What will be the outcome of spiritual breezes that are blowing through the traditional forms and bringing new life?
The worn, tired, sterile apologetic of many Protestants that nothing can change in the Roman Catholic Church, at least nothing that makes any real difference, is being soundly disproved today and exposed for what it always was, an all too easy defense of Protestantism. Big changes are occurring in the church of Rome, and many of these changes are wholesome, the work of the Holy Spirit and a source of joy to Protestants who are learning that easy slogans long used to characterize the other side are only half true. Protestants are also learning that many of the theological problems engaging Roman Catholic thinkers should also engage Protestant thinkers. The question of Scripture and tradition is surely one of these. Protestants, with their strong belief in the power of the Word of God, are heartened by the current renewal of interest in Scripture reading, teaching, and preaching among Roman Catholics. And, conscious of the power of the Word, they realize that no one can safely predict the possible extent of reform and renewal within the Roman church.
At no time since the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century has the church of Rome faced so many internal and external pressures toward action and reform. Within that church today, forces are at work that are in many ways similar to those at work in the church before the Reformation, though the problems of the two periods are etched against sharply contrasting backgrounds.
Since the time of Luther the papacy has been reformed so that recent popes have lived exemplary lives. There are no modern Tetzels hawking indulgences, promising buyers that the souls of their loved ones will fly out of purgatory even before their gold coins fall to the bottom of wooden chests. Simony and nepotism are not a grave problem, and red hats are not handed out to teen-agers or to those of royal blood. While there still is persecution of non-Catholics in some parts of the world, the days of the Inquisition are over. The church does not hand over heretics to the secular authorities to burn at the stake. The rack, the strappado, and the “iron lady” are no more. Thus the church of Rome in the twentieth century, faced with new pressures and problems, approaches them from within a situation vastly better than that in which the Reformers rose in the fifteenth century.
In the church of Rome before 1500 there emerged men like John Wyclif and the Lollards, John Huss of Bohemia, Jerome of Prague, and Savonarola. Some of them bore witness to their religious convictions as they were burned at the stake. They were succeeded by Luther, Calvin, Beza, and Knox, and the Reformation was born and grew. Surely it served a useful purpose even for the church of Rome. But the Counter-Reformation followed the Reformation, and one of its chief instruments was the Council of Trent, which convened intermittently from 1545 to 1563. There the Roman church was renewed, its witness consolidated, and its forms settled for four hundred years.
Now the Roman Catholic Church is at a major crossroads once again. From scores of sources around the world reports filter in of priests, nuns, and laymen who have experienced the same kind of religious experience as their counterparts of Reformation and pre-Reformation days. Unlike the Reformers, who were forced out of the church, these modern disciples remain within the fold. Yet they have come to know Jesus Christ in an intimacy that sometimes surpasses the devotion of many Protestants. The reality of their experience we cannot question; the depth of their commitment and the open expression of joy in their newfound faith are good to behold. This movement of God within the church of Rome comes at a time when it faces grave problems, some common to all faiths in the Christian tradition and some peculiar to that church. Atheism, higher criticism, the spread of Communism, the population and knowledge explosions, and the need for organizational updating to meet the challenge of the times are common problems. But the Roman church also faces knotty difficulties rising from an internal surge toward democracy, a marked interest in the priesthood of all believers, the question of the relevance of archaic church forms in modern society, the cry for religious liberty for all men, and a desire for academic freedom in educational institutions.
Undoubtedly, dissent and discontent within the Roman church was in some measure responsible for the calling of Vatican Council II. That council is over now. But the church will never be the same. The council opened windows through which refreshing breezes will continue to blow for many decades. There were the statement on religious liberty; the acknowledgment that the Jews are not unilaterally guilty of the death of Christ; the movement toward ecumenism and dialogue with other faiths; the reorganization of the church; a return to the Scriptures and the emphasis on biblical theology; the putting of the mass into the vernacular; and many others.
