The year of the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s Institutes, it somehow seemed appropriate that a doctrinal issue was the chief preoccupation of commissioners to the 171st General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. Meeting in the Indiana Theater at Indianapolis May 20–27, the Reformed body’s corridor conjecture centered on possible action to be taken against appointment of Dr. Theodore A. Gill, former managing editor of The Christian Century, to the presidency of San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California. The doctrine: the virgin birth of Christ.
Certain West Coast clergymen had voiced grave concern over Dr. Gill’s fitness to oversee training of their ministerial aspirants. Focal point of the controversy was an editorial written by Dr. Gill for the Century, where he asked, “What of us who make the Virgin Birth no part of our personal confession, however often liturgical obedience involves us in its public repetition, yet who hang our whole hope on the Resurrection?”
Dr. W. Paul Ludwig, chairman of the Standing Committee on Theological Education, opened debate by stating that Dr. Gill had not denied the virgin birth (he did not say Dr. Gill had affirmed it), that he had “not abrogated his ordination vows,” and that he “stands in the center of Reformed theology.”
Of Dr. Gill’s subsequent defenders, none said flatly that Gill believed in the virgin birth. Some said they did not know his views on the subject, but pleaded for freedom of conscience. For the most part, they repeated Ludwig’s arguments, particularly harking back to Dr. Gill’s ordination vows. But one speaker pointed out it was common knowledge that ordination vows had proven a most vulnerable defense against ministerial candidates who did not believe in the virgin birth.
The Rev. Herbert Schreiner of Seattle said he opposed Dr. Gill’s appointment “out of concern for the peace of the church.” He asserted that the controversy in the West would end immediately upon Gill’s affirmation of belief in the virgin birth. Having met Dr. Gill by chance the day before, he confessed he would support him for the office upon this one condition. Gill had refused to commit himself. Concluded Schreiner: “The Bible, our infallible standard, the Apostles’ Creed, the Longer and Shorter Catechism, and our Confession of Faith, all teach that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. A Presbyterian seminary president should have no hesitancy in affirming this.”
Three different commissioners at varying stages in the debate called upon Dr. Gill to state his convictions on the matter before the assembly. Stated Clerk Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, the church’s chief administrative officer, said anyone could be invited to speak to the assembly, but raised the question of propriety. Dr. Gill had been quoted as saying that any statement by him would be a reflection on the seminary board of trustees. Blake asserted that the proper place for Gill to speak was before his own presbytery. The assembly voted to table a motion asking Dr. Gill to speak.
Previously in the debate, Dr. Blake had voiced resentment at “the pressure put on this assembly” by the “many telegrams” to commissioners and the “stories given to the press.”
Ellis Shaw of Los Angeles Presbytery asked that Dr. William D. Livingstone, a member of his presbytery but not a commissioner, be permitted to speak. Dr. Blake advised against this inasmuch as Livingstone held no official status relevant to the subject of debate and his views had not prevailed in his own presbytery.
The question was called and Dr. Gill’s appointment was easily approved, though there was a substantial minority vote. Thus ended a significant, tension-filled debate conducted in gentlemanly fashion by both sides and moderated ably and impartially by the Rev. Arthur L. Miller, newly-elected moderator, who ministers to Denver’s Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church.
“But the matter is not ended,” says Dr. Livingstone, minister of the 5,200-member First Church of San Diego, said to be the nation’s second largest Presbyterian church. “It is our view that it’s just beginning. We remain unsatisfied until Dr. Gill makes a clear affirmation.” Livingstone held a telegram from his 66-member church session indicating that the church’s benevolent program would probably be revised to exclude the seminary unless such affirmation were forthcoming.
In earlier debate, unexpressed theological issues were at stake in connection with the proposed merger of Western Theological Seminary and Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary. The latter was the sole divinity school of the old United Presbyterian Church of North America, which joined the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. just one year ago.
Pittsburgh-Xenia board members had voted 22–10 for merger, a decisive factor which tended to neutralize a plea of the seminary’s president, Dr. Addison Leitch, that “we need more seminaries, not fewer.” The merger passed.
In other theologically-related action, the assembly: voted down formation of a committee to write a new confession of faith, but approved a move to elevate some sixteenth-century Reformed creeds to the level of her own seventeenth-century Westminster Confession; softened an Evangelism Committee report which implied a lack of emphasis on the new birth in the church’s Christian education materials.
Also approved was a letter to be sent to other churches of the Reformed tradition encouraging talks toward merger.
