Decked with robes, dresses, flags, and banners of many national colors, more than 3,500 Christians from 29 countries gathered in Jerusalem last month to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and show their support for Israel.
The celebrants could not have met with better timing for their purpose and enthusiasm. The gathering coincided with the wrenching introspection many Israelis went through over the massacre by Christian militia troops of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who were in camps under Israeli charge. It also coincided with the burning down, in a suspected act of arson, of Jerusalem’s Narkis Street Baptist Church. Many at the feast opened their wallets to help rebuild the gutted structure.
The eight-day celebration, organized by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, began October 3, and filled the city’s largest auditorium and conference center. The days were taken up with seminars, mostly dealing with a biblical view of modern Israel. The evenings were devoted to a common meeting in the main auditorium.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin addressed the opening night crowd of 4,000 people. Apart from Knesset debates, it was his first public address after the massacre. He received a standing, whistling ovation—better, as one in the audience said, than he would have gotten from Israelis.
Looking weary and leaning on a cane, Mr. Begin called the meeting “one of the greatest manifestations of the brotherhood of nations and of Christian-Jewish solidarity. We, believing Jews and believing Christians, can work together so that our children and our children’s children can live in peace,” he said. He briefly defended Israeli actions in Lebanon and outlined proposals for Palestinian self-administration on the West Bank. He left after another standing ovation.
The evening’s main speaker, Lance Lambert, a Jewish Christian who has lived in Israel since 1973, lined out the prevailing view of the conference and of the Christian embassy. “Some want this government to fall,” he said, referring to the political clashes that followed the Phalangist massacre. “What I know is this: Israel will not fall. She will not fall because God has raised her up. God has regathered her; God has given his word she is home to stay.
If anyone disagreed with him, it was not evident in that most receptive audience. The largest part of those at the celebration came from the United States. Other large delegations came from England and South Africa. It was evident that many of them belong to the charismatic renewal. Most raised their hands during times of worship and praise, and numbers danced in the aisles when the music moved them, which was often.
This was the fourth celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles organized by Christians in Jerusalem in as many years. In 1979, a number of Christians living in Jerusalem decided to observe Succoth (as the feast is known) among themselves. In 1980, after Israel made Jerusalem its capital and foreign governments moved their embassies out of the city at the behest of Arab nations, the International Christian Embassy was founded, and it organized a more formal celebration of the feast. Last year, the embassy’s efforts drew 3,000 people to Jerusalem with the theme “Israel, you are not alone.”
The idea behind the feast, according to Jan Willem van der Hoeven, one of the founders of the embassy, is Zechariah’s prophecy (14:16) that all the nations will go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles after the return of Jesus Christ.
On the fourth evening of the conference, Maj. Saad Haddad, commander of Christian militia forces in southern Lebanon on Israel’s border, was an unexpected guest speaker and, for nearly an hour, explained why some Lebanese Christians feel that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were the only way the country could restore self-government.
The next afternoon, on the eve of the Sabbath, thousands of the celebrants walked with banners proclaiming love and support for Israel down the steep slope of the Mount of Olives from Beth-phage to the western wall in the old city.
Some of the feast’s celebration was quieted by the news that the Narkis Street Baptist Church, a large wooden structure, had been totally burned early Friday morning. At the church’s regular Saturday service, which was held in the church yard beside the charred stucco walls that remained, Rev. Robert Lindsey, the church’s pastor, said that the congregation had grown from 12 to 120 since 1976. They had been praying for fire from heaven and for larger quarters, he said, but had not expected the answer in the form it came. Nearly 1,000 people filled the yard, and when the call was made for help in rebuilding the church, dollars, shekels, and checks overflowed the collection plates.
EDMUND K. GRAVELY JR., in Jerusalem
Mormons Add A Twist To Their Holy Book
The Book of Mormon is no longer just the Book of Mormon. Church leaders announced in early October that, in order to clarify that Mormons believe in Christ, the name of one of their holy books would be expanded to the Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ. (Mormon Christology, however, substantially differs from that of orthodox Christianity, CT, July 16, p. 30.)
The selection received the required unanimous vote of the First Presidency of the Church—its highest governing body—and its council of 12 apostles. According to Don LeFevre, the church’s director of press relations, the name change is the most dramatic manifestation of a “long-standing idea to seek to be better understood.” LeFevre said, “Many of our missionaries find that our nickname [Mormon] is more popular than our real name [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints].”
LeFevre explained, “We simply want to educate those who think the Mormon church is not Christian, to clarify that Jesus is a central figure in the Book of Mormon.”
