English: Congregational Church, Wrawby Street....


A Congregational church in Detroit, Michigan (...

A Congregational church in Detroit, Michigan (1880). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


For a thousand years from the days of the apostles, Christianity was a working missionary institution. In the first four centuries of its history the church won the Roman Empire from heathenism to Christianity. Afterward, its missionaries met the advancing hordes of barbarians and conquered them they conquered the Western Empire. After the tenth century, church and state, pope and emperor, were in strife for supreme control, and the missionary spirit declined, though it was never entirely lost. The Reformation was concerned with efforts to purify and reorganize the church, rather than to extend it. We have seen that in the later age of the Reformation the first extensive effort to Christianize the heathen world was made, not by Protestants, but by Roman Catholics under St. Francis Xavier. As early as 1732, the Moravians began to establish foreign missions, by sending Hans Egede to Greenland, and soon afterward the same church was working among the Indians of North America, the Negroes in the West Indies, and in the oriental lands. In proportion to its small membership at home, no other denomination has maintained as many missions as the Moravian Church throughout its history.

Photo of the First Congregational Church of Ce...

Photo of the First Congregational Church of Ceredo, West Virginia. The photo was taken from across 1st Street West at the intersection with C Street (). The building was constructed in 1886 and the church is a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The founder of modern missions from England was William Carey. He had been a shoemaker, was self-educated. and became a Baptist minister in 1789. In the face of strong opposition he began to urge the sending of missionaries to the heathen world. A sermon which he preached in 1792 under the two heads: (1) Attempt great things for God, and (2) Expect great things from God, led to the organization of the Baptist Missionary Society, and the sending of Carey to India. He was not permitted by the English East India Company, then governing India, to land, and found a foothold at Serampore, a Danish colony near Calcutta. Overcoming his lack of early education he became one of the leading scholars of the world in Sanskrit and other oriental languages. His grammars and dictionaries are still used. From 1800 to 1830 he was professor of oriental literature in Fort William College, Calcutta. He died in 1834, revered throughout the world as the father of a great missionary movement. The missionary enterprise in America received its first inspiration from the famous “Haystack Prayer Meeting” at Williams College, Massachusetts, in 1811. A group of students met in a field for prayer on the subject of missions. A storm came up; they took refuge under a haystack, and there consecrated their lives to work for Christ in the heathen world. Out of this meeting came the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was at first interdenominational, but as other churches formed societies of their own, soon became the enterprise of the Congregational churches.

English: Oldbury Congregational Church Oldbury...

English: Oldbury Congregational Church Oldbury Congregational Church is in fellowship with an Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, which is a free association of independent evangelical churches, sharing a Congregational heritage and form of church government. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The American Board sent out four missionaries, of whom two, Newell and Hale, went to India. The others, Judson and Rice, on their voyage to the Far East, changed their views regarding baptism, and resigned from the American Board. Their action resulted in the formation of the American Baptist Missionary Society, and Judson and Rice entered upon work in Burma. The example of the Congregationalists and Baptist was followed by other denominations, and before many years each church had its own board and its own missionaries. At the present time, there is scarcely a land on earth without the gospel in one form or another. Christian schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages and other philantropic institutions are found throughout the heathen world, and the annual receipts of the various mission boards mount up to many millions. The most prominent feature in the church of today, in Great Britain and America, is its deep and wide-spread interest in foreign missions. Out of the many great men who have appeared in the last three centuries it is difficult to name the leaders in Christian thought and activity. The following may be pointed out as representative men in the movements of their times. Richard Hooker (1554-1600) was the author of the most famous and influential work in the constitution of the Church of England. Born of poor parents, he obtained aid in his education at Oxford University, where he gained great learning in varied lines, and was made in succession, tutor, fellow, and lecturer. He was ordained in 1582, and for a time was co-pastor in London with an eloquent Puritan, while Hooker was Anglican in his views. Their controversies in the pulpit finally led Hooker to seek a country parish where he could find time for study. His great work was “The Law of Ecclesiastical Polity,” in eight books, the ablest presentation of the episcopal system ever published, and the one from which most writers since his day have drawn their arguments. Yet it is liberal in its attitude toward the non-episcopal churches, and singularly free from a bitter controversial spirit. Hooker was only forty-seven years old at his death. Thomas Cartwright(1535-1603) may regarded as the founder of English Puritanism, though not the greatest of its adherents. That honor belongs to Oliver Cromwell, whose record, however, is in the history of the stare and not  of the church. Cartwright became professor of divinity in Cambridge University in 1569, but lost his position in the following year on account of his published opinions, which were obnoxious to Queen Elizabeth and the leading bishops. He advocated the view that the Scriptures contain not only the rule of faith and doctrine, but of church government; that the church should be Presbyterian in its system; that it should not only be independent of the state, but practically supreme over the state. He was as intolerant as the high churchmen in demanding uniformity in religion, to be enforced by civil authority, provided that the church should be Presbyterian and its doctrine

English: The First Congregational Church of Un...

