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Jesus hinted at this, perhaps, when He said that His kingdom was "as a seed growing secretly," or, "as a lump of leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened." John glimpsed it, for when he saw the vision of the holy city he saw that there was no temple therein, and that the river of God flowed through the streets of the city.
But it has already taken Christianity two chiliads to get the incubus of Cæsar off its breast, and the task is yet far from completed.
The second immorality is that the church is respectable. The error here is that ancient and common one of mistaking station in life for life itself. To belong to the church gives one a certain social position; it is an asset toward getting on, toward acquiring a reputation, even toward getting rich. This immorality flows out of the preceding one, for to be exclusive means to be respectable.
The church cannot thus reprove the class feeling, which is the curse of the world. It stands mute and helpless before the swarming millions, because itself is a class, and thus Socialism, Bolshevism, and all the cults of bitterness rage unstopped among the proletariate. This is why some labor agitators jeer at Christianity. Yet the more fools they, for the whole program of Jesus is theirs if they would only go up and take it, and it would do more toward advancing their interests than all the class nonsense ever uttered.
When church membership carries with it a certain social status it immediately becomes an external something, and ceases to be Christianity, which will always be an internal and spiritual
something. Hence it automatically cuts itself off from that great multitude to whom Jesus especially addressed His message. His gospel, He said, was to be preached to "all the world," not to the members of the Second Presbyterian Church. If Jesus is in the church at all to-day, He stands at the door, and, extending His hand toward the vast crowd in the street, exclaims, "Behold my mother and my brethren!"
Because the church stands for social position, it has fallen before the three ruinous temptations, money, authority, and force.
The church has always been greedy for money. Its excuse, of course, is that it needs money with which to do good. But its error lies in assuming that mankind is morally helped by the giving or spending of money, while the truth is that almost the entire ethical value connected with money lies in the making of it. Money-making touches the whole life of the people, their daily concerns, their every activity; moneygiving is too frequently only an attempt to heal the injustice of our methods of money-getting.
We talk of rich men doing good with their gifts, but the benefit is more dramatic than real. I do not know that it does much harm; I do know that, in the long run, it does little good. It probably makes little difference one way or the other. Forty billion dollars poured into the coffers of the church to-morrow would not advance the cause of Christ one inch, any more than building a gold fence around a sapling would make it grow faster. "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?"
The second temptation to which a church magnifying respectability suc
cumbs is authority. Once churchmen coveted political authority, cardinals sat in kings' councils, and bishops made war. Now we run to social authority. We have almost identified the church, religion, and Jesus with what might be called bourgeois prosperity or suburban respectability, for we keep shunting Christianity off into a class. We insist on pigeon-holing what should fill the house.
The third fatal temptation is the use of force. This is the most deceptive thing in the world. In its early days of triumph the church was carried away by it. The founder of Christianity rebuked the zeal of His disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest's servant who had come to arrest him; His followers in later centuries did not scruple to cut off the heretic's head. God is no conqueror, and the world His enemy; He is a father, and the world is His baby.
If I were chief monarch of the church, I would decree first of all that membership and full participation of benefits thereof should be extended to every human being in the community irrespective of his conduct or his character. The thieves, gamblers, harlots, and hoboes would be particularly welcome as needing the church most of all, the only stipulation being that they should want the ministrations of the gospel enough to pay for them.
plication and consequence, immoral. All giving is suspicious. It promotes vanity in the giver and subserviency in the recipient.
The church ought to assume that humanity wants its service sufficiently to pay for it. Men need bread, but nobody purposes to give them free bread. Men need music and art, but it is understood that they must buy a ticket if they want to hear the concert or visit the museum. The church would be on a sounder basis ethically if it sold its services like an honest merchant, and did not claim to be offering it to people for nothing.
All sorts of absurd reasons have been offered to explain why congregations are small except the real reason, that no admission-fee is charged. The way to fill the church is to have it cost twenty-five cents to get in. Then it would be as full as the motion-picture theater.
