When evangelist Billy Graham arrived in Cracow, Poland, in October 1978, to preach at Saint Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, he was to have been hosted by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. The cardinal, however, was out of town getting elected Pope. Both spiritual leaders have been wanting to meet each other ever since.
After short visits to Poland and Hungary last month, the evangelist dropped by the Vatican and spoke privately with John Paul II in his library for half an hour. “We are brothers,” said the Pope in welcoming Graham. Both declined to divulge details of their conversation, but an official release said they talked about “inter-church relations, the emergence of evangelicalism, evangelization, and Christian responsibility towards modern moral issues, in light of values of the gospel.”
“We had a spiritual time,” Graham told a press conference later in London. “He is so down-to-earth and human, I almost forgot he was the Pope.”
Their visit was cut short by the Pope’s busy schedule. Prior to the meeting with Graham, he received diplomats from 60 nations and issued a call for the world’s leaders to work for peace. It was a note Graham had sounded in his meetings with government and religious leaders in Poland and Hungary.
The evangelist had been invited to those countries to receive honorary doctor of theology degrees. They were conferred by the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw, the only Protestant university-level theological school in Poland, and the Reformed Theological Academy of Debrecen, Hungary, reputedly the oldest Protestant seminary in the world (it was founded in 1538).
Graham was the first American to be so honored by the Warsaw institution and only the seventh non-Pole in its history to receive an honorary doctorate. (Unlike most American universities, European schools issue honorary degrees sparingly, and only to persons deemed worthy of highest honors.)
In both instances, the degrees were given in recognition of Graham’s ministry and interest in the respective countries. He preached to an open-air crowd of 10,000 and held other meetings in Hungary in 1977, and in 1978 he preached to large crowds in both Catholic and Protestant churches in six Polish cities.
Graham deftly avoided choosing sides in Poland’s internal crisis during last month’s visit there, but he did refer to the nation’s troubles several times publicly and in talks with government and religious leaders. “It is not my intention,” he said, “to intrude in your domestic political affairs: you and you alone must work out solutions.” He said he was “praying that the voices of reconciliation, common sense, and responsible moderation would prevail.”
The evangelist gave major addresses on the church’s mission in the world today to leadership audiences in both countries. He focused on two themes: proclamation and service. Part of the Christian’s service to God and man, he declared, is to work for peace. Among other things, that means working to end the arms race. He did say, however, that he believes in multilateral negotiated disarmament, not unilateral arms reduction. (Sources close to Graham say that Senator Mark Hatfield has influenced Graham’s recent thinking on the arms issue.)
Graham kept returning to an evangelistic theme. War, hate, and greed originate in the heart of man, he declared, “and that is why proclamation of the gospel is so important: man must be born again, he needs a new heart.”
Ramsey, Graham Cambridge Bout Is Gloves-On Affair
The Cambridge University Church of Great Saint Mary’s was packed last month for a dialogue between American evangelist Billy Graham and former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. Each spoke briefly on the subject of “the church’s mission in the eighties,” and a wide measure of agreement was evident between the Southern Baptist and the high church Anglican as they spoke of mission in terms of proclamation and service.
“A caring Christian fellowship,” Lord Ramsey pointed out, “is not only a corollary of proclamation, but a necessary part of it.” In the nicest way, the 76-year-old exprimate pointed out with twinkling eye that the kingdom of God was not “a kind of sanctified American way of life,” and added that he knew Billy was helping people out of that fallacy. Ramsey expressed misgivings also about those who use the formula “the Bible says …” for God used a great variety of literary forms in revealing his truth.
Both speakers spoke strongly on the need to achieve peace in a troubled world. During a period of questions from the floor, Graham outlined his attitude toward those of other faiths. He conceded that an element of truth is found in all religions, but he ruled out any form of Christian syncretism, pointing out the uniqueness of Christ as declared in Acts 4:12.
At one point Lord Ramsey asked Billy Graham if he had found his theological understanding changing during his evangelistic career. Graham admitted that in the early 1950s he tended to identify American nationalism with Christian understanding, but he stressed that his essential message has been unchanged.
