Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Way They Call Heresy

I must admit to not sharing what often seems to me the too joyous Unitarian embrace of the label "heretic" American Unitarianism was criticized from the start for being a "negative" religion-a religion against and not for, and this embrace of heresy seems ample confirmation of this old criticism. Is it too inherently contradictory to say we need a heresy for and not against? I suppose it is, but over the next couple of days I will excerpt a sermon called "The Way They Call Heresy" by Rufus Ellis, (given in 1877) that gives the "Boston Unitarian" view:


But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers. — Acts, xxiv. 14.

ON more than one occasion I have tried to say a word in behalf of Unitarian Christianity... I have no criticisms to offer upon other people. I do not pretend that ours is the only Christianity. I do not say, as some one claims we ought to say, that the Trinitarian is an idolater. I do not propose to argue even for my own opinions. Argument has no very large place in religion, and has a sound of weakness; while it always suggests another side. And as to what I have to say, I doubt whether I should declare it any less confidently if our present small minority in Christendom were reduced to the two or three who according to Jesus are enough, if only they are met in His name, to make a church.

1. Let me say first, that it is a religious necessity with the people who are called Unitarians, when they pray, to say, "Our Father;" to turn to this Supreme One an undivided mind and heart. They can worship no other being, however exalted. When in any Christian assembly the prayer of minister and congregation is a prayer to Christ, they cannot go along with it. To God, as He is revealed in Christ, — the God whose compassions are infinite, — they ever pray; and such prayer is very sweet and helpful to them. But to Christ they do not pray; for they believe that God is His Father as our Father, His God as our God ; and that they are to pray with Him, not to Him. Where they use, as in this church, a form of prayer, they fashion it in accordance with this conviction, and include no petitions to a Trinity of Persons, or to God the Son as distinguished from God the Father, or to God the Spirit as to a third person in the Godhead. They gladly celebrate the glory and beauty of the Mediator between God and man, — the Man Christ Jesus, — in anthems and hymns and spiritual songs; but in the supreme act of the adoring soul they look with Jesus to God, who is all in all, and unto whom, says Paul, even the Son shall be made subject."
2. Again, the people called Unitarians believe, and cherish the belief, that God our Father, in revealing Himself to us and drawing near to us in Jesus, was careful to preserve the human nature of that Son of man, with its proper personality, and its capacity to be to us in all things a true human example, — His temptations our temptations, His questions our questions, His trust our trust, His righteousness a human righteousness, His way of life a possibility for all men, if only they will accept the grace which is by Him. Opposed to this vital conception of Jesus as indeed our brother, is the very prevailing opinion that He was in no true sense a man; that what humanity there was about Him was only in appearance, simply the disguise of the supreme God, who somehow — contrary to what Saint James tells us — could be tempted of evil, and could not tell when the end of His own world should come. It is essential to the Unitarian to believe that we have in the life of Jesus a transcendent style of human living, which, however hard it may be to realize, is still man's true divine estate, upon which he is instantly and on this earth to enter, — no dream of philosophy, but a fact of Christian history, witnessed unto by those who have told and have themselves illustrated the Story of Jesus. They believe that Jesus, however pervaded, possessed, mastered, glorified by God, was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and has taught us that there is nothing in our humanity which is common or unclean ; that we may all be temples of the living God, and filled with the blessed Divine fullness. How practical this affirmation is I need not remind you. If I could not join in it I should still be looking for a Saviour, — for One to come out of the bosom of God, and dwell in man. Only in this faith can I say,—

" The true Messiah now appears, The types are all withdrawn : So fly the shadows and the stars Before the rising dawn."


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