This phrase, the Church of the Future, has become quite common, and indicates that many, dissatisfied with the present condition of the Church, are looking forward to some reconstruction of it better adapting it to our own times. Probably no one of the existing Protestant bodies thinks that with its present organization and beliefs, it will become this Church; though some of the Methodists have occasionally intimated it of Methodism. That some common basis of doctrine and of action may ultimately be found on which all Protestants can stand, is, doubtless, the hope of many in the Anglican Communion; and there are those of High Church proclivities who are confident that, at some time, the Bishop of Rome will consent to give up his imperial claim, and to be recognized as only the first among the bishops. But the Roman Church is not likely to give up its pretensions; and as it has been the dominant religious body of the past, will assuredly strive to be such in the future; and, perhaps, believes that it will at last absorb into itself both the Greek and Protestant Communions, and become the one universal Church. What light the Scriptures cast upon these various expectations, will be later considered; at present let us note the several tendencies now active which point to a Church radically unlike the Christian Church, both as to doctrine and worship. The mediating Church of the Christian Socialists will also be considered later.
But before we proceed to enumerate these tendencies, we may ask whether we can speak of a Church founded on Agnosticism, or on the doctrine of the unknowability of God as it is affirmed in the evolutionary philosophy. Mr. H. Spencer, its chief representative, speaks of a religion and worship, and seems to look upon a Church of the Unknowable as one that lies in the future.
"The true religion," according to this philosophy, "is the consciousness that it is alike our highest wisdom, and our highest duty, to regard that through which all things exist, as the Unknowable." How, then, we ask, can it be the object of our worship? We cannot have any communion with it, we cannot pray to it, or have any feeling of affection or gratitude toward it; it teaches no duties, it gives us no help in the conduct of our lives. We have only "the one absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an infinite and eternal Energy from which all things proceed." But it is an Energy without feeling, working unconsciously and unintelligently in the universe. All is negative. To affirm any positive predicate is to know the Unknowable. As no creed can be made up of negations, nor men be united in worshipping congregations unless they have in common some positive religious belief, we ask, What is the element here that can serve as the foundation of any worship?
We are told by Mr. Spencer that this element is "the consciousness of a Mystery that cannot be fathomed, and of a Power that is omnipresent." But this consciousness can inspire no feeling of worship. The living God is in His essence a mystery, but we can know Him in His attributes. A fathomless mystery is a black abyss. As we look into it, we have not so much sentiments of wonder and awe, as an ever deepening feeling of terror and despair. We may, then, dismiss the Church of the Unknowable from our consideration, as one not likely to have any existence, at least as an organized body, in the future. Of those that aspire to be the Church of the Future, we may mention:
1. A Church based upon Natural Religion. It is said by its advocates that "whoever feels himself in the presence of a power immeasurably above himself, does truly believe in a God, and can truly worship Him. In Nature such a power is manifested, and it is unimportant whether men say God or Nature. We cannot love such a power in the highest sense of the term, as when we love a person, but we can find pleasure in the regularity and unity of its manifestations."
We may here, it is said, find a common ground where the worshippers of a God above Nature, and the worshippers of a God in Nature, may unite. Both believe that God is revealed in Nature, and therefore, if all worship of Him outside of Nature should cease, still all who see Him revealed in Nature can continue to worship Him. "The knowledge of Nature's laws and principles," we are told by the author of Ecce Homo, "is in the strictest sense theology." The relation in which the Church of Natural Religion stands to Christianity and its Church, is thus expressed: "We discard all distinctions between natural and revealed religion. Christianity is only one of the religions of the world; what is peculiar to it is not universal, what is universal is not peculiar. All the Messianic expectations,— expectations of Christ's return and judgment,— are not elements of a universal religion."
The Church of Natural Religion will have rites of worship, worship being defined as " habitual and permanent admiration ;" and this worship will have elements not included in Christianity, and will assert the religious dignity of Art and Science, of Beauty and Truth. Its sphere will be larger than that of Christian worship, since Christianity exalts only goodness, and will embrace all that comes under the word Culture. Natural worship is the worship of whatever in the universe is worthy. Here, then, as we are told, is a broad basis on which all can stand who see in Nature a Divine power, and on this we may rear a universal Church.
