Within minutes after the Holy Spirit’s coming the disciples began preaching to the world

Here in epitome is the substance of the Gospel: “Thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 47).

Two of these three propositions—the death and resurrection of our Lord—are the great foundational facts of our Christian faith. The third, the proclamation of repentance and remission of sins in his name, might scent to belong not to the substance of our faith but to the realm of obedience and action and thus to the program of the Church.

But a closer look reveals a striking coordination of the three affirmations. In the original, even the grammatical form is the same: three infinitives—to suffer, to rise, to be preached. All these are part of the Gospel, the third no less than the first two. For the death and resurrection of Christ are not the Good News in the fullest sense unless the forgiveness of sins is offered to all men through repentance and faith in him. Good news does not become good news until it is proclaimed.

This centrality of the proclamation is demonstrated in the immediate response of the disciples at Pentecost. Within minutes after the coming of the Holy Spirit they began preaching to the world; and within one generation the Gospel had been carried far and wide. What gives the proclamation centrality is its content—namely, Christ’s death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins for all who repent and believe.

There is no scriptural sanction for the idea that God’s grace and salvation are automatically effective for the universal redemption of man. The Gospel operates only in a context of acceptance and faith. It has to be preached and believed. This is the consistent teaching of the New Testament. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” The writings of Paul abound with such references. He speaks of being “justified by faith,” of “the righteousness which is by faith,” and of the righteousness which is “unto all and upon all that believe.” Or again, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?… So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

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Now if God uses the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe, if faith comes by hearing and if by faith a man may lay hold on eternal life, and if all this is a part of the Good News we are commissioned to proclaim, ought we not to declare as strongly as possible the supreme importance of evangelism as the first business of the Church?

This is an age of very great social sensitivity. Yet evangelism must continue to be the Church’s primary task. Let no man underestimate the relevance of the Gospel. It is no mere theory or abstraction. In working with the souls of men the Church handles the very fabric of which life is woven. She is never so relevant to life as when she is proclaiming the Gospel of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ. This is her unique message, not only for individual salvation but also for the redemption of society and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. There can be no redeemed society apart from redeemed men. While we know that in his sovereignty and in the exercise of his common grace, God has used some non-Christians to ameliorate social injustices, we must also realize that as Christians we minister most effectively to the problems of those around us only when we bring to them that love of neighbor which is the overflow of the love of Christ, the sharing of the joys and benefits of our own salvation, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in them that believe.

The Church is deeply concerned with human relations, with justice and social righteousness—so deeply that she would bring to these problems nothing less than the greatest and most radical solution, the transformation of the human heart through the grace and Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The deep hurt of the world is spiritual, and nothing less than a spiritual remedy will suffice. The cure must be related to the disease. It is easy to be found treating symptoms instead of causes, although symptoms are often very painful and must in mercy be relieved. And while we can never shirk the responsibility of giving a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, yet we must be sure that we get to the source of humanity’s trouble and that we do not exhaust our efforts in dealing with surface ailments that are but eruptions from poisons that lie deeper down.

The Church must never lose sight of her redemptive and evangelistic mission through absorption in the overwhelming social issues of the day. Not that we should be unconcerned about industrial relations, and civil rights, and world order; such things are vitally important. But we cannot suspend a great society in a spiritual vacuum. There are signs that our social concern is moving away from a spiritual motivation inherited from a generation that had a deeper and more virile faith than ours. We cannot live indefinitely on the spiritual capital of our fathers but must ourselves go to the source of grace and power.

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The Gospel is relevant. We do not have to make it so. “Let the Church be the Church”—not a political action committee, or an economic conference, or a sociological congress, or a foreign policy association. Let her proclaim anew the great themes of sin and repentance, of faith and salvation. Let her exalt her glorious spiritual mission, beseeching men to be reconciled to God and to obey all of her divine Lord’s commands. This is her supreme commission and her inescapable obligation.

Not To Be Taken For Granted

On the edge of a Great Society that promises material abundance for us and for the world, we come to the Thanksgiving season fully aware that one or two years’ harvest separates all men from starvation. Already millions of people around the world starve to death every year, and the birth rate continues to soar while the production rate of food lags. Thus it is not trite but necessary to suggest that prayers of gratitude be raised to Almighty God for the many temporal blessings of this past year. We need also to remember that this earthly abundance did not come to us because we are good or because we are better than others; it came because of God’s grace.

