“Church Federation” American Sentinel 11, 4, pp. 27, 28.

APROPOS to our article of a week ago upon this subject is a paper by R. M. Patterson, D. D., in the Independent of the 9th inst., under the heading, “Figures for Federation.”

Referring to statistics which appeared in the Independent of the 2nd inst., Dr. Patterson says: “What a numerical array these tables make for the churches: 127,906 ministers, 179,311 congregations, 24,218,180 communicants in the United States of America! But what a lamentable exhibition in the number of organization into which they are divided—151 in all!

“Of those which claim to be evangelical and are admitted by each other to be so, there are not less than 110,000 ministers, 160,000 congregations, and 16,000,000 communicants.”

After noting the fact that these denominations have not, with but slight exception, any intercourse with each other, Dr. Patterson gives the following proposed basis of federation:—

1. The acceptance of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, inspired by the Holy Spirit as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of Christian faith.

2. Discipleship of Jesus Christ, the divine Saviour and Teacher of the world.

3. The Church of Christ ordained by him to preach his gospel to the world.

4. Liberty of conscience in the interpretation of the Scriptures and in the administration of the Church.

Such an alliance of the churches should have regular meetings of their representatives, and should have for its objects, among others,

1. Mutual acquaintance and fellowship.

2. Coöperation in foreign and domestic missions.

3. The prevention of rivalries between competing churches in the same field.

4. The ultimate organic union of the whole visible body of Christ.

Whether federation upon such a basis will ever be realized or not remains to be seen. Certainly there is a very strong current [28] running in the direction if not of union at least of a confederacy of churches for the accomplishment of certain purposes; and we are sorry to say, all the objects are not entirely laudible. Another article 504 in these columns points out some of the evils of the so-called National Reform movement whose leaders have secured the introduction of a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States. A federation of churches for any such purpose as that can be nothing but evil. As pointed out last week, religious combination to effect political objects are dangerous, and as a matter of fact the combination known as the American Sabbath Union offically [sic.] organized by fourteen “evangelical” denominations, and in many ways in touch with the National Reform Association, has already exerted a powerful influence upon Congress, leading that body to declare in effect in its World’s Fair legislation that Sunday is the Sabbath according to the fourth commandment. Since under threat of political boycott by this powerful religious combination, Congress has assumed to settle by legislative enactment one religious question, what assurance have we that a like influence would not secure from Congress other and similar measures directly affecting liberty of conscience?

Continuing the article to which we have referred, Dr. Patterson says:—

The Northern Presbyterian Church is committed to such a movement. Its General Assembly of 1890 at Saratoga unanimously pronounced in favor of a federation of all the evangelical churches of the land. Favorable progress has been made in negotiations among the Presbyterians and Reformed bodies, but this wider one is aimed at also. It is to be hoped that the correspondence that has been invited by the Congregational Council will be widely entered upon. The result cannot be attained very soon. In such a matter such large bodies must move slowly; but it is well that a beginning has been made. The Presbyterian General Assembly laid down no platform; but it declared in favor of an “official federation in which there shall be no renunciation by the different churches of their peculiarities or independent organizations, and no interference with their doctrines, government or internal affairs, but which shall aim, by the best available methods, to secure coöperation in religious work and in the promotion of such moral and social reforms as affect the welfare of the nation.” The Congregational Council has constructed a platform. If it be not sufficiently safe or comprehensive, let some other be made; but let the correspondence proposed be entered upon with an earnest desire to wipe out the scandal of our inimical divisions, and get in close touch with each other in organized work for the Master and for the perishing millions among whom we mingle.

All this is doubtless pleasing from the standpoint of numbers. We all like to read about so many millions of Christians and to know that those Christians are working in harmony for the advancement of the gospel. But there is an element of danger in this proposed federation, and it is revealed in the paragraph quoted, by the words: “Which shall aim, by the best available methods to secure coöperation in religious work and in the promotion of such moral and social reforms as effect the welfare of the nation.” Everybody knows that in the eyes of the powerful religious combination to which reference has been made, the “moral and social reform” which most directly and powerfully “affects the welfare of the nation” is the enforcement of Sunday observance; and it is to secure this more than anything else that this still more gigantic confederacy of all the various first day denominations is proposed and urged.

It is true that there is a very general consensus of opinion that uniform marriage and divorce laws are needed, but not half the energy is put forth nor half the enthusiasm manifested in securing these that there is in the movement in the interests of Sunday legislation. It is true that the “moral” sentiment of the nation was thoroughly aroused against polygamy in Utah several years since, and that even the authorities of the Mormon Church were compelled to bend before the law backed up by that sentiment; but that it was little more than sentiment is shown by a few facts given by Dr. W. F. Crafts in his recent work, “Practical Christian Sociology.” On page 64 of that work the author says:—

It is a curious fact that in 1887 these two evils [contemporaneous and consecutive polygamy] were exhibited side by side in Utah, where there were among the “Gentiles” about half as many divorces as marriages during that year.

The AMERICAN SENTINEL has no sympathy whatever with polygamy. We have repeatedly shown that it is destructive of natural rights and is therefore legitimately prohibited by civil law. But of what avail, from a moral standpoint, is the prohibition of “contemporaneous polygamy” if “consecutive polygamy” is permitted to flourish?

We published only four weeks ago a note from a Cincinnati paper regarding the marriage of a young woman of nineteen and a man of thirty, each of the parties having been divorced, the lady once, the gentleman twice. The lady’s first husband had re-married and each of the gentleman’s wives had been re-married and divorced again after being divorced from him. We are free to say that as between this consecutive polygamy and contemporaneous polygamy there is small choice. Indeed, as practiced in Utah, restrained as it is by a strong though mistaken religious zeal, the contemporaneous polygamy appears to be the lesser evil. But there is not that sentiment against consecutive polygamy that there is against polygamy as it exists in Utah; and why? Simply because it is sentiment rather than settled moral conviction, and herein lies one of the dangers in a federation of churches for the purpose of promoting moral and social reforms. Such combinations are swayed more by sentiment than by reason, and even-handed justice is not to be expected from them.

Share this: