Ministers Sailing under False Colours
Our forefathers were far less tolerant than we are, and it is to be feared that they were also more honest. It will be a sad discount upon our gain in the matter of charity if it turn out that we have been losers in the department of truthfulness. There is no necessary connection between the two facts of growth in tolerance and decline in sincerity, but we are suspicious that they have occurred and are occurring at the same moment. We freely accord to theological teachers a freedom of thought and utterance which in other ages could only be obtained by the more daring at serious risks, but we also allow an amount of untruthfulness in ministers, which former ages would have utterly abhorred. It is upon the grounds for this last assertion that we mean to utter our mind in a brief paragraph or two; our love to the most unlimited religious liberty inciting us to all the sterner abhorrence of the license which like a parasite feeds thereon.
Upon the plea of spiritual liberty, of late years certain teachers who have abjured the faith of the churches which employ them, have nevertheless endeavored, with more or less success, to retain their offices and their emoluments. A band of men who maliciously blaspheme the atonement and deny the deity of our Lord, continue at this hour to officiate as pastors of more than one Reformed Church upon the Continent. A powerful body of sceptics, whose doubts upon the inspiration of Holy Scripture are not concealed, yet remain in churches whose professed basis is the inspiration of the Bible. Ministers are to be found who deny baptismal regeneration, and yet put into the mouths of children such words as these, "In my baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." In the same establishment may be found believers in nearly every dogma of the Popish creed, who nevertheless have declared their faith in articles which are distinctly Calvinistic; and now last, and, to our minds, most sorrowful of all, it comes out that there are men to be found among Caledonia's once sternly truthful sons who can occupy the pulpits and the manses of an orthodox Presbyterian church, and yet oppose her ancient confession of faith. Our complaint is in each case, not that the men changed their views, and threw up their former creeds, but that having done so they did not at once quit the office of minister to the community whose faith they could no longer uphold; their fault is not that they differed, but that, differing, they sought an office of which the prime necessity is agreement. All the elements of the lowest kind of knavery meet in the evil which we now denounce. Treachery is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood. The office of minister would never unwittingly be entrusted by any community to a person who would use it for the overthrow of the principles upon which the community was founded. Such conduct would be suicidal. A sincere belief of the church's creed was avowedly or by implication a part of the qualification which helped the preacher to his stipend, and when that qualification ceases the most vital point of the compact between him and his church is infringed, and he is bound in honor to relinquish an office which he can no longer honestly fulfill. Scrupulous conscientiousness would not wait for any enquiries of church courts, but with noble delicacy, jealous of her own honor, would come forward and boldly say, "Gentlemen, the doctrines which you believe me to hold are no longer dear to me: I know that your church is not likely to alter her belief, and as I cannot square mine with hers, I leave her. I could not profess to be what I am not, or eat the bread of a church whose articles of faith I cannot accept." Having said this, the preacher has restored things to their natural position, and has a right, as far as his fellow men are concerned, to prophesy whatsoever seemeth good unto him. Whether he becomes orthodox or heterodox, more enlightened or less sound, is mainly his own business, and that of those who may accord with him; certainly, it is no concern of ours at this present, nor indeed is it so the concern of any soul breathing, that the man should be in any degree denied unbounded liberty of utterance; he has a right to speak what he believes, and in God's name let him speak. To put him to the loss of civil rights, or social status (so far as this last is a matter of voluntary act), is a suggestion to be scorned. To touch a hair of his head, or label him with an opprobrious epithet, would be disgraceful. He has cast off the bond which he found irksome; he scorned to be in fetters; he in common with all his fellows may now tell out his message in the world's great audience chamber, and our prayer for him is, the Lord send him divine light and love, and may his labor never be frustrated. But if the man make no such declaration to the religious body from whom in heart he differs, and offers no such resignation, but remains with it in name and in pay while secretly or openly opposing its covenanted faith, we have no words which can sufficiently describe the meanness of his conduct. If a priest engaged in sacrifice in the temple of Juggernaut should be converted to Mohammedanism, he would be a great rogue should he continue his ministrations in honor of the Hindoo deity; and every rupee that he received from the worshippers of the idol would be the fruit of fraud. Or to change the instance, should the pastor of a Christian church become a conscientious believer in the divinity of the goddess Kalee, he would be nothing short of a villain if he held his position and pocketed the contributions of believers in Jesus. The cases may be said to be extreme, but they are scarcely more so than some existing among us, and the principle is the same as in less glaring instances. By what tortuous processes of reasoning could it be made to appear consistent with uprightness for an Arminian to accept emoluments upon the condition of teaching Calvinistic doctrines, or how could a Calvinist be justified should he enter into covenant to teach the opposite tenets? Would it be any decrease of the inconsistency of either official if he should, after gaining his position and securing its salary, become a stickler for ministerial liberty and insist upon delivering himself of his own real opinions which he dared not have avowed at his installment, and which, ex officio, he ought to denounce? A church, having a written creed, virtually asks the candidate for her pulpit, "Do you hold fast our form of sound words, and, will you endeavor to maintain it?" On the response to that enquiry, other things being settled, the appointment depends. The candidate's "yea," is accepted in confidence as being sincere, and he is inducted; but if it be a lie, or if at any time it cease to be altogether true, it is only by a sophistry unworthy of an ingenuous mind, that a man can justify himself in retaining his place; he is bound in honor to relinquish it forthwith.
