The following report was prepared by Dr. James DeForest Murch:
In an atmosphere of ecumenical urgency 11,000 Disciples of Christ met in Kansas City, September 29-October 4, for the 1961 assembly of the International Convention of Christian Churches.
From the opening address by President Perry Epler Gresham through the bold ecumenical message of J. Irwin Miller, Disciple president of the National Council of Churches, the theme of Christian unity hung over the assembly, largest in history.
Historically the Disciples communion had its inception in the Declaration and Address, an ecumenical document written in 1809 by Thomas Campbell, then a Presbyterian minister on the Allegheny frontier. Traditionally the Disciples pleaded for the unity of all Christians through restoration of the New Testament Church in doctrine, ordinances, and life. Their fellowship grew with amazing rapidity to become one of the largest religious bodies in America. Today the movement is fragmented into three schools of ecumenical thought with a total membership of some 5,000,000. A Kansas City segment is led by left-wing interpreters of “the plea” who have abandoned the “restoration” concept and joined the mainstream of the modern ecumenical movement.
Miller, who is the first layman and the first Disciple to be an NCC president, said “Christians for 1,500 years have gone to the Scriptures, selected an inference here, a verse there, skipped over passages which didn’t quite fit in. and each has come up with the right answer and the correct blueprint and has said, ‘I belong to Christ. I have all the answers.’ The only problem is that nearly everyone has come up with a different answer and a different blueprint.”
Added Miller: “When we say, as the Corinthians did, ‘I belong to Christ,’ implying that we have the final truth, that ours is the correct theology, that our answers in church practice are right in some final unchangeable way, then we are commiting ourselves to a static, finished religion whose members can hope only to look back, only to contemplate an ever receding past. When we admit that our knowledge is imperfect, then we hold before ourselves and all men the exciting prospect of adding to our knowledge and enlarging our understanding of our heavenly Father and his purpose for us.…”
President Gresham was respectful of Disciple heritage, while expressing unqualified approval of all efforts toward realization of a united church embracing all followers of Christ. “I welcome,” said Gresham, “any means to promote this end insofar as the Bible is not replaced by human creeds and the absolute Lordship of Christ is not called in question. It is my view that all Christians could unite under the constitution of the New Testament more readily than sovereign denominations could merge. The heritage of the Christian churches continues to call for the union of all Christians everywhere on the basis of one Lord, one Bible and one Fellowship.…”
Assembly Upholds Congregational Autonomy
In contrast to long-range denominational plans which may spell the end of congregational autonomy, the 1961 assembly of the Disciples of Christ upheld the right of local churches to operate as they please.
A proposal urging the National City Christian Church of Washington, D. C., to speed up racial integration was overwhelmingly defeated on the grounds that such action would violate traditional Disciples polity.
“This is not to be construed as a disposition on the issue of segregation or desegregation,” said a statement of the convention’s committee on recommendations.
The real issue before the assembly was whether the church’s unique relationship to the convention (it had been built with funds raised through the convention) made it subject to convention control. The assembly action resolved the issue in favor of local autonomy.
The Washington church is located on the edge of a Negro area. The congregation is predominantly white, although a few Negroes worship there regularly. The congregation has an integrated vacation Bible school and a Negro superintendent in the Sunday school.
“No one has ever been rejected for church membership,” said the Rev. George R. Davis, minister, “and I shall accept anyone who comes down the aisle.”
Delegates of the assembly voted to enter into conversations with the United Church of Christ looking toward merger. But Disciples are plagued by a congregational structure in which local churches are not bound by decisions of the assembly. As an editorial in the August 9, 1961, issue of The Christian Century noted, “… the loose and haphazard structure of Disciples organization is such that the denomination cannot act as a church in relation to union, no matter how hard it tries and no matter how large a proportion of its members are ready to put their historic principles into ecumenical practice.”
The leadership of the International Convention moved at Kansas City to remedy this situation through a plan to “restructure the brotherhood.” A commission was set up which will work out ways and means and report to a later assembly.
