|The Shakespeare years and church reunion|
|Monday, 27 February 2012 11:59|
The Shakespeare years and church reunion
ALEX PIC P 181 1928
J H Shakespeare (1857-1928) was a visionary general secretary of the Union, responsible for great advances in its life. He was a brilliant organiser and centraliser, though in his personal conviction that union between denominations was desirable, on Anglican terms, he did not carry Baptists with him. But he raised a Twentieth Century Fund of £250,000 – worth at least £21m today – to build Baptist Church House in Southampton Row, support smaller churches, and engage in a massive evangelisation and church planting programme. If this were not enough, he raised a further £250,000 for a Sustentation Fund to augment ministers' stipends – the precursor of Home Mission. He also oversaw the creation of lists of Accredited Ministers, and the system of general superintendents.
ALEX SCAN 299 1902
We reported on May 9 1902 on the announcement at the Spring Assembly:
Mr Shakespeare was received with enthusiastic applause. He said: Mr President and brethren, it is with profound thankfulness that report to you today that our Twentieth Century Fund effort has been crowned with complete success (at this point the whole audience rose and joined in the Doxology), and that we have reached the full quarter of a million at which we originally aimed…
'We hoped that the movement would promote Baptist unity, intensify Baptist sentiment and enthusiasm, bring our leading laymen into closer touch with the Union, and better equip the Baptist Denomination to take its part in the work of God in the twentieth century. This purpose has been realised beyond all our expectations, and as a consequence I believe that the future of the Baptist community was never so bright with hope as it is today.'
We reported on March 10 1916 on Shakespeare's address to the Bradford Free Church Council, in which he argued for a united Free Church:
'We have come to the cross-roads. We have reached a stage in the religious life of this country when, if we are simply denominations and not a United Church, we are doomed. The principle of division has spent its force and the era of union must begin. The vital question is whether we are going forward in separation or together…
Denominationalism, he argued, did 'not commend itself to the members of our churches', 'made no appeal to the conscience and intellect of the best elements of the nation, and did not conform to the mind of Christ. He called for a federation of churches, the closure or merger of rival chapels, and the abandonment of a spirit of competition.
By 1918 Shakespeare had gone a step further and was advocating union with the Church of England too. In 1919 Herbert Marnham used his presidential address to back him, but the project was scuppered by the distinguished layman Dr T R Glover, who objected to the idea that Baptist pastors should be re-ordained by Anglicans to make their ministry valid. The Baptist Times on May 9 reported:
'There had been much charitable talk on Christian Unity without deep reflection. The bulk of his own work had been done in an interdenominational sphere. He was glad it had been found possible to further and further with friends of the Episcopal Church. But we were told that Reunion would involve reordination, and he wished to know the answer to be given on that issue. He was not prepared to say that the teachers to whom he owed most were irregularly ordained, or that their ministry was irregular. He had not so learned Christ…'
In 1920 the Lambeth Conference issued 'An Appeal to all Christian People' to embrace unity, which was eagerly taken up by Shakespeare, who in 1921 invited the Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, to address the Assembly. Lang words were generous and his proposals encouraging. We reported on April 29.
'The Archbishop of York appeared to be perfectly at home in the pulpit of Bloomsbury Chapel on Tuesday morning. Every available space was crowded, every face in the audience alert with wistful expectancy. The relations between Bishops and Baptists had not always been so pleasant, the President had remarked, and His Grace took even this pleasantly. His countenance bore a happy, comfortable smile throughout. In speaking he toyed at the outset with the arch-episcopal cross on his breast. Later he clasped his hands over it, hiding it, but, in fact, pressing it closer to himself. Then, upturning his face skyward, his appeal, though restrained, developed tremendous power. It is, of course, idle to pretend that all Baptists on this subject of reunion are agreed, or even on the wisdom of these approaches either on the one side or the other; but one suspects there was scarcely a man present that morning who disagreed with the Archbishop. The notes of sincerity, of brotherliness, of candour, of strong personal conviction, were struck so strongly that all initial prejudices were irresistibly overborne, so that long before he had got through responsive chords were vibrating in hearts everywhere.'
But it was not to be. Reunion foundered on the rock of reordination. Shakespeare's successor M E Aubrey was committed to a distinctively Baptist identity, and believed the new generation was on his side. He wrote in this paper on February 16 1928, not long before Shakespeare's death:
'The Baptist Young Men's Movement has come, like all the best things, without lifting up its voice in the strets, but I have an impression that it will make itself felt in our Churches before long. A number of able and devoted young business and professional men in London have banded themselves together to learn in fellowship how they may best serve the cause of Christ in our Churches and Denomination, both in home and foreign work. I, for one, am deeply grateful for this and set high hopes upon it. May God guide and use them! My impression is that very often the young Baptists are the best Baptists in the sense of denominationalists. The last generation tended to the elimination of frontiers and hoped that way to reach unity. The new generation appears to be swinging back from that, and, in its characteristic mood, to be demanding reality and frankness and a definiteness in religious statements which accords with a keen, though not narrow, denominational feeling and witness, in sharp contrast to the undenominationalism which has been so marked a feature of the last thirty years.'
By A Web Design
Christians who do not go to church - the fastest growing sector of the Christian community. But their experiences are largely unknown.
Related: Eve's story about leaving the church... John Rackley wonders what a simpler church might look like.
The relationships between local authorities and faith groups are documented in a new report
Even if good always triumphs, children's TV programmers seem more at ease supping with the devil than rejoicing with Christians. Should children's TV make more of the Bible?
New: The June edition of Baptist Voice is ready to download - or to listen (new option)
The Baptist Times produces weekly news round-ups. Click here for more on these free emails.
A new section highlighting how the Baptist Union of Great Britain is changing its way of working.
BMS World Mission
News and views from around the world
Download the latest monthly audio magazine. Produced as a ministry to those who are blind or have impaired vision.
The church planting arm of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
News and views from the 18-30s - the website of the Baptist Younger Leaders' Forum
Baptist Times link on your site
Connect your church website to The Baptist Times by adding this button.
By Plimun Web Design