Fifteen-round fight-to-the-finish bout
Swift Is A Ham
Tom Swift was descending the steps of the theological seminary, his handsome, youthful brow knit studiously. It was a big assignment, this government grant preparing him to be a missionary to the moon. As if it were not enough to get his plasma-powered, mercury-cooled rocket ready, there was all this new theology to master; he had never known religion could be so complex. He sometimes wondered how the moon men could ever get it.
Tom’s faithful pal was faithfully waiting for him at the bottom of the steps.
“Hi, Ned,” Tom said jocularly, laying aside his worries as he greeted his faithful friend.
“Hello, Tom,” Ned said. “My, Tom, you look as if you had just come from a brown study.”
Tom smiled broadly at this fresh sally.
Suddenly Ned seized Tom’s arm and pulled him into a handy doorway.
“Hark,” Ned expostulated. “I see Andy Foger skulking in front of an abandoned store front. If you are to meet Mary Nestor, this is no time to engage in vulgar fisticuffs.”
Soon Andy skulked on. Then Mary came breezily around the corner, her pretty face beaming with excitement and glowing with health and mirth.
“O Tom,” she said.
“O Mary,” said Tom.
Good old Ned, sensing the situation, excused himself to go back to the garage to check the needle valve in the plasma threader.
“And what did you learn today?” asked Mary eagerly, her eyes sparkling.
“I learned how to love,” said Tom earnestly.
“Tell me more,” Mary’s eyes sparkled even more.
Tom grew thoughtful. “Well, it’s like this, Mary,” he said. “You are the object of my love, and so I must think what is the very best for you before I love you. What does the existential situation call for in a given moment of our love? What does the total situation demand? I must think of your heredity, your environment, the traumas of your childhood, your sense of self-identity, your concern for self-preservation. I must try to see in you nothing but the best, overlooking your faults. Love, you see, means that I must learn to love the unlovely, love the unworthy. Love is a command.…”
Mary interrupted him, “O you kid,” she said, and she headed toward home, her poor tired eyes swimming in tears.
It Packed A Punch
“A Reply to the God-Is-Dead Mavericks” (May 27 issue) packed a tremendous punch in the current fifteen-round fight-to-the-finish championship bout between secular theology and evangelical Christianity! The logical arguments against the “death of God” and lucid apologetics for our belief in a living God were enough to call for the praise of Christ and the accolade of his Church.…
If these theologians are correct in their assumptions that God is dead, they are out of work! If theology is “the study of God” and we have now discovered that there is no God to study, then these men must vacate their chairs of teaching and return to the university for studies in some other field where there is something to talk about!
Beechmont Methodist Church
Your panoramic yet focused presentation of the issue is excellent.
University Baptist Church
Your “reply” is a welcome echo of the prophetic voice with its rebuke of false prophets. I have for some time thought that your periodical (even though taking its position on the side of historic Christianity) had, under the cloak of academic freedom, become so tolerant and polite toward acts of treason against the historical understanding of Christianity, that it considered as improper to the Christian principle of love, any denunciation of such subterfuge. Your essay will undoubtedly be criticized as narrowness. It is rewarding to those of us who are not “wise, mighty, or noble” to read the clear thinking of giants in the faith.
HARVEY W. MEHLHAFF
Director of Christian Education
First Baptist Church
I think someone with authority should ask the death-of-God experts point-blank to list exactly the “proofs” they would accept to be convinced that there is really a living God. I think that no normal man exists, even the most dedicated atheist on the order of Bertrand Russell, who would not confess he would be overjoyed to find that a living God really does exist in this universe; it follows they would be bound to accept sure proofs. But once they tried to actually list such proofs that would satisfy them, I think their proofs would turn out to be so unrealistic, illogical, impossible, and even ridiculous that they would end by being laughed out of the court of thinking men. But they simply cannot announce that God is dead, or even non-existent from the beginning, unless they are willing that the opposite be demonstrated, if possible. Just exactly what would they accept as proof?
