In the 1920s, Ralph Norton, founder of the Belgian Gospel Mission, said that if revival came to the churches of Belgium, those churches could be instrumental in reaching much of the world with the Gospel. His wish is yet to come true. But the signs are there. (Belgium, a country of 10 million people, ethnically and linguistically comprises Flemings, most of whom live in the northwest and speak a language similar to Dutch, and Walloons, French-speakers from the southeast.)

On New Year’s Day the United Protestant Church of Belgium (UPCB) was formed. “This United Church is not a federation, but a new church,” explained Wilfred Hoyois, one of its two vice-presidents. “It is a uniting together of two [Walloon] churches, the Protestant Church of Belgium and the Reformed Church of Belgium, and the Flemish Reformed Church.” Their combined total membership of about 40,000 represents just over half of the Protestants in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The first of these churches was itself a result of the union in 1969 of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Belgium and the Belgian Methodist Church. (The denomination formed from Belgian Gospel Mission-founded churches and Pentecostal and Brethren groups are among the Protestants who elected to remain outside of the UPCB.)

The UPCB is not a state church, as is the Anglican Church in England; nevertheless, official government recognition is only accorded to local Protestant churches and leaders that are nominated by the UPCB. Government recognition means that the government pays the pastor a stipend. Protestant teachers of religion in Belgian schools, formerly nominated by the Protestant Church of Belgium, must now be nominated by the UPCB. (The government also recognizes the Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic communities.)

The formation of the UPCB church was not without problems. André Pieters, president of the UPCB says, “For the Protestant Church of Belgium there were two problems: theological—the need for a declaration of faith—and practical—representation of the local churches in the national synods.”

The problem of representation was resolved by a Presbyterian arrangement. The local churches have sessions from which representatives are sent to the district assemblies; from these, delegates are sent to the national assembly.

The declaration of faith follows the historic confessions: “The United Protestant Church of Belgium has as its mission to glorify God and to confess its head Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of the World.” After quoting John 3:16, writers of the declaration continue: “In the fellowship of the Church universal, it recognizes its heritage from those who have confessed their faith in the Ecumenical Symbols, the Confession of Augsburg, the Confession Belgica, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Twenty-five Articles of Religion. It submits to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which it receives by the Holy Spirit as the Word of God, and as the supreme rule of its faith and conduct.”

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Will the UPCB make an evangelistic impact on Belgium? Paul Vandenbroeck, pastor of a UPCB congregation in Brussels, explains, “Under the new arrangement, the Evangelism Commission was dissolved. The UPCB is leaving it up to each local church to evangelize in its own way. National efforts of evangelism, such as the Billy Graham Crusade of 1975, have been an almost total failure.”

One reason for forming the UPCB, say spokesmen, was to bear a common witness to Christ as Saviour and Lord. But, according to Vandenbroeck, the inaugural sermon of the United Church, delivered in November, failed to make this clear. He said that preacher Mark Linders of the Ecumenical Institute in Brussels thinks that people are saved by natural beauty and that Christians should listen to poets, musicians, and artists, and become involved in struggles against pollution, poverty, racism, and injustice. “Many people were very upset by this parody of the Gospel,” said Vandenbroeck, adding that protests are being launched by his congregation.

Despite what the evangelical element in the UPCB considers a weak start, there are encouraging developments on the wider church scene, for example, an increase in the number of students in the theological and Bible schools.

In 1969 the Belgian Bible Institute (begun by the Belgian Gospel Mission but transferred to Greater Europe Mission sponsorship in 1972) had 22 students. In 1975 the school moved to Haverlee (just west of Brussels) into an ex-Jesuit seminary that can house 500. Now the enrollment is 164, and the extension program of the school has grown from 17 students in 1972 to 55. More significant is the increasing number of Belgians in a largely Dutch student body. Ten years ago Belgians numbered only six; today there are forty-four.

Teachers sense a new spirit among the 145 students at the Theological Faculty of Brussels. Faculty rector Hugh Boudin says, “After the 1968 student revolt that began in Paris and spread to many other campuses, there was a tendency away from the parish ministry—almost an anti-church sentiment. Now the trend has turned in the opposite direction.”

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Continental Bible College, a Pentecostal school, for its first ten years had rented facilities. Then last fall school officials bought an abandoned building, Château Rattendael. In February there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for a new chapel. College director Bill Williams says that the aim of the college “is to become a European school, with European staff, supported by Europeans.” Belgian support has been increasing for the college, which now has sixty students from eighteen countries, says Williams.

