Page 3, 23rd October 1942

23rd October 1942
Page 3
Page 3, 23rd October 1942 — NONCONFORMITY TO–DAY (III) by STANLEY B. JAMES

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Locations: Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford


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IT is pleasing to he able to leave the subject of the decline noted in the last article and to

consider the indications of reversion to a more traditional conception of Christianity.

The turn of the tide is quite distinct and seems to become more so. It may be noted in three things: first, greater emphasis on the necessity of dogma; secondly, a growing consciousness as to the centrality of worship; and, thirdly, a deepening desire to effect union between the various Protestant bodies.

It will be convenient to consider these three features of the movement as they are represented in the aims of a single organisation, that known as the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship founded, by the way, by the distinguished convert. T. S. Gregory, author

of The Unfinished Universe. Before dealing with these aims in detail, however, it may be well to point out that the very existence of the Fellowship, while bearing evidence to the strength of the movement towards the recovery of traditional values, also confirms what we have said as to the decline in essential matters.

The very fact that a Christian body should need to be reminded of the necessity for a dogmatic faith. reverent woiship and the unity of believers, is an indication as to how far the process of inward rot had proceeded. METHODIST SACRAMENTAL FELLOWSHIP The Methodist Sacramental Fellowship. which was formed in 1935, has tabulated its objects as follows: (a) To re-affirm the Faith that is formulated in the Nicene Creed— the Faith that inspired the Evangelical Revival and the Hymns of the Wesleys.

(h) To restore. in Methodism the sacramental worship of the Universal Church, as set forth in the lifelong practice and teaching of the Wesleys.

fc) Re-union. Adhering to the principles of the Reformation, yet being convinced that the divisions of the Church militant are becoming ever more clearly contrary to the Will of God. the Fellowship works and prays for the corporate re-union of all believers.

With reference to the first of these. a confession is made in a pamphlet published by the Fellowship that " in our day we have been straining after the eighteenth century experience without its foundation; and our evangelism has suffered, not through any tack of earnestness, hut because we have not been overwhelmingly sure of our Facts." And the question is asked: "But what if in our habitual disparagement of ' theological tenets ' we are no longer quite sure of the objective truths which gave the experience vitality?"

PRESBYTERIANS TOO This return to dogmatic teaching is not confined to the Methodist body. Principal Farmer, of Westminster College, Cambridge, represents a similar movement among Presbyterians, of which the Scottish Church Society is another expression. The tradition created among Congregationalists by Dr. Dale, of Birmingham. Principal Forsyth and Dr. Orchari twhen minister at the Kings Weigh House church) is being maintained in the writings of Principal Nat. Micklem, of Mansfield College, Oxford, and Principal Whale. of Cheshunt College, Cambridge. The positions occupied by these theologians would seem to suggest that they are representative of a strong strain in their denomination, in which case we may say that this latitudinarian body is on the way hack to a catholic orthodoxy.

There is among Nonconformist tinkers a growing acquaintance with and appreciation of Catholic teaching. How far this will take them is. of course, impossible to say. When viewed by itself its significance may not appear great, but it must be seen as part of a larger movement, of which the points yet to be considered are other aspects.

EMPHASIS ON WORSHIP The emphasis which the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship 'sleets on worship is evident from the title which it has given itself. But this is still more apparent when its literature is examined. From that literature some idea may be gained as to the lines of approach to the chief rite of Christian worship.

It is, fdr instance, very insistent that in demanding a more constant practice as regards attendance at " the Table of the Lord," it is introducing to Methodism no innovation, but is reviving Wesley's own example. Thus, in an address by the President, wee-read: " Wesley communicated all through his ministry approximately twice a wcck. He celebrated or received Holy Communion every Sunday morning. When he formed the Bands, one of his rules was that every member of 'them should receive the Sacrament once a week. When towards the close of his life he formed the American Methodist Church, Ise advised the ministers to celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday. . . I am not claiming that this should necessarily be our modern Methodist standard, but I do say that it is preposterous to quote Wesley against those who only impose on their members a reception of Holy Communion once a month, as if they were Sacramentalists in a sense in which he was not."

Another factor augmenting the tendency thus indicated is found in a quotation from Jesus and His Sacrifice, by Dr. Vincent Taylor. " No modern presentation of the doctrine of the Atonement," stays the writer, " is likely to he satisfactory which ignores, or deals imperfectly with, the doctiine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist falls within the orbit of the Atonement alike by reason of the teaching of Jesus and of the life and experience of the Church." e Evangelical doctrine itself demands greater recognition of the Rite which Christ Himself ordained.

SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS A third line of approach is that of the social consciousness characteristic of our age. Referling to Wesley. the Rev. J. Ernest Rattenbury, D.D.. President of the Sacramental Fellowship. in a pamphlet entitled " Worship and Sacrament" wrote: " His witness brought a new stream of life into the too individualistic Protestant worship of his day. The revival of the eighteenth century was Eucharistic as well as Evangelical. Worship regarded as corporate and mediate may in some sense be a Catholic rather than a Protestant principle, but its increasing acceptance by men aware of the findings of modern social psychology can not he denied."

The growing importance attached by Nonconlormists to worship and the subordinate place assigned to preaching may he seen in the tendency to place the pulpit at the side. leaving the central place to the Table at which the rite of communion is administered and in the use of liturgical forms of worship.

Our space is utterly inadequate to deal with the. third of the aims professed by the Methodist Sacramental

Fellowship. We have recently seen the amalgamation of three bodies concerned with Protestant Re-union celebrated in St. Paul's. The history of the movement responsible for bringing this about is a long one. It may be safely said that the separatist, centrifugal forces are now being reversed, and that, as a result of this reversal, there is already in sight the Possibility of a Communion in which the chief Nonconformist bodies will be found united.


The length to which some are prepared to go in sacrificing their denominational identity in order to achieve this end is shown by two quotations. Wrote Dr, J. A. Findlay in 1934: "The fate of Methodism is in the balance now. The next twcrity-fiye years will decide whether we are to fade away or carry Scriptural Holiness throughout the world, as our fathers did through England. The deciding factor will not be our enthusiasm for-the propagation of our work or the maintenance of our Church, but our readiness, if need be, to lose our identity in a sacrificial crusade for union and the vindication of the Church, which is his Bride; for Methodism must be willing to lose her soul, if she is to save it.-'

The other quotation is from Principal Micklem. " While we should thank God with full hearts for his gifts and graces bestowed upon us through the past hundred years," he said, " we should pray God that before another hundred years has past there may be no Congregational Union." This willingness to sacrifice denominational identity for the sake of Christian unity may have far-reaching results.

Wc cannot do better by way of summing up thc change which is overtaking British Nonconformity than by referring again to the same writer. In a volume on the Catholic Church, Dr. Micklem put forward a plea for a new approach to the questions at issue between Catholics and Evangelicals. Let us, he urges, instead of being concerned simply to keep our ends up, try to understand why, on what spiritual grounds. men hold doctrines that to us are strange, be less eager to refute our opponent than to discuss with him whether his doctrine is really adequate and necessary to the truth he sees and we see with him,"

In view of such a statement, it is surely necessary that Catholics ieciprorate and adopt to this section of the Protestant world a similarly sympathetic and understanding attitude.


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