The White ‘House Church’

House churches—congregations worshiping in members’ homes instead of in a church building—are big in the United States today, and the biggest of all is the one that meets from time to time in the East Room of the White House.

There is, of course, a longstanding tradition of separation of church and state in America, and some peevish and rash people have objected to the mere existence of White House religious services as a “violation” of that “principle.” On the other hand, it is a still older principle of common law that a man’s home is his castle, and castles usually have chaplains (and/or ghosts).

In any case, it hardly makes sense in a country that has borrowed so much of its national symbolism from the Egyptians (the pyramid on the Great Seal, the obelisk), the Romans (the Capitol, the eagle, the fasces on the old dime), and the Babylonians (the stars on the flag and elsewhere) to complain if there is some religion in the President’s residence. After all, the pharaohs were considered divine, and the Roman emperors—in addition to often claiming divinity—held the office of pontifex maximus (chief priest) as part of their government function. At least two Babylonian monarchs, when not calling astrologers to the palace, consulted with a noted Hebrew prophet and gave him high government posts. Compared with all this, the new and untested tradition of the separation of church and state dwindles in significance.

The more scholarly—including at least one “senator” (also a title borrowed from Rome)—have warned about the dangers of “civil religion,” on one occasion using the platform furnished by a “Presidential Prayer Breakfast” to do so. (The Prayer Breakfasts may have something in common with the agape, the non-eucharistic fellowship meal of the early Christians, but this has not been definitely established by modern scholarship.) Civil religion is variously defined but seems to consist in a certain mixture of religious veneration with patriotic sentiments and duties. Such a mixture is traditional in America (obligatory in the Soviet Union). It might seem to be virtually unavoidable as long as human beings face the joint inevitability of death, where they have to deal with God, and taxes, the province of the government. Death duties, called inheritance tax in America, instituted by the government, inevitably involve the state in a religious problem. Perhaps the most sensible thing that can be said about civil religion was an impromptu comment by Will Herberg: “There’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just not the way of salvation, that’s all.”

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It would be overly scrupulous to demand that the President cut himself off altogether from executive precedents of the past. There may, however, be some cause to comment on the content, if not the concept, of house church worship in the White House. A recent ceremony featured the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, at one time the Nixons’ pastor in New York City. Peale spoke on love for all people everywhere, and the idea, of course, was good. But it seems that he misjudged his congregation. It consisted largely of elected or appointed government officials, and certainly no group of people is more consistent in professing love and benevolence for the generality of mankind than government officials. (Perhaps he was indulging in gentle irony.)

The United States is a relatively young nation—Rome existed for seven centuries before settling on an emperor as the regular pontifex maximus. In historical perspective, criticism of presidential religion at this juncture may be premature.


Individual Address

In his review of Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, edited by Carl F. H. Henry (Books in Review, March 15), Stephen Charles Mott goes out of his way to attack an eminent libertarian writer, Edmund A. Opitz, for the latter’s contribution under the heading “Socialism” (pp. 639 f.). Mott appears to be saying that Opitz is not qualified to write an article on socialism simply because he is a “leading Christian defender of capitalism”.… Mott also scores Opitz for “separating socialism from its historic concern for the individual.” As a matter of fact, Opitz does address himself to the place of the individual within a socialist framework, stating that the individual is subordinated to the collective.



Christian Freedom Foundation

Buena Park, Calif.


I must level the strongest protest possible concerning the report of the Abilene Christian College annual Bible lectureship written by Ron Durham (News, “Churches of Christ: Holding the Line,” Mar. 15).… First of all, I object to his calling Churches of Christ “right-wing descendents of the nineteenth-century ‘Restoration Movement’ (a smaller ecumenical wing is the Disciples of Christ).” Such “labels” as “right-wing” are inflammatory in this day. I believe his motives in such terminology to be for the purpose of creating a harmful feeling toward Churches of Christ.…

The “theological concerns” Mr. Durham feels so important, “tongues speaking, the nature of biblical authority, and the role of women,” are not the problems but the symptoms of deeper problems which the lectureship dealt with in such lectures as given by most of the major speakers. Furthermore, those very issues he mentions have been discussed in previous lectureships … for at least two years.…

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His reference to Mission magazine and Mr. Hunter is an obvious plug for a magazine that is going under financially because it is aimed at Churches of Christ, and the brotherhood is not supporting it. His “slanted opinion” is seen in calling Mission “theologically aware” as though it is the only such platform in our “brotherhood.” In reality, Mission is made up of articles written by a minority of such men as Mr. Durham, those who delight in trying to stay “on the fringes” of our “brotherhood”.…

All in all, the whole article is definitely “slanted” to put the Churches of Christ in the worst possible light, and he has done so with great expertise. I deny every implication and innuendo he made, and if you can’t do better reporting than that, just don’t report. Church of Christ


McLean, Va.

