Report of the Commission on Comity and Unity (1927)

A rather impressive document, projecting an alternate outcome for the Universalists and a brief formulation of liberal Christianity.

12 February. Time Magazine ran an article on this. “Comity” (28 Feb 1927).

Report of the Commission on Comity and Unity
Universalist General Convention Yearbook 1927, p 20-22

As the Commission on Comity and Church Unity enters upon the study of the important questions of larger fellowship referred to it by the Syracuse Convention, it seems necessary for us to make a frank statement of the problems involved and the spirit in which we approach them?

The fact that we enter into a consideration of this subject is, in itself, significant. Why do we do it? We do it because we can not honorably escape the responsibility, nor would we if we could. The question is in the air. In one form or another the problem of closer denominational relationship is squarely up to every communion in Christendom. It is here demanding a hearing and a verdict.

Already, local churches of different denominations have effected mergers or federations. Many others are seriously considering the possibility of such a step. The story of what has taken place across the border to the north of us, where the United Church of Canada has been brought into existence, is familiar to all. The Episcopalians are trying to effect a union of all liturgical bodies. In his last hours Cardinal Mercier prayed for the union of those fellowships allied with his own polity, worship and faith.

It will be seen, therefore, that the situation faced by our Universalist churches is merely one phase of a much larger question that is before the entire Christian world. It may be a disturbing question, involving all concerned in uncertainty. Momentous issues are always temporarily disconcerting. But let us remember that this particular situation involves no more embarrassment for us than it does for those who have taken the initiative in a great adventure, by asking us to sit down at the conference table with them and frankly talk the whole maters over in the spirit of Christian love and fraternity.

A weighty responsibility has been placed upon us. What are we going to do about it? Four alternatives are before us.

1. Theoretically, we may try to ignore it and go our way alone, just as we are, refusing to be a party to what is going on about us. Practically we shall find such a policy impossible. To attempt it is to show ourselves lacking in Christian grace and capacity.

2. We can assume an unfriendly attitude to the whole business and rebuff any and all advances made to us from whatever sources. Even to think of following such a course of action would be to violate, not only the cherished principles of our faith, but the very spirit of our Christian profession.

3. We can elect to stand aloof and pursue a policy of interested, but passive, watchful waiting, and then, when the thing has been done by others, take our place in the sun, if indeed there is a place left over for us to take. To behave thus would be to follow the line of least resistance, but it would also be to confess that the pioneering, trail-blazing blood of our spiritual forefathers has gone cold in our veins.

4. We can recognize the inevitable trend of events, step in bravely with our Christian brethren of other communions, and in co-operation with them attempt to show real statesmanship and constructive leadership in working out a basis of unity and fraternity that will result in a twentieth century renaissance of Christian discipleship and service in behalf of Christ’s kingdom.

In keeping with the expressed with our recent Convention, it is the purpose of the Commission on Comity to follow along the line of this latter course of action.

One fundamental truth is to be recognized in any consideration of Christian unity, and that is that at the heart of it there must be a creative principle. That is true of existing churches. It is equally true, and even more necessary, of any more inclusive fellowship that we may contemplate as desirable and possible.

It is not enough for people to believe that they ought not to keep apart. It is essential that they recognize the compelling power of something that actually draws them together. The larger unity of which we dream will not come from silence concerning creeds that separate, but rather from loyalty to a deeper faith that unites.

What is that faith? It is that Christianity in a way of life rather than assent to a creed. Put in its simplest form, it is faith in Christ expressed in a supreme purpose to do the will as revealed in him, and to co-operate as servants of the kingdom for which he lived and died. Within the circle of fellowship created by loyalty to the common Master there may exist differences of theological opinion. But given the supreme loyalty such differences need not separate, and in the absence of it theological unity will not advance the Christian cause.

The unity of spirit and purpose thus created is already a fact. It has brought into being a fellowship of sympathy and mutual understanding so real that it needs only to be revealed and expressed. It is a daring spiritual adventure that invites us to prove that common purpose to share the faith of Christ can break the fetters of custom and timidity and provincial jealousy that keep apart Christian brethren who at heart are one. Nothing less can or will.

In such a fellowship of those who are united to do the will of God there may be those who are Trinitarian and those who are Unitarian, according to traditional classification. There need be no apology for such differences of the understanding of the nature of him who is at one “the enigma of the centuries and the solution of the problems,” provided men are more concerned about the solution than about the enigma. The difference may invite to honorable debate in the arena of theology without separating the debaters into hostile camps in the army of the Lord.

In such a fellowship there is a place for those who, as Universalists, see in Christ’s ruling faith the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man the sufficient warrant for confidence in the final victory of good in all souls. They could enter no fellowship in which they could not bear their testimony. They would have no right, and they have no desire, to impose it as a test of fellowship. After all, Universalism is not, and never has been, primarily a prediction; it is a faith in the eternal love and righteousness that seems to justify it, and that fortifies the servants of God in the present time. We would take our place by the side of fellow-believers in the Divine Fatherhood and Human Brotherhood, and trust the corollaries of the common faith to the Christian consciousness and the decisions of time.

This, briefly outlined, is our understanding of the basis of unity among liberal Christians. Out of it grows naturally a craving for fellowship among those who share a common purpose to make Christ the growing desire to accomplish, by united effort, greater service for the Kingdom of God, and we testify to a common conviction that the faith which united is more vital and compelling than the creeds and traditions that separate. The problem challenges out intelligence, statesmanship, and Christian loyalty.

Rev. Frederic W. Perkins, D.D., Chairman,
Rev. John S. Lowe, D.D.,
Rev. Harold Marshall, D.D.,
Rev. George F. Fortier,
Rev. George Delbert Walker, D.D.,
Rev. Carl F. Henry, D.D.,
Hon Robert W. Hill,
Mr. Stanley D. Tilney,
Prof. H. E. Simmons,
Hon. Roger S. Galer,
Mr. John A. Cousens,
Mr. A. Ingham Bcknell,
Mrs. T. R. Miller,
Rev. Bernard C. Ruggles,
Rev. James F. Albion, D.D.,
Rev. Roger F. Etz, Secretary.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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