Can a big split be averted? That question turned out to be the key variable in the business of the 113th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., held last month in Fort Worth, Texas. Conciliatory moves highlighted the six-day meeting.
“This is not a time for recrimination, but rather for repentance and restitution,” said the retiring moderator, Dr. L. Nelson Bell.
Some eighty congregations have already declared their independence from the denomination, which has had about 950,000 members in sixteen southern and border states. Their grievances stem from the inroads made by theological liberalism. Many other theological conservatives, while granting that the complaints are valid,Retiring moderator Bell said the most common complaint he has received in the mail in the past year is that presbytery commissions have prevented congregations from calling ministers of their own choosing. say they are determined to resist from within. They point to notable victories scored by theological conservatives at the Fort Worth assembly as evidence of what can be accomplished if loyalty to the denomination is maintained.
Several proposals that would have further alienated parting parties were defeated. One unsuccessful move urged trustees of the denomination’s picturesque conference grounds at Montreat, North Carolina, to cancel meetings of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, a group helping to set up the rival denomination. The motion was voted down following an appeal from Bell, who said, “The only hope for reconciliation is to turn the other cheek.”
The 450 commissioners (as the assembly legislators are called) also turned back an effort by liberals to water down suggested priorities for 1975. The approved list sets out as the primary aim of the church “to commit ourselves more fully to the work of evangelism, believing that witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is basic to the life of His Church; thereby strengthening this commitment on all levels of the church’s life and ministry; and giving appropriate attention and support to those who serve Christ in international ministry in these critical and decisive times.”
Moreover, a new seven-member committee was established “to see where the major points of difference and resulting dissension are” and to bring to the church “a clear statement on the causes of this unhappiness and division, and make concrete recommendation aimed at their solution and the restoration of peace and harmony.” Bell had said in proposing the committee that “the most foolish thing the church can do is to ignore, without adequate study, the reasons given by those who are leaving the church.” He added that he felt “there has never been a real attempt to sit down and dispassionately discuss the differences which have now become magnified to the point of actual division.”
Bell’s successor as moderator, President Charles E. S. Kraemer of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, said he disagreed. He paid public tribute to Bell, eliciting sustained applause from the assembly in praising his predecessor for loyalty to the church amid great pressures. But he said he felt the issues had been confronted, and he cast doubt on the potential of the new committee, for which he was assigned to name a chairman. He urged that problems related to dissidents be handled locally. Kraemer said he “cares deeply about losing people” but contended that the breakaway congregations tend to hold to the principle of local church autonomy more than Presbyterian churches do in general.
Bill Lamkin, the able journalistic technician who runs the denomination’s news service, has won considerable respect from reporters for his accurate and thorough coverage of developments among dissidents. He is also understood to have been subjected to some internal criticism for allegedly giving too much play to the separating groups. He regards the event as newsworthy, however, and during one briefing for reporters he gave the floor to Dr. G. Aiken Taylor, editor of the Presbyterian Journal and a leader of the Continuing Presbyterian Church now being formed. Interestingly, paid advertisements from the denomination Taylor now opposes are still running in the Journal.
Conservatives succeeded in defeating an effort to delete the escape clause from a plan of union now being drafted with United Presbyterians (the two denominations will hold concurrent General Assemblies in Louisville next year, but the merger negotiations are not likely to have early success).
Perhaps the most important conciliatory measure was the assembly’s adoption of a resolution acknowledging that “there is deep concern about the denomination’s purported departure from its own historic faith and evangelistic commitment” and calling for “special prayer and a time of self-examination and repentance for sin in the life of us all which has brought about this misunderstanding among brethren.” The resolution also calls the church “to a continuing affirmation, at all levels, of the Church’s historic position and principles, as to the authority of Scripture, the validity of our confessional standards, the urgent need for proclaiming the Gospel and calling men everywhere to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and enlisting them in vital discipleship in today’s world.”
Most other issues were dealt with hurriedly and without much passion, enabling the assembly to close a day ahead of schedule. The one social matter that provoked sharp debate was a statement urging Congress to cut off military funds for Southeast Asia. The statement was deleted by a vote of 221 to 164. The issue had more than passing interest for the Fort Worth area, inasmuch as local officials have been appealing a recent Pentagon decision to halt production of the F111 fighter-bomber next year. The plane is assembled at the General Dynamics plant in Fort Worth, and its demise reportedly affects some 8,000 workers directly and between 50,000 and 80,000 residents indirectly.
