Authority for the Church in Crisis

Condensed from an address by Dr. Dennis Kinlaw
President, Asbury College

The world has been changed – and will be changed – by men and women under dynamic authority of God’s Word.

Ours is a day of crisis. The evidence is on every hand. One of the obvious facets of this crisis is in the area of authority. I’m aware that authority is not an “in” word at this particular time. Ours is an age counted as one of revolution. The very character of revolution is that it is resistant to authority. So this is a naughty word with unacceptable connotations – of extrinsic force which imposes upon a man a pattern of life and structure of existence which he really does not want and would never, himself, choose.

Yet that is a very limited understanding of authority. There is an authority that is not external and alien to man, and that does not connote force. There is an authority that connotes, rather, Truth. Not something alien to be resisted, but a key to the very nature of reality. Truth that enables one to find his own fulfillment and his own real freedom.

We believe that holy Scripture is not just the best wisdom that human reason can give us about the nature of reality. We believe that it is the very wisdom of God. We believe that there is a God, differentiable from us. And from the rest of the creation. This God is sovereign over His creation.

We further believe in the fact of sin and that man has been critically damaged by sin. We believe that man is unable, in himself, to see the true nature of ultimate realities, those that relate to the supernatural. He sees only dimly the true nature of created things. “The New York Times,” “Look Magazine,” “Naked Came the Stranger,” the morning news, as well as any textbook on abnormal psychology illustrate this.

We believe that God is good, and that in His goodness He was not content to leave men without a key to the nature of their existence. That key is given to us in holy Scripture.

To speak of its authority is not to bring up the connotation of force, obscurantism or something antithetical to man’s best interest, or his freedom. Rather, it is the chief guide to man’s true freedom. True humanism. And when that authority is destroyed, the real human values go with it.

Positivism, scientism and religious education, in this century, have been committed to saving us from a superstitious view of God and the world. From a life of fear that includes such supposedly dehumanizing and immoral things as the belief that violations of moral law have eternal consequences.

Jesus would speak more simply of hell. And that the real key to life in this world lay in a relationship to Another, the supernatural.

The promises, though, of those who wanted to free us from a literalistic Biblicism, from that impressively invoked Bibliolatry, have simply succeeded in breaking the authoritative hold that Biblical revelation once held on the mind of our Church, and of our society. To be honest with you, I myself can hardly call what I see as a result, progress.

Look at the massive appeal of astrology to our American people. Let me remind you that there are far more people reading horoscopes this morning than there are reading the “Upper Room.” Or take the significant rise of demonism and witchcraft in our society. It has been my privilege to do a fair amount of work in the history of ideas, especially in the role of magic, myth and the occult in human life. As far as I can find, the only societies where man has ever been freed from astrology and from witchcraft, have been societies where the Old Testament was at one time influential and looked upon as the Word of God.

Could it be that the liberal religious education movement (that took away from us the confidence in the Old Testament Scriptures Jesus had) took from us also those ideological forces that kept us from imputing to the stars a power that Genesis says they do not have? For the life of me, I do not see that reading horoscopes is superior to accepting Genesis with its affirmation that God is sovereign over all things and the sole determiner of human destiny.

When faith in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God goes, men inevitably turn to the creation for light on their lives instead of to the sovereign God. Man carries his s????se of eternity very uneasily. Man intuitively believes that there is another world, that is different from his obvious world.

You may think it is progress when we strip from men belief in another world that includes the supernatural as it is pictured in the Scriptures, with God, angels, satan and all. But when that stripping away leads, as it has in our society, to witchcraft, demonism and to Rosemary’s Baby, then I prefer to return to the Old Testament. And even to the so-called “sub-Christian” apocalypse of John, which gives me courage to believe that evil in any form is really no threat to the sovereignty of God.