It will at once be seen that as Nature does not teach us of any Incarnation and Atonement, the Incarnate Son and His work in man's salvation disappear. Those who believe in Him and approach God in His name as the One Mediator, and those who know Him not, can worship God with equal acceptance.
2. A Church of Humanity. This, accepting the agnostic principle of the unknowability of God, who cannot, therefore, be the object of our worship, finds such an object in Humanity; not human nature as seen in any particular individual, but in its totality, the sum of all the forces of individual men and women. To the objection, that this is by no means a perfect and a worthy object of worship, one of its chief advocates, F. Harrison, replies: "I am no optimist, I certainly see no godhead in the human race. . . . But this planet, and, so far as we know, this Universe, has nothing which is more worthy and more inspiring of hope. . . Divinities and absolute goodnesses, absolute powers, have ended for us." This writer accepts man as coming from the apes, and thinks him the more worthy of worship that he has climbed up so high.
Here, in a still higher degree than in the Church of Natural Religion, we may have worship without a God; His existence is not necessary to religion. If He exists, we know Him not. The highest of beings known to us is man; to Humanity, therefore, let our homage be paid, our prayers be addressed.*
Thus far, the Church of Humanity has found few votaries, and there is little probability of any considerable increase. Neither in its doctrine or polity or worship, does it meet the needs of the human intellect or heart.
3. A Church of pure Theism. This form of Unitarianism affirms its faith in one God, the Father, but wholly rejects Jesus Christ as an authoritative moral Teacher, and our Lord and future Judge. Of this Church, Theodore Parker and Miss Frances Cobbe may be taken as representatives. "The degree," says Miss Cobbe, "to which Christ has been allowed to supersede the Father in the heart of Christendom, is a very sad chapter in the history of religion." Jesus has, indeed, played a most important part in religious history, and may be called "the Regenerator of humanity," but still we have very little knowledge of Him.
* A few words from a prayer actually offered in one of the religious assemblies of this cult, will best illustrate the character of the worship: "We praise thee. Humanity, as for all thy servants, so especially for August Comte. Thou Queen of our devotion, lady of our loving service, the one shelter for all the families of mankind, the one foundation of a truly Catholic Church, to thee be all honour and glory." The benediction is given in the name of Humanity. This is the worship which Positivism would substitute for the worship of the living God.
The question, Who was He ? still remains unanswered, and any definite answer is far in the future. "Who shall say how real is the ideal Christ?" The Father must now be restored to His true place. All distinctively Christian doctrine must be put away —the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Priesthood and Kingdom of Christ. The old Trinitarian Creeds must sink into oblivion; belief in prophecy, sacraments, and miracles must be given up. Traditionalism has lost its authority, and religion must rest upon the Divine authority of the conscience. "The faith of the future" must be founded on the consciousness of humanity, not upon a historical revelation. The fundamental canons of this faith of the future, as given by Miss Cobbe, are: "the absolute goodness of God, the final salvation of every created soul, the Divine authority of the conscience." Upon these can "the foundation be laid for a religion which may be truly the religion of Humanity. . . We shall have higher, truer, more loving ideas of God, and the current teaching will become unendurable. By degrees the old faith will fall into forgetfulness and disuse. The new shoot of vigorous faith will cause the old leaves to drop away almost imperceptibly. Men will only awaken to the fact that they have ceased to hold the old creed, when they have become firmly rooted in the new."
Thus, this theistic Church of the Future puts away with Jesus Christ all that is distinctive in Christianity, but will hold to the existence of a personal God. "Christianity," says Miss Cobbe, " may fail us, and we may watch it with streaming eyes going slowly down from the zenith where it once shone; but we must neither regret that it should pass away, nor dread lest we be left in the gloom. Let it pass
away Already in the east there climbs the
Sun." From Theodore Parker some quotations have already been made. The Christ of the Gospels and the Church, he affirms, must hold a subordinate place in the future. What is wanted is to teach and apply the Absolute Religion, and bring in a new religious life which "will not be controlled by the theology of the Christian Church."
