The seventh general assembly of the World Evangelical Fellowship resolved, at a meeting near London last month, to approach the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization about ending the “confusion and the duplication of effort arising from the separate existence of the two international evangelical organizations.” It is proposing that the Lausanne Committee be invited to become the evangelistic task force of the WEF “so that in joint harness the two bodies can accelerate, and not impede, world evangelization.”
Asked about this proposed merger between WEF and the Lausanne Committee, Wheaton College president Hudson Armerding, WEF president, pointed out that it was not the intention of the Lausanne Congress in 1974 to form a new ecclesiastical body, “but rather simply a structure that would get on with the job of world evangelization.… The WEF, representing churches around the world, ought to be able to tie into this function which … is a necessary and proper area of concern for churches. So we think that the relationship is a natural thing that ought to take place.”
Nelson Hunt Loses A Bundle But Raises A Billion
Nelson Bunker Hunt is responsible for raising—but not providing by himself—the $1 billion needed for Campus Crusade for Christ’s world evangelism thrust, Here’s Life. And perhaps that is fortunate, considering the portly, Presbyterian layman, regarded as one of the world’s richest men, lost that much during the much-publicized, near collapse of the silver markets March 27.
Hunt and his brother Herbert had bought a corner on the silver markets—owning an estimated 200 million ounces—then suffered huge losses when the price per ounce dipped drastically. However, Hunt figured to weather the losses, and Christian organizations hoped for a continuation of his generosity.
The son of the late oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, Nelson reportedly provided without strings $6 million needed by the New York-based Genesis Project for production of its current feature-length movie, Jesus. The movie is being translated into 21 different Asian languages for use as an evangelism tool overseas in Here’s Life, said a Campus Crusade official. And as chairman of the international executive committee for Here’s Life, Hunt has organized efforts to raise by 1982 the $1 billion needed to cover the various project costs, such as translation. (About $150 million has been raised so far.)
Here’s Life goals are bringing one billion persons to Christ and helping present the Gospel message to everyone in the world by 1981. Crusade officials may be hoping now their ambitious speculation for souls meets a better fate than that of Texas tycoon Hunt in silver.
Some Lausanne Committee-aligned individuals are apparently working to derail any such merger plans. Last month Religious News Service quoted Sigurd Aske, head of the Lausanne Committee’s Norwegian branch, as describing the WEF as “a strongly U.S.-dominated organization” that is “rather biased, theologically and ecclesiastically.” He contended that “an organized evangelical association dominated by WEF would automatically be regarded, and probably would regard itself, as a movement against the World Council of Churches.”
The Lausanne Committee response to the WEF overture will be determined at its consultation on World Evangelization to be held in Thailand in June. Aske expressed the hope that the consultation “will not waste too much time and energy on debating this question.”
Eighty delegates representing national evangelical fellowships of 30 countries attended the London sessions. (The WEF works to develop cooperation among evangelicals, to stimulate and support national evangelical fellowships, and to encourage able evangelical leaders to work together in such fields as theology, missions, and communications.)
One observer, Paul G. Schrotenboer of the Reformed Evangelical Synod, noted that doctrinal issues remained in the background this session; the struggle for a holistic application of the gospel to the physical and spiritual problems that confront the church today was in the foreground. The conference topics of development, lifestyle, poverty, social responsibility, and even the changing of social structures, were not that different from the topics under discussion at a World Council of Churches gathering, he noted. But the what-does-the-Bible-say starting point was entirely different. Under WEF general secretary Waldron Scott, he concluded, the new emphasis does not signal a decrease in evangelism, but a switch from evangelism alone to a holistic mission of gospel proclamation and social concern.
WEF actions included establishment of:
• A task force to consider the prospect of an international satellite broadcasting system for use by evangelicals worldwide within the next five years.
• An evangelical world watch to monitor persecution and infringements of liberty both in worship and in Christian discipleship.
• An international accrediting agency for theological institutions.
The SBC Christian Life Commission
Beyond Bumper Stickers: Issues for the Eighties
Social action issues filled the agenda, and liberally oriented speakers included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and presidential assistant Sarah Weddington, a feminist and abortion rights leader. The three-day seminar in New York City was hardly traditional Southern Baptist fare.
