The outbreak of war in the Middle East temporarily stranded thousands of tourists in Israel and hundreds in Egypt while disrupting the travel plans of others, evoked appeals for peace from religious leaders (and pleas for aid in the Jewish communityIn the first week of battle alone, the United Jewish Appeal reportedly collected about $150 million.), and prompted widespread speculative discussion on current events and Bible prophecy.

Two of the largest tour operators in the religious market, Wholesale Tours of New York and Gotaas World Travel of Chicago, reported that a number of their tourists were affected. Wholesale had 450 passengers on two ships cruising the eastern Mediterranean when fighting broke out. One of them, the 3,000-ton Greek-owned Romantica, was in Syrian waters at the time, and Syrian naval vessels forced it into harbor at Tartus. It later proceeded to Cyprus with all passengers intact.

Gotaas Travel head Cliff Gotaas said his agency had five groups composed of 200 Canadians and Americans making the Bible-land rounds when the war erupted. Although they were in no danger, transportation out of the countries was a hassle, he acknowledged. Gotaas was hopeful that tourism could continue, but as hostilities heated up it became clear that tourists would probably have to settle for biblical sites in Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, California, and eighty of his parishioners were in Israel the entire first week of the fighting. Many, convinced the return of Christ was near, wanted to stay and meet him there, said a church source.

Dallas Seminary president John Walvoord, a Bible-prophecy authority, said the war is “part of the pattern” leading to the end times, and he asserted Israel will never be destroyed.

Doomsday talk is not limited to religious circles. Commenting on headlines to friends in an elevator, a Washington, D. C., office-building manager remarked, “I think the end of the world is coming soon.” There were no guffaws in response.

In an interview, prophecy specialist Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), a Dallas graduate, echoed Walvoord’s belief. “This is a continuation of the priming of the fuse which will finally ignite the last war,” he affirmed. His biggest fear is not that Israel will be destroyed but that the big powers will be drawn in because of oil. The United States, Lindsey pointed out, is caught between its ties to Israel and its need of Arab oil. “This is not the end, but the rapture is very close,” he concluded.

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(Dispensational theology, a line followed by Dallas Seminary and most Bible institutes, teaches that the Church will be “raptured” or lifted out of the earth for a heavenly reunion with Christ. After this, Israel will endure seven years of war and severe hardship, culminating in the Battle of Armageddon on the northern plains below Mt. Carmel. In this battle Christ will triumph over the armies of earth. He will then set up his world-wide kingdom, ruling from Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Jews will have rebuilt the temple [destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D.] and reinstituted worship in it some years earlier. Lindsey and others are keeping an eye on the Islamic Mosque of Omar—or Dome of the Rock—which sits astride the temple site in Jerusalem. In the course of the current conflagration it could be demolished accidentally by Arab bombs or shells—or deliberately by Israelis in retribution. If that happens, says Lindsey, the end is surely near.)

Seeking An Answer

Religion is increasingly—and perhaps embarrassingly—a prime topic of interest in the Soviet Union. The Soviet experience is that religion does not wither away or disappear because of the pronouncements of the Communist party or its leaders, nor does atheism automatically appear. “Confronted with the persistent phenomenon of religion, Soviet philosophers have begun studying it, instead of ignoring it,” says a recent article in Studies in Soviet Thought. Research on religion, scientific atheism, and the problems of atheist education has mushroomed in the past decade, it says, citing a survey covering the years 1964–70. The survey shows that master’s dissertations per year related to scientific atheism doubled in that period, while doctoral dissertations quadrupled.

Soviet critics themselves admit that much of this work is low in quality and often vague or eclectic. Nonetheless, concludes the article, “if this activity is continued and the quality upgraded, then the future holds some interesting developments in the area of atheism, atheist education, and the criticism of religion.”

For one thing, it may mean that the task of evangelism will be even tougher within the near future.


Youth For Christ: Now There Are Two

In reaction to a tightening of Youth for Christ’s organizational policies, a breakaway group known as Youth Evangelism Association (YEA) emerged from meetings in Milwaukee last month. YEA’s president is veteran Kansas City Youth for Christ director Al Metsker, and its vice-president is George Dooms of Tri-State Youth for Christ in Evansville, Indiana. Their movement involves nearly twenty of Youth for Christ’s 180 U. S. chapters so far.

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“One stated aim is to avoid the problems of a top-heavy, expensive parent organization that might become too strong and dictatorial, thereby stifling creativity and freedom on the local front,” said YEA in an obvious slam against YFC’s determination to become more of an organization and less of the loosely structured—and inefficient—fellowship of independent operations that it has been.

