Full Text for Modern Church Trends (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER April 1974 Volume 38, Number 2 s,& $2 a-?- elj .J G z5 anu.- d su 5 c crrf agmC, J-l csgg F - - ST- -- 9 F ;= ,o .;: ,cs dv c; C r 'r( , . .n 50 L. Yfi 2 cs<, 3Q" -a .z=g.rj: L, r T? .-." oxem 1, " 16 C 4 5 22 '2. + . - 22 fl SF- G 3 - " - c5 -Us s.2: .2 2 ~U.~L: -.nu - vl"y a 92-G zyz g '-'(U e I d -- 2 w a r, 5 5 - H -" U 5 2 .a- G /, -A 9 p. es d !d u S- ? . - - I %* - 3 a - 3l u u + .- . h - F d-- d L, 4 ;i ffi 3 ,G z c 2 .- - 2 u LC- dl% Y) c aJ s2 "00 cJ -4 u .S a 4 - u =: 2 z.5 r- 6 .3j = CS c 2 0 2. c%% 5 0 .- WE: gsm C, b.5 55 0 gg? 5 kg u Wu4 church sccmed silddcnly to changc. Clriticisnl of thc churcll's life and lmctice bcgan to mount. In Vo1. 1 of Ne.1.v Ilirectiolzs ir.r Theology Today 'l,Villian~ Hordern paints a vivid picture of thc way in which thc world tvas telling the church to look at its mission in life. It was at about this ti~zle that Rolf I-Iochhuth's play Th.e 2Jcputy \\;as 111-o- cluced. "'T1.l is pla!; iwcked t1i.o continents by la~~nc.l.ling a scathing ct:i ticisni of Polx l'ius' failure to protcst Nazjsm's sla~lgl-i tcl of six 111jllioti 'ICIVS.' iit ;111oi1t the SBIIJC t:ililc the T'~.otestant ch~l~.ch par- ticularly- in thc south uJ;ls chicleil by the president of this country for not ;~cceyting "its responsibility in the racial crisis." Fo11~ songs svl~iclr were enjoying great popularity at that time often -pointed to the weal chu~cli 1~21s doing-its function and mission. hllorc specifically, the ~vorld has been cl~itling the church for its attitutlc of indifference, lovelessness, and lack of concern for the poor :~nd ~i~idcrl~~:iviIegeO, for oedecting the social ~~roblems that plague nl;~nliind. It is bang said that the institutional churcl has never con- cernctl itself sufficicntlv wit11 the cluestions of social ethics, lvith the lcnottv p:ohlcms of ch&c11 and state, with the tcnsioi~s bctwccn capi- tal nl;d labor, with cornmunit" and even family concerns. They assert that our sermons deal too much wit11 a far-distant hea\!eil and not enough wit11 the pressures and 1~rol)lems of this life. They seek to deliver manlcind from a hell in the after-life rather than from a he11 on earth. Therc is complaint against Protestnntisi~l in general and qainst conservative churches in particular charging that we have spcnt too much time and exl~ended too much effort emphasizing ,justification by faith to the neglect of sanctification. The probleln becomes e\len more critical and complex whcn we loo]{ marc carefully at the worlds attitude toward the supernatural. It has been said that'we live in n world conle of age, in a sophisticated, self-confident, scientificallv-oriented civilization \vhicll finds it very difficult to accc1,t the ~lliraculo~~s; :it considers the Biblc to be a purely liu~.l~a~.i l~ooli; it regnrds the creatio~l of the world as 111ytl.1, and loolts upon thc reclenl ptivc work of Christ as irrelevant in our self-sufficient ~notle~:n ~vorld. Death is the. end, and both heaven and lie11 are fig- 11le11t.s of: t.lic cllul.cIi's in~agination. A11 of this criticism has brought about a declil~e in tllc amount of influence tvhich the church can exert on thc present generation. 111 tl~c 111ol:cls of' Colin 'M~illial.17s : 'The church in our time is no longer in a position to lord it over thc world in the old :meclieval sense, attempting to draw the whole of the culture under. its "christ.ianizii~(r" ii~fluellce. The a. church llas lost its capacity to command nnd ~ts power to con- trol l~istory institutionally . . . 'I'hc church no longer call ,provide n stable center to culture --a contl-olling world viciv or value system to hold society to- '(rethe]:. 9 But neither does ou~: societ? loolc any longer for such a n~etapliysical or cultural 01: ~:eligious unity . . . There is no longer a dominant sense of need . . . for the church to provide it doctrinal "system" to give a stable frai~ieworlc for that world vie~v. For that reason the flcxible functional tl~eology that is now replacing tl~e older ~nctalhysical fornls of t'tleology is morc atuned to the mental attitude of our time:' Of course, there was a day in oq~ history wllen t1.x church cxertecl n strong influence o11 the life of the coil~n~unity, when its rel.igious beliefs shaped the community's vielt~s regarding what was right and wrong, when the church even had a11 effect on the cultural and. perhaps the political opinion in the com~nunitjl, when t11e pastor was often the 117ost educated person in the village. The parson in tllose sinall comnlunities often became the model for the whole village; he was the model husband, father, farmer, and school teacher.' But st~cll rural comn~unities, says T.