Kenneth Scott Latourette called the last century the “Great Century” of missionary advance. This missionary surge was a distinctively Western, white undertaking. The century was also one of developing colonialism, and some view the missionaries as co-laborers with the political and economic forces in what has been called in our century “imperialism.” However true or false the charge, it is fair to say that both colonialism and missionary outreach have run into some rough weather in the last few years.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Europe provided most of the overseas missionaries. By the end of the century North America had displaced Europe in Protestant missionary activity and had become the strongest base from which missionaries and money flowed to the unreached regions of the world. Now North America has faltered. It remains to be seen whether this is just a pause to regroup or whether the leadership will pass to some other area of the world. But the accumulating evidence suggests the latter.
Virtually all the large U. S. denominations are engaged in mission retrenchment and retreat. The Southern Baptist Convention is a notable exception. The others are reducing their staff drastically and cutting their budgets at a time when inflation demands larger rather than smaller outlays. The picture among groups and agencies that are distinctively evangelical is somewhat brighter but allows for no special rejoicing. The Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (missionary arm of the National Association of Evangelicals) and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (the agency of the faith missionary organizations) have reached a plateau; while their income is increasing, the number of missionaries they support remains relatively stable. The smaller evangelical denominations reflect a similar picture with some exceptions.
The overseas missionary picture has changed as well. Some fields are closed and others are semi-closed. Mainland China is closed. India is hard to enter. Bangladesh with its 75 million people has few missionaries. Parts of Africa that are struggling for black supremacy and for national identity and hegemony regard the white man as an enemy. Latin Americans, in rejecting America’s economic power, have tended to resent its missionaries as well. Yet however loud the voices of those who declaim against Western missionaries, there is still a great demand for more of them by the national churches and many national Christians. And the call for replacements and reinforcements is not being met by Western Christians.
On the positive side of the ledger are some important developments. The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship will hold another missionary conference at Urbana, Illinois, at the end of this year that may well attract ten to fifteen thousand students from all over North America. Campus Crusade for Christ is laying its plans for finishing the task of world evangelization in this century.
Most promising of all is the Congress on World Evangelization that will convene in Lausanne, Switzerland, next July. It is an outgrowth of the 1966 Berlin Congress on Evangelism but will go far beyond anything attempted by that gathering. It will link evangelism and missions in a new and important way. It has for its purpose the development of a strategy to complete the New Testament missionary mandate. And it will focus on the Third World, which may be the major source from which the future missionary impulse will come. Indeed, Lausanne may serve to encourage the sending of missionaries from the Third World to North America, an interesting reversal that has already begun.
Perhaps the gravest problem facing evangelical churches is their declining missionary passion, their lack of vision of a world that really is lost without Christ. The secular spirit of the age and materialism—that is, worldliness—have overtaken the churches. Parents no longer are willing to give their children to God for the mission fields of the world, and the attitude of many evangelicals is: “Here am I, Lord—send my neighbor.”
Any reading of the Bible should convince us that Christ’s second advent is dynamically related to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. And Jesus himself said prophetically: “You shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This statement leads us to conclude that missions have not reached a stalemate, that another great missionary surge will precede the coming to earth of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it will start with renewal among the churches. It must be begun by prayer, strengthened by commitment, enlarged by sacrificial giving, and accompanied by the offering of our young people as bearers of the imperishable message to perishing people around the globe. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).
Thanksgiving: The Spirit Of ’73
Perhaps Thanksgiving should be recalled this year. Perhaps we should post a “Day called on account of …” notice over November 22. Many Americans might feel there is precious little to give thanks for in this stormy, shock-a-day period of our national life.
This Thanksgiving gives American Christians a special test of their faith. When things go well, thanksgiving, though often neglected, comes easy. But what about those times when God chastens a people for their national sins? What about those times when he seems to be sending cursings rather than blessings?
America still has its great freedoms, and a form of government that seems strong and resilient enough to meet the tests put to it. It still has more material blessings than any other country in the world. For these and other boons its people should express thanks.