These factors, plus a tight economy, helped explain the smaller-than-expected turnout of 400 for “Ethical Issues for the Eighties,” sponsored by the social action arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, its Christian Life Commission. Nevertheless, an array of qualified speakers addressed future trends, which they believe churchmen must face and which cannot be ignored by skipping a conference.
United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim praised U.S. religious organizations for helping the cause of world peace. Selfishness among nations has kept the pot boiling, he indicated, but said he does not believe the world is headed for nuclear war. He urged individual nations to consider the long-term interests of all humanity in their policies.
Noted author and environmental scientist Barry Commoner, presidential candidate of the Citizens Party, predicted that placement of corporate profit interests ahead of national interests will be a dominant ethical issue for the next decade. The nation, he said, will have to choose regarding other ethical issues, too: How much injury and damage are we willing to sustain for energy output? Are we willing to go to war to preserve our foreign energy sources?
Solutions to ethical problems will require people to be “brave enough and naïve enough to love and to trust” each other, mused 85-year-old Buckminster Fuller, celebrated author, inventor, educator, and architect. The coming decade will determine whether man will survive, he said.
Church historian Martin Marty reaffirmed the ability of the church to cope successfully with the increasingly complex ethical issues of the decade. But, he warned, there are “hazards” to be avoided. These include a “new apocalypticism” that keeps people preoccupied with the end of the world.
Marty knocked the “electronic church” and its “celebrities who attract and often exploit clienteles” as the “biggest internal problem for conservative Christianity today.” Many religious broadcasters, he alleged, reduce ethical issues to “simplisms” and “bumper-sticker warfare that does not address itself to the actual conditions of freedom and pluralism.”
Marty expressed partial sympathy with those who have joined politically oriented conservative Christian groups like Christian Voice and Moral Majority. They are sincerely looking for answers to a lot of problems, he said. He voiced approval of their stand against abortion, but he complained about their alleged failure to deal with biblical teachings regarding other issues, such as prayer in the schools.
Methodist seminary professor John M. Swomley, an authority on church-and-state matters, forecast controversy over a number of church-and-state issues during the coming decade. Much will center on the Roman Catholic Church’s persistent attempts to obtain government funding for its educational programs. He noted that the rapid growth of Protestant Christian schools has eroded much of the opposition to parochiaid.
Swomley voiced fears over the current proposals in Congress that would remove questions about prayer in public schools from federal court jurisdiction.
He also predicted further expansion of government regulations that affect the free exercise of religion. But if churches and religious organizations insist on tax exemptions and other government benefits, he chided, they must expect government entanglement. The best course, he advised, is to be totally free from government benefits that are granted for religious reasons.
The cleric acknowledged, however, that he enjoys his tax-exempt ministerial housing allowance.
Therein, observed one conference participant privately, lies the kind of ethical dilemma that is at the heart of the world’s woes: Can we change the world without sacrificing our self-interest?
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
The Roman Catholic Church in Brazil has decided to model an agrarian reform program affecting its own properties. The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil in February overwhelmingly endorsed a document signaling its intention to break up a number of its largest landholdings. Brazil, colonized in the sixteenth century, is the only major Latin American nation not to have had agrarian reform. The majority of its land is in large ancestral estates and, in the Amazon basin, in holdings of transnational corporations.
Tulsa-based evangelist Billy James Hargis has resigned from the British branch of the missionary organization he founded, according to a report in the Glasgow (Scotland) Herald. The Herald called the David Livingstone Missionary Society a “charity in turmoil,” and charged that sometimes as much as 80 percent of funds raised were spent on administration. The newspaper also reported the society’s treasurer resigned after refusing to sign checks for which he could find “no substantiation in the records of the society,” that a public relations specialist called in to bring order was released after he called for radical changes, and that American leaders rode roughshod over the British staff.
Scientology has been recognized as a religion in France. Two years ago, the former president of the sect in France, George Andreu, was fined and received a suspended prison sentence for enticing proselytes by making fraudulent promises. Andreu appealed, and the Paris appeals court acquitted him in March, ruling that “Scientology seemed to correspond to a definition of religion in that it embraces both a faith and a community.” Reuters wire service reports that there are some 10,000 Scientology adherents in France.
