Kenneth Ingram, The Christian Left and the Churches

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The Meaning of Christianity

[2] The basic principle of Christianity is the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man: Jesus insisted that on the command to love God and neighbour hang all the law and the prophets. The Christian Left regards this principle as one, and not as two distinct principles. It holds that man cannot perceive the fatherhood of God apart from the brotherhood of man, since the love of God is the universal of which love of persons is the particular manifestation. Consequently, the fatherhood of God cannot be realized unless we are working to achieve the brotherhood of man. God is not a separate entity in a separate world: He is that of which human personality is a relative creation.

If we were dealing with definitions of theism we should have to go on to explain that this does not mean that God is simply the sum total of the human race, since the infinite is more than the total of its relative parts. For our immediate purpose, however, what we have to notice is that the brotherhood of man is something which has to be achieved in this world. It is here, in the sphere of our actual experience, that we make our personal contacts: it is here, therefore, that the universal community of mankind has to be established. Christianity does not regard this brotherhood merely as an idea: it does not regard it as an ideal which will only be realized outside time and beyond history. Christianity seeks to establish the Kingdom as an actuality in history, and is, accordingly, directly concerned with the task of transforming human society on such a political and economic basis as will make possible that equality and freedom which, it claims, are the right of every individual and the essential conditions of brotherhood.

[3] Christianity is working to achieve this end in history; it is working to break down racial and national and class barriers which stand in the way of this achievement. Christianity is therefore a force in history working towards a certain end. It is always in motion. It cannot remain set in any one form of expression: it will always be moving on and leaving its previous forms of expression behind it. Now, the Christian organizations, the Churches, are previous forms of expression. They tend to preserve particular doctrines and traditions. They represent the result of the contact which Christianity has made at various periods of social development, the degree of Christianity which society was able to accept in some particular age. That is why the appeal of the different Churches is mainly to the past, to the particular tradition and period of which each Church is respectively the monument.

If we think of Christianity in this way we cannot identify Christianity with the Christian Churches. The Churches, on the contrary, mark the stages through which the Christian force has passed in the course of its journey – such as the feudal and the various capitalist epochs. Christianity cannot become fixated. If its way is blocked, it will express itself in new channels, outside the existing Churches.

When the Christian force has begun to leave a particular ecclesial organization behind it, that does not mean that the organization dies. What history seems to show is that the Churches remain alive because of the degree of Christian vitality which they have stored up. Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Non-conformity are not dead: they are actively preserving the particular religious interpretation which they represent. But the strength which was once theirs is [4] evidently waning. They no longer possess the influence over the public mind which they once exercised. They are becoming museums of a tradition. Their membership consists on the whole of the less mentally vigorous or creative sections of society.

The Christian force is meanwhile pressing forward and beginning to manifest itself in new forms. Its immediate aim is the achievement of a Socialist order, since until our civilization is based on the system of production for use in place of production for private profit, progress towards internationalism and universal human community is barred. It is probably true to say that to-day this Christian force is expressing itself mainly among groups of people who are largely unconscious of their religious mission, and who in some cases would actively repudiate the label 'Christian', since they identify Christianity with the beliefs and practices of traditional institutions.

The Relation of Christianity to the Churches

This outline of the Christian Left conception of Christianity may now enable us to understand more clearly the attitude of the Christian Left to the Churches.

The Christian Left is not concerned with any attack upon the Churches, although its existence as a movement arises from and involves an active criticism of the Churches, a witness to their failure: equally it is not concerned with defending the Churches. It sees the general drift of people from the Churches, indeed, as part of the Christian process. This is not to claim that the mere repudiation of traditional Christianity is in itself a mark of developing Christianity. But it is to claim that the drift is part of the Christian process, and [5] that it was probably necessary for mankind to have broken away from former religious associations before they could be the active agents of the Christianity of the new age.

Nor is this analysis a denial that within the Churches there are individuals who are comparatively aware, or are ready to be made aware, of what the Christian Left would regard as a fuller conception of Christianity. This is a transitional period, and it would be as inaccurate therefore to assert that the Christian force to-day is wholly outside the Churches, as to say that it is wholly contained within them.

The nearest historical analogy to the present moment is probably the late apostolic period of Christianity. There were still at that time a number of Christians within the Jewish Church, observing the Jewish forms and using the Jewish ecclesiastic machinery. An increasingly larger number were Gentiles, forming scattered groups throughout the empire and owing no sort of allegiance to the Jewish Church. After the dispute between St. Paul and St. Peter had been decided, no effort was made to induce the gentile Christians to conform to the Jewish rites. The development of an independent Christian organization arose partly on account of the existence of those non-Jewish groups and partly because of the hostility of the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities to the Christians. If we substitute institutional Christianity to-day for the Jewish Church of that age, the position at the present moment will be seen to be not altogether dissimilar.

Church Membership and the Christian Left

It should by now be clear how the Christian Left stands in regard to the advice it would offer to is own [6] members, or to those whishing to become members, as regards their relationship to the Churches.

