One hears much these days about a crisis in the pulpit. Sometimes signs of this crisis come from ministers and seminary professors who wonder aloud and in print whether preaching has not gone out of date. They seriously doubt whether sermons are effective in this latter half of the twentieth century. They commend their doubts to others by declaring that sermons these days are generally irrelevant and exert little leverage on the problems of modern life.

If these doubters of the need for preaching today find that their tongues cleave to the roofs of their mouths, their silence in the pulpit will be no loss. Indeed, it would be a gain, because any man who seriously doubts the value of preaching the Gospel ought not to mount the pulpit. If there is in such men none of the compulsion that made Paul cry, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel,” they have neither a message to bring nor a call to bring it.

Nonetheless, the Church cannot afford simply to brush aside this derogation of the modern pulpit and return to Stroking its comfortable assumption that all is well. For it is unfortunately true that the pulpit today is one of the weakest places in the life of the Church.

Another sign of crisis in the pulpit comes from those who argue for a “religionless Christianity,” which is called to leave the holy place and bring its altar into the streets of life. In the name of leaving the sacred to enter the secular so as to sacramentalize the whole of it, these voices “preach” that men ought to engage in the actions of Christian mercy and not to pray; that they ought to feed the hungry, lift the fallen, seek out the unemployed and the illiterate, and right the social wrongs of human community, rather than seek communion with God in the quiet place of worship. The advocates of religionless Christianity believe that men confront Christ, not in the preaching of the Word, but in those life situations where they meet their brother who is hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned. They contend that one participates in the real flesh and blood of the crucified Christ, not at Holy Communion, but when one enters into the sufferings and needs of one of the least of Christ’s brethren.

Such solicitude for men in need may indeed be an expression of Christian concern, for Christ too was concerned for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the outcast, the downtrodden. Yet the theology behind the concern of those who want us to give up the sanctuary, the altar, prayer, worship, and Holy Communion, is faulty and unseeing. He who would be “a Christ for his neighbor” can be that only if he recognizes that he cannot be a Christ for himself. To give a cup of cold water to a thirsty neighbor is a good deed, one that Christ not only recognizes but summons us to perform, one that he promises to honor and reward. Yet it is distinctively Christian only when done, not in one’s own name, but in the name of Christ. All authentic biblical imitation of Christ rests on the prior assumption that Christ is unique, that he occupies a place in Christian truth and in the Christian Church that calls for a coming apart to rest awhile, to learn of him, to enter the holy place and moment in which prayer and worship are not only appropriate but demanded. The Church itself shares in this uniqueness; as God’s new creation in this old world the Church has its own times and places that are sacred.

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Yet here also we cannot afford to ignore the critical voices that would turn the Church into the world, the sacred into the secular. Like all heresy this heresy has its element of truth. Too often the holy place has been for Christians a mere escape from the world and its demands; too often sermons about the unique, incarnate Word have been restfully heard but not actively practiced. Too often Christian church-goers have forgotten that what the incarnate Word did was not done in church, where they heard it, but in the world of human sin and need, and that to imitate Christ means to return to where he lived, suffered, died, and rose again, there to obey him and do his works.

Too many preachers have coddled their hearers and have made not doers of the Word but only hearers of it. Thus they have encouraged the notion that he who agrees with what he hears has done all that is demanded, as though agreeing with the sermon condemning racism, or impurity, or selfishness, were evidence of one’s innocence of these sins. Had Christians practiced in the dusty commonplaces of life what they heard and consented to in church, these contemporary voices calling for a non-sacred, non-religious Christianity would sound foolish, for they would be recognized as contradicting not only Christian theology but also Christian practice.

As it is now, however, the critics carry a disturbing sense of conviction that derives, not from a sound biblical theology, but from the guilty consciences of those who have heard the sermon but have not acted upon it, to those who have used the church for their own personal religious ends and have ignored the summons to go into the world and there to serve men and follow Christ. The center of any authentic Christian sermon is the Cross of Christ. And it is at the Cross, not in church, that the Christian imitates Christ and rightly serves his fellow man. The church’s proclamation and its worship are a momentary experience, a time to pay God his homage and to derive new strength for greater service outside. But the church is not a place to live. Too many people are led by the sermons they hear to think church is heaven, a place to pitch tents for the greater enjoyment of God’s glory, quite ignoring the fact that the glory of God is revealed in the Cross.

