A fortnightly report of developments in religion

For the first few days of his U. S. visit Professor Karl Barth exercised due restraint and refused to share publicly any impressions of the country he was seeing for the first time. It was not long, however, until he was commenting freely on a variety of topics ranging from prisons to moon shots.

The Elephant And The Whale

What does Barth think of other eminent Protestant theologians who sharply disagree with him?

At a luncheon in Washington this month, Barth had some choice remarks about his theological contemporaries Brunner, Tillich, and Niebuhr.

His comments to 50 prominent churchmen from the national capital area were prodded by a remark that he had once made that he and Brunner were “like trains travelling in different directions.… We hail each other along the way.”

“He remains my friend,” said Barth, who appeared at the luncheon clad in a green plaid jacket and maroon tie. “In human relations we are amicable and on good terms. But as to theology nothing is changed.” Brunner is a former student and disciple of Barth who later became one of his severest critics. The two have lived in Switzerland within 60 miles of each other for years, but their meetings have been few. In a BBC television interview in 1960 Barth likened his relation to Brunner to that of an elephant and a whale.

“In his good creation, God saw fit to create such diverse creatures. Each has his own function and purpose.”

With a broad smile Barth repeated to his Washington hearers his previously stated preference to be considered the whale, which “can traverse the whole creation.”

Barth now says that it was Brunner who came out “with the notion of the new Barth.” Barth recalls that in the late twenties and early thirties he said ‘no’ to Brunner’s view of general revelation. “But I could not eternally say only ‘no’,” he adds. “I circled around and from a ‘Christological’ starting point (which was not Brunner’s) I took up the idea of general revelation. Then Brunner spoke of ‘the new Barth.’ ”

The Washington luncheon, held at George Washington University, also saw Barth challenge Reinhold Niebuhr, who has criticized the 75-year-old Swiss theologian’s silence on Red repression of the Hungarian revolt.

“That is a closed chapter,” Barth said. “I ask why Niebuhr is silent about American prisons. When he speaks out on this, I will speak out on Hungary.”

As for Tillich, Barth said:

“I have great difficulty understanding him as a theologian,’ but I can understand him ‘as a philosopher.’ ”

Article continues below

At a press conference in New York Barth said American church people ought to pay more attention to what he called the inhuman conditions in U. S. prisons instead of making “so much fuss about Russia.”

He said his visit to a U. S. prison had been “a terrible shock.”

Barth’s visit was to the Chicago House of Correction, a municipal jail which is old and overcrowded and generally conceded as a poor example of American prisons.

“It was like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno,” he declared. Barth suggested that instead of spending billions of dollars to send a man to the moon, the United States might spend more money on building better prisons.

“Why are the churches silent about this problem?” he asked.

His press conference had been arranged by the publishing firm of Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, which plans to make a book out of his lectures at Chicago and Princeton. The book will appear next spring under the title Introduction to Evangelical Theology.

In a visit to the United Nations, Barth said the international organization could be “an earthly parable of the heavenly kingdom.”

In any case, he added, “real peace will not be made here, although it might serve as an approach, but by God himself at the end of all things.”

At a luncheon in Washington, Barth made no speech but invited questions. Editor Carl F. H. Henry of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, noting that newsmen were present, asked if the saving events of the first century, particularly the bodily resurrection and virgin birth, were of such a nature that newsmen would have been responsible for reporting them as news—that is, whether they were events in the sense that the ordinary man understands the happenings of history.

Barth replied that the bodily resurrection did not convince the soldiers at the tomb, but had significance only for Christ’s disciples.

“It takes the living Christ to reveal the living Christ,” he said.

Barth thus shied away from emphasis upon apologetic evidences and refused to defend the facticity of the saving events independently of the prior faith of the observers. See CHRISTIANITY TODAY editorial, “From Barth to Bultmann, May 8, 1961 issue, pp. 24 ff.).

At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Barth lunched with students and faculty members of the Lutheran Theological Seminary before touring nearby Civil War battlefields.

Storm In Manhattan

Manhattan Island was the setting for a controversial action this month by the New York Presbytery which was attracting the interest of Presbyterians across the country. The presbytery, its members pledged to secrecy, voted to oust the pastor and session (board of elders) of historic Broadway Presbyterian Church. The pastor, Dr. Stuart H. Merriam, 38, was removed for an alleged lack of: dignity in conducting services, scholarship in sermons, and good judgment in intervening with the State Department on behalf of on Iranian scholar who charged his native government with corruption. A transcript of Dr. Merriam’s conversation with a State Department official was published in a local newspaper without Merriam’s knowledge.

