Despite Thomas Howard’s conversion to Catholicism, his deep appreciation for his godly forbears and Protestant evangelicals in general remains. He lauds their commitment to many of the great tenets of the Christian faith, and he heartily commends their lifestyles and intrepid evangelism. Nonetheless, his analysis of the Christian faith encompasses an extensive critique of evangelical Protestant faith.
Howard faults evangelicalism on two fronts. First, he says, Protestantism does not have an infallible teaching office to guarantee an infallible understanding of the Christian faith. Second, he says, Protestantism is stricken by a poverty of authentic spirituality and meaningful worship.
It is true that many evangelicals sense a need for more meaningful worship in the life of their churches. Rather than clearing the mind’s eye to perceive more fully the resplendent glory of Almighty God, evangelical worship services on occasion can dim spiritual vision by focusing on displays of the trite, and even the tawdry.
Be that as it may, Howard misspeaks when he says “the soul can’t feed” on Reformation Protestantism. If comparisons must be made, the writings of many seventeenth-century Puritan divines reflect a profundity of spirituality that matches that of Catholic mystics of the same period. Many evangelicals have had their souls supremely well nourished by feasting on the Word of God. And the worship services in numerous evangelical churches throughout the world do not compare unfavorably for a sense of worship with services in Roman Catholic churches. The complaint that an overweening poverty of worship and spirituality has globally characterized Protestantism since the sixteenth century is not a judicious one.
Even though Howard faults evangelical worship, that criticism probably did not determine his decision to become a Catholic. He apparently was attracted by an almost-ethereal vision of the physical presence of the Catholic church evolving in time and yet remaining mysteriously constant.
He is particularly impressed by what he perceives to be the infallible doctrine that the pope and the teaching office of the church pronounce and defend. During an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, he repeatedly indicated that his beliefs were in line with whatever the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church ultimately affirmed. If he did not know how to answer a specific question or how to harmonize alleged descrepancies in Catholic tradition, he assured his questioner that somewhere a faithful Catholic teacher knew the correct response. Once attracted to the edifice of the church, he apparently could not envision how the claims of the church might ever be falsified. Whatever intellectual or spiritual objections might exist, in Howard’s thinking they yield before an important premise: essential church teaching is infallible. The question of how this premise is related to the obvious diversity of belief in contemporary Catholicism does not seem to trouble him.
Evangelicals should respect the sincerity of Howard’s convictions. But they undoubtedly will balk at his belief in the infallibility of the Catholic magisterium, based on apostolic authority passed through an unbroken physical continuity of papal ordinations. In the sixteenth century, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther balked at the magisterium, leading him to challenge the church’s teaching authority. Luther sought to have Scripture alone determine his beliefs, not the interpretations of the church fathers, the pope, or church traditions. For Luther, tradition was instructive but not determinative.
As Luther evaluated the Catholic church of his day, he could not square its teachings with its claim to represent authentic apostolic authority. If the church were genuinely apostolic, he reasoned, its teachings should have meshed more easily with those of the apostles as found in Holy Scripture. A notable student of the Bible, Luther began to draw up a list of items in Catholic doctrine and practice that he thought had no warrant in Holy Scripture. His list included the Catholic Mass as a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ’s death; the penitential system; purgatory; and the merits of the saints. He felt that the Catholic church had allowed many of its human, fallible traditions to supersede the teachings of God’s Word. Luther wanted to restore apostolic authority in the church by restoring true apostolic doctrine.
In contrast, by accepting the Catholic claim to infallible doctrine, Howard has been led to endorse a view of salvation mediated by the church’s priestly-sacramental system. Ironically, it was this teaching about salvation that grieved Luther, a fervent Catholic. Luther had been particularly troubled by the wrenching question of his own salvation. He tried to follow scrupulously what the Catholic church told him to do to find release from his sin and sense of guilt. He became a monk. He partook of the Eucharist regularly. He disciplined himself. But frustration greeted him at every turn. Some years later he found relief in Paul’s teaching about justification by faith alone.
Luther believed that many Catholic teachers of his day taught what amounted to a works-righteousness salvation. They did not sufficiently take into account the vitiating effects of sin upon man, disallowing his ability to earn his salvation. Luther struck out at the Catholic church as a mediating priestly-sacramental vehicle of salvation. According to widespread Catholic teaching, salvation depended not only on what God had done, but on how the faithful responded. They needed to dispose themselves to receive grace through the sacraments so that they could cooperate with God and earn their salvation through their faith and freely performed good works, including participation at the Mass.
