One of the great battleground questions of our day has to do with the mission of the Church. In one form or another this question is being asked, answered, thrashed about, and altered from older perspectives by theologians, sociologists, political scientists, students, the New Left, the Old Right, clergy, laity, and what have you. It may come in a discussion of the relevance of the Church to contemporary situations, or it may surface in a debate over race, black power, student revolts, grape boycotts, social action, or even secularization—not to mention the new and the old morality.
The discussions have produced a polarity in which the two sides join in vigorous opposition, each sending out verbal blasts designed to annihilate the other. We do well, therefore, to ask what the real issue is, and whether there is an adequate answer to the question, What is the mission of the Church?
In their extreme forms, the answers given to this question are: The Church’s mission is to change society through social action, and, The Church’s mission is to win men and women to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The president of the American Baptist Convention, Culbert C. Rutenber of Andover Newton Seminary, recently said that neither view is true Christianity. According to a Baptist news release, he lamented the “continuing polarization into two camps—the orthodox, historical Christians on the one hand who are concerned about winning others, praying, giving, and building churches; and the social actionists on the other who are concerned only about changing society.” Then he added that “it is a half-truth to say, ‘Only changed men change society,’ ” for he had seen men “who are not changed who are changing society, and many who claim to be changed are making no effort to change society.”
About the same time, Religious News Service featured a report about the well-known Orthodox theologian Father John Meyendorf, who said that the radicals have made of Christianity a “form of social humanism, which actually does not need the Gospel, the historical Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the Church anymore.”
And recently U. S. News and World Report said: “It seems that some church leaders are beginning to wonder if it is the function of religious organizations to foment revolution in the United States. The suggestion now is that there is a religious message not related to the ‘social gospel.’ ”
A statement by Father Charles Coughlin was quoted in the Washington Post: “Many of our prelates are amateur social engineers who hide the lamp of their religious commitment under the bushel basket of secular science.” And the Roman Catholic Thomas Merton once said: “To reconcile man with man and not with God is to reconcile no one at all.”
In light of all this, what is the true evangelical perspective on the mission of the Church? Two important points should be hammered home continually. First, evangelicals work from the right foundation, and the social activists do not. Reconciling man to God is the first order of priority, and it is Christocentric. The sociopolitical engineers first want to reconcile man to man, and this is homocentric. Evangelicals are committed to preach the Gospel to reconcile man to God.
The second point has to do with changing society. Who can or would wish to say that evangelicals are always at the forefront of the battle to improve society? But let us remember that not more than 10 per cent of the Church is really standing behind the foreign-mission outreach. And let’s remember, too, that many of the greatest forward movements in social progress were sparked by evangelicals. To be true to their calling evangelicals must always be concerned to improve the lot of mankind, they cannot oppose such improvement and still be evangelicals.
Non-evangelical churchmen temporarily bask in the light of public approval for their efforts to eliminate poverty and secure social justice. Yet evangelicals believe that the social activists must ultimately fail, because their foundation is man-centered and omits the priority of first reconciling man to God. A statement in “Agenda for a Nation,” the findings of a Brookings Institution conference, serves as a clear reminder of this. Harvard Professor James Q. Wilson, writing on crime and law enforcement, says that despite the massive restructuring of American society that has taken place, “we must learn to live” with crime: “We shall be fortunate if we can even slow the rate of increase in crime.… We shall be impossibly blessed if we can actually reduce the level of crime.” Social action, no matter how extensive, will not stop the crime rate from mounting.
At the risk of being tiresome, evangelicals must shout from the housetops what they know to be true. Trying to reconcile man to man without first reconciling man to God will not work. When man is reconciled to God, then the possibility for reconciling man to man exists. Mission history abounds with evidence of how the Gospel has changed society. Head-hunting cannibals became peaceful citizens; drunkards sobered up to become good husbands and fathers; drug addicts were delivered from their addiction; thieves stopped stealing; wealthy men gave sacrificially for social uplift. Society was changed because men had been redeemed. Thus Lecky the historian could say that England was saved from oblivion by the Wesleyan awakening. All this was the result of the Church’s faithfulness to its true mission—the preaching of the Gospel to reconcile men to God, who then are reconciled to their fellow men.
