By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The nation-wide Conferences on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship - the initials of which have given a new word to the language - are part of a wide and profound movement among the Churches for the Christianizing of all politics and all economics, born of a deep and very natural impatience with the world’s unending miscarriage. “The basis of Copec,” its Commission Report says, “is the conviction that the Christian Faith gives the vision and the power essential for solving the problems of to-day - the constitution of society, the conduct of industry, national and international politics, in fact all human relationships.” The Federal Council of the Evangelical Free Churches gives it the warmest support (Times, Sept. 24), nor is the Anglican Communion, as a whole, less enthusiastic: it is the most highly organized, the most widely supported, and probably the best-spirited effort to reform the world ever made.
THE FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN AIM.
Now the first comment of the Scriptural student, sympathetic yet critical, is the invariable futility - a futility historical, because inherent - of all reform approached without regeneration. The failure is invariable and inevitable* because Christianity attempts the deeper thing, and wrecks upon the human will: the purpose of the Church in the world is not to dress the skin, but to lance the tumour; and the world invariably refuses the knife. It is curious how the world itself sees this. The Times (April 14, 1924), commenting on the Birmingham Conference, says:- “The hope of Christians, who are Christians indeed, for mankind is not centred in the State, but in the redemption of man’s whole nature, and that by means wholly beyond the scope of human policy.” Copec’s attempt to regenerate society before it has regenerated man is doomed to failure because the explosive vices will always wreck the most perfect institutions.** All minor arguments, therefore, though extremely powerful in themselves - such as that the Church possesses neither the power nor the experience, neither the wealth nor the authority, for municipal or national or international administration, and therefore is bound to be ineffective if she attempts it; or that exactly in proportion as she devotes strength to the social, she withdraws it from the spiritual - may go by the board: the fact is, the cure is in the heart, or there is no cure at all. “The doctrine of environment,” as Dr. Campbell Morgan has said, “received its death-blow in the Garden of Eden.”
[* No catalogue would be more instructive - though alas, through want of records, it will never be made - than a list of the Communistic and co-operative experiments, not based on a humanity re-born of God, which, from the days of Robert Owen downwards - and indeed backward through all the ages - have strewn history with their wreckage. Incomparably the vastest, the Russian Communism, has proved the crowning fiasco.
** The world acknowledges it has no power to change the man. Anatole France writes (Sept., 1924) to the Daily Herald thus:- “Universal peace will come one day, not because men will have become better (we cannot hope for that), but because a new order of society, new science, and new economic necessities will compel them to establish it.”]
CHRISTIANITY AT STAKE
Now this inevitable futility of Copec - so exceedingly earnest and profoundly conscientious as it so often is - opens up a sudden and very grave vista. For its failure, after promises so lavish and so golden, will profoundly confirm the world in its unbelief. No Christian of the nineteenth century did more for Christianizing English legislation than the late Lord Shaftesbury; yet the summary of his experience is this:- “I have been identified with a great number of humanizing influences and activities during the past half century. I have seen humanity improved, and the classes drawn together. But the more I see them being improved in that way, the farther they am getting away from God.” That is, mankind may advance in non-essentials, while it retrogrades in essentials; and the downgrade in essentials will involve the non-essentials also in ultimate ruin. If Christianity goes by the board, civilization also (its by-product) will go bankrupt. So here lies the bottom tragedy. The ultimate tragedy lies, not so much in the collapse of an effort often painfully conscientious, but rather in the conviction that will be created in vast multitudes, a conviction inevitable and appalling, that because it fails, Christianity is false. Nor will there be any escape from the dreadful conclusion. For if Copec’s premisses are correct - that Christ came so that “all we mean by ‘Church’ may leaven and vitalize all that we mean by ‘State,’” so, reforming politics and economics by permeating the world with His teaching – Christianity’s final failure to effect this, can only prove its fundamental falsehood. And it makes the thoughtful shudder that Copec says so. “The acid test of Christianity for this generation,” says one of its exponents, Mr. Tom Sylies, “is its readiness and competence to right the wrong, and to establish a just and righteous order of life.”
But an incomparably graver indictment lies in the dilution of
Christianity without which it is impossible to get the co-operation of worldly
forces for the world’s self-reform. It
is extraordinarily significant that in Copec’s
fundamental book – “The Nature of God and His Purpose
for the World” - the Blessed Trinity is not once named; we hear much of
Jesus of Nazareth., but not a word of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity;
and the Holy Spirit, referred to once, is mentioned only casually. Here arises a new aspect of the social problem
which, while wholly vital to the Christian revelation, seems never to rise
above the horizon of Copec at all. The enormous fundamental of the world-problem
OUR LORD’S GUIDANCE
But on this whole problem of the Christianization of the State and of industry we are not left without the direct guidance of our Lord Himself. For the Saviour has put one jewel of revelation as a deliberate stumbling-block in the path of the Christian world-reformer. Answering an injured property-holder, who appealed to Him for arbitration - of all intervention in politics, surely the most innocent - Jesus says:- “Man” - for He is addressing unregenerate humanity – “who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12: 14). Labour makes exactly this appeal to the Church: it thinks it has found in Christ a redresser of wrongs; a champion of the oppressed; an arbitrator between classes and nations; a referee in lawsuits. So here is a critical test put to our Lord Himself. His startling response exactly embodies the spiritual Christian’s attitude, manifestly shaped since by the Holy Ghost, for two thousand years. Our Lord declines to intervene: He expresses no judgment on the merits of the dispute: He takes no sides in class wars, national wars, industrial wars: He is neither on the side of wealth nor poverty, tyranny nor anarchy, capitalism nor labour. Why? Because the supreme way, nay, the only way, to aid the world to-day is to bring home to it the Gospel of the Grace of God; so creating, out of the world itself, a Church which is the reservoir of intercession, the dam of judgment, the world’s regulating light, the ark of the lost. As Christ was in the world, so are we. He who will assess the conduct of the entire Church of God; who will adjudicate between the massed nations on Mount Olivet; who will decide the eternal destiny of all mankind on the Great White Throne:- He says, in this dispensation of all-encompassing grace, - “Who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Startlingly clear is it that for the Church, or the individual disciple, to act now as magistrate or arbitrator over the godless - exactly the international claim made by the Papacy - or to attempt to change the world by any means but regeneration, is to depart altogether from the precepts and practise of Christ.*
[* The profound oversight of dispensational truth, and of the
mutually exclusive orbits of Church and State throughout the day of Grace, is
revealed in Copec’s resolution on War:- “All war is contrary
to the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ.” This is but half the truth: the disciple is to
the sword (Matt. 26: 52), the State
is to use it (
THE SECOND ADVENT
It is extraordinary that, just when the very fabric of the
world is tottering, and, warned by preliminary judgments, we stand on the edge
of untold catastrophe, men should be so blind as to
think to mop back the ocean of judgment with the Copec
I see the last dark, bloody sunset,
I see the dread Avenger’s form;
I hear the Armageddon’s onset –
But I shall be above the storm.
There comes a moaning and a sighing,
There comes the death-clod’s heavy fall,
A thousand agonies of dying-
But I shall be above them all.