...

The Rising Strength of Christianity 

In the Religion department of Newsweek of March 11, 1957, we came upon a Special Religious Report intended to show the dramatic rise in numerical strength of the so-called Christian Church and appearing under the above title. 

The report in part reads as follows: “In the world today there are some 225 million Protestants, 200 million Orthodox, and 464 million Roman Catholics. These figures represent an increase of roughly 25 percent over membership of 1920. One of the most dramatic surges in the last two decades has been the growth of Christianity in the United States. For example, Southern Baptist membership has swelled from 5.1 million in 1940 to 8.7 million now: Methodists, from. 7.4 million to 9.4 million; and Episcopalians, from 2.2 million to 3.1 million. The total Protestant population in the U.S. today is estimated at 100 million. Catholics have made a spectacular jump of their own. From 21.4 million to 37.6 million, a gain achieved during the vital reign of their beloved Pope, Pius XII.” 

The article gives no explanation or reason for this phenomenal growth. Other periodicals we have read, also noting the steady increase in church membership, offer various reasons. One commentator asserts that the American public is becoming more religious minded. Another attributes the growth in membership to fear brought on by the complexes of our atomic age. 

Naturally we are in no position to dispute the figures. They are undoubtedly correct. We do contend, however, that bare numbers do not make the church, nor is she to be weighed by the pound. One wonders today how much true religion there is in the midst of this religious surge. In the light of history, one may truly fear when religion becomes popular as seems to be the case today. 

One can hardly say that the Protestant Reformed Churches have been caught in the stream of numerical growth. It was in the year 1947 that a denominational census first appeared. At that time our churches constituted, 1154 families and 5026 souls. The peak of church membership in our churches was reached at the time of the split in 1953. The 1952 census revealed 1302 families and 5449 souls. The census, which was taken after the split, revealed 563 families and 2353 souls. The report that will appear at the 1957 Synod will reveal that our denomination is presently constituted of 610 families and 2482 souls. 

If we were to be measured by the pound, we would not be worth very much in comparison with other denominations whose membership runs into the millions. We are thankful to God, however, that He also has respect for the things that are weak, and that it is His good pleasure to reveal to us the things of His truth. 

What of the Godless? 

The Religion department of Newsweek, March 18, 1957, raises this question as it reflects on the contention of a certain Dr. A. Powell Davies, a minister of an All Souls Unitarian Church. 

We quote the article in its entirety which begins with a quotation of Dr. Davies. 

“‘The right to disbelieve is inherent in the right to believe!’ said Dr. A. Powell Davies in Washington, D.C., last week. ‘This is a fundamental American principle, and it is going by the board.’ 

“The minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, long a champion of intellectual freedom, was commenting on a sermon titled ‘The Rights of Atheists,’ published in the current issue of The Christian Register. His lively defense of doubt, which, he says, ‘is still bringing more praise than brickbats,’ was inspired by a reported announcement from George Washington University last November that atheists could not hold jobs on its faculty. The university later claimed the statement was reported out of its context, but the dispute gave the Unitarian minister a chance to air some of his favorite ideas. 

“If a university is to bar doubters, Dr. Davies warns in The Register, ‘no longer is a bright student to have a chance to argue with an accomplished atheist.’ In religion, he is not even to cross swords with a vigorous agnostic. 

“‘What a pity! In my view, every institution of higher learning should, if possible, have one or two atheists on its faculty if only to keep the theists stepping lively . . . What could be more essential to a good university professor than to keep constantly reminded of how much he does not know? 

“‘This applies particularly to the schools of religion. A theologian who is not intellectually an agnostic is of necessity a fool. For what is theology? Theology is the attempt to give an orderly account of the unknown . . .’ 

“The lesson in all this, Dr. Davies says, is that there is a need to return to America’s traditional principles of intellectual freedom, and a recognition that God needs no protectors. ‘For God lives in the open mind, in the power of its thought, the voice of its ‘truth, the inner impulse of its honesty. He needs no protection . . . . Just give him room.'” 

We have only two or three brief comments to make respecting this article. First, Dr. Davies’ definition of theology is quite different from that which we have learned. He tells us that “Theology is the attempt to give an orderly account of the unknown . . .” We have learned that “theology is the science that systematically treats of the knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures.” 