Key Bridge V
The meeting described on page 35 of our last issue was the fifth, latest, and most productive of the “Key Bridge” series to promote evangelical cooperation. It raised high new hopes of a transdenominational evangelistic effort in 1973 that would be quite unlike anything the continent has ever seen.
Participants were aware that man cannot program a revival. But they reflected optimism that a great mass of resources can be coordinated to provide a new climate for evangelism.
The Key Bridge effort has progressed quite independently of the planning for the U. S. Congress on Evangelism, to be held in Minneapolis in the fall of this year. But these twin concerns will probably soon mesh to give impetus to a concerted drive for spiritual renewal in North America. Churches and denominations will implement the drive as they see fit, but will have the advantage of coordinated mass-media publicity and information.
Inflation: A Sly Thief
Inflation is a form of thievery. It has a spiral effect necessitating a rise in wages as well as a rise in prices. The full impact of inflation has not been felt because industry has helped to hold it in check by lowering some costs to the consumer through an increase in productivity of its workers.
People who live on fixed incomes are prime victims of inflation. So is everyone who has contributed to pension funds that will some day pay off annuitants in depreciated dollars.
Inflation does not occur accidentally. A chief component is the supply of paper money. The government prints money and thus controls its supply in the United States via the Federal Reserve System. The recent U. S. surtax has not halted inflation because the money supply was increased rather than stabilized or reduced. Responsibility for what has happened this year lies squarely in the lap of a government that failed to fulfill its functions properly.
Paper money has no intrinsic value. It is merely a medium of exchange. But when the real purchasing power of the dollar has declined in twenty-five years so that it buys less than half of what it used to buy, the matter becomes not only an economic question but a moral one. Inflation is morally wrong, economically stupid, and nationally suicidal. The brakes should be applied as rapidly as possible and the direction reversed before we go bankrupt.
The ‘Pueblo’ Crew Returns
Many of the problems of 1968 were carried forward into 1969. One notable exception over which Americans rejoiced was the release by Communist North Korea of the eighty-two surviving members of the U. S. S. “Pueblo.”
Their return just in time to spend the holidays with loved ones was the product of a peculiar “agreement,” details of which may not become public for some time. It seemed to involve a bending of ethical principles—issuance of contradictory statements on where the “Pueblo” had been and what it had been doing before its seizure. About all one can say is that the interests of compassion were served even if, regretfully, the interests of truth were not.
It was symbolic of the confidence the West still has in itself that Commander Bucher was allowed to face newsmen immediately after his release, without so much as a briefing. That must have astounded the Communists. Only people of the free world would have taken such a risk.
Kenneth Scott Latourette
Kenneth Scott Latourette has ended his earthly pilgrimage at age eighty-four. He leaves us a rich legacy in the thousands of students he influenced and the millions of words he wrote. Scholars will acknowledge their indebtedness to him for generations to come.
He was an Oregonian by birth, a Christian by profession, and a Baptist by conviction, and he made missions the central point of his life. Involved deeply in the Student Volunteer Movement in its heyday, he was moved to serve on the faculty of the College of Yale in China from 1910 to 1917. Ill health forced his return to America, and in 1921 he began to teach at Yale in New Haven. He retired in 1953 but remained on the Yale campus as scholar and elder statesman until his death.
Of all his writings, none exceeded in scope and worth his seven-volume History of the Expansion of Christianity. But perhaps his greatest contribution lay in his relations with his students, for whom he felt great affection and to whom he devoted himself with rare genius. He was admired by them and also loved. A bachelor, he was able to live among them, and minister to them, and the beauty of his life was a clear witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Less than two weeks before his death he wrote us to accept an assignment for CHRISTIANITY TODAY, an assignment he cannot fulfill. In his letter he said: “As I look back over a long life and all the major vocational decisions, including the acceptance of academic posts, service on boards and committees, and writing books, I have no regrets. In them all I can see the divine guiding hand. Several decisions were made with great uncertainty and even agony and from a sheer sense of duty. I made them from the determination to do the will of God as I understood it.”
After a rich and full life, Professor Latourette has gone to be with the God he served. We bid him farewell, till we meet again.
