Unitarianism and the emerging church?

Blogs are good places for controversy- I think.

But not controversy just for the sake of controversy. So forgive me if I open up the issue that appears to be the nightmare of any fundamentalist (and many liberal) Christian- the spectre of Univeralist belief systems.

I have a reason for doing this. The idea of univeralism has crossed my path a few times recently. There was Fred Hammond’s response to this blog post. Fred is a Unitarian Minister in the America’s deep south- and has an interesting blog here.

I am also back from my brother-in-laws wedding. He and Emma chose to get married in a Unitarian Chapel in their home town of Belper in Derbyshire. It was a wonderful wedding, created by Chris and Emma as a highly individual celebration of their decision to live and love together. I picked up some leaflets about the chapel, first established in 1680, and about Unitarianism itself, which left me thinking…

Then there is our local hymn-writing hero, George Matheson, the Blind Preacher of Innellan, Argyll. He is perhaps most famous for writing the wonderful hymn ‘O love that wilt not let me go’, but in his time, thousands flocked to hear his oratory power. I came across one of his other hymns recently when attending a lecture at his former church in Innellan. It gives a whole different perspective on the theological melting pot that was Victorian religion in Britain.

Gather us in, Thou Love that fillest all;
Gather our rival faiths within Thy fold;
Rend each man’s temple veil, and bid it fall,
That we may know that Thou hast been of old.

Gather us in—we worship only Thee;
In varied names we stretch a common hand;
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit land.

Each sees one color of Thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven;
Thou art the fullness of our partial sight;
We are not perfect till we find the seven.

Thine is the mystic life great India craves;
Thine is the Parsee’s sin-destroying beam;
Thine is the Buddhist’s rest from tossing waves;
Thine is the empire of vast China’s dream.

Thine is the Roman’s strength without his pride;
Thine is the Greek’s glad world without its graves;
Thine is Judea’s law with love beside,
The truth that censures and the grace that saves.

Some seek a Father in the heav’ns above;
Some ask a human image to adore;
Some crave a spirit vast as life and love;
Within Thy mansions we have all and more.

So- Unitarianism. What do they believe? The good old BBC has a summary (see here for more.) A couple of lines stood out…

everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves, using: their intellect; their conscience and their own experience of life

the best setting for finding religious truth and meaning is a community that welcomes each individual for themselves, complete with their beliefs, doubts and questions.

It occurs to me that many of the critics of the ’emerging church’ (whatever this is, or whatever we call it now!) categorise it’s followers as essentially liberal, and sliding towards a universalist position on faith and truth. That is to say, the suggestion is that we have bought into a post-modern way of thinking that sees everything as relative to your own individual perspective- and truth itself as multi-faceted and undefinable.

And, if I am honest, there seems to be much of the Unitarian tradition that I feel in sympathy with- the point above for example.

But I remain a follower of Jesus, and things that he said and is doing through us, his faulty followers. I have reminded myself that I am not universalist in my beliefs. I may be uninterested in labeling anyone else a heretic, but when it comes down to it, I do not believe that all routes lead to God, nor that all faiths bring equal but complimentary truth.

There may yet be a point at which the Emerging Church has emerged, into something with its own unifying doctrinal statements. I hope the two above will be there, more or less complete…