Evangelical tides within the historic mainline denominations are rising. At the same time, the liberal forces within them are being weakened by an exodus of “new breed” ministers who are leaving the church for secular work. Evangelical visibility, coupled with a bid for power within the ecclesiastical machinery, is making an impact at the national level.
“It’s time the church began to listen to those to whom it doesn’t want to listen,” said a leader of the Good News Convocation of United Methodists for Evangelical Christianity last month. The convocation, attended by 1,600 laymen and pastors from the fifty states and overseas, was the first national Methodist convocation to be held this century outside the auspices of the denominational structure.
The Good News meeting in Dallas August 26–29 is representative of a number of unofficial evangelical groups within the major Protestant bodies that are raising their voices against what they believe is the excessively liberal, Gospel-slighting leadership that controls their denominations.
Two days later in Chicago, a Lutheran congress stressed loyalty to the Scriptures and the confessions. The forum drew evangelicals from the four major Lutheran bodies in the nation; the theme was “Evangelical Direction for the Lutheran Church.”
A nationwide Presbyterian Congress on Evangelism will be held in Cincinnati next September 20–24 in an attempt to get the church “walking on both legs”—evangelism and social involvement. Other similar meetings are planned; a United Methodist Congress on Evangelism will be held January 4–8 in New Orleans. And evangelical groups like the Good News movement have been formed in the American Baptist, Episcopal, and United Church of Christ communions as well.
The Dallas meeting was a blend of concern about social action—and apparent lack of involvement in it by evangelical Methodists—and about the Methodist establishment’s practice of social reform without preaching the Gospel. Variety and balance were evidenced in the messages of the thirteen major speakers, who ranged from Methodism’s grand old man, E. Stanley Jones, 86, to black evangelist Tom Skinner, 28. There was the deft logic of Candler School of Theology professor Claude Thompson, and the magic testimony of illusionist Andre Kol of Campus Crusade for Christ International, who uses his skill to spellbind student audiences around the world. One representative of the Methodist hierarchy, maverick Bishop Gerald Kennedy of Los Angeles, also addressed the convocation.
Most speakers bent over backward to avoid sounding “too negative” toward the church establishment, and Dr. Les Woodson, chairman of the board of Good News (subtitle: A Forum for Scriptural Christianity within the United Methodist Church) echoed a statement oft-pronounced at the convocation: “We have no plans to do more than to restore the historic Methodist Church to its Wesleyan tradition and biblical authority.”
The Good News movement was born three and one-half years ago with the publication of a quarterly journal edited by Dr. Charles Keysor, an Elgin, Illinois, pastor. Each year the magazine has doubled its circulation (presently nearly 10,000 plus 7,000 free distribution) and the Good News organization has doubled its finances. Thirteen regional evangelism conferences have been held in the past year, and last spring, the thirty-two directors (one is black) set up thirteen task forces and authorized the establishment of a national office and a full-time worker. A second national convocation has been set for 1971.
Ongoing concerns of the movement—the chief issues to surface at Dallas—include unhappiness with the denominational curriculum (its de-emphasis on personal faith in ChristWoodson said a recent survey indicated that 8,000 to 10,000 United Methodist congregations are using material from non-Methodist curriculum publishers, either instead of or in addition to the official U.M. curriculum.), money and the church (should evangelical Methodists boycott denominational social causes not related to gospel proclamation?), and liberal-dominated United Methodist seminaries (“It’s almost impossible to get an evangelical on our seminary faculties,” said Candler’s Claude Thompson).
The three-day convocation was spirited from start to finish. The frequent “amens,” gospel singing, and hand clapping could have convinced a visitor that he had dropped in on an old-time revival meeting. The rhythmic Junaluska Singers electrified the audience with a rousing performance of “O Happy Day” and sang and played their way to repeated standing ovations. At the closing prayer of dedication, men embraced, tears were shed, and there seemed to be a general reluctance to allow the fragile spell of spiritual communion to be broken—a rare sight indeed at the end of a church convention.