4. A Church controlled by the State, or a State Church. Thus far, we have spoken of the tendencies looking forward to the formation of a Church radically unlike the Christian; but now we note another tendency. Probably, most men of to-day regard a State Church in the future, as at least very improbable. For many years the tendency everywhere in Christendom has been to separate the State and the Church, and thus give the largest legal liberty to all forms of religious belief. Is it likely that this tendency will be checked, and that the regulation of religion will become a matter of State policy? Before answering this question, we must briefly note the principles now presented in many quarters as to the province of the State in religious matters.*
In our examination of Socialism in its more advanced form, we saw that it demands, as its first step, the enlargement of the powers of civil government; and this enlargement embraces religion. Man, it is said, must have a religion of some kind, and corresponding worship; and it is a matter so vitally affecting the moral order of a State, and the happiness of its citizens, that it cannot be left to individual control.
* It is said by De Tocqueville :" I do not hesitate to affirm that among almost all the Christian nations of our day, Catholic as well as Protestant, religion is in danger of falling into the hands of the government."
The government has duties in this regard which it can best fulfil by treating religion in the same way that it treats education. It should establish places of worship in which some general principles of religion may be inculcated, and prescribe rites of worship in which the religious feeling may find an appropriate expression.
A Church so controlled by the State must, of course, be very broad, and its teachings will be mainly ethical rather than theological, but may or may not be positively antichristian; this will depend on the religious opinions of the government, and the development among the people of the antichristian feeling. But, with the present tendency to repudiate Christian doctrine, we cannot doubt that the higher dogmas of Christianity will at last have in it no place; perhaps not even the belief in any personal God. The future State will not formulate creeds, or attempt to prepare its citizens for a life after death; its aim is to make men better fitted for the duties of the present, and for this end it supports the Church. It is from this point of view that Prof. Huxley says: "I can conceive the existence of an established Church, which should be a blessing to the community; a Church in which, week by week, services should be devoted, not to the iteration of abstract propositions in theology, but to the setting before men's minds an ideal of pure, just, and true living; a place in which those who are weary of the burden of daily cares should find a moment's rest in the contemplation of the higher life which is possible to all, though attained by so few; a place in which the man of strife and business should have time to think how small, after all, are the rewards he covets compared with peace and charity. Depend upon it, if such a Church existed, no one would seek to disestablish it."
Not a few Socialists begin to speak in the same way. They affirm that, as religion has its root in humanity, and must be always a power in human life, its regulation properly comes under State control. If freed from superstition, made rational, and developed on its ethical side, it will be a help to the social order, and a bond of union to the citizens. Religious beliefs which are judged to be unfriendly to the highest development of man, or that hinder him from giving himself up with zeal to the improvement of the present life, will be frowned upon, if not absolutely forbidden. It is to make the earth a heaven, not to find a heaven elsewhere; it is this world, not any "world to come," that the hearts of all should be set upon; and whatever discourages men from labouring zealously for this end—the improvement of society — must be put away. Therefore, any disheartening doctrine of human sinfulness, any preaching of contentment with present evils, any labour in preparation for a future life, or any looking forward to a new and better order by the coming of Jesus Christ, must be regarded as inconsistent with the public good. All religions must be in harmony with the purpose of the State, and a help to it. No sects can be tolerated whose dogmas tend to unfit the citizen for his duties.*
* It is said by Tolstoi (" My Religion"): "To believe in a life to come unfits men to labour in the present, to renounce themselves, and to serve humanity. There is no real labour for the race so long as we believe in a future life."
The control of religion by the antichristian State, will be later spoken of when considering the Church of the Antichrist.
5. We have still to note the tendency looking to a Church which we may call a mediating Church, or that of the Christian Socialists who still wish to keep the higher truths of Christianity. It aims to establish better relations to the world by giving up much, both as to organization and doctrine, that has hitherto been held important; and by breaking down in great measure the walls separating the sacred and the secular, the Church and the world. The nature and bearing of this tendency will best be seen by some extracts from its prominent representatives, who, however, widely differ among themselves.