I think their chief trouble and stumbling block (as it is for most of us at one time or another) is a strange kind of pride: they consider that they are mature enough and worthy enough and even righteous enough that God ought somehow to let at least them in just a little bit on the way he is running this universe; and when all is silence, they take it for absence.…
WILLIAM A. GILFRY
Winston-Salem, N. C.
Theological thought has followed a curious pattern in the last few hundred years, and it may be that a trend has started from which there is no recovery until it has run its course. It will be necessary to coin a few phrases that are suggested by a new phrase recently minted, namely the “God is dead” idea instituted by Altizer and others. The first “dead” movement, as we see it, was the “Christ is dead” movement, postulated by the German cynics and the liberals. Now comes Altizer with the discovery that “God is dead” (Jesus Christ is back, however). The next logical step is “the Holy Spirit is dead,” while Jesus Christ and God are revived. The final phrase of this thinking would be the “man is dead” school, which would revive God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This is the only theory worth exploring.
The idea of the Trinity being intact and only man being lost or dead while the Trinity tries desperately to reach him is a cogent thesis. Man of our generation is as spiritually dead as he could ever be. Insulated from great virtue or deep vice, he is mired in a bland, homogenized womb (is he dead from being unborn?). Only a small portion of the civilized population is involved in hard contact with the world’s jagged realities; these people are the combat military, the Peace Corps, some medical and social welfare workers, some missionaries, and so on. Only these see a portion of the reality of the world, and they keep it to themselves, mainly because nobody really wants to hear all the hard dirty facts.
I then do hereby found the “man is dead” school. The one logical corollary of this is the “man is unborn” school, which would allow an open end for progress in our spiritual development.
WARREN C. WALITZER
Pungent And Timely
“These Things I Believe,” by Charles H. Malik (May 13 issue), was pungent, incisive, timely, and eloquent. As one who has spent thirty years with the Bible, as a student and minister and teacher, I am simply enthralled by the spiritual and biblical insight of this noted layman.… I’m not afraid of what tomorrow holds as long as we have men of Malik’s caliber leading international affairs.
C. SPURGEON PASCHALL
Belmont Baptist Church
Dr. Malik’s thoughts and testimony are sorely needed when the teachings concerning Christ are being watered down to a concept of mere man and the “God is dead” philosophy is so prevalent among educational circles. To have an educator speak with such convictions is good.
What a refreshing statement of faith.
N. J. DEIN
Snyder, N. Y.
Here’s my dollar for the Institute of Advanced Christian Studies. Maybe I can’t be the first from Latin America, so how about West Virginia?
First Baptist Church
Kenova, W. Va.
Enclosed is my vote for the institute.
M. J. BUERGER
May I become the eighty-first (or is it eighty-second) to join in support of the institute?
THEODORE C. LONNQUEST
Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.)
Chevy Chase, Md.
• Admiral Lonnquest’s dollar is the one hundredth given by evangelical Protestants since the proposal of an Institute of Advanced Christian Studies.—ED.
Enclosed please find my dollar, one from my wife, and one from each of our three sons (whom we trust will be evangelicals). May God bless this most exciting project.
WILSON G. PARKS
United Congregational Church
Los Angeles, Calif.
Enclosed is my “brick.”
ROBERT L. WENDT
Winston-Salem, N. C.
I think the idea is an excellent one.…
JOHN M. BAKER
Free Methodist Church
Poor Public Relations
In the light of Gordon Ferrell’s comments (Letters, Apr. 29 issue), one must be humbly aware that in the 122 years of their separate existence, Seventh-day Adventists must have done a very poor job in the field of public relations. Evidently, many of the more vocal exponents of our faith have managed to give the impression that they believe they are obtaining salvation by “law-keeping.” It must be so for the error to be so widespread and so persistent. Were this true, we should indeed be cutting ourselves off from the salvation that Jesus alone can give, as effectively as though we were the veriest pagans.…
DOROTHY WHITNEY CONKLIN
It seems almost amusing to one that the charge of legalism should always be brought in connection with law-keeping or be hurled at those that intend to keep the law, that is, of course, the Ten Commandments.…
REINHOLD L. KLINGBEIL
Yorba Linda, Calif.
