“One day,” she said, “I was at a cocktail party, and just in the middle of drinking a cocktail, when the Holy Spirit checked up on it. From that moment I gave it up and I never wanted a cocktail again. I can go to a party now and refuse a drink perfectly happily.”
Now, when a middle-aged and cultured English gentlewoman refers to the Holy Spirit in terms of American slang, one is forced to the conclusion that there is some form of hypnosis at work. It is all as unnatural as the easy abandonment of any bad habit.
It is this emphasis on the easiness of it all that is so often a cruel disillusion. So long as the vision lasts it may be easy. But there may come a time when this fades as anyone who has struggled against a besetting sin well knows. The only hope, then, lies in the dull, dogged effort. There must be some deeper foundation than imagination to make that effort worth while and to sustain it.
The Group, with its emphasis on the joy and the thrill and the fun, does not put a weapon into the hands of its weakening brethren. When the joy fades and the fun is thin and the old temptation returns, there must be fear of a great reaction. The last state may well be worse than the first. The vision has been seen and held; and now it is lost. There is no hope left.
Undoubtedly this Buchmanite tendency to shy away from the reality of sacrifice, struggle and strife is the cause of the falling away of so many of their followers. They are unprepared and unwarned. Another cause is the ridiculous emphasis on trivialities against which most sensible men and women would soon rebel. God knows that there are temptations enough with which to contend. It is unnecessary to add to them by regarding smoking, moderate drinking, bridgeplaying, a strict censorship of plays and films, and—for women—the use of make-up, as occasions of offence.
The Group will tell you that it forbids none of these things, but they are none the less banished. For some reason or other the Group as a whole gives up smoking. At a House Party of some five hundred people only about three or four smoked. If you ask the others why they have given it up they will say that they have been “guided” to do so.
I asked a Grouper if she had seen the latest Cochran Revue. “I don’t go to that kind of thing now,” she replied. “I spend my time praying for the people who do go.”
I have told already that lipstick is regarded as a fit subject for prayer and that cocktails are things to be abandoned. Many of the confessions are a record of the innocent pleasures of life.
The fact that there is no ruling on these matters and that they are yet regarded as sin is a proof of the inconsistencies that permeate the whole Movement. Undoubtedly this is a cause of the falling away of many a man and woman arrested at first by all that is sound in the Group Movement.
Religion is shown forth as an adventure and as fun at the same time. Now, I agree that religion is the supreme adventure, the most gigantic gamble, in the world. It is based on “I believe”, not on “I know”. As Donald Hankey put it in his Student in Arms, “True Religion is a gigantic assumption that the sight of the mind is truer than the sight of the eyes. It is betting your life that there is a God.” The atheist cannot prove that there is no God. The believer cannot prove that there is one. But he takes a chance on it to the extent of betting his life. He lives his life as if there were a God to Whom he is answerable and Who is able and ready to help him, into Whose hands he may commit himself at the last. Religion is, therefore, a great adventure indeed. But I have yet to hear that any adventure worthy of the word is necessarily “fun”. We read of Christ’s agony at the prospect of Calvary. Did Scott, Wilson and Oates, dying adventurously at the Pole, regard it as fun? Does any slow-dying martyr to medical science regard his lingering disease as fun? Yet these are supreme adventurers.
A young man crucified launched the Christian religion. Apart from its spiritual significance it has brought learning, healing and mercy to the world. These things were paid for heavily both by its Founder and by His immediate followers. The Crucifixion has a great symbolic significance. It signifies the slow and painful conquest of sin, which is the exact opposite of the “dumping methods” for its disposal advocated by the Group.
“We find we can give our sins into another’s keeping with as much relief as we would discard a heavy great-coat on a hot summer’s day,” writes a prominent member.
Very easy. Very comfortable. But it is very likely we shall go out and get another great-coat when the warmth of emotion has died down.
Father Winslow, speaking at the Central Hall, said that in his fellowship with the Group he felt as if he had stepped straight into the Acts of the Apostles. Now the Acts of the Apostles is a record of tremendously hard work, persecution and hardship. One constantly comes on such sentences as these:
“They laid hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.” “They called the apostles and beat them.” “They took council to slay them.” “They cast him (Stephen) out of the city and stoned him.” “He delivered him (Peter) to four quaterons of soldiers to keep him.” “They raised a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their coast.”
And so it goes on. Great adventure but not much fun and certainly no ease.
St. Paul writes of being stoned and three times beaten. He recounts perils of all kinds, weariness and painfulness, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. Somehow I feel that Father Winslow would have had a rude awakening if he had really stepped into the Acts of the Apostles instead of into the Hotel Metropole, Brown’s Hotel or the Grand at Eastbourne. The Apostles in their hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness were living on faith. Frank Buchman, too, lives on faith but lives very comfortably.