I do not find such Biblical faith demeaning to man, but encouraging, uplifting. It is a force for hope and goodwill in the world, a force for freedom from superstition and from fear in our society. The stripping away of the sense of God’s presiding Spirit that characterizes the life lived in the fear of a Holy God, never frees men. He simply turns then to a presiding spirit that ultimately debases him and enslaves him.

The non-evangelical has never seemed to understand us when we speak about the absolute character of moral Law. We do not believe that the moral Law is absolute because it is law; we believe it is absolute because it is the Law of God. We believe that God is morally discriminating. Very discriminating. We believe that the ultimate basis for the difference between right and wrong lies not in the human situation nor in the mind of man himself, but in the very nature of a holy God who changes not, and who calls Himself, the Holy One of Israel.

Thus, when man does wrong, his problem is not primarily with himself, nor with his neighbor against whom he has sinned. His primary problem is personally with God. And God is the bigger problem and the more permanent one, because He is that Holy One, the Eternal One, and because He is offended.

It is not offensive to us, as evangelicals, to think that God can be offended by immoral conduct, whether it is sexual irregularities, or overcharging the poor in the ghettos. We worship Him the more because He is capable of being morally offended. In fact, we rejoice that His antipathies to evil are so great that we are assured that evil will not ultimately prevail. His sovereign holiness gives promise of that.

It is our conviction that the moral nature of the Creator has affected the creation. So that human life is morally conditioned. The key to the character of human life is reflected in the Ten Commandments. These are not encroachments upon human dignity and freedom. The Law of God is never grievous; it is a doorway to freedom.

Of course our society looks upon it oftentimes as being oppressive. It looks upon the sexual code of Scripture as Puritanical and oppressive. The rejection of the Biblical authority in this area is often pictured for us as a way to freedom and to fulfillment of our humanity.

Yet our history has known no hour when. we were more confused and less satisfied sexually. The removal of the Biblical restraints has also removed from us the possibility of the ennoblement of monogamous love, faithfulness, and that near-sacramental experience of a marriage relationship centered in Jesus Christ.

The Puritans were the only people who could preach freely and reverently on successive Sundays a series of sermons on the Song of Solomon without embarrassment. I, for one, find “Playboy” and the literature of the new morality a poor substitute for that little Old Testament book.

Or take the matter of intellectual freedom and scientific inquiry. Again and again, orthodox Christian faith has been looked upon as the enemy of academic freedom, and the promotion of knowledge. But it is in the Western world, where the Bible has had its greatest influence, that the university has reached its zenith. Where science has made its greatest triumphs.

Let it also be remembered that the most productive educational force (as far as a force that has produced educational institutions) is Protestant evangelicalism. And let it be noted that it is in our present day, when the hold of Scripture upon the common mind has been broken, that the university has reached its point of greatest jeopardy. When academic freedom is becoming most heavily circumscribed.

Inextricably tied to the submission to the Word of God, is the best flowering of the human spirit. To destroy confidence in and obedience to Holy Scripture is to take from our life both corporately and privately that mucilage that is necessary to hold our lives together. The infallible Word of the living God is not the enemy of our freedom, but the source of the very ideological framework necessary for freedom to really flourish.

The strange thing – the ironic thing – is that in large measure the Church has led the fight to break the ideological hold that Scripture has had upon the American mind. It is rather obvious that the Church, with its church school, its literature and its religious educational program, has succeeded in teaching its children not to take the Bible seriously. The cry of the evangelical is that the Church has not, by so-doing, made us better men, nor brought us to a larger freedom.

You wonder how is the best way to tackle the massive human problems that face us in our day. The picture of a few men gathered together to pray, to read the Bible and to seek God’s will from His Word and from His Spirit, seems innocuous – tame to a day far more oriented to action. But let me urge you not to despise the revolutionary potential in a few men seeking to subordinate themselves to the Word of God, and to the full implications of those teachings.

