men and women, each for self, and with no holy center for family life, could never compose either a Church or a State.
Christianity has created the home as we know it, and that is its highest service to the world, for the kingdom of heaven would be realized if the Christian home were universal. The mother’s knee is still the holiest place in the world; and the home life determines more than all influences combined what the destiny of the boy or girl shall be. The formation of disposition and early habits of thought and manner as well as the fundamental emotions and sentiments do more to shape and fix the permanent character than do any other forces in the world.
We may well rejoice in the power of the Sunday school, the Christian ministry, the secular school, the college, the university; but all together they do not measure up to the power of the homes[85] which are silently, gradually determining the future lives of those who will compose the Sunday school, the Church, the school, and the college.
The woman who is successful in making a true home, where peace and love dwell, in which the children whom God gives her feel the sacredness and holy meaning of life, where her husband renews his strength for the struggles and activities of his life, and in which all unite to promote the happiness and highest welfare of each other—that woman has won the best crown there is in this life, and she has served the world in a very high degree. The union of man and woman for the creation of a home breathing an atmosphere of love is Christ’s best parable of the highest possible spiritual union where the soul is the bride and he is the Eternal Bridegroom, and they are one.
It seems strange that these vital matters are so little emphasized or regarded. Few things in fact are more ominous than the signs of the disintegration of the home as a nursery of spiritual life. We can, perhaps, weather catastrophes which may break down many of our ancient customs and even obliterate some of the institutions which now seem essential to civilization; but the home is a fundamental necessity for true spiritual nurture[86] and culture, and if it does not perform its function the world will drift on toward unspeakable moral disasters.
Democracy was in an earlier period only a political aim; it has now become a deep religious issue. It must be discussed not only in caucuses and conventions, but in churches as well. For a century and a quarter “democracy” has been a great human battle word, and battle words never have very exact definitions. It has all the time been charged with explosive forces, and it has produced a kind of magic spell on men’s minds during this long transitional period. But the word democracy has, throughout this time, remained fluid and ill-defined—sometimes expressing the loftiest aspirations and sometimes serving the coarse demagogue in his pursuit of selfish ends.
The goal or aim of the early struggle after democracy was the overthrow of human inequalities. Men were thought of in terms of individual units, and the units were declared to be intrinsically[87] equal. The contention was made that they all had, or ought to have, the same rights and privileges. This equality-note has, too, dominated the social and economic struggles of the last seventy-five years. The focus has been centered upon rights and privileges. Men have been thought of, all along, as individual units, and the goal has been conceived in political and economic terms. Democracy is still supposed, in many quarters, to be an organization of society in which the units have equal political rights. Much of the talk concerning democracy is still in terms of privileges. It is a striving to secure opportunities and chances. The aim is the attainment of a social order in which guarantee is given to every individual that he shall have his full economic and political rights.
I would not, in the least, belittle the importance of these claims, or underestimate the human gains which have been made thus far in the direction of greater equality and larger freedom. But these achievements, however valuable, are not enough. They can only form the base from which to start the drive for a more genuine and adequate type of democracy. At its best this scheme of “equality” is abstract and superficial. Nobody will ever be satisfied with an achievement of flat[88] equality. Persons can never be reduced to homogeneous units. There are individual differences woven into the very fiber of human life, and no type of democracy can ever satisfy men like us until it gets beyond this artificial scheme and learns to deal with the problem in more adequate fashion.
A genuinely Christian democracy such as the religious soul is after can not be conceived in economic terms, nor can it be content with social units of equality or sameness. We want a democracy that is vitally and spiritually conceived, which recognizes and safeguards the irreducible uniqueness of every member of the social whole. This means that we can not deal with personal life in terms of external behavior. We can not think of society as an aggregation of units possessing individual rights and privileges. We shall no longer be satisfied to regar............
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