Lausanne, July, 1974: the International Congress on World Evangelization. Mexico City, January, 1975: the first meeting of the continuing Lausanne Committee. Nairobi, November and December, 1975: the World Council of Churches’ Fifth Assembly, at which evangelism and world missionary outreach received more attention than at most of the earlier assemblies. Atlanta, January, 1976: the second meeting of the Lausanne Committee, attended by nearly fifty representatives from around the world. What does all this evangelism talk mean?

We fervently hope that the interest in missions expressed by the delegates to the WCC’s Fifth Assembly will be reflected in the ongoing program of the WCC. The leaders have received a clear mandate from the people to get moving on the task of reaching the unreached with the Gospel. Will they do it?

The Lausanne Congress concentrated on missionary outreach, and the subsequent meetings of the Lausanne Committee have made clear its intention to stay with world evangelization until the job is completed. At Atlanta, Bishop Jack Dain of Australia, a former missionary to India, finished the one-year chairmanship he carried successfully despite his increasingly heavy load of work in Australia. His successor as committee chairman is Leighton Ford, a Canadian evangelist. Gottfried Osei-Mensah, a Ghanian Baptist, became the committee’s executive secretary. By its choice of leaders the committee has indicated its intention to stay committed to evangelism and its awareness that the task calls for the efforts of Christians everywhere, not only in the United States, not only in North America, but all over the globe.

At Atlanta the Lausanne Committee identified four functions as central to its work. One is to encourage “theological educators to emphasize and strengthen training on the theory and practice of world evangelization.” As the seminaries go, so go the churches; in a sense, whether the churches succeed or fail in the work of world evangelization depends upon these institutions. In the light of this, what can seminaries do to further the cause?

Theological institutions should be mission-minded in their faculty appointments and in their curriculum. By keeping the missionary cause before their students, they can challenge them to commit themselves to missionary outreach at home and abroad. They can also train students for missionary outreach. The training should be not only theoretical but also practical. Students should learn how to lead people to Christ, and they should actually be doing this during their years of study.

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Every student of missionary history knows the importance in a former generation of the Student Volunteer Movement. That movement is dead. But in its place we have, in North America, at least, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s triennial Urbana Convention on missions. This coming December, probably ten thousand or more students will gather in Illinois for the Urbana conference. A large contingent from theological institutions ought to be there to catch the vision, interact with the students, and go home to light fires in the hearts of students who do not attend the convention.

Another way in which theological institutions can further the cause of world evangelization is to offer extension work for nationals overseas. This should be Bible-centered and focused on evangelism. Tens of thousands of Christians around the world need and want this sort of training, and could become effective evangelists. Campus Crusade for Christ recently enlisted thousands of overseas believers to help with this task of evangelism; this points up the need to provide training to make such persons more profitable servants of Christ.

Seminaries in North America should also offer extension work in North America for lay people who are willing and eager to learn to evangelize at home. Dwight L. Moody established the Moody Bible Institute for this very purpose. Moody has developed into a professional school that trains multitudes for the pastoral ministry and missionary service. But it still offers extension work for lay people, and God has used this program for good. Training the laity is a part of the business of theological institutions.

There is no end to the possibilities open to seminaries that want to assist in the task of evangelization. Whatever they do, though, must be done with an understanding of these words of Jesus: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).

Priority For Prayer

Many theological seminaries are long on the intellectual training and short on the spiritual training of students. It is good to note that at least one seminary has given special attention to this aspect of theological education: Asbury has an associate professor of prayer and spiritual life. It may be that some other institutions work toward this desirable goal in this way or other ways. But every seminary should give major attention to it.

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Surveys have been made from time to time to find out what the actual devotional practices of ministers are. The findings have been dismal. Few ministers give much time to the devotional use of the Scriptures and prayer. This may account for the lamentable weakness of the pulpit today.

It may be that this failure is primarily due not to a lack of good intentions but rather to a lack of knowledge and training in spiritual practices. Good habits do not develop unless a start is made and the practice is deliberately continued until it becomes a regular part of life. Probably most seminary students need specific training in prayer and spiritual life. If they do not form good devotional habits while in seminary, they are not likely to form them later. When these spiritual priorities are neglected it is easy for ministers to backslide, to lose their theological moorings, and at last to become apostate. Even when these things do not happen, the loss of spiritual dynamic can hinder what would otherwise have been a Spirit-anointed and God-blessed ministry.

We hope every institution that prepares men and women for Christian service, especially theological seminaries, will correct any imbalance and pay close attention to the prayer and other spiritual needs of its students.

Circulation Is Not Enough

When death comes to a family, there is reason to stop and take stock. And there is cause for more than the usual reflection when a family’s oldest member dies.

A patriarch in the Christian magazine family, the Christian Observer, ceased publication last month after 162 years of providing church news, devotional material, and wholesome family reading. It was the oldest religious weekly in the United States and outlived many others. Except for Baptist state papers and Catholic journals, few religious weeklies have survived.

