From various parts of the world the cry is heard that the demand for candidates for the ministry and for the missions far exceeds the supply.
The Rev. James Munn, Foreign Mission convener, reported to the Church of Scotland at its most recent General Assembly, “What seems to be most lacking, abroad as much as at home, is the supply of men for the job…Seventy-four jobs for missionaries stand empty at such a time as this. The churches in which we are working are indignant and mystified when their requests go unanswered.”
Not much better is the situation in England. The Revival Fellowship Magazine records what has happened since the Methodist Union of 1932. Since that time “our membership has fallen by 100,000, the number of ministers decline by one-fifth, the number of local preachers by one-third, and the number of Sunday School scholars halved!”
The same condition prevails in the United States. According to a recent survey the American Baptists, reporting 6372 congregations, had a ministerial deficit of 1272. The Methodists with 39,845 pulpits to 611 had a shortage of no less than 15,804 pastors, while the Presbyterians (UPUSA) with 8329 churches needed another 1829 ministers to fill their vacancies. All the larger denominations, and most of al1 those where liberalism has made its greatest inroads, face this seemingly insoluble problem. How pointedly we are reminded of the words of our Lord, who told his disciples that the harvest, indeed, is plentiful but the laborers few!
Undoubtedly many reasons may be adduced for the present world-wide shortage. A situation so fearful and frustrating does not come to pass over night. But one undeniable factor ought not escape our attention. Here the churches are reaping what in large measure they have sown. The theory of universal salvation is being proclaimed either openly or somewhat under cover. Under the influence of existential philosophy and dialectical theology we hear everywhere that all men are in Christ. All that remains to be done is to tell them about this fact. This undercuts the urgency of gospel preaching. No wonder that the average church member remains cold, when be is reminded that the churches need preachers. There is no longer any room for “a passion for God’s glory” and “a compassion for lost souls.” And where this is lost, all true prayer to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers is irrevocably undercut.
How much zeal for God’s Word, which alone can make men wise unto salvation, is there left in your church? Your prayers for laborers will be largely in proportion to your faith in what God himself says about the urgency of preaching.
ROMAN CATHOLICISM UNDER COMMUNIST PRESSURE
With much rejoicing the peoples of the world greeted the announcement that the United States and Soviet Russia have some months ago come to a better understanding about the testing of nuclear weapons. Since then there has been a marked easing of tension between those two lands. For this also committed Christians should be thankful to God.
This easing of tension, however, provides us with a new peril. This lies not chiefly in the fear that perhaps Russia will renege on her agreement, something which is likely in the light of past policies of the Kremlin. Far more dangerous is the changing attitude of the man in the street who supposes that Russian Communism is being gradually transformed into a way of life more compatible with Christian ideas and ideals. This notion has been nurtured by the welcome which the delegates of the Russian church received at the sessions of the World Council of Churches. And if Communism is merely another economic and social theory of human relations, then the thaw might hopefully hold out some good.
Let us, however, remind ourselves of the record of Communism.
This is not merely a system of political beliefs. Nor does it aim merely at raising the economic levels and improving the social conditions of a people. It is a life-and world-view. It is undergirded by basic religious (call them “irreligious,” if you will) convictions. In the truly Communistic society there is no room for the God of the Scriptures.
The story of what has been happening to Czechoslovakia repeats the tragic consequences which the churches have suffered throughout the years in Russia, East Germany and Hungary. Once this nation, well educated and highly industrialized and more closely associated with the West than other satellite countries, was 75% Roman Catholic. Now only remnants of that church organization remain. A recent report, quoted in The Evangelical Presbyterian. informs us: “The bishops have been jailed or otherwise suppressed long since. Most of the priests in one way or another have been subjugated. The faithful who fulfill even the most fundamental religious duties are few. One example is that in Prague only three percent of the population attend Sunday Mass. Attendance by children is an extreme rarity. Practice in some other regions is even lower, and there are towns where virtually no one ever goes to Mass. There is a relatively long-standing tradition of religious indifference in Bohemia. But it is now taking hold in the other major provinces of Moravia and Slovakia as well.”
Carefully and cleverly, without openly forbidding religious practices, the Communistic government has undermined the influence of the church throughout the land. “The network of government informers is so widespread that teachers and white collar workers who want to go to Mass feel they must seek out churches where they will not be recognized. Parents know that if their children become marked as believers, they will be barred automatically from higher education.” The church has become expendable, since all registers of birth and death are now in government hands, religious ceremonies prior to the official marriage ceremony have been made illegal, and funerals have become largely the province of the state. In a town of 3,000 near Prague one priest reports that only three religious funerals have been conducted during the past three years.
Those who suppose that there can ever be cooperation between Communism and evangelical Christianity do well to take heed. If the Roman Catholic Church, ever adept at making compromises and arranging concordats with worldly powers, can find no area of real cooperation, much less can those who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of all of life.
EVERY DAY SHOULD BE REFORMATION DAY
Two months have passed since we commemorated October 31 as the beginning of the Reformation.
Now we are approaching the end of the year. Hopefully we shall cross the threshold into 1964. But as we do so, we do well to take stock of ourselves and the churches to which we belong. Each day our lives are to be lived in the presence of God, by the grace of God, and to the glory of God. This demands that as individuals and congregations we are to test ourselves continually by the standard which God himself has set for us. It means taking stock of our sins and shortcomings, turning to God in humble confession, trusting in the merits of our Savior and leaning upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Only then will our lives manifest something of the continuous reformation which is well-pleasing to God.
But what is the key to such a reformatory life?
In The Church Herald, the Rev. Arie R. Brouwer rightly discovers this in the Word of God. Under God it “gave birth to” and “sustained” and was “used to carry forward the work of the Reformation.” Nor has God changed the means which he is pleased to bless and use for the salvation of his own.
Well may we remember what the article emphasizes. “The root of Reformation must always be laid in the good soil of the Word of God, not in the thorns of increased ecclesiastical machinery, the stony ground of emotional thrills and devotional ‘feelings,’ or the beaten paths of social relevance. There can be no shortcut. The one road to Reformation is through the Word of God—reading it, preaching it, believing it, and living it in the power of God’s Spirit…As we seek to do that, the Reformation will be renewed among us, and by God’s grace we will be able to do more than nostalgically reminisce about the fruits of Reformation. We will harvest them.”