Hot spring weather with intermittent storms greeted commissioners to the 98th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U. S., in Charlotte, North Carolina. Meeting April 24–29 in this stronghold of Presbyterianism, the clergymen and elders, hosted by historic First Church, promptly took their cue from the weather. If the heat and storms generated by the assembly did not match nature’s excesses, there were sufficient pressure areas in view to maintain a sense of expectancy on the floor and in the corridors.

Retiring moderator, Dr. William M. Elliott Jr. of Dallas, wasted no time in declaring the chief emergency area, In his year of travel for the church, he had discovered a “rampant … form of individualism and Congregationalism” which was manifesting itself in repudiation of “constitutional processes” and in “hostility” toward the “courts of our church, particularly her highest court.” The threat was to “ ‘the peace and unity of the church,” ’ (some delegates quickly pointed out that this quotation from their ordination vows was incomplete, the word “purity” having been dropped).

Dr. Elliott’s reference was obviously to the negative reaction of many to the church’s Council on Christian Relations, which has been reaffirming the 1954 General Assembly endorsement of the Supreme Court’s outlawing of segregation in the public schools. For a week the press had been heralding the coming battle on the race issue, but when it came—on the assembly’s last day—it was in terms of an ancient theological debate on the nature of the church, the significance of which was missed by many, who regarded this simply as a smokescreen.

Admittedly, the occasion of such a debate decreed the “loadedness” of both sides of the question. The assembly heard both the majority and the minority report from the Standing Committee on Christian Relations. The former recommended the adoption of the report of the Council on Christian Relations, the major part of which was entitled, “Speaking for God—the Prophetic Role of the Church.” The argument for this role was based upon the traditions of Old Testament prophets and on Christ’s prophetic office as well as on the history of the church, which “is impelled to declare the will of God for every morally and spiritually significant relationship of life.” Thus the council proposed through the General Assembly certain guiding principles for the Christian people of the South. These included repudiation of the branding of any people as inferior; recognition of the Supreme Court decision in question as the law of the land, unless “changed by legal and constitutional methods;” and the necessity for preserving and strengthening the public school system.

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The majority report also asked the General Assembly to rule improper the use of Presbyterian church buildings for schools “designed to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling through the maintenance of segregation on the basis of race.” The report deemed unnecessary a provision for moral and material support by the General Assembly of “ministers involved in difficulties in the matter of racial reconciliation.”

There followed the presentation of the minority report by a recently-transplanted Northerner, Dr. John Reed Miller, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, and former president of Knoxville College in Tennessee, a United Presbyterian-related Negro institution.

Exception was taken to the proposed continuity between Old Testament prophets living under a theocratic system of government, and the modern Church. The Westminster Confession was adduced as allowing for no further special revelation from God after the completion of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit works now in the capacity of illumining the “completed Word.” The Church’s “prophetic role” is the declaration of this Word.

Further appeal was made to the Confession as stating, “ ‘Synods and councils are to handle nothing but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs …’ ” The council’s report was thus declared to be out of bounds in calling, in “quasi-authoritative” manner, for such as the strengthening of the public school system, a matter left by the Bible to the individual Christian parent.

With regard to the use of church buildings for schools, the report stated “primary responsibility for the use of church property” to reside in the church session.

The report recalled that the Southern Presbyterian Church originally split from its parent body over a resolution which was “essentially” political. In recommending the dissolution of the Council on Christian Relations, the report disavowed any leanings towards individualism or Congregationalism, but warned against the substitution of “a new authoritarianism of church courts for the authority of individual conscience instructed by the Word of God” and “the assumption of authority by the church over all areas of thought and life.”

Subsequent debate as to acceptance or rejection of the minority report proved interesting even if it did not rise to the level of the highly-regarded reports. Southern eloquence seemed to soar more easily on this topic than on some others. Judge L. F. Hendrick of Central Mississippi Presbytery warned that “intervention in secular affairs would impair the spiritual mission of the church.”

