Repeated allegations of adultery have been made against the general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (see News, March 24, page 46). They recall similar charges of homosexual activity made against the leader of Christian Crusade, a Tulsa-based movement that is one of the world’s most prominent anti-Communist organizations (see March 26, 1976, issue, page 38). In both cases those accused declined to admit their guilt, despite considerable indications that the charges had a substantial basis in fact. Instead they chose to counterattack by saying that their enemies had concocted or exaggerated the tales, not because their sense of sexual morality was offended, but because they opposed the social and political stances of the respective leaders.
One of the men is black, the other white. One is a strong backer of “liberation theology” and would probably not object to being labeled as a political leftist. The other is about as far right politically as any American public figure. Neither of them seems to understand that there are many Christians who think that, whatever a man’s social and political views, he is accountable for obeying the standards of sexual conduct that are clearly revealed in God’s Word. If they disagree with these standards in theory or in practice they should feel free to say so. After all, whole denominations are giving consideration to repudiating the biblical teaching against homosexual practices.
Of course, as a consequence of speaking honestly they should not be surprised if support is withdrawn by those who think that spokesmen for social and political righteousness should be examples of personal uprightness as well. It is true that ideas need to be evaluated separately from the characters of those who advocate them. Liberation theology, militant anti-communism, and other ideologies should be defended or refuted on other grounds than the morality or immorality of their advocates or opponents. Although ideas should be evaluated on their own merits, it is both biblical and practical for advocates of those ideas to conduct themselves in such a way as not to draw attention to themselves and away from the cause they champion.
Fighting Violence With Violence
“They are going to kill somebody,” a potential victim exclaimed. A colleague added, “These are serious, horrible crimes that are being committed.”
The vandals (and potential killers) those people fear have already done perhaps a million dollars worth of damage, and some people have been injured as a result of their tactics. They have thrown bombs, broken windows, set fires, damaged equipment, jammed locks, fired bullets, and defaced walls. Worse, the demonstrators have threatened to kill some of the people they oppose or to kidnap their children. And, as is so often the case, these acts are done in the name of morality or of religion.
Why is this happening, and where? Abortion clinics and related agencies across the country are the sites of this vandalism. Some prolife people have resorted to violence in their desperation to get a public hearing. The prochoice forces, led by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in Washington, D.C., have begun an impressive public relations counteroffensive. Their recent report, “Violence Against the Right to Choose,” lists six burnings, two other violent attacks, and incidents of trespassing at six other facilities. NARAL describes the catalogue as a “list of some of the worst politically motivated violence of the decade.”
We agree that the whole picture is ugly and that some of the crimes are horrible. As much as we sympathize with the prolife cause, we cannot justify these violent demonstrations. And we call upon prolife activists to resist violence, or their arguments will not ring true. They are, after all, opposing violence and what they consider antilife actions. They want to stop the wholesale killing of thousands of fetuses. How can they champion the rights of the unborn while endangering the rights and lives of the living?
This is an intellectual and legal struggle. The last word has not yet been said in the legislatures and the courts. The prolife side has had some significant victories, though it has lost some big cases. This is no time for resignation or despair. The abortionists are on the defensive as they try to get help from courts and legislatures across the country. NARAL’s news release accompanying the report on violence spoke of the “callous” and “cruel” attackers of the clinics. Prolifers should not want to show any of the callousness that abortionists exhibit daily.
The Gospel Of Razzmatazz
Evangelicals have never been so numerous; the impact of Christian values on society has seldom been less. Within evangelicalism itself, scarcely ever has there been so much activity, but seldom ever has it amounted to less. Is this, one wonders, a tale signifying nothing, though full of sound and fury?
The current impotence of evangelicalism in the face of our secular culture can be analyzed from many angles, but one aspect that should not be overlooked is the level of spirituality within evangelicalism. It is possible, after all, that God might have got a bit lost in all the razzmatazz. That is a sobering thought.
For some people, such a discovery will only prove a spur to excited action rather than an occasion for serious reflection. This, they will say, is a problem like any other problem. If attacked head on with a combination of organization and perspiration it will be solved. What we need, they will say brightly, is the right alignment between dynamic leaders, new building programs, a greater saturation of the air waves, and perhaps a more extensive media blitz. In other words, spirituality and technology not only have much in common but function in the same way, that the mentality of the latter is needed to cure the ailments of the former.
What these engineers of men and causes actually succeed in doing, however, is dissecting the church’s inward and outward lives. They do so believing that if the outward one is managed, packaged, and streamlined properly that the inward one will take care of itself. Consequently, we have come to imagine that the saint and the intellectual are different people, that you can have faith without reflection, action without conscience, preaching without the Word, the Gospel without cost, and worship without God.
At a conscious level we all know that this is not so. Nevertheless, that is the unconscious result of applying a technological mind-set to Christian spirituality. Our functional attitudes are an exposition, however unwittingly, of our real perceptions of what God is like. And the tale they tell is not always a happy one. Some years ago, A.W. Tozer declared that the understanding of God then current in the church was “so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God.” He went on to say that the words “Be still and know that I am God” had become meaningless to the bustling, self-confident Christians he knew. They were more interested in living the victorious Christian life than in knowing God.
