The “word” occupies a central place in the Christian religion. It was the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us; the Word that was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. Though stilled by the Cross, it was sounded again by God himself through the Resurrection in all cosmic time and place. Though Protestants may differ with the theology of Karl Barth and with that of the Roman Catholic Church, Barth’s theology is a theology of the Word, and even the Roman theology of church, tradition, and Scripture, as understood by both its conservatives and its liberals, is a theology of the transmission of the Word.
Because the Word that became flesh was a Person, the highest form of Christian proclamation and witness occurs through persons. And because the most proper and appropriate form of Christian proclamation is the personal word, the minister of the Gospel has priority of rank over the academic theologian, over the ecclesiastical administrator, and over the author of books and the editor of a religious magazine. This primacy in the ecclesiastical kingdom does not exclude, however, but rather suggests that there are other legitimate and effective forms of witness to the Gospel. The Christian writer, whether theologian, poet, journalist, or novelist, fulfills a high and indispensable calling in the Christian community.
For a long time evangelicals had many preachers of the Gospel in pulpit and mission field but relatively few Christian writers. In their efforts to save souls they addressed the heart, leaving the minds of men to be addressed by the less evangelical sector of the Church. While they neglected the intellectual battle for the minds of men, they nourished themselves on the evangelical scholarship of the past, and evangelical book publishers were driven by the famine of evangelical writing to reprint what had been published in a more intellectually virile age. Much that has been written in the past should be reprinted, of course, for contrary to the pride of modernity, wisdom was not born with us. We may indeed be grateful to paperback publishers for making so much of our rich heritage available in inexpensive form. But the reliance of evangelicals upon older religious literature showed a lack of vital engagement with the world to which they preached.
Happily there has been a marked change in recent years. Evangelicals are beginning to rise to the intellectual task of the Church. They are beginning to sense the folly of losing by default the battle for the minds of men in and outside the Church. Anyone who scans what has come from the religious press in the last ten or fifteen years can see changes that bespeak better things. As book titles indicate, evangelicals are now addressing themselves to the whole complex of theological and ethical problems that engages the Church today on all fronts. A considerable amount of what is being written is superficial; much critical writing appears to have been forged from without rather than from within competitive theologies and ecclesiastical movements. Consequently, much of it is still ignored. But evangelicals are writing, and a substantial core of evangelical theological writing is far past the stage of slogans and shibboleths.
Book publishers themselves are aware of this, and many prosper as never before. They are also pleased to bring out not only reprints but new and exciting evangelical books of academic stature. Some of the established and highly respected secular publishing houses are today producing many conservative Christian works.
William B. Eerdmans, Sr., a well-known evangelical publisher, recently told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that “during the last decade American evangelical Christianity has made a promising advance toward Christian maturity in the area of publishing. It has become more informed and accurate, fair and courteous, honest and poised, communicative and relevant. For all this we rejoice and are grateful.” He expressed the wish that in the future “American evangelical writers will spend their efforts in honest defense and compassionate communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not only in the Church but also in the world.”
In a letter to us Dr. Eugene Exman, vice-president of Harper & Row, shares his experience: “When I began selecting religious books for Harper to publish thirty-five years ago, there were few top writers in the evangelical field. Of conservative theological writers Dr. Machen was one of the few luminaries in the literary skies who could brighten his star with intelligence, insight, and style. Today there are many more, and they represent a larger proportion of all authors of religious books than was true a generation ago. It is also true, I think, that the so-called fundamentalism of the early decades of the century was less concerned than evangelicals are today with scholarship and literary standards.”
And Lester J. Doniger, president of the Book Club Guild, tells us: “The past decade has seen a notable growth in both the volume and the quality of published evangelical works. A growing corps of dedicated scholars has emerged with a maturity and outlook that has gained attention, recognition, and approval even from non-evangelical circles. This observation comes from my vantage point in working with our book club known as Evangelical Books. By providing a larger market for evangelical writing we may perhaps claim a part of the credit for this upsurge of interest.
“In the early years of the club our judges, concerned with selecting books that are soundly evangelical and at the same time scholarly, experienced some difficulty in providing sufficient variety in reading fare. Today there is almost an embarrassment of riches largely because the evangelical movement through greater self-awareness and increased emphasis on scholarship has been able to develop a large number of writers who are equipped to be scholarly and interesting.”