We take almost all of our blessings for granted; but then God grants us many blessings that we do not take. Thus we cannot assume that life consists only in the abundance of the things we possess. It also has spiritual aspects, one of which, the new birth, is God’s greatest gift. We should pause to thank him for the gift of eternal life and the blessings that flow out of it. While we rejoice in spiritual and temporal blessings, such rejoicing may be nothing more than hypocrisy unless it leads us to open our purses to help the less fortunate of the world. James said: “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful for the body; what doth it profit?” (Jas. 2:15, 16).

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Most of us fail to take seriously the universals of the Bible, such as Paul’s admonition that we are to give thanks “always for all things” (Eph. 5:20). We forget that this includes the afflictions of life allowed by God and ordered for our sanctification. How easy it is to thank God for plenty; how hard to thank him for suffering and privation. How easy to rejoice when health is good; how hard to give thanks when serious illness strikes us down. How easy to thank God for the turkey; how hard to be satisfied with mere bread.

On no day, least of all Thanksgiving, should the Christian fail to take time to thank God—thoughtfully, unhurriedly, and as Scripture invites us—for his unfailing mercies. We recommend that before the turkey is carved, the 118th Psalm be read aloud for all the table guests to hear.

The Living God And Atheist Theologians

“Christian atheism” is the newest twist in a sick theological world. A group now vocal in some theological seminaries is spoken of as the “God is dead” movement. In terms the average layman can understand, a secular news magazine (Time, Oct. 22 issue) has spelled out this blasphemy, while denominational publications apparently are silent.

Here we are not confronted only with theological modernism, or with the heresy of universalism. Men who carry a “Christian” banner and whose salaries come from Christian sources teach and preach a new form of atheism. “Tenure” is being maintained by men who, if operating in the business world, would be dismissed out of hand for disloyalty and treason to the institutions employing them. Academic freedom is being misused to destroy the foundations that made such freedom possible.

One of the “new breed” theologians, Professor Thomas J. J. Altizer of Emory University, calls us to “recognize that the death of God is a historical event: God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence.” The “death of God” theologians assert that Christianity, if it is to survive, will have to do so without God. This “Godless Christianity” affirms there must be a “nonreligious interpretation of Biblical concepts” amenable to the secular society “now come of age.” It casts off the anchor of revealed religion. It turns from Christianity to secularism, from a supernatural Christ to humanism with, at best, a Jesus-inspired morality. Within the Church in our generation few men have so blatantly denied everything the Christian faith stands for. While these men ridicule any fearful waiting for the judgment of the God whose death they herald, those who head up institutions in which such blasphemy is taught also bear a heavy responsibility. If administrators and trustees act responsibly they will do much to clarify the true nature of the Christian faith, a clarification that is long overdue in theologically tolerant circles.

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No one will deny these men the right to be atheists; but (we say it reverently) for God’s sake let them be atheists outside of institutions supposedly training men to spread the Gospel that God is alive and that faith in his Son means life from the dead.

A ‘Stunning’ Improvement

Since the assignment of more policemen to patrol the subway trains and stations in New York last April, crime in the subways, which have been notorious for breaches of the law, has been reduced 61.5 per cent. Mayor Robert F. Wagner has with good reason called the decrease “stunning.”

Sociological conditions in New York have changed little during the time of this reduction in subway crime. It must therefore be the increase of police protection and the consequent fear of punishment that has so effectively deterred would-be criminals.

Statistics show a continuing upward trend of major crimes in this country. But in making its subways so much safer, New York has shown that something can be done about crime. Police protection, though not the only answer, is still a powerful deterrent.

Rome And The Vatican Council

Conscientious coverage of Vatican Council II can be one of the most frustrating journalistic assignments. After three years the disorganization in the press office is tolerated rather than remedied. Behind the desk, when it is manned at all, are Italian youths evidently chosen for their inability to understand any other language. If perchance the exasperated scribe should somehow stumble on the unadvertised fact that a press conference in English is about to be held in another building, disappointment dogs him even there. An American priest reads at breakneck speed a summary of recent council proceedings, and makes for the door. Given a seat near the front and a reasonable turn of speed, an inquiring journalist might just nail the fleet-footed cleric with a question. Gradually it becomes apparent that the council is still essentially a domestic Roman Catholic occasion, with carefully prepared press releases telling the reporter all that he and his constituents need know.

Now and then, however, an element of liveliness creeps into the wooden accounts, like the remark of Archbishop Franjo Franic of Split and Makarska, Yugoslavia. Intervening in the discussion on priestly life and ministry, he urged the necessity of communion in temporal as well as in spiritual things. Twenty years of living under Marxism, he declared, had demonstrated the truth of the Russian philosopher’s words: “If God cannot produce justice in the world through his children, then he will do it through the devil.”

