The Church and Modern Life
Washington Gladden

Part 3 out of 3

learns its business, it will be under their tuition. And it must be by
their voices, chiefly, that the new evangel will be proclaimed.

The young men and women who have had the patience to read these
chapters have been invited to consider some large and serious themes. It
has been assumed that they did not care for kindergarten talk, nor even
for the ethical platitudes to which youth are apt to be treated. There
has been no talking down to them; they have been asked to sit where
Jesus sat, among the doctors in the temple, to hear and answer
questions, and to consider, with the rest of us, our Father's business.

All this tremendous work of social reconstruction about which we are
talking must be done, and most of it must be done by them. It is to be
hoped that they will be able to see the urgency of it, and to feel that
it is something worth their while.

Those of us who have been permitted to come in contact with the more
thoughtful young men and women of this generation, especially those in
the colleges and the professional schools, have been made aware of a
deepening conviction among the best of them that the kind of prizes for
which the multitude are contending are not of the highest value. Great
revisions have been taking place, during the past few years, in the
estimates of success. Many careers which, but a little while ago,
seemed enviable, now appear much less alluring. And while this change of
attitude is far from being universal, there is a goodly number of young
men and women scattered through all our communities whose souls are
kindled with social passion, and who are asking not so eagerly how they
may succeed as how they may serve. To these we have a right to look for
leadership in the work of social redemption.

Many phases of this work will appeal to them. In education, in
philanthropy, in journalism, in literature, in art, they will be called
to serve; many philanthropies will invite them; the organization of
industry upon cooeperative lines will offer some of them a vocation, and
the government will be upon their shoulders.

But what they are asked to consider here is the claim of the church upon
them. That claim need not conflict with any of these other vocations,
unless, indeed, the work of the Christian ministry should offer itself
to their choice. That possibility, by the way, is well worth thinking
of. Some of them, let us trust, will keep it in mind for further
consideration. If the business of the church is what we have found it
to be, and the new evangelism is such as we have outlined, the Christian
ministry must offer to any man whose heart is on fire with social
passion a great opportunity. But for the present let us note the fact
that upon those who are not to give their whole lives to the work of the
church, the church has a claim, which they ought seriously to consider.
Whatever their callings may be, in whatever fields they may be laboring,
the church will need their loyal service, and they will need its goodly
fellowships and its inspiring cooeperation.

The church which ought to be, and must be, is not for some of us, but
for all of us. Even as the state is the political commonwealth to which
all citizens belong, so the church is the spiritual commonwealth in
which all souls should be included. The interests for which the church
provides are the common human interests; it never can be what it ought
to be, or do what it is called to do, until it gathers all the people
into its fellowship. And therefore these young men and women to whom the
future is intrusted must find their places in the church. The church
needs them; it cannot fulfill its function without them; and we have
seen that its function is a vital function; that it furnishes the bond
by which society is held together.

The church is God's agency for leavening society with Christian
influences; and these young men and women by whom the social order is to
be reconstructed will be in the church. Its leadership will be committed
to them. They will have the shaping of its life. Its life will need much
reshaping, and that will be their work. What will they make of it?

1. They will make it, what it has always been, a place of worship; the
shrine of the spirit; the home of Christian nurture; a school of
instruction; a fount of inspiration; a seminary of religion; the
meeting-place of man and God.

Attempts have been made in recent years to organize churches--or, at
least, associations which should take the place of churches--in which
religion should be dispensed with; in which there should be more or less
of ethical instruction and of charitable cooeperation, but no recognition
of any connection between this world and any other. That is simply a
reform against nature, and it will never prosper. For, as Professor
William James has taught us, in a great inductive study, the sum of all
that is known about religion warrants us in saying:--

"(a) That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe, from
which it draws its chief significance;

"(b) That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our
true end;

"(c) That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof ... is a
process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and
produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal

These are the indubitable conclusions of modern science; and the
proposition to ignore the deepest fact of human experience will not be
entertained by the young men and women of the present day. The church,
under their leadership, will be a worshiping church, a praying church.
It will keep itself in close relations with that unseen universe from
which its help must come. It will be a channel through which the divine
grace will flow into the lives of men. And it will also be, what it has
always been, a school as well as a shrine, a place where the teacher
searches out and unfolds the truth and the prophet proclaims the message
that has been given him.

