The Apostles Creed Says it Best

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

by Bishop Nolan B. Harmon, Retired
Condensed from Christian Advocate August 22, 1968
Copyright ©1968 by The Methodist Publishing House

Within comparatively recent years there have been placed in our Methodist orders of worship (in The Discipline, The Book of Worship and the Hymnal) along with the Apostles’ Creed, two other “Affirmations of faith.” These were the official formularies of the Methodist Episcopal Church previous to union, and went into The Discipline of the united church in 1939 and then into The Book of Worship when it was first issued in 1944 “for those who might wish to use them.”

One of these statements is called “A Modern Affirmation.” The other is “The Korean Creed. ” Many ministers today seem to prefer one or the other of these statements to the august symbol of the Faith itself, if indeed they have their people repeat any creed at all.

Each of the affirmations is introduced by the impressive statement: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true Church, apostolic and universal, whose holy faith let us now declare. Then follow in place of the tremendous item by item declarations of the apostolic witness, a few carefully worded sentences, some of which are open to varied interpretations as they express certain Christian viewpoints, but all a long way removed from the comprehensive, unmistakable directness of the Apostles’ Creed itself.

Now no one can object to these modern affirmations being used occasionally as explanations of certain truths of the creed, provided-and this is an important proviso-that the one who uses them, and the people who are led to repeat them, know exactly how far they go and do not go. I for one can say these affirmations with a right goodwill, since I know what they mean, and that they are ex parte only. What I do object to is to give the impression by the sonorous introduction and the constant use of these affirmations in churchwide worship that they embody anything like the comprehensive faith of the Christian Church.

Let it be granted that the Apostoles’ Creed itself does need amplification and explanation, and should have it in all sorts of sermonic and doctrinal teachings. The creed was not written to explain but to list in bare, terse, iron-ribbed language, the factual, actual fundamentals of the Christian faith. Each one of these fundamentals does need explaining, but at much greater length and in sermons and doctrinal teaching which every minister and Christian leader should be prepared to give, and that continuously.

Indeed the Korean Creed, which is much better than the Modern Affirmation, was written as Bishop Herbert Welch explained in The Christian Advocate [August1, 1946, p. 973] to be “intended primarily as a teaching instrument.” It went into The Discipline of the Korean Methodist Church where it is published today as a “Statement of Belief.” It was the goal of those who drew up this statement to make if “brief, including only the few essentials of a practical Christian faith … simple, couched in non-technical language.” This was certainly an understandable move as Bishop Welch and Dr. J. S. Ryang, later bishop himself, worked out this short confession for the nascent church whose people could not then have taken in more.

As to the Modern Affirmation, Bishop Welch tells us in the same issue of The Christian Advocate that this was drawn up by Professor Edwin Lewis of Drew Theological Seminary at the request of Bishop W. P. Thirkield, then chairman of the Commission on Worship and Music of The Methodist Episcopal Church. It was to be “a brief statement of Christian faith which, in addition to the Apostles’ Creed (italics mine), might be recommended to the Church.” So Dr. Lewis wrote, “And the judgment of the commission … was so favorable that his (Dr. Lewis’) statement was adopted without change.”

As one who knew Dr. Lewis well and greatly admired him, and indeed acted as his editor for his later books (I was book editor of the church then), it can be said frankly that Dr. Lewis wrote this statement some years before he came to that epochal point in his life when he admitted publicly that he had changed greatly in his fundamental theological viewpoint. The Edwin Lewis who wrote the Christian Manifesto of 1934 was not the Edwin Lewis who put out (and the General (Conference adopted) the ambiguities of the Modern Affirmation. Even had he been the same man, let it be noted that the Modern Affirmation was to be in addition to—not a substitute for—the Apostles’ Creed. If it and the Korean Creed also can be seen as formularies to supplement and not supplant the Apostles’ Creed, well and good. But full-bodied faith for the church today these affirmations certainly are not, and it will be a bad day for any congregation which is led to believe that they are.

Look at the differences: The Apostles’ Creed affirms belief in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His Only Son our Lord; it affirms His Incarnation through the Virgin Mary, his appearance in time before Pontius Pilate, His Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Session on the right hand of God, and declares that He will come to judge the quick and the dead. The whole Christology of the Christian faith is summed up in that one mighty paragraph.

But what says the Modern Affirmation: “We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of man.” That statement is, of course, correct, but it is exactly the one used by many Unitarians who explain that we are all “sons of God” as well as sons of men, and of course Jesus was also. No unique Sonship, no “only begotten” is herein affirmed.

The “gift of the Father’s unfailing love” goes on the Modern Affirmation. Yes, but how given? No birth, no date in time, no crucifixion, no death, no resurrection, and especially no second coming and no final judgment. What a truncated, lopped-off “holy faith ” we are thus led to declare!

The Korean Creed does it much better, calling Jesus “God manifest in the flesh, our teacher, example, and Redeemer, and the Savior of the world.” All that yes, but how one would like to hear breaking in the long roll of the war-drum of the Nicene Creed with a Jesus Christ who is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made . . . Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. In contrast with that mighty sentence these modern affirmations sound like the tinkling of ice cubes in a glass of water over against the roar of a heavy surf on the edge of the illimitable sea.

And what of Resurrection, what of Ascension, what of a final Judgment, what of life in the world to come? They just aren’t there. To be sure, the “life everlasting ” is in the Korean Creed, but not much of the rest of the vast divine program which the Apostle’s Creed sets forth, and upon which the church rests the sureness of its hope.

As to the Holy Spirit, the Modern Affirmation declares belief in Him as “the divine presence in our lives.” The Korean has “God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength.” Both these statements are true, but here comes in the troublesome ambiguity of the word “spirit.” I have known many a man refer to the “spirit of God,” or pray for “the spirit of Jesus to be upon us” whom I knew had not the slightest idea of affirming belief in the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed said flatly: I believe in the Holy Ghost.

