The Laymen's League
In presenting any report for the year just concluded, the Council is conscious it must be one dealing with a period of more than ordinary interest and significance to Church people.
Called into existence for the purpose of "defending the rights of the laity against the encroachments of ecclesiasticism" which were being made at the time of the League's formation, the events of the past year have been such as to affect seriously the League's position and mission.
With a real desire to avoid, wherever possible, reference to persons no longer in our diocese, the Council feels it is absolutely incumbent on it to chronicle a much altered condition of affairs brought about by that very absence.
Our members, in point of numbers, are about the same as that of last year, and their support of the efforts of the Council is no less hearty. Our finances are, as formerly, sound. After providing for all our liabilities, we have a credit balance. Since the institution of the League, the Council has not had to make a personal appeal to any individual for monetary help; all needed by us has been sent in spontaneously. This is as it should be; but, still, we desire to place on record the fact so as to thank our subscribers and emphasise the principle that all support for Church work should be of a similar character to that we have experienced, which, no doubt, it would be found to be to a greater extent than at present if the work undertaken were in manner and method such as to commend itself to the full sympathy of our people.
The Late Bishop of Auckland.
In common with the rest of the members of our Church in this diocese, the Council exceedingly regretted that the health of Bishop Neligan should have broken down in the manner it did, and we joined most fervently in. the hope so generally expressed throughout the provincial Church that his return to England and prospective engagement in work of a much less trying character than can ever be looked for in the domain of a colonial diocesan, would effectually restore him to full health and strength.
But it would be rank untruthfulness to say that the League does not deem a change in the occupancy of the See of Auckland an advantage. Bishop Neligan, with all his large powers in matters of organisation, and in other directions, had his drawbacks. He failed, from the first, to understand the spiritual feelings and aspirations of the people of our communion in the Auckland diocese, even as he failed to gauge the loss which our Church, and he himself as its local head, sustained because of his alienation of the sympathy and co-operation of our Nonconformist friends in the work of Christ. These two blemishes by themselves would wreck all hope of a successful episcopacy to even a much more powerful and ecclesiastical mind than that possessed by our late Bishop. The Diocese of Auckland is essentially Protestant, and, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, will remain such when the teaching and methods of a few Romanising "Priests" who have come amongst us have disappeared, remembered only as a transient incident in our history, sometimes brought to mind by the discovery on a bookstall or elsewhere of a "Priest's Prayer Book," 'The Catholic Religion," or that more attenuated, but no less hurtful, production, a "Mirfield Tract."
But, notwithstanding any faults or failings our late Bishop may, in the estimation of many members of our Church, have possessed, all of us unite in the prayer that God may abundantly bless him in his new sphere of work, for which, we doubt not, he will be considerably assisted by the six years' experience he has obtained of the religious needs of a people in a diocese possessing, in some degree, education, knowledge, and spiritual grace.
Visit of the English Mission.
The report presented by the Council last year made some reference to this matter, which had not then eventuated. We then ventured to express the opinion that the Mission would, in the main, be composed of members of the sacerdotal section of the Church. We said :—
"Some of the clergy in question are admittedly active members of societies, the Romish character and trend of which will be referred to in the columns of The Churchman during the coming few months. Members of the Reformed Church of England may well therefore look askance at such 'Missioners" and be pardoned for doubting whether the inclusion of a few evangelical clergy in the Mission can neutralise the harm eventuating from the advent here of other men of such a dangerous type."
This surmise proved to be in the main correct, a large proportion of the Missioners being of a most pronounced type of ritualists, though there were some men distinctly sound in the faith and practices of our reformed Church. Much has been said and written in England and in this country regarding the "wonderful success" of the mission. Indeed, the terms indulged in by some of the missioners themselves as to what they had accomplished and the light they had spread amongst us, par-takes so much of the character of fiction as to be amusing, but by no means edifying. During the progress of the Mission the League refrained almost altogether from indulging in any criticism of its proceedings, though there was much in some of them which gave pain and sorrow to many true and devout members of our Church. Canon Stuart and some of his companions preached a sound Gospel, and in doing so left an impression for lasting good in the minds and hearts of those who heard them, which, we would fain believe, overshadowed and rendered, in a measure, abortive the efforts of other members of the Mission to lead and encourage our people into thoughts and practices foreign to our Church and its teaching.
