The National Council of Churches unveiled its new Division of Overseas Ministries in Nashville this month. No business was transacted at this first assembly, but three days of speeches and discussion indicated an emphasis on the shape of the secular world, which strongly influences mission strategy.
The biggest new development was the announcement that NCC will ask its constituency to raise $250,000 for relief of Viet Nam refugees, including a contribution to a similar World Council of Churches program already under way.
The presence of about 500 delegates, many from overseas, representing sixty or more agencies and a constituency of nearly 50 million, showed how fully the division has survived the loss of many participating agencies when the Foreign Missions Conference of North America was incorporated into the National Council fifteen years ago. Its continuing vigor is expressed materially in the expenditure of about $60 million annually.
The new division was formed January 1 of this year by a merger of the NCC relief and welfare department with the foreign missions division. The basic committee and department structure has been retained, with slight revision of terminology.
The assembly theme: “Mission: The Christian’s Calling,” will be echoed in the missions program for all NCC churches during coming months. In his keynote address. Dr. David M. Stowe, executive officer of the division, discussed the “shape” of the calling: first the organizational structure, then the shape of things in the world.
His penetrating analysis interpreted the context in which the mission calling must be fulfilled. As other conference speakers approached the theme from their own angles, a marked degree of similarity emerged, particularly in treatment of world tensions.
Among formative forces, Stowe cited “the maturing … of applied intellectual power”—human intelligence as a creative factor of decisive significance. Other world characteristics, he said, are an insistence on measurable results as a criterion for meaning, the signs of emergence of one cosmopolitan world civilization, nationalism and revolution, and such geographic factors as the almost certain dominance of China in eastern Asia and the increasing polarity between developed and underdeveloped societies.
Internationally known theologian Dr. Arend Theodoor van Leeuwen excited the thought of the entire company with two profound lectures. Delegates murmured reactions like “provocative” and “stimulating.”
The guest from Holland said Communism has deprived Christianity of mission fields, “but we owe to it the immense service of a total and radical criticism of our whole Christian and missionary tradition.”
Then, in one of the few concrete thrusts of the conference, he called for “an independent center for basic, comprehensive research and for preparing long-term policy.” It would have an interdisciplinary team free from existing organizational frameworks. He added:
“The center should have an outspoken lay character. It has radically to break through the separation between theology and exact science. It has to develop a method whereby the familiar theological approach is irresistibly drawn into the orbit of the exact sciences and whereby, on the other hand, the exact sciences are challenged to give fundamental answers which bear an implicit theological character.”
To this point, the job was well-done. No one who had paid half-heed to the scholarly addresses could have avoided some new precipitate of understanding and knowledge. But beyond this, the Nashville meeting ran out of steam. At longer range, the talks seemed truncated, largely limited to statement of the problems.
Fascinating as the analyses were, their relevance was obscure. What, after all, did they have to do with the conference theme, which implied the traditional concepts of “calling” and subsequent evangelism under the Great Commission?
It seemed more like a gathering of diplomats. Or a sales convention, where the salesmen diligently studied their territories, but were not quite sure what the product was they were selling, or whether it was of any value.
For instance, some responses reflected a defensive attitude, and perhaps embarrassment lest intellectual respectability be compromised by association with the simplicities of the Gospel. One speaker warned that “the amateurism and sentimentality of most Christian ministries overseas is no longer acceptable.” There must be technical competence. And, again, “In theological enterprise, missions must take leadership in the growing movement toward a genuinely secular Christian faith—that is, an understanding of our belief not in terms of archaic philosophical concepts, but in terms relevant and luminous in meaning in the scientific, world-affirming and world-understanding age in which we are set.”
The speakers did indicate there was a sense (not too well defined) in which Christianity might bring a theological ingredient to the formula of life, and thus make some distinctive contribution. But that was about all.
There was intellectual stimulation in Nashville, but little inspiration. As one speaker put it, “there were no trumpet calls.” And no rallying of troops either.
The well-planned missionary strategy session had almost everything it needed. Just one essential was lacking—a forthright testimony of souls being made alive in Christ.
Christian Students In Politics
Actions taken at the National Student Christian Federation’s 1965 assembly reflected the growing involvement of students in political affairs.
