“Dr. Sweetser on Unitarian and Universalist Union” (1899)
Dr. Sweetser on Unitarian and Univeralist Union
The Outlook, November 18, 1899, p. 664-5
Dr. Edwin C. Sweetser, in the Universalist “Leader” for October 7, presents with great frankness and great vigor the objection entertained by a portion of the Universalist body to the proposed union of the Universalists and Unitarians in one denomination. His statement of the difference between the two denominations, as he understands it, is put clearly and concisely in the following paragraph:
Agreeing as they do in some respects, they nevertheless differ in that vital respect so widely as to make it impossible for them to promote the interests of Christianity by uniting their forces. Not till the Unitarians accept Jesus Christ as the Universalists do will it be advisable for the two bodies to adopt such a plan as the Unitarians have suggested. Nothing but injury could come from it to the Universalist Church or to the cause of pure Christianity. For the Universalist Church is avowedly and unequivocally and positively Christian. It has been so from the beginning. Not accepting the Trinitarian belief in his Deity, it stands firmly on the ground that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the rightful Lord of all mankind. Its first authoritative creed expressed its belief in “one God, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ;” and its latest declaration of principles affirms “the spiritual leadership and authority of His Son, Jesus Christ;” whereas the Unitarian Church expressly disavows belief in either the Lordship, the Christhood, or the Divine Sonship of Jesus. It refuses to call him the Lord, or the Christ, or the Son of God. Some of its members are willing to call him so—especially some of its older members, and of its devout women not a few—but the Unitarian body as a whole has put itself on record in the most positive manner as not believing in this fundamental postulate of Christianity.
It is not for us to determine whether Dr. Sweetser correctly interprets either the Unitarian or the Universalist position, but it appears to us certain that the question which his article raises ought to be frankly met and fully considered before any union between the two denominations is effected. The disadvantages of attempting an organic union where there is no spiritual unity as a basis have been often illustrated. If it is true that the Universalist Church centers its religion about Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the rightful Lord of all mankind, and seeks the secret of its power in the revelation and provision of divine mercy made through him, and further true that the Unitarian Church does not do this, whatever individual Unitarians may do, but regards agreement in ethical law as a sufficient basis for church unity, the difference between the two denominations is real and vital, and any organic union attempted would be unreal and would not add to the real efficiency of either body.