The New Pietism

J. Frank Schulman

Berry Street lecture, 1979

 

Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly

East Lansing, Michigan

June 25, 1979

 

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

 

When Greta Crosby called me some time back to ask if I would be the Berry Street Essayist I replied "yes” before she had finished the sentence. I was, and I am still, flattered at such an honor. Having been so flattered, though -- honors seem to come so rarely -I have had serious regrets ever since. Speaking to a large group of clergy is a difficult task, and clergy are not always the easiest audiences. Sometime defined a sermon as something a minister will go two thousand miles to deliver but won't go across the street to hear.

 

My honor today reminds me of Mark Twain's story about the man who was tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. He said if it weren't for the honor of the thing he'd just as soon walk. So with me: if it weren't for the honor of the thing I'd just as soon pass it by.

 

Nor do ministers live with any continual feeling of greatness. Not long ago I gave what I thought was a fine sermon. Almost everyone else thought so, too, and I beamed with pride. I said to my wife, "Alice, how many great preachers do you suppose there are in this denomination?” "One less than you think,” she replied.

 

THE NEW PIETISM

 

I. HISTORY.

 

My topic is "The New Pietism,” and the Unitarian Universalist response to it. First let me sketch a little of the history.

 

Until the seventeenth century religion was a formal matter. Formalism meant that one was religious as one conformed to the outward matters of religion. One's duties were to accept the creeds, receive the sacraments, and obey the church laws. Faith consisted in giving assent to doctrines.

 

The Pietistic movement began in Germany in the seventeenth century. It stressed experience, feeling, and personal participation as essential to the true Christian faith. The founder of German Pietism was Philipp Jacob Spencer [1635-1705]. Under Pietism, faith was not assent to doctrines, but the life of virtue, private devotions, study of the New Testament, and, in short, a commitment to Christianity as a practical faith that expressed itself in love.

 

Religion, said the Pietists, must appeal not just to the intellect but to the whole person. In education they stressed standards of life and conduct rather than academic achievement. The Pietistic movement stressed the importance of sermons and the prophetic ministry. Philanthropy became an outward sign of faith, as mysticism was an inward sign.

 

Pietism guarded against too narrow a rationalism and pushed for the development of the human spirit. At its highest, it found expression in the great German philosopher Schleiermacher.

 

About 1900 there was another development: Social Gospel. It said that the churches represented power which could be used to change the whole social fabric. Its adherents wanted, not just patchwork, but a different social order.

 

The most eloquent theorist for Social Gospel was Walter Rauschenbusch. He was a liberal theologian, a learned, compassionate man. He was joined by others and they strove to make Christianity more responsive to the suffering of the poor. They sought honest government and better schools. They helped the labor union movement, taught immigrants their legal rights, and established settlement houses.

 

The Social Gospel lost its main influence after the First World War but it continued as a moving force into our own day. Then mainline religion turned again to Formalism, as we saw in the 1950's. The 1960's were times of radical activism. In the 1970's we have seen the growth of fundamentalism, cults, and a return to Pietism.

 

II. DEFINITION OF PIETISM

 

Let's be clear about what Pietism is. It is the belief that faith is best expressed by the development of one's own virtue and morality. The most significant contribution we can make to a Utopian society is to improve ourselves. We do this through study, reflection, and private devotions. We can change the world by changing ourselves. We can be honest, compassionate, loving, kind, and humble. We can do works of charity and love our neighbor. Religion ought to make us sensitive to difficulties that less concerned people would pass by, untroubled by conscience.

 

Pietism tells us there is something in human experience which calls forth reverence, aspiration, hope, and love. Human life needs something permanent, something on which it can depend. We long for that which will not perish and which will give meaning to the fleeting moments of our lives. Our days are not as a series of bubbles, shining and radiant, then bursting as soon as blown. It is religion alone that points us to the eternal in the world and gives us a solid anchorage. "To be rooted and grounded in faith” means that one has confidence in an unchangeable power and goodness.

 

Pietism, when it began, was an attempt to overcome the sterile aspects of dogmatic orthodoxy. It guarded against too narrow a rationalism and pushed for the development of the human spirit. On the practical side Pietism stressed sincerity, humility, and direct openness to the will of God.

 

I speak of Pietism in the sense of Jesus. He sought to reform people, not set up new organizations. Jesus did not wish to destroy the institutions of his day but wished to reform them.