On Reaching The Moon
The Apollo 8 astronauts gave the world a Christmas to be remembered for all time. Their flight to the moon will stand as one of the great firsts of human history. They showed man in a new way how small he really is, but how much he is capable of with God’s help.
Hopefully, the world will also remember the attempt of moon men-designate Borman, Lovell, and Anders to put their achievement in the right perspective. Few were unmoved as the astronauts read the first ten verses of Genesis while traveling around the moon on Christmas eve. Never before has a reading of Scripture had so great an audience.
Their message recalled the pioneering telegraphic transmission of Samuel F. B. Morse on May 24, 1844. Sitting in the Supreme Court chamber of the Capitol, he tapped out over a test line the words from Numbers 23:23, “What hath God wrought.” Now what would Madalyn Murray O’Hair have thought of that?
Man often sags under the weight of his own helplessness. Solutions to very basic problems elude him. But in his better moments he exhibits an impressive ability derived from his creation in the image of an omnipotent God. The flight of Apollo 8 showed what men can do if God grants them the will and the motivation—or as the workers under Nehemiah had it, “a mind to work.”
In traveling around the moon, the astronauts became the first men to reach a place where the earth was not even visible to them. But they gave indication that nothing is hidden from the eye of God, and in their Scripture reading they joined Morse in giving credit where it is due.
The Israeli-Arab Flareups
Nobody in his right mind can justify Arab terroristic attacks on the Israelis, however justifiable the Arabs think them to be. And nobody can justify the disproportionate Israeli response to that terrorism.
Sooner or later, the Arabs must understand that Israel is a sovereign entity recognized by the family of nations. The world will not stand by if the Arabs attempt to carry out the genocidal threats some of them have made. Nor is the redivision of Jerusalem between Arab and Israeli a viable military possibility. Israel has agreed in principle to return much of the land taken in the recent war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel’s place and security in the Near Eastern world. Is this not a good basis for a reasonable solution to the perilous Arab-Israeli dispute?
Athletes In Action
Basketball fans are seeing an unfamiliar name this year as they scan the sports pages to check scores of their favorite college teams. The name: Athletes in Action.
Athletes in Action is a relatively new facet of the world-wide ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. It was established with the conviction that athletes have the eyes and ears of the world and therefore have an outstanding opportunity to tell of Jesus Christ. This has already been demonstrated through the effective ministries of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Venture for Victory basketball team, which toured the Far East playing basketball and proclaiming the Gospel.
Athletes in Action, in seeking to take advantage of the unusual opportunity open to athletes, has created the “Chargers,” a basketball team made up of first-rate players. The new twist is that this team is competing against some of the finest college teams in the country (and they finished last year with a 15–14 record). At half-time team members are introduced, and two of them tell how a personal relationship with Christ has changed their lives. Right after the game several others share their faith in Christ, and then the audience (an average of 4,000 per game last year) is told how one can become a Christian. Although fans are given a chance to leave after the game, some 60 to 65 per cent have remained to hear the Gospel presented.
At a time when so many are talking about being “relevant” and about “new forms of mission,” we commend these young men for using their athletic skill as a fresh and effective means of proclaiming the Gospel.
Movies And Morals
According to a report published recently in Parade magazine, 41 per cent of today’s moviegoers are between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four. And another 27 per cent are between twenty-five and thirty-five.
The moviemakers tell us they produce what people want to see; box-office response determines the kinds of films made available, they say. If this is true, if the young people of our land are demanding the kind of movies pouring out of Hollywood, there is cause for grave concern. Where are the high ideals and noble aspirations of the generation that says it is sick of the establishment with all its inconsistencies and hypocrisy? If our youth really want what Hollywood is offering, are they any better than those they so vigorously criticize?
Our purpose is not to condemn American youth but to express concern for them and to challenge them to action. If it is true that public opinion influences Hollywood, it is also true that the movies have their effect upon the public, and especially upon the young (for example, there was more than one episode of teen-age Bonnies and Clydes who were inspired by the movie). Christians—and all who are interested in the welfare of our youth—must use every legitimate avenue of protest to tell Hollywood that we don’t need or want what they now are offering. Talented Christians might also use their abilities to produce films that will offer an effective alternative.