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Hungarian-born William Bonis of Austin, Texas, decried the church’s frequent lag behind the community in accomplishing integration. General Joseph B. Fraser of Georgia, speaking against the minority report, said the time had not yet come in the South for integration, but that the problem demanded facing.

Mississippian James Finch was convinced that the majority report “does not represent the ‘grass-roots’ views of the Southern Presbyterian Church.”

In summary, Dr. Miller warned that to break down the confessional safeguards of conscience in social and political matters, would be a “start down the road which leads inevitably, I feel, to the days before the Reformation.”

The assembly then voted, the count revealing the minority report to have been defeated, 288 to 124. The majority report was then accepted, with amendments providing consideration for opposing views and softening slightly proposed support of the U.N.

Thus the crisis was past with little apparent bitterness. Lending personal charm to his position, newly-elected moderator, Philip F. Howerton, Charlotte insurance executive and son of a former moderator, predicted to newsmen that this issue would return again and again to haunt future assemblies.

Another election saw the unanimous calling of Dr. James A. Millard Jr., for the post of stated clerk. If he accepts, he will succeed Dr. E. C. Scott, who retires in 1959 after 22 years in this position.

Occasionally in some of the ceremonies Wistful sounds were heard on possible future union with northern Presbyterians, such being considered an affront by many, since a majority of the presbyteries only recently voted down the proposed merger. One said, “We are not trying to maintain Southern Presbyterianism as such, but we are seeking to preserve historic Presbyterianism.”

Notable on the floor of debate was the historic procedure of repeated appeals to Scripture and to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

There were occasional rumblings in the debate on Christian relations that the seeds of schism were being sown. However, one minister said that he could put up with “political differences” but when the assembly proceeded to tamper with the Confession in the manner it had done on the divorce question, this was a vital issue which could lead to “my seeking another fellowship regardless of the cost.”

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In point of fact, the assembly had voted to amend the Confession of Faith and the Book of Church Order to permit remarriage after divorce, with the blessing of the church, when the minister has satisfied himself as to proper penitence for past failure and firm purpose to make the new marriage truly Christian. Debate at times seemed to equate a continuing celibate state with an unforgiven condition.

Present church law allows remarriage after divorce only for the innocent party in cases of adultery and willful desertion. The approved changes now go to the 83 presbyteries for vote, three-fourths of which must give approval for the changes in the Confession to become church law. The chances for this eventuality are not bright, similar tries in the recent past having failed.

Some point to the fact that issues, such as the recent merger-plan, can be decisively passed in the assembly only to be decisively defeated by the presbyteries—demonstrating that the highest court is no longer as representative as originally intended. It is also said that the General Assembly is losing its features as a “deliberative body” and becoming more like a church “convention” with issues being pushed through with greater ease.

Another effort was made to change the Confession through a presbytery overture to remove what were termed “the harsher statements concerning predestination.” The assembly, after vigorous debate, upheld the recommendations of the Committee on Bills and Overtures that the overture be rejected. Chairman of the committee, Dr. J. N. Thomas of Union Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, while not believing the portions questioned to be fully biblical, spoke against tampering further with the Confession and thus depriving it of inner consistency. Rather, he would favor a complete revision of the entire Confession or the drawing up of a new document, maintaining the old as a “guide” and a “monument” of midseventeenth-century theology.

One authority said this to be the first such expression made on floor of the assembly. It was apparently disturbing to some. On the last day of the assembly a commissioner sought passage of a resolution that the church “does continue to stand on the Westminster Confession.

But it was too late.

Worth Quoting

Heard at last month’s National Association of Evangelicals convention:

—A telegraphed message from President Eisenhower which congratulated NAE for “playing an important role in the life of the nation. Inspired by the precepts of the faith, you bring strength and direction by the daily work of many millions.”

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—“Nine million card-carrying Communists are winning the world, while 600 million Christians are losing it.”—Billy Graham.

