Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox rapprochement

Pope John Paul II’s muted visit to Turkey provided a marked contrast to the cheering crowds of his previous trips abroad. As much as possible, Turkish authorities turned the late November visit into a nonevent. But the long-term significance of what the pontiff called “my first ecumencial voyage” may be greater.

By meeting with Dimitrios I, the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox Church, John Paul launched the second phase in a process of reconciliation begun in 1964. The meeting then of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem had ended nine centuries of total estrangement between the two branches of the church. A year later the mutual excommunications of the Great Schism in 1054 were rescinded.

Now that most of the bitterness has been buried, the theological differences must be dealt with. By going to Istanbul on the feast of Saint Andrew (elder brother of Peter and patron of the church of Constantinople) John Paul stressed his commitment to this dialogue.

Issues dividing the world’s 700 million Roman Catholics and the estimated 100 million within Eastern Orthodoxy are less than those separating them both from Protestantism, but still are formidable. During the Pope’s visit, Dimitrios announced formation of a 28-member joint theological commission to work at resolving them.

Among issues the commission will face at a first meeting expected this spring:

• The Nicene Creed formulation. The Orthodox cling to what they hold is the original wording, in which the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” Catholics add the words “and the Son.”

• Divorce. Catholics do not permit divorce. The Orthodox do on grounds of adultery.

• The papacy. The Orthodox are prepared to recognize the pope as first among equals, but not more than that. Catholics believe he has supremacy and, since 1870, have claimed infallibility for his formal teachings.

Areas of agreement or near agreement include the priesthood, emphasis on the importance of Mary, and the sacraments, including baptism and the eucharist.

John Paul and Dimitrios could not celebrate Communion together, however, since both churches are opposed to common Communion before full doctrinal accord has been achieved. Dimitrios attended as John Paul celebrated mass in Istanbul’s Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit. Then John Paul attended as Dimitrios celebrated a eucharistic service in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George.

Neither church expects that the mixed commission will resolve the differences quickly. But on his return to Rome, John Paul hinted at a timetable. “During the second millenium [of Christianity] our churches were rigid in their separation,” he said. “Now the third millenium of Christianity is at the gates. May the dawn of this millenium rise on a church which has full unity again.”

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Uniting for Evangelization in Booming Caracas

Petroleum-rich Venezuela recently struck a new deposit of a different kind: the uniting unction of the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals joined forces for a six-day National Congress on Evangelism coupled with a Luis Palau evangelistic crusade (“Family Festival”).

This was the first national congress for the 300,000-member Venezuelan evangelical church. It was conceived by five Venezuelan evangelical leaders who attended the Lausanne World Congress on Evangelization in 1974 and returned home with the desire to have a similar congress in Venezuela on a national scale. They invited Lausanne committee members to their country to encourage and amplify the vision for a united gathering.

Under the theme, “United for the Evangelization of Venezuela,” a local committee was organized and plans formulated for a nationwide meeting of evangelicals. What one observer termed “lamentably excessive denominational zeal” that had divided the church in the past was conquered as more than 1,500 churches agreed to sponsor the congress. The committee decided that it would not only study evangelism, but would engage in it as well by holding an evangelistic crusade in conjunction with the congress.

In the past there were only scattered attempts by the various denominations to work together. Campaigns such as “Evangelism in Depth” and a Billy Graham crusade were exceptions.

The double-billed event was successfully accomplished last November at the El Poliedro sports arena in Caracas, the republic’s capital and largest city with a population of three million.

Local believers traveled to every home in Caracas distributing over 600,000 tracts written by Palau. When evangelicals visited the chief member of the Venezuelan president’s cabinet, they learned that he listens to Palau’s radio program daily on Trans World Radio. This high-ranking government official pledged his support for the crusade and gave an enthusiastic greeting on the opening night.

Palau was interviewed the same night by three of Venezuela’s top reporters on a nationwide news program, “Meet the Press.” The reporters tried to corner Palau on tough theological questions, but eventually they discussed practical issues concerning Venezuelan families. The show’s ratings and reports from across the country revealed that the program had made a powerful impact for the gospel.

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A key breakthrough for the evangelicals occurred the following morning when Palau and 75 church leaders joined Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campíns and his aides for the nation’s first Presidential Prayer Breakfast. During a brief speech Palau said that nations and men who fear God will be blessed by him; then he turned to President Herrera and said, “God will bless you because today you have publicly honored him.”