Pope John Paul II used a March synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops to bring this Eastern Rite church firmly under Roman (or Western Rite) control. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, declared illegal by Stalin in 1946, has perhaps 5 million secret members in the Soviet Union and another 1 million elsewhere. Under the strongly independent 88-year-old Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, it has held eight previous synods disowned by the Roman curia. As the price for official recognition for this synod, the Pope appointed a weak successor Slipyj, Metropolitan Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky of Philadelphia, 66, and made clear that the Ukrainians would not be permitted to follow their tradition of ordaining married men as priests.
Dialogue of the joint Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Theological Commission gets under way late this month on the island of Patmos. Meeting in a Greek Orthodox monastery on the island where John wrote the Book of the Revelation, the commission will work toward eventual reunification of the two churches.
The “Siberian Seven” sang the offertory music for the Easter service at the American embassy in Moscow. The members of the Vaschenko and Chmykhalov families—Pentecostals who have lived in the embassy for almost two years after dashing past Soviet guards—sang a Russian hymn entitled “He Lives.” After the service, several American families brought food to an embassy room and sat down to an Easter dinner with the group. Embassy officials permitted the dinner, but stipulated that no pictures be taken. Some observers expect the Soviets will expel the group before the Olympic games begin in July to prevent their becoming a magnet for foreign visitors.
The Bible House of the Bible Society of Ethiopia has been taken over by the Ethiopian government for official use. The headquarters was located in the center of Addis Ababa where there is an acute shortage of commercial building space. The society has had to relocate its operation in three separate locations.
Samuel Habib was elected chairman in March of the Supreme Protestant Council of Egypt, which represents all Protestant denominations before the Egyptian government. He succeeds Elias Makar, who died of a heart attack in January. Habib will continue as director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. The Coptic Evangelical Church, in which Makar also was a clergyman, was founded by Presbyterian missionaries and dominates the Protestant Council.
The Coptic Church of Egypt canceled its traditional Easter celebrations this year to protest the alleged mistreatment of Coptic Christians by Muslim extremists. Easter services took place, but without the usual festooning of electric lights on church buildings, and without the customary exchange of greetings between the Coptic Pope Shenouda III and the Egyptian government. President Anwar Sadat has attempted to increase minority Coptic representation in the government, but Muslim fundamentalists have used developments in Iran and the offer of asylum to the ex-shah as rallying points for a crusade against both the Coptics and Sadat.
Religion is still taboo for China’s party cadres. In the March issue of China Youth News, organ of the Communist Youth League, the editors told a letter writer that “a citizen may have his religious beliefs,” but prospective members of the Communist Party “should not.” The young man had written from Kiangsi (Jiangxi) Province, complaining of Buddhist “religious fervor in my locality.”
Church of the Brethren: Aboveground Vitality
Leith Samuel, a Southampton, England, Baptist pastor who has periodically visited Czechoslovakia, filed this report after a November 1979 visit.
Beside the road stands a large, stone monument of an open Bible. It marks the entrance to the Bible Museum in Kraslice, opened in 1969 with the approval of the Communist authorities. It was in this mountain town near the border with East Germany that the Czech Reformers began printing their Bible in 1579 as Roman Catholic leaders attempted to suppress the circulation of the Scriptures. Here some of the leading Czech Reformers were buried under the flagstones of the local parish church, which they had turned into a center for Bible teaching and fellowship. Here the Protestants’ printing presses were dismantled and scattered hurriedly in the thick snow when the 1620 Act of Uniformity was passed, forbidding all religious worship and practice except that of Roman Catholicism.
In another town is an open Bible in a display case where any passerby can read it. In a large city I saw a large, open Bible in a store window just off the main street, in a passageway leading to a church. Alongside it was a poster recommending a helps system for daily Bible reading.
The Czechoslovakia I have observed differs markedly from the popularly held view of religious oppression in Eastern Europe.
Czechoslovakia has a number of denominations: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Plymouth-style Brethren, Pentecostal, and two distinctively Czech bodies, the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren and the Church of the Brethren (Cirkev Bratska).
Both these groups trace their roots to Jan Hus. Hus came under the influence of the Scriptures, reinforced by John Wycliffe’s teaching. When rector of Prague University, he was banned from the city because of his beliefs and eventually, in 1415, burned at the stake as a heretic. In spite of fierce persecution, Bible teaching was sustained by men such as Jan Comenius (Komenský) and Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf until the 1781 Edict of Toleration permitted Protestants to be identified openly without fear of arrest and execution as heretics.
