UU Minute #68

The Baltimore Sermon: Channing's Conclusions of Reason

Today: the conclusion of the chapter “The Baltimore Sermon” in our UUA Curriculum, “Faith Like a River.” In that hour-and-a-half-long address, Channing took on two tasks. First, as we learned last episode, he established reason as valid and necessary for the interpretation of scripture.

Channing's second task was to lay out reason-based conclusions of Unitarian Christians.

One: the unity of God, as opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Two: the fully human nature of Christ, as opposed to having two natures, human and divine.

Three: the moral perfection of God, which negated such doctrines as Original Sin and the eternal suffering of some while others were elected to salvation.

Four: the purpose of Jesus' mission on earth. Channing rejected the idea that Jesus' death atoned for our sin, allowing God to forgive us. Some Unitarians, Channing said, saw Jesus' life as a moral example. Other Unitarians understood Jesus' death leading humans to repentance and virtue. Whatever their differences, though, Unitarians did not consider Christ and his death as a blood atonement for human sin.

Channing's fifth and final point was that Christian virtue had its foundation in our moral nature or conscience, defined by love of God, love of Christ, and moral living.

Far from settling the simmering arguments, Channing's Baltimore Sermon brought them to a full boil. The Unitarian Controversy raged over the next quarter century. New England's churches continued to split along theological lines, and, within two decades of Channing's fateful sermon, one-quarter of Massachusetts' Standing Order churches became openly Unitarian.

Other Unitarian leaders added defining voices to the movement, but Channing's Baltimore Sermon remains a key turning point in Unitarian Universalist history.

NEXT: "May Your Life Preach More Loudly than Your Lips"

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