The idea of restructure had its origin in the biennial meeting of the Council of Agencies at Culver Stockton College, in July, 1958. The committee dealing with the plan was appointed by the Board of Directors of the International Convention. It polled 1,000 carefully screened ministers, lay leaders and seminary students and learned that there was a “strong demand” that outmoded procedures be scrapped in favor of a new and imaginative church structure.
The committee’s work gate rise to actions taken at the last three Disciples assemblies: a resolution (Number 34) passed by the Denver assembly two t ears ago, a report (Number 30) received by the Louisville assembly last year, and another report (also Number 30) received by the 1961 Kansas City assembly. These actions constitute the initial step toward restructure.
The committee proposed developing a new theology of the nature and mission of the church looking toward restructure for bigger and broader involvement in keeping with an “over-all master plan that will relate each part to the whole.” 4 his new structure would extend beyond Disciple borders, including their “historic concern for Christian unity.” Every level of Disciple structure would be involved in a new denominational structure—“its church members, its ministry, its functioning, its authority, city unions, district and state conventions and organizations, its International Convention and all agencies reporting to it, colleges, seminaries, benevolent homes, national planning bodies and involvement in all ecumenical bodies.” Each of these units would be properly related to a central government. “Autonomy” and “self government” would be replaced by “interdependence” and “responsibility” to proper official authority.
A tentative blueprint of the new denominational structure is already being drawn up for presentation to the churches in an intensive program of education, propaganda and legal action. There will be conferences and consultations, speakers in conventions and institutes, lectures in seminaries, articles in the religious press, study courses, books, brochures and tracts. An “informed and experienced” cadre of denominational leaders will be “at the heart of the restructuring process,” directing and guiding the operation.
The undertaking will be of such magnitude that it “should probably involve the Brotherhood for most or all of the decade of the 1960s.” This does not mean that there will be delay in inaugurating important phases of the overall plan. “It is probable that some reorganizational moves will be made effective within three or four years.” Each will fit nicely into the whole design which is already well conceived in the official “inner circle” of the convention leadership. By 1969 the new ecclesiasticism will be complete and will be ready to move legally in effecting merger with the United Church of Christ.
Objective observers, while admitting the feasability of restructure and merger, in view of liberal control of the convention, also feel that ecumenical achievement will bring a split in the communion. A large segment of local churches and ministers have long ago ceased to cooperate with the convention in protest against theological liberalism and emergent ecclesiasticism. It is estimated by some observers that at least a million communicants may defect.
Miller’s church is a good example of what is happening. He was an elder of First Christian Church, Columbus, Indiana, one of the largest in the state. His views on theology and ecumenicity were not shared by his pastor. Finally he and 200 members of the congregation withdrew to form the North Christian Church, leaving 1,500 members of First Church to carry on with traditional conservative policies such as do most Columbus area churches.
• Dr. Robert Lindsey, American Southern Baptist missionary who was injured while trying to smuggle an Arab youth from Jordan into Israel, was returned by Jordan authorities for treatment in the New City of Jerusalem. Official Israeli circles indicated that no formal charges would be preferred against Lindsey, who underwent amputation of one foot after he stepped on a land mine in no man’s land.
• The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. will be asked to rule on the suspension of a Presbyterian pacifist minister who for more than 10 years has refused to pay a major portion of his income taxes. The Cincinnati Presbytery suspended the Rev. Maurice F. McCrackin for ignoring an Internal Revenue Service summons. The Presbyterian Synod of Ohio upheld an appeal made by McCrackin, but ordered that the suspension remain effective while the presbytery carries the case to the General Assembly.
• Missouri Synod Lutheran churches are marking the 150th anniversary this month of the birth of Dr. C. F. W. Walther, first president of the Missouri Synod.