 

I speak of Pietism in the sense of Emerson, though he would not have used the term. Pietism, in Emerson’s sense, was obedience to the God within as higher than the authoritarianism and formalism of ecclesiastical structures.

 

Emerson, in his concept of Self-Reliance, meant that we should look to the God within. He did not mean just "be yourself,” or "do your own thing,” to use the modern vernacular. He thought that if you looked within and found only yourself, that is pride, which, he said, is the next thing to atheism. It is ironic and regrettable that Emerson, who in his famous essay on Self-Reliance said that to be great is to be misunderstood, was himself so badly misunderstood in what he said.

 

Emerson believed one must follow one's own instincts, but one also needs example and custom to protect against the inclination to sin. He said example and tradition were "props to my tottering conscience, hedges to my soul from Satan's creeping feet.” "I think we need all the advantages we can get,” he wrote, "that our virtue wants all the crutches.”[1] Many times he acknowledged his debt to his heritage, which had taught him and made him what he was.

 

Yet Emerson remained a Pietist in the sense that he retained the direct access to God through his belief in the omnipresence of God, the soul as a link between us and God, and the importance of the moral law within.

 

III. EVIDENCES OF PIETISM.

 

We see evidences of Pietism all about us, and not always in ways we approve. Pietism has been gaining ground for about ten years now. People in their 30's are the ones doing the most questioning.

 

If you look at the theological journals you will see how few articles deal with social action or the role of the church in the community. They deal with the inner search.

 

Political figures have provided their testimony. Charles Colson turned from political intrigue to born-again Christianity. The Carter presidential campaign called for a government "as good and honest and decent and competent and compassionate and as filled with love as are the American people.” And Arthur Schlesinger was angry with "the implication that evangelical principles can solve social, economic, and international perplexities.”[2]

 

We Unitarian Universalists have not been willing to accept the evidence before us. We speak condescendingly of the Moonies. Prof. Frederick Sontag[3] made the most thorough investigation of the Moonies. He went to Korea and Japan and talked to early, late, and ex-members. He failed to uncover any evidence of immorality, hypnotism, or brainwashing. He found no evidence of Moon plotting against America, motherhood, apple pie, family life, morality, or freedom. They simply are dedicated and competent at what they do.

 

While the fundamentalist and cultic groups are growing, mainline churches have declined. Protestant church attendance in the last 20 years dropped from 44% to 37% for an average week. Roman Catholic attendance dropped 75% to 56% in the same period. Main line churches are all down; church building has almost stopped.

 

In 10 years, from 1965 to 1975, the United Presbyterians lost 12.4% of their membership. The United Methodists lost 10.1%. The United Church of Christ lost 12.2%; Episcopalians, 22%. The UUA in the same 10 years lost 13% of our societies, 20% of our adult members, and 63% of our church school enrollment.

 

Churches are taking consolation in odd ways now. The United Methodist Church last year rejoiced because its membership declined only .55%, the lowest drop in a decade. You see such newly coined phrases as "a decrease of the decrease” or talk of "bottoming out of the downward curve.” For a long time churches gave excuses for the decline: they were straightening out membership rolls or using better statistical reporting. Only after years were the church bureaucracies forced to admit there was a decline, pure and simple.

 

Yet against this, every poll shows that religion is an important matter to people. Gallup says 94% of the people claim some religious affiliation. The Minneapolis Tribune conducted a poll and found that in their state 87% believe in heaven and most think they are going there. More than 70% believe in hell and 20% say they know someone who is a sure bet to be an occupant. 4% were sure they personally were going there.

 

Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and Reverend Ike continue to attract huge numbers. Robert Schuler's group is growing rapidly. You can't just join Schuler's group, either. He requires six weeks of intensive class work. Joining is a serious commitment of time.

 

V. RrASONS FOR PIETISM'S GROWTH.

 

Why has Pietism taken such hold? There are two main reasons. The first is the loss of faith in the social gospel movement. People now believe that when religion gets involved in social and political action it too easily becomes the prey of manipulators and opportunists. Social action became a substitute for religious experience. The old time tent revivalist spoke of worship as "preliminaries” to soften up hard-shell sinners for a walk down the sawdust trail. Today's social activists use worship as preliminaries to soften up hard-shell racists or sexists.

