The State-versus-Church struggle for the minds of the East Germans appears to be leaning in favor of the materialistic atheism of the Communist regime.
Church leaders are particularly distressed, according to recent reports, over the steady decline in baptisms in the Evangelical churches of East Germany. In some urban areas the number is said to have dropped to one-tenth the figure for previous years.
Church baptisms are giving way to the Namensweihe (socialist name-giving ceremony), an atheistic substitute now urged upon the people. In 1955, when the substitute ceremony was introduced, a maximum of 15 per cent of the children were said to have taken part. By 1956 the number had risen to 25 percent, and by 1959 to 65 per cent.
The assault on Christian practices has also included substitution of the Jugendweihe (youth dedication ceremony) for Christian confirmation and first communion. Communist sources claim that during last year about 88 per cent of all eligible youngsters took part in these substitute dedications.
The Evangelical Church in Germany, a Lutheran-Reformed composite which embraces five-sixths of the East German population, has denounced the substitute rites in the strongest terms. But the Communists persist, and are now promoting “socialist” marriage vows and burial services as well.
East German Evangelical sources say the weak resistance offered by many parents to the name-givings is evidence that wide segments of the population no longer consider baptism an important aspect of the Christian faith (despite the fact that it rests upon a specific command of Jesus Christ) and that practical de-Christianization of East Germany is picking up steam.
Deterioration of spiritual interests is largely attributable to Communist coercion and propaganda. But church leaders of West Germany also are blamed for poor strategy. Until now clergy officials have apparently made their plans within the presumption that Germany would be reunified. This approach, plus their decision to make a stand on an essentially weak position—the rite of confirmation—is sometimes criticized.
Observers point out that confirmation has never been considered a sacrament by the Lutheran church. The ceremony marks the end of formal religious instruction and the initiation of church membership, including the privilege of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Many social trappings attend the occasion, often subordinating the rite itself, which is supposed to represent profession of faith and dedication of life. In a society not noted for religious fervor, the actual rite is readily displaced, especially if a proffered substitute retains social elements.
The weakening influence of churches in East Germany is also attributable to the continuing of exodus of thousands of citizens, among them active Christian workers, to the West. Between January 14 and 20 a total of 3,085 refugees asked for asylum in West Germany, according to the Federal Refugee Ministry.
It is known, however, that many East Germans are choosing to stay put primarily because they feel a responsibility to their faith. The situation may well be the making of martyrs. Dedicated Christians encounter resistance at every turn, and find recognition virtually impossible in any phase of life involving the government.
The Communist-Christian struggle in the Soviet zone of Germany is dramatically portrayed in a feature-length film, “Question 7,” to be premiered early next month in seven North American cities—Washington; Seattle; Milwaukee; Austin, Texas; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Columbia, South Carolina; and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. The film was commissioned on the same basis as “Martin Luther” by Lutheran Film Associates, a cooperative agency of the National Lutheran Council, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the United Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church.
Both East and West Germans are now grappling with the Scriptures in search of a common attitude in the face of East zone Communist domination. The New Testament doctrine of the state has two facets; Romans 13 characterizes the “God-state,” while Revelation 13 characterizes the “beast-state.” Paul’s emphasis that government is of divine ordination, charged to preserve justice and restrain evil, has led at times to highly vulnerable interpretations. German Lutheranism’s state church mood in the past has allowed rulers to define the church’s responsibility in government. Political leaders have often gone unchallenged by churchmen, who stressed the duty of political obedience. Since the Hitler regime, Protestant exegetes have increasingly emphasized that Christian obedience is enjoined only as the government rules for God, not when it requires disobedience to the commandments of Scripture. The determination of the Nazi government to stamp out Christian faith is a live memory in German Protestantism. Hitler himself was a professing Catholic.
• Congregational Christian churches favor merger with Evangelical and Reformed churches by a margin of about twenty to one, according to Dr. Fred Hoskins, co-president of the United Church of Christ which is being formed out of the merger. Hoskins says that of 1427 local congregations which have voted on the proposed merger, 1358 have given assent. A number of large Congregational churches have declared their opposition to the union, however, including historic Park Street Church in Boston.