English: The First Congregational Church of United Churches of Christ in Farmington, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that of John Calvin.

For a few years Cartwright was a pastor over the islands o Guernsey and Jersey, where he planted churches of his own persuasion; but from 1573 to 1592 he was most of the time either in prison or in exile on the Continent. The last nine years of his life seem to have been passed in retirement. Later, his views became dominant in the House o Commons, while prelacy ruled in the House of Lords, and the strife between the parties at last culminated in the civil war, and the rule of Cromwell. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758 ) ranks as the foremost of all Americans in metaphysics and theology, and the greatest theologian of the eighteenth century on either side of the Atlantic. In him were combined the keenest logic, the utmost ardor in theological inquiry, and a devout spiritual fervor.

From his earliest youth he was precocious, was graduated from Yale College at the age of seventeen, having already read widely in the philosophic literature of the past and of his own time. In 1727 he became co-pastor with his grandfather of the Congregational Church in Northampton, and soon became known as an ardent advocate of an earnest spiritual life. From his pulpit went forth “the Great Awakening,” a revival which spread through all the American colonies. His opposition to the “half-way covenant” then almost universally accepted in New England- by which persons were admitted to church membership without a definite religious character- aroused a bitter feeling against him, and led to his dismissal from his church in 1750. For eight years he was a missionary to the Indians; and during this period of retirement wrote his monumental word on The Freedom of the Will, ever since his time the textbook of New England Calvinism. In 1758 he was made president of Princeton College, but after a very few weeks of service, died at the age of fifty-five. John Wesley was born at Epworth, in the north of England, in the same year with Jonathan Edwards in America, 1703, but outlived him a third of a century until 1791. His father was for forty years rector of the Church of  England in Epworth. But John Wesley owed more to his mother, Susnna Annesley Wesley, who was descended from a line of Puritan and non-confromist ministry, and was the mother and the teacher of eighteen children. Wesley was graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1724, was ordained in the Church of England, and was for some years a fellow of Lincoln College. During his fellowship he became associated with a group of students in Oxford who aimed at holy living, and were spoken of in derision as “Methodists,” a name which became fixed in later years upon Wesley’s followers. In 1735 Wesley and his younger brother Charles went as missionaries to the new colony of Georgia.

English: The departure of the missionaries fro...

English: The departure of the missionaries from New Haven, Connecticut, for the Sandwich Islands in 1822. They would arrive in Hawaii on April 23, 1823 on the Thames. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their labors could not be considered successful, and they returned to England after two years. But this period in both their lives was mighty in its results, for at that time they met a group of Moravians, followers of Count Zinzendorf, and from them gained the knowledge and conscious experience of a spiritual life. Up to this time the ministry of John Wesley had been a failure, but henceforth no preacher in England, save George Whitefield, aroused everywhere such interest. Wesley traveled on horseback all over England and Ireland, preaching, organizing societies, and directing them throughout a long life, lasting until almost the end of the eighteenth century. Out of his labors arose not only the Wesleyan body in Great Britain, under several forms of organization, but also the Methodist churches of America and throughout the world, in their membership aggregating many millions. He died in 1791 at the age of eighty-eight. John Henry Newman(1801-1890) by the ability and lucid style of his writings, the clearness of his views, the fervency of his preaching, and above all by a peculiar personal charm, was the leader in the Anglo-Catholic movement of the nineteenth century. He received his degree from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1820, and became a fellow at Oriel College, with the highest honors, in 1822 became vicar of St. Mary’s, the University Church, where his sermons enabled him to wield a commanding influence over the men of Oxford for a generation. Although the Oxford movement was begun by John Keble, its real

National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Sav...

National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

leader was New-man.

