“Theologically, the Church is in a mess.” The Rev. Leonard Evans of Toronto went on to say to those gathered for a prayer breakfast in Montreal that today’s existential theology confuses rather than enhances Christian proclamation.

At a laymen’s conference in Newfoundland last fall several men expressed the same view. The man in the pew is “genuinely confused” by what he hears from the pulpit these days, they said, “What should a man believe?”

Last week I listened to a Church of England clergyman who styled himself “avant-garde.” He was from the “Left Bank” of the Thames and was an avid follower of the Bishop of Woolwich. His remarks seem to reflect the “mess” and confusion of our times.

Confidently he exclaimed that “the Bible is rubbish” and “the institutional church is dead.” Clergymen in the Anglican church are frightened to leave the institution, he said, because they cannot compete in society for their livelihoods. He had not heard of the charismatic movement but was certain it must be either Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witnessy. In any case, it surely wasn’t important and surely, like Billy Graham, was setting back God’s purpose by 100 years.

If the Bible is rubbish, the Church decadent, the clergy incompetent, the Holy Spirit non-existent, and the people unresponsive to the Christian message, what is left, I asked? “I am contemplating leaving the Church for secular work,” he replied. “I can be more Christian earning my living at a secular job than as a rector in a church.”

English theology has challenged the Church to be honest to God. Either Left-Bank honesty, London style, is right and everyone else is on a butterfly chase, or it is wrong and the apostolic faith stands. With scriptural authority in question, cut and thrust prevails. Every opinion-maker is right and the dissenters are wrong, and the noisy gong and clashing cymbals are all sounding simultaneously.

Certainly something is making the churchman edgy:

• Some denominations are in decline.

• Many churchmen are hunting for a new church home.

• Ministerial dropouts are at an all-time high.

• No one can satisfactorily define evangelism.

• Theological candidates are simply not coming forward.

Is English Left-Bank honesty accurately stating the case? Is it true that the Church can no longer meet the demands of the twentieth century? That the Church of today is an anachronism destined to oblivion?

Or is Left-Bank theology a way out for those who find the demands of the cross too heavy? Possibly it seems more respectable intellectually to debunk the sure foundation of the Cross than to admit that the price of being a Christian is too steep.

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The patience of laymen has always astounded me. However, I sense that they are now becoming fed up with the way things are in the Church. And many ministers are joining the protest.

Has liberal theology provided mankind with the necessary equipment to do God’s purpose? Or has it merely succeeded in losing the Christian message? We will have to make up our minds about the Bible and the role of the Church in society. Either we have God’s message of reconciliation or we haven’t. Jesus Christ did not teach us confusion; he showed us the way and the truth. We must not forget this.

In my own denomination the spark of renewal is beginning to show itself. For the first time in the forty-three years of our church union, there is a vigorous movement afoot to protest a drift in the church to humanism and ultraliberal theology. This movement has been organized as the United Church Renewal Fellowship. Many in the church look upon the Renewal Fellowship as a kind of bubonic plague, and a step backward. But many others are hoping and praying that its emphasis will in time return the church to the fundamentals of the faith.

This should not be viewed as a split in the church. One characteristic of Canadians seems to be the ability to apply themselves to opposing points of view. Opposition in theology does not necessarily demand schism or breakdown in dialogue. There is no reason why vital and sharp points of view cannot make the whole church a more effective instrument of God.

The Renewal Fellowship appears to be the voice of the evangelicals in the church. It has spread from its starting place in the rural areas north of Toronto to Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean and to British Columbia on the Pacific coast.

A recent bulletin of the movement points to three facets of renewal:

First, we must be completely dedicated to Jesus Christ in glad sacrificial service.
Second, we must be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament.
Third, renewal to full Christian dedication and renewal to a consistent … Biblical theology could never take place unless Jesus Christ lives in the hearts of every member and adherent of our church.

The only lasting answer to the needs and problems of our world is a spiritual answer. The Church cannot serve Jesus Christ and meet the needs of man by turning itself into something secular. Certainly we may need to adapt the form of a church to meet the particular needs of its people; but we cannot do this by junking our spiritual and institutional foundations, or by declaring that all that is past is “rubbish.” As a bulletin from the United Church Renewal Fellowship put it: “We are renewed only by glad sacrificial service to Christ, by returning to sound Biblical doctrines, and by responding to the call of evangelism.”

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The Church of Jesus Christ has at times throughout history found itself in doctrinal boxes. Church history is marked by struggles that led to new formulations such as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Helvetic Confessions, the Westminster Confession, and the Barmen Declaration. In each case the Church was struggling to clear the waters of theological debate, or to proclaim what the apostolic faith meant for those times.

I am quite certain that theologians and laymen were as confounded in those periods of struggle as they are today. But I do not recall that any of them claimed that God was dead. I do recall, however, that Voltaire predicted the demise of the Church by the end of the eighteenth century.

At the Easter season the events of the Cross are in sharp focus. A first look at the Cross points, of course, to the death of Christ. What a shattering experience this was for his disciples! How sorrowful and discouraged they must have been.

But God in his love and mercy raised Jesus from the dead. Renewal today may be measured against that which has already happened. Jesus is alive! And so is his Church.—The Rev. NEWTON C. STEACY, St. James United Church, Montreal, Canada.

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