From December 8 through 20, 1963, an important meet· ing is scheduled for Mexico City. At that time the Com· mission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council .of Churches will hold its sessions. It will be a successor to the great series of world missionary conferences held in the past — Edinburgh, Jerusalem, Tambaram, Whitby, Willingen and Ghana.
Those who have prepared these meetings look for great things.
Among other things they promise that this commission “will look at the missionary task from a new angle. It will not only represent six continents, but it will face six continents. It, will be concerned as much with the witness of the Christian Church in Detroit as in Dahomey, as much with the pagans in Europe as with the pagans in New Guinea…We are concerned with what God is doing—his mission: we ask ‘How can we, as God’s people, together take the part he has prepared for us in his mission to this new age which he has given us with all its daunting and alluring possibilities? What does it mean for us together, in this shrinking planet from which men are reaching out to the moon and the stars, to proclaim the Gospel to all men that they may be saved?’”
In order that many who cannot be present may still participate to a degree in this undertaking, the committee has prepared for wide distribution a pamphlet. It consists of “An Invitation to Bible Study” and asserts that “the foundation of the work to be done by the meeting in Mexico City will be the study of ten biblical words. We hope that by means of this study we shall be helped to see the world missionary task today in the perspective of God’s saving revelation of himself to men.” Studies in the ten selected Biblical words, prepared by Hendrik Berkhof and Philip Potter who will be the Biblical expositors at the meeting, are included in the pamphlet.
These words are basic to any Biblical understanding of world Christian missions.
These words are: Create, Covenant, Reconciliation, Mighty Acts, Reveal, Householders, New Creation, Holiness, Witnesses, the Summing-Up of all Things. Here is, to use a phrase made popular by one of the books of Karl Barth, a “dogmatics in outline.”
In this pamphlet, to be sure, there are “slants” with which we who cherish the historic Christian faith as embodied in the confessional standards will disagree. Yet it is heartening to note that missionary leaders are willing to grapple with basic Biblical and theological issues. Fervently we pray that those who raise the fundamental questions which are involved will reverently let the Scriptures give them the answers so sorely needed. Then, to be sure, something good will come out of Mexico City. Meanwhile we eagerly await a report on these sessions by our esteemed correspondent and colleague in Mexico City, the Rev. Roger Greenway who is serving as professor in the John Calvin Theological Seminary of that city.
THE VATICAN COUNCil AND THE CULT OF MARY…
In recent decades a new wind is blowing within the Roman Catholic Church.
What had long been discussed privately among Roman Catholic theologians, bishops and priests is now being brought out in the open. Many Protestants are surprised and even shocked that some of the doctrines and practices which they thought were unassailable within that church are open to debate. Bible reading apparently will receive much greater encouragement. Preaching is now supposed to take place at every celebration of the Mass. More significance is being attached to the role of laity within the church’s life.
In a similar vein the Vatican Council seems ready to reassess the place which the Virgin Mary has traditionally occupied within Roman Catholicism.
In recent sessions two Latin American prelates warned that the excessive veneration accorded to Mary was a threat to sound spirituality within their lands. Thus they urged the Council to define more precisely and pointedly the devotion which may properly be accorded to her. Both Cardinal Henriquez of Santiago, Chile, and Bishop Sergio Mende-.l Area of Cuernavaca, Mexico, spoke on the danger of “excessive and sentimental devotion” to the mother of our Lord. One council source went so far as to claim that this devotion “has in some cases gone so far as to make her a goddess who displaces Christ. People ask her directly for favors, and pray to her instead of Christ.” Much of this criticism was aired on the final day of a discussion on the “schema” (subject) of the nature of the church. After this discussion the Council accepted the “schema” for a more detailed consideration by a vote of 2,231 to 43, with only 27 of the church fathers abstaining.
The veneration of Mary has long been a stumbling-block to evangelical Christians. To them it robs our Lord Jesus Christ of his unique position as “our one, only, all-sufficient Mediator and Redeemer.” We rejoice that seemingly the eyes of some Roman Catholic prelates are being slowly opened to this evil within the church.
One swallow, indeed, does not make a summer. Therefore we do well to withhold any judgment on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church will return to a more Scriptural position. None of us can know at this time whether growing dissatisfaction with the unwarranted honors paid to the Virgin Mary springs from a genuine desire to live by the Word of God or from a passionate concern to increase the church’s power by making it easier for some segments of Protestantism to unite with Rome. Meanwhile we do well to pray that the Spirit of truth may open the eyes of multitudes within that church to the glory and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom alone there is salvation.
A NOVELIST SPEAKS ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY…
Graham Greene is a well-known British novelist. He is also a Roman Catholic. Recently he has stirred up controversy because of his defense of the Castro regime as providing “the proper climate for creativity” in the island of Cuba.
Some time ago he wrote Our Man in Havana. More recently in a radio broadcast from Havana he criticized the American bishops of the church to which he belongs for their “false campaign about supposed religious persecution in Cuba.” He asserted that he had not found the slightest evidence of such persecution during his stay there. This conflicts flagrantly with the many other reports which have filtered out of that unhappy land to be published in our newspapers, magazines and religious periodicals. But both because of his stature as a writer and because of his personal presence in Cuba. his words have carried much weight with some people.
What is at stake, of course, is a proper definition of religious persecution.
This is a major issue in our day. Not only in Communist lands but also in countries where the Roman Catholic Church is a force to be reckoned with. there is oppression which to all right-thinking Americans can only be construed as a form of religious persecution.
For his report on conditions in Cuba The Christian Century has taken Graham Greene to task. According to the editor this novelist in his analysis has made himself guilty of “a double error.” This is explained in some detail. “He (i.e. Greene) assumes that since the situation is not as bad as it could be it is therefore not at all bad. and he assumes that freedom of worship is the whole of religious liberty.” Early in the revolution under Castro, so the article continues, all Roman Catholic and Protestant parochial schools were nationalized. Such properties as were used for these schools have been confiscated. To date they have not been restored. Also, the churches are under such constraint, that they can no longer function effectively as the conscience of the nation. In no way are they permitted to criticize in the light of God’s revealed will any government policies and acts. The elaborate espionage system which is in effect there has restrained religious leaders from criticizing the government even in private conversation. This compels the editor to conclude, “Apparently the novelist…does Dot know the meaning of religious freedom.”
With this judgment we agree.
There is, however. something more fundamental which the article has failed to mention. How can Greene, committed as he claims to be to the Roman Catholic faith, so misinterpret the nature of religious freedom? To us the answer is quite apparent In spite of what the American bishops have said in their criticism of Castro’s policies and thus in defense of freedom for the Christian religion, Greene apparently mirrors the official position of his church more accurately than some of its high-ranking hierarchy. The Roman Catholic Church itself speaks too equivocally on the whole issue. The actions which it protests when speaking of Cuba are precisely the same as the injuries and insults which evangelical Christians have been suffering at the hands of this church and its influential representatives, either directly or indirectly, in such lands as Italy, Spain and Colombia. On those incidents, which have often cost the lives of preachers and lay people upon several occasions, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is strangely silent. Greene in refusing to admit the presence of religious persecution in Castro’s Cuba is simply applying a definition of “religious liberty” which he has learned only too well from his own church.