One of the most active student ministry groups is Operation Mobilization (OM). Since 1973 OM has been presenting the Gospel at Roman Catholic schools during their hour of religious instruction. Team member Hank De Figter says, “Some pupils from these schools are now in the university here at Louvain and have joined our Bible study group.”

OM is also working with students at universities in Louvain-la-Neuve, Namur, and Ghent. And it cooperates closely with Inter-Varsity and with University Action (a Pentecostal group). Last October these groups cosponsored a concert given by Dutch artists Elly and Rikkert Zuiderveld; 1,200 people attended the concert. (In 1974 a Campus Crusade concert, also sponsored by OM, drew less than 400.) Along with sponsoring concerts, book tables, and Bible study groups, OM encourages Christian students to take and evangelize non-Christian roommates.

This increased openness among students has been boosted by the Catholic charismatic movement. Priests and nuns frequent the bookshop of University Action in Louvain. Says Gaap Kircher, the store manager, “They come and talk about their relationship to God. So I’m not only ministering to them, but they to me. I’m not convinced that they all know Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord, but they are open and friendly.”

The work of these groups has received some criticism. Alistair Scougal, a Presbyterian missionary working with the UPCB as a chaplain on the Louvain-la-Neuve campus, says, “Some of these groups are there [at Louvain-la-Neuve] to preach at, rather than work with, Catholics. They will admit that there are Christians among them. But they will not associate with a church that, officially, from their viewpoint, is recognized as the whore in the Book of Revelation. Furthermore, most of these groups show no concern for the social well-being of the students. The only person on campus whom I see caring for the whole student is the Catholic priest.”

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Last November the Committee for Evangelistic Outreach, together with Teen Challenge, had three showings in Brussels of the film The Cross and the Switchblade. Attendance increased from 500 the first night to more than 1,000 the third night. On the night following the final showing, Belgian evangelist Ferdinand Legrand spoke in the same hall, but attendance was very low. Don Smeeton, a pioneer worker with Teen Challenge in Belgium, commented, “In a Catholic country, people will come to see a film in a neutral hall, but when you announce that an evangelist is coming, they aren’t interested.”

Teen Challenge, itself, continues to minister effectively among drug addicts and other troubled youth in Belgium. Dominique Oulin, Continental Bible College graduate, directs the program.

The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International established its European headquarters in Brussels in 1975. On Tuesday evenings it conducts Bible studies that are attended by both Protestants and Catholics. But the group has been unable, as yet, to form a chapter. Ed Urban, a Full Gospel staff worker, said that Belgium is the most difficult place in which the group has tried to work. Staff members hope to start a chapter during 1979. Nancy Pond, another staff worker, says, “Until now we have only been able to lay the groundwork.”

New churches are still being formed. The Brethren have established six churches in as many years in Flanders. Also, the Belgian Evangelical Mission (formerly the Belgian Gospel Mission) with the help of OM, is making progress in starting churches. In 1976–77 an OM team went to the town of Moerbeke in Flanders and did much of the pioneer work that resulted in a new local church. The experience was repeated in Lokeren, and now the team is aiming at Namur (on the Walloon side).

The Rabbi’s Tactics: Are They Kosher?

The great “kosher war” being waged in Jerusalem hotels is escalating. Until early last year, rabbis in Israel had a means (in the words of the Jerusalem Post) of “mediating between the imperatives of Talmudic law and the exigencies of modern living.” That is, they insisted that hotels that wanted rabbinic approval strictly observe the dietary laws. However, they did not require all other Sabbath laws kept for the kitchen to be considered kosher.

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The kosher laws, as administered by chief rabbi Shlomo Goren, had been stringent enough. Meat and milk foods and their respective dishes and utensils were strictly separated. On the Sabbath, no food was cooked.

But early this year supervision of the dietary laws in Jerusalem was wrested from Goren by the Jerusalem rabbinate. Jerusalem chief rabbi Bezalal Zolti took charge and cracked down on the Jerusalem Hilton. Charging that unbled meat was found in the kitchen, he revoked its kosher license. Before the hotel could get its license back, management had to agree that all shops, as well as the laundry, would remain closed on the Sabbath, that foreign-made wines would not be on the menu, and that Christmas parties would no longer be held.

