A more tragic cleft within Protestantism than that of denominationalism is the “deepening cleavage and complete lack of communication between that segment of American Protestantism which adheres to what one of its intellectual leaders has described as ‘classical orthodoxy’ and, on the other hand, that segment to which most of us belong, which might be described as a more ‘liberal orthodoxy.’ ”

The speaker was Dr. James E. Wagner, president of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and co-president of the merging United Church of Christ; his forum was the February meeting of the General Board of the National Council of Churches in Syracuse, New York; and he had a newsmaking proposition:

“I would like to see the National Council seek to initiate with devout and competent representatives of our avowedly more orthodox brethren a series of quiet, unpublicized, prayerful consultations aimed at restoring confidence and communication between those whose differing from one another is really one of degree of adherence to what all would recognize as the great Christian tradition.”

Stretching to retain for his NCC fellows both liberal and orthodox values, Dr. Wagner asserted, “We believe we are true to the historic Christian faith, but we interpret that faith in the light of the historical circumstances which have marked its development through the centuries.”

He identified the classical orthodox group as being represented “in the better element in such organizations as the National Association of Evangelicals, just as we find ourselves at home in the National Council. The ‘orthodox’ group now has an influential journal, respectable in its literary and intellectual quality [Dr. Wagner did not specify CHRISTIANITY TODAY by name], just as ‘liberal orthodoxy’ has found its voice in The Christian Century. The very effectiveness of these journals and the competent scholarship to be found in both segments of American Protestantism really tend to aid and abet a deepening of the cleavage between the two groups.”

Dr. Wagner told of another concern close to his heart: that NCC pronouncements “be so clearly grounded in the Bible and in biblical faith, so patiently interspersed with pertinent Bible references” to make evident to all that “we in the National Council family are no less committed to the Scriptures as our ultimate authority in faith and practice than are our brothers and sisters who tend to claim that they and they alone are ‘true to the Bible.’ ”

In a subsequent interview with this magazine, Dr. Wagner indicated his growing concern that something be done about the “spectacle” before the nonbelieving public of responsible Christian leaders from the “two major segments of denominational Protestantism” at times “sniping at each other” and generally “holding aloof” from each other. He feels that there is common ground between “classical orthodoxy” and “liberal orthodoxy,” that their differences are intellectual (matters of doctrine and biblical interpretation) and not spiritual. “We both trust the same Saviour. We both call Jesus Lord.”

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Dr. Wagner confessed a certain wariness about articles in liberal periodicals where the “commitment” of the author “to Christ as Saviour and Lord” is in question. Professing to be “no extreme liberal,” he mused over his own background in the conservative Churches of God in North America, which emerged out of a revival movement among Pennsylvania Germans in 1825. Among this group, Dr. Wagner preached his first sermon at the age of 16, a year after making his profession of faith in an interdenominational evangelistic meeting.

Having maintained friendships from his more conservative days, Dr. Wagner seems nothing if not deeply sincere in his desire for quiet consultations across theological lines. Though a member of NCC’s General Board since its establishment and a past vice-president, he asserts that his remarks were made entirely on his own initiative and without previous planning with NCC leadership. Membership reaction was very favorable, he reports, and he is ready to push the matter if desirable, from his new position as chairman of the General Constituent Membership Committee. He believes the substance of his remarks should be a “major portion” of NCC concern in its second decade of existence.

As to the nature of the proposed consultations, Dr. Wagner denies he is thinking along ecclesiastical lines (in quest of church mergers) but rather declares his concern to be “in terms of theology and mission,” the latter being defined as “outreach for the unsaved here and abroad.” “My concern is not in any sense with any possible absorption of NAE or any other organization by NCC.”

