The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches chose for its theme “All Things New.” At the United Methodist Conference a caricature of the old prophet’s solemn warning was posted: “Prepare to meet thy Change.” In the patois of some radical activists in the church, God is change. Odd innovations are embraced and dubbed “evangelism,” even though they may be completely foreign to anything in the New Testament.
Speaking at the Senate Breakfast Group in Washington, Senator Frank Carlson said, “Today there is a widespread devotion to the idea that nothing, absolutely nothing, can remain the same. All things must change, and there is practically no consideration given as to whether the change is good or bad—right or wrong—easy or difficult—necessary or unnecessary.… But irresponsible, erratic, violent change only for the sake of making things different is as illogical and as unreasonable as it is unspiritual” (U.S. News And World Report, July 1, 1968).
Change is caught on the wheel of time and at its turning things rot, rust, break, disentegrate; earth dies and is reborn. Society, politics, religion—everything is affected. In the twenty-four volume Collier’s Encyclopedia, 13,624 pages—the equivalent of nineteen volumes—have been revised since 1965 to keep the work abreast of our swift-changing times. “The old order changeth,” and sometimes we are staggered, sometimes amused or delighted.
Scripture opens with a majestic sentence: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.… And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Cosmic transition took place. The human race appeared and moved forward into vastly varied experiences. Israel was thrust into time. Christ came—and what a change that brought! The Church moved out into the world, undergoing structural changes through the shifting decades.
The early Christians knew that change was not only inevitable but often needful as well. They insisted that their mission not become static, their individual spiritual lives not remain still. “We are being transformed into the same likeness as himself, passing from one glory to another,” said the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 3:18, Moffat). Anticipating the return of Christ he exclaimed: “We shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). And Scripture never suggests that transitions will not continue into eternity.
Yet, despite the apparent close link between existence and mutation, let us not be carried away with the doctrine of change. Things may not be changing as much as we suppose. Numerous elements in the universe have a stubborn immobility. None of the many protest marchers in our time have demanded that the sun be remodeled, or that the atomic structure of things be revolutionized. Nobody votes to modify our breathing in and out of air. Nobody suggests that the heartbeat be stepped up to a hundred beats a minute or that the earth be remade as a cube rather than a sphere. Women readily change the color of their hair and the design of their dresses; but few would choose to change their natural femininity. More things are constant on earth, and perhaps in heaven, than some radical pundits care to consider.
The cry is loud for change in religion, for the revolutionizing of historic creeds, curriculums, even the very Word of God. Jesus himself is sometimes presented as an unfamiliar socialist or secularist. Apostolic authority suffers unbelievable diminution. The Church’s most hallowed foundations feel the crowbars of the revolutionaries. Change at times becomes a frightening Dagon venerated by awestruck masses.
Change, as we have said, is inevitable; but some changes could be ruinous beyond reciting. Would-be truth-changers may be mankind’s deadliest enemies, bringing the Almighty’s anger upon the earth. They made themselves fools, exclaimed Paul, when they changed the glory of God into the image of things that creep and crawl, and wove a lie from the fabric of truth (Rom. 1:23–25). There is a sense in which we had better let God be; tampering with him can be man’s most dangerous game. “He does not change, nor does he cause darkness by turning” (Jas. 1:17, Good News for Modern Man).
Contemplate the folly of changing some things associated with the Christian faith. Take the Cross, for instance: with what sign shall we replace it? In heaven or on earth what substitute could there be for forgiveness? Or mercy? Or compassion? Or justice? Who offers anything to supplant the effects of divine grace? How shall we modify the Spirit’s work of regeneration, or his dynamic for evangelism? Mutation of the essential elements of the Christian faith would mean their extinction.
The supreme folly, perhaps, is the theologians’ attempt to change Christ every few years. They simply cannot let him be what the New Testament claims he is. They will not let the Word be made flesh. They cannot accept the contention of the early Church that he is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” With Jesus’ own warning ringing in their ears that worlds will be scattered ruins on cosmic night before his Word passes away, they take a chance on his being wrong in his witness regarding himself. They feel compelled somehow to recast the image of divine infallibility; Christ must be invested with human uncertainty. He must be brought down from his transcendent position and made as unregenerate as those whom he came to regenerate.