Article continues below

The scholarship issue is of particular interest inasmuch as Merriam has attended historic Presbyterian divinity schools in three countries, holds an earned doctorate from a British university, and was noted among fellow students for his pulpit ability and enthusiastic acceptance by British congregations. Perhaps more to the point is the cleric’s avowed conservatism in relation to some critical biblical scholarship. Some Presbyterians feel more than this is needed in a pulpit in the vicinity of Columbia University.

The dignity issue seems to stem primarily from Merriam’s use of his dog for appeal to children in his initial service at Broadway. However, his congregation is staunchly behind him, his evangelistic and missionary zeal having been accompanied by a sharp rise in attendance and a 76 per cent increase in offerings in five months.

The case is being appealed to New York Synod. Illegalities on part of presbytery have been charged, and eminent legal counsel has lined up with Merriam, including Dr. Edward Burns Shaw, coauthor, with Stated Clerk Eugene Car-son Blake, of Presbyterian Law. No less a Presbyterian than John Sutherland Bonnell was “disturbed” that accusers were undisclosed. Nameless accusers, said Bonnell, had no place in the church.

Problems With Food

Few groups, in the realm of religion or out of it, have experienced as much grief over the political status of Communist China as has the National Council of Churches. Perhaps no other single issue has brought the NCC as much rebuke since the 1958 Cleveland conference in which delegates advocated U. S. recognition of Red China and its admission into the United Nations.

The NCC is now back on the defensive, but this time it is a question with the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan. A survey was taken of the relief and rehabilitation program in Taiwan, particularly as it related to Church World Service, the relief agency of the NCC. In a surprise decision based in part on the findings of the survey, the CWS executive committee announced this month that in Taiwan it would gradually discontinue mass feeding programs which utilize U. S. government surpluses supplied gratis.

Article continues below

Instead, said a committee announcement, CWS “will plan and initiate new programs to serve more effectively …”

The committee declared that the decision was “announced with the accord of Lutheran World Relief and of the churches in Taiwan that are cooperating with Church World Service.”

Hugh D. Farley, CWS executive director, said black-market operations were a contributing factor in the decision.

Also cited were complexities of a ration card system with lists of recipients furnished by Chinese officials.

Auxiliary Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom, executive director of Catholic Relief Services—National Catholic Welfare Conference, intimated that Roman Catholic distribution of U. S. surpluses are undergoing fewer changes. He said that some statements in the report to CWS were not correct and added that “the whole situation has changed since that report was written [in February]. We have refined our program and a good deal of difficulties have been ironed out with the Taiwan Government.”

The CWS committee did not make public the contents of the report nor did it describe any specific cases of abuse of the mass feeding programs. The committee pointed out that such policy changes have been a common practice, but it did not state why it was calling attention to this one. A press conference was called to announce termination of the program and two-page press releases were dispatched by the NCC’s Office of Information.

The committee said family feeding programs in Taiwan will be cut off gradually over the next 14 months. Surplus food distribution to some 400 charitable institutions will continue, as will 97 milk stations operated by CWS and LWR.

Dr. Daniel A. Poling, prominent New York churchman and editor of Christian Herald, criticized the CWS decision in a telegram to NCC President J. Irwin Miller. Poling cited Swanstrom’s statement and stated that “surely facts available to this Roman Catholic agency were available to the National Council.”

Chicago Crusade

The Greater Chicago Crusade with evangelist Billy Graham will open Memorial Day in the world’s largest indoor arena, McCormick Place, which has seats for 35,000 persons. The crusade will continue with weeknight and Sunday afternoon meetings through June 17. The final meeting, to be held at Soldier Field, may draw a crowd of 100,000.

Article continues below

“I believe this Chicago crusade gives us an opportunity to speak to the nation once again on a national scale we have not seen since the New York crusade in 1957,” says Graham.

Television will help to extend the impact of the crusade throughout North America. Five hour-long telecasts from Chicago will be carried on successive nights by stations from coast to coast.

Some 12,000 persons have attended pre-crusade counselor training courses in the Chicago area. Some 6,000 daily prayer meetings have been organized. Already hundreds reached through these preliminaries have professed conversion to Christ.

