If you are a Christian you are a refugee from a dying world order. So we are told by the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews. The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as “entering the world to rescue sinners,” and Peter speaks of us as “strangers and temporary residents” (Heb. 6:18; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Pet. 2:11, Phillips).
We are refugees because our hope is not in anything this world has to offer. We are refugees because we have escaped from the wrath to come into the peace and hope to be found in Christ Jesus and nowhere else. We are refugees because this world order stands under the judgment of God for its sins and for its rejection of his Son.
We are in this world but not of it, seeing beyond the horizon of the present life to a city God has prepared for those who believe. Our citizenship is in heaven, and our fellowship is with those of like faith.
It is desperately important that we recognize our position as refugees. A refugee is fleeing from danger, but he also has a place to go. The danger is God’s impending judgment on a world that has willfully rejected him. The danger from which we have fled is God’s holy wrath against sin and sinners. The refuge that is ours is the safety of the loving mercy and forgiveness of the Son of God, who came into this world for the specific purpose that man “should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Across the visible church, there is heard the call to “identify” with the world. “Identification” in the sense of a saved sinner’s pleading with lost sinners is desperately needed. But identification with the ways of the world is deadly. A physician does not willfully contract the diseases of those he is called to treat. Rather, he seeks to deliver his patients from their sickness.
The Apostle Paul appeals to us: “Do not be conformed to this world,” because such identification is a conformity with death and judgment. That for which he pleads is that we might be “transformed by the renewal of [our minds],” that we may “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
The witness of the Church is being compromised by those who call for the merging of the Church and the world into a common calling and work. The Church is in the world, not to become a part of it, but to invite men to live new lives in Christ Jesus, separated to him and from the evils of this world.
There is no greater evidence of the fallacy of the leadership of some in the Church than the changed emphases that rise to the surface like impurities in a boiling cauldron. The Gospel is an appeal for man to be reconciled to God, and we Christians are ministers of that reconciliation; but the plea of many church programs is that man be reconciled to man, with little attention being given to his basic alienation from God.
All through church circles one hears the argument that the Church’s immediate concern is with human hunger. The Christian’s duty to help all in need cannot be denied. But the Church’s primary task is to proclaim the Bread of Life, who came to satisfy the soul. Our Lord’s warning that man does not live by bread alone is going unheeded.
One of the latest fads in the Church has to do with environmental pollution. Of course we Christians should be concerned about the condition, preservation, and restoration of our natural resources so that there may be pure air to breathe, pure water to drink, and wholesome surroundings in which to live. But for the Church to make pollution of the environment a major concern is to deny the Lord who came to deliver man from the pollution of sin in his heart.
All around us we are confronted by things that pollute the mind and spirit—lewdness in dress, pictures and books that pander to lust, the portrayal of perversions as something to be laughed at and accepted, more and more the ways of Sodom. Yet while the Church decries the pollution of our secular environment, it has little to say about the pollution of the human spirit!
God sent his Son to deliver us from the guilt and punishment that sin entails. It is this that is the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3)—not that in loving compassion he left his home in glory to tell us not to throw tin cans by our highways or to pollute our air with carbon and sulfur gases. If the carelessness, callousness, and stupidity that have led to the pollution of our air and water should be matters for deep concern and action—and they are!—surely those things that are polluting and damaging the soul should be of greater concern!
Much that passes for “Christianity” today is pure humanism. There is deep concern about the things of time but little about those that have to do with eternity. The basic implications of the Gospel are being shelved in favor of what seems designed for man’s welfare, here and now. In other words, we have lost, or never had, that God-given perspective of which the Apostle Paul writes: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
God gives us the opportunity to look beyond this dying world order. He has prepared a city for his own, and he has given man the privilege of spiritual sight and insight. But man can choose blindness if he so desires—and many do. He can set his affections on the things of this earth and perish with them, or he can set his hopes on the things above with the assurance that what now is known by faith will someday become a glorious reality.
We are living in days that test us all. Perhaps never before has sin been so flagrant and so bold. In this fact lie both a warning and a hope: while abounding iniquity is causing the love of many to grow cold, there is the hope of a blessed eternity for those who endure to the end.
Our confidence is not in what man can do but in the Creator of man: “Lord thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:1, 2). Beginning with a heart filled with love for God, we validate that love by love for our fellow man—the greatest single evidence of that love being to point man to God, our Saviour.