The Church of the Brethren is comparable to the British Free Evangelical churches. Within the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren are some liberal theologians who have been involved in the outlawed Charter 77 movement and have suffered for it. But the Church of the Brethren avoids overtly political issues and concentrates on Scripture. (The term “evangelical” does not carry the same connotation in Europe as in North America and Great Britain, but simply indicates “non-Roman Catholic.”)
I have observed members of large congregations, with their Bibles open and following the exposition of Scripture, children sitting with their parents in Sunday services, groups chatting on the sidewalk after services. Christians are a small minority, but they are not “underground.”
A Czech pastor, visiting England, was asked at a student gathering in Keswick, “Do you have an underground church?” “Yes,” he replied, “we have just one: the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He was perhaps unaware of the Mormons who also meet illegally.” (The Jehovah’s Witnesses are growing rapidly, perhaps because they teach people to be unafraid of secular authority and provide an outlet for expression of opposition to the regime.)
Many day-to-day problems of church life in the Brethren churches are similar to those encountered in Western evangelical churches. The Brethren face conflicting teachings about the Holy Spirit, mostly introduced from outside the country. Parachurch groups based in the West sometimes offer help that tends to weaken the links of youth with their churches (all movements are illegal; the government only allows churches to exist). Representatives of other denominations, apparently motivated by jealousy, have occasionally lodged accusations against them with the authorities.
There are other problems peculiar to churches under Communist regimes. Church of the Brethren young people encounter obstacles in education and employment. They may, at first, be refused entrance to universities; but with prayer, polite persistence, and hard work, many eventually get in. [Roman Catholic and Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren youth, by contrast, face an absolute barrier.] Within the churches are a number of medical doctors and scientists. Most Christians are excluded from teaching, however, and a qualified person may lose his job because of his church involvement.
Believers are free to assemble for worship and prayer meetings in their own buildings. They are allowed to include their children in church activities and teaching, and to possess Bible commentaries in English and German. They print and circulate through the churches church newspapers and, at intervals, a certain number of Bibles and hymnbooks.
They are not free, generally speaking, to print and circulate Christian books in their own language. They are not allowed to hold open-air meetings, to hand out invitations to services on the street, or to distribute tracts.
While this freedom is by no means total, it compares quite favorably with that accorded in the past by Catholic regimes. The Jesuits, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hunted down and persecuted non-Catholics.
Local authorities in three different towns recently decided they must have properties on which the Free Evangelical group’s churches stand. In Levice (where John Stott was scheduled to speak last month), the property is required for an apartment complex to house workers expected for a new industrial project. (This should not be perceived as discrimination against Christians: a primary school next door and a Communist Youth headquarters on the same street are also slated for demolition.) The congregation there has obtained permission to expand the rear of the pastor’s home to form a meeting place.
In Presov and Stara Tura, the church properties are needed for planned improvement of cultural facilities, and these congregations have been searching urgently for alternate sites. The possibility of being forced into unsuitable meeting places, far from their present convenient downtown locations, has been lessened by the presence of sympathetic officials on local planning committees. The Presov congregation has just been allowed to purchase two houses for conversion into church facilities in an adjacent suburban neighborhood.
Only two years ago the Church of the Brethren rebuilt its largest church in Bratislava, the Slovak capital. Help came from believers throughout the country and beyond, who gave unstintingly of their money, time, and energy, doing practically all the work with their own hands. Each evening after their regular employment was finished, they were at the site—skilled craftsmen doing carpentry, ceramics, electrical work; girls lugging heavy buckets of cement and cooking meals for all the helpers.
The prospect of rebuilding three other churches so soon is formidable, and the task beyond their resources. Yet the property condemnations present a rare opportunity for Western Christians to contribute directly to Eastern European churches. The three churches have been granted permission to appeal outside Czechoslovakia for financial assistance.
(Malcolm McLaren, a retired customs official and treasurer of our church, is serving as treasurer of a temporary fund established to help in this rebuilding project: East European Fund, Above Bar Church, Southampton S02 3FR, England, U.K.)