Concerning our “teaching a false gospel,” may I quote from Donald G. Barn-house in Eternity, November, 1956: “Whatever else one may say about Seventh-day Adventism, it cannot be denied from their truly representative literature and their historic positions that they have always, as a majority, held to the cardinal, fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith which are necessary to salvation, and to the growth in grace that characterizes all true Christian believers.”
MERLIN G. ANDERSON
• What readers are objecting to are such statements as the one in Lesson 24 of the Bible correspondence course “Faith for Today,” that “those who have willfully persisted in using the unclean things [i.e., oysters, ham, and other food called unclean in the Old Testament], to their bodily harm, will suffer death and miss heaven.” Readers say this is being “kept by works.”—ED.
Both my husband and myself receive tremendous help from CHRISTIANITY TODAY. It seems to me the magazine does for us what Matthew Henry did for my great-grandfather in Scotland many years ago. M. H. became a household word. Similarly, C. T. has become just that!
MARY D. FARMERY
St. Martins, New Brunswick
Understanding Catholic Marriage
Writing about the recent mixed-marriage decree from Pope Paul, your editorial writer said (April 15 issue), “As long as the Roman church regards marriage as a sacrament and the priest as its only valid celebrant, and the Protestant clergyman is little more than a member of the wedding party with the right to make some remarks just before kissing time, the public image of ‘getting together’ is little more than a façade.”
There is a misunderstanding here. The priest is not a celebrant of the sacrament of marriage at all in the Catholic Church. He, too, is a member of the wedding party, the difference being that in the Catholic ceremony he is the official witness.
The celebrants of the sacrament are the two parties involved, the man and the woman; in a mixed marriage, the Protestant member is as surely a celebrant as is the Catholic member.… It seems to me important to make clear that from a Catholic standpoint this is a sacrament administered by the bride to her husband, the husband to his wife, and that it is a continuous sacrament, the grace of which is administered by husband and wife in every act of love toward the other, from bringing home the pay check to cooking the evening dinner.
When the sacrament of marriage from the Catholic viewpoint is properly understood, it is seen that the only essential difference between the role of the Catholic priest and the Protestant minister is that the one is the official witness and the other an unofficial witness. Since the priest rarely makes any remarks, only reading the words of the ceremony, the Protestant clergyman actually is given an opportunity for a role far beyond that of just an unofficial witness.
Our Sunday Visitor
• We are grateful for this correction. But surely the Roman Catholic priest does more than merely witness. Even we Protestants do not allow a couple to marry themselves.—ED.
Who Says So?
Re “Teaching the New Testament,” by Ronald A. Ward (May 13 issue): Who says there is no theology of the Cross in the Gospel of Luke? Let him read Luke 22:20: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” The Lord’s Supper pictures the suffering and death of Christ on the cross for us.
R. HAYES MCKELVY
Lochiel Reformed Presbyterian
Glen Sandfield, Ontario
CHRISTIANITY TODAY is doing more to help promote the historic Christian faith than any other publication. In this day when our denominational papers are so full of trivia, it is refreshing to read a paper that stands up foursquare for biblical Christianity.
H. A. HANKE
Professor of Bible
Picking Up The Pieces
Whether or not you “get off your big, fat high horse” (Eutychus, May 13 issue), please send me the remainder of angry Robert A. Crain’s canceled subscription. I am always delighted when I can get hold of a second-hand copy of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. While recuperating from hepatitis, I have found time to read them cover to cover.
PAUL W. CROSS
Missionary to Honduras
Ever A Virgin?
