Impatience and laziness. These are two cardinal sins, said Franz Kafka, from which all the others spring. Both extremes—acting too hastily or failing to act at all—cause trouble in the Church.
In church life there is much more likelihood of laziness than impatience, however. Churches are undergoing a great deal of sophisticated analysis these days, and a lot of complex problems that impede progress are being discovered. But plain old laziness persists whether we want to admit it or not, and whether we call it by that name or use some more contemporary-sounding term. Affluent circumstances, increasing automation, and the trend toward more government guarantees in a wide range of human activities are helping to stifle initiative. So is the tendency to enlarge full-time staff, especially in large churches.
There is a lazy streak in most of us, and some allowance has to be made for it in church procedures. But perhaps we are being too accommodating. Perhaps Christian leaders should contend more forcefully with laziness.
One reason why laziness is hard to combat is that it is sometimes hard to identify. It is not necessarily characterized by inactivity. Lazy people can be very active; they may keep busy doing things that do not count for much because they want to avoid more demanding tasks.
Intellectual laziness is the worse sort for the Christian believer. The whole Church should echo the slogan of the United Negro College Fund, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Few churches really encourage hard study. Some, regrettably, are growing because they advocate spiritual short-cuts. Among these are some congregations that are theologically liberal as well as some that are decidedly evangelical.
Rank-and-file evangelicals today are appallingly unaware of their intellectual heritage, which goes back to the scriptural emphasis on sound thought. The great commandment of Jesus laid down the principle for time and eternity: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Regardless of whether the original words correspond to the current English meanings of heart, soul, and mind, it is clear that the Christian is challenged to commit all of his being to divine purposes, and this must surely include his intellectual ability. Most of the great figures of church history were scholars, though they lived in times when education was not nearly as available as it is today. The Puritan era probably had the strongest Christian impact of all, and its leaders made great intellectual demands upon the common people. What a rebuke it is to realize that the average Puritan pew-sitter probably knew more about biblical teaching than does the contemporary Christian, who has vast learning opportunities at his disposal.
Fundamentalism was not a product of emotion and irrationalism, as it is commonly caricatured. No thinker on the liberal side of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy could match J. Gresham Machen.
We need to discover anew the value of the idea, and the need for Christians to have a good understanding of theological beliefs. The plan of salvation is very simple, but the discipleship that the Scriptures teach is not easy. The Bible itself is a demanding book. Doctrinal and moral issues must be dealt with at their deepest levels, and laziness has no place here.
Should not Christian leaders try to set preaching and teaching standards at a more intellectually responsible level? There is, of course, the risk of aiming too high. But despite some signs to the contrary, human nature prefers to reach rather than stoop, and churches should get parishioners in the habit of stretching.
Why Do The Christians Rage?
We deplore the violence, illegal and dubiously related strikes, and other morally reprehensible behavior of those who oppose the use of certain textbooks in the schools around Charleston, West Virginia (see News, page 44). Nevertheless we think that the same sort of concern for discerning underlying issues which was properly manifested in the wake of black rioting a few years ago needs to be applied here. It is not enough to denounce violence without asking what drives people to such strong demonstrations of feelings. To the extent that blasphemy and immorality are encouraged, it is well to be (non-violently) enraged!
Penetrating questions have been asked with regard to black, brown, and red militancy. Attention is being paid to the concerns of the women’s liberation movement. Urban, largely Catholic “ethnics” are having their fears and aspirations noticed. We ask that the same concern be shown to the sensitivities of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the working class. Textbook publishers nowadays (as they should have been all along) are generally careful to avoid insulting or demeaning references to most minority groups, even in literature anthologies that purport to reflect the diversity of our culture. The same recognition and respect is due to the minority who believe that the Bible is literally true.
Bible-believers, and they come in all colors and classes, ought not to try to have their ways prevail by force or government coercion, especially not in a pluralistic society. But at the same time; Bible-believers ought to be treated as courteously as other citizens.