But amid these many changes one must recognize that the church of Rome has not changed and will not change in its essential theological position. Pope Paul is an intelligent man who knows who he is, what his office signifies, and what he must preserve. He must “reconcile the spirit of change … with the protection of the office he has inherited,” says Sanche De Gramont in Dominion (January, 1966). Paul’s definition of the papacy is unacceptable to Eastern Orthodox and Protestant alike. As late as two years ago he said to an assembly of the faithful: “This, dearest sons, is what an audience with the Pope should leave in your souls: the impression, indeed the stupor and the joy, of a meeting with the Vicar of Christ” (ibid.).
Now that the church of Rome has begun to reform itself once more, and will continue to do so in the future, we must ask what the outcome will be. Can the church contain the new revolutionary forces and tame them? Will those who press for change be satisfied if the church moves slower than events warrant? Will there come another schism in which spiritually vital elements of the church will be drawn off into new channels or into already existing but non-Catholic structures? Surely to meet the challenge of the spirit of change and at the same time maintain the papacy in its historic forms is a formidable task for Paul VI and his successors.
In the midst of change and renewal, evangelicals should reach out with heart and hand to those who, though they are in the church of Rome, are our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. Substantive changes have taken place within Protestantism, too. There are conflicting currents and opposing viewpoints. And it is unmistakably clear that Protestant evangelicals are far closer, in theology and commitment, to many within the church of Rome than to many liberals in the Protestant tradition.
History has its own sifting process. Therefore evangelicals must not isolate themselves from those of evangelical conviction within the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, Protestant evangelicals have nothing to fear and much to gain by frank dialogue with the church itself. Bridges can and must be built and more intimate contacts made. If there is risk in encounter, so is there risk in any of life’s relationships. And conversations with Roman Catholics pose risks for them as well as for evangelicals. Whatever the risks, they are minimized when Protestant evangelicals test all opinions (even their own) and sustain all doctrines by fidelity to the Word of God and insist that all fellowship and all conversation start and end with the Scriptures. In line with this principle, evangelicals can talk to anybody, at any time, and about any subject anywhere.
Adrift On A Red Sea?
The National Council of Churches climbed farther out on the socio-political limb last month (see News, page 36). It is a tribute to the deep-seated convictions of the NCC leaders that they do not waver even at the specter of defection and financial adversity. But it is a condemnation that they are so persistently insensitive to the viewpoints of very many of their fellow Christians.
One wonders at times whom the General Board of the National Council represents. Surely it does not even begin to reflect the many theological and social stances included in the NCC constituency. Despite the wide criticism of the council’s stand on Red China, hardly any of the 250 board members seem willing to stand on the floor and speak against it. Furthermore, none of the members ever seems to question the propriety of the NCC’s speaking out on such subjects.
Perhaps the situation is in no small degree attributable to the notable indifference and isolation of those NCC members that disagree with the council’s policy. If they would exert more initiative in winning seats on the board and challenging the presuppositions on which the NCC operates, the council might more fairly reflect the convictions of its constituency.
The Fall Of A ‘Messiah’
Francis Nwia Kofie Kwame Nkrumah, for fifteen years the chief cook of Ghana’s political stew, was ignominiously deposed from his perpetual presidency while receiving plaudits and flowers from his fellow Communists in China. Nkrumah’s embarrassed hosts were caught royally entertaining a king without a kingdom. Indeed, he was hardly a welcome guest at a time when Communist China was licking its wounds after a series of political reserves around the world.
Nkrumah committed just about every mistake a dictator could make. But from the Christian perspective the worst of them all were his absurd, not to say blasphemous, claims to deity. “The Messiah” proved finite after all, and was deposed. Time magazine captioned its picture accurately; “Redeemed from the Redeemer.” He immediately began engineering a return to power from Guinea, but the rejoicing in Ghana at his ouster suggests that he has little grass-roots support for another revolution. We wish for Ghana, a harassed and troubled land, a brighter day under more mature leadership.
