A Reformation anniversary is an occasion for thanksgiving. It is good to recall the great achievements of this sixteenth-century movement, the benefits it brought, the careers of the men who, despite difficulties and their own frailties, revived the Church and at many points transformed society.

Yet poor service is done to the Reformation if no more takes place than a summarizing, perhaps with pious complacency, of the wonderful things that were done in the past. For one thing, the Reformation was not complete; large segments of the Church remained outside its orbit and even resisted many of its decisive insights. For another, the reforms that were made are not secured to the Church in any definitive sense. Forces of change and corruption are continually at work, and what has been gained may be lost again unless there is both vigilance and positive action. Finally, reformation is an ongoing task, even where there has already been reformation. No one can ever claim in this life that all the implications have been worked out or all the applications made. The anniversary of the Reformation is thus a summons to work as well as an occasion of renewed thanksgiving.

It is a summons to work in relation to the non-Reformation world, and especially the world of Roman Catholicism. A hundred years ago this could hardly have meant more than the attempt to establish or strengthen reformed and evangelical churches in predominantly Roman Catholic lands. Today, however, the situation has undergone a dramatic change, and it seems as though there is also the possibility of a reformation from within. Biblical studies have given a new turn to the theology of Rome. Bible reading, with all its potential, has taken on a new significance. Scripture and liturgy have been liberated by translation. Old authorities as well as old dogmas are being challenged. Rules hallowed by centuries of use have been modified or abolished, and some that remain are openly criticized and even defied. Quite apart from the continued founding and upbuilding of evangelical congregations, the opportunity of a belated extension of the Reformation is present in a way that would have seemed impossible even a few decades ago.

Now it would, of course, be both impertinent and imprudent to meddle unasked in the affairs of the Roman communion. At the same time, there is scope for real action—not merely by prayer but also by conversation, witness, and example—that might help to lead the present movement to true reformation rather than to ultimate anarchy on the one side or reaction on the other. The positive Reformation principles are all-important here. It is good to challenge false authority in the name of conscience; but the only final answer to false authority is true authority, and the conscience that is really free is that which, like Luther’s at Worms, is held fast by God’s Word. It is good to break free from the externalism of rule, custom, law, and tradition; but the only final answer to false externalism is the externalism that is not free and capricious experimentation but the expression of the inner faith in Christ that is the one ground of justification and gives meaning and orientation to rule and form. One cannot ask Rome to do just what Saxony or Geneva did 400 years ago. But one can hold out to Rome the fact that the abiding truths of sola scriptura and sola fide are the precondition and indeed the source of all genuine liberation and renewal.

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The Reformation anniversary is also a summons to work in relation to the contemporary endangering of the Reformation heritage, particularly in the Reformation world itself. Since the rise of the so-called liberal movement, a question has constantly been put at one of the most vital and sensitive points of all, that of the supreme authority of Scripture. More recently the posing of the social gospel, or social action as a virtual alternative to evangelism, has struck at another indispensable element in Reformation preaching and action, the fact that what the Gospel is all about is the salvation of the sinner by the grace of God, the person and work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The present urge to relativize Scripture and to have the Church predominantly engaged in secular action by secular means is something that, far from leading to new reformation, might well entail a forfeiture of all that the Reformation achieved.

The Reformation, of course, was in no way opposed either to the historical study of the Bible or to changes in the secular field. Indeed, the Reformation fostered the historical exposition of the Bible, and it also carried with it drastic changes in economics, education, and politics, even to the point of being connected with sixteenth-century revolutions in some lands. Nevertheless, the point that needs to be made is, first, that our primary concern must be with the Bible that is to be expounded rather than with exposition as such (which is a fine servant but a poor master); and second, that the primary task of the Church is the preaching of the Gospel, the declaration of God’s saving work, the renewal and transformation of men by the Word and Spirit, not the changing of the world and society. The question here is not one of diametrical opposites. It is one of priorities, of putting first things first. The first thing in relation to the Bible is that it is God’s Word, to be read, expounded, and applied as such. The first thing about the task of the Church is that it must preach the Gospel. Other things, however important, must be set in the proper place.

