The doctrine of the church is the most live theological issue of
this era. There is a trend today toward a restudy of the church in
seventeenth-century England, as that too was a creative and formative
period. There has not been an age since Baxter and Bunyan until the
present when a new understanding of the church seemed so vital.
The task of theology is to bring the reality of God in Christ into
the existential situation of each succeeding age. The scientific
developments of our time, which combine rapid transportation with atomic weapons
give a new urgency to Christ's demands for unity in His church, and
witness to the world. Today a world community is not only desirablej
it is essential.
In the midst of this urgent call from the world the church sends out
a flickering light, partly because we who compose its membership are not
united ourselves* We cannot preach love and brotherhood when they do
not exist within the body of Christ. In our disunity, we cannot unite
a torn world..
It is impossible to understand the modem situation in which the
church confronts its disunity without a fresh study of the beginnings
of the sects. To understand the churches called Baptist, Congregational and
Presbyterian in the United States, it is essential that one has a clear picture
of the forces and reactions at work in seventeenth-century English church life.
The American church pattern can "he traced directly to this period. We can
understand our strength, as well as our prejudices, only as we see ourselves
in the mirror of this history. Only now are we leaving the stage of reaction
against the abuses of that day and beginning to explore the possibilities of
a new and more profitable union.
Richard Baxter and John Buryan produced conceptions of the church that are
as relevant for our day as for their own. leaders of the world church today
recognise that a sense of spiritual unity is basic to life in Christ. They
realise too that any organised structure of the church must be comprehensive*
There can be unity onl; in the essential recognition of the Lordship of Jesus
Christ, with freedom to grow in an understanding on all inessentials. The
churches today are re recovering the element of love as the basis for Christian
discipleship, and are seeking, as did Baxter and Bunyan, to spread its healing
It would be folly to return to rigid church patterns» that would ultimately
abnegate the gains won by these great saints of the past; it would be squally
a mistake to continue to battle in a war that has long been won.
Baxter and Bunyan would speak a final word of warning from across the
centuries. We should beware of any Utopian dreams that to restore unity would
in itself answer the problems confronting mankind today. These men saw the
church as a means as troll as an end. The church was designed by Christ not to
be ministered unto, but to minister. The living Spirit of Christ must find
new and positive expression in Worship, evangelism, and social righteousness
before our unity will mean victory.