Page images
PDF
EPUB

mass of mankind. The word “Protestant" in the title of the Methodist Protestant Church does not, at least historically, mean Evangelical or anti-Catholic, but really antiEpiscopal. The Methodist reformers of 1830 protested against the episcopacy of the parent body as a barrier to the reforms they advocated. “Methodist Protestant” does not, therefore, indicate that there is a Methodist Catholic Church from which this is distinguished, but that there is a Methodist Episcopal Church from which this is distinguished as a Methodist anti-Episcopal Church. In the title Free Methodist Church the word “Free” does not mean free from State control or patronage, as it means in Presbyterian parlance in Scotland, but free from the pew system, free from worldliness, free from instrumental and choir music, and free from unsound preaching. This we ascertain from the history of the body, not from its title. The Primitive Methodist Church does not, of course, claim to belong to the age of Primitive Christianity, nor to be the original Methodist Church. It dates from 1810, and sprang from a revival of the early Methodist practice of field-preaching

Of Baptist bodies we count thirteen, including the Regular, North, South, and Colored; the Freewill in two varieties; the General, Separate, United, Six-Principle, Seventh-Day, Primitive, and Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian; also the Baptist Church of Christ, which claims to have descended direct from the apostles. Beginning with the three principal bodies, called “Regular,” we might, following the old classification of verbs, describe the Baptists as “Regular, Irregular, Redundant, and Defective.” The most curious of all Baptist bodies is the Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian. Here we have a title that is definitive. It describes and distinguishes. These Baptists are Predestinarian. They believe that every action, whether good or bad, of every person and every event was predestinated from the beginning; not only the initial sin of Eve and the amiable compliance of Adam and the consequent fall of man, but the apostasy of Satan. They are thoroughly Predestinarian; and not only Predestinarian, but they are Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarians. The two seeds are good and evil; and one or the other of them will spring up unto eternal life or eternal death, according to the nature of the predestination decreed in each particular case.

There are four bodies of Brethren who object to any other designation. They are popularly known as (Plymouth) Brethren. By putting the word Plymouth in parenthesis we can distinguish them from other bodies of Brethren; but how shall we distinguish each of these four bodies of (Plymouth) Brethren from the other three? The device I was led to adopt for the census was that of Roman numerals, thus:

(Plymouth) Brethren I.,
(Plymouth) Brethren II.,
(Plymouth) Brethren III.,

(Plymouth) Brethren IV., the word " Plymouth" being in parenthesis in each case.

Much confusion often arises from the similarity of titles. There are, it will be noticed, several bodies called the Church of God, with only a slight variation in two instances. There are the Church of God and Churches of God in Christ Jesus, both Adventist; the Church of God, otherwise distinguished as the denomination founded by Elder Winebrenner, and the Church of God in Christ. The large body, which appears in the list given in this volume as Disciples of Christ, also often calls itself simply “The Christians." There is another denomination, with similar tenets and two branches, which uses the same designation, and is otherwise known as the Christian Connection. The authorities of the census in 1870 declared that in the results it was impossible to draw a line of separation between these denominations. A few years ago the Disciples were popularly distinguished as the body to which President Garfield belonged, and they are probably better known as Campbellites, a term which is offensive to them, than by either of their accepted titles.

Since we have divisions, and so many of them, we need good definitive titles. But how shall we get them? Lord Beaconsfield waged a war to acquire a "scientific frontier” in India. Almost any means would be justifiable that would secure for us a scientific nomenclature. But there is this great difficulty: a definitive title cannot be given where there is no distinction to define. Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal, are definitive titles; but between many of the Baptist and Presbyterian branches there is no difference which a title could be framed to designate. The only remedy I can suggest in such cases is reunion; and why such reunion has not taken place in scores of instances I cannot explain, except by the prevalence of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It must be that the saints of the sects think they ought to persevere in sectarian division.

VI.

THE CAUSES OF DIVISION.

What is it that has caused so many divisions in our Christianity ? The question is one of profound interest, whether considered as a matter of history, as indicating the course of controversy, or as affecting the influence, spirit, and power of organized religion. The differences in some

cases between branches bearing the same generic name are important; in others they are not. How shall we explain the fact that there are six kinds of Adventists, thirteen kinds of Baptists, seventeen kinds of Methodists, etc. ? The natural presumption is that the six branches of Adventists are six kinds of Adventists, the thirteen branches of Baptists thirteen kinds of Baptists, and so on. As a matter of fact this is not so. Different titles and separate existence, while logically implying distinct varieties, are in some cases simply the result of differences which have long ceased to exist. It would be a mistake, therefore, to say that every one of the 143 distinct titles of denominations represents a difference, either in doctrine or polity or form of worship.

One of the most numerous of the denominational families is the Methodist. Methodism has had a marvelous growth in the United States, and yet we find it broken into seventeen divisions. There are no doctrinal differences to account for them. They are all Arminian in theology, agreeing in their opposition to the Calvinistic decrees; emphasizing the points of doctrine which Wesley made distinctive; and manifesting substantial oneness in the minor matters of usage. They are one in spirit, and each has the family resemblance in many characteristics. They differ, first, in church government. Some are episcopal; others presbyterian, with presidents of conferences instead of bishops; and one is independent. The oldest of the existing divisions, the Methodist Protestant, became separated from the parent body upward of sixty years ago in a controversy over the admission of laymen into the governing body of the church. Those who espoused this reform believed that bishops and presiding elders were autocratic, and when they formed a system of their own, they brought the laymen to the front and sent bishops and presiding elders to the rear. This was a division on principles of government. Eight of the branches became such because of color or race difference. All of these, I believe, except one, separated from a white body. Two other divisions, the American Wesleyan and the Methodist Episcopal, South, were due to the slavery question, which has been one of the most prolific causes, in the history of the last fifty years, of ecclesiastical controversy and secessions. Another body, the Free Methodists, was the result of too little forbearance and too harsh exercise of discipline, on the one side, and to extravagances of preaching and behavior on the other. In other words, there was a misunderstanding, a quarrel, and a separation. The three Congregational Methodist branches are not really congregational in form of government. Two were caused by disciplinary troubles, and the third is a race church. The Primitive branch comes to us, not by division, but from England through Canada.

To summarize, ten of the seventeen divisions were due to the race or the slavery question, and six to controversies over practical questions. Of course differences were increased, in some instances, by the natural process of development. The itinerancy, for example, has been modified in the Methodist Protestant Church, and the probationary system abolished in the Church, South. Leaving out the Independent and the three Congregational branches, which are very small, I doubt whether there is any difference between the various episcopal bodies that would be harder to overcome in any effort to unite them than that of race and section. There are five non-episcopal bodies which are not widely separated in practice or spirit.

Of the twelve Presbyterian bodies all are consistently Calvinistic but two, the Cumberland and the Cumberland Colored, which hold to a modified Calvinism. All use the Presbyterian system of government, with little variation.

« PreviousContinue »