Of more direct concern for Christians, however, is what Paul told the Thessalonian believers: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This means we are to give thanks for chastening, even for the cursings that may come because of national sins. It means thanking God for allowing untoward events in order to bring about spiritual quickening and a return to faithfulness to the Creator. Even more than blessings, adversity should bring us to our knees in thankfulness, remembering that it is only due to his mercies that we are not consumed.
The Appeal To Resign
Among the many voices calling upon President Nixon to resign was Time magazine, which did so in its first editorial in fifty years of publication. The editorial argues that morality requires Mr. Nixon’s removal from office and that prudence would dictate resignation as the least painful means to that end.
We are opposed to his resignation. The charges against him are indeed serious, and his attempts to persuade us that they are false have so far been inadequate. But resignation would leave us in doubt about whether or not he is guilty, and it would also enable his accusers to evade the heavy responsibility that must fall upon them if the charges are false. The charges should either be proved—and impeachment is the constitutional means for proving them—or withdrawn.
Those who are asking Mr. Nixon to resign are tacitly admitting that the Constitution, with its provision of impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is not an altogether sufficient rule for public life and policy. At an earlier point in American history, the moral context for interpreting constitutional and statutory questions was provided by a widespread consensus based on the teachings and principles of the Bible. With the increasing secularization of American life, this once dominant biblical culture has been obscured, forgotten, even explicitly repudiated. But now, in a time of worldwide crisis when adequate national leadership seems a life-or-death matter, we suddenly discover that human conventions are no adequate substitute. It is not enough merely not to have demonstrably violated the explicit provisions of the Constitution. Something more is required for leadership. But where is this something to come from, and by what standard is it to be judged?
The long battle of the secularists to destroy America’s spiritual heritage and to establish a morality of the lowest common denominator, based on secular legal conventions with nothing borrowed or learned from alleged revelation, has been largely victorious. But such a lowest common denominator suddenly is proving inadequate, and we now hear appeals for “moral principle” from many who ridiculed them when they were voiced by religious leaders and—perhaps hypocritically—by many of those now under accusation. Make no mistake: we are for moral principle. But it cannot be created out of whole cloth. American society, if it is looking for guidance as to what is right, not merely “constitutional,” must turn back to an authority it has largely abandoned: to the Bible, the only perfect rule of faith and practice.
The Mortality Of Presidents
When John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963, voices were raised charging the American people as a whole with collective guilt in his slaying. Such charges are false. Yet it is true that before his death, vast and widespread forces were at work to destroy him. His tragic death made him a martyr figure, and we conveniently forget that when he was murdered he was on a mission to patch up a malignant quarrel in his own Democratic party, one that he feared might hamper his reelection to the presidency. He was being subjected to a campaign of abuse, ridicule, and even vituperation in the media, and his former image of dynamic popularity had sadly tarnished. Kennedy’s successors, Johnson and Nixon, as we well know, have been the target of even greater and more persistent denigration.
We would not suggest that Kennedy did nothing to deserve the attacks of the media; certainly Johnson brought much of the odium on himself; and it has been Nixon’s peculiar talent not only to follow policies that merit condemnation but to react to justified criticism in such a way as to antagonize even those inclined to sympathize with him. The point, however, is this: Each of the last three presidents has become involved in a process that has ultimately destroyed him. In Kennedy’s case, the process had begun but was short-circuited by his murder; Johnson was driven from office broken in spirit; in Nixon’s case, the final outcome remains to be seen. Each of these men may have at least partially deserved the destructive hostility brought to bear on him. But all of them, different though they were, were similarly ground down by adversity and animosity while apparently in possession of the highest honors and privileges a powerful, rich nation can offer.
