restricted access What Does the Church Stand For?
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142 ] What Does the Church Stand For? The Spectator, 153 (19 Oct 1934) 560-61 I observe that the propounder of the question “What does the Church stand for?” in your columns uses the terms “Church” and “Churches” interchangeably (he speaks of “different branches of the Christian Churches”), and this raises a doubt in my mind as to what point of view, at least for the purpose of the moment, he is maintaining. And it is very difficult to reply to any criticism of the Church which is made from an unspecified point of view.1 To discuss the shortcomings of the Church with another person who is inside it is one thing; to defend the existence of the Church against those who are outside of it is quite another. The Church is not a public institution on the same footing as, let us say, the Water Board – an institution the proper functions of which can be discussed by all members of the community on the same assumptions. I cannot conceive such a discussion as you have initiated taking place in a Latin country, where people are either inside the Church or outside; it can take place here because the Church of England is in a vague way accepted by your “man in the street” as a kind of national institution, something maintained, as he supposes, at the public expense, something which has an obligation towards him, although he is unaware of any obligation towards it.2 It is something, of course, that he shouldfeelthattheChurchshouldbeconcernedwithhim.Butthemanwho isneither insidetheChurch noroutsideis apersonwhohasthoughtnothing out, and therefore a person with whom discussion is impossible; we can consider for purposes of argument only those who hold the Christian Faith, and thosewho(withoutnecessarilybeinghostile)holdsomeotherbeliefsequally positive. It is easy to admit, in the abstract, that there must be a profound difference not only between the theories, or between a few ideas which are from time to time consciously in the mind, but between the whole process of life, of those who believe in Christian Revelation of the supernatural order and those who do not. Both classes of people may underestimate the difference . We are apt to assume that we all, at least of one nation and language, have so to speak a large bookful of working beliefs in common, codes of conduct and manners and feeling; and that the Churchman simply has [ 143 What Does the Church Stand For? something more, a kind of appendix to the book, called Christianity, which contains some more beliefs to which the other man does not subscribe. But from the Christian point of view the appendix is the book, and the book the appendix; and for him even the appendix is not quite the same. You do not carry on business in the same way; you do not make investments with the same convictions; for the matter of that, you do not make love in the same way, or enjoy good wine in the same way. I know that I am thinking of the ideal Christian, who might be a St. Francis, and of the ideal atheist, who might be a Lenin; and I know that such admirable exemplars of thoroughness and reason as St. Francis and Lenin are very uncommon; but it clarifies the issues if we concern ourselves with the pure types. Now if your correspondent was, as I suspect, a Churchman (whether of my communion or not) trying to take the point of view of the “man in the street,” there are two confusions: that of a man taking two points of view at once, and that inherent in the “man in the street’s” point of view. I am assuming, out of good will, that your correspondent’s own point of view is not a confused one. The confusion which he appears to have taken on does not prevent him from having something to say that is worth saying; but it is something which needs a good deal of clarification. We must make clear at the start that to justify the existence of the Church in the eyes of the world is from the Church’s point of view no more rational than to justify any of the laws of physics, or the primary axioms and propositions of mathematics. The thoughts, words and deeds of individual ecclesiastics may from time to time require a good deal of justification, or even regret; the ecclesiastical organization and administration may be criticized; the quality and qualifications of men taking orders...


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