In the ecclesiastical surprise of the year, evangelist Oral Roberts became a Methodist last month and said he planned also to transfer his ordination vows.
The 50-year-old Roberts, known around the world for his healing ministry, explained the change as “an enlarged opportunity to minister.” He emphasized that it meant no shift at all in his theology. “I will minister as I have always ministered,” he said.
Methodist Bishop W. Angie Smith said Roberts would be received into the Methodist ministry during the annual session of the Oklahoma Conference, May 27. The ceremony will take place in St. Luke’s Church, Oklahoma City.
A spokesman said Roberts would be recognized as a “local elder” with permission to administer sacraments. He is currently taking special studies required of all ministers who come from other denominations.
Actually, the move marks a return for Roberts, who as a boy belonged to a Methodist church in Stratford, Oklahoma. He joined the Pentecostal Holiness Church after his healing from tuberculosis when he was a teen-ager. He was ordained in that denomination, which now has about 65,000 members, and has been worshiping in one of its churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On March 17, Roberts and his wife became members of Tulsa’s prestigious Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa, whose building was designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright. Their three older children have for some time been members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa. A younger daughter plans to remain a member of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, with which Roberts will maintain a fraternal relationship.
Dr. Finis Crutchfield, pastor of the 6,000-member Boston Avenue Church, made it clear that Roberts “has not changed his faith in any way.” He welcomed him as “a brother in Christ and a sincere Christian” with “wide attainments in the field of education, civic work, and evangelism.” Roberts’s work, Crutchfield said, is “ecumenical in orientation and broad in its influence, and he enjoys the confidence of people of all faiths.”
Smith, who is completing twenty-four years as resident bishop of the Oklahoma Conference and will be retiring from the episcopacy in August, said: “The Church has men of various talents and interpretations, and the strength of the ministry is in this fact.… I extend the right hand of fellowship to Dr. Roberts, believing The Methodist Church has a contribution to make to his ministry, and certain he has a contribution to make to us.”
Methodist discipline provides for reception of “ministers coming from other evangelical churches” if they “give evidence of their agreement with us in doctrine and discipline.” After Roberts comes under the jurisdiction of The Methodist Church, he will be assigned to continue his work as president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. The school, with an ultra-modern $21,000,000 campus, is now in its third year and has 800 students.
Roberts is one of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis M. Roberts, both of whom are one-eighth Cherokee Indian. The elder Roberts, a native of Arkansas, used to hold revival meetings when Oral was a boy. That Oral would follow in his father’s footsteps seemed unlikely, because he stuttered badly. Then he came down with tuberculosis. The healing of both disorders came during an evangelistic tent meeting conducted by an evangelist named George Moncey in Ada, Oklahoma.
Oral vowed to go into the ministry, attended Oklahoma Baptist University,Dr. Ralph Scales, a former teacher of Roberts at Oklahoma Baptist and now president of Wake Forest University (Southern Baptist), is this year’s commencement speaker at Oral Roberts University. and accepted a pastorate in Enid, Oklahoma. He took further study at Phillips University and in 1947 undertook the itinerant evangelistic ministry that was to make him famous.
Roberts now holds about one crusade a month in the United States and two a year overseas. His non-profit evangelistic association employs some 270 persons and has been housed in a striking new building in downtown Tulsa. (The staff is moving to smaller quarters near the campus this month; proceeds from the sale of the downtown building will be put in a university endowment.) He has published forty-four books, which have sold six million copies. His tracts have been printed in 179 languages, and a slick monthly house organ now has a circulation of about 450,000. Roberts also sponsors regular radio programs on nearly 300 stations and has had extensive television ministries.
News of Roberts’s change of denomination jarred many of his fellow Pentecostalists, and a spokesman expressed anxiety that “some misunderstanding and some loss of participation” could be expected. But he added that Roberts felt “he has to take this step” because it is the will of God. The evangelist himself said publicly:
“Through the charismatic move of the Holy Spirit there is an openness in the church world today that permits different beliefs and practices within the context of sincere commitment to Christ and to the needs of people.”
Participants in the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin will recall that Roberts at that time expressed a desire for closer identification with “mainstream Christianity.” He said that the meeting had helped to “open his eyes” to this possibility, but that he still held just as strongly to Pentecostal beliefs and practices, such as speaking in tongues, which he does daily.
Roberts, genial and soft-spoken in private, is tall and robust and retains his Oklahoma twang. He has often had rough treatment from news media, and this has left him overcautious in what he says to reporters. But he is a churchman of great integrity who hardly fits the older image of the Pentecostalist.