All Americans should reflect on this question: Have we created, in the modern presidency, an office that so combines awful responsibility, vast power, and messianic pretension that no mortal can occupy it without suffering personal disaster? Christians should examine their consciences, inquiring whether they have followed the biblical injunction to pray for those in authority—or have left them an easy prey to spiritual wickedness in high places. To the extent that we have not prayed, we can begin now, too late to undo past disasters but in time to forestall new ones.
Challenging The Code
The U. S. Supreme Court showed good sense last month in turning down an appeal from Billy James Hargis to reinstate his tax-exempt status. Hargis was deprived of exemption for his Christian Echoes National Ministry, Incorporated, for engaging in political activity. A now well known clause in the Internal Revenue Code limits exemptions to churches and organizations organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes “no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Surely ministries that seek to influence legislation or elections can be organized and supported as separate entities.
The court acted wisely in refusing to hear arguments claiming that the exemption clause discriminates against activists. This was the line of reasoning in a brief supporting Hargis filed by the National Council of Churches, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and several large denominations including United Presbyterians and United Methodists. Most if not all of these have expressed themselves in opposition to the prayer amendment apparently without considering that the current ban on religious exercises in public schools discriminates against pietists.
The group also argued that restraints of the exemption clause “have the potential of seriously weakening if not destroying the wall between church and state.… The prospect of the government deciding what should or should not be legitimate areas for religious concern and activity cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment requirement of government neutrality.” It is true that the clause causes some serious problems because it sets up the IRS as something of a religious arbiter. However, the group did not argue against the clause as a whole but only against its “limitations,” namely substantial lobbying. If the restraints were removed, the IRS would still have to decide which organizations were religious and thus eligible for tax exemption. We submit that this would be profoundly more difficult, and we also see such an arrangement as an open invitation to a host of political organizations to plead for “religious” status.
The question whether any lobby should be taxed deserves separate consideration. Tax exemption is a considerable benefit granted by the people as a whole to specific groups. It is one thing to let certain people be helped in a way that need not affect others. But is it not unfair to expect this privilege to be used to influence legislation and elections the results of which affect everyone?
Hargis is still as free as ever to engage in politics. All the government asks is that he be subject to taxation just as other lobbies are and that he not be allowed any more tax-deductible contributions than any other politician.
Still Awaiting A Redeemer
“Let us roar with a new and last roar of the beginning: Am Yisroel Chai!” (the people of Israel shall live). The Israeli army’s motto? A Hebrew anthem to strengthen Israel’s spirit? Though perhaps applicable to the recent turmoil in the Middle East, the cry ends a new oratorio by composer Marvin David Levy, whose opera Mourning Becomes Electra was performed during the Metropolitan Opera’s first season at Lincoln Center. Masada commemorates the tragic mass suicide on April 15, 73 A.D., of 960 Jewish men, women, and children who preferred death to slavery under Rome (the account follows Josephus; see “Israel Remembers Her ‘super Alamo’!” by Raymond L. Cox, September 14, 1973, issue). Titus three years before had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, which fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that the holy city would fall. Flavius Silva, governor of Judea and Roman general, led the siege against Masada.
The fortress, built by Jonathan the high priest, brother and successor of Judas Maccabaeus, and later strengthened by King Herod, was considered impregnable, with its thirty-seven towers seventy-five feet high and an enclosing limestone wall eighteen feet high and twelve feet wide. But Silva’s battering rams and torch volleys convinced the people inside that the Romans would conquer them, too. Eleazar ben Yair convinced all but two women, who along with five children hid in a water conduit, to kill each other—and leave behind a storehouse of food to let the Romans know they chose death. The remains of the fortress are about thirty-five miles southeast of Jerusalem on the west bank of the Dead Sea.
The oratorio was commissioned by Antal Dorati and was given its world premiere in Washington, D.C., this month by Dorati and the National Symphony. Levy used texts from Josephus, the Bible, and Isaac Lamdan’s poem “Masada.” Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Tucker was the soloist along with solo speaker George London, also of the Metropolitan, and the large University of Maryland chorus. As the chorus whispers Psalm 79, which laments the destruction of Jerusalem by the heathen, a tape blares out the horror of Hitler’s Germany. “Never again! Never again shall Masada fall!” shouts the chorus. Masada becomes a symbol for all the persecution the Jewish people have suffered.