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The Reformation anniversary is finally a summons to work in relation to the implications and applications of its message. Here perhaps it is above all the reformed evangelical world that needs to be jolted out of complacency or even surreptitious apostasy. To shout sola scriptura is not enough; Scripture must really be the norm of the Church’s doctrine, life, and action. To shout sola fide is not enough; qualifications must not be added for salvation. To sing with Luther of the power of God’s Word—“one little word shall fell him”—is not enough; there must be real trust in the power of the Word and not an ultimate reliance on homiletical, psychological, sociological, or even mechanical techniques. To extol the great by-products of the Reformation is not enough; corresponding results are to be expected and achieved today when the Gospel is preached in purity and power. Restatement of the great principles of the Reformation is good, but the restatements can become empty shibboleths unless the implications are seen and the applications are made with candid and consistent reference to current teaching and ministry.

Reformation is not a static, once-for-all event. The past is there and cannot be changed. But its significance for the present can change. It may become merely the past, simply remembered. It may also have a present and a future. Whether it does so depends ultimately on God, and hence we may be of good courage. Yet dependence on God does not absolve us from responsibility. Another Reformation anniversary is being celebrated with pride and thanksgiving. Is it also to be celebrated with new acts of reformation that will purify and enrich the people of God and redound to the glory of God?

The U. S. Congress On Evangelism

Evangelicals have persistently called attention to the failures of the social gospeleers to bring men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to produce order in a confused, turbulent, and sin-wracked world. Meanwhile evangelical churches generally have not broken any records for church growth either. Nor have evangelical mission boards increased the number of their overseas personnel appreciably in the last ten years.

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Certainly there are some exceptions. A few churches have grown phenomenally, and some missionary agencies have flourished. The Billy Graham crusades have been noteworthy. Certain efforts to reach the student world for Christ have accomplished much. But on the whole the record is disappointing.

There is a bright spot on the horizon, however. In September of 1969 the United States Congress on Evangelism will convene in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sparked by a committtee of one hundred local evangelicals who felt the impact of the Berlin Congress on Evangelism in 1966, the congress will involve eight thousand or more delegates. Billy Graham is honorary chairman, and Oswald Hoffmann of “The Lutheran Hour” is chairman.

The Berlin Congress dealt largely with the theology of evangelism; this one will concentrate on the “how.” If the effort succeds, it will bring personal evangelism to the parish level for pastors and people. It could produce a new surge of evangelistic interest in denominations that have been dormant for decades. And it could conceivably lead to a genuine spiritual awakening.

Billy Graham in the “Hour of Decision” broadcasts has prophetically insisted that America is skidding into oblivion and is well on the road to ruin. If the direction in which we are heading is to be reversed, there must be a revival of true religion. This revival could come through the U. S. Congress on Evangelism. Christians should join in prayer that God will work sovereignly to bring this about.

The Education Of Josef Hromádka

For decades the Soviet Union has had no stronger Protestant advocate and firmer friend than Professor Josef Hromádka of the Comenius Faculty in Prague. As a vice-president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1948–59), as president of the Communist-oriented Christian Peace Conference, as former guest professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and former member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, Hromádka has exerted great influence in the advancement of Soviet and international Communism.

The brutal Russian rape of Czechoslovakia caused Hromádka to publish an open letter to the Ambassador of the Soviet Union in Prague. In this letter the recipient of the Lenin Prize of International Friendship and Peace says, “There are only a very few people who are as devoted to the people of the Soviet Union as I am.” He had rejoiced in what had been happening in Czechoslovakia since last January, he says, viewing it as a “process of renewal” that had “meant a great attempt to strengthen the authority of the Communist Party … making socialism a dynamic force in international life.” And he had been confident that Soviet Russia would never invade his country, because he “valued so highly the statesmanship and wisdom of Soviet political leaders.”

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Now the facts of life—the presence of Soviet, Polish, and East German troops in Czechoslovakia—have shattered his illusion. “In all of my long life, I do not know of a greater tragedy,” he says. This is quite a concession for Hromádka. If we take his words seriously, we can only think that he regards the Czech invasion as worse than the war in Viet Nam, and more tragic than Hitler’s seizure of his homeland three decades ago.

It is peculiar that Hromádka, “shattered by this event,” still sees no evil in Communism; the invasion was only a “tragic error.” It is peculiar that he can say that past or present Soviet political leaders are wise statesmen. It is peculiar that he cannot yet see that Communism and Christianity have nothing in common.