• A Greek court ruled unanimously last month that Protestant clergymen have the legal right to use the title of “Reverend.” The decision was handed down in the appeal of the Rev. Spiros Zodhiates of New York, a Baptist minister who is general secretary of the American Mission to Greeks. A lower court hid convicted Zodhiates in a suit brought by Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Christopher Kalyvas, who maintained that only priests of the Greek Orthodox Church had a right to use the title. Zodhiates has purchased space in Greek periodicals for evangelically-oriented messages over his name and that of his mission.
• A meeting between Pope John XXIII and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Dr. Archibald Campbell Craig, now appears likely for next year. Special committees of the Scottish church have authorized a courtesy call on the Pope if an invitation is extended when Craig goes to Rome for celebrations marking the centenary of the Scots Kirk (St. Andrews Church) there.
• Mennonite Brethren College of Winnipeg, Manitoba, has become an affiliate of Waterloo Lutheran University of Kitchener, Ontario. The relationship provides that the students at the Winnipeg campus may receive degrees from the Kitchener university. Similar academic standards and regulations will prevail.
• A nonprofit organization headed by evangelist Billy Graham is establishing a 10,000-watt radio station at Black Mountain, North Carolina. The Federal Communications Commission has assigned to the group a commercial license with a wave length of 1,010 meters and the call letters WFGW.
• The new Conwell School of Theology, located on the Temple University campus in Philadelphia, opened its classroom doors for the first time last month. A successor to the Temple School of Theology, the new interdenominational seminary is named for the late Dr. Russell Conwell, a noted Baptist clergyman who founded the university. It is independently incorporated.
• Dr. and Mrs. Charles E. Fuller are marking their 50th wedding anniversary this month. Fuller has been the voice of the renowned “Old Fashioned Revival Hour” for nearly 37 years.
• A new theological journal, independent but Lutheran-oriented, is scheduled to make its debut in January. Dr. Carl E. Braaten, professor at Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, has been named editor. The magazine, to be called Dialog, will be published, promoted, and distributed by Sacred Design Associates, Inc., an independent religious publishing house in Minneapolis.
• A 34-voice “Korean Orphan Choir” is touring North America under the auspices of World Vision.
Visiting The President
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Benedictos I paid a visit to the White House this month to bestow upon President Kennedy a decoration which includes a tiny fragment of wood said to be a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
It was the first meeting ever to take place between a U. S. president and a Greek Orthodox patriarch.
A citation praised the president for “your endeavors in the name of the God of peace and justice.”
Two days earlier, Kennedy received a delegation of United Presbyterian officials led by State Clerk Eugene Carson Blake. They discussed plans for a multi-million dollar National Presbyterian Church and Center in Washington. Later the delegation met with former President Eisenhower, who is honorary chairman of the sponsors’ committee for the project.
A new law in the District of Columbia prohibits examination of any minister in connection with any communication made to him in his professional capacity, without consent of the party to such communication. The exemption is similar to that enjoyed by attorneys and physicians.
Religion And Labor
The Religion and Labor Council of America formally opened a new national headquarters in Washington, D. C., last month. Dr. Kenneth Watson, Methodist minister, is executive director.
The Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, which has an annual income of some $18,000,000, regained tax exemption last month from the Tennessee Board of Equalization.
The board’s latest ruling prohibits the city of Nashville from imposing property taxes on the publishing house. It affects only the 1961 assessments, however, which the city had set at $1,674,600.
Last year, the board cut in half a 1960 assessment of $1,546,300 on the publishing house property. Methodist agencies have appealed the 1960 decision in court. An assessment of $694,050 for 1959 is also pending in court.
In its most recent ruling the state board said the 1960 decision was made because “the only proof presented to the board showed or indicated that 50 per cent of its (the publishing house’s) total income was realized from business which was beyond the scope of its religious purposes.”
However, it said, the proof before the board this year clearly indicated that only about $200,000 to $300,000 of the publishing house’s annual income of $18,000,000 “could be considered by any rule to be beyond the scope of a religious purpose.”
Since the income derived by the publishing house from “not strictly religious activities” is “only incidental,” the board said, its entire properties should be exempt from taxation.
