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§ 118. The Unitarians.
The Unitarian Churches are a free association of societies which lay stress upon practical aims and require no subscription to a doctrinal formula. The nearest approach to such a formula is the declaration written by James Freeman Clarke and published by the Unitarian Sunday School Union, affirming "belief in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the leadership of Jesus, salvation by character, the progress of mankind upward and onward forever." Founded in 1825, the American Unitarian Association announced its object to be "to diffuse the knowledge and promote the interest of pure Christianity." The older Unitarians, represented by Channing, while they rejected binding creedal formulas, the doctrines of the Trinity and total depravity and what was called the bleak Calvinism of New England, held to the exaltation of Christ and the immortality of the soul. Twenty of the original congregations of Massachusetts, including the Plymouth church, allied themselves with the movement. Humanistic efforts have been emphasized. In Boston, which became the home of 935literary culture, many of its representatives broke loose entirely from the historic New England ecclesiastical system and abandoned Christianity as a supernatural revelation for the philosophy known as transcendentalism. By the middle of the 19th century, Unitarianism had become synonymous with religious liberalism, basing its conclusions in part upon the results of German rationalistic criticism. Outside of Massachusetts, its following has been small and its churches include groups which join with the name Unitarian extreme tenets of religious liberalism. President Eliot of Harvard pronounced "independent thought the chief feature of Unitarianism."
In 1865, largely under the influence of Dr. Bellows of New York City, "the National Conference of Unitarian and Other Christian Churches" was organized and passed the following resolution:
"To secure the largest unity of the spirit and the widest practical co-operation of our body, it is hereby understood that all the resolutions and declarations of this convention are expressions only of its majority, committing in no degree those who object to them, claiming no other than a moral authority over the members of the convention, or the churches represented here, and are all dependent wholly for their effect upon the consent they command on their own merits from the churches here represented or belonging within the circles of our special fellowship."
The words used in the preamble "The obligations of all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ" led to a warm discussion and the formation of "The Free Religious Association." At a meeting of the National Conference, 1894, the following preamble concerning faith and fellowship was adopted and has been interpreted in some sections to include in the fellowship of the Unitarian churches, members of the Brahmo Somaj of India and all others who "sympathize with the spirit and practical aims" of the Unitarians:17291729 Batchelor in Christian Register, 1906, p. 202, 203. See J. H. Allen: The Unitarian Movement since the Reformation, in Am. Ch. Hist. Series, X, pp. 1–249, N.Y., 1894; G. W. Cooke: Unitarianism in America, Boston, 1902. E. Emerton: Unitar. Thought, N.Y., 1911.
"The Conference of Unitarian and other Christian Churches was formed in the year 1865, with the purpose of strengthening the churches and societies which should unite in it for more and better work for the kingdom of God. These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding, in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man. The Conference recognizes the fact that its constituency is Congregational in tradition and polity. Therefore, it declares that nothing in this constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and our practical aims."
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