Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charles Henry Brent: “We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks”

Today on the Episcopal Church calendar we remember Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929), bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York. Here's an excerpt about Bishop Brent from Holy Women, Holy Men:
Brent was the outstanding figure of the Episcopal Church on the world scene for two decades. The central focus of his life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity. After attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, he led the Episcopal Church in the movement that culminated in the first World Conference on Faith and Order, which was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927, and over which he presided.
Bishop Brent also wrote one of my favorite collects (included as one of the collects for mission in the rite for Morning Prayer in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer):
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Below are some of Bishop Brent's thoughts on Church unity. They strike a timely chord for those who desire greater unity among Anglicans worldwide.

The unity of Christendom is not a luxury but a necessity. The world will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.

Do not be deceived; without unity the conversion of great nations is well-nigh hopeless. The success of missions is inextricably bound up with unity. It would seem that missionary progress in the future will depend mainly upon the Church’s unity, and that national conversions can be brought about by no other influence.

It may be that up to the present a divided Church has been used by God for the extension of His Kingdom among men, but we have no guarantee that He will continue to do so. Indeed there are indications that the divided Church has passed the zenith of such power as it has had, and is declining toward desolation. Divided Christendom has had a fair trial – it is a failure.

If it is a prophecy that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, it is also prophecy that the Church divided against herself will fall. Disorder in the Church is more terrible than feuds in the family or civil war in the State. If war is an evil in national life, it is a thousandfold greater evil in Church life.

If unity has slipped from our grasp, it is the common fault of the Christian world. If it is to be regained it must be by the concerted action of all Christians. Every section has shared in shattering unity. Every section must share in the effort to restore it.

Is the Church to lead in unity? If so, she must begin by unifying herself. It is laughable to think of a warring Church preaching about a world at peace. There is no lesson which the Churches are learning of greater importance than the impotence of our divided Christianity. It is absurd to aim at a united mankind, or even a united Christian civilization, and to be content with a divided Church. A confused Church will be a potent factor in maintaining a confused world.

~ Charles Henry Brent

Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright.


Milan Homola said...

I appreciate your topic here and the quotes. Its a shame that you say unity to be promoted "anglicans." Are you being exclusive in your promotion of unity?

I am incredibly passionate about church unity and help run an organization who is committed to that very thing.

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Milan. Thank you for your comment.

My comment about Bishop Brent's thoughts on unity striking "a timely chord for those who desire greater unity among Anglicans worldwide" is not meant to be exclusionary of greater unity among Christians more broadly. I say his words are "timely" in this sense because, IMO, we are living during a time in which Anglicans worldwide are continuing to experience deepening division. And we Anglicans are also finding it difficult to do anything constructive or proactive about turning that problem around (witness, for example, how the Anglican Covenant appears at this point to be dead in the water).

If we Anglicans cannot achieve greater unity among ourselves, how can we offer a credible witness to the larger world that we're really serious about greater unity with non-Anglican Christians?