The Christian Left would certainly not advise anyone who was practising member of a Christian Church to leave his Church. It would say that this was entirely an individual problem which the individual must answer for himself by deciding whether he finds his beliefs compatible with Church membership and whether he is able to work better inside than outside his Church.

The Christian Left would certainly not persuade anyone outside the Churches to join them. To do so would imply that it considered that a profession of Christianity was ultimately dependent on Church membership. In the Christian Left view this is no more true than it was true in a former age that the Gentile Christians must be circumcised and admitted tot the Jewish rite before they could fully become Christians. Similarly, the Christian Left would not dissuade any of its members from joining a Church who felt that they could serve Christianity better by doing so.

Some Christian Left members may feel that they can accommodate the revolutionary religious beliefs for which they stand with formal subscription to a traditional religious interpretation which membership of a Church may involve. Others will feel that they must free themselves entirely of traditional ecclesiastical associations before they can begin to live what they conceive to be the Christian life and set about the Christian task. In a transitional period this divergence is as natural as it was for some Christians in apostolic times to be within the Jewish Church and some to be outside. The analogy may continue to hold as the [7] world crisis of our time develops. The Christians of to-morrow may find that they are compelled to set up a religious community entirely independent of the existing Churches. This will depend on the attitude of the Churches rather than on themselves. The emergence of such a community will not be, that is to say, a result of the Christian Left members deciding to embark on a deliberately sectarian policy, but because the Churches make it clear that Christian Left members cannot remain within the Churches without compromising their beliefs.

Will the new Christianity be Christian?

There remains one further question. If the Christianity of the Socialist age, of which the Christian Left may be the forerunner, expresses itself in new forms differing profoundly from the theological and devotional forms of traditional Christianity, what right will it have to call itself Christian? Sometimes this question is put by asking whether the Christian Left has, or is going to produce of worship. If so, will these forms of worship be sufficiently similar to the traditional forms to warrant the title 'Christian'? If its creed and its practice show no continuity with the ancient forms, should it not call itself something other than Christian?

There are actually two issues which are here raised. The first is the claim that what determines the identity of a movement, whether religious or secular, Christian or non-Christian, is the continuity of its form. Some Christians would even hold that the form of organization is an essential mark of continuity that there is, for example, no valid Christian Church unless the three orders of bishop, priest and deacon have been preserved.

[8] [I don't have pages 8 to 11…]

Text in English to type

[9] [10] [11]

Can a Religious Movement Ignore Devotional Practices?

The Authority of Christ

The Christian Left and Other Christian Socialist Bodies

[12] Before the Christian Left could legitimately merge itself with any other Socialist Christian body it would have to be satisfied that there was a real unity between them. This unity might partially be tested by asking those who invite amalgamation the following questions: do you hold that in any sense the future of Christianity is dependent on the preservation of the Churches? Do you regard a Christian revival as necessarily involving a return of men and women to Church membership? The answer which the Christian Left would give to those questions is quite definite. It does not consider that the future of Christianity has anything to do with the defence of the Churches: the new wine may burst the old bottles. If the Churches were to disappear altogether that would not affect the progress of Christianity. From the Christian Left standpoint the Churches in the near future will be judged by the attitude which they take up towards the attempt to set up a Socialist civilization. The next stage in the Christian achievement is the establishment of Socialism. If the Churches resist Socialism they will therefore be opposing Christianity. That this is not an improbable eventuality can be appreciated by turning once more to the historical analogy of the early days of Christianity. The Jewish Church opposed that development of its own tradition - which was, in fact, Christianity. It obstructed the religious process. It called - on religious grounds - the crucifixion of Christ. What has happened before may happen again. The Christian Churches may find themselves precisely in the position of the Jewish Church when it rejected Christ.

The Christian Left and Co-operation

[13] The purpose of this pamphlet has been to explain the standpoint of the Christian Left and the reason why it has assumed an independent existence, but not to criticize other standpoints or to depreciate the work which other organizations are doing. In the task of transforming society to the Socialist model the Christian Left can willingly co-operate in may ways with bodies which have a similar end in view. But co-operation is only effectual when those who are co-operating understand each other's varying points of view and do not assume a unity of belief where there is actually a fundamental difference.

Neither the Christian Left, nor any of those bodies whose work is directed by the belief that to achieve a Socialist society is the immediate Christian task, conceive that to be the whole Christian task. To establish a Socialist society is merely to set up an environment in which the creation of community alone becomes possible. But to provide an environment is not enough: men have to make use of their environment. Socialism is not a means to an end: it is a means to a beginning.

If this pamphlet has succeeded, in spite of the fact that it is no more than an outline, in defining more clearly the convictions which have drawn men and women together into the movement known as the Christian Left, its aim will have been fulfilled. The attitude of the Christian Left towards any proposals for amalgamation may then be more readily appreciated and the way made easier for co-operation with other bodies on specific issues.

Further informations about the Christian Left may be obtained by writing to Miss Janet Jordan, 172 Russell Court, London W.C.1.

Text Informations

Kenneth Ingram, Christian Left Pamphlet No. 3, 1939
Src : British Library