Christianity and the Future
The relation in which Christianity stands to the future is also a basis on which various views of its nature have been rested, according to the theory of the peculiar power of diffusion and propagation which it is supposed to possess. Anti-supernaturalists consider Christianity to be merely a moral force, acting through mere moral enlightenment; but this has already been sufficiently dwelt upon. There are; however, what may be called two Christian views of the modus propagandi of Christianity, which produce two of the real nature of Christianity itself. This difference of view is best seen in the variety of answers given to the question how Christianity subsisted after the departure of Christ and how it subsists now from age to age, a more or less compact organic life in the world. The various answers o given may be roughly placed in two Classes as they lay stress on the spiritual or the mechanical side of the process, and enlarge on the spiritual or the mechanical influences at work. Those who take what may be called the spiritual a view of Christianity hold that it was sustained after the, ascension of Christ by the mission and work of the Holy Spirit, whose presence and influence enable it to go on from age to age, spreading in the world and developing according to the laws of its growth. And they believe that as the chief result of Christ's work consisted in a change of moral relation between God and those for whom Christ died, the spread and permanence of Christianity is purely moral, and manifests itself mainly in a change of will. Of course all this takes place in special ways and by appropriate means. These means are called the means of grace, and are usually held to be the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer; but it is always to be understood that all such means are secondary or subordinate, and that the primary means of grace is the Holy Spirit, who works through these subordinate means, but may and does work in other ways. It is always understood that the operations of the Spirit cannot be limited to special actions nor confined by mechanical laws. On the other hand those who look at Christianity from what may be called the mechanical point of view are inclined to lay stress upon the means by which the Spirit works. They do not ignore the mission of the Holy Ghost nor His work, but are apt to say that He works only in certain prescribed ways, and through one set of means, and the tendency is to lay almost exclusive stress on one set of subordinate means -- the Sacraments, and to represent that the persistence and spread of Christianity depend upon the constancy and correctness of sacramental ceremonies.
These opposite views of the nature of Christianity depend upon differences of dogmatic conception which may be briefly indicated. All through the one view, a change in the relationship between God's will and man's will is held to be the fundamental result which flows from the work of Christ. All through the other view man's nature rather than man's will is considered, and the result of Christ's work is looked on rather as a process within human nature than as a change in moral relations between man and God. In this way the progress of Christianity is looked on as the gradual semi-physical impregnation of human nature by the nature of Christ, a prolongation of the Incarnation rather than a development of the consequences of the finished work of Christ, to be produced by keeping Christ incarnate in the sacrifice of the Mass and impregnating mankind by means of Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the altar. The one view is the view of churches which have accepted the Reformation; the other is that of churches which have not.
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Christianity - Table of Contents