Says Graham: “Perhaps if we all work, pray and believe together, we can yet see a national spiritual revival.”

Although moral collapse threatens Chicago as much as any metropolis, some churchmen were still standing aloof from an unprecedented opportunity to stem the tide through evangelism.

Dr. Gibson Winter of the University of Chicago Divinity School said that Graham crusades “divert the resources and attention of religious people from the true task of the Christian mission.”

Winter, author of a book on suburban churches which created a stir in ecclesi astical circles about a year ago, spoke disparagingly of Graham’s efforts at a seminar in New York. He said that “our task is to help in fashioning a public accountability of the Church as Apostolic Servant, sent fully into the world and yet sent as servant to speak and live a healing, reconciling word.”

New Delhi In Retrospect

While brush fires on distant hills colored the warm night, some 200 churchmen assembled at rustic Buck Hill Falls Inn in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains for the annual meeting of the U. S. Conference for the World Council of Churches. The mood was warm and convivial. Many delegates met each other for the first time since New Delhi.

Purpose of the conference was to discuss the third assembly of the WCC and evaluate its successes and failures. In the light of this purpose the meeting was a success.

Although his opening address was marked by provocative and epigrammatic assertions, D. T. Niles stirred no theological fires. Niles pleaded for a concrete rather than an abstract missionary approach. The missionary must recognize that he meets Hindus, not Hinduism—which, Niles said, exists only in libraries—and he must not evaluate the Hindu abstractly in terms of what he is not. It is no more significant, asserted Niles, to describe the Hindu as an “unbeliever,” or “unbaptized” person, then to describe the archbishop of Canterbury as a non-Baptist. Missionaries were admonished not to evaluate the Hindu in terms of his own religion but in terms of the Christian religion. Seen from this perspective, the missionary must approach the Hindu as one for whom Christ came, lived, died, arose and who is therefore his Lord and his Saviour. The missionary will then discover that on meeting the Hindu or Buddhist, he is confronted by a person in whom the Spirit of Christ is already present and working.

Article continues below

In a press release prepared beforehand Niles was quoted as saying, “We cannot find the Christian truth imbedded in Hinduism, but we do find Jesus Christ imbedded in people.… The task of evangelism is to bring out Jesus Christ in every man not to put him in.”

Even this Socratic midwife understanding of the function of Christian missions did not so much as elicit a single question or comment. Why not? Does it take more than this to excite American Christians to theological discussion? Or was this a kind of Christian courtesy which deems it impolite to argue about religion, the kind of insipid good manners which so often renders ecclesiastical meetings so innocuous and pointless?

Perhaps it was just a matter of getting started, for the remainder of the conference was marked by free and open expression.

Criticized was the small ratio of laymen at New Delhi: 18 per cent, compared with 20 per cent at Amsterdam, and 27 per cent at Evanston (the WCC constitution calls for 33 per cent). Delegates also contended that laymen were allowed but a small role and that the WCC is largely run by the clergy. The lack of women, and their small role, came under similar criticism. Charles C. Parlin, Methodist lawyer and a president of the WCC, pointed out that this was the laymen’s greatest hour since religious discussion between Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox was now generally regarded as a proper and accepted activity.

W. A. Visser ’t Hooft asserted that a genuine and fruitful dialogue between the various branches of the divided church was finally getting under way. The monological, he said, is being displaced by the dialogical; churches are now talking to each other, not simply to themselves. He hailed as a happy and wholesome sign that the various Orthodox churches, after centuries of merely talking to themselves, are now talking to each other. Niles urged that churches which had long practiced the grace of giving had now to learn the grace of listening to and receiving from other churches.

Article continues below

Visser ’t Hooft, the sturdy, shrewd Dutchman who has long been the energetic General Secretary of the WCC, assured delegates that no mistake had been made in accepting the Russian Orthodox Church into the Council. He told them that all the contacts and conversations of the Orthodox Church had been religious and ecclesiastical, not political.

Without explanatory preface or postlude, Visser’t Hooft departed from his script to assure the delegates that D. T. Niles was not a syncretist seeking to wed Christianity and the non-Christian religions.

Visser ’t Hooft said that it is “not yet clear” whether the Roman Catholic Church is ready to participate in a “genuine ecumenical dialogue.”