The 125 voting delegates approved establishment of a “political commission” for the NSCF in Washington and called for a national conference on “the need for and right to dissent from governmental policy, including, for example, the right or duty of individuals to refuse participation in specific types of military operation even when in military service.”
Delegates also voted to send a letter to President Johnson condemning the escalation of war and the bombing of North Viet Nam.
NSCF is a federation of five national denominational campus movements together with the YWCA, the YMCA, and several related student organizations. It is affiliated with the National Council of Churches.
The NSCF political commission will be housed in the NCC’s Washington offices and headed by Rix Threadgill, a graduate student at George Washington University. Among the aims of the commission is the formulation of strategy for student activity.
A proposal was voiced calling for a representative group to travel to Communist China in 1966 as a means of protest against U. S. policy in Asia. Financial sources for such a trip were claimed, but not identified. The proposal never reached the point of a floor vote.
World Series Christians
At least four members of the Minnesota Twins baseball club openly profess Christ as Saviour, according to the Evangelical Beacon. One is pitcher Jim Kaat, who made his World Series debut this month with a 5–1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The others are relief pitcher A1 Worthington and infielders Jerry Kindall and Bernie Allen.
The Beacon, published in Minneapolis by the Evangelical Free Church of America, said that all four have testified of their faith before church groups.
Evangelism Among Airmen
A dozen Bible study groups were formed at Colorado’s Air Force Academy this fall. They are part of a campaign by the Navigators and astronautics teacher Captain Jerry White to assist the sixty men among the academy’s 2,870 cadets who made decisions for Christ during Billy Graham’s recent Denver crusade.
Each person has been contacted personally, as has been done with the eighty Lowry Air Force Base men who made decisions. There are also weekly Bible studies at Lowry and at Denver’s Christian Servicemen’s Center.
During the crusade, buses brought 200 cadets to one of the Graham meetings, and he spoke on campus. Seventy Christian cadets took crusade-related courses in counseling.
London’S Christian Cabaret
The Salvation Army, ever willing to experiment with new ways of presenting the Gospel, is now operating a Christian nightclub in the center of London.
The main ingredients at the Rink Club are non-stop entertainment with rhythmic Christian groups prominent, a bar selling food and drink (non-alcoholic), and friendly Salvationists mixing freely with the customers. There are no strict rules, and the atmosphere is informal so that the youths feel at ease.
Some older Salvationists have expressed doubts, worrying that this medium tends to prostitute religious feelings. But the young people of London are showing a lively interest, and more than 100 regularly turn out each Saturday night.
Cabaret evangelism has been used in the United States as well, and new church coffeehouses recently appeared in Philadelphia and Washington. At the end of this month, some Britons formerly on a Billy Graham crusade committee plan to open a coffeehouse, the Catacombs, in the city of Manchester.
The Rink Club, managed by Lieutenant David Blackwell, began early this year with a four-week trial, and caught on. The Salvationists involved report patrons willing to discuss religious matters but reluctant to consider committing their lives to Christ. If results warrant it, the Army will make the club an official activity and open other ones.
DAVID M. COOMES
Polls And Piety
England’s Gallup Poll last month came up with a curious report on religion. Some examples:
• Most people consider religion irrelevant to daily life. Yet they think churches achieve much in social welfare and should continue.
• They consider religion old hat. Yet nearly all demand religious instruction for their children.
• The percentage who hear sermons drops yearly. Yet the men who preach are generally respected, thought to be doing good work for good motives with little reward.
• Some 78 per cent see no connection between churchgoing and leading better lives. At the same time, 60 per cent believe one must be dishonest to get ahead, and two-thirds are either apathetic about or in favor of cheating on tax returns.
• Two-thirds of the English believe the influence of religion is decreasing. Two-thirds would like religion to have more influence.
How? Even though 94 per cent identify themselves with a denomination, church involvement lags. Church attendance is now estimated at 10 per cent, and only 12 per cent say they read the Bible regularly.
The poll divided believers into three major camps: Anglicans (67 per cent); Nonconformists (13 per cent); and Roman Catholics (9 per cent). The latter two showed the most kinship in matters of doctrine.