Given this kind of vacuum at the center of Christian life, it is never long before God, instead of standing in awesome majesty before the believer, is reconstructed in the believer’s image. The very attitudes that should then be challenged and changed are simply accepted as normal and given divine sanction.
How this happens is always easier to see in others. The nineteenth-century Hegelians, for example, imagined that God was so enamored of their philosophy that he would never do anything in the world that reflected adversely on it. The God of the Protestant liberals was himself apparently a liberal Protestant. He, too, was rationalistic, believed as little in miracles as they did, and otherwise showed himself to be Germanic. To the revolutionary theologians of the Third World, God is also a revolutionary, a Che Guevara writ large, who is as involved as they are in overthrowing the people in power. Biographers are not immune from this tendency either. It is not difficult to see in the Jesus of The Man Who Died many of the inanities that characterized the life of its author, D. H. Lawrence. And Lord Beaverbrook, the English press magnate, perceived in the Galilean’s teaching all of those business virtues that made his own enterprises such a dazzling success. The tendency to look down the long well of human history and see one’s own face reflected at the bottom is not merely a failing of others, however; it is often ours, as well.
We cannot call “God” by shouting “man” in a loud voice, Karl Barth rightly observed. God is not simply the magnification of our own evangelical mentality; he is, in fact, very different from it. The failure to recognize this, to see that God is often being colored by our own cultural norms and expectations, removes from our faith its real cutting edge. A cultural Christ can neither change those who follow him nor the culture of which he is a reflection. P. T. Forsyth observed that “the non-theological Christ is popular, he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.”—DAVID WELLS, professor of church history, Trinity Seminary, Deerfield, Illinois.
Christians in Communist Lands
Western churches concerned with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union need to examine the misleading or simplistic impressions that they are conveying to others about the churches in Communist countries.
First, avoid loaded words that conjure up feelings of hatred and animosity and that perpetuate suspicion and fear. What is the emotional intent when such words as enemy, communism, the Iron Curtain, and war are used repeatedly? Can we not instead focus on the working of the sovereign God in history? The church needs to ask whether the published and the spoken word stirs up feelings of hatred or love, fear or concern, the spirit of antagonism or friendship. Fear psychology should not be part of a Christian’s fund-raising tactics. Genuine concern for the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union can be more positively demonstrated.
The beautiful story of the faith of the Hungarian Christians has not yet been written. The movement of God in present day Slovakia remains to be told. The warm generous people of the Eastern bloc of nations has yet to be portrayed. The vibrant moving of a neo-Protestant force within socialism has yet to be examined.
Second, recognize that paternalism is still a Western attitude toward Eastern churches; this includes using people for personal ends. Churches and missions need to guard against favoritism, of selecting young leaders and spoiling them with gifts or with temptations of Western education.
A certain Baptist leader from Eastern Europe recently stated, “There is need to educate our own people here in our own country. Help us with our own country. Help us with our own theological schools. Young people who are taken abroad for education are lost to the national churches from whence they came. Western educated and oriented youth lose their national identity and roots.” He added that “Foreign missions sometimes spoil our best potential leaders. Instead of working through the existing churches and chosen leadership, missions come independently and carry off the cream of our young leaders by private appeals and educational opportunities which cannot be resisted. Some groups have tended to choose their own young leaders and make them their own private representative in a given country. The loyalty of such leaders will then reside in the West and not in the national church body.”
Men like Georgi Vins of the Soviet Union have expressed surprise by the excessive publication of their plight. Some people have tried to get him and others released. Other people have exploited Vins’s imprisonment for capital gain. When an organization chooses to excessively promote those who are jailed for their faith, we must question their motives. Are they seeking to give the impression that this reflects the whole life of believing Russia? The most recent statistics say that there are probably less than sixty-eight Baptist religious prisoners in the Soviet Union against a growing membership of roughly 1 to 3 million. The stereotype prison image of the church in Russia, and we assume of Eastern Europe, needs the balanced presentation between its martyrs and its ever increasing hosts of believers who flood the ranks of ordinary Russian citizenry. The effect of Russia’s silent believers and their small group witness is yet unmeasured.
Third, many western Christians need to repent of fund-raising efforts based on an overemphasis on the suffering of Christians in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The impression is that the average Christian then suffers intense persecution. Sometimes the newsworthy representation of Christians under pressure loses its credibility through commercial overstatement. Is it possible to glamorize suffering? Two questions need to be asked: Are we presenting the whole truth about the state of the church in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union? And, what percentage of funds ostensibly raised for those who are suffering for their faith ever reaches those individuals or groups?—C. RICHARD SCHUMAKER, Institute of Slavic Studies, Wheaton, Illinois.
Donald McGavran, senior professor of mission, Fuller seminary, Pasadena, California.
When our Lord said, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” he knew that the forces of evil would war against the church. Wherever the church is found, it is engaged in a life and death battle against evil.