The Observer, circulated primarily among Southern Presbyterians, was more than a member of the magazine clan. It was counted as a family member in thousands of homes, generation after generation. Marys A. Converse, the managing editor, got a flood of condolence messages after she announced the end. Many readers reported that they wept “as over the death of a person,” she told a reporter.

The paper began in 1813 in Philadelphia as the Religious Remembrancer. Amasa Converse took it over in 1827 and changed the name. He moved it to the South, where it survived war, fire, and flood. His great granddaughter succeeded her father (Harry Converse, managing editor from 1907 to 1960) in the fight to keep it going, but in the issue dated January 21 she announced that inflation had inflicted the fatal blow.

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“The cost of everything we use continues to go up and up,” Miss Converse wrote in the black-bordered notice in the final Observer. “There is a limit to how much a church paper can charge for a subscription, especially since many of our readers are on fixed incomes. We tried raising our rate [from $4 per year to $8] last July but it didn’t help enough; we are still running substantial losses, and can no longer continue.”

The Observer had an unusually loyal family of subscribers. They numbered around 36,000 at the end, only three or four thousand less than at the all-time high. But the paper needed more than circulation income to stay alive, and there was little advertising income and no outside subsidy.

Considering the recent huge increases in the costs of publishing and mailing magazines, there is no doubt that inflation was a major cause of death. There are sympathetic observers, however, who marvel that the Observer survived as long as it did, financial considerations aside. Its format was unchanged for decades. News releases—from whatever source—were more often than not run without editing. Although some signed articles took sides on controversial issues, the paper avoided taking editorial positions. In short, it was the organ of another generation that survived past its day.

In its day the Observer was a respected family leader. It kept its readers informed on significant church developments; it furnished a forum for the discussion of important issues; it opened its columns to budding Christian writers; it awarded certificates and diplomas to children who recited the catechisms, thus keeping before the churches the necessity of sound doctrinal teaching; and it offered expository teaching. Church leaders and journalists would do well to ponder the contributions that the Observer made in its long life and the reasons for its loyal following.

The Escape Of Agatha Christie

W. H. Auden once remarked that the murder-mystery genre as practiced by the British, who emphasize detection rather than violence, provides an escape back to the Garden of Eden. And in the course of that trip back to innocence, where right and wrong form an objective structure for the universe, murder mysteries offer aficionados hours of entertainment. Last month one of the best-known writers of our century, and certainly one of the greatest practitioners of the mystery art, died at the age of eighty-five outside London.

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Agatha Christie, who started writing mysteries on a dare from her sister in 1915, was the author of more than seventy whodunits, and fifteen volumes of short stories. She wrote the longest-running play in history, The Mousetrap, which opened in London in 1952 and is still running. Thirteen movies were made from her books, including the classic Witness For the Prosecution. The recent Murder on the Orient Express, a fast and fascinating film based on her novel Murder in the Calais Coach, is the most successful British movie ever made. Curtain, published last fall, tells of the death of Hercule Poirot, one of her two most famous detectives. Christie also killed off the other, the elderly spinster Miss Jane Marple, in a manuscript yet to be published. The prolific writer also left her autobiography behind.

Entertainment and escape writing ought not to be sneered at. All human beings need a respite from their problems and frustrations. We are thankful for Agatha Christie, who has provided millions of readers with hours of restful reading pleasure.

John’S Word To Johnny

Last month in the first episode of “The Adams Chronicles,” public television’s Bicentennial tribute (the thirteen-part series took six years and $5.2 million to produce), John Adams won his first court case—the defense of a man’s right to learn to read. How, Adams asked, can a man be a good citizen unless he can read the Bible and the newspaper? Some two hundred years later, all our citizens have the right to read and the opportunity to learn how, but many lack the skill. And educators have placed part of the blame on television.

According to Newsweek’s December 8 cover story, “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” he can’t write because he can’t read. Television is just part of the problem. Many English teachers throughout the country no longer encourage children to read. Nor do they teach literature in high school English classes. Recently released figures from a four-year government study revealed that 23 million Americans are functionally illiterate and about half of our adult population barely gets by in reading and writing skills.

Not only John Adams (whose letters and speeches have been described as elegant) but Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Noah Webster all thought that the language skills were of primary importance (for an overview of American education past and present read Growing Up In America by Fred M. and Grace Hechinger, published by McGraw-Hill). Christian leaders, too, from the Puritans forward have emphasized reading and writing skills. Literacy work, teaching people to read and write their own language, receives the highest priority among such mission groups as Wycliffe Bible Translators.

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The state of Oregon and the Los Angeles school board have taken steps to correct the reading deficiences of high school graduates. Oregon has new competency requirements for graduation. And the L. A. Board of Education has decided, belatedly, that, starting in 1979, students will not receive high school diplomas unless they know how to read.

This is a worthy first step in solving the problem. But why have the reading test include only such things as understanding signs, labels, television guides, and government welfare and social security forms? Our reading standards (and ultimately our standards for thinking logically) have been too low for too long. Many Americans who tune in “The Adams Chronicles” will understand the television script. But could they understand the original documents, the family’s letters and diaries? Perhaps that would make a better graduation test.