The finances of the Group are a complete mystery. In Canada the same perplexity was felt. How could a Team of fifty people travel by the crack trains and stay in the best hotels throughout an extended tour of the Dominion and the United States unless there were a very rich backing somewhere? The headquarters of the Group in London are divided between Brown’s Hotel and the Hotel Metropole. The Rev. Alan Thornhill, Fellow and Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, in a letter to The Times attempts to justify the use of expensive headquarters on the grounds that drastic cuts in prices are made for numbers and that hotels are willing to provide private sitting-rooms and large halls for public meetings free of charge. He said that it would be amusing to see a queue of a hundred people awaiting their turn for the one boarding house telephone, or receiving friends or enquirers in the one living-room. I have paid two visits of enquiry to the Hotel Metropole. At the first, I spent some time in the women’s sitting-room, and I had the undivided attention of three members of the Team. No outside telephone call was received during the time I was there. On the second occasion the sitting-room was overrun by Groupers themselves, and I was asked if I would go to a bedroom for the rest of the conversation. I believe one other woman enquirer was being interviewed as well as myself. I do not know to what extent the male members of the Team were occupied.
The Group states that it “never asks for funds by either public or private appeal. Anyone doing so is disloyal to, and in direct conflict with, the principle and practice of the Group.” As one member put it to me, “There is no collection or subscription.” Quite. But what’s in a name? At a House Party there is a “registration fee”. This fee of five shillings levied on five hundred people amounts to £125. Any religious organisation that could make sure of securing an average of five shillings from those participating in a concentrated activity would consider itself lucky. There is no reason on earth why the Group should not make this demand of five shillings a head. The expenses connected with the organisation of a House Party must be high. But, on the face of it, it is absurd to say that “it never asks for funds” and that there is no “collection or subscription”.
There are large numbers of men and women who are attached to the Teams either as permanent workers or for long periods of time at a stretch. Who pays their expenses? Are their relations and friends content that they should “live on faith”, which usually means living on other people? Or are they all people of substantial independent means? Many of them are very young. I believe it is correct to say that Dr. Buchman himself claims to have only a tiny income of less than £50 a year. Yet he travels here, there and everywhere in comfort—even luxury.
Another mystery connected with the Group is its attitude to the Churches. This only concerns the Protestant section. The Roman Catholic Church will have none of it and the Group does not flourish in Roman Catholic countries. There is a small Group in Paris with a few Roman Catholic members, but the majority are Protestants. It is fairly strong in Lutheran Germany, but has comparatively little success in the United States. There are Groups in over forty different countries, but England is the choicest flower in the bunch. The Movement has had a greater success here than anywhere else. The chief reason is the dissension and lack of discipline in the Church of England.
The Bishop of Durham has made an exhaustive study of the Movement and has no hesitation in condemning it. His diocese knows where it stands in the matter, for it has been given a definite lead. The Bishop of Calcutta is an enthusiastic member of the Group, but on the whole the attitude of the leaders of the Church is non-committal and the majority have damned it with faint praise. They have lauded what was good and warned against the evil, and left their flock to do what they like about it, forgetting that there is no halfmeasure with the Group. You are all in or all out. Some of the rank-and-file of the clergy are in favour of the Group, others are dead against it. Most of them have very little knowledge of it, except what they have gathered from newspaper reports or the oddly confused literature sold by the Group.
The average man and woman have not the time to investigate thoroughly a new religious movement. They look to the Church for a summing up and an opinion. A definite judgment should have been given. Possibly the reason this has not been done is the fear of antagonising the Group into the formation of yet another sect. The Group is quite definite that it has no intentions in this direction. It claims members in every Church and maintains that it urges a new way of life and not a new doctrine.
That would be excellent if it had not actually made at least one false doctrinal addition on its own, introduced many unwise practices and failed to teach that the worship of God is an integral part of true religion. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Man was created to praise, reverence and serve God, and by this means to save his soul.” In this he sums up at least a part of the first Commandment of Christ: “To love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart.”
At eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings, when a House Party is in session, there is a meeting usually conducted by Dr. Buchman which is supposed to take the place of the Church Service. In some ways it is a vast improvement. In other directions it is only half the story. There is usually a short Quiet Time. There is a reading from the Bible, possibly a short prayer and the verse of a hymn. Except when the hymn chosen is that glorious song of praise, “Praise my soul the King of Heaven,” there is no sense of worship at all. I have never heard a corporate prayer for anyone except themselves. There are no humble confessions of sins and no almsgiving. The main part of the programme is occupied with talks from various members and these are usually entirely personal.
The clergy might learn something at least from this “Service”, especially when the speakers are well chosen and not merely “guided” by their own inclinations to speak. They can often teach far more then than the usual sermon.
But it is surprising that Dr. Buchman should frequently take the opportunity of making gibes at the Church. When convert after convert had testified at a Sunday evening meeting, I have heard him say from the platform, “Look at that now! Any other institution would be glad to have that result in a year. We have achieved it in three days!”
If a new revival arises outside the Church, instead of within it, it is a sad thing, but not necessarily a bad thing. The Church of Christ is not encompassed by stone walls and the first “services” were held in secret in “upper rooms”. If the later services are held in ballrooms there is nothing in that to make them any less sincere and acceptable to God. (No doubt the Apostles would have made use of ballrooms if they had been available, though they would probably not have talked of renting them “on faith”.) No—the trouble is the failure to incorporate every aspect of worship in their “service"—praise, adoration, thanksgiving, confession and prayer for all men—just as in the Group’s general teaching there is an insistence on only a part of Christianity and not the whole great story.