HERBERT BUTTERFIELD, 78, eminent preacher and spokesman for British Methodism, author, and professor of modern history at Cambridge University for 19 years; in Cambridge, England.

Robert Baptista resigned in May as president of Taylor University, Upland, Indiana, because of a “conflict in management philosophy” between Baptista and the board of trustees. Milo Rediger, chancellor and former president of the college for 10 years before Baptista became president, has again assumed the presidency.

M. Wendell Belew is the new president of the American Society of Missiology. Belew, who has been with the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board since 1956, reportedly is both the first Southern Baptist and the first missions strategist to head the society, which has about 600 members in the United States and Canada.

Missionaries again will be able to work in Brazil under resident visas, according to church sources in Rio de Janeiro. Last year the Brazilian government tightened restrictions on foreign visitors, issuing only tourist visas. The change reportedly was in reaction to the United States government’s stand on human rights and its subsequent pressure on Brazil.

Rehearsals are under way for an altered shorter version of the famed Oberammergau Passion Play. The small Roman Catholic Bavarian village has presented the seven-hour spectacle almost every decade since 1680. However, the 1980 version contains changes in response to criticisms from the Jewish community, which is upset with implications in the 170-year-old script that all Jews of Jesus’ time called for his death and that all of Jewry has inherited their guilt. An Anti-Defamation League spokesman said last month that the changes “have significantly reduced the anti-semitic potential” of the play. But Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee dissented. “The basic problems remain,” he asserted. “The basic structure of the play is that the Jews killed Christ.”

The pastor and choir leader of an unregistered Baptist church near Moscow have received sentences of three years each. They were charged with slandering the Soviet state, apparently because they circulated copies of the Bulletin of the Council of Evangelical Christian-Baptist Prisoners’ Relatives, which reports cases of persecution of the church. Alexander Nikitov, a full-time pastor supported by the Ryazan Church, also was charged with parasitism (living off of others without working). Nikolai Popov, the choir leader, served a three-year sentence from 1966 to 1969 for religious activities.

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Church bells rang last month in Equatorial Guinea for the first time in a year. That was because the military in this tiny West African nation—formerly a Spanish colony—had just overthrown its 11-year first president, Macias Nguema Biyago. Although elected by popular vote, Macias had killed off many of his political opponents, some by beatings, and had given his country a reputation as the “Auschwitz of Africa.” A Roman Catholic turned atheist, Macias at first ordered that his name be included in all masses. Later he expelled or killed most priests in a nation that is 80 percent Roman Catholic. A year ago all churches and mosques were ordered closed.

Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa of Zimbabwe requested and received a leave of absence from his other job as bishop of the United Methodist Church there. He asked for a six-month leave, but was granted one of indefinite length. Muzorewa was succeeded earlier this month by Ralph E. Dodge, the retired white bishop who had preceded Muzorewa. Dodge was bishop in absentia from 1964 to 1968 after he was expelled for criticizing the government and advocating black majority rights.

The outlook for missionary activity in Chad remains clouded. Heads of the six states bordering Chad last month were pressing for a cease-fire, dissolution of the fractured Government of National Union, and formation of a new coalition government. But internal conflict continued. All missionaries, except for a handful in the capital, N’djamena, have been evacuated. Missionary Aviation Fellowship last month announced it was ending its two-plane operation in Chad, since all flying had been stopped by government order. No early resumption was anticipated.

Baptists report starting 56 new congregations this summer in Tanzania. They also baptized 2,575 members of the Sukuma tribe living in villages formerly untouched by the denomination. Seven two-man evangelistic teams each spent a week in a different village, then proceeded to another for a total of eight weeks. The government earlier had settled 4.5 million Sukuma people in easily accessible villages of 1,000 to 10,000 in order to provide them education and other services. This resettlement made the missions project feasible. At the end of each week, the village’s converts were baptized and leaders were chosen. Follow-up teams will train these congregations until next June, say Southern Baptist sources, when a new evangelism cycle is planned.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in Iran is taking seriously biblical and koranic injunctions against usury. One of Iran’s largest banks, Sepah, is about to open a special account at all its branches. Money deposited by the public will accrue no interest. Instead, the funds will be used for interest-free loans to the poor and investment in development projects. Other banks are expected to follow.

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Current China policy toward religion may be returning to that which prevailed before the cultural revolution. That is the judgment of experienced observers, who note that from 1949 to 1966 authorities sought to control Christians through a Bureau of Religious Affairs and through merging the Protestant and Catholic churches into two “patriotic” organizations. The Red Guards, attempting to obliterate religion, devastated this “visible” church more than the “hidden” church. As a result, even former pastors and priests of the “official” churches are reluctant to serve as pastors of newly reopened official churches. Participants in secret house meetings are even more skeptical of recent trends. They see them as government attempts to lure believers back into the political mainstream by rehabilitating but controlling the church.

The witness of the church is adulterated by the affluent lifestyle of its members.

