As we advance deeper into the technological age, one thing becomes increasingly clear: modern man is caught in a labor quandary, and he cannot—or will not—program himself out of it.
In their annual Labor Day messages this year, agencies of both the National Council of Churches and the U. S. Catholic Conference single out equal-employment opportunity as “a matter of urgent concern.” But the church statements, while underscoring an issue important in the current racial context, ignore a far more serious condition: a virtual crisis in work at bedrock level, where our social underpinnings are being chipped away. A paper by the Synagogue Council of America comes closer, yet fails to probe deep enough, when it cites pride and concern as “two values missing from American life on this Labor Day; and without them, our foundations will never be securely set.”
There is no shortage of component parts to the overall question: inflationary wage-price spirals, effects of computerized automation on the job market, controversial labor-management practices. The basic problem, however, involves not economics, skills, or employment rates but the current philosophy of work. Work (which Webster defines as “the exertion of strength or faculties to accomplish something”) is interlocked with the very meaning of life, and modern man is unsure of that meaning.
It is an indisputable fact that millions of persons—rich and poor, black and white—are unhappy in their work. They blame their dissatisfaction on a host of conditions that range from “menial jobs” to “mean bosses.” They tend to live only for pay days and leisure-saturated weekends, to view the interim as barren wasteland redeemed by an occasional after-five oasis, which may be little more than refuge in family or peer-group companionship. Work is interpreted as but a necessary and sometimes painful means to financial ends.
Such wage-earners are not alone in their discontent with work; their ranks are swelled by inclusion of unpaid-labor categories: the housewife washbasket-deep in Monday chores, the student, even the volunteer church worker in the midst of a Sunday countdown. The retired and the disadvantaged, too, are vulnerable to the work-related displeasure of purposelessness or drudgery.
Solomon, a master craftsman who produced both quantity and quality, long ago mirrored this modern mood. Never really satisfied in his quest for a sense of meaningful vocation, he paused late in life for evaluation:
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.… Therefore I hated life: because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me.… Yea, I hated all my labor (Eccl. 2:11, 17, 18).
Solomon’s depression was the outcome of his self-centered conception of work. Lacking a perspective that included the person and purposes of God, he touched on the heart of things when he observed, “I made for myself …” (v. 4, Hebrew).
A worker in this predicament has several options. He may resign himself to gloomy emptiness and live out his work days in that forlorn condition. Or he may select a route of escape (alcohol, the vagabond life, change in environment or vocation, suicide). He may delude himself into thinking that enough money, enough things, enough pleasure and thrills, and enough friendships will deaden the anguish of life and otherwise compensate for work as a wasteland.
Multitudes in our midst have opted for these. Evidence is everywhere: from the sidewalks of Haight-Ashbury to the labor-management bargaining table, from the psychiatric interview room to the dimly lit bar, from the weekend hideaway to the basement bargain counter and the bank vaults.
Solomon’s echo seems to be getting louder in our day: “I made for myself.”
To the distressed worker there remains, of course, still another option. He may press for an answer, its starting point suggested by Solomon’s conclusive advice, “Remember now thy Creator.…”
Our churches can encourage the worker’s recovery of spiritual and moral realities by numerous ministries, among them the following:
1. Engage vigorously in evangelism. Jesus Christ offers rest that transcends the fatigue of workaday endeavors, and he endows existence with abundant meaning and purpose. To a sense of calling or vocation that Integrates all of life he adds his enablement. And he unveils refreshing alternatives to self-centered objectives.
2. Expound the biblical meaning and value of work. Too many Christians think that work is either a curse or, at best, only a practical necessity. Purposeful activity is reflected through the whole creation, and it is forecast as part of the believer’s future state. The one who was a carpenter for more years than he was an itinerant messenger of God’s truth displayed the meaning of work from his “I must be about my Father’s business” of childhood to his “it is finished” of the cross and his final “go ye.” His work not only glorified his Father but also had as its object the welfare of others.
3. Endorse work as an opportunity for Christian service and witness. For the janitor and waitress as well as for the electrician and lawyer, high-quality performance is an indispensable tool for cultivating those parts of the labor world which they are called to evangelize. Lunchtime prayer and discussion cells could be valuable by-products.
4. Enlist and equip available manpower for the Church’s particular tasks. As a result of recent legislation, more long weekends are ahead—a situation that will be drastically compounded if the four-day work week becomes a widespread reality. Many churches will be forced to shift from a mostly Sunday schedule to a balanced total-week agenda, which will require more lay workers. Long weekends can be used for stepped-up retreat and conference programming that blends worship and leisure with work (development of abilities in the arts, for example, with effective communication of the Gospel as the goal). Also, Christians who are often “out of town” on weekends can be recruited and outfitted for various resort and campsite ministries, thus broadening the Church’s evangelistic strategy as well as strengthening its own members. Church members must be confronted with their responsibilty to function in the body of Christ.
5. Encourage and help those hurt by problems relating to work. Inflation, strikes, business failures, discrimination, and unemployment all take their toll. The Church must maintain its Good Samaritan vigil, especially in those realms untouched by social agencies. Correspondingly, the labor and business communities must be exhorted to strive responsibly for society-wide economic justice in their negotiations. Self-serving drives by these groups for higher wages and larger profits tend to become millstones around the necks of low-income persons already struggling desperately to keep their heads above water.