What was described as the “largest religious gathering ever to take place in the United States”—a crowd estimated at more than 500,000—jammed San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Sunday, October 8, for a rally of the Family Rosary Crusade.
The service was led by Father Patrick Peyton, director of the crusade, with the rosary and family prayer.
Assistant Police Chief Al Nelder said the attendance was more than a half million people on the park’s vast polo field and adjacent lawns and roads.
Auxiliary Bishop Hugh A. Donohe of San Francisco said the rally was “the greatest religious gathering ever to take place in the United States.”
‘King Of Kings’
MGM has produced a new “King of Kings.” The cast is new, the producer new, and much of the story of Christ’s life is new. Woven part from history, part from the New Testament, and part from fancy, this newest version of the life of Christ moves its steady slow-moving pace across the wide screen for three hours in technicolor. It was three years in making, and none who remain to see it all will doubt it.
The picture is king-size, no doubt necessitated by Hollywood’s additions to the New Testament. There is the prolonged insurrection led by Barabbas—with Judas’ benediction—which occurs on Palm Sunday. There is the defense of Jesus’ legal counselor (the Centurion) before Pilate, Herod Antipas’ unconcealed affection for Salome, and Jesus’ visit to John the Baptist in prison, to mention no more. Such license with the life of Jesus is taken no doubt to heighten the dramatics; yet tis folly. Those not awed by the life of Christ without the additions, will not be induced by them to go to the box office, and millions of Christians will be disturbed by such distortion.
Few would object to some padding in a dramatic presentation of biblical text, providing it does not change the texture of the material. But from both a religious and literary point of view such alteration of the biblical material as occurs in the script of “King of Kings” is inexcusable. Judas, for example, is hardly to be recognized. He is not chosen by Jesus, but requests a place among the twelve. Nor, as this suggests, is he a bad man. He is merely a zealot with a burning desire that his people be free. Nor is Barabbas really a bad man; in the cause of freedom he merely baits his traps for the Roman “wolves.”
With its technical skill and expert craftsmanship, one wonders why Hollywood does not have the ability to recognize the most dramatic story ever told and then simply produce it. For millions of people there is no more moving, profoundly dramatic story than the life of Christ. There was indeed more political intrigue involved in the death of Christ than many Christians know. But this is but the more reason for the playwrights and producers to seize its tremendous opportunity to recreate on the screen the greatest story ever told, without fanciful additions, alternations of script—and without omissions.
Omissions. The charge has been made that the intent of “King of Kings” is to clear the Jews and place the responsibility of the death of Christ squarely on the Romans. This may not be the intent. Yet additions and omissions to the biblical script lend credence to the charge. The film begins in 63 B.C. with the Roman soldiers wasting the Jewish countryside landscaped by Jews on Roman crosses, piled in death, or thrown to the flames. There is no Jewish crowd whipped by priests to demand the crucifixion of Christ, no trial before the Sanhedrin with its judgment that Christ was worthy of death, no Jewish mob but Roman soldiers who seize Jesus in the Garden, no Jewish mockers at the Cross. Nor is Pilate presented as one who at least struggled to be just. All this tends to lend life to the charge that “King of Kings” is made to serve a racial purpose.
One omission which all Christians will find strange is the omission of the word “church” in Jesus’ statement that he will build upon Peter.
What of import does the film say? The only discernible theme is the perpetual conflict between violent tyranny and man’s love for freedom. A written prologue given the viewer states both the film’s basic theme, and the role and character of both Jew and Roman. “As it is today, so it was in the turbulent times before Christ, that the menace of pagan tyranny shadowed the hearts of men who would be free. In their quest for truth, their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and faith, they brought down the wrath and might of Roman blasphemy.”
The “King of Kings” suffers from miscasting. Jeff Hunter conveying sincerity also conveys an effeminate and unconvincing Christ; Peter looks more like a French Mephistopheles than a Big Fisherman, John, like a college sophomore. Salome (16-year-old Brigid Bazten), whose dance is brief but vulgar, is a sex kitten who would never go so far as to demand a man’s head.
