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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Practical Conclusions

Practical Conclusions.

They follow from the belief I hold, that the creeds of the Christian churches, while they have been by far the most potent engine of ecclesiastical power, have also been the most dangerous and insidious enemies of the religion of Christ—that so far as they have expressed his doctrine, they are merely an unauthoritative and superfluous repetition of that doctrine; while so far as they have pretended to add to it, they have either obscured or falsified it, and in either case have imposed a burden on the intellect and the conscience of the Christian world which is now becoming wholly intolerable. If this page 21 belief be not quite erroneous, it must be clear that the Christian churches, above all other human institutions at this day, need "the blessed amending hand "of radical reform.

The laity are the only instrument by which reform can be effected. They are not free from a share of responsibility for the evils that exist. In Protestant churches they undoubtedly possess the power to remove them. The aid of the clergy cannot be expected; it ought not in fairness to be asked; the opposition of the clergy must be overcome.

The means of reform apparently available are suggested by the proposals that were made at the time of the Reformation to abolish the creeds. These proposals were not accepted. The conduct of the Reformation, which in the earlier days of Wyclif and Huss was in the hands of the laity, and aimed at a lay reform of ecclesiastical abuses, passed at a later period into the hands of the clergy and of politicians, and it is to them rather than to the general body of the laity that the Church of England owes the added burden of her Articles of Religion, and the Church of Scotland that of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

If the compulsory subscription by the clergy of all creeds, articles, and standards were abolished through the united action of the laity in only one of the older Protestant churches, consequences most momentous and beneficial might be expected, I think, to follow. The example would be catching, and would probably extend quickly to all the Protestant churches. The intellectual division between the clergy and the laity would soon be removed, for both would rejoice speedily to forget the systems of dogma that now, like a nightmare, oppresss them both. Alterations in ritual necessary for the purpose of consigning those systems to complete oblivion would then be readily made. Science and the churches would be no longer alienated, and the unworthy jealousy and emulation between the various churches, of which their rival creeds are the constant and by far the most effective cause, would cease. A real union, founded upon an enlarged basis of belief, would gradually be established, and formal union would not long loiter behind the removal of every cause of disunion. And when the Protestant Christian world is united, and all its churches combined in one, the open abandonment by the educated laity of the Catholic and the Greek churches, and the final absorption or total decay of both of those churches, would only be questions of time and education. Do not suppose that I am speaking of results which I believe to be at present possible or near. That abolition of subscription by the clergy in any one or more of the churches would be immediately productive of great results, and would probably lead ultimately to the further results I have indicated, I do believe. But before the initial step of practical church reform can be taken, it is necessary that a spirit which shall point to and demand reform shall first be created in the minds of the laity, and I am bound to admit that I do not perceive at present any indication whatever of such a spirit in any one of the churches.

page 22

I am aware that I have already exceeded the limit of time which a lecturer is entitled to ask from the most liberal and indulgent audience; and yet I will crave your permission to add another word. I would ask you, my brother laymen, are you entirely satisfied and contented with the state of things now existing in your own and in the other Christian churches 1