 

We have seen Pope John Paul II stress the nonpolitical concept of the clergy. He said,

 

The idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as a subversive man from Nazareth, does not tally with the Church's catechesis.

 

He emphasized that the gospel must not be transmuted into political ideology that achieves social justice by class warfare. He also exhorted the clergy to avoid involvement with politics.

 

Jackson Carroll traces the decline of the mainline churches simply: "The church's role, first in the civil rights movement and later in the anti-war movement, was the catalyst for the declines.”[4]

 

Prof. James Gwaltney of Perkins said his seminary can generate little interest in social action. Students just won't respond. They're interested in parish work and in spiritual formation. The Pietists and evangelicals are strong.

 

Confrontation politics is about gone. Eldridge Cleaver, the leader of the Black Panthers, spent years in California jails for crimes of violence and now opposes radical ideology. He said, "I've decided that we need a completely rational approach to change.”[5]

 

Prof. Gwaltney said there is a craving for simple, concrete answers. Campus crusades are popular. The odd part, he says, is that they may be simple about their faith while quite sophisticated about science.

 

Social activism has suffered from several recent bits of bad publicity. In February 1979 the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church gave $4,000 to the Zimbabwe African National Union, a guerilla faction, to help in its armed struggle against the whites of Rhodesia. This support was opposed by Bishop Roy Nichols, a black man who is President of the Board of Global Ministries.[6]

 

The World Council of Churches, through its Program to Combat Racism, gave $85,000 to two guerilla units of the Patriotic Front fighting for black rule in Rhodesia. The Salvation Army withdrew from the World Council because these are terrorist groups. In January 1979 the World Council reaffirmed its action. Other activist groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, are torn with dissension.

 

Now, in spite of these problems, Pietism does not argue against social action. The need for bold, courageous action is so obvious it needs no argument. Nor shall we eliminate sin just by denouncing it or by passing resolutions against it.

 

God knows there is poverty, crime, violence, sickness, all of which call forth our highest determination. What so often goes unnoticed is the vast personal suffering by those who are not poor, who are not criminal or violent or sick. Every minister knows the heartache, the loneliness, the grief, and the agony of those who sit in the pews. The Pietist view is that social action is needed but the church should be the leaven in the bread, or the salt that gives the savor.

 

So the first reason for the hold of Pietism is the loss of faith in social action. The second reason is the loss of faith in the institutions of our society. We are in a condition of anomie. "Anomie” is defined as a condition characterized by breakdown or absence of social norms and values, as with uprooted people.

 

There is a consequent turning inward. We have lost faith in the ability of government, industry, or education to handle foreign affairs, conduct war, regulate the economy. The church alone has retained the respect and faith of the people; so people turn to the church, though not the mainline branches of it.

 

There is the technological threat. We feel so helpless. We read about cloning and computers and breeder reactors and we are simply bewildered. More and more we live in a world we cannot comprehend. Who understands the national debt of over three-fourths of a trillion dollars? Who understands six million Jews killed in the holocaust? Who can understand the staggering amounts involved in the federal budget? Who understands the principle of nuclear fusion? Yet these things determine our destiny and we are far removed from them. Just as in war those who make the crucial decisions sit many miles away from the consequences of those decisions, so are we distant emotionally from the factors that affect our future. We have little to say about foreign policy, balances of payment, or the mysterious workings of the tangled bureaucracies.

 

Moreover, we live in an age of capitulation. It is an age of fads and whims, in which people eagerly follow whatever manipulators with clever vocabularies persuade them to do. No recent time has been so dominated by superficial intellectual fashions as the present, nor has there been one in which people have so industriously sawn off the braches on which they were sitting. We see poets against poetry, philosophers against philosophy, theologians against theology, artists against art, and historians against the lessons of history.

 

Marketing analysts say our society is becoming more self-indulgent and self-centered. We spend more on ourselves and are less inclined to put money away for our children. People are turning inward. Self-help and consciousness raising groups flourish as more and more people feel mental and emotional stress. There are growing numbers involved in encounter, sensitivity, biofeedback, est, and primal scream.