High Court Hears Bob Jones Case
Bob Jones University first began tangling with the federal government 12 years ago, when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced it would no longer grant tax-exempt status to certain institutions it deemed racist, including Bob Jones and Goldsboro (N.C.) Christian Schools. The fundamentalist Christian schools haven’t had much success in the courts since then, and their case finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court October 12. The hearing drew the largest crowds since the Watergate tapes and reverse discrimination cases of the 1970s. According to William B. Ball, the counsel representing Bob Jones, “no case of recent years has been more fraught with potential consequences.”
Supreme Court justices are aware of the tightrope they are walking. Should the Court decide in favor of schools such as Bob Jones, which bars interracial dating and marriage, and Goldsboro, which does not admit blacks, the civil rights camp will charge the government with subsidizing racial discrimination. But if the Court supports the res in its efforts to discourage the growth of “segregation academies,” the effects on religious freedom in the United States could be far-reaching.
Repercussions, according to some civil rights groups, could extend to other institutions which currently enjoy tax-exempt status, including, for example, all-boy and all-girl private schools and churches that refuse to ordain women.
William T. Coleman, the Court-appointed attorney arguing for the IRS, contends a decision against Bob Jones would not have repercussions elsewhere. He argued before the Court that racial discrimination is in a category by itself. Coleman argued that institutions that violate the “fundamental public policy” against racial discrimination are not “charitable” within the meaning of the tax exemption provisions.
Ball, on the other hand, maintains the case is one of “religious civil rights.” Ball contends that the actions of institutions such as Bob Jones are motivated not by racial discrimination, but by sincere religious conviction (CT, February 19, p. 26). According to Ball, the issue is “whether government may require that the exercise of a proved, long-held and sincerely held religious belief, by an institution … shall, on the ground of conflict with ‘federal public policy,’ result in the denial of its tax-exempt status.”
Another dimension of Ball’s argument concerns whether or not the res, without explicit authorization from Congress, has the power to determine which institutions should be tax-exempt.
Private charities, schools, and a coalition of more than 400 other groups, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief, are all anxiously awaiting the Court’s decision, which will come by next summer.
North American Scene
National Bible Week, November 21 to 28, marks the bicentennial of Bible publishing in the United States. The Laymen’s National Bible Committee, the sponsor of National Bible Week, has notified 2,400 public and university libraries of the week, requesting observance through special exhibits and activities. On September 12, 1782, the Continental Congress authorized publishing of the King James Version of the Bible by a Philadelphia printer.
Congress has adopted a resolution asking President Reagan to designate 1983 the Year of the Bible. The resolution asserts that “the history of our nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies,” and that “renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people.” Senator William Armstrong (R-Colo.) sponsored the legislation. As commemorative legislation, it requires 30 signatures from the Senate and a majority, 218, from the House before it can be considered.
Consumption of alcohol, even in the smallest quantities, prevents the growth and reproduction of red blood cells, according to Dr. Jerry L. Spivak of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Spivak adds that the ill effects are “transient and reversible,” that the red blood cells return to normal when the alcohol leaves the system, and that the damage can be minimized by taking certain vitamins and eating green leafy vegetables. According to the latest Gallup poll, the number of Americans who drink is down from 70 percent in 1981 to 65 percent in August of this year.
Nyack College, Nyack, New York, celebrated its centennial year during its homecoming weekend in mid-October. Founded in 1882 as a missionary training school, Nyack is the oldest Bible college in North America, the forerunner of some 400 similar institutions. The weekend’s activities included the inauguration of Nyack’s new president, David L. Rambo. Rambo replaced Thomas P. Bailey who retired after 35 years of service to the college.
The U. S. Supreme Court next spring will review a Minnesota tuition tax credit law similar to a bill proposed by the Reagan administration. Last spring, in the case of Mueller v. Allen, a federal appeals court upheld a 1955 Minnesota law permitting parents to deduct up to $700 in state taxes for the educational expenses of each child. Noting that it applied to parents of children in both public and private schools, the court determined the law was neutral under the First Amendment. But opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, note that about 95 percent of the students enrolled in nonpublic schools in Minnesota attend religious schools. Many view the case as a test of the Reagan administration’s national tuition tax credit proposal.
A modern day version of the story of the Prodigal Son is the subject of a major feature film to be released in commercial theaters by World Wide Pictures in 1983. An impressive array of craftsmen has been hired to assist in the making of the film, called The Prodigal. The producer is Ken Wales, a Christian who has served as an actor, writer, director, and producer of numerous films including The Tamarind Seed and Revenge of the Pink Panther. William Creber, the film’s production designer/art director is a three-time Academy Award nominee for his work on Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. The Prodigal, which will be shown in commercial theaters around the world, features Billy Graham preaching at his crusade in Spokane, Washington, in August.
