Preachers have always moved men. Teachers instruct them, but preachers send them into action. A preacher, John Wesley, helped change England’s history; and that same nation was stirred toward the abolition of slavery by the evangelistic fervor of Wilberforce. Karl Marx instructed followers regarding communism; but Lenin, the preacher, fired them into a mission. Mein Kampf caught a people’s attention; but the “preaching” of Hitler turned Germany into a dynamic evil force.

Jesus’ understanding of what moves men may have led him to make preaching a central part of the Christian faith. He himself delivered the most celebrated sermon of all time. Luke reports, “He went throughout every city and village, preaching” (Luke 8:1). No sooner had he ordained the Twelve than they “went through the towns, preaching” (Luke 9:6). After the Resurrection Jesus announced that the Gospel “should be preached in his name among all nations” (Luke 24:47).

The Church’s first experience after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was hearing a sermon. The early Christians moved out on their mission, going “everywhere preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4). At times, in fact, it appeared that the Church was made up almost entirely of preachers.

The motivation for so much preaching is explained to Cornelius by Peter: “He [Jesus] commanded us to preach” (Acts 10:42). The preachers were under high orders. They understood the reason for their assignment: “God decided to save those who believe, by means of the ‘foolish’ message we preach” (1 Cor. 1:21, Good News for Modern Man). “How can they believe,” Paul asks, “if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear, if the message is not preached? And how can the message be preached, if the messengers are not sent out?” (Rom. 10:14, 15, Good News for Modern Man). Marshall McLuhan maintains that the medium is the message; the New Testament emphasizes that the Message is the medium through which men find redemption.

Today’s contention that nobody listens to sermons any more is no excuse for ignoring Christ’s command to declare the Gospel. More than a “turned-off” audience was required to make those first Christians turn off their message! Surrendering preaching in favor of something else evidently never occurred to them. Their Master had forewarned them not to expect phenomenal success: “They will follow your teaching as little as they have followed mine” (John 15:20, NEB). “Relevant” was not one of their words; the Gospel was never to be tailored to satisfy human philosophy or theology. Jesus had said those on the narrow way would be thin-ranked while the wide way was thronged; but those who came in on his terms would live forever.

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“Sermons are often dull,” said a clergyman, “but can you expect a run-of-the-mill pastor to be a giant? After the gifted TV personalities, the pulpiteer appears unattractive.” Most sermons will not be masterpieces. But were all the first Christians powerful personalities? Paul was criticized for his personal speaking appearance. His confrontation with the Athenian philosophers was scarcely a big victory. “However, some men joined him, and became believers” (Acts 17:33, NEB).

Even exciting sermons may add up to nothing. After an impressive spiritual experience one clergyman said, “I preached twenty years and converted nobody. But after preaching the Word a year I counted several who confessed Christ under my ministry.” Preachers should ask themselves this important question: “What do I preach, and by what power?” The New Testament tells us what the first Christians preached. (Certainly they never preached some of the things preached today.) They preached Christ, the Word, the Cross, the Resurrection, repentance, righteousness, and judgment. Their Gospel was both a diagnosis of, and a remedy for, sin. Their aim was not so much relevance as redemption for mankind. Their sermons were launched from the Word and rocketed by the Spirit.

Paul knew authentic preaching. Whether he preached twenty minutes or two hours he does not say; but he tells us what he did not do—“I declared the attested truth of God without display of fine words or wisdom.… The word I spoke, the gospel I proclaimed, did not sway you with subtle arguments; it carried conviction by spiritual power, so that your faith might be built not upon human wisdom but upon the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5, NEB). The man who could write masterpieces that millions would memorize found a force more effective than great literature for charging men with truth.

We must know the impossibility of driving the Christian message into the mystery-world of man’s spirit without the dynamic of the divine Spirit. “We brought the Good News to you,” Paul reminded the Thessalonians, “not with words only, but also with power and the Holy Spirit, and with complete conviction of its truth” (1 Thess. 1:5, Good News for Modern Man). Apart from the Word and the Spirit, this “complete conviction” is the preacher’s finest asset. Can we move others with texts from a Book we scarcely believe? Can we win them if we address them with less enthusiasm than a TV commercialist offering a bug-killer?