On the subject of the World Council of Churches, Graham asked Ramsey if he thought the evangelistic emphasis found at Amsterdam and New Delhi had been maintained. Ramsey replied that while the council had been characterized originally by German theology, Dutch bureaucracy, and American money, it had directed Christian interest into a wider world, and into thinking that the Third World was nearer the center of Christianity than we are. “In doing so,” he commented, “it involved itself in social issues more and more, and in evangelism less and less.”
Billy Graham saw in the WCC a lack of emphasis on the atoning work of Christ, and a certain ambiguity of language. He reminded his hearers that John Mott, father of the modern ecumenical movement, had asked to be remembered as an evangelist.
In closing the 100-minute meeting. Great Saint Mary’s vicar Michael Mayne called it a “marvelous irenic occasion.”
For Billy Graham, it was the last leg of a 24-day journey that had taken him to Poland, Hungary, the Vatican, and (two days earlier) the Royal Albert Hall, London, where he participated with Christian pop singer Cliff Richard in celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Crusade magazine, founded after the evangelist’s first long campaign in Britain.
J. D. DOUGLAS
Independent Black Churches On Their Own Again
The Reformed Independent Churches Association (RICA) had a thriving theological college for training pastors and church leaders. Now it finds its college, the South African Theological College for Independent Churches (SATCIC), the center of a messy controversy involving the South African Council of Churches (an affiliate of the World Council of Churches) and the Christian League of South Africa, a quasi-religious, political organization that has been financed by the former South African Department of Information. Association members have therefore removed themselves from the fray and plan to start all over.
Their story has a long history. RICA was formed by a group of fundamentalist black churches, independent of any mission society. The association members, now numbering some 864 churches with a membership of 2.5 million, were concerned about the lack of sound theological education at an advanced level available to their black pastors and church leaders. The association decided to set up its own school to train pastors and leaders for its churches.
Financing the school was a problem, however, so the association contacted the South African Council of Churches for help. This was readily forthcoming. The school was established at an SACC-owned mission property, Saint Ansgars, west of Johannesburg. Under the leadership of Bishop Isaac Mokoena, it was evidently well on its way.
RICA got something other than what it bargained for. SACC preaches a black liberation theology, which, in South Africa, stands more for political liberation of black people than for spiritual liberation. In fact, a former teacher at the school and RICA executive member, who prefers to remain unnamed, found that most of his students had not experienced salvation, and were not even from RICA-affiliated churches.
How did RICA get itself into such a situation? The same teacher remarks, “Though RICA pastors preach a gospel of salvation by grace through faith, they don’t know much more than that about theology. They know what they don’t want: the patronizing domination of white missions. But beyond that they are easily swayed.”
In this situation, RICA found itself no further ahead in the matter of providing sound theological training for pastors.
At this point RICA fades out of the picture and the SACC and the Christian League—arch enemies—begin to take center stage, apparently played off against each other by the wily Bishop Mokoena.
Besides being college president, Mokoena was also director of church development and on the executive for the SACC. During 1979, he was suspended from both his director’s post and the SACC executive for misappropriating funds.
The SACC took Mokoena to court over his mishandling of funds, but the case was thrown out. The judge called Desmond Tutu, general secretary of the SACC, a “vague, evasive, and contradictory witness who wanted to place his colleague in a bad light.”
The general feeling among staff of the college, however, is that the charge was valid. More than once, they said, their salaries were not paid on time or in full. Yet they knew of the generous grants, the transportation money, and the building funds that church leaders received from Mokoena. They say he had no way of ladling out such grants other than by siphoning off money from his church development department or from the college.
“Mokoena didn’t benefit himself personally with SACC funds,” says the RICA executive member and former SATCIC teacher. “But with these handouts, he managed to keep a large following of loyal church leaders at his side.”
At the time of his suspension from the SACC posts, Mokoena also appropriated the college. In defiance of the SACC and without the knowledge of RICA, he moved the college from Saint Ansgars to space rented from an African Methodist Episcopal school in Evaton, a black township southwest of Johannesburg. Then, since money was no longer available from the SACC, he set about finding funds for the school from other sources.