Roberts is probably doing a lot to change that image and to bring Pentecostalism further out of the cultural backwater. His move to Methodism may bring more Pentecostals and other evangelicals back into the old-line denominations, thus strengthening the conservative power base in those groups.
CLEARING THE AIR AT GORDON
The quest for a new president begins this month at Gordon College and Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts. Dr. James Forrester, who has been president since 1960, is resigning as of August 31. It is no secret that tensions on the suburban Boston campus have run high in recent months.
Forrester, 58, has been on sabbatical leave since January 1. Local papers have quoted Robert C. Hagopian, whom Forrester brought to Gordon as director of development, as saying Forrester was “being pushed out of office.” George M. Rideout, chairman of Gordon’s board of trustees and acting president, said, “That is untrue. His resignation was submitted voluntarily.”
Forrester is moving to Puerto Rico to become vice-president for university relations of the Inter-American University. He will have special responsibility for development and public information, alumni affairs, and relations with government agencies. The university was founded in 1912 as a Presbyterian missionary effort and in its development has maintained a broad Christian context. In 1944 it became the first college outside the continental United States to win accreditation. It now has some 8,600 students.
Gordon has made remarkable strides under Forrester: Both the college and the divinity school have been accredited, the budget has grown from $450,000 to $2,500,000, student enrollment has tripled, and financial support has been cultivated within the conservative wings of the United Presbyterian Church and the American Baptist Convention.
Forrester, a native of Scotland, has seen pressures build with each innovation. Also, his resignation statement noted that “there is a changing concept of administration under which, with my training and background, the effective future advance of Gordon would be more difficult than necessary.” The resignation was disclosed two weeks earlier than planned in order to “clear the air” of the charges voiced by Hagopian.
‘LSD’ IN FREE METHODIST EDUCATION
When David L. McKenna assumes leadership of Seattle Pacific College next fall, he will be Washington state’s youngest senior college or university president. The 38-year-old educator was elected last month by the Board of Trustees to succeed retiring President C. Dorr Demaray.
McKenna leaves Spring Arbor (Michigan) College after seven years as president. He consistently aimed the Free Methodist college toward LSD—Leadership, Scholarship, Development.
During his administration the student body more than doubled. Originally a two-year junior college, Spring Arbor became a fully accredited four-year liberal-arts college. When McKenna first approached the Michigan Commission on College Accreditation, officials said the college had little if any chance of accreditation. But Spring Arbor met the requirements—and its president became chairman of the commission.
Seattle Pacific College will offer the community-conscious administrator ample opportunity to continue the pattern established at Spring Arbor. Nearly half of the more than 2,000 students commute to the city campus, largest of the Free Methodist colleges. McKenna foresees no “ivory tower” existence.
The Free Methodist minister is well acquainted with academic life. He earned the B.D. degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and the M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Before going to Spring Arbor, he was coordinator and assistant professor of higher education at Ohio State University.
KUNG’S PLANS FOR THE PAPACY
When Swiss-born Catholic theologian Hans Küng was last in America for any length of time, in 1963, his study of justification had just appeared, and his addresses centered on that theme. To many they sounded almost Protestant. This year the 40-year-old, wavy-haired professor from the University of Tübingen, Germany, has published a new book, The Church, and is in the United States again, this time raising questions about the doctrine of the church and its structure.
Above all, Küng feels, the church must retreat from the “domination” theory of the papacy and church doctrine—not only because the church’s magisterium “has erred” but because the twentieth century is marked by a “new passion” for sincerity and truthfulness. He defines infallibility as “the basic persistence of the church in truth which is not destroyed by errors in detail.”
Hawks In The Pews
A rough, unscientific poll of 34,000 Protestants shows a large majority are dissatisfied with President Johnson’s handling of the Viet Nam war. More than half believe the “United States should use all military strength necessary (short of nuclear weapons) to achieve victory in the war.”
Readers clipped the questionnaires from nine Protestant denominational magazines and mailed them in. The 63 per cent dissatisfaction with the President was registered before the damaging “Tet” offensive. Most of the replies came from laymen, who proved more hawkish than the 2,000 clergymen who responded. For instance, 57 per cent of the clergy wanted a halt of bombing of North Viet Nam, while 60 per cent of the laymen were against a halt. And two-thirds of the clergy opposed the statement about using “all military strength necessary.”
The survey indicated that readers of journals in the United Church of Christ and United Church of Canada were the most dovish, while hawks were strongest in the Southern Presbyterian Church. Other denominations involved were The Methodist Church, United Presbyterian ChurchThe United Presbyterian Church recently reported that fifty-five of its 3.3 million members are registered officially as conscientious objectors., Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America, Christian Churches (Disciples), and Evangelical United Brethren. The nine journals, with combined circulation of 3.6 million, did the poll as part of their cooperative venture called Interchurch Features (see September 16, 1966, issue, page 48).