It is difficult to reconcile what appear to be differences in some of the articles that I read.… For instance, “These Things I Believe,” by Charles Habib Malik (May 13 issue), says in the first paragraph, “… though Mary remained ever-virgin.” Yet, William Childs Robinson, in “Abba: The Christ Child’s Word for God” in the same issue, tells us the names of four brothers of Jesus and mentions his sisters.
Kansas City, Kans.
I am interested to know your explanation, if any, how Dr. Malik’s magnificent statement can be consistent with the last sentence of the first paragraph, in which he declares the belief that Mary never had any other children than Jesus. This position appears to me to be entirely unscriptural.
THOMAS S. BUNN
Los Angeles, Calif.
• As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, Dr. Malik believes in the perpetual virginity of Mary, a doctrine traditional to his church but not held by Protestants in general. His witness to the deity and saving work of Christ is nevertheless a powerful one, as his article shows.—ED.
Pike Is A Prod
I consider the obvious glee with which your paper reports the resignation of Dr. James A. Pike to be in very bad taste.
One of the meanings of the word “pike” is “prod.” Yes, Bishop Pike has prodded all of us in many ways. Paradoxically, it may he said by the historians of the future that Bishop Pike was one of the great interpreters of the classical Christian faith in our day. The Church of Jesus Christ needs people of his caliber. If he expresses his honest doubts along with his “articles of faith,” let us confess that really all of us do this though we are not always verbal about it. Let it be understood too that faith without skepticism is often mere credulity.…
ERNEST O. NORQUIST
Commission on Religion and Race
Synod of Illinois
United Presbyterian Church
in the U. S. A.
Let me congratulate you on the comprehensive May 27 issue. However, I regret your brief editorial on Bishop Pike.… It may be that more time will have to elapse before he can be properly appreciated; but he has stood for the essentials of the Christian faith at a time of breathlessly rapid change in theology and we are all deeply in his debt.…
ROBERT B. PERRY
University Methodist Church
Certainly Not Lutheran
While it can be said that the recently published Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church is “a great work” (Book Reviews, May 27 issue), it appears to me that your reviewer should have mentioned that a good number of articles in this encyclopedia are anti-scriptural and therefore certainly not Lutheran.
New Haven, Mo.
Rome And The Pill
Roman Catholics can now freely and legitimately use the birth-control pill without any sin at all, nor need they confess its use in the confessional. This statement is based on the accepted Roman Catholic theological system of probabilism. It is not necessary for the Pope or the hierarchy to change their traditional condemnation of “artificial” birth control in any formal statement or decree.
The change in the church’s doctrine, or rather moral discipline, has already been made, and there is nothing the Pope can do about it except eventually accept it. In the meantime, Catholics can, without sin, use the birth-control pill, even if the Pope or the bishops with their Catholic press should openly condemn it. It is not likely that Pope Paul will do this. The issue is now theologically beyond his control.
The moral theological process of Roman Catholicism is a system that can within the church change or abolish the sinfulness of certain actions completely, apart from the public decisions of the Pope or the hierarchy. The change takes place through the changing opinions of theologians, not the Pope, and of priests at the “grass roots” level actually making specific decisions for specific people in the confessional.
This change has already taken place with regard to birth control, even though the Vatican has not yet publicly acknowledged it. However, the more liberal Catholic lay press has been quoting many Catholic theologians and historians, some of whom state that the application of “probabilism” has probably already changed the traditional doctrine on birth control. Others openly say so.
Roman Catholic theology is twofold. Dogmatic theology is the teaching of beliefs—what is true or false. Moral theology teaches whether an action is right or wrong. Moral theology attempts to classify not only all actions, such as stealing, but all circumstances surrounding actions—such as the difference in stealing from a stranger, one’s father, one’s husband, a poor man, a rich man, or the General Motors Corporation.
The Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin causes further complexity. A mortal sin plunges a soul into hell forever unless forgiven at the confessional. A venial sin dips the soul into temporary purgatory.
