The first notice appeared on the dinner tray I was given by American Airlines. By the time the second notice appeared, on United Airlines, there were certain penetrations of my brain pan and my cybernetics began to cohere. Here is what I found on my tray on a certain Friday:

“The Holy See has granted a special dispensation from the laws of abstinence for Catholics of every Rite traveling on United Airlines. On Fridays and all other days of abstinence you may eat the meat served during your United flight. If you prefer seafood, ask the stewardess. In the future, if you desire seafood, you may make your request through Reservations.”

About all I could say to myself was “ho” and “hum.” The mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse.

Millions and millions of dollars have been invested by the Holy See, and like any good organization it is not unaware of the money that needs to be spent on public relations.

This Protestant, at least, would like to point out that, with the tremendous thrust of this mighty Vatican power, it’s a shame if a man can react only in irritation, as I did. Whether Romanists do or do not eat fish is, it seems to me, a family affair. Why do they have to drag all this out into the open?

More than that, a great many Christians do not think that this is so all-fired important. Someone has likened the Church to a great ship that constantly collects barnacles and every once in a while has to have its hull scraped. Maybe this is a little sign that the Roman church, by way of the Vatican Council, is beginning to scrape the hull.

All well and good. Good luck to them—just as long as the general public doesn’t get the idea that something really shattering and earth-shaking is taking place.

Personally I have too high respect for the Galilean to want people to think that this sort of thing is the Christian religion.


Your strongly worded editorial, “A Time for Moral Indignation” (Mar. 12 issue), has been a long time coming.… Thank you for finally getting round to write it. Now, just what are you going to do about it in America? And what are we going to do about it in England? For we too are getting sick sexually. It’s catching.

You say “public opinion is still a powerful force for public righteousness.” But do you really believe that “public righteousness” has the moral impetus and desire to disentangle itself from the stimulus offered by impure sex? Evil stages a magnificent presentation of the sex-god that clutches very tightly on the mind. Surely we know that the Christian mind to be morally clean needs renewing and renewing and renewing. If a nation is to be cleaned up it will be no easy task especially when it is caught fast in the spawning ground of moral weakness: material prosperity. The weakness saps both the secular and the Christian of moral fiber. Getting to grips with the distributing centers that blatantly market the stuff ought to be somewhere on the Christian approach to the mess.

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Don’t worry overmuch who God will use to shout to your nation—and mine—about the sordid spoiling of his gift of sex. He may use the spokesman of a secular conscience if his church is dumb. We need though to weep with sorrow that our Christian moral sense is too often lagging far behind our profession of faith.

Ulpha Vicarage

Broughton in Furness, Lancashire, England

It is time for the Church to realize that she has been engulfed in this cesspool of sex until the only morality she has left, if one may call it that, is the prohibition of sexual enjoyment before marriage, and the permission of the fullest sexual pleasure after marriage, with one wife, of course.…

A “moral indignation” which ignores our own fallen state is nothing more than that exhibited by the Pharisees who brought the fallen woman to Jesus.

Berlin Bible Church

Narrowsburg, N. Y.


In order for a committed Christian to have any appreciation for The Greatest Story Ever Told, he must go prepared with the realization that this film is a Hollywood production, made and presented for the usual commercial reasons. If he will bear this in mind, he may feel that Hollywood did not do too badly (see News, Feb. 26 issue).

Even the casual moviegoer knows that the Hollywood script of a story seldom approximates the book from which it is taken. The Greatest Story Ever Told remains remarkably faithful in this respect. The outline of the life of Christ is more closely related to the Book of John than to the Synoptic Gospels. Many of the scenes will delight believers. The miracles are portrayed as mediate acts of God, and not merely as misunderstanding of natural forces.… The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our Saviour are all sensitively portrayed, and many of the soul-winner’s favorite verses, such as John 3:16 and John 14:6, are effectively spoken in such a manner as to impress an unbelieving audience.…

On the other hand, at times the words are not spoken in scriptural context—it is rather surprising to hear Christ quote from First Corinthians 13—and Bible students will be puzzled by certain interpretations. Much of the Sermon on the Mount is given under a bridge on the first day that Jesus calls his disciples, of whom the first is Judas. The rich young ruler whose wealth cannot allow him to follow Jesus is none other than Lazarus. The motive for the betrayal by Judas Iscariot is portrayed, not as depravity or greed, but as a desire to see Jesus taken into protective custody for his own safety. In the end, Judas neither hangs himself, nor throws himself into the field of blood, but commits suicide by standing on the brazen altar in the temple and flinging himself into the hot coals.…

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Enough of Christ is seen in this presentation to touch the hearts of moviegoers and to cause them to inquire further into their Bibles.