2. Under its new leadership the church will continue to be a minister to
human want and suffering. The charitable work which has always been
emphasized in its administration will not be neglected, but it will take
on a new character. There will be less almsgiving, and more of the kind
of help which saves manhood and womanhood. The young men and women who
are called to this leadership will understand the worth of souls--that
is, of men and women; and they will be careful lest, in their relief of
want, they undermine the character. Above all, they will feel that while
it is the business of the church to care for the poor, its first
business is to cure the conditions which breed poverty.

3. They will thoroughly democratize the life of the church, making it
the rallying place of a genuine Christian fraternity, in which men of
all ranks and stations meet on a common level, ignoring the distinctions
of rich and poor, cultured and ignorant, and emphasizing the fact of
Christian brotherhood. We have churches which profess democracy, but
there is reason to fear that many of them are little better than
oligarchies; that some of them come near to being monarchies. The new
leadership will discern the importance of making every member of the
brotherhood, no matter how humble, a partaker of its responsibilities,
and a helper in its services. They will know that the problem of church
administration is to make every man feel that he is needed. They will
grasp the significance of Paul's figure of the body and its members, and
will see that "those members of the body which seem to be more feeble
are necessary," and that "those parts of the body which are less
honorable" ought to receive "more abundant honor." They will have
workingmen in their vestries and their sessions and their boards of
trustees. They will show to all the world that they have accepted the
word of Jesus: "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are

4. This means that the life of the church will not only be thoroughly
democratized, but greatly simplified. All its administration will take
on plainer and less luxurious forms. The splendors of architecture and
art, of upholstery and decoration, of ecclesiastical millinery and
music, with which we now so often seek to attract men to the house of
God, will be put aside; and the followers of Jesus Christ will get near
enough to him to have some sense of the fitness of things in the
ordering of the houses of worship where the Carpenter is the social
leader and where rich and poor meet as one brotherhood.

Instead, therefore, of permitting the church to be invaded and
vulgarized by the luxury and extravagance of the world, they will turn
the current in the other direction. The church, under the new
leadership, will not take its cue from the world; it will enforce its
own standards upon the world. "Out of Zion will go forth the law."

Bitter words were those spoken at a recent meeting of the Congregational
Union in England by one of the greatest of English preachers.[30] "The
common life of the home," he said, "is often a mere vulgar exhibition of
the means of living. We try to persuade ourselves that showy living is
essential life. In tens of thousands of English homes the mere show of
things is the goal of a restless and feverish ambition. Everywhere we
seem to be loitering and pottering about in the implement yard. Even in
our universities we must have showy buildings, though we starve the
chairs. All this peril becomes the more insidious when we pass into the
realm of the church of God. Why, the 'means of grace' are often
misinterpreted as grace itself. We are obtruding our badges and ribbons,
our soldier's dress without the soldier's spirit, our music, our
ministers even,--how they look, what they wear, what they do--they are
all part of the wretched vulgarity of the modern spirit."

The two things are rightly put together. The ostentation of the home,
the tawdry luxury and profusion of fashionable society, creep into the
church and set up their standards there, and the religion of Christ puts
on a costume in which its Founder would never recognize it.

We are dealing here with the very heart of the trouble in our national
life, and the problem is one which must be solved by the present
generation of our young men and women. The social conditions which are
depicted for us by close students of the life of our luxurious classes
are ominous in the extreme. The cynical dishonesties and the brutal
spoliations which have come to light in the realm of high finance and
big business are the natural fruit of such a manner of life as many of
our recent novelists have vividly portrayed. And the wanton extravagance
of the House of Mirth would not exist if the majority of the people did
not admire it. The outcry against it is oftener the voice of envy than
of moral revulsion. The cure for this evil, as of most others, is found
in public opinion; and the church must educate public opinion to reprove
it, and the leadership of the church will be in the hands of the young
men and women of this generation.

