Let us speak the truth in love, and be sure it is the gospel truth we speak
In this terrifying world where a thousand voices are clamoring each for its own viewpoint, the Church too is in ferment. This is not new. For the Church lives “between the times”—between its beginning at Pentecost and its consummation in Jesus Christ at his Second Advent. On the one side, the Church is pressed by the dramatic impact of the ecumenical movement, outwardly pressed in the most visible way by agencies like the World Council of Churches and in lesser ways by the World Evangelical Fellowship, the International Council of Christian Churches, and other groupings. Added to this are such things as the effects of Vatican Council II on the Roman Catholic Church, the recent visit of the Anglican primate to the Pope, and the Consultation on Church Union in the United States, which proposes a new denomination numbering more than twenty million people.
In all this, a recurring question is: What is the role of the evangelical in the midst of the great confusion caused by rapid change, and in the search for solutions to spiritual needs?
The evangelical surely has his own problems, and the weaknesses of his witness have been identified many times. He has often been written off as one who has no social conscience, who is not interested in improving the social, economic, and political structures of society. He is sometimes labeled divisive because he opposes avant-garde ecclesiastical leaders who think denominations are intrinsically sinful. He is characterized as loveless—and sometimes he is, especially in the heat of battle when issues are being determined, tempers flare, and swords swing. He is called a champion of the status quo because he appears to fear that change will lead to socialism.
Anyone must grant that such characterizations of the evangelical are not wholly unfounded. One will find vast differences among evangelicals who share one main commitment—loyalty to the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A well-known leader in the ecumenical movement, speaking from his own heart to the heart of the evangelical, counsels him to “speak the truth in love” (Eugene L. Smith, executive secretary of the United States Conference of the World Council of Churches, in Sermons to Men of Other Faiths and Traditions, edited by Gerald H. Anderson, Abingdon Press, 1966). This is good counsel; indeed, it is biblical counsel. In love, however, the evangelical cannot sweep his own uneasiness under the rug or surrender his deep convictions about the faith once delivered to the saints. He feels he cannot “join the club and then talk about our differences”; he wants first to know what he is joining and what membership commits him to.
In love, the evangelical must ask the WCC leaders for clear-cut, unambiguous answers to questions of great importance. Is the Bible the authoritative Word of God? Is the Church’s primary function, not to build a splendid organization, but to proclaim the Gospel so “that the world may believe”? Why do many in the ecumenical movement stress service at the expense of proclamation, and leave men to die in their sins though their temporal condition may have been improved? How can the evangelical ignore the ecumenical voices loudly proclaiming that all men are already reconciled to God and that they need only be informed of their divine adoption? Why do churches in the ecumenical movement do nothing to silence blatant spokesmen for unbelief within their midst—indeed, why do they often grant such persons significant places of leadership? Is there room within the ecumenical movement for the theology of—for example—a Bishop Pike or a Bishop Robinson? The evangelical’s problem, even in the midst of love and truth in Jesus Christ, is whether to compromise his conscience by joining men and movements that do not effectively discipline those who deny ordination vows and who preach what the Word of God condemns.
In love the evangelical asks these questions and presses for honest answers. He does not want to be divisive. He seeks a common ground on which to unite; but it is not enough to tell him that the Bible is the common ground, when so many so often play fast and loose with its authority and openly repudiate what it clearly teaches. If the Bible measures man and not man the Bible, then the Bible stands above and beyond man, and man’s learning must be aided and informed by faith.
The evangelical in a bewildered world, when the challenge to the Church is greater than ever, is simplistic enough to say that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the world’s need. He starts with the truth that is in Jesus Christ as set forth in the Scriptures, and this truth he must speak in love to a lost world “as a dying man to dying men.” He will join hands with men of like faith from every race and color, for he earnestly seeks the unity that, while it is concerned with man’s temporal needs, has for its focus the true end of all unity—“that the world may believe.”
On The Evangelical Horizon
Scores of letters are coming our way to support CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S proposal for an Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, and 122 readers have already invested their dollars. If all 250,000 readers of this magazine would respond similarly, the project could swiftly rise to reality.
Enthusiastic readers have given reasons for locating such a venture in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Denver, and Los Angeles. One evangelical campus has offered accommodations under its own roof, while a well-known evangelical student work has indicated the availability of land.