Moving into the political and social arena, the assembly twice faced Red China issues set forth by the Fifth World Order Study Conference of the National Council of Churches. Overtured to record disapproval of the Cleveland conclusions, the assembly took a middle position, expressing hope for the day when the United States with other free nations could “with honor” enter into “normal relations with the government of the Chinese people.” Rejected overwhelmingly was a proposal for immediate U. S. recognition and U. N. admission of Red China, though serious consideration of the Cleveland proposals was encouraged. Prayer was assured those exposed to “the ruthless acts of atheistic communism” and of other such forces.
The assembly also: declared that federal grants should be made on a “racially non-discriminatory basis”; recorded its opposition to capital punishment; approved planned parenthood; spoke out for voluntary abstinence from alcoholic beverages; reversed, after some prolonged debate, a committee condemnation of right-to-work laws but so garbled the committee report through amendment as to leave the will of the assembly on this matter in doubt; and learned of the acquisition of a 16½-acre District of Columbia tract (cost: $2,200,000) for a proposed new National Presbyterian Church.
The church reports a 1958 membership increase of 56,990 to reach a new high of 3,159,562.
On the assembly’s last day, well-beloved retiring President John A. Mackay of Princeton Theological Seminary said his farewell: “Calvinistic to the core, I believe we [the United Presbyterian church] are predestined to give leadership to the churches of our nation and our world.”
March Of Missions
Outside Buffalo’s Hotel Stuyvesant, guests appeared in exotic garb. One wore white tights, another a glistening silk sheath. Some were wrapped in gaily-striped robes, others in scanty cloaks. All were missionaries assembled for the 62nd annual General Council of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Down a tree-lined thoroughfare the missionaries marched, 120 in all, their costumes representing 18 nations served by the Alliance. Leading the way was a slightly built, graying Canadian in a dark business suit: President Harry L. Turner. The colorful procession highlighted a Sunday afternoon rally, but it symbolized an Alliance parade of progress, too. These were among strides reported at the six-day convention last month, strides which indicated that while the Alliance was taking on more of the attributes of a denomination (as distinguished from its missionary society roots) zeal for the Gospel witness abroad still carried utmost priority:
-Forty-nine missionaries were added during 1958, bringing the total to 832. Moreover, added Foreign Secretary L. L. King, the missionary candidate picture is encouraging. King said that in a recent survey at Alliance-operated Nyack Missionary College, 197 out of 500 students said they had a missionary calling.
—Field tabulations listed 8,483 baptisms last year.
—A record budget, $3,708,000, was set for 1959, some 87 per cent of which will be direct missions expenditures.
—Per capita giving for foreign missions last year reached $56.
In some respects, the Alliance was setting a pace at home, too. Council registration reached an all-time high of 1,019 voting delegates representing 1,142 churches (twice the number 10 years ago) with a total membership of some 64,000. A new youth quarterly, AYF (Alliance Youth Fellowship) Compass made its debut. Delegates heard of preliminary merger talks with the 7,500-member Missionary Church Association.
But the work at home also had some rough places. A commission appointed a year ago to study Alliance organization cited such things as inadequate lay influence, financial losses in publication work, and, privately, overcentralized authority. Delegates subsequently (1) authorized each church to send both a clergy and lay delegate to annual council meetings and (2) voted to reorganize the Home Department. Reorganization of publication functions was given a vote of confidence, but delegates defeated a move to curtail ex officio representation on important committees. Decision on creation of an interdepartmental publicity bureau was deferred for a year.
A four-week missionary convention at the Peoples Church of Toronto raised “faith promise offerings” totalling $313,000 for foreign missions. The figure represents the amount the congregation hopes to advance for the Gospel witness abroad within the next 12 months. It was a record for the Peoples Church and is believed to represent the largest amount of money ever given by a single congregation for foreign missions.
Dr. Oswald J. Smith, founder and pastor emeritus, has led annual conventions featuring missionary speakers throughout the church’s 30-year history.
Smith distinguishes between a “faith promise offering” and a pledge. Annual missionary offerings are described as personal covenants binding before God alone. Between 92 and 98 per cent of the “promises” have been fulfilled in years past. In 1958, actual cash receipts for foreign missions topped $300,000.
‘Come Before Winter’
The theme for Billy Graham’s closing meetings in Australia might well have been taken from Paul’s invitation to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:21) to “come before winter.” Grady Wilson, Graham associate, opened a series in Perth amidst the cold, wet weather of the Australian autumn. Public response, nevertheless, was reported encouraging.
