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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Waning Influence of the Churches as a Teaching Power

Waning Influence of the Churches as a Teaching Power.

Now what is the cause of this waning influence as a teaching power of all the Christian churches? What is it that has created the wide and ever-deepening chasm between the intellect and the intellectual judgments of the educated Christian clergy, in their capacity as teachers, and the intellect and the intellectual judgments of the educated laymen? This inquiry is one of the very highest interest, and it has not received, I think, its due share of consideration either from clergymen or laymen. I do not think that we should be justified in tracing this fact to any deterioration in the general body of the clergy. So far as the Protestant churches are concerned—and it is with respect to them only that we have information on which an opinion could be founded—it may be affirmed, I think, that at no time previous to the present has more care been bestowed by all the churches upon the preparation and training of candidates for the duties of their office. And it may be affirmed with even more confidence, that at no period since the Reformation have the clergy of all the churches alike displayed so much zeal and devotion in the discharge of their allotted duties, or earned so generally and with so few exceptions a title to the personal influence which naturally and most justly belongs to consistent conduct and a blameless life. Neither should we be at liberty to conclude I think, that the clergy do not and cannot teach the laity, because laymen generally are at this day indifferent to religious truth, and refuse to be taught. The growing interest which the general body of educated laymen take in the highest and largest questions of religion and morals is certainly one of the most marked features of the present intellectual life of the world. At no time during the last 200 years have so many persons been engaged, fitfully and unmethodically it must be admitted, yet anxiously and eagerly, in the search for truth. Ideas, "the natural home and resting-place of the human mind," as they are fitly termed by Coleridge, are sought for with more or less earnestness by the great majority of educated thinking laymen in the present day.

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If we look to the history of this city of Melbourne alone, we shall find that at any time during the last ten years any one who has professed to be able to communicate anything to his fellow men on the subjects of religion and philosophy has been able to secure a numerous, earnest, and attentive audience of thoughtful men, provided only that his hearers were not invited to assemble within the walls of a Christian church, and that the preacher has not founded his teaching upon the lines of any of the Christian creeds. What, then, is the cause?