The most inspiring event of the assembly was a brief address by Billy Graham, who had just returned from a phenomenal evangelistic series in Korea. To hear about the amazing Christian growth in Korea from Graham and from a Presbyterian fraternal delegate meant much to the commissioners, for the country has primarily been a Presbyterian mission field. Graham said the vitality of the Korean Christian church can be attributed to its emphasis upon Bible study, prayer, evangelism, and missions, to its endurance of persecution in a cheerful way, and to its character as a praising church.
Some commissioners had demanded that Graham be subjected to questioning by commissioners following his address and that he be asked to urge President Nixon to give a fuller explanation of the Watergate affair. The assembly voted down both measures. A previously approved plan to employ a denominational lobbyist in Washington was reaffirmed. An ambivalent statement on abortion was unveiled by a special committee and approved for distribution without official endorsement.
The commissioners defeated an effort by conservatives to include the Ten Commandments in a proposed new confession of faith.
The New Stated Clerk
The Reverend James E. Andrews, 44, succeeds his old boss as stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. Since January of 1971 Andrews has been assistant to Dr. James A. Millard, Jr. When Millard decided to retire after fourteen years in the job, Andrews was nominated to replace him. The General Assembly in June confirmed his election to a three-year term.
Andrews, a native of Texas, graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and Austin Seminary. He financed his education by driving a bread truck and an ambulance. For two years he worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Arkansas. From 1958 to 1960 he was director of information for the World Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Geneva. He then took a similar post at Princeton Seminary. Andrews has also had some experience as an assistant pastor.
The most obvious tasks awaiting Andrews have to do with carrying out a massive denominational restructure now in process and dealing with the problems raised by breakaway dissidents.
Change In Cairo
The National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice plans to purchase the Saint Columba Catholic Church in Cairo, Illinois, and present it to the black United Front organization, which is led by black Protestant minister Charles Koen, a controversial civil-rights activist. Koen’s group has been using the Catholic-owned buildings for some time ever since his original church quarters in the racially battle-scarred city were bombed several years ago.
The NCCIJ says it will donate the properties to the group as a symbol of its support of black self-determination, or the idea that black people should own and control their own communities. Koen says the properties will be a worship and housing-education-employment center.
JAMES S. TINNEY
Like Father, Like Son
Jaroy Weber, pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, was elected president last month, and his son Billy, pastor of Northway Baptist Church in Dallas, was named vice-president, in the first father-son combination to head the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference.
Ex-Aide To Ex-Christian
Three years ago Dr. Michael Ramsey, archbishop of Canterbury, fired his press officer, Michael de-la-Noy, ostensibly for speaking and writing sympathetically about the permissive society. A year later the 37-year-old journalist published A Day in the Life of God, a waspish attack on the Church of England. The ex-aide has now become an ex-Christian. “I do not pretend to have discovered the secret of the universe,” he declares. “I only know that for me it is no longer ‘God,’ for the Church has failed to make the concept of God intellectually credible.” He admits a continuing resentment at his dismissal, and says he will never set foot in a church again. Recently de-la-Noy has been associated with an organization in London concerned with mental health.
J. D. DOUGLAS
God Plus Decency
With red, white, and blue patriotism, between “Standing on the Promises” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” the teenage-oriented Word of Life Fellowship recently held two “God, Country, and Decency” rallies. Led by 60-year-old Jack Wyrtzen, Fellowship founder and international director, the Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and Washington, D. C., programs featured testimonies from returned POWs; Lieutenant General William K. Harrison, who signed the Korean peace treaty; and Brigadier General Paul Watson, retired fighter commander.
RAZED IN AFGHANISTAN
The only Protestant church in Afghanistan was torn down by Afghan authorities last month after a protracted dispute with the congregation that earlier had resulted in the ouster of the American pastor, J. Christy Wilson. The congregation was evicted in mid-June when the government completely took over the $320,000 three-year-old building in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital (see March 30 issue, page 51). Demolition started almost immediately.
A U. S. State Department official said the congregation is continuing to meet in a Catholic church and stressed that the Afghanistan government recognizes the right of the group to meet and worship. However, the government claimed the Kabul church was owned illegally. Under Afghan law, foreigners are not allowed to own property, said the State Department spokesman. Sources close to the scene, however, felt the “A”-shaped roof—considered offensive by the mostly Muslim Afghans—was the root cause of the dispute. The Afghan government originally approved the land purchase and construction of the church. Apparently officials objected to the fact that the structure looked like a church, however, and bowed to Muslim pressure to remove it.
