Amid hearty amens and exhibitions of spiritual exuberance smacking of the bygone days of the holiness movement, the Inter-church Holiness Convention (IHC) convened its twenty-first annual convention last month with a full house at the 2,500-seat city auditorium of Huntington, West Virginia.
At a time when the holiness movement is experiencing a general realignment along conservative-progressive lines, the IHC serves as the unofficial rallying-point for the recent “counter-nucleation” of radical holiness groups. Its relation to the Christian Holiness Association (CHA), formerly the National Holiness Association, may be compared with that of the American Council of Christian Churches to the National Association of Evangelicals. However, in the latter case the tension is over degrees of separation, and denominations line up accordingly. But in the case of the IHC and the CHA, the tensions exist within the various denominations themselves.
While the CHA last year broadened its statement of faith and increasingly models itself along the lines of the NAE, the IHC continues as the spokesman for the thirty-five or more splinter-denominations and other adherents (total constituency: more than 100,000) seeking to maintain all the traditional spiritual and doctrinal distinctives of the holiness groups.
The IHC originated in a January, 1952, meeting in Salem, Ohio. Leaders were its founder, H. Robb French, then a general evangelist of the Wesleyan Methodist Church; Foreign Missionary Secretary R. G. Flexon of the Pilgrim Holiness Church; and Wesleyan Methodist minister H. E. Schmul, the present IHC executive secretary. Its stated purpose was to encourage the “old-fashioned crowd” to hold to their convictions and to foster “Bible holiness with standards,” and emphasis was placed on fasting, prayer, revival, confession, separation, and “heart holiness.”
For fourteen years the IHC annual conventions were held on the campus of God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio. The school dates from the beginning of the century and still maintains close ties with the IHC.
In the late fifties and through the sixties, increasing pressure was put on the loosely constituted IHC to form a new denomination in order to champion the dissident minorities within such old-line holiness groups as the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church (formed in 1968 by merger of the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness Churches), and the Free Methodists. While Schmul consistently refused to take such a step, it was not long before small denominations began to spring up—many of which eventually found their way into the fellowship of the IHC.
The dissidents allege that in the old-line groups there is now too much emphasis on education and not enough on revivalism, that worship services are less free and spontaneous, that preaching has become intellectualized at the expense of exuberance, that biblical criticism is increasingly tolerated, that the doctrine of holiness is discussed but experientially played down, and that there is more of a conciliatory attitude toward traditional ethical standards. The old-line holiness churches for their part tend to ignore the development of the hard-line movement or lampoon it as pharisaical and legalistic.
Surprisingly, there was a total absence of comment at the recent convention about Key 73. IHC and the affiliated radical holiness groups have stood unanimously against the ecumenicity implied in Key 73. They have used the participation of old-line holiness groups in it, as well as the gradual affinity of certain old-line groups with the charismatic movement, to point up the conservative-progressive tensions.
The convention underscored the numerous growing pains plaguing the IHC. While the conventions have always emphasized preaching and praise services (all necessary business is handled by a fifteen-member Convention Committee and a short business session), program planners got headaches trying to fit all the platform participants into the three-day meeting. (There were choirs from eleven Bible schools and Christian day schools, as well as a host of other musicians.) Additionally, the IHC is still fighting to be accepted among certain of the radical holiness groups. Although it enjoys broad grassroots support, speaks for 1,500 independent and denominational ministers, and claims to champion the “little people” in the holiness movement, it has received only token and unofficial support from four of the five hard-line groups that split from the Nazarenes. Also, though Schmul was a prime opponent of the merger that formed the Wesleyan Church, and though he has maintained membership in one of the Wesleyan Methodist conferences that refused to accept that merger, some in his own groups view him with mistrust and apprehension. His impassioned plea at the opening of the convention for the IHC constituents to “fall in love with each other again” revealed his concern over tensions in the IHC fellowship.
Yet the IHC seems to have a bright future. In recent years there has been a very large influx of youthful supporters. The preponderance of youth is seen not only in the Youth Congress that meets at IHC headquarters in Salem, Ohio, each December but also in the vigorous ministry of a youth organization known as the Overcomers. Though fairly new, it has formed campus chapters, has held holiness rallies on more than a score of college campuses across the country, and now supports full-time “missionaries” at two universities. The IHC also operates the interdenominational Aldersgate School of Religion in Salem (enrollment: three), which attempts to draw students from among the graduates of several radical holiness Bible schools. The Convention Herald, official monthly periodical of the IHC with an American circulation of 6,000, now has a Korean edition that boasts more than 10,000 subscribers. And more than twenty-five area conventions serve to keep the IHC fellowship alive throughout the year.