On a visit to the United States, I worshipped on successive Sundays in Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. The congregations were very different and there were not many similarities among the services. But all three preachers called for a greater simplicity in lifestyle at one point or other in their addresses. They criticized the materialism they saw penetrating the church from contemporary culture and they found it hard to reconcile this with the biblical picture.

It is possibly a coincidence that this one theme should recur in such widely separated places. But it seems more likely that the recurrence points to a need deeply felt by an increasing number of Christians, in the United States as elsewhere.

The fact is that Christians these days often lead lives that are characterized by affluence. This is probably not due to any set determination to depart from previous Christian practice. It arises rather from a natural desire to seek comfort coupled with the fact that we live in a society where that comfort is not very difficult to obtain. But the result may well be that we are taken away from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). There is need for care here.

It is inevitable that Christians share in the general acceptance of ideas that are common in the culture to which they belong. It is part of life that we all enter into a cultural heritage and that we find it easy to agree with most of the ideas commonly accepted throughout our community. We absorb many such ideas quite unconsciously. We do not think them through. We do not give reasons for and against. We simply accept them.

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We should not regret this or rebel against it. We do not have time to think through everything. And many of the ideas we pick up from the community are good ones, well worth acquiring. They help us establish a frame of values into which we can fit comfortably. This is an inevitable part of life and we should not be surprised when it happens to us.

But we should be on our guard, nevertheless. It is not easy to maintain that a community like that to which most of us belong these days is in any meaningful sense a Christian community. It will have some Christian ideas; it will engage in some Christian practices. But these will not be the essential thing. The fact is that many of our fellow citizens—and particularly many of those who shape public opinion—owe no allegiance to Christ. Much of what we read in our newspapers or hear on radio or television emanates from a non-Christian source.

This does not mean that we should not read it or listen to it. We must. We must pay attention if for no other reason than that we are members of the community in which it originates and we cannot but play our part as members of that community. We must know what is going on.

Further, we are committed to the task of commending the gospel to the people of our day. Unless we understand them and meet them on their own ground we cannot fulfill that Christian duty. Indeed, one reason for the limited success of much of our evangelism is that all too often we present the eternal gospel in a time-conditioned and stereotyped form. People dismiss it accordingly as a relic of the past. We have then failed to lead them to appreciate its relevance to their need.

For these and other reasons it is important that we enter into an understanding of the thinking of our day. But that does not mean that we must simply accept it. Part of the duty of the Christian in any state is to survey the policies of that state and line them up against Christian standards. He cannot demand that the whole community, Christian and non-Christian alike, live by Christian standards. But he can make plain what those standards are. He can advocate them. He can try to persuade people that those standards are better than other standards. He can try to get them to accept them for themselves. He can follow Jesus Christ’s direction to be like salt or like light.

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There is no great problem understanding all this, though there are difficulties in putting such a proposal into practice. But there is danger that, when we are not consciously thinking about what Christianity has to say to our generation, we may relax a little and simply take over the generally accepted ideas of the day. Some of those ideas, as we have noted, are good ones; then there is no harm done. But others of them involve a denial of important elements of the Christian way.

Like the preachers referred to above, Christians in many parts of the world are realizing the importance of a simple lifestyle. Although they often live in rather affluent communities, they are coming to realize that the people of the Bible did not. Jesus himself was poor. He could point to the fact that, whereas foxes had holes and birds had nests, he himself did not have a place where he could lay his head (Luke 9:58).

And his teaching contains some forthright statements about poverty. While we have tended to take them figuratively, many are now asking whether this is justified, and point to the frequent warnings against the peril of riches. They are asking whether Christians in the modern world, particularly in the more affluent sections of the modern world, may not be taking these too lightly.

It can scarcely be denied that most of us share in the luxuries of affluence. We rarely think of ourselves as rich—but compared with the millions of people in the world’s poorer countries, we are wealthy. But we do not compare ourselves with such people. We compare ourselves instead with others among whom we live. We see them enjoying the luxuries modern technology and modern income put within their (and our) reach. And we find it hard to resist the temptation to keep up with our particular Joneses.

We read impressive statistics about the large percentages of the world’s goods and energy employed in our country compared with its small percentage of the world’s population. We realize that there is a tremendous imbalance but we see no way to reconcile it with the Bible’s teaching about poverty.

What are we to do about it? There would seem to be no way that individual Christians—or even the church as a whole—can carry out a redistribution of the world’s wealth. We can agitate for more enlightened policies on the part of our governments, and we should. As much as in us lies we must see to it that action is taken to relieve the world’s appalling poverty.

In the circumstances of modern life, we cannot go back to the lifestyle of biblical times. But we can certainly live far more simply than is the custom of many today. In the words of the title of the important book by John V. Taylor, we can realize that “Enough is enough.” We can reject the values of a selfish, affluent, materialistic society.

Leon Morris is principal of Ridley College, Victoria, Australia.

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