At a time when the COCU Plan of Union is struggling to win acceptance, two recent events together suggest an alternative that may be attractive to some who are involved in COCU as well as to some who are not. The first is the canonization of forty English and Welsh Roman Catholics by Pope Paul, the second the call by some Catholic scholars for Rome to recognize the validity of the Lutheran ministry and the real presence of Christ in the Lutheran administration of Holy Communion. Evangelicals need to understand the directions the various strands of ecumenicity are taking, and to be aware of the possible implications for the non-aligned denominations and for para-ecclesiastical groups, such as independent Christian colleges, seminaries, and mission boards.
On October 25 Pope Paul made a double-barreled pronouncement before 10,000 British Roman Catholics. He canonized forty martyrs who died because they refused to submit to Anglicanism four centuries ago; in effect the Pope recognized the piety and sacrifice of the Catholic martyrs without denying the legitimacy of the English church Reformation. At the same time he shrewdly acknowledged that the Anglican church is a true church, and that it has “legitimate prestige.” He seemed to be suggesting that its bishops could continue to function as leaders of the established church even without organizational reunion with Rome. The “patrimony of piety and usage” would continue; this suggests that Anglicans would be able to retain their existing prayer book and their married clergy. Most important of all, the Pope called the Anglican church Rome’s “ever beloved sister,” as if to admit mistakes on both sides but to assure Anglicans that they are considered never to have left the family.
The canonization of additional British martyrs was immediately taken as an insult by many British non-Roman Catholics, but it might also be considered a sop to British Catholics already upset by the abandonment of Latin, the simplification of the Mass, and the evangelical tone of many recent changes. Now they were being asked to accept the Anglican church as a sister church with a genuine liturgy and with genuine bishops and priests.
The Pope’s announcement indicates the Vatican’s new prescription for progress in church-union negotiations. Many Protestants envision the union of similar groups of Protestants into bigger and bigger administrative units, which conceivably might in time unite with Rome in one monolithic church. Now the suggestion is that the Anglican churches remain unchanged in the same dioceses with Roman Catholic churches, ministering side by side. This pattern already exists in the Middle East, where Uniat churches such as the Maronites, Antiochene Syrians, Alexandrine Copts, and various Byzantine groups retain their language, rites, and canon law under their own bishops in full communion with the Church of Rome.
Not long after the canonization proceedings, top-ranking American Roman Catholic scholars called on the church to do for the Lutherans what Pope Paul had already done for the Anglicans. Since 1965, Catholic and Lutheran theologians, representing the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the U. S. National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation, have engaged in serious dialogue, and they have just released one document about the “Eucharist and Ministry.” The upshot of this dialogue is the Catholic scholars’ call for Rome to further unity and heal the Reformation division by recognizing the validity of Lutheran clerical orders and the sanctity of their eucharistic rites. What does all this mean?
If the Pope’s opinions about Anglicans and the American Catholic theologians’ suggestion about Lutherans are promoted, church-union negotiations will be a whole new ball game. Instead of a search for tidy organizational unity, the move would be toward mutual recognition of vast theological and practical differences in a family of churches in which the Pope is recognized as the symbolic head. What would this do to COCU?
Of late the Episcopal Church appears to be leaning more toward Rome than toward COCU. And although no Lutheran group is involved in the COCU negotiations, still the movement of nine million Lutherans toward Rome and the Anglican churches would be significant for COCU. This plus the increasing disinclination of the Episcopal Church for COCU could have a marked influence on the Methodist bodies that make up the largest segment of the COCU merger movement. The Methodists are far closer to the Anglican-Episcopal groups out of which they have sprung historically than to Presbyterians and Congregationalists. As the Roman Catholic-Anglican-Lutheran axis gains strength, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Methodists might gravitate in that direction. If this were to happen it would leave COCU far behind this other strand of ecumenical activity.
For Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists to move Romeward would be far easier than for Presbyterians and Congregationalists to do so. The price Presbyterians and Congregationalists would have to pay in the sacrifice of their historical distinctives would be prohibitive. They would have to accept principles of liturgy, ecclesiology, and theology from which they dissented when they left Rome at the time of the Reformation.
