THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.

PART II - CHAPTER 47

UNDENOMINATIONALISM

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I. The Institutional, Intellectual, and Mystical Elements in Religion

According to Baron Friedrich von Hugel, there are three principal elements in religion,
the institutional, intellectual, and mystical elements;
and true religion must possess these three elements in equal proportions.

The INSTITUTIONAL element is the church organization
with its rites, officers, and discipline. 
The INTELLECTUAL element is the theology and philosophy. 
The MYSTICAL element is the prayer and the spiritual life of the members. 
They correspond roughly (very roughly) to the "catholic", "liberal", and "evangelical" tendencies in the Anglican Communion.
[It has been pointed out
that all these were in the Church of England before the Reformation
and were represented respectively by the three friends, More, Erasmus, and Colet.]
 
It would be easy to point out forms of the Christian religion that have suffered from the absence of one or more of these elements.

Bishop Gore suggested that von Hegel's classification was not complete,
that he made no mention of the moral element,
which is particularly emphasized in English Christianity. 
The EVANGELISTIC element might also have been mentioned,
which was conspicuous in such men as St. Columbanus and David Livingstone,
not great organizers, scholars, or mystics, but great missionaries.

It is with the institutional element that this chapter is concerned.
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II. Why Christianity must be Embodied in a Church

Man is, as Aristotle said, a political animal, a social being. 
He cannot be a complete man except as a member of a community. 
His relation to God must therefore be social, not merely individual,
for his religion must fill his whole nature. 
Indeed, God Himself is not a solitary individual. 
As we have seen, He is Three in One;
and man, made in His image, is not a solitary individual, but a social being.
Therefore religion must be embodied in a society. 
The opinion so common in England
that a man's religion is nobody's business but his own
is profoundly untrue. 
It is the business of everyone with whom he comes into contact
because it is or should be the most important thing about him. 
Religion is not a kind of philosophy or a kind of mysticism, though it includes both.
No man is really a religious man unless, besides believing in God and praying to God, he worships God in company with his brethren, and unless his faith and worship express themselves in practical love.

But as we have seen,
God has not left us to form for ourselves a society for worshipping Him. 
He has given us a society, the holy Church. 
The Church is implied everywhere in both the Old and the New Testaments. 
No Israelite could belong to God without belonging to Israel. 
Nobody could be a disciple of Jesus Christ without being baptized into His Church and living in fellowship with the other disciples. 

He has not God for his Father,
who has not the Church for his Mother

(Tertullian).

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III. Undenominationalism

The individualistic or undenominational conception of Christianity so common today was unknown to the writers of Scripture, to the Fathers, to the Christians of the Middle Ages, and even to the Reformers. 
An individualistic Christianity
could not have converted the Roman Empire or the barbarians. 
It cannot now meet the great organized rivals of Christianity on equal terms. 
It cannot fulfil any of the purposes of the Church. 
It can neither worship God adequately,
nor preach the Gospel,
nor maintain the faith,
nor administer the sacraments. 
It is an insufficient and reduced form of Christianity. 
How then does it come to be so widespread today?

It is not directly due to the Reformation. 
The emphasis laid by Luther on justification,
and by Calvin on election,
no doubt prepared the way for an individualistic conception of religion. 
All Christians in the sixteenth century,
conservatives as well as revolutionaries,
were individualists as their ancestors had not been in earlier ages. 
The saving of the individual soul was regarded as the main purpose of life. 
Worship was, and had been for some centuries, individual rather than corporate. 
But neither Luther nor Calvin was an individualist. 
It is in English speaking lands,
not on the Continent,
that we find individualistic Christianity in its extreme form. 
The origin of this appears to lie in the Methodist Revival
with its emphasis on personal conversion. 
It was the last great popular revival in England and America,
and it made popular Christianity in those countries
profoundly individualistic and undenominational.

The three marks of this development are:

  1. Indifference to corporate membership. 
    Religion is held to be entirely a personal matter. 
    Some people even resent being asked what their religion is.
  2. Indifference to doctrine.
    Belief does not matter. 
    "We are all going the same way";
    "what I believe is nobody's business but my own".
  3. Indifference to morals. 
    The individualist Christian
    holds that his conduct as well as his belief is no one's business but his own. 
    The result is that his standard is that of the world, not of the Gospel.

There are many reasons for this strange degeneration of the Christian religion. 
The religious reasons are the emphasis laid by Evangelical Christianity on the individual, and constant contact with rival sects. 
We do not find undenominational Christianity widely spread in Romanist, Orthodox, of Lutheran countries. 
Another reason is the self-reliance of the English and American character,
combined with the breaking up of the old associations
in which men lived before the Industrial Revolution. 
Once religion has come to be regarded as entirely individualistic,
the press, the radio, the national system of education all encourage that error. 
The life of the nation has been secularized. 
Since religion is a subject on which men differ strongly,
it is treated as a matter of private opinion.

This individualistic Christianity is particularly deadly in its effects upon religious education.
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IV. Difference in Educational Policy due to Fundamental Differences in Theology

It is not possible to distinguish between a fundamental Christianity common to all denominations, and a superstructure, which may be of different kinds. 
Christian teaching is not of that sort; it all hangs together. 
The Church teaches the child
that he is already a member of the Church with duties to fulfil,
and all the teaching that is given him
is intended to lead up to confirmation and first communion. 
It is necessary to his development that he should be taught the Bible in the light of the Incarnation, and should learn to love the privilege of joining in the Eucharistic worship of the Church. 
All this is quite alien to the ideas of those Christians who believe that the child is not really a member of Christ till he "receives the right hand of fellowship" in adolescence;
that the teaching of children should be chiefly Bible stories told from a human standpoint; and that they should know nothing about the communion service till they are old enough to be communicants.

For this reason the Church insists that the religious training of her children must be from the first in the hands of believing and practicing members of the Church, and that no scheme of religious education which treats "undenominational Christianity" as sufficient for the children of the church, or as a common basis upon which the special teaching of different denominations can be built, can ever be satisfactory to parents who are faithful to the Church.
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