The Gospel is good news; it is good news from God in the face of bad news about man. The Gospel assures the utmost grace of God for the desperate need of man. It is this that makes its proclamation so urgent. Christ receives sinful men so that, being accounted righteous by faith, they may enjoy peace with God. Here is the center and soul of the Christian Gospel, the quintessence of its message and appeal, the essence of its challenge and demand. The Gospel is a multicolored word matching itself to every mood and need of man. Testimonies to how it captures and cures human hearts are as varied as men’s hopes, fears, and aspirations.
The Gospel engages the individual at the deep recesses of his life, in the inner-city area of his heart and mind. It is not firstly or primarily concerned with suburban affairs. We do not therefore commend the Gospel merely on account of its by-products, or its pragmatic results. To do this would be to make it far less exacting and exciting than it is. We do not therefore call men to Christian faith so that they might be happy; man’s deepest need is not for sustained enthusiasm. The Gospel is not just a tonic for jaded spirits or a drug for bored lives. It is something more exacting than that, something to which one comes with “infinite passion,” with a passion that has its own peculiar pleasure-tone.
Nor does the Christian faith magically charm away all one’s problems. To claim that would make the Gospel far less exciting than it is. The Gospel does have an answer for life’s questions and quests. But its very greatness and glory is that it awakens faith to an understanding of itself. Far from demanding the abandonment of intellect, true faith sharpens one’s wits. It is not a blind leap into a dark abyss but an open-eyed move toward the light. The superlative wonder of the Gospel is not in its being a sort of hedonistic humanism or a closed-eyed believism. It is much more exacting and exciting than that. It comes both to cure the soul and to quicken the mind.
What is to be disclosed by and discovered in the Gospel of the grace of God can be seen in a bringing together of two New Testament passages. These express in summary form the essence of the Good News. In a testimony passage the Apostle Paul refers, with mind renewed, to “the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8, NEB), and in a doxology passage he expresses thanks, with heart aglow, to God “for his gift beyond words” (2 Cor. 9:15). Here, then, are the discoverable realities of the Gospel, a gain beyond reckoning and a gift beyond words—the gain of knowing and the gift of possessing. The Gospel, then, has something for the total man. It comes as truth to the mind and grace to the heart. The Gospel sharpens the reason and renews the life. It challenges the mind to high thinking, to adventurous thinking, to thinking coram Deo; and it calls the life to new living, to the sort of living that counts in the world, to the type of life that bears “fruit in active goodness of every kind” (Col. 1:10). The Gospel shapes men for present life amid the stark realities of human need and wretchedness, among the publicans and sinners, in the ghettos and in the vice-dens.
Precisely what is it that the Gospel of Christ can do for men? What are the essential notes of its message? What makes possession of it a gain beyond reckoning and a gift beyond words?
The Gospel comes, in the first place, bringing a sure sense of forgiveness. This—not happiness, nor a new purpose, nor a cause—is man’s most fundamental need. The first and the final meaning of the Cross is that Christ died so that we might be forgiven. All through the New Testament this was what the gospel message was held to offer, and all through the New Testament this was what gospel faith was seen to assure. Central in the experience of redemption in Christ is the sure sense of forgiveness, the realization that somehow one’s past has been lost in the great atonement. Thus is the Gospel radical in its inward effectiveness. Here is no Freudian adjustment of infantile fantasies. In the Cross, God has met and mastered human sin and shame, and in the Gospel of the Cross man is assured a divine forgiveness that delivers the human heart from the frustrating awareness of wrong done against ultimate Goodness.
Moreover, the Gospel gives the believing man a new sense of dignity. The novelist George Meredith formulated an eleventh beatitude: “Blessed are they who give us back our self-respect.” This is precisely what comes to the faith-committed soul as part of the gain beyond reckoning and the gift beyond words. There is a new awareness of being of worth to God, of having value in his world. The forgiven man can lift his head high.
And with this new sense of dignity there comes an inspiring sense of hope. Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure failed because he had lost hope. Had he had any sort of hope to sustain him, he would have gone on with his face toward daylight. The Gospel has a hope that is sure and steadfast. The believer has indeed the proverbial pie in the sky, and there is nothing wrong with that. The Gospel has an eschatology in keeping with its whole great redemptive message. It does not bring to man a sure sense of forgiveness and a new sense of dignity only to leave him on the scrap heap of history. We therefore, as Paul says, “do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16).
The Gospel also gives a refreshing sense of courage. This is an authentic possession of a man in Christ. Such a one can square himself for all eventualities and in life and death be more than conqueror. This is no escapism but part of the gain beyond reckoning and the gift beyond words. The last entry made by the British politician Harold Nicholson in his 1948 diary contains the pathetic admission: “It is now evident that I have not been a successful man but a failure; and this is owing to lack of courage.” That is not the New Testament note. That is not the confession of faith but the frustration of disbelief. Svetlana Alliluyeva tells of the “difficult and terrible death” of her father, Josef Stalin. At the moment of passing he opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. “It was,” she says, “a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of the fear of death.” He then “suddenly lifted his left hand as though pointing to someone above and bringing down a curse upon us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace.”