Incidentally, it was a bad day for Trinitarian belief in Methodism when Holy Spirit was substituted for Holy Ghost in our copies of the creed. I am one who said so at the table when this was done, as I was on the Commission on Worship when the change was made. One distinguished leader argued that the word ghost had connotations that made it frightening to children; another stated that the word spirit out of the Latin Sanctus Spiritus had always been in the church. Old Dr. Forlines of the Methodist Protestant, group, who combined vast erudition with practical sagacity, moved that we print two editions of the Creed, with Holy Spirit in one and Holy Ghost in the other. So we voted, but when the edition of the Creed came out in Ritual and Discipline of the early 1940’s it was Holy Spirit and that only. (I am glad to see that in our new Hymnal in the Creed we have got an asterisk which allows Holy Ghost as an alternative.)

The difficulty is that the word Spirit lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, as there may be 57 varieties of a holy spirit. The name Holy Ghost cannot possibly be mistaken for any emanation or effulgence, but denominates unmistakably the Ineffable Person who with the Father and the Son is to be worshiped forever.

And what of the church? Well, there is no church at all in the Modern Affirmation. In the Korean Creed it becomes a “fellowship for worship and for service.” It is that of course, but the church, holy and catholic, far transcends earthly patterns of work and worship. It has an entity all its own apart from the fellowship of its earthly members, which fellowship of course is a precious matter. But the church is something vastly more. It is the “pillar and ground of the truth”; “purchased by the blood of Christ”; It is the “company of the first born in heaven”; it exemplifies and embodies the communion of the saints, those on earth and those in glory; it is the body of which Christ is the head, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; and this church, holy and catholic, is not even mentioned in the modern substitute creed.

One would not know there is a communion of saints and a forgiveness of sins. Neither are mentioned in the Modern Affirmation. Neither is there a resurrection of the body and a life everlasting in the Modern Affirmation. The goal of it all is “to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth.” The Korean does do it better with a belief in the “final triumph of righteousness”—doesn’t say when or where—and while it affirms life everlasting, it leaves out the resurrection of the body.

The fact is, this Modern Affirmation (leave the Korean Creed aside a moment) was written and adopted in the heyday of that curious, optimistic, irresponsible liberalism that came to full flower in the first three or four decades of this century. Anyone could then see that the world was getting better and better. To stop war, you simply promised not to fight. (Hitler and Mussolini were waiting in the wings.) To bring in the kingdom, you got laws passed in Washington, and the idea that the spirit of man could be evil—well, this was our Father’s world, and “pie in the sky by and by ” was the contemptuous way in which the whole concept of eternity was banished.

Then came on one world war and then came another and all that unthoughted, this-worldly optimism was swept away by genocide and torture on a cosmic scale worthy of the Dark Ages, and the emergence as world powers of proudly atheistic nations. It was realized anew what the church of the ages has always known-that there is a vast malevolent spirit of evil loose in the world (Edwin Lewis wrote God and the Adversary to express this powerfully), that it is a kingdom not of this world which the Lord came to bring and which remains always the true inheritance of the people of Christ. But 1910-1939 couldn’t see it.

Another thing that should be said is that when any item of the Apostles’ Creed is omitted, the whole corpus of belief is mutilated and denatured. Many people do not believe in the Virgin Birth and so do not repeat the creed in order to avoid affirming that. But see what happens when no mention is made of the Lord’s birth. There will be belief in “God, the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His Son our Lord, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified,” etc. No true Incarnation-God just picked out a good man, a normally born Jesus, and made him to be both Christ and Lord, redeemed the world by Him, and has “put all things under His feet!” No real Advent; no tidings of great joy; God to be father just used the body of a human male (proxy fatherhood!) to bring into the world His co-eternal Son! It simply does not add up, certainly not against Matthew and Luke. Admittedly the Virgin Birth is a matter of faith, as it is something which no man, living or dead, ever could or ever can prove or disprove, and which the Virgin Mary herself said she could not understand. But I do not think modern theologians see what they give up when they glibly say they cannot accept it.

Or try ending the Creed at: He ascended into heaven. Period. Period. No Session, no Return, no final Judgment “where the works of earth are tried by a juster judge than here.” Where does that leave us? Right with those modern novelists who clearly depict all the injustices of this world, and cry out against all its evils and wrongs, but not believing in any God, or any world where things will be righted, they take their shotgun and their life. And why not? If there be no God to “judge the living and the dead” why not a pistol or a bottle of sleeping tablets? No wonder the world lacks hope and purpose if it lacks the whole Gospel.

To be sure, we Methodists do leave out the “descent into hell,” but even those who affirm it never claim that it is of the esse of the Faith. John Wesley did keep the descent into hell in the text of the Creed he sent to American Methodism (in Adult Baptism), but he struck out the Article of Religion (Number Ill of the XXXIX) affirming it, when he picked out 24 of the articles for us here. But on this side, Coke and Asbury got the descent into hell out of the text of the creed in short order. Research shows it is not in the early copies of the creed; there is no sure Scripture for it; and whether it happened or did not happen, it is not relevant to the vast truths of Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Judgment to come, basic to the Gospel itself.

Analyzing these “modern” affirmations is not done to argue with brother ministers and leaders of worship over what they personally believe or do not believe. What is objected to is the public palming off as “the Holy Faith of the Church,” these 20th-century affirmations which sound so lofty and leave out so much. If they supplement, yes; if they supplant, no. Let the Apostles’ Creed be used and let its verities be explained and preached- the whole Gospel for the whole world.

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

Getting to Know the Old Testament

Part One

Why Christians need the Old Testament

by John N. Oswalt, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature, Asbury Theological Seminary Elder, Kentucky Annual Conference, United Methodist Church

When a new pastor learned that children in the local Sunday school were encouraged to memorize the Ten Commandments, his response was, “why learn the Ten Commandments? We are Christians.” It is perhaps too easy to be righteously shocked by such a report, for, in truth, many of us tacitly believe this whether we say it or not. Most Protestants who read the Bible at all, read almost exclusively from the New Testament. Most Protestant preaching is from the New Testament—according to one recent study, a ratio of 10 New Testament texts to one from the Old Testament. And if those sermons based on the Book of Psalms were excluded, there would be almost no Old Testament preaching in Protestant pulpits, evangelical or otherwise. Thus it seems many of us echo the above-quoted pastor in life, if not in word.

Why does this condition exist? How is it that so many of us can virtually ignore the first two-thirds of the book we call the Word of God?