In Switzerland’s Geneva canton (state), the ruling body of the Reformed Church (the denomination organized by John Calvin) has reportedly recommended that infants be “presented” to congregations and that baptism be postponed to a later age. But those who wish to continue the practice of infant baptism will not-be hindered, according to the press report. (Calvin was a leading sixteenth-century proponent of the idea that believers’ children should be baptized as early as possible.)
Did President Nixon take the Easter sermon personally?
That’s what Watergate-conditioned reporters asked the man who preached it: Pastor John A. Huffman, Jr., of Florida’s Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church. “I cannot say,” he replied.
With the Nixon family in the congregation, Huffman had delivered what he described as a “tough talk” on sin and the need for transformation, basing it on a study of Festus and Agrippa during the trial of Paul.
People hesitate to change, he declared at one point, because it hurts and may be embarrassing. “You’ll notice the business dealings you’ll have to stay out of. There’ll be some friendships that you have to break off. And there’ll be some courageous statements that are going to be tough to make, to your friends, to your enemies, and to the society around you.”
The President appeared attentive throughout the sermon, afterward shook hands with Huffman during a congenial exchange, then departed for the Bahamas. (In a January sermon Huffman praised Nixon—who was present—for the Viet Nam cease-fire.)
Did the sermon have any connection with the Watergate mess at the White House?
“You can draw any implication you want to,” Huffman, an evangelical, told reporters. “Whatever the President wishes to make of it was between him and the Lord.”
Radio preacher Carl McIntire led nearly 2,000 advocates of various conservative causes in another “victory march” in Washington, D. C. For a change the weather was good, but it was McIntire’s smallest turnout in the series. He didn’t mention attendance afterward in his newspaper but stated that there were 150,000 “tourists and the like” in the area and that the march had backed up traffic almost to Richmond, nearly 100 miles away. He lashed out at President Nixon for not visiting him at the post-march rally, but he could claim victory on at least one front. After thousands of futile airline miles to present a plaque to visiting President Thieu of South Viet Nam, McIntire finally caught up with Thieu—at a cocktail reception.
Cutting Where It Hurts
President Nixon isn’t the only one cutting back on social-action spending. The National Council of Churches has given pink slips to the entire sixteen-member executive staff of its controversy-generating Church and Society division. The move is in line with a general NCC reorganization (the sixteen can apply for seven redefined posts), but money was the main dictating factor. The department had a 1970 budget of $2.6 million but entered this year with prospects for no more than $400,000—and a holdover deficit of $100,000. It founded and funded many civil-rights, anti-war, and investment-pressure projects over the past decade—resulting in backlash and the NCC’s present predicament.
Time to Run, the latest motion picture released by World Wide Pictures (film arm of the Billy Graham organization), is setting box-office records, thanks in large part to effective advance promotion among church members. World Wide says that more than 1.3 million have paid to see the movie since its release in January. In the second week of March, more than 150,000 saw it in Los Angeles, a record attendance for any show in town that week, according to World Wide. About 265,000 saw it during a week in the Philadelphia area. The manager of a small Minnesota theater reportedly remarked to a Graham executive that Time to Run “had a $2,000 day; with The Godfather we didn’t even have a $2,000 week.”
The key to the large turnouts is a well-greased advance campaign in which thousands of church members are organized into volunteer promotion committees (they also handle follow-up). At the local-church level, members are urged to buy tickets for themselves and for non-Christian friends. Youth groups are challenged to pack out the theater for special youth showings. Occasionally an advance man makes a connection that results in a publicity windfall. For example, the Texas state legislature, Governor Dolph Briscoe, and Austin Mayor Roy Butler officially endorsed a film crusade in the state capital last month as Time to Run Week.
Part of the proceeds are used for theater rental (some theaters work on a percentage basis). The remainder goes to World Wide for expenses and production costs. Surplus income, if any, is invested in new films. (Time to Run has already paid for itself.)
Time to Run concludes with an invitation to receive Christ, and to date nearly 100,000 have signed decision cards in the theaters and are enrolled in follow-up, says World Wide.
So far, most reviews of the film have been favorable, including a laudatory one in the Los Angeles Times and one in the Wittenberg Door, a Christian publication in San Diego that specializes in satire and considers virtually nothing sacred.
Meanwhile, World Wide is pushing ahead with preparations for filming The Hiding Place, a film about Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who sheltered Jews in World War II. His Land, another World Wide production, is being dubbed into Korean to be shown across Korea in conjunction with Graham’s visit there this month. The firm recently produced It Happened at Shiokari Pass, a Japanese dramatic film for use in the Orient.
When evolution is taught in science courses in Georgia’s public schools, the creation account of origins must be presented as an alternate theory, the state legislature decreed by a 29–22 vote. It is said to be the first such legislation in modern times. Later, the Tennessee Senate voted 28–1 to restrict evolution to theory status in textbooks. The measure said that books dealing with human origins should give “commensurate attention” to creationism. Speedy approval of the bill was expected in the House.
