Signs Of God’S Presence

In your CT Institute discussion of the Holy Spirit, “Wonder-working Power” (March 19), it seemed you did not include someone with a sacramental background. Thus, a whole area and theology of the Holy Spirit’s work has been forgotten.

For those of us who come from sacramental churches, the sacraments offer great hope and comfort. They are signs of God’s presence and love in our midst. Through the gifts of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit uses the natural—that which we can see, feel, touch, hear, and taste—to do the supernatural. The wonderful thing is that this work of the Holy Spirit is not occasional but happens as often as the community of faith gathers and prays and worships together, and as often as the Lord’s servants serve his people with the administration of his sacraments.

Don Royster

Orlando, Fla.

I wish the distinguished panel had dealt with Paul’s prayer for power in Ephesians 1:17–20. He clearly balances the desire for power with the necessity for enlightenment as to calling and inheritance. It seems the Ephesians were trying to use the Spirit’s power out of context. It is the “ultradispensationalist” who recognizes that coveting the manifestations of power of another’s calling not only leads to confusion but to a thwarting of that very power.

David Garrett

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

I was gratified to see evangelicals finally grappling in meaningful ways with cessationism (that “extraordinary” charismata ceased with the apostles), and particularly with the internally inconsistent and unbiblical notion of “miracle” upon which the doctrine depends.

I only wish the panel had examined some startling gaps between evangelical traditions and biblical emphases, not only in the doctrine of the kingdom of God, but in ecclesiology, pneumatology, eschatology, and even Christology as well—all of which, when biblical rather than historical emphases are allowed, are inimical to cessationism. Symptomatic of these gaps was the panel’s striking failure to appeal to Scripture during the discussion.

We evangelicals have a long agenda yet to discuss on this important issue, but the CT panel broke new ground (at least for the popular audience) and is to be commended for its insight and irenic tone.

Jon Ruthven

Regent University

Virginia Beach, Va.

Why do Christians seek signs and wonders? Why must the Holy Spirit authenticate our Christian experiences with extraordinary happenings and spiritual manifestations? True faith does not require this but creates in us the mind of Christ, a humility that allows God to be God.

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Thomas L. Reid

Bloomington, Ill.

I wonder if having a panel of only whites and males is an expression of the unconscious assumptions and biases which do tend to guide us. Fortunately, you pictured each panel member, so I could verify what I had suspected: On the panel, not a single woman! Not a single person of color! Perhaps this was an unintended demonstration of our blindness, of an even deeper need for “new attitudes.”

Max V. Kemling

Hampshire, Ill.

If some of these theologians are serious about “power encounters,” the modern university is a good place to have one. But I never see any of these theologians around campus. If they are serious about what they said at the colloquium, perhaps it is time for another Mount Carmel power confrontation.

Faculty on secular campuses know absolutely nothing about the issues discussed by the participants. It isn’t that they don’t know about contemporary spirituality, it is just that they know a lot about the Shirley MacLaine type, but nothing about biblical spirituality, which the theologians were talking about.

Frank C. Nelsen

University of Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wis.

Twiddle D.D.

It’s May—when thoughts turn to daffodils, dandelions, and honorary doctorates.

Regrettably, it’s hard to find anyone who will speak a good word for honorary doctorates. Detractors say we are dying by degrees, that each spring’s crop of D.D.’s is harvested only for its wealth or prestige.

Nonsense. The honorary degree is as American as the credit card. Anyone can qualify—executives, entertainers, evangelists, and entrepreneurs. Schools often award these degrees without consulting the faculty, thus avoiding any scholastic discrimination.

Those who denigrate honorary titles are usually the poor drudges who have given up five years to earn one. They forget that earned degrees are as useless as the honorary ones—in any measurable sense, at least.

So let’s stop criticizing the system that produces an annual crop of doctors of divinity, humane letters, and the rest. After all, what harm is there? They make the institution happy; it gains prestige and a possible donor. They please the recipient—forevermore able to put “Dr.” in front of his or her name. They please the public: We all need heroes, and heroes need rewards.

Then again, maybe I’ll ask my surgeon if his degree is earned or honorary.


A Kind Of “Shrewdness”?

Paul de Vries’s article, “The Taming of the Shrewd” [March 19], cites Waste Management as one example of being shrewd while also fostering a kind of harmlessness within its organization for its customers and shareholders. This “shrewd” company moved into a small midwestern town, wined and dined the local government officials, and then made sizable contributions to their political campaigns. These same officials made the decision (based on a legal technicality) to award Waste Management the contract to pick up the waste in town while denying it to a fine, local Christian company that previously had the contract. Thereafter Waste Management made an offer to buy out the local company. When is Waste Management going to “institutionalize” fair-ethical competition? Or is this $hrewd?

