In the rather spartan surroundings of Chicago’s Wabash YMCA, fifty influential evangelicals at a landmark weekend meeting last month hammered out a 473-word social-action statement, “A Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” (see reprint, this page). The group, sharing a common commitment “to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God” but representing a divergence of backgrounds and other viewpoints, hopes to arouse America’s millions of evangelicals to a greater degree of social concern—and action.

The statement confesses the failure of evangelicals to demonstrate “the love of God to those suffering social abuses” and to proclaim God’s justice to “an unjust American society.” It strikes out at racism in the Church. “Fellow evangelical Christians” are urged to “demonstrate repentance in a Christian discipleship that confronts the social and political injustice of our nation.” There must be an attack on materialism and the “maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services.” Militarism and civil religion must be shunned. No “new gospel” is proclaimed and no political ideology or party is endorsed: the declaration is to be seen simply as a call for “total discipleship” and national righteousness.

Participants who signed the declaration included such disparate personalities as editor Sharon Gallagher of Right On, published by the Christian World Liberation Front of Berkeley; President William Bentley of the National Black (formerly Negro) Evangelical Association; Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Canadian director Samuel Escobar; theologian Carl F. H. Henry, former editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY; Carl Thomas McIntire of Toronto’s Institute of Christian Studies (he parted years ago with the politics of his famous radio-preacher father); Editor William Petersen of Eternity; California Baptist Seminary professor Bernard Ramm; Southern Baptist social-concerns executive Foy Valentine; and author-editor Joseph Bayly.

Those familiar with the social-concerns statements and resolutions issued by many denominations over the past seven or eight years will find little in the declaration that has not already been said. Perhaps its most remarkable aspect is that so much could be agreed upon by so many with such a broad range of viewpoints (from Anabaptists who repudiate all war to Calvinists who allow for aggressive use of the political system to seek justice—and even some whose socio-economic philosophy approximates neo-Marxist economics).

There were a few hassles before the finishing touches were applied. Some wanted to condemn Nixon’s alleged “lust for and abuse of power” in a proposed resolution on Watergate and to voice suspicions of U. S. involvement in the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. Several cautioned against issuing resolutions that might blunt the public impact of the main declaration—and possibly turn off evangelicals back home. This reasoning prevailed, but a few participants, including President John H. Yoder of Goshen Seminary, declined to sign the final statement (a 1,000-word document was scrapped in favor of the shorter one) because they believed it didn’t say enough.

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The idea for the meeting arose initially at Campus Crusade’s Explo ’72 in Dallas last year—and, in a sense, in reaction to it. After Explo officials turned down suggestions that more social emphasis be injected into the program, seminarian Jim Wallis of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and a small group of young adults mounted a brief anti-war demonstration in the Cotton Bowl stands behind the platform. But they were shushed and otherwise cold-shouldered by the majority of the 85,000 in the stadium. Wallis, editor of a controversial tabloid, The Post American, assisted by Wes Michaelson, aide to Senator Mark Hatfield, and a few others, then pushed for an evangelical forum on social concerns. A committee soon took shape, with Dr. Ronald J. Sider of Messiah College, a pacifist-oriented Brethren in Christ school in southeastern Pennsylvania, as coordinator.

The Chicago Declaration

A Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God. we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives in Christ from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world.

We confess that we have not acknowledged the complete claims of God on our lives.

We acknowledge that God requires love. But we have not demonstrated the love of God to those suffering social abuses.

We acknowledge that God requires justice. But we have not proclaimed or demonstrated his justice to an unjust American society. Although the Lord calls us to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and the oppressed, we have mostly remained silent. We deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism and the conspicuous responsibility of the evangelical community for perpetuating the personal attitudes and institutional structures that have divided the body of Christ along color lines. Further, we have failed to condemn the exploitation of racism at home and abroad by our economic system.

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We affirm that God abounds in mercy and that he forgives all who repent and turn from their sins. So we call our fellow evangelical Christians to demonstrate repentance in a Christian discipleship that confronts the social and political injustice of our nation.

We must attack the materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services. We recognize that as a nation we play a crucial role in the imbalance and injustice of international trade and development. Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living and promote more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources.

We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might—a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.

We acknowledge that we have encouraged men to prideful domination and women to irresponsible passivity. So we call both men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.

We proclaim no new gospel, but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who. through the power of the Holy Spirit, frees people from sin so that they might praise God through works of righteousness.

By this declaration, we endorse no political ideology or party, but call our nation’s leaders and people to that righteousness which exalts a nation.

We make this declaration in the biblical hope that Christ is coming to consummate the Kingdom and we accept his claim on our total discipleship till He comes.