 

Confidence in our systems is at a low ebb. The Wall Street Journal[7] reported that consumer confidence in the U.S. economy has hit new lows. 77% of the people think the economy is headed for worse times. We feel helpless. The institutions are in disrepute. There is little trust in government or business. Psychology has failed. The mental health movement, for all its efforts, has not reduced the number of alcoholics, drug addicts, or mentally ill. The more bumbling we see in government, in the feeble attempts at arms limitation, in trying to control inflation, and in failure to balance the budget, the more we suspect our country is not badly governed but impossible to govern.

 

Religion alone of the major institutions has retained the trust and faith of the people. We turn to religion. It is, in Lincoln's phrase, "the last and best hope of mankind.” We turn to religion because there is no other place to go.

 

What kind of religion are people turning to, though? The current trends are lacking in the substance that can save us. God is not simply a magnification of our own liberal mentality. Nor can a Christ of Culture change either those who follow him or the culture of which he is a reflection.

 

George Cornell wrote,

The ideological bandwagons are coming at us more rapidly and more noisily than at any other time since the expulsion from Eden. You can't avoid them. They rumble and blare and loom, magnified and amplified by every kilowatt and decibel that the media can muster.

As for the cult of frankness with such injunctions as "spill it all out” and "if you    think it, say it,” candor is great but the Christian also will want to know how we propose to guard the shrine that is the other person. He will want to know, before he opens up the shrine of himself to others, just who has warrant to come in here.[8]

 

I think in our own denomination the change in attitude toward Pietism can be seen in the longer tenures of our ministry. When a minister first comes to town the social and political problems are most obvious. The longer you are in the town the more deeply you discern the needs of your own people. Counseling with parents heartsick over their children, spouses who realize their marriage is breaking, or the person who wishes to know what to do about life: these things aren't as dramatic as marching against City Hall but that's where we ministers must be if we are truly to fill our people's needs.

 

V. EXCESSES OF PIETISM.

 

Let me speak briefly about the dangers and excesses of Pietism.

 

Pietism was an attempt to overcome the sterile aspects of dogmatic orthodoxy. In time it developed excesses. Its insistence on inward experience led to emotionalism, such as we associate with revivalism. It led to contempt for intelligence and common sense.

 

As the fundamentalist, ecstatic, and charismatic movements are today, they tend to be simplistic in underrating the complexities of the moral life. The trouble with them is that religion becomes more isolated from the other disciplines of politics, economics, art, and science. Religion becomes a ship sailing away from the mainland. It is culturally removed from the mainstream, like Jonestown.

 

Konrad Lorenz warned against the disdain for history that characterizes Pietism. The youth who "throw overboard the enormous fund of knowledge and wisdom contained in the traditions of every old civilization and. . . the teaching of the great world religions” are disastrously wrong. "Anyone who believes that all this is null and void,” writes Lorenz, "is harboring another illusion, just as disastrous, namely” that they can "create, from nothing, a whole culture with everything pertaining to it.”[9]

 

A major weakness of Pietism is the retreat from social responsibility. James Luther Adams has written and spoken well on this. He says the greatest cause of our age is the clash of justice against injustice. The retreat is understandable. In a world brought together by global communications, in a world at the mercy of technological power we neither understand nor control, there is a wish to return to a simpler time. But that is to wish for something that can never be again. You might not like computers, thermonuclear bombs, genetic engineering, supersonic aircraft, or the energy shortage, but you have to reckon with them. Paranoid delusions cannot obviate facts.

 

The Pietistic movement is marked by a strain of anti-intellectualism. It seeks to reduce complex problems to simplistic terms. It reflects what Thomas Wolf called "the me, me generation.”

 

All these factors are enough to discourage anyone. When someone asks me how I feel about Christianity, I sometimes reply that I like Christianity, it's the Christians I can't stand. Kierkegaard distinguished between Christendom and Christianity. When he was in a good mood he said there was little Christianity in Christendom. When he was in a bad mood he said there was no Christianity in Christendom.

 

VI. THE UU RESPONSE AND OUR OPPORTUNITY.

 

Now let us look at what I see as our opportunity in the face of the new Pietism. We have the history and tradition to save our day and take advantage of the new trend.

