For years now the local church and its minister have been victims of an angry flood of criticism in books, magazines, newspapers, sermons, lectures, and addresses the country over. Astonishingly, most of the critics have been Protestant ministers. They write:

“Five out of every six church buildings in America could be sold and dismantled without damage to the Christian mission.”

“The local church is no longer a satisfactory vehicle for doing the work of Christ.”

“The traditional work of the local parish … is hardly likely to survive in an era of religious revolution.”

“The Christian ministry is doomed to disappear with the bourgeois culture that made room for it.”

Influenced by all this, some Protestant leaders are urging that the traditional work of local churches be replaced by new types of ministries. They recommend ministers without churches, special ministries instead of pastoral ministries for clergymen, churches without buildings. Some seminaries are actually planning radically revised curricula to prepare students for these special ministries.

Further, some churches are now actually ceasing to be the Church—by recasting the Church’s mission, by becoming political agencies for a particular partisan viewpoint, by reducing their outlook to embrace only humanitarian concerns divorced from the dynamism of a redemptive Gospel. Radical judgments on the biblical Church are often uttered in these circles by those who fail to see that it is they themselves who are making the Church seem irrelevant and unnecessary.

Unquestionably, the churches have their weaknesses and failures. They are often oblivious to evil and lacking in vision; the great majority of their members and leaders would readily admit this. But it simply is not true that the Church is a decadent, irrelevant institution. The universal Church is the custodian of Christianity in our day. And the local church is the focal point of Christian fellowship and the force behind the Church’s mission. Much of the criticism now going the rounds is indiscriminate and misleading, grossly unfair to the facts of the Church’s history, and dangerous when placed before immature minds. It is surely not the way to attract future ministers or to prepare them for constructive ministries.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this criticism is its spirit. Often it is expressed with what seems to be “savage joy,” as though the critics were finding peculiar psychic satisfaction in lambasting the local church. Coming from the official leaders of our churches, it is not so much self-criticism, which is desirable and even necessary, as self-loathing, which is always of dubious worth and propriety. This mood greatly weakens Protestantism. Give the Church a bad reputation, convince its members and its future leaders that it is unimportant and decadent, and you are well on the way to killing it.

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This process is actually farther along than most of us realize. For evidence, look at what is now happening in our theological seminaries. Many young theological students are hypercritical of the Church, even openly hostile to it. A professor in a leading Eastern seminary said recently that the most consistent characteristic of the theological student today is the degree to which he hates the Church and its institutional apparatus.

Students are turning away from the parish ministry in droves. A survey of the graduates of one seminary during the last twenty-five years reveals that only 20 per cent are in parish work of any kind. A considerable number of students now arrive at the seminaries with an open aversion for the parish ministry. Without firsthand experience or knowledge of the inside workings of a local pastorate, they complain of its drawbacks: small salary, long working hours, poor housing, outworn educational methods, ineffective pastoral work and preaching. That is, they enter the institution designed to train them for their calling not with enthusiasm and fascination but with a censorious, angry attitude. To find this cynical criticism of an institution among those preparing to serve it and to be its representatives and spokesmen is alarming.

Like all other social institutions, the Church must undergo changes, possibly radical changes, in our revolutionary century; all responsible church leaders accept this as inevitable and desirable. But if changes are to increase, rather than diminish, the effectiveness and health of the Church, they must be undertaken by leaders qualified for that specific purpose.

To begin with, these change-bringers must be fair-minded, well informed, courageous, dedicated men who have chosen the ministry as a lifework because they feel divinely called to do so, because they love the Church and believe it to be instituted by God and essential for the propagation of the Gospel and the building of the Kingdom of God on earth.

They must also resolve that the problems of helping the Church to correct its imperfections, face its difficulties, and realize its divine purpose and potential shall only act as challenges to their best insights and abilities. They must reject the temptation to pity themselves, to become discouraged and weary, to despair of ultimate success. With a prayer for the divine resources promised to the followers of Christ, they must take up their task with enthusiasm and hope, determined not only to do a good job but to enjoy doing it.

