We live today in a world that has changed and is still fast changing. Yet human nature remains unaltered, and the problems that face the Christian church in her relationship with the world are substantially the same as they have been during the course of her history. We saw how the high ideals and burning zeal of primitive days slowly gave way to worldliness as the church grew numerically and financially powerful. Few would disagree with the statement that the early fire has never been fully recovered. It has never been entirely quenched, and has flashed out from time to time during the pilgrimage of the church, notably in our own country during the eighteenth century. Yet if ever a situation called for a restoration of apostolic devotion we are witnessing such a situation in the world today. The church is faced by nothing less than a general repudiation by the world of the Gospel and the Christian manner of life. The pretence of its acceptance, which has so long persisted, now appears to be in process of abandonment, and the church begins to find herself in something of the same position as she was in at the beginning of her history. Nothing but the throwing over of all pretence on the part of the church and its individual members is likely to meet this situation and to prevent disaster.
The Gospel has lost none of its power, but it is possible for much of that power to be dissipated in passage between its source and outflow by inconsistency of life on the part of individuals or by slackness and disobedience on the part of the church as a whole. The failure of those who hold the catholic evangelical faith to unite shows that matters of minor importance exercise a stronger hold upon many minds than the urgent need of the spiritually dying. It is not likely that we shall adequately meet the world situation to- day until we possess something of the passion and clarity of vision that characterized the Apostle Paul. A study of the manner in which the early church met the world situation in which she found herself and of the immense successes that she won in spite of hindrances without and within may thus afford us considerable help in the somewhat similar circumstances of today.
In the course of our attempt in the preceding chapters to follow the church on her journey down the Christian age we have noticed the extensive place that the adjustment and maintenance of her relationship with the state have occupied in her history. She was born in a totalitarian empire which she crushed and transformed by the power of meekness and love. Her intense conviction proved too much for the genius of Roman government. We have seen that at the moment of her triumph she made a far-reaching mistake. The consequences of that mistake are still powerful in the world. The compromise between church and state which has lasted so long has not prevented, in these last days, the rise of a dangerous nationalism which panders to the state and has succeeded in recovering some of the religious flavour which entered into the individual's relationship to the state in the days of the Roman empire.
The view of the state as supreme has been seen in an extreme form in those aggressive countries whose power has so recently been crushed. But the danger of usurpation by the state of the rights of the individual, and even of some of the regard which is due to God alone, is not confined to the countries defeated in the world war. The reduction of the world to a unity by the revolution now proceeding in mechanical transport, the necessity for the maintenance of an increasingly high standard of living, the appalling possibilities latent in the growing knowledge of explosives, the complications of modern life so often beyond the understanding of the individual, are features that combine to place power and responsibility in the hands of the state. The fact that power is being forced into the hands of the state by the operation of these tendencies, and that no immediate alternative to the extension of the sphere of the state appears feasible, does not make the situation less dangerous. It may be that the stage is being set for a second conflict between church and state, such as that won by the church in the early centuries of her history. The modern state is more dangerous to the church than was the Roman empire, because it has taken over and incorporated within itself some of the ideals which were first introduced into the world by the church. In addition to this, the centuries of compromise between the church and the state have deadened the church's sense of the essential character of the state. The appearance of the extreme ideologies of the state in our generation may therefore have had certain advantages in opening the eyes of Christian people to what the state can be and what it really is at heart. Not that we have been left without warning. The Apocalypse told us long ago. It is to be feared that there are Christian people who are inclined to suppose that the new world of social security and other schemes now visualized will, if it can ever be brought into being, be Christian in essence and capable of being transformed with some modification into the Kingdom of God. If a conflict is to begin again between two inconsistent ways of life, where are the Christians today sufficiently courageous and clear-sighted to win again the great victory of the early church but not throw it away as she did in the hour of triumph?
The victory won by the early church was the more remarkable because she was continually hampered by disloyal or lukewarm elements within. As we saw, the general decay and corruption that marked the aftermath of her victory could not have developed as it did if there had not been already within the church ground on which it could find a foothold. It seems that compromise with that which should be eradicated has been one of the most persistent failings of the people of God throughout their history both in the Old Testament times and during the Christian age. We deplore the failure of ancient Israel to extirpate the Canaanites and we understand the tragic consequences that ensued, but we are slow to realise the presence in our midst of spiritual Canaanites more deadly than those whose influence brought ancient Israel to ruin.