The church board, in recognizing the government’s right to take over the church, asked for compensation. As yet there has been no reply.
The rallies followed evangelistic crusade style (averaging three hours) with Wyrtzen challenging audience Christians to ask surrounding people to go forward with them for the closing invitation. Despite rainy weather, the Ocean Grove rally drew 4,000 people with 150 decisions for Christ. That response and the Watergate scandal led the Fellowship staff to hold a Washington rally. The results were less lively with 800 people attending and eleven decisions, though one woman, feeling the urge to speak prophetic judgment during the invitation, was gently led out by four ushers while Wyrtzen and the audience sang “Just as I Am.”
Wyrtzen, who believes the “United States has risen on wooden shoes, but is sinking on silver slippers,” said the only hope for survival as a nation is a great spiritual awakening that could come through the young people. The Fellowship’s ministries (on a $9,000-a-day budget with no reserve, according to Wyrtzen) include radio broadcasts, Bible clubs, and camps on five continents. All returning POWs and their families received invitations to be guests for a week at any of the four camps operating from Schroon Lake, New York, headquarters of Word of Life. The camps are expected to draw 25,000 people this year for programs of recreation and biblical teaching.
Perhaps reflecting the decline in church-related construction, only about 100 architects and religious leaders interested in architecture attended last month’s annual national Conference on Religion and Architecture in suburban Minneapolis. About 10,000 invitations had been issued by the Interfaith Research Center of Washington, D. C., which convened the conference under the sponsorship of seven organizations, including the Guild for Religious Architecture.
The Guild bestowed merit awards upon half a dozen architects for outstandingly designed religious structures. Its highest award went to Atlanta cleric James L. Doom, consultant on architecture and the arts for the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. Doom, who holds a degree in architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology, declared in the meeting’s keynote address that people want to be involved in the action of worship. Proclamation, devotion, learning, service, and fellowship are all a part of worship, he affirmed, and while each can stand on its own, none is complete without the other. Hence, he went on, buildings that have isolated devotion in one structure from learning in another, with hospitality in a third, and with service to the community ignored, have been “heretical buildings.” The implication is that buildings must be flexible, with multi-purpose capabilities, a noticeable trend of the past few years.
In the future, said Doom, the worship room “will not be called a sanctuary, implying its separation from contact with the world … but a meeting room where God is present with his people. The sacrality of such a place will be derived not from relics, nor nostalgia, nor extravagant expense, but from the helpfulness of the host people to their neighbors.” Such space, he suggested, should be tested by whether it is theologically sound, esthetically stimulating, and psychologically suitable for many kinds of people. It should be “more wholesome than precious, more expressive than impressive, more hospitable than imposing.… The structure enclosing such space may be as simply conceived and as directly expressed as possible. Materials will be chosen with the respect for the inherent values of common things, and with a care for the craftsmanship that remains to us.”
Doom stated that such buildings could easily be shared by two congregations, or by a synagogue and two Christian churches. “It is not difficult for Protestants and Catholics to collaborate today, but that collaboration will be best informed if it includes the Jewish witness to the world.”
The delegates took field trips to several nearby centers of architectural interest, including the “new town” or planned community of Jonathan, which so far has some 1,600 residents of various races and economic standing. Here the Lutheran Church in America has a future site and meanwhile holds Sunday services in the town’s community room. The delegates were told that 35 per cent of the residents are Lutheran, 33 per cent Roman Catholic, and the rest from other denominations. United Church of Christ clergyman John C. DeBoer of New York told a panel discussion that religious groups had been unable to plan in a coordinated fashion for the religious needs of Jonathan.
Another panelist, Southern Baptist James V. Hamblen, a consultant for the planned community of Columbia, Maryland, said that many religious groups prefer to buy property after new towns are occupied. Planned-town residents, he reported, do not “feel ownership” of church facilities that someone else has built for them. A big problem for religious groups seeking to share facilities, Hamblen said, is that many Protestant groups want to hold services at 11:00 A.M. One waggish architect, he reported, offered his solution to the problem by donating a clock for a common religious facility that designated the hours from 9 through 12 as 11, 11, 11, 11.
