WHAT THEN IS CHRISTIANITY?
The following excerpts are taken from the book Fundamentals of Christianity,
by Henry C. Vedder, Professor of Church History in Crozer Theological Seminary.
The book was published by the Macmillan Company in 1923. I'm hoping for permission to place the book in the electronic public domain.
However, until then, these excerpts, most of which did not make it to my Masters Thesis, are still important enough to place up here for others' research, and for all of our general strengthening and challenge.
What is Christianity? Is it a form of worship, or a form of sound words, or a form of polity, or a form of ministering the sacraments? If it is none of these things, but the negation of forms, a thing of the spirit and not of the letter, where shall we look for Christianity today? Is it not true that those who "profess and call themselves Christians" are concerning themselves mainly with forms? It will do the reader good to answer these questions for himself, and he will be wise to think awhile before he speaks. The world is answering them now, and if men must choose between the dryness and anarchism that goes by the name of Protestantism and the paralyzing spiritual despotism called Catholicism, they will assuredly choose -- neither!
That religion is an affair of the spirit is quite emphatically can unanimously affirmed by Christian teachers, however their practice my contradict their words. Thus they bear testimony to the truth that the power of of Christianity lies in its capacity of development and recuperation -- a power shown no less strikingly in its institutions than in individual lives. In other words, Christianity is and always has been what it was first proclaimed to be, a way of life, the power of God unto salvation. But deliverance of a soul is not a mechanical thing; it is a spiritual process that cannot be accomplished by sacrifices or sacraments. It is quite in accord with human indolence that men should look for a salvation to be accomplished in something done for them.
Salvation is as much a gift of God as our daily bread, but on the same condition: man must work for it. The ideal of Jesus is a salvation accomplished by men, not for them, from within, not from without.
The greatest error of historic Christianity, and error so grave in results as to be goth tragic and pathetic, has been its agelong effort to substitute for the ever ripening expression of the inner life of Christians of all ages the Christian experience of a single age, as an unchanging, authoritative, infallibel norm of the Christian life for all time to come. Insteand of something dynamic, the attempt has been made to make theology static. The bane of religion is the dogmatist's search for authority, and his insistence that he has found authority where none exists. for, in the usual sense of the word, there is no authority in religion, nothing fixed, unalterable, infallible; because religion is life, and life is growth, and growth is change.
Therefore, theology ought to be no bed of Procrustes, on which we place this New Testament document and that religious experience, chopping off a bit here, stretching out a bit there, until everything fits exactly into our pre-ordained "system." That too nearly describes the method of all theology of the past, but such will not be the method of the future.
quotes from pages 213 to 215.
The first task of [todays] church [seems to be] to increase its own numbers, property, income, and influence in its community. The success of any minister, of whatever badge or title, is measured by his efficiency in accomplishing this specific task. His one duty is to "build up the Church," and woe to him if he fails. He is the slave of institutionalism.
The New Christianity that we must have, if we are to have any, is simply a renewal of the Christianity of Jesus, so long overlaid by tradition as to be lost sight of, so long denied by the official teachers of religion as to become forgotten. In its zeal for things, historic Christianity has ignored men. And so far as it has concerned itself with men, it has held up to them a wrong ideal. Its conception of Christian character has long been mainly a series of negatives -- a notion that was put into a quaint phrase by a late popular "evangelist," who described being a Christian as equivalent to "quit your meanness," giveup your vicious practices and stop neglecting your business.
And so it had come to pass that the Chruch is giving to the world a distorted, inadequate, and therefore false, interpretation of Christianity. It is laying emphasis on the unessential things, the negative virtues, and slurring over the essential and positive, until the world no longer eonnects the essentials specifically with Christianity. Men who are learning to esteem unselfishness, generosity, helpfulness, as the great and fine things oflife, do not commonly think of these as Christian virtues. In their view a Christian is a man who does not gamble or drink or swear or run after women, and especially one who carefully shuns the company of men who do these things, and cultivates a spirit of self-righteousness in consequence.
That to be a Christian is something much finer and manlier than abstinence from personal vices, ...the man of the world has no idea whatever, and the "Christian" has little.
Quotes from pages 211 and 212.