NO GREATER ISSUE…
In The Church Herald, official organ of the Reformed Church in America, Dr. Louis Benes gives conviction on the basic issue which faces every Christian church in our day.
The most important issue before the Church in this mid-twentieth century is not whether our church organizations are flourishing financially, or whether our numbers are increasing and we are building new congregations as fast as the population grows, or whether denominations are merging as fast as some would have them merge. The over-arching question is this: Does the Church and its members believe the Word of God and live in obedience to its authority?
This is the kind of plain talk which the church sorely needs. We believe this is the challenge with which God expects every minister and elder in the churches to confront people today.
IS THE CHRISTIAN FAITH REALLY RELEVANT?…
Our age prides itself on the apparent revival of religion which has swept across the nations since World War II.
We need only mention the spate of best·sellers which in one form or another allude to religion and religious problems. Or we may point to the all-time high in church membership which characterizes the United States and certain other lands. Or we may urge the popularity of the preaching missions of Billy Graham. All these seem to indicate that modern man is religious.
But this should not strike us as strange.
All men are religious, incurably religious. How could this be otherwise, since God has created man in his own image and still maintains his sovereign claim on all of life?
The question is not whether man is religious; rather, whether the religion to which he professes loyalty is true or false. Studying the fruits of much that passes for religion today, we can hardly feel encouraged. Too much of it, despite lofty pretensions and practices, seems pretty irrelevant to man’s life and labors. It is seldom productive of that whole·souled devotion which the God of the Scriptures demands. Much of this stems from an appalling ignorance of Christianity’s “totalitarian” claims. At best people want to serve God with only part of their lives. That reluctance to complete surrender lies at the root of much “irrelevant” religion today. It no longer speaks with conviction: it has no program for all of life.
Some decades ago the lines were more sharply drawn than today between the true and the false. The fundamentalists insisted on Christ as “Savior,” although usually limiting his divine claims upon us to the response of the individual soul in isolation from life. The modernists made much of Christ as “Lord,” pressing for a transformation of society without being bound to the Christ of the Scriptures.
Now we live in a different climate. Nearly everyone who claims to be Christian speaks of acknowledging Christ as “both Savior and Lord.” In many quarters, however, these terms are not explicitly defined. That’s why when two say the same thing, we often discover that they do not mean the same thing. It is this vagueness which befuddles the man in the pew and on the street. This vagueness, so characteristic of most preaching and writing that wants to pass as Christian, is to blame for making Christianity seem so irrelevant.
In two articles on “The Relevance of the Christian Faith” Dr. Paul C. Schrotenboer tackles the problem. These appeared recently in Christian Courier, a magazine devoted to the interests of Canadian Calvinistic youth. Herein he says things which bear repeating from every pulpit, in every seminary classroom, and behind every teacher’s desk in church and school.
Having defined carefully both Christ’s Saviorhood and Lordship, he presses home the point at issue:
We should see that Christ is Lord and Saviour together. His lordship and saviourhood limit and qualify each other. Since he is Lord, faith in him is not the expression of my autonomous choice, but a surrender. Faith means I bow my head, for it is a capitulation, not an achievement. It is not of such a kind that one can give it to a friend. Only God can give it for he is Lord, Lord of life and Lord of the heart of man that either believes or disbelieves.
Since Christ is Saviour, I raise my head again, not to rebel against my new master, not to proceed in my own strength, but to live the new life I have in Him…
The difference of the Christian life is Christ. He puts his hand upon our shoulder and sets his demands upon us. He is our Lord, and as such he rules. fie calls us to live our life of faith in constant fellowship with him and in unswerving loyalty to his Word. He lays claim to our time, our work, our study. He lays claim to learning itself. It too needs him as Saviour and Lord, not just to save those who teach and study but to reform and redeem their teaching and studying. As Saviour he gives us the new well-spring of life, the hidden fountain out of which all issues flow. As Lord he calls us to draw all our strength from this new life, the life of him. He calls us to love him in obedience with our whole heart and mind…
Precisely such a Savior and Lord is proclaimed by the gospel. And because he alone can meet our specific needs at every point of our existence—whether we realize this or not—Christ alone is truly relevant. Only in proportion as we surrender to his claims, however, will we see and experience his relevance. One has to be “on the inside,” so to speak, to know this. And that requires faith, unhesitating and unconditional faith in Christ who himself said, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17).
ACADEMIC FREEDOM IN CHURCH-RELATED SCHOOLS…
Last summer Dr. Ralph Elliott was dismissed from Midwestern Baptist Seminary. His views were judged contrary to those championed by the majority in thc Southern Baptist Convention with which both he and the seminary are affiliated.
At that time this column noted the impasse to which those churches were fast coming. They are strongly conservative and yet refuse to be creedally bound. Tllis together with their independentistic church polity makes it hard for them to disfellowship anyone on the basis of his beliefs. It seems that the Southern Baptists will have to face the question honestly whether church fellowship can really be maintained without the adoption of some fonnal statement of doctrine.
The matter of Dr. Elliott, however, is by no means settled.
This could hardly be expected. Seemingly there are those in the churches eager to have him reinstated. This would mean a vindication of his views or, at least, his right to teach them in the seminary in the name of “academic freedom.”
On this issue the editor of The Presbyterian Journal writes in a sobering and straight forward article. It deserves the careful attention of all those who are professors, trustees or supporters of church-related schools founded on the historic creeds of the church:
The issue of “academic freedom” is rapidly becoming a major one. In some denOminations there is no greater. A poll of 30 Baptist editors—for instance, placed the dismissal of Dr. Ralph Elliott from Midwestern Baptist Seminary, and the appointment of a special committee by the 1962 Southern Baptist Convention to re-study its statement of faith, as the two top news stories in 1962. Both stories had to do with the issue of academic freedom.
Dr. Elliott was dismissed from the seminary on account of his book, The Message at Genesis, which allegedly treats Biblical history lightly. His dismissal was hailed as a victory by conservative voices in the never-ending struggle between liberal and conservative elements which is going on in all Churches today.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the incident is not yet clear. Although the action against Dr. Elliott was supported by most state conventions we heard from, the liberals—mostly the academic community in this case—have shown no intention of letting it go at that. While the conservatives rest on their oars, confident in victory, the campaign to discredit them gradually increases in vigor and will probably win out in the end.
Conservatives are notoriously like the hare in the fable of the tortoise and the hare. They get excited but tend to relax just as easily. The liberals, on the other hand, patiently keep up their subtle pressures until the resistance is overcome.
Latest development in the Elliott case is a paper signed by 37 religion professors in eight Southern Baptist colleges, condemning the seminary for “sacrificing” its “integrity in Biblical scholarship” and “denying” the “seminary’s freedom to interpret Scripture under the authority of Christ in Scripture” (which usually means, “the right to teach students to mistrust people who take the Bible to mean what it says”).
We can predict the outcome of this controversy with a fair degree of assurance. Dr. Elliott will be reinstated—or elevated to something better—the book will be brought out by another publisher and will become an approved text in schools and colleges. The whole Baptist denomination, which supported his dismissal, but which ran out of steam as soon as he had left the seminary, will stand by helplessly wringing its collective hands…..
The account is, indeed, straightforward. The prophecy is sobering. But things have happened too often this way in many denominations who support church-related schools for anyone to hope for anything else. Conservatives may bluster for a while when truth is undermined in the name of “academic freedom,” but usually their attention is quickly distracted from the principles at stake by an appeal to or against the personalities involved. And nobody likes to be branded as a a“peace-breaker,” least of all in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.