America’s public schools must recognize existence of God as a central factor in the educational process and teach that religion is an essential aspect of the nation’s heritage and culture.

After five years study and work the National Council of Churches’ Committee on Religion and the Public Schools so decided with certain qualifications at Chicago, July 12–15. This deliberative body of over 100 leaders, representing all the council’s constituent denominations and most other Protestant communions, has finally produced a 40-page provisional statement which will soon go to churches for official consideration. It may yet take several years before the NCC adopts such a statement as official policy.

While the statement is an improvement over previous drafts, it still leaves much to be desired by evangelical Protestant friends of the public school. It was hoped that the council, voicing the convictions of American Protestantism, would take a strong, unequivocal stand for the Christian theistic approach to education and actual instruction in Judeo-Christian moral philosophy. Instead, the Chicago conference “blew hot and cold,” first asserting and then qualifying or denying its faith.

From its beginnings the committee has failed to take a boldly Christian theistic view of its task. It seems not to be certain whether it is framing a document which is addressed to the churches or to the schools; whether it is to be a testimony of the distinctly Christian concepts of education as a basis of conversations with the public schools or a compromise which accepts the requirements of a pluralistic society as essential to such conversations.

Toward the end of this year’s conference these basic considerations came to the fore with but little time left to discuss them. It appeared to be the consensus of those present that the public school cannot be corporately committed to the Christian view of God but that it should teach that religion is an essential aspect of the national heritage and culture, that the nation acknowledges the governance of God, and that our moral and social values rest on religious “and other grounds and sanctions.” This of course falls far short of Christian theism and rests belief in a nebulous sort of God entirely upon current American opinion. Much in the document is reminiscent of the National Education Association brochure, “Moral and Spiritual Values in the Public schools,” which is predicated on a purely humanistic philosophy. Humanists at Chicago, however, were unhappy with the final draft presented in the last plenary session. They thought it was too theistic. Two documents are to be submitted by dissidents urging the editorial committee to water down the statement.

Article continues below

In dealing with specific practical problems in the field of religion and the public schools the conference took some forthright actions with which many evangelical Protestants would concur. The conferees agreed that (1) released-time Christian education should be encouraged; (2) grace at meals is permissable; (3) the Bible may be used as source material in teaching history in secondary schools; (4) the Bible may be taught for public school credit, under proper safeguards; (5) principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution should be taught; (6) public school buildings may be temporarily rented for church use in case of emergencies; (7) ministers may, upon invitation, address school sessions; (8) school authority should rest with local school boards; (9) bus transportation at public school expense should be provided only for public schools; (10) free textbooks should not be provided non-public schools; (11) teachers should not be permitted to wear religious garb in the schoolroom.

Evangelical Protestants might agree or disagree with other specific recommendations: (1) Bibles, Scripture portions or religious tracts should not be distributed in the schools; (2) Bible reading should be discouraged; (3) baccalaureate sermons should be discouraged and graduating exercises should not be held in church buildings; (4) Religious clubs with an evangelistic purpose should not be sponsored by the schools; (5) Christian teachers should not give a Christian testimony in their classes or urge pupils to accept Christ as Saviour; (6) dancing, standards of dress and similar school problems should not be the concern of the churches; (7) the state may provide free lunches, medical and health services for non-public schools.

The provisional statement now goes to the NCC’s Commission on General Education and other council agencies. Commission officers will eventually compile suggestions of these agencies and of leaders of 40 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations. Another draft is then projected for submission to NCC constituent churches for approval.

Religious Assemblages

Convention Roundup

Late spring and early summer constitute—as regularly as roses—the most crowded spot on the church convention calendar. It’s a perennially popular time of year for denominational assemblies. Among important developments at this season’s convention were these (for others, see earlier issues of CHRISTIANITY TODAY):

Article continues below

At Houghton, New York—Fifteen minutes before he was to have been installed as a general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America, Dr. O. G. Wilson collapsed and died of a heart attack. The 67-year-old Wilson, editor of The Wesleyan Methodist, was stricken while discussing details of the installation service with Dr. Roy S. Nicholson, retiring president of the church which was holding its quadrennial General Conference. The conference had adopted a new form of administration and had elected Wilson as one of three full-time general superintendents to assume duties formerly discharged by a president and two vice presidents. The following day the conference elected Dr. R. D. Reisdorph to fill the vacancy created by Wilson’s death. The other two general superintendents elected were Dr. H. K. Sheets and the Rev. B. H. Phaup.

By a one-vote margin the conference declined to merge with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The tally was 108 for merger and 55 against. A two-thirds majority was necessary for passage. The Wesleyan Methodist group represents more than 1,000 churches. The Pilgrim Holiness Church, which voted in favor of merger at its own General Conference last year, is of almost equal size.

