It was with a curious mixture of feelings we read in a recent issue of The Daily Telegraph Mr. C. B. Mortlock’s review of a Report published by the Social and Industrial Commission of the Church Assembly on its inquiry into the relationships between the Christian community and the secular community.
We have consistently advocated the policy of concentrating on the building up of vigorous assembly life as the best method of coping with the need which surrounds us. Now we find that an influential Commission in the Established Church, with unrivalled opportunities for sifting a vast amount of evidence, has come to the same conclusion. Alas, we fear that the Church of England’s lost grip on the masses is due to causes which lie much deeper than this, but strikes us as most significant that a body of men, who by no stretch of imagination could be regarded as sharing our outlook, should put forward such a solution of the problem.
The Report “urges a renewed concentration on local church life if Christianity is to penetrate secular life to a depth it has never done before.” Furthermore, the Commission says, “Each individual Christian will have to maintain a rigid system of priorities or he will find that he is drawn this way and that by appeals, which appearing to be based on religious sanctions, are often merely playing on his vanity.” Readers who remember our Editorial in the January-February issue will understand how we felt when we read this.
The phraseology may sound a little strange to our ears but the meaning is quite clear – it says in a different way what we have said again and again. The Commission plainly means that people will never be reached effectively by Christians running hither and thither in well-meant efforts to influence them; among many calls which have the appearance of being good, the Christian must beware of his real motives, and, in any case, make up his mind as to what has the prior claim upon his time and energy. To the last question the answer given is the one we have often put forward in almost the same words – “renewed concentration on local church life”
It would be interesting to know whether this verdict was reached simply from a survey of present-day conditions or whether impressions gained from the New Testament exerted some conscious or unconscious influence. At any rate, we have no doubt that the New Testament endorses the appeal for concentration on local church life. The fact that the Commission’s conception of local church life probably differs so vastly from ours only makes their conclusion more interesting in our eyes.
The expression, “a rigid system of priorities,” may sound a little forbidding, but we venture to think it is an attempt to express what Paul advocated for the Philippians. He certainly appreciated the love which prompted them, but he prayed that it might abound “in knowledge and all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent.” The last phrase could be literally translated “discriminate the transcendent,” i.e., learn even in good things to discern what things are the best.
How often Christians justify their participation in a dozen and one things with the plea that these things “do good,” whilst, strangely enough, the various activities of their assembly which surely “do good” are often hindered from lack of support. The falsity of the proposition that because a particular movement “does good” it has an authoritative claim on our cooperation, will become perfectly clear once we try to imagine the effect of trying to live up to it. It is so manifestly impossible to engage in all the multitudinous agencies which “do good” that even the most broadminded are compelled to make some choice. Since some discrimination is imperative, why not “discriminate the transcendent”?
The many appeals which come to us may be good in themselves – they may be “based on religious sanctions” – they may be good, but are they the best? The Commission believes that “they are often merely playing on the Christian’s vanity.” Whatever we think about this opinion, it seems to have been advanced with a grave sense of responsibility, and perhaps it boils down to a love of popularity to which we made reference in our previous number.
We realise the need to guard against the overemphasis of one aspect of truth at the expense of others, but this question is becoming of increasing importance in assembly life, and believing that there is much more at stake than is generally realised, we feel justified in keeping prominently before our readers the value of adhering closely to the New Testament pattern in our Christian life and service. The latter has been and still is the only ground of our appeal – we quote the Church Assembly Commission simply because we believe our readers will be quick to see the significance of the fact that such a body, with a totally different outlook and approaching the matter from quite another angle, has reached the same conclusions.
When such a Council, compelled by conditions (of which we are all aware) to make an investigation, see so plainly the futility of unwise if well-meant division of effort, there can surely be no excuse for us if we fail to see the need of consolidating assembly life after the Scriptural order.