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There is, however, an even greater crisis of the pulpit. Because man is more spirit than body, the greatest threats to a nation, a church, an individual, always arise not from the outside but from within. The greatest threat today to the Christian pulpit comes not from liberal ministers who think sermons are passé nor from those who urge that the Word of Christ is better expressed in Christian action in everyday, secular life than in the sermon; it comes rather from the conservative, evangelical, orthodox preacher whose sermon is dull, irrelevant, and boring. Sermon-making is an art, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of the practice of that art. Many orthodox preachers simply bore the congregation of the saints. Some have no idea where their members live during the week. They preach about the incarnate Christ but do not themselves live and speak from where the Incarnation took place. Other orthodox preachers speak from outside a confessional Christianity and must therefore preach from their own private interpretation of Christianity, aided in part by a vague, unwritten tradition. They find the task too much, and their sermons are proof that no one can sermonize alone.

Related to this is the threat to an effective pulpit posed by the theologically orthodox pulpiteer who cannot preach out of a rich theological understanding of the Scriptures. Numbered though he is among the orthodox, he yet has no theology. In point of fact, he only parrots a theological tradition with which he has never wrestled and which he has never made his own. Officially committed to an adopted theology that has never been naturalized in his own mind, he enjoys the status of what passes for orthodoxy in his denomination but stifles his congregation with his weekly routine of ethical admonitions and moralistic persuasions. Each week his hearers begin by listening to the sermon, but soon they give thanks for a large hat or a wide pair of shoulders behind which to hide their disinterest. Although orthodox by commitment and by ordination vows, such preachers find it impossible to proclaim week after week what God has done for man in Jesus Christ. Hence they turn weekly to denounce the world and its sin, berate Communism, condemn immorality, and summon the hearer to be more pious, more devout, more committed.

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They find it much easier to preach the code than the creed. They know, for example, that it is better to give than to receive. They know this because the Bible says so—they can point to the text. But they have no theological understanding of why the Bible says this. In a similar way they know that he who would be greatest must be the least and the servant of all. But again they do not know why. Their sermons on this text become moralistic discourses, because they fail to convey that this reversal of normal evaluation stems from the character of God, who reveals the nature of his greatness and glory by coming in Christ to minister to sinners, to wash their feet, and even to die for them. Thus orthodox sermons often fail to reveal the dimension of the Eternal, of a God who reveals his transcendence in the “commonplaces” of life and renders this human flesh, this time, this place, unique and sacred.

The number of laymen who are dissatisfied with the pulpit seems to be increasing. They continue to go to church from a sense of loyalty. But they go less and less, and it would not be safe for the pulpit to presume upon their loyalty. More and more Christian laymen sense that even an orthodox preacher betrays a profound weakness when he fails to convey the grand and awful transcendent note of God’s Word, of what God has done for man, and instead makes the obligation of the Christian to be more spiritual and devout the center of his message. For what God has done, the Incarnation, the Cross, is the unique and holy and sacred place; what man should do—this corresponds to the secular, the street, the troubled social situation. This is secondary yet essential; it is a response to the life-giving truth.

Between a liberalism that, to secularize Christianity, wants to place the altar in the street instead of in the church, and an orthodoxy where the pulpit does little more than moralize in the holy place, there is not much to choose. Each obscures the distinctive feature of the pulpit, for both secularizing the Gospel and moralizing the Gospel are phenomena within the limits of the finite and human.

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Who Speaks For Whom?

The National and the World Councils of Churches have been accused of being monolithic structures. The impression gains strength from frequent pronouncements of the councils in the name of the affiliated churches. But in fact such pronouncements may often reflect only a minority report. The recent Buck Hill Falls meeting of the United States Conference for the World Council of Churches supplies some illustrations of this.

Dr. O. Frederick Nolde, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, discussed a Geneva-made WCC statement dealing with, among other things, China and Viet Nam. He called for the cessation of bombing in Viet Nam as a calculated risk, an act of “dignified humility born of purposeful strength and not of weakness,” and he also advocated the inclusion of Red China in the United Nations. This statement had already been released to President Johnson and other high government officials before the Buck Hill Falls conference, with the intent of influencing United States policy. Behind the statement lay, supposedly, the weight of many churches. All that the delegates at Buck Hill Falls could do was send the statement to the member churches for study. Moreover, since no meeting of the WCC has taken place since the statement was formulated, and since the statement has never been officially adopted, it can hardly be called representative of the opinion of the churches constituting the WCC Indeed, it was nothing more than a committee speaking for itself in the name of churches that had no chance to vote on the statement.