At Asheville, North Carolina—Delegates to the annual convention of the National Association of Free Will Baptists passed resolutions opposing recognition of Red China and commending President Eisenhower on his stand against communism. The convention brought together representatives of more than 2,000 churches with a combined membership exceeding 185,000.

One of the convention’s public sessions drew some 2,000 persons. Church officials attributed the large attendance to the fact that some 60 or 70 per cent of the denominational constituency lives within a 250-mile radius of Asheville.

At Philadelphia—Eventual merger of four conservative church bodies was foreseen at the 26th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In addition to the Orthodox Presbyterian, they are the Christian Reformed Church, with approximately 250,000 members; the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (General Synod), 1,200 members; and the Bible Presbyterian Church, Inc., 5,600 members. Orthodox Presbyterians now number 10,233.

A joint committee of the OP group and the Christian Reformed Church has been studying “ecumenical fellowship with ultimate merger in mind” since 1956. Reporting as the fraternal delegate from the Christian Reformed group, the Rev. Nicholas Monsma observed that “while no spectacular progress has been made by the committee, we can be optimistic regarding ultimate union.”

Article continues below

At Springfield, Missouri—Cumberland Presbyterians launched a $600,000 “Mid-Century Expansion and Development Program” at their 129th General Assembly. The funds will be distributed among a number of the church’s agencies.

At Sidney, Montana—More than 600 delegates and guests attended the last regular convention of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church before its merger next year with two other Lutheran bodies. A report presented to the convention said the church now has a membership of 67,032 in North America.

At Chicago—The 500 delegates to the 22nd General Assembly of the General Church of the New Jerusalem represented almost a fifth of the church’s total membership. Known as Swedenborgians, the 2,894 members of the church are adherents of Emanuel Swedenborg, eighteenth-century Swedish scientist, philosopher and theologian.

At Kingston, Ontario—The fifth triennial assembly of the Baptist Federation of Canada rejected a proposal to “re-study its relations” with the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movements. The federation belongs to the Canadian Council of Churches, but is not a member of the WCC. The proposal had asked that Canadian Baptists consider making greater contributions to, and participate more, in the ecumenical movement. One delegate warned that adoption of the proposal would alienate the federation’s relations with the U. S. Southern Baptist Convention, which does not belong to the World Council. He said that “one thing the SBC holds against us is our attitude toward ecumenicity.”

The Baptist Federation of Canada consists of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, the Maritime United Baptist Convention and the Baptist Union of Western Canada.

On Fire For God

Some 3,000 youthful delegates to the 46th International Christian Endeavor Convention in Philadelphia in mid-July were challenged to lives “on fire for God” in the closing address by Dr. Harold John Ockenga of Boston. Taking the Exodus account of the call of Moses as his text, Ockenga said “the life that is filled with zeal, enthusiasm, labors, thrills, usefulness and blessing is a life directed by God. Christ is the inner light of such a life and the Holy Spirit is its power.” The life spent for God, added the pastor of Boston’s famed Park Street Church, is not consumed but constantly replenished from above.

Article continues below

Features of the convention: a “floating session” aboard the S.S. State of Pennsylvania sailing down the Delaware River, an hour-and-a-half parade, a union communion service and 37 conferences for workers in various phases of youth activity.

Christian Endeavor was founded in 1881 by Dr. Francis E. Clark of the Williston Congregational Church, Portland, Maine. It represents an evangelical interchurch youth movement which is still a mighty force in America and many parts of the world. At one time the movement numbered the youth of most of the major Protestant denominations in its membership. Its influence for Christian unity became so tremendous that denominations began to set up separate youth groups such as the Epworth League, and the BYPU. The main stream of Christian Endeavor still maintains its ecumenical vision, its evangelical testimony and its distinctive organizational methodology. It numbers millions in its societies.

The Philadelphia convention adopted vigorous resolutions encouraging Christian citizenship, labor-management relations based on Christian principles, Lord’s Day observance, suppression of obscene literature, clean motion pictures, appropriate dress; opposed traffic in narcotics, tobacco and alcoholic beverages, recognition of Red China, and participation in the Vienna (Communist) Youth Festival.

At London, England—A proposal to remove from parish electoral rolls persons who fail to attend public worship at least once every six months was withdrawn from consideration by the National Assembly of the Church of England. The assembly approved establishment of an advisory secretariat on industrial matters to strengthen its ministry “inside the factory gate.” A record budget of 560,000 pounds ($1,568,000) was adopted for 1960.