• Thirty-four Lutheran congregations are applying for membership in a new church body to be known as the Church of the Lutheran Confession. All but 2 of the 34 formerly belonged to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. They object to some of the synod’s doctrinal practices and to its continuing relations with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the Synodical Conference of North America.
• The National Baptist Convention, U. S. A., Inc., proposes to purchase 5,000 acres of land in Liberia for American Negroes. Officials of the nation’s largest Negro church organization say the land would be divided into small farms and sold on a nonprofit basis to American Negroes in an effort to teach Liberian natives Christian living and modern farming methods.
• An evangelical group in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar declared itself independent last month and gave notice of its intention to form a new body to be known as the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India. The action culminates tension existing between the “evangelical” and “orthodox” factions within the Mar Thoma church for more than a decade.
• A bid by Mrs. Ingrid Bjerkas to become Norway’s first woman pastor failed last month, but the 59-year-old divinity graduate plans to keep trying. She was passed over in nominations for five vacancies in the state Lutheran church’s Diocese of Hamar, where she had applied for a pastorate. Although Norwegian law has for several years permitted entry of women into the ministry, Mrs. Bjerkas’ application for ordination was the first received. Acceptance of women as pastors has been a controversial issue for several years in the northern European countries where Lutheranism is the state religion. The Church of Denmark, first in the northern countries to ordain women, now has six women ministers. The Church of Sweden admitted its first three women pastors last April. In Finland, the state church has postponed action on the question until 1963.
• The Latin American Evangelist, official organ of the Latin America Mission, is marking its 40th anniversary of continuous publication by adopting a new, larger format beginning with its current issue.
• The 1961 biennial world missions convention of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) will be held in six cities instead of at one center. Regional sessions are scheduled for September 20–22 at Akron, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Chicago, and for September 27–29 at Oklahoma City; Phoenix, Arizona; and Portland, Oregon.
• Some 22,000 Methodist ministers are being polled by a committee formed to revise The Methodist Hymnal. Questions cover use of the hymnal in the local church and opinions of what should be changed.
• Rental or ownership of pews in New York’s Grace Protestant Episcopal Church, a tradition since the parish was founded in 1808, is being abolished. Fees for the use of pews “are an anachronism in 1961,” said the Rev. Benjamin Minifie, rector, in an open letter to parishioners last month.
• A pastor in the Church of Sweden was fined 75 crowns ($14.50) last month for refusing to perform a second marriage for a divorced person. The Rev. Alf Hardelin of Oeja was sentenced under a law which compels ministers of the national Lutheran church to marry all couples wishing a church wedding even if the partners are divorced persons.
England’s Two Archbishops
Word of the planned retirement May 31 of Dr. Geoffrey Francis Fisher as Archbishop of Canterbury was followed by an announcement that Dr. Arthur Michael Ramsey, at present Archbishop of York, had been nominated to succeed him as Primate of All England, and that Dr. Frederick Donald Coggan, now Bishop of Bradford, would move up to Ramsey’s archbishopric.
Both Ramsey and Coggan are in their fifties. Dr. Ramsey is noted as an Anglican churchman and theologian. He is closely involved in the ecumenical movement. At a press conference in Chicago in 1959 he stated that he would be “willing to accept the Pope as a presiding bishop among the bishops of Christendom, but not as infallible.”
Ramsey was ordained in 1929 and, after a short curacy in Liverpool, has held these offices: subwarden of Lincoln Theological College (1930–36), vicar of St. Benedict’s parish, Cambridge (1938–40), Professor of Divinity in the University of Durham and Canon of Durham Cathedral (1940–50), Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge (1950–52), Bishop of Durham (1952–56), Archbishop of York (1956–61).