To See Or Not To See
Citing bomb scares and assassination threats, WPIX-TV in New York City and WTAF-TV in Philadelphia cancelled with short notice a Jews for Jesus interview show sponsored by the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). Except for the sheer exposure value, the ABMJ was presumably out the $25,000 it spent on advertisements.
Other factors muddy the picture somewhat. Nine hours before the show was to be aired, WPIX-TV’s management apparently decided it was not “in the public interest” (a vague Federal Communications Commission requirement), and axed it. Numerous Jewish individuals and organizations had protested the scheduled program (a number of station executives are Jewish), and there was an unconfirmed report that two congressmen had applied pressure.
But Terryl Delaney, the ABMJ’s media man, insisted that both stations had earlier previewed the program and judged it to be acceptable. The ABMJ was contemplating legal action on grounds of unlawful discrimination and abridgement of rights. (Last year a number of stations acceded to Jewish demands and cancelled an ABMJ documentary on the Passover.)
Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee, in a special commentary on WINS radio, commended WPIX-TV for its action and declared that despite all the protests “there were absolutely no Jewish efforts at censorship of the telecast.” But, asserted ABMJ head Daniel Fuchs, “the cancellation has perpetuated a serious trend that affects basic constitutional freedoms.”
The program, filmed on a college campus, features popular radio and TV talk-show host Les Crane—a non-Jesus Jew—interviewing Jewish followers of Jesus.
Scheduled airings of the show went on apparently without much fuss in Baltimore, Atlanta, and San Diego.
Brothers, North And South
United Presbyterian missions executive Archie Crouch, writing in A.D. 1973, assesses the Vietnamese religious situation. He quotes a Vietnamese Catholic priest who says there are about one million Catholics in North Viet Nam, served by 350 priests and twelve bishops, with twenty Catholics among the nation’s 420 legislators. There are an estimated 1.6 million Catholics in South Viet Nam, with 1,700 priests and eighteen bishops.
No one knows how many Protestants are in North Viet Nam, Crouch points out. The Christian and Missionary Alliance once had about 10,000 members, but half or more fled south in the fifties. In South Viet Nam, the CMA-related Evangelical Church of Viet Nam has more than 53,000 baptized members in 368 congregations.
Crouch implies that America’s war role and an unwillingness of American churches to extend relief aid to the north will impede post-war relations with North Vietnamese churches.
The Jackson Move(Ment)
The six-million-member National Baptist Convention, U. S. A., a black body, scheduled dedication of its new J. H. Jackson Library in Chicago May 11. Named after the denomination’s president, the library will house the group’s national offices, presently located at its publishing quarters in Nashville.
Conservative church growth, the subject of several articles and at least one book, may be slowing down. According to figures compiled in the latest (1972) Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, published by Abingdon, the conservative churches showed only slight gains, and in some cases, loss.
The Yearbook, prepared by the National Council of Churches, said denominational reports indicate that such stalwarts as the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) lost members since the 1971 Yearbook report. The ALC dropped by 21,362 members (0.8 per cent) for a new total of 2,521,930 while the LCMS lost 426 members, giving a new total of 2,788,110.
Other churches generally included in the conservative bloc showed slight gains. The Reformed Church in America picked up 2,345 members for a 369,951 total. The Christian Reformed Church, meanwhile, increased by only 466 members to a total of 286,094. The Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern) showed negligible changes in its 1972 total of 949,857.
Despite the general slowing down, however, some groups, notably the Southern Baptists, showed continuing numerical increases. The Yearbook indicates the Baptists grew by 1.7 per cent to 11,824,676. (Figures released by the denomination earlier this year and after the Yearbook went to press, however, show that the Southern Baptists have broken the 12-million-member mark. Their total now reads 12,067,284.) Baptists are second in membership after the Roman Catholic Church’s 48,390,990.
Also showing increases for 1972 were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 7.2 per cent to 416,789; the Seventh-day Adventists, up 4.9 per cent to 433,906; and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), up 2.9 per cent to 2,133,072.
Declines were experienced by many churches, including the Episcopal—3,217,365 (down 2.1 per cent); the United Methodist—10,509,198 (down 1.5 per cent); the Lutheran Church in America—3,069,679 (down 1.2 per cent); the United Presbyterian—3,013,808 (down 2.4 per cent); and the United Church of Christ—1,928,674 (down 1.6 per cent).
The study also shows that 40 per cent of the adult population attended church weekly in 1971, continuing a decline since the 1955 high of 49 per cent. Of those surveyed 57 per cent were Catholics, 37 per cent Protestant, and 19 per cent Jewish, the Yearbook says. Significantly, organized religion in the United States remains over-whelmingly segregated. Approximately 90 per cent of black Christians (estimated at 14.4 million members) are attending wholly or over-whelmingly black denominations. The remaining 10 per cent are spread over a number of predominantly white denominations.
