IN recent issues of the Christian Statesman, an organ of the Church party calling for religious legislation, the editor has been discussing the question of Church union in the United States. He deems such union entirely feasible on lines which he points out, and is hopeful that it may be consummated in the near future. In designating the Church as it will then be he uses the phrase, “united Church of Christ of the United States.” This is the first suggestion we have noticed for a name for the coming American State Church.
In pointing out the principles upon which Church unity is to be secured, the Statesman observes that the church must have “one uniform standard of practical morals,” and adds that “even conceding that it may be a lower standard for the organically united Church than some portions of the divided Church would have maintained for themselves, the general gain will be incalculable.” As no part of the divided Church maintains or even has maintained any higher standard of morality than the law of God, it will, in this view, be an “incalculable” gain for the Church to adopt a lower standard than this, if thereby her divided elements can become united.
This scheme of Church union also includes “an oath binding to the acceptance of the supreme authority of the Scriptures in matters of discipline as well as doctrine, a high standard of practical godly living linked with a full and faithful formulation of scriptural truth, and the consequent faithful proclamation of the latter together with the faithful enforcement of the former.” All of which is in the Statesman’s view, quite susceptible of realization.
As regards “heresy” in the Church, we learn that “She has no physical force to meet it, as the nation may meet secession and rebellion against its rightful authority. But she is endowed by her divine Head with government and discipline adequate to such an exigency in her life.” It is laid down that “all who rebel against her rightful authority cut themselves off from her communion as schismatics, and are not therefore to be recognized as any part of the visible Church of Christ. The question is not here whether those who thus resist the rightful authority of the Church may be true Christians or not. In the circumstances of this particular case it is a question of authority and insubordination.”
And thus “true Christians” may be cut off as heretics and schismatics because of refusal to submit to the “rightful authority” of the Church. And such individuals may when they become numerous enough, form churches of their own, but they will still be heretics, and no part of the “true Church.” It was precisely thus that the “schismatic” Protestant churches, as Rome views them, came into existence. They refused to recognize the “rightful authority” of the Church, as expressed in the decrees of church councils and of popes, and are still counted as heretics, and without the pale of the “true Church.”
The Statesman says that “with the development of the Romish system this rightful authority of the church through anathemas and intolerance and persecution was dethroned to make way for the despotism of the ‘mystery of iniquity’ and ‘the man of sin.’. But in the united Church of Christ of the United States, with principles as different from those of Romanism as light from darkness, rightful authority ought certainly to be able to maintain itself against all schism and ecclesiastical rebellion without any sacrifice of either civil or religious liberty.” But it was not “through anathemas and intolerance and persecution” that the Church became what it was before the days of the Reformers, and what, as the papacy, it has since continued to be. The intolerance and persecution were but the manifestation of the change that had already taken place in the Church’s character: they were the evil fruit being borne by the evil tree. The tree becomes evil before the evil fruit appears; the Church became corrupt in character before she became intolerant. And this change in her character was nothing else than a change in her principles. It was a change by which human authority was put in the place of the authority of God’s Word.
And these principles laid down by the Statesman for the “united Church of Christ of the United States” do not differ at all from the principles of the papacy. The papacy professes to act in perfect harmony with the Word of God; and all she asks of Protestants is submission to the “rightful authority” of the “true Church.” And as the “rightful authority” of the Church must prevail, it is more satisfactory to believe that in the exercise of this authority she is infallible. Hence the doctrine of papal infallibility,—a doctrine which is certainly a necessity to any system which makes the separation of “heretics” from the Church a question not of their real Christianity as determined by the written Word, but of their submission to Church “authority.”