Theology cannot develop in a vacuum, nor can it become mature overnight. It can grow into maturity, not in isolation, but within a community of Christian scholarship. Moreover, as Dr. Exman also says, “In a sense, writers like artists create their own public.” May the literary movement that has begun within evangelicalism continue and flourish under God.
A House Divided
“When the last of us has been driven out, the Church of the Province of South Africa will have declared itself an ecclesiastically lawless sect ready to slide into the lap of Rome.” These words of the Rev. A. J. Sexby focus attention on the curious case of his country, which has two denominations, each claiming to be the true Church of England established there in 1806 but divided in 1870 when Bishop Gray of Cape Town, a Tractarian, seceded to form the present Church of the Province. Now the larger denomination, the latter is in communion with Canterbury, while the evangelical “Church of England in South Africa” is not. The CPSA’s claims to have maintained the connection with the Church of England were rejected by Britain’s Privy Council (the supreme court) in 1884. Nothing daunted, this overwhelmingly Anglo-Catholic body has produced its own alternative Prayer Book, which omits the Thirty-Nine Articles and makes other changes of vital doctrinal significance. The present Archbishop of Cape Town reflects his church’s position in saying that on “major issues” the CPSA and the church of Rome have “generally speaking … found ourselves at one.” Within the CPSA, however, is a tiny evangelical minority, two of whose clergy have now been declared by their bishops ineligible for appointment, after their firm adherence to the 1662 Prayer Book (constitutionally the official book) and the Thirty-Nine Articles. One of these ousted ministers has recently joined the CESA. Though erroneously dismissed by the London Church Times as a “small schismatic body” (a smear unsustained by the historical facts), the CESA commands much support among evangelicals in England. Dr. Philip E. Hughes, editor of The Churchman and himself the holder of a doctoral degree from Cape Town University, suggests that the time has come for the whole matter to be investigated by an impartial tribunal headed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. In an ecumenical age it does not seem an unreasonable request.
Serpent In The $ Sign
There is in America a growing movement for national and state lotteries and legalized gambling in general. Christians should therefore be prepared for propaganda even now being directed toward making gambling acceptable in our society.
Already one state, New Hampshire, has voted approval of a state lottery. Other states may be tempted to follow. Some publications and radio stations are conducting public-opinion forums on the pros and cons of legalized gambling.
Some seemingly plausible arguments are being used: “Legalized gambling means tax gains for the government”; “It makes more money available for schools and other worthy objectives”; “People are going to gamble anyhow, so it should be legalized”; “Proper laws will make for proper supervision”; “People need the excitement and financial gain that come to winners”; “Other nations have national lotteries, why not America?”—and many more.
The arguments are insidiously persuasive, and they consistently evade the moral and spiritual issues involved. Legalized gambling is a sordid business. Moreover, along with it many other forms of vice crowd through the opened door. This is inevitable in areas where gambling is officially tolerated.
Gambling is not a sport. It is not entertainment. It is not recreation. It can become a deadly malady, claiming addicts as does alcohol and carrying sorrow and misery with it. This is being written in Las Vegas, where we have watched the hard, intent, and unhappy faces of hundreds surrounding the gaming tables.
Legitimate sport has its important place in our society. There are times when all of us need good entertainment. Recreation is a boon to be enjoyed. But gambling is a curse that breeds vice and crime as it grows in its power over an individual and a community.
Nowhere are the sins of the flesh more in evidence than where gambling holds sway. There one finds immorality, greed, licentiousness, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, envy, drunkenness, and the like. No talk about “profits” is relevant until it weighs the loss in terms of the moral and spiritual blight that settles as a pall over the whole sordid business. The Las Vegas coroner reported sixty-seven unnatural deaths such as suicides and murders for the first twenty-seven days of December alone.
