Recently Time magazine (Oct. 16, 1964) ran a short article on one of the unusual men of our age, suggesting that he “has emerged as one of the century’s most remarkable prophetic thinkers, an Aquinas of the atomic era.”
In an interesting column we are reminded of the uniqueness of Teilhard du Chardin, Jesuit father who spent long years in Asia and Africa and was forbidden by his Roman Catholic superiors to teach and publish his theories on evolution and theology. Nevertheless during his lifetime he received great renown as a distinguished paleontologist, although his published writings were then restricted to scholarly European journals with comparatively few readers.
Since his death in 1955 du Chardin has been widely ac· claimed. Not a few of his writings have been published and widely read in the United States. Especially his book, The Phenomenon of Man, has created a stir. Herein he reveals himself not simply as a scientist interested in studying the past but especially as a philosopher who presents his views concerning man and the world wherein he lives. It is his understanding that man is continuing to evolve toward the “Omega point,” the ultimate encounter of the human race with the ultimate reality which Christians have denominated “God.” This evolution, which originally manifested itself largely in physical changes and development, now is spiritual. Man has entered what du Chardin has chosen to call the “noosphere,” the realm of the mind or thought or spirit. To demonstrate this the scientist-philosopher points to the overwhelming increase in man’s knowledge of himself, this planet and the universe which characterizes the century in which we are living. This he believed will produce “the eruption of interior life,” a development towards that level on which man will free himself from ancient prejudices and present restraints and move towards the fulfillment of himself. And on the basis of this deep-seated conviction he does not hesitate to divide men into two camps—those who mistrust and fear the future and those who joyfully look forward to it as full of promise for the human race.
Rome during his life-time cast suspicious eyes on Teilhard du Chard in. Now there seems to be a change in attitude. Time informs us that Popes John XXIII and Paul VI have both acknowledged his greatness in private. And more recently at Fordham University he has been publicly acclaimed as “a pioneer in many areas of thought…Of course, some of his terms have to be clarified. But in general his vision seems valid, and a coherent system is being developed out of it.”
All this should not surprise us too much.
Theological journals have been telling us that the days of Barth and Brunner are long gone. Now Bultmann, since recognized as the outstanding theological voice of the century, is losing his influence. In this country the Niebuhrs and Tillich, for quite some years the fair-haired sons, have had their time. With “itching ears” the opinion-makers in the realms of philosophy and theology have been listening for a strikingly new voice. And they seem to have heard such a voice in Teilhard du Chardin.
In view of the growing openness to evolutionary theories concerning man and the world, not only in Protestant but also in Roman Catholic circles, this voice seems to be heard at the right time. From now on our readers will be hearing a great deal more about this thinker. In view of the widespread pessimism concerning man and the world which has corroded the attitudes of the masses and blotted out almost every hope for the future since the atomic bomb first fell on Japan nearly two decades ago, his voice will receive a welcome hearing. The pendulum of non-Biblical thought apparently is swinging again from pessimism to optimism. Man cannot live without hope. And seemingly if he can’t find it, he will somehow contrive to make it.
We do well meanwhile to arm ourselves with the word of God. The challenge to “prove the spirits whether they be of God” is not out-dated. Nor is the solemn declaration of the ancient prophet, centuries older than the warning of the apostle John, “To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. And they shall pass through it, sore distressed and hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and turn their faces upward: and they shall look unto the earth, and, behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away.” (lsa. 8:20–22)
It is this word -old-fashioned according to many who call themselves Christians -which will speak effectively long after the voices of Bultmann, Tillich, Robinson and even Teilhard du Chardin are silenced.
REVIVAL IN RIJSBERGEN…?
Tucked away in a corner of North Brabant, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic province in the Netherlands, is the town of Rijsbergen. During the past two months it has been much in the news.
Here is a small Reformed (Liberated) congregation. Some years ago it was organized as an independent church by a few members who had been affiliated with the mother-church in the large city of Breda, five or six miles away. Within a comparatively short time the number of its members tripled, the congregation increasing from some thirty to over one hundred. Even more, this increase is accounted for largely by those who have transferred their ecclesiastical affiliations from other Reformed denominations and even from the Roman Catholic Church. This increase already is worthy of note in view of the fact that other Reformed congregations in that province have failed to make such rapid strides.
What has gained attention, however, is not so much this amazing growth. Rather, this has been occasioned by the transformation of the pattern of ecclesiastical life in the Rijsbergen congregation. All the traditional patterns seem to have been broken.
We are informed that no longer docs one have to be an ordained minister to preach the word or administer the sacraments in Rijsbergen. Nor in the absence of a minister do the elders read a sermon. Catechism preaching, long held in great honor in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, has been discarded. Even more strikingly, no distinction is made in official ecclesiastical standing between children and adults. The former participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the latter. Parents, indeed, are supposed to tell their little ones what the significance of this sacrament is. And on this basis the table stands open for all. In consequence, catechetical classes have been discarded. By the members this is explained as a return to the simple structure of ecclesiastical life which prevailed in the days of the apostles. What obtains in Rijsbergen, however, is not the result of a carefully formulated plan to so direct congregational life. It is explained rather as a spontaneous development wherein the guidance of the Holy Spirit is markedly evident.
Meanwhile members of sister-congregations are by no means happy about this amazing development. And this, to be sure, can well be understood. On nearly every score the congregation of Rijsbergen has broken the rules of the Church Order, the instrument in accordance with which the congregations have pledged to govern themselves and thus promote their denominational unity. What the other congregations, either singly or through classis and synod, will say about all this is as yet uncertain. But it can hardly be expected that Rijsbergen will be allowed to go its own way.
In Rijsbergen these changes are hailed as evidences of true reformation and revival.
Possibly our Reformed brethren and sisters there would be well advised to learn some lessons from church history. Not too many centuries ago, when the Reformation was first introduced into the Netherlands, innumerable small companies of Anabaptist believers arose. These, too, insisted on returning to the pattern of the New Testament congregations. In them they claimed to find a freedom of the Spirit which contrasted so sharply with the ministries and orders and regulations of the church from which they had freed themselves. It took less than a few decades before these congregations fissured again and again. In some of them a tyranny worse than that experienced under the yoke of medieval Romanism arose. In others moral laxity reared its ugly head. Not a few were plagued by ancient heresies which appeared in more modem dress. And the end of the story was that in large measure the more sober Anabaptists were won over to the Reformed faith with its recognition of the need for a common confession and church order. What perhaps may seem like revival and renewal in Rijsbergen today may not look much like this five or ten years hence.