The city of Baltimore will be the focal point of an extensive observance of the 175th birthday of U. S. Methodism.
It was in Baltimore, in a little stone “meeting house” long since demolished, where 60 young preachers met for the now-famous 1784 “Christmas Conference,” which formally launched the Methodist Church in America and elected the first bishops—Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke. Methodists were the first Americans to organize officially as a church following the Revolutionary War.
Though John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, never left the Church of England, he gave his blessing to the formal organization of the Methodist church in America. It was not until after Wesley’s death that British Methodists organized as a free church.
Dr. Thomas Coke, former Anglican curate who had been turned out of his church for his “Methodism,” was dispatched to America by Wesley with instructions that he and Asbury were to superintend the new church.
Asbury, however, refused the Wesley commission unless elected by his fellow-ministers, thus initiating the practice of choosing Methodist bishops, now shared by the laity.
About 400 young Methodist ministers and their wives from across the nation are expected to attend a 1959 “Christmas Conference,” to be held December 28–31 at Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Baltimore, direct descendant of the “mother church of American Methodism.” The present structure is the fifth building to house the congregation.
A Sunday address in Baltimore by today’s most widely-known Methodist pastor, Dr. Ralph W. Sockman, will precede the conference.
On Monday evening, December 28, a pageant will be staged, depicting the first “Christmas Conference,” followed by an address by Methodist Bishop Edgar A. Love of Baltimore.
On the following evening Baltimore’s Great Hymns Choir, directed by the Rev. Daniel Ridout, will present a concert.
Wednesday night’s event will feature an address by Methodist Bishop Fred P. Corson of Philadelphia.
Thursday, New Year’s Eve, will see a watch-night communion service plus an address by Methodist Bishop Roy H. Short of Nashville.
All meetings are under sponsorship of the Methodist General Board of Evangelism, which has as its motto for the 1960’s “A Decade of Dynamic Discipleship.”
Across the nation, 39,000 Methodist congregations are expected to join in the observance with special services December 27 to January 3. The Methodist Board of Education has produced a play for use on Student Recognition Day (December 27) to portray development of Methodist higher education in America.
On New Year’s Eve, some churches plan to use John Wesley’s watch-night service. Others will conduct a new one prepared for the 175th anniversary by the Board of Evangelism.
On January 3, churches are expected to “renew their covenant with God” using a special service of worship also prepared especially for the observance.
Some congregations will follow up the special services with study classes on Methodist history.
Another key aspect of the nation-wide observance was undertaken by Together, “midmonth magazine for Methodist families.” Established on a shoestring in 1826 as Christian Advocate, the magazine now boasts a circulation of more than 1,000,000 and a first-class format featuring full-color illustrations throughout. Together’s 128-page November issue was dedicated to the anniversary and was replete with Methodist history.
In 1784 there were about 15,000 Methodists, including 81 preachers, scattered throughout the infant U. S. republic. By 1850, the church had more than a million members and was the largest Protestant body in the land. Today in the United States the Methodist Church, largest in the Wesley heritage, numbers 9,815,459 members plus 1,536,419 baptized children and other preparatory members.
During the past year, according to the denomination’s statistical office, Methodists in the United States picked up 123,543 members. A total of 380,204 professions of faith were reported. There was a net loss during the year, however, of 81 churches.
Methodists are the largest single denominational body in the United States. The Baptist “family” outnumbers Methodism, but the largest Baptist group, the Southern Baptist Convention, has fewer members than the Methodist Church.
There are signs that in this 175th anniversary year Methodists are dedicating themselves anew to the principles which inspired Wesley, Asbury and Coke. In a recent radio address on Methodism, evangelist Billy Graham related that “one of the tragedies of the Christian Church today was expressed to me by a Methodist clergyman in Indianapolis. He said: ‘It is unfortunate that many Methodist clergymen no longer preach conversion, but I am glad to report that hundreds are beginning to turn back to the early convictions of Wesley that a man needs to be born again.’ ”
Plans are being laid for exploratory talks on the theological implications of present and future cooperative activities between the National Lutheran Council and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Informal discussions are scheduled for next July in Chicago.