One answer is, of course, that the Old Testament is not of the same stuff as the New Testament and is thus not deserving of equal attention. From this point of view, it is ancient Oriental literature which exists as helpful background to the understanding of the Incarnation. Here and there, say these Old Testament minimizers, are flashes of the Divine Nature. But by and large the Old Testament is merely a collection of Hebrew literature which testifies to that people’s developing consciousness of God. As such, we are often told, the Old Testament is fraught with all the difficulties of ancient folk literature. The New Testament, on the other hand, partakes of the peculiar authority of the Incarnation. What was formerly perceived only in a fragmented and often perverted way is now seen with clarity. This new clarity gives rise to the Church. Thus the Church ought not to look for its roots in the Old Testament. They are not there.

However, this answer does not satisfy many. For many have been taught to believe that the Old and New Testaments together comprise the Word of God. They were reared from childhood on the stories of the Old Testament. Many others have been converted through a clear Biblical witness; one which treated both Testaments together as being authoritative for the life and faith of the believer. These people cannot believe that the Church ought to treat the Old Testament as a senile grandparent who, although he or she cannot be done away with, can at least be largely ignored until time takes its toll.

Yet, when such sincere believers begin to read the Old Testament, determinedly, they are confronted with seemingly overwhelming problems. To begin with, they are faced with a lifestyle largely different from that of the West in the Twentieth Century. They meet customs which are strange and meaningless. The impact of these differences is to suggest, however subtly, that the problems of nomads and peasants of 4,000 years ago are utterly unrelated to needs, attitudes, and problems of modern, technological man.

But more disturbing to some is the tone of the writing of the Old Testament. It seems to be essentially legalistic and judgmental: if you are good you will be rewarded; if you are not good, you will be punished. And somehow, it seems as if those people were being punished most of the time. This idea points to the heart of the issue: a gnawing feeling that, apart from some exceptions, the Old Testament is sub-Christian in its conception of God and in its projection of morality. For example, where is the morality in the Israelites’ slaughtering men, women and children in the cities which they had conquered? What Christian has not felt a twinge of embarrassment over the savage sentiments expressed in some of the Psalms? How can the antics of Samson, God’s chosen, be reconciled with Jesus’ and Paul’s calls to sober Christian character? Where is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the raging Tyrant who has to be restrained by a man from obliterating His people?

But even if the sincere reader can push these troublesome problems into the background, there are other, more concrete problems which also make it difficult to appreciate the Old Testament. Much of it is simply obscure. Fortunately many of the newer translations and paraphrases help immensely. Nevertheless, allusions to places and persons familiar to an ancient Near Easterner are lost on most modern readers. This is especially so with the prophets. There being no story line to hold a modern reader’s attention, and since he has often little or no awareness of the historical situation to which the prophet was addressing himself, modern readers frequently become bored and depressed by the prophets (incurring not a little self-guilt thereby).

One factor which relates to the entire Old Testament is what seems to be the excessively dry and repetitious style employed. The first 10 chapters of I Chronicles, the last 10 of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus and Numbers are special cases in point. No matter how these chapters are translated, if the translation is at all faithful to the original, these materials are never going to be gripping reading for Americans of the latter Twentieth Century.

This raises another, and for purposes of treatment, a final problem. Most of us have been taught to read the Bible devotionally. That is, we expect to find some devotional or didactic (teaching) material that applies to our own immediate situation. Much of the New Testament can be read this way with profit (whether this is the best, or only, way is another question). But major portions of Old Testament cannot profitably be read this way. This being so, many potential Old Testament readers become discouraged and say that the Old Testament is “too deep” for them.

The truth is not that the Old Testament is “too deep,” but the reader, being essentially “message”-oriented, is using an inappropriate method to mine the treasures that are to be found in the Old Testament.

For all of these reasons, then, people who devoutly believe in the equal authority and inspiration of the Old and New Testaments are, commonly, almost totally ignorant of the Old Testament. They know the most dramatic stories vaguely and are familiar with a few Psalms, but that is almost the entire extent of their Old Testament knowledge. The present series of articles is intended to be a modest step toward dealing with this problem. First, the attempt will be made to show why the Church, despite the reality and the seriousness of the aforementioned problems, dare not lose contact with the Old Testament. Second, some suggestions will be made as to ways to meet and deal with the various problems. Third, some techniques for studying the Old Testament will be offered. Finally, as an aid to this study, a thumbnail sketch of the Old Testament history and message will be given.

Before embarking upon these tasks, however, it would be well to have in mind the nature and history of the Old Testament. Perhaps the best definition is that it is an anthology—that is, a collection of diverse kinds of literature united by having a common author, or if different authors, by a common theme. Depending upon one’s point of view, either of these last two qualifications could apply. One could claim that there is but one author: the Holy Spirit. However, it is clear that the Spirit did not use the writers as merely secretaries to whom He dictated the material. Rather, He has allowed their own concerns, personalities and styles to shape what they were writing. For this reason, then, it seems more appropriate to say that while the Old Testament has one ultimate source, it has come to us through many different authors. It is this unity of source which accounts for such diverse materials having been collected into one book. What unity could there be between cultic[1] regulations such as those of Leviticus 1 to 11 and love poetry such as that of Song of Solomon? Only this: the mature opinion of Jewish saints and scholars was that both proceeded from the living God who had revealed His will and nature to Israel alone.

How the various Old Testament books were admitted to this sacred anthology is still somewhat of a mystery. It is known that a council met at Jamnia in Galilee in 90 A.O. The chief result of this council was a declaration that the collection (or canon) was now closed. The Apocrypha (un-official books added to the Old Testament when the Greek translation of the Old Testament [the Septuagint] was made about 250-100 B.C.), was finally excluded from the canon.[2] Whether there were similar councils prior to 90 A.D., where some books were pronounced sacred and others not, is unknown. Certainly the three basic divisions of the Jewish Old Testament predated Jamnia, but no one knows by how much.

The three divisions are: (1) The Torah, or Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) (2) the Nebiim, or Prophets (Joshua-Malachi), excluding the following which appear in the third division (3) the Ketubim, or Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, I and II Chronicles). Some have argued that the Jews utilized these three divisions to indicate greater or lesser inspiration and/or earlier or later date, the Torah being the oldest and most inspired, and the Writings being the latest and least inspired. However, there is no external evidence to support this idea. It is at least equally likely that the Writings includes simply miscellaneous literature which would not fit the other two categories.

