Obrazy na stronie

the Bishop froin all responsibility, is a valid one, and that the latter is essential to the permanency of the Itineracy.

II. Subordinate to this position, we said:

But great changes would surely be introduced in Methodist usages, doctrine, and discipline. One minister, believing in the annihilation of the wicked, another preaching hope for all, a third winking at dancing, card-playing, theater-going, a fourth indifferent to class-meetings, these could all, and easily, stamp their peculiarities on their congregations, and great dissimilarities in usages, doctrine, and discipline would soon appear. If the germs of these things are planted “in the green tree, what would they do in the dry?” Then, when these evils should have become obvious, and it would seem necessary to remove the man to save the Church, the cry of persecution would be raised, those whom he had infected would gather around him and he would remain or divide the Church. This result would be the more sure because, under a ministry likely to be permanent, those who sympathize with a peculiar style gather around its embodiment, and those who dislike it (unless they remain as a turbulent element) depart.

This passage has had the fortune to be extensively quoted. It appears in full in an article in the “Independent” of February 12, the second in a series now appearing from Methodist writers on various phases of this subject. The author of the article says, referring to the above passage:

This is a mild and harmless joke that nobody will mistake for an argument, as it is generally known that Methodism has a more prompt and vigorous way of dealing with heresy and misdemeanors than cutting their tap-roots and translating them every three years.

To mistake reasoning for joking, and joking for reasoning, are usually closely connected, though of little assistance in the solution of a difficult problem. Dr. Warren addresses himself to the examination of the passage with energy and candor. He says:

These evils would be prevented by other features of Methodist polity and practice. ... If it may be presumed that any considerable number of Methodist preachers, yielding to the small temptation which the possibility of a long pastorate might present, would, if left to themselves, forget the vows and obligations of their office, fall from the grace of Methodist loyalty, and then develop all the perverseness and depravity above indicated, it should still be remembered that judgment awaits them. They are responsible. This fact would tend to reduce the number. With the Discipline marking distinctly the course of ministerial duty, with the Bishops having general supervision of the Church, with Presiding Elders having more immediate and personal supervision of Districts, with Annual Conferences jealous of the honor of the Church, and intolerant of heterodoxy or disloyalty, and with a body of critical laymen ready to judge ministers by the standards of Methodist law and usage, it is probable that the number of these erratics would remain quite small, and that their following would not be very great. There is little danger that Dr. Buckley's “green tree would ever become a dry” one.

But in summing up all that was suggested as possible of different men, and predicating it of one, in the phrase “develop all the depravity and perverseness above indicated," attention is diverted from the main point. We said: “One minister believing in the annihilation of the wicked, another preaching hope for all, a third winking at card-playing, dancing, and theater-going, a fourth indifferent to class-meetings... Inight easily stamp their peculiarities,” etc. “If the germs of these things are planted in the green tree,' what would they do in the dry ?” The grounds of that couclusion must now be submitted. The effect of the permanent identification of ministers with the same Church or society is not a matter of conjecture. Around us are Churches in which permanency of the pastoral relation is possible, and desired by the ministry and by the people so long as they are satisfied.

Though the results are often so beneficent that, as the Methodist minister who must “move in three years ” looks upon the venerable pastor or pastor emeritus, a feeling of despondency sometimes arises in his breast, we cannot be blind to the fact that great differences in the spirit, doctrinal teachings and practices of the people arise. Consider, as examples in the Protestant Episcopal Church, the influence respectively of Drs. F. C. Ewer and Stephen H. Tyng, Jun.; the Church of the former hardly distinguishable from Roman Catholicism, that of the Rev. Mr. Tyng, in its spirit and teaching distinguishable from a Methodist Church chiefly by the use of the prayerbook and the gown. In the Presbyterian Church how unlike in spirit and modes are the societies of Drs. Talmage and Cayler. In the Congregational Churches there are ministers preaching a species of Universalism, and others the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards; some as strict in their teaching con. cerning amusements as the early Puritans or Methodists, others inculcating views the very opposite. It is reasonable to infer that, with permanency made possible among us, similar changes would arise, unless natural tendencies were counteracted by some adequate force. Under the operation of the time limit as it now exists, no minister has the opportunity to infect, to any great extent, an orthodox congregation. If, on his arrival, he were to preach contrary to the "standards” of Methodism, he would arouse opposition, and would soon be removed if not suspended. A preacher of false doctrine, without friends and an established position, is seldom dangerous. If he insidiously undermine, his time is up before he has done great damage. The figure of “cutting the tap-root," quoted above, implies forgetfulness of botany. The botanical definition of “tap-root” is this: “The root of a plant which pene trates the earth directly downward to a considerable distance without dividing.” The tap-roots in a Methodist congregation, educated under a long line of preachers “speaking the same words and ninding the same things,” are too sound and healthy to be killed in a year or two.