 

Pietism has been, but need not be, a flight from the intellect. People are frightened at what the intellect has done and they have chosen to retreat. This is where our tradition of reason and openness are so helpful. Yes, we recognize the limitations of the intellect. The human brain discovered the laws of the physical world. The scientist, engineer, and industrialist organized human skills to provide us with a profusion of material blessings, a staggeringly high standard of material living. For a long time we were fascinated with this and many of us neglected the life of the spirit. We thought science and technology would lead us to Paradise. We find ourselves, instead, at the gates of Hell.

 

From our shallow complacency we were aroused by the scientifically devised horrors of World War II. Then came that greatest achievement of the human brain, the atom bomb and its frightful progeny, the hydrogen and neutron bombs. So many things have gone wrong. By our science we have gained power to destroy all life on the earth. The wind may moan across the hills with nothing left to enjoy the breeze, and spring may adorn the earth no more.

 

This, my friends, is the dead end of pure material intelligence. Humanity is now seeking a spiritual guidance for its intelligence in the desperate hope of saving the human values in our civilization. Humanity is seeking just what we have in abundance.

 

In the heyday of our movement, in the last century, we led society toward a better world. Our record on prison reform, care of the mentally ill, abolition of slavery, development of education, are well known. We are justifiably proud of that record. All those social changes, though, came from a well developed theology.

 

The absence of a clear and thoughtful theology has turned our society secular. Thus we have lost our values, lost our sense of meaning and purpose. Secularism leads inevitably to skepticism and cynicism regarding all questions of ultimate concern. As religious knowledge has lost its sway, so has society lost its bearings. We are beset by economic, political, and social problems that have mired us in confusion. Theology alone is capable of providing the guides to make sense from our present disarray.

 

I sense a hunger among our people for rational religion. But rationalism must have a context. There must be historical validation for our ideas.

 

We have neglected our history and tradition badly. The prevalent thrusts of the UUA in recent years do not follow our efforts of the last century. We have neglected the historical disciplines. We have concerned ourselves with all kinds of liberation and social movements but we have done so without reference to our history and our theological tradition. We speak, instead, from the authority of the behavioral sciences, particularly psychology and sociology. We have become nearly a subsidiary discipline of psychology.

 

Criticize the cults and Pietists all you wish, but there have been too many anti-intellectual trends among us. We have abandoned our tradition and heritage, and thoughtlessly so. There is little evidence of soul-searching or struggle or weighing of consequences. And we ministers must bear some of the blame. Anyone entering our ministry, it seems to me, first has an obligation to the historical institution.

 

Minimizing our history and tradition can have the effect only of weakening the institution. Our movement in recent years has not been characterized by philosophical reflection. We have blown with every wind, wafted with every breeze. Our directions have stemmed from pressures, not from a sound and well thought-out theoretical base. Having exiled God, we have nothing left to contemplate but ourselves. Our people cry to God and hear back only the hollow echoes of their own voices. They come to us for bread and get a stone.

 

Karl Barth said we cannot call God by shouting "Man” in a loud voice.

 

We have a job to do. Rufus Jones once said that our churches are like Robinson Crusoe's goat pasture. The enclosure was so large that/the goats within were nearly as wild as the goats without. We must not cater to every fad and passing whim. They do not represent truth. In no other age of Christian history has the church paid a larger penalty for promiscuity of mind and practice.

 

As we abandoned our tradition, our classics, and theology, the stress has been on spontaneity that arises in ignorance of the past; creativity not dependent on a disciplined understanding of theology, philosophy, or history; relevance as a turning toward contemporary problems apart from their historical context. We cannot provide spiritual leadership unless we have a subsoil of knowledge of our proud tradition. Otherwise we will have what James Luther Adams calls "cafeteria knowledge,” undisciplined.

 

Emerson is often taken as the model of what our ministry ought to be; courageous in thought, bold in action, true to one's intuition, eloquent in expression. Remember, though, that the Emerson who relied on himself was an Emerson familiar with the great thinking As he spoke of self-reliance he did so from an extensive knowledge of history and the classics. UUs who are attracted to what James Truslow Adams called his "perky individualism” do not take into account the great discipline and culture of Emerson. His teaching on self-reliance can be understood only as it presupposes a broad cultural and classical tradition.

 

The first advantage we have, then, comes from our theology and our history. The second is our tradition of reason. Only as we learn how to think critically are we kept from being swept away by the Jim Joneses of the world. UUs have the answers to the excesses of the cults. We have learned that religion must stand before the supreme and exacting tribunal of logical reasoning.