Tom Skinner, in a message reminiscent of the one he gave at the Minneapolis Congress on Evangelism a year ago, drew raves from the delegation (99 per cent white) for his hard-hitting indictment of evangelicals who say Christ is the answer but don’t tell how, who fail to relate their faith to the ghetto, and who “give thousands for foreign missions but won’t cross the street to help blacks.” Skinner also rapped the Americanization of the Gospel by political right-wing conservatives who “wrap Jesus up in the flag so that a vote for Jesus is a vote for America.” “If you really love your country you must be willing to hold up the Scriptures to America,” he said, adding: “When the Scriptures are opposed to what America is doing the church has [usually] gone with the system.”
Dr. Thompson charged that evangelicals “seldom mention the sins that are tearing the country apart.” Why, he asked, is there no conviction for such wrongs as spending money on “massive Methodist mausoleums” (ornate church buildings), not engaging in the civil rights movement (“the original sin in evangelical Methodism”), and allowing rat-hole slum dwellings (some of the landlords are active churchmen).
Other evangelically oriented groups in major denominations are strongly challenging the contention of liberal churchmen that historic Christianity emphasizing a living, personal Saviour is an ecclesiastical backwash.
The American Baptist Fellowship was organized during the denomination’s annual meeting last spring to provide a voice for evangelical pastors and to heal wounds within the ABC. The United Presbyterian Church has two groups: Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns, for pastors and laymen, and the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which stresses lay participation in decision-making at all levels in the church. The Southern Presbyterian group, Concerned Presbyterians, is for laymen.
Lutherans Alert, a group of American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in America pastors and laymen; is seeking a possible federation of “evangelical, conservative, confessional Lutherans,” a move supported by the independent, very conservative Lutheran publication, the Christian News.
Within the Episcopal Church, the American Church Union and the Foundation for Christian Theology both expect to make their conservative influence felt at the denomination’s triennium in Houston next month. There are other evangelical groups in the Anglican and other communions (see story adjoining).
“We are just starting to be aware of the possibilities” for evangelical ecumenism, says Good News editor Charles Keysor. “Why I don’t even know how many evangelicals there are in the Methodist Church. We’re like guys drilling for oil—we keep sinking the bit and it keeps going down.”
Evangelical Consolidation In Canadian Denominations
Evangelicals are banding together in Canada’s major denominations to form groupings that give visible (and sometimes irritating) expressions to their position. The Canadian Anglican Evangelical Fellowship, the United Church Renewal Fellowship, and the Baptist Revival Fellowship exist respectively in the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada, and the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec.
The three groups have in common an adherence to their particular denominational doctrinal position and a desire for a return to historical evangelical moorings. Each provides a rallying point for evangelicals, who sometimes feel out in the cold.
The Canadian Anglican Evangelical Fellowship is part of the international Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion, whose president is Archbishop Marcus Loane and whose secretary is Dr. John Stott. The EFAC includes twenty-two national Anglican bodies around the world.
Despite obstacles, the United Church Renewal Fellowship now claims 600 members; about sixty are ministers. Executive member Dr. Robert Rumball of Toronto’s Evangelical Church of the Deaf reports a sizable group of sympathizers not yet openly aligned with the fellowship.
The newest evangelical “underground,” the Baptist Revival Fellowship, includes pastors and laymen in the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec. Organized this year, the fellowship already claims 100 ministers and a large body of laymen. According to its president, the Reverend Raymond Le-Drew of the First Baptist Church in Orilla, Ontario, the Baptist Revival Fellowship exists “to give visibility and expression to the evangelical position which gave birth to the whole Baptist witness in Canada.”
Observers wonder if these separate evangelical groupings will display enough unity to maintain effective liaison through an interdenominational evangelical alignment such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Many are already active in the EFC; others hesitate.
LESLIE K. TARR
From Jonah To Jeremiah
Strange things are happening under the name of evangelism these days. Two of the most dramatic are Jonah and the Whale on a Florida beach, and Jeremiah, complete with sackcloth and prophecy of doom in California.