Charles Ives: Notes In Stone
Not until late in life did Charles Edward Ives, one of America’s foremost composers, the centenary of whose birth we celebrate October 20, begin to receive the recognition he deserved (he died in 1954). Now, more and more recordings of his music are appearing, and this year his music is being performed by orchestras, choruses, and chamber ensembles across the country.
Ives was born and reared in Danbury, Connecticut, and much of his music reflects his Puritan heritage. As a child he and his father, a musician, attended camp-meeting services together. The young Ives preferred the “great waves of sound” (as he later put it) “when things like Beulah Land, Nearer My God to Thee, [and] In the Sweet Bye and Bye were sung by thousands of ‘let-out’ souls” to the “too easy” music of Haydn and Mozart.
Many of Ives’s compositions were written for the church or have religious themes. He was long an organist and choirmaster, first at the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and later at New York City’s Central Presbyterian Church. He wrote many anthems using Psalms as his texts. Even some of his symphonic music was based on his spiritual roots: his third symphony is called “The Camp Meeting,” and the Largo of his second symphony was part of a musical setting for a revival service, played by a string quartet in New Haven’s Centre Church. His three “Harvest Home Chorales” are among the best known of his works.
In theme and structure his music reflects the Puritan attitude toward God. His harmonies are often strident and uneasy, lacking the lush warmth of late nineteenth-century composers, and suggestive of God’s wrath and judgment. Listening to Ives’s music one is reminded of the words of Ephraim, the old New England Puritan in Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms: “God’s hard. God’s in the stones.”
Although the composer’s choral anthems are difficult, sometimes requiring the men and the women to sing in two keys simultaneously, proficient church choirs would find the effort of learning them worthwhile. For non-singing music lovers, recordings of his choral pieces are worth buying. Despite the frequent atonality and dissonance of his music, Ives beautifully captured the meaning of America’s Puritan heritage.
Pastoral Salaries Still Lag
A recent study shows that income for ministers remains well under that of other comparably educated professionals. And a significant percentage still are not receiving fringe benefits common to most American workers. About one-fifth have second jobs. Almost half say their spouses work, and nearly three-fourths of the spouses who work do so to supplement family income. Despite these facts, 93 per cent of the respondents are satisfied with the ministry. The statistics come from a study done by the National Council of Churches dealing with 1973 clergy incomes (see News, page 46).
The study revealed that female ministers tend to have less education, serve smaller congregations, and receive less in salary and benefits than their male colleagues.
With the worsening economic situation, congregations ought to establish a yearly cost-of-living increase for their ministers, something most American workers receive. Many also need to improve ministers’ fringe benefits. To pastor a congregation is a full-time job. If salaries are not improved, more ministers will be forced to seek second jobs. Need we remind one another again that “the laborer is worthy of his hire”?
Abortion On Command
We have previously spoken about the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights and its massive support for abortion on demand. So distasteful is the expression “abortion on demand” to the leaders of the RCAR that several members of its board of directors visited the offices of CHRISTIANITY TODAY to protest what they consider to be continuing “misrepresentation.”
Insofar as a number of church bodies have joined the RCAR, although their denominations do not officially endorse abortion on demand, we can understand the embarrassment of the RCAR leaders at having their position so labeled. But any reluctance we may have felt to cause them such embarrassment has been diminished by their newsletter, Options, for September, 1974:
We reiterate, therefore, the beliefs of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights membership [emphasis added] that the right of access to abortion services, guaranteed a civil right by the Supreme Court of the United States, shall not be abridged or denied by any institution which is either partly or wholly subsidized by public funds, although the right of individual conscience in participating in such procedures must be protected.
