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over the country from Buffalo to San Francisco, the religious reformer might well despond. These thirty-five churches are the result of as many years of faithful toil by Unitarian missionaries from Old and New England. As centres of enlightened religious opinion, their influence can hardly be overestimated; but, as institutions, most of them are weak, and not a score of them would survive a ministerial interregnum of five years. Our Eastern friends are as often dispirited by their chronic tendency to collapse, as they are excited by the vast and vague tidings of success that are always coming to them from beyond the mountains. If the spiritual regeneration of these eleven millions of people and their descendants depends on the universal establishment of an Old or NewEngland Unitarian sectarianism, their salvation must be indefinitely postponed.
But, regarded as a spirit of religious and social reformation, Liberal Christianity is already a growing power in the West. The Western form of Liberal Christianity has not descended upon its civilization from any school of theologians or philosophers. Indeed, its theology and philosophy, like all Western products of the kind, are somewhat illogical and formless. It is a legitimate growth of the human and practical experience of the Western people. That people, which, during the last eighty years, has created a new portion of the Union, and, during the last five years, has saved the American Republic, is fast coming to conclusions of its own upon the capacities and worth of human nature. It looks abroad over all which by the grace of God it has been enabled to do, and does not ask John Calvin if this comes from the natural depravity of man. It has seen too much of human fluctuation and folly, and witnessed too many great deliverances, in private and public life, to ignore the existence or deny the providence of the one spiritual God. Every glorious thing achieved within its experience is associated with the name of some great and good man; and it will not permanently try to depose Jesus Christ from the office of spiritual leadership of his new people. It faintly discerns an ideal of human life which cannot be rounded by any catalogue of saints' days, and is already out of sight of Old-World creeds. This idea of Liberal Christianity, so far, exists chiefly as a powerfully increasing popular sentiment. Its marks are seen within and without the organized churches of the country; and the man who would prophesy the future of Western civilization will go all wrong, unless he discovers the present significance and meditates the tendencies of this new spirit of Western life.
We are now speaking of the growth of that liberal religious sentiment, which must eventuate in Liberal Christianity. Outside this realm of religious thought and feeling lies a great world of gross materialism, reckless unbelief, immoral scepticism, and blank atheism. Perhaps there is more agitation upon religious and social themes in this region of speculation than elsewhere in the West; and it cannot be denied, that a great deal of mental ability and moral and political intelligence is yet included within its boundaries. Out of it will doubtless appear some of the intellectual and social elements of our renewed religious life. But, considered as a movement, it is neither in the direction of religion nor a true American republicanism. It is a repetition, in a New World, of the materialism and atheism that have devastated the Old. The West is now tormented by it, but will no more receive it into permanent companionship than Mary Magdalene would acknowledge her seven devils as her own daughters. Sooner or later, these Western demons will be cast out of Western life ; and the Christian religion, as it came from the lips of the Master, illustrated by his life, will shape its ideal of spiritual as well as social progress.
There can be no more fatal mistake than to suppose a people like that of the West is to be led in its religious affairs by shadowy sentiments or intuitions, old or new theories, or even creeds and ideas far in advance of the popular churches, but unsupported by that Life which is the final authority in all human affairs. In the last great war, the West did not follow Mr. Sumner's theories of abstract liberty, but the men Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman. It has already given up the useless head-work of estimating the comparative worthless
ness of the myriad plans of political reconstruction that buzz out their brief existence at Washington, and will elevate to the next presidency a man who has no political theory, and but one sovereign purpose, — to look towards liberty and union, and "fight it out on that line.” And, when the leading mind of the West sincerely calls for a reconstruction of its religion, it will be satisfied with no creed less broad than universal spiritual liberty, and no leader less commanding than our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The young Unitarian missionary, as he sails upon our Western rivers on the way to his port of destination, will discover that the captain of the steamer on which he is embarked, if compelled to tie up over night, does not pass his cable around a shaft of moonshine lying athwart a flowery bluff; but seeks out some grand old oak, or beech, or sycamore, whose roots drink the secret springs that glisten in far-off caverns; whose trunk is scarred all the way up, sixty feet high, with the marks of the last century's freshets; whose foliage is a green world away up in the air, — and ties to that, sets a watch, and lies down to sleep in peace. Woe to the leader of any movement, who fancies this new West — with modern times flowing like the torrent of the Missouri beneath it, crowded with the most sacred interests of present and future — can finally be guided into port by any power less majestic than His who walked the stormy waves of Galilee, and has led modern civilization thus far on its voyage towards the kingdom of universal light and love.
