Last spring an important movement began in the Episcopal churches of Cleveland for the purpose of unifying the various Christian denominations. A little later a plan for the federation of the various branches of the Presbyterian church was agreed upon by a representative committee at their meeting in Philadelphia to be recommended to their appointing bodies for adoption.
"In Australasia, by the action of the General Quadrennial Methodist Conference, a committee [R1740 : page 376] was appointed to carry into effect the proposals for the reunion of the various Methodist divisions, so that there, as in Canada, the consolidation of the various Methodist sects into one church will soon be completed.
"The manifesto of the Congregational State Association of New Jersey, issued last spring, is another important contribution to the reunion movement. It practically proposes an alliance of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, five in all, and a basis of formal union with the Free Baptist and 'Christian' churches, and in its 'Quadrilateral' formulates also a plan for the federation at least of the various Protestant churches of the United States.
"The federation of churches for common religious and social work has gained a decided impetus in recent months, especially in England, and to some extent in this country. In the former, the Nonconformist churches of Surrey and Hampshire, and in the midland counties about Nottingham, in municipal centers like Birmingham and Manchester, have united for federated efforts.
"Still another sign of the progress of the desire [R1740 : page 377] for union is found in the wide appeal made for the observance of last Whitsunday as a day of special intercession for the reunion of the churches of Christendom. The archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of Dublin, together with four bishops of the English church and a number of dignitaries of the Irish church, joined in this appeal. The moderator of the church of Scotland, the presidents of all the Methodist conferences, the chairman of the Baptist Union, and leading Congregational ministers, preached on the subject.
"The Grindewald Conference for 1894 discussed the subject of reunion and related church problems. As on similar occasions, representatives of all branches of the Protestant church spoke on this absorbing theme; and the new contribution thus made to the literature of the question serves to augment the interest already awakened throughout Christendom.
Not only are the various subdivisions of the leading Protestant denominations of Christendom drawing together, but they are seeking also a closer affiliation with the church of Rome, which also strongly reciprocates the sentiment, and with all its characteristic subtlety and energy is enlisted in the scheme.
"Thank God there is a yearning desire for the reunion of Christianity among many noble and earnest souls. This desire is particularly manifested in the English speaking world. It is manifested in England and in the United States. I myself have received several letters from influential Protestant ministers expressing the hope of a reunion, and inquiring as to the probable basis of a reconciliation. Reunion is the great desire of my heart. I have longed and prayed for it during all the years of my ministry. I have prayed that as we are bound to our brethren by social and family and by natural and commercial ties, so may we be united with them in the bonds of a common faith."
"The conditions of reunion are easier than are generally imagined. Of course there can be no compromise on faith or morals. The doctrine and moral code that Christ has left us must remain unchangeable. But the church can modify her discipline to suit the circumstances of the case.
"Every well-organized society must have a recognized head. The mayor and governor hold this position in the municipal and state governments; the President is the head of the republic; the Pope is the head of the church. The Papacy is as necessary to the church as the Presidency is to the republic.
"In coming back to the church, you are not entering a strange place; you are returning to your father's house. The furniture may seem odd to you, but it is just the same as your fathers left three hundred and fifty years ago. You worship as have your fathers worshiped. You kneel before the altar at which they knelt. You receive the sacraments which they received....You come back like the prodigal to your father's house, and the garment of joy is placed upon you, and the banquet of love is set before you, and you receive the kiss of peace as a pledge of your filiation and adoption. You can say with the Apostle, 'we are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the saints [of the calendar of the Roman church].'
"One hearty embrace of your tender mother will more than compensate you for all the sacrifices you may have made. The leaders of the Reformation...dismembered the Christian flock. They scandalized the Gentile world by the dissensions which have prevailed, and have retarded the onward march of Christianity....May the day be hastened when the scattered hosts of Christendom will form an army [literally, no doubt—EDITOR] which infidelity and atheism cannot long resist; and they would soon carry the light of faith and Christian civilization to the most remote and benighted parts of the earth."
"Pope Leo XIII. has recently been occupied with a conference in Rome of the patriarchs of the oriental churches, the final intent of which is the reunion of all churches in the East with the church of Rome. This, if accomplished, will be the greatest achievement of the pontificate of the present pope, and will make the name of Leo XIII. one of the most famous of this century.