Epitome of Mariolatry
Baltimore, where U. S. Methodism was organized [see page 27], also holds historical significance for Roman Catholics. For it was at the Council of Baltimore in 1846 that U. S. Roman Catholic bishops invoked the Virgin Mary as “special patroness” of the American church under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Last month, some 40 miles south of Baltimore, the largest Catholic church in the United States was dedicated as the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Though its architectural grandeur stands as a tribute to the perseverance, sincerity, and sacrificial spirit of many American Catholics, the National Shrine in Washington nonetheless epitomizes the Mariolatry promoted by their hierarchy.
Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter spent much of his dedicatory sermon in a defense of Mary’s “divine motherhood,” inserting an ecumenical twist: “may it [the shrine] stand as a symbol of the union [his stress] of all men under the headship of Christ. There can be no surer or more direct road than by Mary for uniting all men in Christ.”
Appeal to Koreans
An appeal to Presbyterians in Korea to heal their division was sent last month by representatives of the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. jointly with representatives of the Board of World Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S.
“We are resolved to take no precipitate action,” the appeal said, “but to wait patiently for the enlightenment and guidance of the Spirit of God, praying that He may remove the misunderstandings and restore the mind of peace among his children.”
What caused the division which broke up Korean Presbyterian assembly in September? Said a prominent church woman in Korea: “The shame of this split is that it was not caused by deep theological conviction, but by a few corrupted and unscrupulous church leaders seeking for more power.”
• The triennial Synod of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America (Unitas Fratrum), held last month in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took a strong stand against “the evils of alcoholic beverages.”
• Four Salvation Army officers, two of them Mexicans, toured 1,200 miles of Arkansas back roads this fall in witnessing and distributing Christian literature to Mexican migrant farm laborers.
• The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod plans to locate a new $6,000,000 junior college near Pontiac, Michigan … The synod has scheduled its first church-wide Sunday School convention for next July to be held in St. Louis.
• Mrs. Catherine Marshall, best-selling author and Christian Herald staff member, was married to Leonard E. LeSourd, executive editor of Guideposts, in Leesburg, Virginia, November 14.
• Heading the list of speakers who accepted invitations for the 150th anniversary dinner of the New York Bible Society in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, December 4, was Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.
• The sixth assembly of the World Convention of Churches of Christ (Disciples) will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, August 2–7, 1960. A U. S. contingent is expected to make up about half of the 3,000 delegates expected.
• The Church of God ordained last month its first native-born pastor in Alaska. He is the Rev. Fred Mamaloff, half-Russian and half-Indian, who is building a new congregation in Kodiak.
• Clear Creek Baptist School of Pineville, Kentucky, dedicated a $300,000 furniture factory in October. The plant employs 70 church furniture craftsmen who are studying for the ministry at the Southern Baptist school.
• The Latin American Bible Seminary in San Jose, Costa Rica, dedicated a new building last month. The seminary was established in 1924.
• Protestants and Other Americans United are expanding their Washington, D. C. headquarters. A newly-acquired four-story building which adjoins the present headquarters on fashionable Massachusetts Avenue will house a growing legal staff.
• The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is organizing a “Clergymen’s National Advisory Committee” to promote birth control information. Protestant Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike, who will head the committee, says it will have about 30 members from major Protestant and Jewish groups.
• Two more churches were admitted to the Federation of Independent Evangelical Churches of Spain at its October meeting in Tarragona. The group, organized three years ago with nine churches, now has 27. It voted to affiliate itself with the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches.
• Pro-management forces strengthened their control of Lutheran Brotherhood, billion-dollar fraternal life insurance society, at its quadrennial convention in Minneapolis this fall. After defeating an opposition effort to enlarge the society’s board of directors, a record turnout of delegates elected four new directors pledged to support management.
• The Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice is opening a national headquarters in Washington, D. C.
• Merger of Danish free churches under the name of “The Danish Confessional Church” was proposed at the Evangelical Free Church Council in Copenhagen last month.