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Accurate preaching is making God real to people, whatever the content or size of the sermon. Such preaching can never be outdated. Certainly some persons will find all sermons dull; some feel bored listening to a powerful symphony. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18). Preaching is not, and never will be, for everybody. “He that has ears to hear, let him hear,” Jesus kept saying. For those who are spiritually incapable of hearing the truth, the sermon is, of course, dispensable. But the order still stands from him who promised hell’s gates would not hold out against his Church—“As you go, preach!”

Paul explains man’s rejection of true preaching: “The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world.” However, a trumpet follows: “But to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, Phillips). Every genuine preacher should recognize that it is no small matter to offer life to dying men—whether they receive it or not; to be chosen for this privilege is to be given an office honored of angels. If preaching the Cross is folly, it is the folly of God. It is also the power of God unto salvation.

Biafra: The Fratricidal Conflict

With Viet Nam constantly before the eyes of the world, Biafra has been lost to sight for many. When history records its verdict, however, it will reveal that death has claimed more victims in Biafra than in Viet Nam, and that the big nations of the world have done there what they have criticized the United States for doing in Southeast Asia.

The Soviet Union, France and Britain have supplied the sinews of war, directly or indirectly, to the combatants. Were it not for the constant flow of materiel from these powers in Europe to the embattled black men in Africa, the senseless slaughter of tens of thousands could hardly continue. Neither Nigeria nor Biafra will be the winner in this fratricidal conflict. Good men everywhere should call on the great nations to stop the shipments of arms; if this did not bring peace, it would at least lessen the tempo of the fighting.

The United Nations was brought into being to try to prevent such catastrophes and to provide for the just settlement of disputes after they have flared into open warfare. But its dismal peacemaking record both in disputes involving the great powers and in conflicts among smaller nations yields little hope that it will be able to do much in this tragic situation either. Maybe world indignation and pressure will do what the United Nations seems unable to do.

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We do not know for certain which of the warring parties is in the right; it may be that neither side has a clear-cut case and that both are to blame. But we do know that no useful purpose is served by a continuation of this slaughter. What is also clear is that every Christian should do what he can to help the suffering victims, particularly the children, by sending food and supplies in the name of Christ, who came to bring peace, not war, and wholeness, not partisan conflicts.

Pay Day For Managed Money

Scripture says that the love of money is the root of all evil. And it may be added that money itself, particularly of the paper variety that has no intrinsic value, is the root of many economic problems in today’s disordered world. The latest in the series of monetary crises has overtaken the French franc. Among those who take a dim view of the mighty and haughty De Gaulle, there has been rejoicing that at last he is getting back in kind what he has given out for some years. But this satisfaction is dimmed by the fact that all the Western nations are equally involved in the monetary fiasco, and the U. S. dollar may face the same assault that the British pound and the French franc have recently experienced.

It is easy to blame the speculators for the crisis, but this charge is too facile and overlooks the truth that there would be no market for the speculators if there were no trouble with the money. Speculators do not produce the crisis; they only take economic advantage of a currency that is in trouble.

Managed money, like a managed economy, defies the notion of a free market and requires controls that lead to more controls and finally to economic dictatorship by the few. One financial expert pinpointed the problem when he said: “It should be clear by now that the fixed-rate system [i.e., managed money] itself can be accompanied by upset, chaos and near-disaster.” Eminent economists like Milton Friedman have long advocated the abandonment of “fixed money” in favor of “floating” rates, which is simply another way of saying that “money rates should be allowed to find their own levels.” A free money market is anathema to social engineers and advocates of planned deficits to stimulate an economy. But more economists are gravitating to that old notion.

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It is barely possible that the present money crisis and others that are sure to follow will drive home to all that maybe, after all, there are economic laws written in the “stuff of life” that men abridge, write off, or abuse at their peril. Just as there is a pay day someday for nations that practice deficit financing, no matter how long the delay may be, so there is a pay day for managed money that cannot be averted forever.

The Chicago Riot Report

You can blame much of the world’s tension on racial prejudices, and on the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But how do you account for the ugliness exhibited in Chicago during the week of the Democratic National Convention? The Rights in Conflict study shows that despite the extraordinary fact that no one was killed, this episode was one of the most sordid exchanges of hate and passion ever seen in America.