General Board Pronouncements

Here are actions taken at last month’s meeting in Syracuse of the General Board of the National Council of Churches:

• Use of artificial birth control methods was approved as morally acceptable for planned parenthood. The board’s pronouncement on “Responsible Parenthood” was approved by a vote of 83 to 0, with Orthodox delegates abstaining because their communions recognize sexual abstinence as the only method of limiting families. Although the vote was technically unanimous, the pronouncement had the recorded support of only a third of the board’s 250 members, only about 115 of whom turned up for the Syracuse meeting (many were absent because of the airlines’ strike). The pronouncement opposed legal prohibitions against dissemination of birth control information. Abortion was condemned, except when the mother’s health is endangered.

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• An advisory was prepared for local churches cautioning against use of the controversial “Operation Abolition” film without supplementary facts. The advisory questions whether the film accurately represents student demonstrations at a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco last spring.

• A pronouncement was adopted recording opposition to the use of public funds to aid sectarian and other private schools.

Dr. Wagner’s remarks to the General Board were a commentary on the report of Dr. Roy G. Ross, NCC general secretary. He noted Ross’s expressed regret “that there are still a considerable number of Protestant and Orthodox communions which are neither engaged in conversations regarding organic unity nor joined together in the fellowship and witness of this Council of Churches.” TO CHRISTIANITY TODAY Dr. Wagner said: “Some of us look forward hopefully to the day when communions like Assemblies of God, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Churches of God in North America, to say nothing of Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans, will share more closely in the life, work and witness of the National Council.” But this, he said, was not the aim of his proposed consultations.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY elicited the following reactions:

The Rev. Thomas F. Zimmerman, NAE president: “It is evident that Dr. James E. Wagner’s statement was not hastily conceived. Therefore, I feel that it is inappropriate for me to hastily set forth an official reaction from the NAE viewpoint.” He said the statement would be discussed at a regular meeting of an NAE policy committee March 13.

Dr. Ramsey Pollard, president of the Southern Baptist Convention: “We would not give up any of our deep-seated convictions about the Scriptures … and there is no basis for fellowship unless people are agreed.”

Dr. John W. Behnken, president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: “In last December’s NCC General Assembly, there wasn’t any concern, from what I read, about doctrinal matters. We are already talking with other Lutherans on doctrine.”

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Dr. Carl McIntire, president of the International Council of Christian Churches: “It is impossible to negotiate with men who are denying and compromising the Word of God.”

Dr. Reuben R. Figuhr, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: “We … believe that clearer communication between various groups and all attempts to increase Christian fellowship are beneficial.… However, we … would not want to comment … unless it materializes as a definite plan that can be carefully studied.”

Evangelical Comments

NCC’s bid for intimate conversations with unaffiliated evangelicals has evoked varied reactions from conservative leaders:

Sympathetically, some say that:

1. The evangelical witness of conservatives should be lifted into face-to-face ecumenical confrontation.

2. The witness of evangelical forces within theologically-inclusive ecumenical agencies should be reinforced.

3. The fragmented witness of Protestantism calls for patient pursuit of wider church unity on a regenerate basis.

Critically, some say that:

1. The strong conservative contingent already within NCC is constantly penalized by ecumenism’s overall commitment to theological inclusivism. (Specially cited are WCC’s power-thrust for control of world missions, which is meshing IMC into WCC over the protests of evangelicals; and the open ecumenical sympathy and undercover support given the liberal Christian Century which, hard-pressed by CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S gains, has announced a $500,000 revitalization program, with NCC’s wealthy lay president, J. Irwin Miller, an ardent supporter [Time recently said of Miller that “he was for years sole angel of the Christian Century, still meets most of the magazine’s deficit”].)

2. Conservative positions are constantly ignored by organizational pronouncements (for example, NCC’s violated assurances to the National Lay Committee, of which J. Howard Pew was chairman, against promulgation of partisan politico-economic programs for which church leaders have no special competence or mandate; also the Cleveland “pro-Red China” positions; even in Syracuse, positions were taken approving artificial birth control—with Greek Orthodox participants abstaining—and cautioning churches against showing the film “Operation Abolition” without supplementation).