It will be evident to them that the place to begin is in the church
itself. The heartless luxury of the world will not be chastened into
simplicity by a church that surrounds itself with splendor and spends
money lavishly upon its pleasures. They will know that a church which
wishes to reprove the vanity and ostentation of the outside world must
order its own life in such a way that its word shall be with power.

5. Finally and chiefly the young men and women who are to be called to
the leadership of the church will feel that their main business is the
work of church extension. But they will give to this phrase a little
different meaning from that which it has generally carried. The church
extension to which the boards and societies in the church have been
devoted is the work of building new churches in promising fields. It is
properly denominational extension. Something of this kind will remain to
be done in the new day now before us, and our new leaders will doubtless
have some part in it. But the church extension which is most loudly
called for just now is the extension of the life of the church into
every department of human life. It is more analogous to what we call
university extension work. The business of university extension is not
the planting of new universities; it is the projection of the university
into the community; it is the attempt to carry the light and the
knowledge and the truth and the beauty for which the university stands
down among the people; to popularize the higher culture and the finer
art. That is a most praiseworthy enterprise, a most Christian
undertaking. And something very much like this will be the church
extension for which the new leadership will stand. Its aim will be to
make a vital connection between the Christian church and every
institution or agency by which the work of the world is done, so that
the influence of the church shall be directly felt in every part of our
social life. It will consider the church as the nursery or conservatory,
whose growths are to be planted out all over the field of the world. It
will make the church the central dynamo of the community, connected by a
live wire with every home, school, factory, bank, shop, store, office,
legislative chamber, employers' association, labor federation,--with
every organ of the whole social organism, so that the light and power
which are in Jesus Christ shall be the guiding influence and the motive
force of our civilization.

This is the work which remains to be done, and for which this present
world is loudly calling. It is the work that Jesus Christ came into this
world to do, and he will not see of the travail of his soul and be
satisfied until it is done. The opportunity of realizing the social aims
of Jesus, of organizing society upon the principles which he laid down,
is offered to the young men and women of this generation. It will be
open to them so to order the life of the church that in its democracy
and its simplicity it shall represent Jesus Christ, and then to extend
this life into industry and commerce and politics and art and social
diversion, thus bringing all the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom
of the Christ. It will be their principal task to translate the sermons
and the prayers and the songs of Sunday into the life of the shop and
the factory and the office on Monday and the other days of the week.
That would mean, of course, a tremendous overturning in the business of
the world; a radical revision of the ideals and standards of the great
majority; a new point of view and a new aim in life for the most of us.
But such a peaceful revolution in our ways of life would be far less
painful and disastrous than the revolution which our present habits are
sure to bring, and it is the only thing which will prevent it. And if
the young men and women of to-day will but discern this truth, they may
have the honor of leading in the new Saturnian reign.

We hear in these days from earnest men many anxious questions why the
message of the gospel fails to reach and convince the outside multitude.
"Why is it," good preachers say, "that there are so many people in all
our communities--some of them very good people--who are not at all
touched by our appeal? They do not seem to be interested in what we have
to offer them. They do not appear to feel their need of it."

To this question more than one answer could be given, but there is one
answer which needs to be well considered. One reason is that these men
and women fail to discern, in the life round about them, the reality of
the thing which we offer them. For Christianity is, as we have seen in
these studies, not only an individual experience, but a social fact. And
while we might not be qualified to judge whether the individual
experience, in any given case, is genuine, we could see the social fact,
if it were in sight. That social fact would be profoundly interesting to
us, and it would be convincing. Nothing else is likely to convince us.
In truth, we cannot understand Christianity at all until we see it in
operation in society. One man alone cannot give any idea of what it is.
As some one has said, one man and God will give us all that is essential
in any other religion, but Christianity requires for Its operation at
least two men and God. In fact, it takes a good many men and women and
children, living together in all sorts of relations, to give any
adequate exhibition of it. What we need, then, first of all, to convince
men of its reality, is a good sample of it, in active operation--a great
variety of good samples, indeed. When we have these to show, we can get
people interested.

It would be difficult, if a very homely illustration may be permitted,
to enlist the interest of any boy in baseball if you made it with him an
individual matter. You might try to train him for any given position on
the field, but if he undertook to study it out alone it would not be
easy for him to understand it. In fact, it would be impossible. No one
could learn the game all alone. The team work is the whole of it. And it
would be absurd to expect any one to become interested in the game
unless he could see it played.

To take a similar illustration from a somewhat higher form of art, you
would not be likely to succeed in awakening enthusiasm in any one for
orchestral music by giving him his individual part of the score to study
and play over by himself. No matter what his instrument might be, the
solitary performance of the part assigned to it would be the dryest
possible business. You could not convert any man to the love of
orchestral music by any such process. But if he could hear all the
instruments played together, and, better still, if he could play in with
all the rest, that might be inspiring.

So you need not expect to convert any man to Christianity unless you can
show him Christianity at work in human society. In considering only the
individual application of it, its whole meaning and significance would
be hidden from him. The team work is all there is of it. Let him see it
in active operation, and it will awaken his enthusiasm.

This is, in fact, the essence of the new evangelism to which the young
men and women of this day are called. Their business will be to take
Christianity out into the field of the world and set it at work. It is
for this that the leadership is intrusted to them. The church has been a
long time coming to this, but it seems at last to be arriving, and the
young people of this generation will be summoned to the great
undertaking. Surely they may feel that a high honor and a heavy
responsibility are thus put upon them. It is the most heroic enterprise
to which the sons of men have ever been called.

Not all of them will respond to the call. But we may hope that there
will be found among them a goodly minority to whom the appeal will come
with commanding voice, and whom we may hear answering: "Yea and amen!
The work is ours, and we will not shirk it. It is work worth doing, and
it can be done. To make a better world of this is the best thing a man
can think of; and we believe that Christ's way is the right way. It has
never yet had a fair trial, and we are bound that it shall be tried. We
know that we shall not make ourselves rich or famous in this
undertaking; but we shall see the load lifted from many shoulders, and
the light of hope shining in many eyes; we shall hear the din of strife
changing to the songs of cheerful labor; we shall share our simple joys
with those who know that we have always tried to make their lives
happier, and who cannot choose but love us; we shall find life worth
living, and we shall die content."


[1] _Through Nature to God_, p. 189.

[2] _The Victory of the Will_, p. 213.

[3] _First Principles_, p. 14.

[4] _Ibid._ p. 20.

[5] _First Principles_, pp. 99, 100.

[6] Quoted by Walker in _Christian Theism_, p. 47.

[7] _Christian Theism_, pp. 40, 42.

[8] New York _Independent_, September 12, 1907.

[9] Micah iv, 5.

[10] I do not include Confucianism, because it is, primarily, a system
of ethics or sociology rather than a religion; and also because it seems
to have no missionary impulse, and no expectation of universality.

[11] _Permanent Elements in Religion_, p. 143.

[12] _The Unknown God_, p. 228.

[13] Professor D. M. Fisk.

[14] Acts ii, 44, 45.

[15] Matt. vi. 5, 6.

[16] James v, 16.

[17] Rauschenbusch: _Christianity and the Social Crisis_, pp. 93, 94.

[18] Page 182.

[19] _The Social Gospel_, Harnack and Herrmann, pp. 216, 217.

[20] _Essays and Addresses_, p. 194.

[21] _Essays and Addresses_, p. 189.

[22] _A History of the Reformation_, vol. i, pp. 85,86.

[23] _Ibid._ pp. 87, 88.

[24] _Op. cit._ p. 96.

[25] Seebohm, _The Era of the Protestant Revolution_, pp. 57,58.

[26] _Op. cit._ pp. 327, 328.

[27] _The Philosophy of Religious Experience_, by Henry W. Clark, pp.

[28] Rauschenbusch, _Christianity and the Social Crisis_, pp. 414-416.
The volume is one that no intelligent student of present-day
Christianity can afford to neglect.

[29] _The Varieties of Religious Experience_, p. 485.

[30] Dr. J. H. Jowett.


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