The first effect of charging admission to church services would be to improve the quality of the preachers. They would have to make good or quit. Most preaching is very, very poor. It is so by natural law. What costs nothing tends automatically to be worth about what it costs. ministry, I think it was John Ruskin observed, is about the only calling in which any sort of incompetence is excused by the plea, "But he 's a good man." To a normal-minded person there is no more reason why a parson
This brings me to the third immor- should be good than why a haberality, that it is free.
There are only two ways to get anything at all in heaven or in earth. One is to pay for it; the other is-any other way. The first is honest, the second is not. Every proposal to give something for nothing is directly, or by im
dasher or elevator boy should be good. Goodness is not a separate profession. It is a characteristic, not a specialty, and ought to characterize everybody.
And, speaking of goodness, by the curious law of reflex influences the ministry is one of the most difficult of
callings in which to be good, meaning sane, sincere, absolutely honest, courageous, and clean. A business man has a much better chance to save his soul than a clergyman has, if by saving one's soul we mean being an entirely wholesome person. When one's profession is to be good, one's goodness is mighty likely to become professional. I have been a preacher for thirty years and have known many preachers, and my opinion is that they are, on the whole, a very decent lot. Of course they do not average as well as merchants, mechanics, farmers, and the like, who are engaged in more normal occupations, but in the circumstances it is surprising that clergymen are as good as we find them. For every influence in their profession operates to make them egotistic, insincere, intellectually dishonest, and cowardly. That they are not so, but, as I said, are a fine lot of men, is due, I think, to the incurable goodness of human nature, and shows how much temptation we can resist.
To many the proposal that the church sell and not give away what it has to offer will sound little short of blasphemous. And it would be so, if the church made a merchandise of religion. But it is not religion, not the spirit of God or the gospel of Jesus, which the church has either to give away or to sell. It is service. Like the broker or the advertising man or the lawyer, it truthfully should say, "We sell nothing but service." The lawyer does not sell justice; he sells his time and talent to you to assist you to get justice for yourself, which is the only way it can be got. So the clergyman and his church are bringing a service to the community which the people of the community want, and would
be eager to get if they could pay for it like honest folk, and not have it thrust upon them as if they were mendicants.
For the people want the truths of Jesus. The common people have not changed; they hear Him as gladly today in Illinois as they did two thousand years ago in Judea. They want to hear about "what Jesus would do," and when Mr. Sheldon wrote his book telling this, and charged so much a copy for it, like any other merchant, the people bought it by the tens of thousands.
When you offer a man something for which he is expected to give nothing to you in return, you depreciate the value of your goods, you pose as his benefactor and superior, and you insult his manhood. You have no right to charge him for the gospel, because you cannot deliver the goods. All the gospel he can get he must find for himself, and you have no right to claim that you give it to him, for it is not transferable; all you can give him is your service, your time, and your expert advice. And your immorality consists in assuming he does not want this, and that the only way you can get him to take it is to give it to him gratis, and that by argument, by pleading, by working on his fears, by appealing to his desire for the social and other advantages incident to church membership; and by the excitement and hurrah of a revival meeting, you seek to make him take it.
He does take it, anyhow, because he really needs and wants it. But the whole transaction would be decenter and cleaner if you assumed that he wants it and is willing to pay you for your help in showing him how to get it. it. If you, as a preacher, did business
so, you might be as self-respecting as a grocer. As it is, you walk the streets of your town with an air of apology, you are "set apart" at every social gathering, you are supposed to have no sense of the practical, neurotics flock to consult you, the haberdasher gives you ten per cent. off, and in any meeting of business men your opinion is never consulted, because you are not supposed to know about real folk and their workaday affairs. And all this rather contemptuous feeling toward you is camouflaged by a show of deference, by elevating you on a pedestal, an adulation that is attractive only to natures that are not quite robust. You seem to be a superior person; in reality you are as a child sent off to bed so you will not listen to the grownups' talk.
All this comes because, for one thing, you and your institution advertise to give people something for nothing. They retaliate for your treating them in a spiritually patronizing manner, by treating you intellectually and socially in a condescending manner. Action is equal to reaction.
