The Fellowship Forum
THE FUTURE OF THE FIFTH EPOCHAL REVELATION
Meredith J. Sprunger
In October of 1955 The Urantia Book was published with great enthusiasm. The newly organized Urantia Brotherhood visualized organizing thousands of study groups and gradually chartering well grounded societies. The specific nature of these societies was ambiguous. Most of the founding members regarded the Urantia Brotherhood as a religious or quasi-religious organization. Dr. Sadler clearly saw societies developing as bona fide religious groups. The leaders of the Forum who developed the Brotherhood Constitution did not take the time to structure it directly from the teachings of The Urantia Book but used and adapted the ready-made constitution of the Presbyterian Church for this purpose. Under Sadler's leadership, the Brotherhood Constitution provided a key place for ordained teachers. Following the publication of the book, Dr. Sadler started a school to train and ordain teachers. On numerous occasions Dr. Sadler and I discussed the nature of this new religious organization and its future development.
As the Brotherhood grew, a quite different view soon surfaced. The majority of the early members of the Urantia Brotherhood had a pronounced anti-church and anti-institutional bias. There was a marked uneasiness regarding the use of prayer and group singing at Brotherhood meetings. To guard against moving in the direction of a religious institution, we removed the term "ordained teacher" from the constitution. It was made clear that we were not interested in starting a new religion. If anyone identified us as a cult, we were irritated and defensive. We defined ourselves as "an educational-social organization with a religious purpose."
We were enthusiastic about introducing religious, educational, and political leaders to The Urantia Book Illusions of grandeur about initiating a spiritual renaissance on our planet invigorated Urantia Conferences.
Gradually, evolutionary reality began to change the picture. Religious and political leaders were not impressed. The book was succinctly dismissed as a contemporary Gnostic document or politely ignored.
Internal disillusionment have compounded the evolutionary picture. The licensing agreement controversy, the Clayton incident, the Foundation-Brotherhood schism, the proliferation of lawsuits, and the wide-spread interest in channeling have sobered our naive idealism. Most of us now realize that the Fifth Epochal Revelation has been launched on the troubled and turbulent seas of evolutionary struggle.
In recent years, spiritual seeking has emerged on an unprecedented scale, accompanied by a disenchantment with contemporary religious institutions. There has been an increasing longing in the Urantia movement for a "religious community" which goes beyond the usual study group, one that furnishes a sense of "spiritual family" and communion, along with worship and a community identity. There is a growing sense of need for spiritual nourishment from birth to death. Study groups and societies, which are primarily intellectual-social groups, can't fulfill all of the functions of traditional religious institutions, although they may serve as preliminary steps toward such religious organizations.
I believe the single most important activity in the Urantia movement at this time is to focus on the development of resources which may help actualize new religious institutions. Hopefully, such institutions will serve as vehicles through which the Fifth Epochal Revelation can be carried out into the world. We need dedicated students of The Urantia Book researching "Appropriate Symbolism and Socio-religious Expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation."
I'm confident that sooner or later such new religious institutions will evolve in the Urantia movement. There have been several aborted attempts to do this already. When this does happen, there is a danger that these religious institutions may be extemporized, without adequate time and consideration to formulate organizations that best reflect the truth-insights of the Fifth Epochal Revelation. A wiser approach is for competent teams of interested people to evolve a body of resources before the pressure of necessity fashions religious organizations without such help.
There is a great need for institutions to serve on the growing edge of spiritual development in our world--religious institutions which will appeal to the highest spiritual aspirations of humankind. This was a concern of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who, in a conversation with Robert Greenleaf shortly before his death, asked, "Why do so many of the great religions which have their origins in the mystery [of spiritual power] come ultimately to be social service agencies, or in their religious life to be preoccupied with form and concerned more with the container than the content?" To which Greenleaf replied, "In the face of these conditions, one simply builds anew. We are called to listen to the prophetic voices who have the-rebuilding message for these times so that we can support and encourage them." (Servant Leadership, P. 255)
We must evolve religious institutions which will bring spiritual nourishment to hungry souls, within which we can achieve personal-spiritual significance and a level of service and worship heretofore not possible by individuals working singly, in study groups, or in outmoded religious institutions. With the Father's guidance, they will become social-religious vehicles carrying the Fifth Epochal Revelation throughout the world. This, I believe, is the most important challenge of our times!
Principles Inherent in the Development of Religious Institutions
There are a number of principles inherent in the development of new religious institutions which we should keep in mind, such as:
1. The idealist in many of us who have been inspired by the Urantia Book has a vision of the Fifth Epochal Revelation upstepping all of the religions of the world and uniting humankind in a common spiritual fellowship. We are turned off by the parochialism and rigidity of contemporary religious institutions and feel that the last thing we need is another religious institution. But the lessons of history and the teachings of the Urantia Book tell us the most effective social agents of spiritual change are new religious institutions embodying larger spiritual truths. The Supreme works from the grass roots up, not from the top down. This approach is not as romantic as our idealistic vision, but it is the only realistic process that builds the foundation for social and spiritual growth in the culture.
2. New religious institutions are not "designed"--they evolve. The authors of the Urantia Book remind us, "Man cannot cause growth, but he can supply favorable conditions" (P. 1097). We should establish this "conditional" type of research. There will be many types of new religious organizations stemming from the Fifth Epochal Revelation. Research teams need to prepare materials for possible use by such new religious organizations. Numerous people have asked me for such help in the last ten years; they may or may not find this research helpful. The assumption is that resources compiled over a period of time by mature students of The Urantia Book will provide helpful insights and wisdom which might not otherwise be available.
