A church group in Chattanooga, Tennessee, stood around a muddy pit. The pastor read a passage from the thirty-fifth chapter of Genesis: “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.” The group began tossing various objects into the pit. Among the “strange gods” was a big alarm clock that went jangling into the hole: this was a sign that the church was done with clock-watching during future services.
In went an old television set; also a rock-and-roll record with the impressive title “Ooba-Ooba-Ooba,” followed by several famous novels by popular modern authors. Women’s shorts and toreador pants landed on top of the stack, along with cigarette packs.
The minister of the church assured the newspaper reporters that these folk weren’t snake-handlers or weird cultists; they were plain Southern Baptists who wished to put away their idols and strip for the race on the gospel road.
Newspaper readers doubtlessly smiled in amusement when they read of the goings-on of these southern believers. We confess we smiled ourselves; but the smile grew thin after a time of reflection. The scene wasn’t as pathetic as we had first thought. We conjured up a vision of old Jacob, years behind in his pledge to God, ordering his clansmen to junk their idols and start acting like people who served the God of their father, Abraham.
Jacob didn’t issue that order out of a sudden whim. Long ago God had called him to a high mission, but he had wallowed through fruitless years in unfulfillment of that mission. Driven into a corner by his own misdeeds, he had seen his daughter raped and his own sons become murderers. The crimes of the latter had, in Jacob’s own language, caused him “to stink among the inhabitants of the land.” He had recently renewed his relationship with God at Jabbok Brook, but the past was still catching up with him. His household was in disorder. The family was infested with idols and false faith.
Jacob heard the sharp, familiar Old Testament Voice—“And God said to Jacob.…” The order was clear: “Move up to Bethel and stay there; make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Moffat). It was a time for soul-searching and housecleaning. It was time to build an altar; time for men to separate themselves unto the kingdom of God, and to put away the futile little gods they had made.
Has no man heard this Bethel-call to America? This land was carved out of the wilderness by men who came seeking God rather than gold. The story of the Pilgrim fathers, bereft of religion, would be an idle tale. Faith was strong in the lives of the founding fathers. The picture of Washington kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge is engraved on our minds. We have written on our money, “In God we trust.” His name is in our patriotic songs. Our history as a nation began in faith. Ours was like a divine mission. We all but took a vow to the Eternal that we would make a better world for men to live in. Once our schools were religious institutions; now many see our Supreme Court as frowning on prayer in our public schools. Billy Graham has said in a national magazine that there seems to be abroad something of a conspiracy to take God out of our national public life. Strange gods have crept into our world.
The church, once the center of our American way of life, has become, in many instances, a matter of temples where we gather for an hour a week to hear something good about a good life. Religion has a page, or a half-page, once a week in the newspapers. Television has a page daily, sports several pages. In some papers astrology is allowed more space than the churches. Religion is no longer news.
But, then, see how irreligious is some of our religion! What fancy attractions we employ to draw men to the altar of the Lord! As one United States senator has said, there are churches in our national capital which have cocktail lounges to attract “patrons.” A Sunday school class of adults recently had a coffee-break, with donuts, which took up most of the time allotted to the class. God was not mentioned by the teacher during the entire session! And none of these class members stayed for the worship service which followed. The pastor remarked that this was their usual procedure from Sunday to Sunday. One recalls that Jesus said, “The Son of man is come … eating.” In this act, at least, many faithfully follow the Master!
We have said this to point out one of the “strange gods” that have come into the congregation of the Lord. The Apostle Paul would doubtless be accused of being crude, if not vulgar, by some nice moderns, for giving that god a name: “whose God is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). It is not that food is improper, in the church or out; but food is certainly a poor substitute for the Bread that came down from heaven.
The shining head of another god lifts itself in the household of believers today: Science. Rockets salute this god almost daily, at the cost of a huge fortune per salute. Even the deadly nuclear toadstools growing over the world hail this deity. Millions for missiles, pennies for Christian missions—this is our way. Automation slowly takes over a planet; more and more we become impersonalized. One outstanding scientist announces that soon we can create living monsters by operating on life-cells; it has been predicted that our machines which can feel, hear, think, and act may soon reproduce themselves. Yet our strange gods stand mute when we ask their oracles to give us an answer as to the real meaning of life. In the last our little gods will be no more able to save us than were Bel and Nebo able to save Babylon.
The way this science-god manages to set us all up for the kill might be comical—if it weren’t so disastrously tragic! Millions of Americans are dead set against millions of Russians, and both sides are leaning mightily on the same glittering almighty—Science. Americans might be expected to lift the Cross; but mostly they lift the dollar sign. They blow the trumpets of industry. They do not throng the churches for vast prayer meetings, nor give to missions until it hurts, nor form a witness-front against Communism. Insignificant sacrifices are made to spread the Word of God—the Marxist “bibles” have ours out-published. We stake our all on the great god, Science; with him we will win over the materialistic Communists—who have the same god on their side!