Three Years Is Too Long

Abortion on demand has been the law of the land for three years as of last month. When the United States Supreme Court handed down its sweeping 1973 ruling, it did more than permit the termination of life at certain stages of prenatal development. As David W. Louisell, a University of California law professor and constitutional scholar, said recently, the Court could hardly have issued a more direct challenge to our civilization and its values.

Many prominent political leaders—including most if not all of the announced presidential candidates—would like the abortion issue simply to go away in this election year. It is a hot potato. A Senate subcommittee last September sidetracked various proposals that would have undone by constitutional amendment what the Court did in 1973. Several of the pro-life bills have now been reintroduced.

Among the measures now before Congress is Senator Quentin Burdick’s S.J. Res. 143, a proposed amendment that would allow the states to legislate in defense of life from its beginnings to natural death, without regard to stage of development, age, health, or condition of physical dependency. The bill deserves full consideration by the entire Congress, and it deserves it this year. The nation should debate these basic issues. Three years under this court edict and its various interpretations is too long.

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Only by passing some form of constitutional amendment will our country get itself out of the unique position in which it now stands. The “law of the land” as generally interpreted and applied since 1973 means that the United States is the only major civilized nation that does not know when life begins and that takes no measures to protect it during its early development.

On Target On Sex

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently issued its “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” It has the express approval of Pope Paul and can be said to represent the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject.

The premises on which the case was built are important: (1) the teaching springs from natural law, or what is usually called natural revelation; (2) the teaching is reinforced by special revelation (divine law) in which God through the Bible has given absolutes that reinforce the absolutes of nature; (3) the church is speaking both to its own people, for whom it has a special responsibility, and also to the world, which is subject to natural law regardless of its religious orientation.

At the heart of the declaration lies the teaching that “every genital act must be within the framework of marriage.” Pre-marital sex, homosexual acts, masturbation, and adultery are sins against nature, revelation, and God himself.

The declaration comes at a time when fornication and adultery are commonplace, even among church members. It comes at a time when homosexuals not only assert their intrinsic right to engage in homosexual acts but also are pressing for public and legal acceptance of homosexual marriage not as a concession but as a right.

Leaving aside the papal claim to being the vicegerent of Jesus Christ, the most important question for Protestants is how the contents of the declaration square with Scripture. On this basis, on the subjects other than masturbation (a prohibition that the document admits cannot be based upon an express statement of holy writ but can, it says, be logically derived therefrom), the conclusions of the Sacred Congregation are unassailable. The real point of tension for anyone facing decisions about his or her sexual conduct is this: Will I or will I not obey the clear teachings of Scripture and what nature itself dictates as necessary for man’s good?

Those who defy either the dictates of nature or the express commandments of God, be they individuals or nations, will ultimately reap the consequences of their disobedience. How men and nations choose to respond to the commandments of God will determine whether in this life they survive and perpetuate themselves or fall under the sure judgment of God.

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The sad fact is that many Protestants, along with many Roman Catholics, will not accept the conclusions of the declaration. It is time for all who take biblical revelation seriously to add their voices in support of the basic truth that sexual relations outside marriage are sinful.

Light In A Dark World

The world is in bad shape. Hunger. Injustice. Pollution. Corruption. War. Theft. Violence. Immorality. What else is new? The Apostle Paul wrote the Philippians long ago they were “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (2:15). But what are Christians to do about it? Moan and groan and wring their hands? Not according to Paul. In the very same verse he refers to three Christian responses (after telling us in the previous verse not to be grumblers).

First, we are constantly to recognize that we are “children of God.” He is our parent from whom we take our meaning and values. We tell our own children that they must live according to the standards we set, not those of the neighbors up the street or their chums at school. In the same way God reminds us of the privilege—and responsibility—of being his children. This includes access to him and his power as well as mutual responsibility between parent and child.

Second, we are to be “blameless and innocent … [and] without blemish.” Christians have proved to be very adept at rationalizing behavior that is determined by the world’s standards rather than by God’s. Business men and women, laborers, politicians, professionals, clerks, students, athletes, entertainers—whatever our line of work we compromise our innocence because “you’ve got to live in the real world.” Of course we are to live in the real world, just as Jesus Christ did; but we are to do so in accordance with God’s standards.

Third, we are to “shine as lights in the world.” There are times when men and women are glad for light, but there are also times—too many of them—when they prefer darkness. They do their deeds in secret and resent anyone, such as a journalist, who shines a light on their activities.

The lives we live and the light we bear testify to the Gospel in the precise sense of the message of eternal salvation. But Paul’s message also relates to the whole of temporal life, in that we are both to illuminate the crookedness around us and to do something about it by being “filled with the fruits of righteousness” (1:11). Indeed, if the Philippians, about whose eternal destiny Paul had no doubts (1:6), did not improve their standards of conduct, there was a sense in which Paul could view his ministry among them as having been in vain (2:16). The Apostle’s task, like that of all other Christians, was not only to be used to save souls for heaven but also to change lives on earth.

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