 

We should be on the cutting edge of intellectual inquiry. We should search continually for intellectual positions that make the most sense; more sense than anything we have thus far. We aren't going to solve any problems until we understand them. Problems don't go away by themselves. Problems have a momentum of their own that makes them worse. We have' to think about them, write about them, and persuade each other about their validity and solution.

 

The third advantage UUs have comes from our concept of the integrity of the individual. Dana Greeley says every sermon Channing preached was on that theme. UUism stands to gain because it has the history of concern for the individual above all.

 

We need, more than anything else, to counteract the trends of our day that deflate the human spirit, that trivialize our existence, that allow the individual to be submerged in a Jonestown mentality. As UUs, we affirm that every person is capable of sacrifice, discipline, moral and spiritual exaltation. We are in a desperate struggle to be free, to express our full humanity, to realize our highest dreams.

 

Now we've looked at the situation we're in and at the particular qualities of our movement which give us a unique opportunity to contribute. So, what is the task before us as UUs if we are to serve the needs of our day? What commitment is needed? What agenda is before us? How are we going to go about affecting the history of our time?

 

First, we need to formulate and articulate a vision of what a good world would be, that vision without which, as proverbs says, the people perish.

 

The search for joy requires us to take stands amid the conflicting forces about us. We must oppose those influences which would debase and enslave us. We have the choice between the exalted and the mean, between freedom and servitude. The conditions of life are such that we must choose. As the old spiritual has it "there's no hidin' place down here.” If we avoid the choice we leave the consequences in the hands of weakness and circumstance. The forces that threaten to engulf us and dehumanize us are real. We must succumb or conquer. We are in the midst of a complex competition between good and evil. At stake is the quality of human life, not just for us but for our progeny forever.

 

We need to reexamine the moral issues. We must learn new ways. We can't just rely on the old ways of the past. We don't want just to spin our wheels. And there must be commitment. A position that everything is just as good as everything else, just as worthy, just as true, just as false, this position satisfies no one. It is polytheism gone mad.

 

Second, we must develop our doctrine of human nature. We used to say that human nature was inherently good, created as we were in God's image. The rapidly changing moral and social structures of recent times have left us badly confused. Whatever good may come from the human potential movement, it has left us without any firm convictions about human nature.

 

We also need to work out our belief about purpose and meaning to human existence. We are caught in a web of cynicism, a belief in futility. Is human life only a brief span between nothingness and a return to nothingness? Surely our struggles, agonies, and joys are not sham and pretense. We need not be able to articulate the scheme and purpose of the universe to affirm that there is a scheme and purpose in which we participate and which our lives and actions help determine.

 

Third, we need a doctrine of the church. What is the purpose of the church? Where are we going and how do we get there? If our goal is not to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth, then what is it? Fellowship? What does that mean? Friendship is a delectable thing but you can get more of it at the "Y” than you do in a worship service. It is common to say we meet to develop shared values, but what shared values have we? What have we, in fact, developed? Do such phrases as unity in diversity and agreement to disagree really mean anything at all?

 

The church is a worshipping community that gathers to seek and celebrate the highest good. It provides an ongoing synthesis of the best thought toward that end. The primary task of the minister, it seems to me, is to serve these purposes through the conduct of public worship. The church is the Suffering Servant. The worship is the reenactment of the human drama, the agony of humanity writ large, and through that agony we find the holy.

We must take our worship seriously and develop a theory of worship. What is the purpose of worship? Toward what object does it point? Remember that every Sunday there is someone in the pews with a broken heart: That person gives us a prime opportunity for real social action. A meaningful worship experience strengthens that person.

 

Furthermore, as Seward Hiltner reminded us,

Pastoral care is not just helping those in trouble. It is also the encouragement of the strong to use their strengths more effectively.[10]

There are societal needs but there also are personal needs. In the church we find a place of beauty where the troubled heart can seek the highest. Religion has the opportunity to help people think through their own identities and see their places in the order of existence in terms that make sense and bring comfort.

 

Fourth, and last, we need to understand our own roles as ministers. Andrew Peabody said to the graduating class of Meadville in 1850,

The minister is often expected to be, for the most part, a manager of social utilities, a wire-puller of beneficent agencies, and his character is often judged by the amount of visible grinding that it can accomplish in the mill of social reform.[11]

The real tasks of the ministry aren't much fun: helping the R.T. Committee with its curriculum, talking with couples planning their marriage, trying to get the finance drive wound up, figuring out how to cure the sick mimeograph. Politics and social action are where the fun is, But the church has its job and don't underestimate the social value of this personal religion.

