CONGRESS ON EVANGELISM
Evangelicals in this country have always insisted they are conservative in distinction from liberal on questions of theology and the preaching of the gospel. They have not wanted to be called “fundamentalist” because this term, in their opinion, implied lack of scholarship in defense of the faith and radical resistance to any kind of change. But they have marked sharply their differences from liberalism by their insistence on preaching the gospel as the only way “to save souls” and by their avowed distrust of any kind of social gospel or social involvement which becomes a substitute for preaching.
It seems as if all this is about to change. The occasion was the Congress on Evangelism which met September 8-13 in Minneapolis. It was a large gathering glittering with all the shining lights of the evangelical cause. It was also an broadly ecumenical gathering. There were some forty-five hundred delegates representing ninety-three denominations. There were, according to Newsweek, present at the meetings Mennonites, Nazarenes, Salvation Army Officers, five kinds of Baptists, four kinds of Lutherans, Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, United Methodists, two distinct Churches of God, various Assemblies of God and a host of Churches of Christ. There were also representatives from Presbyterian and Reformed Churches including some seventy-five members of the Christian Reformed Church. Billy Graham was there. So was Oswald Hofman (Lutheran radio minister), Leighton Ford (evangelist and brother-in-law of Graham), Tom Skinner, Pat Boone and representatives from the world of sports: Bobby Richardson and Bill Glass.
The theme of the Congress was: “Much is given; Much is required.” This was expressive of the purpose of the Congress which, in the words of Billy Graham, was called together to stimulate a spiritual revival in the country and bring about a reorientation in the church. All this meant, as soon became apparent in the speeches, that the evangelicals had to become more involved in the social problems of the day if they were to have any influence and bring about any kind of spiritual revival. Particularly, this was interpreted to mean that evangelicals had to get involved in the racial issues which are tearing this country apart and bring the gospel to the ghettos where live the downtrodden and oppressed. Nor were the estranged youth to be ignored—the hippies and campus rebels, the revolutionaries and social outcasts. And the only way to reach all these was said to be by way of adapting the gospel to a language which speaks directly to the social ills of the times.
There were evidences of this increasing social emphasis in some of the happenings. At one point in the meetings a group of hippies tried to force their way into the meeting. They were summarily ousted; but later they received an apology from the Congress and were given an invitation to attend the sessions—something which apparently did not interest them a great deal.
In the opinion of many the high point came with the address of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, successor to Martin Luther King Jr., and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Tossing aside his prepared speech he spoke of the long history of suffering of the blacks in this country and hit hard at the Church which, in his opinion, had failed in her calling. He asked the Congress to advocate admission of Red China into the United Nations, support withdrawal of U.S. troops from Viet Nam and full support for his own efforts to lead the Negroes to equal rights. His speech was received with what Newsweek described as “a standing, stomping ovation.”
Christianity Today spoke glowingly of the Congress and expressed the fervent hope that the meeting would awaken evangelicals to their calling and be the spark to set afire the nation in the cause of Christ. While The Banner presented a detailed report of the Congress, there was no evaluation. Newsweek expressed mild surprise that the Congress should become so socially minded.
While one cannot give a detailed report of the proceedings and a detailed evaluation of what took place without having been there, it seems nonetheless that evangelicals forfeited their claim to hold fast to the gospel against the attacks of liberal social theology. The very fact that the Congress could not only permit a liberal such as Rev. Abernathy to. address the assembly but give him a standing ovation besides indicates that he struck a chord of deep response in the hearts of many who were present. The evangelicals in this country took a sharp turn in Minneapolis. And this sharp turn is away from the gospel and in the direction of liberal social emphasis.
But this is not very surprising. One characteristic of “evangelicalism” in this country is its open and unabashed Arminianism. It has always been thoroughly Arminian in theology and in the preaching. This has not improved over the years. And Arminianism is always the kernel of modernism. The man who walks the Arminian path walks a road to modernism. The Congress on Evangelism was startling proof of this.
SEX EDUCATION IN THE SCHOOLS
One of the more spectacular controversies raging in the country today is the controversy concerning the teaching of sex in the public schools. There is scarcely a religious or secular newspaper or magazine which one can pick up which does not have something to say about the subject. Radio speakers are addressing themselves to the problem and books are being written about it. All kinds of organizations are being formed, some in support of the thing; some violently opposed to it. Those who support such programs point to the obvious fact that kids are getting sex education anyway and some of it is pretty bad. They argue that parents and churches have failed to provide the needed education and that the schools must do what the homes and churches have failed to do. They are very pious in their assertions that children ought to be given right views of sex instead of ideas picked up on the street comers and in the school rest rooms. Those who oppose the whole business insist that sex education is immoral, pornographic, subversive, a not very subtle plot to destroy the whole system of moral values on which this country was built, and probably communist-inspired besides.
It is possible that some will say that this whole controversy is of little or no concern to us since it involves what takes place in the public schools where our children do not go. There is some truth to this, of course. We could dismiss any discussion of the subject with the remark: “Let the dead bury their dead.” But there are nagging reasons why a brief discussion at least might be in order. One of these reasons is that it could be conceivable that our schools will also some time in the not too distant future have to face the question. This might be through decisions of school boards or school societies; or it might also come through some kind of requirement which the government makes mandatory for our schools to retain their accreditation. Another reason why a discussion is in order is the very real possibility that we could loose the battle for the minds of our children through default. Maybe silence becomes irresponsible in this miserably sex-saturated age. Maybe also in this respect the people of God have got to speak out.
