Next to the advent of Christianity, the Reformation is the greatest event in world history. So said the church historian Philip Schaff. He chose to distinguish Catholicism from Romanism (as perhaps Charles Davis and more recently Hans Küng may be seeking to do), arguing that Romanism was “the Latin church turned against the Reformation, consolidated by the Council of Trent and completed by the Vatican Council of 1870.”
The Roman popes, cardinals, and priests in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were often guilty of flagrant simony and nepotism. Schaff points out that “Cardinal Wolsey was archbishop of York while chancellor of England, received stipends from the kings of France and Spain and the doge of Venice, and had a train of five hundred servants.” Monasteries were nurseries of ignorance and superstition; theology was a maze of scholastic subtleties; preaching was neglected; saint-worship, image-worship, and superstitious rites and ceremonies were substituted for biblical worship and the use of the Bible was very limited. The older colleague of Luther named Carlstadt confessed, says Schaff, that “he had been doctor of divinity before he had seen a complete copy of the Bible.”
Yet despite all the evils that marked the Roman church, one positive fact should not be overlooked: the Reformers were all born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in that church. Priests who had served at Roman altars either were cast out of or left the church in which they had been reared and went out to form new bodies based on the principles of the new movement. And we should remember too that Jesus, his apostles, and the early evangelists were attached to a degenerate Judaism. In both these periods of history new wine came out of old wineskins.
The Reformers were noted for their emphasis on the authority of Scripture (sola scriptura) and justification by faith alone (sola fide). Theirs was truly a religious movement that sought to answer two of life’s basic spiritual questions: “What must a man do to be saved?” and “How can a sinner be justified before God, and secure peace for his troubled conscience?” In answering these questions the Reformation opened the door to the emancipation of reason. It freed men from the tyranny of the church. But when it had done away with tradition mediated through an infallible church, led by an infallible pope, it also made possible the exaltation of human reason to a place not only above tradition but above divine revelation as well. Certain scholars claimed that reason was superior to revelation, and that freedom meant deliverance from divine as well as human authority. Rationalism had no place in its system for the supernatural and the miraculous.
No one in the sixteenth century could have known that rationalism would, in a few centuries, make so marked an impact on so many people within the churches that had sprung from the Reformation. But neither could they have known of the influence dialectical materialism would have, or how Aristotelian logic would be disregarded if not discarded by many thinkers. The leading lights of the Reformation were Christian humanists in the best sense of that term, and they were no mean scholars. But they could hardly have dreamed that the freedom they attained would later be used by other religious scholars to make room for destructive higher-critical views, views that would lead them to denigrate and demythologize the very Scriptures that made the new freedom possible.
In our day large segments of Western Christianity have departed from their Reformation moorings, and not simply by embracing a depreciated and truncated view of the authority of Scripture. They have also lost the essence of the message at the center of the Reformation, the good news of how men can be saved and justified. In place of the spiritual liberation that is the heart of the historic Gospel, many modern-day churchmen have substituted liberation from economic, political, and social oppression. The Reformers thought more of the future world than of the present; by contrast, many new theologians care more about the present world than the world that is to come. The Reformers subordinated political, national, and literary interests to religion; but today’s theologians are wont to test the truth claims of Christianity by the canons laid down by economic, political, and sociological pundits.
Statistics paint a dark picture of how great the departure from orthodoxy has been and how devastating its consequences. Among the mainline denominations there are evidences of decline and decay. In Europe, churches are at least half empty Sunday after Sunday, much theological education has capitulated to Marxism, and missionary outreach has declined appreciably. In North America the same sort of creeping paralysis is apparent. Church membership, Sunday-school attendance, mid-week prayer services, financial support, and missionary outreach have been seriously affected. A telling illustration is the state of the once vital overseas outreach of the United Presbyterian Church: within a single decade it has declined from supporting nearly 1,300 missionaries to supporting 500; and the 1974 budget is 35 per cent lower than that of 1973.
One must conclude that the Reformation is grinding to a halt in the Western world. True, in recent years substantial numbers of people, young and old, in Europe as well as in North America, have been converted through evangelistic endeavors. Yet it cannot be said that many of these converts understand or appreciate the churches’ Reformation heritage. Neither can it be said that from among them there has come as yet a revitalizing movement displaying the kind of leadership that sparked the Reformation—the leadership of giants like Calvin, Luther, Knox, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Beza.