Luther noted that in Romans and Galatians, Paul indicates that we are justified by faith through grace alone, not by our works. We are declared righteous because God sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Good works will flow freely from our justification, but they are not an instrumental cause of our salvation.
If Christ’s righteousness has not been imputed to us, if we are not clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone, then we are left in our own righteousness, which the Bible describes as “filthy rags.” Sharp are the distinctions between a salvation teaching that extols the mediating role of the Catholic sacramental system and the teaching of evangelical Protestantism.
In lengthy dialogues between American Roman Catholic and Lutheran scholars ending in 1983, vigorous attempts have been made to overcome these differences. Luther’s insights regarding justification by faith alone received a sympathetic hearing from Catholic representatives. They acknowledged that much of his teaching does find warrant in Scripture. Differences did emerge, however, regarding how Christians appropriate justification by faith alone.
For some Protestants, the Catholic church’s capacity to accommodate even a Martin Luther may come as a surprise. But for Howard and other Roman Catholics, this capacity to expand its “infallible” traditions to encompass new thought without betraying old beliefs is another gift of the Holy Spirit to his church.
It is to be hoped that evangelical Protestants will not be viewed as churlish if they take serious exception with the Roman Catholic Church’s analysis of its own infallible developing tradition. Not only is it difficult to find convincing scriptural justification for Catholic doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854), her bodily assumption into heaven (1950), and her redemptive role in our salvation, but it is difficult to track an unbroken tradition for these beliefs back to the apostolic generation. Moreover, in his careful study, Revolution in Rome (InterVarsity), David Wells demonstrates convincingly that several teachings of the Second Vatican Council, for example, were not merely adaptations of some previous beliefs of the church but outright doctrinal changes.
Is being an evangelical enough? When evangelical teaching reflects faithfully what the Bible teaches, then it is certainly enough. Does this mean that evangelicals have no regard for the communion of saints and the teachings of brothers and sisters in Christ who preceded them? Not at all. Many evangelicals find great instruction and spiritual solace in the writings of Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons, John Wesley, and of several Catholic authors. But no thoughtful evangelical would want to elevate his or her own theology or tradition to the point where they are no longer fully subject to potential revision in accord with the teachings of God’s Word.
As evangelicals, we can understand several of Howard’s criticisms of worship practices and low levels of spirituality within our churches. These problems should be frankly acknowledged, and steps should be taken to remedy them. But they should not constitute grounds for an evangelical making the pilgrimage to Rome. The capacity to offer a feast of aesthetic and awe-inspiring delights through stately architecture or reverential worship services does not guarantee that a church has apostolic authority behind it, whether it be Catholic or Protestant. Instead, that characteristic is determined by another question: Are the church’s teachings in line with the teachings of the apostles? Once again, if evangelicals seek with the Holy Spirit’s help to make the gospel taught by the apostles their living faith, that is enough. They will warrant their name: “men and women of the gospel.”
NORTH AMERICAN SCENE
Three members of a family who were expelled from a Southern Baptist congregation have filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the church and its pastor. Lloyd and Taye Ruth and their teenage daughter sued the First Baptist Church of Sunset, Louisiana, and its pastor, William M. Hill, Jr., for defamation, invasion of privacy, humiliation, and emotional distress. The Ruths claim that Hill knowingly made false accusations at a church meeting concerning their daughter’s character and sexual activities. Hill has said the suit questions “the right of a congregational church to discipline its members.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to review a North Carolina State University ban on religious solicitation in dormitories. The decision lets stand two lower federal court rulings that upheld the ban. In the suit, former student Scott Chapman claimed that his First Amendment rights had been violated, and that university officials had engaged in censorship.
The Lilly Endowment has given the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a $250,000 grant to help the denomination make plans for a new headquarters building. The 1.2 million-member denomination, based in eastern Indianapolis, has considered moving to the city’s downtown area. The Lilly Endowment has not made any commitments to six other Protestant denominations that city officials are trying to attract to Indianapolis.
The Book, a paperback edition of The Living Bible paraphase, has sold more than one million copies since August. An additional one million copies will be printed by this summer. The Book is selling well in major bookstore chains as well as in truck stops and supermarkets. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, 30 million copies of The Living Bible have been sold since its introduction 14 years ago.
