Christ's Conquest of the World is by Mean of Conversion
by Dr Warren A Candler
From "Current Comments on Timely Topics", Cokesbury Press, 1926
In the Scriptures there are militant words, which bespeak warfare between the powers of evil and the forces of good. In the Epistle to the Ephesians is set out with minuteness the "whole armor of God," with which the Christian soldier must be armed in order to resist successfully the assaults of Satan.
But these militant words of the Christian Scriptures are generally used by the inspired writers to rally the human soul to resist bravely and heroically the temptations to evil and the assaults of Satan, whereby virtue is so often overcome and loyalty to God vanquished. They are rarely, if ever, applied to efforts for bringing the world to Christ.
In our times, however, these martial conceptions are used constantly to set forth the conquest of mankind by Christianity. Bugle notes are sounded in all the Churches calling the members to all sorts of "campaigns.'' The phrases of worldly wisdom are employed with reference to "leadership," "strategic points," and "skillful organization," as if the mission of the Church were to "round up" the human race, overwhelm mankind by irresistible combinations, and drive the inhabitants of the earth into obedience to Christ, as captives might be brought under subjection to a foreign power by force of arms.
Thus used, the militant passages in the Bible are misapplied and thereby become misleading. Christ proposes no method but that of conversion for the conquest of the world. If such a word as "plan" may be properly applied to his purposes of redeeming love, we may say that overwhelming men by any outward force whatsoever is utterly foreign to the plan of Jesus. He does not propose to fill his kingdom with vanquished souls, brought into subjection by coercive forces, but with regenerated souls, redeemed by the saving grace of conversion. According to his teaching, the kingdom of God is within us, and men cannot be brought into it except with their free and full consent, secured by the renovating power of the Holy Ghost. Any other conception of his kingdom is antagonistic to its essential nature and unfriendly to the benign results which it is designed to achieve.
That group of ideas, now so prevalent, in which the kingdom of Christ is conceived to be a great movement which is to overcome communities and nations by its enthralling plans and by its invincible management is hurtful to the Church and harmful to the world. To the Church it tends to bring a domineering spirit, to substitute for the tender spirit of compassion the proud purpose of conquest; and to the world it imparts a spirit of resentment and resistance to all that the Church proposes.
Moreover, by such an unchristly conception of its mission, the Church is led to discard Christ's method for the promotion of the kingdom of heaven among men, and to adopt pretentious plans for managing mankind in bulk rather than for making loving appeals to individual souls to be reconciled to God. Before her eyes shines the delusive vision of a renovated world without the regeneration of individual souls, and the delusion leads her astray from her Scriptural mission and diverts her from the methods by which her mission is to be fulfilled. Hence the multiplied, and ever multiplying, schemes of present-day Churches to manage men rather than to save men.
Discussing the method of Jesus in contrast with these popular programs of worldly wisdom, James Martineau says:
"I conceive that Christ preached a gospel wholly at variance with the prevailing temper and philosophy of our times. It is their tendency not to excite men, but to manage them as they are. The present age has been prolific (like many of its predecessors) of inventions and proposed social arrangements, by which we may sit still and be made into the right kind of men; which will render duty the smoothest thing on earth, by warning all interfering motives off the spot, and turn the Christian race into a stroll upon a mossy lawn. The trust and boast of our period is not in its individual energy and virtue, not in its great and good minds, but in its external civilization, in schemes of social political improvements, in things to be done for us rather than by us; in what we are to get, more than in what we are to be."
Methods of this sort appeal strongly to an unspiritual and ease-loving type of Christianity. The work of bringing individual souls to Christ and leading them to repentance, faith, and the new birth is not easy; it calls for a deep and personal experience of saving grace and demands painful, prayerful, and patient efforts of earnest appeal to individuals. This is too much for Churches and preachers who love their ease and dislike strenuous spiritual endeavors to win souls to Christ. Hence, they resort to "labor-saving machinery'' in the spiritual world.
But in the spiritual world there is no place for "labor-saving machinery." Life, in even its lowest forms, cannot be produced, or nourished, by machine methods. It is born, not manufactured. Spiritual life, above all other forms of life, cannot be produced by machinery; and when an ease-loving Christianity seeks to turn out such life by mechanical processes it deceives itself and spends its effort for naught. Its pretensions and showy schemes for conquering the world by machine methods instead of converting forces of redeeming love can end in nothing better than confusion of tongues and social contention.
Akin to these machine methods, and breathing the same worldly spirit of conquering rather than converting mankind, are those proposals for saving the world by imposing the overwhelming ecclesiastical combinations. These schemes may be described as plans for saving through salvation by syndicate. They partake of the spirit and methods of "big business" in the commercial world, and thus they "savor of the things which be of men and not of the things which be of God." They spring from a mundane megalomania, bawling for bigness in order to overpower the heathen world by bulkiness of organization rather than to convert the heathen world to Christ by the saving processes of the gospel.
If the heathen world could be dazzled by the spectacular exhibition of a huge agglutinated ecclesiastical organization, and so dismayed by it as to surrender to it, the heathen world would not be saved thereby. A subjugated world would not be a saved world. An affrighted and subdued heathenism would not be a Christianized body at all; a servile submission to mere bulkiness of organization would not be salvation for the pagan nations.
But the heathen world cannot be conquered. Campaigns for its conquest will arouse national antagonisms and ethnic hostilities which will delay, if they may not defeat, the conversion of the heathen world. Christ has not called his Church to conquering campaigns, but to converting ministrations.
The method of Jesus for the propagation of Christianity is set forth in the parable of the leaven in the meal. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
Leaven acts upon the meal, not by its larger bulk, but by its pervasive power and by its capacity to convert the meal into a substance like itself. In what sharp contrast is the method of Jesus, as set forth in this parable, with the faithless programs of those who would have us believe that the vast bulk of the heathen world can never be leavened with the saving power of Christianity unless a somewhat corresponding bulk of ecclesiastical organization and machinery be brought to bear upon it! They trust the leaven little and fear the meal much. They cannot believe that the leaven can be effective, if it be so small that it can be hidden in the meal. In faithlessness toward Christ and distrust of the gospel they doubt the scriptural statement that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
E-mail: Sean Richardson