WILLMAR L. THORKELSON
The Lutheran Church of America relinquished to public control its 2,400-student Waterloo Lutheran University in Waterloo, Ontario—the last university in the province to hold out against government aid. The action, by a 212–56 vote of the Eastern Canada synod of the denomination, opens the way for financial aid from the province. The Lutherans will receive $3.1 million in cash for the university, which was founded in 1911 as the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada. They will retain control of the seminary. Delegates were told that without government aid the university would face a million-dollar deficit over the next five years. Dr. Frank C. Peters, prominent Canadian evangelical, is president of the university and is expected to retain that post. The school’s name has been changed to Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in honor of a former Canadian prime minister. Only 10 per cent of the students are Lutherans; 21 per cent are Catholics.
LESLIE K. TARR
All The Hired Are Fired
All 117 teachers at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, had their contracts terminated. Reasons given by the board of directors were lack of money and poor enrollment. The school, supported by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is reportedly $2 million in debt and has a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:3.
“Some of the teachers are getting $1,000 a month for teaching three students,” said Bishop D. Ward Nichols, chairman of the board. “Even the United States government can’t afford this sort of thing.”
The school, a 103-year-old institution of the 600 A. M. E. churches in South Carolina, once had an enrollment approaching 1,000. Nichols said some of the teachers will be rehired, and a campaign is under way to raise $1 million to put the school back on its feet. Each church in the state is also being asked to send at least one student to the school this fall.
JAMES S. TINNEY
The Greek Church: Unruly Or Unruled?
The Orthodox Church of Greece is going through a deep crisis. It is a crisis not of renewal or of doctrinal or social concern but of personalities, practices, organization, and direction. Its origins are very old, but the causes and reasons that have inflamed it are new.
In the center of the crisis is Archbishop Ieronymos Kotsonis. His personality and the influence he has exerted over the affairs of the Greek church since May, 1967, are at the heart of a long series of squabbles that have spilled outside church circles and touched the whole nation. Particularly affected have been his benefactors, the Papadopoulos junta (now “presidency”) that following the coup d’etat elevated him from his obscure post as chaplain of the royal court. (King Constantine later claimed he had been betrayed by his one-time spiritual counselor.)
At the outset, Ieronymos, who had not been a bishop and therefore didn’t really qualify to become archbishop, took the office seriously, claiming at his coronation that the Holy Spirit had chosen him. Now, six stormy years later, almost everyone, even the regime, is questioning his sincerity. The main opposition has issued from the bishops.
While he served at the royal court, the general opinion of him was favorable. Having studied theology in Germany, he was considered to be a progressive clergyman who longed to see reformation in the church. He was jokingly referred to as “Ieronymos the Protestant.” After elevating him, the junta said that Ieronymos was a learned man and would be left alone to manage the affairs of the church. Reportedly, there later was deep regret in the circle of the colonels over that pledge.
In his coronation speech Ieronymos vowed to improve the general spirit within the church. But the consensus is that conditions have only deteriorated, and that the public is more indifferent to the church than ever. Ieronymos promised a religion free of financial compulsions and political intrigue among the clergy. It would be a church of effective action in the pastoral and social realms and of reform in the monetary and monastic affairs. Sympathetic observers remark sadly that all these have remained empty promises. One radio commentator said, “Ieronymos not only failed to heal the age-old wounds but he opened many new ones.”
The political opponents of the regime, among whom are university students, the academic community, and older politicians, accuse him of hardness of heart for never speaking out about the fate of political prisoners, most of whom remain untried and some of whom are allegedly being tortured. Ieronymos is quoted as saying, “This is an extraordinary period in which nothing can be done.”
His opponents also charge that, parallel to Papadopoulos, Ieronymos ruled dictatorially both the synod and the church, having first formed his own synod. He established a church court, where he tried and passed the verdict on all ecclesiastical “offenses.” He accused his opponents without supporting his charges adequately. He selected men who bowed to his wishes. He looked favorably on some bishops who he said understood the situation and wrote off the others as determined enemies, promoting cleavage and demoralization within the hierarchy.
Ieronymos also offended the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Istanbul by transgressing long-recognized privileges. Patriarch Athenagoras opposes Ieronymos on many issues. One is the archbishop’s zealous attempts to bring under his jurisdiction the new Greek communities established throughout Western Europe in the last ten years as a result of the great influx of “guest workers.” Athenagoras also expressed deep dismay when Ieronymos restructured the church’s synod, limiting the Patriarchate’s sphere of influence in Greece.