Los Angeles District Headquarters

American Board of Missions to the Jews

Hollywood, Calif.

One reservation comes to mind … as I read over Mr. Lindsell’s review of The Greatest Story Ever Told.… As long as Hollywood knows that there is Mr. Lindsell’s more or less “official” stamp on using the Bible for box-office success and sentimental thrills in the name of “religion,” they will continue to thrive on this sort of expensive junk where wealth and talent are prostituted as they are in the movie in question. Hollywood winds up with the strangest sort of friends.

Church of Our Saviour

Killington, Vt.


The February 26 issue came as a very pleasant surprise for which I am quite grateful. As one who is not usually in agreement with the statements of faith and opinions which this periodical often contains, I was both impressed and enlightened by the four major articles on educational concerns.…

If “liberals” are often characterized as straw men of a day gone by, no less have conservatives been stereotyped in a mold of narrowness and retreat from the world which articles of this type show to be less than accurate.… You have opened the channels of communication once again with at least one reader who had been disillusioned by what seemed to be a consistent refusal on the part of conservatives to deal creatively with the complex realities of modern-day life.

Princeton, N. J.

Geraldine Doll, in “The Church and the Handicapped Child,” has raised some truly soul-searching questions regarding the Church’s interest in and responsibility toward the handicapped child. All too often the Church is apathetic or helpless simply because it just doesn’t know what to do! We good Christian people frequently would rather label its duties and obligations in this area as “a thorny problem that somebody should do something about.” We fail to realize that God expects us to respect the handicapped child’s contribution to his Kingdom. I have seen too many pathetic cases of retarded adults who never were brought to Christ.…

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Milwaukee Special Lutheran School

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Milwaukee, Wis.


“The Aesthetic Problem: Some Evangelical Answers” (Feb. 26 issue) deserves even wider circulation.…

The popular trend in all of the arts seems to be the “deification of the mediocre,” and in no field is this more true than in the visual arts.…

Ranchos de Taos, N. M.

It is a clarion call that must be heeded if the evangelical witness is not to be dismissed by the world as the carping of malcontents.…

Church of the Reformation

Philadelphia, Pa.


Christianity Today rendered a service to United Presbyterians in the October 23, 1964, issue in printing important portions of the “Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith” to be submitted to the General Assembly in Columbus this May. Denied advance view of the text, Presbyterians have been in the dark regarding the nature of this next move to condition our church to forsake its distinctive witness in merger. Thanks to the article, “Presbyterians Draft New Confession,” the editorial, “High Time for a Confession?,” and the printing of the reproduction of the statement’s table of contents, we now know that the document will be characterized by the familiar reconciliation theology and will fit the overall pattern of all the other departures from our cherished heritage which the present Establishment is endeavoring to ram through. Thus we are enabled to see in advance of the Columbus assembly how far the neo-orthodox minority, merger-minded, would take our church down the road toward extinction.

This is no exaggeration. What we see as imminent possibility, planned and promoted, is not only the abandonment of the Presbyterian Church’s historic social role as an inspirer of liberty and as the ecclesiastical example and spiritual morale-builder for free representative democracy in the world. Also planned is the abolition of our freedom of worship, free pulpit, parity of the clergy, importance of the laity, prime sovereignty of presbyteries, Puritan heritage of morality, and Reformed theology. Once these are abolished there will be little left to witness with and share with others in ecumenical fellowship.