Very different is the moment of death for those who through faith can look beyond to the Kingdom immortal and eternal, who have come under the uplifted hands of blessing of the risen Christ. For them there is no night and no curse. They can sing the hallelujah song of triumph unto him who loves them and has rescued them in his own blood, making them a kingdom of priests for ever. Theirs is the gain beyond reckoning and the gift beyond words. Theirs is the faith that acknowledges, in the words of the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno: “Without you, Jesus, we are born only in order to die; with you we die in order to be born.” To everyone is the call made (2 Thess. 2:14): “Possess for your own the splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
WORLD COUNCIL AND EVANGELICAL RENEWAL
Dr. John A. Mackay, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, declares that “the supreme need in the Christian churches of our time is an evangelical renaissance.” Dr. Mackay makes this observation in the summer bulletin of the World Presbyterian Alliance theology department. He says that an evangelical renaissance is inseparably related “to a rediscovery of the full dimension of the Evangel, the Kerygma, regarding which there is so much current confusion. This rediscovery becomes possible when the Bible is taken seriously as the supreme spiritual source from which man learns about God, and the ultimate authoritative standard by which he makes judgments regarding his relations with God and his fellow men.” He adds that “it should be hailed with satisfaction and hope that Christian conversion is becoming a subject of serious discussion in gatherings sponsored by the World Council and by national councils, and is not being left to the exclusive consideration of Christian brethren called ‘Conservative Evangelicals’.”
It is indeed gratifying to learn of any genuine attention being given the Evangel, particularly when it occurs in quarters not normally known for such emphases. But it is distressing to compare the stated openness of the World Council with its actual deeds. At Uppsala the council appointed nine Roman Catholics to its Faith and Order Commission. And, what about evangelicals? It invited them, not so much to help form commitments of Faith and Order, but to engage in a series of conversations when the Uppsala assembly was all over. This sort of after-meeting at Bossey, Switzerland, in which evangelicals indeed had full opportunity to state their views, suggests that the council’s position is still that it wants evangelicals to serve its interests but not to influence it.
Ronald Knox once pointed out how shocking it was that in Muslim lands a fellow should bawl from the top of a minaret the controversial statement that Allah is great. The essay in which Knox made this observation (it should be required reading today) was entitled “Reunion All Round,” and was regarded four decades ago as satire of a high order. Not so today, when atheists in certain areas have ensured the minimum public reference to the deity, great or not, lest their non-faith be put in jeopardy.
The greatness of God is further muted and emerges as no more than a whisper in the United Church of Canada’s suggested new creed (see News, page 43). Omitted altogether from the latter, moreover, are some of historic Christianity’s most significant tenets. Says an observer in Canada: “This creed now proposed as an adequate confession of faith for believers of all denominations by its silences denies the necessity of Jesus Christ as the one Mediator between God and man, and affirms a new gospel—salvation by God’s omnipresence.”
Proposed Creed For United Church Of Canada
Man is not alone; he lives in God’s world. We believe in God: who created and is creating, who has come in the true Man, Jesus, to reconcile and renew, who works within us and among us by his Spirit. We trust him. He calls us to be his Church: to celebrate his presence, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil. We proclaim his Kingdom. In life, in death, in life beyond death, He is with us. We are not alone; we believe in God.
“As the forehead of man grows broader,” writes Don Marquis, “so do his creeds.” If the UCC’s intention is to let sleeping dogmas lie and provide the theological lowest common denominator, the result in this case is doubtless considered most effective. It even goes beyond the Encyclopaedia Britannica statement that one of the UCC’s distinctive marks lies in its endeavor “to be tolerant of all shades of doctrinal opinion consistent with the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord.” A revised version of the EB article is apparently overdue, for the new creed astonishingly does not even proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Some might consider that this omission automatically disqualifies the UCC from membership in the World Council of Churches.
The primary motive of creeds, according to patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly, was “to set forth saving truths.” The refutation of heresy and the safeguarding of orthodoxy were other factors to be considered, and creeds were usually wrought out of the heat of theological battle. One might legitimately ask what heresy is corrected, what orthodoxy upheld in this UCC statement that begins with a negative which is reiterated in its conclusion. There is nothing here of sin and judgment, nothing of Christ’s death and resurrection, nothing of God’s holiness, his omnipotence, or his transcendence. Many will conclude that a creed largely preoccupied with what God does, and which has little to say about what God is, is lamentably deficient.
The UCC statement is, in fact, more an accommodation to the temper of the times than a courageous and resounding affirmation of a faith by which a man can live and die. Its approach to doctrine is sloppy, and it lacks urgency. “If God has really done something in Christ on which the salvation of the world depends,” declared James Denney, “… then it is a Christian duty to be intolerant of everything which ignores, denies, or explains it away.”
Where is the biblical basis for a creed that neglects vital factors such as the majesty of God, the atoning death of Christ, and the sinfulness and accountability of man? This new creed will build no one up in the faith. Only “strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger.”
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