It may be said that churches should leave their ministers free to preach whatever they please. Our answer is, that it may or may not be the proper course, to us it seems to be a plan worthy only of a race of triflers, but that is not the point in hand. When churches agree to leave their preachers perfectly unbound as to doctrine, our remarks will have no relevancy, for where there is no compact there can be no breach of it; but the fact is that the churches as a rule do not give such boundless license, but lay down more or less distinct creeds and rules of practice, to which assent is given by all their ministers; and while these are still in use, no man can promise to maintain them, and yet war against them, profess to esteem them, and yet despise them, without his conduct being a great moral mystery to those who fain would think him an honest man.
It is frequently bewailed as a mournful circumstance that creeds were ever written; it is said, "Let the Bible alone be the creed of every church, and let preachers explain the Scriptures as they conscientiously think best." Here again we enter into no debate, but simply beg the objector to remember that there are creeds, that the churches have not given them up, that persons are not forced to be ministers of these churches, and therefore if they object to creeds they should not offer to become teachers of them; above all, they should not agree to teach what they do not believe. If a man thinks the banner of a political party to be a wrong one, he should not enlist under it, and if he does so, with his heart in another camp, he may expect ejectment with remarks unflattering. Protest by all means against creeds and catechisms, but if you sign them, or gain or preserve a position by appearing to uphold them, wonder not if your morality be regarded as questionable.
It has been insinuated, if not openly averred, that to deprive a man of his office in any church because he denies its doctrines is persecution. But if the members of a religious community are forced to support a man who undermines their faith, are they not most clearly persecuted? If they are compelled to endure as their spiritual leader a person who impugns the doctrines which he was chosen to defend, is not this persecution of the heaviest sort? The liberty of preachers is important, but the liberty of hearers is important too. It would be wrong to oppress the individual, but it is not less so to oppress the many. Let the preacher use his tongue as he wills, but by what show of right should a congregation support him while he is opposing their views of truth? There is the whole world for every earnest speaker to talk in, but for what reason is he to have possession of a pulpit dedicated to the propagation of dogmas which he glories in refuting? We have scarcely patience to expose so self-evident an absurdity. The whine concerning persecution is effeminate cant. Not thus did the heroes of the Disruption set up a caterwaulling when, because they could not agree with regulations forced on the Scottish Establishment, they surrendered all that they possessed of church house room and provender. Did Luther and Calvin claim to remain priests of the church of Rome, and hang on to benefices under the Pope's control? Did the Nonconformists of two hundred years ago claim to eat bread episcopally buttered after they had refused compliance with the Act of Uniformity?
Every free association has at least a civil right to make its own laws; no man is bound to join it, but, having joined it, if he disobey the rules it is no persecution, but the purest justice, to east out the offending member. To put such a perfectly justifiable and even necessary expulsion on a level with thumb-screwing, burning, or imprisonment, is sheer idiotic maundering; and one wonders at the littleness of the souls who allow such pleadings to be offered on their behalf. Half a grain of heroism would make a man say, "No, I have no right to a stipend which I am disqualified from earning. I shall be a loser, but the world is wide, truth is precious, and while I am true to my sacred calling, and the spirit of truth, I doubt not that God will bear me through, and that there are true hearts beating in unison with mine who will rally round me: at any rate, I dare not act dishonestly." However great a man's error, one feels a sympathy with his person when he is moved by honorable sentiments to make personal sacrifices; but, even if we were certain that truth was on his side, if he violated the rights of others by forcing his opinions upon them, indignation should be excited in every just man's bosom.
But suppose a church to be founded upon compromise, and intended to embrace parties of many shades of opinion? Then, of course the latitude specified may be enjoyed without infraction of the code of honor, although it is possible that difficulties of another sort may arise; but even in such a case there must of necessity be some points settled, something not to be considered as moot, and our remarks are applicable to deviations from those settled standards to the fullest degree. Concerning these there must be no shuffling, or honor is gone. Ecclesiastics may not think so, but the common sense of observers outside never hesitates in its verdict when the clergy play with words. The proverb concerning the falseness of priests owes its origin to the aptness of ecclesiastics to twist, language. No conceivable mode of expression could fix a doctrine if certain divines had the exposition of them. Black is white, and red no color, and green a peculiar shade of scarlet with theological word-splitters. Alas! that it should be so, for the crime is great, and thousands have died at Tyburn for faults not a tithe so injurious to the commonwealth.
What is to be done with persons who will not leave a church when their views are opposed to its standards? The reply is easy. They should have a patient hearing that they may have opportunity to explain, and if it be possible to their consciences, may sincerely conform; but if the divergence be proven, they must with all the courtesy consistent with decision be made to know that their resignation is expected, or their expulsion must follow. The church which does not do this has only one course before it consistent with righteousness; if it be convinced that the standards are in error and the preacher right, it ought at all hazards to amend its standards, and if necessary to erase every letter of its creed, so as to form itself on a model consistent with the public teaching which it elects, or with the latitude which it prefers. However much of evil might come of it, such a course would be unimpeachably consistent, so consistent indeed that we fear few ordinary mortals will be able to pursue it; but the alternative of maintaining a hollow compact, based on a lie, is as degrading to manliness as to Christianity. Much and often have we marvelled at the inertia of Christian manhood. An Imaum who traduced the prophet from the pulpit of the Mosque, would have small tolerance from the disciples of Mahomet beyond the leave to go his way, and never pollute the place a second time. Not even the most debased of idolatries would so stultify itself, or become so heartlessly hypocritical, as to enrich with the gold and silver of its votaries priests who avowedly an laboriously opposed the gods, and the teachings of the Shastras. It, is reserved for certain Christian churches to degrade themselves by tolerating as their teachers the acknowledged and professed propounders of another gospel, an d allowing the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and the verifies of the faith, to be scoffed at to their faces on the Sabbath-day by their own paid ministers. How long ere this reproach shall be rolled away!