The Church, it would seem, would be the last place to look for an atheist. Fools who say, “There is no God,” would be wise enough, one would think, to stay out. But not so. Although there may be no atheists in foxholes, a recent study conducted by the Survey Research Center of the University of California in Berkeley attests that there are atheists in the churches. The same investigation also revealed that many church members deny the deity of Christ and disbelieve in the New Testament miracles and in life after death.

Rodney Stark and Charles Y. Glock, two sociologists who conducted the investigation for the university, report that 1 per cent of the Protestants and 1 per cent of the Roman Catholics they investigated are agnostic. These said baldly, “I do not know whether there is a God, and I don’t believe there’s any way to find out.”

As for atheism, the investigation discovered that 1 per cent of the Congregationalists (United Church of Christ) and something less than one-half of 1 per cent of Methodists and of Episcopalians interviewed asserted, “I don’t believe in God.”

These percentages are admittedly small. But the actual number of atheists within American churches, computed on this basis, is not. The 1 per cent of the membership of the United Church of Christ amounts to about 20,000 atheists; and even if only one-third of 1 per cent of Methodists and Episcopalians are atheists, this means there are about 45,000. A total of 65,000 atheists in three American denominations is a lot of atheists. The most recently published FBI figure for membership of the U. S. Communist party is 17,360.

If these atheists were inquirers and seekers in the pews, that would be one thing. But they are in the churches as members and have received baptism because in the judgment of the ministers, they are Christians.

How does an atheist manage to feel at home within the membership of the Christian Church? In foxholes, where men face the realities of life and death, the atheist is so uncomfortable that he soon ceases to be one. How does he manage to survive within the membership of the Church? Does the pulpit confront the pew with nothing to convert it into a place where the issues of life and death are also faced?

If as many confessed subversives, Communists, and men of moral corruption infested the United States government as there presumably are confessed atheists in the churches, there would be a loud cry to ferret them out. Men would see corruption in high places and a threat to the security of the nation. Will there be a similar concern and a similar cry that will summon the American churches to put their house in order?

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Some clergymen have urged that non-Christians ought not to be removed from the membership of the Christian Church. The argument is that we show a greater concern and love for lost souls if we allow the admitted non-Christians to stay on the rolls in the hope that they will become Christians. We would offend such “members”—so it is asserted—if we informed them plainly that they are not Christians.

Will the statistics of this investigation put an end to such bland nonsense and sentimentality? And will a serious attempt be made to find out who is who in the Christian Church?

According to the New Testament record, the preaching of our Lord drew believers to him, yet sent unbelievers away so that “they walked no more with him.” In the preaching of the Apostle Paul there was always the possibility of being offended, and the very least his offended hearers did was to leave. Authentic preaching of the Gospel in the pulpits of the American churches today will do the same. Official acts of excommunication are rarely needed where the Gospel of Christ is so preached that men both recognize it and react to it. But if thousands of atheists can remain comfortably within the membership of the Christian Church, the homiletical pablum they receive from the pulpit must be such that it neither pleases nor offends their taste.

Religious discussions and arguments outside the pulpit easily create tense situations in which friends are lost and enemies made. But how rarely is anything said from the pulpit that offends the man in the pew enough to make him get up and walk out, to return only when he is ready to do business with God.

And what more shall we say about the pulpit when this same investigation reveals that 32 per cent of the Congregationalists, 24 per cent of the Methodists, and 16 per cent of the Episcopalians do not believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God; that 43 per cent of the Protestants do not believe in the Virgin Birth; that 72 per cent of the Congregationalists, 63 per cent of the Methodists, 59 per cent of the Episcopalians, 42 per cent of the Presbyterians, 38 per cent of the Disciples of Christ and of the American Baptists, and 31 per cent of the American Lutherans do not believe that the biblical miracles actually happened; and that 35 per cent of the Protestants either believe that Christ’s promise of eternal life is only “probably true” or have “no hope” for a future life at all.

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The Stark-Glock survey reveals that there is a much more prevalent skepticism about these Christian doctrines in such churches as the United Church of Christ, the Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church—those that are enthusiastic about the ecumenical movement—than in more orthodox bodies such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which are less interested in the current ecumenism. The ecumenical movement would doubtless prosper if the churches most dedicated to it would set their theological house in order, since, according to this report, these are the churches with the greatest weaknesses in Christian doctrine. If ecumenical leaders have their eyes open, they will recognize a lesson this survey teaches—and it would be better to learn the lesson now than later. For the same survey reveals a higher degree of orthodoxy on these matters in the Roman Catholic Church. If the ecumenical movement cannot compete with the doctrinal earnestness of some of the large and many of the small Protestant denominations, what will it do when it really meets Rome?

