Is Dr. Blake moving from the most powerful post in American Presbyterianism to an influential role in what may fast become a Protestant-Orthodox curia?
The election of Dr. Eugene Carson Blake as head of the World Council of Churches, following Dr. W. A. Visser ’t Hooft’s eighteen-year term, is highly significant.
To the most powerful ecumenical post outside the Roman Catholic realm, the WCC has elevated not only a prominent American churchman but one skilled in the use of ecclesiastical power for advancing ecumenical aims. After accepting his election as “a call from God,” Dr. Blake directed his first words in his new office to the World Council’s unity moves toward the Roman Catholic Church. His responsible role will confer on him much of the same public visibility for his words and deeds as the Pope possesses, although his personal authority is interpreted quite differently from the Pope’s.
The selection of Dr. Blake gives American ecumenical Christianity special distinction (last year’s effort to name Dr. Patrick Rodger, a Scottish Anglican of evangelical sympathies, was suddenly set aside) and also honors a churchman whose patterns of procedure are well known. For Dr. Blake made the office of stated clerk in the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. one of the most directive agencies in that denomination, and exerted decisive influence upon the leadership and emphasis of its seminaries and other institutions. His leadership has created serious denominational tensions, and some Presbyterians even hoped that his gifts might be deployed elsewhere. The move raises speculations about what kind of successor Presbyterians will name, and whether the office of stated clerk can once again be dissociated from all directive authority. In that post Dr. Blake was associated with two bold ecumenical moves that currently appear abortive. One was the 1960 Blake-Pike plan for merger of American Protestant churches, most recently bypassed by leaders of the American Baptist Convention. The other was the proposed “Confession of 1967,” which is running into increasing demands for revision or abandonment within the United Presbyterian Church. (In relation to this document, however, Dr. Blake remained in the background, and it is not fully certain to what extent he approved it.)
Dr. Blake believes in repentance and evangelical conversion. Although his theological views are considered broadly Reformed, in ecumenical planning they seem not to be determinative. He has actively promoted direct ecclesiastical involvement in political pressures and has encouraged clerical participation in political demonstrations. Shortly after assuming his new post, he released a provocative statement declaring that United States military victory in Viet Nam would create more problems than it would solve. He contended that “the bombing of a less developed nation of colored people by a large, rich, white one” carries a racial stigma. What special sources of military information Dr. Blake has that are not available to those in high government circles we do not know, but we suspect that the failure of a nation—white or black, large or small, rich or poor—to take a firm stand against Communist aggression would carry not only a racial stigma but an ideological one.
Dr. Blake has stepped from what he made the most powerful post in American Presbyterianism to an influential role in what may fast become a Protestant-Orthodox curia. It is an office that could make the man, but could also unmake the Church because of the high perils of ecclesiastical and theological adventurism. Dr. Blake needs the earnest and continuing prayers of all God’s people, for institutional Christianity has already made too many mistakes in our century to take the future for granted.
A Prayer For Moral Courage
“It is my prayer today,” said Evangelist Billy Graham at the fourteenth annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, sponsored by International Christian Leadership, “that we will recover moral courage in this country.… A spiritual awakening must sweep our country from coast to coast like a prairie fire.”
Seldom have lines from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (“He is sifting out the hearts of men …”) seemed as fitting as they did when the 1,500 participants united in prayer with President Johnson and other political dignitaries. They asked for divine guidance and courage in a time when, as Graham put it, “history is about to reach an impasse and men are on a collision course.”
The evangelist warned against a superficial view of human nature that seeks a new humanity through merely external changes. “The people of Jesus’ day did not know, as he did, the deep-seated evil within human nature. They did not know how deeply fixed were the roots of pride, greed, selfishness, and lust in human society.… Their understanding of evil in the world was shallow and superficial.… It is the same tragic mistake being made by many well-meaning people today who have only a superficial knowledge of the Bible.… We will only delude ourselves if we try to be more optimistic than Christ. The basic problem facing our world is not just social inequity, lack of education, or even physical hunger. We are finding that highly educated and well-fed people have greeds, hate, passions, and lust that are not eliminated by any known process of education. The roots of sin in our hearts are extremely deep … and only the fire of the Lord can burn them out.”