This spirit of Liberal Christianity, however, has embodied itself in a considerable number of churches, which, though not strong in organized power, have done a good work in disseminating advanced views of religion. They are all churches of American origin, and reflect the peculiarities of the Western character. Perhaps the actual Liberal Christianity, outside the Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical churches, in this portion of the country, is more faithfully represented in all of them, than in the few congregations of our faith which depend greatly for their support on tender memories, and strong reverence for New-England forms of life.
Numerically, the largest of these clusters of congregations consists of the several thousand churches of the “Christians" and“ Disciples.” They are the offspring of a religious movement which simultaneously began in the East and West, some fifty years ago. In Kentucky, its advent was accompanied with phenomena similar to the present Spiritualism. This seems to have been a push by a large body of the common people, out of several denominations, in quest of larger personal liberty. It took the central form of a protest against creeds; and a declaration of allegiance to the Bible as the only test of Christian discipleship, with the implied acknowledgment of every man's right to study the Bible by the light of his own reason and conscience. The declaration of the Ohio State Convention of Christians, a few weeks since, fully affirms this right. In Kentucky, it began as an anti-slavery movement, and almost purged several counties of the curse of negro bondage. Later, it split on the question of baptism; but the majority of churches in both wings of this movement are essentially progressive. In their views of the unity of God and offices of Christ, they approach the more evangelical wing of the Unitarians; and, in the maintenance of Congregational liberty, are considerably in advance of any Orthodox sect. They only need a generous culture and a spirit of mutual forbearance to become a powerful body in Western religious life. These congregations are somewhat loosely strung on district, State, and National organizations, which assume little more power than the “National Conference of Unitarian Churches." This movement is the natural form assumed by Liberal Christianity in the Southwest, and the southern portion of the States above the Ohio River; and deserves far more catholicity of criticism than some of the Unitarian friends of Antioch College, in both the East and West, are disposed to afford it.
A more cultivated, and, for the North-west, perhaps, equally characteristic advance, has been the growth of the Universalist Church during the last thirty years. This Church is decidedly Unitarian in all its tendencies; only differing as men of somewhat different cast of thought, and social and practical habits, differ in expressing the same idea. It is far more efficient in social and executive force than Unitarianism has yet been on the same ground. Its working creed is a glowing faith in the love of God, and final salvation of man. It gathers people more capable of social union, and less divided by individual and social tastes, than our churches. Always aggressive, it is now more alive than ever; it is moving to endow Lombard University; it expends considerable sums in effective missions, and supports strong churches at various points. It can hardly fail to increase, and become a large and deservedly influential body in the West.
The West is a land where personal power and eccentricities have full swing. It is full of independent churches and religious organizations. Perhaps some hundreds, possibly thousands, of these small congregations are scattered over this vast area; each with its history of a good fight for religious liberty, many with as good a title to respect for fidelity to honest conviction as any old Unitarian church in the East. Of course, this sort of thing is ephemeral. The rapid changes of population dissolve feeble churches that have no hold on a large organization. Many of them finally fall in with the more advanced Orthodox denominations; yet among the Germans there are a considerable number that live, and do good work. The Swedenborgians are the most cultivated people of this sort; and their churches, though absurdly exclusive in outward relations, yet contain a good deal of the genuine spirit of Liberal Christianity.
All the great movements in behalf of social reform have taken large numbers of persons out of their old ecclesiastical connections. While many of them have degenerated in religious faith as their zeal for special reformation has increased, another class has found in these agitations an education into larger and higher faith in the true religion of love to God and man. Equally true is this of the “Spiritualist” movement which has gone through the West and South-west like a prairie fire. Everywhere it has loosened the hold of numbers of people on the old faiths and organizations. But in a considerable part of its disciples there yet appears little,