All the expenditure of the League, except a small sum for hire of meeting place, has been in connection with our little paper. The requests from various quarters for copies of each monthly issue have been so numerous that page 4 a much larger number have had to be printed. The circumstances and surroundings governing the issue of The Churchman cause the Council to work under some disadvantage in its production. Being entrusted with the duty of affording some little light and information on subjects of vital importance to Church people, with which, it may be said, in many instances, they seem to be almost utterly unacquainted, there is naturally some little difficulty experienced in getting people generally to understand our motive and line of action. This difficulty, also naturally, is accentuated by the good offices of some of our friends in the Church, who, objecting to the existence of both the League and its little organ, sedulously delry our humble work as that of party men, bent upon the destruction of all law and authority within the Church, if not of the Church itself. We are merely, they say in effect, "pestilent fellows," who should be treated as such. In truth we are, in our humble way, the real upholders of true Church rule and authority, when based upon sound foundations, and we are only in conflict with "authorities" when they exceed their rightful powers and trespass upon those of others.
But, notwithstanding these difficulties, our two years' work has established the magazine in the good will of hundreds of Church households, where it is now looked for, read, and valued.
The Churchman lays no claim to high literary style or capacity, the writers in it being very "common people"; indeed, not by any means "experts," Neither does it profess to have all knowledge on the subjects treated of. But the Council does claim that it seeks in all appearing in the paper to present in a clear and truthful manner the main causes of the present division in the Church of England, and to endeavour to bring back to the "old ways" Churchmen disposed to stray into superstition or indifference, by the presentation of the real doctrines and practices of our Church. With feeble hands the League tries to do this duty, leaving to God rather than to man judgment as to the purity of our motive.
Our New Diocesan.
Nearly all we have been considering so far has reference to the past. What of the future? The reply will largely depend, under God, upon our recently-selected. page 5 Bishop, who, in the arduous and most difficult position he has succeeded to, is entitled to the loyal and hearty support of all sections of our people. We make no secret of the fact that members of the League, possessing any knowledge, however slight, of the Archdeacon of Gee-long, were not enamoured with the prospect of his coming to Auckland as its Bishop. Some of us, indeed, in our places at Synod, voted against his selection upon grounds which it would serve no good end to enumerate. But when Dr. Crossley was chosen, and he had accepted the position, it became the duty of every true Churchman to fall into line with his brethren in rendering due obedience and help wherever possible to our new leader.
Certain it is that Dr. Crossley will need this aid to the full if he is to succeed in any adequate measure in bringing into harmony some of the discordant elements which he will find existing in his diocese as the result of errors of administration in the past. For these errors and their consequences our present Bishop is, of course, in no way responsible, and except in so far as he may be tempted to perpetuate any of them, which God forbid, he should not be in any way associated with them in the minds of our people. Bishop Crossley's record must be that of his own acts and words, and by these alone should he be measured or estimated. Relying upon God's over-ruling power and the sound sense with which the Bishop appears to be endowed, we look hopefully forward to the unification of the Churchmen of this diocese through his wise conduct of affairs.
We honestly desire unity in our Church, and among all Christian people. We recognise to the full that division has always been a most potent cause of national decay. We confess that in ourselves, as in all men, there is an element of pride, self-will, self-conceit, self-assertiveness, which, if not controlled by divine grace, will hinder unity. We acknowledge that God, not man, is the Author and Preserver of Unity. But we are taught in the Bible and by experience that there is a true unity and there is a false unity which is the counterfeit and enemy of the true, and when we are exhorted to maintain unity or reproached for breaking it, we are compelled to inquire page 6 into the nature of the unity to which these admonitions refer. Is it a spiritual unity in a divine Person, the Head of mankind, the Head of the Church, the Head of each man, or it it the carnal and mechanical unity of an external ecclesiastical system? The former is the conception of the Bible and the Prayer Book; the latter is the conception which has gained currency in Western Christendom by the teaching of men who sought to assimilate the organisation of the Church to that of the Roman Empire, which had been its fiercest and cruellest enemy. The notion of the Church as a world-wide society, endowed with inherent and practically independent supernatural powers and authority, possessing a monopoly of divine grace, fixing the means and conditions whereby that grace is to be dispensed by its officials, dominating on the strength of these claims national, family and social life—this is the notion which the Oxford movement has, to a greater or less extent, implanted in the minds of many bishops, clergy, and of some laity. Membership in this society is the first