The beauty of a rose is destroyed as one plucks away its petals to see the source of its fragrance. Similarly, the Church, if it continues its introspective analyses, may soon impair its usefulness.
Not for a moment do we imply that the Church should remain static. Although its message must not change, methods and organization may call for repeated revision. During recent years, however, churchmen have become so involved in endless reappraisals that much valuable time needed for the real work of the Church has been spent in talking about what might be done. One major denomination is making a study of the nature and message of evangelism. Another is seeking to centralize power in the church.
If soldiers do not know until they are engaged in battle what their goals are and what tactics they are to use, they are in danger of losing the war.
Surely the Church should know its calling. If a church does not know what evangelism is, there is something radically wrong. If it does not know the imperativeness of home and world missions, it is twenty centuries behind the times.
What is needed is a return to those convictions that have been the mainspring of the Church in the past, convictions about its nature and mission, the full integrity and authority of the Scriptures, life and death, and, above all, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Re-examinations have their place, but they are useless unless built on the sure Foundation.
The W.C.C. And Viet Nam
Diplomats will soon gather in Geneva for disarmament conferences. There the World Council of Churches maintains its headquarters, and there the council’s 100-member Central Committee has just adopted a strong ten-point resolution on the Viet Nam war in the name of its member churches.
Irrespective of its position, the resolution itself continues the WCC practice of making controversial pronouncements on specific political and military policies. Dr. Paul Ramsey, Princeton University professor of Christian ethics, has noted that unlike American Protestant ecumenism, the Roman Catholic pope holds that “judgment of political questions and temporal interests” lies outside his competence, and that he has consistently distinguished his appeals for peace from “pacifism, which ignores relative rights and duties in the conflict in question.”
In its latest pronouncement, the WCC “advises” the United States not only to stop bombing North Viet Nam and to announce a future withdrawal of its troops under international peacekeeping machinery but also to “modify its policy of containment of Communism.” The council called on North Viet Nam to stop infiltrating South Viet Nam, and said both sides should recognize the futility of military action as a solution to the problems.
Let it be said, to the credit of President Johnson, and almost everyone else, that no person of good will really wants war. America wants peace and is forced to use war to secure it. It is precisely at this point that the WCC pronouncement is simplistic and naive. The council fails to see that American intervention in World War II and in Viet Nam occurred after war had begun, and that America’s aim in each instance was to bring peace and freedom to enslaved people. Had there been no Communist aggression in Viet Nam, America would not be involved in the present conflict. And America can get out of that country the minute those who really started the war stop it.
Money Can Ruin
The prevailing assumption that the lavish use of money can cure the world’s ills is a delusion. A wag has said of money, “… but it helps.” And this is true. But the world’s problems go far deeper than the economic level; money alone may injure as much as help. Unless money is used in a way that protects the obligation of the individual to work for himself and to practice thrift, it becomes a curse for all concerned.
With some happy exceptions, the history of the United States government’s economic aid to needy nations is not encouraging. Not only have billions of dollars been used for political purposes: great sums have also been diverted into private coffers in the absence of necessary supervision.
The Church has been called to witness to the One who spoke of himself as the “Bread of Life,” and who said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give shall never thirst.” Material aid alone cannot solve the world’s problems. The Church must proclaim to all men the unsearchable riches found only in Jesus Christ.
New Ethical Frontiers
This season the NCC’s television series on “Frontiers of Faith” (NBC) is devoted to Christian ethics. It may be hoped that this Sunday program will give viewers an authentic scriptural perspective on the wilderness of contemporary life.
The new morality is having an erosive effect on inherited Christian values. It is high tragedy that some churchmen sympathize not only with the removers of all objective ethical restraints but also with those who would destroy the supernatural God of the Bible. We hope “Frontiers of Faith” viewers will find in ecumenical Protestantism’s privileged television programming an illuminating exposition of the Christian alternative.
The introductory sketch by Donald Grey Barnhouse, Jr., son of the late Bible expositor, indicated that subsequent programs would deal less in generalities. As for the introduction, it seemed to us rather timid and somewhat repetitious, and neither spiritually exciting nor logically compelling.