Dr. Coggan is also a scholar, with a strong interest in preaching, and is well known as an evangelical churchman. Ordained in 1935, he served a curacy in the parish of St. Mary’s Islington, London, a historic evangelical stronghold, whose vicar is chairman ex officio of the annual Islington Clerical Conference, founded by Daniel Wilson a hundred years ago when he was Vicar of Islington. (Dr. Coggan was one of the speakers at this year’s Islington conference, held last month in the Westminster Church House in London.) He left Islington for Canada, where he took up the post of Professor of New Testament at Toronto’s Wycliffe College (1937–44).
He returned to England in 1944 to become principal of the London College of Divinity and held the office until 1956, when he was appointed Bishop of Bradford.
In 1958 Dr. Coggan was made chairman of a commission set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to consider revision of the Psalter. He has also been a member of an archbishop’s commission formed to revise the Catechism of the Church of England. When the report of this commission was presented to the full synod of the Convocation of Canterbury last month, there was criticism because the Devil had been omitted from the proposed new form. The old catechism includes a promise to “renounce the Devil and all his works.” In light of the criticism the commission plans to reconsider before submitting the catechism for final approval.
Evangelicals are particularly gratified over Dr. Coggan’s appointment as Archbishop of York. In former years he was closely associated with the British Inter-Varsity Fellowship. Observers viewed his appointment as the possible beginning of a new period of evangelical influence in the Church of England.
Postmaster General J. Edward Day says his department is planning “the toughest crackdown ever conducted” against those who use the mails for pornography.
The new postal chief adds, however, that he will de-emphasize publicity in the obscenity drive.
“Our approach will be that used by the FBI and other successful law enforcement agencies in that our drive will be conducted without fanfare,” said Day. “Our public statements on the pornography problem will be confined largely to comments on actual results achieved and convictions obtained.”
A Worthy Heresy?
Protestant Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike received a unanimous vote of confidence from 137 ministers of his California diocese following charges of heresy made by a group of Episcopal clergymen in Georgia last month.
The heresy charges, denied by Pike, were based on an article he wrote for the December 21 issue of The Christian Century (CHRISTIANITY TODAY, January 16, p. 21).
The Protestant Episcopal Tri-Convocation Clericus of Albany, Dublin, and Thomasville, Georgia, accused Pike of expressing “disbelief in the Virgin Birth of our Lord, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as stated by the Church and the necessity of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.”
Commenting on the accusations, the bishop spoke of raising a counter-charge of heresy against some of his fellow ministers in Georgia for their practice of racial segregation.
“Now there is a heresy worth discussing,” he said.
Some observers were distressed over the bishop’s assignment to sociological concerns of a priority over the doctrinal, even respecting the supernatural birth of the Founder of the Christian religion.
Violence in the Congo forced the evacuation of dozens of missionaries last month. Rebel activity and inter-provincial strife prompted the U. S. State Department to reiterate an advisory originally issued last summer which urges Americans to leave the country.
As of the beginning of February, about two fifths of the Congo was virtually without a missionary, according to a spokesman for the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association.
“The current chaotic situation,” said the Rev. Wade Coggins, editor of the EFMA’s Missionary News Service, “presents the most serious threat to missionary enterprise in the Congo since independence took effect seven months ago.”
The Katanga Province government ordered the deportation of Archbishop Kyprianos, Greek Orthodox Primate for Central Africa, for allegedly plotting the return to power of ousted Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba.
Missionary evacuations in January were all in western sections of the Congo. A relatively stable situation prevailed in eastern sectors, and missionary work was not interrupted.
