Is humor worldly and unchristian? The Preacher “said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?” There are not many jokes in the Bible. A merry heart may be good medicine, as psychosomatic therapists continue to assure us; but after a sober look at our human predicament we may turn to a double dose of drugs instead.
The sneers, snickers, giggles, guffaws, and belly laughs we hear about us are not reassuring. Laughter seems lewd, or mocking, or hollow—more hellish than heavenly. We hear echoes of the jeering on Golgotha. Shrill laughter, taut with fear and hatred, greeted the jokes at the foot of the Cross. They ridiculed the absurdity of this man who made himself equal with God, this crucified Messiah.
Yet they were the fools. In the irony of divine judgment their wicked jests preached the Gospel: “He saved others; himself he cannot save!” These rulers who set themselves against the Lord’s Anointed became the objects of the dreadful laughter of God’s derision. Satan became a laughingstock at Calvary, for his triumph there was his destruction.
Ever since that moment the foolishness of the Cross has been the power of God to salvation. Men still laugh at the Cross and scoff at “butcher shop theology,” but heaven’s laugh is last.
The irony of sin’s complete frustration, dark with God’s wrath, is not heaven’s greatest triumph over sinful folly. There is also the ineffable humor of grace; the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Here is unimaginable absurdity; mighty angels are hilarious because old John Smith is crying. All of grace is like that—incongruous, unthinkable, amazing. The son of the promise is Isaac—laughter! Abraham laughed that he should be a father; Sarah laughed that she should bear a son—how absurd! And when he was born, she found a new laughter: “God has made me to laugh; every one that hears will laugh with me.”
The joy we share with Sarah, and the virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene may be more than laughter, but it is not less. So marvelous is the wonder of His redemption that our old sorrows seem ludicrous, as ludicrous as Mary’s weeping before the empty tomb and taking the risen Lord for a gardener!
It is amusing to think of a camel’s going through the eye of a needle; but it is divine comedy indeed, amazing, laughable, wonderful—to be a redeemed sinner entering heaven’s feast!
CONCERNING NCC PRESTIGE
I have read your “Why Is NCC Prestige Sagging” (Feb. 2 issue). Here at Christian Herald, we agree that it is a particularly timely, challenging and convincing statement of the case. Nothing equal to it has been done up to now. It should make ecumenical leadership stop, look, and listen. Frankly, however, I see no indication that they are ready to stop. They are going forward under a full head of steam, but definitely they are inviting greater disaster.
New York, N. Y.
After reading your editorial …, I wondered if it was really based on fact or wishful thinking …
Cascade Christian Church
Grand Rapids, Mich.
While you are praying for Communist China you might slip in a word for the National Council of Churches. It could even be that the Holy Spirit could work through this sinful organization, or maybe you wouldn’t want that.
Isabel, S. Dak.
I have evidently been laboring under the misapprehension that the NCC’s mission is to promote unity in the Protestant Church. Is U. S. foreign policy a primary concern of the Church? We Protestants are already fairly well represented in foreign policy matters by the executive branch of our government, over which we as voters exercise considerable control (much more than we obviously exercise over the NCC).
The answer to your question is really prior to it—the prestige of the National Council of Churches is not sagging.…
The sources you offer as proof of the claim implied in the question have never been fervent in their connection with the NCC and some have been downright hostile.… The World Order Study Conference was just that, a study conference, not a group acting for the denominations who work within the NCC. Its message was to the churches, not from the churches to the world.
The Saugatuck Congregational Church
I joined the Methodist church some forty years ago because I believed the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. This belief I still hold. Now I have been herded along with 37 million church members into a political organization whose influence and aims, I believe, are unchristian and unpatriotic and are directly opposed to my beliefs. I am wondering what proportion of that 37 million, who are contributing their numerical strength and their monetary backing, are doing it wholeheartedly.
Birch Run, Mich.
If you had confined your article to a carefully considered criticism of the particular branch of the National Council responsible for the Cleveland statements, you would have been on stronger grounds.
First Presbyterian Church
It is my earnest conviction that history will prove the prophetic nature of the National Council of Churches voice. Of course, it has always been dangerous to be prophetic. The broad and smooth path of shallow and selfish nationalism is, of course, the way of the crowd.
Blue Springs, Mo.
Have a big fit and fall in it over the NCC and China!…
Catholics everywhere, from Pope John XXIII down, are praying for the success of ecumenism within Protestantism. A Catholic negative reaction to one statement of NCC can in no way be considered as disparaging the ecumenism which NCC is striving to promote. Bureau of Information
National Catholic Welfare Conf.
Washington, D. C.