Associate Joe Blinco, meanwhile, was getting the campaign under way in Adelaide before crowds of more than 10,000 per service. Leighton Ford opened the crusade in Brisbane before 22,000, largest Protestant assembly in the city’s history.
Graham was scheduled to close the series in each city before returning to the United States via Europe.
Pierce At Osaka
Bob Pierce’s evangelistic crusade in Osaka, second largest city in Japan, opened before nightly capacity crowds of 4,000. The crusade, scheduled to run for three weeks, was sponsored by World Vision at the request of 400 churches in the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe area.
Pierce, World Vision president, was presented with a medal prior to the start of the crusade last month by President Syngman Rhee. The decoration cited Pierce for work in behalf of Korean refugees and orphans.
• Gifts to individual missionaries are no longer deductible from federal income tax. The Internal Revenue Service says contributions made to a charitable organization, but earmarked for a specific individual, likewise are nondeductible.
• Little Rock public opinion may have reached a turning point last month when three moderates on the school board were given a vote of confidence in a recall election which ousted three segregationists supported by Governor Orvai E. Faubus.
• Ground was broken in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, last month for a million-dollar Greek Orthodox church designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright. Plans call for a modern adaptation of a Byzantine form of architecture which provides a saucershaped interior seating 700.
• The Hawaiian Evangelical Association of Congregational Christian Churches says it will construct a $1,500,000 headquarters building in Honolulu. Comprising some 18,000 Hawaiian members in 113 churches, the denomination is the largest group in a current Protestant population of between 50,000 and 60,000.
• About 223,000,000 gallons of distilled spirits will be consumed by Americans this year, or four per cent more than in 1958, according to Peter Hoguet, president of the Econometric Institute.
• The Latin America Mission is setting up a Canadian office in Toronto.
• The Bible Institute of Los Angeles will build a 2,400-watt FM station to operate in San Diego.
• Reiji Oyama completed four months of evangelistic meetings in the Philippines last month as the first Japanese missionary to come to the Philippines since World War II.
• Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, Jewish Theological Seminary professor, made a terse comparison last month of Judaism’s conceptions of God: “The Conservative group recognizes that a definite conception of God is indispensable, but has given little or no thought as to what it should be. It is emotionally compounded of nostalgia for the Orthodox Jew and complacency for the Reform view.”
• The U. S. Senate Internal Security subcommittee heard testimony last month which charged that Soviet leaders have forced many Russian Orthodox priests to become agents of the secret police. Petr S. Deriabian, 15-year veteran of the Red secret police who defected to the West in 1954, named Metropolitan Nikolai of Krutitsky and Kolomna, second-ranking Russian Orthodox prelate, as one of the agents.
• This summer’s American exhibition in Moscow will include displays to illustrate “the persuasive influence of religion in American life in a variety of ways,” according to the U. S. Information Agency. David V. Benson, president of Russia for Christ, is one of the U. S. guides at the fair.
• Howard Butt, official of a Texas supermarket chain and a lay evangelist, conducted an eight-day crusade in Lubbock, Texas, last month, which drew an aggregate attendance of more than 44,000, and produced 694 decisions for Christ.
• The Oklahoma House of Representatives defeated last month, 86–17, a bill to legalize horse racing and pari-mutuel betting.
• “Large loss” church fires—those listed by the National Fire Protection Association as having caused more than $250,000 damage—showed a marked drop last year in the United States and Canada. The NFPA said there were only four such blazes in the United States last year, compared with 15 in 1957, and none in Canada, where there had been three the previous year.
• Mrs. Olive Fleming, widow of one of five missionaries slain by Auca Indians in Ecuador three years ago, planned a June 6 marriage to Walter L. Liefeld, who has been studying for a doctor of philosophy degree at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.
Around The World
Fifty Anglican churches throughout Ireland will be closed because of diminishing attendances, it was announced last month at a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Dublin.
Irish churches, it was stated, are being increasingly affected by a steady rate of emigration from rural areas. A committee chairman told the synod, however, that a process of parish amalgamation and regrouping resulting from the closing of the churches was “not a retreat, but an advance.”
No Legal Action
The president of the Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau, Dr. Martin Niemoeller, who had been accused of slander in remarks about the West German army (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, February 16, 1959, issue) apparently will escape prosecution.
A West German Defense Ministry official announced last month in Bonn that investigations preparatory to court proceedings have been abandoned because they failed to disclose any insulting intent in remarks attributed to Niemoeller, who is known for his strong opposition to the arming of West Germany.
