“A Proposal Toward the Reunion of Christ’s Church”

The sermon that Eugene Carson Blake, preached at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on December 4, 1960, is one of the great sermons of the twentieth century. Following the proclamation, James A. Pike, host pastor, declared: “His prophetic proclamation is the most sound and inspiring proposal for the unity of the Church in this country which has ever been made.”

Somewhat calmer was the assessment by Robert McAfee Brown two years later: “After much general talk for decades at high levels and low about ‘the imperative to unity,’ a responsible church leader has finally put the challenge to reunion in concrete terms. Unwillingness to examine the Blake proposal with full seriousness would be an abdication of ecumenical responsibility, and one more tragic indication that Christians are more proficient at mouthing their convictions than in acting upon them” (The Challenge to Reunion, 1963, p. 17).

Since this sermon is of such importance, I have been surprised that the actual text is not easily obtained online. To remedy this situation, I have prepared an edition and hereby make it available to all who are interested in bridging the chasms that divide Christians from one another and impede us from being fully faithful to the church’s mission in the world.

The sermon was preached prior to the triennial assembly of the National Council of Churches that was soon to meet in San Francisco. It was widely covered by the press, both religious and secular. Soon thereafter representatives of four churches that embraced the broad middle of American Protestantism (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, and United Church of Christ) formed the Consultation on Church Union (COCU). Their purpose was to establish a reunited church that would be fully evangelical, fully catholic, and fully reformed.

Although this prophetic venture fell short of its goal, the impact upon American church life and upon American culture was profound. These documents deserve to be studied with great care. In God’s good providence, the time may yet come when this vision comes to pass.

The title to Blake’s sermon is: “A Proposal toward the Reunion of Christ’s Church.” He included a quotation from a statement by thirty-four leaders of  Reformed and Presbyterian Churches on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Calvinist Reformation. Pike’s response consisted largely of quotations from a statement by Anglican bishops attending the Lambeth Conference of 1958.

The full text of sermon and response are filed in  the section of this website entitled Writings on Religion.

The image, which shows the interior of Grace Cathedral at the present time, comes from the website of Grace Cathedral.

2 Responses to “A Proposal Toward the Reunion of Christ’s Church”

  1. Owen says:

    It was a time of vision perhaps born of the horrors of wars. I was born that year and now belong to the Uniting Church in Australia church which was born in 1977 of the same spirit and after half a century of work. Unfortunately the “sin of protestantism” has meant that the progress of the church leaders here in uniting methodist, congregational and presbyterians has since been partially undone by the further splitting and continuance of some of these denominations. Once belief in cerebral doctrine is raised to exclusive levels that is almost certain to be the outcome. But what would I know? I am not even saved!

    • Owen,
      Your suggestion about the backdrop of the horrors of war is correct. In 1937, the international theological conferences in Oxford and Edinburgh were characterized by the fear that civilization was in grave period, with fascism and marxism its rival saviors. Only a united Christendom could challenge these secular powers, it was thought. There is a considerable body of literature describing this mood and some of the unity ventures that resulted. Eugene Carson Blake was motivated, in part, by similar ideas. After COCU had begun, he and Martin Niemoeller did a week-long Lenten series in Philadelphia (1965), in which a similar theme is prominent. That sense of impending doom faded and ceased to function in American. As that vision weakened, one of the energies that had pushed church leaders toward unity efforts also vanished away. I regret that the push toward disintegration seems to be stronger than the pull toward unity. And you are right in your comment that “belief in cerebral doctrine” leads to disagreement and separation. I have checked your blog and note that you combine interests in cycling and religious things. It is a good combination!

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