Despite all the downward trends, nearly half of the English claim to say private prayers regularly, and an overwhelming 86 per cent believe in God.
Similarly, a United States survey this summer by the Louis Harris Survey found that an amazing 97 per cent believe in God. Half said they attend church weekly. Twenty-seven per cent considered themselves deeply religious, and 63 per cent somewhat religious.
A less publicized but significant survey earlier this year by the American Association of Advertising Agencies tested general reactions to such amorphous forces as fashion, labor, family life, religion, and—of course—advertising. Of all topics, people said they had the strongest opinions about religion. Next to family affairs, it was the most important topic of conversation. And religion rated low among things considered irksome or needing change. Advertising didn’t fare nearly so well.
After surveying Gallup’s survey, the London Times remarked:
“It is almost as if the Christian churches have done their job too well. Their ethical teaching has become an ingrained part of our culture; most people still accept that they ought to be ‘good,’ despite some new emphases in the concept of what constitutes being good. But now that the social and anthropological function of the churches has fallen away, what else is there in the shop to buy?…”
Firing Squad Faith
Solemn shots barked at 5 A.M. in Saigon’s central market. Five men convicted of murder and rape fell before an October firing squad. Americans considered the timing of the executions bad, fearing it would give Communists a pretext for killing more Americans held hostage.
This chess game was the prominent factor, not the criminals themselves, but Saigon Press noticed that one of them “touched his hands in prayer” as the twenty soldiers readied their carbines.
That fifth man was one-armed, one-eyed Nguyen Thanh Nhan, who was convicted for multiple murder, rape, and robbery in 1960. Soon after entering prison, he became a Christian and spent most of the past five years witnessing in two prisons where he had been held.
Nhan, who freely confessed his guilt, prayed and gave his testimony with a native pastor from Saigon’s International Protestant Church two hours before the dawn execution. The pastor stood by as the shots rang out.
A Philippine Council
Conservative Protestants in the Philippines formed a cooperative council after ten months of planning. The Philippine Council of Fundamental and Evangelical Churches has a constituency of 20,000, but an estimated potential of 240,000.
Reaction of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (representing about four million persons) varied from subdued approval to veiled apprehension. Typical was Dr. José A. Yap, NCCP’s administrative secretary, who saw no objection as long as the new council’s purpose was to obey the divine mandate to preach the Word, rather than to be a divisive force in the Protestant minority.
But one reason for founding the PCFEC was a lurking fear among independents that the NCCP might declare itself the official voice of Protestantism before the government and become the accrediting body for foreign missionaries.
The conservatives plan their next General Assembly in 1967. Meanwhile, leaders are working to mobilize more dynamic evangelism.
The Rev. Fred Magbuana, a Conservative Baptist minister, is PCFEC president. He foresees a revitalized conservative witness that will produce evangelization on a national scale.
Besides the Conservative Baptists, members include the Christian and Missionary Alliance, International Foursquare Gospel Church, independent local churches, and such evangelistic groups as Inter-Varsity.
EUSTAQUIO RAMIENTOS, JR.
South Korea’s two most respected private universities, one of them Protestant, reopened late last month after a furor about government intervention.
Ever since students toppled the Rhee regime in 1960, demonstrations have been a sensitive matter. August’s violent riots against the treaty to normalize relations with Japan were quelled with a show of military power. Later, the Chung-hee Park government blacklisted twenty-one teachers and hundreds of students at eight universities as “political agitators.”
Only Yonsei and Korea Universities refused to remove the alleged offenders; they wanted to conduct their own investigations.
A Yonsei official explained: “If the accused are guilty of breaking government laws, the government should punish them. But if they are to be expelled for breaking university regulations, then the university must be allowed to fix the blame and determine the penalties. Only so can the academic freedoms of private institutions be preserved.”
Yonsei, founded by Presbyterians in 1915, is now interdenominational and has both undergraduate and graduate seminaries. Nine of its 4,800 students and four of 288 professors were blacklisted. Two of the professors, however, proved to have no connection with Yonsei.
Two weeks after the government closed the schools, the impasse ended. The universities disciplined several students for inciting to violence, and five professors resigned. Satisfied, the government let the schools open September 18.
SAMUEL H. MOFFETT
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