That was round one. In round two, Zolti revoked the hotel’s kosher license a second time, saying it still employed Jews on the Sabbath. Angry exchanges followed. “Where could we find a complete new staff just for Friday night and Saturday?” fumed an official of a major hotel. Orthodox Jews watched each development intently, but the larger population of secular Jews found the row amusing.

Many Jerusalem hotels began displaying a specially printed certificate from the Jerusalem Hotel Association attesting to their observance of the dietary laws. This followed Zolti’s withdrawal of official approval from all Jerusalem hotels, except the Plaza and a handful of smaller ones. Zolti also threatened to place advertisements in the Jewish press “around the world,” urging tourists to stay away from hotels that lack his certificate. (Less than half of Israel’s tourists are Jewish, but many visiting Jews become more observant of ceremonial law when they arrive in the holy city.) In late November, a second five-star hotel, the Ramada Shalom, capitulated and signed Zolti’s seventeen-point agreement to again qualify for the kosher license.

For the hotels, hiring non-Jews for the Sabbath means hiring Arabs. A Post editorial noted that as late as the 1930s in Tel Aviv, Arabs were brought from Jaffa to sweep the streets on the Sabbath. That practice, it asserted, was discontinued as “the very antithesis of Zionism,” Referring to hotel staffs as well as sweepers, it concluded, “Unless a modern Jewish society can keep itself going under its own steam, it cannot survive.”

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Prime Prominence For a Protestant

Last month Japan got its first Christian prime minister. Masayoshi Ohira, 68, is one of only a few Christian members in the Diet (Japanese parliament) in a country having a population that is less than 2 per cent Christian.

The son of a middle-class farmer, Ohira became interested in the Christian faith during his high school years and after his father’s death. He was baptized while a student at the Tokyo College of Commerce, and for a time he preached the Gospel on street corners. He is also a teetotaler—a rarity among Japanese, saki-drinking politicians. Ohira began his career as a civil servant in the Finance Ministry in 1936. Although critical of Japanese militarism, he remained there through World War II. During this period he was instructed by the well-known Christian leader, Toyohiko Kagawa.

Ohira went into politics in the early 1950s, and won his first cabinet post in 1960. An architect of consensus rather than confrontation, he has maintained political alliances with colleagues charged in alleged scandals, while retaining a spotless image. His humility, which contrasted to what was branded an authoritarian style in his predecessor and election opponent Takeo Fukuda, plus a calculated late campaign blitz, which concentrated on local issues, were credited for Ohira’s upset victory.

The Prime Minister does not conceal his faith. In 1968 he attended the Billy Graham Tokyo Crusade meetings and brought friends. During Pat Boone’s Gospel Concert tour of Japan in 1977, Ohira met privately with Boone for almost thirty minutes.


Yes, Comrades, Religion Is Real

A member of a Chinese news team that recently spent three weeks in the United States gave prominent mention to the place of Christianity in American society. Wang Jo-shui’s three articles formed part of a larger series in the People’s Daily, official organ of the Chinese Communist Party. The series spread the newsmen’s impressions of America across all of China, preparing its people for the decision to establish diplomatic relations.

In his discussion of religion in American society, Wang did not condemn Christianity, even though the Marxist view is that “religion is the opiate of the people”—a view supported by the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung and long a part of state policy.

Wang wrote, “Christianity occupies a dominant place in the United States. Very few Chinese believe in religion and so it is too easy for us to overlook the function performed by religion in other countries.

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“There was a Bible in every hotel room. When we visited the White House, we saw two books on the desk of the American president. One was a Bible. The Bible is America’s best-selling book, selling about 8.5 million copies per year.”

Wang added that religion is not a crime. He wrote, “As Voltaire said, ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.’ ”

Publication in the party organ seems to indicate party satisfaction with Wang’s reportorial observations. At least, there has been no repudiation or censuring of Wang’s comments since the articles appeared.


An Easy Mark For Marxists?

A mixture of political amateurism and idealism made church leaders too reciptive to Marxist propaganda with its support of Third World revolutionary movements, said a prominent Anglican over the BBC. “The result,” he continued, “is to place Christianity among the leading influences making for the demoralization of received Western values throughout the world.” Edward Norman, dean of Peterhouse (the oldest college in Cambridge), was broadcasting nationwide the second of his BBC Reith lectures last November. Christian leaders, he claimed, with their humanitarian ideals were liable to “make a simple, and generally innocent, confusion of Christian love of neighbor with the most hardline Marxist devices to engineer radical social change.”

