Harken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged (Isaiah 51:1).
Have the lessons of the Reformation been forgotten in our land? Are the doctrines of Reformed theology no longer valid? Did Luther take a stand not justified by subsequent events, or did Calvin labor for a lost cause? Have the distinctives of Protestantism become blurred in an ecumenicity that ignores the paradox—Christ divides when he unites?
Protestantism has often sheltered an individualism that has led to splitting of hairs and the separating of true believers. This is to be regretted, though far more dangerous is an emerging concept of the Church which views ecclesiastical unity as a goal to be attained without reference to truths that comprise Christianity itself.
We are witnessing today a dimming of Protestant convictions, and as there is no corresponding complacency on the part of the Church of Rome, she is astutely taking advantage of our softness and ignorance. Furthermore, the unbelieving world sees very few within Protestantism who preach and teach with conviction while at the same time living lives consistent with Christian discipleship.
We are urged on every side to exercise “tolerance.” Tolerance of what? The human body which tolerates infection is doomed. The organism which resists infection lives. Our Lord was supremely intolerant. He said that he is the way, the truth, and the life. He affirmed that he is the door, the only entrance to eternal life. At no point in his teaching did he tolerate the idea of salvation in any other. The early Church believed and preached this truth.
Later when the injection of error was tolerated, the Western world sank into the Dark Ages, not because the Gospel had failed but because its light had been hidden.
Into this darkness there came the light of the Reformation. Eternal truths were rediscovered, the Good News was once again preached. The binding authority of man and the Church was rejected in favor of the authority of Holy Scripture and of the Holy Spirit speaking to man’s conscience.
Of course the Reformation caused division and strife; Scripture-based Christianity always brings division. That some who call themselves Christians thrive on a kind of conflict that stems from pride and ignorance must not obscure the compelling truth that in the world there are but two classes of people, the redeemed and the unredeemed, and they are divided not by the will of God but by the sinfulness of man.
Human progress is always desirable; but when we encounter the rejection of vital truth and this is acclaimed as progress, then our state is one of retrogression and not progression. In a changing world there stands both as witness and as anchor, the unchanging Christ as revealed in Holy Writ. Christians need to look to the rock from whence they were hewn, to the One who continues as the eternal foundation.
Protestantism today is in jeopardy, not because of an outward enemy so much as from lost perspective. The present theological confusion does not stem from scientific discoveries or advances in scholarship; it comes from philosophical presuppositions which rule out the foundation of divine revelation in favor of a superstructure of human speculation.
Through broadness of approach and shallowness of belief, a step backward can be an alarmingly easy one as the Christian beliefs inherent in a virile Protestantism become irrelevant or unimportant.
Within the framework of Reformed Protestantism there developed a social order wherein freedom was more precious than life itself, and where individual initiative led to unprecedented economic and political advances. But in our day as the Protestant concept has waned in the thinking of some, a socialistic pattern of life has been developed which envisions adequacy for all regardless of individual initiative or application to hard work.
How easy it is to forget the lessons of history when confronted with the problems of today; and how easy it is to think that the spending of money and more money constitutes the panacea for personal, national, and international ills. The need for bread is real, but the fact that man does not live by bread alone is even more real. The use of money as a means of political bribery is a symptom of the erosion of moral and spiritual values.
Now is no time for delay. The fate of a nation and of the free world might well be in the balance. If the Church or any of her leaders unwittingly contribute to or participate in the furthering of disaster, it would be an irony of history and an evidence of the tragedy which comes when humanism is substituted for Christianity, or man-made utopian schemes replace divinely-ordained principles.
These are days of testing. Behind the scenes a battle is being waged, the outcome of which will gravely affect the future witness of the Church. We are seeing the basic philosophies of men tested by the stand they take. We have before us the choice, God or mammon, and yet behind that choice is an extremely vital one, divine revelation or human philosophy.
Presently there is so much confusion that some who choose mammon think they are choosing God; and those who settle for human philosophy think they are being wise.
Our Protestant heritage embodies eternal truths which are worth living and dying for. Let these verities be blurred by anything, and the lights of the attending freedoms and blessings of the Reformation will begin to dim on the horizon of contemporary history.
It was the blackout of Christian truth that led to the Dark Ages. Will history repeat itself? Are there in our time enough people to hold high the torch of Reformation truth so that its light will not die out across the earth?
AMERICA’S BASIC PROBLEMS IN AREA OF THE SPIRIT
In their better moments the political campaigners are telling the American people that our moral and spiritual foundations must be strengthened if the nation is to survive.
The Age of Gadgetry is passing. We have come to the “end of the line” in our dependence upon nuclear physics and electronics as the saviours of the world. Slide rules and formulae have answered our questions but they refuse to stay answered.