Then there is this other foreign god in the household of faith: Entertainment. A box smaller than an icebox dominates us. We sit for hours, clobbered by fantastic commercials and inane programs, our intellects running down like old clocks, our spirituality pouring out like the sand of an hourglass. We stampede forth to see the image of a $9000-a-day movie star who sheds husbands as a bullsnake sheds his skins. We can tell who knocked out whom in what round, who made a home run in what inning, who made par on what green; but just try asking us what really happened at Calvary!
We have grown a bit mad on the husks of amusement. Print is too drab for us; we must have bright, impressive pictures crowding all the pages of our magazines. Entertainment seems to be growing worse and worse—or could it be we are growing more and more bored with our entertainment? Our god has pulled the rug out from under us, but we will not deny him. We are like the boozer who said, “It’s Saturday night, and I have to get drunk—and do I hate it!”
One more god mocks us in the assemblage of the saints. This one is subtle, gargantuan, and deadly. He wears a benevolent mask. He feeds on fear, on man’s deep, inward desire for security and authority. This god’s name is Organization; it has as its apostle groupism.
Here the single central voice speaks for the multitudes. This god has a tag, “welfare,” and might sometimes be called “hell-fare.” This deity would put all governments, all minds and wills and talents under one supergiant totalitarianism. Here the blind lead the blind; the Scriptures warn us that out of such stuff is Antichrist made.
Time and space forbid our mentioning all the other gods that arise in the congregation of the righteous—such as money, pseudo-education, and politics. But like Jacob of old we have harbored these strange gods in our tents; we have sown a breeze, and if we listen we can hear the horrific sound of the tornado. The American Medical Society reports that 320 children were brutally beaten in one year; 33 died, 85 suffered permanent brain injuries. These beatings occurred not only among parents with low intelligence, but among those with good backgrounds, educationally, financially, and socially. People are afraid to walk in the parks of our big cities after dark. More than 2,000 police officers were attacked in New York City alone in 1961; approximately 250 have been killed in the country during the last ten years. Crime costs us $40,000 a minute; each minute more than three serious crimes are committed. Our gods have let us down.
Have we not heard the call to strike our tents and turn toward Bethel? Is it not time that we, like the long-ago patriarch, repent, take our trust from the strange gods, and build an altar to the God of Abraham, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Through rededication to the Most High, Jacob extricated himself from the mess into which his stubborn waywardness had got him. As a nation—at least as Christians—we might do well to study his case history, recalling as we do what was once said to a lawyer, “Go thou, and do likewise.” If we are ever going to make Christ Lord we had better get going, for the strange gods are tugging at the rugs under our feet.
A Staggering Challenge Beyond A Curtain Of Silence
A service CHRISTIANITY TODAY could well perform for its readers from time to time would be to expose stock sermon illustrations when they become discredited. Already partially blunted by the Bamboo Curtain is the one borrowed from Robert L. Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” series concerning the endlessly marching Chinese. So great is their population and so rapidly multiplying, reported Ripley, that they would never finish marching (at four abreast) past a given point. Here indeed was an immense challenge on the needs of Chinese missions.
But now the story has been tested and found wanting. The skeptics work for a non-profit organization in the nation’s capital, Population Reference Bureau, Incorporated. A stopwatch and marching staff members in a corridor revealed:
1. Strolling at a slow 60 steps a minute, some 800 million Chinese, including those born while waiting their turn to march, would pass the given point in less than seven years.
2. At 100 steps a minute, just 20 fewer than regulation Army quick-time, the march would take under five years.
3. To achieve an endless march, the Chinese would have to inch along at six steps a minute, roughly the pace of a small boy passing an ice cream parlor—anything but a Great Leap Forward.
For the embattled parson on Missions Sunday, we cannot even offer consolation that though he’s lost an illustration he’s gained a daughter. But perhaps we shall all gain something through a reminder of the staggering challenge which remains—endless march or no—in the awesome complex of lost humanity entrapped behind a curtain of steel and silence. The Church should be in continued and concerted prayer for its members in China and for the deliverance of their fellow countrymen into freedom to hear the Gospel. And let it be remembered as well that there are yet multitudes of Chinese on this side of the curtain to be reached with the Good News.
An endless march is a futile march. The march of the Chinese seeks a purpose … and a home at the end.
Academic Duty As Important As Freedom For Faculty Members
Quite a few religious institutions are in a process of change, if not in a state of confusion. Christian colleges and seminaries adrift from their moorings are prone to assert their helplessness to maintain their original positions when present faculty members, whose theological views have changed, must be accorded “academic freedom” if the intellectual integrity of such institutions is to be preserved.
Remarkable is the absence in such discussions of emphasis on academic responsibility devolving upon faculty members. Do teachers who serve an institution called into being for a distinctive purpose have license to undermine those objectives?