3. The NCC encourages conversations, while simultaneously promoting programs that penalize the free opportunities of non-related agencies (for example, NCC’s widening control of Protestant religious broadcasting and telecasting opportunities).

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4. The “brotherhood versus bigotry” technique is now widely successful as a sheer political tactic.

5. The alternative to inclusive ecumenism is evangelical ecumenism, and any conversation should be biblically-oriented, examining present structures in the light of the nature and authority of the Church.


Protestant Panorama

• United Presbyterian congregations in the Philadelphia area will be asked to sign “Covenants of Open Occupancy” as part of a campaign against race discrimination in residential housing. The Philadelphia Presbytery’s social action committee will ask church members to pledge that they will not discriminate against neighbors of other races.

• Southern Baptists showed gains in 1960 in all major categories except one, according to statistics released this month. Baptisms of converts fell from 429,063 for the previous year to 386,469 for 1960. Baptist leaders attributed the decline to “normal fluctuation” and to a simultaneous revival campaign in 1959 which was not repeated last year.

• Bishops in Sweden’s State Lutheran Church are appealing to King Gustav Adolf for the right of clergymen to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for divorced persons. Their petition grows out of a court decision in which a pastor was fined for declining to officiate at a second marriage for a divorced person.

• Twenty Cleveland pastors representing fourteen congregations are conducting weekday morning worship services on a cooperative basis for those unable to attend church on Sunday. The services are held at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ministers of the cooperating churches take turns in officiating at the services.

The Christian Century, undenominational weekly, is appealing for financial support from readers to undergird a projected expansion program. According to a statement in the March 1 issue, trustees of the Christian Century Foundation seek to increase its development fund by $500,000, half of which has been promised by an unnamed Christian philanthropic organization contingent upon the raising of the other half from additional sources. The trustees say they believe that the weekly’s circulation (currently about 35,000) can be doubled in five years.

• Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, minister emeritus of New York’s Riverside Church, is donating his entire library of theology and resource books to two overseas seminaries. Some 1,400 books will be divided equally between the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico and Dondi Seminary in Angola, West Africa.

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‘Question 7’

More than a third of the world’s inhabitants, if they would serve God, must contend with Communist resistance. Many find that limited liberties present a far greater dilemma than outright suppression. The artistic portrayal of this theme makes “Question 7” one of the most significant films of our time.

A 110-minute drama set amidst the Church-State conflict in East Germany, “Question 7” exposes the subtle Communist strategy of attempting to exploit religious channels for Communist ends. Actual incidents in East Germany, as documented over the last four years by scenarist Allen Sloane, form the basis for the film, which had its world premiere March 2 in Washington, D. C., and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It promises to be well received by Christians in the free world, and should serve to instill gratitude for the opportunity to worship without fear of reprisal.

The absorbing story concerns a 15-year-old pastor’s son who aspires to be a pianist. He must choose between assuming the role of a “radish, ‘red’ but only on the outside,” or standing for his faith and thereby inviting oblivion. The plot raises questions as to the nature of the Gospel’s social relevance (whether on the spiritual or political level), and drives home the point that real freedom is something Christ alone creates.

An international, professional cast is led by British actor Michael Gwynn and Christian de Bresson, a French youth who has lived in America for a number of years. Almut Eggert, charming 21-year-old German actress who plays the young pianist’s girl friend, knows the film as a true-to-life situation: she has an uncle who, like the “Question 7” pastor, volunteered to forsake free Germany for a parish in the East Zone.

The title of the film refers to a questionnaire issued by Communist authorities. Commissioned by Lutheran Film Associates, Inc., “Question 7” was produced by Lothar Wolff and Louis de Rochemont Associates, all of whom collaborated similarly on “Martin Luther.”

Mission to Canada

A team of noted evangelicals are conducting a four-month “Mission to Canada” which has the blessing of top denominational leaders.