At any rate, there are a few things about this controversy which need to be said.
In the first place, it is a question worth asking of those who so vigorously defend the need for sex education in the schools how in the wide world they anticipate teaching any kind of a wholesome and holy attitude towards sex which is according to the principles of God’s law when they have already banned any mention of religion from the classroom. If the prevailing religion in the public school system is atheism and evolutionism, it goes without saying that the sex education given will be very wrong. There cannot be any two ways about all this. And the proponents would be more honest if they would forget any pious platitudes about teaching wholesome attitudes about sex.
In the second place, the whole emphasis on sex education itself seems to me to be utterly wrong. Is there really a need for sex education at all—of any kind? I am not saying, and do not want to be interpreted as saying, that children should be told nothing about sex. This is not only impossible, but is an abdication of covenantal responsibility. But when we speak of “sex education” we are talking about formal courses in all such matters as male and female physiology, embryology, gynecology, birth control, venereal disease, dating practices, ethics, not to mention sex deviation and eroticism.
We are, it seems to me, by engaging in the controversy, conceding a very important argument that ought not be conceded. And that argument is that people of God who are to live as glorifying God also within the marriage state must be experts in the whole field of normal as well as abnormal sex. This I deny. Is it not just possible that the whole controversy arises in the first place because of the fact that sex in our present day culture has been so idolized and emphasized that it appears sometimes as if the most important things people do are related to matters sexual? This is horribly and profoundly wrong. And if indeed, as I suspect, it is true that the controversy is only a part of the unholy emphasis on sex and a rather natural result of such emphasis, we had better get at the root of the problem if we intend to right any wrongs. We had better not engage in any arm-flailing as we enter the arena of the sex education controversy. It is better to raise our voices against the perverted and immoral culture in which we live.
But, of course, this is not the whole story. The trouble is that we live in this culture. And there is apparently not much that can be done about changing a sex-blinded generation of adulterers and fornicators. The result is that we and our children are bombarded day and night with the perversions of this modem Sodom. What then must be done? Shall we close our eyes to it and make believe our children do not read the movie ads in the daily press—not to, mention the Ann Landers columns? Shall we live; in the blind faith that our children do not hear; dirty stories? do not come into contact with the foul-mouthed people of our times? Shall we cross our fingers and hope for the best? Or shall we be satisfied that tie have fulfilled our obligations with some innocuous stories about “the birds and the bees”? This, of course, will never do. It is a vexing thing that the devil forces us into the position where we have to deal openly and forcibly with such sacred and holy things. But silence pleases our adversary. And by silence we may lose the battle.
So our children have got to be told what God’s Word says about all this evil. And they have got to be told what is holy and righteous in the sight 6f God. And they have got to be told in such a way that they are emphatically left with the impression that sex is, after all, but a small part of life—a significant part no doubt; but a small part nonetheless. And they have to learn that even this small part is a part which must be sanctified by the grace of God. This is no easy task.
Now then, is this the business of the schools? of our schools? I emphatically insist that it is not. There may’ be a great deal of truth in the assertion that parents are very neglectful in teaching their children about these things. But this does not alter the fact that the responsibility belongs to the parents and to them alone.
There are reasons for this.
The most important reason is that we erect schools in order to provide instruction for our children which we cannot give them. This means two things. It means on the one hand, that we admit without shame, that we are (for various reasons) unable to give our children the education they need to be men of God in the midst of life and in their own particular station and calling. We elect schools and hire teachers to take care of this matter for us. But, on the other hand, we may not (and the word “not” ought to be underscored a few times) hand over to our teachers any of the work of instruction which we are able to do ourselves. There is altogether too much of this nowadays. Parents are the only ones responsible before God for covenant instruction. They must assume this responsibility. They must assume it willingly and cheerfully and not easily push off on teachers tasks which they ought to be doing themselves. “Sex education” is most decidedly one of these things.
But there are other reasons. The home is the proper place for such instructions because only parents can gear the instruction which children need in this area of life to the mental, emotional, physical and social development of the child. They know when the child is ready to be taught certain things; the teachers do not. The home is the only proper place for this because parents are suited to teach their children and are miserably unsuited to teach somebody else’s children. They can teach their children within the context of the home where the family is all together, where babies are born and enter into the life of the family, where sons and daughters, brothers and sisters date, where family love prevails, where the Scriptures are read and studied, where such instruction in such holy matters can be given naturally and “matter-of-factly” and where it need not be a forced education in the abnormal circumstances of the classroom where the third period is set aside to discuss this particular aspect of sex education on Wednesday morning. It is this very abnormal classroom situation which is precisely conducive to leaving the impression with the child that the world is after all right: sex education is of towering importance and sexual matters are more important than anything else. It is in the home that the children can be taken aside and talked to individually if the need arises and where a mixed class in an open forum does not become the platform for such discussions.
Maybe our parents have to assume more forcibly this aspect of their calling. But by all means let it be done in the home.