\7illiams, have given wav to an urban society; the village has beenreplaced by the Metropolitan center. And wit11 this change has come the inevitable declinc in ii~fluence on the 1-nl-t of the church. It was against this baclcgro~ii~d that theologians in the \l.iorld Co1.111cil of Churches undertook the task of I-estudying the mjssion of the church. They realized that the church today exists in a totally different environment than it did even fifty years earlier. Aild as tlley redefined the mission of the church, they arrived at a number of con- clusions. 1. Since the church had lost its influence, its power to com- mand, it must now assume a servant role in its relation to the ~vo~:lcl. Colin IYilliams describes it thus: There is need to think of the church-world relation in inuch more humble and much Inore dynamic and secular fashion than we have been accustomed to in the past. It must be more 'humble in the sense that we must learn to stop thinking that the role of the church is to draw the world into the order of the cllurch. We must cease thinking of the ultimate salvation of the world as the process by whicll Christ's Lordship over thc hotly . . . is c~pandcd until it draws the wholc world into its realm . . . Christ ill I-Iis mo~.cmcnt toward thc fulfillment of his Lordsllip in clrcation uscs the community of those who already ll.c~-s of s:~li';ltio~i tl~ro~lgh Christ Jesus. 2. As the mission of the church is redefined and as inore ein- ~)liasis .is j~laccd 011 the secular, and social concerns, there is the furthc~: s~~ggestion that thc world should write the church's agenda. 'This is a~~othcr i\:a!- of saying that if the church is to succeed in i~cco~~lplisli~ its n~ission, it inust let the world determine what its 1)rogl.ani sJi:~ll bc. Now, on the surface this s~iggestion ]nay appear to be hot11 logical ;lntl wise, because the church must be relevant ancl spenli to the ~vorld's needs if it is to he listened to, ancl if its efforts arc to be successf~il. However, there is a serious flaw in this strategy. \.\lhilc the ~vorld mav be able to articulate its social, economic, anc1 political needs, it \\/ill always fail to recognize its greatest lack, i,e. its need for the Gospcl of Jesus Christ. The world will never place this item on the church's agenda, for the world is dead in trespasses ancl sins. Therefore, it remains for the church itself to add this major, all- important itern to its list of concerns. This leads to the third way in which the \Vorld Council of Churches is seeking to make the work of thc church more relevant ;~nd acceptable in our modern world. 3. As the task of the church is l~eing defined today in terms of social, political, anil ecniiomic :involvement, therc is a corresponding de-emyhasis on doctrine. Uoctl-illc is bccomin~ less mid less inlportant in thc churclr's ~nission. One of the favorite ways to describe the church today is to speak of: it as event. In other words, the church today is not so much an institution in which there are doctrines taught, an institution in wl.lich thc Gospel js proclaimed to sin-sick mortals, but tl~c cllul-cl.1 is rather a ii~c)~:en~ent, an es.ent, in ~vliich the people of Gocl hccome pilgrims, moving away from the llome base, out into the worlcl to serve Christ and their fello\v~~ien by assist- ing in man's struggles for justice, peace, prosperity, ancl happiness, fighting the forces of injustice, discri~nination, and prejuclice. 4. As less emphasis .is placed on doctrine, there is in many areas of Ch.ristendoin a strong trcncl in the direction of ecumenism and unionism. Of course, this is one of the 111ajor objectives of the \\Torlit Council of Churches. It is argued that since the churc21 is the bociy of Christ, and since all believers are members of that one body, the? should not onl'c. ~:ecognizc each other as Christians, but they should also practice altar and pulpit fellowship with other dei~omini- tions regardless of differcnccs in doctrine. Furthermore, they should nlitlce thc task and mission of the church a comlnon cause .in .tvhich there would be full cooperation 1,ettveen Christians of all denominations. The logic of their reasoning ooes something lilcc this: Christ's ~nission in the ivorlcl is one. There- ? iore, the missioli of the churcll should not be denominational in nature but ecumenical. Hence, it is suggested that less emphasis be placeti on so-called cienominational "baggage" or doctrines. Church 11odies are encouraged to take their places alongside one another and together seek to fuither Christ's one mission. To acconlplish this all missionaries "should be thoroughl\l trained in and committed to the c:cumenical moeeme~it in the deepfst sense of the word." 5. As denoruinational doctrines and forms became less im- portant, there were also other developments: a) Agreement was reached. that for altar and pulpit fellowship among denominations the only requirement was that all participating churches be recognized as Christian. "Thus the church was not looked upon so lnuch as a teaching institi~tion whose 1nissio.n included the task of instructing its people in the whole cor~nscl of God, including all of the doctrines revealed in Scriptures. 1nste;ld attention was centered almost ex- clusively on the Gospel. 11) This in turn led to a new and different understanding of what L~~theranc call the centrality of the Gosl~el. J3y centrality of the Gospel Lutherans have meant to say that justification by faith is the very heart and center of all Christian theology. Other doctrines are important because they support the Gospel, the central doctrine. However, in recent years the centrality of the Gospel has come to mean something quite different. According to some it implies t-hat in the final anslysls only the Gospel is essential to the unity of Eaith and therefore to church fellowship. Other docbines such as creation, inerrancs of Scripture, third use of the law, ~niracles, the pl1.ysical resurrection of the deacl, in~mortality of the soul are not cli'i;.isi\:c of Cclloivsl~ip, even ii-' the!; are denied. 'l-'l~r~s ccntl:alit\: of the Gospcl h;~s bccomc a Iiind of Gospel-monisi~l, menni~~g tl~;,~ ~;111) the Gospel is essential to the faith and the confessiol~ of thc cllurcli, c) \Vli.ile ill sorllc arcas of Chrjstenclonl therc has been :, strong trcnd to\i!arcl Gospel-monism, in others therc is :I n~o.i:enlent in the d~rcction ol: Xeo-u~~ivcrsalisrn. 1;ecently cvangclical theologiails :in Luropc and ,lll~cl-ica l)ul~lisl~ecl tile so-callccl F;l:anltfurt Declarations in ~vllich they csprcssed cleep conccrn over the nctv universalisn~ ivhicl~ is being cml~racetl in man): areas of tllc organized Christian clil~rcli. Neo- ~~ni\:ersalis~~l is :I teaching ~vhicl~ appears in many forms but cssen- tiall.!; it ;1sstrrlles that tllc sinner can attain salvation .trlithout corni~~g illto contact with the \ic)-b:~lii..cd Gospel of the gracc of Gocl in Christ [csus. 11: lloltls that fait11 ill thc 17~o11liscs of the Gospel is pcrhiips the l~cst slid tlic surcst wai. I)\; ~i;l~icli ~~iol-tal nl;tn can reach he;-1\.cn, but it is not thr on]!. 1\::1):1 1ie;rtllcn \vho I~vc not Ileard tllc Cl~ristian C;ospcl in;^! i~lso hc s:~\;cd bj' tnltillg scrioi~sl!. thc rcligio~~s 1)elicf's .tvith \vliicll the) 11nvc co111c into co~~ti~cl.. Nccdlcss to sav this is conti.;lr>' to thc clcar Scripture \\:liicil stntcs thi~t "Thel-c is sal\~;ition ill none other, ~leithcr is there an\ otllcr na1.11~ ul~cler hcaven $\-ell among men \\;Ilercl)y ~vc ~ii~ist bc snvcd" except the ni~nlc of Jcs~~s. 'This Ic~ids now to t-lle final wit\. in wllich man\; tlleologians today arc sccliing to ~nalte t-l,c rc~)rlc of t11k c11tirCI1 ~norc' I-c'Icv~II~ antl ncceptal~lc in our modern ~1~0t.Itl. 6. 'Tllcrc is todm a strong tcndcnc\: to obscure the differences herwcc~~ t11c ch~ircll alitl the world. 3'l;ln); fail to take sel:ioiislv the f;~cl: that Christ has called the chtlrch out of the world, that the Gorld ~vitlio~~t Christ lies under judgment, and that the church's principal ti~sIi ii~~or(ii1lg~ to hlatthc~ir 28 : 19-20 is to retorn to thc ivorld with tho Inclssage ot forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ in order that sin 11e1.s might hclic\,e antl througl~ faith l~e saved. T.l'llcsc are on11 it fcfv of the mow ill~portnnt tretlds and clcilelop- ~llerlts that 1i:rvc talien plncccl within the past tn-cnty-fir7e !ears which :II.C clii~llc~lging tlic Id~~tl~cr;~u Ch~~rch toda!.. I. Colin Willi;~ms, Tl1.c (:lzztrclz, Ncw Ilirections in Thcolog!, Today, Vol. IV (I?hil;~tlclphia: 'l'hc \Vcstminstcl- l'rcss, 1968), 11. 1 1. 2. Williarn I-lordern, rntroduction, New Dircctioils in Theology Totlay, Vol.. I (I'lliJnclclphin: Thc JVcstminster l'ress, 1966), 1). 97. 3. Il)id., 1.). 98. 4. Colin \;Oil li;ims, 07). cit., p. 2 1 . 5. Ibi~l., 1,. 12 1. 6. Illid., pp. 22-3. 7. Ilichartl 1'. i~IcI3ric.n. 7'hc Clzz~rclz in thc Tlzozlght of Bishop lohr? lIo71i1zsos (I'I~il;~tlcl~~hia : Thc Wcstminstc~. l'rc'ss, 1.9 h6), p. 98.