• Should the United States “immediately and unconditionally” stop bombing of the North? Yes, 35 per cent; No, 59 per cent.
• If a situation like Viet Nam develops elsewhere, should America send troops? Yes, 30 per cent; No, 58 per cent.
• Should “conscientious protest” against the war be defended by the Church, “whatever the consequences”? Yes, 40 per cent; No, 55 per cent.
• Should alternative forms of active service be provided for youths who are conscientious objectors to this particular war? Yes, 75 per cent; No, 21 per cent.
The latter sentiment won support last month from sixteen teachers at Fuller Theological Seminary, who sent President Johnson a letter appealing for the right for a person to conscientiously object to any war he believes is immoral, and asking Congress to amend the Selective Service Act accordingly.
An even dovier evangelical protest came from forty-seven teachers at Calvin College and Seminary (Christian Reformed) in Grand Rapids. They supported recent appeals from four generals and an admiral for a bombing halt, and from South Viet Nam’s Catholic bishops for peace.
After scanning the poll statistics and comparing them with pronouncements from the World and National Councils of Churches, the Lutheran commented, “Officially the churches may coo like a dove but the majority of their members are flying with the hawks.”
What changes would Küng recommend? As a start, greater lay participation in church affairs. He looks for many spontaneous developments but would like to see a general shifting of church structures: a synod of laymen (and women) to balance clerical synods, a greater voice for laymen in selecting priests and bishops, election to all church offices, and procedures for deposing ecclesiastics who become or prove incompetent. He traces the present confusion in the Roman church to the rapid changes made necessary by centuries of dogmatism and immobility.
The sweep of Küng’s remarks also touches the papacy, where he sees a pressing need for change. Instead of the totalitarian role that the popes have enjoyed in the past, the Tübingen theologian looks for a “pastoral” primacy. In Küng’s thought this is far more desirable than either an honorary primacy or one that merely involves jurisdiction. There must be spiritual leadership. Küng drew applause from seminarians at Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University by observing that this sort of primacy would also mean a restriction of papal pronouncements to things about which the pontiff is adequately informed.
A non-totalitarian papacy, coupled with guarantees of certain areas of autonomy for Protestant denominations, could be the basis for a united Christendom, Küng feels. In such a situation, the pope could really be a servant of the servants of God and not, as is often the case, a dominator dominatorum.
In answer to charges that his views are unrealistically visionary, Küng points with approval to John XXIII. “The mere fact that Pope John convened the Second Vatican Council was a tacit admission that the pope needs the help of a wide spectrum of Catholics to govern church affairs.” A resolution of the problems of the papacy will come about only when the popes themselves renounce some “rights” they have acquired—often by rather “curious means”—over the centuries.
In such an environment the church can continue to rid itself of useless clerical pomp, especially in the liturgy. Küng finds it encouraging that so much “painted plaster and trash has been cleaned out of the churches and the convents.”
This month Küng ends his stay in America, finishing up his spring lectures at Union Seminary in New York, and returns to Germany, where he will continue to call for spiritual leadership in all branches of Christendom. “The Roman Catholic Church needs charismatic leaders backed by competent and informed personnel—Kennedys with Eisenhower cabinets.”
“We have very few spiritual leaders,” he tells both Catholics and Protestants. “This is the most significant lack in the churches today.”
JAMES M. BOICE
SEQUEL IN ECUADOR
The latest sequel to the missionary saga of Ecuador’s Auca Indians was written in February when a second, downriver band of the Aucas was contacted.
Kimo, one of the killers of five missionaries in the jungles in 1956, had led an overland advance party some months ago that got lost and nearly ran afoul of a spearing party from the savage downriver group.
As an alternative, Wycliffe Bible Translator pilot Don Smith and Marion Krekler of station HCJB perfected an airborne public-address system mounted on the wings of a plane. Messages spoken by Oncaye, an Auca runaway, plus drops of gifts, overcame the primitives’ fear of airplanes. They finally realized one of their relatives was on the plane, and a rendezvous was arranged.
Then Kimo and other Auca Christians set out for the contact point, with the help of Auca smoke signals and radioed directions from a plane. The first downriver person to respond to Kimo’s call into the forest was Oncaye’s mother, who had thought her daughter was dead. At that site, Kimo led the downriver Aucas in their first Sunday service.