• The British and Foreign Bible Society office in Belgrade is reported to be experiencing difficulty in importing Bibles. Informed sources say the whole country is feeling the pinch as a result, for the office has been the only supplier of Bibles since printing of the Scriptures was banned in Yugoslavia during World War II.
A new law in Pennsylvania exempts clergymen from testifying or being compelled to give any information they obtained in confidence.
“Rarely, if ever, have clergymen been required to divulge such confidential communications,” said Governor David L. Lawrence in signing the bill. “However, this act spells out the immunity given to such persons.”
Muslims on Graham
Maulvi Naseem Saifi, head of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in West Africa, wants the Christian Council of Nigeria to arrange a meeting between Muslim leaders and Billy Graham when the U. S. evangelist visits there early in 1960.
Told of the overture, Graham commented: “I will be happy to meet with them, or any others to whom I may present the claims of Christ.”
A 68-year-old retired physician who emigrated from Russia 35 years ago is the winner of Israel’s second annual Bible knowledge contest, held last month in Tel Aviv.
Top among 12 finalists was Dr. Yehoshue Yeivin, who took his medical degree at the University of Moscow. Yeivin claims to have known the book of Isaiah by heart at the age of eight.
The contest gained such popularity last year that it has been made a permanent feature of Israeli culture. The 1958 national tournament was followed by an international contest (now scheduled to be held every three years).
Yeivin won $1,800. The last question posed to him: “What was the first diplomatic mission from Israel to another nation; and what was the last mission from another nation to reach the Kingdom of Judah?” The answer: “Israel’s first mission was sent by Moses from Kadesh to the King of Edom, and the last foreign mission to Judah was in King Zedekiah’s reign from the Kings of Edom, Moab, Tyre, Sidon and of the Ammonites.”
In a speech congratulating winners, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion referred to the Bible as “the Israeli’s second homeland.”
A new German revision of Luther’s translation of the New Testament will soon be in print. The revision was completed in 1957 after 30 years work.
Last year the Evangelical Church in Germany named a 15-member commission to start work on a new revision of Luther’s Old Testament translation.
Protestants in Germany have always used Luther’s translation of the Bible as their standard. The version now in use was issued 60 years ago.
The Communist-sponsored “Christian Peace Council” met in Warsaw this fall to plan its third “peace congress” to be held in 1961.
The preparatory committee for the congress, expected to be attended by proregime Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churchmen in Poland and other Communist countries, is headed by Professor Miklos Palfy, dean of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Budapest, Hungary.
Rallies and special church services and conferences climaxed observance of the centenary of Protestant missions in Japan.
Last month, nearly 15,000 people packed Tokyo’s Metropolitan Arena for a “united worship service” sponsored by the National Christian Council of Japan.
Others highlighted their commemoration in large rallies arranged by the Japan Protestant Centennial, a specially-organized group which claims support of some 1,030 Japanese ministers and 800 missionaries (out of a reported total of 2,359 ordained ministers and 2,413 missionaries now working in the country). Basis for “participation”: belief in scriptural infallibility.
Dr. W. A. Visser ’t Hooft, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, was among visitors on hand for the national council observance. The council includes the largest Protestant denomination in Japan, the United Church of Christ (Kyodan), with more than 250,000 members.
Visser ’t Hooft called upon churches to take “a common stand against isolationism and self-centered confessionalism.”
“The Church must demonstrate that Christ actually overcomes the walls of separation, class, nation, race and denomination,” he declared. “This must manifest itself in our willingness to have fellowship across all national, racial and ideological frontiers.”
The ecumenical leader also asserted that common obedience to the divine calling is “a manifest unity.” He said that “invisible unity is not enough. We must overcome our fear of unity.”
In lining up supporters, for its own observance, Japan Protestant Centennial leaders had asked affirmation of faith in the Bible as “the fully inspired, infallible Word of God, the only rule of faith and practice.” Centennial-related activities included:
—A September 16-October 4 crusade in the Fukuoka Sports Center with evangelist David Morken which saw more than 1,000 decisions for Christ despite adverse circumstances (e.g., a young musician was diagnosed as having cancer a week before the meetings began; the first of two typhoons cancelled the opening service and the second came 10 days later; the wife of a crusade planner died).