Christ knew that the fundamental human problems are in the last analysis matters of the spirit. They grow out of something ugly inside our hearts. He made it clear that laws and commandments, force and war, tools and gadgets cannot correct our troubles. This is true because the basic nature of man needs to be changed. He needs a new spirit and an undying victory over the world, the flesh and the devil. Christ taught that only the proper response to the will of God can do this. This involves the full surrender of the whole man to Christ so that the Holy Spirit can effect a complete change of our nature.
Christ is more relevant to man’s problems than any other element in life. He solves the problems that are basic to all our difficulties. He does not automatically resolve our political, economic, scientific and social dilemmas but he gives us the divine principles by which they can be worked out if men of faith and good will acting together have the wit and courage to apply them effectively.
CHRISTIANS AND THE STATE IN A TIME OF CRISIS
In the current Church-State discussions an issue of first importance can easily be overlooked.
Although there are many Protestants, as well as Roman Catholics, who maintain that the Church, as such, should make representations to the State on secular matters, nevertheless, the basic impact of Christianity is made by individual Christian citizens who recognize their responsibility to live and vote their Christian convictions.
Those Protestant organizations which maintain lobbies, or other means of exercising pressure on the State, have much in common with the Roman Catholic hierarchy where similar pressures are exercised. What difference, for instance, is there between a “spokesman for forty million Protestants” making a representation to the government and a cardinal making a similar pronouncement for his constituency?
It is precisely at this point that we feel Protestants owe it to themselves and to the Church to take a second look at the entire conflict of Church-State relationship.
Christian influence is a matter of conviction stemming from truth in the believing heart and this influence is effective at the personal level guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the most effective witness of Christians is in personal contact, and, where national affairs are concerned, at the ballot box.
Our Lord made it plain that his followers are in the world “salt” and “light” and also that the salt can loose its savor and the light be hidden, for no Christian lives in a vacuum. Citizens of eternity, they are also citizens of this world and are expected to live for His glory in an alien atmosphere.
It is the salt of redeemed lives which preserves and gives flavor to national life. It is the light of new creatures in Christ which shines into the dark areas of our corporate existence.
The Apostle Paul affirmed the responsibilities of Christian citizenship. Although he knew only too well that the “powers that be,” of which he was speaking, were pagan, he looked behind the governments to the One to whom all power belongs and who has delegated the powers of civil government.
For this reason honor was to be given, taxes paid and laws obeyed. Instead of amity there was to be submission to civil authority. But this did not preclude a bold span for righteousness, nor the right of humble petition.
In a democracy such as ours the Christian has both the privilege and the power of exerting a strong influence for good. To neglect the exercise of the ballot is unworthy of a good citizen and often results in government by men with little concern for righteousness.
Strange to say the hypothesis has recently been advanced that a man paying mere lip service to Christianity might prove a better President than one of a more committed faith. On this theory a pagan could make even a better head of State.
Unquestionably men lacking in spiritual insight may have many of the other qualities needed in the exercise of power, but the ideal for which the Christian should strive is a government where men with Christian character are in power; men who at the same time have the wisdom, experience, restraint and judgment which are essential—and more than all else, the grace to turn to God for guidance and wisdom as they exercise the functions of State.
The next few weeks may prove crucial for America. Christians should be guided by other than emotional, traditional, sectional or political motives. Ballots should be cast after prayer for divine guidance, and after the election is over one of the highest duties of the Christian is to pray for those elected to office.
When this procedure is carried out the citizenship of Christians will prove a blessing to the nation as a whole, and the sovereign God who stands in the shadows will have been honored by those who have put their trust in Him.
TOWARD MORE MEANINGFUL WORSHIP IN THE CHURCHES
The central function of the church is worship. It is the medium of corporate reverence to and communion with God and has implications for every activity which the Christian undertakes.
There is an increasing conviction that worship is more meaningful and effective at graded levels in which worshippers grow in their understanding of the nature, the means and the blessings of worship.
More and more Church Schools are providing, with the aid of pastoral counsel, hours of graded worship related to curriculum. These periods, which are coincident to the main church worship service, are definitely related to age-level experiences in vocabulary, emotional range and idea content. Children in “primary church,” “junior church” and “intermediate church” are intelligently conditioned to the type of worship they will be later experiencing in the adult congregation.
The chief barriers to wider use of graded worship are the traditional beliefs that parents and children should worship together and that worship is something to be felt and not a mass of facts and propositions to be correlated at nicely-conceived age levels. There is, of course, something to be said for these objections. Changes in long-sustained custom will not come readily in some churches but it is growingly evident that few churches which seriously experiment with graded worship ever return to the old patterns.