There are graduations of guilt in the same basic sinful act. Stealing a small amount is a venial sin—a large amount is a mortal sin. But what constitutes a large amount? This can vary through the years with the variation of nations’ monetary systems and increase or decline in the value of money. Thirty years ago priests were taught that $40 was a large amount and its theft a mortal sin. Now with inflation, the textbooks permit a Catholic to steal $99 without going to hell. The theft of $100 constitutes a mortal sin.
But who determines the changes in “exchange” from $40 to $100 and how? The moral theologians do it, based on some consensus among themselves as to the gravity or levity of an action. As times change or their moral reasoning changes, the sinfulness of actions change. Priests are taught accordingly, and they advise penitents in the confessional accordingly.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, “systems” of morality began to develop in the Roman Catholic Church. The most widely accepted for a long time was “probabiliorism.” According to “probabiliorism,” teachers and priests were obliged to follow the theological opinion (e.g., on the amount necessary for a serious theft) that was “more probable,” and, therefore, accepted by the bulk of the theologians. The number of the concurring opinions was the deciding norm for priests and teachers.
But in the sixteenth century, a Dominican theologian, Bartholomew Medina, propounded the theory that if the licitness of an action were simply probable, not more probable, it could be done with a safe conscience and need not be confessed. Jesuit theologians took up this opinion enthusiastically. It gave them greater freedom in condoning the actions of their penitents, especially those in royal families.
This teaching was developed into “probabilism,” which is now, and for centuries has been, a completely acceptable Roman Catholic system of morality. It considers an action lawful and permissible just as long as there is a “reputable” teacher who says an action is “probably” lawful, even though the bulk or the majority of other theologians’ opinions are against it. This explanation can be verified in the lengthy treatise on probabilism in the Catholic Encyclopedia, or in Latin or English current moral theology textbooks of H. Noldin, S. J., Henry Davis, S. J., Heribert Jones, and scores of other Roman Catholic authorities.
Two clear applications of probabilism to Roman Catholic morality within the last generation were in the cases of ectopic pregnancy and the rhythm method.
Catholic seminarians were taught thirty years ago that surgery could not be performed upon diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy—that would be murder—but only after the Fallopian tube had ruptured. So many women died because of the virtual impossibility of determining the exact time of rupture of the Fallopian tube that the theologians took another hard look. Some reasoned that the mere fact that the impregnated ovum remained in the Fallopian tube proved that the tube itself was pathological. The removal of pathological tissue is permissible without sin. Therefore, the opinion was, at first, only probable; but according to the system of probabilism it became legitimate, and the operation is now routinely permitted in Roman Catholic hospitals.
When the rhythm method of birth control was propounded many years ago by Dr. Ogino of Japan and Dr. Knaus of Germany, its use by Roman Catholics was condemned as mortally sinful because the couple’s intention was the same as those using other methods—the prevention of conception. Gradually a few theologians reasoned that emphasis should be placed, not on the intention, but on the means of contraception. Now with probabilism again opening the door, the Roman Catholic Church strongly endorses the rhythm method. Similar alterations or complete reversals of teachings within the church have taken place on such divergent subjects as stealing, drunkenness, slavery, usury, and human evolution.
In recent years the blasts of Catholic theologians against birth control have been leveled at “mechanical” contraception—the use of such devices as diaphragms and rubbers, that “frustrate the law of nature.”
The pill is not “mechanical.” Furthermore, the pill offers the church the opportunity of getting off the hook on two points. The first is Roman Catholicism’s ridiculous and intellectually untenable position on the population explosion. The second is the certain loss of millions of its own members because of their constantly vocal and rising demand that they be permitted to practice effectual birth control (not the bothersome, unreliable rhythm method) or they will quit the church.
The system of probabilism postulates that if one reputable theologian states that an action is “probably” not sinful, then all Catholics in the world can perform that action without sin and without having to confess it.