Here is a list compiled by the State Department of the most recent missionary evacuations:
AFRICA INLAND MISSION
Fred Achenbach, Edna Amstutz, Mrs. N. Atkinson and children, Dorothy M. Baker, John Barney and family, Laura I. Barr, Grace Barth, C. K. Becker, Jr. and family, Jessie Blanchard, Peter Braschler and family, L. D. Brown and family, L. J. Buyse and family, P. A. Buyse and family, Evelyn Camp, Margaret L. Clapper, G. L. Crossman and family, William A. Deans and family, Donald D. Dix and family, Mr. and Mrs. Earl D. Dix, Lorraine Ernst, Anne Foster, Elizabeth P. Frost, Miss Gifford, J. A. Gratian and family, Mary Hayward, Beatrice King, Virginia Landis, R. M. Lawhead and family, B. L. J. Litchman, J. H. Littlejohns and family, Martha Lohrmann, Olive Love, Behring MacDowell and family, two E. McFall children, Ruth D. Meredith, A. L. Miller, Evelyn Myers, Harold C. Olsen and family, Betty Partridge, Emory Pinkerton and family, L. Pontier and family, E. Carolyn Saltenberger, R. W. Robinson and family, E. G. Schuit and family, Marian L. Settles, Zola B. Smith, Dena Speering, P. Stam and family, Claudon Stauffacher and family, J. R. Stauffacher and family, Florence Stewart, Margaret Stewart, Mr. and Mrs. Paul P. Stouch, Vera E. Thiessen, Florence Vance, Violet Vogel, Kay Waller, Burnetta Wambold, R. A. Ward and family, Mary Watson, Edward Weaver and family, K. White and family, H. W. Wilcke and family, Earl A. Winsor and family, Jane Winterling.
Green Stamps In Church
S & H Green Stamps—1,288,800 of them—bought a new station wagon for the youth department of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
The stamps were collected in a three-month campaign by the church’s teen-agers who visited more than 1,500 homes.
They were traded in for the new car through a special arrangement with dealers.
One mathematically-inclined youngster calculated that if the stamps were laid end to end, they would stretch more than 18 miles.
Ana Best, Louise Buness, Geneva Burkland, James Burroughs and family, Ellen Everett, Bernice Foss, Thomas Humphrey and family, Paul Hurlburt, Jr. and family, Joanna Kile, Helen Kovorkian and daughter, Richard Mattson and family, Beatrice Nelson, Donald Nelson and family, Paul Okken and family, Patricia Pearson, Elwin Pelletier and family, Don Penney and family, Elvin Peters and family, Roy Prester and family, Elfrida Pruitt, Eleanor Schmeltzer, John Simmons and family, Dr. Dwight Slater and family, Dr. John Slater and family, John Swinborne and family, Charles Trout, Jr. and family.
Miss Mary Bozeman, Mr. Alfred Burlbaugh, Mr. Donald Collinson, Mr. Douglas Crowder, Rev. Wayne Culp, Miss Sue Dunham, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Gaddes, Miss Ethel Homfeldt, Miss Dorothy Hughlett, Mr. John Hughlett, Miss Lorena Kelly, Rev. Charles Le Masters, Miss Edith Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Maughlin, Miss Margaret McDougall, Miss Marjorie Murray, Rev. Charles Reeve, Rev. and Mrs. Alexander Reid, Miss Sally Reinecke, Mr. Jack Reitz, Mr. William Richardson, Rev. Harry Speckman, Rev. and Mrs. James R. Stevenson, Mr. Rolla Swanson, Mr. Charles T. Weaver, Mr. and Mrs. John Wesley, Dr. and Mrs. Robert White. (The Methodist missionaries were evacuated by missionary pilot Paul Alexander of Conroe, Texas.)
Assemblies of God: J. J. Friesen and family, Jorgenson and family, J. W. Tucker and family. Christian Missions in Many Lands: R. D. Carpenter and family, Phil Claar and family, Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Green, Miss G. Koppe (Canadian).
Members of the Old Order Amish Mennonites and other religious sects which oppose participation in the Social Security program on conscientious grounds will not be required to take out social security numbers or list them on their income tax returns.
This will not exempt the Amish, however, from paying the “self-employment tax” to which all farmers are obligated.
Many Amish have refused to take out a social security number, explaining that they take care of their own aged and infirm members and that they do not want government benefits.
Some have also refused to pay the tax and the Internal Revenue Service went so far at one point as to confiscate the horses of a number of Ohio farmers.
Evangelist Billy Graham opened his 10-week Florida crusade with a pair of week-end rallies in Jacksonville Coliseum which drew an aggregate crowd of more than 35,000.
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