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There is need that opposition to this movement should not be confined to theological conservatives. Liberal evangelicals also dislike the present type of redefinition and reorganization of the church. Historically American Presbyterianism has always been a union of conservatives and evangelical liberals from our Scottish, Irish, and English Presbyterian-Puritan heritage. In the eighteenth century, when our forefathers established religious freedom and political democracy in America without religious establishment, Presbyterians under John Witherspoon joined with more liberal rationalistic deists, like Jefferson and Madison, and with more radical pietistic Baptists in the common social and political purpose of founding this nation with liberty under God and his moral law. Lately the most active theological position in the United Presbyterian Church has forsaken this heritage. The much advertised “thrilling revival of theology” has been largely an importation of Continental European neo-orthodoxy of a peculiar type. Opposed to it, by conviction, are both biblical conservatives and evangelical liberals. The latter, according to Henry P. Van Dusen, have a “profound moral concern” “from a fresh confrontation with the ethical demands and expectations of Jesus’ mind” not shared by current theology, which “has acquiesced and participated in contemporary man’s muddy moral standards and casual moral practices” (The Vindication of Liberal Theology, pp. 47 and 82).

To understand what is now happening we must review some pertinent history of the past thirty years. In 1935, when Presbyterians were finished with the J. Gresham Machen controversy which had troubled every General Assembly for years, the remaining conservatives and liberals were importuned by the moderates to bury the theological hatchet. The mood was to get on with the business of serving Christ and the Church, and to declare a moratorium on theological discussion. The conservatives and evangelical liberals acquiesced, leaving a theological vacuum into which neo-orthodoxy, posed as a mediating, middle-of-the-road position, promptly moved.

Princeton Theological Seminary, left in a shambles by the Machen battle, having lost its outstanding fundamentalist scholars, was at a low ebb. Its new president, Dr. John A. Mackay, moved in the most promising and least controversial direction. He imported continental European scholars: Joseph L. Hromadka from Czechoslovakia, Otto Piper from Germany, and Georges Barrios from France. Excellent and varied in their several ways, they had a common lack: familiarity with the British-American Puritan tradition of democracy. Hromadka went back to Prague under Communism to be the leader of Protestant adjustment to that social system.

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More influential in the neo-orthodox impact of Princeton were American Barthians like Paul L. Lehmann, with students like Benjamin A. Reist of San Francisco. Elwyn A. Smith and Robert Clyde Johnson have represented the same movement at Dubuque and Pittsburgh.

Another center of neo-orthodox influence was the Department of Christian Education, where this theology was allowed to dominate the curriculum under James Smart from Canada and many other writers. So unopposed has been this neo-orthodoxy that its exponents have come to assume that it is the only Presbyterian theology, and to think it should be made official.

Only slightly modified in the new “Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith,” it is often taught in terms of universal reconciliation. From Karl Barth’s early teaching it claims that the only significant revelation of God is in his one great act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. God has already effectually reconciled the world to himself, and mankind is already forgiven, in a realized universalism. The Church’s only task is to witness to this act of God, and this must determine all its teaching, polity, and social action. In the “Nature of the Ministry Seminars” held for all ministers and many laymen throughout the church two years ago all had to read a study booklet entitled “The Church and Its Changing Ministry” by Robert Clyde Johnson, stating:

The good news is that God is already love and that we are already forgiven. This covenant fact and this finished work of God’s grace circumscribe and define our ministry.… All that must be done to procure God’s acceptance, his mercy, his love, and his forgiveness has been done in the finished work of Jesus Christ.… The world has been reconciled to God and made a new creation in his life, death and resurrection.

No need for repentance and faith that includes moral surrender and obedience! This manual also advises ministers to “study not to set a moral example” to their congregations. Many advocates of this theology have more recently also adopted Paul Tillich’s situational ethic theory, with no set moral laws, standards, or principles but freedom to adjust, if we know Christ’s love, to every set of changing circumstances. President Theodore A. Gill of San Francisco Theological Seminary says, “In theology Protestant thought is shifting from what I would call a content Christianity to a context Christianity.” The Religious News Service report observes, “By that he meant that theology is adapting itself to the times instead of applying ‘juridical’ or ‘Thou Shalt—Shalt Not’ ethics to what it encounters in society. The ethics of ‘esthetics’ now is starting to pervade religious circles, he said” (quoted in the Presbyterian Outlook, February 15, 1965, p. 3). Only one part of ethics is maintained strongly: where reconciliation is called for and is the controlling ethical principle. The table of contents of the new Statement of Faith lists under “The Church’s Ministry of Reconciliation”: “The Mission in Particulars: (A) Racial Conflict; (B) War; (C) Poverty.” No apparent emphasis upon personal morality, or liberty. Karl Barth himself has considered all social systems to be relative, with no moral preference between American democracy and Communism. Those who accept his theology are often conditioned for it by the “social adjustment” emphasis they have had in American public schools since John Dewey; they feel little opposition to the growth of socialist bureaucracy and might try under all circumstances to practice “acceptance” and “reconciliation” to “relate” to Communism.

