The moral and spiritual order that for many centuries patterned most of the western world has been fast breaking down. This process, indeed, has been going on for many generations. Today we are reaping a whirlwind which the wind of earlier questioning and rejecting of the true foundations of life had sown. It is to such a situation, and to men who are becoming increasingly aware of the seriousness of this situation, that Christ’s church is called to speak.
The challenge is plain enough. In dealing with it a few months ago in The Christian Vanguard, Louis Tamminga wrote, “The inner dynamic of God’s ‘Word can only be unleashed to the nation when it stems from serious communal reflection and discussion.”
Few would care to argue with this position. A church which speaks a confused language -and this seems to be so much the case—will only confuse still more those who listen. Only when the church has engaged herself in the holy task of seeking to understand what God is saying through his Word to our age and thereupon attempts to formulate what she believes does she deserve a hearing.
Now Dr. Bernard Zylstra takes up the underlying issue. Is the Christian community as church able to so reflect and discuss today?
In the January 1965 issue of the same periodical he begins his consideration of this question under the theme Reflections on the Church. His first article addresses itself to “a number of obstacles which hinder true reflection and discussion in the Christian church today.” These ought not be taken lightly.
Tracing the climate in which the church lives, he writes, “Thirdly, common reflection and response to the Gospel were hindered by the over-emphasis upon the institutional aspect of the church. The church is indeed an institute; it is a social community, with a certain structure, a hierarchy of office-bearers, pastors, and priests, synods and assemblies. But the church is much more than that: it is the body of Christ, the redeemed, the order of new men and women sent out into the whole world, in all of life’s dimensions, as the salt of the earth. The church as body of Christ is thus much broader than the church as an ecclesiastical institution. The narrowing of the former to fit the shapes of the latter makes it nearly impossible to understand the full breadth and depth of the Word for the totality of human life. For then the body shrinks into a skeleton, into the dry bones of Ezekiel.
“Finally, this very institutionalizing of the church disarms the ‘laity’ as soldiers in Christ’s army… This had the effect that the lay-Christian was excluded from the dialogue with God’s Word, since the clergy, both pastor and theologian, had to interpret the Word for the ordinary member of Christendom. The idea that some members of the church are specially equipped to reflect upon God’s Word makes it hard even to understand it, and to listen to in the way the Word wants to be heard…
As Reformed churches which theoretically have always affirmed the spiritual maturity of Christian believers and their competence to know what God says to them in his Word, we do well to engage in some serious self-examination on this score.
We may deplore the fact that many church members are only moderately interested, if at all, in serious Bible study. But we must do more than this. Is it true that also among us the ministers and theologians have helped to create and sustain the thoroughly unbiblical notion that only “theologians by profession” really know what the Bible says and means? If we have, we are hard at work tearing down that which God intends and requires. We are taking the Bible away from the believing community. And when we do this, we need not be surprised that even within the· church we are no longer taken seriously. We have taken away that by which alone the Spirit feeds the life of the church. In doing this we will be lining ourselves up with the medieval hierarchy… with the Pharisees and the scribes in the days of our Lord Jesus Christ.
TWO ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS ON MYTH…
Protestants often naively assume that all Roman Catholic theologians must and do believe basically the same things. We find. therefore. rejoicing among evangelical Christians when they hear that within the Roman church there is serious Scripture study. What seems to be forgotten is that this church through these studies is compelled to face a growing disagreement and disunity. Despite all the doctrinal pronouncements which have been issued and to which all the clergy are supposed to give allegiance, Rome has its liberals and existentialists and deniers of the fundamentals much like many of the Protestant churches.
Evidence of this was again provided in a lively debate just before Christmas by two prominent Roman Catholic theologians in Chicago. It concerned the historical aspects of the Christmas story. A brief account is found in Christian Century, February 4, 1965.
Fr. Francis L. Filas, chairman of Loyola University’s department of theology, “declared in n public address that Christians have over-romanticized the account.” He believes that the inn-keeper did not actually fail to provide lodging for Joseph and Mary. This “would be contrary to Oriental hospitality.” Moreover, he considered Mary “unbelievably irresponsible” in undertaking the journey to Bethlehem. “So many myths and legends have clustered around the account, he said, that a more realistic view is called for.”
Objections were immediately presented by Fr. Casimir F. Kuszynski, chairman of the department of classical studies at De Paul University. He urged that innkeepers always required payment in advance. Also, he suggested that news of the census reached Nazareth so late that the trip had to be taken forthwith. But whether he based his position on faith in the accuracy of the Biblical record is far from clear. Says the reporter, “He pointed out that the apostolic Fathers did not consider the events to be ‘myths’ and besides, myths ‘always have a foundation in fact.’”
A CHRISTIAN LOOKS AT POP ART…
Today we are witnessing a new trend in modern art. Suddenly it has appeared on the scene, much to the bewilderment of not only the common man but also the art critic. Here objects are painted with varying degrees of realism against abstract backgrounds or often those that are just plain white. Scattered across the canvas may be soup cans or comics interspersed with pin-ups or advertising or labels.
Because art mirrors the temper of the times in which it is created, even the banalities of this new fonn have something to say to the believer.
In Eternity (February 1965) Dewitt W. Jayne, professor of art at Sacramento State College, comments on it as a reaction to its predecessors.
“The new vogue in painting seems to be completely opposed to its immediate predecessor, abstract expressionism. Indeed, it may be in reaction to it. What this reaction involves, why it has suddenly appeared, and what its significance may be, is or concern to the critics. And it should be of more than passing interest to the evangelical.”
In abstract expressionism there seemed to be no correspondence to objective reality. It cut itself off from any meaningful relation to the world and fellow-men. Here the loneliness and anxiety which haunts mankind came into sharp focus. But in this way “the very act of painting became a profound experience in itself, and the resultant painting did become a revealing self-portrait in terms of personal anxiety.”
Presently the pendulum seems to be swinging completely away from even the artist. It is not merely anonymous; in the words of Jayne it “is phenomenally non-human. The artist tells us nothing of himself or of his identity, and in turn requires no cerebration on the part of the beholder to interpret his message…What previously would have been a statement on the part of the artist is non-statement. A non-revelation has become the content of painting.”
Here is the tragedy of man who gives no place to the living God. First he seeks to understand something of the world around him, only to lose himself in techniques which smother any message. Thereupon he turns in upon himself. But after a half century of experimenting he seemingly can’t or won’t say anything about himself. His life has become meaningless; his art is a haunting commentary on his emptiness.