Those dedicated men who framed the Declaration of Independence once risked impoverishment and infamy to shape our new world. Citizens were to enjoy as priceless treasures the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This enjoyment has now become our blood-bought heritage.
In many lands multitudes are bent by bondage still, quarrying a slim survival out of the slave pits of a living death, while modern Americans today trample their costly inheritance underfoot. Many long for these same rights and perish without them, mocked by the cruel promises of deceptive tyrants, while free men at home are neglectful of them and pamper their bodies only to lose their souls.
Under the title, “The Pursuit of Status,” Look Magazine recently printed a preview of Vance Packard’s book, The Status Seekers (David MacKay Company, 1959). Mr. Packard’s picture of modern American life may be somewhat lacking in objectivity. For he borders on a dismissal of all cultural interests (antiques, art, books, hi-fi) as simply a snobbish effort to “keep up with the Joneses.” Apart from such nonsense, however, Packard’s warning against our growing idolatry of status symbols is timely. Instead of the “new car a year” or the “Cadillac-image” as a mark of class differentiation, we now covet a fashionable address in suburbia, a trip to Europe, private schools for the youngsters (each and all of which confessedly can be justified by good reasons without flashing them as success symbols). Whatever is done simply to impress the Morgans (who likewise may be more interested in overawing their own neighbors than in allowing themselves to be impressed), or to upgrade one’s priority on the social escalator and promote social acceptance, calls for Christian criticism as well as worldly ridicule. The sophisticated social whirl with its snob appeal spins in a sphere other than the agape-fellowship of saints. When social ambition dictates what is “best” for self and family, the pursuit of happiness loses moral scope and is submerged to the pursuit of status. Many features of American life now disclose that such status-seeking has become a preoccupation in many political, business and social circles.
And it should surprise nobody that the materialistic-minded masses seek to compensate for their inner insecurity and spiritual discontents by multiplying outward signs of social acceptability. Their problem is basically psychological. People have lost heart for the assured verities and seek to cloak their naked souls in nostalgia for heritage or luxury. A St. Paul resident owns a $7,000 British-made deluxe bed with an electrically heated mattress, inset radio, phonograph and television, and mink bedspread. One is curious to know whether its occupant manages also to sleep “the sleep of the just” or if he finds time to sleep at all. By the increase of chain smokers and alcoholics, of barbiturate and drug addicts, of patrons of the fortune tellers and clients of the psychiatrists, modern men disclose their basic spiritual sickness and the nakedness of their souls.
The folk who pursue happiness down status lane are no surer of succeeding in their elusive quest than has the beatnik’s undisciplined Jaguar of freewheeling unpenalized past a traffic patrol. Sooner or later the Cosmic Policeman sirens his reminder that the best things in life are found only in pursuit of the kingdom of God, and that happiness divorced from Christ’s beatitudes is a vain ambition.
The writers of the Declaration knew that happiness could not be unconditionally guaranteed; they did not stipulate happiness, but rather the pursuit of happiness, as a human right. They knew that for its hopeful realization, happiness requires the soul’s residence in the metropolis of moral imperatives, and also some awareness of spiritual heritage. The early patriots sought status with a view to eternal dignity and destiny, not simply momentary display and dash. They set the discussion of man’s rights, including the theme of happiness, in the context of a supernatural Creator and Lord.
The love of liberty too has deteriorated into license. In San Diego, California, a Superior Court judge recently was astonished when a defendant charged with public drunkenness pleaded his constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness. Our generation is not simply disposed to disregard moral codes, but it prefers moral expedience, and seeks to rationalize both amorality and immorality.
The man on Main Street may boast that he belongs to “the free world” and he may lampoon “the slave states.” He is proud to live in “a free nation,” and he is still ready to bear arms when totalitarian tyrants threaten to enslave him. And well he may, in this age of struggle against world dictators and arrogant rulers.
But Felix Morley reminds us in Nation’s Business that the American’s “inability to define freedom may mean inability to defend it.” The “common man” no longer knows freedom’s true nature but, worse yet, he has lost its living link to God. Mr. Morley insists, quite rightly, that freedom is indivisible. President Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” [“of speech, of worship, from want, from fear”] presuppose a divisibility of freedom, as does also the United Nations Charter’s reference to “fundamental freedoms” (with its implication of “secondary freedoms”). This splintering of freedom nourishes the notion that governments can and should create some or all of man’s liberties. Thus the illusion rises that man’s freedom is best guaranteed by the omnipotent state. Men even fear that any acknowledgment of God will deprive them of certain liberties.
