Society’S Yearnings Surface

Pope John Paul II was a smash! Who would have thought that a preacher of righteousness would attract millions in sophisticated, materialistic, hedonistic America in 1979? Yet, there he was, standing amid the throngs and beaming across the television screens of the land. There he was, enjoying the beneficent smile of the Southern Baptist layman who now occupies the White House.

Two decades ago such a scene would have been a political disaster, and a religious blunder of the first magnitude. But in the fall of 1979 only a few bothered to point out the blurring of state-church separation lines—and one of them was the atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair. Apparently most Americans were quite content to have their tax monies and their chief executive contribute to something that spoke of the old-time virtues, even though the spokesman was the human head of a specific religious organization. Times do change.

The Pope’s performance not only proved that interreligious attitudes change, but also that America’s moral dilemma is so acute that previous animosities and political ideologies could be cast aside for the sake of a public proclamation of righteousness, even if such proclamation came from the lips of a native of Poland, who now occupies the Holy See of Catholicism in Rome, Italy. Most Americans apparently saw Pope John Paul II as a symbol of the righteousness they believe in, rather than as the promulgator of a religious system they do not necessarily accept.

There are those who out of biblical convictions, or even out of tradition, do not accept Roman Catholic dogma—or, quite possibly and understandably consider some of it heresy—but who found themselves admiring Pope John Paul II for his courageous statements of biblical principles of morality. The issue quite properly is not that a Roman Catholic spoke, but what he said. From a biblical, evangelical standpoint, it goes without saying that the Pope did not preach righteousness by faith. He did not talk about receiving Christ’s righteousness as the only means of securing eternal life. But he did clearly enunciate moral positions held by Christians committed to biblical authority.

America’s spiritual condition is such that perhaps this kind of statement of the law’s demands—the eternally valid and binding moral principles revealed by the Creator—is one means God is using to prepare people to repent and confess that they cannot make it with God on their own terms. The apostle Paul’s reference to the law as a schoolmaster, or custodian, to lead us to Christ is pertinent in this regard. Those who think seriously about personal moral failure, as well as about the country’s, are open to the Spirit’s conviction, which, if obeyed, will lead to the knowledge of the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ.

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If we point out that theologically the Pope had the cart before the horse, we must also acknowledge that evangelicals who profess to have the proper biblical sequence—faith first and then works of righteousness—may be unmindful of society’s yearning for specific, uncompromising statements of the kind of morality the gospel demands. Secular, relativistic views of morality and ethics have subverted some theological institutions, churches, and pastors for so long that people on the outside have come to believe that Christians in general have no sure way out of the current moral morass.

Pope John Paul II, at the least, explicated a consistent moral ethic, a different way to live, a way to survive a predominantly materialistic (whether communist or capitalist) world and life view. Evangelicals need to see the urgency of the large issue of the survival of Christian values in society.

Stereotype Of The Muslim Monolith

The Muslim world enters its fifteenth century in a better position to exert influence on the West than at any time since the close of its golden age. But it would be a tragic mistake for Western Christians to react defensively, presuming that the stereotype of a monolithic Muslim society uniformly impervious to the gospel is true.

It is not. As Roland Miller observes in his article on page 16, a fundamentalist wave is surging through parts of the Muslim world. It is a reaction to a parallel wave of modernization by an educated Muslim laity that assimilated as its own Western social concerns based on Christian values. The interplay between these contradictory forces means there is no uniformity in Islam but flux.

To perceive Muslims as forming a broad phalanx in doctrinal lockstep is misleading. Compare, for example, the differences in attitudes between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Think of them as pieces in a mosaic varying in sizes, shapes, colors, and textures—an aggregate of distinct groupings whose shared formal identity is outweighed by divergent traditions and differing brands of folk Islam.

To acknowledge the current turbulence and diversity in Islam is to recognize the potential for evangelization with the promise of fruit. Conditions are ripe for creative encounters. The kernel of the gospel can take root in Muslim cultures, if our witness does not take the form of a frontal attack on those cultures.

