Earlier this year freshmen at Ohio University were forecasting the changes likely to occur before their graduation in 1968. The population of the United States will surpass 200 million. Scientists will have landed a man on the moon and drilled a hole to the center of the earth. Distilled sea water will turn deserts into farmlands, and hurricanes and tornadoes will obey the commands of weather satellites.
President Vernon R. Alden of Ohio University noted that the biggest change will be in what men know. In a single day modern man now undertakes enough research to fill seven complete sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Robert Oppenheimer estimates that half of all the knowledge we have today was acquired over a period of ten thousand years. The remaining half has been acquired in the last fifteen—and this acquisition may be doubled in the next four or five years.
If American college students no longer view 1970 as a target date for Communist takeover and if, despite the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, they fully expect to live out most of their lives in the twenty-first century, there remains one development whose outcome is wholly predictable. Western intellectuals are losing God from their storehouse of knowledge through neglect of the most precious aspect of their heritage. This loss of an articulate relationship to transcendent reality—including changeless truth and fixed values—is stripping human life of a sense of durable meaning, purpose, and destiny. Scientists are spending millions trying to simulate the origin of life, while their fellow human beings still cannot govern the life they already have; immorality seems to escalate as scientific knowledge expands. Neither an infinity of sex nor leisure nor affluence compensates for the gnawing emptiness and dull monotony of sensual gratification. The quest for assurance that human life makes sense, that it has a goal beyond the round of daily cares, that the things that seem to matter more than bread and pleasure are not illusions—this uneasy search is the hallmark of modern living.
The great tragedy of the West is that the universities are not filling this vacuum. Philosophy departments are dominated by teachers who, if their devotion to the ultimacy of the scientific method is sound, ought in the quest for truth to be replaced by scientists. Even some theologians who seem often to be on speaking terms only with themselves (and surely not with God or the laity) are busy burying the Bible. College students are in search of a flag to fly, and long to be conquered by a commanding cause. But if the Christian heritage retains any meaningful challenge in the face of modern problems, few of their campus professors offer the slightest hint that this is so. All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that scientists themselves are speaking out as men of devout faith at a moment when a host of non-scientists tend to make science the pretext for their unbelief, and thereby show themselves naïve victims of scientism.
The campus revolution in America today carries ominous overtones. There is evidence that students are sometimes manipulated from outside, as well as confused inside the academic sphere. The serious implications of this manipulation have prompted former Congressman Walter H. Judd to comment that the Viet Nam crisis has brought to light a frightening public evidence of the highly organized apparatus “ready for the day of take-over.” One day 16,000 students showed up in Washington, paraded in protest, then melted away and went home. The promoters had felt the Viet Nam situation was threatening enough to take the risk of surfacing their effectiveness for the purpose of demonstrating. An army general who has been entrusted with the movement of thousands of men was shocked in disbelief over the efficient manipulation of student participants. “The very logistics of such an operation,” he said, “are fantastic.”
The professional agitators are obviously in our midst—smart, devious, and persistent. They capitalize on unrest in many areas of life, and those who become their unknowing dupes become the unwitting agents of national disintegration.
Why have some of our institutions of higher learning, once the very bulwark of the nation, become obstacles to patriotism and national preparedness and defense? Surely there is a connection between this and the fact that most of these institutions, once founded on Christian principles, have now lost their commitment to unchanging truth and fixed values. Deny God his rightful place and the life of the nation is soon destroyed. Ignore God and we shall most certainly find ourselves ignored by him when judgment comes.
Contempt for discipline in the home, in the university, and in the streets is but an elongated shadow of this separation from God.
When one adds the specter of men who manipulate the natural idealism of youth and who organize this into a revolt against virtues on which the nation was founded and by which it became great, he sees that we have reached a time of unquestioned peril. In times like these, institutions of higher learning are needed where God is given his rightful place in every area of life. Unless the student world finds Christ, it may soon discover that it has lost its freedom as well as its faith, and that its forecast of the future would have been sounder had students read the Bible as well as the Communist Manifesto.
It is noteworthy that the student body president at the University of California, Berkeley, made his personal commitment to Christ during the restless days of riot and revolution on the West Coast campus. He has, in fact, now joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, to carry the good news of true freedom in Christ to other university students in America.