Man is living in a dying world, and lest he also perish with it in the coming judgment, he must know the One who bore that judgment for him. Refugees? Yes, because of God’s love and mercy we have taken refuge in the One who came to seek and to save the lost.
Does this lessen our concern for those about us? God forbid! Our love for Christ must be reflected in a love for those who do not know him. This is practical where we can supply material needs. It is spiritual as we tell of the great rescue expedition of the ages—God’s Son coming into the world to save sinners.
The harvest season, when the bountiful earth gives man food for his body, brings us each year to the day on which we commemorate the Reformation, which gave man an abundant harvest for his soul. Among the sweetest fruits of the Reformation is the concept of Christian freedom. As articulated by Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers, this freedom meant that men could be released from the chain of legalism, from their bondage to the artificial laws of men. But the word freedom never stood alone; it was always given the designation Christian. That is what makes the difference between the freedom joyfully proclaimed then and the freedom many men are seeking today.
Modern man has a lively interest in freedom—indeed, he is preoccupied with it. In building his structure of freedom, he has made for himself a new prison whose gates open to receive additional guests but never to release old victims. This prison is a bondage to death based on freedom divorced from Christian truth, a freedom that, supported by spurious logic and false premises, deteriorates into license. Jean Cardinal Daniélou, leading French Catholic theologian, says that atheism “maintains that we are now mature enough to live autonomously, that now the destiny of man will depend only on ourselves.… This is also the position of Sartre, for whom freedom is at every moment the absolute beginning: there is nothing before me, my freedom is origin, creation, prime cause; everything is possible for me and everything depends absolutely and only on me.”
Modern man wants to be free from what he feels are the shackles of his past, from the customs and the mythos of his forefathers, and from the God of traditional Christian faith—a God who, he says, has been tamed and institutionalized, imprisoned in church buildings, immobilized on altars where candles flicker as a symbol of his death. Man suffers from claustrophobia and desperately wants to prove he is free. He will be bound by no law save the law that he is not bound. He insists that he is autonomous, the master of his own fate and the captain of his soul. Hemmed in on every side, he lashes out wildly and blindly. In his passion for demonstrating his freedom, he sets fire to his dwelling place and blasts the chains that bind him to custom and to law.
Today’s “free” man is a humanist in whose scheme of things there is no place for a God who demands obedience and whose laws restrict his freedom. He turns nihilist because he senses—all too rightly—that Western culture is built upon a foundation that must be destroyed if he is to be free. In his struggle he senses intuitively what his real problem is: he must choose God and law, or man and freedom.
But the crucial point missed by modern man is that he never can be free in the way that he hopes for. He does not perceive that when he has destroyed the Judeo-Christian foundation he has opened himself to another form of bondage, one that guarantees to him not the glorious freedom he longs for but the darkness of eternal night. The dead man is indeed free. He has no battles to fight, no rules to obey, no decisions to make. But this is the freedom of death, and death is the greatest bondage of all.
Man is rooted and grounded in God. When he kills God, as the humanist must, he kills himself. When he destroys law, he produces chaos. And he can escape neither God nor law. When he slays law, he becomes a law unto himself, and he soon discovers that the clash of his freedom with that of other men limits both his freedom and theirs.
Writ large in the universe is a truth that modern man must grasp. This truth is etched on tables of stone given to Moses on Mount Sinai; it is engraved on every page of Holy Scripture; it cries out in the person of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, whose lifeblood poured from gaping wounds as he hung on a crossbar lifted for men to see on Golgotha’s brow. The truth of all truths is this: there is no real freedom save that which we find in God. And this freedom comes to man when he freely surrenders his freedom and gladly embraces the hegemony of God, into whose hands he commits himself forever.
Christian freedom produces its own fruit, for freedom is not an end in itself. The Christian is free to love and free to believe God, to trust his revelation. Calvin said that Christian freedom “must be subordinated to love, so in turn ought love itself to abide under purity of faith.” Believers are free, said Calvin, free “from the power of all men” but never from the power, the love, and the law of God. Bound by these, they are free men who use their power for God’s glory and men’s good, who live by the law of love for the healing of mankind, and who obey God’s commandments so that justice and equity may prevail.