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Someone once asked William James, the Harvard philosopher, “Are you a pessimist or an optimist?” He replied, “Neither. I’m a meliorist. I believe the world can be improved and I believe that man can aid its betterment and should try to do so.” A true minister of Christ must always believe that by the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit the Church should and can be improved, and that to share in this is part of his obligation.

To one of his assistants, Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters that are now part of our Christian Scriptures. In each of these letters he reminds Timothy of his significant trusteeship, charging him to “guard what has been entrusted” to him. That charge, in these or equivalent terms, must be given to every new generation of ordinands and taken seriously by them.

In the foreword to his book Crisis of Piety, Professor Donald G. Bloesch of Dubuque Theological Seminary tells us that the widening concern for a renewal of personal devotion to Jesus Christ—shared by John Mackay, Adolf Köberle, Bernard Häring, Emile Cailliet, Elton Trueblood, and others—finds little echo in much of the Sunday-school literature of our day.

He writes:

The church has not been silent in the face of social evils, and yet its word seems to lack power and discriminating judgment. The churches are immersed not so much in the real issues of our time, whether they be doctrinal or moral, as in peripheral concerns, most of which pertain to the maintaining of their organizational machinery. Little if any consideration is given to the life of devotion and prayer. Sunday School curricula for the most part seek to acquaint people with the biblical and ecclesiastical traditions of the church, but the themes of justification, prayer, piety, and conversion are practically ignored. Some of the radical theologians today are rightly calling the attention of the church to social ills and injustices that need to be corrected. Yet can there be a genuine social reformation apart from personal transformation?

Professor Bloesch’s remarks are aimed at the theological scene in general, and not at denominational church-school literature in particular. But if what he says aptly describes Sunday-school lessons to which church youth and adults are being continually exposed, the trend does not bode well for American Christianity.

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With Dr. Bloesch’s passing comment at hand, we decided recently to make a test case of the first unit of “Foundation Studies in Christian Faith,” the new Methodist adult church-school literature. Of the eight parts (I. Man’s Search for a Meaningful Faith; II. God With Us; III. We Have This Heritage; IV. Faith in Search of Understanding; V. Dimensions of Decision; VI. In Faith and Love; VII. The Inner Life; and VIII. The Christian in Today’s World), the first two were issued in 1967. The rest are to be made available between March, 1968, and June, 1969. We confine our comments here to Unit I.

Each unit consists of two paperback books, identical for class leaders and members: a study book and one of selected readings. The 155 readings for Unit I are by almost that many different writers; Rollo May, Malcolm Boyd, Tillich, Reuel Howe, Brunner, Joshua Liebman, Hammarskjöld, William James, Dylan Thomas, Martin Buber, Bonhoeffer, PaulTournier, Fosdick, Havighurst—these are but a random sample. In addition, study leaders have a packet of suggested teaching helps. Each chapter in the study book lists two or three Bible readings for study at home. Then follow fifteen pages of copy, dotted with references to selections in the companion book of readings and with suggestions for initiating or furthering thought, discussion, and action.

Author Robert G. Leslie of Pacific School of Religion says in his preface to the unit: “… I take the position in this book that any search for meaning in life is a search for God—even though God may never be mentioned.” Before this search is possible, he says, we need to know something about ourselves, and so he draws heavily on psychology. In fact, he organizes the book around the stages of life with their peculiar needs and strengths. These strengths—hope, will power, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom—are the emphases of the various chapters.

To express man’s search for meaning and also to provide continuity, Leslie introduces a fictional married couple, Archibald and Imogene. Chapter 1 begins, for example:

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Most of the time Archibald was a happy man. Now and then, however, he felt pretty discouraged. This had been one of those days. Nothing had gone right all day. The boss had been upset. The office staff had been restless. The job had seemed pretty dull. The traffic had been extra heavy.… The children had fought at the table. Even Imogene, his wife, had been worried about repairs for their house. He hadn’t had a moment’s peace. And now it was bedtime.

