The intellectuals in ancient Athens were much like intellectuals today—a newshungry lot, bent upon modernity, interested only in the up-to-date. It is said of the Athenians that they “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). The market place was their daily beat, and there they scooped up morsels of current gossip. They had a news flash complex even about God and the spiritual world. They prattled about spiritual things as if the ways of God were as changing and contrary as the ways of men.
Consequently, the Greek philosophers expected from the Apostle Paul only another tidbit for the day’s debate. They welcomed him as “a setter forth of strange gods” who brought “new teaching” to their ears. If Saul of Tarsus had a word for them, that was sufficient for today. Somebody else would be tomorrow’s guest reporter. Certainly they never expected from Paul a mind and heart transforming Gospel, a message of eternal significance.
How wrong they were! When God speaks through his chosen prophets and apostles the changing news bulletins are pushed aside. The Gospels displace the gazettes. Jesus Christ becomes the permanent center of human interest and destiny. Paul pointed the philosophers beyond Athens to Bethlehem and to Jerusalem, to the Incarnation and to the Atonement. “He preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). As in Athens in the A.D. 50s, so in America in the 1950s, Paul would exalt Jesus and his resurrection.
The United States, young and virile, has come to world prestige and power. The stripes flutter in our flag blood-red and cloud-white. No star has ever yet tottered from that field. Our eyes are in future focus. On the threshold of the atomic age, on the brink of interplanetary travel, eager for the novel and the strange—we live for tomorrow.
But storms of judgment will overtake any culture or nation which disregards the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the axis of human history. Lose Christ, and the world lives in a distored past and in a disastrous future. Tomorrow’s newspapers may miss it, but the inspired New Testament writings unveil this pivot point of history. Not the modern genius but the historic incarnate Jesus unravels the destiny of man. The always up-to-date is the eternal, and the eternal is disclosed crystal-clear in Jesus Christ. God has “appointed a day”—so Paul warns the philosophers of the first century and us of the twentieth century. The Jesus of the resurrection is not only the active agent in the primal creation but also the ultimate arbiter in the final judgment to come. God has appointed a day “in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The living God who orders the mid-point of history orders, likewise, its culmination.
Christ arose! Let the Pontius Pilates ready themselves for judgment. Christ arose! Let secular cultures anticipate the hollow tread to death valley. Christ arose! Let totalitarian rulers cower before One greater than Hitler and Stalin. Christ arose! Let every dying sinner, while he may, flee for refuge to the saving Cross where life begins.
Our generation is word hungry yet stranger to the Word become flesh. We have a zest for news, yet how incredibly ignorant we are of the timeless good news that “Christ died for our sins … and rose again the third day” (1 Cor. 15:4). Tass, Associated Press, Reuters, United Press International—none will ever carry more momentous news than this: “Christ died for our sins … and rose again the third day.” This message alone has the power to rescue a pagan, perishing generation from the dregs of certain doom.
Recovering Evangelism And Blurring The Evangel
Recovery of evangelistic emphasis in some major denominations is heartening. Clasping hands across American and Southern conventions, for example, Baptist ministers are engaging in a united evangelistic crusade, April 12 to 26.
Contemporary evangelistic effort sometimes carries strange overtones, however. Denominational evangelism may become a means not simply of reaching the unenlisted but of dissolving denominational distinctions, promoting ecumenical inclusivism, and even advancing alien theological ideas.
Markus Barth’s The Broken Wall, a commentary on Ephesians, is in many ways a penetrating if provocative book. It was prepared by request as the American Baptist Convention’s current study book on evangelism. Son of the famous European theologian, Barth, a Presbyterian, is on the teaching staff of the Federated Theological Faculty of University of Chicago in which the Baptist professorial contingent has tended to be less conspicuous than Baptist financial investment.