At any rate, the Old Testament anthology includes at least 10 different types of literature coming from the hand of (from our conservative point of view) at least 30 different authors spanning at least 1,000 years in dates of writing (and many more years if oral tradition[3] is included). On the other hand, the New Testament includes but four types of literature coming from the pens of seven or eight men within, at most, 50 or 60 years. It ought not to be strange, then that the Old Testament poses many more problems to the understanding than does the New Testament. These greater problems, however, are not ample reason to remove the Old Testament from the Christian’s Bible, either directly or indirectly.

What is the value of the Old Testament?

If it is admitted that the problems mentioned above are genuine, so genuine that many would-be readers and students are “turned-off” before they get well started, could it be that the so-called “values” of the Old Testament are trumped up to support the ecclesiastical status quo? In an effort to answer this question we need to look at the attitude of the New Testament and the early Church toward the Old Testament. Are there indications that they considered the Old Testament alien and sub-Christian?

Any investigation of the New Testament attitude toward the Old must begin with Jesus. It is evident that He treated it with the highest respect. The “Scriptures” which Jesus often quoted and obviously revered were none other than the Old Testament (Matthew 4:1-11 and elsewhere). His judgment of the Pharisees was that they had elevated their own traditions on a par with the written Word (Mark 7:13). He contrasted His own teaching with that of the Pharisees by saying that they made the Law ineffectual while He had come to give that inspired interpretation which would bring it to true fulfillment. He reiterated that He had not come to destroy the Law, but to complete it (Matthew 5:17, 18).

Furthermore, it is evident that Jesus consciously patterned His ministry around the Old Testament. A case in point would be His use of Isaiah 61:1,2 in His announcement of His ministry (Luke 4:18,19). Another would be His (and the evangelists’) concern to demonstrate how His ministry fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (John 19:36,37). The discourse on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35) is one more indication that Jesus, far from seeing His ministry as being of a different quality from (or indeed, in contradiction to, the Old Testament), saw it as the natural, and in fact, necessary outgrowth of the Old Testament.

The same can be said of Paul. At least since Martin Luther rediscovered Romans and Galatians and the principle of salvation by grace alone, Paul has been depicted as teaching a contradiction between Old Testament Law and New Testament Grace.[4] That Paul the Apostle teaches a distinction between salvation through the works of the Law and salvation through grace by faith is very clear. But whether this constitutes a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments is not at all clear. It may be argued that the Old Testament never teaches salvation through works of the Law. It is significant that the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt prior to the giving of the Law. Thus it can be seen that the Law was not intended to be the way to God, but rather the guide to the walk with God.

In a real sense, Paul says the same thing in Romans and Galatians. Having pointed out that one is saved only through a trusting response to God’s gracious offer, he goes on to point out in specific detail the kinds of character. which are (yes) demanded of Christians. To be sure, these are not spelled out in the absolute detail which is characteristic of the Law in the Old Covenant, but this is not an essential difference, as will be shown below. The fundamental principle is the same: those who are being saved must manifest the character of God in their life responses. If they will not, or do not, they cannot be saved.

The idea that rigid Law-keeping, in and of itself, could produce a right relationship with God is excoriated by the prophets. They declared that the only Law-keeping pleasing to God is that which flows from an attitude of the heart. The only Biblical parallel to the prophets stinging language is found in Jesus’ attacks upon the Pharisees (Matthew 23), men who were guilty of the same sins as their Old Testament counterparts.

Thus, Paul was not attacking the Old Testament correctly understood. Rather, he was attacking that false conception of the Law which made it a ladder by which man, in his own strength, could climb up to heaven. Furthermore, Paul was denouncing the idea that the Old Testament Law was primary and that Jesus was merely an appendage. He was crying, quite rightly, that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God and that all else in Scripture must find its meaning in relation to Him. Thus it may be said that Paul, like Jesus, was not arguing against the Old Testament, but was arguing for it—arguing against wrong understandings which had perverted it through the years, and against those who at that time refused to see the Old Testament in the new light of God’s perfect self-disclosure. In this respect, it is important to point out that Paul’s strong statement concerning the inspiration of Scripture as found in II Timothy 3:16 referred primarily to the Old Testament. Far from being an anachronism which the Church could now slough off because she was under Grace and not under Law, the Old Testament Scriptures were held up by Paul as a fundamental tool for attaining Christian maturity.

The early Church took the same position as its Lord and its greatest apostle: the Old Testament was the Scriptures of the Church. In its pages the Church found itself, its life, its meaning. To be sure, the difficulties were felt, sometimes sharply. But when, in the Second Century A.D., Marcion proposed that the Old Testament (and significant parts of the then-accepted New Testament) be dropped from the Christian canon {largely because he felt the Old Testament God to be incompatible with the God of the remaining New Testament) the Church lost little time in declaring this proposal heretical. For the Church knew then—as the true Church does now—that to live without the Old Testament was to be impoverished and, finally, more impotent.

Why? Because the remaining Scriptures, the New Testament, would be impoverished without the Old. Virtually all the theological concepts of the New Testament are based upon the Old. Such ideas as salvation, justification, sanctification, atonement, redemption, mercy, grace, peace, etc., etc., assume their fundamental New Testament meaning from their Old Testament formulations. Again and again we find that important New Testament words will have a different connotation from that found in other Greek literature. Why? Because the way in which the idea was formulated in the Old Testament produces this new connotation. Thus it is no accident that the articles in the massive Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel and Friedrich always begin with the Old Testament usage.

It is no wonder, then, that so much preaching today is vapid, vague and nebulous. It is cut off from its roots. For instance, how can one understand the new covenant properly until one understands the whole idea of covenant in the Old Testament? The New Testament writers assumed that their readers knew all about the covenant idea from their familiarity with the Old Testament, and so New Testament writers did not usually repeat these fundamentals.

This truth becomes even more evident in some more crucial areas where the New Testament simply builds upon the Old Testament without repeating. To take the New Testament as a complete whole at these points is as disastrous as attempting to build the second story of a house without first building the foundation and the first story!

The first of these crucial Old Testament concepts which the New Testament assumes is the concept of God. Both the Old and New Testaments, when correctly understood, rightly depict God, both in His total otherness and in His love. But each stresses one aspect and it is largely through the help of the other Testament that we are made aware of the less-stressed element.