The recent verdict of the Council of State (Greece’s supreme court) nullifying the acts of the Ieronymos-formed continuing synod and the synodical councils was the most severe setback he suffered (see May 11, 1973, issue, page 42). Prior to that verdict, Ieronymos had resigned, but his synod had declined to accept the resignation and had given him three months of sick leave instead. A new synod was elected, in accord with the views of Athenagoras, and Ieronymous suddenly announced his health had been restored. The new bishops seemed inclined to accept his resignation retroactively, but a government judicial body ruled that action on the resignation was outside the church’s jurisdiction, and the synod agreed to abide by the ruling at least temporarily. Other issues have arisen (the new synod has come out against government treatment of student protesters), and many are wondering whether the archbishop will be able to maneuver sufficiently to cling to his post.
Observers remark that whatever the outcome, the case of Ieronymos is an open demonstration of the confused state of affairs in Greece. Autocratic rule, be it in church or government, does not suffice to solve the problems of a community.
Following Peace And Holiness
The text could well have been Hebrews 12:14 (“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”) when nearly seventy “Holiness” churchmen and scholars from a dozen denominations gathered recently at Winona Lake, Indiana, to consider the relation of “peace” and “holiness.” The little Brethren in Christ Church, with support from the Mennonite Central Committee, had prompted the Christian Holiness Association into joint sponsorship through its Social Action Committee.
Nazarene theologian Richard Taylor argued in a major position paper for the positive role of the state in God’s redemptive scheme and the responsibility of Christians to serve in military and police forces. Brethren in Christ church historian Owen Alderfer of Ashland Seminary countered with a historical analysis showing the affinities between Holiness and Anabaptist traditions. Debate centered on hermeneutical issues, the relation between the Testaments, the role of the state, and the question whether all war is sin (a difficult one for Holiness people, who tend to argue that men can be relatively free of sin in this life). Messiah College’s Ronald Sider (a leader of last fall’s “Evangelicals for McGovern” group) explored the use of “non-violence” as a means of social change.
Nazarene pastor and Johns Hopkins historian Timothy Smith, who wrote the widely acclaimed Revivalism and Social Reform, called for a “gospel of Peace” and revealed his own struggles with pacifism over the last decade. Smith described the seminar as a “historic occasion” whose full significance—as a sign of reaffirmation of social and ethical concern among Holiness churches—might not be seen for years. The newly formed Social Action Commission of the Christian Holiness Association is working to contribute to that reaffirmation. On the agenda were projects to unfold the history of nineteenth-century Holiness social involvement and, if funds are found, a series of conferences devoted to related themes.
Most participants admitted that the “holiness” of Hebrews 12:14 has found greater emphasis in their own experience than the “peace.” But some of the nearly twenty addresses, papers, and responses attempted to show that in the nineteenth-century origins of the Holiness traditions there was a more balanced view. Abolitionist Wesleyan Methodists before the Civil War took an absolute stand against war and considered making non-participation in war a test of membership. Bowdoin College professor Thomas Upham, whose writings had great impact on Holiness people, was a vice-president of the American Peace Society and wrote a Manual of Peace that not only argued for pacifism but also advocated more radical measures—such as tax resistance—and opposed the military chaplaincy. The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) was originally registered with the government as a “historic peace church.”
In their emphasis on perfectionism and distinctive patterns of dress and life-style, Holiness groups had much in common with such non-conformist groups as the Mennonites and Quakers. Several such groups (Brethren in Christ, Missionary Church, Evangelical Friends, and others) were swept into the Holiness orbit before the turn of the century and are still struggling to synthesize Wesleyan and Anabaptist tradition. At the same time, large numbers of Holiness advocates, prompted by their “radical” Christian stance and a literal reading of Scripture, embraced “conscientious objection.” But under the impact of the world wars and the increasing socialization of Holiness groups, such concerns have evaporated.
DONALD W. DAYTON
Free For All
Pastor W. J. Stafford of the Free-for-All Baptist Church in Atlanta has announced that he is getting out of the nightclub business—but not for religious reasons. He wants to run for mayor of Atlanta and doesn’t think he’d have time to do that and still keep the Top O’ Peachtree nightclub going. He purchased it less than a year ago.
Stafford, long classified as a “religious hipster,” will be competing against other black candidates for the office. His church features a live nightclub band at all services, and preaches no prohibitions in the Christian life—hence its name.
JAMES S. TINNEY
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