The Evangelical Church of Bohemia said the Soviet invasion represented “an attack on the attempts of January to discover a ‘socialism with a human face.’ ” They, and Hromádka, are saying that before January Communism did not have a human face. This is true. But what they need to discover is that when Communism does get a human face it will have ceased to be Communism. Moreover, they now know they have been living in a fool’s paradise, a paradise in which they thought there was freedom of speech, with no secret police. Today they have secret police and no freedom of speech. But they should have known this all along. Freedom of speech and the absence of secret police have never characterized Communism and never will. Any Communist society that permits free speech will soon cease to be Communist.

Hromádka’s open letter is both pathetic and sad—pathetic in that his illusions have been shattered, sad in that he continues to remain committed to a view that is atheistic, degrading, and indefensible.

Trick Or Treat

When branches grow bare and cold winds blow from the north, ghosts, goblins, and witches prowl. Winter is their season, and they usher it in with sinister glee and ghoulish pranks. Foul fiends take healthy babies and leave deformed ones. Witches concoct brews from organs of bats, frogs, lizards, and human beings. Black cats and crows forbode evil—food stored for winter spoils or freezing rains extinguish the fire.

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The ancient Celts tried to deceive those demons by masquerading as one of them. Or tried to placate them with candy and pastries. Or tried to bring good fortune by bobbing for apples.

Sophisticated modern man chuckles at the Halloween specters who threaten to trick if he fails to treat. Yet evil still lurks—in the heart of man if not in witches and black cats. No sweet can placate that evil; masquerades ultimately fail to conceal it. Only the blood of Christ can treat it effectively.

The Ninety-First Congress

Americans are so wrapped up in the presidential campaign that they may be failing to consider seriously enough the Congressional races. The electorate dare not forget that all 435 seats in the House and 34 in the Senate also are up for grabs.

More attention needs to be focused on where the congressional candidates stand on such issues as law and order, the Viet Nam war, domestic strife, the space program, and welfare expenditures. The Christian voter ought to be very clear in his own mind about these issues, and he should cast his congressional ballot accordingly. The often heard lament that “it doesn’t matter who you vote for” grows more out of frustration than out of truth and is utterly invalid in the congressional context.

The makeup of the Ninety-First Congress is as important to the national welfare as the results of the presidential race. Issues are important in both categories, but perhaps the more so this year in the case of senators and representatives.

Squelching The Facts?

The ax is about to fall again on Religion in Communist Dominated Areas, the oft-threatened National Council of Churches newsletter. NCC officials who otherwise frown on designated donations insist that this is the only way RCDA be financed, so that unless help comes soon the fact-finding publication will die. Why is it that out of an annual budget of $24,000,000, some of which is spent on questionable programs, the NCC has not found $15,000 to report on the problems of Christians living under Communism?

Ockenga Going To Gordon

At sixty-three and after thirty-two years as minister of Park Street Church in Boston, Harold John Ockenga goes, next April, to the presidency of Gordon College and Divinity School at Wenham, Massachusetts.

Ockenga was a founding father of the National Association of Evangelicals and its first president. He was. co-founder of Fuller Theological Seminary and president-in-absentia for a number of years. Many consider him an early mainspring of neoevangelicalism. Ockenga has long advocated the return of evangelical students to mainline denominational pulpits for positive witness. He himself was forced to transfer his own denominational credentials from the Pittsburgh Presbytery to the Congregational Christian Churches. His own church has never joined in the United Church of Christ merger of 1957.

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Gordon College came into being in 1889 as a Baptist attempt to counteract the blight of Unitarianism felt in New England for one hundred and fifty years. It fought a hard battle all the way, finally emerging as an accredited college with an accredited theological seminary. No longer exclusively Baptist, it will now be headed for the first time by a non-Baptist.

Ockenga is acutely aware of the continuing contribution this school can make to the life of New England, especially in filling pulpits with men who will preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the past he resisted numerous calls to academic pursuits; now he has committed himself to an educational task at a time when the challenge has never been greater, the problems more numerous, the dissatisfaction more intense. We wish him well as he begins this new chapter in his life and brings his considerable talents to a strategic evangelical post.

The Real Issue

The birth-control controversy rages on. In Washington, D. C., the rift between Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle and forty-seven dissident priests grows wider. Laymen are now joining the revolt, protesting both the papal encyclical and O’Boyle’s handling of the situation. Although the debate centers on birth control, this is not the real issue. The very foundations of papal power are eroding, and the whole structure of authority within the Roman church may be on the verge of collapse.