In addition to Sider, who directs Messiah’s extension campus in Philadelphia, and Wallis, the planning committee included: Editor John Alexander of The Other Side; President Myron Augsburger of Eastern Mennonite College; political-science professor Paul B. Henry of Calvin College; evangelist William Pannell of Tom Skinner Associates; former Stony Brook School headmaster Frank Gaebelein; Conservative Baptist home missions executive Rufus Jones; sociologist David O. Moberg of Marquette University; historian Richard Pierard of Indiana State University; and Fuller Seminary theologian Lewis B. Smedes.

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In opening remarks Pannell challenged evangelicals to emphasize social sins and institutionalized evils as vigorously as they do personal sins.

The conference closed with a “celebration of salt.” Each participant was given a pinch of the substance as a reminder of what amounts to another “Great Commission” when the disciples of Jesus were sent forth as “salt of the earth.”

Ruibal In Colombia

Bolivian youth evangelist Julio César Ruibal, who sparked a revival earlier this year in his land (see March 16 issue, page 40), arrived in Colombia last month. The 21-year-old former medical student, converted last year at a Kathryn Kuhlman meeting in southern California, has been preaching in several Latin American countries, identifying himself as a Roman Catholic.

Virtually without pre-publicity, Ruibal began modestly in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, preaching to 50 people in a home meeting, to 100 university students, to a crowd in a Presbyterian church, then to 3,000 people in a public square. Padre Rafael García-Herrero, a leader in the Catholic charismatic movement in Colombia, introduced Ruibal to the public in his daily 240-second “Minute of God” television program, along with a child who had been healed of paralysis at one of his meetings.

Ruibal’s next appearance was in an aristocratic section of Medellín, Colombia’s second city. Speaking by invitation from the steps of a Catholic church, he made a straightforward presentation of salvation and invited his 10,000 hearers to raise their hands and pray to accept Christ. Then he asked them to pray with him for the healing of the sick. A 32-year-old man who had been paralyzed for seven years stood up, took two steps, and abandoned his wheelchair. Persons who knew José Martínez said they were astounded, and one who had long professed to believe in nothing said he was now convinced of the reality of God.

Relatives of 19-year-old José Ferroso fled in panic when he began to shout, “Jesus! Jesus!”—he had been mute from birth. Magazine reporter Henry Holquin, who had repeatedly reaffirmed his disbelief in miracles before covering the event, claims to have seen fifty verified cures during that Sunday-afternoon meeting. The only response from the newspapers was a short item promising to “investigate the reality of what happened … in order to dispel doubt, and prevent people from being victims of false facts.”

Two days later, some 70,000 people came to the soccer stadium of Medellín to hear Ruibal; this was reportedly the largest crowd ever in this city of 1.4 million (see December 7 issue, page 46). The crowd was orderly throughout the meeting, which lasted over three hours, except that whenever someone experienced healing those around him wept with emotion, shouted jubilantly “Miracle! Miracle!,” and propelled the person toward the speaker’s stand to give his testimony. Many professed a new conviction of the supreme importance of God in their lives.

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One young man threw away his crutches and climbed over a six-foot fence to testify. Montoya Piedad recovered the vision she had lost seven years ago. Gustavo Gonzalez, who had been deaf for fifty-six years, claimed to hear perfectly. A woman whose arm had been paralyzed for four years after a stroke waved for reporters (see photo).

The newspaper that had promised to investigate Ruibal ran a two-page report, including interviews, pictures of people who claimed to be healed, and some case histories, including names of doctors who had been treating the persons. For balance the paper included interviews with a psychologist and a doctor, who did not deny the healings, but attributed them to mass suggestion, hypnosis, or parapsychology.

Ruibal himself insisted, “It is God, not I, who does the miracles,” and emphasized the supreme importance of spiritual conversion. “I always call for repentance, commitment to God, a profound conversion. That, for me, is the greatest miracle,” he said.

Each meeting in Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali resulted in numerous healings; yet many others went away without being healed (as at Kuhlman meetings). Interestingly, the reaction of those not healed was usually increased hope because of what they had seen rather than disillusionment or bitterness.

Ruibal drew crowds of 12,000 in Cali, a city the size of Medellín. In La Ceja, hyperbolically reputed to have as many seminaries as houses, he met until 4 A.M. with 200 Catholic seminarians, addressed a gathering of priests, and spent two hours with the archbishop. He returned to Bogotá, where the sports stadium filled to hear him, and he was to share the platform with the president of the republic at a $250-a-plate banquet sponsored by García-Herrero for the benefit of slum dwellers.

There has not been the official Catholic opposition to Ruibal in Colombia that there was in Bolivia. The minority of priests associated with the Catholic charismatic movement are enthusiastic supporters while other priests are cautious and rather critical. The archbishop of Medellín, who gave prior approval to Ruibal’s appearances, said cautiously, “The religious aspect is a reality which, apparently, has no reason to be criticized. Phenomena which accompany religious events, supposed miracles, do need discernment and investigation of science, which can give much light and a little explanation.”