It is, of course, impossible to generalize about all Eastern Europe from one nation in the Soviet orbit. But the experience of the Church of the Brethren in Czechoslovakia demonstrates that it is possible for a church to enjoy a positive relationship with the authorities without succumbing to a “collaboration” status, and that it can maintain a vigorous witness without going “underground.”
Romero’s Death Undermines Evangelical Neutrality
Holy Week celebrations in El Salvador were muted this year, as Roman Catholics mourned the death of their archbishop and deplored the violence that accompanied his funeral. Many traditional Good Friday processions were cancelled.
Well-known Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, 62, was felled by a single bullet March 24 as he lifted his chalice during mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Cancer Hospital near his home in suburban San Salvador. (No group claimed responsibility for the murder: Romero had received threats from both right- and left-wing terrorists.)
Then, on Sunday, March 30, at least 40 people died and hundreds were injured as bombs and gunfire shattered funeral services. More than 30,000 people had jammed into the Metropolitan Cathedral and central plaza in downtown San Salvador. Many were killed after shots erupted midway through the mass.
Visiting international church leaders remained trapped inside the cathedral for more than two hours as pandemonium reigned in the plaza and streets outside. An old woman, also trapped inside, commented, “In Salvador, God is on vacation.”
Well known for his defense of the poor, the outspoken Romero was a thorn in the side of the military governments that have ruled the small Central American nation for the past 47 years. Although he supported the agrarian reform program of the left-leaning, military-civilian junta that ousted the government of General Carlos Humberto Romero last October, the archbishop had been critical of what he called repression by the army and right-wing paramilitary groups. In a sermon the Sunday before his death, he urged the military not to obey orders “which are opposed to the law of God.” He also had called for a cutoff of U.S. military aid to El Salvador. His sermons characteristically contained denunciations of kidnappings and assassinations throughout the country. He had aroused the ire of the extreme left by condemning violence from any quarter.
The junta strongly condemned Romero’s murderers, blaming leftist extremists looking for a martyr; it also declared official mourning and closed schools. Colonel Adolfo Majano, a member of the junta, said that Romero’s example “impels us to continue the struggle to improve the conditions of poverty in our country.” (Two percent of the tiny republic’s 4.8 million people control 60 percent of the wealth.)
Romero reportedly had refused police protection, despite threats on his life, saying that “the shepherd seeks protection, not for himself, but for his flock.” He once told a reporter that his death would not change the course of events in El Salvador. “Persecution is a symptom [indicating] that we are moving in the right direction,” he said.
A previous attempt on Romero’s life failed when 72 sticks of dynamite were discovered in the vestry of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart where Romero customarily gave his Sunday sermons. Catholic radio station YSAX, which broadcast the homilies, was dynamited in February by right-wing terrorists. In the past three years, six Catholic priests have been killed in El Salvador.
The key question now for Salvador’s Catholics is who will replace Romero. The rightist element in the church was strongly opposed to his actions.
Evangelicals in El Salvador have remained on the sidelines of the political struggle, which has cost an estimated 700 lives so far this year. Despite their growing numbers—an estimated 10 percent of the population in El Salvador—evangelicals in Central America have been traditionally apolitical and much more concerned about evangelism than social change. But some pastors, who had ties with the previous regime, recently have received threats. In a last-ditch effort to shore up his government, ousted president Carlos Humberto Romero had called for a “national dialogue” involving various sectors of society, including evangelical churches. Now church leaders who participated in that dialogue face possible reprisals from the leftists. Archbishop Romero and his wing of the Catholic church had refused to participate.
Despite a drastic cutback in U.S. embassy personnel and warnings to all Americans in nonessential positions to leave the country, most missionaries have remained. There are no restrictions on movement or on religious liberty apart from the imposition of martial law.
Open to question, however, is how long the churches will be allowed to remain neutral. The son of a deacon at the First Baptist Church of San Salvador, apparently involved in a leftist group, recently attempted to burn down the church. Evangelist Paul Finkenbinder, known throughout Latin America as “Hermano Pablo,” intended to speak at a united Easter sunrise service, but withdrew after learning of threats against him (perhaps because he is a North American), and against evangelical radio station YSHQ, which was to broadcast the service. The service took place uneventfully, with a local pastor preaching.
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