Mixing Emotions

It is commendable that CHRISTIANITY TODAY has sought to honor St. Thomas with the article “Thomas Aquinas—An Evangelical Appraisal” by Ronald Nash (March 1). However, the article leaves one with mixed emotions of gratefulness and consternation. Gratefulness, because at least one evangelical scholar has seen the many-faceted dimensions of the thought of the Angelic Doctor and has perhaps become aware of the inherent dangers in interpreting St. Thomas in monolithic terms. Consternation, because Nash has failed to discern between the content which is truly Thomistic and that which results from the historical or doctrinal conditions personally affecting the proponents of such teachings.… Nash equally overstates the case when he identifies Thomas as an empiricist. Although in one sense this is true, in another it is not. For Thomas, sense experience means the apprehension of empirically given facts along with the motions and judgments through which we immediately conceptualize them. Finally, Thomas did more than “tinker” (Professor Nash’s term) with the question of God’s relation to the world. His concept of “analogy of being” which can be pieced together by examination of his major works is superbly summarized by Cajetan in The Analogy of Names (de Nominum Analogia). This is the classical definitive and proper understanding of Thomas’s concept of Analogy.

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Bristol, Conn.

Potential To Actual

What? A thirty-page listing of “Most Significant Books” and not one good Christian motivation selection? (March 1). I’m wondering. Is no one writing them, or is CHRISTIANITY TODAY passing them by? The Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James plus Romans chapter 12 comprise about 3.5 per cent of the written Word (57 out of 1,502 pages in the New English Bible). A similar proportion set aside by today’s Christian for reading in the motivational field will yield lasting benefits.… Our capabilities and talents remain only potential power at best until set free by the proper amount of motivation.


Silver Spring, Md.

A Bad Haw-Haw

Why do you choose to mock one of the signs of the office of the Bishop of Rome (“What If …, March 1)? If this kind of ridicule is in order (and I hold it is not), one could get just as big a haw-haw (albeit from different people) by clothing Peter in a Geneva gown, which is a latecomer on the Christian scene and completely devoid of priestly significance. If you laugh now the laugh may be on you one day when some evangelical ministers discover amice, stole, and chasuble and decide to wear them at communions.… This cartoon is in singularly bad taste. I hope you will apologize for it.


Sherwood, Ore.

Separation From Whom?

From the tenor of the news story (“Americans United: Parting Shots, March 1) I gather that Mr. Kucharsky is in sympathy if not complete agreement with the aims of Americans United For Separation of Church and State. One of the mainstays of this group’s credo apparently continues to be a fear if not hatred of Catholics.… I’m surprised that Mr. Kucharsky does not recognize this primary anti-Catholic bias and call it for what it is. And now Americans United has launched a new group with the peculiar and antithetical acronym PEARL.… When will Mr. Kucharsky and groups like PEARL begin to realize that (1) separation of church and state does not mean separation of the Roman Catholic Church and State; (2) a complete separation of church and state can only lead to an atheistic society and a public school system without a moral base; (3) a complete separation of church and state denies everyone the religious freedom our Constitution ensures.


Executive Secretary District III

National Union of Christian Schools

Lansing, Ill.


My wife and I were among the first three couples to be ousted from Chad.… I have read your news item, “Chad: Banning the Baptists” (Jan. 18). Finding this piece to be incomplete and, to a certain extent misleading, I would like to give you a more accurate picture of what is involved.

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To begin with, Baptist Mid-Missions has nothing but church-related activities. Medical work and schools are but means to the end of establishing Gospel-preaching churches. During the nearly fifty years of work in Chad the message of Baptist Mid-Missions missionaries has remained the same. Over one hundred pastors were trained in our schools, and they were manning many organized churches and preaching points. The policy of both missionaries and African pastors has always been to steer clear of politics and to emphasize a Gospel-preaching ministry.

The “cultural revolution” or the return to the old secret initiation rites, being idolatrous to the extreme, was in direct conflict to the teaching of God’s Word, which condemns idolatry. The cultural “rebirth” of the initiate really amounts to a counterfeit of the New Birth of John 3. In the process of sacrificing to idols he supposedly becomes a new person with a new name and a new language. Any missionary or national pastor willing to compromise his testimony and condoning the government’s insistence upon the old rites would be allowed to continue.…

Those national pastors standing true to God are suffering persecution.… They are being forced to leave their posts and return to the villages where they were born. I believe that “missionaries working elsewhere in the land” who are “apparently unaffected by the action” will either bow to President Ngarta Tombalbaye or also be evicted.


Evans City, Pa.


The caption on the March 15 “What If …” cartoon should have read “Elisha!,” not “Elijah!”

In the December 7 issue, page 56, we incorrectly stated that the enrollment of Free Evangelical Theological Academy of Basel, Switzerland, was eight; the correct figure is seventy-four.

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