Since its beginning, the Christian Church has been attacked by its enemies. Church history is a record not of peace but of conflict. In the very words with which he established the Church, Christ pointed to this state of conflict when he said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The attack upon the Church has come from two sides—from without and from within. In the long history of Christianity, assaults upon the Church of Jesus Christ have assumed Protean forms. From apostolic times, the Church has had its heretics and apostates, its antinomians and hypocrites, who have marred its testimony. And its conflict with the world has been unremitting.

Seldom, however, has the attack from within the Church taken the form it has assumed within Protestantism in recent years. The tendency, now acute, to throw up the sponge and declare the Church itself passé and irrelevant is something new. It is a peculiarly Protestant manifestation; the very structure and nature of Roman Catholicism rules it out from that communion. So we have the ironic spectacle of Rome on the march toward renewal while within Protestantism influential voices say that this is for the Church a post-Christian era. The Church, they tell us, has lost out and is no longer relevant to the needs of men.

The mood of secular man today is one of alienation. Since he no longer believes that the world was created by a benevolent Father, the universe has become for him an unfriendly place. Its hostility threatens his existence. In a counter-defensive measure, he is driven to subject his very existence to philosophical examination. The resultant philosophical existentialism, combined with a psychology that probes man’s inner spirit, has produced an age of acute introspection. An alien in an alien universe must now search desperately for his identity. This secular man—this alien who has been mysteriously thrust into being in a universe hostile to his existence and bent on his destruction—must discover who he is. Alienated from the universe, secular man has become a stranger to himself. What was once a wholesome philosophical investigation of the world and a wholesome psychological exercise in self-examination has become in our time a morbid preoccupation with the self.

And now this introspective preoccupation has been projected into the Church, so that the institution founded by Christ and commissioned by him to proclaim his saving message has itself, in the minds of some, become lost. Thus we have the paradox of a Church that, according to certain influential spokesmen, does not know what it is and what it is to do, presuming to speak to men and women who do not know who they are.

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It is time such assumptions about the Church and its irrelevance were challenged from within the Church. The Church has its faults. As with the individuals of which it is composed, it stands under the judgment of the living God. But with all its faults, the Church is the Body of Jesus Christ. It is not only an organization but a living organism. It is not man-made but God-born. Today it needs renewal. It needs to be recalled to its primary function of proclaiming the Gospel of its divine Lord. It needs in his name to minister more compassionately, more lovingly, and more sacrificially to the needs of this lost world. It needs to speak to men and women where they are and in language they can understand. It needs to speak in the eloquence of deed as well as word. But in all its effort to be understood, it must never trim or accommodate the Gospel committed to it by its great Head.

Who is most vociferous in the claim that the Church is outmoded and irrelevant? Who speaks of the Church in existential terms of alienation? The answer is a liberal minority that has long since repudiated the authority of the Bible and the basic doctrines of Christianity. The vital evangelical center of the Church does not talk this way. Missionaries faced with the hard resistance of Islam, the animistic superstitions of primitive peoples, or the myriad deities of Hinduism do not indulge in defeatism. They are too busy for this kind of existential morbidity. So also with evangelicals at home, whether in pulpit and parish, in Christian education, or in home and rescue mission work.

The answer to the readiness of some to give up the ship, run down the colors, and declare the Church an outmoded irrelevancy can be nothing less than a new experience of the power of the Gospel. To see Christ at work in human hearts and lives, to see him bring meaning and purpose to the alienated and purposeless, to witness his power in the forgiveness of sin and the integration of personality through regeneration, is the unanswerable reply to the current mood of despair in which some view the Church.

Now is the time for Protestants who hold the historic biblical faith and who believe in the divine mission and the indestructibility of the Church of Jesus Christ to speak out against the existential blight that oppresses the Body of Christ. We might well ponder these words of Henri-Frederic Amiel in his Journal Intimé: “I am oppressed by a feeling of inappropriateness and malaise at the sight of philosophy in the pulpit. ‘They have taken away my Savior and I know not where they have laid him’; so the simple folk have a right to say and I repeat it with them.” Let Protestantism be done with the scandal of self-preoccupation. Let it stop repeating the wearisome clichés of existentialism and get on with fulfilling the commission of its sovereign Lord.

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Sin, Disease, And Sex

The Associated Press has quoted Dr. William J. Brown, chief of the venereal disease branch of the Health Service’s Communicable Disease Center at Atlanta, Georgia, as saying that syphilis epidemics “are raging at this very moment in twenty-five or thirty of our largest metropolitan centers.”