Let us not succumb to the argument that legalized gambling has its financial advantages. In the fiscal year 1962–63 the total levied in taxes on gambling in the state of Nevada was $22,600,000, divided among the federal, state, county, and city governments. The total amount involved in gambling is not known exactly, nor are the astronomical profits of the gambling industry. Even from a monetary standpoint the “profit” from taxes was surprisingly low in Nevada, while the loss in moral and spiritual values beggars description. To no practice do the words of our Lord apply more clearly than to gambling: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Too High A Price
At the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism meeting of the World Council of Churches, held in Mexico City, the final report on “Witness” contained the following statement: “In all ages the church is called to be the sign of God’s purpose for His whole creation. This unchanging calling in the changing world is expressed in the eucharist in which the redemption of the whole world given in Jesus Christ is offered continually for and to the world. Thus if the eucharist is the sign of God’s redeeming work, its redeeming reality needs to be manifested within the broken world of contemporary neighborhood” (our italics).
It comes as no surprise to learn that this report, now definitely scheduled for publication, was challenged from the floor when read; but it was not changed. Why not, if this includes (as it does) the very thing that Protestantism repudiates? “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people,” declares the Epistle to the Hebrews; “he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”
Ultimately we are confronted with the question: What price are we prepared to pay for ecumenicity? If what is demanded is an uncritical commitment that denies the “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world,” then the price is too great. For whom is the WCC committee speaking in this report which apparently gives a boost to the Roman Mass? The church of Rome’s attitude to the ecumenical movement is too candid to arouse false hopes. Far from the picture of a Rome dragged screaming into the twentieth century, this WCC utterance seems to be dragging Protestantism back to the sixteenth century—and with barely a whimper. Our world may be a very different world from that of the Reformers, but the battle is the same. It is not a battle for unity to be won by exchanging concessions (an essentially Protestant delusion); it is a battle for the souls of men that calls for clear witness to biblical principles.
Though with customary caution the WCC points out that this is not an official policy statement, it may be fairly regarded as a leading symptom somewhat like the camel’s nose in the door. The quest for unity is justifiable only as one manifestation of the quest for spiritual revival. Principles for which the Reformers gave their lives are not negotiable.
Ncc Pronouncements: Episcopal View
Many Christians will rejoice if the National Council of Churches gives heed to the Joint Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The commission’s report on its two-year study of the overall program of the NCC says some very significant things.
The NCC’s pronouncements, the report declares, “should avoid the impression that they offer the only specific Christian solution” to contemporary problems and “should be so phrased as not to bring into question the Christian commitment of those who do not agree.” A Christian who differs should not be given the impression that “he is less than ‘Christian’ in upholding his own convictions.” The commission further urges that when the NCC believes it necessary to speak on controversial political matters, “we expect our representatives to point out that dedicated Christians may be standing on either side of that particular question.”
The Episcopal study, while insisting that the NCC “should not stop making public announcements,” sees the proper value and function of these pronouncements in the “opening up of issues about which Christian people ought to be concerned.” If the NCC follows this admonition, it will lose considerable attraction for the secular press, which has little interest in theological reflections and materials handed down to churches for further study.
Less interest on the part of the secular press may, however, be salutary, for until the NCC can speak on social and political issues out of a real consensus of Christian conviction, it has no “word” for society. The report makes it clear that there is no such consensus; indeed, there is even disagreement about when the NCC may speak and what it may say in its public pronouncements.
A release from the Episcopal Church Center on the commission’s report suggests that “specific solutions to political, social and economic problems should be left to statesmen or to others in specialized fields.” Such a forthright statement rightly challenges the pretentious and indefensible notion that churchmen are automatically qualified to speak on the intricate problems of national and international life. In these areas they have too often said more than they know.
The Joint Commission vigorously denies that the NCC speaks on any matter for anyone. “It would be helpful,” it declares, “if a word other than ‘pronouncement’ were used since that word carries a note of authority that the statements do not possess.” The report continues, “The fact remains that the NCC by its constitution … has no real authority to issue authoritative pronouncements on any subject, theological, political, economic, or sociological.” Except for “rare occasions,” the “NCC should resist the temptation to make authoritative statements.… We would hold that when the NCC speaks to its member churches it speaks only in the sense that it conveys information and conclusions reached by the General Assembly and the General Board.”
If the NCC accepts this advice, it will learn how to speak within the limits of its competence and the boundaries of its proper function.
A Long Red Arm
This planet wears two faces. One is seen on travel posters. The other is reflected in political science texts, which outline the challenges and agonies of men’s attempts to govern themselves.
