The “bare pit” was a large room off the lobby in Ottawa’s elegant old Chateau Laurier Hotel. Several dozen young people sat around the carpeted floor sharing their concerns. While they talked, an Edwardian-coated youth quietly mounted a stepladder on the stage and began beckoning to a fellow player who had sprawled out on the floor below. The ladder-climber kept motioning to his prostrate friend but made it clear that he was not about to get off the ladder to help him up. In a sequel to the act he came down and embraced passers-by.
The pantomime reflected the underlying challenge posed by last month’s five-day Canadian Congress on Evangelism, of which it was a part: the responsibility of evangelicals to get closer to the people they are trying to reach. Evangelist Leighton Ford put it another way: “I sometimes think the Church resembles nothing more than a holy huddle.… Those who are on the field seem to spend most of their time in the huddle. Some seem to have forgotten the plays and the aim of the game. Some like the coziness and safety—did you ever hear of anybody getting hurt in a huddle? Some have been knocked down so often that the spirit seems to have been knocked out of them. So we spend all our time planning strategy, analyzing the enemy, and sometimes criticizing our own team members.”
Ford urged churchmen to move out of the huddle and get into the fray. He suggested that Christians might well develop a new theme song: “When the Saints Go Marching Out.”
The Rev. Robert Roxburgh, a Baptist from Calgary, said many churches discuss what they call “outreach” but what they really mean is “in-drag.” Authentic fishers of men, he declared, “do not fish in a nice stained-glass aquarium to which have been invited prospect fish to be caught by the big fisherman properly attired, but rather they fish where the fish are—in the fast-flowing streams and muddy pools of life.”
The Anglican archbishop of York, Dr. F. D. Coggan, asserted in a keynote address that fulfilling the command to make disciples is a prerequisite to church renewal. “Obey,” he said, “and you will be renewed. It is as simple as that.… I had rather, ten thousand times rather, incur the divine rebuke for error in method, or even in doctrine, in a task done in obedience to his command, than I would hear him say, ‘I told you to go and you never went.’ When we obey the command and unitedly go out on evangelistic work, I believe we shall find that it will be with us as with the lepers: ‘As they went, they were cleansed.’ As we go, we shall find renewal.”
Though it had shaky moments, the Ottawa congress emerged as a signal triumph for the biblical cause. It may well have ushered in a new era of cooperation among Canadian evangelicals. The more than 600 delegates represented some three dozen denominations, including all the major Protestant communions and many traditionally separatist groups taking their first ecumenical venture (and laying a lot on the line for their trouble). The impact of the meeting can be expected to be felt throughout the North American Christian community.
In delegate discussions, which were numerous, the nature of Christian social responsibility was the most debated subject. One student who claimed an evangelical background had started it off by asking, “Does Christianity really change things?” About 20 to 25 per cent of the delegates were young people, a higher proportion than at any previous congress on evangelism, and the diversity of their views showed clearly that today’s youth do not speak with one voice, not even in the evangelical sphere.
Both the congress leaders and the featured speakers resisted attempts to make the conclave a sounding board for mere humanitarianism. Coggan remarked that “not least among many of the young, there is a deep concern for social justice, a deep hatred of war and poverty, of Rachmanism and of color prejudice, which puts many professing Christians to shame.” He argued, however, that although “every Christian must be a humanitarian, deeply concerned for the temporal welfare of his fellows all over the world … he is far more than that. He is an apostle with a Gospel which concerns the whole man, here and hereafter.”
Coggan, a delegate to the World Council of Churches assembly in Uppsala in 1968, suggested that perhaps that meeting gave “the impression that in fact social concern was in itself the Gospel. We said much about compassion for those deprived of justice and equality because of race or color, but all too little about those deprived of the knowledge of God’s love and so condemned to live in superstition and fear. We manifested a sense of urgency about the righting of the evils of poverty and so on, but all too little urgency to preach the Gospel where hitherto it has never been heard. We heard much of the Christian as a servant of men; did we hear enough about him as the servant of God and derivatively, for His sake and for the sake of His Gospel and its proclamation, the servant of men in need of God?”
Dr. Carl F. H. Henry stated that “nothing is more foundationally important for the world and for the Church in the twentieth century than a recovery of truth. Truth-famine is the ultimate and worst of all famines. Unless modern culture recovers the truth of truth and the truth of God, civilization is doomed to oblivion and the spirit of man to nihilism.”
Delegates were treated to a masterly critique of the new theology by Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, though not all of them appreciated it. Hamilton, who teaches at the University of Winnepeg, said that “the old, pietistic theology was accused of neglecting life here and now, while offering pie in the sky when you die. The new secularist theology promises that pie will arrive for another generation after we are dead.” The theology of revolution, he declared, “finds room for Jesus to the degree that he can be interpreted as an agent of social change and an anti-establishment figure.” Hamilton quoted Gerald Sykes as commenting in The Cool Millennium that “the churches are trying to make up for their intellectual and moral bankruptcy by taking up popular social causes” (though he later said that this did not necessarily reflect accurately his own view).
