Nineteen well-known evangelical churchmen held out hope last month for a broad program of Christian cooperation embracing more than 20,000,000 Americans and Canadians. They voiced the prospect following a three-day round of talks at a Rocky Mountain retreat. All were said to have agreed on the feasibility of joint evangelical action in five areas: evangelism, theological dialogue, social action, problems in higher education, and college student work.
One veteran observer said it was the most representative gathering of evangelical leaders since 1942, when the National Association of Evangelicals was founded. The scope of the consultation far exceeded that of NAE, theologically and ecclesiastically, although NAE was active in the planning and participation.
Among participants and observers were President Wayne Dehoney of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Missouri Synod Lutheran churchman, and a Christian Reformed educator. Also participating were CHRISTIANITY TODAY Editor Carl F. H. Henry (American Baptist), Editor G. Aiken Taylor of the Presbyterian Journal, and Editor W. T. Purkiser of Herald of Holiness (Church of the Nazarene). None of the denominational representatives was an official appointee. Some participants shared a reticence toward publicity of the discussions, insisting that their engagement was on an individual basis.
But the consultation coincided with a mounting conviction by prominent evangelicals in many communions that some program of transdenominational coordination and cooperation is increasingly desirable and in fact imperative.
A news release issued by one spokesman following the consultation stated:
“While recognizing large obstacles to agreement in matters pertaining to the internal life of their churches, consultation participants also noted that in the active and aggressive execution of the mission of the church, differences seemed much less formidable.” (See also the editorial, “A Door Swings Open,” p. 24.)
The consultation took place at the castle-like home of The Navigators, Glen Eyrie, in Colorado Springs. Expenses of the meeting were underwritten by a foundation. A second session may be planned for next year.
Was the meeting a reaction to or a potential evangelical counterpart of the Consultation on Church Union, the Blake-Pike venture which seeks to merge six U. S. denominations with a combined membership of more than 20,000,000?
The nineteen churchmen would emphatically deny such a suggestion. One conferee volunteered that “nobody thought to mention Dr. Blake or Dr. Pike or the COCU projection; our burden was for the fulfillment of New Testament imperatives.” Most participants would contend that Christian unity already exists in their common evangelical commitment, and that the challenge is one of joining hands in a transdenominational reflection of that unity in study and work.
Some evangelicals feel that theirs is the best defined and most widely held strain of Protestant thought in North America today, with large blocs of adherents in virtually all denominations (see succeeding story on a survey of theological alignments and “Who Are the Evangelicals?,” p. 3).
The consultation spokesman issued an eight-point list of agreements among participants:
“That evangelical Christianity has a job to do, to revitalize its approach to modern society. Joint efforts to this end are clearly indicated.
“That evangelicals share a common emphasis upon Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel.
“That evangelicals could together enrich the quality and refine the character of evangelism for a more total penetration.
“That a critical frontier of the Church is the inner city and that a joint evangelical strategy is needed to penetrate and minister to the modern concrete jungle.
“That the evangelical missionary program offers opportunities for witnessing on a world-wide basis to the reality of evangelical brotherhood.
“That the social concern among evangelicals is quite strong; but that a theology for such a concern needs joint development.
“That an urgent need exists for penetrating the educational world with competent evangelical scholarship and student services to strengthen evangelical students.”
“That the failures of modern campus ministries call for a radical examination of all approaches to students today; and a strengthening of the best through joint strategies.”
The Glen Eyrie consultation seemed to be part of a trend among evangelicals toward summit-type meetings aimed at meeting the issues of the day. Noted evangelicals have also been meeting quietly for several years with ecumenical churchmen for dialogue on church-state issues, and with some evangelical ecumenical leaders for sharing of general concerns.
Here are summit-type evangelical meetings presently scheduled:
—World Congress on Evangelism in West Berlin, October 26–November 4, 1966, to include 1,200 delegates, observers, and other invited guests, sponsored by CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
—Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission in Wheaton, Illinois, April 9–16, 1966, to include 600 missionary executives and educators, sponsored by the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association.
—A conference of scholars, tentatively set for this summer, to discuss whether evangelicals should draft a new translation of Scripture.
—Another conference of scholars, in a seminar on the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, next summer.
How Many Evangelicals?
In an effort to determine the theological sympathies of the laity in the large American Protestant denominations, CHRISTIANITY TODAY surveyed a group of key churchmen from coast to coast. The results, although inconclusive as reliable statistics, nonetheless tend to confirm the opinions of most observers of the American scene that the laity is considerably more conservative on theological issues than the clergy. The responses also suggest that evangelicals are numerically strong even in the mainstream denominations whose leadership is liberal.
Survey questionnaires asked the churchmen to estimate separately what percentage of the laity and clergy in their denominations were theologically liberal, neo-orthodox, conservative, and non-classifiable.
One top official of a large denomination estimated that 60 per cent of the laity and 15 per cent of the clergy are theologically conservative, 30 per cent of the laity and 15 per cent of the clergy neo-orthodox, and 10 per cent of the membership and 70 per cent of the clergy liberal.
A seminary professor in the same denomination asserted that most ministers, church workers, and members belong in a “central” theological category. He said only 5 per cent of the ministers belonged in the neoorthodox designation and that the members and church workers “never heard of it.”
Cordiality In Evangelism
British Columbia is the California of Canada, with a booming economy and natural playgrounds. A rapidly increasing population seeking to escape the rigors of life in other parts of the country finds fun and fortune on the west coast. In such an environment the Christian churches, with few exceptions, do not find an easy road.
To this area Leighton Ford and his team came to conduct a crusade in the 6,000-seat Agrodome at the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds, May 2–16. A crusade by Ford in the interior British Columbia city of Prince George two years ago sparked interest in the Lower Mainland, and soon a small committee of the concerned was at work. Vancouver, like most sizable North American cities, has two ministerial groups: an ecumenically oriented council of churches and a separatistically inclined evangelical association. Both groups were initially uncertain, but as time went on the right wing of the one and the left wing of the other coalesced into a cordial fellowship.
The name of Leighton Ford was virtually unknown in Vancouver, but on the afternoon of May 2 some 11,500 packed the Agrodome and filled to overflowing an adjacent building where the crusade service was carried by closed circuit TV. The attendance never went below 6,000, and the total for the two weeks was 104,300, with over 1,200 decisions for Christ.
This was just the first phase of the crusade, for from June 25 to July 4 Leighton Ford and his team will be back, joined by Billy Graham for the closing three days.
IAN S. RENNIE
Crusades In Spain
Some of the largest evangelistic campaigns ever held in Spain took place in May under the leadership of Fernando Vangioni, an associate evangelist on the Billy Graham team from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Accompanied by George Sanchez, overseas director for The Navigators, Vangioni conducted united crusades in Madrid, Zaragoza, and Barcelona. The meetings were to continue into June with a crusade in Sevilla and single church meetings in the north of Spain.
Hundreds were making public commitments to Christ.
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