Rosario, with a population of about one million (1.6 million in the metropolitan area), is Argentina’s second-largest city. Located 100 miles upstream from Buenos Aires along the Parana River, it has been a center of the terrorist activity and anti-subversive countermeasures that have upset the entire nation: kidnappings, bombings, murder in broad daylight.

The people of Rosario, like those of other urban areas throughout the land, are troubled by other problems, too. The economy is a shambles. Pessimism and apathy are dominant notes throughout society. Family life for many is a disaster zone (as is increasingly the case all over Latin America). The majority of the people profess Catholicism, but practice is something else. As elsewhere in the Latin world, the church is losing the pervasive influence it once had in the private lives of its adherents, and morality is more often than not up for grabs.

Spiritism is a growing phenomenon. More and more professing Catholics and Protestants alike are also practicing spiritists.

A year ago there were fewer than fifty evangelical churches in the city and surrounding countryside. They had a combined membership generously estimated at 4,000. Prodded by missionary Edgar Silvoso, pastors and mission personnel began putting their heads together well over a year ago to see what could be done to get things moving. A strong assist came from church-growth analyst Vergil Gerber of Wheaton, Illinois.

Out of their conferences came plans to sponsor a mass-evangelism crusade led by Argentine-born Luis Palau—but only in conjunction with efforts to establish in advance new churches to care for the new converts (see September 24 issue, page 66). The idea was to establish “house churches” or branch ministries that would take into account Rosario’s various social orders, economic pressures, and cultural idiosyncrasies, and to funnel converts into them accordingly. These new congregations were intended eventually to become full-fledged, reproducing churches themselves. Target areas were selected (high-rise apartments, low-cost housing projects), and an initial goal of seventy-five new congregations was adopted.

“The trouble with most mass-evangelism efforts is we just aren’t prepared for harvest,” explained Silvoso, who was named crusade coordinator.

By the time Palau arrived in October to begin a three-week campaign (the first week was spent capping off mini-crusades led by his associates in three satellite cities), twenty new churches had sprouted up, and twenty-six other congregations were at the house-church level. Additionally, some older but marginal churches were rejuvenated, said Gerber, and there were signs that some of the Bible-study groups organized during the crusade would evolve into churches.

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The fifteen-day Rosario crusade itself got off to a dismal start. Heavy rains forced cancelation of a witness march through the city, and the opening meeting had to be transferred from the 11,000-seat polo stadium in the fairground to an indoor site. Crowds picked up, however, and 10,000 were on hand for the final meeting on November 14.

In all, more than 5,000 persons—many of them men and married couples—signed decision cards. Ninety per cent were first-time professions of faith in Christ, estimated crusade workers. Therefore, theoretically, the evangelical community in the Rosario region more than doubled in less than a month. (A similar number of decisions was recorded at a ten-day Palau crusade in September in Asunción, Paraguay, where attendance averaged between 10,000 and 17,000.)

The decision cards were distributed to more than seventy churches and branch congregations, and pastors had to arrange initial visits to the inquirers within forty-eight hours before they could obtain more cards.

The impact of the campaign extended far beyond those who came to the public meetings. The popular five-minute daily “Luis Palau Responds” radio program, often dealing with family-life topics, had prime-time listener ratings of up to 90 per cent. In the year leading up to the crusade, 22,000 letters requesting literature, prayer, and counsel were received in the Rosario crusade office in response to broadcasts. Half-hour TV programs featuring Palau and a call-in format were aired nightly during the crusade, and these touched multitudes throughout the area, affirmed Baptist minister Ruben Godoy, who headed the crusade’s volunteer counselors. Press coverage was extensive.

Each of the six services during the crusade’s three weekends was broadcast live over a four-state area. Five half-hour telecasts were simultaneously aired in Argentina’s eight major metropolitan areas, reaching potentially 85 per cent of the nation’s 25 million population.

During the crusade, five counseling centers were established in and around Rosario for persons seeking help with personal problems. More than 250 were counseled, and nearly 100 received Christ in these centers, according to crusade spokesmen.

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Palau spoke at social functions downtown, and at a private school where he gave a talk nearly 100 students indicated that they wanted to become followers of Jesus. Follow-up work among these converts is being handled by Campus Crusade for Christ, says a Palau spokesman.

Correspondent William Conard, a Plymouth Brethren missionary visiting from Peru, took a close look at the church-expansion methods used by the Rosario evangelicals. He reports that three basic patterns were used.

In one approach, Nazarene pastor Bruno Radiszewski began discipling men of the church over refreshments in his kitchen. Their discussions ranged from doctrine to homiletics. He then sent them with two other persons to begin neighborhood prayer cells. One of the three wrote the neighbors’ prayer requests in a notebook, another prayed, the third read from Acts. As prayers were answered (and dutifully recorded as such in the notebook), word spread, and others sought to get in on the action. Prayer meetngs were instituted.

Scores of previously unreached people are now baptized members of the church, and others are candidates, reports Conard. Pastor Radziszewski teaches his men weekly, and they carry his lessons to five branches or annexes and eight prayer cells. One annex is regularly attended by fifty men and women, and the others average twenty each. Radziszewski impresses upon his men that they are the pastors of these groups, even to the extent of directing funerals.

Spirit Of 1976

The little Baptist congregation in Lodge, South Carolina, has a name that was a winner during the recent presidential election campaigns: Carter’s Ford Baptist Church.

Baptist pastor Hugo Ramirez represents a second method. He enlisted responsible couples in his church to open their homes for neighborhood Bible studies. Under this plan the couples invite a few friends to informal weekly “Bible encounters,” which they or other trained laypersons direct. There are no songs or opening prayers, and attendance by believers is kept to a minimum.

Eight to ten people meet weekly in the six Bible encounters that have been formed this year. Ramirez assembles encounter leaders every two weeks for discussion and prayer. He helps them prepare their lessons so that a uniform theme is presented. He says he plans to start additional groups soon among converts of the Palau crusade.

The third kind of expansion is more traditional. A pastor encourages some of his mature people to find a location to begin new meetings. Then several families in the congregation join them in establishing an annex or new ministry that is independent from the mother church.

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Church-growth specialists are studying the Rosario experiment. It seems to prove a point—that church planting should be viewed as an essential part of evangelism and not merely as an aftermath.

The Bible Battle In Latin America

They are battling over the Bible in Latin America, but the fight is over notes and illustrations in a particular edition rather than over inerrancy.

At issue is a fat paperback first published in 1972 and officially known as the Pastoral Edition. It was the product of a team headed by a priest, Ramon Ricciardi, in the Roman Catholic diocese of Concepción, Chile, but it has gained notoriety in Argentina since a mass-circulation magazine there called it the work of Marxists. Sales have been booming in recent weeks.

Although the fight has been in the Catholic Church primarily, it was inevitable that when evangelist Luis Palau returned to his native Argentina he was questioned about it by newsmen. In Rosario for a crusade (see preceding story), Palau said some of the edition’s comment disqualified it as a true representation of the biblical message. He cited the notes on such subjects as evolution, syncretism, and inspiration.

Even if evangelicals such as Palau and some Catholic bishops found fault with the book, many Catholics were using it. More than 800,000 copies have been sold. James R. Brockman, associate editor of the North American Jesuit magazine, America, reported after an Argentine visit that it is “widely used for the readings at Mass and in popular missalettes” (seasonal booklets used in worship services). Brockman’s article suggested that one reason for the popularity of the “Latin American Bible” is that “it uses the language of the people of Latin America, which differs from that of Spain at least as much as our English differs from that of Britain.”

Chilean bishops have been the staunchest defenders of the book. Manuel Sanchez, bishop of the diocese where the original work was done, gave it his imprimatur. An endorsement was issued by the national conference of bishops. Cardinal Raul Silva of Santiago worked out a deal with Fidel Castro in 1972 to ship most of the first 20,000 to Cuba.

That first 20,000 contained a picture of a rally in Havana with Communist symbols and slogans visible. Its caption says, “The believer participates in political life and seeks, under any government, a society that gives dignity to all.” While not all subsequent versions contained the Havana picture and caption, enough copies were available elsewhere on the continent to spark criticism. There were also pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the controversial Brazilian bishop, Dom Helder Camara.

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One of the harshest attacks came from the bishop of San Juan, Argentina, Idelfonso Sansierra. He said: “If a person wants to become a man without a country, an atheist, a pervert, and a bloodsucker, he should follow the Marxist intention of the Latin American Bible, which is really a prostituted version of the real Bible.”

While many other bishops were critical of the edition, a majority of the Argentine hierarchy refused at a recent meeting to disown it. They adopted a resolution stating that despite some questionable points, the controversial Bible also contained “many positive aspects.” The photographs of Havana and another of Wall Street, they said, were “improper and inconvenient.” They ordered publication of a supplement to clear up “dubious elements.”

Evangelical Huddle

A much talked about Newsweek cover story in October ended on this sober note: “Just as the nation is at last taking notice of their strength, evangelicals find their house divided. The Presidential election has only exacerbated latent differences in doctrine and social attitudes. As a result, 1976 may yet turn out to be the year that the evangelicals won the White House but lost cohesiveness as a distinct force in American religion and culture.”

Some influential evangelicals feel that good leadership can keep discord from dulling the impact of the Gospel upon modern culture. With that in mind, evangelist Billy Graham and Wheaton College president Hudson T. Armerding have issued a call for a “Christian leadership conference on the future of evangelicalism.” The basic objective, an announcement last month said, will be to unite evangelicals in developing strategy to meet the needs and opportunities facing the church in the next two decades.

“Recent surveys have revealed the majority strength and popular support of the evangelical church in the United States today,” Graham said. “This carries with it a responsibility to examine and speak to the issues confronting our nation.…”

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A steering committee is being named to plan the conference and prepare the invitation list, which will include lay and professional church leaders, and people in government, professions, and business.

Armerding, who is president of the World Evangelical Fellowship and past president of the National Association of Evangelicals, declared that “it is time for informed evangelicals to provide leadership on the social, moral, and spiritual issues facing the United States today. We believe that many evangelicals want to face these issues unitedly and speak to them from the biblical perspective.”

Armerding told CHRISTIANITY TODAY he expected that differences on the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy would be aired at the meeting, as well as issues relating to evangelical political involvement. He voiced the hope, however, that the conferees would concentrate on what can be done to seize cultural initiatives. “Evangelicals have been known for good tactics but poor strategy,” he said. “We need to look forward, not sideward.”


Cocu: Another Starting Point

It has been seventeen years since United Presbyterian leader Eugene Carson Blake stood in Episcopal bishop James Pike’s San Francisco cathedral pulpit to urge the union of major American denominations with diverse doctrines and policies. He thought at the time that merger might be achieved within ten years. It may now be ten more years before churches are asked to vote for a merger plan.

The possibility of constitutional action seemed that far away last month to some observers of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) plenary meeting in Dayton, Ohio. Representatives of the nine member denominations (joined during the sessions by a tenth group) could agree to identify a theological document only as an “emerging consensus” rather than as a part of the proposed plan of union. The seven-chapter, sixty-six-page report from an eighteen-member commission was supposed to have been the “common theological basis” of COCU. It has been sent to the member bodies for study and response.

The chief architect of the doctrinal document and chairman of the commission was John Deschner, professor of theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He described the product at Dayton as a “movable, changeable starting point” that COCU denominations can use “to work with other churches to create a revised plan of union.”

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He also suggested the report might be viewed as a trial balloon, asking delegates to “invite the churches to consider it officially and decide whether they are willing to gather around it.”

One of the seven chapters was so troublesome, however, that the delegates were not even willing to call it their consensus. The section on “ministry” drew so much fire that the delegates voted to send it to the denominations without a stamp of approval. Member churches were asked to give it special attention and to return suggested amendments by next November. The chapter was criticized by delegates from some denominations that do not have bishops. They were concerned that it not be read as a constitutional definition of ministerial arrangements.

The “ministry” chapter proposed three ordained ministries: deacons, presbyters (pastors), and bishops. Even through the office of bishop has been proposed within COCU since the first Blake proposal, it still generated the most debate at the Dayton meeting. The Deschner report describes bishops as “teachers of the apostolic faith … pastoral overseers … leaders in mission … responsible, in cooperation with other members … for the orderly transfer of authority in the ordained ministry … administrative leaders … servants of unity.”

Delegates defeated a motion that would have sent the “ministry” chapter back to the drafters for a clarification of its constitutional and theological aspects. They also turned down a suggestion that the whole chapter be dropped from the doctrinal paper.

While there was disagreement on the offices to be established in the proposed church, the delegates found consensus on a variety of other matters. The Bible is described in the document as “the unique and normative authority … the supreme rule of the church’s life, worship, teaching, and witness.” Then Tradition (spelled with a capital T) is outlined as “the process … by which the very reality of Christ is reflected, known, and handed on” from one generation to another.

“In the church,” says the paper, “Scripture and Tradition belong together.… Neither the New Testament canon nor the Old Testament canon is separate from, or opposed to, Christian Tradition.…”

The report proposes that the united body “value and esteem” all the formal confessional documents of the uniting denominations but that it not be bound by any one of them. It suggests use of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as “acts of praise and allegiance to the Triune God” and as ties to the church in other ages and other places.

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On the sacraments, the paper speaks of the “central importance” of baptism and communion but also of respect for “different views as to whether there are other ordinances which merit to be called sacraments in the strict sense.…” The Lord’s Supper is called “the heart of the church’s worship.”

Appended to the theological document at Dayton was a series of “alerts” which said that the future of Christian unity in the United States is threatened by racism, sexism, bureaucratic institutionalism, and exclusiveness in local congregations.

Doing its bit to eliminate sexism, the COCU plenary session named its first woman president. Rachel Henderlite, retired Southern Presbyterian Christian-education specialist, is, in fact, COCU’s first president since the top elected officer’s former title was chairman. She is a veteran of ecumenical educational work and was chief architect of the Covenant Life Curriculum produced by her denomination in cooperation with several others. Immediately before her retirement she taught at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas. She was the first ordained woman in her church.

In another business matter delegates voted to admit as the tenth participant in the talks the National Council of Community Churches, a body of some 185 congregations and 125,000 members. Some of those congregations are already represented in COCU through dual denominational affiliation. The community-churches body is also applying for membership in the National Council of Churches. It is the smallest of the ten groups in COCU.

Terror at 8 P.M.

There will be more violence and more sexual themes in television programming during the early evening hours, according to TV industry people in the aftermath of a federal court ruling last month in Los Angeles. Judge Warren J. Ferguson in a 223-page opinion ruled that the thirteen-month-old “family hour” agreement of the TV networks is illegal because it violates constitutional rights of free speech (of writers, producers, and actors). The family-hour agreement is aimed at keeping the 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. period as free as possible from programs depicting violence and sexual activity.

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Ferguson ruled that the family-hour policy was reached mainly because of pressure and threats of regulatory action from Chairman Richard E. Wiley of the Federal Communications Commission, and that his intervention amounted to federal censorship—charges denied by Wiley. The judge also said that the review board set up by the National Association of Broadcasters to police the industry’s television code could not be allowed to censor TV programs. He did say that each network has the right to decide its own policy and control its own programming. CBS and ABC issued statements saying their programming would remain unchanged, and NBC said it was studying the ruling. Industry sources, however, say it is only a matter of time before they cave in.

Among those leading the battle against the family-hour concept was producer Norman Lear (“All in the Family” and “Maude”), for whom the way is now clear to sue for loss of income as a result of the illegal programming restraints.

Wiley has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether an appeal is in order.


It happened on an Interstate highway near Indianapolis. He (“Stanley Steamer” Palmer) was in the cab of a big tractor-trailer rig, she (“Little Lulu” Ray) was in her pickup, and the judge (Floyd “Marryin’ Sam” Smith) was tooling along in his Continental. As the National Observer tells it, the judge led the couple in an exchange of wedding vows over CB radio. Instead of saying “I do” the couple said “10–4,” and the judge didn’t declare them husband and wife; he said, “Put the hammer down.” Twenty or so CB listeners who heard the ceremony and formed a convoy behind the newlyweds were invited to a reception at a truck stop.

Because Palmer’s parents weren’t able to attend the ceremony, the couple planned to have another one at home in Arkansas—in a church, with a minister.

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