Secondly, we are tempted to call Dr. Davies exactly what he says the theologian is who is not intellectually 83 agnostic. Dr. Davies is Unitarian, and the latter deny the triune God as He is revealed in Jesus Christ. That comes awfully close to what the psalmist declares in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” 

Thirdly, that does not mean that some fools can sometimes not say things that are correct. Dr. Davies is one of them when he asserts that the right to disbelieve is inherent in the right to believe is a fundamental American principle. We have before contended that the religious liberty which is proposed and defended by our Constitution and granted to our citizenry is the right to believe in God, or not to believe in Him. We insist that our Constitution was made up by men like Jefferson and Franklin, men who were influenced by men like Paine and Rousseau, who in turn were humanists and libertines whose doctrine was man’s inherent freedom to believe in God or not to believe in Him. 

Those who insist that our country was originally a Christian nation, founded on true Scriptural principles, from which we are fast departing, and who are attempting by means of radio and printed page to call America back to God, are thoroughly mistaken if they find the basis for their contention in our Constitution. No one will deny that there were early settlers who came to our shores seeking true religious freedom. But the freedom of which the Constitution speaks is the freedom Dr. Davies wants and insists is a fundamental American principle. That is the freedom which would allow the atheist as well as the theist to have a place in our institutions of learning. No State controlled institution of learning, therefore, under our Constitution, has the right to deny the atheist to teach in it.

We may be thankful to God that our Constitution also allows us to have institutions of learning which insist that all instruction shall be God-centered and thoroughly permeated with the truths of divine revelation. 

Current Thoughts on Church and State

In the April 1st issue of Christianity Today, in the department called Review of Current Religious Thought, we came upon the following interesting remarks in connection with the relation of Church and State: 

“The Rev. Edward Rogers, a Methodist minister, writing in the January issue of The London Quarterly and Holborn Review on the subject of ‘Christians and the Modern State,’ speaks of industrialization, urbanization, centralization, and secularization, as the four distinctive features of the modern State, and asserts that the Christian, ‘simply because he is a Christian, confronts the State in two inseparably related ways,’ as one who, ‘whatever the social or political order, . . .’must seek to live by faith and love. The political order,’ he says, ‘may be corrupt or cruel, the economic order unjust and the moral code of society debased. Nevertheless, he will be generous and just, truthful and honest, kind and forbearing.’ 

“We are reminded that political liberty is ‘a rare and precious thing, hardly won and easily lost’ and that it ‘demands and depends upon men and women of integrity and charity, ready to acknowledge that they are their brother’s keepers.’ It is, in fact, the believing Christian who is ‘the preserver of sound values in a society that would otherwise decay.’ Mr. Rogers points to loneliness and slackening of the social ties that strengthen life as resulting from living in the modern State. These deficiencies, it is true, are made good by church life, which offers ‘fellowship and shared responsibilities.’ Saying this, however, he makes the following very salutary comment on what has come to be known as the social gospel: “What went wrong with the social gospel in the generation immediately past was that it put social first, and a diluted gospel second. Men and women of noble intention strove to implement the Sermon on the Mount while pushing into the background the cross and the resurrection—and found that their fine phrases and benevolent exhortations splashed ineffectively on the rocks of sin.”

“Who will not agree with his conclusion that the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is ‘a doctrine desperately needed to check the blasphemous and destructive doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the State’; for the State ‘is the servant of God, not the master of men?'” 

These are striking remarks, indeed, coming from a Methodist. 

It is to be recognized that he emphasizes the Scriptural truth that the Christian is to be in submission to his government, even when it is corrupt and cruel. 

It is also to be noticed that he looks disparagingly upon what is called the social gospel, and considers the heart of the gospel the cross and resurrection. This does not sound like the speech of a modern Methodist. Rather, it sounds more like the speech of a John or Charles Wesley, and contemporaneous with their day. 

Consistently also he emphasizes the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and seriously attempts to apply this doctrine to the modern attempt to establish the sovereign State. 

I repeat, rather striking remarks, coming from a Methodist. 

There are other views respecting the relation of Church and State expressed in the remainder of the article which are bold as they are interesting. Here are two views expressed by C.H. Glasson, lay member of the Church of England. “The dualistic doctrine that the care of the State extends only to the body and the care of thee Church only to the soul is entirely unchristian.” 

According to Rev. Philip Hughes of England, who gives us this review, “Mr. Glasson warns that the Roman Church is far from having abandoned its political objectives.” A little later in the article he says, “The political aims and ambitions of the Roman Catholic Church are no less total and arrogant than are those of Communism.” 

M.S.