The problem of identity seems to be an increasing one in the ranks of the clergy of America today. Who is the minister? What is he actually trying to do? Is he just an ordinary “joe” trying to get along? Is he a professional “do-gooder” with a Messianic complex? Where does he fit into the age of space?
It may be remembered that 17 years ago the United States government released a master list of all occupations in the nation that were essential to the war effort. There was not a preacher, parson, minister, clergyman, D.R.E., D.C.E., or even a church janitor in the entire list. (The nearest miss was a “pulpit man” in a steel mill.) The government was not discriminating against the ministers; it would probably say it was being realistic. Certainly it was reflecting a feeling, prevalent today on both sides of the Iron Curtain, that the ministry is irrelevant to the real needs of our time.
The heart of the problem, says Dean Froyd of Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, is the minister’s “struggle to be himself.” If he seems to be “waffling” in the world scene today, it is due to the fact that he cannot quite pinpoint himself on the map.
“At the beginning of our ministry,” Froyd told the American Baptists, “most of us probably felt we knew who we were. We started out with what we felt to be a fairly clear image of ourselves, not only as individuals and as Christians but also as persons called to the ministry of Jesus Christ. We felt we could plant our feet on confident ground and say, ‘This is me, this is where I stand.’ ”
But today, he says, “for many, the ground on which they once stood is gone, vanished from under their feet.” And he adds that in spite of the resultant frustration, tension, and conflict, many ministers just go on living in it, so that “our lives look like an unorganized brush pile.”
Whether or not Dean Froyd is right, during the next few years we can look for an increasing concentration by the social sciences on the minister, his tensions and his frustrations. To the young psychosocial researcher the minister seems such a delightful anachronism living in a world dominated by the scientific Zeitgeist.
Because of the increasing scientific interest in clergymen, Roy Burkhart’s therapy sessions with ministers around the country, described in this issue, make significant reading. Multiplied a hundredfold, they tell us how important it is for the minister to find himself and his true vocation under God. Surely the welfare of the Church depends upon a clarification of the position and purpose of the Christian ministry in our day.
We believe that the real answers to these problems have already been given, and that the direction to be taken is not so much learning as remembering. When at the close of his life A. B. Simpson was asked by a young minister for some word of advice, he replied, “Stick to your original vision.” If Dean Froyd’s analysis is correct, then the path for the minister today means in many cases a retracing of steps. It is not impossible; men have been doing it since the days of Jonah. At the risk of appearing hopelessly out-of-date ourselves, we dare to suggest that the minister will never find himself until he sets about his Father’s business, which is the gathering of souls into His Kingdom.
The pastor who is leading others Sunday by Sunday and week by week into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is not torn by conflict and frustration. He has his problems, but they are overmatched by the positive effect that he knows he is having on the lives of others. Why did Jesus tell the story of the “ninety and nine,” if it was not to point out the importance of the lost sheep to the shepherd? At the end of the day a minister can feel exhausted by the commitments he has been forced to keep, but if he can point to one interview that helped turn a soul from darkness to light, from sin to deliverance, from Satan to Jesus Christ, he counts that day good.
The minister is God’s man to do God’s work in God’s time, by God’s method, in order to bring men into the fullness of God’s salvation and to keep them there. This is who he is, and this is what he does. The man who honors God is never irrelevant; he becomes irrelevant only when he abandons his exalted relationship and tries to put the Church in open competition with the programs of men. If this be pious cant—and we don’t think it is—make the most of it.
LABOR AND MANAGEMENT IN NCC ECONOMIC DECISIONS
Criticism of bias in the Department of the Church and Economic Life is deplored by some spokesmen for the National Council of Churches who insist that representation of labor and management is balanced.
Not counting 21 participants from other National Council agencies, the 1961–63 Department membership lists 36 clergy or church-related and 12 seminary-related personnel, 15 educators (mainly economists), 16 labor and 12 management spokesmen. There is an imbalance of clergy and laity; of denominations (30 of the 114 members are Methodists); of geographical distribution (14 members from the District of Columbia, 28 states unrepresented).