We find something refreshing about a statement made by the vice-president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Harold Lindsell, in declining an invitation to the presidency of an evangelical institution because he lacked personal sympathy for its rigid dispensational orientation. “Every institution,” Lindsell remarked, “has its own specific image, created in most instances by the founders of that institution. The president of a school is ethically obligated to perpetuate that image enthusiastically. Since the image is in a large measure related to a constituency which has been cultivated in the light of that image, a president lukewarm toward or disposed to negate that image could no longer project clearly and unequivocally the historic position of the institution.”
This point of view has much to commend it. So much is being said about academic freedom that the question of academic responsibility seems seldom to be discussed. Academic freedom should at all times be tempered by a comparable sense of academic responsibility, lest a lack of feeling for academic duty lead to academic delinquency.
Neutrality Often Means A Silent Vote On The Wrong Side
“Neutrality” has been a popular word for some time in the realm of international politics. As new nations have emerged in Africa and elsewhere, they have usually affirmed their neutrality between the Communist bloc and the free world.
The most notable example of such neutrality has been India, now rudely awakened to the fact that her posture in recent years has led her to the brink of national disaster.
God knows that the sins of the West are many, but restraint of religious freedom has not been one of them. Furthermore, the very freedoms men enjoy in the free world come primarily from the Judaeo-Christian heritage which they have not wholly repudiated.
Neutrality has only too often been used as a cloak for playing off the one side against the other to obtain all that is possible from each. Such “neutrality” is utterly contemptible.
One can envision many local, national, and international situations where neutrality can be condoned. But between that for which Communism stands and the freedoms accorded by the West there can be no neutrality worthy of the word.
In the spiritual world the same holds true. The Apostle Paul says there are times when things may be lawful but not expedient. But on the verities of the Christian faith he left no room for neutrality.
Our Lord made it clear to his disciples who were anxious to restrain those not working in their own circle, “Do not forbid them.… For he that is not against us is for us.” At the same time he affirmed with equal vigor that man must forsake all and take up his cross and follow Him.
The Laodicean church was a prime example of neutrality where conviction and action were demanded, and the denunciation of this attitude has come down through the ages as a warning to all.
In those things on which man should commit himself neutrality is folly, for it inevitably proves to be a silent vote on the wrong side. The “cult of the uncommitted” should have no following where truth and righteousness are at stake.
Chief Justice Warren Calls For Professional Moral Counselors
Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court gave an address recently at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City which attracted wide attention and evoked reactions ranging from enthusiastic endorsement to strong disapproval.
Mr. Warren called for a group of professional moralists to search for moral truths and raise questions as to what is ethically right and wrong, particularly in those areas not covered by law. Such professional ethics experts, he said, “could helpfully suggest courses of action and alternatives” for the “modern businessman, politician, academic executive and other professionals who wish to discern the right.” Warren asserted that the development of such ethical counselors “is no fantasy at all,” and that their procurement is “one of the urgent needs of Western democracy as it attempts to preserve its tradition of freedom in competition with rival systems of life.”
The Chief Justice observed that “not everything which is wrong can be outlawed, although everything which is outlawed is, in our Western conception, wrong.” He made the further observation that ethical concepts are the “law beyond the law.”
Mr. Warren is right; law and ethics overlap, rather than coincide. The laws of the land do float upon a sea of ethical commitment, without which they would not be respected and obeyed. And it is also true that law does not cover every ethical situation, so that the welfare of a society depends upon its consensus of ethical commitment.
The answer to that ethical area not defined by law lies not in the multiplication of laws. Warren shrewdly recognizes that where there is a law governing every possible ethical situation, ethical concern withers and freedom as we know it in America is lost. He pleads for greater ethical sensitivity and concern, not for more laws. This, we may observe, is a secular recognition that a society no more than an individual can be saved by law. Professor Harold B. Kuhn of Asbury Theological Seminary is quite right in asserting: “It is heartening that a Chief Justice … seeks a concrete and vigorous implementation of the re-establishment of the linkage between the two elements of Law and Ethics.”
But if this is heartening, it is not heartening that a call for professional help to recapture a moral consensus of what is right has become necessary. There was a time when the American people quite generally knew what is right and what is wrong. Do they now need professional moralists to recover this? to discover anew that not everything the law allows is ethical? Has the Church failed the American conscience so badly that price fixing by corporations, deprivation of the right to work by labor unions, exorbitant pricing for health services, abuse of public funds and power are now ethically debatable? Is our greatest need to learn to know the right, or to obtain that divine grace which enables us to do it? Is it not still true that “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God”?
It is well that the Chief Justice has pointed again to the linkage between law and ethics. One wonders, however, whether the Court has not recently so interpreted the Constitution as to itself ignore that law and its interpretation should reflect the ethical-religious commitment of the people.
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