"The most important oriental churches now separate from Rome are the Chaldean, under the patriarch of Babylon, which has its adherents in Mesopotamia, Persia and the island of Malabar, and which separated from the Catholic church in the fifth century; and the Abyssinian church, with branches in Egypt, depending on a patriarch in Cairo, which separated in the fifth century also. There are also other sects from Mesopotamia and Armenia. The most important of all, however, is the Greek church, which extends through Greece, European Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. She has still her four patriarchs at Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, each being independent. This church was united to Rome until the twelfth century and reunited by the councils of Lyons and Florence. When Turkey took Constantinople there was a definite separation.
"The Eastern or Greek church is really the parent stock; the Catholic church seceded from it when the Eastern patriarchs refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Rome. Some small conflicts of doctrine precipitated the division; but the main reason why the Christian church split in two in 1054 was the claim of the Eastern patriarchs for absolute independence, and the contention of the Pope that he was the paramount authority in matters ecclesiastic.
"In the main the doctrines of both were the same. In form and rites differences crept in and a wide gulf between the two was opened by the final settlement of the controversy over the marriage of priests. Before the eleventh century celibacy or marriage were open questions which each Bishop regulated in his own diocese according to his judgment of the best interests of the church. Some time after that date the church of Rome adopted the law of priestly celibacy and made it obligatory. The patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople took a different view. They not only allowed priests to marry, but unmarried priests could not be ordained: though, if their first wives died, they could not marry again. But it was established as a rule of the church that a Bishop must be a monk sworn to celibacy. Both rules are in force to-day.
"The Russian government has recently ordered all priests of the Roman Catholic faith now imprisoned in Siberia to be liberated. Orders have been given to stop all interference with the Catholic churches in Poland. At Athens, Belgrade and Bucharest, which are headquarters of the Greek church, the scheme is noticed approvingly. On the other hand the Pope has endowed a Greek church seminary in Italy with a large annual sum. Pope Leo has also endowed the Armenian and Greek colleges at Rome and the Greek church seminary of St. Anne's at Jerusalem. Cardinal Vanutelli, one of the most eminent prelates of the Papal court, has recently published a book going to show that reunion, far from weakening either church, would strengthen them both.
"This immensely important meeting, which now takes place, is one of the greatest events in the history of the relations between Rome and the East. There is no precedent to compare it to in the annals of Catholicism. To obtain this reunion of the oriental churches with the Roman the pope intends to create a special congregation for them, quite separate from the propaganda, with a cardinal for prefect whom he would nominate. The pope would leave to the oriental churches all their privileges and rites, only demanding that the patriarchs elected by the synod of bishops should submit their elections for the approbation of the Roman pontiff, to whom the examination of all questions of dogmatic and ecclesiastic rights would be reserved. For asking so little it is believed that Leo XIII. will succeed, as the principal point of discussion in the eastern churches has always been the fear of being sacrificed to Rome and the Latins. The pope wishes to show that the papacy is neither Latin nor western, but universal. After the meeting he will issue an encyclical to the eastern church, which will be a development of what he recently wrote in the Praeclara encyclical about the union of the churches.
"Above all we note the absence of the Patriarch of the Armenians. We shall not on this account, however, recede from our purpose....Nothing will prevent us from solving the grand problem from the religious side, while awaiting more propitious times for the rest of the work."
The points to be specially noticed are, (1) The willingness of Catholics as well as Protestants to make concessions in the interest of reunion. This might be considered a favorable sign, were the motives and considerations good ones. But they are selfish motives. Not brotherly love, but fear, is the mainspring of this desire for union. The fear is that mentioned by our Lord in his prophecy concerning our day. "Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven [religious powers] shall be shaken." (Luke 21:26.) It is a part of the general fear that has taken hold of the leaders in financial, political and religious circles. The leaders of Catholicism note the shaking as surely as the leaders among Protestants, and all feel that union is the only means of increasing their influence, or even of preserving their existence.