The strange twist of our day, and a brutal fact that cannot be overlooked in any discussion of ecumenicity, is the radical departure from former norms by many within Protestant denominations as well as many in the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, there is a remarkable convergence of views among theological secularists, both Catholic and Protestant, that leaves us with the unexpected consequence that evangelical Protestants, despite their objections to the stance of the Roman Catholic Church of Reformation days, are closer to the Church of that era than to liberal Protestants or Catholics of today.
COCU has some interesting days ahead of it and can hardly be considered a fait accompli. In this very fluid situation, evangelicals must decide what their strategy shall be, and this is true of evangelicals who are outside both strands of the ecumenical thrust as well as of those whose churches are involved in these movements but who prefer an ecumenical alternative in some other direction than Rome or COCU.
Youth On The March
The thought of thousands of students from all across the country descending upon a medium-size Midwestern city for a convention in this post-Woodstock age might be expected to give nightmares to law-enforcement officials. But this isn’t likely to happen in Urbana, Illinois, and its twin, Champaign, this December 27–31. For the great majority of these students will be Christians coming to discuss “World Evangelism: Why? How? Who?” at the Ninth Triennial Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention, one of the great Christian phenomena of our time.
These young people are, for the most part, as keen on non-conformity to the dominant currents in society as the “radical” students are. But the big difference is that Urbana-bound youth seek to be conformed to Christ, and to follow his words and those of his apostles. Their ways, like Christ’s, are non-violent. They won’t be giving much trouble to peace officers. But in a different way, many a young person who comes will have been a heartbreak to his parents. The possibility that a son or daughter might be considering missionary service abroad is enough to make many materialistically minded, security-conscious parents wish their child was given to some more “respectable” deviation, something he might outgrow.
Many trends in society at large, for better or for worse, have had their impetus from the youth culture. Christians of all ages should pray that the Spirit of God will operate in a mighty way at Urbana to stir up these young people to lead a renewed Christian assault upon the forces of unbelief and false belief that are so rampant across our country and planet.
Young people have been adept, often to the embarrassment of their elders, at calling attention to some of the major problems of society. (They have also added to the problems through such misdeeds as drug abuse and crime.) Christian youth frequently share the concerns of their generation for social justice and also voice their complaint about the domestication of the Church.
Urbana will be the largest among a number of opportunities during this Christmas time for Christian youth to be invigorated by fellowship and challenged to face a world that is coming apart at the seams. For all such efforts Christians young and old need to unite in prayer, in financial support, and in renewed dedication to the tasks God has entrusted to us. God has usually chosen young people as the leaders in breakthroughs for the Gospel. It may be in his purpose to do this again in our time.
Reaction To Reaction
The moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U. S. is reacting with what some in his denomination feel is unjustified vigor in denouncing groups that have emerged to defend the historic theology and polity of that church, which they feel has been increasingly affected by radical innovations.
Speaking to a joint meeting of the Christian-education boards of his denomination and the United Presbyterian Church, Dr. William A. Benfield, Jr., urged that these two groups take steps toward a merger, even though their churches have not voted to merge. In his address he strongly criticized what he described as “pressure groups” in his church formed to protect and promote what they believe to be the true nature and mission of the church. He went on to say that if he had the power he would abolish Concerned Presbyterians (an organization of laymen), Presbyterian Churchmen United (made up chiefly of ministers), the Covenant Fellowship of Presbyterians (a growing group of ministers and laymen trying desperately to save their denomination), and the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (whose staff consists of about a dozen men who primarily give their time to holding evangelistic meetings, though they are increasingly interested in evangelical world missions).
The moderator made no mention of other “pressure groups,” those that are working, without known organizational names, to further the liberal trend in his church. These groups are deeply involved in ecclesiastical power politics and have been for years.
The vigorous denunciation of conservatives by the moderator is something new in Presbyterian U. S. history. It appears to have the effect of drawing to the conservative cause some men who till now have remained more or less neutral.
