To leaf through yellowed pages of old college catalogs is to realize that the Bible was once the priority text on many a U. S. campus. Scores of today’s big name universities were founded on Christian precepts. One of the tragedies of American history, say evangelical observers, is the repudiation of religious roots by so many educational institutions.

Just 25 miles west of Chicago’s loop is the 40-acre grassy campus of Wheaton College, whose 100-year history challenges the notion that academic prosperity means spiritual decay. For Wheaton continues to be an evangelical stronghold while building a reputation as one of the nation’s leading small colleges (“small” meaning that facilities limit enrollment to 1700).

Doubtless a factor in Wheaton’s high spiritual plane is the tradition which begins each academic year with a week long evangelistic campaign. For the fall 1959 term the school, in launching its centennial observance, has called as guest evangelist its most distinguished alumnus, an anthropology major who upon graduation in 1943 went on to become the most famous spokesman for evangelical Christianity? of our time: Billy Graham.

Considering Wheaton’s premium on evangelism, which out of 12,000 graduates has produced nearly 1,200 who are serving on 84 mission fields, officials felt it appropriate to begin the centenary year with a crusade in which even the surrounding community could participate. Graham’s team was called in and agreed to set up a full-fledged campaign with such big city complements as choir, counselor, and follow-up programs. Dr. Evan W. Welsh, college chaplain, heads an executive committee which includes ministers in and around the town of Wheaton.

The crusade is scheduled to begin Sunday afternoon, September 27, at McCully Field, college athletic stadium named after alumnus Edward McCully who with four other missionaries (including two former Wheaton classmates) was slain while seeking to bring the Gospel to the savage Aucas of Ecuador. Nightly public services will be held Monday through Friday in a newly-constructed gymnasium which accommodates 5,000. The crusade will close on Sunday, October 4 with another afternoon rally at McCully Field. Graham’s weekly radio broadcast, “The Hour of Decision,” is scheduled to originate from Wheaton on both Sundays.

The centennial program commemorates the transition of Illinois Institute, founded by a group of Wesleyan Methodists in 1852 but closed less than eight years later because of financial pressures, into Wheaton College. The college was opened shortly after Wheaton was incorporated as a village, taking its name from a settler in that area, Warren L. Wheaton, who granted land to the college and became a trustee.

Article continues below

The destiny of the interdenominational, coeducational liberal arts college has been guided by only four presidents. The first, Jonathan Blanchard, a Congregationalist who helped establish Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, was succeeded by his son, Charles. Their leadership steered the college through 65 years.

In 1925, Dr. James O. Buswell, Jr., took the helm and was succeeded in 1940 by the current president, Dr. V. Raymond Edman, who has spent the past summer recuperating from an operation for a detached retina.

Wheaton’s actual founding will be observed January? 9–10, but a number of events throughout the school year are planned in remembrance of the occasion. These include: Symposia in archaeology, theology, writing, philosophy, fine arts, general science, and social science; a “Spiritual Life Conference” in midwinter; and a dedication festival, “The Abundant Century,” scheduled for May 27–28. Several books are being published in connection with the centennial as well as a record album featuring Wheaton student musicians.

Wheaton’s resources are valued at approximately $16,000,000. The main campus has 16 major buildings, and the college owns two extension facilities: a 20-acre plot in the Black Hills of South Dakota where a science laboratory is located and where two terms of summer school in the field sciences are held each year, and a 160-acre site in Wisconsin which serves as a camping ground and provides students with counselor experience in the summer.

Wheaton maintains strictest admission procedures. Each applicant (he must be in the upper third of his high school graduating class) is required to sign an agreement that he will abstain from (1) use of alcohol and tobacco, (2) gambling and card-playing, (3) dancing, (3) meetings of secret societies, and (4) theater attendance.

“While as an individual the student may not be convinced of the necessity of these requirements,” says the catalog, “he is expected to be in harmony with their goal, and to observe them, whether at the College or away, as long as he is enrolled.”