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One section of the schema dealing with the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions cleared the Jewish people of deicide. By 1875 votes to 188 the fathers affirmed that “responsibility for the death of Christ is not to be attributed indiscriminately to all Jews then living nor to the Jews of today,” and thereafter stated that the Jews are not to be regarded as cursed. Christians living in the Near East had made it clear beforehand that such a declaration would complicate their lives in predominantly Arab countries.

A significant contribution was made to the debate on missionary activity when Father Omer Degrijse, Superior General of the Missionaries of Scheut, criticized the text of the schema. He said it was deficient in its treatment of the ecumenical aspects of mission activity; did not give a clear picture of the harm done in the missions by the divisions of Christendom; and did not sufficiently stress the importance of re-establishing unity. He suggested cooperation in the actual work of evangelization as a concrete symbol of unity, provided adequate measures were taken to forestall any danger of confusion. Others agreed that rivalry between religions in mission territories is a cause of scandal to non-believers and of immense harm to the Church. Bishop Jean Gay of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, suggested that many young people who might feel the attraction of a missionary vocation were becoming discouraged because of a growing trend to teach that the chief aim of missionary activity is not to preach the Gospel but to prepare those human conditions that will make acceptance of the Gospel possible. The Right Rev. Paul Yu Pin, Archbishop of Nanking now resident on Formosa, asked that missionaries be trained for the time when they might return to the Communist Chinese mainland.

Just as the arrival of the council in 1962 made noticeably little impression on the Eternal City, so the intervening eleven hundred days have apparently done nothing to change that. La dolce vita has lost none of its sweetness; Roman drivers are still the most reckless in Europe and play a perpetual game of bluff that regards neither age nor sex nor clerical status; the café 200 yards from St. Peter’s Square that made capital out of foreign ignorance of lire is still up to the old malarkey. Militant Protestants no longer take turns reading aloud Revelation 17 on the edge of the square, but there is still opposition, albeit a different kind. Specchio, a Roman weekly and no respecter of persons, is currently running a series of articles on “red priests” at the council.

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Twenty Years Of Nssa

The American Sunday school was losing ground in 1945 when the National Sunday School Association was begun as an expression of concern for the future. Its evangelical organizers traced the plight of the Sunday school to the incursion of liberal theology into the religious education movement. Their aim was the revitalization of the American Sunday school through a return to evangelical truth and biblical methods.

Now NSSA has celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Thousands of delegates attended its national convention in Milwaukee October 20–22. During two decades it has grown in strength and outreach. An arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, NSSA includes fifty affiliate Sunday school associations. Its uniform lessons have an estimated circulation of over three million, and ten publishers are authorized to use them. The association has a wide constituency, reaching far beyond the member denominations, and the total number it serves is said to be as high as 20 million.

The anniversary convention showed the vitality of NSSA. Aside from major meetings, 175 workshops were held covering Sunday school work from kindergarten through college. There was evident an awareness of modern methods and the problems of the Sunday school in a secular society. A further sign of the association’s strength was the dedication on October 23 of a handsome new headquarters building in the section of Wheaton, Illinois, that, already the site of headquarters of the National Association of Evangelicals, Youth for Christ, Evangelical Literature Overseas, and the Evangelical Teachers’ Training Association, with Wheaton College nearby, may become the evangelical capital of the nation. Whether this concentration of evangelical agencies spells isolationism or fellowship may be a question.

We salute NSSA on its anniversary. At a time when the American Sunday school is again showing signs of decline, this ministry is urgently needed.

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Dodging The Draft

The United States has generally allowed conscientious objectors to forego military service. Last month the collegians and the Communists decided to test this policy; in a small nationwide effort they protested United States involvement in Viet Nam and expressed opposition to military service there. That the protest was stirred up, in part, by the Communist apparatus was verified by Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who found “some Communists and some persons closely associated with Communists” working for the Students for a Democratic Society. That this was only one element of the situation was also obvious.

The protests of many of the objectors seemed less than conscientious and definitely lawless. Burning Selective Service cards is certainly a far cry from “panty raids” in the springtime. What these students did is perilously close to treason; it strikes at the heart of democracy and the use of responsible methods to express dissatisfaction with national policy.

Pacifists should be recognized as sincere people and promptly assigned to non-combatant work at home and abroad where they can bind up the wounds of those who are preserving their freedom to be pacifists. And the exhibitionists who express their frustrations extra-legally and under the cloak of pacifism should be allowed to do so in the confinement reserved for lawbreakers.

A college education is supposed to produce good citizens in a democracy, the strength of which depends upon the law and its proper use. We are grateful that the protests involved only a tiny fraction of the college community and offer our congratulations to the millions of collegians who kept their heads and refused to be stampeded.

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