pre-requisite to eternal salvation: acquiescence in its dogmas is faith: loyalty to its officials, submission to its direction, support of its schemes, observance of its ordinances, is good Churchmanship. Obedience to the command of the Church, rather than to the revealed will of God, speaking to the reason and to conscience, is Christian duty. Separation from this society, however infected it may be with error and corruption, is schism Opposition from within to falsehood, injustice, misgovernment, is a shocking breach of unity. Now, it is plain that if this conception of the Church is the right one, the law-givers, kings, prophets, who warred against the corruptions of the Jewish Church were pestilent breakers of unity. To destroy the golden calf, to breakdown the high places, to denounce the wrath of God against formalism, superstition, idolatry, was really a grievous sin, though Jewish puritanism may have looked on these actions as commendable. Nor can any Christian believe that our Lord showed us an example when He cleansed the Temple and uttered His fearful reproaches against the Scribes and Pharisees, or that St. Paul did anything worthy of imitation when he withstood St. Peter to the face, pronounced an anathema on perverters of the Gospel and declared false teachers page 7 to be the enemies of the Cross of Christ. The propagandists of the Church system are wise in their generation when they discourage, or, if it is in their power, forbid the study of the Bible, for no one who reverences, understands, and gives heed to the Holy Scriptures can blindly yield up his reason and conscience to any man or any body of men. Such a one will reverence the Church as the New Jerusalem come down from God out of heaven, as the great witness to the Kingdom of God on earth, with which it will one day be co-extensive, as the means for proclaiming the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for making Christ known as the Lord, King and Saviour of mankind, as the universal Catholic human society which upholds the sacredness and dignity of national and family life, as the spiritual teacher which enlightens the conscience, guides the will, and informs the mind of communities and individuals, as the lasting memorial that a fellowship has been established between men, and that the visible and invisible worlds are one. He will give all due respect and obedience to those placed in authority, he will be ready for the common welfare to sacrifice his tastes, though not his convictions, but his supreme loyalty and absolute devotion will be reserved for the Lord and Judge of men.
We have made this somewhat extended reference to the subject of unity for the purpose of placing on record the views held by the League as to the true basis of such, the attainment of which is only possible by an adherence on the part of all seeking for it to sound ideas of its constituents. We recognise that within this diocese there are conflicting views regarding the proper means to be adopted for the bringing of our people together upon some common ground leading to unity; but we also recognise that unless some such event can be brought about it may be stated as a certainty that our people will continue in an increasing degree to float into Nonconformity or indifference. But, given a strong lead by one who, from his high office, has the power at least of restraining the actions of clergy and others disposed to indulge in practices which make for disunion, we are not without hope that the laity, strengthened by mutual trust and respect, will willingly follow and support any page 8 effort having for its aim the uniting of all sections of our Church and the restoration of it to that place and influence for good in this community which it possessed in years gone by. Circumstances in the immediate past were not favourable for such a union of hearts and purpose, but with the advent of our new Diocesan those circumstances have changed. Personal determination on the part of all concerned may well be pleaded for at the present juncture to secure peace within our borders.
The Council, upon a review of the whole position, has concluded that, with the object of assisting towards such a desirable end, the League should take the pronounced step of suspending its operations, and thus by example invite members of the Church with whom for some time past we have found it impossible to be in accord concerning some matters, to also consider their position. In any case, whether our example is in any way followed or not, our duty appears manifest, and we will ask members, by resolution to-night, to adopt the course suggested, so that our new Bishop may find himself utterly unhampered, so far as we are concerned, in the big task he has in front of him of evolving full order and satisfaction out of elements now somewhat chaotic and distressful. We are quite alive to the fact that in taking this decided action our motives may, probably, be misconstrued in some quarters, and not to our advantage. This we can afford to let pass. But to those loyal supporters of the League who have come to look for then Churchman, and who. missing it, may possibly feel disposed to think a retrograde step has been taken, we give our full assurance that nothing but the conviction that what we are proposing is called for in the general interest of our Church would have led us to take it. The desire for that welfare must govern all, the mistakes or misgovernment of the past must not be allowed to prevent our seeking better things in the future, and assisting toward that end. May God grant that our hopes in this direction, and for the revival, not only of true Churchmanship, but of real Godliness in our diocese are about to be vouchsafed to us.
William J. Speight,
The Brett Printing Co., Ltd., Auckland.