Exuberant Christians sometimes tell exaggerated tales to convince non-believers of God’s greatness. Inflating the truth isn’t necessary, and it often backfires. “Augustine says that lies when exposed always injure the truth,” said J. A. Froude in his Life and Letters of Erasmus. “One might fancy they were invented by knaves or unbelievers to destroy the credibility of Christianity itself.”

Today’s evangelical church has a credibility problem, and it isn’t getting smaller. Billy Graham recently warned that with increased visibility comes increased vulnerability. Many claims are being made today in the name of evangelical Christianity, and some of them are not true. Most likely to damage credibility are the unproved reports of miraculous physical healings.

Some zealous Christians seem to believe that the best way to get the world’s attention for the Gospel is to publicize stories of marvelous cures. More and more of these have been appearing in the media in recent months. Radio preachers talk about cures; telecasters introduce people who testify that they experienced healing at the hand of God; and periodicals regularly report physical “miracles.” Sometimes only the skimpiest of verification is offered.

In a commendable show of integrity, the weekly National Courier recently informed readers that one of the stories in its “Miracles” series had turned out to be false. The story had been discredited in the locality where the healing supposedly occurred long before it was circulated nationally. We hope that readers who were turned off by the first article will see the retraction.

There is no way to guarantee that shabby operators in this area will ever be silenced. The knaves and unbelievers will always be with us to try to make personal gain or to discredit the Christian faith, and the desperate and the gullible will always be willing to finance them. We can only pray that they will be restrained.

More concrete steps can be taken, however, by the many responsible Christian leaders who are seeking to glorify God (and not themselves) by circulating the testimonies of those who have no human explanation for their cures. They hold, as a matter of cherished doctrine, that supernatural healings occur in these days, and we will assume this for the sake of discussion. We challenge these persons (specifically the editors and broadcasters among them) to unite in an effort to lend credence to their reports.

They could consider, for instance, setting up an agency to evaluate the medical marvels. Roman Catholics have registered cures at Lourdes for over a century. More than two million pilgrims go to Lourdes every year, and many claim to be healed. The number admitted to the registry is only in the hundreds, however. A comparable agency under evangelical auspices would have the advantages of not being tied to the promoters of a certain shrine or geographical area and of not being under the control of one ecclesiastical authority.

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A certification agency should not be dependent (for finances or any other kind of support) on any one group. No single denomination, missionary society, broadcaster, or publisher should control it. It should be absolutely free to make all necessary investigations and then to certify only those cures that are warranted by the evidence.

The time is ripe for such a move. So many stories of healing are being circulated that many people are inclined to disbelieve all of them. They are understandably skeptical if they see a new “miracle” on television every day. Responsible leaders of the groups that circulate these reports could now show their good faith to the rest of the evangelical community by establishing a certification agency.

Plenty of help should be available. The Christian Medical Society, for instance, might be willing to help to formulate criteria. Its members are all professionals in the medical field, but they are also professing Christians who believe that God is at work in today’s world. Advice might also come from such organizations as National Religious Broadcasters and the Evangelical Press Association.

Meanwhile, until there is a verification procedure, would it be too much to ask for a moratorium on the exploitation of alleged miracles? The genuine wonders would be appreciated more if they were publicized after a period of silence on the subject.

The News Is Good And Getting Better

Statistics tell a story but never the whole story. This is especially true in the Christian missionary enterprise, where the influence of dedicated lives cannot be measured by a mere body count. Some recent statistics are encouraging for the very reason that they do reveal only the tip of the missions iceberg. The new (eleventh) edition of the Mission Handbook from the MARC division of World Vision (see page 52) reports an all-time high North American Protestant missionary force at work abroad. The number is 36,950, about 2,000 more than were listed three years ago in the tenth edition. A healthy 28 per cent are considered to be primarily evangelists or church planters. The contribution made by agricultural and development personnel, literacy and linguistic specialists, and other such workers must not be minimized. But it is heartening to know that more than a quarter of the overseas force has evangelism as its primary assignment.