He wrote twenty-nine of its ninety tracts, and inspired most of the remainder. Partly became the movement was frowned upon by the authorities in the University and the leading bishops of the church, but more because his own views gradually underwent a change, Newman, in 1843,resigned from St. Mary’s having already retired to a church at Little more, and lived in seclusion for three years, until 1845, when he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He lived forty-five years after this change of church relations, most of the time at Birmingham, less prominent than before, but still beloved by his old friends. His writings were many, but the most widely circulated and influential were his tracts and several volumes of sermons. A book which he published in 1864, entitled Apologia pro Vita Sua, the account of his own religious life and his change of opinions, showed his absolute sincerity and increased the reverence already flt toward him among all except a few bitter partisans. He was made a cardinal in 1879, and died in Birmingham in 1890. No churchman of any  denomination in his century outranks Newman in his influence. The church of this century face major problems in the social as well as ecclesiastical realms. War, in two major as well as minor conflicts, had confronted the church with what its attitude to war should be. In World War I the church tended to look upon the conflict as a holy war for God and country and went beyond its mission of mercy to sanctify the war by recruiting, selling war bonds and assuring those who died in battle of heaven. In World War II the church resisted any  hate appeal,aided conscientious objectors, prayed for their Christian brethren on both sides of the line, and engaged in deeds of mercy and aided in reconstruction after the war. Race relations constitute another pressing problem in countries like South Africa with its Apartheid system of separate racial communities and the United States with its Negro problem. This issue first arose in the Civil War which ended slavery but did not give the Negro a place in society equivalent to that of the white man. With the mass migration of southern Negroes to northern cities, it has become a national problem. Much progress has been made toward the goal of integration in the armed forces, education and economic opportunity but great challenges face the nation and the church in the inner city. Better education, opportunity for better housing and jobs must be made realities. In all of this the church can well be the conscience of the nation without becoming a part of the social order. This problem is also closely linked abroad with the question of economic justice as the old imperialism disappears and new nations by the score emerge. Here again the church may help to declare principles which will guide the conscience of leaders. The alternative system of Communism, which now dominates one third of the world’s people, is offering its false program of forcing economic justice at great cost in life and liberty.

English: Ashby de la Zouch Congregational Church

English: Ashby de la Zouch Congregational Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Study of the church’s norm, the Bible, prayer, prophetic utterances from the pulpit and individual Christian practice as citizens will be necessary. The dissolution of a native theological liberalism with its teaching of a human Christ as an example for ethical action of men who were not sinners and who could found a perfect order was hastened by the problem of depression and two world wars. In its place a vigorous evangelicalism and neo-orthodoxy have arisen. At first fundamentalism was negative in its reaction against a liberalism that upheld evolution and biblical criticism. This was evidence in the Scopes trial in 1925 and the heresy trials in the various denominations. Since World War II an evangelicalism has emerged which is more positive in its assertion of truth. Bible schools, such as Moody, colleges, such as Wheaton, and Christian seminaries, such as Fuller and Dallas, have been founded to train Christian leaders committed to evangelical doctrine and practice in all walks of life. Social action that is biblical, as well as evangelistic proclamation, are given attention by the magazine, Christianity Today, evangelist Billy Graham, and the National Association of Evangelical. Many liberals chastened by war and depression have moved into Neo- orthodoxy as proclaimed by Karl Barth and his successor. While retaining the ideas of biblical criticism, they admit the university of sin and man’s need of being confronted with and responding to a holy God who can cleanse him. Unlike the old liberal, who felt the Bible contains the Word of God, and the evangelical, who says it is the Word of God, these people say it becomes the Word of God in crisis by the action of the Holy Spirit. Neo-orthodoxy, except for men like Reinhold Niebuhr, does not address itself to the problems of the day. The winds of change have even blown upon the monolithic monopoly of corporate salvation claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. During the pontificates of Pius XI and XII to 1958, the church took such a strong stand against communism, which it saw as a threat to its safety, that it tried to use the West, even totalitarian states, such as Germany and Italy, as bulwarks against Communism. Strategy under John XXIII and Paul VI has shifted to soft pedaling anti-communistic utterances, to a limited co-existence and to cooperation, such as in Poland. There is also a more cooperative attitude toward the Protestant and Orthodox churches. John XXXIII in Vatican II(1963-5) stressed aggiounamento or the updating of the church. It must be observed, however, that this has not affected any essential dogma or the polity of the church, but has merely put the mass into the vernacular, permitted lay reading of the Bible and allowed inter-church dialogue along ecumenical lines.


English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What will be the result of this ecumenical council remains to be seen.

The trend to reunion has resulted in interdenominational cooperation in such groups as the American Bible Society, Christian Endeavor, Youth for Christ and other such groups. Organic reunion of like groups has resulted, for example, in the Methodist church being formed in 1939 from a union of northern and southern Methodism and of unlike groups of some Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada in 1925. The major thrust, however, has been to confederations of like groups in such bodies as the Lambeth Conference of Anglicans since 1867 and of unlike denominations in the National Council of Churches in 148 at Amsterdam. Evangelical counterparts have been the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943 and the World Evangelical Fellowship in 1951. One hopes that all of this will not be merely organization but that purity of doctrine, Christian fellowship in Christ and loving service will be feremost.


2 thoughts on “THE MODERN CHURCH

  1. Pingback: THE MODERN CHURCH | Beeyon Da Roz

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