The power drive which exists in varying degrees in all humans makes Protestant leaders try to speak for us all, and in vain. “Protestants” will never have an united voice, and our ecumenicists should cease wasting their energies in this direction. The dilemma of corporate Protesrtantism, wherever manifested, comes out of the failure of its leaders to understand the basic nature of group organization. They cannot speak for the whole. In the last analysis, no one ought to attempt to speak for the thing called “American Protestantism” in controversial matters, because it is impossible for American Protestantism to have an united voice and be Protestant. Roman Catholicism can speak unitedly only because Roman Catholics give assent to the hierarchical concept, in which one is elected from time to time to speak ex cathedra in behalf of the whole church.
In “Protestantism” individuality in thought and action is at least implied. This individuality is both the glory and the despair of our tradition: our glory, for it puts a premium upon the personal relation between a man and his Maker; our despair, because no way can be found for anything but the broadest sort of united expression in its behalf.
Those who have given their lives for the promotion of the kind of united action which can be presumed to speak for all of “Protestantism” are to be pitied. This means that many of the most prominent churchmen of the day are to be pitied.
The Lancaster Presbyterian Church
Lancaster, N. Y.
The position you espouse may have a very legitimate case—but, it is never possible to equate one position with the good and all alternatives to the ungodly. This is as unrealistic as it is unchristian.
First Presbyterian Church
Hector, N. Y.
As for myself, your prestige, not that of the NCC, has sunk to a new low. Interboard Council
Ohio Conference—Methodist Church
Your article says just what a great many of us laymen would like to say but are not as articulate as we should be.… I have served on both boards of my church which is one of the bodies belonging to the National Council and World Council.… I am strongly opposed to some person or group speaking for me on unauthorized topics. The church has no business mixing in politics. We criticize pressure groups and then our elected delegates become one.…
Washington, D. C.
The message of the Cleveland Conference to the churches … is a sincere effort to bring to discussion a most vital issue before the American Christians.
St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Evansville, Ind.
You “guess” that the Cleveland Conference does not have the support of the majority of church people, as if truth were ever determined by majority vote. Did Jesus have majority support?
First Congregational Church
Detroit Lakes, Minn.
At the meeting of the Christian Social Action Committee of the Northern California Congregational Conference, held in San Francisco on Monday, February 9, 1959, the following motion was voted unanimously: “The Christian Social Action Committee of the Northern California Congregational Conference hereby records its full support of the position taken by the Fifth World Order Study Conference of the National Council of Churches regarding recognition of the Communist Chinese People’s Government by the United States and by the United Nations.”
Northern Calif. Congregational Conf.
San Francisco, Calif.
I ask you to prove by Scripture that when groups “try to promote legitimate humanitarian objectives” through legislation that they are “in violation of divine moral law,” as quoted in your February 2 issue.
St. John’s Immanuel Parish
American Lutheran Church
Bancroft, S. Dak.
• What Christianity Today said was: “… Promotion of legitimate humanitarian objectives through objectionable means such as government intervention and compulsion … has sometimes ranged social action not only in competition with the spiritual mission of the Church, but in violation of divine moral law.” If our correspondent will offer Scripture proof to refute this position we shall be glad to print it.—ED.
It is implied in your handling of the conference that the matter of Communist China was inadequately considered. As one of the delegates … and one of the members of Section II, I would voice disagreement. The majority of members …, lay or clergy, were persons who were chosen to attend because they have a tremendous concern for World Order and because they were known to have given considerable thought to problems of World Order. Furthermore, many of us who were present consider ourselves relatively well-read in the field as contrasted to most Protestant people.
The De Ruyter Federated Church
De Ruyter, N. Y.
I myself am very much against the action of the Cleveland Conference on World Order urging recognition of Red China. They had absolutely no right to take such an action and because of such an action that Commission should be discontinued.
Although I am not greatly informed on this issue …, I am amazed that any publication such as yours could show in one article such a complete state of moral and intellectual bankruptcy as is apparent to the reader.… The way it is handled by your magazine makes it quite clear that you are not only violently opposed to the NCC, but also the ecumenical movement in general.
The United Church of Christ
• Some negative letters, avoiding issues raised by the article on NCC’s sagging prestige, dismiss it as an attempt “to destroy the ecumenical movement.” But CHRISTIANITY TODAY is firmly committed to the unity of the body of Christ as a fellowship of regenerate believers of whom the crucified, risen, ascended and exalted Christ is head. The article makes clear what is opposed: passion for inclusive unity more than for theological fidelity; top level commitment of denominations to specific social programs and actions while revealed biblical principles are disregarded; tilting to the left in social pronouncements; and indifference to convictions of clergy and laity at the local level.—ED.
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