Though both involve costumed drama, present the Gospel, and win many converts (especially youth), they are separated by much more than the North American continent. Their strategies are opposite: one uses a soft sell appealing to those still under the “Prince of this world”; the other sets a collision course aimed to jolt the worldly into listening.
Over 50,000 tourists have watched Jonah, a happy-go-lucky, guitar-strumming teenager, receive a telephone call from the Lord to go to New York (Nineveh) to witness to the hippies. His antics trying to run away from God lead to a jolly climax that turns serious when the audience is invited to run toward God instead of away.
Evangelism is no laughing matter, however, for the “Children of God” headquartered on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Dressed in red sackcloth, yokes around their necks and ashes on their foreheads, they stand in silent formation at such events as the trial of the Chicago Seven, a campus gathering for radical Jerry Rubin, and antiwar rallies. The signs and scrolls they display warn readers to repent: the Judgment Day is at hand.
Both approaches are effective. Jonah’s troupe expected 1,000 decisions before the end of the summer-long performances in Panama City. The comic religious musical was written by the Reverend Bob Curlee of Ensley Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The “Children of God” have grown from a handful five years ago to 125 in Los Angeles and 200 more at the clan’s ranch near Fort Worth, Texas. At both places they live in communes patterned after those of early Christians. Members are required to give up all possessions and to memorize at least two Bible verses daily; they don’t smoke, drink, or use drugs. With long hair and casual clothes, they are especially effective with young people who have left the “system.”
Jonah and Jeremiah are just two vanguards of the rapidly moving front line of evangelism (see June 19 issue, page 36). Others are appearing across the nation, such as in El Paso, Texas, where 600 young people made commitments to Christ in one night of old-fashioned revival—helped along by the hard-rock sound of long-haired Christian musicians.
Converting Tent-Trailers Into Missionaries
Paul, the tent maker of Tarsus, would feel at home with the modern-day tent makers of Bethany Fellowship in Bloomington, Minnesota. For they, like Paul, work at their trade and live communally for one purpose: to support missions.
Since its founding in 1945, the fellowship has grown to seventy members and has prospered in business and missions. The tents form the “cadillac of the fold-down trailer” with sales, now in twenty-seven states, increasing 20 per cent each year. Meanwhile, 129 missionaries have been placed in twenty-five countries, and another 130 are in training.
The tent making began in 1958 when a young staff member worked day and night to perfect the first “traveling tepee.” In the next three years sales of the camper trailer with tentlike canvas walls doubled and tripled. Bethany was first with the fiberglass top and foldover kitchen, and in 1968 came out with a high-rise kitchen that cranks out. “We can’t afford one unhappy customer, for it is a reflection upon a work of God,” says Maurice Johnson, business manager and vice-president.
Community has grown with industry, as members imitate the early Christians of Acts 2:44 who “had all things in common.” These modern believers live in family units in apartment-style buildings, keeping personal belongings such as furniture but eating meals together and worshiping together twice weekly. They dress in simple, modern clothing and do not smoke, drink, or attend movies.A nursery is provided but is not compulsory; many mothers combine child care with their particular work responsibility. Older children attend local public schools, and all members take an interest in community affairs.
Twenty-five years ago, five families meeting for prayer and Bible study felt called to missions. As Johnson, a member of the original group, tells it: “We thought if we only had one house, there would be more time to prepare ourselves.”
After much prayer, they sold their homes and bought one large house in Minneapolis. At first the men worked at outside jobs and turned in their wages. As the fellowship’s industry grew, they gave up other jobs.
Although they all planned to go to the foreign field, none of the original group went. “In 1945 we had the audacity,” recalls Johnson, “to ask God for 100 young people and the funds to send them to the mission field.” Twenty-two years later, the 100th young man, a son of one of the original members, was commissioned.
When others joined the group, the house became too small. In 1948, they moved to fifty-seven acres in Bloomington. A missionary training and Bible institute was begun; it now employs sixteen members as teachers. Nearly all the children of Bethany staff members are now on the mission field.