That some of our ministers have been indifferent to classmeetings, and allowed them to become almost or quite extinct, and that there are some pastors in rich and fashionable congregations and in wealthy farming communities who do not mention class-meetings in the pulpit from the beginning to the end of the year, could be proved if denied. Furthermore, that dancing and theater-going are continually making inroads ; that the waves of fashionable dissipation, augmented by the laxity of other Denominations in all great centers, are beating continually against us; that some ministers have been silent,

winked” at these things, so as to make it difficult for their successors to be faithful to Methodism, and at the same time to be popular with the young people, or even approved by their parents, is known to all who have the opportunity to know it. And wherever these things have made inroads, whether in the East or the West, in the beginning it was the indifference, the blindness, the weakness, or the cowardice of some minister or ministers that allowed it. To pluck up one weed, and that a little one, is easy; to search for one at the roots of every flower or plant in the garden, troublesome if not dangerous. But often these careless husbandmen are followed by those who prefer fidelity to ease, and the evil work is partly or wholly undone.

or even

When Dr. Warren says that "there is little danger that Dr. Backley's green tree will ever become a dry," we must be al. lowed to remind him that under the operation of natural causes the only thing necessary to turn a “green tree” into a “dry is time.

But what are the forces, said to have been overlooked,. which are to prevent these results? The action of Bishops, and trials for heresy. But when time has made the incumbent strong, so that "to remove him will rend the Church,” “there's the rub.” Again, a Society may be honeycombed with fashionable dissipation, and no Bishop know it. Ah! but the Presiding Elder will, and he will give the Bishop that “necessary information.” Nay, the Presiding Elder cannot enter very far into the social life of a congregation, even where his family attends, much less elsewhere. As for trials for heresy, they are so difficult to manage, create so much bitterness, and afford such opportunities for hair-splitting, that, except in the most outspoken cases, nothing could be done. A distinguished and able man, tried for heresy in the Methodist Episcopal Church, with a strong society to which he had preached for eight or ten years in sympathy with him, would become a martyr, and his society would vow to stand by him to the end.

The other evils, decline of class-meetings, increase of worldly amusements, etc., could come on from simple neglect. If the original passage be carefully studied and judged, in view of what occurs in Churches where permanency is possible and desired, in the light of the tendencies of modern times, especially if the influence of the secular press on ecclesiastical trials be duly considered, it will appear that there are no adequate forces to prevent the "green tree” from becoming a "dry” if all time limits should be abolished.

III. Our next position, concerning the complication of the work of the Bishop, has received comparatively little attention, except that of flat denial. We see no reason to do otherwise tban to reaffirm that position, adding only important admissions from authoritative sources. The “Methodist,” in an editorial of January 17, says: “If we believed in the helplessness of the

He says:

Episcopacy, as our critic seems to do, we should not favor the change in question. We believe as strongly as he in a limit and a limiting power; but we believe that it exists in the Episcopal authority.” The Rev. C. N. Sims, D.D., states an objection to the removal of the limit as follows: " It would so interfere with the authority of the Bishops that they couid not exercise it according to their best judgment.” He then says:

If this be true it is an unanswerable argument against the pro· posed change. But we deny it wholly. Ample constitutional power remains with the Bishop, and the contempt of the whole Church would justly rest upon any man in that high position who had not the courage and conscience to use it faithfully.

“Ample constitutional power” is a “good phrase," but the practicability of its exercise is the question at issue.

IV. To break the force of our objections to the removal of the limitation, the editor of the “Northern " relies on "loyalty."

What, then, is the ground for the declaration that the removal of the limitation—a change in itself desirable and requiring nothing but loyalty to render it perfectly safe and highly advantageous—would cost us the Itineracy? Has it come to pass that they who are faithful in much can be trusted with nothing ? That ministers and Churches that have respectively surrendered much for a common good cannot safely be permitted any freedom which could in the least increase the temptation to insubordination and independence? It is true there might occur instances if the limitation were abolished, etc., but after reading Dr. Buckley's truthful explanation of the phenomenon of Methodist loyalty, we cannot but think that the number of such instances will be, as he says with reference to cases of insubordination at the present time,“ so very small as scarcely to be a factor in the estimate of the working of the system.”

But what is this “loyalty” of which he speaks? It is loyalty to the Methodist Episcopal Denomination or Church ; for a minister is never permitted to feel that he is identified permanently with any particular society. Now, suppose that he were settled over a society for ten or twenty years, that it had been planted by him, or grown up under his labors, that though he went to the Conference every year, and received his re-appointment, neither he nor the people expected hiin to be removed so long as he succeeded; suppose, further, that a Bishop should propose to arbitrarily remove him, or that he

« PoprzedniaDalej »