Those who, in our day, favor a social gospel are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the church institute. To the extent that they see the church’s calling in terms of social action, they plead that the institute be abandoned. This is easily understandable. It is not enough, quite obviously, to preach social reform from the pulpits of the churches. Words without deeds mean very little. In fact, the preaching of social action from the pulpit can do very little else but continue to insulate the lives of church members from the world about them and keep them safely protected within the walls of the established church far removed from the hurly-burly of life. And so, to accomplish the ends of social action, the leaders in the church world are more openly advocating a complete and radical change in the structure of the church. They are advocating that the church no longer have the institutional form which it now takes congregations with preaching and sacraments; membership rolls; ecclesiastical assemblies on a local, regional and national level; etc. They are advocating that the church be restructured so that its life is moved from the pulpit to the streets, from the church edifices to the market places, from the smoke-filled committee rooms to the ghettos. They envision organizations working together for social justice instead of congregations established to meet Sunday after Sunday. They prefer small bands of people united to meet the real problems of poverty, race troubles, crime, etc. rather than, in their opinion, the traditional meeting of people to hear an orator address himself on various subjects to half-filled churches. To turn church buildings into headquarters for demonstrations is their aim. To break up isolated and insulated congregations into squads and action groups is their goal. All the hallowed structures of the church must make room for real action on the social level. A Christian is such only to the extent that he bends his time and energies to solving this world’s problems.
We are not, at this point, interested in the pros and cons of the social calling of the church. We are interested particularly in the implications all this has for the institute of the church. It is really not surprising that modern liberalism has gone in this direction. It has no gospel to preach any longer. It has no sacraments to administer. It has forgotten the rudiments of Christian discipline. All this is true because it has no Word of God to bring in the preaching of the gospel, for it has been sacrificed on the altar of universalism. Perhaps it is better that it ceases its sham and gets on with whatever it considers so important.
But the fact of the matter is that this distrust of the institute is more wide-spread than we often imagine. It is becoming increasingly clear that, among some conservatives in the church world, there is also this deep-seated distrust of the institute. It appears on occasion especially among those who argue that the Christian’s calling is to be defined in terms of separate Christian organizations. The argument is somewhat different. Perhaps the distrust of the church institute arises out of some disillusionment with the state of the institute in our day. However that may be, the idea is that the institute of the church has become hopelessly apostate and is, in fact, beyond the possibility of reformation. This is explained in terms of the institute having lost its real reason for existence. The times demand more than the institute of the church can accomplish. The times demand a distinctive witness of the church in every sphere of life. This witness must be clear and vocal. It must set forth the principles of Scripture as these principles bear on all life’s problems. With this latter we have, of course, no quarrel. But accompanying it in some instances is a desire to abandon the institute and reform the church along the lines of separate organizations which can speak in every area from education to politics.
I am afraid of this growing distrust of the institute. I am afraid of the tendency to substitute for the institute various forms of “Christian” action and forsake the official preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments for making one’s voice heard in life’s arena.
It seems apparent that all movements of this type have at least this much in common that they have substituted some kind of emphasis on action in the world for the church’s calling to be busily engaged in preaching the gospel of Christ. Whether that social action becomes the crass social gospel of modern liberalism or whether it be some kind of “Reformed” emphasis on the Christian’s calling in the social sphere, it shows its distrust of the power of the gospel to save God’s elect. The institute has outlived its usefulness.
It is at this juncture that we must take issue with all those who plead for more social emphasis by the church.
The ascended and glorified Christ has been exalted in heaven for the purpose of gathering His Church so that He may take His elect to Himself in everlasting glory. He has ordained the institute of the church for that very purpose—to accomplish that end. He has decreed that these people of His shall be saved from darkness and brought into light, shall be preserved in the midst of the world as His people, shall be prepared for their place in glory, through the preaching of the gospel. This preaching of the gospel is the very heart of the institute. The church in its organizational form—whether in consistory, in the office of believers, in broader assemblies of the church—has no other purpose than to engage in this work. The church must therefore set her eyes on this one objective: the goal of bringing God’s people into the fellowship of Christ. The church must busy herself with no other work than to nourish and feed God’s people while they continue their pilgrimage. The church must be the means whereby the saints are kept in this present time until they are prepared for their place in heaven.