A federal district judge has sentenced two persons convicted of helping Salvadorians illegally enter the United States. Jack Elder, director of a shelter for Central Americans in San Benito, Texas, was sentenced to 150 days in a halfway house. Stacey Lynn Merkt, a volunteer at the shelter, was sentenced to 269 days in prison. Elder and Merkt are free pending an appeal of their convictions.
The Assemblies of God has grown by more than 1,500 congregations in the last decade, with nearly a church per day being added during the 1980s. The Gulf Latin American District has led the growth of the denomination, adding 118 new churches since 1980. The Assemblies of God reported 10,582 congregations in the United States at the end of 1984.
A federal district court judge has struck down a resolution that banned “First Amendment activities” at Los Angeles International Airport. Jews for Jesus successfully challenged a Board of Airport Commissioners resolution that prohibited religious speech—including the distribution of religious tracts—within the airport’s central terminal area. Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that the airport terminal is a public forum that is open to First Amendment activities.
The Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa has exonerated Allan Boesak of the charge that he had an extramarital affair. Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has resumed his official church duties. Allegations against the churchman were published in the Johannesburg Star earlier this year. Boesak is a leading opponent of apartheid, the South African government’s policy of racial separation.
The Chinese government has decided to allow overseas churches to send non-missionary teachers to China. Ten Christian teachers who are expected to arrive in China by September will teach English in state-run schools under the supervision of the Amity Foundation, an organization started by Chinese Christians. The American teachers are expected to enhance the church’s growing position of respectability in Chinese society.
An international human rights organization has identified 15 countries where religious believers face torture, imprisonment, and even death. Amnesty International cited Albania, Burundi, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Rumania, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia. The human rights organization says a number of the countries grant more rights to atheists than to religious believers.
A United Nations (UN) official says one-half to two-thirds of the UN’S $1.5 billion in targeted emergency aid for Africa has been met.UN relief coordinator F. Bradford Morse said he is confident that the immediate needs of drought-stricken African countries will be met. The U.S. government has donated $1 billion worth of food. The American public has contributed an additional $75 million.
Churches around the world will observe a Day of Prayer for World Evangelization on May 26. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization proposed in 1977 that Pentecost Sunday of each year be a day of prayer. An increasing number of churches worldwide has adopted the proposal.
Critics Link A Fantasy Game To 29 Deaths
A fantasy game called Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), manufactured by TSR Hobbies in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, has had its share of critics since it was first marketed in 1973. In recent months some of those critics, including the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV), have linked the game to 29 suicides and murders since 1979.
Earlier this year NCTV petitioned the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Protection Agency to require TSR Hobbies to put warnings on game books stating that the game has been linked to several deaths, NCTV also asked the Federal Communications Commission to require similar warnings during the airing of a Saturday morning cartoon show based on the game.
All three federal agencies rejected the request, NCTV chairman Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, said his organization has begun to ask members of Congress who oversee those agencies for “their cooperation in enforcing the laws” governing toy safety and fraudulent advertising.
Accompanying NCTV in this effort is an organization called Bothered About D & D (B.A.D.D.). The group was founded by Pat Pulling, the mother of a boy who played D&D at the time he killed himself. Pulling said D&D game manuals contain “detailed descriptions of killing, Satanic human sacrifice, assassination, sadism, premeditated murder, and curses of insanity.” She added that much of the material comes from “demonology, including witchcraft, the occult, and evil monsters.”
TSR estimates that as many as 4 million people, mostly teenagers and young adults, play D&D. Players rely on detailed game manuals and use their imaginations to create adventures under the direction of an experienced player known as the Dungeonmaster. The Dungeonmaster designs problems that other players will encounter and assigns to players strengths and weapons they can use to defeat enemies and achieve power and treasure.
“I don’t believe TSR … wants to do harm or promote violence,” Radecki said. “But this game is detrimental to millions of people.” A game can last for hours, weeks, even months. Radecki and other critics charge that for some players, intense involvement blurs the line between reality and fantasy. “A typical player may spend as much as 15 hours a week playing the game,” Radecki said. “An avid player will spend much more [time].”
TSR spokesman Dieter Sturm said 5,000 American teenagers commit suicide every year. “Maybe some of these people did play D&D,” he said, “but so do millions of others.”