Acting upon recommendations of a committee of field representatives, YFC this summer issued guidelines aimed at setting standards for local chapters. Each local work was instructed to include a youth-guidance ministry among delinquency-prone young people, along with a standardized Campus Life club program among high schoolers. From now on, YFC staffers are to be YFC-trained; recruits are to gain experience as interns. (Many local directors and boards in years past determined their own programs, cooperated with national headquarters as much or as little as they wished, and hired whom they pleased.)

To most in YEA, the last straw was an assessment of 2 per cent of local income to help support the national YFC organization. After two or three years, the levy may be increased. (The figure is almost ridiculously low when compared with the 15 to 25 per cent or more that prevails in similar organizations.)

Observers see the income sharing as a necessary element in YFC’s quest for fiscal responsibility. A financial crisis involving a huge deficit a few months ago resulted in the axing of thirty-seven staffers, curtailment of in-house computer services, cut-backs in expansion of YFC’s award-winning magazine Campus Life, and cancellation of both top-rated traveling music groups. The president of a large corporation recently erased the deficit with a $1 million gift of stock.

Some YEA members cited fears that their facilities and property (including some million-dollar ones) would eventually have passed into national YFC ownership had they remained in the YFC domain—an almost certain, and perhaps desirable, probability in light of YFC’s evolving relationships over the next decade or two.

Another conflict at the heart of the split is over methodology. Some of YFC’s older hands want to stick with the big-rally approach to youth evangelism that was so widely popular back in the forties and fifties. Indeed, YEA bluntly states it intends to make this a matter of policy. Meanwhile, YFC’s younger leaders tend to put more emphasis on specialized programs, small-group work, and even social involvement. For the most part, they endorse YFC’s new forward look. A few separatists have charged certain YFC leaders with departing from biblical moorings, but the charges have not stood. YFC staffers must subscribe to the National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith, which includes a strong plank on the authority of Scripture. Other dissidents express distaste for the contemporary music heard in YFC circles these days, and they accuse YFC of fostering worldliness among youth.

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Despite the moves toward greater centralization, YFC allows flexibility. Local units can retain a large measure of local control, provided guidelines are met, or choose the direct tie with headquarters.

YEA’s people, however, have severed whatever ties they had and will hold an organizational convention in Chicago in mid-January. They intend to keep their organization unorganized.


Anti-Semitism In Uganda

According to the German pastors’ newspaper Deutsches Pfarrblatt, President Amin of Uganda has decided to publish the infamous Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion in several African languages. The Protocols, ostensibly the framework for a Jewish plot to rule the world, are known to be a pre-1914 forgery produced by the czarist secret police. They are a familiar feature of anti-Semitic hate propaganda in many countries. According to Amin, “It is vital to fight the Portuguese colonists, the racists of South Africa, and the Zionists of Israel. But first of all we must break with Israel.”

Chain Reaction

Contemporary missionary work abounds with interesting chain-reaction conversion accounts. One of them involves Fortino Cortez, a Mazatec Indian of Mexico converted while helping Wycliffe Bible Translators missionaries George and Florence Cowan and Eunice Pike translate the New Testament into his language. He worked at Wycliffe’s Mexico headquarters for twenty years, starting as clean-up boy. Today he is production manager of the mission’s publications department. His weekly “cultural” radio broadcast (he deftly drops in gospel content) beamed to the Mazatecs in northeastern Oaxaca state attracts much mail, including reports of decisions for Christ. Recently he organized scores of Mexican and American doctors, nurses, and dentists for a four-day outreach in Chilchotla, which has no medical personnel or facilities. While 1,500 persons were being treated Cortez engaged in low-key witness, including the showing of a film on the life of Christ for the Mazatecs and Bible-study sessions for the medical people. Correspondent Alan C. Wares reports the results: deepening of international friendship and understanding, social impact, healthier bodies—and seventy professions of faith.

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Purer Atmosphere

Dr. Seth Erlandsson, head of the Biblicum Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden, and one of the outstanding evangelical theologians in Scandinavia, has announced his resignation from the (state) Lutheran Church of Sweden, in which he was a priest. Asked in an interview published in Kyrka och Folk whether he thought the Church of Sweden had abandoned its confession of faith, Erlandsson commented, “Yes, and I stated this to the archbishop in a long discussion.… The archbishop argued that a church can never abandon its confession, since the confession is whatever the church is confessing.”

Erlandsson is the best-known among a number of evangelical Lutherans who have recently withdrawn from the state church. Now, says Erlandsson, “I belong to an evangelical Lutheran assembly where only the pure word of God is taught.”

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