More significant was the situation that developed when John C. Bennett, president of Union Theological Seminary of New York, spoke on the moral and religious aspects of America’s China policy. He too advocated admission of China to the U. N. In the ensuing discussion Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary, rose to challenge his former colleague and to speak most vigorously in opposition to his position. Indeed, he called Bennett’s statement “irresponsible.” When Van Dusen finished, a considerable segment of the audience applauded him loudly. Since the news releases of Bennett’s address were sent out before the address was delivered, readers might easily gain the impression that he was advocating a course on which the assembly had agreed. No press releases were distributed to indicate that Van Dusen disagreed and that many delegates applauded his dissent.

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Furthermore, some member churches gave evidence of apprehension about the true goals and purposes of the ecumenical movement. Archbishop Iakovos, co-president of the WCC and primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, cast a shadow over participation of the Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement. He concluded his address with the assertion that the Orthodox would be responsive when “the commonly accepted leaders of the Christian world offer a crystal clear definition of the renewal they urge, and a concrete and acceptable pattern of the reunion of the Church they so fervently advocate.” He sensed the fuzziness of the WCC at these points and was challenging them to put down on paper precise answers to the same questions evangelicals have been asking for two decades. Yet the remarks of Archbishop Iakovos received scant circulation through the press.

Evangelicalism does not seem to have much of a voice in statements coming from important committees of the WCC and the NCC, nor are evangelicals called upon to address important conclaves like that at Buck Hill Falls. Yet there are large numbers of evangelicals within the denominations aligned with the councils. Why, then, is their point of view not heard and their attitude recorded? Are we to conclude that this will happen only when they involve themselves in the politics and structures of these organizations and replace leaders and committee members with those of evangelical persuasion? Or that, irrespective of ecumenical affiliation, the platform and publicity are reserved for an elite cadre of leaders with highly partisan views?

No Postscript To The Past

Although the 149-year-old American Bible Society has never shown a profit, it makes the finest investments in the world. At a recent meeting in the New York Hilton, representatives demonstrated to editors of U. S. religious publications that the society is very much a going concern. Plans were revealed for the building of its new headquarters in New York City, and guest editors were impressed by the vast and varied work done by this worldwide organization.

The American Bible Society may be old, but it uses the most modern techniques available to attract the modern man to read the Scriptures. One of the most provocative is its use of op art in connection with the Scriptures—art that creates an optical illusion and makes the viewer feel as though his eyes were passing each other somewhere behind his nose. While not everyone agrees with every experiment in relevancy, no one can deny that the society is blessed with exciting and imaginative leadership.

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One of the highlights of its 150th anniversary next year will be a Commemorative Service in New York City Hall, where the society was officially founded. At the 150th Anniversary Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, the Most Reverend F. Donald Coggan, the Archbishop of York, will be the speaker. The society will also sponsor a symphony concert in Philharmonic Hall featuring music that celebrates the Bible.

Dedicated to getting the Scriptures into the hands of people throughout the world and blessed with sound and authentically modern leadership, the American Bible Society has earned a right to the prayers and support of Christian people and churches everywhere.

One way churches and individuals can help is by providing names and addresses of blind people. The society has much to offer the nation’s 400,000 blind in the way of Braille Scriptures and high-grade recordings. Yet it is now serving only 5 per cent of these. The problem is to get the names of the blind. The society welcomes help in getting the Bible into the hands of those who always live in the dark. The blind will not see this writing, but they can be greatly helped by those who do.

The American Bible Society regards its 150th year, “not as a postscript to the past, but as a prelude to the future.” So let it be.

Social Change In A Democratic Society

The Institute on Social Change in a Democracy, sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews at the University of Oklahoma, gave respectful attention to a responsible evangelical spokesman, Professor Harold B. Kuhn of Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Kuhn, who is a contributing editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, declared that a significant backbone of regenerate persons is essential to the society in which the gains of social action can be and will be conserved, when the momentum of ad hoc movements has run down.

Dr. Kuhn said that “individual Christian social action is undoubtedly an oversimplification,” but maintained that “any programs which sidestep or omit this run the peril of being short-lived.” He conceded that “in parts of this country where evangelism is strongest, there are the largest blind spots” respecting race and other social issues, and spoke of the “thorny problem” involving “means to be employed” by Christians for achieving social goals.