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Useful to Ecumenicity

Leading the Establishment committed to this theology and ethic is Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, graduate of Princeton and architect of proposed ecumenical union. Most people who have heard of his plan to unite Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, the United Church of Christ, and others are unaware of the greater scope of his vision. I tried to probe it at the Buffalo General Assembly in 1961. Reminding him that he was asking us to conform to the Anglican requirements of bishops and apostolic succession, I asked him if he wanted to shift the power center in the world ecumenical movement from Geneva with its representative democracy to monarchial Lambeth. He replied, “I wasn’t thinking about Lambeth. I was thinking about the Orthodox Church.” This was illuminating! He had been the negotiator for the World Council of Churches in securing the collaboration of Russian Orthodoxy. As ecclesiastical governmental machinery is of great importance to him, the prayer of our Lord, “That they all may be one,” means governmental union, in his mind. Knowing that the Orthodox churches will not merge with any other body unless it has the traditional orders of clergy: bishop, priest, and deacon, and is in the apostolic succession, and believing that the success of Christendom depends upon an ecumenical governmental merger of all Christians with the Anglican and Orthodox churches acting as the bridge between Protestantism and Catholicism, he is eager to prepare the United Presbyterian Church to participate by changing everything that stands in the way in our heritage of liberty, polity, order of worship, moral standards, or theology. He envisions the United Presbyterian Church becoming a part of the bridge structure to be built between free Protestantism and Roman papal authoritarianism, along with the Anglicans and the Orthodox, abandoning our historic anchor position on freedom’s shore. So he has planned and fostered the series of special committees bringing their reports for General Assembly approval.

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Church and State

One report is already engineered through. At Des Moines in 1963 the assembly called not only for separation of church and state but also for separation of religion from democracy, denying the right of public schools to teach the existence of God, the moral law, or anything that could be called religious indoctrination. The theological rationalization was spelled out at great length, in the introduction and appendices of the report, in neo-orthodox terms: “The sole ground for the church’s critique of the state is that in Christ, God and the world are reconciled.” “Theologically the church must be aware that the sole constant in its mandate is the fact of Jesus Christ. It is to the Christ that the Church bears witness, not to a theological articulation to the place of the political order in the structure of reality. This is why the celebrated theory of natural law, so dominant in medieval Christendom, may not figure in contemporary Christianity’s discussion of the doctrine of the state.” So out went the theology of the Declaration of Independence, stressing the Creator, the first Person of the Trinity, and out went the natural moral law of Calvin’s Institutes reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Because public schools could not teach Jesus Christ, and Barthianism teaches that Christ is the only revelation of God, any teaching of God from natural revelation in the schools would be worthless and must be prohibited. Not mentioned was the fact that the acceptance of the complete secularization of the state prepares the Presbyterians to unite with the Russian Orthodox without embarrassment to them in their relationship to the Communist state, as we no longer support the state in teaching, “Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing.”

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Changing the Ministry

The Special Committee on the Nature of the Ministry, having tried to brainwash the ministers and laymen of the church with seminars replete with neo-orthodox theology and with much talk of the greater ministry of the laity and the need of the clergy to identify with them by not asserting moral leadership, has come up with a curious recommendation. One original purpose in the study, suggested by the Chicago Presbytery, was to make the lay office of deacon more important. Yet the recommendation advanced by the committee is to abolish the lay office of deacon altogether and to make the new office of deacon a lower order of the ministry’, seminary-trained and ordained as non-pastoral clergymen, to engage in the multiplying bureaucratic and executive offices of the church. So we are working toward the Anglican and Orthodox orders of bishop, priest, and deacon. Gone will be our cherished, democratic parity of the clergy.