These are great political heresies of our age. The founding fathers trained their intellectual muskets against such premises as against freedom’s foes. The foundations of man’s freedom are those inalienable rights with which the Creator has endowed mankind, and the state’s specific obligation to observe these rights. Hence the early American patriots aggressively proclaimed the sovereignty of God and the limited powers of government.
But the state’s inability to encroach upon man’s liberties provides no occasion for license and autonomy. State and citizenry alike are “under God.” The absence of moral restraint and the lack of spiritual dedication are the surest ways to undermine freedom—either by provoking the judgments of God or the intervention of government. Only when men recognize anew that God and freedom are inseparable realities will the modern world discover the higher significance of liberty.
The substitution of license for liberty, of status for happiness, may serve as a warning that we have lost the meaning of life as well. The modern American has the world’s highest living standards, a remarkable wage scale, a healthy employment level, and a land of health and beauty and plenty. But by his discontents he gives irrefutable evidence that “life is not really life.”
Those who read national character tell us with untiring regularity that our predicament is spiritual and moral. Nothing so much as a revival of the simple Christian virtues, and of the spiritual realities by which these are nourished, will restore a proper vision to American life. No book like the Bible speaks to the folly of the pursuit of status, to the waywardness of license, and to the emptiness of horizontal living. By the exhortation to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” Jesus framed words sketching the outlines not simply of personal blessedness, but of national health. And by the simple word abundant—“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)—he warned men of the poverty of their existence whenever they pass him by. A just republic will necessarily guard man’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But Christ alone qualifies life with a fitness for eternity; he alone makes men “free indeed”; he alone compounds their happiness with blessedness. That is why the affirmation or denial that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord is of fundamental importance for the American destiny.
Graham Crusades Prompt Study Of Evangelism In Depth
It is difficult for Americans to measure spiritual events other than by their homemade yardsticks. After Evangelist Billy Graham’s New York to San Francisco “breakthrough,” Christians find it easier to level “what is happening” abroad to local limits than to discern a challenge toward deeper dedication.
Yet the importance of Graham’s Australian impact dare not be minimized. Australia and New Zealand witnessed evangelistic penetration in remarkable depth. Chief Justice E. F. Herring of the Supreme Court remarked that “such great gatherings of people to hear the Lord’s Word in our largest city … means much to Australia,” noting that “all the churches have new recruits to look after and … are doing everything they can to make them welcome and keep them in the fold.” One church alone, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney, admitted 615 new members through the crusade effort. Converts in Graham’s crusade “down under,” moreover, included many hundreds of university students, scores of prominent leaders, among them a leading newspaper editor, and an actress, and also a professional gangster and potential suicides. Court cases and crime dropped 50 per cent before the crusade ended.
The campaign’s significance for the established churches outweighed its importance for the throngs at large. As might be expected, the evangelistic thrust had the effect, in the words of one prominent layman, “of sweetening our own lives.” Indeed, it also bound together the scattered churches which, after long years of ecumenical promotion, discovered that the believing Church’s true unity lies in oneness of truth and mission rather than in organization.
This comes at a time when the ecumenical movement itself, frustrated whenever questions of faith and order are pressed in depth, focuses attention on mission as the unifying power of the Church’s life. The “Statement on Evangelism” adopted by the 1959 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Australia contains some heartening passages by way of caution against definitions of evangelism that are two narrow or too broad:
The events of the Crusade conducted by the Graham organization from 12th April to 10th May … focus attention on the deep-lying theological and practical questions which have risen to the surface both in our thinking and Church life. It is undeniable that Evangelism has emerged as a topic of front rank significance. While the Graham Crusade has had no small share in this interest, it must be recognized that from many sides of Church life much thought and prayer have converged upon this vital subject. It is notable that Evangelism is now recognized, more positively than in recent years, as a major concern of the Church, and all shades of theological opinion claim a share in it.
We will scarcely require persuasion that a fresh and relevant exposition of this new conception should no longer be delayed. Two perils lurk in the current situation—on the one hand a complacent obscurantism which would fain contain the new wine in old bottles, and on the other an unwise enthusiasm fascinated with untested techniques.…
“Evangelism” is a term of comparatively recent currency, emerging with growing emphasis from the renewed interest in New Testament exegesis dating from the early part of the Eighteenth century. During the past century it has been accepted uncritically with assumptions ranging all the way from “the lunatic fringe” to the philosopher’s stone. The duty of definitions has not, until very recent times, been squarely faced.