Despite their historic emphasis on the autonomy of the local church, Baptists may good-naturedly overlook the fact that in their study of evangelism, a Presbyterian will be critical of “all talk about the church’s autonomy and democratic constitution, whether it be at the denominational or local level” (p. 77). After all, Barth shares his father’s conversion to “believer’s baptism.” A Barthian concession on baptism may deserve a Baptist concession on ecclesiology. Theological ping-pong is a popular theological sport with vast ecumenical potentialities.
More significant is Barth’s exposition of the doctrine of hell and the subject of universalism which inevitably colors a treatment of evangelism. In this he follows the controversial views of his distinguished father. While Barth’s work on Ephesians is probably too abstruse in many places to provide a popular study source book for Baptist lay leaders, laymen in all denominations will have little difficulty grasping implications of the closing section on “The Gospel for All.” Barth brushes off “the warmhearted and openhanded universalist who wants to have the world saved” (p. 261); he says bluntly, “We cannot be universalists” (p. 265). Were this the whole story there would be no controversy. But Barth extinguishes the flames of hell, making hell simply a disciplinary aspect of the disobedient believer’s experience instead of the final abode of the impenitent; moreover, he argues that the orthodox doctrine inevitably dissolves evangelistic passion! He contends that God in Christ is filling “all in all,” is subjugating “all to his love.” The unbelievers’ plight is therefore not that they face a Christless eternity in hell, but rather that they do not know that “the reconciliation includes them from the beginning” (p. 257).
While the wrath of God is asserted with neo-orthodox vigor, it is clear that the old liberal subordination of the righteousness and justice of God to his love is retained, albeit in a more subtle way. Like his distinguished father, Markus Barth falters at the biblical revelation of the justice and holiness of God. For the view that all men are already in Christ, and that they simply need to become aware of their inclusion, runs counter to the biblical witness. It is John “the apostle of love” who brings before us the teaching of Jesus Christ in this matter: “… he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life” (John 5:24); “He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The indispensability of personal decision is not in doubt. But what Barth’s view inevitably destroys is the dread seriousness, yea, the peril, of unbelief. The Gospel is hardly the news that hell is irrelevant to the unbeliever, nor that his predicament is merely ignorance of “universal election.” That is a modern gnosis made in Basel and reproduced on the Chicago midway, but it is hardly the authentic and authoritative witness of biblical theology.
Off-Track Betting Proposed In New York
New York is mulling over the idea of legalizing off-track betting. The idea originated in tax-hungry New York City and is now being considered by the State legislature. It is estimated that this new racket may add as much as 100 million dollars to the city’s income and a similar amount to state revenue.
There is an increasing tendency in American states and municipalities, because of the ever-increasing cost of government and the antipathy of the citizenry to income tax increases, to adopt gambling control laws for tax purposes. Antigambling laws in the United States are varied due to the fact that the power to regulate gambling is reserved to the respective states. Las Vegas is symbolic of the looseness of New Mexico law and the immense success of this devilish counterpart of Monte Carlo is tempting other states to accommodate the law to similar ventures.
The people of the United States have long opposed legalized gambling on moral grounds but the ethical climate of the nation is not what it once was. Polls in New York indicate that 86 per cent of the city dwellers approve the proposed law and, surprisingly enough, so do a majority of the rural denizens polled.
New York State recently legalized bingo gambling under pressures from the Roman Catholic church and many fraternal and charitable organizations. State fiscal authorities anticipate some 4,500 bingo licenses may be granted on a 10-dollar-a-game tax basis with a net yield of 71½ million dollars a year.
Strong Protestant opposition is being voiced against the off-track betting law on moral grounds but the impact of the protest is psychologically somewhat nullified by the fact that there is also strong resistance by the racing interests and the illegal bookmakers. The Roman Catholic church is keeping mum.
Unless the forces of righteousness in New York unitedly and vigorously oppose the proposal, it may well be adopted. If the bill becomes law the government will in effect be contributing to the moral delinquency of its citizens. To the rising generation such a law cannot but seem to approve the achievement of success without merit and the acquirement of wealth without labor. It will be capitalizing on human weakness to fill its coffers and at the risk of pauperizing many a home. Once the principle of legalized gambling is approved, government promoted lotteries and other forms of gambling will follow in the foreseeable future. New Yorkers will then discover a resultant moral lag together with a whole flock of social abuses including bribery and the corruption of public officials. Now is the time for decent citizens in the Empire State to speak up.