Whence have come some of the sugary, sentimentally blasphemous conceptions of God in the Church and elsewhere? Are they not the result of a humanly perverted idea of love coupled with the teaching that God is love? What must be coupled with the truth of God’s love is the truth that God is utterly, totally other than man. He is other in character, for He is utterly holy and we are at heart unholy; He is truth and we are untruth; He is straight and we are bent. He is other in glory, for His glory is primary and real, ours is secondary and reflected. Most important, He is other in essence, for He is totally transcendant.[5] He is not contained within the universe, rather He contains it; He is totally unconditioned, we are totally conditioned.

The sin of paganism (in both its ancient and its modern humanistic forms) is that it reduces God to the level of man. That sin confronts us at every turn, evangelical or not, and we will succumb to it unless we are constantly reminded, through the Old Testament, of the tremendous gulf between ourselves and God—both by virtue of our created natures and our fallen natures. The miracle of salvation is not that we bring Him to our level, but that He, transcendant God, has voluntarily come to us and lifted us up to Him. A Holy, Glorious, Transcendant God who loves is sublimity beyond words. A sentimental grandfather-God who loves is inanity unworthy of words.

Another Old Testament conception which is fundamental to New Testament understanding, but which the New Testament merely assumes, is the inseparability of verifiable facts, history, from revelation.[6] True, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are taught as undeniable historic fact by the New Testament. But a great portion of the New Testament can be (and often is!) treated as basically non-historical if it is separated from the Old Testament.

The result of such thinking is seen in the work of the German New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann. He has argued that since much of the New Testament is merely teaching which is not rooted in historical event, the gospels are as well. In fact, Bultmann teaches that the Gospels are largely “myth,” that is, timeless religious truth conveyed in story form. Whether or not the story really happened is immaterial, according to Bultmann and his many followers. In fact, Christians will be better off if they will strip the story away from the religious truth it conceals. It comes as no surprise to learn that Bultmann does not consider the Old Testament to be the Word of God. The Old Testament, for the most part, consists of message and story inseparably intertwined. The Hebrews only know anything about God as they experience Him in their life as a people or a nation. Take away those historical experiences and the message falls to the ground. This point will be explored.

If one examines the New Testament in the light of this understanding, it becomes plain that it takes the same position as the Old. Such passages as I Corinthians 15 and I John 1 are cases in point. In the light of the Old Testament teaching that historical event is the basis of revelation it becomes obvious that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the culminating revelation of God in history. Far from being a “mythical husk” which can be shucked off to leave the essential truths about life more manifest, these accounts so faithfully repeat the acts of God in time and space that by reading them today you and I meet God face to face. If God did not act in the Man Jesus Christ, as reported in the Gospels, the Epistles are not great religious truth, but empty platitudes, based upon one of mankind’s more remarkable delusions! The Gospels must be understood in the light of the Old Testament, and the Epistles must be understood in the light of the Gospels, rather than in the reverse order.

A further Old Testament contribution which the Church cannot afford to lose is an outworking of this theme that God reveals Himself in history. While mystical, devotional experience of God is important in the religious life, it is not primary. God is concerned about history, the events where human lives meet, the marketplace where hard ethical and moral decisions are made. In the Old Testament to “remember” God is to keep His commandments. These have largely to do with social and political righteousness, as well as private morality.

People often ask why the New Testament seems to have so little a vision of this kind of righteousness. There are probably many reasons, but surely the chief one is that presumably the point has been made so profoundly in the Old Testament that it does not need to be repeated. The problem comes when Christians read the New Testament as if the Old Testament did not exist. When this happens, the result is an aberration-people with impeccable piety and personal morality who are nonetheless blind and deaf to the ways in which their social and political responses are primarily selfish.

After the communists had completed their takeover in China, missionary Arthur Glasser was asked if he would have, in the light of events, done anything differently in his leadership of the Chinese Christians. He replied that he would have greatly increased his preaching from the Old Testament. When asked why, he pointed out that it is in the Old Testament that the divine perspective upon political and social systems is given. He feared that because Chinese Christians were not very familiar with this perspective they were both blind to the great social ills which Communism purported to cure and they were also unprepared to withstand the political hammer blows which were to come to them after the Communist takeover.

One further contribution of the Old Testament is its emphasis upon the importance of community in the outworking of redemption. Once again it is plain that the New Testament also makes the same point (Ephesians 4; I Corinthians 12, etc.). However, it is easy to miss it unless one is steeped in the Old Testament. Then it becomes obvious that while every man, woman and child may have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, no one is saved in isolation from others. Persons were meant to live in a community relationship. Thus, God is just as much interested in the character of the community as He is in my personal character. No one who reads the New Testament in the light of the Old could ever believe that God only cares about how many individuals get to heaven. He wants to redeem groups through redeeming individuals, and He wants to redeem individuals through redeeming groups.

The preceding remarks should not be construed to mean that the author wishes to replace one error with another. It would be even more disastrous to hold the Old Testament without the New than it is to hold the New without the Old. For the Old Testament is not complete in itself. Salvation is viewed almost entirely from the side of political liberation of groups. Righteousness is almost exclusively seen in social and political terms. A personal faith response on the part of an individual is limited to a few key figures, such as the Patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, etc. Such a one-sided view accounts for much of the unbiblical ” missionary” strategy of the day. It has been formulated on the basis of the Old Testament as if the New did not exist. This is tragic, for the Old Testament knows itself to be incomplete. In order for the social and political righteousness for which it call s, to be achieved, something must take place within the hearts of individuals (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, etc.). That “something” is never realized in a more than prototypical way in the Old Testament. It awaits the culmination in the New.

Moreover, the Old Testament in itself is a tale of unfulfilled hopes. Humanity cannot bring in God’s kingdom; it awaits the Messiah from heaven. When that Messiah comes, all the former categories by which God ‘s kingdom was understood were subject to reinterpretation in more spiritual terms. This reinterpretation did not negate the Old Testament understandings, but embraced them and went beyond them. The tragedy of Judaism is that it would not submit to the reinterpretation. How ironic that so much of the modern missionary enterprise now wishes to duplicate the Jewish response to the Gospel!