In 1974 the International Congress on World Evangelization will meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, with 3,000 participants. But this gathering will not be truly representative of the great bodies in Christendom. Although it will attract delegates from these bodies, the bodies themselves, through their representatives at World Council meetings in Uppsala and Bangkok, have made clear their alienation from basic Reformation commitments. Most of them will formally celebrate Reformation Sunday, but it will be for many a tipping of the hat to something that was, rather than a rededication to something that is.
The sixteenth-century Reformation arose at a low period in the history of the Church. Now, at another ebb, we need a new reformation, based, like the first, upon the apostolic Gospel and a commitment to an authoritative Scripture. There is little to suggest that this needed movement will arise from the ashes of Western Christendom’s earlier Reformation allegiance. It may well be that the renewal will come from Africa, Latin America, or Asia instead. There are signs of a deepening concern for theology among the younger churches around the world. They sense that something is wrong with the dominant voices they hear in Western theology today. They are going to have to go behind this misleading theological clamor to discover anew what the Reformers sensed so keenly in their day: that all theology must find its foundations and its rationale in the Word of God written, and that the opinions of men are only as good as the source from which they spring.
It is a dark, depressing day. But the first Reformation sprang from just such a climate. There may be a new Reformation aborning somewhere, perhaps in some obscure place, that will erupt suddenly and dramatically. Philip Schaff rightly said that “the enthusiasm for light and liberty takes two opposite directions, either towards skepticism and infidelity, or towards a revival of true religion from its primitive sources.” We have had skepticism and infidelity for many years. Let’s pray for a “revival of true religion from its primitive sources.”
The Sensuous Fruit
Driving northwest out of Washington, D. C., along Virginia’s Route 7, one soon comes to an area that produces some of the world’s finest apples. Huge hillside orchards begin just a few miles past a new stand of high-rise office buildings (in one of which CHRISTIANITY TODAY has a small computer center to aid in its expanding ministry). Not least among the small pleasures of life is an autumn stop at one of the many roadside stands to buy a bushel of good Virginia apples.
Apples may not really keep the doctor away, but they certainly help to keep the senses healthy. For the touch, apples offer a shape that invites you to curl your hand around it. For a visual treat the apple tree offers its beautiful blossoms in spring, the distinctive green of its leaf in summer, the bright contrasts of the fruit-full orchard in fall, the dramatic silhouette of gnarled, bare branches in winter. For the nose: the scent of the blossoms, the fine fall aroma of the fruit. For the palate, tastes from tart to sweet and countless recipes, beginning with pies and cobblers and ranging wide. But best of all, perhaps, is the bite. That first sweet, juicy snap of a Stayman makes a moment to be savored.
Thank you, God, for apples.
When Silence Isn’T Golden
As part of a long-range project, a CHRISTIANITY TODAY staff member has sought to interview a number of prominent political leaders on the subject, “Spiritual and Philosophical Principles for America’s Next Century.” Some of those approached were selected because of their public commitment to the Christian faith, others because they have frequently addressed themselves to matters of morality in public life. With certain praiseworthy exceptions—and readers will be meeting these in our pages in future issues—those approached showed either timidity or repugnance toward the prospect of being interviewed by a Christian journal. Was it possibly because our readers may be able to distinguish between a genuine spiritual commitment and the perfunctory pronouncing of religious platitudes deemed obligatory in public life?
The strange thing is that we have been contacting, not cynical pragmatists, but people who like to express themselves on “the big issues,” and who frequently appeal to moral and spiritual values. We would not expect a typical modern secular man to feel a strong desire to explain his ideals and his motivation to a largely Christian audience, nor are we interested in providing a platform for him to do so. But we would think that political leaders who are active church members, and who have spoken about the decline of moral and spiritual values shown, among other places, in the Watergate affair, would be eager, not reluctant, to follow Peter’s admonition and “give a reason for the hope that is in you.”
