The market closed mixed in fairly active trading. Investors saw 1970 as a time of consolidation, regrouping, evaluating, catching up with the dizzy speculation of the 1960s. Some issues, particularly blue-chip ecumenical councils, showed aimless drifting with little direction. Some mainline denominational portfolios were curtailed, polarized, and paid stockholders only small dividends. Several splits appear almost certain later this decade. Evangelicals closed up a few points.…
If a financial analyst were to render a terse commentary on the religious scene in 1970, he might say something like the above. Religion, like the economy, never stands still. Shares are traded over the counter (and under it) for what the market will bear. And the 1970 religion market was a bear—no bull. Religious news last year indicated some notable shifts in emphases; some ramifications won’t be clear until at least this year, and maybe not for two or three.
Money—or the lack of it—was one of the big stories of 1970. Practically all the major denominations reported declining income and memberships (it was the fifth straight year for a membership loss for the United Methodists, the second-largest U.S. Protestant denomination).
National church budgets felt the biggest crunch, some of it from a pocketbook revolt of laymen disgruntled by an overemphasis on social activism, and some reflecting the general slump in the U. S. economy. Still, overall church giving was up somewhat. And organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Campus Crusade for Christ attracted some of the deflected denominational dollars. Sadly, in several denominations overseas missions staff suffered the biggest cutbacks.
Ecumenical councils, already in trouble in recent years, felt severely the pinch of reduced income; what’s more, studies show that the average layman couldn’t care less about groups like the World and National Councils of Churches. The WCC faces rough waters in 1971; its imprudent granting of funds to some guerrilla groups who use violence to fight racism cost it friends and contributions.
On another ecumenical front, 1970 saw the budding romance between Anglicans and Catholics blossom into a Lutheran-Anglican-Catholic ménage a trois gilded by the announcement this year that a team of Catholic theologians considered valid the Lutheran ministry and Lutheran Communion. Meanwhile the giant superchurch blueprint unveiled in St. Louis last March evoked a lackluster response from Episcopalians; the black Christian Methodist Episcopal Church noted it was more interested in union with sister black Methodist denominations; and by year-end, even COCU engineer William A. Benfield, Jr., was pessimistic about COCU’s future.
War in Southeast Asia and the Middle East perhaps headed the list of secular involvements of the churches during the past year. Strong statements on U. S. disengagement in Viet Nam and selective conscientious objection were passed by several church bodies. Similar concern over the Arab-Israeli conflict was less general though that arena is the most likely spot for World War III to begin.
Overpopulation and poverty were frequent targets of convention resolutions. Race tensions continued, but the James Forman “reparations” era gave way to a low-key “wheel and deal” approach by black caucus groups within most major denominations. Caucus power jarred loose more denominational money than ever before, though some self-determination groups raised local hackles.
The institutional church took its lumps from those inside and outside it. Jesus Freaks, renewal groups, and assorted crusaders accused the organized church of irrelevance, racism, paternalism, and repression. Most agree that structures badly need an overhaul.
Shifting moral attitudes in the churches, especially concerning sexual behavior and abortion, made sensational headlines in 1970. The United Presbyterians, the Lutheran Church in America, and the United Church of Christ sanctioned—or approved for study—documents that appear to endorse pre- or extra-marital intercourse under some circumstances, and to advocate removal of legal penalties for the practice of homosexuality between consenting adults. Meanwhile, homosexuals shrilly interrupted some church gatherings, formed their own chain of congregations, and contended that Scripture condones “responsible” homosexual acts.
Church-state questions, notably over prayers and public schools, and government aid to parochial schools, surfaced again. Lawmakers, educators, and the Supreme Court must squarely face some very complex issues this year. A related issue is the proposal of the Office of Economic Opportunity that would provide parents of all pupils in private, parochial, and public schools with educational vouchers from the federal government so the children could attend the school of their choice.
Ecology theology and the war against pollution seem firmly entrenched as major concerns of the churches. And women, flushed with success over winning ordination rights in several denominations, seek further liberation in the church, though most eschew the grosser forms of emancipation clamored for by their street sisters.
A religious review of 1970 should include the rapid growth of Pentecostalism and the burgeoning charismatic movement, especially among Roman Catholics (an estimated 50,000 of whom are now “baptized in the Spirit”). The Charismatic Communion of Presbyterian Ministers, to cite another example, grew from 190 to 253 members in the past year.