But Christ is not subject to change. He is God, and God is love; love cannot suffer mutation without being invalidated. It admits of no room for improvement. It cannot undergo alteration. Christ’s changelessness guarantees his essential sovereignty.
God has signed a gentleman’s agreement; he has made a pact with his Creation—“I am the Lord; I change not.” We can forever trust his immutability. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart throughout the ages” (Ps. 33:11, Smith-Goodspeed).
Students On The Rampage
Coming out of summer hibernation, the ugly monster of student revolt is beginning to prowl again. The angry, rebellious mood of radical students was strikingly illustrated at the recent meeting of the International Assembly of Revolutionary Student Movements. After taking over a building and disrupting registration on the Columbia University campus, students gathered in McMillin Theater, where red flags were prominently displayed. When the National Liberation Front flag was brought forward, the group rose and began chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.” A Canadian youth was applauded when he told of injuries to policemen during a clash with young people in Montreal. And when it was reported that students had seized the University of Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, the crowd cheered again while French students chanted, “This is only the beginning. We’ll continue to fight.”
Meanwhile, in Mexico City an army takeover of the National University led to a bloody clash with militant students, who then planned further retaliation by extending their activities to other universities. Rumblings of revolt began to spread in many parts of the world as administrators began sweating out the opening day of the fall term.
The generally acknowledged leader of the American campus revolt is the national organization called Students for a Democratic Society. Since its beginning in 1962, SDS, which numbers among its ranks activists of many political varieties, has shifted its tactics from non-violent sit-ins and marches to what it calls “resistance.” This sometimes involves violent confrontation. Whatever issue may serve as a decoy—the draft, the Viet Nam war, racial matters, academic freedom or greater student control of university affairs—the real SDS purpose is to crush the Establishment.
While these radical students grab for headlines, we cannot forget that they are only a very tiny segment of our university population. We ought not to condemn the majority of American youth (see article this issue, p. 3) because of this small but loud minority. Most of our college students are genuinely concerned about the world in which they live. They want to discuss and deal with issues that their elders have swept under the rug. These students, whose concerns and activism are commendable, are themselves victimized by the rampagings of the radicals. Their opportunity for an education is hindered when the SDS-type minority hypocritically uses the cry of “academic freedom” to trample on the rights of the majority.
Even in this ferment there are encouraging signs for the Christian Church. Many students have found the cause to which they can give themselves unreservedly in the living person of Jesus Christ. Knowing him in a personal way, they have become a different breed of revolutionary, determined with God’s help to effect world change through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must not fail these young people who honestly seek meaning for their lives. Nor should we bury our heads in the sands of self-righteous non-involvement when confronted with the social issues they raise. We cannot ask them merely to profess a creed or promote an institution. We must show them by our words and deeds the power of the living Christ, who can make this an entirely different world.
Ncc: At Odds With Itself
Consistency has never been the chief virtue of the ecumenical movement. But the peculiar disparity that characterized the actions of the National Council of Churches’ General Board in its meeting in Houston last month is especially noteworthy.
For one thing, the National Council committed itself for the first time to the principle of economic boycott as a means of achieving social justice. The wording of a major policy statement adopted by the board sets the stage for such financial pressure tactics. In the initial implementation of the statement, the board passed a resolution vowing not to buy and eat California table grapes. The resolution was presumably designed to induce California grape-growers to recognize a farm workers’ union that has been campaigning for a better deal for workers. The rationale seems to be that justice for one social group is achieved by depriving another.
To make matters worse, the NCC board took a directly opposite tack with regard to the Soviet-led oppression of Czechoslovakia. On the same day, board members adopted a resolution condemning the Soviet action but calling upon the West to increase trade with the U. S. S. R.
Thus the board says that on the domestic front those thought to be guilty of fostering social injustice must be penalized financially. On the foreign front it says that the Communists should be rewarded for cruelty. Is it any wonder the NCC has the ear of so few and the hearts of even fewer?
Harvest Is Here
Missionaries and servicemen returning home see America from a wholly different perspective. Their long absence sharpens their awareness of America’s moral decline as they gaze with bewilderment on a scene marked by riots, strikes, racial tensions, obscenity, sexual license, and spiritual atrophy. The façade of affluence cannot conceal the desperateness of our plight and the speed with which we seem to be approaching the end of our nation’s greatness.