The theologians of Europe have been more outspoken that those of the United States in calling for a change in the church’s attitude on the pill. Many agree with outspoken but logical Archbishop T. D. Roberts, S. J., who argues that the Catholic position that contraception is against the “law of nature” (the only real argument Catholic theologians use) is completely invalid. The theologians Louis Janssen and Van der Marck and Bishop J. M. Reus have taken the position that the church’s condemnation of birth control is wrong. Only three Catholic theologians in all Europe disagreed with them, according to an article by an Italian priest, Father Ambrozio Valsecchi.
The Roman Catholic press carried the story during the Congo revolutions that three recognized theologians in Rome had concurred in an opinion that nuns in the Congo missions could legitimately take the pill to prevent pregnancy in case they might be raped. In this decision, the theologians, with the apparent approval of the Vatican, decided that the use of the pill was legitimate for the prevention of an unwanted pregnancy. The logical deduction is that the use of the pill is, therefore, licit in Rome, London, Berlin, Paris, New York, or Los Angeles, if for any personally important reason a pregnancy is undesirable. Again, the moral system of probabilism makes birth control legitimate. If the theologians decided that threatened pregnancy by rape in the Congo made the use of the pill licit (which they did), then its use in other circumstances is “probable” and therefore permissible.
An American Jesuit theologian, Father Richard A. McCormick of Bellarmine School of Theology, who is a conservative, reasons that the system of probabilism has already “probably” made birth control legitimate for Catholics and that it may be too late for the Pope to hold the line. According to the National Catholic Reporter, he stated that principles of the moral system known as probabilism will apply. The practical effect will be that priests will have to tell inquirers that the morality of using progesterones (the pill) for contraception is controverted among theologians, and therefore it is not possible simply to forbid their use. In other words, every priest must permit the use of the “pill” if the penitent asks a direct question.
Father McCormick had stated that the Pope must act “soon” if he wants to continue the prohibition of the pill. Inquiring priests wanted to know when “soon” is.
“I don’t know,” he told an interviewer. “I can’t predict when it is coming or what ‘soon’ means, but at some point I’d probably be able to say we have passed the point. Some theologians would say we have passed it.”
In more simple language, it is “probable” that the use of the pill is allowable—therefore, it is allowable.
In January the NBC “Today Show” hosted Planned Parenthood in a two-hour show. One question and its answer must have strained the fuses of the whole network. Requests for reprints were received in record volume. The question: “If an individual follows his conscience in deciding that birth control is best for his family, what happens when he goes into a confessional?” A professor at Fordham University, Rev. Joseph D. Hassers, S. J., answered for all the disturbed Roman Catholics in the world: “Well, if a person had come to the conclusion, in terms of a sincere and informed conscience that what he was doing was good and right, there would be no reason to take it to the confessional. One takes to the confessional only what one is convinced is sin.” In other words, if there is a reasonable doubt, there is no sin, and there need be no confession.
Many Catholic theologians, most of whom are afraid to let their identity be known, feel that the Pope is deliberately saying nothing for three reasons. He does not want to contradict the strong condemnations of contraception by Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII. Also, he realizes that, because of the acceptability of the system of probabilism, it is too late for him to stop the theologians and the growing change in the Catholic moral conscience. Futhermore, he can save the papal face by saying nothing and letting the theologians and the Catholic conscience solve the issue.
As the Catholic Benedictine theologian Gregory Baum says, “There will be no definitive statement now. The mere fact of an open debate will create a de facto situation of change. When this condition becomes sufficiently concretized, then perhaps in five years or so, the Pope will finally make a statement that this is what we’ve been saying all along.”
But while the cumbersome machinery of Roman Catholic theology and bureaucracy grinds ponderously through the next five years, Catholic couples do not need to wait. The recognized system of probabilism teaches that it is perfectly legitimate for them to use the pill now with a clear conscience—and with no confession of any guilt.
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