—“Theologians may well keep one eye on the stars while keeping another eye on the social challenges of immediate living. Heaven and hell do not only exist in outer space, they exist in the present state of human living.”—Dr. Harold J. Ockenga, pastor, Park Strec Church, Boston.

—“Revival is not schismatic. God offers a revival to the churches as they exist.”—J. Edwin Orr, evangelist.

—“All intervention by a secular state in the field of religious education is a two-fold travesty of justice. It is interference with legitimate private enterprise, and it is state intrusion in the field of religion.”—Dr. Mark Fakkema, educational director, National Association of Christian Schools.

Psychologists Meet

Nearly 100 psychologists gathered last month for the fifth annual convention of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The group will meet next year at Pine Rest Christian Hospital, an institution for mental patients, also at Grand Rapids, according to Dr. Cornelius Jaarsma, executive secretary.

P. D. V.

Niebuhr Illness

Professor Reinhold Niebuhr was reported ill to the extent that he was forced to cancel engagements.

The report said Niebuhr’s illness was not grave, but that “he is under doctor’s orders to drop all activities for the time being.”

Renewed Effort

The Protestant Council of New York will sponsor a Madison Square Garden evangelistic rally May 15, first anniversary date of the start of Billy Graham’s New York campaign.

Graham will greet the rally by direct wire from San Francisco.

Methodist evangelist Joseph Blinco of England will deliver the main address.

Musical guests scheduled to appear include soloists Ethel Waters, Jerome Hines, Arthur Budney, John King, and Richard Parke. Jab Williams will lead a 2,000-voice choir.

L. N.

New Crime Record

Crime in the United States during 1957 was at an all-time high, according to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director.

He announced that an estimated 2,796,400 crimes were known to police last year, an increase of 9.1 per cent over the previous record set the year before.

“This is an extremely high increase,” said Hoover, “and merits the careful attention of every individual interested in a better society.”

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Last year, a record number of 2,068,677 arrests were made by police, with one out of eight involving juveniles 17 years of age or under. Nearly one-third of all arrests involved young people under 25.

Bold Approach

Considering current missionary shortages, communist gains, and population growth, Park Street Church finds little reason to be satisfied with its $250,000-a-year missionary program, largest of any single congregation in the nation.

To arouse Christians anew to missionary responsibilities, the historic church adjacent to the Boston Common sponsors an annual missionary conference.

The 19th such gathering, April 25 to May 4, featured 60 missions leaders from all over the world in public services, luncheons, forums, and prayer meetings.

Dr. Harold J. Ockenga, pastor, saw the opportunity to stress a threefold need. He said that the most urgent area was in the field of literature, with more printed material required to counteract deluges of communist propaganda. He said that the other big needs were more missionary personnel and access to presently unreachable areas such as lands behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains.

The Park Street Church now supports 121 missionaries. Ten more candidates were to be presented to the conference this year. The church first sent out missionaries in 1819.

Baruch On Law

Statesman Bernard Baruch was appearing as a witness before the Senate Finance Committee. He was asked to suggest what Congress could do to prevent periodic ups and downs in the nation’s economy.

Said Baruch:

“Yes, pass law changing human nature, and make it retroactive to the Garden of Eden.”

Air Time Appeal

National Association of Evangelicals’ Board of Administration carried the gospel broadcasters’ fight against discriminatory air time policies to the Federal Communications Commission.

NAE President Herbert S. Mekeel submitted board-adopted resolutions which call for reports to the FCC by broadcasting stations on time given or sold to religious program sponsors.

The resolutions ask the commission to examine the reports and consummate “appropriate action … embracing … notification to all stations that qualified religious broadcasters must have equal opportunity with all other Americans (as citizens) in purchasing time any hour of the day or night.”

The board charged that (1) certain stations refuse to offer preferred time for religious broadcasting, (2) these stations cover themselves by allocating a small amount of sustaining (free) time for religious broadcasting, and (3) certain stations are reducing their number of Sunday religious programs.