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For all its value, though, the MARC publication can report only what has already happened. Future possibilities are suggested by statistics from the recent Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention (see January 21 issue, page 38). That meeting’s record attendance was encouraging, and there is further reason for hope in the information recorded on student registration forms. Far and away the first choice of type of service was “church evangelism” (ahead of education, medicine, and all other areas). Another bright spot was the enthusiastic participation by thousands of students from mainline denominations that have been lagging in missionary support. This could be the generation in which the world is finally evangelized!

Getting Philosophers Together

Evangelical scholar H. D. McDonald wisely observes that philosophy is a necessary activity of the human mind. Anyone who questions that probably does not understand the true nature of philosophy. “However much it may be emphasized with Bonaventura that the heart makes the theologians,” says McDonald, “sooner or later head and heart must seek accord” (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church).

Given the pervasiveness of philosophy, we welcome a newly formed association of evangelicals in the field. The Evangelical Philosophical Society was organized in Philadelphia on December 28, 1976. As befits the public image of philosophers as plodders, a month passed before any of the twenty original members got around to telling CHRISTIANITY TODAY about it. Never mind; we rejoice no less. The aim of the EPS is to “encourage and advance scholarly production in any of the areas of philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, apologetics, ethics, and other related areas.” It is a healthful trend that evangelicals are working out their beliefs in the context of their vocations and disciplines.

The society has adopted for itself the very simple and broad statement of faith of the Evangelical Theological Society, with which it will hold joint annual conventions. (The next will take place in San Francisco, December 26–28.) Its first president is Norman L. Geisler, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who is the author of a definitive work on ethics. Gordon Lewis of the Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver is the vice-president and program chairman for the 1977 convention.

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Membership in the EPS is open to teachers and other professional people who are involved in the areas to which the society is dedicated and who have at least an accredited master’s degree in one of the areas or the equivalent in scholarly production. Associate and student memberships are available for those not meeting the regular qualifications. Applications may be obtained from secretary-treasurer Jay Grimstead (2011 Fallen Leaf Lane, Los Altos, California 94022).

“Some of our hopes,” says President Geisler, “include a scholarly journal, monographs, and books, and an employment clearing house for teachers.” And we hope their hopes are realized—with all deliberate speed.

Eli Lilly

The world lost one of the greatest philanthropists of all time when Eli Lilly died last month. He was ninety-one.

By developing and producing medicines, the drug company founded by Mr. Lilly’s grandfather has done much to ease the suffering of humanity. A number of the most widely used of today’s therapeutic drugs originated with the company. Eli Lilly headed the firm for many years and was regarded by those closest to him as a devout Christian.

He did a great deal more, however, by helping to found in 1937 the Lilly Endowment, which over the years has given more than $250 million to a wide assortment of charitable causes. Few foundations distribute more money than this one.

Religious causes have been a specialty with Lilly. Indeed, no other foundation contributes as much to religious causes. Lilly seeks to support a great variety of such efforts, and hundreds of evangelical institutions of one kind or another have benefited. Recently, the Lilly board of directors has noted the need for a strong religious press and not only has given money to sustain it but has brought editors and publishers together to help them deal with economic problems.

Complications In Courtship

It’s official now: presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern) have defeated a proposed new doctrinal basis for the denomination. Approval requires affirmative votes from three-fourths of the district bodies, and more than a fourth have already said no. The final tally is not in, since some of the presbyteries will not vote until late spring, but the contest has been close.

Proponents are not giving up. Albert C. Winn, the former Louisville Seminary president who was chairman of the drafting committee, said the defeat “does not mean the end of the movement for confessional change in our church.” He is one of many in the denomination who are against the three-fourths rule that has effectively blocked major doctrinal and union proposals during the past fifty years. He has made it clear that efforts will be made to change this constitutional provision.

