EDITORIALS

A church signboard in Manhattan lists under pastor the man’s name and under ministers “all members of the congregation.” If 1971 Christian graduates could catch the import of that, they could really do some commencing. Whatever a Christian’s station in life, his chief concern should be to make Christ known. A special challenge in our day is to surface evangelical truth in all areas of human endeavor. One of the Church’s crippling weaknesses is the failure of so many believers to work for Christ in ways directly related to their own life situations.

For many laymen, such involvement is not easy. But as Thomas Huxley said, “perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.” The Christian graduate who has learned that, and who is willing to tackle adversity for the sake of God’s revelation, is on his way to changing the world.

“Cultural confrontation” is a high-sounding term that may suggest sophisticated effort beyond the reach of all but a super-intelligent few. But as the task of the Christian it is nothing more than an expansion of biblical witness in ways appropriate to our day. It is no longer enough to speak an occasional word for the Lord to the friend or passerby (some believers, regrettably, have not even come that far). We have the means for much wider influence—upon whole communities and even upon society itself. To let this potential slip is to disobey God and to offend our fellow men, because we thus keep to ourselves something of supreme value.

For example: in the political milieu, cultural confrontation can mean speaking up for Christian principles in an election campaign. In medicine, Christian witness can be expressed in conscientious, biblically based efforts to develop ethics for the handling of new problems. In the arts and communications, a Christian sure of his ground has unparalleled chances to give visibility to evangelical truth, and everyone can write letters to editors and react to TV and radio programs. In community life, the believer can win respect by volunteering to do unpleasant tasks, as Mennonites recently did in cleaning up after the Washington demonstrators.

Such activity runs against the grain of the current philosophy of doing your own thing. A student in a Christian college recently lamented that a distressingly large number of her peers prefer handcrafts to homework. Effective cultural confrontation depends upon adequate preparation—academic as well as experiential. There is no short cut.

What barriers hinder cultural confrontation?

One is simply ignorance of what the dimensions of our witness should be. It is not enough to be honest and diligent. In many vocations, the nature of a Christian posture has yet to be explored, and we’d rather not bother. We prefer to leave proclamation of the Gospel to preachers and evangelists. But our support of these workers, however admirable, does not get us off that unyielding hook called the Great Commission. Christ’s “Go … and preach” must be obeyed in all the little worlds in which we live and work and play. Perhaps the new graduates will see this more clearly.

Cultural confrontation is crippled if we try to do it all from inside the institutional church and equate spiritual advance with bulging pews. Today’s most promising spiritual opportunities may lie in the path of alert laymen who look for them in the context of professional, business, and community life. Although the Church is as crucial as ever, its primary role is not to involve itself in secular affairs but rather to equip believers to step out into the world and minister (Eph. 4:12). Churches ought to send saints out as well as bring sinners in. Much preaching from the pulpit as well as from the printed page is wasted today because it is not reaching the intended audience.

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A quip currently moving along the ecclesiastical banquet trail tells of a brochure-writer’s naïve description of a conference speaker: “He was a pastor before he went into communications.” Actually, pastors today may indeed be more restricted in gospel proclamation than laymen, for the laymen may have much more ready access to spiritually needy people.

Another barrier to cultural confrontation is fatalism. Many Christians think the world we live in is hopelessly corrupt. Evil, anti-Christian forces have so firm a grip, they feel, that opposition is futile; one must either join them or withdraw. This attitude shows ignorance, and probably laziness as well. True, tares are all about; but the wheat is growing too. For the Christian who cares, opportunities are limitless. He will respond with a willingness to become “all things to all men,” so that he can “by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

The cornerstone of evangelical reticence may very well be personal pride. We shrink at the thought of erring, of embarrassing ourselves before the world. While secular culture exudes confidence, we cower in a corner, hiding our light.

Whatever New Testament “separation” means, it does not mean an isolationism that keeps us from presenting the Gospel to sinners where they are, in the setting in which it is most likely to get through to them. The salt we are to be is pervasive and penetrating!