In 1965, American mothers gave birth to 300,000 illegitimate babies. By 1975, it is estimated, fully 10 per cent of our babies will be born out of wedlock. Divorce is common in and out of the churches. Premarital sex and marital promiscuity are endemic, and, strange to say, the voices of clergymen encourage this “freedom,” even in the pages of Playboy. Prostitutes, lesbians, and homosexuals parade and solicit openly and are pruriently interviewed on TV.
J. Edgar Hoover has just released the latest statistics on crime, and once again they show an alarming increase. Car thefts, rape, housebreaking, assault, and murder occur with the regularity of a ticking clock. Policemen are killed, and city streets are unsafe both day and night. To avert hold-ups and slayings, bus drivers in the nation’s capital now carry no cash and make no change.
More than five million Americans are alcoholics. The “man of distinction” advertised by the liquor industry is a far cry from the drunken husband who beats his wife and children, or the housewife whose children must suffer the taunts of schoolmates who know about their sodden mother.
Hollywood has reached new moral lows in film production, a feat though impossible a few years ago. Male prostitution, lesbianism, homosexuality, nudity and gutter language are now stock fare in both movies and plays. Producers argue that they give Americans only what they want, and that they would go out of business if they didn’t.
Books and magazines of the worst sort are peddled above and under the counter all over the land. Within two blocks of the White House are found some of Washington’s most obnoxious pornographic outlets. People wallow in this cesspool of putrescence legally, because recent Supreme Court decisions serve to protect those whose pockets are filled with the filthy lucre of this abominable trade. From the day the constitution was adopted until a few years ago, Congress and the courts had some control over pornography. But recently the high court has overturned long-standing safeguards laid down by earlier courts, and has altered what had been the moral guidelines in America for almost two hundred years. If a meat-packer canned and sold rat flesh, he would be out of business the next day. But the packers and peddlers of moral sewage not only have freedom but also the protection of the law to poison the minds of young and old.
The moral foundations of America are not crumbling; they have crumbled. And the churches have contributed to the disaster. Infiltrated by relativistic liberalism that has faulted the Scriptures, denigrated the ten commandments, and taught as the word of truth the philosophy of the natural man, countless churches have lost their message. The prophetic voice now proclaims social action and revolutionary political change, while men die of spiritual hunger for want of the bread of life.
We are already reaping what we have sown, but the full harvest has not yet come. While we wait, the voice of the true prophet must not be stilled. The prophet must cry. But what shall he cry? “Repent America! Repent! Why will you die? O God, remember mercy and visit us again with thy great salvation!”
Fruit For All Seasons
There’s a crispness in the air these fall mornings. Birds sense it, and their migrations stitch dark patches on blue skies and white clouds. Animals sense it and store up provisions for leaner months ahead. Man feels it, too, and harvests the ripened blossoms of spring. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” John Keats called it,
Close bosom-friend, of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run.
And at twilight, yellow corn shocks and crimson berries, orange pumpkins and purple grapes, steep in the bountiful light of the plump harvest moon.
This is a season to relish the earth’s richness, divine handiwork that declares the glory of God. This is a time to review the heart’s fruitfulness as well, for by spiritual fruit, Jesus said, the Father is glorified. And the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control—is for all seasons.
A Country At The Crossroads
Americans are an angry people in 1968. They approach Election Day in an almost bitter mood. They see a nation in torment, drifting leftward into anarchy. A growing number of citizens are demanding radical changes to get the country out of its trouble.
As never before, Christians need to implore God to move the hearts of men to vote for the best candidate as God knows him, “for promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge; he putteth down one and setteth up another.”
One big danger in this present upheaval is that on November 5 voters will respond emotionally rather than rationally. The results could be tragic. The crisis demands that Americans exercise the right of franchise, reasonably and responsibly.
These are the basic questions voters should ask before they act:
Who among the candidates will best perpetuate the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this nation was founded and under which it has prospered?
Who will provide the kind of leadership needed to inspire Americans to a new respect for constitutional processes and, for laws that serve the interest of all the people and ensure equal rights and justice for majority and minority groups alike?
Who seems most likely to put an end to riots, lawlessness, and civic disorder, not playing on fear?