No, what is being called for here is not the submersion of the New Testament into the Old, but rather the full acceptance of the Old alongside the New as Word of God together. No one who really appreciated Tolstoy’s War and Peace would recommend that one simply read the last couple of chapters and thereby get the essentials of the book. How much more this is true of God’s Word! In order to understand, appreciate, “get” the final chapters of His masterpiece, one must understand the previous chapters, and seeing how the coming of Jesus and what He means is the grand unfolding of what all of life means.

 Coming in the next issue of Good News PART II: “Answering Some Old Testament Problems.

[1] Cultic – having to do with a cult, In this case, Israel’s worship and dally religious practices.

[2] This action gave rise to the present-day exclusion of the Apocrypha by Protestant churches. The early Church, largely composed of Greek-speakers, naturally used the Septuagint as their Old Testament. This meant that the Apocrypha was Incorporated Into the official Latin versions which were later produced from it. However, when the Protestant reformers, in their newfound zeal for the Word, began to work with the original languages they were influenced by the Jewish decision of 90 A.O. Thus Protestants have excluded the Apocrypha from the inspired Old Testament.

[3] Oral Tradition – the Idea that Scripture’s message was passed along verbally from generation to generation before It was written down as God’s revelation In more permanent form.

[4] Grace – The unmerited favor, love which God, through Christ, extends to sinners.

[5] Transcendant – high above, unconditioned by and superior to that which He created. However, this does not mean that He does not intervene In His world.

[6] Revelation – God’s revealing of Himself and His truth In the written Word of Scripture and In Christ, the Word made flesh.

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

Our Theological Wilderness

Our Theological Wilderness

a position paper delivered at the Louisville meeting by Charles W. Keysor, Founder-Editor of Good News Magazine

During the process of preparing this paper, I have thought about the old sailor’s prayer: “Oh Lord, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small!” In approaching the awesome subject of theology and doctrine we should perhaps adapt this sailor’s prayer into a theologian’s prayer: “Oh Lord, Thy truth is so immense and my understanding is so small!”

I have come to a clear conviction about some things which need to be said concerning theology in the United Methodist Church. These points are not intended to exhaust the subject or to place any limitations on our continuing Task Force on Doctrine and Theology. I hope that my remarks may provide a kind of springboard-a point of departure into serious thought, self-examination, candid discussion, study of the Bible-and also some agonized wrestling with God Himself. Real theological reflection contains all of these elements-plus the sense of mystery and awe that should overwhelm us as we confront Eternity’s truth.

The first thing that needs to be said—especially to a group of United Methodists-is that theology, TRUE theology is GOD-ology. The word “theology” comes from the Greek word THEOS, meaning God. So if we stay with the root meaning of the word, theology can be defined as human efforts to understand who God is … how God operates … what God has commanded and promised. Theology is God-ology.

Does this sound too simple?

Perhaps. But the simple truth bears repeating. For many of us have allowed other “ologies” to crowd God-ology almost out of the picture. On page 79 of our current United Methodist Discipline you will find references to “black theology … female liberation theology … political and ethnic theologies … Third-world theologies … and theologies of human rights.”

These pretty much dominate the agendas and the budgets of United Methodism today, at least the upper levels. But can these legitimately be called theologies? Only if they are primarily concerned with the central realities of God. For example, the nature of God as black people understand it … God’s will as women may understand it … or how God is experienced by people of the Third World.

For God does not change or fluctuate—He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” Constancy is one of the Divine attributes. God does not change—but variations do occur in our comprehension of Him. That means that we are the variable factor, not God. So theologies are really our variable efforts—conditioned, of course, by our own environment and our limitations—to perceive, to understand the constancy of God.

Sometimes one gets the impression that the so-called “special interest theologies ” may be less concerned about the eternal God than they are with their needs, their ideas and their problems. This puts God in second place and when God is assumed or subsumed then you have no theology at all. Instead, you have philosophy—the wisdom of people. You have a philosophy of human rights … a philosophy of the Third World … a philosophy of liberated women, blacks, Chicanos, etc.

This is not to say the church is wrong to be concerned about women’s rights, about the Third World, and about the plight of minority races. God is concerned about these things and we should be too. But we are wrong—dead wrong—to elevate any person-centered preoccupation to first place on the agenda of the church. To subordinate God is idolatry. To make God secondary is the most serious kind of error—but this is what happens when we lose sight of theos. Then our theology becomes not God-ology but man-ology, or woman-ology, or sociology, or scientology.

True theology is God-ology. We must never forget this.

My second point is that theology is important-supremely important! This needs to be said because so many United Methodists seem to consider theology supremely unimportant … marginal … trivial … petty. In fact, the United Methodist pastor or layperson who is seriously interested in theology today is something of a weirdo or a freak. This spirit of putting down theology can be seen at the very highest levels.

Delegates at the 1972 General Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, were asked to vote on the report of the 36-member doctrinal commission headed by Dr. Albert Outler. This report centered on the idea of “doctrinal pluralism,” a concept which many of us think is contrary to the Biblical faith of our Wesleyan, Protestant heritage. This incredibly important document came before the General Conference and was endorsed quickly by the overwhelming margin of 925 for and only 17 against. No significant questions were raised. No significant debate occurred.

If my memory is correct, the Atlanta General Conference spent about the same amount of time on theology that it did deciding whether the title of our denominational hymnal should be changed from “The Methodist Hymnal ” to “The UNITED Methodist Hymnal.”

Today the prevailing watchword is: What you DO really matters, not what you believe. Here we can see the triumph of American activism; the supremacy of pragmatism that judges all things by their practicality … their results. John Wesley carefully maintained the Biblical balance between faith and works. But modern Methodism has destroyed this balance, making works all-important and relegating faith and theology to oblivion. Do you doubt this? Then just recall how much emphasis was given to theology at the last annual conference you attended—at the last district meeting or quarterly conference.

How has theology sunk to such a point of low esteem?

What has changed the people called Methodist from keen theological sensitivity at the time of John Wesley and Francis Asbury? Why are we so different today … so INdifferent to the things of God?

It would be an unfair oversimplification to blame only the 1972 General Conference. In adopting doctrinal pluralism, the delegates at Atlanta simply made official what had long been a fact of Methodist church life: namely, that any kind of belief is permissible so long as apportionments are paid and the wheels of connectional organization keep on turning.