Before 1958, the fellowship manufactured toys. Today there are four main products: the trailer, a print shop and publishing house, electronic equipment, and a lefse grill. The lefse grill, a heavy aluminum appliance that gets 100 degrees hotter than other electric grills, was developed by an elderly Norwegian inventor. It looks like an upside-down dishpan. “We thought only Norwegians would buy it,” says Johnson. Yet with little or no advertising, sales have run close to 10,000 a year.
Bethany also manufactures loud speakers and is perhaps the largest supplier of public address systems to missionaries; 700 are sold annually.
Students share the work program, knowing it will someday support them on the field.
There have been difficulties. In 1953 the Minnesota shop burned. “We didn’t think of quitting,” says Johnson. “We were in business twelve days later.” Another fire destroyed the grill department. In 1969 a tornado destroyed four cabins the fellowship used for vacationing and killed four members. The 13-year-old son of the Reverend H. J. Brokke, dean of the school, was among them.
The Bethany story is one of hard work and faith; it is not just a social experiment. The members are committed to the belief that “there is nothing worth living for if you can’t live for the Gospel.”
Episode In Birmingham
In all its ninety-eight-year history, First Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, has never had a black member. And if about half its 1,800 white members have their way, that policy will not change. The other half, including the pastor, Dr. J. Herbert Gilmore, favor integration.
The division became acute last July when a black woman, Mrs. Winifred Bryant, and her eleven-year-old daughter Twila Fortune were presented to the congregation for membership. They had become acquainted with the church two blocks from their home through the church’s tutoring program, where Twila had been converted.
On July 5, at what is usually a routine meeting to vote on membership candidates, Gilmore, as moderator, declared the congregation’s voice vote a majority in favor of accepting Mrs. Bryant, Twila, and four white candidates. But opponents objected, and under the church’s by-laws their objections had to be considered by the pastor and deacons. In a closed three-and-a-half-hour meeting, a substantial majority of the deacons, according to Gilmore, declared the objections invalid and unscriptural. Back to a congregational vote went the six membership requests, this time needing approval of two-thirds of the congregation. Several heated congregational meetings later, the six still had been neither accepted nor rejected.
Early this month, twenty-three votes defeated a resolution calling for membership consideration only on the basis of Christian commitment, without reference to race. The status of the would-be members was left in limbo.
Churches Face Postage Increases
Churches and charitable institutions face the virtual certainty of substantial and continued postage rate increases under the new “postal reform” law passed by Congress and signed by President Nixon, even though they and their publications will continue to enjoy a favored status in the new U. S. Postal Service.
In the closing hours of congressional work on the reform bill, a House provision that would have enabled churches and other non-profit institutions to continue to enjoy the present subsidized mail rate was stricken from the bill. In its place, conferees established a preferential rate that within ten years must reflect the actual costs to the post office of handling this mail.
Eternity editor Russell Hitt, “postal lobbyist” for the Evangelical Press Association, said that congressmen had seriously considered wiping out the preferential rate altogether.
Realizing that this would result in a very substantial increase in present mailing rates, the conferees at the very last moment added the clause that provides that the increases shall be spread “so far as practicable in equal annual increments” over a ten-year period.
At present, churches and charitable institutions mail printed matter at the rate of 1.6 cents per piece in third class, and for even less in second-class mail.
These rates are now to be increased to a point that reflects “cost of handling.” This has been defined as the additional cost to the Postal Service exclusive of its investment in buildings and motor equipment. The reasoning is that the latter would be required anyway to move first-class mail. Thus, only labor and additional transportation costs will be counted. This has been estimated at 52 per cent of the total amount required to operate the Postal Service.
Even though the law does not spell it out specifically, postal rate experts here expect a straight 50 per cent reduction from the first-class rate to be applied to non-profit mail users.
GLENN D. EVERETT
The Evangelical Secret?
A noted Roman Catholic scholar, in a major critique of evangelical Protestantism, suggests that its current success “has something to do with the centrality of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to the evangelical ethos.” Father Kilian McDonnell, O. S. B., warns against an “overblown” doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but asserts that “apart from the power of the Holy Spirit a doctrinally correct Gospel will not, cannot, transform.” McDonnell’s 4,000-word article appears in the August 21 issue of Commonweal.
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