The most provocative personality at the congress was Frank H. Epp, a Mennonite who wrote a workshop paper against war. Epp charged that “where once evangelism was an instrument of dynamic renewal in society, it now quite often serves the function of preserving the status quo.” He said his pacifist views have led him to the growing conviction that “a Buddhist who carries a cross is closer to Christ than a Christian who carries a gun.”
“Perhaps the most misunderstood biblical vision,” Epp said, “is that called the kingdom, the concept which Jesus chose to describe the totality of the new man, the new order, and the new age.” He accused some Christians of inventing “a false doctrine of separations so that they could conveniently bypass the kingdoms of economics and politics in their proclamation. Those who built bypass highways for the kingdom may not have known—at least they didn’t admit it—but they soon lost the kingdom blueprint itself. The kingdom just doesn’t appear apart from people and outside of society. And the more they lost it, the more they identified with the prevailing religious and political tribalisms of the day. Thus, in 1970 the kingdom was reduced to an unfinished American dream, as in the 1930s it became little more than a German Reich.”
Epp divided his time between the Canadian Congress on Evangelism and a meeting of world federalists. He tried unsuccessfully to arrange a joint session.
Plenary sessions of the congress were held in Ottawa’s new $46,000,000 National Arts Center, across the street from the Parliament buildings where the national motto, taken from Psalm 72:8, is carved in stone: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” It was to this end that the congress delegates had gathered. Some observers feel that there is even more ecclesiastical polarization in Canada than the United States, and that therefore the mere assembly of such a cross section of the Church was no small accomplishment. Advance preparations had been seriously impaired by a lingering mail strike. A sizeable corps of secular newsmen covered the congress, though some reporters’ focus upon undercurrents disappointed many Canadian evangelicals.
The congress nonetheless sounded a new call. Coggan reminded the delegates that it’s often a pillow that keeps the word of God from coming through and that an alarm clock can be an important Christian instrument. The meeting in Ottawa served to alert the Church in Canada and elsewhere to its great task. Henry summed up the appeal:
“Upon us as believers the divinity of the Gospel-truth, the demonstration of the Gospel-truth, and the destination of the Gospel-truth places the burden, the opportunity, and the privilege and entrustment of facing the world with the Word. Let us do so in a way that makes decision for Christ not an unintelligible noise or an easy evasion but a welcome option and unparallelled opportunity.”
Updating A Creed
The British Evangelical Alliance has a new “basis of faith.” The document, drafted by a working committee over a period of years and endorsed in principle by the alliance leadership in January, was formally adopted after consultation with the alliance’s associate members.
In publishing the text, the alliance said it has “not moved an inch” from its traditional evangelical statement. Seasoned evangelical observers noted, however, that it is not as tight a statement theologically as the statement of the World Evangelical Alliance, of which the British group is a member.
Agnostic Meets Missionary
Is the modern missionary still “a joke, a cooking-pot character”? The London-based Church Missionary Society recently encouraged a young agnostic couple to quiz its executives, and then arranged for them to visit Christian work in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. For four weeks Richard and Helen Exley lived with missionaries and investigated their diverse projects. The CMS committed itself in advance to sponsor publication of their findings, “warts and all.” After forty-six hours of tape, four reams of paper, and eighty-seven missionaries, they produced their report (In Search of a Missionary, London: Highway Press, 5s.). The Exleys, both of whom are deeply involved in secular aid work, present their experiences and comments with uninhibited candor. They found themselves shocked by missionaries who swore and wives who “seemed less than perfect or less than loving”; were impressed by meaningful humanitarian schemes and by bachelor workers who managed on less than $100 a year; reflected bewilderment that those who so highly praised African culture should send their children home to be educated; were moved by the pilot who coupled prayers in the cockpit before takeoff with expertise and concern for passenger safety and comfort; noted that some missionaries “try so hard they almost become unlovely in trying”; felt the “sudden freezing” in certain Christian circles that labeled them as outside the household of faith.
At the end of their forty-page report, the Exleys said they “were not—to some people’s surprise—converted,” but admitted “with a profound sense of thankfulness that we were able to explore one of the richest, most interesting fields of human endeavor.”
J. D. DOUGLAS
Enrollment totals in private (largely church-related) elementary schools will show a decrease this fall, the U. S. Office of Education predicts.
When figures are compiled, enrollment in public elementary schools will for the first time in nearly three decades remain about the same, a total of 32,600,000, the government estimates, while children enrolled in nonpublic elementary schools will drop by about 100,000 to 4,200,000.
Enrollment in nonpublic high schools will remain about the same, 1,400,000, while public high schools are expected to enroll 13,400,000, an increase of 400,000 over last year.
In the college field, a record enrollment of 7,600,000 is expected, a gain of 300,000 over 1969. State universities and other public colleges will enroll 5,600,000, a gain of 200,000, while private colleges, including those that are church-supported, will enroll 2,000,000, an increase of 100.000.
Bidding Troops To Stay
South Korean Protestants held a prayer meeting in Seoul last month in behalf of a continuance of U. S. troop strength in their country (see photo below). At the meeting in Chongkyo Methodist Church they also adopted messages addressed to President Nixon and to American churches in which they pleaded against any reduction of U. S. military manpower in Korea. They fear Communist aggression if the balance of power is altered. Posun Yun, former president of Korea, was among the participants in the meeting.
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