No Room In The Church
The all white First Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama, recently rejected a Negro woman and her daughter for membership. It is important to note, however, that more than half of those present voted to admit them. The rejection came over a technicality: a two-thirds affirmative vote was required because the action of the membership committee was being questioned. After the rejection, the pastor of the church and the youth director submitted their resignations.
It is ironic that though Southern Baptist missionaries are sent to Africa to save the souls of the blacks, when their souls are saved these believers could not then come to America and expect to gain membership in this particular Southern Baptist church. One can only feel deep regret that the Gospel has not sufficiently affected the minds and hearts of the minority responsible for the decision. Regeneration, which is supposed to be followed by growth in grace, has not cut deep enough when those who profess to have experienced the new birth are incapable of overcoming their racial biases. Surely if there is room for Mrs. Bryant and her daughter in heaven, there should be room for them in the membership of First Baptist of Birmingham as well.
Nixon And The Logjam
We applaud President Nixon’s call for a ceasefire in Viet Nam and his suggestion that the whole Indochina conflict be resolved through a peace conference involving Laos and Cambodia as well as North and South Viet Nam. He rightly asserted that the South Vietnamese should determine their own destiny by ballots, not by bullets. And the United States would be morally bound to abide by whatever decision was arrived at even if it meant the dismantling of the present regime in South Viet Nam and its replacement by other duly elected leaders.
Mr. Nixon’s speech disturbed us at two points. We wish he had mentioned the eight-point offer of the Viet Cong, for what he proposed had all the appearances of a counter offer. Moreover, his own proposal appears to have been based on his belief that we now hold the upper hand militarily and can make some concessions. If having temporary military advantage is to be the basis on which each side makes peace proposals, then the logjam will never be broken until one side or the other is willing to yield when it doesn’t have that advantage. In any event the road to peace is still likely to be long, arduous, and clouded.
Platform For Permissiveness
The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography is a national disgrace.
What the commission has distilled from two years of study amounts to an apologetic for permissiveness. Its majority report does not even lay a claim to impartiality. Data that reinforce obviously predetermined conclusions are set forth as the most reliable available. Data that run counter are discounted. The results are incredible.
Surely sex has been one of the most discussed topics in our time. A bibliography covering all that has been written about sex would be virtually impossible to compile. Yet the commission decided at the outset of its work that there was an “insufficiency of existing factual evidence as a basis for recommendations”! So it embarked on “a program of research designed to provide empirical information relevant to its tasks.” Two million dollars in public funds were expended.
Exclusive reliance upon so-called objective evidence, which to most of the commission members seems to be equivalent to sense data alone, is a precarious course in itself, especially in a study inextricably related to social and religious values. But even if the commission did confine itself honestly to this kind of information, how was it able to state that “empirical research designed to clarify the question has found no [italics added] evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youth or adults?” The sheer naïveté of the statement is appalling. Thousands of social workers, clergymen, and policemen could refute it.
A more accurate conclusion to be drawn from the empirical research cited might be that it was designed not to “clarify the question” but to support a point of view. The very process of buying the services of individuals and subjecting them to tests of sexual arousal has a built-in bias: what person who regards sex as a private matter would ever agree to such a “scientific” procedure? What the commission got from these and other studies were sets of opinions, but these are paraded as fact.
In its primary recommendation, that “federal, state, and local legislation should not seek to interfere with the right of adults who wish to do so read, obtain, or view explicit sexual materials,” the commission takes a long step backward. Because its members say they could find no causal relationship between exposure to erotica and criminal behavior, they assume that there is none, and that therefore laws restricting pornography should be repealed.
The bias of the report weakens its potential. What it suggests is that what one reads or views has no appreciable effect on his behavior. And this is saying, in effect, that the millions who have read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin have not been affected by them or that no effect can be demonstrated or that their influence has been negligible. Or that a nation’s possession of information on how to manufacture a nuclear bomb would have no influence on its foreign policy. Such a conclusion runs counter to that of historians generally and contradicts the canons of common sense.