It is often suggested that there are better ways of improving society than through the influence of the church. But the fact is that wherever the church is firmly planted, life becomes more honest, more just, more humane, and more reasonable. Darkness recedes; righteousness flourishes. Communities become happier places in which to live. This is necessarily so, because the church is the Body of Christ. The church’s standard of goodness is not imposed on it by the culture, nor is it a human construction, but rather it is an absolute standard of the Lord.
The church improves society. When Eskimos became Christians, the first thing they did was to stop killing off their aged parents. When certain tribes of Zaire became Christians, they ended constant warring against their neighbors. As communities on the American frontier became Christians, they began schools and colleges.
Much of the attack on the church today is because it has not yet solved social evils that until recently were not even recognized as evil. Imperialism—the rule of the weak by the powerful—was the principle according to which hundreds of Indian kingdoms rose and fell over the millenia. England’s rule was simply one more in the sequence. Only recently has imperialism been recognized by the West as an evil. Only where the church is strong is the basic question ever raised as to whether it is pleasing to God for strong foreigners to rule weak nations.
Racism also was just a fact of life. The Normans conquered the Saxons in 1066 and for a couple of hundred years Saxons were called “Saxon swine.” Their girls were fair game for any Norman soldier. The caste system of Hinduism legalized and sanctified race prejudice. Despite a few minor adjustments, the caste system still rules India. Of every ten thousand marriages, only three are across caste lines. In most castes, anyone marrying outside the caste is promptly ostracized and declared dead.
The church recognizes racism as a sin and is warring against it. This is cause for rejoicing. Only slovenly provincial thinkers would castigate the church for what it is doing. It could be doing more, of course; who couldn’t? But that it is doing anything is a miracle.
To be sure, Christians grant that though their standard is perfect, they are imperfect. Fallen men with faltering faith, imperfectly understanding God’s Word and subject to the weaknesses of the flesh, never completely live up to the divine standard. The empirical church, the flesh and blood church, the English or Chinese or German Church, is the imperfect church. It sometimes disobeys its Lord. Yes, the church, and even more the empirical churches of which it is composed, never live up to its full potential.
Legitimate questions may be raised. For example, one could ask about churches that are in league with oppressive governments, churches that closed their eyes to Hitlerian genocide, or churches that were built by slave labor.
I, too, long for the liberation from sin and Satan that ought to be evident and is not. I, too, see the mighty strength of the church and proclaim that much more should be spent in evangelism and in social action. Yet despite my dismay and impatience, I must confess that the church is still the most potent instrument for social advance that the world has seen. I know of nothing exceeding her in the world today.
It amuses me that anyone can think that the Communists now carry the torch for social advance. They have simply created a new set of masters in every country where they rule. They slaughter or force into exile the former masters, setting themselves up in their places. When Baasha killed King Nadab of Israel at Gibbethon and mounted the throne, he immediately “killed all the house of Jereboam; left to the house of Jereboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it” (1 Kings 15:29). The same process continues to this day. When the Communists captured Cambodia, it appears that they killed a fourth of the people.
The basic cause for such action is not that the Communists are worse than other men. It is simply that all men, as long as they make and follow moral codes of their own and worship gods that they have devised, will do what is right in their own eyes. Only the church has a standard that God has revealed to men.
I write forthrightly because many Christians, and I myself on occasion, find it easy to castigate the church for its failures and to minimize its successes. It would take too long to recount the social advances that the last hundred years have seen: the end of slavery, the institution in nation after nation of universal education, the end of European empires, the spreading of convictions concerning the rights of common men, the spread of a humane system of punishment, the recognition of the rights of women, children, and racial minorities, and on and on.
When you compare the lot of the dark-skinned citizens of Brazil with the dark-skinned of the United States, you see that in the states the racially disadvantaged have a substantial number of educated, able men and women openly pleading their cause and fighting their battles, though in Brazil the dark-skinned have few educated advocates. Why? Churches in the states since 1865 have carried out two great redemptive actions. First, in scores of institutes and colleges they made education available to multitudes of freed slaves. It is easy to scorn this and say it was too little; but it was much more than was done in Brazil for the racially oppressed. Second, since 1865 the churches among the freed slaves have multiplied and have formed themselves into large denominations whose ministers have become powerful spokesmen for their people.
Can there be any doubt that on the purely empirical level, there is nothing that offers a better hope for social reconstruction, for ethical advance, for the removal of oppression, for the liberation of men as individuals, groups, and nations than the Gospel? I affirm this without hesitation on biblical, theological, and empirical grounds.
Every great awakening of the church has been followed by great social advance. The Wesleyan revival not only multiplied churches and spread believers around the globe, but it multiplied social conscience and opened millions of believers to God’s radiant sunshine. In that clear light they saw that child labor in the mines was abhorrent to God. They discerned that drunkenness was against God’s will. They freed slaves. They rejoiced in honest rights and measures. Multiplication of churches necessarily means multiplication of godly convictions about how we—under today’s circumstances with today’s resources—are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
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