Dr. Raymond E. Maxwell, former secretary of Orthodox Churches and Countries for the WCC, observed that communities in the Near East, in crossing the frontier into the modern world, are thrusting the clock forward 1,000 years in one generation. Maxwell cited the fact that Orthodox churches that had almost no contact with each other for 1,500 years crossed their dividing frontiers and met together for the first time last September at Rhodes, Greece. As regards the frontier between Eastern and Western churches, Maxwell asserted that Eastern peoples still remember with bitterness the “plunder and brutality of the Christian Crusades.”

Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, chairman of WCC Central and Executive Committees, urged that the ecumenical movement must give a definition of the specific unity it seeks. He also insisted that the WCC must face the question of the finality of Jesus Christ and its relation to non-Christian religions. He charged that New Delhi was weak and ambiguous in its understanding of Jesus as the Light of the world, vacillating between Christ as the light, and the light of a pre-incarnate Christ.

Dr. George W. Carpenter, another WCC official, reported on a study which asks whether present patterns of the ministry are effective.

Doubtless the WCC’s greatest problems are theological. In July of 1963 about 350 of the world’s top theologians will meet at McGill University, Montreal, to discuss the theological differences which divide the churches. Many observers feel that in this area the WCC will make or break itself.

Dr. O. Frederick Nolde, Director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, declared that nuclear weapons testing without international consent or control must cease. A public statement issued by officers of the WCC asserted, “We must ask whether any nation is justified in deciding on its own responsibility to conduct such tests, when the other people of other nations in all parts of the world who have not agreed may have to bear the consequences.” Some sources wonder whether the Commission realizes that when people the world over consent, such testing will not be needed.

Article continues below

J. D.

Fuel For A Feud?

The Education of Jonathan Beam, a new novel written by the publicity director of Wake Forest College, may become part of the theological controversy now taking shape among Southern Baptists.

Trustees of the Southern Baptist school have voted 16 to 4 not to censure publicity director Russell Brantley, but the novel may still figure in the theological debate which is expected next month at the annual sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Francisco.

Many Baptist leaders are charging that theological liberalism has made inroads into seminary faculties. The book that has drawn the most fire thus far is The Message of Genesis, written by Professor Ralph H. Elliot of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Brantley’s novel, which is set at a mythical “Convention College,” is alleged to be critical of fundamentalism and questions the prohibition against dancing at the mythical college.

The North Carolina Baptist State Convention, which controls Wake Forest, has refused to permit dancing on the campus and a few years ago forced college trustees to rescind a decision to permit supervised on-campus dancing.

Presbyterian Center

A new $2,000,000 Presbyterian Center is planned in Atlanta. The six-story structure will provide offices for eight agencies of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern) and for officers and personnel of the Synod of Georgia and the Presbytery of Atlanta.

The new structure will be built in the same area as the current Presbyterian Center, which is established in converted houses and school buildings. Construction probably will begin in the spring of 1963, officials said.

A major part of the financing will come from a $12,000,000 capital funds crusade to be conducted by Southern Presbyterians in 1963. The Presbyterian Center, Inc., a non-profit corporation formed to administer the property, is due to receive $1,500,000 from the funds. The remaining $500,000 will come from donations from individuals and churches.

Catholic Membership

U. S. Roman Catholic membership is reported to have increased by 771,765 in 1961. The gain was considerably less than the 1,233, 598 reported in 1960 and the 1,366, 827 in 1959.

Article continues below

The Official Catholic Directory for 1962, published this month, says that Roman Catholics in the 50 states numbered a record 42,876, 665 on January 1.

The directory reports 128,430 converts to Catholicism in 1961, 1,352, 371 infant baptisms, and 356,878 deaths.

‘They Were Ten’

As the state of Israel marked the 14th anniversary of independence, Jewish leaders gathered in Washington this month for a premiere showing of the first full-length Israeli produced motion picture, “They Were Ten.” The spirit of Israeli pioneers, not pursuing God as much as fleeing from oppression, yet concerned for moral uprightness, supplied its mood.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Elmer Berger, in a speech to the 18th annual conference of the American Council for Judaism, deplored the action of the Israeli Knesset in delegating to the World Zionist Organization the responsibility “to forge the Jewish people into one.” Berger, an anti-Zionist, is executive vice president of the council, which met in Chicago.