The commission members who persevered to register dissent should be congratulated. The rebuttal of one, Charles H. Keating Jr., is particularly noteworthy:
To say that pornography has no effect is patently ridiculous. I submit that if pornography does not affect a person—that person has a probem.…
The fact is that in a society such as modern Copenhagen where pre-marital sex and illegitimacy bear no social stigma; where hardcore pornography is sold at every corner kiosk and at the “porno” or “sex shops” that dot the city; where live sex shows are legally conducted and exploited in the daily newspapers; where prostitutes block the sidewalks and wave from apartment windows; in such a society I am amazed that any sex crimes are reported. Yet the Chief of Police of Copenhagen, Closter Christionsen, in an interview in January, 1970, with Ray Gauer, National Director of Citizens for Decent Literature, pointed out that violent sex crimes of forcible rape and assault had not decreased in that city since legalization of obscenity. The only reason for a 31 per cent statistical decrease in sex crimes is the fact that what was previously considered crime is either now ignored or legal.
Denmark is currently experiencing the worst epidemic of venereal disease among young people of any nation in the world.
Episcopalians And Cocu
As we pointed out in Part I of the essay whose concluding half appears in this issue, the sticky matter of the historic episcopate is central to the vigorous debate over the proposed Church of Christ Uniting. The Plan of Union accepts the historic episcopate, and this can only mean the eclipse of presbyterian and congregational church forms. What is of considerable interest now is that a sizable number of Episcopalians are equally convinced that COCU endangers the historic episcopate.
In the August 16 issue of the Living Church magazine, an independent publication standing in the Orthodox Anglican tradition, the Reverend Robert John Stewart says:
The Anglican clergyman, in addition to his other ministerial responsibilities, which he holds more or less in common with Protestant clergymen, ministers in a way the Protestant clergymen do not; he ministers through a specifically priestly act the offering of a sacrifice at Holy Communion.… So while our brother COCU members have, I believe, equally valid ordination as ministers, they do not have ordination to that area of the ministry which is the priesthood.
He is convinced that for the Episcopal Church, joining the uniting church would mean moving away from the Catholic Church.
More heat was added when Dr. William A. Norgren, head of the Department of Faith and Order of the National Council of Churches, preached a sermon in which he characterized the American Church Union’s evaluation of the COCU plan as “paranoid.” The executive director of the American Church Union, the Reverend Canon Albert J. duBois, replied that what the union (an organization espousing an Anglo-Catholic viewpoint) stands for is not simply a minority view. He cited recent polls showing that 26.7 per cent of the Episcopal clergy are willing to serve in a COCU parish, whereas 64 per cent “expressed the desire to continue as Episcopalians in some new form of autonomous Anglican provinces. Even a passing acquaintance with what has been going on [in] the Dioceses of the Episcopal Church in recent months would show many of these in their Conventions, rejecting COCU outright.”
We respect the views of those in the American Church Union, though our concern over COCU has a different focus from theirs. We believe that there can be some workable form of cooperation among the churches, some visible expression of spiritual unity based upon common adherence to the saving Gospel of Christ, but we are less and less convinced that COCU fills the bill.
The twentieth century has finally found a symbol that means something to everyone: long hair on men. The older “straight” generation sees it as symbolic of drug addiction, Communist sympathies, revolt against authority, and general moral decadence. (And that’s a lot for a young man to carry around on the top of his head.) For the young, hair seems to represent love, the peace movement, and youth.
The hirsute rebellion has rescued from obscurity Paul’s terse comment: “Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him …?” (1 Cor. 11:14). However, the Apostle does not elaborate on what this natural evidence is. Apparently “nature itself” is to be understood as “contemporary custom.” Since no one today pretends to understand the precise associations of long hair in the Corinthian setting, it is difficult, probably impossible, to extract a timeless principle relating directly to hair.
Those who advance this text will do well to keep in mind a much clearer admonition from Paul: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4).
One symbolic element may have been overlooked by those who decry long hair. It’s a lot less political than the popularly assumed motives. To put it simply: Girls like it, and as long as they do, boys are going to have it. It was ever thus.
A Season Of Life And Death
There is no shadowed valley, no whimper, as the earth’s northern half leans toward death this fall. The retreating sun offers neither repentance for the scorching heat just past nor apology for the cold to come. Rather it goes haughtily, flashing gold and russet leaves at the birds in battle formation and the brisk wind’s icy darts chasing it south of the equator. It goes majestically, touching its lustrous scepter to autumn’s abundance, grandly declaring that bare limbs and brown meadows are not tombstones to decay but seeds of new life.
“The hour that gives us life begins to take it away,” Seneca wrote, and only the advance of God’s Son can reverse the trend. “He who hears my word and believes him who sent me,” Jesus said, “has passed from death to life.”
