Since the advent of Christian missionary activities on an organized scale some two hundred years ago, the proclamation of the Gospel message has faced many problems. Obstacles of language, culture, race, militant nationalism and the competition between missionaries of differing doctrinal persuasion have contributed a stormy atmosphere to world missions.
In addition to these difficulties, major non-Christian religions (such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism) have actively opposed Christian missionaries so that progress has been slow not in a few areas and in some instances hardly recognizable.
Beyond this aspect, however, looms another formidable adversary, the rise of non-Christian American cults. Some of these movements have lately invaded established missionary fields and have proselytized new converts with startling success. Utilizing some methods reminiscent of early Christianity, these groups cater to the culture patterns of those they proselytize, provide literature in the language of the people and in one way or another keep a certain emphasis on the Bible in the forefront of their work. In many instances they preach a militant “separatism” from tobacco, alcohol, and other practices classified as worldly and unspiritual. All these activities are bolstered by their so-called revelations (all of nineteenth century vintage), with an appeal to which they wage unceasing warfare against all religions and against Christian denominations in particular. It is significant that they first approach known Christians. Seldom do they attempt to reach the unevangelized, which should be the first step in any genuine missionary program.
We are not suggesting that the activities of these movements be curtailed by law, or that they should become the target of an evangelical barrage of abuse. Full freedom of worship and the right to promulgate one’s convictions are historic planks in the platform of Protestant evangelism. Even such terms as “sect” or “cult” seem more appropriate in lands with a state church than in an open religious situation. But Christianity will need to preserve the distinction between truth and heresy if it is to have a future.
Some groups, particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses, by their demonstrated hostility to governmental authorities, have frequently jeopardized the reputation and efforts of others of genuine Christian persuasion. As a result there has been great friction between their workers and Christian missionaries. It is difficult indeed for Christian missionaries successfully to compete with such divisive forces in a positive way, and to evangelize missionaries of such zealous groups as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and virulent indigenous groups.
Foremost in the missionary programs of the cults is an emphasis upon the Bible. Despite the prominence given the Scriptures, however, the cults, without exception, place themselves in the role of infallible interpreters of the Word of God with a vengeance rivaled only in dogmatism by Roman Catholicism. The Mormons, for instance, insist that the Scriptures be interpreted in the light of the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, the supposedly inspired oracles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Jehovah’s Witnesses elevate the Watchtower and Awake magazines and other publications of the Watchtower Society to the position of supreme interpreter. Christian Scientists subject the Scriptures to the vagaries of Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. Instead of being “the infallible rule of faith and practice,” the Bible is relegated to a secondary position. This is accomplished almost subliminally, so that the convert is unaware that his primary authority is not really grounded in Scripture but rather in the interpretation of Scripture by the respective cults.
The Living Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is treated similarly in the theologies of the major cults. For Jehovah’s Witnesses he becomes a super angel (Michael) and during his earthly ministry a “perfect man.” In the theology of the Mormons our Lord becomes in his pre-existence a “brother” of Satan and one of many gods which occupy the worlds scattered throughout the celestial galaxies. Among the gnostic cults (Christian Science, Unity, Christ Unity Science, Religious Science, New Thought, and so on) the Son of God becomes the “Christ idea” an emanation or projection from the Divine Mind, a partaker of the essence of God (the I Am) of which all men are the possessors because they are “God’s children” and “the reflections of the divine idea.” The cults know no triune God, no incarnate Word, no vicarious sacrifice and no risen Saviour in the sense of historical biblical theology. And, sad to say, their views are being promulgated on every major mission field with a steady flow of literature.
Consider the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses alone has ventured a major offensive against almost all other missions, and that their magazine, The Watchtower, has grown from 6,000 in 1879 to over 3 million copies per month in 46 languages in 1960. The Watchtower’s second largest publication, Awake, has reached 22 million copies per year in 18 languages. Their growing mission force of full and part-time workers is reliably estimated in excess of 200,000 persons actively propagating the theocratic kingdom of “Pastor” Russell and the late Judge Rutherford. During the years 1942 to 1952 membership in Jehovah’s Witnesses doubled in North America, multiplied fifteen times in South America, twelve times in the Atlantic islands, five times in Asia, seven times in Europe and Africa, and six times in the islands of the Pacific. Now, the close of an eight-year period, the Watchtower’s membership has far exceeded these figures, and indications reveal stronger missionary threats yet to come.