A subsequent “Draft of Conscience Clause” adopted by the RCAR Policy Board said essentially the same thing. The RCAR not only unequivocally opposes any change in the Supreme Court’s pro-abortion stand but would compel all institutions receiving any public assistance, regardless of any ideological commitments they might have, to provide “abortion services.” Given the scope of government today, is there any health-care institution that operates without any tax-money benefits? Individual doctors for the moment might be exempted from performing abortions, but perhaps the RCAR will soon decide that if any public money has gone into their medical training, for example, they too may be compelled.
Talk of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, which the RCAR freely disseminates when opposing all human-life amendments, is quickly forgotten when the coalition sees itself presented with the opportunity to impose abortion on command.
Serving By Phone
In November, 1953, pastor Chad Varah advertised his telephone number at St. Stephen’s Church in London for pastoral counseling services to the suicidal and despairing. Since that time, telephone distress ministries have been started in nearly thirty countries. Many of them profess a Christian base, such as Contact Teleministries, Incorporated, founded in this country in 1970. As one Contact official put it, the Christian basis is his group’s greatest asset. Yet it may also cause problems.
When someone in distress calls, the trained volunteer should hear him out. Evangelistic pressure can offend a despairing person or seem to make matters worse for him. The counselor’s first responsibility is to listen to the caller’s problems and to establish trust and mutual respect. He must be sensitive to both the words and the tone of the caller, and he needs to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Is the caller ready to hear the Gospel? Is that why, consciously or unconsciously, he called a Christian telephone ministry in the first place? There may indeed be an opportunity for the counselor to share the hope that is in him. But it must be done with care.
Telephone distress ministries provide help and hope to persons who are in desperate need of it. And on the other end of the line, such a ministry stretches a Christian’s understanding of what it means to walk by faith, not by sight.
Not As The Trespass
Part of Paul’s intention in Romans 5 is clearly to establish the relation, the parallel, between the First Adam, the progenitor of a fallen race, and the Second Adam, the progenitor of a restored one. Yet somewhat curiously, after the parallel between Adam’s disobedience, which brought death, and Christ’s obedience, which brings life, there is this contrast: The free gift is not like the trespass.
In at least one sense the contrast is obvious: life is not “like” death, nor liberty “like” freedom. The trespass and the obedience were alike in that each had momentous consequences for the whole human race, and in that the consequences, in a way, were of like magnitude. But rebuilding is not like destroying, and in this sense, as in others, Christ’s work was quite different from Adam’s.
Paul also makes the contrast explicit in that the condemnation, although universal, follows one trespass, whereas the justification follows many. The condemnation can be likened to the result of an infection. One contaminated person can spread an infection among a whole population, without effort or design. But to heal each sick person in a whole population requires a work quite different in magnitude from the original work of infection. In this sense, then, although both the fall and the redemption affect all mankind, the task of redemption is much more than merely a reversal of the act that brought the fall.
Both of these contrasts, that of quality (life versus death) as well as that of magnitude (many healings versus one infection), are fairly evident ones. The great Princeton theologian and Bible expositor Charles Hodge suggests a third in his classic commentary on Romans: that of certainty. Paul writes, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:17). The contrast expressed by the “much more” is precisely one of certainty. There is no doubt that each of us will inherit death because of Adam’s disobedience: that is sure. Even more certain, Paul would have us see, is a subsequent “reigning in life” for those who receive the abundance of grace.
It may be hard to conceive that if one thing is sure (death), another can be even surer. In part, of course, the distinction is rhetorical and emotional, intended to assure us of life, for of death we are already sufficiently persuaded. But in another sense the “much more” is justified existentially, if perhaps not altogether logically. Death will come surely; but in this sureness there is no assurance, for in death apart from God there is an eternal isolation that is the total negation of all trust, all comfort, all confidence. Reigning in life, through the one act of obedience of Jesus Christ, is surer, for this sureness is assurance: trust, comfort, confidence, joy. Thus the obedience of the One is “not as the trespass,” but in truth, “much more,” as life is more than death, assurance more than despair.
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