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Not all who voted against the confessional package were opposed to change. J. McDowell Richards, retired president of Columbia Seminary and a former moderator of the denomination’s General Assembly, called for another draft. “There is in our church a tremendous sense of need for a contemporary statement of faith,” he said, “even among those who voted not to approve the new declaration of faith.” He suggested that the current proposal failed because it was not “clear and forceful in dealing with doctrinal and moral issues.”

The close vote, even in the presbyteries that counted a majority for the package, indicates that Southern Presbyterians are, at best, uneasy about adopting the same kind of confessional position embraced in 1967 by the United Presbyterian Church. The statistical decline of the United Presbyterians in the last decade has done nothing to suggest that its theological base is better.

Still ahead is the vote on a plan of union for the nation’s two largest Presbyterian denominations. If the Southern church keeps its three-fourths rule, and if United Presbyterians keep their doctrinal position, the chances for a legal marriage appear to be slim.

Without Benefit Of Clergy—Or Commitment

The figure is out: 1.3 million Americans are living together as couples without being married, according to a new Census Bureau report. That’s double the number reported in 1970 and triple the number reported in 1960. While the proportion of unmarried couples is small, just 1 per cent of all households, the rapid increase is distressing. Earlier non-Christian cultures faded rapidly and disappeared from the earth when they violated one of the basic laws of nature (not to mention the revealed law and will of God).

Couples who live together without the commitment of marriage are compromising their humanity and reducing themselves to a level of pleasure-seeking (or perhaps convenience-seeking) animals. In a book entitled Crisis and Faith (Sanhedrin Press), Eliezer Berkovits put it well:

“The highest form of the personalization of the relationship between a man and a woman finds its expression in their complete dedication to each other. It includes unquestioning trust in each other, the full acceptance of one’s partner in his or her comprehensive humanity. A love that does not have the courage to commit itself ‘forever’ is lacking in trust, in acceptance, in faith. Love fully personalized desires to be final, ultimate. But how can one commit oneself forever? Only by accepting the bondage of the responsibility of the commitment. In the ups and downs, in the struggle of daily existence, the truth and the faith are tested, often as if by fire.”

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Rabbi Berkovits said this in a discussion of “Jewish sexual ethics,” but his comments express the Christian view on this subject as well. And they should be heeded by married as well as unmarried couples. The breakdown of marital commitment shown by the current statistics on divorce and unmarried couples bodes ill for the future of our society as well as for the personal well-being of its members.

Attention Please!

There comes a time in the lives of believers and unbelievers alike when God seems expendable. Noting that things are going along quite well, man, including Christian man, feels quite willing to go it alone.

A case in point is Israel at the time when Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments on the mountain top. God had led this people in a marvelous way. He had drowned their opposition in the Red Sea. He had provided food in the wilderness and had made sure they had water. He had given them shade against the sun and fire against the cold of night. But Moses had been away for only a few days when the Israelites turned away from Jehovah and had Aaron collect gold from which they fashioned themselves a visible god. It was a smashing success.

Their bacchanalian feast was interrupted by the return of Moses. In anger he smashed the tables that had been written by the finger of the Almighty. And God forcefully drew the Israelites’ attention to what they had forgotten—that when man tries to live without God, the result is always disastrous.

The prolonged cold spell in parts of North America can be looked upon as an accident of nature or as a divine reminder that God still calls the signals. Man, no matter how powerful, can be humbled by the weather—by the falling snow, as Napoleon discovered when he invaded Russia, or by the lack of rain or excess of it, or by an unusually bitter winter.

Whenever natural catastrophe struck, the spiritual leaders of our Pilgrim forebears used the pulpits of New England to remind the people that God was at work behind every catastrophe, and that he still spoke not only by the still, small voice but also by the thunder, the snow, the hail, the absence of rain, and if necessary even by death.

The Pharoah was given sign after sign by God, and one after the other the signs were ignored. It was not until the tenth sign came that the Pharoah let God’s people go. Have we too hardened our hearts against God’s message?

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