The word is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning to announce good news. In the New Testament it is generally translated “preach the Gospel.” It occurs as a verb 55 times in 12 books, as a noun 77 times in 17 books, and as a denominative three times. Our Lord Himself employed the word in description of His ministry and message. Neither “gospel” nor “preach” occurs in the Fourth Gospel. In the Synoptic Gospels, and, where the bulk of the instances are found, in the Lucan and Pauline writings, the word never means merely to “preach,” which can be and is conveyed by other words, but always “preach the Gospel.” It is critically important to note that the currency of the transliteration has obscured the translation. The blame lies at the door of Jerome who used this device in the Vulgate, and possibly to Tyndale, whose immense influence fastened it in English usage.
Though borrowed en bloc it has taken a unique place in the Church’s vocabulary. The time is over-due for us to state precisely how we shall use and apply it.
Dr. George Sweazy comments: “The Church must jealously guard this word “evangelism.” It can be stolen, not only by those who would limit it to what is too narrow, but by those who would waste it on what is too broad. The task of reaching outside the Church to bring people to faith in Christ and membership in His Church is a distinct and specific duty. The word “evangelism” is the word that has been traditionally used for this purpose. When the word is obscured, the duty is obscured” (Effective Evangelism, p. 20).
Evangelism, in the New Testament sense, is the effective preaching of the Gospel which, by the power of the Holy Spirit in both preacher and hearer, causes men to repent of their sins, and rest upon Christ alone for Salvation as He is offered in the Gospel. It was and is the human instrument through which Jesus Christ created His Church among men. So far as the history of the Apostolic preaching is carried in the New Testament, there is no variation in the message delivered. It is concerned only with the supreme fact that the Son of God gave His life on the Cross for man’s salvation, was buried, and rose again. If men will repent towards God and confess their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, they are promised the immediate gift of eternal life.
The larger and deeper implications of this central message are manifold and important. Underlying this truth, and all Divine revelation, is the redemptive purpose of God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. Going before are the movements of God’s Spirit in preparation for this purpose, both in history and in individual experience. The goodness of God leads to repentance. No man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The process is never uniform in the preparatory stage. Following the acceptance of Christ through the Gospel, comes the living of the new life, and instruction in the deeper truths of the Faith. From the moment of conversion begins the life of discipleship and service. Standing between the pre-conversion and the post-conversion experience of the individual is the Gospel preached and believed, which is the power of God unto salvation. This holds true whether or not conversion be viewed as an act at a moment of time, or a process during a period of time.
It is this vital and creative nexus of grace between God and men which is to be properly described as evangelism.
A definition, if necessary, would preserve the limits of past and future between which Evangelism performs its specific function. One such statement would be: “Evangelism is the presenting of Jesus Christ so that by the power of the Holy Spirit men shall come to put their trust in God through Him and accept Him as their Saviour from the guilt and power of sin.”
The need to preserve the word “evangelism” from confusion is grave and urgent. Not all that is believed and done within the Church is entitled to this name. Yet without the saving experience of the Gospel, which evangelism promulgates, mere preaching is dead, Sacraments futile, good deeds fruitless, fellowship empty, and worship pointless.
The narrow application of the world limits it to an empty formula leading directly into antinomianism. The wasteful broad application spreads the word as a thin veneer over many ideas and activities with which it has little or no concern.
True and effective evangelism stands via media both extremes. The Gospel presented in the power of the Holy Spirit has its backward reference for the convert. It brings a cancellation of spiritual bondage to sin, a sense of forgiveness and inward peace, a glowing consciousness of Divine sonship. Repentance unto life is not a formal act, for it is essentially a commitment of one’s whole life in obedience to Jesus Christ. At the same time evangelism opens up before the convert all that his new faith implies in learning of Him and taking His yoke in Whom he now trusts. From this point he passes into self-sacrifice for his Saviour, and growth in grace. Because of what has taken place in his heart through evangelism he must now enter into the service of Christ as a stewardship of his total self. But evangelism is neither the old life of sin, nor the new life of faith. It is the divine method of ending the one and beginning the other. It is this specific function that must be jealously guarded. One reason is the meaning of the word itself, as already pointed out. But more important is the effect produced. Given an increase of true and effective evangelism there will be a corresponding rise in individual repentance and faith on the one hand, and the progressive commitment of stewardship on the other.
