Page 5, 21st May 1937

21st May 1937
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Page 5, 21st May 1937 — The Conversion Of England
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People: W. E. ORCHARD
Locations: Rome

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The Conversion Of England

Attacking The Situation

By DR. W. E. ORCHARD

[This is the second of a series of six articles by De. W. E. Orchard, who was converted from the Nonconformist Chitrch in 1932. These articles will

• appear foetnightly.j HE situation confronting us, when we endeavour to conceive even the possibility of England's conver sion, is, at first sight, one of hopeless confusion. It looks more difficult than the task of converting a pagan country; for while historic pegaaism was saturated with teligion, our paganism neglects religion

altogether. It looks more difficult than attempting to convert a heathen people to Christianity; for while this country is officially reckoned and generally considers itself as Christian, we are bound to regard its Christianity as truncated, without adequate foundations, and much more like mere humanitarianism.

Everyone would have to admit that English Christianity was essentially sectarian. In that it is not so bad as the United States; but there the Catholic Church starts fair; indeed the still more numerous and more fantastic sects give the Catholic Church, with its stability and sanity, a distinct advantage.

Here we start with the heavy handicap that the Anglican Church claims to be the Catholic Church in this land; and if this claim is made with varying interpretations and degrees of assurance, its prestige is immensely reinforced by its being the Established Church of the country. Despite dissensions within and without, and the obvious decline in popular support and appeal, Anglicanism has gained fervour and firmness through the restoration of Catholic ceremonial and Catholic doctrines, while at times of national rejoicing or peril it inevitably regains more impressive position and a wider hold.

On the other hand, by various compulsions. and conventions, we are known as the Roman Catholic Church, and this effects to remind everyone that ours is the Church that.waselefinitely. rejected, superseded and .banned tieur hundred years ago, While fhe very adjective Roman is associated in the Minds of many with' 'somethink alien', repressive and rigid. All this tends to arouse against us the instinct of patriotism, the passion for freedom and the preference for individualism so strong in our countrymen. How can we attack, or approach. or hope to win a situation SO various in content, so cloudy and amorphous, and yet so easily marshalled into resistance at the one word, Rome?

If we are not to abandon the task as hopeless, or simply leave it to the inscrutable purposes of God, and the prevailing power of truth, which time alone will reveal and vindicate, then there is the temptation to bombard the enemy with the heavy artillery of authority; in short to adopt what may be called shock tactics. We can claim that we were the body to which alone Christ gave divine authority to 'teach and rule: all others, therefore, are usurpers and deceivers. Historical facts can be used to explode the Anglican claim to continuity; and, therefore, its priests are pretenders, its Orders " null and void," and so all attempts to consecrate the Eucharist or administer Absolution are empty formalities.

The dissident denominations that have in turn broken away from and repudiate Anglicanism similarly lack any divine authority, while the bareness of their worship, with its declining attraction, and their inability to agree about doctrine or polity proclaim them for what they are: anachronistic, anomalous and anarchic.

This violent assault, however justified, shows little signs of being victorious: its general effect is only to stiffen resistance. The Anglo-Catholic movement threatens to dig itself in and to bring its Romeward tendency to a definite standstill. Nonconformists as a whole treat our efforts with silent disdain, or the more militant reply with a counter bombardment which explodes with charges of having adulterated Christianity with superstitions, legalised the Gospel, mechanised grave, and so far misrepresented the spirit of Christ as to make subscription to formularies more important that following Him, and then persecuting all who could not agree and would not submit. A wordy warfare, which makes little impression on either side, but which brings religion into disrepute, and under the dust and noise of conflict conceals common dangers creeping upon us all!

So what might be described as siege tactics are advocated. The confused situation can be simplified once it is realised that the one point on which all our opponents are

united is opposition to Rome. This can be analysed as in essence the rejection of divine authority. Their professed faith, since it rejects obedience, is therefore not faith at all. It rests on " private judgement," chooses only to believe what " appeals," or can be felt as " experience "; and this proves itself to be shifting, separative and subjective in turn, and so must soon fade away. The need for grace is overlooked, the supernatural is subtly surrendered; and all that is left is a sentimental humanitarianism which will prove an easy prey to atheistic secularism. They have no sure ground on which to stand, no sustenance of sacramental food; and so no hope of unity or promise of life. We need only sit down and watch them die, dwindle and disappear.

This expectation is not, however, taking place very rapidly. The Church of England, although its conventional hold on the nation may have declined, while the masses have never loved it, was never so earnest and devout, eo alive to social needs and foreign missions, or so concerned over the international situation. Nonconformity may be no longer recruited on the one side by large numbers revolting from the National Church, or on the other, by mass missions and revival movements; yet despite a growing consciousness of its own leanness, it manages to survive; while its fissiparous tendency is being replaced by a movement towards federation. If numbers are declining, and the chilling effect of worldliness and scepticism on personal devotion are evident, in degree this affects us also; witness our own evening services and the disappointing resulis ui otir missions. Moreover can we be:content ttwaich people die for lack of faith and the Bread of Life; and should we really find our task of converting England any easier, if the ground our opponents now occupy was left empty and bare? For whereedoeetir converts come front? Predominantly.froni the Church of England, and, in lesser proportion from the other Churches, but far less from the un-• attached and indifferent, and fewer still from rationalists, sceptics and militant atheists.

But may we not hope for surrender before the starvation point has been reached? There are a thousand Anglican priests, so it is stated, who accept everything we accept, including the Papacy as a divine institution; but they are waiting for something to be offered them: the granting of certain relaxations, or the promise of a Uniat Church. There have been parleys, but they have come to nothing, and our authorities probably would not look with favour on the idea of a Uniat Church. Yet besides the restoration of Catholic doctrine, ceremonial and forms of piety in the Anglican Church, there are movements in Nonconformity towards greater order and form in worship, a more objective theology, higher sacramental doctrine, a sense of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, and a desire for reunuion.

All this, however, we seem prevented from doing anything to encourage; for the nearer there is any corporate drawing our way, the more we are bound to press upon individuals who may head these movements the duty of immediate and unconditional surrender. And when a few individuals do thus make the troubled crossing, whatever welcome they receive into our ranks, the stern objurations they have to make can hardly shut out from their sensitive ears the objurgations that still reach them of " traitor," " tired weakling," or at least the grumblings about " bad tactics," " precipitate action," of " putting farther off the day of reunion," or of "consenting to uncharitable separation."

Is there no other way? Large action depends upon those in authority and to them it must be left. But could we not all, while being firm, be more friendly; recognise that they are brethren, even though "separated "; generously appraise what is good and true, even while indicating where they got it from; courteously pointing out that the very ground on which they choose to fight is ours; our historical witness they owe everything to; while it is to our disciplined and united army they must look for final defence against disunion and unbelief, as it is the only protection against the atheistic worship of Totalitarian States which everywhere threaten faith and freedom alike. Let us drop the military mind and abandon military tactics, and shew ourselves rather as shepherds seeking sheep, whether lost, straying, or merely "other sheep " not yet "of this fold "; yet belonging to it, because they belong to Christ: and meanwhile doing everything we can to assure them that in the One Fold they will find rich pasture and there be happy and at home as well as safe and secure.




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