Do clergy participants actually vote the convictions of their constituencies, or register their own views, or whose? When former Congressman Byron L. Johnson of Colorado supported the minimum wage bill as representative of the Department of the Church and Economic Life, he told the House subcommittee on Education and Labor that “the views I am presenting were adopted by official representatives of the Council’s constituent communions.” Is this the fact?
Are NCC’s committeemen for industry as truly representative as those for labor? The Department includes 16 labor leaders and 12 from industry, mostly of liberal economic views. Several management members rarely show up as representatives, yet their names are retained year after year, and no effective alternates are named. The small committee turnover each triennium creates the image of a self-perpetuating committee.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (which supports Right to Work) and its 50 state Farm Bureau organizations (at least 45 of these support Right to Work) are curiously “represented” by the Ohio Farm Bureau, which sponsors the views of organized labor, and whose president opposes Right to Work. Many management “representatives” seem regularly to take positions diametrically opposed to those registered by recognized management organizations. The Right to Work issue is a prime example. Virtually every management association holding a position on this question favors Right to Work. Yet only four persons in the Department supported Right to Work when it was last considered in October, 1959, and defeated 24–4 with no abstentions.
The Department of the Church and Economic Life was helped into existence by a substantial gift from United Auto Workers (Walter Reuther and his brother Victor were early appointed committeemen), and it has received $100,000 from the Philip Murray Foundation and at least $1,000 from Sidney Hillman Foundation.
I Believe …
Christian scholars need to challenge the behaviorists and logical positivists who would reduce religious-metaphysical language to nonsense.
Not every theological counterclaim is a satisfactory alternative, however. To say that all language (religious language especially, some would say) is merely symbolic and nonliteral is a particularly objectionable concession, even if some clergymen propose to “rescue” significance for spiritual realities this way. In fact, so naturalistic a theory of linguistics (postulating the sensory origin of all religious ideas) underlies this concession that many outright unbelievers could and would gladly join with apostates in pious recitation or intonation of the historic creeds. Basic Christian doctrines are no intellectual stumbling block to anybody who believes that—interpreted as religious poetry or music—these tenets need not be regarded as literally true.
Judged by biblical criteria, such verbal legerdemain is simply evasion and deceit. Indignation over such a maneuver, however, presupposes—and rightly, we think—the conviction that divinely-revealed truths are integral to the Christian religion. On the other hand, those who deny that affirmations about the supernatural are to be taken literally are in effect attacking the very possibility of objectively true or false theological beliefs.
DO MODERN BIBLES HANDLE DOCTRINAL PASSAGES LOOSELY?
In his recent work on The English Bible, F. F. Bruce recalls that Bible translator James Moffatt once found himself billed for a public lecture by the announcement: “Author of Bible to Lecture Tonight.”
The twentieth century is expending vast energy in Bible paraphrasing, revision, and translation. More efforts are yet to appear—by individuals, by interdenominational agencies, by interfaith groups. Some will make a durable contribution to the life of the Church; each will doubtless be accompanied by astonishingly clever propaganda.
Despite America’s “religion-in-life boom,” religious instruction here as elsewhere is at a low level. Many persons consciously allow the King James Bible little more daily significance than the Latin Bible held at the end of the Middle Ages. But some persons are pleasantly surprised to discover the Bible in the English of daily conversation, and this is doubtless noteworthy.
If modern Bibles have one besetting weakness it is their tendency to careless handling of theological and doctrinal passages. Is it great gain for the Church if, along with vivid narration of Paul’s adventures in Acts, or an elucidating translation of Hebrews, the theological idea of propitiation is needlessly clouded? The Reformation interest in a Bible in the language of the people was theological as well as devotional. The Church will be spiritually renewed in our day only if the Bible becomes theologically alive and significant.
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