Will a powerless Church recover its God-given soul?

The Protestant Church in our day does not lack numbers. It does not lack programs. It does not lack money. It lacks power for a great spiritual offensive. And the lack of power is becoming increasingly evident to large numbers of ecclesiastical and secular observers.

Writing for the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Review in 1963, just before the second session of the Second Vatican Council, Karl Barth asked ominously in reference to Pope John XXIII’s Easter encyclical on race, disarmament, colonialism, and the United Nations: “Why is it that the voice of Rome made such a far greater impression than the voice of Geneva on the world?” And he answered, pointing to the lack of dynamic within the Protestant fold, “Is the reason not … the fact that in the encyclical the same things were not only talked about but also proclaimed, that Christianity and the world were not only taught but also summoned unreservedly and bindingly with an appeal to the highest authority?” Other observers see the weaknesses of the Protestant Church in different terms. Some term the Church irrelevant. Soon they may speak of its demise.

All is not well in the churches. Ecumenical advances capture headlines, but denominational officials have not yet stirred grass-roots support for their endeavors. Ecclesiastical activism demands a change in social structures; yet the churches themselves often remain bastions of social conformity and emasculated liberal theologizing. Church renewal is loudly praised in print, but forms change slowly, sometimes for the worse, and on a broad front the internal renewal of the churches cannot claim much vitality. The evangelical world lays stress on foreign missions; yet ...

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