Here is an obvious opportunity for young people to take constructive social action. History repeatedly shows that moral decay weakens any society and eventually leads to its downfall. Because they make up nearly 70 per cent of those who supposedly call the shots for Hollywood, younger Americans have the opportunity to speak out with the loudest voice of all. Without their help Hollywood is in trouble, but with their continued support the moral laxity of the movies will exert an ever enlarging and degrading influence in our society.
A Church In Politics
The United Methodist Church, according to the Washington Post, spent $100,000 on its “Vietnam Education Project.” The coordinator of the project, the Rev. Rodney Shaw, called it a “new form of evangelism.” Admitting that “we are not strictly objective,” the project members worked to force the United States to recognize the communist National Liberation Front, and to get out of Viet Nam because “we have been defeated.” Mr. Shaw, in a moment of frankness, said, “I believe this is the first time a church has sought to directly influence foreign policy.”
Influencing foreign policy is not evangelism, and we hope this is the last time that this or any other denomination will spend for political purposes money given by parish members for the true ministry of the Church.
Cheers For Christy
Christy is an old-fashioned novel. No pornography. No profanity. Just a good story, warmly told.
Despite such apparent marketing liabilities, Catherine Marshall’s latest book has had a phenomenal sale. More than half a million copies of the hard-cover edition have been sold, and now it is a best-seller in paperback. Who would have thought that a novel not punctuated by four-letter words and three-letter deeds could still compete on the newsstand?
To be sure, Christy is not in the league of truly great literature. It is nevertheless a welcome corrective to our day’s preoccupation with sexual perversion. The values for which it builds sympathy are in the best interests of humanity. And to those who complain it is not sufficiently realistic, we say simply: Wait and see. If Christianity is what it says it is, then the concerns embodied in Christy will one day be vindicated as the most realistic of all.
Christy should prove an encouragement to would-be creative writers in evangelical ranks. C. S. Lewis captured the imagination of the secular mind, but we cannot forever rely on his works alone. Who will succeed him for the nineteen seventies?
Preaching The Cross
That there are those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ as “irrelevant” is by no means a uniquely modern problem. Even the preaching of the Apostle Paul was rejected by many because they could not tolerate what he had to say about the death of Christ on the cross. The Gentiles felt it was nonsense to accept as a saviour and leader one who had been so humiliated as to suffer a shameful death by crucifixion. The Jews found the idea that Messiah had died in a manner pronounced accursed by the Law to be nothing short of blasphemy.
But the fact that Christ had been crucified and had risen again continued to be the very warp and woof of Paul’s preaching (1 Cor. 1:23). He was not concerned to preach a message that would be acceptable in the light of secular wisdom and philosophy. He was determined to proclaim the message God had revealed to him (Gal. 1:16), a message that he knew beyond doubt to be true and that had without exception proved effective in the lives of those who received it (Rom. 1:16).
In our day also there are those who find the whole idea of the cross unnecessary or offensive. It is popular to speak of Christ as a good man who taught great things, to see him as a social agitator concerned about the poor and needy, or even to talk to him as Lord; but there is a strange silence about what took place on the cross. We must reject the voices of those who would have us adapt the Gospel so that modern man might find it acceptable. With Paul we must continue to preach the cross, even when men are offended by our message.
Why is it imperative to retain the preaching of the cross as the heart of the Gospel? Because it was in the literal, historical suffering of Jesus, the God-man, on the cross that the problem of sin was resolved. Man’s sinfulness has separated him from a holy God. Jesus Christ in his death acted as man’s substitute, taking man’s sin upon himself and suffering the penalty required for that sin. Paul says that Christ “who knew no sin” was “made … sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); he “redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Peter speaks of Christ as the one “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). Apart from this action of Christ on the cross, there would be no possibility of forgiveness or of restoration to fellowship with God.
Any gospel that bypasses the cross or sees it only as the unjust martyrdom of a good man is no gospel at all, because it cannot solve man’s deepest problem—his alienation from God because of sin. We must understand the life and ministry of Jesus in the light of the cross. His teaching, his example, his compassion for men, his power, even his continued presence with us—all would be meaningless to mankind had he not died on the cross. And even his work on the cross is to no avail for the individual until he by faith accepts Christ as his own Saviour.
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