It is said by Canon Freemantle: "The notion of the Church will be profoundly modified when once men realize that the Church is not necessarily held apart from mankind by having different pursuits as its object, and a peculiar form of government enjoined upon it. The Church will be simply that section of mankind in which the Christian spirit reigns." "The Church of the future will make its worship bear upon the higher ends of life; or rather, it will teach that a true ritual is a holy life in all its departments, and thus it will merge itself more and more in general society; being ready, in the true spirit of its Lord, to lose itself that it may save mankind." "The main object of Christian effort is not the saving of individuals out of a ruined world, but the saving of the world itself." "If the Church is to realize God's kingdom in the world, it must occupy itself with all human relations; it embraces the whole social and political life, it must use the State for this purpose."
It is said by another: "The existing churches have been only shops in which the age has been working some piece that is to be fitted into its future. When that future shall be complete, these old shops will all be closed." "If Christ were now here, He would gather all upright religious lives into one multitude, and erase the lines that divide Jew from Christian, heretic from Protestant; He would teach a creed as wide as that of the poets and philosophers." Says another: "Organic connection with any historic Church, Roman or Protestant, has nothing to do with the question whether people are Christians. Civilization is the material incarnation of the faith of a people. True civilization is the growing universal kingdom of God." "The distinction of the sacred and secular must perish."
This mediating Church is likely to become largely popular, and to draw to itself those who, accepting more or less of socialistic doctrine, yet wish to combine it with the creeds and beliefs of the Church. It is an attempt which must ultimately fail, for the Church and the world cannot be reconciled; but it presents a show of peace and unity which is attractive to many.*
From this survey of the tendencies of the time, let us turn to ask what light prophecy gives as to the Church of the Future.
In examining the teachings of The Revelation, we saw that the Church was portrayed under the symbol of a woman; and this in two conditions, as abiding faithful to her Lord (xii, 1), and as unfaithful, a harlot (xvii, 1-).
* It is not necessary to speak here of the religious organizations now springing up on all sides, such as "The Salvation Army," "The Labour Church," "The Civic Church," "The Christian Science Church," and many more. In some of them there are disconnected elements of Christian truth, but they are mainly ruled by the humanitarian or the pantheistic spirit.
As a harlot, she is seen "sitting upon a beast, arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations, and filthiness of her fornication." We have symbolized in this harlot the Church in the last stage of her apostasy, when she enters into an alliance with the Beast. That the woman is seen sitting upon him, foretells that at some period yet future there will be an alliance between him and the unfaithful Church, and that supported by him she will attain for a short time to power and honour.
We must clearly distinguish between the Church in this last stage and the Church of the Antichrist which is later in time, and not established till after her overthrow. It is in the Church as borne by the Beast that we may find the Church of the Future. Of the Church of the Antichrist we shall speak in the following chapter.
It is to be remembered, that although the apostasy may seem to be very general, yet that even in this darkest hour there are many who preserve their faith in God and His Son, and who constitute the true Church. We may believe also that many who, being for a time borne away by the infidel spirit of the age, and deceived by the wiles of the Beast and false prophet, had joined themselves in alliance with them, will be undeceived and return to their allegiance. We are told that at a certain juncture of affairs the cry is made: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sin, and that ye receive not of her plagues." (The Rev. xviii, 4.) Those who heed this warning cry are God's true witnesses during the antichristian tribulation, — His Church, — even if all outward rites of worship may be forbidden.