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“Certainly,” he said, “the Christian cannot resort to violent means to rid the world of manifest evil.… The Church cannot—simply cannot—usurp the role of her Lord and turn the edge of wrath against the sons of darkness.” Dr. Kuhn linked the Church’s role in social change to the view of the Church as “the conscience of the nation—provided she remembers that conscience cannot coerce but only prompt and remind.” Observing that “it falls to the Church not only to produce the moral climate in which the means to social action may be found and its results sustained, but also to clarify the major issues involved in social process,” he said: “These issues include the right understanding of the powers of evil in human life and in human society, no less than the comprehension of the real purposes to be served in societal living. The Church is thus obligated to witness to the message that God is seeking to deliver man from the tyranny of evil at every level of life, and that the Living God is ceaselessly active in performing his redemptive work, in society no less than in individual lives.”

In an opening address, Dr. Franklin H. Littell set forth the thesis that the question of human rights has two phases: first, that some rights are non-negotiable and not subject to discussion and arbitration by public opinion; second, that there are other rights whose determination and application are relative and thus properly subject to informed public consensus. Not all participants were fully at home in this notion of “relative rights,” which would seem to imply “relative duties.” But conference discussions were directed to analysis of these two forms of “rights” and of the means for securing and conserving them. For American citizens, the non-negotiable rights of protection against murder, arson, the bombing of churches and public facilities, and the subjection of men and women to calculated terror were said to lie below the minimal level of behavior that must be maintained without any debate or any waiting for public sentiment to crystallize. Not only were these elemental rights recognized as self-evident; the further refinement was added that those who by action, connivance, or silence deprive others of their elemental rights deserve to lose their own.

The “rights” that assertedly lie above the basement level of behavior and are thus subject to debate, negotiation, and plebiscite formed the second pattern of discussion. The institute showed major concern for a balance of methods—whether mainly direct or mainly oblique—used to attain such rights.

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Direct-action programs for the social emancipation of disadvantaged groups were strongly advocated on the ground that indirect action is limited and has failed. A mere program of “education for progress and justice” or such processes as litigation at the lower-court and state levels were held to be so slow as to be “unrealistic in a world of today’s pressures.”

Legislation, despite its weaknesses, appeared nevertheless to be the major correlate of today’s efforts to attain justice in a prompt and orderly way. The role of the legislative process in moving ahead of the still slower-moving public opinion, which is sometimes glacial in its pace, and in generating action while being in itself educative, was held to be essential to the removal of civil and economic disabilities.

Regarding the role of the Church in the processes of social change, opinions varied. The usual pattern of Protestant-Catholic-Jewish presentation was set aside in favor of an “aspect presentation.” This necessitated papers from the NCC, direct church action-involvement, and confessional-Christian points of view.

The institute made a significant advance over previous similar gatherings. Almost no time was spent in inter-faith gestures; a ground of mutual intelligibility was assumed, and discussion went forward on this basis. That the implicit objective was not the formulation of resolutions but the development of reasoned convictions was substantiated by the attention given the evangelical position. Dialogue of this kind is not to be underestimated.

A Disgraceful Exhibition

The parading of the alleged murderers of Mrs. Liuzzo by the Ku Klux Klan in several Southern communities and the hailing of them as heroes by some watching the parades is an unbelievable lack of decency, an offense to all our people, regardless of where they live.

At this point there is no need to discuss the rightness or wrongness of the entrance into the South of some from other areas to participate in the civil rights movement. The facts remain that a murder was committed and that the murderers are acclaimed by some as heroes. Any attempt to justify murder can only degrade the conscience and character of those who make the attempt.

The travesty is that the Klan assumes the guise of a Christian movement and on that basis elicits the support of unthinking people. Let the Klan cease besmirching the name of Christ by hiding behind cross-marked robes of secrecy and violence. Let Christian people everywhere clearly distinguish between their own deep-seated convictions on legislation, proposed or enacted, and the bigotry and violence that in our day are the badge of the Klan. Christian love and Klan activities have nothing in common.

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Lifting The Face Of Evangelism

The National Council’s Commission on Evangelism has come up with a “new face.” According to its news release, “gone are the days when the chief emphasis was on individual ‘soul saving’ and winning large numbers to church membership.” The “new” evangelism is to “stand as a visible sign in human society of God’s love for individual men and his concern for the structures—social and economic as well as religious—which help determine men’s lives.” In Los Angeles, churches and synagogues (Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and “perhaps even Hindu”) are going to cooperate in an “unprecedented attempt to build structure and meaning in a massive but rootless city.”

