Unitarianism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 50 pages of information about Unitarianism.
a desire to keep the imprudent and ‘advanced’ men from going ‘too far.’  In one form or other this opposition has persisted till the present; but its acrimony has sensibly lessened as, on the one hand, the ‘denominational’ workers have more fully accepted the principle of unfettered inquiry, and on the other, the lessons of experience have shown that, however eager the Unitarians may be for the widest possible religious fellowship, they are, in fact, steadily left to themselves by most of the other religious bodies, especially in this country.  Martineau himself about forty years ago tried to form, along with Tayler, a ‘Free Christian Union’ which should ignore dogmatic considerations; but Tayler died, and so little encouragement was met with outside the Unitarian circle that the thing dropped after two years.  Nearly twenty years later, at the Triennial Conference (held in 1888 at Leeds), a remarkable address was given by the now venerable ‘leader’ (whom, as he mournfully said, no one would follow), in favour of setting up again an English Presbyterian system which should swallow up all the many designations and varieties of association hitherto prevailing among Unitarians.  The proposal was considered impracticable, and the dream of a ‘Catholicity’ which should embrace all who espoused the free religious position, whatever their doctrines, seemed farther than ever from fulfilment.  In later years the idea has, however, continued to be mooted, and some Unitarians hope still to see the development of a ‘Free Catholicism’ in which the traditional distinction between Unitarian and Trinitarian will be lost.

Meanwhile, as has been said, the extension of Unitarian worship and the diffusion of literature goes on with a fair amount of success.  In America, thanks largely to the sagacious toil of a remarkable organizer, Dr. H.W.  Bellows (1814-82), the Unitarian Association has proved a strong and effective instrument for this purpose, and the British Association, whose headquarters are now in the building where Lindsey opened the first Unitarian Church in 1774, has also thriven considerably in recent years.  It is said that the rate of growth in the number of congregations in the United Kingdom has been about 33 per cent during the past half-century; in America the rate is somewhat higher.

III.  METHODS AND TEACHINGS

It will not be surprising to the reader to learn that a religious body having such a past and being so variously recruited to-day is far from stereotyped in method.  At the same time there is practical agreement on the main lines of doctrine.

In worship different forms are used.  Many churches have liturgies, adopted at discretion and usually supplemented by free prayer.  In others the free service alone is preferred.  Lessons are chiefly taken from the Bible, but selections are sometimes read from other devotional literature.  Several hymnals have wide acceptance; a few are peculiar to single congregations.  The large majority of sermons are read, though extempore address is now less infrequent than formerly.  ‘Sacraments’ are not considered indispensable, but the Lord’s Supper is retained in many cases and is regarded as a memorial.  The baptism (or ‘dedication’) of infants is also practised.

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Unitarianism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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