Our Relation to Other Churches - Part 2
In the February issue of this paper, under this same caption, I tried to show the origin of our church. Who cares to know his church ancestry will find it in this former article, where it is shown that the North Market Hall Sunday School grew into an independent church as naturally and inevitably as boys grow into men.
It is true that our church in its governmental relations is wholly independent of any and all other organizations, but this was simply an incident as shown in the former narrative. It is not true, never was, and never will be true that Mr. Moody had to found an independent church in order to exploit some new religious propaganda. It is not true that Mr. Moody was not in hearty accord with the cardinal doctrines enunciated in the evangelical denominational churches. On the contrary it is true that we, the Chicago Avenue (Moody) Church, are by the matchless grace of God the begotten of denominational organizations.
The history of the Sunday School demonstrates this proposition beyond a cavil or a doubt. Our first church manual, a volume of forty-eight generous pages, published in 1867 says : “Our articles of faith, we believe, contain nothing which is not accepted by all evangelical Christians.” “We regard as ‘sister churches’ all that are evangelical.” “We desire to extend to and receive from all evangelical churches that Christian fellowship which the law of Christ requires.”
Such was the evident understanding of the founders of our church. Do we, after the lapse of more than forty years, heartily endorse the expressed sentiment of the fathers? Do we realize our rich legacy in our relationships? Are we happy and proud of our nine hundred “sister churches” in our own city, or are we engaged in examining individual pedigrees to determine which are, and which are not our worthy sisters? How much are we doing to show our love for and our interest in our “sisters?”
What sacrifices are we making to prove to our sisters, that our interests are identical, and that we desire their welfare quite as much as we do our own prosperity?
How often—or rather how seldom, if ever—are we known in private or public to pray for our “sisters?” Would an own sister in the flesh be satisfied with such interest and attention as our church bestows upon its “sister churches?”
We open our doors and invite “our sisters,” in common with the populace, to come and hear our pastor and share with us a spiritual feast, but how ready are we in turn to enter the portals of other churches and hear their pastor and share with them their feast?
These direct, and we trust searching questions, should not be flippantly dismissed, but should be prayerfully considered and answered within the sanctuary of the soul. Sisters are good to have when we use them for our individual interests, but they are often so much like ourselves that they refuse to be used, if ignored or neglected at times when not directly needed.
“Sister churches” are convenient about one or two months in a year, when it is desired to fill empty chairs at a thanksgiving service or a union evangelistic meeting, but these churches do not always respond with alacrity if treated with indifference the other ten or eleven months.
The wise man has said: “He that hath friends must show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
While our church has always been in its government independent of other denominations, this independence was never interpreted by the founders to mean dis-fellowship or isolation from denominational churches. These churches have proven themselves worthy of our affection, confidence and esteem. I crimson to mention it, but fidelity to the truth of history compels me to say that our church has not always been exempt from internal schisms and feuds. These feuds have ever been brewed and exploited under our own roof. We have never had other than harmony with our sister churches.
By the special request of Mr. Moody this church was organized by a council of denominational churches. No one at all familiar with the spirit and history of our church in its early days doubts but that its membership coveted a close federation and a strong bond of sympathy and Christian fellowship with these “sister churches.” Are we cultivating this spirit today?
The apostle said to the Philippian church, “Let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also upon the things of others. “ Have we in a spirit of self-abnegation obeyed these injunctions? We may concede that our sister churches have more modern architecture, more costly tapestries and furnishings, and then condemn them for their extravagance, while we glorify ourselves for our simplicity. This does not meet the requirements of the apostle’s exhortations. How many of us are prepared to concede that our sister churches have as large a share of Bible truth as we possess?
How many of us care to know that there are hundreds of sister churches that on seasonable occasions hold out-door gospel meetings for evangelizing the city? How many of our Yokefellows realize that at the same hour of their gathering there are in the city hundreds of similar meetings under different names but with the one purpose? Do our Yokefellows ever mention them and pray for them? And is this esteeming others better than ourselves? How many of us have heard of and thank God for the intelligent, systematic, persevering, consecrated and efficient mission activities carried on, for instance, by the Immanuel Baptist and the Third Presbyterian Churches? Is it not true that we too seldom recognize religious factors outside the corner of Chicago and LaSalle Avenues? Is it not true that we sometimes give place to the thought that our church is the spiritual dynamo for evangelizing Chicago?
If there be even a small share of truth suggested by these questions, how hateful and odious we must appear to our sister churches, and how we must grieve the Spirit and close the door against ourselves from receiving the blessings God waits to bestow.
Whether correct or otherwise an impression prevails that the Chicago Avenue Church has become a little too self-centered, too home-anchored, and too exclusive.
I have no right to speak for, or to commit this church to any certain proposition, but as one among a membership of well nigh two thousand, I desire personally to plead guilty to the implied indictment and to say I fear there is a large measure of truth in it.
I fear our measure is correctly taken in the description of the Laodicean church as found in Revelation 3:17-19, “Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor, and blind and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve that thou mayest see.”
In my reveries, I sometimes fancy our most fitting position would be the retirement to the sub-basement of our church where heat is generated in the spirit of the sobbing David, as recorded in the 51st Psalm, penitently confess our sins and devoutly pray, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not they holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. Then will I teach transgressors thy way, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”
On emerging from such a confessional, it might be well to ascend to the belfry where, looking out upon a city of two millions of perishing souls, with its countless church spires pointing heavenward, then and there to thank God for so many faithful, self-denying servants devoted to the redemption of the city through the gospel and for our exalted privilege of being humble co-workers in such a stupendous calling.