Many bishops throughout the world have taken a more moderate view of the Pope’s encyclical than has O’Boyle. In an attempt to straddle the fence dividing absolute papal authority and freedom of conscience, a number of national Catholic episcopates have paid lip service to the Pope’s teaching authority while emphasizing the primacy of individual conscience. But no matter how conciliatory the tone, such statements are a far cry from the original idea of papal authority. The New York Catechism says: “By divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith and morals over each and every pastor and his flock.” Pope Leo XIII went so far as to say in an 1885 encyclical that the Pope “holds upon this earth the place of God almighty.”

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This is the most crucial test of papal authority and supremacy in centuries. At issue is the question whether there is a final authority and, if so, where it is located. Evangelicals owe it to themselves and to Christ to acknowledge that in our day there is also a Protestant problem in this area. Let them make it clear that ultimate authority rests neither in the Pope, nor in any other church head, nor in human conscience, but in the Word of God.

Measuring A Massacre

For all who were duped and who doubted how bad things were in the Soviet Union, a new book is prescribed. Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties is as sobering a volume as has ever been published. Conquest, a learned English writer and expert on Russia, amasses data to show that Stalin wantonly murdered between 20 and 30 million people.

Men Wanted

The demands on today’s minister are great, the frustrations and perplexities considerable. But Christian young men weighing vocational decisions ought also to look closely at the positive opportunities in contemporary pastoral work. It is an exciting field.

Pastors are in a better position to serve mankind than ever. There is hardly a profession that offers more favorable circumstances for helping others. And the field is wide open. Never before have there been so many pastorless churches. Some put the figure as high as 35,000 in the United States alone. And the demand is for well-prepared, high-caliber men.

This raises a question. Has God not called enough men to do his work? That could hardly be the case with a sovereign God. The only other answer is that God is calling, but some are not hearing or heeding.

To be sure, recruits should be men confident of themselves and their standing before God. The qualifications do not necessarily include superior intelligence and congenital charisma, but they do include resoluteness. Men unable to hold their own against an argumentative cab driver cannot be considered genuine ministerial timber.

Moral stamina and mental endurance are necessary also. Men are needed who can stand firm in the pulpit and speak for what is right, who can impel yet not repel, who can press vital issues without losing rapport, who can exercise leadership in the very best sense of the word, who can confront church boards and absorb criticism without giving in or giving up.

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More needs to be said about ministers who are making the grade despite obvious odds. They know a spiritual satisfaction that cannot be fully experienced in any other line of work. The difficulties they meet and master make their role that much more rewarding.

Inward Reformation

Christianity offers much more than a way of escape from hell; it extends the opportunity for a “reformation” in the human heart. Jesus Christ died not only so that men could be forgiven but also so that they could become new men who experience a new quality of life. Peter expresses the purpose of Christ’s death in these words: “that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness.” Paul says that God’s purpose for those who love him is for them to become like Jesus Christ.

Those three slogans that served as the watchword of the Reformation—sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura—might well be used to speak of the reformation that takes place in an individual’s life when Jesus Christ comes in.

Sola gratia. The Christian life both begins and continues on the basis of God’s grace. God is at work in the Christian to change him from a selfish, self-willed rebel into a son of God whose purpose in life is to do his Father’s will. Paul told the Philippian Christians that God was continually at work within them, first to make them desire his will and then to help them do it. He said of himself: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ is living in me.” The Christian who misses this principle of grace and seeks to live the Christian life by flexing his own spiritual muscles will fail miserably.

Sola fide. Closely related to the principle of grace is the imperative of faith in the Christian life. There is no genuine experience of God’s power apart from faith. This faith involves far more than a passive intellectual assent to certain truths. It calls for commitment of the whole being to the person of Jesus Christ. In the words of the psalmist, to have faith is to “delight thyself also in the Lord,” to “commit thy way unto the Lord.” It is to step down from the throne of one’s life and allow Christ to reign there as the sole authority and controller. What Jesus called “abundant” living is impossible if one is determined to retain control of his own life.

Sola scriptura. If the full potential of Christian living is to be realized, the Scriptures must be the warp and woof of the individual life. It is through Scripture that we come to know Jesus Christ more intimately. In its pages we find what we need to know about the how and what and why of Christian living. There can be no real life of power if the Scriptures are relegated to a place of secondary importance.

We are reminded at this time of how God moved mightily in the Church during the Reformation. What we need today is for each Christian to think in terms of a continuing reformation in his own life.

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