A decade ago we were promised that “wonder drugs” would wipe out venereal disease, and there was indeed a temporary decrease. But reliable estimates indicate some 200,000 new cases of syphilis for the year ending June 30, 1964, and a million new cases of gonorrhea. The percentage increase over the past eight years has been sharp and staggering.

There can be no doubt that moral decline is responsible for the increase of venereal disease. And the churchmen who have encouraged the idea that premarital and extra-marital sexual relations may not always be wrong are partially responsible. As men and nations sow, so shall they reap.

It is true that drugs can cure venereal disease. But all of these curative devices strike us as an example of locking the barn after the horse has been stolen. Men must learn that prevention is better than cure. And God has ordained that the surest guarantee of freedom from venereal disease is personal purity, which rules out sexual promiscuity. We might try God’s way for a change.

Persecution In Russia

From unimpeachable sources there is evidence of an accelerating drive against any form of religion within Soviet Russia. The theoretical guarantee of religious freedom in the Soviet constitution is nullified by counter-measures, including the closing of churches with confiscation of property, state supervision of all religious activity, imprisonment of recalcitrant clergymen, illegality of any religious instruction to young people under the age of eighteen, and an intensified indoctrination of the citizens with atheistic propaganda.

Atheistic seminaries are being established for the specific purpose of substituting “scientific atheism” for religious belief. The press, libraries, and schools are all used to indoctrinate the people with atheism and to break down religious faith.

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That those who so defy God are held in derision by him and will ultimately be brought to judgment is a scriptural and historical fact. Christians should be concerned that so many of their brothers are being repressed and often imprisoned in this so-called enlightened age. When one part of the Body of Christ suffers, the whole Body is involved.

There may be other avenues of action, but Christians should above all pray for those suffering persecution. Surely such prayers accord with the sovereign will of God, whose ultimate judgment of Soviet Russia is inevitable.

Justice On Trial

Last summer three men were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Since then some people have questioned the propriety of their going to that state for the purpose they did. But no one has been able to deny their legal right to do so, nor can anyone justify the actions of those involved in this cruel and senseless murder. It was a lawless act of the first magnitude, and its heinousness derives from the Christian teaching that murder strikes at the image of God in man and thus is directed at God himself.

During the months since the crime was committed, the FBI has been active in pursuing the criminals. This agency of the government has earned America’s confidence, and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, is an active churchman. The FBI arrested twenty-one men who it felt were involved in the Philadelphia murders. Nineteen of them were brought before U. S. Commissioner Esther Carter for preliminary hearing on a charge of violating the Civil Rights Act. Commissioner Carter released the accused on the grounds that she had not been presented with adequate evidence or reasonable grounds on which to retain them in custody. The government announced it would later appear before a federal grand jury made up of Mississippians and headed by Judge William Cox, an appointee of former President Kennedy. The Office of the Attorney General of the United States will then present evidence to secure an indictment that would call for a jury trial under a federal judge.

From past experience there is little to encourage the belief that the grand jury will indict the suspects or that, if a jury trial is held, they will be convicted. One should not judge the case, however, until it is heard and all the evidence has been introduced. The keystone of American justice is the assumption that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty.

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Mississippians are governed by the same federal constitution that applies to the other forty-nine states, a constitution that grants equal rights to all citizens without regard to race or color. Mississippians repeat the same salute to the flag, which includes “with liberty and justice for all.” They have an obligation to the federal constitution, to the American citizenry, and to themselves to see that justice is done and the guilty are apprehended and sentenced.

If there is no trial, most people will feel that justice has been circumvented. If the government is not allowed to present its case before a jury, the case against the people of Mississippi will only be strengthened. If a good case is presented and the jury refuses to convict the suspects, the reputation of Mississippi will once again be blackened. Already there is a general feeling throughout the country that the local law-enforcement agencies in Mississippi have done little to apprehend the criminals. Mississippi is on trial. If she fails to meet the elemental demands of justice, she will stand self-convicted in the eyes of just men everywhere.

Christians have been encouraged by the actions of some ministers of the Gospel in Philadelphia, Mississippi, who spoke out courageously about civil rights. And Christians know that there are many God-honoring Mississippians who are deeply anxious for justice in their state.

We appeal to the people of Mississippi to show to the nation and to the world a sense of fair play, honor, and integrity in the days immediately before us. This will be the best answer to every critic.

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