Mr. Barnhouse offered three observations: (1) Christian ethics is not a set of rules or a series of commands but rather a declaration of news and an invitation. (But since the New Testament affirms the commandments of God, traditional evangelical ethics has held that the whole counsel of God includes both the Law and the Gospel.) (2) Christian ethics is not the attempt to substitute one Book for another but a glimpse of the living God—a good Father. (But the Protestant Reformers did insist on a uniquely inspired, authoritative Bible.) (3) The answer to the question of what God is like was supremely given by the life of Jesus Christ, particularly in suffering love as illustrated by his death. (Since Mr. Barnhouse earlier dismissed any God who “threatens to burn us, if we don’t do what he wants,” we were disappointed that at this point he spoke of the death of Christ only as exemplary and not as substitutionary as well.)
Drinking Is Not For The Skies
Among several proposals being pressed by the American Council on Alcohol Problems, two are especially significant. Pointing to figures from the Federal Aviation Agency that show drinking involved in one-third of all deaths from crashes of private aircraft, the council urges the FAA to require that breath-testing devices be installed in all airports, and that before flying all private aircraft pilots use such a device; any person registering over 0.03 per cent of alcohol in his blood would then be prohibited from flying, on penalty of losing his license for a reasonable time. This procedure, it is claimed would reduce by 80 to 95 per cent the fatalities caused by crashes in which drinking is involved.
Another recommendation concerns the serving of liquor to passengers on commercial airlines. Contending that pilots and stewardesses oppose this practice, the council says that in an emergency passengers even mildly under the influence of alcohol could not respond to instructions with adequate speed and efficiency. It also points out the danger posed by passengers who board aircraft after having had a few drinks and, when they have more drinks aloft, become troublesome. The council urges commercial airlines to stop serving alcoholic beverages on flights. And it suggests further that until this is done, airlines treat all first-class passengers alike by giving to those who refuse the drinks offered them on a flight a credit slip for the value of the drinks, to be used in the purchase of plane tickets.
These proposals make sense. Vast as the skies are, they are simply not big enough for even one drinking pilot. The scandal of the highways is the drinking driver, with his potential for snuffing out the lives of several human beings. But how much more grim is the prospect of a drinking private pilot, with his potential for killing scores of persons through collision in the skies or a crash into a populated area? The air is free, but not for drinking pilots or intoxicated passengers.
Half Below Twenty-Six
Humanity—at least in the United States—is younger than ever. Because of the population explosion, half of those who live in the United States are less than twenty-six years old. Business, aware of this, is focusing its attention on where the market is. To appeal to youth, advertising has become youthful. Young people sell cars, furniture, soaps, and shampoos to the young, while oldsters sell remedies for stomach upset, stiff joints, and tired blood to the old.
The challenge and responsibility of a nation half of whose people are under twenty-six is tremendous. The older generation’s task of passing on its cultural values and moral and spiritual ideals must now be done by a minority. There is more to do, and there are fewer to do it. And the task must be performed, moreover, in a national mood more teen-age than mature.
The Church must also read this sign of our times and be alert to the new shape of its responsibilities arising from this radical change in the nation’s composition. The population explosion has vastly increased the number of people to whom the Gospel must be brought and the Church’s spiritual heritage conveyed. The Church must be as wise as modern business in reaching almost a hundred million young people. If stiff joints and tired blood keep it from finding new ways of approach, the Church will fail tragically at a time when most of humanity is in the springtime of life.
Comity And The Evangel
A former American Baptist church has become a morgue. When this church in upstate New York was disbanded, a recently organized Southern Baptist congregation, convinced that evangelism could do what ecumenism could not do, tried to rent, lease, or buy the vacated premises. “Not a chance,” they were told, because ecumenical comity agreements ruled it out.
The building was subsequently rented to a mortuary, which now stores dead bodies there during the winter months, when burials must be postponed.
It may have been progress in the struggle for ecumenical comity. But we wonder what some of the dead—stored in a church where the evangel is excluded—would say if given half a chance. Perhaps they would report that a little less comity and a little more Gospel would bring life to a local church, to the ecumenical cause, and to those who have a destiny in eternity.
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