A question which troubles me endlessly is how to “level off” in my teaching, to choose what should be taught, to control my vocabulary to the group, and to discover what illustrations and analogies, if any, will make the material absolutely clear and understandable. When and if all this is accomplished I then wonder if I have been true to the subject if I have made it so easy and understandable; maybe there should be more mystery than knowledge to some subjects such as the Trinity or the Lord’s Supper or Unity with Christ or the Atonement.
To come at the problem another way, just how intelligent does a man have to be to be a Christian? The lassie at the street corner service keeps crying or singing, “Come to Jesus,” so a man comes forward and everyone around says, “Bless you,” and there is some kind of a count of saved sinners. Or another asks us to “Accept Christ,” so we “Accept Christ,” and that’s that. Is anything else required? Are some missionaries on the frontiers (I almost called them foreign missionaries) justified in requiring a period of probation between the time of the acceptance of Christ and the reception of such a one into the communion of the church? Are we being presumptuous in requiring anything more than the “coming” to Jesus or the “acceptance” of Christ? And assuming that we believe that we can require something more than some simple affirmation, what should that “something more” be? Are not communicant manuals prepared on the assumption that we know what the least common denominator is by which a person, at least from the standpoint of information, is “prepared” for membership in the body of Christ? If we “profess with our lips” are we in? If we “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” are we saved? Is that all? And if it is “all,” is there not much more involved than we think when we really get down to the question of what it means to “profess” and what it means to “believe” and what we are talking about in toto when we believe on “the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A lovely old Christian lady, who would do anything she could for her beloved church, and who actually does serve far beyond what others do and what would be expected of her, was asked recently to teach a Sunday School class, which thing she agreed to do. Then she came back to her pastor to tell him that she couldn’t possibly do it. “The lessons,” she said, “are all in Romans and I just can’t understand Paul. I never try to read his letters any more.” Well, does it really matter if this sweet old lady ever reads Romans or the other epistles? She’s a Christian, isn’t she? and she’s saved, isn’t she? and she does many good works, does she not? And, in case she does get around to Romans and the others, what mastery shall we require of her? Have even the masters of Romans ever mastered the book? A professor friend of mine spent 13 years teaching John on the college level and said then that he was just beginning to understand it. What about his students all those years when he didn’t understand it?
When we come to the ethical application of Christianity the problems become even more ambiguous for there seem to be so many ways of getting at the questions of Christian behavior. Suppose we take a simple problem like keeping the Sabbath day holy. We have the question of holiness to consider, then the question of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament, then the question of actions and principles as observable in Christ’s ministry and teaching. We are now ready for the questions of legalisms as against principles, such things as the mind of Christ, the total context of his teaching in his own day, and the existential situation in our own. When a minister, an expert in religious matters and one trained in college and seminary, watches professional football games on Sunday afternoon (as many of them do) and combats through the ministerium the opening of grocery stores on the same Sunday afternoons (as many of the same ministers do) does any of this have to do with his eternal salvation? It seems to me that when he said very simply “I accept Christ” (according to the form of his own confessional group) there was involved in that acceptance the question of obedience, and in order to be obedient he must be instructed, so here we are again—assuming that he has professed Christ and wants to obey Christ, just where does he get the “Word” on what is or is not right for Sunday afternoon, and I am trying not to think about the ministers who suspect that watching a pro football game is not keeping the day holy and rationalize it anyway, which is a very diabolical form of disobedience—“it was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise,” so she took some and gave some to her husband.
Many Christian discussion groups take up questions of Christian action with the naїve belief that they need no Christian instruction. We tell young people at summer conferences that they ought to act like Christians before we tell them what Christianity is. We try to give them nurture before we give them birth; we want them to behave when there really is no reason why they should behave, unless, perhaps, because they have been brought into obedience to Him. And how shall we bring them into obedience to Him without some information and understanding about Him?
We have here more questions than answers, but it seems to me that the whole Church these days needs to begin to ask theological questions. Recent experience has taught me that the laymen everywhere are hungry for information about the very religion which they have somewhere somehow accepted. “What is the thing I am supposed to be involved in?” they seem to want to know. At a meeting in Denver I urged on a few ministers there the value of starting classes in theology for laymen. A letter came today with this “… we had no idea what the response would be so were truly astounded when on opening night 95 people turned out on the coldest night in 50 years. It was 24 below zero at the time of the class session. By the next week … it was still cold and the going pretty tough and 125 were present.”
Some of the questions still need to be asked. What is the most and the least required of a man for him to be a Christian? What is the first step and the consequent steps in Christian growth? Where is the authority for Christian action and how do you know? How much does it cost?
This feature is contributed in sequence by: Dr. Philip E. Hughes, Dr. Harold B. Kuhn, Dr. J. D. Douglas, Dr. G. C. Berkouwer, and Dr. Addison H. Leitch.
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