Can it be a fact of political life that a general profession of morality and religious sentiment pleases most people, while a specific, concrete profession of faith unsettles and alienates many? “Religion is a private matter.” And so it is, but it is also a very public matter.
The outgoing acting director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Howard Phillips, recently commented that government decisions and policies ultimately reflect the officials’ view of man. But one’s view of man is necessarily related to one’s religious commitments or lack thereof. In a particular set of circumstances, a secular, utilitarian official will decide one way, a believing Christian another. Citizens have a right to know, in advance of having to obey or pay for decisions, the general principles on which those decisions will be based. And that means that we need from our leaders more reflection on and frankness about their ultimate spiritual commitments.
Middle East: The War Seeds Sprout
The descendants of Ishmael and Jacob are at each other’s throats again. The war that started on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day, was obviously and inevitably begun by Egypt and Syria.
The Israelis had no need to go to war with anybody. They got all the land they wanted and needed in the Six-Day War. But they also left behind them the seeds of another conflict. Israel’s unwillingness to let go of any substantial part of its Six-Day acquisitions left Egypt and the rest of the Arab world smarting under the sting of defeat. It would be unrealistic to suppose that the Arab countries would not seek to recover the lands they lost.
At the time of this writing it seems safe to predict that if the conflict is limited to Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Israelis will win. It is equally safe to predict that an Israeli victory will be only another episode in the Arabs’ continuing battle to regain what they lost.
The United Nations cannot stop these countries from waging war if they choose to do so. As the major suppliers of planes and armaments, the Soviet Union and the United States are caught in the middle. From the Arab perspective one can easily see why the United States is thought to be the friend of Israel and the enemy of the Arabs; it is also easy to see why the Israelis consider the Soviets to be the friend of the Arabs and the enemy of Israel.
War is stupid, but this does not mean that all sides lose more than they gain. The Soviets dominate countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia and believe they profit from it. Israel gained considerably from its acquisitions in the Six-Day War; without this victory it probably would have ceased to exist as a nation. And so Israel is caught in a trap. If it gives back all the lands it seized, it will risk extermination. If it doesn’t, it will be faced with recurring conflict.
Evangelicals watch the Middle East with great interest. They see the conflict as part of God’s sovereign outworking to bring history to a climax and to usher in God’s eternal kingdom. (Judas, it must be remembered, was part of this outworking too. That something is prophesied does not necessarily legitimate the means by which the prophecy is fulfilled.) While they wait for that to occur, they had better be busily communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Jew and Arab alike.
The Gospel For The Intelligentsia
The most gratifying aspect of Billy Graham’s evangelistic campaign in Raleigh, North Carolina, last month was the active role played by members of the academic community. Among members of the crusade executive committee were professors from North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Duke. The chairman was Dr. Frederick P. Brooks, who heads computer-science studies at North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus and who proved to be an able transmitter of oral data as a program participant.
Another committee member who gave a good account of himself on the platform was Dr. William P. Wilson, professor of psychiatry at Duke and head of the division of clinical neurophysiology. Dr. Wilson related his faith to his profession in describing to a crusade audience the wholeness that Christian regeneration can provide for a personality. Many students too were involved in the crusade (see news story, page 63), and a group of seminarians reportedly were among the registrants at a related school of evangelism.
Many evangelists shy away from preaching to the “eggheads” of academia. Billy Graham, however, has consistently tried to penetrate the university world. And in Raleigh, not only did the evangelist seek to reach the intellectuals, but outstanding intellectuals with Christian convictions identified themselves with evangelistic outreach. The most vocal and influential critics of Christianity are found in the universities. It was most refreshing to see the other side of the coin in Raleigh.
Hats Off To Military Chaplains
American military chaplains are getting a well-deserved honor this week. At a dinner ceremony in Washington, D. C., the three chiefs of chaplains of the U. S. armed forces are accepting the 1973 Upper Room Award on behalf of all their chaplains, some 3,400 of whom are on active duty.
This marks the twenty-fifth year of the annual award, which has become the most prestigious in the field. It is presented to persons who have made unusually great contributions to Christianity.
No prize accompanies the citation, a fact that minimizes the possibility of any recipient’s getting too “puffed up” about it. The Upper Room, a widely circulated devotional guide published every other month under United Methodist auspices, simply selects someone who deserves a special note of thanks from his fellow Christians.