Many signs point to a great spiritual awakening just around the corner. We have the means and the message to turn that corner. Can this year’s Christian graduates supply the push we need—and perhaps usher in the Christian generation?

What a commencing that would be!

Ecclesiastical Mccarthyism

In what Newsweek called “an unexpected show of pique” before the United Presbyterian General Assembly, the stated clerk, William Thompson, “lashed out at the straightest group in the church—the evangelically-minded Lay Committee …” (see also News, page 29). Thompson accused the group of “calculated attacks upon the theological position taken by one of the agencies of the General Assembly and upon the integrity of the General Assembly itself.” He wanted the Standing Committee on Minutes and Reports to examine the material he thought objectionable and decide whether to recommend that the General Assembly appoint a committee to investigate the Lay Committee, which he said is operating “in a manner designed to divide and destroy the church.”

Fortunately for Thompson, the church, and the decadent liberal establishment, the Standing Committee on Minutes and Reports did not press matters further. But still we must ask, Why pick on the Lay Committee, whose purpose is to maintain the purity of the church and the integrity of the General Assembly’s own approved Book of Confessions?

If the stated clerk is really interested in the integrity and the peace of the church, he has drawn a bead on the wrong target. He should aim at some of the seminary professors, clergymen, and ordinands who openly deny major teachings of the Book of Confessions to which they are supposed to be committed.

He might also take a hard look at the Presbyterian publishing house that published and promoted J. A. T. Robinson’s Honest to God and Thomas J. J. Altizer’s Gospel of Christian Atheism, both of which contravene clear teachings of the Book of Confessions, and the Larger Catechism of the church.

And then, turning his sights on himself, Thompson might ask: Why is it wrong for the Lay Committee to criticize what it feels is the wrong course of the church if it was right for Thompson himself to stand in front of the White House for a week recently to protest what he sees as the government’s wrong course in Viet Nam? Could not this action be construed as no less “divisive and destructive”? What’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, apparently.

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Elusive Liberties

The conviction of four Jews in Latvia suggests once again that the world is still a long way from recognizing freedom of speech and religious liberty as basic human rights. The four were found formally guilty of slander against the Soviet state (see News, p. 34) and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to three years. Their real “crime,” we fear, is that they were devout Jews and that they campaigned hard to be able to go to Israel.

Jewish leaders have done a service to freedom-loving people everywhere by calling attention not only to the repression of their own brethren in the Soviet Union but also to the harassment there of Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, and Muslims. In this last case, unfortunately, world opinion was not sufficiently aroused to pressure the Soviets to release the four Jews.

The need to speak up for freedom will undoubtedly continue. Nine Jews are awaiting trial in Kishinev, the capital of Soviet Moldavia. The charges are believed to be similar to those brought against the Jews in Latvia.

Making The Rod Count

What has happened to the “rod,” that Solomonic symbol of discipline? At one time the mere sight of a leather strap or birch switch or mother’s poised hand created instant catharsis. But the permissive society has changed all that. In the classroom as well as in the home, the discipline of the rod seems to be a thing of the past.

One school system is trying—too hard—to compensate for the lack of home-administered corporal punishment. Whippings and beatings are standard treatment in Dallas, Texas. One eleven-year-old student, new in class, was whipped repeatedly for such sins as “misspelling, tardiness, and inattentiveness.” Another child was beaten until his buttocks hemorrhaged, and in one elementary school the principal wields a twenty-two-inch baseball bat as a paddle. Although some parents have complained, the policy remains unchanged.

The use of extreme, indiscriminate disciplinary measures is not the way to reverse the permissive trend. We need to make discipline count. Solomon, a firm believer in discipline, knew that “the rod and reproof give wisdom” when wisely administered (Prov. 29:15). Solomon’s old advice is worth heeding today.

Portfolio Power

The more liberal church bodies are frustrated by the silence that has met their numerous social pronouncements, says Fletcher Coates, information director for the National Council of Churches. They have therefore been enlarging their strategy to take in direct economic clout. Coates notes that the churches “have begun to examine their investment portfolios with a view to applying financial pressures to secure the social goals they seek.”