The National Federation for Decency has assailedPlayboymagazine for publishing a sexual fantasy they believe parodies the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Donald Wildmon, a United Methodist minister who founded the organization, has registered complaints with Playboy’s major advertisers and said he planned to mail a copy of the article to 160,000 clergy throughout the nation. The article is actually a story in which a “stupid” couple agrees to have a “more intelligent friend” impregnate the wife. While the action is in progress, the husband visits the park where he is visited by an angel-like nymph who tells him, among other things, that he is Joseph, his wife is Mary, and his son will be a genius, the Messiah. Then the angel has sex with the husband to “demonstrate what heaven really is.”
A rumor that Stephen F. Olford was murdered at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City was refuted by Encounter Ministries, Inc., the organization Olford founded and leads. Olford, who pastored Calvary Baptist from 1959–1973, was in England when reports of his death began circulating in late September. The National Association of Evangelicals received calls of condolence from throughout the United States. A young man claiming to be a relative of Olford falsely informed the president of Bethel College in Minnesota of Olford’s death. No further explanation has been offered as to how and why the rumor spread.
Led by a plummeting Catholic school population, the enrollment in private schools in the United States has declined sharply, according to a Census Bureau report. The report also revealed an increase of more than 30 percent between 1964 and 1979 in black enrollment and a 37 percent skid in the number of whites enrolled.
Twenty-one boxes of the personal letters and journals of reclusive Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard will remain in the custody of the Los Angeles County clerk pending trial over whether the church or its former archivist, Gerald Armstrong, should have them. Fearing the material will be used to represent Hubbard unfavorably, the church is suing Armstrong, a former member, claiming he stole the documents, estimated to be worth several million dollars to collectors.
Nurses in some San Francisco area hospitals are refusing to assist in second-trimester abortions, causing the hospitals to put new limits on abortions. The nurses say it is too traumatic for them to work with fetuses the same size as babies they work to care for during child birth. Margaret Crosby, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, views the refusal by hospitals to do late-term abortions as “yet another assault” on the right to abortion.
Earlham College, a Quaker school is rushing to the aid of young men who have refused to register for the draft. The school is backing Mike Frisch, 20, who decided two years ago not to comply with the registration law. Earlham says it will make up any federal aid a student loses because of failure to register. Earlham’s president, Franklin Wallin, says, “We’re not doing this for people who forgot to register or were too lazy to do so. This is just for people who are doing it as a matter of principle.”
Leaders of the Alliance of Latin American Youth Movements have set a goal to lead 10 million Latin American youths to Christ in 1984. The fledgling Costa Rica-based group presented its evangelistic plan to southern California missions executives at a Los Angeles luncheon hosted by the Open Doors with Brother Andrew organization.
Conservative Churches Grow, But Not By Witnessing, Canadian Researchers Find
A Canadian sociological study calls into question the assumption that evangelical churches are unusually successful in winning unchurched people. Sociologists Reginald W. Bibby of the University of Lethbridge and Merlin B. Brinkerhoff of the University of Calgary base their contention on a five-year study of 16 evangelical churches in Canada’s “oil capital,” Calgary, Alberta.
They enlisted the cooperation of the congregations in analyzing the backgrounds of all new members received from 1976 through 1980. The designated membership categories were reaffiliation (transfer of membership or resumption of lapsed membership), birth (immediate family members), and proselytism (those with an unchurched background).
Their findings closely paralleled those of a previous study they had conducted in Calgary 10 years earlier. “In both decades, growth was primarily internal, representing the procreation and circulation of ‘the saints’,” they concluded.
Seventy percent of the additions came from transfers of membership of people who were already Christians, and 17 percent were from families of members. In that fast-growing urban center, only 13 percent of the additions were from the ranks of the unchurched. (Most of those unchurched had been reached through Christian friends or relatives.)
The sociologists concluded that “these findings … do not support the imminent prospect of proselytism becoming the major new membership pathway which will revitalize ailing churches.”
They recognize that their findings run counter to evangelical assumptions and to some of the conclusions of Dean Kelley in his book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.
The two contend that their findings “offer a fairly conclusive case for the limited outreach of conservative groups in Canada.” They add, “We would maintain that any departure from our central finding in any modern industrial country—including, of course, the United States—is not to be expected.”
They intimate that failure to make evangelistic inroads into the ranks of the unchurched, secularized majority could be disastrous for Canadian churches. Previous studies by Bibby revealed that since World War II, the proportion of Canadians attending weekly church services had dropped from two-thirds to one-third of the total population. The two warn the percentage could drop considerably lower by the turn of the century.
