Early Days Of The Moody Church
Article from the August 9, 1922 newsletter: The coming of our new pastor and an aggressive move on the part of the Executive Committee and the members of the church to erect a suitable structure to house The Moody Church, brings to our minds the beginning of this great independent work, which will doubtless prove of intense interest to every member.
In 1863 a commodious chapel, with tower and spire, was erected on Illinois Street, not very far from the old Market Hall, at a cost of about twenty thousand dollars, which money was collected by Mr. Moody himself.
The Sunday School then numbered nearly a thousand, and from among the scholars and their parents, about three hundred persons had given their hearts to the Saviour. As the number of converts increased, it began to appear that within this school the Lord was building up a church. At first Mr. Moody urged them to give their names to some orthodox pastor, with which they might hold their membership and celebrate the ordinances, though, for the most part, worshipping and working with their brethren of the Mission. It was the custom here, as well as at the Young Men’s Christian Association, to inquire of converts in what communion they had been brought up.
If the young believer were of a Methodist family, some brother at the Mission connected with a Methodist church would introduce him to its pastor. In the same way, if he had been a Presbyterian, Baptist, or other denomination, he was introduced to some church of his own denomination. Thus was avoided the difficulty so often arising out of union services, and no church had any reason to complain that those who were due at its communions were improperly led elsewhere.
This plan was moderately successful in connection with the noon prayer meeting and other services of the Y.M.C.A., in which a good many sinners were all the time coming to Christ; but it was by no means a success with the converts at the North Market Mission. The most of these had no religious antecedents whatever. Some of them came from a depth of heathenism, so far below the Church of God, that, of its forms, orders and divisions, they knew and cared absolutely nothing.
But there was a strong tie binding them to each other which it was found impossible to transfer to any other body of worshippers. They had come up together out of poverty and ignorance. They had learned their duty in the same school, and under the same teacher; thus their fellowship of suffering, as well as their fellowship of faith, was something with which no stranger might intermeddle.
It must also be confessed that, of all the Christian congregations then in Chicago, there was not one to whose care these persons, who had nothing to commend them except the fact that they were saved sinners, could safely be confided. The very reasons for which they needed sympathy and attention were those which would prevent them from receiving it. Thus the necessity for a church of their own became increasingly evident.
Before the war [Civil War]—in which tears had softened their hearts, and fires had melted them together—the clergy of the city stood aloof from Mr. Moody and his Mission. But working side by side with him among the wounded and dying, they learned to love him more as they came to know him better, so began to give him their counsel and fellowship, which he had all the while so greatly desired.
That religious conceit, whose father is Zeal and whose mother is Ignorance, and which is so often found in the heads of men who come to sudden success outside of the organized church, was not found in Mr. Moody. He never doubted the value of the church or the ministry, in any of the forms they had adopted, but none of these forms could meet the needs of his particular congregation. Therefore, after much prayer for Divine guidance, he invited all the city ministers of his acquaintance, with a number of prominent laymen, to meet in council at the Illinois Street Chapel, for the purpose of organizing a Christian communion for the three hundred people who had been converted under his ministry.
This council is remembered with peculiar interest. There was a goodly attendance and all the evangelical denominations were represented.
Prayer having been offered, Mr. Moody arose and stated the business on which he had called them together. He gave a vivid picture of the Mission and of its success in bringing sinners to Christ; told how he had failed in his efforts to lead them to unite with other congregations, and explained the evident necessity for organizing them into a church by themselves, of which he, who had been the means of saving them, should be the pastor, recognized as such by the Christian world. He desired to form an orderly congregation of believers, among whom the ordinances of the Gospel should be celebrated and the work of the Lord carried on.
As he proceeded with his remarks, one after another of the prevailing forms seemed to disappear from among the possibilities of the case.
First of all, one of his good friends, a rector of the Episcopal Church, felt compelled to withdraw from the council, though expressing his pleasure in the good work which he could not officially recognize. Next, an excellent Presbyterian divine announced his sympathy with Mr. Moody and his Mission, but, of course, if he were to assist in organizing a church, it must be a Presbyterian Church. A Baptist brother labored under a similar difficulty, for the proposed pastor of this congregation had not gone down into the water, or come up out of the water; the ordinance in his case having been administered after the manner suggested by the text, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” A Methodist pastor, a fast friend and fellow worker with Mr. Moody, was sorry that these good people who showed so strong a “desire to fell from the wrath to come,” could not be organized into a Methodist Church, with class meetings, love feasts, of which seemed so well suited to their spiritual needs.
But Mr. Moody could not be persuaded to join a conference. Neither did he propose an itinerant ministry for his church, though he was so great a traveler himself. Besides, there were still some strong points of Calvinism in his creed, which the Methodist brother regretted, therefore he could not give him his hand officially, though, as a friend and brother, he sat the council through.
All the factors of the problem had now been eliminated but the Congregationalists, to whom the duty fell of organizing “The Illinois Street Church,” a fact which they still recount with no little satisfaction, since their method excelled all others on this notable occasion, it being the only one simple enough to meet the wants of this peculiar people, whose only notion of a church was a company of saved sinners, with Mr. Moody for their pastor and Jesus Christ as the Head over all.
After their manner, then, the church was duly established, and the candidates for membership who had been examined concerning their experience of grace, received the ordinance of baptism at the hands of the ministry present, and then celebrated their first communion together, with tears and songs of joy.
Afterwards, when members were to be received by baptism, a neighboring pastor was usually invited to perform the service. But at the Lord’s Supper, where Christ alone is Master of the feast, all established forms were dispensed with, and the company of brethren and sisters broke the bread and drank the wine together, the pastor reading or reciting out of the Gospel, the history of the last supper of the disciples with their Lord.
This church, though organized by Congregationalists, has never been reckoned a Congregational Church. Its minister has received no ordination, save that of the Spirit and Providence of God. His name has never been published in the Minutes of that body, or any other, and the statistics of the society have never been published at all.
It is a strictly independent organization, asking no authority of men, but abundantly blessed of the Lord. It endeavors to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and, with this end in view, everything which could debar from its fellowship any lover of the Lord Jesus Christ, has been carefully excluded from its form of discipline and confession of faith.
Its Manual is complete, as revised by Mr. Moody and his brethren a short time previous to his last departure for England. The change in name to “The Chicago Avenue Church” suggests the destruction of the first edifice in the great fire, and the building of a new and spacious house of worship at the point above indicated.