Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Real Church
By Theodore Parker (18101860)
[Born in Lexington, Mass., 1810. Died in Florence, Italy, 1860. Installation Discourse in Boston, 4 January, 1846.]
IT seems to me that a church which dares name itself Christian, the Church of the Redeemer, which aspires to be a true church, must set itself about all this business, and be not merely a church of theology, but of religion; not of faith only, but of works; a just church, by its faith bringing works into life. It should not be a church termagant, which only peevishly scolds at sin, in its anile way; but a church militant against every form of evil, which not only censures, but writes out on the walls of the world the brave example of a Christian life, that all may take pattern therefrom. Thus only can it become the church triumphant. If a church were to waste less time in building its palaces of theological speculation, palaces mainly of straw, and based upon the chaff, erecting air-castles and fighting battles to defend those palaces of straw, it would surely have more time to use in the practical good works of the day. If it thus made a city free from want and ignorance and crimeI know I vent a heresyI think it would be quite as Christian an enterprise as though it restored all the theology of the dark ages: quite as pleasing to God. A good sermon is a good thing, no doubt, but its end is not answered by its being preached; even by its being listened to and applauded; only by its awakening a deeper life in the hearers. But in the multitude of sermons there is danger lest the bare hearing thereof be thought a religious duty, not a means, but an end, and so our Christianity vanish in words. What if every Sunday afternoon the most pious and manly of our number, who saw fit, resolved themselves into a committee of the whole for practical religion, and held not a formal meeting, but one more free, sometimes for the purpose of devotion, the practical work of making ourselves better Christians, nearer to one another, and sometimes that we might find means to help such as needed help, the poor, the ignorant, the intemperate, and the wicked? Would it not be a work profitable to ourselves, and useful to others weaker than we? For my own part, I think there are no ordinances of religion like good works; no day too sacred to help my brother in; no Christianity like a practical love of God shown by a practical love of men. Christ told us that if we had brought our gift to the very altar, and there remembered our brother had cause of complaint against us, we must leave the divine service, and pay the human service first! If my brother be in slavery, in want, in ignorance, in sin, and I can aid him and do not, he has much against me, and God can better wait for my prayer than my brother for my help!