Gamal Abdel Nasser
The name of the game is change, and it came to the Middle East swiftly after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser on September 28. Who will become the dominant figure in the Arab world is left in doubt. History, not columnists and pundits, will someday more objectively appraise Nasser’s character and his role as the Arabs’ most charismatic figure since Saladin. But no one can deny that his passing has left a yawning gap that will be filled by somebody or something, and that who or what it is may well make the difference between peace and war not only for the Jews and Arabs but also for the great powers and the world.
It would be foolish to suppose that leaders of the Soviet Union will stand by and watch their investment in Egypt diminish or that they will permit any new Egyptian leader to remain in power very long if he is not favorably disposed toward Soviet strategy. The presence of Premier Kosygin at the funeral signified Egypt’s importance in the Soviet scheme of things, and statements by party leader Brezhnev warning the United States on its Mideast role served to alert everyone that there will be no retreat from present Soviet positions.
One thing is perfectly clear and should be red-penciled in all diplomatic handbooks: Soviet leaders will cheat at the drop of a hat and can be expected to break agreements whenever and wherever it serves their purposes to do so. Their pledges and their signatures mean nothing if not backed up by empirical evidence that these commitments are being honored—by careful and repeated inspections and any other checks that can be devised. No one can intelligently do business with the Soviet Union on any other basis.
The New American Bible
A new translation of the Bible by Roman Catholic scholars has just been published under the imprimatur of Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, archbishop of Washington, D. C. The New American Bible, which has been a quarter of a century in the making and was known until recently as the Confraternity version, reflects the best in scholarship from among the American Catholic men of letters. It makes the Douay version, the standard Catholic Bible for centuries, seem out of date if not obsolete.
As translations go, this is a fine piece of scholarship. It is probably exegetically better than the New English Bible though it fails to attain the level of beauty either of that translation or of the King James. Its critics will be quick to point out possible defects such as the use of expiation instead of propitiation and a rendering of Romans 9:5 that leaves open the question whether Christ is here named by Paul as God. But the real weakness of this new Bible does not lie in the translated text itself. It is the annotations that are disappointing.
In introducing the various books of the Bible, the editors chose to follow the dominant higher critical view and have used the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch almost in its entirety. Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is a seventh-century B.C. product, Daniel was written in the second century B.C., there are two Isaiahs, Peter was not the author of Second Peter, Paul may not have written Ephesians, and John may not be the author of the Fourth Gospel.
The footnotes are distinctly traditional Roman Catholic. The perpetual virginity of Mary is maintained, and conflicting notes confuse the question of the relation between faith and works in salvation. The editors firmly support the virgin birth, the miraculous, and the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead. Their assertion that the Old Testament writers taught a three-storied view of the universe is unconvincing.
Catholic readers may be somewhat perplexed by the mixture of modern critical views that seem to deny tradition, with ancient church teachings based on tradition without concrete historical evidence. However, Roman Catholics should be encouraged to use this translation. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring salvation, and this can be accomplished without serious handicap by the new text.
Following Jesus Anywhere?
Paul often reminds the believer, “You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Just what does this mean in practice? Our Lord gave us some indication in his response to a would-be disciple as recorded in Luke 9:57 and 58 and Matthew 8:18–20. This man proclaimed that he would follow Jesus anywhere. But was he aware of what discipleship to Christ could mean? Was he willing to cut himself off from any claim to physical comfort, to “die to” the natural human desires for home and security? Jesus explained to the man that he himself had no shelter of his own, though foxes and birds do. We are not told whether the man was willing to follow Jesus on these terms. Are we?
Today most followers of Jesus have places to lay their heads. But they should realize that they have no right to this, no claim upon God that he make it possible for them to have a regular dwelling place. In many parts of the world today, as in ages past, Christians are called upon to imitate their Lord and give up their homes. The question that applies to us all is this: Would we sacrifice comfort and become homeless if loyalty to Christ required it? With such an attitude, even if it is never tested, we can keep in proper perspective the physical blessings God bestows upon us.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineEve’s Legacy Is Both Sin and RedemptionThe first woman tried to get free of God. But when she aligned herself with God’s purposes, she became the ‘Mother of All the Living.’
- Editor's PickO for a Thousand Tongues of FireThe Spirit’s descent at Pentecost is a model for diverse and distributed leadership.