Norman went on to contrast the 1973 military coup in Chile with the greater ferocity and bloodshed involved in the Socialist regimes of South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Angola, and Afghanistan—but said that it is Chile that continues to be condemned by the churches. After commending the restraint of the Roman Catholic Church, Norman found it “difficult to view dispassionately” the World Council of Churches’s insistence that grants are made for only humanitarian purposes when it is clear that money thus spent on medical supplies can go for the purchase of armaments. “In such a situation,” concluded Norman, “it is a species of dishonesty to hide behind a technicality of supporting revolutionary change.”


Officials In Bind As Cult Presses Suits

Since 1968 British immigration authorities have denied entry to American L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, at the instigation of the Ministry of Health, which described Scientology as a “socially harmful pseudo-philosophical cult.” The ban resulted from criticism of the effect on the families of members. Scientologists from other countries reportedly have had their credentials carefully scrutinized before being allowed to make even a private visit to Britain.

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Scientologists responded by suing the government department for libel, and have since taken similar action against the (London) Metropolitan Police Commissioner (accusing him of supplying information through Interpol to the German police) and the Manpower Services Commission (for reportedly discriminating against Scientology).

Although the government strongly refutes the charges, it is evidently disconcerted by the time and expense involved in the court actions, and currently is said to be on the point of lifting the ban against Hubbard in return for withdrawal of the suits.

The cult, which has its international headquarters not far from London, claims a worldwide membership of more than 5 million, of which 236,000 are claimed for the United Kingdom. This figure equals the number of Baptists in the whole of the British Isles, including Ireland.


World Scene

Roman Catholic prelates in Peru say they support religious liberty, but have called on the Constitutional Assembly to preserve a special relationship between the state and their church in the new constitution currently being drafted (see the December 1 issue, page 52). A statement issued by the secretariat of the National Conference of Peruvian Catholic Bishops asks for the following clause: “Keeping in mind the beliefs of the national majority, the State extends to the Catholic Church the cooperation which corresponds to its special situation, for best serving the community.”

During a five-day Luis Palau crusade in Acapulco, Mexico, last month, 2,266 public decisions to receive Christ were recorded. Acapulco had only 2,000 evangelical church members prior to the meetings, which were billed as a “Family Festival.” Alarmed by the news from Guyana, immigration officials arrived from Mexico City four days before the start of the meetings to investigate. However, they concluded the crusade could do “nothing but good” in this playground resort city, according to team officials.

Radio Station HCJB of Quito, Ecuador, plans to put the world’s first “steerable” antenna into service in 1979. It will take up the space of two football fields, use eighteen miles of wire and six miles of steel cable, and be suspended from a 416-foot support tower. A new engineering concept, the antenna resembles a giant web spun in the shape of a concert band shell. Together with a new 500,000-watt transmitter, nearing completion, the antenna can focus potent radio signals within a narrow listening area, such as Eastern Europe.

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It was an early Christmas at Hospital Vozandes in Quito, Ecuador. The HCJB radio station-related hospital recently received ten container vans of hospital equipment from the Sunday school class of the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. Learning that Aiken (Georgia) County Hospital would sell and move, the class raised $80,000 to purchase hospital items being sold. In a similar event a year earlier, a hospital in Gastonia, North Carolina, went out of business, and two alert orthopedic surgeons asked for the hospital furnishings as a gift. The hospital board granted the request, and the makings of a 150-bed hospital were shipped to the new WorldTeam hospital at Bonne Fin, Haiti.

Evangelical churches of Brazil now send 145 missionaries to sixteen other nations under twenty-five agencies. Another 115 missionaries serve within Brazil using languages other than Portuguese, according to statistics gathered at a recent cross-cultural missions conclave held near Rio de Janeiro.

Spaniards approved a new constitution last month that, among other things, separates church and state. The Roman Catholic Church no longer enjoys an official status. The action came approximately 500 years after the first tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition was set up in Seville in 1478.

The number of ordinations of Roman Catholic priests in France took a dramatic plunge from 1,649 in 1947 to 99 in 1977. Catholic sources estimate that there will be only 9,000 French priests under age 65 by 1985; there were 34,000 as recently as 1965.

