Two Phases of Religion

Charles Naylor, 1941

Life is many-sided and has divers variations. This is true in any field of life, whether it be moral, social, business, or religious. It is sometimes supposed that in religious life, everyone should have the same experience and should manifest it in the same way. There is no more reason for believing this should be true, than that things in any other department of life should be brought down to a dead level. There is variety in religious experiences. No two people have the same experience in all details, nor in their outlook upon religious matters, nor in their attitude toward religious things.

It is true that all Christians have the same basis for their religion, namely, faith in Christ and their acceptance by him through the remission of their sins and the new birth. But even in these things there is a variety of experiences, a variety of manifestations, and a variety of results. This variety is not objectionable, but the reverse. There are many phases of experience, just as there are many phases of Christian belief—but there are two phases which we desire to notice at this time.

They are the mystical phase—and the practical phase. We see these two phases manifested in two of the great false religions of the world.

Buddhism is a type of religion that well illustrates the mystical or contemplative type. The images of Buddha always express quietness and soul peace. Buddha is a dreamer. He is lost in contemplation. He is absorbed in his own reflections. He is an idealist. He is not disturbed by the stress and strife of life around him. He sits there calm, unmoved, alone in his thoughts. The whirl and hurry of life mean nothing to him.

What are the consequences of these characteristics upon the followers of Buddha? His scholarly followers love contemplation. This may enrich the soul and the mind. It may bring an inner peace which then comes as the result of mere detachment from the ordinary things of life.

On the ordinary people, the effect has been to produce a multitude of idle, lazy priests, who make their religion only an excuse for their indolence. Buddhism does not inspire effort; it does not result in progress; it does not produce forcefulness, but instead weakness. This we see illustrated in the nations which are followers of Buddha.

On the other hand, we have an illustration of the opposite phase of religion in Mohammedanism. It is a remarkable contrast to Buddhism. Mohammed was aggressive, determined, purposeful. He seized the sword and inspired his followers with warlike enthusiasm. His followers today are aggressive, determined, mighty in purpose. Their aggregate will to spread the faith and to oppose other faiths, is very powerful. Mohammedanism is sweeping down through Africa, making greater conquests by far than Christianity in that continent. Two things occasion this.

First, its lack of the lofty ideals and principles of Christianity, so that Mohammedanism's appeal is to the baser passions, with the promise of their sensual gratification in the world to come.

Second, its aggressiveness, joined with its low moral requirements, pushes it forward faster than the high ideals of Christianity can be pushed forward. Nevertheless, it lacks those qualities that will render it permanent when it comes into conflict with the more powerful principles of Christianity.

But to return to the Christian religion. The opposite characteristics represented by Buddhism and Mohammedanism, have their reflections in Christianity.

There are those of the mystical type who love to dream. They are worshipful, devotional, idealistic—their enjoyment comes from contemplation. They delight in lofty thoughts and noble principles. We cannot get along without this type of Christianity, but this type of itself would never save the world. Its tendency is rather to withdraw itself into some monastery or to some lofty height. Buddha can sit in calm contemplation, peaceful and restful, with terrible evils all around him. There are Christians who can do the same.

There must be the dreamers—but there must also be the practical realists who not only have religion in their heads and hearts—but in their muscles also. There must be the men of vision, the seers. There must also be the workers.

Christianity must have the practical men of affairs. Dreams must be made realities. Christianity of the cloister, must be balanced with active zeal. The early church won its way through the world not only because it had a high vision, but because it had a mind to work. It had a message to proclaim and proclaimed it. Christianity in the heart, always bears fruit in the outer life. A heart full of divine love is dynamic. Activity is the moral expression of grace in the heart. Love is not content merely to gaze upon and contemplate the objects of its adoration. It must do something for that object. Love is a motive force. It must find some method of expression. Love is never satisfied to dwell on self, while the world is being lost.

The highest type of Christianity is that in which the two phases of religion are united. There must be the worshipful, the devotional, the thoughtful. There must be contemplation and consideration. There must be idealism. But these things must be united with zeal, activity, and work. There must be the practical application of the principles of Christianity. There must be work, and much of it, in order to build up the cause of Christ and to lead men into Christian living and into aggressive hostility to the evils that are all around us.

The dreamer who sits Buddha-like, with all the evils that surround him unnoticed—exerts little influence to make men better. He dwells afar from others. He is a negative force, rather than a positive force. On the other hand, the practical man who is full of zeal but who has not that background of idealism and thoughtfulness often fails. He needs the devotional in his life, to give it the proper quality. He must have the devotional, to bring grace into his practical work. Zeal and faith must be united.

There is a great deal of what is supposed to be Christian work done, that never amounts to anything. There is a great deal of zeal manifested, that never produces any practical results. The reason is that there is not that inner content of divine love and grace to give it power.

Just as contemplative Christianity without the ardor of a practical zeal is largely fruitless—so zeal and activity without genuine devotion and piety and a warm responsive love can never be effective. It may accomplish something, but its results will be meager and of poor quality. It may build up organization; it may create a great stir, but its results will not be enduring.

Love cannot be content to love afar in restful contemplation. It must bestir itself. Zeal without love, is a busybody without tools. To successful Christians and successful Christian workers, we must combine both phases of religion. We must take time for meditation and prayer, for contemplation and devotion. We must cultivate noble ideals and high aspirations. But we must not be content with this alone. We must also be practical. We must give expression to our ideals in zealous labors and in continuous activity. We must let the floods that are produced by contemplation and devotion, burst forth to water the world.

If we are practical and tend to neglect the spiritual and contemplative, we should correct this neglect by overcoming it and by developing the devotional in our nature. If we are so devotional that we are impracticable and accomplish little but dreaming, we should stir up our zeal into activity and be busy for the Lord.

Combining these two phases of Christianity, we shall certainly be successful in our labors for the Lord and in our Christian lives and experiences.