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that all of truth had as yet opened to them. On this basis the Plymouth colony was started, and through its influence the Puritan churches throughout New England, gradually took on the Independent Congregational form of government. Very few of the churches had specific creeds. The creeds, so common now in Congregational churches, were introduced largely after the Unitarian controversy had led to the sharp drawing of lines and the fear of heresy. This controversy, occasioned by the growing liberality of many in the Congregational churches, reached a crisis in 1815. It was then, that under the fire of conservative criticism and the leadership of William Ellery Channing, the unconscious liberalism, that had been growing for two generations, became conscious of its divergence from Calvinism, outspoken in its opposition and finally accepted the term of opprobrium which had been used against it-Unitarian.
In the large cities most of the churches became Unitarian. The Harvard Divinity School through the convictions of its faculty went with the new movement, and has since remained Unitarian in its sympathies.
It was long however before this movement took on a definite denominational character. Its leaders were afraid to hamper their freedom by denominational barriers. And when they finally organized for missionary purposes, every precaution was taken to insure perfect freedom to individual and congregation. While numerically its growth has not been great, yet its influence in liberalizing the general religious thought of the century, has been confessedly marked.
The Unitarian polity will be readily inferred from its history. The supreme power resides in the individual church, and the churches co-operate in national and local conferences for mutual encouragement and church extension.
The American Unitarian association is the chief business association for church propaganda.
The organization of the individual church is extremely simple, a board of trustees with the necessary officers to control the management of its affairs.
CONCENSUS OF FAITH.
Authority:-Before enumerating the points commonly believed among Unitarians, the authority on which these views are held should be stated. “Truth for authority and not authority for truth" is often quoted from Lucretia Mott as a summary of the position of the Liberal Church in this matter. Neither the Bible nor the historic church is regarded as infallible authority. The truth in these must be judged, as all churches practically do judge it, from the standpoint of reason and the moral and spiritual consciousness.
One of the supreme prerogatives of humanity is this search for the truth, and no revelation has ever been given which relieves mankind from the responsibility divinely imposed upon it of sifting truth from error.-"Why judge ye not for yourself what is true,” is a question which admits no evasion. Religious truth is one with all truth, and must be found by the same law. Observation of facts and reasoning based upon those facts is the method of the modern truthseeker. The facts of nature are the most unquestioned revelations of the God of nature and are therefore authoritative. Whenever science thus demonstrates any principles or discovers any facts, they must be accepted, however difficult it may seem to reconcile them with former conceptions. Of course every theory of a scientist is not a demonstrated law or a discovered fact. But the points actually established must be accepted. Religion has to do also with another realm of facts-viz:—those of the moral and spiritual consciousness. The inner world of experience, the realm of the emotional life, speaks with voice no less authoritative than external facts. Wherever a voice of the past or present truly gives expression to the facts or experience of external or human nature, it comes with the sanctity and authority of divine revelation.
Bible:The attitude regarding the Bible is suggested in the preceding paragraph. Its only authoritative elements are those which deal with the living spiritual experiences of souls consecrated to the service of the Highest. Because it contains so much of this it is incomparably valuable to the religious life. No miracle, however, has protected it from the
errors of the people among whom it was written. It is a most inspiring record of the growth of a people, with a peculiar genius for religion, out of barbarism, into a noble and intelligent enthusiasm for a high form of moral and religious faith. The Bible, therefore, is the depository of religious truth progressively revealed to man in the long ago past, but its truths are not more sacred and authoritative than the truths revealed through scientific investigation and human experience.
Theism:-"We believe in God, the One, the Eternal, the Life Immanent in the Universe as well as the love, light and law indwelling in the human soul." One in whom we literally live, move and have our being. This thought of God as immanent and omnipresent is fundamental, as will be seen, in all the other elements of Unitarian faith. Whatever science proves to have been the order of the developement of the universe is accepted reverently as a revelation to us of the divine method. “We believe in Evolution as the life of God unfolding itself in the universe, through rock, flower, brute, ascending to man, and to higher man, and to higher than man." Any attempt at definition of God must necessarily be inadequate, for the finite cannot comprehend infinity. But we can know His attributes in some measure through the revelations of Himself in external and human nature.