That is where the Christian League comes in. The league calls itself evangelical. It is strongly anti-liberation theology and pro-government. It has mounted a fund-raising campaign on behalf of SATCIC, saying that, “… the future witness [of the gospel] among blacks in this land lies with these people and others like them.”
What is not very clear is this: Is the Christian League unaware of the bishop’s and the school’s stand on liberation theology? Or has the bishop set aside his liberation theology in order to raise funds?
According to the RICA executive member and former SATCIC teacher, the Christian League must be aware of the bishop’s stand on liberation theology, because, he says, “I personally confronted Fred Shaw, director of the league, with this issue not long ago.” He added, “Bishop Mokoena is a great compromiser. He will preach the gospel of the highest bidder.”
Furthermore, though the Christian League is raising funds on behalf of RICA, it seems unaware that RICA has broken with Bishop Mokoena and SATCIC.
RICA is now making plans to reestablish a theological college that will be truly independent. And it plans to be more selective in seeking donors.
North American Scene
The Unification Church announced the mass engagement of 843 couples during a ceremony in New York presided over by the church’s head, Sun Myung Moon. Many of the participants were strangers until they met their intended spouses on the day of the ceremony. The church says Moon has married 3,300 couples since 1960, with a divorce rate of under 5 percent; they note that arranged marriages have been practiced in various parts of the world for centuries. The engagements took place on New Year’s Day, which is celebrated in the Unification Church as “God’s Day,” one of the church’s two holiest days of the year.
Those wondering how much attention people really pay to witchcraft and the occult might consider this: in 1980, there were 208,302 buyers of the Handbook of Supernatural Powers, which gives directions for casting spells; 91,846 people bought the Magic Power of Witchcraft at $9.98 each; and there are 16,842 members of the Circle of Mystic and Occult Arts Bookclub, which is owned by the Prentice-Hall publishing company. In addition, some 86,000 people paid $8.40 each for genie-in-the-bottle good luck charms, and 339,660 people subscribed to horoscope services, paying between $4 and $10 each. The available mailing lists of names of people involved in the occult now stands at 3.8 million.
The Footing Is Precarious, But Church Inches Ahead
Correspondent Alan Scarfe, who lived in Romania for two years, filed this report after a return visit last October. He is executive secretary of the Orange, California-based Society for the Study of Religion Under Communism.
CHRISTIANITY TODAY news reports occasionally are read with passion by officials in Communist countries. I discovered this during a recent family trip to Romania. The authorities were obviously aware of our presence. They provided a secret escort during our five-day drive through the country. (I now hear of interrogations of those suspected of having had contact with us.)
Two policemen visited our hotel room in Cluj one morning to make inquiries about “certain irregularities.” They escorted me to the local passport office, a deserted suite of rooms downtown. I was politely asked to leave and was told that we would never be allowed to return to Romania. When I asked to know the basis for the decision, I was told that my writings reflected an unreal perspective on the state of religious freedom in the country and therefore was no longer welcome. I replied that rather than risk confirming a person in his alleged misconceptions, the better course of action would be to invite him to see reality more often. They were unimpressed by my argument.
Three years have produced noticeable change. Since 1977 there has been an increasing degree of evangelistic activity, centered in the evangelical churches. Western preachers, too, have become a more common sight. We saw several new churches, opened without authorization by congregations willing to pay large fines to retain possession of their buildings. And we heard of the unauthorized opening of 48 Baptist churches, closed since 1960.
But each change creates new problems. Evangelism has greatly enlarged the congregation of Bucharest’s Mihai Bravu Baptist Church to 800 persons in a building designed for only 300. I preached to a packed congregation sweltering in its own heat at the onset of winter. While the threat of demolition hangs over the building, the authorities give no indication that they will grant permission for relocation. The church looks to Western support to assist it in getting the ear of President Nicolae Ceausescu, since that tactic has proved successful for other churches in similar straits.