AN ARCHBISHOP ABDUCTED
A politically motivated band of Gautemalans kidnapped Archbishop Mario Casariego in broad daylight last month and held him in a country home for four days. The 59-year-old Roman Catholic prelate was rescued unharmed after police tracked down three men who were guarding him.
Police in Guatemala City identified the Mano right-wing terrorist organization as the group responsible for the abduction. What it hoped to accomplish by the move was not immediately clear.
Archbishop Casariego, a native of Spain, was named to the Guatemala See four years ago. He is regarded as socially and politically progressive and was once accused by right-wing extremists of being a “guerrilla archbishop.” Some sources indicated that one of his own priests may have been an accomplice in the kidnapping. Police say people involved in the incident were part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
The kidnapping put the Roman Catholic Church very much on the spot in Guatemala. Tensions had previously been focused on several American Roman Catholic missionaries who have vowed to help bring social reform even if it means taking up arms and losing their lives. The Rev. Thomas R. Melville, 37-year-old priest who in January married the nun with whom he had been working, says it is futile to try to bring about progress in Guatemala by peaceful means. Melville and his wife, 38, are now under excommunication.
WATCHMAN NEE: ALIVE AND UNHARMED?
Watchman Nee, best known and most widely quoted Chinese Protestant, is said to be living in a Shanghai prison, “bodily weak” but “spiritually strong.”
Asia News Report sources in Hong Kong contradict earlier stories that the 65-year-old preacher and writer had been beaten and mutilated. The later account says he has translated English chemistry books into Chinese and been visited regularly by a close relative during his sixteen-year incarceration.
Jerusalem At Easter: 1968
Easter, 1968, will be historically memorable in Jerusalem. Never before has Holy Week been celebrated with Jews in full possession of the ancient Holy City.
Most of the sites traditionally associated with the death and resurrection of Christ are located in the old walled section of Jerusalem, which until the Arab-Jewish war of last June was part of Jordan. Tourists and “pilgrims” are expected to descend upon the area by the thousands, as they do each year, unless there are new outbreaks of hostilities.
Focus of the interest will be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, long regarded by many as Christendom’s most sacred shrine. This is supposed to be the place where Christ was crucified and buried, but there is no direct evidence to support the tradition. The church erected on the site is encrusted with sacerdotal trappings and leaves many evangelicals cold.
Protestants tend to prefer to associate history’s most crucial event with what is called Gordon’s Calvary and the garden tomb. This place, north of the old walled city near the Damascus gate, is named after a nineteenth-century British general who saw the rock formations as the biblical “place of the skull.” Its tranquility has been compromised in recent years by noise from a nearby bus terminal. An Arab Christian who had tended Gordon’s Calvary since 1953 was killed in last year’s war; his wife now lives in Pasadena, California.
The big influx of tourists is expected between Palm Sunday, April 7, and Easter Sunday, April 14. Jews celebrate the Passover this year April 12–19. Jewish interest is heightened by the fact that 1968 marks the twentieth anniversary of the independent state of Israel.
Christians lacking the motivation or the means to travel to Palestine can get a good idea of what it is like through a new, lavishly illustrated, 448-page book produced by the National Geographical Society. In its text, Everyday Life in Bible Times makes regrettable concessions to higher-critical presuppositions. But the maps, diagrams, and pictures make it unexcelled as a graphic presentation of Palestine.
In 1952 the former industrial chemist was imprisoned on charges of counterrevolutionary activities and multiple adultery. But the Chinese church he had helped found did not die with the arrests of Watchman Nee and 2,000 elders and lay workers. Congregations divided into cell groups and continued with an emphasis on personal evangelism.
Although Watchman Nee completed his fifteen-year sentence a year ago, he has not been released. A former colleague in his church-planting efforts explained, “With the Communists a thousand years are as a day, and a day as a thousand years.”
Watchman Nee’s spiritual leadership is attested by the popularity of his devotional books. The Normal Christian Life, now in its sixth English edition, has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Some of his other books are Song of Songs and What Shall This Man Do?; both discuss his concepts of Christian service.
NEWS ON THE CAPTIVES
Two American missionaries taken captive by the Viet Cong February 2 were reported alive and well last month. Spokesmen for the Christian and Missionary Alliance said the information came from a prisoner released by the Viet Cong. The two captives are Miss Betty Olsen, an Alliance nurse, and Henry Blood, of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
The Alliance suffered the loss of six missionaries in Tet attacks at Ban Me Thuot. The two captives were taken at that time. Three other American missionaries have been held by the Viet Cong since May, 1962. They also were seized in the Ban Me Thuot area.
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