The producers have attempted a reverential treatment, but something went wrong. John the Baptist is a strong character, and Barabbas perhaps the strongest character of all. Yet at times the Gospel breaks through. Christians will see more of the biblical truth than is really there. Others will be, if not confused, then misinformed. But all who see it through to the end will learn patience—and that after all is a Christian virtue.
If instead of trying to gild the lily, Hollywood would use its monumental know-how to present the divine Word become flesh—without embellishments—it might well produce the greatest picture ever filmed.
Prelude To A Prelude
An Eastern Orthodox ecumenical council, presumably of a scope comparable to one proposed within Roman Catholicism, is in the offing. It will be preceded by a preparatory pro-synod, the groundwork for which was laid last month on the Greek island of Rhodes in a Pan-Orthodox conference of some 65 prelates from 12 of the 15 major Eastern Orthodox churches.
The specific aim of the week-long Rhodes meeting was to agree upon an agenda for the pro-synod. The agenda was finally drawn up despite distractions occasioned by the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church representative, the assertive Archbishop Nicodim, identified as head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s foreign relations department.
The young (in his early thirties), bearded Archbishop Nicodim sought to seize the initiative throughout the proceedings with the characteristic Soviet line. He demanded and got two votes, claiming to represent the Georgian Orthodox Church also. He electrified the opening session with a speech criticizing what he termed the “enslavement” by the state of Orthodox churches in various countries, but observers said he clearly intended to exclude from his criticism the domination which Moscow exercises over Russian churches. He insisted that the pro-synod agenda include matters with political overtones, but successfully fought for the deletion of an item concerning methods of combatting atheism (the final agenda includes such items as “Orthodoxy and racial discrimination,” “Co-operation of Orthodox churches in the application of the Christian ideas of peace, brotherhood, and love,” and “Orthodoxy and Christian duty in areas of rapid social change”).
The conference agreed to renew theological talks between the Orthodox churches and the Church of England which were interrupted in 1931.
Archbishop Nicodim also had urged the assembled prelates to set a date for the pro-synod. He was overruled, however, and a date is still to be worked out.
According to Religious News Service, Archbishop Nicodim comes from a nonreligious family, the son of a Soviet farm manager. He was a student at the Ryazan Pedagogical Institute when he left to enter an Orthodox monastery. In 1950 he became dean of a church in the ancient town of Uglich, near Moscow, and started a correspondence course offered by the Leningrad Theological Academy. He graduated in 1953 and began work as a priest in Jarislav Cathedral. Three years later he was sent to head the Russian Orthodox Church’s mission in Jerusalem. He is the youngest of all Eastern Orthodox bishops.
Archbishop Nicodim won the foreign relations post last year, succeeding Metropolitan Nicolai. He had only been in his new post for two months when he accompanied Patriarch Alexei of Moscow on a month-long tour of the Near East which included visits with numerous Eastern Orthodox officials.
Ecumenical observers expect to see a lot more of Archbishop Nicodim.
Tour Of The Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are to be exhibited in museums throughout the world, according to an announcement by Dr. Awni Dajani, director of the Jordan Antiquities Department.
Recently Jordan King Hussein issued a ban on permanent export of any of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Yemenite Rabbi Yihyeh Alsheikh of Israel won the second International Bible Contest in Jerusalem this month by defeating a Brazilian mother of four, Senhora Yolanda Da Silva.
The final question called for the two finalists to name seven Bible verses mentioning the exile or return of the Israelites.
The American entrant, 33-year-old Tovia Goldman, placed third. The Israeli-born Goldman, son of a rabbi, is a life insurance consultant in Cincinnati.
Runners-up in the contest’s last round were the Rev. Jacobus J. Kombrinck, a Seventh-day Adventist preacher from South Africa, and Edmund Read, a New Zealand teacher.
Bishops Or Not?