Consider the effect of doctrinal pluralism on a hypothetical church. X-ville United Methodist Church is not big or powerful enough to choose its preacher. So it takes potluck, whomever the bishop sends.

For five years Henry Evangel has been the preacher at X-ville. He preaches that the blood of Jesus makes believers clean from all sin. He tells his people that God does, in fact, answer prayer. He says that Jesus is God. He warns them that all will someday face judgment, and all will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Henry preaches from the Bible, which he expounds as God’s unique revelation of truth. Of course Henry Evangel tells everyone “You must be born again.”

Then Henry Evangel is moved to another church. The bishop appoints a new preacher to X-ville, Joe Zilch. The new man tells the people that the blood of Christ is “slaughterhouse religion” of the 19th century. He says the only value of prayer is the therapy you get from talking to yourself. He says that Jesus is a great man I Ike Shakespeare or Ghandi. He preaches and teaches that hell is a medieval superstition and that heaven is an optimistic illusion. The Bible? He tells people it is really a propaganda document that was invented by the first century church in order to “sell ” Christianity to the people of that time. The important revelation today, th is new preacher says, is found in the Watergate hearings, in the liberation movements of the Third World.

What are the people to think at X-ville United Methodist Church?

Both ministers graduated from United Methodist seminaries.

Both are members in good standing of the XYZ Annual Conference.

Both were appointed by the same bishop, yet their theology is different as night from day.

One perceptive layman said, “They don’t even have the same religion!” He is right. One is a believer in Biblical Christianity, the other in the religion known as liberalism. One is a Christian, the other is a humanist. But both are United Methodist preachers.

No wonder our people are confused!

No wonder they have concluded that theology is futile … pointless as a blind man looking for a black cat … in a dark room … at midnight … when the cat is not there.

I am saying that the United Methodist Church is paralyzed by the theological contradictions, ambiguities, which have multiplied over the last 150 years.

I am saying that a condition of total confusion – of theological anarchy – exists.

I am saying that doctrinal pluralism places the seal of official approval upon our prevailing theological anarchy … our doctrinal ambiguity. You might compare doctrinal pluralism with a man and woman who got pregnant and afterward they decided to legitimize their sin by a visit to the preacher and a marriage license on the bedroom wall.

Somehow, we need to recover in United Methodism the conviction that what a person believes really does matter. We ought to listen to Martin Luther—to whom John Wesley listened very carefully—to Martin Luther insisting that the things a person believes are the matrix—the mold—which shapes all that a person is or does.

I believe this is true. And so the challenge becomes: which theology will shape you? Will you be molded by Nashville’s Iiterature or by Jesus Christ? Will your beliefs be distorted by Rudolph Bultmann or shaped according to God’s will and plan by the Apostle Paul? Will your theology change with every new book? With every bizarre theological fad promoted by our seminaries? Or, will it be with you as the inspired Apostle said in Romans 12:2, Phillips paraphrase: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold. But let God remold your minds from within.” Theology has central importance. We had better believe this.

My third point begins as a kind of parable. So hear the Parable of the Coloring Book.

Once upon a time my five children were very small. In those days the kids loved to color with crayons (remember when your children did?). We gave our children boxes of crayons. And we gave them coloring books with large outline pictures of rabbits, houses, airplanes, etc. And the children took their crayons and colored the pictures red, orange, black, any color or crazy combination of colors that struck their fancy. We had bright green rabbits, we had purple houses, and we had pink airplanes. What strange, bizarre color combinations those children could dream up!

Hear now the interpretation of this parable.

The children represent the people of United Methodism, including laypeople, preachers, board secretaries and even seminary professors. The colors are their opinions, beliefs and prejudices. The coloring book represents theology.

Just as my little children freely and imaginatively colored their outline pictures … so do United Methodists freely and imaginatively color theology. To “do your own thing” is all that matters. There is no right and wrong, no correct or incorrect in this fantasy world of coloring-book theology.

The facts are plain to see: under doctrinal pluralism everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. Doctrinal pluralism offers no clearcut boundaries between truth and error, no absolutes of unchanging truth. Instead, we have wispy, vague, shadowy hints and suggestions of essential truth—but they are general enough so as not to restrict or inhibit anybody from believing anything.

The church does not come right out and say: every person who wishes to be a Christian must necessarily believe these things; nothing more is necessary, nothing less is acceptable.

Our Articles of Religion have been the main doctrinal standard of Methodism since the time of Wesley. But now they have been circumvented by calling them “historic landmarks.” This means that in practice they are merely museum-piece curiosities which we can safely regard as the quaint relics of times past. A “historical landmark” is hardly what you would call something that is an essential standard in our own day!

In fact, our Articles of Religion have been neatly undercut. These basic doctrines of our church have actually been altered radically in defiance of the Restrictive Rule, which is supposed to protect Methodist doctrinal standards from alteration. When all is said and done, the essentials of faith are left wide open for anybody to color any way.

If you doubt this, just look around our church. Behold the mind-blowing diversity which runs the full range from fundamentalism to atheism (an atheist, by the way, demonstrates unbelief even more by ignoring God than by verbally denying God. For to ignore Him is to deny His reality).

Time does not permit me to go deeply into an analysis of doctrinal pluralism. You can read about it on pages 68 through 82 of our Discipline. I believe that one of the most important jobs before the Good News Task Force on Doctrine and Theology will be to carefully analyze doctrinal pluralism against the teachings of Holy Scripture and our Methodist theological tradition. If the discrepancy is as serious as many of us now believe, what does this mean?

Should we simply ignore it? Should we just maintain our private Biblical theology? Should we pretend that it really does not matter? Or is there something we can do?

Perhaps we should appeal to our district superintendents. The bishop. The annual conference.

Or is it time to appeal to United Methodism’s Supreme Court, the Judicial Council? Has the time come to establish that the Restrictive Rules have, indeed, been violated, and that doctrinal pluralism is therefore unconstitutional? If America can impeach its President on constitutional grounds, why cannot United Methodists impeach doctrinal pluralism if it does violate our Constitution?

I believe that our very first theological task must be SPELLING OUT CLEARLY AND DEFINITIVELY WHAT ARE THE MINIMUM ESSENTIALS AND THE OUTER LIMITS OF AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN FAITH—its positive content and also its negative boundaries.