It should be made clear that this is not an automatic process. The mere existence of the Gospel in the Scriptures is ordinarily ineffective without the ministry of the evangelist. Growth in grace and Christian education are ordinarily impossible without the exercise of prayer and the ministry of pastor and teacher: and both Pastor and Teacher are integral parts of the full ministry of Christ.
If evangelism is to be kept in its Divine poise we should be careful to avoid the false distinction of clerical and lay ministry in its exercise. In conclusion let it be said that evangelism is not for the purpose of reviving the Church, or gathering funds and pursuing programs of action. It is for the salvation of sinners. Evangelism is not to be resorted to as a stimulus for Church life. It is and ought to be the normal life of the Church.
Twentieth Century Perspectives Weighed In The Balances
Two questions of parenthood and birth came before the nearly 1,000 commissioners comprising this year’s General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
Action of the 1930 General Assembly on birth control was reversed when the 1959 body sanctioned “the principle of voluntary family planning” and “proper use of medically approved contraceptives.” The vote was almost unanimous and it was preceded by practically no debate.
The other question was the birth of Jesus Christ. The importance of belief in the virgin birth of our Lord was raised in connection with the appointment of a theological seminary president. This issue was never squarely met. Rather lengthy debate carried a pronounced feeling that this doctrinal matter was not significantly vital to determine such an appointment. The vote seemed to say that the appointee’s apparent agnosticism or unbelief at this point was not burden-some to the great majority of the duly elected commissioners.
Of these two questions, the discussion of the Virgin Birth won less unanimity than the discussion of birth control. For American Presbyterianism it was a sad day.
The Refugee Problem And Our Christian Obligation
The heart of the Western world goes out in sympathy to the great mass of refugees from Communist terror. Hundreds of thousands, chiefly from Soviet Russia’s Western satellite nations and Red China, have sought freedom. Now within recent weeks a fresh, pitiful group of 10 thousand Tibetans have been added to the exodus. The end is not yet.
The brunt of the escapee problem is borne by European and South Asian nations, but America is doing her share. We have received many thousands into our homes and communities and, at the world level, are furnishing most of the money for food, medicine, clothing, and shelter. The United States escapee program, initiated in 1952 to provide supplementary care and resettlement assistance to refugees immediately upon arrival in the countries of first asylum, registered approximately 33,000 new escapees during 1958 and had more than 40,000 under care from month to month. The program also assists these unfortunate people to resettle in overseas countries.
The soul of liberty-loving America always responds generously to world needs wherever they are found. Aliens though the unfortunate refugees may be, speaking strange languages or holding different philosophies of life, Americans see them as fellow human beings seeking liberation from oppression and the enjoyment of their rights in the society of free men. Many private agencies have been organized to assist in meeting grave needs, and the United States government has in many ways nobly discharged its obligations.
The churches in America are being Good Samaritans in this situation, though too often failing to give their aid in the name of Christ, and to witness for the redemptive Gospel. Church cooperation with government agencies perpetuates and extends state involvement in welfare work and risks making churches simply the agencies of government activity.
The human race is self-exiled from the Redeemer, and the refugee problem really mirrors this deeper spiritual predicament with which the churches alone can effectively grapple. In these times Christians need to express generous compassion which reaches the body without neglecting the soul. As appeals come for aid we should open our Bibles at Matthew 25 and on our knees decide what we will do as individual Christians and as churches, remembering the promise, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Beyond Christ’S Cross Stands The Resurrection
A well-known national television entertainer tells of taking her daughter to a Roman Catholic church. They seated themselves near the front, and the little girl began studying a large crucifix. She ascertained it was Jesus hanging there and then asked, “Can’t he come down?” After pondering her mother’s negative reply, she suddenly cried out, “Jump, Jesus! Jump, Jesus!”
The poignant story carries its point. A child sensed the incompleteness of the message of the crucifix. The Cross cannot properly be divorced from the Resurrection. And when a church’s imagery is weighted to the point where the Christ of the cross in practical effect tends to conceal the Christ of the manger and the Christ of the empty tomb, when this division of Christ takes place, then it is time for someone to cry out. “For out of the mouths of babes.…”
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