THE LOCAL CHURCH — HOW IT FUNCTIONS
THE RESPONSIBILITIES of the church in relation to the general life of the community and to the social, political and international order cannot be detached from their roots in the being of the church and in the total expression of its life. The church ministers to the needs of society not so much by the exercise of this or that particular function as by its whole existance. While it is necessary for practical purposes to distinguish different functions of the church, all its functions are related to one another and each requires for its effective exercise the fulfillment of the others. If one function is permitted to languish, then, by that much, the efficacy of the others is impaired. There is no panacea for the evils from which the world is suffering. The church’s influence on society is the result of faithfulness on the part of a community of individuals, each fulfilling loyally and intelligently the task which at any given moment he is called upon to perform.
THE CHURCH FUNCTIONS AS A COMMUNITY OF WORSHIP
BY ITS VERY NATURE, the church is a worshiping community. One of its necessary functions as an organized society is to provide adequately opportunities for common and public worship, cultivating in its individual members the spirit and practice of the art of worship. This worship should be the fountain and source of all creative activity. When true to its nature, worship will not consist of merely contemplating the universe aesthetically. Worship is an active dedication of the will to a God overflowingly alive with positive ends for all His creation, not a flight into an imaginary world in which compensation may be found for the too heavy burdens and trials of earthly life. To be sure, worship is adoration, but adoration issuing in action. A worshiping community dedicated to the fulfillment of God’s purpose becomes a means through which God’s purpose may be realized.
Essential to true worship is that it should not become detached from those practical responsibilities it is meant to inspire and consecrate. In order to be fully real, corporate worship requires a sharing by the worshipers of common experiences and common needs, and of explicit references no particular tasks and difficulties. Yet this worship by large congregations can be revitalized and enriched by worship within the more intimate fellowship of smaller groups. In any case worship must always impart a significance to the daily round, consecrate and illumine with meaning the relations of and neighborhood, recreation and friendship. Worship’s
connection with life must never be lost.
THE CHURCH FUNCTIONS AS A COMMUNITY OF LOVE
THE CHURCH has rightly stressed the importance of faith; but in far less degree has proper emphasis been laid upon a community of being and of mutual affection. The church’s essential nature is fellowship between persons whose lives are rooted in the God. Thus are we who comprise the church given a center in and of ourselves, yet beyond ourselves. It is not a matter of sentiment or of charity, of humanitarianism or of good will, or or human comradeship, but rather of recognizing, appreciating and utilizing the great potentialities latent within the souls of humanity.
Our church is not “our” church (in a possessive sense). It is a Universalist church, made available to us through the devotion sacrifice of spiritual forebears. A Universalist church insists (it is not merely a matter of tolerance) upon universal (inclusive) fellowship, — all men. It speaks of the universals and unities of life. The church is no place for barriers to race, nationality, class or creed nor is it a haven for “saints”. To all our people, fellowship and comradeship must become a living experience; and to make it so is one of the vitally important functions of the church
THE CHURCH FUNCTIONS AS A COMMUNITY OF THOUGHT
IT IS TASK of the church to interpret to its members, and to the world outside the church, the meaning and implications of the gospel the church proclaims. Speculative and critical thoughts divorced from action has little to contribute toward the solution of acute problems in our modern world; but we are painfully aware of the fact that action is often impeded and paralyzed for lack of clarity in the matter of conduct demanded of a thorough-going Universalist in practical affairs. There is need of a more fully thought out and more generally accepted interpretation of Universalism in day-by-day living, — an interpretation which strives at one and the same time to conserve the purity and fulness of the gospel and to actually express it in terms relevant to the thought, experience, and circumstances of today. Students of theology have an indispensable contribution to make; but so have industrialists, representatives of labor, educators, members of the professions. Many of the leading thinkers of our church have been layfolk. The truth we seek may come through prophets raised up of God to serve the particular needs of our generation, or it may be born silently in the hearts and minds of plain men and women, as they endeavor loyally to do God’s will in the ordinary circumstances of their lives, and spread from one to another until it becomes a common possession. That which we have in view is not a body of doctrinal teaching imposed from above, but a widely shared, growing clarity in regard to the true ends of life, by the light of which we may be able more surely to direct our steps. There is great need for a learning process far more extended, much more thorough-going, and vastly more systematic than is provided at present.
THE CHURCH FUNCTIONS AS A SOCIAL ORGANISM
ONLY INDIRECT and persuasive influence can be brought by the of church upon many of the ills of contemporary society; yet it is within the power of the church to set its own house in order and to keep it that way. A church has its own organization, constitution, system of administration, finances, rules and procedures, customs, representative officers, programs and projects. Both its good name and its good works can be seriously impeded and impaired when its own institutional life is at any given point a contradiction of the message proclaimed. A church has personality and character. It is a social unit. As such, its effect upon the community can be noteworthy.
THE CHURCH FUNCTIONS THROUGH ITS GOSPEL
THE CHURCH has a “corner” on religion. Therefore the responsility of the church must produce the kind of religious training that will undergird moral and ethical living. This is one of one of church’s major functions. No other institution than the church, unless in be by indirection, is adventuring in this field. In some measure, at least, the church has the space, equipment, teachers, resources; there is little to hinder in its centering on the task at hand, if the people of the church have vision and willpower. “He who can, must!” The present is no time for any church to function on either a 10% or a 90% scale of efficiency. A church today, by the very seriousness of the world scene, is called to stretch itself to the utmost. Of course, that which is impossible is impossible; but a church today is under compulsion to operate so as to produce at peak capacity an output of that which the community needs and the church alone can supply.
Proper functioning of a church is measured by the stature of leadership. If the leadership is genuinely alert to its task, efficient in planning and procedure, results will be produced. Wise and aggressive leadership produces an aggressive and fruitful church.
Two things the world has a right to expect of the church: (1) unifying life-giving gospel; (2) an unconquerable confidence in the ultimate supremacy of this gospel. To expect of the church complete solution of economic and social problems, or, by contrast, a complacent acceptance of things as they are, or that its members themselves should all succeed in living to perfection the ideals they profess, is to expect too much. But to expect the church to possess a gospel, — this is sound. Genuine Christianity (Jesus’ life and teachings) is characterized by two fundamental attributes: (1) its universalism; and (2) its insistence upon giving love the central position, — a love which is in both God and man. These two fundamental attributes of Christianity are the genius of true Universalism. No Universalist, be he minister or layman, needs to apologize in an attempt to remake the world after the pattern of this ideal.
Weakness of our church is not loss on the part of its people of belief in the Great Avowal, but failure on their part to take seriously its implications. Our people must possess an unconquerable confidence in their own gospel. Universalism requires of the current generation of Universalists just exactly what Jesus required of his disciples when he said to them: “Be ye my witnesses”, that is, testify
by your own lives the worth of the faith you profess.