Herrera, who took office in December 1978, responded, “I am pleased that this evangelical congress takes place near the beginning of my term. I am a practicing Catholic, but I am also the president of all Venezuelans. Our government constantly needs the prayers of the people.”

The next day the entire text of the president’s remarks was printed in the three largest Venezuelan newspapers.

The president of the local Bible society commented, “This is the greatest public exposure we evangelicals have ever had here. I am a third generation evangelical, and thank God for what he has brought to pass today.”

About 2,000 Christians came daily for the seminars, workshops, and Bible teaching in conjunction with the congress. The nightly crusade meetings with Palau reflected the high percentage of young people in the nation (63 percent of Venezuelans are under 20 years of age). First night attendance was 8,000 and it steadily increased; El Poliedro officials said the 13,500 seat arena was filled in excess of capacity with 15,000 on the final two nights.

The sports arena is nine miles beyond the city limits, but the distance wasn’t a problem for most of the Venezuelan believers and crusade attendees. Many people own automobiles in Venezuela, which has the continent’s highest average income. This fact reveals much about the country’s recent history. Prior to the 1920s Venezuela was one of South America’s poorest countries, but that quickly changed with the discovery of oil. Venezuelan cities today mirror the prosperity common among the exclusive club of oil-producing nations.

Rich oil reserves feed the government’s treasury, provide for the continent’s finest highways, help erect huge skyscrapers, and enhance the wealth of the few associated with petroleum.

Despite a growing middle class and the wealth brought to a few, thousands of Venezuelans live in crowded slums on the outskirts of the cities. Most of these people are unskilled workers from rural areas who came to the cities expecting to elevate their position in society. The discovery of oil, however, could not in itself satisfy the expectation of everyone caught up in the flight to the cities. (Although gasoline costs only 17¢ per gallon, a pair of pants costs $45.)

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Miserable squatter shanties lean up against the high rise apartment complexes—a visual summary of the country’s social woes. Government funds, of which a major percentage is derived from the oil industry, have been allocated for social reform programs. But violence, labor strikes, and moral corruption currently are more visible than the government programs.

The 1,500 evangelical churches that sponsored the congress and Palau meetings believe a united, continuous, evangelistic effort can contribute powerfully to solving the country’s social woes.

Pastor Germán Nuñez, who presided over the congress, spent hours on his knees in prayer asking God to unite his people. Ruben Proetti, Argentine coordinator for the Palau Team, spent weeks directing the 1,500 churches toward a common evangelistic goal. The prayers and work were answered by the Spirit’s uniting power.

During the crusade meetings, 1,340 people made public Christian commitments. The evangelist preached on marriage, the life that triumphs, what Christ can offer young people, and true freedom. Judged Evangelical Free Church missionary Edward Blomberg, “Palau does not preach a cheap gospel. He understands this culture well, and he presses the claims of the Word of God.”

Broadcast media time is very expensive in Venezuela and the Palau Team was unable to saturate the country with radio and television broadcasts as they do during most of their crusades. However, the evangelist was interviewed by a number of radio and TV reporters. Palau said he was pleased with the recognition the media gave the congress and crusade.

Palau also spoke to 700 women at an afternoon tea sponsored by the congress. Wives of top government and military officials, as well as key businesswomen attended. A luncheon address by Palau drew 560 businessmen, high military figures, and a number of doctors and lawyers. At both affairs the evangelist gave an invitation and local businessmen and women involved with the congress are establishing further contact with those who indicated decisions.

Five hundred people took a biblical counseling course taught by Palau Team member Jim Williams. The response was so great that congress organizers asked Williams to return and teach the same course to another 1,500 local Christians.

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Dominican Republic
Student Power Erects White Barrios

The first night back at Wheaton College (Illinois), one girl looked at the steak on her plate and cried, as she remembered her Hispanic friends who did not have sufficient rice.

She was one of 60 Wheaton students who participated in a physically and emotionally exhausting relief program in the Dominican Republic. In their “Labor for Your Neighbor” project during Thanksgiving vacation, the students erected houses on the island, which suffered devastation by Hurricane David in early September. The storm left 1,500 persons dead and 80 percent of the housing in shambles.

The students planned simply to put their faith into action, but they returned attesting to new psychological and spiritual muscles. Observers have called the project a model for groups interested in similar relief projects.