A number of questions are left unanswered. If the majority of the demonstrators were engaged in a peaceful mission, why didn’t they disengage and go home when it became obvious that a small but determined minority was intent on creating chaos and seeking police response? If the obscenities and actions of the minority were so gross that the report was limited to a few hundred copies when printed, would not a face-to-face confrontation with the police under these circumstances practically ensure over-reaction by some of the law-enforcement officers? But the biggest question of all is the Church’s role in the riots.

Churchmen must take seriously the report’s inclusion of “the changing emphasis of organized religion” as one of the national forces propelling public dissent. It was cited as having “impinged significantly upon convention week in Chicago.” Intent on changing social structures and advocating revolutionary means to do this, many leaders in the Church have perverted its mission. Instead of proclaiming Christ and persuading men, they seek to alter environment, and they regard the means as much less important than their end. Chicago’s imbroglio shows that neither force nor law can make men good; bad men will not produce a good society. But good men can bring about desirable social change and a better society. Let’s hope the Church learns the lesson that the Chicago riots make evident: man’s first need is the Gospel of Christ, and the Church’s first business is to preach that Gospel in power for peace—not to encourage revolution, force, obscenity, sexual disorder, and anarchy, which spell the end of society and public order.

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Law, Order, And Holiday Misery

No religion has a higher respect for human life than Christianity. Yet in country after country where Christian principles prevail, hundreds of thousands of people die annually in so-called accidents—in the home, at the job, and on the highway. And too often these accidents are the results of neglect, carelessness, and irresponsible conduct on the part of otherwise good Christian people.

This is the month in which more accidents occur than in any other. The Christian community ought to demand strict enforcement of traffic laws, and adequate penalties for violators such as drunken drivers. But individual Christians also ought to examine their own behavior, determined to curb their laxity and bad habits so as not to contribute to holiday misery.

How we lament such tragedies as the one that took the lives of seventy-eight coal miners in West Virginia; and we react by demanding more adequate safety procedures and stricter adherence to existing standards. Yet many of us will hardly think twice before breaking a traffic law designed to protect us as well as others. People who say they believe strongly in law and order and are very conscientiously opposed to civil disobedience are often among those who deliberately and regularly exceed speed limits. Such inconsistency is bad Christianity and poor citizenship.

Nine Ways To Feel Grief

Spend a night in a police station.

Visit a family that has just lost a husband or son in Viet Nam.

Tour a home for unwed mothers.

Attend the Sunday-evening service of a storefront slum church.

Get with a surgeon as he discloses to relatives that the patient is a terminal case.

Drop in on a home for retarded children.

Sit in on a divorce-court hearing in which the battle centers on custody of the children.

Counsel a criminal who has been refused a final stay of execution.

Think of something to say to a person who says he wants to believe—and can’t.

‘Correcting’ The Dutch Catechism

The Vatican is taking steps to arrest the moral and theological drift in the Roman Catholic Church. One such counter-measure is the ten-point demand for changes in the New Dutch Catechism made by a cardinals’ commission appointed by Pope Paul VI. The cardinals call upon the Dutch to include flat affirmations of the church’s traditional teachings on such things as the perpetual virginity of Mary, papal infallibility, and transubstantiation.

The cardinals are discreet, avoiding use of the term “heresy” and praising certain aspects of the catechism, but nonetheless emphatic almost to the point of ultimatum. The question arises here as it does in the birth-control situation: Can Rome make the dogma stick, and what will it do to the faithful who refuse to be faithful?

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Another significant reaction of the Vatican in recent days was its expression of support for a bishop’s rebuke of the liberal National Catholic Reporter. All in all, the Catholic dilemma is not unlike that of Protestants, who for years now have wondered what to do with those in their churches who no longer subscribe to central doctrines of the faith.

Balancing Church Power

Laymen are coming into their own these days. Or are they?

Most Protestant denominations now assign an adequate constitutional voice to the laity. They generally operate on democratic principles that insure that control lies ultimately with the people in the pews—if the people wish to exercise their franchise.

Unfortunately, however, denominations still are largely run by the clergy. Their direction is more often confirmed than determined by laymen. The people who foot the bills have little to say about how the money is used; yet few ever complain about their de facto disenfranchisement.

Lay involvement tends by circumstance to be limited to the local church situation. The layman is often prevented by his job from attending legislative meetings beyond the congregational level. And since there are so many more laymen than clergy, lay representation is spread thin and regularly rotated at the expense of continuity. As soon as the layman becomes oriented, it is time for him to be replaced.