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Let us stress the common ground we share without compromising the basic Christian gospel. Let us use the best techniques of transcultural evangelism to insure that the primary obstacle to a Muslim’s conversion to Christ is the offense of the Cross rather than the stigma of capitulating to Western culture or an evangelical subculture.

The yield may be harvested in the form of congregations that resemble a Western Protestant church no more than a Messianic Jewish gathering does. When Muslims are turning to Jesus as not only a prophet but also Messiah, their new Master is gratified, and his Western servants are rewarded and enriched.

Beyond Personal Piety

Time magazine tells us there are 50 million evangelicals in the United States. But Dr. Francis Schaeffer and company complain that they aren’t able to break into the collective routine of personal piety.

Not that the Schaeffers’ popularity has waned—their books are selling as well as ever. But the new film seminar series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, has fallen flat when compared with the first series, How Should We Then Live? Only 700 attended the seminars in New York’s Madison Square Garden. A disappointing 1,500 attended in Chicago, and a meager 700 in Houston.

The ambitious scope of the first series has undoubtedly caused some to prejudge the integrity of this second effort. Others question the $28.00 price tag for the two-day series. Do Christians really want to know “that much” about euthanasia, infanticide, or abortion?

Euthanasia or infanticide still seem far away, either buried in the past or lurking as a remote possibility for the future. Advocating strong positions on these issues does not loom as potentially costly. Many Christians divert themselves with these two “theological” issues.

But abortion is messy. It can push its way into our lives or the lives of our wives, our daughters, or our friends. Intransigent opponents who shout at each other from both sides of the abortion issue with polemics much like those used about homosexuality seem, for many, to generate more confusion than clarity and resolution. But, unlike homosexuality, millions of lives are sacrificed on the proabortionists’ altar of the “right to choose.”

Whatever Happened to the Human Race? uses biblical authority to challenge the Supreme Court. Only by mobilizing the Christian community and other morally sensitive people can human dignity be preserved. But perhaps, as Schaeffer now suggests, the church has already compromised itself by collusion with the self-interests of society. If this is so, the Schaeffer series will only embarrass and indict us; but it will not move us. He is saying that if evangelicals will not take a stand on this issue he doubts that they would take a stand on anything. He characterizes the evangelical community as “apathetic” and caught in “self-absorption,” suggesting it is too fat and prosperous—too comfortable—to take an aggressive stand against abortion.

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The films and lectures graphically and methodically depict erosion of the Judeo-Christian consensus with a commensurate devaluation of man. In them, Schaeffer calls upon Christian people for a moral reversal. In an hour-long seminar, he delineates specific strategies individual Christians and churches can use to help reinstate the rights of the unborn, the defective, and the aged.

The 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion settled the argument for many. But that decision should not settle anything for conscientious Christians. The Supreme Court has been wrong before and for the wrong reasons. Economic and political factors swayed the court to declare nonhuman status for slaves. It is not surprising that the court should assign unborn children similar status today. Its decisions have sidestepped such moral principles as the sanctity of human life. In the case of abortion, it appears the court’s decision rested exclusively on the arbitrary and open-ended criteria of the quality of life—primarily the quality of life for expectant mothers.

Unborn babies, too, need an advocate. For all practical purposes, the Supreme Court has unwittingly legalized murder. One million babies are aborted in this country each year. Pediatrician C. Everett Koop says that in some hospitals it has become common practice to allow unwanted and deformed babies to starve to death.

We are not advocating absolute rejection of all abortions, but we stand solidly with Schaeffer in calling a spade a spade. Whether or not a one-day fetus is fully human life, it is at the very least potential human life. And there is certainly no way even an early development of the fetus can be regarded as anything but human life. To take human life for reasons of convenience, or for the protection of the quality of other lives, is murder. Cutting through the rhetoric and confusion of the issues and setting aside debatable points (such as taking of one life to save another or immediate abortions in the case of rape), Christians must stand up, speak out, and be counted. The sacredness of human life is at stake.

Maybe now Christians no longer need to puzzle about the absent witness of the church in Nazi Germany. Unless there is a Christian outcry against man’s diminished dignity, history may once again repeat itself.

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