However, some members of the Commission on Evangelism would go further. They “expressed doubt whether many of these [new] projects represent sufficiently radical departures from traditional forms of evangelism and are calling for ‘avant-garde’ experiments in the secular society.” “Emphasis on correct belief,” they say, “has given way to emphasis on being or embodying the gospel.”

It does not take an experienced observer to see what the root problem is. Apparently the NCC has failed to make a go of evangelism in the classic sense of pressing for individual decisions to receive Christ. This failure has turned NCC activities into other areas where the hope for success is brighter. If the NCC kind of evangelism is divorced from soul-saving, it will be concerned with saving the structures of society and making this a better world for unsaved sinners to live in. And this conception evidences a spiritual decline that presages further deterioration, because all the good works in the world, however necessary and praiseworthy, will not save men.

Perhaps the NCC leaders should reflect on what some of their predecessors in the International Missionary Council said in 1938 at Madras, India: “The end and aim of our evangelistic work is not achieved until all men everywhere are brought to a knowledge of God in Jesus Christ and to a saving faith in him.… He brings conversion and regeneration when we meet him.” While the missionary conclave endorsed good works, it sounded the note that the NCC needs to heed: “But being between the times [i.e., Pentecost and the end of the age] the Church has not to bring into force a social program for a renewed world order, or even a Christian state. It cannot redeem the world from all inherent evils.…” The die-hard enemies of the NCC will take delight in the present turn of events. They will point to the “new thrust” in evangelism as further evidence of liberal socio-economic-political schemes of men seeking to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. But no sane observers should fall into this trap. Rather, they should call the NCC and its Commission on Evangelism back to the New Testament concept of evangelism, with its emphasis on individual conversions out of mass presentation of the Gospel, and the consequent renewal of society through the agency of redeemed men.

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CHRISTIANITY TODAY is committed to New Testament evangelism and is sponsoring the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in the fall of 1966 to further the goal of taking Christ to all men everywhere. We are willing to join hands with all believers around the world whose hearts are committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation.

On The Lord’S Side

The dogma of Communism prohibits racial prejudice. Theoretically based on the proposition that all men are of equal value and dignity, Communism’s doctrine of man provides it with a kind of universal appeal that often attracts the rich as well as the poor, the university professor as well as the illiterate.

Yet Communistic practice is not always equal to its ideological confession. Many Communists have not traveled far down the Marxist road of sanctification. Even its religious centers, Moscow and Peking, are quite capable of deep prejudice; neither is so fully committed that it cannot denounce the other as a company of dogs and reprobates. Moreover, there is in Russia widespread prejudice and discriminatory action against the Jewish people.

Recently the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Soviet persecution of Jewish and other religious minorities. Many such resolutions have appeared before Congress over the years, but in deference to the U. S. State Department (which obviously has delicate problems in this area) they were not brought to a vote. The State Department recently withdrew its objections, however, and there was a speedy and unanimous Senate adoption of a resolution condemning current Russian anti-Semitism.

True, saying so is not enough. One can verbally condemn anti-Semitism and, in the United States no less than in Russia, still practice it. Nonetheless, this recent action of the Senate is most significant. It puts the U. S. government at this point publicly on the Lord’s side, standing with him who called the Jews “my people” and who said about them to all the world, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.”

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Christians sometimes wonder why God continues to bless America in view of its widespread secularism and immorality. But on the deep religious level, our nation is sometimes better than it knows. When the government of the United States rises before the world to bless the Jewish people and to ward off the human curses that often fall upon them, it is putting itself in a position to receive the promised blessing of the Almighty, and not his curse.

Many Americans are little aware of this. Yet if they cannot see one special source of God’s blessing upon them, they can perhaps learn the same lesson in reverse by considering the destruction of Nazi Germany, a regime that was bent on the wholesale elimination of the Jewish people. Or they might consider the fate that early in this century befell the Czarist Russian regime and its pogroms.

It is still true, as history has shown more than once in this century and may show again in Soviet Russia, that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people and curse those who curse them. Or, in the most concentrated form of this truth, God will bless those who bless a Jew named Jesus, whom God made to be the Christ, his Chosen, and will curse those who curse him. To stay on the Lord’s side, both nations and individuals must bless both.

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