Newspaper Contribution To Modern Pornography
Parents in various communities have worked diligently to remove obscene literature from view of youngsters. The success of this effort in some communities has been offset by a steady increase of insinuative film publicity in family newspapers. In text and picture, some advertising has approached the pernicious character of objectionable “sex” magazines. For example, the half-nude body of Brigitte Bardot confronts the vision of newspaper readers along with the caption “the hottest thing on film today.” A secular magazine states that this girl “has become the very incarnation of unbridled sexuality.” Whatever evil influence this type of advertising has on the adult mind, it is double-fold on the impressionable youth whose mind is extremely active and highly imaginative. Film ads exaggerate lurid features that may not appear in the actual showing of the picture but this nonetheless exerts an insiduous influence on the mind of the reader.
Family newspapers agree editorially on the harmful influence of pornographic material, but their own advertising departments disregard editorial norms. Letters from parents to family newspapers protesting this divergence would prove helpful in combating salacious film publicity.
Journey Backward Through Church History
The papal announcement of a coming “ecumenical council” recalls names like Trent, Constance, Florence, and Lyons. These are not to be confused with Nicaea and Chalcedon where ecumenical and not Roman councils were held. Misgivings are justified, as a Lutheran public relations leader, the Rev. Philip A. Johnson, has pointed out, over “uncritical acceptance” by some news media “of Roman Catholic views on the nature and history of the church of Christ.”
But early news reports contained a unique twist, at which the Church Fathers would surely have boggled, in mentioning speculation that Jewish leaders may be invited to the forthcoming council, thus indicating how broadly the much maligned term “ecumenism” is conceived in some quarters. Some wish to return to pre-Reformation days despite grave soteriological divergences. Can it be that some men long for the undivided church of pre-Apostolic days and are even prepared to go behind Christ and the cross to heal the Christian-Jewish split?
And what next, if one may speak as a fool? Back to the pre-Abrahamic days? One does hear ecclesiastical leaders murmuring occasionally about all the religions “coming together.” If the Hindu God is admitted, what about communism, often called a religion and whose deity is man?
Or is all this a paradoxic “growth of retrenchment”—a despairing grasp for size and power in compensation for failures in evangelistic outreach?
Rome Has No Monopoly On Aversion To Communism
One of the astute devices of the Roman Catholic church is its pose as the world’s greatest bulwark against communism.
This seems to be authenticated by the clear and unequivocal statements often issued by Catholic leaders. It is further enhanced by the strange actions and positions of some Protestant groups and leaders. Furthermore, membership of Communist sympathizers and protagonists in high echelons of the World Council of Churches gives justified and serious concern over the inclusiveness of the world-wide ecumenical movement.
Left wing affiliations and pronouncements of some of Protestantism’s most vocal leaders are a constant source of embarrassment and irritation to other Protestants and grist for the Roman Catholic propaganda mill.
A true perspective will disclose, however, that in many countries which are predominantly Catholic, the largest Communist minorities are to be found. The ignorance, superstition and corruption of the dominant church in these countries prove fertile soil in which communism itself spawns.
Recent polls among Protestant ministers of every theological hue reveal that only about 12 per cent even approve the recommendation of the National Council-sponsored World Study Conference in Cleveland that America recognize Red China and that she be admitted to the United Nations. But this small minority has placed American Protestantism in a false light before the world. It is for this reason that repudiation of this and similar actions is so important if the true position of Protestantism in current international affairs is to be made plain.
Wherein and wherever the Roman Catholic church has proven herself a bulwark against communism we welcome her concern and influence. But she has no monopoly on this position—and the world should know it.
The overwhelming majority of Christians, be they Roman Catholic or Protestant, are against communism and all that this monstrous evil presents. Catholicism has no monopoly on this position, nor should Protestants permit its exploitation.
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