NCTV and B.A.D.D. said that in at least 13 deaths linked to D&D, there is “very solid evidence”—including police reports, eyewitnesses, and documents left by the victims—that the game’s influence was a decisive factor. Sturm called such claims “misleading.” Subsequent investigations, he said, “found the game has nothing to do with the deaths.”
John F. MacArthur, Jr., has been named president of The Master’s College, formerly Los Angeles Baptist College. The school previously was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptists. MacArthur will continue his ministries as senior pastor of Grace Community Church in California.
Gregg O. Lehman has resigned after four years as president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. “The presidency has placed a tremendous strain on me physically and emotionally,” he said, “and has caused strains on my family.” Lehman said he plans to study and write as an executive in residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Maxwell Meyers has succeeded Charles Bennett as president of Mission Aviation Fellowship. The evangelical agency coordinates some 300 pilots who provide flight services for missions and local churches in remote areas of the Third World.
George Erik Rupp, dean of the Harvard Divinity School, has been named president of Rice University in Houston. The Presbyterian clergyman is the first nonscientist to lead the university known for its science and engineering programs. Rupp succeeds Norman Hackerman, president of the school for 15 years.
The trustees of Fresno (Calif.) Pacific College have appointed Richard Kriegbaum as the school’s president. Kriegbaum has served as the college’s vice-president of administration. He formerly served as director of planning and marketing at Wheaton (Ill.) College. Kriegbaum will succeed college president Edmund Janzen in July.
Dennis M. Mulder has been named international director of the World Home Bible League. In his new position, Mulder will oversee the distribution of Scriptures in 73 countries. He succeeds William Ackerman, the organization’s director for 35 years.
The Christian Ministries Management Association, a professional association designed to assist managers of Christian organizations, has elected Lance Renault as president. Renault is director of administration for Compassion International.
Herbert H. Schiff has been named chairman of this year’s National Bible Week (Nov. 24 to Dec. 1). Schiff, chairman of SCOA Industries in Columbus, Ohio, was appointed by the interfaith Laymen’s National Bible Committee. National Bible Week is intended to remind Americans of the Bible’s importance and to encourage Bible reading and Bible study.
Planned Interfaith Cable Tv Network In Canada Faces Uncertain Fate
Canada’s evangelical denominations are taking an open-minded but cautious approach to plans for a religious cable television network.
Known as Canadian Interfaith Network (CIN), plans call for programming in two formats. One would feature programs produced by various religious groups. The other would include news, current affairs, and youth features based on broad, nonspecific religious values.
The proposal for CIN grew out of discussions begun three years ago between several religious groups and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Crossroads Christian Communication, producer of the Christian talk show “100 Huntley Street,” initiated the discussions. The CRTC soon invited a broad cross section of religious groups to participate. Crossroads, headed by Pentecostal minister David Mainse, later pulled out of the negotiations, saying it was a production company and not a religious denomination. However, Crossroads said it would support CIN’s formal application if the CRTC holds hearings. The next meeting between CIN and the CRTC is tentatively set for next month.
Dan Block, of Mennonite Brethren Communications, said his agency is concerned that a cable network could create a ghetto effect, limiting the exposure of Christian programming. In addition, he said his agency is concerned about possible CIN strictures on specifically evangelistic programming, CIN wants denominations to use the network “to speak to their own people,” he said.
Keith Hobson, general secretary of the Canadian Baptist Federation (CBF), said CBF members have not “thrown out” the possibility of CIN involvement. But he said they are concerned about the high financial costs required.
In 1981, the CRTC surveyed television viewing habits. The commission found that a program called “Man Alive” attracted the largest audience, with 900,000 viewers. Produced by the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), “Man Alive” is a public affairs program with light religious overtones. “Hymn Sing,” the CBC’s concession to the evangelical market, drew 400,000 viewers, about the same number as all Canadian evangelically produced programs combined. The survey indicated that Christian programs telecast from the United States attracted about 800,000 Canadian viewers.
In the past, the CRTC has been known to sidetrack evangelical attempts to make extensive use of the electronic media. Four years ago the commission gave a Christian group verbal permission to develop a family-oriented radio station in British Columbia. The CRTC later changed its mind after the media arm of Canada’s major Protestant denominations objected.
LLOYD MACKEY in Vancouver, British Columbia
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