1963 – A Year to Remember

These closing days of 1963 give us pause to reflect on the road along which mankind has been traveling with breathless pace.

No date is so sharply etched in our memories as Friday. November 22. when the president of the United States of America was slain by a cruel and cowardly assassin. That event and its aftermath moved millions. especially when television brought the tragic tale into countless homes throughout the world. Churches were thronged with multitudes of all ages and stations in life to beseech Almighty God to sustain a bereaved family, to support a new president in a role suddenly forced upon him. to strengthen a nation which felt the whiplash of lawlessness sweeping across its land.

In the events of 1963 the Christian churches also played their role.

During January Time named Pope John XXIII “the man of the year”… and six months later reported the death of this man who in the discharge of his office had influenced millions.

Since then the Vatican Council resumed its sessions in Rome and drew attention everywhere. One Protestant guest-observer. Dr. Stanley I. Stuber summarized his reactions to the conclave by stating that although it “has gone a long way in trying to explain and accommodate certain doctrines and dogmas. nevertheless it has not eliminated any of them. and they remain as a great wall separating the three great divisions of Christendom.”

Religious persecution struck in widely separated lands.

The repression of the Buddhists in Viet Nam aroused the indignation of many. Out of this vortex came the assassination of the president and his influential brother, a new regime and. hopefully, some better days for a people so sorely plagued by national and international pressures.

Only shortly ago a British tourist returned from Russia and produced in London a detailed document which he had carried with him. It described “dreadful persecution” and was signed by a group of “parishioners and pilgrims” of the Orthodox Churches throughout Russia. In the Tarnopol region, it affirmed, monks of the ancient Pochayev monastery were being ruthlessly oppressed by the Soviet secret police. Churches and monasteries were ordered closed and destroyed in Byelorussia. Parents who sought religious education for their children were persecuted. Clergymen were forbidden to conduct religious services. Students for the priesthood in that area were harassed and intimidated.

The Vatican expressed alarm at deteriorating conditions in Red-controlled Poland. Less than half of the bishops were granted the visas needed to permit them to travel to Rome for the council. Young men training for the priesthood in Warsaw and elsewhere were being called up for military service, even though the Church-state agreement signed in 1950 expressly exempted them.

In Colombia Victor Mendez, principal of a Bogota public school and a recent convert to the evangelical faith. lost his position because of the pressure of a priest. He was locked in an offiee for over two hours by the priest and later arrested and jailed by the police. Since millions of American dollars have been poured into the Colombian school system. the National Association of Evangelicals registered its protest at once with the State Department

Meanwhile. in an age when religion and morality were reaching new lows. the Supreme Court of the United States banned prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. This touched off a tidal wave of contradictory reactions. In several places school boards decided to continue a timehonored practice, even though this is now contrary to law. Others. more aware of their responsibility to respect the laws of the land, are encouraging citizens to protest the decision of judges who apparently reflected the temper of their times more than the Constitution which they are pledged to interpret for a confused age.

In Baltimore. MD, a new suit has been filed by Mrs. Madalyn E. Murray. an avowed atheist and a central figure in the decision to ban prayers and Bible reading in the public schools. She contends that by granting tax exemption to churches the state is compelling her to support the religious institutions and practices of others through the higher taxes she must pay. This suit is scheduled for a hearing during January. Newsmen there have been busy computing the taxes which some churches may have to pay, if tax exemption is now ruled unconstitutional. The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (Roman Catholic) may be assessed as much as $287,000 annually; the Grace Methodist Church some $23,359; the Har Sinai congregation (Jewish ) some $43,5&3. Meanwhile the Central Presbyterian Church of Des Moines, Ia., is reserving up to $4,000 in its proposed budget for 1964 to be paid to the city “in lieu of taxes” and in support of the services which it is receiving.

The book of the Anglican bishop of Woolwich, entitled Honest to God, was one of several which made news throughout the world. It was an attack on the Scriptural view of God, life and the world as commonly conceived by Christian believers. Here was another attempt by certain churchmen in responsible positions to make the Christian gospel more palatable to modem man. Secular forces have become increasingly strong within the churches. These have taken the offensive also throughout 1963 to contribute to what someone has rightly called a “revival-in-reverse.”

The campus ministries of several major denominations in the United States came under sharp fire. Yet to date little has been done to clean house and return to the Scriptures. Much of this must be attributed to false philosophical conclusions drawn from man’s scientific exploration and research. Churches still claiming to maintain the historic Christian confessions are discovering that this deadly poison is sapping the spiritual convictions and commitments of many students who are being trained in colleges, universities and seminaries, not the least in those with some denominational affiliations.

The situation looks dark, indeed, in these closing days of 1963.

Those who take their stand unreservedly on the Scriptures find themselves increasingly embattled. But large numbers of well-meaning believers hesitate to take their stand publicly for the faith once-for-all-delivered to the saints. They plead for a peace within the walls of the church which is incompatible with the church’s essential calling to manifest herself as “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Today, as Prof. Jan Waterink observed in Centraal Weekblad some months ago, few appear willing to recognize “heresy” for what it is and, if need be, to press charges against those who proclaim another “gospel.”

But the picture is by no means only dark Above and with and in the church is always the living Christ ever engaged in saving his own by his word and Spirit. In accents strong and sweet he gives his encouragement: “…see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass…” Upon “a white horse” and armed with a bow and adorned with a crown which no one can remove from his brow the Savior-King “goes forth conquering and to conquer” amid all the confusion, contradiction and chaos of our age. To him we are joined in love. To him we lift up our hearts in faith. To him we look for complete victory in the day of his appearing. Therefore also 1963—with all its shadow and its sunshine—remains enshrined in our souls as “the year of our Lord!”