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Evidence Of Wrath

An archaeological expedition uncovered evidence last month indicating the destruction of the ancient city of Dothan in the period described in Bible history as the time of an invasion by Assyrian armies.

The expedition headed by Wheaton College Professor Joseph P. Free found shattered house walls and broken pottery among other ruins.

Professor Free and his wife are among 11 Americans who have been digging at the Jordan site, 60 miles from Jerusalem.

A Visitor’S Report

“The congregational singing was the most phenomenal I have ever heard,” said Congressman Brooks Hays after a two-hour service in Moscow’s First Baptist Church.

Representative Hays said 1200 people jammed the pews for Sunday morning worship, another 800 stood and “other hundreds” were turned away.

The Arkansas Democrat flew to Moscow for a four-day stay with Dr. and Mrs. Clarence W. Cranford. Hays is president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Cranford is president of the American Baptist Convention and pastor of Washington’s Calvary Baptist Church, which is affiliated with both the ABC and the SBC.

All spoke to the congregation through an interpreter. Most of the worshippers were older women.

Hays told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing upon his return to Washington that the liquor problem “is so serious in Russia that Mr. Krushchev has taken notice of it himself.” The remark was included in testimony given to endorse a Senate bill which would ban liquor advertising in interstate commerce.

Hays said his trip was financed by the Foreign MisSions Board of the SBC.

First Auca Convert

The first Auca Indian convert, a girl named Dayuma who fled the fierce Ecuador tribe before its warriors killed five American missionaries two years ago, was baptized as a Christian in Wheaton, Illinois, last month.

The girl is a language informant to Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint, one of the slain missionaries. Miss Saint has been studying the Auca language with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. She and Dayuma are to return to Ecuador. Both were seen last June on the television program, “This Is Your Life.”

Dayuma was baptized by Dr. V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College and one-time missionary to Ecuador.

Latin America

Tribe Responds

Preaching the Gospel to Paraguay’s Chulupie Indians is a task to test the perseverance of any missionary. It took more than a decade to produce a convert.

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Is it worth the effort? The North American Mennonite Brethren Board of Foreign Missions surely thinks so, now that 21 Chulupie men have been baptized into Christian fellowship. More than 2,500 persons attended the baptismal ceremony.

The Mennonite work among the Chulupies was begun about 12 years ago. Not until about a year and a half ago were there definite responses.

There is only one North American missionary couple present, the Rev. and Mrs. J. H. Franz of Coaldale, Alberta. The rest of the missionary staff is made up of workers from churches in Paraguay. They are also ministering to the area’s Lengua Indians. All the workers are Mennonites.


Limits Of Witness

Government workers in India must not use their influence to proselytize, warns a decree from New Delhi.

Public employees are free to profess and practice any religion in their private lives, but they must avoid the connection of any such activities with their official positions, the pronouncement said. Disciplinary action was threatened in case of violations.

The decree added, “Cases of government servants taking part in such activities are not likely to occur frequently.” One observer said he was not sure whether this was a compliment or an indictment of Christian witness.

The announcement was not interpreted as necessarily anti-Christian, for it will apply also to Buddhism, which is now experiencing revival. The ruling may be felt most among Hindus, who have often been somewhat careless about intermingling official functions with religious rites.


Mormon Temple

The South Pacific’s first Mormon temple was dedicated near Auckland, New Zealand, last month.

David O. McKay, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presided over the dedication of the million-dollar temple and its adjoining college campus which was developed at a cost of six million dollars.

The Latest Method

The Anglican Board of Missions in Australia had to find six missionaries in a hurry or close its New Guinea jungle outposts.

Off went a telegram to every unmarried Anglican clergyman with not less than two or more than 10 years service. The complete text of the telegram: “Will you place your future in the hands of your diocese and bishop offering yourself for service in the Highlands of New Guinea?”

Nineteen clergymen replied. Five said simply, “Yes.”

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