The path of such compromise is, of course, the line of least resistance, and to refuse it needs a courage which is more than that at the disposal of the natural man and can be obtained only from Christ by faith. Thus the same influences which corrupted the primitive church and brought about the tragic phenomenon of mediaeval ecclesiasticism have appeared again, as we saw in the reformed churches, and there is no reason to believe that, if they remain unchecked, they will not again in time stifle the true witness to the Gospel. Their appearance, though deplorable, is to be expected. Far more deplorable is the decline of faithful Protestant witness among true Evangelicals today and the extent to which we lend an ear to proposals of ecumenical ability which embrace the unreformed churches within their scope. This is another issue today which seems to be increasing in seriousness and about which we can learn much by a study of Christian history in the past. How few today know the issues at stake between the Council of Trent and the reformed churches, or the significance of those issues. Yet they should be known in detail by all Evangelical clergy, ministers and leaders just as the faithful remnant in ancient Israel knew and pondered the battles and deliverances of their past.
Something of the intellectual deadness of the disputes of the schoolmen has been achieved by the barren liberal theology of the past century. In this direction; however, we are witnessing a welcome improvement. The cataclysms that have been sweeping the world have given the lie to the conception of progress upon which much of that theology is based. Liberal theologians have been thrown on the defensive, and there is taking place a quite startling conservative reaction which is carrying many of them back to views which were thought, two generations ago, to have been forsaken by scholarship for ever. We should make it our duty to guide this reaction and to prevent its exploitation by the enemies of the reformation as well as to welcome those theologians and others who are painfully making their way back to an outlook which is more consistent with that of the New Testament and the historic creeds. It may need an effort on our part to avoid a patronizing attitude, but this is a duty in which we cannot well afford to fail and in which we need to seek the love and humility of Christ.
An aspect of the life of the Christian church which had been lost during the middle ages and was widely reintroduced only a hundred and fifty years ago is that of missionary activity and a world outlook. The signs seem happily to be that it will this time be permanent. At least there seems to be no indication at present that the church is losing it. There are two dangers that seem to have arisen to dog the missionary enterprise of the church. The first is the exploitation of the world outlook by those who do not preach the full Gospel with the problems connected with cooperation and separation that arise in regard to them upon the mission field. This is a difficulty which Evangelicals have shown some discernment in tackling, and their efforts to overcome it have not been wholly unsuccessful. The second danger is that the world outlook may become so commonplace as to lose its inspiration for the individual. It has been observed in recent years, for example, that Christian University students, while retaining a general interest in missionary activity, have lacked a sense of personal call to the field. The proportion of those who propose to devote their lives to work abroad is less than it was a generation ago. It is difficult to see a solution to this problem, the nature of which is not yet fully understood, but we may believe that God will reveal it and that it is not His intention at such a juncture in world history with its many great opportunities to allow the ardour of His people for the salvation of the millions who have never heard the Gospel to cool.
We must pray and work for a great expansion of missionary activity during the years of reconstruction following the war. In every sphere of work at home and abroad men and women are needed whose passion is for souls, whose hearts and treasure are in heaven, worthy successors to the Spirit-filled slaves who met to worship and proclaim the Gospel in the fields of the Roman empire; to those who stood in the chambers of the Inquisition, agonised and bleeding, yet upheld by an invisible arm; to the faithful missionaries who, in utter dependence upon the Lord, pressed into the dangers of the interior of China and planted the standard of Christ. The call is for those who will make no compromise with the world, the flesh, or the devil; for men who will recognise mediaeval idolatry and the rejection of God's Word as sin, and boldly say so, in whose heart is the fear of God and no fear of man; for men who carry Christ and are carried by Christ wherever they go, whose hearts and minds are steeped in the Word of God and their lives governed by it, so that they can use it with powerful effect; for men and women contact with whom brings the needy to the gate of heaven.