Denominational Loyalty - an urgent need
Transcription of Article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by William C. Ball
IT had better be said at once that this article is not going to be saturated with pessimism. Such a spirit, did we possess it, would be justly rebuked by the glorious facts which we are all anxious to worthily celebrate in our Centenary rejoicings. Without conspicuous fidelity on the part of many of her sons and daughters, our Church would never have attained to the proud eminence she enjoys to-day; and but for the loyalty of thousands of the present generation there would be no hope of retaining, much less of extending the good land that we now possess. But when this is admitted, it can hardly be denied that a deeper spirit of loyalty is much to be desired. Had all our people hitherto been as faithful as many have been, our position to-day would have been vastly more commanding than it is. Viewing what has been accomplished, we may well say, “What hath God wrought!” But a deeper and more extensive loyalty would have given us a larger membership, better accommodation, a more influential ministry, a more satisfactory Sunday School system, a more perfected ecclesiasticism generally, not to speak of possible missions on other continents and greater influence in the missions already possessed. Even as it is, a bigger baptism of the spirit of loyalty would accelerate the pace and enrich the quality of our work in a measureless degree. And it ought not to be forgotten that the incentives to loyalty are greater to-day than ever they were. If the stalwarts of the past could be faithful when our Churches were numerically feeble and socially insignificant, how much more ought we to be so, now that, as a people, we have outlived these reproaches. Does not every circumstance to which we point so proudly make treason to our Church all the more unaccountable and indefensible ?
It is curious that many people imagine that denominational loyalty must necessarily spell narrowness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Experience proves that those who are most faithful to the Church of their choice are the readiest to come to the assistance of other churches when they are in a tight place, just as the most patriotic souls of any race are the real cosmopolitans when international comradeship is the clamorous need of the hour.
Beware of the man who professes to love all churches alike. He is no more to he trusted than the man who would declare that he loved all women alike. His boasted breadth is a snare to his own soul, and will prove a broken reed to all who lean upon him. Above all, let us take care never to merit such a reputation ourselves. If we are religious tramps, passing from church to church, we shall be of no more use to Christendom than the familiar vagrant on the roads of England is to the British Empire.
Let us pitch our tent definitely beneath the denominational banner that most attracts us, and if circumstances, or training, or taste incline us to Primitive Methodism there let us abide, and give to it the choicest service of which we are capable. Better even to be a narrow Primitive Methodist than a windbag and a nobody.
But how shall we best serve our own Church? Where, when and how can our denominational loyalty be best exhibited? To these questions let us now address ourselves. First of all, as true Primitive Methodists we should acquaint ourselves with the salient facts of our Church’s history. He is not a very loyal Primitive Methodist who after years of association with our Church cannot tell whether it originated in Staffordshire or Somersetshire, whether its founders were potters or colliers, nor mention a single outstanding event in its subsequent career, or a single illustrious name in its long roll of self-denying sons. It is not as if this information were inaccessible except at a great cost. We are of the opinion that Mr. Kendall’s magnificent two-volume History is within the purchasing power of many more than have subscribed to it, but be this as it may, the fourpenny Centenary booklet by the same competent hand is priced to fit the slenderest purse. Every Primitive Methodist home should have a copy, and every member should carefully read it. The earnest perusal of this little book by all our people would bring to our Church a religious quickening, the outcome of which none can foretell,
With equal confidence we say, secondly, that loyalty to our Church will evince itself in a thoughtful perusal of our current denominational literature. Every true Primitive Methodist should know how the stream of Connexional thought is flowing at the present hour, what are the problems that this generation has to face, and in what mood those problems are being confronted.
Now it is in our denominational publications that the sentiment of our Church on these matters is focussed. And we confess we deem that man a poor Primitive Methodist who does not take and regularly read one of our weekly periodicals. It is regrettable that in many Primitive Methodist homes where religious weeklies of a superficial character are eagerly devoured you would look in vain for one of our Connexional journals. And as for our magazines, who does not know that their circulation is shamefully below what their contents merit? Our “Quarterly Review” has been acknowledged by distinguished men of letters to be one of the best periodicals of its kind on the market, and yet, notwithstanding the growing intelligence of our people, it can only command a circulation of a little over a thousand; whilst the ALDERSGATE, which is indispensable to every progressive Primitive Methodist, only has a monthly sale of about seven thousand, and this in a Church that boasts of nearly a quarter of a million members. When it is remembered too, that each of the other magazines appeals to a considerably larger constituency than it succeeds in reaching, the conclusion is forced upon us that something is radically wrong.
Speaking for ourselves, we confess that if we were compelled to form ever so low an estimate of our Connexional periodicals, we should feel it a duty to take one or two of them out of respect to our Church, and with a desire to assist the fund to which their surplus profits are devoted. Happily, however, we need not advocate our magazines on such low grounds as these. Let their own merits praise them in the gates! Our Church has never had any need to blush for its editors, and the latest occupants of the offices are the least likely to do it discredit. They have gathered around them not a few writers whose literary fame has penetrated far beyond the bounds of our Church. And apart from their most notable contributions, our Connexional periodicals by their wide range of topics, and their practical discussion of the various phases of Christian life and work must surely make some appeal to every member of our Church who thinks at all, and who desires to keep in touch with the thoughts of others.
Space forbids more than a word on the need of greater loyalty in the shape of a more regular and systematic support of our various religious services. How few of our churches are really represented at the Sunday morning service, and yet it is confessedly the richest spiritual feast of the Sabbath. Can we as a Church reflect without great searchings of heart upon the fact that scores of our members show no greater regard for the sanctuary than many worldlings who have never professed any special veneration for God’s House? Large numbers of the latter are present with us every Sunday evening. Let our consciences ask the question, “What do ye more than they?” Then there is the week-night service with its scanty attendance. Could not some of our hard-pressed brethren show us the light of their countenances, say once a quarter ? With every wish to be fair, we find it impossible to believe that their perpetual and prolonged absence is inevitable. Men can usually make the most adverse circumstances bend to their will when commercial interests demand it, and given a keen relish for the communion of saints, no man, we think, however weighted with responsibilities, will fail to be in his place occasionally when the bell rings for mid-week prayer. And we are persuaded
that if our regular services were better sustained, the revival for which so many are looking would soon be here. A quiet, faithful year of toil and prayer will secure to a Church a more bounteous spiritual harvest than any number of feverish services in which excitement is worked up to order, only to subside when the effort is over.
Finally, there is an urgent need for deeper loyalty to be shown to the institutions of our Church. It is scarcely possible for a Primitive Methodist to do his own denomination a deadlier injury than by going elsewhere for the ratification of his marriage vows, or by calling in the minister of another Church to read the last solemn words over his beloved dead. If his own Church and minister are
not able to provide him with all he needs in such experiences, why in the name of all that is rational does he not go over entirely to the Church and the ministry that he respects the most? The only way to treat such conduct is, courteously but firmly, to wash our hands of all complicity with it. If all our ministers would refuse to take any part in the interment of a Primitive Methodist who was not buried with the rites of our own Church, the death-knell of such acts of disloyalty would soon be sounded. A few painful experiences might ensue at first, but these would be but the birth pangs of a brighter era. And the ultimate issue would be the liberation of all the Free Churches from the abominable disabilities that now oppress them. In this direction, thank God, all the hosts of Nonconformity are steadily moving. As the most democratic of the Free Church bodies, there is every reason why our Church should lead the way.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908/21