The 22,000-mile evangelistic tour led by Tom Rees, Anglican lay preacher, was formally begun at a commissioning service in Toronto last month. Among those who took part in the service were Anglican Archbishop Howard H. Clark, Primate of all Canada, the Rt. Rev. Hugh A. McLeod, moderator of the United Church of Canada’s general council, the Rt. Rev. Robert Lennox, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s General Assembly, the Rev. Gerald M. Ward, president of the Baptist Federation of Canada, and Commissioner W. Wycliffe Booth of the Salvation Army.

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Musicians for the team are Frank Boggs of Atlanta, Georgia, and Lex Smith of Glasgow, Scotland. Clergymen include the Revs. A. LeDrew Gardner, Arthur Rose, Alan Stephens, and Maurice A. P. Wood.

This month the team is touring the Maritime provinces and Quebec. Meetings in Ontario will be held from March 28 to April 25, and the team will then proceed to Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Final meetings will be held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in July.

Cult Research

A new quarterly devoted to the study of cults made its debut last month under the name Religious Research Digest. Editor is Walter R. Martin.

Religious Giving

Total religious giving in 1960 for all faiths reached an estimated $4.18 billion, compared with $3.9 billion the previous year, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel.

Oberammergau Film

A filmstrip worship service, based on photographs of the 1960 Oberammergau Passion Play and designed for use at the Easter season, is being released in the United States through the Christian Education Press of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. More than 200 U.S. bookstores are handling distribution.

Barabbas on TV

Hallmark’s “Hall of Fame” color television series will present an original drama, “Give Us Barabbas,” over the NBC-TV network on Palm Sunday, March 26. James Daly, veteran actor who starred in Archibald MacLeish’s Pulitzer Prize-winning verse drama, “J. B.” will play the leading role. “Give Us Barabbas” was written by Henry Denker, who produced and directed the radio series, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Crime Increase

Serious crime showed a 12 per cent increase in 1960 over the previous year, according to a preliminary survey made public this month by the FBI.

Aid to Education

Official Roman Catholic reaction to President John F. Kennedy’s plan for federal aid to education scores the multibillion dollar proposal on grounds that it excludes help to private and parochial schools. The plan does provide for scholarships in church-related colleges.

In a statement released by the National Catholic Welfare Conference in Washington, Bishop Lawrence J. Shehan, chairman of the conference’s department of education, expressed “keen disappointment” that the plan “denies even the least bit of help to five million children in non-public elementary and secondary schools.”

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At Lenten devotions in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, Bishop Joseph F. Flannelly called upon some 2,000 persons to write their Congressmen to protest the Kennedy plan.

Another issue in New York state is Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s tuition-aid program. Last month the State Council of Churches withdrew its opposition to the program in a statement saying it no longer considers the plan unconstitutional. It was emphasized, however, that the council is not endorsing the plan or expressing preference for it over other higher education proposals. The American Jewish Congress reaffirmed its opposition.

Upholding Bus Rides

The U. S. Supreme Court upheld last month the constitutionality of public school bus transportation for parochial school students.

In a seven to two per curiam (by the court) order, the nation’s highest tribunal declined to hear an appeal from a group of Newtown, Connecticut taxpayers.

The court’s opinion noted that Justices Felix Frankfurter and William O. Douglas felt that the case should have been heard. However, four of the nine justices must vote to take a case, before a hearing is granted and the other seven members of the court apparently agreed with the motion to dismiss filed by Connecticut’s Attorney General, who said the constitutional issue had already been resolved by a 1947 decision which held that it was legal for New Jersey to pay for transportation of children to private schools.

Churches Under Castro

The Cuban government wants to establish two national churches—one Roman Catholic and the other Protestant—according to refugees interviewed by Religion Editor Adon Taft of the Miami Herald.