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Mark Van Overlope

Munster, Ind.

What Erich Honecker Did Know

I was delighted to read Philip Yancey’s column “What Erich Honecker Didn’t Know” [March 19]. Honecker and his entourage of Marxist philosophers were actually well acquainted with the church’s convictions about peace, prayer, the welfare of the state, and other issues. This was evidenced by the homage the ruling Social Unity party paid East German Christians during the Luther Jubilee in 1983. Regardless of their actual beliefs, Honecker and the SED played the Luther Jubilee for all it was worth.

Since the beginning of his career for the East German communist state, Honecker has undoubtedly known much about the Christians he persecuted and tried to manipulate. Recently, however, Honecker, who is terminally ill, was given shelter by a Berlin pastor after he was released from a hospital. Perhaps from this experience he will be guided to discern the true distance between knowing and loving God. The razing of this wall in Honecker’s heart would, in my opinion, dwarf the fall of the other wall, which he so desperately sought to prevent.

Dan Beck

Science Applications International Corporation

Greenwood Village, Colo.

Wrong Numbers

A discrepancy regarding the Churches of Christ overseas ministries statistic in the 1989 MARCMission Handbook has come to our attention. Although listed as the sixth-largest agency on page 55 of the 1989 Handbook, there is a note on page 121 indicating that the Churches of Christ overseas ministries figure was compiled in 1984. Given this fact, the Churches of Christ figure in the 1989 Handbook would not be useful in the type of analysis we did on per-member missions giving (News, March 19, p. 48).

Sylvia Ronsvalle

empty tomb, inc.

Urbana, Ill.

The Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church received $4,177,500 in total income for overseas ministries in 1987. The figure of $2,305,000 used in the article was the amount of anticipated budgeted expenses. This change will greatly affect the percentages listed in the comparison.

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Raymond L. Dahlberg

The Evangelical Covenant Church

Chicago, Ill.

“Publicity Drum Beating”

Your North American Scene article titled “Southern Baptists: About-face on Race” [News, March 19] caught my eye. How I wish there were some truth to this publicity drum beating. So what if there are now some black SBC churches, and efforts are made to establish such congregations as well as to convert National Baptist churches to SBC? As long as black and white Christians, Baptist and otherwise, cannot and do not worship together in churches, no true reconciliation has transpired, and no about-face on race has occurred.

What is needed is not black SBC churches but racially mixed, diverse congregations of churches where all may worship and serve Christ together without racial prejudice.

Wayne Conrad

Jackson, Miss.

More Services, More Security?

I find it interesting that Lyle Schaller has missed a fundamental reason for the growth of “megachurches” (March 5). As the church provides more services, it also provides more security for the Christian who is not prepared for “contact” with those Jesus sent us to be light and salt for. We have our own aerobics classes, softball teams, parenting groups, and anything else that happens to be trendy and in vogue. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with these, but I often find Christians hiding out there. Megachurches can be a place of renewal and refreshment, but we must be careful lest they choke us of our eternal purpose.

Bill Lewis

Seattle, Wash.

Pastor Ross Rhodes seems to say that missions giving increased as Calvary Church grew. In 1973 it was $320 per person per year; now it is about half that. Their mortgage interest is now $667 per person per year. Once Calvary is free of “serving the lender,” then they will be free indeed to give more to missions than ever before, but not until then. We may borrow to complete our buildings, but we need to keep our eye on the tradeoffs.

Peter Stull

Alfred Station, N.Y.

In your box score of the ten largest megachurches, you note “figures supplied by the churches.” A good caveat! We who live in the Hammond, Indiana, area would be surprised if the actual numbers of the #1 claim (First Baptist, Hammond) were even half their often-touted figures.

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Vernon J. Norman

Lansing, Ill.

The list of the ten largest U.S. churches represents worship attendance only and does not include Sunday-school attendance. The attendance for First Assembly of God (Phoenix) should have read 10,000 rather than 10,500.

All but one of the churches listed shared current attendance figures. My best available sources, and my own recent visit to the church, confirm to me that the attendance I listed for the church is still reliable. After repeated efforts to obtain their information, I can only honor their undisclosed reason for withholding information at this time.

John N. Vaughan

International Mega-Church Research Center

Bolivar, Mo.


Beware of Church Resolutions

At their annual meetings last summer, mainline denominations endorsed a host of resolutions on U.S. foreign-policy issues. These resolutions called for, among other things, an end to military aid to El Salvador, economic sanctions against South Africa, and condemnation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

If history is any guide, this summer church assemblies will again adopt a number of public-policy resolutions. Are such pronouncements useful? Do they guide decision makers and highlight the relevant biblical and moral principles that contribute to just foreign policy? Based on the record of past resolutions, the answer is clearly no.