Worship must be intelligently understood to be appreciated. If, by the teaching and learning process we can make worship a more meaningful and enriching experience to children and youth, we ought to at least give this new idea a “try.”
THE JOY OF PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
Without demeaning the adventuresome life of a test pilot, or an artist’s delight in a flawless performance at Carnegie Hall, or indeed, the keen zest of any Christian vocation under God, we truly believe that no experience on earth compares with the joy of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The sheer exultation of praising God by offering his saving love to our fellow humans is the most rewarding experience the ministry offers. When Paul said, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel,” he let out the secret. No moralistic homily, no paean of idealism, no tribute to tribal or national heritage can match the high joy that accompanies the presentation of the whole counsel of God.
A sense of boundless release comes to the preacher when he realizes that he does not have to put a “human hedge” about the Gospel. Once he is willing to take God at his word, the herald of Grace can fling to the winds old hesitations, the tendency to censor portions of Scripture and ignore other parts, and any uneasy feeling that the Good News cannot be quite complete without a twentieth-century midrash. With wide-open arms he can embrace God’s Word and cry to the Father, “This is enough! May I forget all else. Only use me and give me of thy power!”
Pale and ponderous seem the jack-knife interpretations of men when laid alongside the gleaming sword of Scripture. Did ever a pastor’s pulse throb when he was quoting Bultmann or Heidegger? Compare the sermons of Acts with many of our latest commentaries rolling off the presses.
People thought that the early Christians were intoxicated. They could not imagine why persons would be happy, having discovered no fortune and won no battle, unless they had first imbibed some giggling water. But these people were not fools. They had marked the religious leaders of their day, had listened to them, had observed their long faces. Yet Christ was different! He dazed people, made them tingle; when he said, “Walk,” they leapt. And when the man of God clothes himself with Christ today and goes into the pulpit, his heart is so full he can hardly contain himself. He is aware that his biggest problem is himself; if he can but get out of the way and present Jesus Christ to the people, he knows that God will work in their hearts, divine action will stir the listeners and bring them to a realization of their own sin and their need of the cleansing blood of Christ.
The one thing needed for the throb of joy in the pulpit is that the Good News be welcomed by the preacher as sufficient, and as containing both the evangel and the nurture. Does the Bible speak to the modern mind? Jesus speaks to every mind in every age; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Does the Good News fit our life situation? It not only applies, it transforms the life situation and creates a new situation in life, through the work of the Holy Spirit. As we are told, God’s Word is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” and is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Is the Gospel of the New Testament socially relevant? Christ’s words are always socially relevant. If the minister sheds abroad the love of Christ in the hearts of his people, and teaches them to love their neighbors and to look to the underprivileged and to all men irrespective of origin as our Lord did, he will build Christian social attitudes of incalculable blessing.
The great joy of the minister is to see God at work in the midst, and to use the gifts which He has entrusted to him to lead men and women, boys and girls to Christ, and then to instruct them in the Way Everlasting. He stands before the sacred desk and preaches the Gospel faithfully, passionately, yet with an inner calm that gives him freedom to vary the tempo. He speaks with an authority he could not possibly muster for his own opinions, an authority which reflects the privacy of his own quiet times of complete self-surrender to the God who reveals himself in Scripture. Above all, he speaks with joy, a joy that is built on radiant assurance. The dialectic of yes-and-no, of however-and-nevertheless, he leaves to others. “In him was yea!” That is the joyous message which he brings to a fitful and doubting world; and for all its skepticism, the world cannot take its eyes off the preacher’s face.
There are those who would have men believe that when the Gospel is preached in its purity, the messengers tend to become narrow and crabbed with suspicion of heresy. The opposite is really the case! When a man ceases to encumber the Gospel with double meanings, mental reservations and sacret doubts, and preaches in the faith that God is neither a liar nor an equivocator, he suddenly finds that every real lover of Christ is his brother. Pulpits are joined as never before. Suspicion is chained in darkness with the wandering stars, and every Christian is joyfully accepted on his own testimony until or unless his walk discredits his words.
When Mary the virgin gave birth to her babe in the manger at Bethlehem, Christian joy first came into the world. That joy became part of the kerygma—which may be another reason why Matthew, a Jew, and Luke, a Greek, both considered the birth narrative so essential to the Gospel. After Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the message of joy was clearer than ever, as the Samaritans found under the preaching of Philip. The passing of nearly twenty centuries has underscored the point: no labor a man can undertake in this life is so rich in joyous reward as the preaching of the full, free, unadulterated Gospel, with its priceless bounty of salvation.
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