There is plenty to examine. Church wealth in this country has been estimated at $160 billion, of which about $20 billion is thought to be invested in corporate securities. Churches are second only to the federal government in monies received and distributed annually. Social activists who see the Church’s role as making the world a better place in which to live are now very eager to channel the power of that money into the promotion of certain causes. The NCC recently published a seventy-eight-page primer for economic involvement and is opening a “Corporate Information Center” to keep an eye on the “social profiles” of major American corporations.

Proponents of the movement cite divestiture of securities in offending companies as one option (selling all investments is not considered). But the preferable course, they say, is to keep the stock and take part in voting campaigns at annual stockholders’ meetings to pressure management to adopt “social criteria.” Hence churches have been actively involved in movements such as Campaign GM. (They have not, however, expressed any regret for their acceptance and use of dividend checks garnered through “immoral” corporate policies, past or future.)

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At one time, the churches’ only major moral concern about investments was whether the liquor and tobacco industries should be shunned. That’s admittedly narrow, though legitimate as far as it goes. Now the focus has shifted to whether the firms make armaments, pollute the environment, exploit people and resources, and abet racial discrimination.

There are some immoral men in corporate structures, as in every other human endeavor. Some corporate attitudes can be challenged on ethical and theological grounds, and when business and industry leaders have not moved rapidly to eliminate inequities, they should not be surprised when churches that are socio-economically oriented enter the fray. For the Christian, it should be obvious, profit can never be the sole criterion. But the big question is which particular policies are to be challenged and how.

The issues on which the churches have centered their investment attention are matters of valid moral concern. But they certainly do not exhaust the range of important moral issues that crop up in business and industry, and one wonders why these alone are the targets of the campaigners.

We do not deny the churches’ right to vote their stock as they please. We do question the implied assumption that in complex situations fallible churches can sort out the moral issues so efficiently as to determine what is the Christian way to vote. Christians—indeed Christian ethicists—conscientiously differ on which means will achieve a particular good end. Church leaders may claim a superior moral outlook because they do not measure “profit” solely by the size of dividends. But many exhibit a leftist or socialistic political bent that reduces the objectivity of their moral views. And they tend to discount the Christian businessman’s practical insights based on experience in how ethical principles are best implemented.

Who is to say that ceasing to do business in countries whose governments condone racism (which we agree is wrong) will remove that evil or improve the lot of those who are discriminated against? And why do the current campaigners seek on the one hand to boycott these countries and on the other to increase trade with governments that promote religious persecution? And why is no word of concern uttered about inflation, which creates the most hardship among poor people, or about the moral factors in unwarranted consumer demands? These are some of the hard questions for which the campaigners give no answer.

The outworking of biblical principles is best achieved when individual Christians apply these principles in their multitudinous spheres of influence, not when tenuous propositions are put forth at stockholders’ meetings as Christian solutions. If church leaders feel that Christian laymen are insensitive to moral issues, then the churches have failed. And that failure is not going to be corrected by creation of pressure groups. If the churches cannot by preaching and teaching convince their laymen to act in accord with Christian principles, it is hard to believe that they will convince them with speeches at annual meetings. It may well be that moral insensitivity in business today is a result of many churches’ neglect of biblical precepts.

A strange twist in this whole movement is that the integrity-questioning scrutiny of companies proposed by church leaders is the same kind of thing they deplore when critics bring it to bear on them.

G, Gp, R, X: Rated Unreliable

Can the movie industry police itself? The rating system set up in 1968 seemed like a conscientious attempt at self-regulation. But the standards have deteriorated very noticeably, and many people think the rating system is now quite unreliable. The Broadcasting and Film Commission of the National Council of Churches and the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures have withdrawn their support of the system, and we applaud their forthright action.

We do not want government censorship of films. The public may demand this alternative, however, unless the members of the Motion Picture Association of America agree among themselves and provide some decent fare.

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