In other words, what is the scramble all about? What’s it all for? Through Archibald and Imogene the reader is led to examine relationships with himself, family, community, the church, the world. How is he to face personal insecurity, guilt feelings, job restlessness, marital problems, inherited traditional patterns of thinking? How can he develop trust, independence, confidence, competence, conscience, individuality, and responsibility? The author gleans answers from such sources as the tenets of men like Freud, Frankl, and Erik Erikson and the lives of fictional characters like Willy in Death of a Salesman and David and Lisa in the film of that name.

There are suggested Bible readings and applications, yes. For example, of the rich young ruler’s query—he is described as not very good at asking the right question”—Leslie says:

If he were to ask his question today it would more likely be, ‘What must I do to find meaning in daily life? How can I get out of the rut in which nothing really seems to satisfy me? How can I live the kind of life that would be worth living forever?’ [p. 16].

We are told that “for the rich young ruler the drastic change from a thing-oriented world to a person-oriented world was more than he was willing to attempt.”

For the Samaritan woman’s request, “Give me this water, that I may not thirst nor come here to draw,” Leslie offers the paraphrase: “Give me water that I need not keep coming in this dreary drudgery, day after day, to draw water in the meaningless routine of everyday existence.”

The story of the boy Jesus in the temple is used to illustrate self-discovery, “the change that takes place in the adolescent’s life”:

For Jesus a new and greater loyalty had taken the place of loyalty to his parents. His parents were not aware of his growing up. They hadn’t realized that he was interested in adult concerns. To their rebuke … Jesus simply replied: ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ [pp. 100, 101].

Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha is said to illustrate “the loneliness of leadership; the need to confide in someone.”

These are but samples and examples of 191 pages aimed at searching out a meaningful faith.

In this unit, we find, among other deficiencies: no scriptural delineation of man’s true nature and need; no suggestion of Christ, God’s incarnate Son, and his atoning and reconciling work on Calvary; no suggestion of eschatological purpose and destiny for life. Although church-school literature is not usually intended to be a course in systematic theology, it should, surely, manifest a doctrinal norm and foundation derived from the Bible. One is tempted to ask: If the adults who are to study this unit are as bumbling and groveling about faith and its meaning as the materials seem to imply, how and why did they get this way? Was there no exposure to the sure Word of God in years past? Where is that exposure now?

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The National Council of Churches is encouraging its participating communions to set aside their regular adult Christian-education material for the April–June quarter and use instead special NCC materials on the racial crisis. Cooperating adult classes will consider: (1) issues raised by the Report of the President’s Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, (2) guidelines for gathering information for study and action in each locality, (3) the ghetto viewpoint with white churchmen “listening (for a change)” to black churchmen, and (4) reference materials from sources such as Newsweek and Esquire. Certainly church people need to be better informed about the racial crisis; but it surely is inappropriate and unwise to replace the study of the Bible with the study of sociopolitical materials that may or may not reflect a sound Christian viewpoint. Furthermore, the NCC has no business pressuring churches to adopt its secular Sunday-school materials, even for a limited period.

If we project the next generation of Christian adults in terms of such material—the NCC’s or the Methodists’—American Christianity a few decades from now will have some disconcerting features. Its lay leaders—not to say ministers and other professional religious leaders, who are largely responsible for such literature—will be indoctrinated in full-fledged humanism but woefully ignorant of such matters as the fact and place of special revelation, the personality, and work of the triune God, the nature, need, and responsibility of man, the meaning, development, and culmination of history. For Christian movements like Methodism, rooted originally in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, in the realities of the Apostles’ Creed, and in the emphases of the Protestant Reformation, this is less than heartening.

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Episcopal Bishop Anson Phelps Stokes, Jr., urges church people to make “required reading” of the report of the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. “This Lent,” says Bishop Stokes, “our spiritual reading need not be out of the Bible, for a spiritual and moral crisis has been presented to us all by an arm of government.”

