A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches (1925)

Printed in Christian Union Quarterly (1925), p. 431ff.

A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches

The National Council of Congregational Churches and the Universalist General Convention, at their sessions held in October, 1925, referred to the Congregational Commission on Interchurch Relations and to the Universalist Commission on Christian Comity and Unity certain proposals looking toward closer fellowship. The members of these commissions, after fraternal conference and discussion, join in issuing the following statement:

We believe that the basis of vital Christian unity is a common acceptance of Christianity as primarily a way of life. It is faith in Christ expressed in a supreme purpose to do the will of God as revealed in Him and to co-operate as servants of the Kingdom for which He lived and died. Assent to an official creed is not essential. Within the circle of fellowship created by loyalty to the common Master, there may exist differences of theological opinion. With that primary loyalty affirmed, such differences need not separate; rather, indeed, if the mind of the Master controls, they may enrich the content of faith and experience; and if it does not control, theological agreements will not advance the Christian cause. “Religion to-day does not grow in the soil of creeds.”

The unity of a common loyalty to the Christian way of life is already a fact, to which the high task in which we are now engaged is witness. Not only Congregationalists and Universalists, but multitudes of other forward-looking Christians, share this unity of faith and endeavour. It is not something to be artificially formed, but a growing relationship to be recognized and afforded ways of practical expression. None of us would advocate, as none of us could enter, a fellowship that would compromise loyalty to the truth as any one of us may see it, or would stifle freedom to bear testimony to its worth and power. What appeals to us is the challenge of a great adventure to prove that a common purpose to share the faith of Christ is a power strong enough to break the fetters of custom and timidity and sectarian jealousy that hitherto have put asunder Christian brethren who at heart are one, and who can better serve the Kingdom of God together than apart.

The Protestant churches of America are learning to work together. By so doing they honour their heritage and fulfil their mission. The Congregational and Universalist Churches are branches of the same parent stock. They grew out of the same soil and are bearing the same kind of fruit. The historic reasons for their separation have practically disappeared and new and stronger reasons for union have arisen. In statement of faith, in form of worship, in organization for work, and in standards of life, these two branches of Protestantism differ now in no essential respects. They can accordingly begin at once to co-operate in the heartiest way. If the prayer of our Lord is ever to be fulfilled, the beginning will be made by the mutual approach of denominations between which there is no longer any reason for separation.

In the judgment of the commissions, the time has arrived for the Congregational and Universalist Churches to seek the closest practicable fellowship. Their activities are proceeding already along lines closely parallel. They can do many things together to advantage which they are now doing separately. Each church will be quickened through this free fellowship.

We therefore recommend:

First: That the ministers and representatives of each denomination be invited to sit as corresponding members in the local, state, and national associations of the other denomination and to participate in their deliberations.

Second: That the agencies of each denomination in the realms of religious education, social service, evangelism, rural church development, and similar problems, be urged to arrange for joint programmes for promotion as far as practicable.

Third: That in each community where churches of both denominations are found they be urged to study what they can do together with mutual profit by way of union services, the interchange of pulpits, and the promotion of common enterprises.

Fourth: That there be a mutual interchange of representative speakers at national, state, and local gatherings.

Fifth: That the denominational journals be urged to make the largest practicable interchange of editorials and of printed matter of common interest, in order that each constituency may be kept fully informed regarding the other and of the progress made in the direction of closer fellowship.

Sixth: That, in order to secure more thoroughly co-ordinated movements, no actual steps toward the organization of local Congregational and Universalist churches be made without consulting their respective commissions.

Seventh: Wherever the problem of an adequate church constituency presses for solution, and in any community where denominational divisions work for wastefulness, those responsible are urged to co-operate in organizing for more effective service.

We believe that from these and similar joint undertakings increased effectiveness in common tasks and even more will result. Comradeship in a common faith and loyalty will be its finest and most prophetic grace. That quickened sense of comradeship will fashion its own ecclesiastical instrumentalities. None of us can yet foresee clearly what sort of organized fellowship will arise to give form and coherence to the spiritual unity that Christians of the open mind gladly confess. We are convinced that it will be something larger and more inclusive than anything that now exists. What we do see, with a profound feeling of gratitude and responsibility, is that, in the providence of God, these communions which we represent have been led by their respective historic traditions and spiritual development to a common faith in the Christian way of life as their supreme concern. They would travel it not only as friends but as allies, with a spirit as inclusive as the mind of the Master.

In such a larger fellowship Congregationalists and Universalists alike, both as churches and individuals, may find fresh incentive to service and sacrifice. The Kingdom of God requires the uttermost loyalty and devotion of both and the mutual recognition of what each may contribute to the common endeavour. The stirring challenge to forward-looking Christians of whatever name to-day is to make their churches vitalizing centers of the Christianity that is in Christ, and so to promote the broader fellowship through which alone the mighty task of winning the world by the Master shall be accomplished. To that we commit ourselves. The event is in the hand of God.

[From The Congregationalist, Boston, Mass.]