At Bristol, England—The Methodist Conference of Great Britain urged unilateral renunciation by the British government of the making and testing of atomic weapons as “a practical step towards agreement among nuclear powers.” Tributes were paid to Dr. W. Edwin Sangster, who retired as home missions general secretary for reasons of health, and to film magnate Sir J. Arthur Rank on his completion of 25 years as home missions treasurer.

At Keswick, England—Audiences of 6,000 gathered daily at services of the Keswick Convention, held July 11–19 at the resort of Keswick in northern England. The convention first met there in 1875 and was one of many evangelical movements stimulated by the revival of 1859.

Article continues below

At Winona Lake, Indiana—A St. Louis team won this year’s Bible quiz competition sponsored by Youth for Christ International. The top quizzers were coached by Bill Weston, YFC rally director in Kansas City, and Bob Wolfe, club director. They took the honors by defeating Minneapolis in the finals held in conjunction with YFC’s fifteenth annual convention, which drew an attendance of more than 8,000.

The interdenominational youth organization announced it is planning to publish Portuguese and Spanish editions of its monthly magazine, beginning in January, 1960.

At Nashville, Tennessee—Some 150 theologians from 12 Methodist seminaries attended the first nation-wide convocation of the church’s theological faculties. Conclusions drawn at the three-day meeting are expected to guide the 1960 Methodist General Conference in the making of legislation governing the church’s ministry, Religious News Service reported.

At Green Lake, Wisconsin—An outline for a “message to the churches of the American Baptist Convention” was approved by some 140 professors, pastors, and lay persons who attended the denomination’s second national theological conference. Contents of the document, which was based on discussions at the conference, have not yet been released.

Protestant Panorama

• At its latest meeting the Norwegian Missionary Council reaffirmed an earlier decision to oppose proposed merger of the International Missionary Council with the World Council of Churches. “We admit that an integration might further a more ready solution to some practical questions,” said Tormod Vaagen, general secretary of the Norwegian Missionary Council. “But we consider the spiritual aspect of the matter the most important one, and we hold the opinion that the integration will be a spiritual loss.”

• Dr. Marshall C. Dendy, executive secretary of the Southern Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, says that his church “will launch the most significant publishing project of its history” in October, when the first of 25 volumes appears of the Layman’s Bible Commentary.

• A committee of 104 religious leaders (Protestant, Catholic and Jewish) are urging church congregations to encourage mass communications media to make efforts toward improving the moral and spiritual climate of New York City.

• The newest “mission boat” of the United Church of Canada is a 25-foot craft captained by the Rev. William L. Howie. The boat, the church’s ninth, will operate on the inlets of Nootka Sound, with headquarters at Tahsis, British Columbia.

Article continues below

• Bob Jones University is seeking authorization from the Federal Communications Commission to increase the power of its radio station from 1,000 to 5,000 watts.

• A $100,000 museum devoted to natural history and water conservation education was dedicated last month on the 25,000-acre United Presbyterian Ghost Ranch Conference Center 65 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

• A chair in “Christian thought” is being established at Cornell University in response to an upsurge of religious interest among students.

• A record 529,853 Bibles and Scripture portions were printed in the Soviet Zone of Germany during 1958, according to Evangelical Bible Work, with which the 11 East German Bible societies are affiliated.

• Archbishop Basilios, primate of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, was invested with the title and dignity of patriarch in a ceremony early this summer which was said to have ended a 30-year-old dispute over claims for full autonomy for the Ethiopian church. An agreement gave Patriarch Basilios full autonomous authority under Patriarch Kyrollos, who is supreme spiritual ruler of all the Coptic Orthodox.

• The Canadian Baptist, a weekly issued at Toronto, celebrated its 100th anniversary June 15. The publication has a circulation of 14,500. Editor is Harold U. Trinier.

• The Church of the Nazarene sponsored a four-day “Church Musicians’ Institute” at Vicksburg, Michigan, last month. The institute drew 1,000 persons representing nine church bodies from 35 states and several foreign countries. Sponsors may make it an annual event.

Together, the Methodist family monthly, holds the first award of merit from the National Christian Writing Center. The magazine has a circulation of more than 1,000,000.

• In a new supplement to its first aid text, the American National Red Cross advocates direct mouth-to-mouth breathing as the best method of resuscitation and calls attention to the fact that the method is referred to in the Bible (see 2 Kings 4:34, 35).

• Objections by Soviet, Asian and Arab United Nations representatives to Protestant and Roman Catholic missionary activities in some Pacific islands were decried by Australian and New Zealand delegates last month as degrading to the intelligence and level of development of the people in the area. Burmese, Indian and Soviet delegates to a meeting of the United Nations Trusteeship Council had recommended curbing “harmfully competitive activities of Christian missionaries.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.