3. We should be aware of the larger spiritual context in which a religious institution functions. The brother/sisterhood of all people, the kinship of all humanity, takes place in the realm of the Supreme. A genuine spiritual fellowship, which is the basis of a religious institution, has its inception in soul consciousness. The soul bears the imprint of its divine-human creation and originates a second or ancillary mind consciousness. As we grow in the Supreme, our personal identity is increasingly transferred from the material mind to soul consciousness. More and more, we operate out of our "soul-mind." This fellowship of souls is the foundation of a bona fide religious institution. But human beings are much more than disembodied souls. We have unique material bodies and material based minds. We integrate our lives with dissimilar personalities and function in diverse social groups. A sound and serviceable religious institution, therefore, must have the spiritual depth and theological-social flexibility to serve a wide variety of human beings. Its polity needs to embody the highest experiential wisdom.
4. Personally, I do not think the Fellowship should be organically or officially connected to this research or any religious institutions stemming from it. Many students of The Urantia Book are still uncomfortable with institutional religious activities. The Fellowship has a place in coordinating all types and levels of activity associated with The Urantia Book. It might encourage or even facilitate these religious activities without being organically involved with them. Hopefully, the Fellowship can establish cooperative relationships with many diverse organizations while remaining organizationally independent from them.
5. Ideally, there should be a number of teams doing different types of research. Even if they should engage in similar studies, the diversity of materials will enrich the resource pool available to all.
A New Religious Institution
Even though I have always assumed the most important channel for carrying the Fifth Epochal Revelation to our world was new religious institutions, in my own personal ministry I have sought to follow the example of Jesus, who first went to the dominant religious institution of his society. I have sought to introduce the most progressive segment of mainline Christianity to The Urantia Book We have organized a modest Clergy Network and publish The Spiritual Fellowship Journal. But it is clear that the majority of even the most progressive religious leaders of our time are afraid to risk their reputation and livelihood by seriously examining and evaluating the teachings of The Urantia Book.
While we are not abandoning or giving up on mainline Christian clergy, thirty-five years of experience has taught me that anything purporting to be new revelation is not within the boundaries of current theological-institutional respectability. In the main, Christian clergy will require a longer time frame to discover the Fifth Epochal Revelation. Since the power structures of the Christian clergy have treated The Urantia Book with deliberate and benign indifference, it is now time to initiate the next step in creating the social-institutional foundations for the outreach of the Fifth Epochal Revelation. It is time to promote research in discovering "Appropriate Symbolism and Socio-religious Expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation "
In addition to eventually leavening the most progressive elements of the current world religions, I believe the future of the Fifth Epochal Revelation lies in two basic directions:
1. New religious institutions need to be initiated that will establish congregations and churches with a formal trained clergy similar to the churches and synagogues of Western Civilization.
2. New religious organizations need to be intentionally evolved whose teachings and structure are not centered around a professionally trained clergy and formal liturgical rites. These groups might have a structure similar to the Bahai religion. Such organizations are needed because many people identify with a more informal religious expression not dominated by clergy and formal worship services.
The key to initiating these new religious institutions or organizations is leadership. To develop the more formal religious institutions, we need research teams with input from people who have professional religious training as well as laypersons with extensive experience. Laying the foundations for the development of the more informal religious organizations needs leadership from teams dedicated to establishing a viable religious lay movement.
A Socio-religious Expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation
The authors of The Urantia Book recognize that every epochal revelation stimulates the creation of new religious institutions and declare that "the restatement of the religion of Jesus must develop a new and appropriate symbolism." In various places, such as on pages 966 and 1092, they suggest the basic qualities essential to these new religious congregations.
Underlying these key spiritual qualities is the primary purpose of all religions: to provide a personal and social context in which their members may apprehend the presence of God and express their faith and devotion to the divine reality in their lives. To accomplish this basic objective, a religious organization must enunciate certain faith affirmations and structure ways of expressing these faith convictions.
The history of religion demonstrates that when strong spiritual ideals and aspirations inspire people, and where there are insufficient intellectual and social structural foundations to guide the in the expression of these spiritual aspirations, all kinds of irrational beliefs and actions are likely to appear; such as: visions of angels, channeling, speaking in tongues, attempting miracles, and doomsday predictions.
Such emotional and psychic phenomena almost always occur in an unstructured social-spiritual atmosphere. The most effective way to establish rational order, stability, and spiritual identity, along with creative service, and outreach, is to evolve an appropriately structured socio-religious expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation.
The central objective of people interested in initiating such a new religious organization should be to create a polity with maximum flexibility, one that would function with small groups or large congregations, utilize lay leadership and/or ordained ministry, have cross cultural adaptability, and broad theological inclusiveness. Robert Greenleaf, in his book Servant Leadership, has a vision of such an institution "as a gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose, and a common discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that each involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through serving and being served by the common venture, than would be achieved alone or in a less committed relationship" (P. 237).
There are many appropriate areas of research for those interested in building resources to use in initiating new religious organizations. These materials should not be seen as definitive, but serve as stimuli for creative thinking whereby these groups may be helped to make their own carefully considered decisions.
The organization of dedicated research teams to search for "Appropriate Symbolism and Socio-religious Expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation" will, hopefully, prepare the soil for the advent of grass roots religious institutions which will become the channels of spiritual power, bringing the Fifth Epochal Revelation to our troubled and spiritually hungry world--Christ Michael's gift and saving guidance to our confused planet.
Study groups and Urantia Societies are simply not adequate to meet the religious needs of most individuals. They are self-contained and limited communities which have the potential of being forerunners to the religious institutions which are necessary to enculturate human society. The future of the Fifth Epochal Revelation rests upon the spiritual and evangelical dynamics of new religious institutions which will carry it to the four comers of our world. I believe the birth of such religious institutions is a necessary step in fulfilling the mission of the Urantia movement.
A Service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship