With the number of single people rising rapidly (since 1960 one-person households have nearly doubled in the United States, from 6.9 million to 13.9 million), churches should be reevaluating their programs for single adults. If someone wanted to start a singles ministry, where would he or she find resource material? Certainly not in a church library. Probably not in a general library. And writing to a magazine like CHRISTIANITY TODAY for information wouldn’t really help, either. Our book editor has shelf after shelf of material on marriage—pre, post, and intra. But books on being and staying single are scarce. If one does find a book on singleness, its purpose is likely to be to advise women how to hitch a husband.
A couple of books on marriage do include chapters on unmarried persons. John and Letha Scanzoni’s new textbook Men, Women, and Change (McGraw-Hill) has a chapter on marriage alternatives that refreshingly points out the positive aspects of remaining unmarried. Creating a Successful Christian Marriage (Baker) also devotes a chapter to the single life. Its author acknowledges that churches have been ignoring their single members but refers readers to a book on singles ministries that is nearly ten years old. Given our quickly changing society and the steady rise in the number of people choosing to remain single, can a book that old still be pertinent?
Some Christian magazines are now giving space to singleness. Since 1972 His magazine has run at least one article a year on being single. Faith at Work magazine devoted its October, 1974, issue to singles. Two issues ago CHRISTIANITY TODAY printed a long overdue editorial entitled “Celebrate Singleness—Marriage Might Be Second Best” (which, incidentally, was quoted on CBS radio and in the Washington Post). But the recognition that single people are not abnormal has not yet seeped through the walls of the average local church.
The “college and career” group provides a convenient answer for some churches. Anyone who has been both a college student and a career person knows, however, that about the only thing those two groups have in common is their initial letter. Any church that wants to serve single adults ought first to undo that euphonious combination.
Perhaps most churches should stop thinking in terms of “singles ministries.” The concluding rationale for them usually reads something like this: “After all, your single adults can find Christian husbands and wives through your programs.” A singles program should not become primarily a dating bureau; that offends those who have no interest in marriage and makes open friendship between the sexes strained and difficult. Isolating people into homogeneous groups—whether single or married—may be the easy but not necessarily the best way. Everyone needs contact with persons unlike himself. Married people with children should know couples who have none. And single people need married friends.
One way to minister to single people is to bring them into the life of the church by encouraging them to serve. Make a list of them by name and profession. Match professions and persons with congregational needs. Don’t be content with the traditional they-can-teach-Sunday-school approach (though that should not be ignored). Find out the other interests of your single adults. Perhaps a single person could lead a class in cooking, gardening, car repair, or furniture refinishing. Too many Christians don’t know how simply to enjoy one another under the grace of God. A single person with few family ties could lead the way. At the same time, one must guard against taking advantage of a single person because he has no family responsibilities.
Do you have someone in your congregation who speaks another language? Ask him to start a class using the Bible as the textbook. Familiar passages can take on new life when read in another language. Or he could broaden your church’s outreach by teaching a Sunday-school class for a non-English-speaking part of your community (most cities have Spanish communities, at least).
The possibilities for creative, interesting, and well-rounded programs are numerous when a congregation fully explores the persons God has given it. Discover your own.
Consulting Those Who Know
Religious liberty will be the topic next month when the World Council of Churches holds a special consultation. Attention will be focused on Eastern Europe and the status of believers there.
The consultation is a product of the concern expressed at the WCC assembly in Nairobi last year. That body specifically asked the general secretary, Philip Potter, to confer with the member denominations and to make a preliminary report at the August, 1976, meeting of the WCC’s Central Committee. The assembly’s insistence on “intensive consultations” was only one part of a much debated and much amended resolution. As originally approved before it was sidetracked by a parliamentary tangel, the document was an outright WCC condemnation of Communist mistreatment of Christians. The final compromise version put the assembly in the position of only suggesting concern and study. Some observers thought, however, that in this statement the WCC went further than it has ever gone before in pointing up the discrimination behind the Iron Curtain. Delegates who wanted a stronger stand against repression insisted on a deadline for WCC reporting.
Potter sent a list of questions to all member churches in the countries that signed the 1975 Helsinki Agreement on Security and Cooperation. The answers, he said, will provide “major input” for the consultation. The key question is, “Can you identify practices in your society which may contradict the spirit or the letter of the Helsinki Declaration?” The meeting could be very productive if churchmen from behind the Iron Curtain tell what they really know. But if they answer the letter the way they answer reporters, as is likely, little will be learned.
If he cannot get good information on religious liberty from church bureaucrats, Potter might turn to other sources. He could go, for instance, to the eight members of the Norwegian parliament who have been awaiting Soviet visas since February. In their applications they named religious leaders they wanted to visit. Or he could check with the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who made the mistake of airing an Alexander Solzhenitsyn interview just before he was to fly to Moscow. He was denied permission to visit. These respected European leaders have learned hard lessons about the free flow of people and ideas—something the Helsinki Agreement was supposed to promote.
E. S. James: A Conscience Gone
For twelve years E. S. James wielded a powerful pen in Texas as the editor of the Baptist Standard. When he retired in 1966, the Standard had a circulation of 368,000 and was the largest publication in the state. Much more important was the fact that it was avidly read and respected even beyond the Texas boundaries. In reporting the death of James on April 26, Religious News Service noted that he had often been spoken of as “the conscience of Southern Baptists.”
James staunchly opposed those who doubted that the Bible was the inspired Word of God. He strongly supported the separation of church and state. He played a pivotal role in the 1960 presidential election campaign when he expressed kind words about John F. Kennedy, whose nomination had aroused considerable anxiety among Protestants.
Good Vibes, In Wichita And Elsewhere
The Guatemalan earthquake has caused some good vibrations outside the country. The Eastminster United Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas, whose pastors are Frank Kik and James Tony, is an illustration. Instead of going forward with a half-million-dollar addition to its church plant, the Eastminster congregation voted to scale the project down to $180,000. Then the people agreed to give $120,000 (and they had to borrow some money to do it) to help their distressed brethren in Guatemala. The money will help rebuild twenty-six Presbyterian churches and twenty-eight pastors’ homes that were destroyed or damaged by the earthquake. This will enable churches and pastors to continue to minister to the spiritual and human needs of suffering thousands.
Many other churches, agencies, and individuals have responded in similar ways. We mention the Eastminster action as an example of what one congregation can do, in the hope that it will stir the imagination of hundreds of other congregations and Christians to help not only in Guatemala but in other needy areas of the world as well. By doing with less at home, all of us can better help other Christians around the world—and “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Should America Postpone Prayer?
Friday, May 14: was it a special day in America? Was it noticeably different from the day before?
It was the official National Day of Prayer for 1976, proclaimed by the President, in conformity with a request from Congress.
But did anyone pray?
“I call upon all Americans to pray that day,” said the presidential proclamation, “each in his or her own way, for the strength to meet the challenges of the future with the same courage and dedication Americans showed the world two centuries ago.” The document noted that May 16, 1776, was a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in the colonies and that the Continental Congress had asked each colony “publicly to acknowledge the overruling Providence of God.”
The United States is one of the few countries where the chief executive officially asks the citizens to bow before God. What other top national legislative body asks its chief executive to do so? Americans should be grateful that after 200 years of stresses and strains this is still possible.
But did anyone pray?
It seemed to be “business as usual” everywhere in the nation. Candidates were hard at work on the campaign trail. Few churches held a special service. School had no prayer. Families that pray regularly seemed not to spend any extra time at it.
By coincidence or providence, the President chose a day that had already been set aside for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Baltimore, Maryland. So although no Christians took any major initiatives for a corporate observance in Washington, D. C., more than a thousand people did gather for intercession less than fifty miles away. They met both for breakfast and for lunch. The event was the fifth annual extension of a weekly breakfast prayer meeting that is held in a downtown hotel and is heard live by many thousands via a Christian radio station.
Did most people know it was the National Day of Prayer? Maybe not. The secular media did little to inform them. The proclamation came too late for most religious journals (many of which are monthlies, with deadlines long before issue date) to promote it. Denominational offices apparently put out no special communications to encourage the observance.
But many religious people did know, and few, apparently, did anything about it. Do we no longer believe in the power of prayer? Are we afraid of being branded fanatics if we bow before God? Has the great hue and cry about “civil religion” neutralized all efforts at anything spiritual on a national level.
As they say in baseball, maybe next year. Those concerned about the spiritual state of the nation should start praying now for the first National Day of Prayer in the nation’s third century. If there is to be a great outpouring of prayer then, responsible officials from the parish house to the White House must be moved to cooperate and take timely action to encourage it.
Up The Coverage Before The Storm
In looking over the church records, pastor Eugene Irby of the Old Austin Baptist Church in Cabot, Arkansas, spotted a glaring need for more insurance on the church’s buildings. The congregation took his advice and updated the policies. About a month later a tornado virtually leveled the entire town. Five persons were killed. At Old Austin, the sanctuary was severely damaged and the education building was destroyed. They were covered for 90 per cent of replacement value. Before the updating of the insurance, the sanctuary had been covered for 50 per cent of replacement value and the education building hadn’t been covered at all.
Values and construction costs have risen sharply over the past few years, but many churches have neglected to keep their coverage current. Old Austin’s experience may be taken as a word to the wise.
Seven Ways To Love
Christians know that love is important. Our Lord specifically commanded us to love one another just as he had loved us and added, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). We readily say we love one another, but do we show it? Can those who do not know Christ see something different about us? Alas, often the difference they see is that Christians seem inordinately given to feuding.
What does it mean, specifically, to love someone? To focus on just one short passage of Scripture: consider the seven manifestations of love that Paul presents in chapter four of Ephesians, a passage summed up at the beginning of chapter five with the exhortation to “be imitators of God … and walk in love, as Christ loved us.”
First, to love means to walk “with all lowliness and meekness” (4:2a), which is probably the same idea as being “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Arrogance, haughtiness, and pride are ruled out, not only in our dealings with almighty God but also in our relationships with one another.
Second, we are to be patient and forbearing with one another (4:2b); that is, we are to “be kind …, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]” (4:32). All of us give others many opportunities to lose patience; how much more reason God has to be impatient and unforgiving.
Third, Paul tells us that love is to be concerned with conveying sound doctrine, “speaking the truth in love” (4:15a) “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro … with every wind of doctrine …” (4:14).
Fourth, love requires honest speech: “putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor” (4:25).
Fifth, perhaps surprisingly, love calls for what might be called honest anger, that is, the anger that is justified but is not turned into a grudge (“do not let the sun go down on your anger,” 4:26). This is amplified by the admonition to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander.… with all malice” (4:31).
Sixth, there is to be honest labor, not the kind of effort required to steal but its opposite, the kind that brings remuneration not only so we can meet our own needs but also so we are “able to give to those in need” (4:28).
Seventh, love shows itself by helpful speech, a necessary corollary to honest speech. Instead of filthy or silly talk (5:4), there is to be “only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (4:29).
These seven ways of demonstrating love present a large challenge, one we could not meet by ourselves. But Paul preceded this passage with a confident prayer reminding us of God’s will and power to enable us to love: “that.… he may grant you to be strengthened with might …, grounded in love” (3:16, 17). Indeed, God. “by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
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