The project began as fulfillment of a campaign promise. Larry Reed and Ted Moser, candidates for student government president and vice-president, ran on a platform of assisting the poor. “Our whole emphasis was for us to stop looking into ourselves, and start looking out into the world and seeing what we as students could do,” said Reed.

Once elected, the two had the opportunity to make good their pledge. Under their leadership, the Dominican project took shape. More than 250 students applied for the 60 positions available in the house-erecting effort.

A six-week fund drive netted over $80,000, with much of that earmarked for construction materials. The students purchased white, propylene houses, measuring 12-by-12½ feet. Sea Land Industries, an East coast firm, provided shipping for the housing materials, and the Christian Medical Society (CMS) donated plastic roof sheeting.

Prior to their departure, the students chose two construction locations: Jarabacoa, a town in the mountainous north central area of the country, and Nigua, a city located 20 miles southeast of the capital city, Santo Domingo.

The students received planning assistance from Wayne Bragg, director of the college’s Human Needs and Global Resources program, which has an internship program in Jarabacoa, and from John Shannon, CMS director in the Dominican Republic, who is based in Nigua. The men served as liaisons with Dominican government officials and local committees. Through their efforts, shipments arrived on schedule and were cleared through customs. (Some American students from Cleveland attempted earlier a similar project southeast of Santo Domingo, only to be frustrated by difficulties in clearing customs.)

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But the students did most of the work themselves. They conducted fund raising projects that included a “radio-a-thon,” a work day, shop/save days at a local grocery store, and a mock kidnapping of Reed, whose ransom resulted in a $160 donation. (World Relief Corporation provided a $13,750 matching grant.)

Following their arrival on the island the students divided into Nigua and Jarabacoa work teams. The Nigua effort consisted of eight-person work groups: four Wheaton students and four Dominicans. Each Wheaton team had a person skilled in construction and another in the Spanish language. The local workers, who received rice and beans as pay, were part of a community cooperative that was formed by the Niguans prior to the students’ arrival.

The cooperative sold the plastic roofing sheets to local residents (the houses were donated). From the proceeds, the cooperative opened a bakery, which provided employment for six residents and sold bread at cheaper prices. The cooperative next wants to purchase chickens.

The cooperative “wanted to preserve recipients’ dignity by letting them pay for the sheeting,” said Moser, who headed the Nigua construction crew. “It was to be their [the Niguans’] project, and we made sure they did it becase we wanted the project to continue when we left,” he said.

The Jarabacoan relief project, carried out in a heavy rain most days, drew the attention of the Dominican press. A Santo Domingo reporter wrote, “In Jarabacoa, the student workers who rose with the sun and worked until nightfall, have spread their enthusiasm to community residents, including children who carry building materials to the sites.”

Local residents called it a “White Barrio” project, because of the gleaming white of the houses. The students, who were assisted by Richard Stone, of Food for the Hungry in Phoenix, Arizona, were named “adopted sons and daughters” in a resolution passed by the Jarabacoa municipal government.

During their project, the students erected 135 of the prefabricated houses, roofed 51 existing homes and two churches, and reconstructed a school building. An editorial in Santo Domingo’s Listin Diario newspaper suggested the Dominican government might take the same incentive to provide shelter for the island’s homeless. (Spring Arbor College in Michigan and Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, were organizing for Dominican relief projects this month.)

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Wheaton’s Dominican outreach has not ended. The student government expects to work with the Jarabacoans in setting up a cannery. The facility will preserve food that normally rots on the ground, and will provide jobs for the unemployed. In October, Wheaton students gave up their dining hall meals for a day to raise funds for the cannery project.

Several students after their return expressed a new respect for the Dominicans, who, though impoverished, gave food to show their gratitude. Some islanders perceived a message in the students’ lifestyle witness. A local resident commented, “Christ will arrive in our village tomorrow when you bring the houses.”


North American Scene

A new school of evangelism and world mission is planned for Asbury Theological Seminary. The purpose of the school, scheduled to open in fall 1981, is to train prospective and experienced missions personnel in the various disciplines of cross-cultural communication. The school will be named for the late E. Stanley Jones, pioneer missionary to India, and will offer masters and doctoral degree programs. About 800 persons attend the seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky; it is the ninth largest in North America.

