The Practical Application of Charity
Hi Friends -
Have you ever wondered why Christianity grew in the first three centuries? Generally, Catholics will say it is due to God working the “apostolic” tradition; Calvinists tell us it is because of testimony of the blood of the martyrs; Pentecostals speak about prophecies and visions. No doubt, all these played a part. But, to paraphrase St. Paul, let me tell you a better way.
Henry Chadwick, author of The Penguin History of the (Early) Church writes that “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success.” Chadwick goes on to explain what that means. He writes, “Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and in social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”1
Chadwick is what theologians call an authority; someone with an academic reputation strong enough to author a Penguin-published book on history and someone with honorary doctorates all over the world. New Thought doesn’t have such authorities, except perhaps the founders of its several branches, and even they “reserved the right to change their mind.”
One hundred years ago, life in America was more difficult than most people could bear. In a sense, life was as stressful then as it was in Roman times. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was just winding down (after 18 months) and just a few weeks earlier (July 27-August 3, 1919), the Chicago race riot of 1919 had erupted. The riot was “the worst of the nearly 25 riots and civil disturbances in the United States during the Red Summer of 1919”, according to Wikipedia. So, if we can look to Chadwick to explain how Christians flourished in Roman times, maybe we can look for a modern day authority to explain how we can flourish today.
On August 24, 1919 Charles Fillmore gave a talk on Social Responsibility. That same month Unity magazine also had an article entitled Social Responsibility, which was based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I believe Mr. Fillmore’s talk and article on Social Responsibility are as close as we will come to a trustworthy authority we have today regarding how to overcome extended pestilence and racial injustice. If we can overcome, once again, the seemingly insurmountable, and if we can take positive steps to effect meaningful change, then we will see our churches and our nation move forward to a new era of liberty, love and life, in my opinion.
For Henry Chadwick, the path forward was “a practical application of charity.” For Charles Fillmore, a practical application of charity for our time is to conduct oneself “in a loving way.” He said,
“It is within the heart of man—deeper than the heart—it is in the soul and the spirit. Well now if it is there all it needs is to be recognized. All that is required man is to conduct himself in a loving way.”
For Mr. Fillmore, the standard for conducting oneself in a loving way are the twelve fruits of the “tree of love” that “grows by the river of life.” These fruits of the tree of love are, as St. Paul said to the Corinthians, the better way.
So, just as Henry Chadwick described how “a practical application of charity” played out in Roman times, Mr. Fillmore describes how “conducting oneself in a loving way” plays out today—patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, purity, joyousness, unresentfullness, trustfulness and endurance.
Some may ask is conducting oneself in a loving way really practical? We are all aware of how much anger is out there in today’s world. The question is not about whether we shall pursue justice. That we shall do. The question is, as St. Paul would have asked, shall we pursue justice in a loving way? For even if we give great speeches, or we demonstrate great force, if we have not love, we are nothing. Love is, as Henry Drummond wrote, “The Greatest Thing in the World.” Eighty years later, Dr. King wrote “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
I hope you will read Charles Fillmore’s talk about these “twelve matter of fruit” of the tree of love, which we are. You can click through to download PDF of the original transcript (thanks to Bob Brach) and a PDF of this post. And I hope you will read I Corinthians 13:4-7 in the Fillmore Study Bible, where Mr. Fillmore's comments on the twelve fruits of love in this talk are applied as annotations. Most important, I hope you allow the words of Paul, as interpreted by Charles Fillmore, to speak to your heart.
Sunday, September 20, 2020