So what happens when the newly appointed lay delegate shows up at a meeting? As the Presbyterian Layman puts it, he “is handed a stack of mimeographed matter about which he knows little or nothing. He hardly has a chance to read, study or discuss these numerous committee reports and recommendations before he is asked to vote on them. And, unless he has deep convictions on all the issues involved and uncommon courage, he wouldn’t think of standing up to voice his opinion on the floor of presbytery. What generally happens is that he looks to his minister for advice on which way to vote.”

But the problem is not merely circumstantial. Can any responsible study deny that there has been no little amount of ecclesiastical maneuvering to discourage appointment of rock-the-boat type laymen to important decision-making groups? One also might wonder how often there has been a gentlemen’s agreement between clergy and laity—“You stay out of my affairs and I’ll stay out of yours.” Any such deals are a disgrace to the Church.

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Steps need to be taken by both professional and nonprofessional churchmen to bring about a better balance of power. History clearly shows that in all great advances of the Church clergy and laity have worked shoulder to shoulder. Laymen must be willing to assume more responsibility, and clergymen must take the risk of motivating laymen to play a more creative role.

Where Is Justice?

In Washington, D. C., a man found guilty of first-degree murder by four juries was set free with no bail, pending the outcome of the latest in a series of appeals. Three earlier convictions have been reversed, with new trials ordered. The man is under a sentence of life imprisonment but was released on his own recognizance. The Washington Post quoted law-enforcement officials as saying it was the first time within memory that anyone convicted of a capital offense had been set free on any kind of bond pending appeal.

Also in the nation’s capital, two youths who pleaded guilty to a $9,000 bank robbery escaped jail terms completely. A juvenile judge fined one of the youths $200 and put him on probation. He fined the other youth $100 and set him free.

The comment of a Washington banker is well taken. He noted that if court officials “are going to continue to pat themselves on the back for releasing these youths with small fines and then setting them loose to prey on the public, I think they are going to find themselves the recognized cause of many citizens arming themselves illegally and retaliating against these attacks by deadly force.”

Seeking Peace At Christmas

Peace—this lone word often appears on cards and in displays to convey the message of Christmas. But the note of Christmas peace will have a hollow ring for many this year. What does it mean to the G.I. in Viet Nam amidst the noise of machine guns and mortar? To the Negro in the ghetto filled with resentment toward those he considers to be his oppressors? To the teen-ager running away because he feels no one cares? Can even these find peace? Why do we talk about peace at Christmas, and how can it become more than an elusive dream?

When the angel chorus announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds nearly 2,000 years ago, they sang about peace on earth. The Jews had looked forward to the coming of Messiah, the Prince of Peace, who with his advent would bring an age of peace. Messiah has come. Where is the peace that he was to bring?

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The peace Jesus Christ came to bring is first of all peace with God. By his sinless life as a man and through his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus Christ has paid in full the penalty demanded as a result of man’s sin. Sin made God and man enemies, but when a man commits himself to Christ by faith, the guilt and condemnation caused by sin are taken away and there is peace between him and God (Rom. 5:1). This peace is not forced upon man, nor does it automatically apply to all; it must be received by an act of the will in which a man commits himself to Christ.

When one has made peace with God through Christ, he can know the peace of God in his daily life. A man who is willing to put his whole being at the disposal of Jesus Christ can find the peace of God that passes understanding and transcends circumstances, peace that will stand guard in his heart against the anxieties and frustrations that would intrude and disrupt (Phil. 4:7). This peace involves far more than just the absence of strife or conflict; it also includes the presence of all the positive blessings that a loving God offers his children.

Peace between man and man grows out of peace with God; individuals and races and nations will experience peace with one another only when they have made peace with God. When the angels spoke of peace on earth, they also spoke of glory to God in the highest. A world that refuses to glorify God by receiving his offer of peace through the blood of Christ will seek in vain to find peace in any other way.

It is no accident that Christmas and “peace” seem to go together. Because of what happened in Bethlehem, at Calvary, and at a garden tomb, men can know peace. Peace need not remain a meaningless ideal this Christmas. No matter what a man’s circumstances, he can find the peace God offers by giving himself to the Christ of Christmas, apart from whom there is no peace—with God, with oneself, or with others.

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