Abraham Lincoln and Christianity.
White, Kermit Escus,1918-
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What was the religion of Abraham Lincoln? This question is an open field of enquiry for the students of Lincolniana. Numerous attempts have been made to account for the significant impact of his life upon humanity by examining the nature of his religious faith; however, the problem has not been adequately resolved. An adequate ans-v1er to this question is tantamount to an understanding of the greatness of his li~e. Why did Lincoln refuse to become a member of the Christian church? This question presents a challenge not only to Lincoln scholars; it is an issue that confronts the church historian, theologian, and philosopher. Moreover, the problem challenges organized Christianity to consider the basic reasons why Lincoln did not identify himself as a member of the church. [TRUNCATED] The Christian church of the nineteenth century could not claim Lincoln as a member. This fact is significant not only to an understanding of Lincoln; it is i mportant to an evaluation of the Christian church. Organized Christianity presented a barrier to the religious faith of Lincoln because its institutional form and theological content had subordinated the ethical essence of the spirit of Jesus. Lincoln accepted the Jesus of history, but he could not accept the church's concept of the Christ of faith. Membership in the Christian church was contingent on the individual's acceptance of church doctrine and his obedi ence to church discipline. Lincoln did not consider the acceptance of the prevailing Calvinistic and Arminian doctrines as essential to Christian faith. Lincoln attended church and he respected the organizations of Christianity, but the primary basis of his religious faith was sought outside the framework of the Christian church. His approach to faith was through life itself--a realization of the eternal values of life under God through human experience. The right of individual conscience in experiencing religious faith was fundamental to Lincoln. According to his belief, faith and reason were job1ed in importance. He denied the assumption that by virtue of its alleged divine or igin, the church had exclusive authority to interpret the Hill of God. He deplored the divisive aspects of denominationalism that undermined the concept of brotherpood taught by Jesus. He recognized that the exclusive claims of the churches based on theology and polity did not foster a spirit of brotherhood. He could not justify the division of the churches over the issue of slavery. Lincoln was a Christian, but his Christian faith was not in conformity with the institutional Christianity of his time. He was a follower of Jesus in the sense that he loved God and humanity. Lincoln believed that t he Hay of Jesus v-ras infinitely larger and more meaningful than the example exhibited by the church. Although church membership was not important to him as a requisite to the Christian life, he did indicate that he would gladly join the church that specifically advocated adherence to the Two Great Commandments as the sole qualifications for membership. In his belief that ethical love transcended all other religious aspects of the Christian faith, Lincoln recognized that the living spirit of Jesus could not be contained in the rigid form of church doctrine. Thus his concept of God, Jesus, and man--the new wine of his faith--could not be contained in the old wineskins of organized Christianity.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University. Bibliography: [p. 157]-161.