Perhaps Benfield is angered and somewhat frightened by two particular matters. First, eleven presbyteries have served notice on the General Assembly that there is a limit in compromise beyond which they will not go. And at a recent meeting of the Nashville Presbytery, a small group of conservative leaders, both clergy and laymen, canvassed the situation within the presbytery (which has long been dominated by the more liberal element) and came up with its own slate of nominees. All were elected—thereby completely changing the control of that presbytery. These developments may make the moderator feel he must strike back with vigor.
Conservatives within the Presbyterian Church U. S. are far better organized and more articulate than those in some of the other major denominations. Liberals who have dominated the machinery of that church in recent years may have reason to fear a reversal of control. Fortunately for the conservatives, the moderator has neither the power nor the authority invested in the Pope, for example.
Benfield is chairman of the committee that drafted COCU’s Plan of Union. His present attitude is not likely to increase enthusiasm for COCU among Reformed groups.
One of the classic advertisements of modern times shows an elderly man glowering out of an executive’s chair. The text of the “Old Stoneface” ad quotes him as saying:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what your company stands for. I don’t know your company’s customers. I don’t know your company’s record. I don’t know your company’s reputation. Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?”
Persuasion is usually built upon a base of confidence, and to develop a feeling of trust may take some time and effort expended in a variety of directions. Never before has this been more applicable to the Christian faith. People are bombarded with so many messages and deceptions are so rife that we should not be surprised when Christian witness is greeted by suspicion.
Once in a while, a single brief message can break through and overcome years of alienation from the Christian faith; but this does not happen often. Evangelism more than ever needs the support of a favorable climate, and every Christian has a stake in helping to develop that climate.
God promised Noah no more killing rains, but the people at Neiman-Marcus are taking no chances. If the rains should come in 1974, those who this year order an ark, complete with animals, will be luxuriously prepared (the Dallas department store asks you to allow four years for delivery). This is only one of the many outlandish presents on sale in this extended Christmas shopping season. For the more sports-minded, Abercrombie and Fitch boasts a $5,560 shotgun among its wares. Even the recession does not seem to slow down the desire for present-giving. Shoppers’ imaginations swell under the Christmas glitter. Tinsel, aluminum trees—silver, gold, or pink—and the many faces of St. Nick mark the season.
In the rush and bustle to get and give, the words of Solomon remind us of a desire worthy to be pursued: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 3:13–15).
What Of Martyrdom?
On Christmas Day 800 years ago, the archbishop of Canterbury, known as Thomas, excommunicated those bishops who during his exile in France had participated in the investiture of the heir apparent, son of King Henry II. Four days later Thomas a Becket was murdered at Canterbury. Three years later he was canonized.
Many men have speculated on the character of Thomas, a man full of contradictions. To move from advocate of secular power over clerical power when chancellor to advocate of supreme clerical power when archbishop was a drastic shift. But in this his love of power is seen, and his actions in his struggles with Henry over the Constitutions (sixteen clauses attempting to define custom with regard to ultimate governmental authority) show little humility. Yet in his subsequent exile he practiced great asceticism in a Benedictine abbey in France. According to tradition, he wore a hair shirt at all times.
In an attempt to explore the motives of this man, T. S. Eliot in his play Murder in the Cathedral raises a more fundamental point. Becket says in his last sermon: “A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God.” Martyrdom begins long before death, and this attitude should be common to all Christians, for it is the paradox of the Christian life expressed by Christ: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Holding The Line On ‘Parochaid’
After many years of controversy, the question of public support of parochial education is nearing a showdown. Until the last few weeks there seemed to be a marked trend toward relaxation of traditional bars against tax money for sectarian schools. However, recent court decisions in Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Connecticut and the results of parochaid referenda in Michigan and Nebraska may indicate an abrupt reversal. Cases now before the U. S. Supreme Court, the first of their kind, are being looked upon for a basic settlement of the issue.
Some major realignments are taking place in popular attitudes toward public funding of religious education. The turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church has caused many Catholic parents to wonder whether it’s so important to send their children to parochial schools after all. Jews and Protestants, on the other hand, are quite enthusiastically setting up new schools. As a result, there has been some significant shifting of thinking on the part of all three groups on whether the government should aid parochial schools.