Carl McIntire will make most “top ten” lists of religion stories for 1970, both for his religio-politics (the Washington, D. C., Viet Nam victory rallies) and for his contentious grab to regain control of the American Council of Christian Churches.
Pope Paul’s ninth and longest trip, to the Philippines and Australia, deserves mention as a major story of 1970, but lasting effects seem dubious; in fact, private criticism by some key bishops of the pontiff’s “triumphal” posture may wield more long-range influence on papal affairs of state. And Paul’s barring of cardinals past eighty from electing popes, plus the hint of his retirement in several years, may prove a more significant barometer for the Church of Rome than Paul’s good will tour.
Theologically, it was a year of homogenization, with the Brussels conference of Catholic notables the only international stellar attraction. Still, the Frankfurt Declaration portends a possible boost for evangelicalism and a high view of Scripture.
It was a good year for evangelicals, but not a spectacular one. Infighting among Southern Baptists over curriculum materials and a flap in a Missouri Synod Lutheran seminary tensed two of the largest evangelical denominations. One of the most encouraging signs was the bold visibility of unofficial evangelical groups in at least half a dozen U. S. and three Canadian Protestant bodies. Several of these held national meetings last year; others plan them for 1971.
Other signs of evangelical strength include evangelism congresses throughout the world, the continued success of mass meetings by Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and other evangelists, the revival at Asbury College that spread to many other campuses, the triennial missionary conclave of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Urbana, and the projected Key 73 evangelism thrust.
If the Lord tarries, the Spirit hovers, and the shadows of the Frankfurt Declaration lengthen over Christendom, evangelicals could post large gains on the Big Board this decade.
The Trillion-Dollar Economy
In actual economic terms, 1970 will be remembered more for its gloom than for its glory. But one noteworthy fiscal feature in the United States was that the gross national product crossed the trillion-dollar mark. This milestone in the annual value of goods and services produced should be celebrated soberly, for whom God has put up he can also put down. With affluence there must go a corresponding stewardship responsibility. Failure at this point invites the judgment of God.
The Scriptural Slack
Some research organization looking for a continuing project might do Christians a good turn by measuring the biblical literacy rate. The current secular bent that characterizes so much of what is supposed to be Christian education is taking its toll. There are signs that people know less and less of what the Scriptures teach.
The church was once a place where one could expect to be referred to the Scriptures. Now, however, one must be wary: he may find a clergyman who, instead of recommending biblical answers, is busy telling what he thinks is wrong with the Bible.
One result of modern apostasy is that Bible societies have had to try to take up some of the slack in promoting the use of the Bible. So far they have faced up to the challenge quite boldly and imaginatively—Never before has Scripture been so attractively packaged, and available in such a variety of forms.
Dr. Eugene A. Nida of the American Bible Society said recently that the demand for new translations and revisions of Scripture has been greater in the past year than at any other time. In 1969 the United Bible Societies distributed 145,300,866 copies of Scripture around the world. In the same period in the United States 76,216,533 copies were distributed. People may have lost some faith in the Church, but their hope in the message of divine revelation seems undiminished.
‘Warning: May Be Beneficial To Your Health’
A Johns Hopkins University medical researcher has just discovered what the Presbyterian Ministers’ (Life Insurance) Fund has known for more than two centuries: Attending church is good for your health.
The risk of fatal heart disease is almost twice as high for men who attend church infrequently as for those who attend once a week or more, according to a study made by Dr. George W. Comstock of the university’s department of epidemiology. And, the good doctor observed, the “clean life” associated with regular church-going also appears to be statistically related to a lower incidence of a dozen other major diseases, including cancer, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, and respiratory ailments. The relation may be as significant as that between cigarette smoking and health, Comstock said. Although he didn’t single out any one explanation, such as life-style, for the piety-health correlation, he noted that in any case “going to church is a very favorable input.”
His study involved 189 Caucasian males between forty-five and fifty who had died of heart disease between 1963 and 1966 in a western Maryland community. About 80 per cent were Protestants. Average annual death rate per 100,000 for weekly church-goers was found to be about 500 compared with nearly 900 for those who attended less than once a week. About 600 non-smokers died of heart diseases compared with nearly 900 cigarette smokers.
Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, which long has been interdenominational and insures only clergymen and their dependents, has had such a good longevity record among its policy-holders that the company is consistently able to offer lower premium rates than most other life-insurance firms.