Especially is this true on the part of the Church of Rome. She still boasts of the infallibility of her teachings, which declare most positively that there is no escape from everlasting torment outside of her communion. Does she confess the errors of her past course and teachings, and claim to be reforming? If so, that would be a step in the right direction. But no, she still boasts of her unchangeableness; and consequently we must believe that her present attitude and recent utterances respecting Protestants and the Bible are Jesuitical and hypocritical, and for her own purposes merely.
Protestants have less policy and more sincerity in their desire for union. They too, however, desire it chiefly for strength and prestige before the world, and not from heart-love of Christian fellowship. Each sect is anxious to hold to its own traditions and doctrines and name, although all confess that there is really little in their confessions of faith worth contending for anyway. Indeed, we could rejoice in this feature were it not that with the mass of musty error they are discarding also the very root and essence of Scripture doctrine; viz., faith in Christ as the Redeemer who paid the ransom for all at Calvary. But all is going, good and bad, and gentility and morality are soon to be the only tests of Christian name and fellowship—all this to keep nominal Christianity popular with the world and to insure the continuance of its outward show of prosperity, in which thrifty "tares" are mistaken for "wheat."
The leaders of the World's Parliament of Religions, of a year ago, it will be remembered, suggested even the dropping of the name Christian, and the use of the term Religious Union, so as to unite, not only all the denominations called Christian, but also the various heathen systems, in a universal church; and this suggestion should awaken all true believers to the real situation. As they see all the "tares" being thus bound together, they should the more forcibly realize the meaning of our Lord's words, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues."
But all this only confirms us in the correctness of our interpretation of prophecy. It will be remembered by old readers that, so long ago as 1880, we pointed out in these columns that the Scriptures foretold a combination or federation of Protestants and their subsequent cooperation with Papacy. Every step of the way now, as this union develops, will be watched by us all with interest.
But from the same Scriptures we learn that the union will last but a short time, and that instead of its being favorable to the truth and the Lord's saints, it will be the reverse, except as He shall overrule it in their special interest. Therefore,—"Say not ye [God's consecrated people], a confederacy [a union], neither fear ye their fear nor be afraid."—Isa. 8:12-16.
Rome, Nov. 29.—"The Pope has appointed a theological commission to inquire into the validity of ordinations in the Anglican church [R1741 : page 380] from the view point of the Roman doctrine. His Holiness has invited Cardinal Vaughan to Rome to discuss the union of the Anglican and Roman churches. He also proposes to submit a specific scheme to a conference of Cardinals, as in the case of the Eastern churches. The Pope is still engaged on the encyclical on the English church question."
We learn also, upon good authority, that it is the intention of the Pope to issue in January, 1895, two or three encyclical letters; one freeing the Papal delegate of the United States (at present Satolli) from the supervision of the congregation of the Propaganda of Rome, making him responsible to the Pope only; another relating to the relationship of the Roman church in South America to secular governments; and another to the Bishops in England, discussing the position of the church of Rome, possibly suggesting terms of union with the church of England.
"Their endeavors will be to bring the Episcopal churches back to the old ceremonial of the mediaeval days, when the church was still in communion with the Roman Catholic church, and a very considerable and influential part of it. They do not disguise the fact that it would be their highest realization to have all the Catholic churches reunited under one and the same head—the Pope of Rome—the Greeks, who for several centuries have been separated from it by schism, and the Episcopalians, who were separated from the Mother church during the reign of Henry VIII.
"Rev. Robert A. Gibson, pastor of Christ Episcopal church was seen and said: 'The proposed movement is not for a consolidation of the Episcopalian, Greek and Roman churches alone, but of all denominations, Catholic and Protestant. It is in the distant future, and we may not live to see it, but it will come. The Episcopal church first proposed it 1886 and asked for a general conference to come to an understanding upon the matters of baptism, sacrament and local episcopate. At first none of the churches gave it much consideration, but now the Presbyterians have appointed a committee to confer with the Episcopalians, and it is receiving the careful attention of other denominations.'
"The Episcopalian church and the church of England, numbering 10,000,000 people, are virtually pledged to it. The object is, organic union of all denominations, to present a solid front against heathenism. We are a long way in advance of the days when heretics were burned, and are rapidly approaching the time when a universal church will be possible, although it may take a good while yet."