A number of politicians, sensing the emotional impact on paying parents, have been outspokenly in favor of parochaid, particularly in areas where parochial-school enrollment runs high. If a politician is against such aid, he is more likely to remain silent than to make it an issue.
There is little doubt that the crunch is indeed on the parochial school. But the temporary gains that may be realized through gaining aid will be more than offset by concessions that are made. Some Catholics realize this as well as Protestants. The more money is taken, the more liberty is sacrificed.
The question rotates on where to draw the line on support. We hope the Supreme Court will firmly hold the present line. Perhaps it could take a cue from the Greeks, who held that the basic elements are earth, air, fire, and water. Few would deny that the government should provide protection and/or assurance of these. But to go much beyond this is to plunder the public purse for sectarian purposes.
A Pope Under Pressure
Pope Paul recently undertook an extended world tour designed to encourage the faithful, strengthen the weak, and present to the world the image of a man deeply perturbed by and involved in its problems and needs. The tour was marred by an assassination attempt that fortunately failed. Of great importance was the Pope’s edict, proclaimed just before his departure, that cardinals eighty years of age or over shall have no part or vote in the selection of his successor. Since the edict will also divorce the octogenarians from the Curia, it is likely to produce some significant changes in that body.
Recurring reports that the Pope is ailing physically and his own expectation that archbishops and cardinals will resign their posts voluntarily at seventy-five have opened the door wide to the speculation that he himself will step down at that age, two years from now.
While the Pope was absent from Rome, the Italian government legalized divorce, despite years of intensive opposition by the church. The action breaches the Lateran accord, which has been in existence for decades, and reflects the declinining prestige and power of the papacy at a time when it is beset by internal convulsion and unprecedented dissent.
In a few years at most the Roman Catholic Church will have to choose a successor to Paul, and if Mr. Witte’s observations in this issue (page 12) are correct, evangelicals have more of a stake in the outcome than ever before. Back in the days when Roman Catholics seemed to be all alike, it made little difference who was elected pope. Not any more!
Theology And Therapy
For all the priority assigned to social concerns by today’s institutionalized church, it seems strange that some rather obvious ways of ministering to people’s needs are suffering neglect. One great avenue of service about which major denominations and church councils seem increasingly apathetic is that of hospital chaplain.
The hospital-chaplaincy movement had its start in the twenties and thirties and underwent a boom after World War II. In the last five years, however, it has leveled off, even though hospital administrators are recognizing that the chaplain can be an important member of the rehabilitation team and that spiritual counseling can help the healing process.
The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, both with headquarters offices in New York, work to promote the chaplaincy (not only for hospitals but also for prisons and other institutions) as a career field. They also try to integrate the findings of behavioral sciences into parish counseling programs and even into the local-church preaching ministry. The ACPE currently accredits some 260 clinical pastoral education centers.
Ministering to people in crisis is demanding work. Many pastors realize that in many situations they are not equipped to deal with the problems and also lack sufficient time. The development of pastoral counseling as a career specialty should be encouraged at every level, and evangelicals ought to be leading the way.
The Missing Link
Biologists have long been searching for the “missing link,” that form of life which will enable them to “prove” what now is only a theory: that man has evolved from lower forms of life. At this Christmas season we should remember that for many generations there was a missing link of another kind, one that has now been found, so that we have no knowledge gap concerning man’s long pilgrimage from his beginning to his ultimate destiny.
Jesus Christ is that missing link. He is the God-man who is able to bring man to God and God to man, for he is both God and man. The sweetest story ever told is contained in the message the angel Gabriel brought to a young Jewish maiden who lived in the despised town of Nazareth in Galilee. God in his sovereignty had chosen her as the one in whose womb the Son of God should be conceived. Glorious were the promises Gabriel made to Mary: He shall be the Son of the Most High; he shall sit on the throne of his father David; he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom shall have no end. Startled and perplexed, Mary asked the inevitable question: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The mystery is unveiled: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God.” The God-man is born in the virgin’s womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit!
The biologist’s missing link has never been found, if it ever existed. God’s missing link exists but will not be found—until men “go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” For there God makes the unknown known and mends the broken chain of life with the link that is missing no more.
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