There are several reasons why these resolutions are ineffective.

First, church resolutions are simplistic, offering categorical pronouncements on complex foreign-policy problems. But the important issues in international politics do not lend themselves to simple moral verdicts. In devising resolutions, mainline church leaders would do well to recall H. L. Mencken’s advice that “for every complex problem there is a simple solution—and it is always wrong.”

Second, resolutions are typically based on the political predilections of clergy and other church officials, rather than on careful moral analysis. Because these pronouncements are designed for political advocacy, the goal is to inspire and mobilize the public, not to inform or teach it. As a result, mainline denominations have issued few studies on important domestic or international problems. If churches want to expand their public-policy influence, they must earn it by preparing competent and morally authoritative teaching documents, such as the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral letters on nuclear arms and the economy.

Third, church resolutions seldom illuminate biblical perspectives on public-policy problems. Mainline churches should offer a biblical approach to foreign-policy problems, but they generally neglect moral and biblical analysis, the arena in which they are most knowledgeable, and emphasize public-policy analysis, a domain in which they have limited competence.

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Fourth, denominational resolutions tend to be moralistic—in part because public-policy making is regarded as a contest between justice and injustice, good and evil. But policy making is not a simple battleground between right and wrong. Rather, it is a morally ambiguous process involving tradeoffs among competing goals, means, and expected consequences. Given this ambiguity, churches should demonstrate great humility and tentativeness in their political pronouncements.

Fifth, resolutions seldom represent denominations’ constituencies. One reason for this is that the laity is politically more conservative than the clergy. There is nothing wrong with religious elites articulating political positions. But if churches don’t want to be treated as lobbies and interest groups, they will have to issue resolutions based on their moral authority, not on the ideological sentiments of their leaders.

Finally, church pronouncements are divisive. Politics is an arena of conflict, and when churches participate—even indirectly—in governmental decision making, they can become involved in bitter disputes. Long ago Alexis de Tocqueville wisely observed that “the church cannot share the temporal power of the state without being the object of a portion of that animosity which the latter excites.”

Churches do have a role to play in public affairs. But their role surely is not to tell Secretary of State James Baker how to do his job. The influence of churches will grow if they resist simplistic resolutions and instead cultivate moral analysis of issues. Lobbies issue pronouncements, but only churches can offer redemptive leaven.

By Mark R. Amstutz, professor and chair, Department of Political Science, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

Speaking Out offers responsible Christians a forum for their views on contemporary issues. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

The Power Of The Cross

The place of the Cross in John Howard Yoder’s teaching needs more careful analysis than Charles Scriven gives it (“The Reformation Radicals Ride Again,” March 5). The New Testament presents the Cross both as the unique work of Christ for our salvation and the redemption of the world, and as the paradigm for Christian life and service. While Yoder probably does not deny the first of these, his emphasis is strongly on the second. According to Yoder, the practice of the Cross in the face of evil has power in itself. This will bring about the redemption of our society.

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Cross-bearing is urgently necessary, but it is only Christ’s unique work on the cross that reaches the depth of sin.

Herbert J. Hoover

Lebanon, Pa.

Scriven’s article left the impression that John Howard Yoder exemplifies the mainstream of contemporary Mennonite theological thought. Many Anabaptist Christians, however, while respecting Yoder’s erudition and scholarship, emphatically do not share his theological perspective.

Rev. Eric A. Kouns

Trissels Mennonite Church

Broadway, Va.

Supporting Missionaries

Phil Parshall [“Why Should Missionaries Beg?” March 5] and evidently others have caught on to the wonderful idea of churches cooperating together to fund missionaries. The idea is not new. It is not even novel. In 1925 the SBC created its Cooperative Program. Today more than 36,000 churches cooperate to fund in total the largest missionary-sending agency ever known to mankind (apart from the Roman Catholic Church).

The innovation that Parshall speaks of should be broadened. Certainly independent Baptists could find common ground to fund independent Baptist missionaries. Certainly independent Bible churches could find enough common ground to fund evangelical missionaries. My guess, however, is that the independent mission boards who so desperately need to find ways to fund their missionaries will be the very ones to thwart such innovative efforts. It would be truly novel and expressly innovative if there could be the kind of cooperation Parshall is calling for.

F. M. Womack

Erwin, Tenn.

The Long View

Charles Colson’s column “Half-Stoned Logic” [March 5] verbalizes so much of my inner musings on [drug] legalization. His defense of Prohibition is a timely reminder to all Christians that the world’s view of history is not ours or God’s.

Margaret E. Storms

North Lima, Ohio

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