Nine Scientologists were sentenced to jail last month for their roles in a conspiracy to steal government documents. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey, who had found the group guilty of the conspiracy charges, sentenced eight members of the group to four- or five-year prison terms and $10,000 fines each. Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, was considering an appeal of her sentence. Scientologist Sharon Thomas received the least severe sentence: six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The U.S. Supreme Court left open the possibility that the United Methodist Church as a denomination can be sued. It announced it will not block suits filed against the UMC by former tenants of Pacific Homes, a bankrupt chain of 14 retirement homes in Southern California, Arizona, and Hawaii that formerly were officially connected to the UMC’s Pacific and Southwest Conference. Former residents have filed lawsuits totaling over $400 million against the regional conference, the UMC’s Chicago-based central funding agency, and the denomination, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and fraud. Church lawyers have argued that under UMC connectional polity, the denomination cannot be held liable for actions of church-related agencies, many of which have relatively independent boards of trustees.

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Christians prayed, tolled church bells, and sent Christmas cards to the American hostages as the Iranian crisis continued last month. Earl Lee, pastor of the 1,800-member First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California, reported “an immense wave of support” in behalf of his son Gary, a U.S. State Department employee who was among the hostages in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The pastor said he was “low key” in mentioning his son’s plight during Sunday worship. But because those services are recorded and sent into 85 countries as part of the church’s taping ministry concerned listeners sent the Lee family many letters of support, made telephone calls, and offered special prayer.

Mormonism and the Equal Rights Amendment don’t mix. Sonia Johnson, 43, founder of Mormons for ERA, said her excommunication last month from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was because of her ERA lobbying activities. A three-man bishops court in Sterling, Virginia, did not allow trial testimony regarding the ERA, but charged her with spreading false doctrine and working against church leadership. The Mormon church has opposed the ERA as a threat to traditional family structure and morality. The Mormons believe that if an excommunicated member does not repent and is not rebaptized, that person presumably will be eternally separated from family in the afterlife.

World Scene

An accrediting association for European Bible colleges and seminaries has been formed. At the founding meeting near Basel, Switzerland, in November, 23 schools became charter members. The aim of the European Evangelical Accrediting Association is to set internationally recognized academic, spiritual, and practical standards for theological schools that would coordinate with similar evangelical bodies elsewhere. The first officers and their schools: president, Edgar Schmid, director of Saint Chrischona, Switzerland; coordinator, Frederick Burklin, academic dean at Seeheim, West Germany; council chairman, Ludwig Rott of Weidenest, West Germany.

A substantial attack against unregistered Soviet Baptist churches appears to be in progress, according to Keston College, the British center for study of religion under Communism. Keston reports that Pastor Nikolai Baturin, a member of the Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists, was arrested in the Ukraine in November. He previously served 16 years in labor camps, completing his last sentence in 1976. After doing open pastoral work in his home region, Rostov, he had gone into hiding because of KGB harrassment. Another member of the executive body of the unregistered churches, Ivan Antonov of Kirovograd, was arrested earlier last fall, and faces charges of “parasitism.”

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The Methodist minister who heads the Christian League of Southern Africa is being investigated by his denomination. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has appointed a three-man committee to examine the activities of Fred Shaw; his group’s strong anticommunist, proapartheid, and anti-World Council of Churches line has roused the WCC ire. The WCC has charged that the league was secretly subsidized by the South African government’s now-disbanded Department of Information. Shaw says the league did not knowingly receive such funds but has refused to allow scrutiny of league accounts.

The Full Gospel Central Church of Seoul, Korea, celebrated the achievement of reaching its goal of 100,000 members in November. Founded 21 years ago, the church operates through more than 6,700 home cell units. Its current membership roster—largest ever recorded for a single congregation—is 100,930. Paul Yonggi Cho is pastor of the Assemblies of God congregation. Christian day schools also are booming in Seoul. One junior and senior high school has 6,000 students; another school has 4,000.

An evangelical relief agency consortium erected a 1,000-bed field hospital on the Cambodian border in just seven days in November. The hospital was erected in the SaKaeo camp in Thailand where an average of 50 Cambodians a day were dying. “After only four days of operation,” reported Jerry Ballard, executive director of World Relief, which coordinated the consortium effort, “the deaths plummeted to less than five.” Construction supervisor for the emergency task force was Gary Johnson, the 20-year-old, Thai-speaking son of Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries. United Nations refugee officials, impressed with the feat, promptly contracted with the task force for construction of a second border camp and a holding center.

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