There were strong reminders of John Wesley in Denver when delegates to the twelfth World Methodist Conference voted overwhelmingly to support a global, four-year emphasis on evangelism—an evangelism that stresses the importance of personal salvation but at the same time does not hesitate to speak out against the social ills of the world.

Methodism’s founder might have looked a bit askance at the apparent lack of evangelical fervor on the part of some of the more than 3,500 delegates, or their mixed notions of what the mission of the Church is, but he would have recognized strains of the tight Gospel that made Methodism the talk of Christendom for about 150 years.

The Methodists, from nearly eighty countries and almost sixty national conferences, debated the evangelism issue for two hours and with hardly more than a sprinkling of negative votes bought themselves a program of “intensified mission to the world.”

Yielding to the time-honored Methodist love for order and for independent decisions, the program, pushed strenuously by Bishop F. Gerald Ensley of Columbus, Ohio, included a timetable that would allow the national participants in the conference over two years to decide if and how they want to participate.

In 1974, if participation is approved, Methodists would join the growing list of denominations that are convening evangelism congresses. They would designate the following year for launching the most comprehensive evangelism effort in the denomination since the camp-meeting days of the Great Kentucky Revival at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Ensley and others tried to steer the program as far as possible into the context of ecumenism, cooperating with as many other churches as possible. However, the resolution added, “The human need is so urgent and the divine compulsion so great that Methodism must respond immediately.”

The Methodists, who at times showed signs of the theological variance in their ranks, said the program’s schedule called for consideration of the content of “the message to be proclaimed.” They also emphasized consideration of the needs and feelings of the people to be reached and of those doing the reaching. The mission, the Methodists insisted, must “be expressed through flexible forms as may suit each community or country.”

As somewhat of a safeguard against “foreign” intrusion into national conference territories, the proposal said evangelism must be carried out in the language “that will be readily understood by those to whom we speak.”

Despite Methodism’s recent stronger emphasis on social action rather than personal salvation, most of the messages reflected a longing to return closer to the gospel preaching that lay close to the hearts of men like the Wesleys, Whitefield, and Asbury. And the feeling was more than nostalgia.

In the only other major legislative action, the representatives of most of the world’s 20 million Methodists voted overwhelmingly to set up a presidium of eight presidents for the Council, which now has only one president plus twelve vice-presidents.

Ensley protested, saying the change was not democratic. The bulk of the power will go to third-world conferences, some of which have as few as 1,000 members. Many of the churches in the American conference, the largest, have far more than this within a single church.

Under the new plans, smaller Methodist conferences will have more representation on the executive committee than the two largest members, the United States and England. Sponsors wanted to give the smaller churches more representation to end the large churches’ ninety-year domination of the Council.

Ministers’ $$ On Ice

Church and state may be separated, but in matters of economics Caesar prevails.

Ministers’ salaries, allowances, and fringe benefits cannot be increased during the current wage-price freeze, since the freeze covers “all wages and salaries without exception,” according to A. L. Canfield, an officer of the Office of Emergency Planning.

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However, neither the act nor the executive order specifically mentions application to ministers. Persons wanting information in “questionable” cases should contact their local field office of the Internal Revenue Service, says Canfield.

Raises in effect before the freeze are legal, and negotiations for higher salaries to go into effect after the freeze are permitted.

The Assemblies’ Line

Maintaining a strong front on evangelism and doctrine, the world’s largest Pentecostal body polished its spiritual armor last month in Kansas City.

More than 10,000 delegates to the biennial General Council of The Assemblies of God streamlined denominational organization, eliminating twelve major positions and transferring official policy-making power when the General Council is not in session from executives to a 200-man general nonpresident presbytery.

“This should encourage hope among the young that the organized Christian church can be a viable force,” stated general superintendent Thomas Zimmerman, calling the conference the most “strategic meeting ever in our history.”

Doctrinal questions came under close scrutiny as the Council condemned amillennialism and urged a “refrain from preaching and teaching it,” in much the same manner that it had condemned post-millennialism in 1937.

On the social-moral front the delegates considered abortion, divorce, and re-marriage. “Abortion for reasons of personal convenience, social adjustment, or economic advantage is morally wrong,” the Council affirmed. “We express firm opposition to any legislation designed to legalize abortion” except when the life of the mother is at stake or the “pregnancy results from rape or incest.”

Another resolution, which asked that homosexuality be included in the biblical definition of adultery, and that unremarried divorcees “not be deprived of responsibility and service in the local assembly,” was referred to a committee. The assembly’s position on divorce (adultery is the only acceptable grounds, with re-marriage not permitted) is the most stringent among Pentecostal bodies and has been a recurring issue in biennial meetings since the formation of the church in 1914.

Occupying center position at the Council was evangelism. “Take the Word” proclaimed the theme as delegates unanimously voted for full denominational participation in Key ’73, rising in tribute to the planned event. Their resolution applauded the “new climate of openness among Christians in many nations.”

And the Spiritual Life Committee reported, “God is moving in the earth outside the normally recognized Pentecostal organizations. Let us be careful lest we develop a wrong attitude and close our minds to that which God is doing.”

Evangelist David Wilkerson defended the “Jesus freaks,” declaring, “If God judged us as harshly as we judge this generation, none of us would be in heaven.”

After a low point a few years ago in evangelism, new churches, and membership, this biennium’s net gain of 164 new congregations was nearly three times larger than the previous period. Reported conversions were up 25 per cent. Membership increased by 20,000 to reach 645,891, with 1,064,631 enrolled in Sunday schools.

C. W. H. Scott, home missions executive, noted that the church now has ten black churches and thirty black ministers.


Rated X?

The Unitarian Universalist Church begins a new sex-education program for junior highers this fall called “About Your Sexuality,” edited by the Reverend Hugo Hollerorth. The $80 kit, published by Beacon Press, includes explicit filmstrips of copulating couples, printed materials, and recordings of young people who describe their first heterosexual intercourse experience. The Sunday-school curriculum covers all aspects of sex—anatomy, masturbation, intercourse, contraception, homosexuality, petting, slang, and deviations—with no attempt to set values. To avoid pornography allegations, everyone who buys a kit must sign a pledge to use the materials only for education.

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Another religious sex-education publication is also worried about cries of pornography. Earlier this summer Herder and Herder, a Roman Catholic press, published The Sex Book, an explicit, pictorial sex encyclopedia, including such topics as frigidity, venereal disease, and the family. Unlike Beacon’s course, The Sex Book attempts to suggest certain ethics. The author, Erwin Haeberle, says, “I felt obliged to imply, without being dogmatic, certain values.… Think. Consider the consequences of what you’re doing.”

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