It is not difficult for us, in view of the past and of the present tendencies to take from the Church all her prerogatives and authority, to understand how this final alliance may be brought about. The Church — and under this term we embrace all Communions, though the Roman through its stronger organization and numerical superiority may be the leading actor — has now presented to her the opportunity of regaining her former prestige, and a wider influence, by an alliance with the rising power of the Lawless One, whose character and purposes are not yet fully disclosed. The union of interests, ecclesiastical and secular, by the rulers in Church and State for their common advantage, has had many examples in the past,— notably in the case of Constantine and the early Christians, and recently in that of the first Napoleon and the Papacy. The present aspect of things shows us how this alliance may be effected. The day of popular rule in Christendom having come, ecclesiastics hitherto sedulous of royal favour, and all who seek the honour that cometh from men, begin to turn to the people. But Democracy is in its nature averse to any union of Church and State, and inclined rather to take from the Church her present possessions and endowments. Therefore concessions must be made by the religious rulers to the democratic spirit, its leaders must be propitiated. The Church will help them to power, if they will help her to maintain her traditional prerogatives against the growing antichristian forces.
We can now readily understand how, when the Beast shall begin to rise into eminence and strength as a popular leader, he may find in the Church for a time a most useful ally, and she find in him a serviceable friend. It is not likely that he appears at first in the character of a defender of ecclesiastical rights and authority; but rather as the saviour of society, threatened with destruction through social anarchy; and many of all Communions, terrified at the growing hostility to Christianity, will be ready to welcome help from any quarter. We see to-day, many who have no real regard for any form of Christianity, but only for their own interests as citizens, well disposed to lend an ear to the loud cries of the Roman Church that it alone can save society from its danger, and to grant it for this end some part at least of its old civil prerogatives.
Thus we see that condition of things already preparing in which may be fulfilled the prophecy of the woman sitting upon the Beast, but which waits for a fuller development of the antichristian spirit. Such an alliance with the secular power, as has been already said, is that sin of fornication in His espoused wife which the Lord will not forgive; and which is here seen in its most offensive form, since he to whom she gives her Lord's prerogative, is "full of names of blasphemy." To enter into an alliance with him is the culmination of her sin, the final development of the apostasy. That the apostate Church still preserves the outward forms and shews of her former Christian standing, is seen in the symbols used — her vesture of purple and scarlet, her ornaments of gold and precious stones and pearls, and the golden cup in her hand. But in this cup is not the consecrated wine; it is "full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication," the "wine of her fornication with which the inhabitants of the world have been made drunk."
This reign of the apostate Church, upheld by the Beast, is probably of short duration. His alliance with her ends so soon as his power is sufficiently consolidated to enable him to cast her off, and to show forth his hostility in her destruction (xvii, 16). But it is probable that the Church will regain, as a barrier against the destructive anarchical tendencies of the times, in part at least, her old place in Christendom. Upon this ground Rome is already regaining some of her old influence, and Protestantism feels the need of consolidating its many sects. It is remarked by M. De Tocqueville, that our posterity Will tend more and more to a single division into two parts — some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Church of Rome. But whatever ecclesiastical authority may thus be regained, it will be moral and spiritual only, till the Church makes alliance with the Antichrist, and the power of the State is at her command. The question whether the words (xvii, 6), "I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus," refer to the past, or to persecutions to follow upon the alliance, and still future, and which are to be carried on in the name of Christ against all those who do not recognize the supremacy of the harlot, is one which time must answer. To most, imbued with the tolerant spirit of our day, all future religious persecution will seem incredible; but wherever the claim of absolute spiritual supremacy is still affirmed, any attempt to exercise it must necessarily lead to bloody persecution.
We thus find in the Church of the Future not any one of the present existing churches becoming dominant, nor any of those, which, rejecting more or less of Christianity, aspire to this place; but that one yet future, symbolized by the woman sitting upon the Beast. Under what special conditions this alliance may be brought about, we cannot foresee. There may be rapid changes in the ecclesiastical relations of the churches to their respective States, and to one another, which, when they take place, will make the fulfilment of the symbolic prophecy seem wholly in the natural course of events.
The purpose of the Beast in this alliance being to gain personal power, when his end is attained, his hostility to the Church as Christian breaks forth. Aided by the ten kings, who are now his allies, he acts as the instrument of God's judgment. "These shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." Now the way is prepared for the Antichrist to establish his own Church, a church founded on the Divinity of man, and which shall be co-extensive with his kingdom.