American churches suffered under a load of frustrations during 1963. Some thought they saw the flicker of a breakthrough, but the signs of frustration were more obvious. The Protestant establishment barely held its own in a year when availability of resources was at a peak. Then came the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of the chief suspect. Ministers and laymen alike felt a sense of defeat.
For clergymen, a chief source of frustration was what to do with the latest variety in a historic strain of hearers-only Christians. The 1963 crop of professing believers whose lives reflect so little of New Testament teaching drew many a pastor into the lonely garden of perplexity.
One candid young minister came out of an experiment aimed at more meaningful Christianity with these words: “It’s been a flop. So far I’ve managed to reduce the congregation from 400 to about 50.”
He had tried modern music, jazz, dialogues, discussions, and plays. Next on the list was a plan to convert the church into an apartment house with the lobby as a chapel.
The heresy of universalism, implicit or overt, may be held responsible for lay indifference in some quarters. But what about lethargy in evangelical ranks?
The growth rate of most evangelical enterprises has leveled off markedly in recent years, and in 1963 many such efforts were pushing to maintain the status quo. Yet spiritual and physical need in the world is acute. Modern science offers the helping hand of amazing new developments in communications, air travel, medicine, and machinery, but lack of money and manpower keeps the most sophisticated of these means beyond the church’s grasp. Frustration thus seems inevitable.
“It’s like trying to climb Niagara Falls to meet these needs,” ...1
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