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Reaction from Protestant evangelicals has generally been enthusiasm that the Gospel is being preached to so many people and an acceptance of the validity of the healings. However, some are uneasy about Ruibal’s identification of himself as a Catholic; they fear that the Roman Catholic Church might capitalize on the miracles to strengthen faith in itself rather than in the Gospel. Many evangelicals have attended Ruibal’s meetings, but they have not mobilized to follow up those who make professions of faith, nor to identify themselves with Ruibal’s message. Partly because there was very little previous knowledge of the time or place of the meetings and partly because of the novelty of the situation, evangelical response to the opportunity has been individual rather than organized.


Birth Of A Denomination

Southern Presbyterians created a major new evangelical denomination this month. An initiating general assembly, held in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, brought together several hundred churchmen whose congregations have recently separated from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). They voted to call the new denomination “National Presbyterian Church.” Alleged theologically liberal trends in the PCUS were the main reasons for the shift.

A fifty-year-old Reformed scholar, Dr. Morton H. Smith, was elected first stated clerk of the assembly and a lawyer, W. Jack Williamson, moderator.

The new denomination was reported to embrace some 273 local congregations with a combined membership of about 60,000. Fifteen presbyteries have already been organized.

The solemn constituting assembly took place in the luxuriously modern Briarwood Presbyterian Church just south of Birmingham. It opened on Tuesday evening, December 4, with an hour-long address by Williamson, who had been chosen convener by a provisional committee. Following his speech Williamson declared the assembly formally in session—at 8:40 P.M. (CST).

Within two minutes, the first complaint was voiced: a commissioner took the floor to ask if it were necessary “to have these blinding lights shining at us all night.” The lights, brought in to accommodate television newsmen, were promptly doused, and the session thereafter was a model of quiet efficiency. Williamson took the assembly through a long list of procedural orders and appointments without objection or debate.

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Except for some exhuberant congregational singing, the commissioners showed little emotion. About the only laugh all evening came with the introduction of proposed names for the new church: among some one hundred suggestions was “Dixie National.”

The first debate on a theological point was over whether miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. The question was finally referred to a committee for a year-long study.

Smith, the stated clerk, has been the theoretician of the PCUS separatists. He is the author of How Is the Gold Become Dim, a catalog of the denomination’s theological decline. A native of Virginia, Smith is professor of systematic theology at Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Seminary and earned a doctorate under G. C. Berkouwer at the Free University of Amsterdam. He taught at Belhaven College before joining the founding faculty at the Jackson seminary in 1964.

Williamson is a ruling elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, Alabama. He served for a time as a PCUS member of the joint committee drafting union with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In his address to the assembly he charged that the group had broken faith with PCUS separatists by abandoning a plan of union that included an “escape clause.” This had been projected, he said, as an agreed-upon method of “peaceful realignment.”


Religion In Transit

Should courses on the occult be taught in public schools? A course on the supernatural in literature at the 1,300-student Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire, is getting national attention as church people press for its removal, mostly because of fears of Satanic influence on the students—one of whom reportedly now identifies herself as a witch.

There may be one Lutheran denomination instead of three in Canada if plans work out. Twenty-eight leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada, Lutheran Church in America-Canada Section, and Lutheran Church-Canada (Missouri Synod branch) agreed that an indigenous church should be established. They also agreed to a seven-part statement on Scripture.

Thomas Spitz, 52, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod clergyman, resigned as general secretary of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., a post he had held since its founding six years ago. He will serve as pastor of an LCMS church on Long Island and will thus be able to become more involved in “the painful struggle” going on in the LCMS.

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With Southern Baptist deacon William R. Pogue in Skylab are Edward G. Gibson, a member of House of Prayer Lutheran Church in suburban Houston, a Lutheran Church in America congregation pastored by his older brother, and Gerald P. Carr, who attends Webster (Texas) Presbyterian Church.

The State Council of Greece, the nation’s supreme court, rejected the suit of eight bishop friends of Archbishop Ieronymos to unseat the ten-member Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece. The Holy Synod then announced that Ieronymos, primate of the church, whose own hand-picked synod was ousted earlier this year by the council, will resign soon. His successor will probably be Metropolitan Seraphim of Ioannina, who swore in the new military government—a snub Ieronymos protested in vain.

Those mass baptisms of South Korean troops are still going on. Recently, groups of 3,300 and 1,300 soldiers were baptized. The 3,300 were baptized by chaplains and pastors of the church associated with OMS (formerly Oriental Missionary Society).

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