Degrees offered by the college are bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, bachelor of science in professional chemistry, bachelor of science in nursing, bachelor of music, and bachelor of music in education. The Graduate School offers master’s degrees in biblical studies, theology and Christian education, plus a bachelor of divinity degree.

Article continues below

Wheaton’s “number one centennial project,” and its “most urgent need,” is a chapel-auditorium for which ground has already been broken. Alumni are spearheading a drive to raise $1,500,000 so that the building may be completed in time for centennial commencement exercises next June.

Whither Orthodoxy?

Is Orthodoxy moving toward a tie with Roman Catholicism? If so, what will it mean to Orthodox membership in the World Council of Churches?

The questions were set in new focus last month when ecumenical brass gathered on the Greek island of Rhodes for a meeting of the policy-making, 90-member Central Committee of the WCC.

“Observers” at the meeting, who attracted more attention than did delegates, included two representatives from the Moscow Patriarchate and two Roman Catholic priests. Newsmen probed for significant developments when the priests went into a huddle with Orthodox officials, but all insisted that the session was “absolutely informal.”

Russian Orthodox representatives sat in on Central Committee proceedings for the first time in history, the move being a part of a “get acquainted” program now going on with the WCC, leaders of which plan a trip to Moscow in December.

Whatever the future holds, it was obvious that Orthodoxy had the lion’s share of attention at Rhodes. This was the first time that the committee had ever convened in a predominantly Orthodox country. Dr. W. A. Visser’t Hooft, WCC general secretary, paid Eastern Orthodoxy a glowing tribute, noting in an opening address that back in 1919 it was the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Constantinople which became the first church to propose a permanent world council.

Perhaps ironically, however, Orthodox leaders have been less than enthusiastic about their participation in the ecumenical movement. Last month, for instance, Orthodox delegates reaffirmed their opposition to the WCC plan of merger with the International Missionary Council. The committee nevertheless moved ahead with the proposal by receiving a draft constitution and referring it to constituent churches for study, hopeful of culminating the merger at the 1961 WCC assembly (the site of which was shifted from Ceylon to New Delhi).

Eastern Orthodoxy opposes WCC-IMC on the grounds of fear of “antagonistic missionary activities” and the “radical nature of the change proposed in the structure of the World Council.” The IMC includes members which are not churches (national Christian councils, for example). “Can there be any witness apart from a church or confession?” asked one Greek Orthodox bishop.

Article continues below

Even as the council’s Faith and Order Commission was asking for more theological discussions between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church, Visser’t Hooft promised a full airing on problems of religious liberty when the committee meets again next summer in Scotland. The debate presumably will take in discussion of freedom both in Roman Catholic and Communist countries.

Church Membership

The latest version of the Yearbook of American Churches, most authoritative compilation of U. S. religious statistics, shows a record high ratio of church membership to population.

Nearly two-thirds of the 5,368,063 membership “gain,” however, is drawn from new Roman Catholic statistics which for the first time listed 2,000,000 communicants in the “Military Ordinariate.” Thus the 2,000,000 Roman Catholic statistical addition alone accounts for more than two-fifths of the total U. S. church and synagogue membership increase. Protestant church members in the United States (an estimated 90–95 per cent of whom are over 13) totalled 61,504,669 compared with 39,509,508 Roman Catholics (including all baptized children).

Figures for the yearbook, edited by Benson Y. Landis and published by the National Council of Churches, were supplied by 251 church bodies as of the end of 1958.

The new U. S. church membership total, 109,557,741, represents 63 per cent of the nation’s estimated population.

Sunday and Sabbath (Saturday) school enrollment totalled 41,197,313 for 1958, a 2.1 per cent increase over 1957, according to figures from 229 church bodies (230 reported for 1957).

For the year covered, there was but one change in the “standings” of the top 10 U. S. denominations. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod became the eighth largest, displacing the still merging United Church of Christ (only major Protestant body whose membership fell).

Here are organizational totals:

According to “family” groupings:

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.