The increase in conversions among young people also creates a need for deeper training in discipleship. The Baptist Seminary is limited for the next few years to a reduced new student quota (ostensibly for building code reasons), and the lack of trained leaders will hinder the maturing of the work in the 1980s. Already the dropout rate among young converts is reported to be high. The 1970 gains could, without adequate pastoral programs, be lost in the 1980s.
Emigration of prominent and potential leaders compounds this problem. Emigration is a hot issue for the churches and missions in Eastern Europe today. A number of missionaries who advocate nonemigration may be deluded about how they would react under the same stresses.
Some emigration is encouraged by outsiders. The deplorable aspect of this practice is that the invitees typically are then abandoned by their hosts to make it alone in a land both spiritually and culturally strange.
But many leave because of the hidden realities of daily life in Romanian society. Most are concerned for the future of their children. In a country where nine university faculties—journalism, law, internal law, psychology, education, sociology, economics, philosophy, and history—are closed to believers, such a preoccupation is not surprising. Many of those now coming to the United States are professional people who fought hard to obtain their visas. They knew they might never achieve equivalent status in the U.S., but wished to give their children that opportunity in freedom. A select few have been secretly expelled because of their key activities as believers in Romania. Others are simply tired of fighting and want to settle down.
Emigration is a threat to the churches, but it also represents a danger to the state’s international image, for it reflects the harsh realities of daily life for Romanian believers. Emigrant Romanians are locating near political spheres of influence in the United States, and this cannot be good news for the Romanian government. There is evidence that for this reason the Romanian secret police have intensified supervision of emigrés, and, as one Romanian told me in Bucharest, now have as good a listening post in the West as in Romania itself.
Surveillance continues internally, with three areas of special concern. The first is the Christian Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom (ALRC). Though several times forced to change leadership, the committee still puts out regular monitoring reports of religious discrimination. Its most recent leading spokesmen, Radu Capusan and Dimitrie Ianculovici, are due to emigrate soon. Ianculovici, along with other committee members, was beaten during the winter into renouncing his membership in the committee. Ianculovici is nevertheless actively involved in gathering support for Orthodox priest Gheorghe Calciu, who is seriously ill and serving the second year of his 10-year sentence.
The committee’s growing link with nonevangelical causes is the second area of government concern. In October a small group of young Orthodox priests was held for questioning in Bucharest after being caught petitioning on behalf of Calciu. As long as Calciu remains in prison, he will serve as a catalyst among Orthodox youth and as an embarrassment to apologists for the “Romanian solution” between the Orthodox church and the Romanian government.
Two of Calciu’s associates, Gheorghe Brasoveanu and Ioan Cana, jailed in 1978 for their participation in a free trade union, have now been pardoned. But there are no indications that Calciu will be released. It is possible that he is resisting pressure to emigrate. His reemergence in Orthodox circles could serve as a potent stimulus to his young admirers. It is clear that his spirit has not been broken, though he is critically ill. He went on a nearly fatal hunger strike for three weeks prior to the November Helsinki review conference in Madrid.
The third area of concern is emigration. While the authorities are glad to see the backs of certain citizens, this is not so for everyone. Since last April, more than a dozen believers of Pentecostal and Baptist persuasion have been imprisoned for several months after they requested emigration papers and announced their intentions abroad. There is no pattern discernible in the authorities’ actions, which we must assume are often determined by local conditions. Certainly to appeal abroad for help, especially through Radio Free Europe, is to invite closer scrutiny.
Emigration will probably be the path all Christian committee members will take. It is difficult to predict what difference their absence will make. If they are marginal to the current religious scene, we shall see little change except for a lessening of police activity. The committee has always had the honor of attracting that. But if, as I suspect, they are the voice for a silent majority, which acknowledges their courage but does not always appreciate their way of doing things, then a return to a tighter situation is predictable.
There is evidence this is already the case. In October, two believers were picked up in Moldavia with a cargo of Russian Bibles. By year’s end according to unconfirmed reports, 30,000 Bibles had been confiscated, and up to 35 believers were due for trial in connection with a Bible courier network operating into the Soviet Union.