But regular church attendance does more than make ministers and the faithful flock become better insurance risks. Going to the House of the Lord is good for your heart in more ways than one. To quote Proverbs 4:23, out of the heart are the issues of this life—and the next.
Waiting For Adoption
“The New Year waits, breathes, waits, whispers in darkness./While the labourer kicks off a muddy boot and stretches his hand to the fire,/The New Year waits, destiny waits for the coming.” T. S. Eliot captures the limbo-like quality of the new year’s birth. Remembrances of the past year and prophecies for the one ahead suspend the day in thought, while eating and drinking, the football watching, the conviviality continue. As men wait, caught between two years—the one known and the one to come—they strain with curiosity to see the future.
Paul speaks of such anticipation. “The creation waits with eager longing” for God’s coming, he says, while men “wait for adoption as sons.” This adoption is the destiny, at His coming, of those who know the Son.
Everyone these days has a bag. And at this time of year-switching, those whose bag is self-improvement and resolution-making are in their glory. The resolutionists write new gospels, with enough do’s and don’ts to cause a legalist’s heart to throb a little faster.
Perhaps the king of resolutionists was Count Leo Tolstoy, a man whom all other resolutionists should revere. He resolved to improve himself not only at the new year, though that was a great time for him, but also daily. His diaries are full of self-criticism and promises of better thought and conduct. Any act or response short of perfection was recorded religiously—and his pronouncements eventually became his religion.
This religious phenomenon is common among resolutionists. Weeks before January 1 they are preparing lists of shortcomings. Then, seeing how far short of glory they are, these slate-wipers compile lists that if followed will correct all faults. This is a form of atonement individually conceived, but only a paper rebirth.
There are, of course, resolutions that Christians need to make, and a listing of our shortcomings might be helpful. But most resolutions succeed only in failing. The reason lies in the resolvers’ failure to appropriate the message of the Christmas holiday just passed. Neither paper rebirth nor new-written gospels can accomplish more than a fragment of what the one Atonement, Jesus Christ, was born to do.
The refusal of asylum aboard a United States Coast Guard ship to Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian, last November 23 was a heartrending blotch upon the record of traditional American welcome to political refugees. According to one report, when President Nixon learned of the incident, long after it happened, “his face turned red with anger; he banged his fist on the arm of his chair.” This is the way, one hopes, most Americans felt.
Apparently, the captain of the Coast Guard vessel Vigilant, Ralph Eustis, stalled for time before allowing Coast Guardsmen to row Kudirka back to the Communist ship. Commander Eustis had been ordered by his superior in Boston to allow the Russians to reclaim the man. On the basis of the information that has come to light, we fault him for obeying such orders. One may never use obedience to other persons as the justification for doing immoral acts, such as permitting a man who was no threat to those around him to be cruelly beaten and taken against his will back to a vessel of the foreign occupiers of his country. (The United States does not recognize the Soviet takeover of Lithuania, which maintains a diplomatic mission in Washington.)
What is this country coming to when obedience is valued more than righteousness? “Acting under orders” is one of the defenses that William Calley’s attorneys have used to justify his role in the Mylai atrocity. Aren’t men in our service academies taught that superior officers can be wrong? Aren’t they taught the consequences that Nuremberg has written into international law for those who commit or permit barbarism, regardless of the orders of those above them? Don’t the chaplains and those who minister at the compulsory chapel services tell them of the consequences before God of doing what is contrary to His law, regardless of how many men they are obeying?
What about the crewmen of the Vigilant? Why did they stand by and let their commander do this? Had they refused to obey, it is clear from the ensuing outcry that they would have been supported by the public.
We do not suggest that authority—whether of officers, employers, elders, parents, husbands, or others—be lightly viewed. There is no basis for disobedience when one merely disagrees with the judgment or wisdom of one’s superior. But in cases where the superior is asking one clearly to transgress the law of God, or laws of men that he has no authority to supersede, or the principles of morality, then disobedience is not only permitted but demanded. Of course, one must be willing to bear the consequences of such disobedience, hoping that exoneration will come from higher authorities or, failing that, from God himself.
It is too late to do right by Simas Kudirka. But it is not too late for Americans to learn that all of us are responsible for our actions. We cannot blame the pressures of society; we cannot excuse our conduct because “everybody is doing it” or “nobody will care”; and we cannot pass the buck to our superiors.
