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Our friends in other folds : an excursion in amity

by Martyn Summerbell

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A Concise Period Denominational History   (2017-09-12)


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by GlarnerLad

This book had pleasant surprises. It was published in 1929 by a minister in the Christian Church. I expected the author to be adamantly opposed to the doctrines of the six denominations he portrayed, but instead he pointed out things that were praiseworthy.

  Consider this statement: “This world of ours would be a far more comfortable habitation, if more people would look for the desirable traits in their neighbors. Even if we do not all keep step in our march toward the Holy City, we may consent that others who prefer the parallel course may be headed for the same destination.” In all ages there seem to be certain groups of Christians who are insistent that their doctrine and their way of worship is the only way that guarantees entrance into heaven. We all have strong disagreements with other Christians, but nowhere does the Bible say we are saved by doctrine or worship style. Reading this book by someone who could see the beauty in all worship styles was refreshing.

  The denominations covered are Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Society of Friends and Methodists. One would like to have read his discourse on his own denomination, but perhaps he felt too close to the Christian Church to give an objective rendering of their ways. Naturally, in the more than 85 years since the book was published, these denominations have changed. There have been splits and merges and some branches have become more liberal. Still the book gives excellent short, historical glimpses into each of the sects.

  Often the author praises the denomination for what it has done for the kingdom of God. Following are examples of this: “This land of ours is a pleasanter abiding place because of the unflinching rectitude of the Puritan and the Presbyterian. . .For so long as there are Presbyteries and Presbyterians there will be sound Gospel preaching and royal examples of straightforward Christian manhood and womanhood.” “Recognition of freedom of thinking for the individual believer, of freedom for his expression within the limits of the Gospel, brotherly fellowship with brethren of other folds, eagerness to spread the Gospel throughout the world; all this in the Congregational Church, and in other Churches, promises to speed the coming of the kingdom of God, for the triumph of which all of us are praying. That was the hope of the Pilgrims, and we share it with them.”

  Dr. Summerbell tells his story with much humor. One such humorous statement: “Bishops probably are human, as well as the rest of us, and some of them at times have shown intense stupidity.” He tells the story of an Elder Cornell, a Baptist minister who pastored the Second Providence Church in the first part of the 18 <sup>th </sup> century. Cornell took extended preaching trips. On a certain Sunday he finished feeding the flock but found no one interested in feeding him. Folks remained after the service in deep conversation with each other. He went up to one of the women and stated that he wished she’d ask him a question no one else had asked. “Well, Elder,” she said, “what is it?” “Whether I should go home with you,” Cornell replied. Summerbell tells of a time in England during the reign of Charles the First when 2,000 learned and zealous ministers were ousted from their pulpits in one day. Charles did this because he had Catholic sympathies. Their replacements were men who winked at loose living and who were more versed in the rules of the card table and the fox hunt than they were in the Bible. A Quaker met one of these merrymaking parsons and greeted him with, “Parson, if I were a hare, I know where I would find a safe cover.” The parson was curious and the Quaker replied, “I would get down beside thy study Bible, and there I’d be sure thee’d never find me.”

  Of the six denominations covered, Dr. Summerbell seems to have the most negative to say of the Baptists. He chides some of the early Baptists for claiming that there denomination dates back to very early times with no documentation, even through the past 19 centuries. They claim, he says, such men as Wyckliffe, and the 12 apostles and even the Lord Jesus were Baptists. He goes on to say that the more scholarly Baptist historians do not make such claims.

  The book gives a compact history of the Church in both America and England. Many familiar names are covered, such as Jonathan Edwards, William Penn, William Carey, John Wesley and Roger Williams. A history from such a learned man written at this early stage is, speaking for myself, a most enjoyable thing to encounter.

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