Paul’S Pertinent Plea

A world full of disagreeing people reminds us of the somewhat neglected text “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord,” said the Rev. R. J. Coates, addressing the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society meeting in London. Despite this need for spiritual unity, it is wrong to suppose that nothing would happen unless there was a huge crowd, and Mr. Coates warned against despising the day of small things, adding: “We should agree together on a plan of prayer, and such agreement would spring out of a realization of the spiritual need.”


‘Friends, Romans …’

The largest official meeting of Protestants and Roman Catholics in post-Reformation Scotland has taken place in a Glasgow convent (see “Review of Current Religious Thought”). Addressing some 200 priests, nuns, ministers and laymen, the Abbot of Nunraw pointed out that the main purpose of the meeting was to explain the Second Vatican Council to be held later this year. “This is part of the ecumenical dialogue,” he said. “A dialogue used to be thought of as a conversation between two or three people, and an ecumenical dialogue is just a general conversation. Each and every one of us is interested in unity.… That does not necessarily mean that there is unity in doctrine.… All of us are united in that we are all disciples of Christ, gathering together to discuss ways and means of overcoming prejudices and suspicions and of showing the love of Christ in the world.” Though others have been held, this was the first formal meeting between Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland representative bodies.

Article continues below


Henry Ford On Sunday

“If you want to destroy the Christian religion,” said Voltaire, “you should first destroy the Christian Sunday.” Quoting this at the annual meeting of the Lord’s Day Observance Society in London, Sir Cyril Black, Member of Parliament, pointed out that though the 131-year-old Society had been much maligned, ridiculed and derided, the case for its existence had never been stronger than today.

Sir Cyril significantly suggested that it was not even good business to work on Sunday. Henry Ford had found this, for he once asserted that it took six months longer to produce his first car because they often had to spend the rest of the week unraveling the mistakes the engineers had made on Sunday.

Missionary Shortage

Only one student leaving the Church of Scotland’s divinity halls this spring has offered himself as a missionary—and he will not be available for two years, according to a church spokesman.

The official disclosure followed an appeal for missionaries made at a synod meeting in Edinburgh.

Wef Milestone

Headquarters offices of the World Evangelical Fellowship are being moved from Muscatine, Iowa, to London, England, and plans are under way to set up area offices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The decision to move was made at a meeting of the WEF’s General Council in Hong Kong. Twenty-seven delegates were on hand for the meeting held April 25-May 2.

The Rev. Gilbert Kirby of Great Britain was named director of the new London office. He succeeds the Rev. Fred Ferris, who operated out of Muscatine as international secretary. Dr. Everett Cattell was elected as council president.

A Victim In Berlin

Reports dispatched by Religious News Service indicate that a visiting Austriaborn Greek Orthodox priest was slain by secret police in East Berlin.

Communist officials informed relatives of Father Georg Reichhart that he had “committed suicide” because of legal steps taken against him on charges of “criminal acts.” However, additional reports confirmed suspicions he had been killed to prevent him from moving into West Berlin, according to RNS.

Reichhart, of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, had been held in detention by Soviet Zone security police for six weeks.

On April 9, Reichhart telephoned his mother in Austria, who told him she had sent money to West Berlin so that he could return to his homeland. The conversation, according to reports, was overheard by security police. Later the same day Reichhart telephoned a brother in Vienna to report to could not leave East Berlin because police had confiscated his Austrian passport.

Article continues below

On April 11, the priest’s parents received a telegram from an East Berlin hospital announcing that he had died on the morning of April 9. The time of death given was several hours before the priest had called his mother.

The parents flew to East Berlin, where they were told at the hospital that nothing was known there about their son. They were subjected to harsh interrogation by the security police, who refused to let them see Reichhart’s body or to enter the apartment in which he had stayed.

Later the parents were told their son’s body had been cremated.

Sources in West Berlin said the priest was regarded as an expert observer of Russian Orthodox Church programs in the Soviet Zone. They also said that on several occasions he had rejected contacts between the Soviet Zone’s foreign ministry and authorities of the Antioch Patriarchate, a move apparently designed to strengthen the Communists’ Near East policy.

Apartheid And Heresy

Professor Albert S. Geyser, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Africa and professor of theology in Pretoria University, was found guilty of heresy this month by a synod commission on charges stemming from his opposition to the church’s apartheid policies.

He was deposed as a minister, but it was not immediately known whether this also meant his expulsion from church membership.

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.