But until the grass-roots response justifies it (have you given your dollar?), specific planning must be held off.
Several prime considerations, however, must be kept in view. The institute should be located as near as possible to a first-rate secular university. And in order to preserve the highest creative opportunities, it should not in its public image be related to any established evangelical effort. Despite high academic priorities, moreover, it should emphasize from the outset the importance of personal Christian living as well as rational persuasion in encountering secular views of the world and life. Not all approved research projects need issue in a direct confrontation of the world of unbelief. But the contribution that evangelical scholars can make in refutation of modern speculative views and, equally important, in the persuasive and relevant exposition of the Christian view of God and the world is especially needed now.
We believe evangelical Protestants (of whom there are an estimated 40 million in the United States) are face to face with a remarkable opportunity, and we are hoping that they will respond to it eagerly and energetically.
Is The Gospel Too Simple?
In his recent “Editorial Correspondence” in the Christian Century, Cecil Northcott calls the present London crusade of Billy Graham the “abdication of evangelism.” Because the crusade is not the whole answer to the problem of evangelism (something Mr. Graham never claims), Northcott wholly disparages it, and the implications of his critique are revealing.
The message, says Mr. Northcott, is “impeccably scriptural and full of the correct overtones of biblical literalism” and is also “unchallengeably controlled by the Bible itself.” But immediately he declares that the message “completely avoids being truly biblical.” Nowhere, however, does he give plain biblical reasons for this judgment, preferring simply to assert that “personal salvation is not the overwhelming fact of the Bible.” And he goes on to say, “Remove the labels and the package is pretty bogus in its contents”—a strangely paradoxical comment on the preaching of a man who so faithfully proclaims the Gospel set forth in the New Testament.
Then the attack shifts. “I know that thousands of lives have been changed through the Graham crusades and similar operations in various parts of the world.… The crusaders rightly claim they have a message, a method, and a man; but when it is all put together, is it evangelism for our time?” (italics ours). In other words, Graham’s message—i.e., the New Testament Gospel—was all right once but is now passé. According to Northcott’s ultimate paragraph, “In 1954 … his message was a simple one for simple people in simple times.” Yet back in 1954, did Northcott really find the times so simple?
“To be ‘saved’ at Earls Court is not the answer to the plight of mankind today, nor is it the answer for one’s own personal salvation.” Then what is the answer? To this Northcott offers no reply. Instead, he simply expounds the premise that nothing good can come out of Graham’s presentation of evangelical Christianity. And he even finds offensive the fact that the evangelist’s “entourage … moves round the universe in air-borne majesty,” though traveling ecumenists are apparently exempt from this charge.
It would be refreshing if Graham’s critics might have the simplicity of heart to thank God for those who will believe even at Earls Court, just as we should all thank God for those whose lives are changed through hearing the Gospel in a parish church, through the personal witness of a friend, or through reading the Scriptures. The thousands who are finding Christ in London should be allowed to tell their own story.
Not By Guns
Aubrey James Norvell, who is alleged to have shot James Meredith, was described by a woman who knows him well as “the kindest man I know … a quiet, Christian man.” Meredith, who knew his life would be in danger if he marched in Mississippi, decided against a gun and carried a Bible instead. After he was shot, his first impulse was regret for his decision, followed by immediate embarrassment for the regret, “for I would have knocked the intended killer off.”
These ambiguities point up the necessity for keeping cool heads in untangling the snarl of racial violence and for making the proper response to such violence. In this matter of criminal assault by shotgun and the right of Meredith, first Negro graduate of the University of Mississippi, to walk the land, the issue is plain. There is no defense for the fanatical attempt to destroy Meredith; and Meredith’s right to march in Mississippi in order to encourage Negroes to dare to vote cannot be denied.
Negroes’ fear of exercising their constitutional rights as free Americans prompted Meredith’s long walk, which might have been a death walk. The displaying of the Confederate flag in places in the South, sometimes officially, doubtless encourages such senseless attempts to solve the racial issue with an act of murder.
The death of Meredith would have been a national as well as a personal tragedy. Every American, Negro and white, may thank God that the assailant was a poor executor of his way of solving the racial problem. And every American may also thank God that Meredith in his moment of regret, carried no gun. Not a gun but the truth that Meredith carried in his pocket unerringly points the way to the resolution of this tragic national problem.