In South America, particularly Brazil, we have seen a resurgence of Spiritism on an unprecedented scale. Time magazine devoted its religious section not long ago to comments by a Roman Catholic missionary deploring the inroads of the Spiritists on the Roman Catholic church. Unfortunately the same can be said also in respect to some Protestant agencies.
Added to the major American-based cultic systems are certain indigenous cults with strong nationalistic overtones, particularly in Africa and Asia. These groups amalgate some of the teachings of Christianity with the older pagan religions, particularly Animism and Spiritism, and come equipped complete with their own special revelations and messiahs. This situation is particularly true in the Philippine Islands, Japan, and Africa where Christianity is caricatured as the “white man’s religion,” a Western “import” superimposed on native cultural and religious patterns. Such an approach has been disastrously successful.
Another major cult gaining tremendous prestige and publicity throughout the world is Moral Rearmament, better known and advertised as MRA. Headed by the now aging Dr. Frank Buchman, and emphasizing a five-fold platform for the moral rehabilitation of mankind as opposed to the atheistic ideology of communism, MRA cuts across denominational and even major religious boundaries to enlist support against the atheistic materialism of communism. MRA in many quarters has become a rallying point for those who wish to oppose communism and still maintain religious affiliations and fellowship with like-minded sympathizers regardless of race or creed. It is conveniently forgotten that MRA is the evolution of the old Oxford group movement which started out as an essentially Christian movement of extreme mystical character. It eventually degenerated into an homogenization of all religions in which the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ, whose gospel Dr. Buchman in his Lutheran ordination vows (never renounced) swore to preach and defend, are conveniently lost in the shuffle or else totally rejected. Those who eagerly embrace MRA chiefly for its religio-political opposition to communism might do well to look into the political history of this movement, which has numbered among its most faithful supporters some of the most militant fascists in England, Europe, and America.
Another force on growing mission fields is that of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination which, while giving large emphasis to Christian truth, tends to proselytize on a large scale, using the so-called “special truths” of the Advent message as a lever to pry Christians of other denominations away from their place of fellowship. Reports from world mission fields indicate that although the Adventists are attempting to meet this problem on a high level, so-called “grass root” adherents are guilty of divisive practices and still wield considerable authority in certain areas. Answers must therefore be provided to Sabbatarianism, soul sleep and the annihilation of the wicked, the prophetic office of Ellen G. White, the investigative judgment and the sanctuary doctrines, dogmas which are actively promulgated by Seventh-day Adventism.
On the basis of past performance, it is safe to prognosticate that within the next decade, all things remaining constant, the cults will intensify their propaganda and their “sheep stealing” activities three to four times their present rate. The question is, will the Church of Jesus Christ rise to the occasion while there remains time? The Church must be prepared to defend the claim, of Scripture, interpreted by the Holy Spirit, that it alone is “inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that the Holy Spirit thereby bringing to our remembrance “all things” that Christ has commanded us, is a far safer guide than the extra-biblical revelations of cult leaders.
The Christian Church must also be ever ready to remind indigenous nationalistic sects that Christianity is an Eastern religion, that Christ was born, died, rose, and ascended in Asia, and that his return will be to the Mount of Olives in Asia from which he ascended to the right hand of the Father as our advocate.
Finally, if the cults are to be effectively combatted at home and on the foreign mission fields of the world, missionaries, pastors, educators, and interested laymen must press for strong curricula in our educational institutions. Christians must be taught not only what they believe but why they believe, that they may be able, as Scripture admonishes us, “to give to everyone that asks of you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).
The teachings of the major sects must be codified and indexed, and a running commentary provided for all interested parties. It will then be possible to understand the methodology of the cults at home and abroad, to note the areas of their doctrinal emphasis and their use and abuse of the Word of God. The Church of Jesus Christ has nothing to fear from the zeal and competition of the cults. She has much to fear from her own apathy and lethargy in this vital area of missionary concern. The means to evangelize and to combat adherents of the cult is available. On every front the Church is faced with unrelenting and mounting pressures from anti-Christian forces. “The night is coming wherein no one can work.” The challenge is here, the time is now.
EARTHLY RULERS, CHURCH HEADS PONDER MAJOR MOVES
The last days of 1960 seemed to correlate many vital secular and sacred developments for an approaching grand or inglorious modern climax. Who can tell what the immediate future holds in times that seem increasingly apocalyptic?
