Seventy per cent of America’s people now live in the great urban centers, and pastors who are to minister in these areas where alienated and hopeless humanity is concentrated must not only understand the needs of these multitudes but also identify with their longings, their fears, and their anger. They must learn to go to the people where they are and the way they are. The city pastor who frequents only the places of unimpeachable respectability can hardly expect the needy masses to throng to his church on Sunday morning. The battle is out there. The man of God, though not of this world, must surely be in it.
The crushing anguish so present in our world is usually not apparent in a Sunday-morning or a Wednesday-evening congregation. Human distress ferments in the squalor of decaying tenement houses and at the back table of a gin mill on State Street, and boils in the core of a frenzied mob seeking vengeance on oppressors. As Nietzsche has written, “Great problems are in the street.” So men and women of God must bring to the streets the message of deliverance for the victims of sin. And they must do so with holy indignation against the social, economic, and political abuses of the day.
But the slum-dweller and the impoverished member of a minority group are not alone in their urgent need of the grace of God. There are minorities of another sort that are almost untouchable. The avant-garde intellectuals and artists live in a world so far from the average seminarian’s, and speak a language so foreign to his cars, that he may be unable to find any common ground on which to meet them. Yet there is hunger there; there is a sense of lostness, and an endless, fruitless search for identity and meaning. And at the end of every quest there is the inevitable fact of death. Camus writes of the artists’ and intellectuals’ rebellion against God: “The rejection of death, the desire for immortality and for clarity are the mainsprings of these extravagances.” Our task is to reach them with Christ’s message: “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The simple and efficacious Gospel must be translated into terms that clarify God’s purposes in human affairs and answer the philosophy of the absurd with a redemptive message of hope, purpose, and meaning.
There is still another group whose needs must be considered. They are the faceless ones of our great middle class. They live neither in the realm of the spirit nor in the realm of the mind. Their lives are conformed to the expectations of those who determine their social and economic destiny. Their rule of life is, “The right face in the right place.” They are skillful role-players.
They affect cultural tastes they secretly detest; they entertain guests and maintain friendships they abhor. They drink because it is expected. Church affiliation and attendance is as much a social accouterment as is their membership in the country club and in the downtown knife-and-fork fraternities.
We overlook them as an object of need because they are in church on Sunday morning, they are clean and relatively well mannered, and they are not on the relief rolls. The “golden mean” governs their religious life just as it does their public life: “Don’t rock the boat.” “Take it easy.” “Don’t overdo it.” “Sure, religion has its place, but business is business.”
Many in this “lonely crowd,” as David Riesman calls them, find relief from stifling middle-class conformity in a social life of sophisticated debauchery that would be the envy of a patron of the eighteenth-century French salons. Here at our doors are pagans who must be reached with the conviction of their lostness.
The seminary student must learn by his own involvement in human affairs. His textbook may describe the problems of the quarter of a million Americans who live in prisons and reformatories, but he will never understand until he has been able to live close to these people and to feel some part of what they feel. He may read widely about racial problems and the horrors of the slums; but until he can feel the hopeless misery of the victims of prejudice and poverty and become a part of their life, he is unprepared to minister to them.
We need an extensive internship that will send these young men and women out to the prisons, the psychiatric hospitals, the university campuses, the plush resorts, and the coffeehouses; to the middle-class suburbs and to the urban and rural slums. With these raw experiences, let them come back to the classroom for reorientation and for further help in fitting these pieces of real life into a scriptural image of the ministry, so that they will be prepared for their high calling.
But in our enthusiasm let us not be misled into substituting skills and training for the quality of the man and the validity of his message. For we will not save one soul, much less the world, by the power of rhetoric or the conclusions of the social sciences. The seminary must also offer a solid, unshakable biblical and theological base for godly action on behalf of the suffering, frightened masses in our world. Otherwise all reform efforts are but houses built on sand. The man of God must be mature in his faith, rooted and grounded in the Word. He must be a man of prayer and devotion. He must be filled with an evangelistic zeal and a burden for the lost. His mission is to lead individual men to a personal experience with God through Christ, and then into the fullness of the Spirit-filled life.
This is only the beginning, however. Transformed men must transform the institutions of men. E. Stanley Jones has said, “A religion that does not start with the individual, does not start!” And then he warns, “A religion that stops with the individual, stops.”
There is a subtle temptation for us to work to relieve human suffering for the sole purpose of improving our proselytizing advantage. I am sure Jesus would never countenance one who refused to give the cup of cold water not spiked with an evangelistic message. Yet I wonder whether the Good Samaritan ever got that poor fellow saved. The Spirit-filled Christian has compassion for the total man; he is concerned for a man’s total relationship with God—body, mind, and spirit.
To those who have been unduly influenced by a morbid, deterministic dispensationalism and have no faith in God’s power in the world today, I urge a reading of more history along with the Bible. I remind them that, although our day is one of moral and spiritual decadence, eighteenth-century Europe was even worse. But a knight with a burning heart rode through English history and by the grace of God changed the moral and spiritual ethos of the British Empire. He won souls to Christ by the thousands, and the power of his influence joined that of others to vanquish human slavery, inspire child labor laws, reform the prison system, found labor unions and credit unions, and build schools, orphanages, and homes for widows. Fifty years after John Wesley’s death, his mighty influence was still felt for good in the British Parliament and his evangelistic fervor had swept two continents.
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