It is, no doubt, true that the end of our present dispensation shall be marked by a disappearance of the institute of the church—i.e., of the true institute of the church of Jesus Christ. But Scripture teaches in this connection that this shall come about under the pressures of persecution and the great tribulation of the era of Antichrist rather than the mere fact that the institute has become useless in the light of the church’s calling to speak a Christian word in the various spheres of life.
The preservation of the institute is above all important to the end that the church may be continuously gathered. If the time comes when, under the pressures of persecution, the institute ceases to exist, it can only mean that the church has fulfilled her calling, that Christ has saved His people, and that the coming of Christ is imminent. For the rest, we must put our trust in the preaching and believe, though all the evidence that comes to us seems to speak a contrary language, that Christ will still accomplish His purpose in the preaching of the gospel.
THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS
It is generally agreed that the black horse of Revelation 6speaks of the great difference between the “haves” and the “have-nets” in this world with respect to material things. In fact, this important difference—that some are rich and some are poor—is one of the signs of the coming of Christ and is one of the factors in many other signs which arise to point the church to Christ’s return.
An interesting article recently appeared in Newsweekwhich dealt with this problem. It pointed out in the first place, that there has always been this great difference between the haves and the have-nots. But it pointed out with many figures and graphs that the difference is steadily becoming greater. The rich are becoming richer, and the poor are becoming poorer. The article was discussing this on a national level. It was demonstrating that, for the most part, the rich nations live in the northern half of the globe while the poor nations live in the southern half. In the northern half, a computer-age technology has allowed the United States, Soviet Russia, Western Europe and the industrialized northern hemisphere to grow rapidly in wealth. But in the countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa, while the population increases at a frightening rate, the economic lot of these people rather than improving is getting steadily worse.
The article made mention of the fact that various efforts have been made to reverse this trend and balance the wealth of the world somewhat. But all these efforts have thus far ended in almost complete failure.
In viewing the future, one noted student of the problem made the gloomy prediction:
If we do not succeed in effective and vigorous economic development, the alternatives are clear. The deteriorating situation in the have-not countries will demonstrate that the extremists are right. Black power—now merely a U.S. phenomenon—will become brown, yellow and black power on a global scale.
This prediction also bears out what Scripture has to say about those things which shall be hereafter before our Lord comes back.
Ecumenical activity in Great Britain is increasing once again. For some time there has been talk among the Anglicans and the Methodists in that island about the desirability of merging. Now concrete work is being done to realize this goal. Commissions from both churches approved a blueprint for reunion, which, if accepted, will give England a united church by 1980.
Newsweek, in commenting on this, showed somewhat the compromises which characterize many merger movements.
The abstinence-minded Methodists, for instance, will not insist that Anglicans use grape juice at their services, nor will Anglicans demand that Methodists use wine. Unlike the Church of England, where the appointment of bishops comes within the crown’s prerogative, Methodist leaders would be chosen by conference and then consecrated as bishops by their Anglican colleagues. The ceremony will contain a “deliberate ambiguity”: Episcopal bishops and Methodist Church officials will solemnly lay hands upon each other in a “ceremony of reconciliation,” and it will be left to the participants themselves to find great or little theological significance in the ritual.
It was almost two centuries ago that Methodism separated from the State Church of England in the Wesleyan revivals.
Episcopal Bishop C. Kilmer Myers of California suggested a broader ecumenical movement. He suggested that this summer’s Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in London and the World Council of Churches meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, be reconvened in Rome in union with the world’s Roman Catholic bishops under the leadership of Pope Paul VI. He proposed that the meeting take place under the leadership of Pope Paul by acknowledging the pope “first among equals of the Christian church on earth.” But even this was not sufficient to satisfy him.
He also proposed a “World Congress of the Great Religions of Man”. This Congress would include every religion on the earth including humanism and would give the whole population of the world an opportunity to speak for “human dignity and worth.”