The Calgary study involved congregations of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, several Baptist groups, the Missionary church, Nazarene church, the Pentecostal denomination, Christian Brethren, and the Salvation Army.
The sociologists’ findings were presented in a paper, “Circulation of the Saints Revisited,” at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Providence, Rhode Island, late last month.
LESLIE K. TARR
A church group in the Netherlands published a book full ofNATOmilitary secrets last month. The Interchurch Peace Council produced the 72-page book in Dutch and are selling it at a cost of about $2.50. The book is headed straight for the best-seller list, and NATO officials at its Brussels headquarters are hopping mad. The group isn’t saying how it got the information and argues that the public has a right to know everything.
The primate of an Orthodox denomination in the U.S. agreed last month to leave the United States if federal authorities dropped charges that he incited anti-Semitic violence in his native Romania during World War II. Archbishop Valerian Trifa, 68, heads the 35,000-member Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, with headquarters near Jackson, Michigan. He denied accusations of writing inflammatory newspaper articles and making anti-Jewish speeches, one of them said to have touched off four days of rioting in Bucharest in which 300 Christians and Jews were killed. But he admitted that he belonged to the fascist Iron Guard and that he had lied to American immigration officials 32 years ago to win an entry visa. The Justice Department said Trifa is the first person to be forced out of the U.S. for concealing war crimes from immigration officials.
The Austrian (Lutheran) Protestant Church appears to be placing a fresh stress on evangelism. At the end of September it held its first Protestant convention in Salzburg to promote a missionary emphasis, drawing some 1,000 participants. According to one of the organizers, the convention was designed to supplement earlier youth conventions (CT, June 12, 1981, p. 44), reaching up to the 25–40 age group. The head of the Protestant church’s department of evangelism and church growth, Klaus Eickhoff, said that most Austrians have been christened but no longer know “the gospel of reconciliation,” and therefore are “without faith, without hope.” No free church pastor could have said it better.
The recession’s punch is hitting West Germany’s Lutheran church especially hard. Under the republic’s state church system, all church members are obliged to pay a state church tax equal to 8 or 9 percent of their income, which is channeled back to the church. Those who are not members are officially leaving the church to save money, although some continue to attend services. Others find this an opportune time to depart as a way of protesting church policies, perceived as too liberal by many Germans. The majority still retains membership in the state churches (Lutheran and Roman Catholic), with 80 percent in the system overall, but membership is declining noticeably in the big northern cities—to 50 percent in Hamburg, for example.
Efforts to grant the Siberian Seven U.S. permanent resident status are stalled for this session of Congress. The Pentecostal believers, who have remained in sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Moscow for almost four-and-a-half years, seek to emigrate in order to practice their faith in freedom. A bill to grant them permanent resident status passed the Senate unanimously in July. But the chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.), believes the measure would set a bad precedent and has bottled it up in his committee. Meanwhile, the eldest Vashchenko daughter, Lidia, has resumed her hunger strike.
At the Islamic Conference’s thirteenth annual session in Niamey, Niger, agreement was reached on providing financial and other assistance to Uganda, Malaysia, and Niger for establishing Islamic universities. And the United Arab Emirates announced that it will send 1 million copies of the Koran to Niger as a gift.
Madagascar is an ecumenist’s dream. The Federation of Protestant Churches in Madagascar has had just two member denominations: the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) and the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). In September the island nation’s two groups voted to merge, thus making the federation redundant. The FJKM was itself a 1960s merger of Anglican, Reformed, and Friends churches, and the FLM joined three Lutheran bodies from Norway and the U.S. The combined membership accounts for more than 1.5 million of the country’s 9.2 million citizens.
Two South African Dutch Reformed denominations suspended from membership in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) in August for their espousal of apartheid have reacted in different ways. The smaller group, the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, resigned from WARC. But the dominant group, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, invited its colored (mixed-race) daughter church, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (NGSK), to hold talks with it. The NGSK accepted the offer.
Four missionaries in Algeria have been permanently expelled. The four, all with the North African Mission, have been working among the Kabyles, a minority race in the country. No explanation has been given for the expulsions, but the line of questioning by officials suggests a political rather than a religious motive. In neighboring Morocco, by contrast, Dutch tourist Paul de Kloe was recently sentenced to two years of imprisonment for distributing religious literature without official permission, an infringement of Moroccan law. De Kloe has now been released after appeal and concerted outside representation on his behalf.
A central synagogue for Jerusalem was dedicated in August. Costing more than $14 million, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue—not a temple—seats 1,700 men, plus 600 women in its balcony. Designed as a meeting place for all Jews, not just particular factions within Judaism, its opening was an important event in national life, even though it was overshadowed by the Lebanon invasion.
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