With Religious Liberty For All
The World Council of Churches is to be commended for the strong and clear position on religious liberty adopted by the Executive Committee of its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs at its annual session in New York. The resolution lists seven “essential requirements” of religious liberty. The first asserts that while there is a distinctively Christian basis of religious freedom, there is a civil freedom of religion that Christians not only claim for themselves but recognize as rightfully belonging to all men—of whatever religion or faith, or of none at all. Such freedom, the resolution urges, includes the right to manifest one’s religion in teaching, preaching, worship, and everyday private and public practice. No legal restrictions should be imposed upon this except such as are “solely in the interest of public order.”
The formulated statement is presented as the basis for the development of an international standard of religious liberty. It appeals to the nations of the world to alter their constitutions and their laws wherever necessary so that religious freedom will be a right enjoyed by all men.
The universal granting of religious freedom would be no more than a recognition of every man’s elemental right. This right of a man to be what he chooses before God would also pay rich dividends in the removal of internal causes of national political tensions that often break out into strife and bloodshed.
Adoption of a universal standard of religious liberty would also serve a reconciling purpose between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The WCC’s resolution indicates that members of the Executive Committee of its CCIA “at various times had expressed concern about situations in which Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion.” The action is doubtless intended as a friendly nudge in the ribs of the Second Vatican Council, which last session failed to vote on its own resolution on religious liberty because of differences of opinion over the theological basis of such liberty. The Vatican would do better to speak out on religious liberty even before it can find its theological basis, than by Its silence to undercut what—as late as 1965—it cannot yet theologically justify. Here too it holds true that justice delayed is justice denied.
Many Protestant denominations are re-evaluating their traditional doctrinal positions. The multiplicity of confessional statements from all corners of Christendom seems to equal that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the denominational boundary lines were drawn dividing Romanist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed. While the older statements had teeth in them and were accompanied by the traditional damnamus as a warning to those who dared to disagree, the newer ones have a more friendly tone in their attempt to be more embracing. Conventions adopting the newer statements of faith bend over backwards explaining that there is only a minimum of obligatory nature in them. The lack of any serious confessional commitment is seen in that members of certain denominations are given a choice on which statement of faith will be the norm of their faith—even if such statements are so different as to be obviously contradictory.
A clue to Christendom’s confessional troubles has been given by Dr. Peter Brunner, professor on the Protestant Faculty at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Dr. Brunner claims that confessional troubles are really rooted in a denomination’s attitude to the Scriptures.
In a lecture first given before the Theological Commission of the Lutheran World Federation and later printed in a collection of theological writings in 1963 (Das Bekenntnis im Leben der Kirche), he makes the rather blunt statement that Protestant Christianity already “has lost the concrete authority of the Scriptures.” Because of this fact, it is impossible for the Church to arrive at any consensus on the content of the Gospel. He goes on to say that since the Scriptures are unclear to most Protestants, a binding commitment to any sort of confession is senseless.
Speaking of the situation in Germany, Dr. Brunner points out that the Lutheran churches at the time of the Reformation acceped the christological and trinitarian formulations of the early Church for the sake of the Holy Scriptures. They wanted no new confession but desired only to assent to the true ecumenical tradition of the Church. This confessional commitment, as they understood it, deterred them from uniting with either the Roman Catholics or the Anabaptists.
To correct the present situation within the Church, Dr. Brunner calls upon Christendom to do away with what he calls the “paralysis” of the last two hundred years, during which a rationalistic attitude toward Scripture has degraded confessional statements of the past to mere historical documents. In a rather stern warning that contains its own damnamus, Dr. Brunner says: “If the Lutheran church does not dare to assert the central content of the Gospel in an obligatory way according to the church’s obligatory witness to this apostolic Gospel as it is found on every single page of her Confessions, then she has renounced the Spirit of God, who is looking for an expression of our faithfulness to the apostolic Gospel right here and now in our own historical situation. If we cannot do this, then we have no other choice but to beseech the Spirit of God for His mercy.”
In the inner sanctum of high ecumenical meetings, lack of communication has often been made the scapegoat for confessional difficulties within various denominations. Dr. Brunner puts the blame squarely on the attitude toward Scripture. Confessional confusion and the lack of confessional unity can be traced back to a lack of unity on the Bible. Before another denomination writes and adopts still another “confessional” statement updating or replacing the older traditional ones, perhaps it would be best for member congregations to see whether confessional change is really only symptomatic of deeper problems involving the heart of the Gospel and the authority of Scripture.
Uneasy Doubts In A Free Society
While most Americans stand solidly behind President Johnson’s determination to deter Communist aggression in Viet Nam, it is true also that uneasiness is increasingly evident over both foreign and domestic affairs. The fate of freedom in our time is a mounting concern.