Statistics in the book are largely based on 1971 figures, the last year for which comprehensive data are available. Yearbook editor Constant H. Jacquet indicated also that figures are based on denominational sources, and therefore on varying ways of reckoning. Roman Catholics count children as members, while most Protestant churches limit their rolls to adults or confirmed youths. Also, he said, some churches compile membership statistics on an irregular basis.
Although it has carried information on Canadian churches for several years, the Yearbook bowed northward by including Canadian in its title for the first time. It lists Canadian church membership at 12,770,268 of Canada’s more than 20 million population. At the same time, the Canadian figures show the same trends reported by U. S. counterparts.
The Orthodox Church of Greece suffered a major setback last month in its quest for internal unity. In an important ruling, the Greek State Council—the nation’s supreme court—upheld an appeal against the church’s Holy Synod by two dissident bishops. The action nullifies all synod decisions since November, reinstates the resignation of the church’s embattled head, Archbishop Ieronymos, and in effect calls for reorganization of the synod, which the government now has demanded.
At the center of the issue is the question of who controls thirty-three dioceses in northern Greece that have historic links to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. Under a 1928 agreement, the dioceses were “temporarily assigned” to the Greek church, but “permanent jurisdiction” was left with Istanbul. The Holy Synod was to be composed of six bishops from the north and six from the south. With the adoption of a new church charter in 1969, permanent jurisdiction of the dioceses was assigned to Athens, and Ieronymos reconstituted the Holy Synod without regard to the old division. Many northern bishops were unhappy about his choices, and the strife boiled into the open at the first full meeting of the hierarchy last year. Further, Demetrius I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, denied that he had never objected to the new arrangement, contradicting Ieronymos.
Subsequently, Ieronymos suffered a near-breakdown physically, and he resigned. The synod rejected his resignation and offered him a three-month leave instead, and he acquiesced.
Meanwhile, in January, northern bishops Ambrosios and Augustinos (he’s said to be eyeing Ieronymos’s seat) appealed to the State Council for a return to the old setup, resulting in last month’s decision. At that time the council also ruled that Ieronymos could not recant his decision to resign.
As things now stand, the whole Greek Church structure—Ieronymos included—is in limbo.
More than 250 delegates from nineteen states gathered in Pittsburgh last month to observe the tenth anniversary of the National Negro Evangelical Association (NNEA). Five days of celebration and self-examination made it clear that the NNEA has come a long way from those early days when it was little more than an appendage to the white evangelical establishment. While maintaining its theologically conservative stance, it is today much more black-oriented in its social perspective than before. It is also more activist-minded.
Under the theme “The Renewed Community in Action,” the delegates sought to assess needs within the total black community and determine how to relate to them as Christians. Evangelist Tom Skinner, chairman of NNEA’s board and, at 31, a principal spokesman for black evangelicals, outlined the flesh-and-blood architecture of the renewed community, underlining the need for Christian activism. Workshops and seminars dealt not only with family life and techniques of evangelism but also with how to work for better schools in the inner city, how to achieve prison reform, and how to mount drug-abuse programs.
United Methodist bishop Roy C. Nichols called on “the churches and the preachers” to “bring to bear in the black community a spiritual rehabilitation.” Another guest speaker, George E. Riddick, research director of Chicago’s Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), expounded from Deuteronomy the black Christian’s obligation to “possess” a just share of the “land of the American economy” and thus help prepare for the economic liberation of the black masses. He said there are “28 million statistical poor and perhaps as many as 40 million near-poor and poor” in the nation, the majority of them blacks. (PUSH says it has channeled more than $102 million into black communities.)
Exhibits reflected a greater sensitivity to black concerns on the part of predominantly white evangelical agencies, from increased visibility of black staffers to civil-rights emphases in Sunday-school materials.
Doctrinal issues aren’t a big source for debate in the NNEA, which is affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—where doctrine is often a predominant note. To an observer, it seems that a theologically conservative position is assumed in the NNEA, and that attention is focused instead on the nitty-gritty of pragmatic concerns. Indeed, NNEA president William Bentley is quoted in an Evangelical Press story as saying that the NNEA is considering a name change because the word “evangelical” doesn’t have much meaning in the black community. The NNEA welcomes all who can “relate to our statement of faith and purpose,” he said. “But we have no yardstick of conformity for our members. People of all persuasions belong, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians, including some Roman Catholics.”
No one knows how many evangelicals there are in the black community. Skinner says there are at least two million. Whatever the number, they are a potentially powerful force for spiritual renewal. But to motivate them for evangelism and social action in black America is something else. Clearly, the NNEA needs all the help it can get.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more