Methodist Bishop Gabriel Sundaram of Lucknow, India, declared this month his opposition to a plan for a United Church of North India and Pakistan which was to have included Methodists.
He urged that Methodists reject the plan on the ground that Anglicans were failing to recognize Methodist bishops. He cited the fact that Anglican bishops declined to attend a conference of Protestant bishops at Madras to which Methodist bishops had been invited.
Sundaram declared that Methodists had been led to believe that they were
uniting with the Anglicans “in terms of equality.”
“The constitution of the proposed church laid down that both these churches were linked with the church of apostolic times,” he added. “However, the plan of church union for North India and Pakistan is capable of double meaning. It means one thing to the Methodists and an entirely different thing to the Anglicans.
“It is now clear that in the minds of the Anglicans, Methodist bishops are not really bishops. It is equally clear that the services proposed for use at the inauguration of the new church are really services of supplemental ordination which will regularize the ordination of Methodist bishops and ministers.”
Sundaram concluded that the “decision of the Anglican bishops not to recognize the ministry of the Methodist church leaves it no other option than to reject the plan.”
People: Words And Events
Deaths:Dr. Weldon F. Crossland, 71, Methodist administrator; in Rochester, New York … Dr. Alfred Haapanen, past president of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; in Houghton, Michigan … the Rev. Henry R. Van Til, professor of Bible at Calvin College; in Grand Rapids, Michigan … Dr. Archibald G. Adams, retired American Baptist missionary to West China and former professor at Temple University; in Philadelphia … Dr. Arthur C. Darrow, 86, retired American Baptist missionary to Burma and an administrator of mission hospitals; in Newark, Ohio … J. Reuben Clark, Jr., 90, first counselor in the First Presidency of the Mormon church; in Salt Lake City … the Rev. Brian Hession, 57, pioneer of religious films in Britain and noted campaigner for funds to fight cancer; in London.
Resignations: From the presidency of Ewah Women’s University in Seoul, Korea, Dr. Helen Kim … from the editorship of the Youth for Christ Magazine, Warren Wiersbe.
Retirement:Dr. Clayton E. Williams, pastor of the American Church in Paris, effective next summer.
Election: As president of the International Convention of Christian Churches, Dr. Leslie R. Smith.
Appointments: As president of Central Baptist Seminary of Toronto, the Rev. E. Sidney Kerr … as professor of missions at Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. C. Darby Fulton … as chairman of the Baptist Jubilee Advance for 1962, Dr. Joseph H. Jackson … as executive director of the National Council of Churches’ Department of Social Welfare, the Rev. Sheldon L. Rahn … as general secretary of the Southern California Council of Churches, Dr. Forrest C. Weir.
Tools For Study
The student who wishes to use the book of Joshua in a pastoral ministry or as source material for a Sunday school class, will be well advised to consult a good Bible atlas to equip himself with a knowledge of the geography and topography of Palestine particularly in the time of the conquest. For this purpose two works may be recommended, the Westminster Historical Atlas by Wright and Filson and the Bible Atlas by Charles F. Pfeiffer. Commentary material is not plentiful since the book of Joshua deals largely with statistical material and is not as replete with prophetic utterances as some other books of the Bible. Among older works the commentary by Keil and Delitzsch is excellent as is the material in the Bible Commentary. Among more recent titles, the New Commentary is a very fine one-volume work prepared by devoted Christian interpreters. The volume in The Interpreter’s Bible will be found useful at a number of points although it discounts some of the miraculous elements in the book and is inclined to be overly interested in literary division. A study of the person and work of the man Joshua, as described not only in the book of Joshua but in the earlier parts of the Old Testament, will enrich every man of God who wishes to be thoroughly furnished unto every good work.
DAVID W. KERR
Professor of Old Testament
Gordon Divinity School
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineOur Worship Is Turning Praise into Secular ProfitWith corporate consolidation in worship music, more entities are invested in the songs sung on Sunday mornings. How will their financial incentives shape the church?español
- Editor's PickBecome a Shadow of Your Future SelfManifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.