Elsewhere, eight churches, notably one in Bujac and a second in Motra, which had been closed, are under pressure for opening without permission. Though it is too early to be sure, some speculate a minicentralization campaign akin to that of the early 1960s is under way. The authorities are anxious to show strength in the face of the unceasing tide of religious enthusiasm that has swept the country for the past seven years.
As we left Romania, after an intimidating three-hour search at the border, we pondered the ways Romania’s need for propaganda affirmation and its fear of criticism belied its claim to religious freedom.
The Middle East
Pressured Arab Believers Capitalize On New Openness
Middle East turbulence, with its religious overtones, can exert both negative and positive influences on the church in the Arab world. Egypt’s Coptic church has undergone a wave of persecution by extremist militant groups that in turn was prompted by the Iranian revolution. The continuing warfare in Lebanon, although basically political, is not devoid of religious feeling.
These tensions, plus unrest in and between other Arab countries, are responsible for much of the uncertainty and fear Christians experience. As a result, many church leaders and educated lay members took refuge in the more stable West.
Despite this, the church is growing and new leadership has emerged. Several activities of the church have moved in the direction of self-support, reducing dependency on the Western dollar.
Across the Arab world, evangelists and Christian workers report that both nominal Christians and Muslims are more open than ever before. The demand in Egypt for Bibles exceeds the supply. Moreover, the church there now enjoys more freedom than it has experienced in over 30 years.
Last year churches and mission organizations serving in the area broke new ground in a commitment to reach out to those from contrasting traditions. They sponsored major ministries—many evangelistic in emphasis—whose effect should be felt throughout the decade:
• The film Jesus was screened throughout Lebanon. Thousands of Christians and non-Christians viewed it in churches, schools, and theaters. Campus Crusade for Christ’s Adel Masri coordinated door-to-door visitation by hundreds of young people, who distributed Christian literature and invited people to the film. Scores of conversion professions and hundreds of commitments to study the Bible resulted.
• The Bible Society, under Lucien Accad’s leadership, staged a Scripture distribution campaign last summer in many parts of Lebanon. Young people from several denominations met for training conferences at three points along the Lebanon range and at one in the Bekaa valley, then fanned out to villages and towns, carrying Scripture portions and selections. They reported a good reception in both Christian and Muslim homes.
• Last July, Southern Baptist leaders and pastors—both national and missionary—met in Cyprus for a week of evaluation and planning. The Baptists, led by Finley Graham, agreed to concentrate their efforts on reaching out to the Muslim majority. Task forces and special committees were formed to study and implement specific aspects of that thrust, including improved personnel training and cooperation between Arabs and missionaries, and expansion of student work, hospitals, radio, publications, and correspondence course ministries.
• The Navigators, led by Bob Vidano, lured Arab professionals who have settled down in the West back to the Arab world. The idea was to help them explore job prospects in hopes that they would return and buttress witness to professionals and collegians. Three groups spent time in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt separately, moved on to the other two countries, and then grouped in the mountains of Lebanon with Navigator staff. They shared their observations and impressions and learned how they might support a strategy for evangelism for the region. Such tours could be effective in reversing the brain drain and placing “tent makers” in various Arab world locations.
• In student ministry, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in the Arab world, led by Colin Chapman, brought together some 52 students and graduates from as far away as Morocco and Sudan. Two-thirds of the conferees were at this IFES regional annual conference for the first time.
• A theological education by extension (TEE) conference met during November in Amman, Jordan. Bruce Nicholls, executive director of the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Theological Commission, met with about 15 representatives of evangelical missions and national bodies from Lebanon and Jordan. During the course of the two-day conference, plans were made for organizing an evangelical association for TEE in the Middle East and North Africa. John De Pasquale, Evangelical Free Church missionary to Jordan, was elected to direct the formative stages leading to formal organization in May. Three committees to work on organization, objectives, and a common core curriculum are to report to the group at its next meeting this month, when it is expected that the organizing documents will be finalized for dissemination to potential member groups.
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