When Levy began writing this exciting oratorio over a year ago, the Middle East was calm. Shortly after its completion war again erupted. With cries of death, blood, deliverance, and the wail of a fugitive who sees only chaos in a land out of whose depths came the prophecy of redemption, Masada seems to mean more than history. “Where is the last redeemer? Why do his footsteps still delay? Why do the false prophets still stand high on the wall?” asks the chorus. Levy captures the agony of Israel and the strength of its faith in Yahweh (tenor and chorus sing the traditional “Shema Yisroel, Adonoy Elohaynu, Adonoy Echod!”—Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One). Masada also strikingly reminds us that God is sovereign in dealing with his people, and that though they do not recognize it, the redemption they desire has come.
God’S Green Earth: Pleasant Under Glass
Within our world thousands of little worlds are being created every day. We refer not to “spheres of influence” nor to individualistic transcendental meditation, but to the current craze for terrariums (or terraria, if you’re a stickler for Latin), which has hundreds of shop clerks peering from behind glass-enclosed foliage.
“Terrarium” means literally “earth place.” It is the name for a small ecosystem of various plants, usually housed in a transparent enclosure that retains moisture. Terrariums are easily assembled (as the commercial kit-makers have discovered, to their capital delight) and require almost no maintenance. They can be made inexpensively from canning jars, bell domes, fish bowls, or various other containers (one with a large mouth and no lid should be covered with plastic wrap or a glass plate.)
A few peaceful hours of terrarium-making might be a welcome change from the mad rush of Christmas shopping and result in gifts likely to please apartment dwellers, shut-ins, college students, grandmothers, office workers, teachers, perhaps even some children. For a little action, the terrarium can be planned to include a turtle or lizard. Whatever form it takes, the “earth place” gives it owner the pleasure of watching a lush mini-world grow—and perhaps a close-up reminder of the genius of the Creator.
The Greatest Missionary Of All
A missionary is, quite simply, one who is sent on a mission, and the Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest missionary of all. His leaving glory and coming down to this sin-cursed world made all subsequent missionary endeavor possible, and far exceeds it—even when it is all considered together—in magnificence.
Nowhere is our Lord’s missionary role better summarized than in what was probably a separate hymn incorporated by the missionary Paul into his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2, verses 5–11). Our Lord’s coming as a missionary was unparalleled because of the vast gap between who he was, God himself, fully entitled to equal worship with the Father (v. 6), and what he became, the one who “made himself of no reputation,” becoming a servant—not even a man of high station (v. 7). Christian missionaries go as sinners (albeit redeemed) to fellow sinners. However great the cultural barriers, however much the difference in standards of living, there is no comparison with the difference in circumstances (not in personality) between Christ as Lord of glory and as the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth.
The missionary life of our Saviour also reveals the hostility of so many men to the message of divine grace even when it was proclaimed by one who was without fault. Christ “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (v. 8). (The deity of Christ is, by the way, implicit in this phrase, because to mortals death is necessary; we have no choice whether to “obey” it.) Most Christian missionaries experience this hostility, though usually not so extreme and never, because missionaries and their supporters are sinners, without giving at least a little basis for opposition. Our Lord’s experience reminds us that even if missionaries were perfect there would still be opposition to them.
Finally we note the ultimate triumph of our Lord’s mission, when there will be “bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (v. 9), when “every knee” (v. 10) shall bow to him and “every tongue” (v. 11) confess that he is Lord. Of course, no Christian missionary will be so exalted, but all Christians, those who go as missionaries and those who send them forth, will share as the body and bride of Christ in the glory of that ultimate triumph.
Whenever discouragement arises over the missionary task, whether because of the poor conditions or the negative response or questioning of the ultimate value, let us remember—and worship—the greatest missionary of all.
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