—A campaign in Nagoya, third largest city in Japan, from September 11 through 20 with the Rev. Koji Honda, a leading national evangelist.
—Climactic conferences in October featuring overseas guests such as Dr. Oswald J. Smith, pastor emeritus of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Professor Roger Nicole of Gordon Divinity School, Professor Edward J. Young of Westminster Theological Seminary and Mr. Roy LeCraw, former mayor of Atlanta and a leading Presbyterian layman. The North American team spoke in meetings in Tokyo, Yokohama, Sendai, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Okayama, Shikoku and Kyushu. Following a six-day meeting in Tokyo, the Japan Protestant Centennial adopted a resolution which (1) repented of “idolatry,” (2) pledged to try to “guard against the mistake of introducing the elements of pagan religion into any state-related affairs,” (3) endorsed the national constitution, and (4) vowed to “ ‘fight this good fight of faith’ unitedly on the basis of our common belief in the Bible.” It was also decided to plan a translation of the Bible into modern Japanese and to explore possibility of foreign missionary work.
Said Smith: “I believe the Church in Japan, for the first time, is catching the vision of world evangelism and that it will launch out as this second century opens and do its part in obeying the command of Jesus Christ to go into all the world.”
He observed, however, that Japanese “are a proud nation and difficult to reach,” adding, “Missionary casualties are very heavy; about 50 per cent never return for the second term.”
Smith asserted that “the Christian forces in Japan are characterized by division. It is very difficult to secure cooperation even among the evangelicals.… It is a pity that evangelical missionaries who have come to evangelize Japan cannot work together in a great evangelistic campaign to do the very work for which they came.”
LeCraw, retired U. S. Air Force colonel, raised a storm of protest when he was quoted as predicting that Japanese militarism will rise again and that the United States may have to fight the Pacific war all over again.
“The Japanese are rankling underneath from a hurt pride and cannot forget that America was the first nation ever to defeat them in war,” he was reported to have said in Tokyo.
People: Words And Events
Deaths:Dr. Earle V. Pierce, 90, president of the American Baptist Convention in 1938–39, in St. Paul, Minnesota … the Rev. William P. Nicholson, noted Irish evangelist, in Cork, Ireland … Dean Charles L. McGavern of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida (he and his wife were among those killed when a National Airlines plane plunged into the Gulf of Mexico).
Elections: As moderator-designate of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, the Rev. J. S. Somerville … as president of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, the Rev. R. E. J. Brackstone.
Appointments: As dean of the faculty and professor of New Testament at Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Arthur Whiting … as federal secretary of the Church Missionary Society in Australia, A. Jack Dain.
Nomination: For moderator of the American Unitarian Association, Dr. James R. Killian, Jr., former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and special assistant for science and technology to President Eisenhower.
Resignation: As editor of the weekly Baptist Digest, state paper of Kansas Baptists, Joe Novak.
Consecration: As Anglican Bishop of Tokyo, the Rev. David Makoto Goto.
The Israel Embassy plans to present to the National Zoological Park more than 50 plaques which will identify animals mentioned in the Old Testament.
The plastic plates to be installed for temporary display on cages and dens in the Washington zoo resemble those used in the unique “Biblical Zoo” in Jerusalem. Other U. S. zoos will get the plates subsequently.
Engraved in Hebrew and English on weatherproof surfaces are such quotations as “The lion which is mightiest among beasts,” “the little foxes that spoil the vines,” and “the turtle (dove) whose voice is heard in our land.”
Nucleus of the famous “biblical” menagerie in Jerusalem came into being seven years before the establishment of modern Israel, according to the National Geographic Society. First exhibits in 1941—a few monkeys, rabbits, lizards, a vulture, and an eagle—were penned in a yard off a crowded downtown street. Later, more spacious quarters were provided in the suburbs.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineWhen Politics Saved 25 Million LivesTwenty years ago, Republicans, Democrats, evangelicals, gay activists, and African leaders joined forces to combat AIDS. Will their legacy survive today’s partisanship?
- Editor's PickBecome a Shadow of Your Future SelfManifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.