If anyone still doubts that a crisis exists, he ought to take the bishop’s advice immediately, Lent or no Lent. The riot report is a disturbing, almost despairing, document. It finds that despite all the marches and all the violence and all the legislation of the last fifteen years, the plight of America’s 22 million Negroes grows progressively worse. And the rioting of last summer, indeed the whole “explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II,” is traced to a basic single source. Says the commission: “White racism is essentially responsible.”

This is a severe moral judgment—one that ought not to be lightly offered or hurriedly credited. It is a somewhat surprising finding, too, since the report as a whole reflects a secular sociological tone. The makeup and methodology of the commission allowed for little in the way of a theological dimension. The role of the churches in urban crisis gets no study in the 250,000-word report.

But what of the charge? Is it really “white racism” that is behind our ghetto problem?

Careful analysis suggests another answer. The underlying evil is not so much prejudice as avarice. The inordinate desire for “more, more, more” is at the heart of the matter. Blame must be shared by Negro and white.

The white man relegates the Negro to the ghetto, not because of his skin color, but because by and large he appears to be a threat to what the white man thinks are his own best interests. The Negro represents a lower standard of living, and the white man sees the granting of equal rights to the Negro as a lowering of the white standard. This is so in housing, in employment, and in education—the three major frontiers of the Negro struggle.

The insatiable quest for material goods is in itself a social problem. A study might well show, for example, that a major reason for unemployment and underemployment among Negro males in the big cities is the large number of white working mothers who pour in from the suburbs every morning. These women rarely work out of necessity. Many find jobs because they want to raise the yearly family income from $10,000 to $15,000, some because they lack the fortitude to cope with their own children. Then they hire Negro women from the ghettos to care for the children and the house at $2,500 a year.

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Greed is common to all races. Many Negroes rioted, not because they hated the white man per se, but because rioting gave them the opportunity to get things they might not otherwise get. The commission contends that the rioter made targets out of white power symbols. Had that been true, the objects of destruction would have been schools, police stations, courthouses, banks and loan companies, and employment agencies. But these escaped almost unscathed. The commission itself noted that rioters aimed primarily at stores selling liquor, clothing, and furniture. An estimated 80 per cent of the loss in the Newark riot was in inventory.

Let it be plainly said that if greed were ever justified, the American Negro would be among the first to qualify. The squalor of the slums—seen, for example, in the estimate of 14,000 cases of ratbite each year, most of them in the inner cities—is a condition for which the smug suburbanite, both Christian and non-Christian, must share the blame. God will surely judge every contribution to this degradation—whether by acts of commission or of omission.

Where does all this bring us? Should we try to buy our way out by vast new commitments to public spending, as the commission recommends? Such spending will help to treat the symptoms and may be a necessary stopgap. But history shows that it is not a permanent solution: public housing and urban-renewal programs have actually contributed to, rather than alleviated, racial segregation.

The commission did well to complete and publish its report four months before its deadline so as to give time for remedial action before another long, hot summer begins. The rest is up to the citizenry.

The urban crisis offers evangelicals an unprecedented opportunity for legitimate and responsible social action. What is needed is a grass-roots movement in which both whites and Negroes reach across the bounds of avarice and prejudice. Let the evangelical Negroes make constructive proposals for what their white Christian brethren should do, and let biblically oriented congregations respond with an unprecedented wave of compassion. Lent might well be observed with the riot report in one hand and an open Bible in the other.


Last fall the Journal of Ecumenical Studies carried an article by ecumenist Paul A. Crow, Jr. on the progress of the Consultation on Church Union, which meets again this week in Dayton. The article points out three critical decisions that have shaped the consultation: to tackle the problem of Scripture versus tradition, to restructure the Church’s mission, and to postpone some negotiations until after formal merger. The article views these developments favorably and looks forward to high adventure on the ever-broadening road to union.