The Strachan Memorial
The Latin America Mission has acted wisely in its choice of a memorial for the late R. Kenneth Strachan, whose contribution to missions, particularly through Evangelism-in-Depth, was so great. Rather than erecting a memorial building on the field, such as a hospital or school, the Mission has established the R. Kenneth Strachan Memorial Fund for World Evangelism. This fund will be administered by a committee composed of Dr. Arthur Glasser of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship; Dr. Paul Rees of World Vision, Inc.; and the three general directors of the Latin America Mission—Dr. Horace L. Fenton, Jr., the Rev. W. Dayton Roberts, and the Rev. David M. Howard.
We see in this Memorial Fund great possibilities, including the provision of instructional materials in Spanish (such as filmstrips and manuals) that can be used to communicate in-depth principles of evangelism to the whole Spanish-speaking world and to other countries as well. Kenneth Strachan’s vision was not provincial; his strategy of Evangelism-in-Depth is applicable to the whole world. The Memorial Fund will open up means for training increasing numbers of men and women for the worldwide task of evangelism. (Already the Latin America Biblical Seminary in Costa Rica is planning to include in its structure a department of evangelism and mission.)
CHRISTIANITY TODAY salutes the Latin America Mission on the establishment of this Memorial Fund.
It Speaks For Itself
The Church and its ministry are increasingly under assault from some unexpected quarters.
Study Encounter, quarterly publication of the Division of Studies of the World Council of Churches, says that the material in its pages reflect “only the personal opinions of its several contributors.” But one of those contributors writes, “Certainly in the Gospels one simply does not find a Jesus who is the first Evangelical Churchman! As a matter of fact, if it is the function of the preacher to ‘pluck brands from the burning’ (whether eschatological or nuclear), one can only say that Jesus is rather irresponsible! When he confronts the crowds, he does not speak of their eternal destiny, nor even try to make them take the issue of slavery seriously. He tells them how damn lucky they are to be alive and that there is no need to overdo it with their prayers.”
There’s good news the like of which the pulpit hasn’t preached before!
A Thrust For Revival
Is it possible that we are taking our age too seriously? Think of the time we Christians spend reacting to “latter-day prophets” who change their minds each time they prepare a new manuscript for the press. We wait for the next radical assault, flinching in anticipation, wondering in our timidity whether the Church can stand the pummeling.
Meanwhile the great body of the faithful seems to absorb the slings and arrows of this present age and to go right on believing in the Word of God. The Billy Graham Greater London Crusade is a case in point. Hundreds of churches in the island capital are marshaling their forces to bring the unsaved and unchurched to Earls Court stadium beginning next June 1. It will not be a spectacular “new departure” in identifying the church with the community. It will not be a crash program in religious novelty or a chrome-plated experiment in relevance. Rather it will be an old, old appeal to men, women, and young people to unshackle their lives and give them to Jesus Christ. It will not be an effort to scuttle the existing church; it will be a revival of the existing church.
We congratulate the congregations of the London area that are mobilizing for this major event of faith in our time. We admire their largeness of spirit in this response to an evangelist from another country. We predict that great blessings will be showered from heaven upon many thousands of Britons in the days ahead, and we invite our readers to pray for such a supernatural result.
Our age needs to be taught a lesson about itself. London, where the faith was nurtured and so many of mankind’s dreams were born in centuries past, is a good place to begin.
The Forgotten Child
Today Franklin D. Roosevelt’s phrase “the forgotten man” might well be changed to “the forgotten child.” We live in a time when adult self-indulgence insists on allowing just about anything to be printed and published, no matter how indecent and vile. In thus protecting their own freedom to wallow in mental filth, many adults have forgotten a whole generation of youth.
