19. The New Thought And The Church.
ANY fair exposition of the New Thought would be incomplete unless it were considered in its relation to existing institutions. With the great majority, the Church—using the term in a wide and inclusive sense—is the exponent and representative of religion. It has been almost the only recognized channel through which have flowed the moral and spiritual currents of man’s nature.
Whatever the Church may have included of dogmatism, imperfection, and even error, it has been idealized and made sacred in the minds of men.
A few of those who claim to be exponents of the New Thought have been more or less severe in their attacks upon conventional religious institutions. This spirit has no genuine warrant, and it does not represent the New Thought in its purity and breadth. One of its basic principles is to see the best side of everything.
In speaking of “the law and the prophets,”—the existing religion of his time,—Jesus said: “I come not to destroy but to fulfil.” Such is the spirit of the New Thought. It has the utmost confidence in the inherent power of truth. Therefore its adherents do not go out of their way to antagonize, either people or institutions, because of certain imperfections.
To condemn the Church, as a human educational institution because of its negations and mistakes, is as ill-timed and unscientific as to try to drive darkness out of a basement. Let in the light, and it will dissipate the shadows.
Whatever the fault of formal creeds and doctrines, the ideals of the Church are mainly right. It is not to be destroyed or superseded, but spiritualized, purified, and illumined. During the coming spiritual dispensation of the present century, it is to arise from dead works and regain that primitive vitality which so early slipped from its grasp when it became allied with the State and enslaved by dogma.
The New Thought is not distinctively a new religion or a new healing system. It is a new life—all inclusive.
With rare exceptions, the new movement has not included the formation of churches, and in the few cases where it has done so its spirit is entirely cordial. As it does not emphasize the machinery of external organization, it would not be inappropriate to call it, The Church of the Human Soul. Its form of service is a soulful aspiration, its sanctuary the spiritual consciousness, its temple the unseen, its social companions, ideals, and its communion, living contact with the Universal Spirit. But its adherents can continue to worship in “temples made with hands,” and while striving to radiate the larger light they will be neither strange nor uncommunicative.
What as uninteresting and monotonous world this would be if all thought alike! Were such a condition possible, it would actually hinder the evolution of truth.
Need people be less friendly because of some diversity of opinion? Our unconscious search for truth should first become conscious, and then we may really glory in our varying views. We agree to disagree.
The grand ideal is at the summit of a mountain of Reality, and we are climbing toward it by indirect though converging paths. As each one in some measure supplements the shortcomings of others, we do not desire uniformity. While the modern Church seems split into many fragments, its spirit of unity never was so strong as it is today.
Men are spiritually restless until they find God, or, in other words, attain a divine consciousness.
Religious institutions are the outcome of different types of human peculiarity. Each denomination and subdivision just now fits its own followers better than would be possible for any other. In its special time no one can be spared for a substitute.
Every man will cling to that in which he—and he is just like no one else—can see the most of his highest ideal. The Romanist—often, from racial and temperamental reasons, being of more poetic turn—finds more of the Divine in consecrated art and ceremony, while the varying schools of Protestantism turn, with different degrees of emphasis, to creed, ritual, ordinance, sacrament, music, prayer, and praise. If new ideas appeal to any of their followers more deeply, the older slip off, and we need not urge or strip them away.
During the great evolutionary march from animality up to the spiritual consciousness, no step, experience, experiment, opinion, or condition is useless. There are no sudden, short cuts in development, and every chasm must be bridged by gradual processes. The great human procession toward spiritual unfoldment cannot be kept in a solid column, or straight line, because a perfected spiritual education, in the end, involves a previous trial of every means which has the least appearance of promise.
While the New Thought naturally places a lessening emphasis upon all intellectual, external, and formal systems of religion, it can, with the utmost consistency, cultivate a oneness of spirit and love toward all. Superficial differences are not much heeded, because its transactions, spiritual processes, and ideals are below the surface.
The spirit of the New Thought is now so diffused in the general religious atmosphere that it is unconsciously woven into sermons, books, and moral essays. It comes “without observation.”
Churches need not change their names in order to modify gradually their doctrines and beliefs. Perhaps not many of their adherents will avowedly identify themselves with the New Thought movement, and that may be just its well. Names are nothing; but this modern spiritual uplift is so subtle and penetrative that it will sweep through dry and formal systems and give them new vitality.
Where the Spirit has been quenched and a drought has prevailed in human consciousness, there will come streams of refreshing, “and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
The Church of today must be baptized again with the power which manifested itself during its pristine glory. Not that it can go back to the old forms externally, but with the advance in knowledge and scientific development of nearly two thousand years, it can kindle an intelligent faith which will be broader and even more potent than that of the ancient time.
The “signs which shall follow them that believe” will not be wanting, and the promise of “greater work” will prove to be well founded. Then will the Church “arise and shine.”