On the 6th of July in 1886, 251 young men met together with Dwight L. Moody at Mt. Hermon in Massachusetts. They began to pray and read Scripture, and talk. In that group were three young men. One from Harvard, one from Princeton, and one from Oberlin. These three young men had laid on their hearts by the Spirit of God a great burden for world evangelism. And they began to talk to some of their friends in that group. On the 10th day, A. T. Pearson came in and spoke on “all must go and go to all.” These men were challenged, and invited all of the other 248 students who were interested in the evangelization of the world to meet together and they got 21. Those 21 began to talk and to pray, and by the end of the four weeks there were 99 young men who had committed their lives to the evangelization of the world. On the last day of that student conference, the 100th young man volunteered. It’s my understanding that that 100th man was named John R. Mott.

Those students began to move out across American campuses. They picked up men like Robert Speer, and Samuel Zwemer. And with a passion for the evangelization of the world in their hearts, they began to change the temperature on American campuses.

Within 20 years, the student body at the University of Pennsylvania was contributing $12,000 a year to the evangelization of the world. Contributing likewise the U. of North Carolina, the U. of Michigan, Amhurst, Carleton, Hamilton, Cornell, Vassar, and others. Within 25 years, better than 4,000 of these young men were scattered across the world, building institutions like the Yale of China, and spreading the basic ideals that have moved most powerfully in the 20th Century. And out of that came the idealism that has swept our century and led to concepts in the United Nations of development for underdeveloped nations.

Missionaries, with an eye on another world, went with the only ideals that can transform this world. Out of this came such movements as our World Council of Churches, originally closely identified with cooperative evangelism (let’s forget our differences in order to reach men for Jesus Christ).

Do not despair when a group of people get together to read the Bible and pray and seek God’s will. It may well be that the most revolutionary political meeting that was ever held, as far as the modern world is concerned, is that one with Dwight L. Moody and his 251 boys at Mt. Hermon.

Do you know what I would like to think? That God might begin to do something in a group like this Convocation. And in the young people that are committed to us. These might become imbued with ihe ideals and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Transformed by His regenerating power. Caught up by a Pentecostal anointing on their own hearts. And sent out to provide some of the spiritual power that can make the revolutionary Truth of God a reality in tomorrow’s world.

The world often passes by the meetings that often have the longest historical shadows. And when men get right with God, in terms of their own personal relationship and in terms of their responsibilities to their brethren, beneficent effect always comes.

A German refugee from Adolph Hitler came to Chicago a number of years ago. His name was Mies Van Der Rohe. He was an architect. And he began to teach at Illinois Institute of Technology. He turned to some of his colleagues and said, “Gentlemen, you give me one good student a year, for 10 years, and I can change the face of Chicago.”

In Chicago today you will find in most every major architectural office, a student of Mies Van Der Rohe. And you will find the Chicago Civic Center, a $35 million project, the Federal Building, the New Circle Campus of the University of Illinois, and a host of other work as living evidence that one man with one student a year for 10 years changed the face of a city.

Could it be that God wants us to turn our attention to the young people who are committed to us? Should we begin to say to God, “You give me one student a year and let me reproduce under Your Spirit something holy and sacred in terms of human commitment and in terms of human vision.” Perhaps this is how we can realize the dream of those early Methodists who talked about reforming a continent and spreading Scriptural holiness.

We must not let anyone strip us of what insight God has given us, as to where our salvation lies – and the larger salvation of mankind. It is not the naturalistic processes, whether secularly or religiously conceived, that will save us. No, we must look to a transcendent God who yet rules in history. In Him alone our salvation lies. And in love for this God and in love for our brother, we must submit ourselves rigorously to His Word. We must do this not out of obstinacy, but out of love for others – even those who do not understand us, or those who oppose us. And others to whom this hope perhaps yet has not come.

Have patience and be faithful. The future belongs not to that which is inconsistent with holy Scripture, for all that is transient and must pass away. The future belongs to the Word of God. Let us keep ourselves and our fellowship anchored in it.


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