“The Universalist Convention” (1899)

[Note: an interesting work with notes about the Universalist ministerial college, cooperation with Unitarians, and how some saw the development of the 1899 “Five Principles”.]

“The Universalist Convention”

The Outlook, November 4, 1899, p. 522-524

The biennial session of the Universalist General Convention at Boston, October 20–25, inclusive, was one of more than usual importance. One is impressed first with the fact that the individualistic spirit which has characterized the Universalists almost as strongly as the Unitarians is getting harnessed for co-perative effort. It was stated that more than half of the pastors have already subscribed to the covenant formed at the preceding convention in Chicago. It is worth quoting in full for its admirable spirit:

We, the ordained ministers of the Universalist Church, profoundly desiring to give full proof of our ministry by making the utmost of our united strength in the upbuilding of the divine kingdom on earth, and in order to promote a deeper unity of purpose among ourselves through the cultivation of a spirit of loyalty and subordination in the practical administration of the Church, hereby mutually covenant with each other and solemnly pledge to our beloved Church that we will, at all times, hold ourselves in due subjection to the authorities and policies of the Universalist Church, to that end subordinating when needful our personal preferences, and that we will earnestly endeavor to sustain the appoint authorities of the Church, and to carry into effect the politics adopted by the conventions.

Never before has the Universalist ministry been so closely united as now, and the prospect is hopeful that something like unanimity [sic] in this covenant is to be secured. Another point gained at this Conventionw as the initiation of what is likely to be at least a closer co-operation between the Universalist and Unitarian bodies. It has been found especially desirable in small communities, to prevent the friction and waste ensuing when those who have so much in common are kept apart by denominational jealousy or rivalry. Unitarians have long desired some plan of union, but their overtures have not been warmly received. Some influential Universalists have strongly antagonized them on theological grounds. Moreover, the Universalist churches, being twice as numerous as the Unitarian, have on that account also been less earnest for a junction of forces. At Boston, however, for the first time, each body met the other fairly half-way. The delegation appointed by the recent Unitarian Conference was cordially welcomed, and their overture was agreed to, that a committee of five from each body should consider plans for closer co-operation and report at the next meeting of each. This was opposed by Dr. Sweetser, of Philadelphia, in a speech of severe criticism upon Unitarians, but it was carried by the strong majority of 101 to 25.

Universalist Principles

Since the centennial of the Universalist Church in 1870, admission to their fellowship has been conditioned on assent to the declaration formulated at Winchester, N.H., in 1803. This occasioned demand for its revision, and after long discussion a recast of it was agreed on two years ago at Chicago. This was ratified at Boston by a vote of 132 to 10, and is now the standard of teaching in the Universalist churches. The two formularies are sufficiently brief for quotation in full, and their comparison is certainly interesting:

THE WINCHESTER PROFESSION

Article I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind.

Article II. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

Article III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

THE CHICAGO DECLARATION

The condition of fellowship shall be as follows :

I. The acceptance of the essential principles of the Universalist Faith, to wit: 1. The Universal Fatherhood of God. 2. The spiritual authority and leadership of His Son, Jesus Christ. 3. The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God. 4. The certainty of just retribution for sin. S. The final harmony of all souls with God.

II. The acknowledgment of the authority of the General Convention and assent to its laws.

The Winchester Profession is commended as containing these principles, but neither this nor any other precise form of words is required as a condition of fellowship, provided always that the principles above stated be professed.

The most obvious thing here is that the Trinitarian feature of the older form is not found in the new. But with this goes a stronger, clearer call to missionary activity than we have heard in the same quarter. The Rev. C. E. Rice declared: “Our future as a church depends largely on our foreign missions. The universality of our claims as a church involves something more than a local propaganda.” The Holy Spirit was recognized in the prayers of the Convention, if not in its formulary, and the warmth of religious feeling was unmistakable, in the spirit of loyalty to Jesus and unity with all children of God. “The work of the Universalist Church,” said the President of the Convention, Mr. Charles L. Hutchinson, of Chicago, “is to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to win men to God and righteousness.” One sees a significant contrast between the obloquy and persecution visited upon the Rev. John Murray, when he introduced Universalism at Gloucester, Mass., a century ago, and the fraternal greetings given at Boston in the interdenominational meeting. Dr. Abbott’s address on that occasion, “Why I am Not a Universalist,” will appear in full in our next issue. The Convention expects to raise a large “Twentieth Century Fund ” for denominational purposes, and to hold its next session at Buffalo.

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