All Around Us

Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Foxhole Christians

I recall from childhood days during the Second World War a saying that went like this, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The point of the saying was that the terrors of combat compelled men to believe in and turn to God. It seems we are witnessing the same phenomenon now that our nation is at war in the Middle East. Military chaplains report increased attendance at worship services and Bible Study meetings. Captain James O’Conner, a Lutheran and chief chaplain aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, notes that chapel attendance increased by 40% since the deployment began. ‘The majority of our crew are non-affiliated,” O’Conner said, ‘but many are coming to the faith.”

What is true of the military is true of the country in general. Churches across the country reported larger than usual crowds on the Sunday preceding the war’s outbreak. Many churches scheduled prayer vigils through the week. Faculty and students at several Christian colleges and Universities held prayer convocations. And the news media are urging the people to pray for peace in the Middle East.

According to reports from both the secular and religious press, the same is true of the leaders of our nation. President Bush turned to prayer and preachers in the hours surrounding the January 16 commencement of hostilities in the Middle East. The president attended worship services at Camp David on both the Sunday before the 16th and the Sunday afterward. As the U. N. deadline was about to expire, he telephoned Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal Church (Mr. Bush is an Episcopalian) and U. S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson and told them he had been praying for peace. Both men prayed with Mr. Bush over the phone. Browning also prayed with Secretary of State James Baker. On Wednesday the president sent a call to his longtime personal friend, the Rev. Billy Graham. The message: “I need you.” Graham arrived at the White House at 5:45 that same afternoon. Graham had dinner with the Bushes and prayed with them and other family members four or five times during that evening. He stayed the night. A hastily organized service was held the next morning at Memorial Chapel at Fort Myer, across the Potomac in Virginia. Among the several hundred who attended were: the Vice President, almost all the members of the Cabinet, many of the White House staff, General Colin Powell, assorted military people, and their spouses. During the course of his 17-minute sermon Graham quoted Abraham Lincoln’s prayer “that we will be on God’s side.” Mr. Graham returned to the White House with the president for lunch and more prayer before leaving town.

To all of this we offer just this thought: why in time of national crisis do people turn to God when at other times they feel the need neither for prayer nor for the worship of the Lord and, indeed, have very little or no time at all for God and His Word?

National & International Religion Report

Weird And Scandalous Views

A sizable renewal group within the Presbyterian Church (USA) based in Louisville called Presbyterians for Renewal (PR) is charging its church’s Special Task Force on Human Sexuality with “opening the floodgates to a fully permissive society of approved consensual adult sex, irrespective of gender,” with promoting “weird and scandalous” views on marriage and fidelity, and with planning to recommend ordination of gay and lesbian pastors. PR claims that certain beliefs of the members of the Task Force were made clear at an open meeting last November in Charlotte, NC, where committee members deliberated whether it is wrong for the church to condemn categorically non-marital sex and whether marital fidelity necessarily means marital monogamy. PR is also claiming that the Task Force struck at the church’s foundational belief in the authority of the Bible by suggesting that scriptural teachings on sexuality are tainted by patriarchal injustice. “The book in which we find revealed God’s grace in Jesus Christ has been tried and found guilty of patriarchalism,” PR charges. So far, 721 PCUSA congregations have endorsed “Witness for Biblical Morality,” a document that calls for a firm denominational commitment to marriage and traditional sexual values. Interestingly enough a recent survey in the PCUSA found that most of the laity do not want homosexuals in the pulpit even if they are celibate, but 64% of the pastors and 70% of the “specialized clergy,” such as seminary professors, endorse the policy.

National & International Religion Report

Poignant Betweenness

Such is the phrase coined by Nicholas Wolterstorff at the Partnership in the Gospel Conference, sponsored by the Committee for Women in the Christian Reformed Church and nine West Michigan CR churches. The November conference, the fifth of its kind, attracted some 310 men and women from churches in Canada and the United States. This year’s registration was the largest ever. The “poignant betweenness” is more than the period between Synod 1990’s decision to open all ecclesiastical offices to women and its proposed ratification in 1992. According to Wolterstorff, the “betweenness” also means “the time between the collapse of an old way of men and women relating to each other in the church and the emergence of a new way.” During this transitional period, he said, we must give thanks for the “disappearance of the old way” and “seek guidance for the shaping of the new way.” Conference speakers and panel members included Nick and Rev. Claire Wolterstorff (Nick’s wife is an Episcopalian clergywoman), Revs. Bruce and Vicki Menning, Linda Male, Rev. Laura Smit, Claudia Beversluis, Rev. Carl Kammeraad, Annalies Knoppers, and Mary Steward Van Leeuwen. Prof. Wolterstorff concluded the Conference by saying, “The old order in which the voices of women were muffled and always treated as being of second rank—that old order is coming to an end. Slowly, with pain, it is ending, it is really ending. We have seen clear signs of the coming of flourishing and justice.”

The Bible clearly forbids women to serve in church office. It takes hermeneutical and exegetical gymnastics to make Scripture say otherwise. But where does the Bible ever teach or condone in any way the “muffling of the voices of godly women” or the “treating of women as being of second rank”?

The Banner

What To Do About The Second Service

It’s no secret that the second service on the Lords Day in many churches which stand in the Reformed tradition is poorly attended. Dr. Louis Lotz writes about this in a recent issue of The Church Herald, the official magazine of the Reformed Church in America. He notes that all kinds of gimmicks have been tried but nothing seems to revive the second service. Only a handful attend. In one instance he notes a college choir performed at the second service and there were more in the choir loft than in the pews. No mention is made of the God ordained means of grace, the preaching of the Word, by which means the Son of God gathers the church (Heidelberg Catechism, L. D. 21). This is the one means which can restore the second service. Lotz concludes his thoughts on the question wii:h these words, “God does not measure our spirituality by the number of times we worship, but by the integrity of our worship.” Maybe so. But, surely, having only one service on the Lords Day is not obedience to Scripture’s exhortation, “. . . neglect not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is . . .” (Hebrews 10:25). Having one service on the Lord’s Day is certainly not what our fathers had in mind when they said, among other things, that obedience to the Fourth Commandment involves “diligently frequenting the house of God on the Lords Day” (Heidelberg Catechism, q. 103).

The Church Herald