Christian To Muslim
In Northern Nigeria’s celebrations last month of the attainment of self-government, one religious overtone was conspicuous: the rule of 18,000,000 Africans had passed from a Christian, Queen Elizabeth II, to a Muslim, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, who nevertheless promised that “we will not interfere” with Christian work.
Three Christian natives were beheaded in as many days last month by young Ilongot tribesmen roaming northern Philippine forests. The pagan Ilongots have a custom of presenting Christian heads to prospective brides.
Dr. Ronald Bridges, said to have been the first layman ever to head a major seminary, presumably was drowned last month while on a fishing trip near his Sanford, Maine, home.
A memorial service was held for Bridges, 53, after his cane and capsized boat were found in a river.
Bridges was president of the Pacific School of Religion at Berkeley, California, from 1945 until 1950, and served from 1950 until 1954 as director of the Broadcasting and Film Commission of the National Council of Churches. More recently he was religious adviser to the U. S. Information Agency. He had also been president of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Christian Churches.
Roman Catholics now constitute 22 per cent of the U. S. population, according to latest figures from the Official Catholic Directory and the Census Bureau. Corresponding statistics from 1949 showed U. S. Catholic strength at 18 per cent.
The Joint Commission on Lutheran Unity, liaison agency for the proposed merger of the American Evangelical, Augustana, Finnish Evangelical and United Lutheran churches, came up with a “doctrinal article” last month which will be referred to constituent conventions for inclusion in the new body’s constitution.
While the article does have legal significance, the drafting committee said, “we would hope that it is first of all a ringing challenge and a joyful affirmation of the blessings we share together in our Christian and Lutheran fellowship.”
Here is text of the article:
Section 1. This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains the Church through the Gospel and thereby unites believers with their Lord and with one another in the fellowship of faith.
Section 2. This church holds that the Gospel is the revelation of God’s sovereign will and saving grace in Jesus Christ. In Him, the Word Incarnate, God imparts Himself to men.
Section 3. This church acknowledges the Holy Scriptures as the norm for the faith and life of the Church. The Holy Scriptures are the divinely inspired record of God’s redemptive act in Christ, for which the Old Testament prepared the way and which the New Testament proclaims. In the continuation of this proclamation in the Church, God still speaks through the Holy Scriptures and realizes His redemptive purpose generation after generation.
Section 4. This church accepts the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian creeds as true declarations of the faith of the Church.
Section 5. This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism as true witnesses to the Gospel, and acknowledges as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of these symbols.
Section 6. This church accepts the other symbolical books of the evangelical Lutheran church, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, Luther’s Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord as further valid interpretations of the confession of the Church.
Section 7. This church affirms the Gospel transmitted by the Holy Scriptures, to which the creeds and confessions bear witness, is the true treasure of the Church, the substance of its proclamation, and the basis of its unity and continuity. The Holy Spirit uses the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship. As this occurs, the Church fulfills its divine mission and purpose.
People: Words And Events
Deaths: Dr. Edmund P. Schwarze, 73, bishop of the Moravian Church in America, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina … Stephen L. Richards, 79, of the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), in Salt Lake City … Dr. John Wesley Holland, 82, radio pastor of the Little Brown Church of the Air, in Chicago … the Rev. Francisco Quintanilla, 59, founder and for 39 years pastor of El Buen Pastor Methodist Church (Church of the Good Shepherd) of Los Angeles.
Election: As head of the Lutheran Church in Poland, Dr. Andreas Wantula, professor at the Christian Theological Academy of Warsaw … as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ramsey Pollard … as moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., Dr. Arthur L. Miller.
Appointments: As executive vice president of Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Frank B. Stanger, for the past eight years pastor of the First Methodist Church, Collingswood, New Jersey … as chaplain and assistant professor of religion at Lebanon Valley College, Dr. James O. Bemesderfer … as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Van Nuys, California, Dr. Harold L. Fickett, after nearly five years at Tremont Temple, Boston … as pastor of the First Baptist Church, San Francisco, Dr. Curtis R. Nims, vice president in public relations at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Retirements: After 27 years as general secretary of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, Dr. M. A. Huggins, effective June 30 … as Africa secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Canon T. F. C. Bewes.
Award: To George Dugan, religion editor of The New York Times, the James O. Supple Memorial Award of the Religious Newswriters Association for “excellence in religious news reporting in the secular press.”
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