Revelation:—The growing conviction of science that all the elements of nature have their basis in a fundamental unity, corroborates and makes more easy of comprehension this modern theism. If all things proceed from one life, then whatever is most real and powerful anywhere is a revelation of this Indwelling Life. All nature then and all human nature is a revelation, most true as it is most universal and most high. Not an atom but partakes of the infinite life of God and is in some way making toward the eternal purposes of spiritual life. Back of it all, within it all, there is the infinite and eternal One, “the self that is higher than ourselves." The Person who is so much more than we can conceive of personality but which we can only express in terms of our own natures magnified to infinity. This divine life has been manifesting itself more and more in higher and higher forms,
until it has come to the more perfect expression in the conscious life of man. In the reason, conscience and sympathies of human life there is the key to all that has gone before. Man reveals God. In man are the attributes of the universal life incarnated-imperfectly, with much deformity; but man gives by his aspirations, ideals and struggles, some revelation of that infinite purpose which is tending onward eternally. And in human nature the paramount quality is love. This quality is so transcendent in its power, so universal in its scope as to literally demonstrate the truth of the assertion made by John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, that “God is love."
“Love that holds the planets constant on their way,
Guides the swallows fight to sunny skies,
Yet reveals itself in baby eyes."
Jesus:—Thus it will be seen that the life of Jesus has especial significance to Unitarians as to others, for in whatever man is found the fullest expression of love, in that man is found the highest revelation of God. This significance, , however, arises from the fact that the life of Jesus is a manifestation of the one great universal law underlying all nature. Jesus was divine not through miracle, but because he was true to that divine life which is in all humanity. He is the most supreme revelation to us, in that he manifested so fully the Christ spirit of self-surrendering love for every child of earth. He gave himself most fully and freely to the weak, the sinful, and the wretched—to all who most needed his helpful tenderness. This church believes that it is most loyal to the teachings of Jesus, in basing its fellowship on this spirit of love, rather than upon creedal tests. The National Unitarian Conference of 1894 adopted unanimously the following preamble to its constitution: “These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding in accordance with his teaching that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man.”
Immortality:-Unitarians believe in personal immortality. The views of individual members differ widely in their reasons for this faith and in their conception of where and what the
tuture may be. There is no attempt to dogmatize regarding the future life, for more fundamental than details of belief is the trust in the Infinite Goodness. Whatever is best for the development of the human soul will surely come to it. Heaven is a condition of spiritual achievement. All ideas of reward and punishment center in the element of character"sin, shame and hell on the one hand-repentance, forgiveness, regeneration, salvation and heaven on the other are successive experiences of the soul" as it grows into the knowledge and joy of the higher life. It is perhaps needless to add that no Unitarians accept the idea of eternal punishment. Unhappiness comes as the inevitable accompaniment of wrong doing. The quality of one's life determines the spiritual condition.
Evil:-With such a faith in the immanence and omnipresence of God, evil cannot be regarded as a permanent and absolute entity. Evil is always a relative term made real by ideals of good growing to where it can be seen that past actions are unworthy. “Actions became evil only after better actions were realized as possible. Selfishness became bad only after the neighbor-regarding feeling became conscious, only after unselfish acts began to take precedence over the self-regarding sort. Sin will ever consist in following a lower when man a higher way.” The good means obedience to the ever evolving and growing ideals of humanity. The bad means remaining in what was and is. The past and the present become bad as soon as the better future is conceived.
Character and Universal Brotherhood:--All intellectual theories are, however, subordinated to the all-important requisites of character and human fellowship. It is less important that a man believe a special thing to be true than that he devoutly wishes to know the truth and be loyal to it when known. The quality of manhood is the supreme thing in life. Character is the all-important test. "We believe that to love the good and live the good, is the supreme thing in religion." This is why the basis of fellowship is made the moral purpose rather than any theological assent. By character is meant something more vital than any aggregate of respectable