The Business Of The Ministry

The Sunday newspaper magazine Parade recently noted the verdict of Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic leaders that “many clergymen are not qualified for their role in the changed and changing world of today.” One Protestant theological educator (whose institution has been famed for training scholars and not parish ministers) said that “the church in America cannot cope with the problems the country faces. And the primary reason is that the clergy is not educated to handle these problems.”

The criticisms are valid indeed. Changes must come, and quickly. But the problem is not simply a need for more or different education for the parish minister. It goes deeper.

In the medical field there are few general practitioners. In their place are obstetricians, pediatricians, internists, proctologists, orthopedists, dermatologists, radiologists, anesthetists, otologists, ophthalmologists, and geriatricians, along with neurosurgeons, chest surgeons, plastic surgeons, and general surgeons.

The parish minister ought not to try to be a specialist in everything. Indeed, he cannot be. Maybe the Church should memorize the scriptural teaching that there are apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, helpers, administrators, and workers of miracles (1 Cor. 12:28). Certainly, not all ministers possess all the gifts. In an age of increasing leisure time, it is wrong to call on an overworked and underpaid ministry to assume a variety of functions that no one person can fulfill. Let’s train healers, helpers, and administrators, and let the prophets and teachers get about their business, which is to win the lost and build up the saints in the holy faith.

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From The Tumult To The Task

Despite the bitterness of their political campaigns, Americans close ranks quickly behind elected leaders. The man who was elevated to the Presidency by an assassin’s bullet has now been continued there by the largest popular vote in United States history. The final tally, of about 42 million to 27 million, gave President Johnson 61 per cent of the American ballot in his victory over Senator Goldwater.

The crucial issue of a sound political philosophy, so sadly blurred during the election campaign, must not long remain out of sight. America’s freedom and power are providential gifts for the preservation and promotion of human liberty. If these entrustments are dedicated to peace and plenty above all else, and not to truth and right, we are simply writing our own epitaph. Not President Johnson’s highly impressive margin of victory but an enduring commitment to holiness and justice on the part of the people will ensure America’s strength in the years that lie ahead.

The slashing offensive of the political campaign cut deep wounds. It may also have deteriorated the character of the democratic process and widened cynicism over political techniques. Every campaign necessarily leaves its disappointed voters. But multitudes of citizens are convinced that a candidate who served the United States Senate for eleven years and the United States Air Force as major-general was not simply defeated but maligned and slandered, along with the conservative cause generally, as essentially un-American. Yet President Johnson effectively carried two impressions to the public—that he would keep America out of the war that Barry Goldwater would assertedly have triggered, and that he is more truly conservative than Goldwater “radicalism.” Senator Goldwater’s pledged support of President Johnson sets the citizenry a worthy example. Many Americans are unpersuaded that the present foreign aid program and military policy assure a recovery of freedom. The plea for unity must not repress sincere political criticism, while the pursuit of criticism must not disrupt national unity.

If the great priorities of human destiny and survival are kept in the forefront, America will be spared the disillusionment of worshiping graven images. To the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on February 5, President Johnson said: “In this capital city today, we have monuments to Lincoln, and to Jefferson, and to Washington, and to many statesmen and soldiers. But at this seat of government, there must be a fitting memorial to the God who made us all.” Mr. Johnson seemed then to be speaking of a monument of stone or metal. The American people have lodged President Johnson in the White House with a vote of landslide proportions. Now he has an opportunity to help make of the nation itself precisely such a memorial.

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The Great Delusion

There exists within the Church a philosophy, evidenced by many, that Christianity can be legislated. The National Council of Churches, for example, often lobbies for specific legislation. Proponents of this approach apparently believe that Christianity is a matter, not of personal regeneration, but of social compulsion.

A member of the platform committee at one of the recent national political conventions remarked that within that committee there was genuine indignation when a representative of the NCC appeared and asked for a platform predicated on social engineering.

There is no such thing as enforced Christianity, nor is there the possibility of making a non-Christian society act as if it were Christian. The Christian faith is a matter of heart, of a changed allegiance, of a spiritual renewal beyond the act of man.

That Christians should give evidence of their faith through obedience to God’s holy laws goes without saying. The outward manifestation of an inward transformation is a great New Testament theme. But men cannot be coerced into Christian action; nor is the state to be considered an agent of the Church to enforce ecclesiastical morality.

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