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A more realistic appraisal might point to another set of milestones that cannot be viewed so favorably. The first was the choice of platform from which Eugene Carson Blake made the initial proposals for reunion and the context in which they were given. The Blake-Pike proposal was unveiled in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral shortly after Bishop Pike had denied the Virgin Birth; this raised the image of a church at variance with the creeds and with small concern for its more conservative members. The image was carried forward in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the selection of Colin Williams as strategist for mission policy not long after his well-publicized denouncement of Billy Graham-style evangelism.

A second decision was to proceed without a creed, recognizing all the creeds of the participating churches but subscribing to none, and to affirm only a loose allegiance to Scripture. By this maneuver COCU retained the non-creedal Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ at the expense of attracting the Lutheran bodies. The third decision was to push for union before agreeing on a constitution. Crow views this course with approval. But, given this working basis, no one can predict what the new church will become, and many, such as William P. Thompson, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church, justifiably dislike it. Last year Thompson said he would have preferred “a detailed constitution to be voted on by each denomination” before union.

Unless COCU becomes firmly committed to the authority of Scripture and a sound doctrinal standard, its leaders may succeed in hurrying denominations down the ecumenical road only to find that its constituency has forgotten it and that many have taken a more promising path.


New echoes of the 1925 “Monkey Trial” at Dayton, Tennessee, will be heard when the United States Supreme Court reviews a case challenging an Arkansas statute that forbids teaching “the doctrine of ascent or descent of man from a lower order of animals.” Miss Susan Epperson, a Little Rock biology teacher enjoined from teaching from a book containing the Darwin theory, is challenging the Arkansas Supreme Court’s finding that proscriptions against the teaching of evolution do not violate constitutional guarantees. She argues that the law prevents her from carrying out her duty to teach the various aspects of being, which include the theory of evolution.

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It is likely that the U. S. Supreme Court will strike down the 1928 Arkansas “anti-evolutionary law” on the grounds that it violates freedom of speech, thereby leaving Mississippi the only state with such a statute. A court decision that upholds academic freedom on this matter should not, however, obscure the fact that our teachers are also obliged to uphold academic responsibility. In far too many schools, the study of man’s origin is discussed only in terms of naturalistic evolvement, which for all practical purposes is treated as fact. Virtually no consideration is given to biblical documents that record man’s creation as a special act of God. Such an omission is a violation of academic responsibility, and parents who share this view ought to register it in Parent-Teacher Associations. If, as Miss Epperson claims, it is a teacher’s duty to teach the various aspects of being, then our schools must honestly consider biblical creationism as well as evolutionary theory, which is far from being proved. Teachers have a responsibility to consider the full range of views on this topic and to take care not to confuse subjective interpretation with scientific data. The biblical view of creation is far too influential and logical to be omitted from any curriculum seriously committed to the pursuit of truth.

Biblical creationism may be out of favor, but it has not gone out of date.

Board Names New Editor

On my Washington desk for some years now has stood an old ink-stand (bargain-hunted in London’s Portobello). Two long featherpens—one red and one black—have served as silent sentries of editorial lifelines and deadlines. When an issue had gone to press, the black featherpen took over; and when a new issue called for editorial lifeblood, the red quill took charge.

Soon my policing of the pens yields to a changing of the guard.

The Board of Directors has named Dr. Harold Lindsell as editor, and the well-known evangelical historian and author will come in September for production of the October anniversary issue (see News, page 40).

Passengers should feel comfortable with a pilot who functioned well for three years on emergency stand-by basis (Dr. Lindsell was associate editor from September 1964 to September 1967) since he says he will keep the venture on course, and not allow any hijacking.

Dr. Lindsell’s decision to return to editorial routines was not lightly reached, especially in view of his current opportunities for teaching, research, and writing. I hope his fortnightly engagement at evangelical frontiers will have a wide and deep influence for evangelical verities. His first major task will be on-the-spot coverage of the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

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