“Severing the Cuban Catholic Church from its ties with Rome and setting up a Cuban ‘Pope,’ with Communist leanings” says Taft, “appears to be the first aim of the present government.” He went on to add that harassment of Protestant churches has begun and “half a dozen clergymen working in the government are being groomed to become the ‘hierarchy’ of the national Protestant church, with one of them slated to become boss of the church with cabinet rank.”

Brazilian Incident

Seven missionaries and three children from the interdenominational New Tribes Mission were jailed at a remote Brazilian army guard house last month. U. S. State Department intervention prompted their immediate release.

J. B. Knutson, general secretary of the mission, termed “homicide” charges against the missionaries as ridiculous. Their arrests were reportedly made at the urging of Roman Catholic authorities. Reports said that the missionaries had been jailed at Manaus, an Amazon River town 1,000 miles inland, after having been arrested by soldiers at Bobope, 900 miles northwest of Manaus. The missionaries were allegedly accused of “teaching Christians to poison people, prohibiting them from planting their farms and raising chickens and pigs, and instructing them to burn Roman Catholic churches and break their images.”

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Those arrested were Mr. and Mrs. James Curtis and their two children, Mr. Walnie Kliewer, and Miss Myrtle Rehn, all of whom are Americans; also Mr. and Mrs. Henry Loewen, their son, and Miss Elizabeth Koop, who are Canadians.

Reaching the Moros

A missionary to Bolivia is reported to have made successful contact with the fierce Moro tribe.

The missionary, William Pencille, has spent a month with the tribe in the Salinas de Santiago region of Bolivia, according to Mennonite Brethren Church headquarters in Hillsboro, Kansas. Mennonites and other missionaries have been trying for years to establish relations with the Moros, who live in the jungle border area of Bolivia and Paraguay. Not only have their efforts failed, but the Moros have killed and wounded a number of colonists in sporadic attacks.

Kornelius Issak, a Mennonite missionary, was killed by Moros in 1958 while trying to visit them in Paraguay.

Pencille’s contact included talks with the Indian chief whose son is thought to have been Issak’s murderer.

During Pencille’s stay, another tribe with whom the Moros had long been at war came to the village and agreed to a peace treaty.

The Lagos Outburst

Nigeria has been one of the most fruitful fields for mission work in Africa, largely because of its favorable attitude toward other races. Acceptance of the white man has given an open door, generally speaking, to the Gospel. Missionaries were therefore carefully noting reaction to the Congo chaos, especially following the announcement of Patrice Lumumba’s death. Pro-Lumumba riots were expected in Ghana, Guinea, and the United Arab Republic. But an unheralded outburst of anti-white feeling in Nigeria came as a shock to missionary forces in Africa’s largest—and most stable—state. Whites were stoned, and wild demonstrations took place in Lagos.

Some church leaders and missionaries at first feared that further violence might follow, and that, as in the Congo, missionaries would not be differentiated from other whites in the racial fever.

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But reassurance came from the Federal Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who officially condemned the “acts of hooliganism.”

The Minister of Information, the Hon. Theophilus O. Benson, although a member of one party which had issued an anti-white manifesto, also denounced the demonstrations, and they have been largely dismissed as isolated otubreaks by a few left-wing youth leaders.


A Diverted Gift

A sleek pleasure boat which former President Eisenhower had planned to present to Soviet Premier Khrushchev will be used instead to take the Gospel to a remote part of Ethiopia.

The boat was returned to the manufacturer after cancellation of Eisenhower’s trip to Moscow last spring, and it was subsequently purchased by the West Allis (Wisconsin) United Presbyterian Church to be given in turn to their denominational mission in Ethiopia. The craft’s destination is a region accessible only by river during the rainy season. Even then the river is only a few inches deep.

The 19-foot boat, which operates on a jet principle (ejecting water to propel it), is particularly useful in very shallow water.

The Rev. R. Byron Crozier, pastor of the West Allis church, will fly to East Africa to make an official presentation.

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