It is said that during the McKinley-Bryan presidential campaign, Dwight L. Moody asked a brother evangelist, “What do you think of the political outlook?”
“I don’t know anything about the political outlook,” was the reply, “because my citizenship is in heaven.”
“Better get it down to earth for the next sixty days,” said Mr. Moody.
The incident reminds us that our democracy cannot prosper without responsible exercise of citizenship. In a time of expanding government, there is the inevitable tendency for many to leave to government much that they as individual citizens should be responsible for. Yet at the heart of democracy is the right of the private citizen to speak his mind about what the government does and to back his convictions not only by voting but also by letting public servants know what he thinks.
When the hidden persuaders flourish and propaganda of one kind or another influences us more than we realize, the best safeguard of our American independence is not only the voluntary participation of citizens in the last sixty days of a political campaign but also their alertness all the time. As Frank R. Barnett says in his book, Peace and War in the Modern Age, “The battle of propaganda, aimed at undermining U.S. national will and understanding, rages not only in the Socialist press in Europe and teahouses of Asia, but in this country as well.… Either we will create for ourselves a healthy climate of opinion based on facts, or we may have American opinion manipulated for us by conflict managers who have learned from Pavlov, Goebbels, and Lenin how to advance their goals through non-military warfare” (used by permission).
Independence Day is a good time to rethink the obligations of American citizenship, which include knowing what is going on and making up one’s own mind about what he reads and hears.
Two Tides In Theological Accreditation
When it began accrediting seminaries three decades ago, the American Association of Theological Schools included only Protestant institutions, and few of evangelical orientation. Last month’s biennial meeting gave evidence of radical changes in both these directions.
The AATS admitted to membership one Greek Orthodox and five Roman Catholic seminaries; what was purely Protestant has now become fully ecumenical.
Growing evangelical interest was shown by the fact that Gordon Divinity School gained full accreditation and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School became an associate member. On hand as observers were representatives of fundamentalist schools such as Dallas, Talbot, and Grand Rapids Baptist Bible seminaries.
There are hopeful signs that more and more conservative Protestants will take the AATS for what it is—an agency that accredits institutions on academic performance, not theological presuppositions, and that offers a framework within which men of differing persuasions can meet, talk with, and learn from one another. Evangelicals who become involved in AATS are to be commended.
The Ogre Of Inflation
Here in Washington, Great Society headquarters, the cost of living is steadily climbing, and the American dollar daily counts for less. But fares to the suburbs, raised a year ago, threaten to jump again. Our open-air parking lot, which asked $1 a day a couple of years ago, now wants $1.50. At lunch, our favorite corned beef on rye has gone up 13 per cent to 85¢ (tourists, please note!).
Suffering most from rising costs are the elderly whose savings, retirement funds, and Social Security income now go only part of their expected distance. The cost of living rose 3.5 per cent in April, while the first four months of 1966 showed the sharpest increase in the last fifteen years.
Several hundred liberal arts colleges are already in financial trouble, and educators who have long complained that rising taxation has reduced the number of millionaire patrons now grumble also that inflation is cutting into the value of some endowment funds.
The victims of inflation usually are deluded into tolerating it and awaken to its hurt too late to do anything about it. Inflation is, as we have often said, a moral evil. Financial stability will always be a virtue in a good society, and America had better learn the lesson soon.
Window In Philadelphia
Now that’s real relevance, we thought, as we walked past Presbyterianism’s Witherspoon Building in Philadelphia the other day. In bold type the question was asked: “If you were a German wife and mother in a Soviet prison camp—and you learned that the only way to be freed and reunited with your family was to become pregnant, by a guard …” what would you do?
The question was a come-on for Fletcher’s Situational Ethics. The show window was monopolized by stacks of books from the far-out school: Radical Theology and the Death of God, The Gospel of Christian Atheism—not an inch for those who hold the faith of Calvin and the Westminster divines. But doubtless this was the kind of message, we surmised, without which Moses could never have led the Israelites from Egypt, nor Paul have carried Christianity to Europe!
All publishers are interested in selling books. Yet ought not the publishing arm of a great denomination historically committed to the Reformation faith consider the confusion that results when it places its imprint upon books that attempt to demolish the very foundation of that faith? And if such books must be published, surely it is not too much to ask that better taste be used in their promotion.
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