The special committee to write a new Book of Common Worship has undertaken to condition the mind of the church for a new order of worship for the Lord’s Day. It has sought to recommend the celebration of Communion every Sunday, and the use of lectionaries to prescribe Scripture lessons read throughout the year. The sermon should come early in the service, immediately after the Scripture lesson, of which it should be an exposition. At the climax of the service, after the sermon, would come a long series of rote prayers of petition and intercession read in unison by the congregation, then the offering, and announcements before the benediction. So the sermon would be subordinated to the sacrament and ritual prayers, and the minister’s freedom to choose his Scripture and text taken away, curtailing the freedom of the pulpit so long prized in the Presbyterian Church, reducing the sermon to an expository homily. Prescribed read prayers would supplant the present freedom of the pastoral prayer. Conformity to Anglican and Orthodox practice is obvious. What this would do to the caliber of our ministry requires a little more imagination.

A Hierarchy of Officialdom

A Special Committee on Regional Synods and Church Administration had in its authorization a general permission to make other structural changes attendant on its original purpose. Of this it has taken full advantage. It is proposing to recommend that each presbytery have a senior, to head its influential ministerial relations committee and to act as presbytery executive; and that each large regional synod have a dean with similar administrative importance on that level. While elected by the body served, these officers would be nominated and approved from above, this administrative personnel to be controlled and supervised by a General Assembly administrative personnel board of largely rotating constituency with one permanent member, the stated clerk. Though they would be called by other names, we would then have bishops and archbishops, and modesty forbids me to guess what the stated clerk would become. The “Servant of the Servants of Christ,” no doubt! How much freedom of movement in the ministry would there be? The primacy of the presbytery and its freedom of discussion would be gone, for what a man said might be reported up higher. Accommodation of our polity to Anglican-Orthodox requirements would then be complete.

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The new creed to be submitted by the Special Committee on a Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith promises to round out the whole plan, furnishing its theological rationale. We would not expect many of the statements to be greatly objectionable in themselves, but the emphases and what will be played down or omitted will be significant. For example, in this morally debauched age, there seems to be nothing in the new Brief Contemporary Statement comparable to Chapter XIX, “Of the Law of God,” in the Westminster Confession, with paragraph 5, “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.”

So, with this five-pronged steam-shovel scoop, our minority Establishment would lift the whole United Presbyterian edifice from its historic foundations, and deposit it, cracked and broken, in the dump-truck of demolished denominations which they envisage as the ecumenical bandwagon.

Can This Be Halted?

Some conservative and liberal United Presbyterians show signs of defeatism, fearing that this well-organized scheme cannot be stopped. But that is to overlook the real majority conviction of the United Presbyterian Church. Most of its clergy and the vast majority of its laymen are deeply apprehensive, know that something is wrong; but having been lulled by official promotion in the denominational journals, they haven’t had the information to figure it all out.

Yet when it has been challenged on clear issues the majority has shown its strength. At the Buffalo assembly in 1961, when the Establishment tried to put through an abolition of the church’s historic teaching of the moral value of abstinence from alcoholic beverages, United Presbyterians balked; and the next year, at Denver, they came back even stronger in opposition. The unmanaged assembly at Denver also refused to approve the church-and-state report, insisting upon enlarging the committee over the committee’s objections. So they hoped the report would be substantially changed, beyond just the excising of the alarming words that spelled out the demand for a completely secularized state. The neo-orthodox are still only a well-organized, articulate minority in control of the official apparatus of the church.

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All conservatives, evangelical liberals, and non-neo-orthodox middle-of-the-road Presbyterians must call at once for a renewal of the theological debate of all points of view, which can be trusted to renew our church’s real consensus and make possible an expression of its true moral, social, and theological convictions. Meanwhile they must be aroused to vote down at Columbus the multiple schemes of the neo-orthodox “ecumaniac” Establishment and to prepare to renew real ecumenical progress by keeping the characteristics favorable to reunion with our Southern Presbyterian and Reformed brethren. Then we can make our distinctive contribution toward the rich variety in prospective federal union of all denominations. So our beloved Presbyterian Church may return to its historic role in social action, as exemplar and inspirer of representative democracy and liberty under God and his law throughout the world.

Dundee Presbyterian Church

Omaha, Nebraska

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