The chaplains are a worthy choice. Their service is often of a very demanding kind, subject to unusual pressures. Sometimes they must live apart from their families and work under people who have no use for God. Traditionally the chaplains have gotten a lot less earthly recognition than their civilian clergy counterparts. And of late, the anti-military sentiment brought on by the unpopularity of the Viet Nam war has helped to bring the very concept of the military chaplaincy into question. It’s about time that we give some positive recognition to these devoted men of God who render admirable service under difficult circumstances.
Observers as diverse as Rousas J. Rushdoony and Arthur Gish have commented that for some the environmental movement has passed beyond the limits of a legitimate desire for responsible stewardship of our environment and has become a kind of false religion, an unarticulated pantheism or romantic nature-worship. And now it seems that, like so many other religious movements, it has gathered fellow-traveling hypocrites that outnumber its true believers. Most people would agree that we should protect our environment—that we should, for example, cut down consumption of gasoline, fuel oil, electric energy, paper, and other limited resources, and limit our use of throw-away glass and metal containers. Yet how few, comparatively speaking, are actually willing to forgo the one-person-per-car daily commuting though good but slightly less convenient alternatives are available, to use less air-conditioning in summer and less heat in winter, to buy drinks in returnable bottles, or to do any of a number of other things that, like daily Bible reading for the Christian, might suggest that public professions have private consequences.
Of course, many actions in the ecological realm—as in the area of true religion—are important for what they symbolize as well as for what they accomplish. We have heard of a lot of marches in which volunteers are paid for miles walked in contributions to a worthy cause. Why not make the marching more than merely symbolic by soliciting contributions for bottles and cans picked up along the way?
As long as people are human, their performance will differ from their profession, in ecology as in religion. But narrowing the gap should be an ever-present goal. We have enough to cope with already in the form of hypocrisy among Christians; let’s not develop a full-fledged tradition of ecological hypocrisy as well.
The Case Of Spiro T. Agnew
In a drama that came to a climax in a Baltimore courtroom Spiro T. Agnew pleaded “no contest” to the single charge of income-tax evasion, a felony punishable by fine and imprisonment, and resigned as Vice-President of the United States. And the American people learned that despite repeated earlier denials by Agnew that a deal was even being discussed, a deal had indeed been made between Agnew and the Justice Department. Since the other and more serious charges against him will not be pressed in court, no conclusion can be drawn as to his guilt or innocence on those. The Justice Department’s statement indicated, however, that its lawyers had a strong case against Agnew and that, as President Nixon stated earlier, their charges were not “frivolous.”
In his statement Agnew said in part, “I admit that I did receive payments during the year 1967 which were not expended for political purposes and that, therefore, these payments were income taxable to me in that year and that I so knew.”
Unmistakably, President Nixon had full knowledge of the Agnew case at all stages of its development by the Attorney General’s office. There was nothing he could have done to prevent Agnew’s resignation, and he could not have sided with Agnew as though he were innocent without getting involved in a cover-up of the same kind that marked the Watergate tragedy.
Some will say that Agnew was “gotten,” and this is all too true. But the one who “got” him was Agnew himself; he has no one else to blame. The essence of justice is that he who performs the deed shall eat the fruit of it. Considering the nature of his crime and the positions of trust he held, his punishment is minimal.
The tragedy of Spiro Agnew is compounded by the fact that when the charges were leveled against him he perversely maintained a stance of injured innocence so as to encourage those who believed in him to think him guiltless. His case differs from those of the Watergate rascals in one important regard: they acted for a cause they professed to believe in; Spiro Agnew acted to line his own pockets with money.
We would like to believe that Agnew resigned out of love for country, but the facts of the case belie this. He did what he did to save himself, so that he could pay the least possible price for his transgressions. Knowing his own guilt, if his concern had been for the nation he would have resigned weeks ago and let the processes of justice take their course for Spiro T. Agnew, private citizen.
We can only hope that the new Vice-President will be worthy of our trust, while those who voted for Agnew seek to recover from his betrayal of the confidence they placed in him.
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