The cloistered Indian Ocean country called Zanzibar has been the worthy subject of many a daydream. It derives its income mainly from cloves, and their aromatic scent permeates the island. Nearby Tanganyika recalls Hemingway and the frozen leopard near the summit of majestic Kilimanjaro. To the north are the highlands of Kenya, and Uganda’s Ripon Falls at the source of the Nile. West lies the Congo at the core of Equatorial Africa with jungles, pygmies, and Watutsi giants.
But superimposed upon the idyllic scenes of nature is the human struggle for power and sovereignty. And no longer is the warfare confined to internecine tribal rivalries. The activities of leaders who often learn the tactics of revolution in places like Moscow, Peking, and Havana produce reactions in cities like Washington, London, and Paris.
To many Americans, the name of Zanzibar simply invokes memories of an old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby film, The Road to Zanzibar. What concerns American officials in Washington today is the road from Zanzibar, the possible exporting of the leftism of the newly installed revolutionary government. The Western powers now face the threat of another Cuba, a Communist dagger pointed at the heart of Africa. There is some evidence of Zanzibar’s influence in the recent revolt in Tanganyika, and there are suspicions of a Red link extending to the uprisings in Kenya and Uganda. The murder of missionaries in the Congo is a result of the guerrilla warfare being led by a leftist who recently returned from Red China.
Communists cannot be blamed for all the troubles of the world, but they rarely fail to capitalize on these troubles. The Red network is a restless one. During the test-ban negotiations in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev was frank with Averell Harriman long enough to say: “From time to time we will stamp on your foot, and when you yell, we will apologize politely. Then, as we leave the room, we will stamp on your corns again.” By way of illustration, Latin America expert Adolf Berle asserts that the local Communist machine in Panama took part in the rioting there. And now comes the brutal shooting down of an unarmed American jet training plane over East Germany.
Further complicating the cold war is French recognition of Red China, followed by a coup in South Viet Nam by army officers who claimed to be thus thwarting French influence toward a neutralist reunited North and South Viet Nam. And the tension in Cyprus seems to be still another problem that will be with us for some time to come.
The conjunction of the idyllic and the turbulent in this world can well remind the Christian of two stupendous events—the Creation and the Fall. By the grace of God these lead on to redemption. Today behind the shifting lines of human strife, two figures loom. One is Karl Marx, in the atheistic trappings of an antichrist. Confronting him is the infinitely greater Christ himself, in whose face shines the light of the knowledge of the glory of God and in whose hand rests the ultimate victory. The mystery of iniquity is yet working, but so is the Gospel, which brings liberation to the human soul. A secondary but vital accompaniment to this liberty is the momentous fact that the depth of penetration by Christian missionaries is often the measure of the chances for survival of that most delicate flower—political freedom.
Another Expose Of U.S. Morals
It is possible that future historians looking back upon our times will evaluate the sex obsession that grips so many in our nation as even more far-reaching than the current race revolution. A cover story in Time magazine (January 24) describes in matter-of-fact detail this overturn in the private morality of millions of American youth and adults. It is not pleasant reading for those—and their number is not inconsiderable—who still believe that the law of the living God is not set aside by the disobedience of men no matter how widespread that disobedience is.
If ours is a day of sex obsession—as indeed it is—one reason may be the relentless, incessant exposure of the mind, through the printed page, through pictures, and through the latest adulteries of Hollywood idols, to the unrestrained sexuality Time reports.
The Christian ethic of sex is widely misunderstood by modern man, including the writers of the story in Time. Neither ascetic nor joyless, it is poles apart from the erotic fixation that haunts our society. And Christians need to be concerned lest by sheer multiplication of words and the overpowering weight of example contemporary paganism squeezes them into its mold of moral relativism and sex preoccupation.
Today, when adult sensual indulgence has by example and by the gainful pandering of sex stimuli debauched youth as never before in our national history, two things, among others, must be said by Christians with utmost emphasis, yet in love. The first is the ever relevant affirmation, bearing within it hope even for our wicked and adulterous generation, that Christ Jesus came into world to save sinners. The second is a question: By what right does this generation presume to think that it can break the laws of the living God with impunity?
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