There is evidence that dirty books and pictures develop dirty minds and that inflamed imaginations lead to sexual violence. Says New York psychiatrist Max Levin: “I am convinced pornography is undermining the mental health of countless youngsters.… Unscrupulous publishers cater to their sex hungers, and their lurid books are hot numbers on newsstands, in candy stores and wherever teenagers gather.”
Dr. Nicholas G. Frignito, director and chief psychiatrist of the County Court of Philadelphia, declares: “The most singular factor inducing the adolescent to sexual activities is … the lewd picture, the smutty book, the obscenely pictured playing card, indecent films, the girlie magazines.… Pornography fosters impure habits and desires.… It can cause sexually aggressive acts and in some instances lead to the slaying of the victim.”
The late Dr. Benjamin Karpman, chief psychotherapist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D. C., said: “… there is a direct relationship between juvenile delinquency, sex life and pornographic literature.”
According to J. Edgar Hoover, “Sex-mad magazines are creating criminals faster than jails can be built to house them.” And O. W. Wilson, Chicago police superintendent, states: “Obscene literature is a primary problem in the United States today. Sexual arousals from obscene literature have been responsible for criminal behavior from vicious assaults to homicide.”
In a resolution, the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges declared: “The character of juvenile delinquency has changed as a consequence of the stimulation of salacious publications, being no longer the mischievous acts of children, but acts of violence, armed robbery, rape, torture and even homicide, for which the vicious publications condition the minds of our children.”
A good many cynical adults insist that no limit whatever can be placed upon purveyors of dirt. As a consequence, panderers of smut hide under the cloak of a liberty that destroys the right of decent-minded people to enjoy freedom from the sex-obsession that mass media, hidden persuaders, and wide-open show business, to say nothing of the out-and-out pornographers, make capital of.
Is there no freedom for parents who want to bring up their children in purity of mind and heart? Must the moral atmosphere be polluted? Must we continue to live in a smog of indecency and perversion?
Americans who put profit and pleasure before human life come under the condemnation of him who said, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1, 2, RSV).
Censorship entails great and well-nigh insuperable problems. There must be some effective way to call for restraint in the exercise of freedom of press, stage, and screen. One hesitates to add an additional burden to a President who already bears crushing responsibilities. But because the welfare of American youth is threatened, we need desperately to hear from the highest authority in the land a call to self-restraint and a return to at least minimum standards of good taste. And we need also to hear such a call from other leaders and from the pulpit.
We are a free people, but now that every kind of immorality and perversion is paraded ad nauseam before our eyes and ears, we must return to decency—not just for our own sake but also for the sake of our children.
A Time To Speak
Ours is an age of pessimism and negation, a period in which man is threatened with deluge by forces over which he has no control. On every hand modern anxieties support the pessimistic mood. We are told that there will be standing room only on this planet in a short time; that man cannot supply enough food for multiplied billions of people; that nuclear holocaust will ruin the race, or genetic catastrophe overtake man because of the effects of radiation.
As if this were not enough, the age of negation has struck the Christian Church so that what some men do not believe is paraded more openly than what others do believe. Newspapers, radio, and television echo the denials of the trustworthiness of the Bible, of a living God, of a virgin birth, of a resurrection from the dead, of a relevant Church, of an atoning death, and of a second advent.
Surely the time has come for “simple” Christians to focus on the “uplook” rather than the “downlook” and to speak with affirmation, not negation. And we can do no better than to say with fervor and certainty in our hearts: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.… Amen”; and “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.… Even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.”
for whispers of
blood in the
thou hadst known
even thou only-begotten of stony ground the agony among thy sweat-hung thorns … because thou knewest not, thy visitation falls shadowlike upon the rocky ground
suffer it to be so.
smitten Rock and
the stones cry
out, could ye
not watch and pray
but pray now
for the rocks
behold the hands
are at hand
torchlight red and
stumbling feet in
ascend the hill
staves of reed
shaking in the wind
with blood conspiring
trample the garden
kiss of cords
whom seek ye?
discern the morrow!
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