In Moscow, Soviet and Chinese spokesmen for the most potent anti-Christ philosophy of our times planned for the Communist inheritance of the earth. Their week-long debate was doctrinal (whether all-out war is necessary for their objective, the defeat of capitalism). The conference ended without healing a schism which has widened since 1957, but with Sino-Soviet confidence unshaken over the inevitable triumph of the Marxist cause. The momentary commitment is to Khrushchev’s strategy of world conquest by cold war.
In Rome, the Primate of England and the Primate of Italy, heads of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, talked for 45 minutes. It was the first such meeting since Protestantism broke with Roman apostasy in the sixteenth century Reformation. Its announced objective was “to increase brotherly feelings,” not doctrinal discussion. The Primate of England the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, had previously visited Eastern Orthodox patriarchs in Jerusalem and Istanbul, and there is talk of future exchange visits between Pope John XXIII of Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Istanbul, first among equals of the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs. This would be the first such meeting between the Western (Latin) church and the Eastern church since their cleft in 1054 A.D., climaxing disputes over papal supremacy and the filioque clause. The modern maneuvers reflect an awareness of growing ecumenical momentum so evident in the structural merging of Protestant denominations.
NCC leaders in San Francisco heard exploratory proposals for merging the Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist churches and United Church of Christ. Again the initiative came from the leadership, albeit as a personal gesture and not from grass roots. It was noteworthy that a churchman who stresses that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church prefaced his private vision with the words: “Led, I pray, by the Holy Spirit, I propose.…” American ecumenism is less theological than bureaucratic, and advances through doctrinal indifference more than doctrinal dedication. While the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee is recommending that the 1961 New Delhi assembly strengthen the confession from Christological to Trinitarian ground, a Methodist minister (Dr. Garland Evans Hopkins of Walker Chapel in Arlington, Virginia), for example, sent an announcement to newspapers, timed for release during Sunday morning service, that “a Methodist may still be a good Methodist and not accept the historic doctrine of the Trinity.” Could earnest Communist doctrinal examination disclose more strength than ecumenical tolerance of unbelief?
The confusing political scene in America, now the modern bulwark against Communist world domination, has strange religious overtones also. A Roman Catholic president who repudiates his communion’s historic positions in Church-State relations was elected on a party platform weighted with quasi-socialistic principles. The 1960 Roman Catholic Bishops’ Statement (after Mr. Kennedy’s election) championed voluntarism so strongly that some observers called it a criticism of the Democratic platform. Yet back in 1919 the Bishops’ Statement strutted toward New Dealism long before the Roosevelt era. Direct church pressures upon the State are undesirable, whether conservative or liberal. Protestant ecumenism has established some untidy American patterns and precedents. We hope that the Kennedy administration will get full cooperation from Protestant and Catholic churchmen alike in the new president’s expressed desire to honor American traditions of Church-State separation. That is the way to keep America strong, to keep churches at their true mission, and to unite the people in reaffirming national distinctiveness and meeting the Communist threat.
LESSONS FROM HARVARD: MYTHS AND HOW TO USE THEM
Only an occasional report of the Loch Ness monster reminds us of the large place mythical monsters once occupied in our ancestors’ minds. Myths as such are not dead, however. They have only changed shape and taken on a more utilitarian role. Instead of frightening bad children, they now are skillfully used to disconcert thoughtless adults. Modern myth is a highly useful propagandists’ tool capable of befuddling even intellectuals.
An outstanding recent example of such use of myth to distort real issues is supplied by the religious dispute which upset the faculty, students, and alumni at Harvard University in the Spring of 1958. The attempt of Dr. George Buttrick to restore some small measure of distinctive Christian witness to America’s oldest institution of higher learning was seriously hampered, and in fact set back by the marshalling of myth against him. The Harvard incident takes its place with Elmer Gantry and Inherit the Wind as a striking use of propaganda to discredit Christianity by misrepresentation instead of by facing it openly and fairly.
The Harvard controversy resembles the great Iconoclastic crisis in the East Roman Empire in the eighth century. It too was caused by the threat (real or fancied) posed by religious zeal at the apex of the administration. Emperor Leo III was opposed by fanatical and unlettered monks, whereas President Pusey of Harvard was set upon by learned and sober professors. These professors were just as willing as Leo’s monks to allow themselves to be blinded to the real issues, and to blind others, in order to secure popular support. As did the monks in the Iconoclastic Controversy, the Harvard professors directed their greatest vehemence against mythical positions—not those held by President Pusey nor by his embattled theologians, Buttrick, Wild, and Tillich, but those which certain aggressors had themselves created in order to have a thoroughly horrible and objectionable monster to assail. Because the real conflict was concealed by a myth, local historians now speak of Harvard’s Chimaeroclastic Controversy.
