What Is The Cause?
by Doug Smith
Last weekend, we hosted mission coworker Anne Gregory who was just back in the U.S. from Thailand. Anne grew up there and returned forty years later on a Global Ministries assignment. She told us that the favorite hymn of the Church of Christ Thailand, our UCC and Disciples partner church, is “That Cause Can Neither Be Lost Nor Stayed.” As the song leader, she made sure everyone learned it at the Tall Oaks Grandparents and Grandkids Camp this year:
1 “That cause can neither be lost nor stayed
Which takes the course of what God has made;
And is not trusting in walls and towers,
But slowly growing from seeds to flowers.
2 Each noble service that has been wrought
Was first conceived as a fruitful thought;
Each worthy cause with a future glorious
By quietly growing becomes victorious.
3 There by itself like a tree it shows:
That high it reaches as deep it grows
And when the storms are its branches shaking,
It deeper root in the soil is taking.
4 Be then no more by a storm dismayed,
For by it the full-grown seeds are laid;
And though the tree by its might it shatters,
What then, if thousands of seeds it scatters?
Anne reminded us that Thailand has one of the smallest Christian populations in the world with fewer than 500,000 people registering as Christian in the 2000 census. For me as a Christian and a citizen in the nation with more Christians than any other, the question is raised of what is the “cause that can neither be lost nor stayed?” We Christians in the U.S. are at least as divided over our response to this question as those of Islamic faith. The division in U.S. Christianity over “what would Jesus do” and what it means “to love the neighbor” only seems to be increasing.
Rather than lament the division though, we can feel motivated by our differences to ponder and pray over what is “the cause with future glorious.” There is no doubt that the abolition of slavery was on James Russell Lowell’s mind when he wrote these words in the third stanza of “Once to Every Man and Nation”:
“New occasions teach new duties,
Ancient values test our youth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.”
Although our youth, and I would add the old too, is tested in all times, both hymns proclaim the victory of “truth.” Lowell’s hymn ends with these words,
“Tho’ the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.”
It is also worthwhile recalling in these times that the theological division among Christians in the U.S. goes back a long way. A leader of progressive Christian thought in the mid 19th Century was Horace Busnell of the Hartford Congregational Church. He described his theological differences with the Puritan Jonathan Edwards in this concise way: “Edwards believes the world corrupts and debases us and he wants to save as many as he can from its influence; I believe God loves the world and believes we are the ones he has sent to help save it.” That’s as good a summary of our cause as I know.
Eternal God, unite us as a community of faith, strengthening each other to serve the cause of truth in these times.
The author, Douglas Smith, served as a mission coworker with Church World Service in Japan.
Anne Gregory is a mission coworker serving with the Church of Christ in Thailand.