Who is able above the others to bring an early and honorable settlement to the tortuous problem of Viet Nam?
Who will halt the inflationary wage-price spiral?
Who will inspire the people to more voluntary concern about one another?
Who offers the most constructive options for dealing with the great problems of urban overcrowding, air and water pollution, and conservation of national resources?
Who is best qualified to confront the Communist world in a way that will prevent nuclear holocaust and ensure at least a tenuous peace?
Who best comprehends the intricate political and economic problems of the underdeveloped countries and offers helpful and workable solutions?
Who will nominate Supreme Court justices who will close the doors to pornography and not coddle criminals?
Who will choose the most competent men in America, free of conflict-of-interest entanglements, to serve on his Cabinet?
Who will work best with Congress (and perhaps with a Congress dominated by an opposition party)?
Who by past actions has shown himself to be the most far-sighted in statesmanlike conduct and concern for national unity?
Who has shown the greatest degree of personal integrity and discipline, and who promises to look not to his own strength but to divine guidance?
Choose carefully. Judge the candidates not by the evasions and code words of campaign oratory but by their full record. You can help preserve the greatest land of all.
A Crucial Man
Billy Graham, the world’s foremost preacher of the Gospel, will celebrate his fiftieth birthday next month. He has been a crucial man, one whom the world has needed and God has blessed. It augurs well for the Church that as he approaches this milestone he maintains his vigor and vitality.
Church history surely will record the remarkable magnetism of Graham’s preaching ministry. There is little doubt that he has seen more people come to faith in Jesus Christ than any other evangelist in history. Christians too should be thankful for this man who has united them in the common task of evangelization. His crusades have been mighty demonstrations of faith, labor, and sacrifice on an interdenominational scale.
The Pittsburgh crusade last month provided the latest evidence of the Spirit’s work. Particularly memorable was the service in which 16,000 people came and sat through a drenching rain. More than 500 sloshed forward to record decisions for Christ.
Two weeks later the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, honored the evangelist as part of its bicentennial celebration. A remarkable assemblage of people gathered for the day, which began with a breakfast for high-school classmates and ended with an amphitheater tribute attended by 50,000 for the man Mayor Stanford Brookshire called Charlotte’s “most illustrious son and the world’s greatest preacher.”
Graham’s ministry may not even yet have reached its crest. He and his team have committed themselves to tackle again that city of cities, New York, next June. The meetings will be held in the new Madison Square Garden. They could well prove to be a prelude to international spiritual awakening and renewal.
The Believer And The World
Because the Christian is in the world but not of the world, he faces two temptations. One is to withdraw, to disentangle himself from the world’s problems, its sins, its issues and concerns. This approach has been tried again and again and has proved to be self-defeating. By shunning personal involvement, the Christian abdicates in favor of the forces of evil. The other temptation facing him is to yield to the pressures of the world, to conform himself to it. This ensures spiritual catastrophe.
We can think of the Christian life as a boat; the boat should be in water, but water should not be in the boat. When the boat is out of water, it is useless; but water in the boat will sink it. Christ told his followers that they must be in the world, but he warned them against letting the world be in them. This is the tension in which every believer must live.
The Apostle John shows us the way to victory over the world. “Do not love the world or the things in the world,” he says. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Scripture abounds with examples of those who violated this precept and suffered harmful consequences. Samson was laid low by the lust of the flesh; David’s lust of the eyes for Bathsheba brought adultery and murder in its wake; King Uzziah, “when he was strong.… grew proud to his destruction.”
But Scripture also speaks of many who conquered the world and its enticements. Jesus and Paul are triumphant examples. Jesus was very much in the world. He associated with publicans and sinners and talked with a prostitute at a village well. He delivered men from demon possession. He allowed an “unclean” woman with an issue of blood to touch him. But in all this he was not defiled. Although he was in the world and deeply involved with it, he did not succumb to its temptations.
Paul never took himself out of the world. He traveled extensively, associated with all kinds of people, faced all sorts of pagan wickedness. Yet no one had a heart more set on Jesus Christ and more divorced from the love of the world. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Paul overcame the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
So many of us are in love with the world. The boat is in the water, and water is in the boat. It’s time to bail out the water and become what God wants us to be—hardy believers sailing a straight course.
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