The Waldensian and Methodist churches in Italy have completed a process of integration begun in the late 1940s. The two denominations have federated under a common synodal assembly, and will hold their first joint synod this year.

Its construction begun seventy-four years ago, Liverpool Cathedral—the red sandstone structure that now is the world’s largest Anglican cathedral—was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth in late October. A week later, she also officiated at the rededication of Wesley’s Chapel in London. The observance for the mother church of Methodism took place on the 200th anniversary of John Wesley’s first sermon in the historic chapel, and followed three years of restoration.

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Czechoslovakian authorities are exerting new pressure on candidates for the Protestant ministry who want to enter Slovakian Theological Seminary in Pressburg. Of sixty-eight church-approved candidates this academic year, only thirty were allowed to matriculate by the national police, despite the fact, that many parishes lack pastors. Applicants are requested by state police to file reports on teachers and fellow students.

A leader of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren has been sentenced to eight months imprisonment. Jan Simsa, a pastor of the Presbyterian-related denomination, is charged with shoving and slapping a member of the Czechoslovakian secret police. The agent had been attempting to snatch a private letter from Simsa’s wife. The letter was written by Jan Patocka, a leader of the Charter 77 human rights movement, who died in March, 1977, after interrogation.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church plans to construct a short-wave radio station in Liberia next year. And the Lutheran World Federation and the World Association for Christian Communication are focusing on Sierra Leone as a possible site for a successor to Radio Voice of the Gospel, which was nationalized by the Ethiopian government in March, 1977.

The administrative head of the Lutheran denomination in Ethiopia was released after being held in detention for more than three weeks.

The Voice of Kenya, a government-owned radio and television complex, has increased its free time for religious broadcasters from twenty-two to thirty hours per week. Its religious programming allotment already was the most generous of any government-run facility in the world. After the death of President Jomo Kenyatta last August 22 most air time for a month was devoted to special religious programming and Christian music in English and Swahili.

Police entered a house meeting of Christians in Baghdad, Iraq, in November and arrested all sixty adults and young people present. According to an Iraqi believer who recently left the country, those jailed included the Bible Society store manager, his two daughters, a few expatriates—who, with the others, are the only known Arabic-speaking believers in the city.

A recent series of conferences at the University of Singapore underscored growing evangelical vigor and cooperation in Asia. Ben Wati of India led 280 participants in the ten-day Asian Leadership Conference on Evangelism. Following that, Bong Ro, a Korean, led a theological consultation under the auspices of the Asian Theological Association, with ninety theologians participating; it was conducted at the same time as a first-ever Pan-Asia Christian Education Seminar, with 110 Christian educators participating.

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Exceptional response caused Southern Baptist pastors in Hong Kong to extend their four-day evangelistic crusade three additional days. More than 2,500 decisions were recorded in response to the preaching of John R. Bisagno, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Houston.

A flood of Vietnamese “boat people” and other Southeast Asian refugees has swamped not only boats but the facilities of neighboring non-Communist countries and more distant host countries. Evangelical relief agencies are playing a prominent role in providing assistance. World Vision International president Stanley Mooneyham recently asked President Carter to airlift refugees arriving in Malaysia to unused American military bases.

South Korean authorities again cracked down on Protestant clergy who have championed human rights during the regime of President Park Chung Hee. During November, Hyung Kyu Park, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Seoul, was sentenced to five years in prison. Another Presbyterian clergyman was sentenced to three years, and a Methodist clergywoman was rearrested for the third time last year. At issue, among other things, is church support for introduction of unions into factories, where the average work week is about fifty-seven hours, according to an Australian minister who was expelled from the country last summer.


Thomas Hermiz has been elected president of World Gospel Mission, an interdenomination missionary society. Presently the executive director of the Christian Holiness Association, Hermiz begins his new duties in July succeeding retiring president Hollis F. Abbott.

Two Christian and Missionary Alliance mission workers received special citations from the government of Thailand. Reginald Reimer and Andrew Bishop were recognized for their work with Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees in that nation.

Augustus B. Marwieh, Liberian evangelist and educator, was lauded in special ceremonies by the president of that nation, William R. Tolbert, a well known Christian. Marwieh was cited for his work in remote areas of eastern Liberia, where he has founded over eighty churches, started agricultural and medical projects, and recently opened a technical trade school.

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