Touching off the incident was a thought-provoking but highly misleading article in the daily Harvard Crimson by a member of the class of ’56, a sometime graduate student of philosophy and divinity. Not the substance of his long article, but a single insinuation alone supplied the myth used to lame Dr. Buttrick’s and President Pusey’s attempt to provide a more hospitable hearth for Christianity at Harvard. The Crimson article implied off-hand that, in denying use of the University’s Memorial Church for non-Christian services, Dr. Buttrick was showing not Christian commitment but anti-Semitism. This allegation was sure to inflame the sensitivities of Harvard’s numerous Jewish alumni and indeed of all Harvard men rightly suspicious of racial prejudice and religious bigotry. Because the accusation was manifestly false, being disproved by countless facts, it could not long be upheld in its original form. But it did endure long enough to create the mythical monster which soon dominated the discussion. Unethical as it is to slander someone with the unsavory charge of anti-Semitism, the intimation proved extremely effective in the prevailing Harvard atmosphere. The cast of mind which regards any trace of prejudice with religious loathing and existential dread is now a predominant one in intellectual circles, however much or little this may be concerned with truth.
The Chimaeroclastic Controversy at Harvard proceeded on the allegation that non-Christians were being denied use of the Memorial Church. It is not generally known that shortly before the rise of the Chimaeroclasts Dr. Buttrick had been reproached for giving too much scope to non-Christians in what many persons then thought to be a Christian Church. A committee of divinity school students, regular worshipers in the church, tried to convince Dr. Buttrick that services should be conducted only by persons of recognized Christian convictions, and not a motley variety of Christians, Sub-Christians, and even anti-Christians, as was then and still is the case. It is rather ironic that shortly after rejecting this proposal, Dr. Buttrick was attacked from the other side as a dragon of dogmatism.
It is a curious fact that orthodox Protestantism, swiftly suspected as the villain because it promotes the plea for a distinctive Christianity, has itself never had a hearing in Memorial Church (the present Church was dedicated in 1932). Amidst American, English, European and Asian divines of many persuasions, there was not until the Fall of 1960 a single orthodox Protestant minister from this country in the Harvard pulpit. By a strange paradox, the conservative right wing in theology is made the victim of charges of exclusiveness, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice in a situation in which for years they have had nothing to say.
Thus we have, in the religious sphere, a sort of reverse censorship directed against the specifically New England-Calvinist-Protestant line of our tradition, right in its very homeland. A religious conservative may, on occasion, be heard, provided he is sufficiently exotic (a Greek, a Roman, or even an English Anglican), but not a home-grown American conservative, lest he perhaps remind too many people of the positive values for which an institution like Harvard once stood. Such a reminder, too often tolerated, might endanger the current intellectual liberalism, which is willing to consider questions of absolute value only on the condition that they do not interfere with the way one lives one’s life. What is dismaying is the fact that the programmatic liberals, contrary to their stated ideals, will not deal fairly and honestly with the positive affirmations of their opponents. Instead, the Chimaeroclasts, by erecting an objectionable myth (in this case the image of anti-Semitism) have at least temporarily set back the attempt to provide even a hearing for conservative or truly Protestant theology at Harvard. (Recent developments, too new and sparse to be greeted as definitive, indicate that R. J. Gibson, Dr. Buttrick’s successor pro tem, is quietly providing more scope for committed Christian witness in an otherwise extremely chilly atmosphere.)
Chimaeroclasts are not only active in the theological field, of course. Elsewhere at Harvard (and at other places) these vigorous proponents of “intellectual liberalism” are raising up other chimaeras to be overthrown, and usually involving valuable aspects of our tradition in their fall. It is one thing to disagree with Jonathan Edwards (or Adam Smith), but it is quite another to deprive them and their contemporary representatives of any hearing whatsoever, or to greet them with derision which would be thought too impolite to direct at a representative of similarly dogmatic Communist ideology. This new and peculiarly selective censorship, which seems especially pronounced in the most exalted citadels of learning, is depriving New England intellectuals of a vital strand of our religious and intellectual heritage. It would be unsound to make icons of every tradition of the past, but it is equally unsound to make chimaeras caricaturing and subverting concepts which have contributed so significantly to the moral and spiritual of the American scene.
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