 

Ministers need to take on a sense of their authority. The ministry can be discouraging. Henry Scougall said, back in 1846,

 

It is no small toil to tell the same things a thousand times to some dull and           ignorant people, who, Perhaps, shall know but little when we have done. It is this      laborious exercise that does sometimes tempt a minister to envy the condition of      those who gain their living by the sweat of their brows without the toil and          distraction of their spirits.[12]

 

The minister must translate truth into words. Paul Carnes said a sermon is more than a talk. It has a transcendent reference from which comes both judgment and grace. A minister's job is to sow seeds known as ideas.

I would say there is no group of people who can less afford to let the development of truth run ahead of them. We cannot wrap ourselves in professional mystery and become babblers of hocus-pocus. We are not apostles of the dead past, nor are we curators of museums in which to display ancient wisdom. There is studying and thinking to be done and the church must lead the way. We all cast dark shadows and it is the business of the church to awaken people out of their deadly sleep to rescue them from the dismal conditions that cause spiritual decay.

 

We must continue the work begun by Homer and Hesiod: that is, continue the job of constructing folk models for the instruction of our fellow creatures.

 

Robert Bellah wrote,

 

We have not yet begun to understand the full implications of religious language   and symbolism. .  . Religious symbols are the way man has, from the beginning of       his existence as a cultural being, related himself to the conditions of his existence.    Through religious symbols man has symbolized to himself his own identity and    the order of existence in terms of which his identity makes sense.[13]

 

Ours is a sacred calling. We are, whether we like it or not, under holy orders and we have a divine mission in the world.

 

Religion will survive through these difficult times because we humans are incurably religious. The fact is that we are incomplete without religion. I suppose you could live without the church, without any religious vision, and without the nobler impulses that stir within you. But if you did you would be something less than you now are.

 

Our liberal theology has always insisted that there is a way out, that there are resources available to us that can help us solve the problems of our age. We need to relate our theology to such concepts as justice, freedom from oppression, and greater experiences of fulfillment and joy. We need stronger reliance on reason. We need to strengthen the institution so it can serve us better.

 

Unitarian Universalism will survive and grow. People will turn to us if we are ready. We will survive because those ideas survive in history which deserve to live. It is our task to see that our movement deserves to live.

 

I believe we are capable of producing a better religion, and therefore a better world, than we have known so far. I believe we have a responsibility to our progenitors to protect and nourish the historical faith they bequeathed us; and I believe we can so conduct ourselves that our children will bless us for leaving them a world of peace and love and reason.

 

What we aim for and seek is personal virtue and what can only be called holiness. Peter Bulkeley, Emerson's distant ancestor, once said, "There is no people but strive to excel in something. What can we excel in, if not holiness?”[14] The Pietists essentially are right: the Kingdom of God must be built, not on foundations of institutions alone, but first of all in individuals in whom God dwells.


 

[1]Journals, March 13, 1833.

[2] "Personal Perspective,” The Christian Century, Jan. 17, 1979, p. 38.

[3]Sun Nyung Moon and the Unification Church, Abingdon, 1977.

[4] "The Church in the World,” Theology Today, April 1978, p. 70.

[5] Interview in Christianity Today, July 8, 1977, p. 15.

[6]The Christian Century, April 18, 1979, pp. 423-424.

[7] April 16, 1979, p. 1.

[8]The Houston Post, Feb. 24, 1979, p. 8AA.

[9]Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins. N.Y.: Harcourt & Brace, 1974, pp. 63-64.

[10] "The Minister and the Care of Souls,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Winter-Summer 1975, vol. xxx, nos. 2-4, p. 212.

[11] Sermon to the graduating class of Meadville, June 26, 1850. Quoted in H. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams, ed., The Ministry in Historical Perspective, pp. 225-226. N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1956.

[12] Ibid, p. 191.

[13] Quoted in Herbert W. Richardson, Toward and American Theology, p. 22. N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1974.

[14] Richard Garnett, The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson, London: Walter Scott, 1888, p. 14.