I am utterly sick of attacks on commercialism, which is basically the most wholesome and ethical thing in the world.
The wage system is, at bottom, not a device of pirates, but simply a practical and morally sound system for exchanging labor; for money is crystallized labor, and when you pay money to the plumber for fixing your drains you are really exchanging your work for his work.
The sooner every form of so-called uplift, charity, and benevolence is put upon a strict basis of commercialism, and only that is offered to the people for which they are willing to return an
The fourth immorality I want to discuss is, that it is militant. This needs to be defined. I mean that the church aggressively proposes to do people good, to uplift them, to convert them.
This is spiritual snobbery, which is the worst kind. When I essay to convert you, I imply that I am better than you, and that you need to be made like me. When I approach you to uplift you and improve your character, it implies that I am as a teacher, you are as a pupil; I am as a papa, and you as a child.
This has always been a matter of mirth to healthy-minded observers. W. S. Gilbert, in one of the "Bab Ballads," tells of a clergyman with side whiskers and reversed haberdashery urging a drunken seaman in a low dive to reform, and promising him that if he did n't he would go to perdition, while, if he did, he might some day become like the parson himself. Whereupon the seaman, eying the laborer in the Lord's vineyard carefully up and down, responded that he thought on the whole he 'd rather go to hell.
Thoreau somewhere expressed the idea of most of us when he said that if he saw a man coming to "do him good," he would run away as fast as he could, as from the pest.
Generally speaking, the attitude of
the church toward non-church people is that of one political party to another, of Greek to barbarian, of Jew to Gentile, a hostility to be ended by conquest.
Going back to the founder of our faith, we find none of this. Jesus held no monster revival meetings. never manifested that zeal in proselyting known as "hunger for souls." He never labored with any lost sinner to convert him. Nor did he ever hautily announce that unless a man joined His company and obeyed Him, he would be eternally lost. He never deliberately set out to reform by organized effort anybody or anything.
In fact, He did not work; He loafed. During the three years or so of His ministry He seemed to have no particular occupation, but just wandered around and talked to anybody that would listen. He rebuked the efficient Martha, and declared that Mary, who talked with Him and neglected the housework, had chosen the better part.
He did not start any great works wherein to grind out the salvation of mankind. His results were gained by what He was, what He thought and said, rather than by anything He did. He was a gardener, not a manufacturer.
And you cannot see the point to that until you get the right notion of what religion is. It is nothing, in its essence, but personal influence. Religion is the personal influence of God. Jesus came to show us what kind of being God is. The dispute as to whether He is the son of God or merely a great teacher is as fatuous and useless as the ancient quarrel between the homoöusians and the homoiousians, who once butchered one another for the glory of God and a syllable. For
your opinion about the office, nature, or kinship of Jesus is not what affects you; it is whether or not you feel His influence and accept and follow His ideals.
According to the Scriptures, it is Christ who saves souls, not anything He did. And precisely so what saving of the world, what bettering and uplifting of it, is done by the church is done solely by the personal influence of the people in it. We are the light of the world, and light functions by shining, not by struggle.
It has always seemed to me that the right attitude of church people might be expressed thus: "I am happy. I have a peace that passeth understanding. I have found the open secret, so that worry does not beset me, circumstances cannot defeat me, tragedy becomes triumph, and death spells hope and not despair." Do you suppose, if any band of people talked like that, and so lived that you could see they were telling the simple truth, that all the world would not want to be like them? They would have to hire police to keep the crowds back.
Jesus never tried, as far as we can read, to do anybody good; that is, His conscious effort was not to improve the morals of any one. What He was trying all the time was to make the people happy. He was forever talking about joy, not virtue. He seemed to think that children are the best part of the race, and told us that unless we be changed and become like them, we could not see the kingdom, and children are not particularly moral. They are, however, almost uniformly happy. "I have come that your joy may be full,' full," He said. He said. "Blessed, blessed, blessed," was His first sermon, and blessed means happy.