In foreign affairs many Americans feel the present stalemate in Viet Nam is due largely to an inherited national policy of “too little and too late” response to Communist initiative. There is complaint, also, over a disposition in high places to withhold information that the public—in a free society—thinks it has a right to know. Assurances about the duration and success of the Vietnamese struggle have been so frequently altered as to cast doubt upon the reliability of official pronouncements. Most Americans want to get out of Viet Nam as soon as possible. But many are convinced that any withdrawal that yields an inch to Communist control is too soon. They are distressed, moreover, over reports that Russia’s debt to the United Nations may be placed on a voluntary basis while other nations remain obliged to meet their bills.
On the domestic scene anxieties are equally conspicuous. While political leaders commendably wave the flag of freedom in the face of Communist ambition abroad, and commendably secure equal voting rights for all citizens at home, they are too responsive to vested political interests, too alert to propaganda benefits, too one-sidedly sensitive to minority ambitions.
The insistent question is this: Is America canceling the legitimate rights of some to advance the legitimate rights of others? Do politicians face the issues of freedom in a sufficiently broad context?
It is disturbing that the voting rights bill in penalizing irresponsibility in voter registration may override constitutionally guaranteed rights of states to determine the qualification of voters. The week the voting rights bill became law, moreover, the House of Representatives voted to destroy state “right to work” laws. Even the editorially liberal Washington Post spoke against the proposed repeal of Section 14 (b): “We doubt that the time is now ripe, and the vehicle being rushed through Congress is far from being an appropriate one.” While labor leaders retain a stifling grip on workers, and their powerful unions remain free from controls imposed on other corporations, the time may in truth never be ripe.
Freedom of conscience is a precious facet of a free society, which dissolves its own will to win where men must fight abroad for what they fear is not being adequately preserved at home.
Mission Or Omission?
“The Church is mission.” This seemingly harmless, if enigmatical, cliché has become a cornerstone for some and a stumbling block for others. It epitomizes a new philosophy of the Church’s nature and task, a philosophy that shifts emphasis in theology from content to context, and in preaching from individual salvation through faith to social reform through action.
Conceived by leaders within the National Council of Churches, this philosophy is now being implemented by many denominational leaders already sold on its validity. Yet in almost every major denomination there is growing alarm as the implications of this new concept become clear. “Mission, the Christian’s Calling”—the slogan for this year—shelves the historic concept of world missions and personal evangelism in favor of social interest in environmental change. The recommended film for this year deals with race relations; that for next year stresses the implications of poverty in the midst of affluence. This emphasis simply coincides at many points with President Johnson’s vision of the Great Society, and its “gospel” scarcely retains any recognizable connection with apostolic evangelism.
Many sincere Christians long for the Church to recapture the warmth of her first love so that she shall preach, teach, and live Jesus Christ as man’s one hope. Evangelical Protestants are not indifferent to the embodiment of moral values in social structures, but they resist ecclesiastical efforts to make the Church an agency of political power that imposes Christian values by legislative compulsion. Renewed emphasis on the spiritual mission of the Church will inevitably activate the sense of social responsibility among individual Christians. Moreover, it will confute the adolescent notion that unregenerate men are the stuff of which a great society can be fabricated.
Questions, But No Answers
Twenty years after Hiroshima, Pope Paul has voiced the sentiments of most of humanity in decrying the terror and depredation of the first atomic bombing. He described it as an “infernal massacre” and an “outrage against civilization,” and added: “We pray that the world may never again see such a wretched day as that of Hiroshima; that never again may men put their confidence, their calculation and their prestige into such disastrous and dishonorable weapons.”
Pope Paul here raises several important and historic questions which he apparently makes no attempt to answer:
1. Was the horror of the bombing such that it proved terribly mistaken President Truman’s decision—with which Winston Churchill concurred—to use the bomb to end the war?
2. Is the Pope refining the just-war theory traditionally held by Roman Catholics by distinguishing between honorable and dishonorable weapons?
3. Is Pope Paul forgetting that, regrettable as it is, the present “peace” is the result of a “balance of terror” and that in maintaining this peace the world’s leading diplomats are even now putting their “prestige” and “calculation” in “such disastrous and dishonorable weapons”?
Everyone should feel the horror of the devastation and human suffering that have become synonymous with Hiroshima. But this can be expressed in most poignant terms without the accompaniment of a myopic vision of present and painful political realities.
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