What Is Going On in the Churches?
THE recent fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland is just one facet of life in which the churches are in the limelight. In the news, too, is the apparent surge of interest of youths in religion—many of them caught up in what is called “The Jesus Revolution.”
The way the churches and their leaders are reacting to such happenings is often reflected in news reports.
The titles of sermons at times mirror the world’s distress. For instance, subjects of church sermons recently advertised in the Boston “Globe” include: “Deliver Me from the Hand of My Brother,” and “A Liberal Religion for a Confused Age.”
Often sermon titles seem deliberately vague, causing one to wonder what they are about. In the Washington, D.C., area some subjects were: “The Persistent Cipher Is Incredible,” and “Stripped Bare.” What would you expect to hear in those sermons?
Other titles imply shortcomings of God, or even question the rightness of his dealings. A Washington, D.C., United Presbyterian church advertised: “God’s Great Nevertheless.” And a United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio, announced in front of its place of meeting: “Lord, We Have Considerable Doubts About the Way You’re Running the Universe.”
Despite talk of a decline in religious interest, some churches report large attendances. But is this necessarily evidence of spiritual strength? Consider the following news items:
In a syndicated column, AP religion writer George W. Cornell reported: “At the Clen-Moore United Presbyterian church in New Castle, Pa., the pastor, the Rev. Jack Heinsohn, sometimes puts on clown’s makeup and goes through acrobatics on a trampoline to get across points to younger members.”—“The Express,” Easton, Pa., July 10, 1971.
Equally strange are the goings-on in certain Baptist churches. People are invited to see ten inches of concrete broken “with Hand and Head.” Besides the use of karate, Baptist evangelist Mike Crain performs feats with samurai swords. “The News,” Frederick, Maryland, reports: “Rev. Crain demonstrated the full extent of his skills Sunday evening at People’s Baptist Church when he placed a watermelon on the stomach of David Gilbert, a congregation member, and, blindfolded, sliced the melon into two sections.”
Reporter Daryl Lembke notes that in San Francisco “there’s never a dull moment Sundays at Glide Memorial Methodist Church.” He explains that the church has sponsored various unorthodox events but that it “didn’t really achieve standing-room-only status until the summer of 1969. That’s when the paid choir and organist were let go and replaced by Meridian West [a jazz group]. About the same time, the chancel was cleared by removing the altar and the pulpit. Room had to be made for the band and the crowd that gyrates with it.”—Atlanta “Journal,” May 26, 1971.
These activities are not confined to Protestant groups. A heading in the Miami “Herald,” August 6, 1971, says: “PRAYER TO ROCK BEAT REACHES JEWISH FAITH.”
And the Chicago “Tribune” of August 1, 1971, observes: “Folk masses, like the one at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hyde Park, were unique not long ago. Today, because of the realization that survival means accommodating the young, they are a common occurrence.” The conservative Catholic paper “The Defender’s Trumpet” complains that the Mass “has been turned into a three-ring circus.”
Although such tactics may attract more people to church, the question may be asked: Is this really a sign of genuine spiritual strength?
CLERGY IN THE MILITARY
Especially reflected in the churches is the world’s division and disagreement on the issue of war. On one hand, thousands of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy serve in the armed forces as chaplains, being endorsed by their various denominations. The United States currently has 1,704 chaplains in the Army, 1,129 in the Air Force and 994 in the Navy, and these also serve the Marine Corps. In all, there are some 30,000 active and inactive American chaplains, about 3,000 having thus far served in Vietnam.
Chaplains have the military rank of officer. And to illustrate that chaplains share much of their fellow officers’ support for the war efforts, the New York “Times,” June 22, 1971, observed:
“A convention in Washington last month of the Military Chaplains Association appeared at times to turn into a rally in support of the United States’ effort in Vietnam and against anti-war demonstrators and hippies.”
On the other hand, some clergymen are bitterly opposed to United States’ war efforts, and do all they can to disrupt them. For instance, recently three clergymen were captured when they tried to steal or destroy FBI documents and federal draft records in Camden, New Jersey. “Time” magazine, September 6, 1971, reported: “Among those apprehended were two Roman Catholic priests . . . [also] a Lutheran minister.”
The growing involvement of churches in political and social reform movements is a distinctive feature of today’s news.
The Los Angeles “Herald-Examiner,” July 24, 1971, said: “The Rev. Neil McLaughlin, a Baltimore priest indicted on charges that he plotted with others to kidnap presidential adviser Henry A. Kissinger as a tactic to support peace in Vietnam, says: ‘Priests and nuns must become more involved.’
“The Rev. Carl Lezak, a Chicago priest active in precinct politics, says: ‘You will see more priests in politics.’”
But in view of the serious problems within churches and the conflicting opinions of clergymen, one may well wonder why greater clergy involvement in politics should be expected to improve the workings of governments.
NEW ROLE OF WOMEN
In keeping with the Scriptural injunction not to “permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man,” women traditionally have not held positions of oversight in churches. (1 Tim. 2:12) But in more and more religious areas there is an abandoning of this position. As religion writer Richard Dalrymple observes:
“Altar boys in one Roman Catholic Church are now being replaced with girls . . . Lutherans have a woman minister . . . and next year a woman rabbi is expected to be ordained.
“Last month, Seattle peace activist Mrs. Marcus Rohlfs was elected president of the American Baptist Convention. When Mrs. Lois Stair was voted into the highest office of the United Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian moderator, she became the first woman to hold that post.”—Los Angeles “Herald-Examiner,” June 12, 1971.
There is no doubt that unusual things are going on in the churches. The real question, of course, is, What does God think about these attitudes and practices? Do they harmonize with his standards and so meet his approval? Have you read the Bible enough to know his mind on these matters? It would be worth your while to investigate.