Greece: The Right To Spread Good News
The recent court triumph in Greece for evangelical mission leader Spiros Zodhiates (see December 18 issue, page 43) is an encouraging development in that land where free exchange of ideas was once a hallmark. The Greek Orthodox Church, whose representatives charged that Scripture distribution by Zodhiates amounted to criminal proselytism, has long maintained a stranglehold on religious freedom. It is high time for the World Council of Churches to break its immoral silence on the oppressive Dark Ages climate imposed by one of its member communions. We hope the court decision forecasts complete withdrawal of the government from consorting in unjust Orthodox policies. And the WCC—which speaks with remarkable prophetic ease to certain other governments on occasion—should insist on it.
Although the trial was held in a rather remote town and involved low-echelon officials, at stake was a section of the Greek constitution itself. The second article forbids translation and distribution of the Bible in modern Greek language without official Orthodox approval, a decree profusely ignored by Zodhiates and others over the years. The outcome of the trial rightly relegates that article—and a chunk of Orthodox control—to judicial limbo.
Zodhiates, who heads the New Jersey-based American Mission to Greeks, showed commendable courage in flying to Greece to appear in his own defense. If convicted he could have faced up to five years of imprisonment, a hefty fine, and permanent ban from the country. But he had some weighty exhibits on his side: his mission’s support of hundreds of orphans and poor people, a hospital that is one of Greece’s best, and other philanthropic deeds. His Logos publishing house in Athens released the only contemporary versions of the works of John Chrysostom, foremost Greek church father. His sermonettes, appearing weekly as paid ads in every Greek newspaper for years, had gained for him a wide following. (Indeed, the prosecutor confessed that he regularly read—and enjoyed—the ads, the only offense being an implication that Christ saves apart from the Orthodox Church.) Not least of all was his firm public endorsement of the law-and-order stance of the new military government.
The trial itself was a delightful confrontation between evangelical vitality and decadent orthodoxy. Yet there were sad undertones. The church representatives admitted they could find no proselytistic content in Zodhiates’ New Testaments nor in his invitations to receive Christ. The guilt was by omission, they insisted, in that he neglected to say that salvation is dispensed only by the Greek Orthodox Church, “the only Christian church” (an interesting claim in light of its WCC membership), and that one must see a priest about forgiveness of sins.
In defense, Zodhiates distinguished between evangelism (“bringing someone to Christ”) and proselytism (“persuading someone to change his religion”). Through testimonials and cross examination of the prosecution witnesses, he established that the Orthodox Church had been woefully negligent in Bible distribution and evangelism. He even extracted a confession that a village priest confiscated New Testaments from spiritually hungry high-school students who had ordered them from Zodhiates. (If Greek teenagers are like their American counterparts, the priest’s act may have the opposite effect intended.)
The prosecution collapsed in shambles as Zodhiates launched into a virtual gospel sermon to the three judges and the five hundred spectators jammed into the court. Soon after midnight the president of the court interrupted the defense and pronounced the not-guilty verdict.
The decision vindicates Zodhiates and his fellow workers. It should also hearten those evangelical lay-oriented movements that are already thriving in several localities. A new day may be dawning in Greece.
Solomon’s God-void man saw life as a repetitious drag. But Solomon’s man was wrong. There are new things under the sun. Our cover date indicates something new for all of us: a new year. And with the new year, new opportunities and new experiences.
To those who insist that it’s the same old scene year in and year out, Jeremiah affirms that the mercies and compassions of God “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). God does not maintain status-quo policies toward those he loves, and he does not intend that the Christian life should be static. To get through some of the new experiences that await us in this dawning year, we’ll need those never-before blessings and those fresh touches of God’s special concern that Jeremiah cites.
God will sire more spiritual children this year, each new babe a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) by virtue of a new, transplanted life. (Older members of the family are invited to assist anew through the midwifery of personal witness.) From the nursery will come sounds of a “new song” of joy over new purity, new purpose, and new power. It’s all part of the reality of God’s “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31).
For the Christian in seedy attire, God has a brand new outfit: “Put on the new man” (Eph. 4:24). This year the old man is definitely out, and new values and new vision are in (Rom. 6:4).
The unknown possibilities for our world in this new year are awesome: new crises, new conflicts, new disasters, new decline. There is another possibility, too: the arrival of Jesus Christ, heralding a new age of justice, peace, and righteousness. He will “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
So what’s new? Don’t ask Solomon’s man. Ask Jeremiah. Ask Jesus.
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