It is by no means certain that all evangelicals are clear on what constitutes this core of faith-those principles of theology for which we are willing to die, if need be. Those articles of faith which we will never compromise, never surrender, and never forget.

The hymns and songs we sometimes sing hint that we evangelicals need to get our heads together concerning the real essentials of our faith. “He Touched Me ” is a great favorite. We all get a thrill singing it, for it testifies to the miracle of God’s healing, cleansing touch upon the sinner. Especially do we sing the chorus, over and over. But listen carefully to the chorus words. Do they not place more emphasis upon ME rather than HE? Upon the recipient of grace, rather than the Giver?

That is a danger, my friends—a very great and present danger. It is so easy to shift the focus of our attention away from Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Instead to emphasize MY experience …MY feelings … MY faith … MY needs … MY victory. The full Gospel is a delicate balance between the subjective I and the objective THOU. Our hymns, our worship, our prayers should all reflect this balance, rather than one part or the other.

These days we often see people raising their hands as a sign of praise and personal affirmation—especially while singing Gospel choruses. Sometimes I feel moved to lift one hand, or both of them. But the Spirit most often moves me to lift my hands in praise when I am singing “Love Divine, all loves excelling, Joy of Heaven to earth come down.” Or, my hand goes up in praise when I sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.” Sometimes I even feel moved to lift the arm of praise during the Apostles Creed, when I join with the Body of Christ in those words so rich with theological meaning and personal affirmation: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

Our theology stands revealed by what evokes our deepest praise and our thanksgiving.

I have just suggested that we evangelicals are not without some theological problems and needs. But I do want to suggest also that our conflict centers around basic, yes even constitutional theological issues. For this reason we cannot keep silent or simply make a gentleman’s agreement to agree to disagree in the name of pluralism.

We must be careful to realize that all United Methodists who use familiar words of faith do not necessarily mean the same thing we do. For example, those who are infected with the new, secular concept of church mission as social change and political liberation often use the word SALVATION. But they mean a this-world-only deliverance in social, economic, cultural and political terms. For them the grand old word SALVATION has no eternal, spiritual dimension as it does for us.

Other meaningful, time-honored theological words have been given new and secularized meanings. “Sacrament” has been transvalued to mean any human relationship. “God” may mean a secular power or an impersonal force. “Jesus” may not mean the Christ of God, but instead a human liberator-figure with machine gun cartridge bandolier slung around his neck.

Many trusting church people are misled when they hear the old, familiar theological words. But remember—the meaning may be something very, very different from what you think! As our brother Roy Putnam said in one of his Bible studies, “They use our vocabulary but they don’t use our dictionary.”

There has to be some cleansing of theological language until there is a more-or-less universal, accepted meaning attached to the key theological words; otherwise, we really can’t theologize—except among ourselves. The perversion of theological language makes impossible the great ideal of theological dialog, which the advocates of doctrinal plural ism consider so important.

Let us discover the essential core of Biblical faith. Let us articulate these precious truths. Let us witness to their reality as we share the faith, person to person. Let us proclaim core truth from our pulpits. Let us have church school literature which teaches core truth honestly and interestingly. Let us support missionaries who uphold our core truth around the world. Let us have, within United Methodism, the option of directing our money and our interest to programs which rest upon what we believe to be the essential core of faith.

And let us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, live according to our core truths! If we do, then God will honor our efforts. Then His truth will be multiplied to the glory of God, to the blessing of our church and the world.

My fourth point is that Scripture is the heart of true theology. When I get a backlash in my old fishing reel, I untangle and untangle the line. It is full of kinks, twists and knots. Finally I get down to the one knot which underlies everything. When I untangle this knot, then my fishing reel is OK.

I believe that the key to untangling theology is the Bible. The Holy Scriptures. The Word of God in written form, inseparable from the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Mistakes we have made in understanding what Scripture is and how Scripture should be used have “set us up,” so to speak, for all subsequent errors. This is so important! So absolutely central! If we go wrong here at the point of Scripture, then we are like the traveler who, at a critical moment in his journey took the right fork in the road instead of the left fork. From that point onward he was sure to end up in the wrong place. In somewhat the same way, when individual Christians or a church go wrong on Scripture, then nothing afterward can be correct.

An example is the distressingly common United Methodist misunderstanding of the Old Testament. Once I was a Methodist Church school superintendent. I began a program of Bible memorization for the children. The pastor was a recent seminary graduate and one day he asked me why I was having children memorize the Ten Commandments. He said, “We are Christians, the Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament.”

Another example—I remember preaching about God choosing Israel, not because of Israel’s merit, but as an act of God’s sheer and sovereign grace. After the service the teacher of an adult church school class came up to me waving a Nashville quarterly. That very day she had taught in the lesson that God chose Israel because of Israel’s potential merit. This is a 180-degree reversal of the great Bible truth (New as well as Old Testament) that God loves us and redeems us, not because we deserve it or because we possess any inherent merit, but because of His kindness, His mercy, His amazing grace.

God expects His people to use the Bible in a very practical way. When we fail to do this, then we get into trouble … we get off the beam, as a church and as individuals.

Critics like to point out that the Bible does not contain specific, literal counsel on many issues such as air pollution, the impeachment of a president, etc.

That is true in many instances. But many of us believe that Scripture does contain PRINCIPLES upon which Christians can base their decisions in everyday matters. This is done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He helps us to understand the Bible principle and then apply it.

Take one example: pollution of the air. How do I find guidance from the Bible about this?

The Bible tells that when the earth was created, God had a plan. That plan was for people to act as God’s general managers-as stewards over all that God had made, the sky, the mountains, the seas, and creatures large and small. If we see ourselves as God’s appointed superintendents over the world, then we are going to be very much concerned about ecology. And why not? We are under God’s mandate to manage the earth. Our Heavenly Father has given us this task from the very beginning.

The person with this sense of Divine responsibility for the environment is most likely to make a real impact in the ecological problems of our day. This sense of divinely-ordained responsibility has its source in the Bible.

Next, something must be said about the nature of the Scriptures themselves. Do the words of the Bible contain the Word of God … or are they the Word of God? There is a huge difference. If the Bible only contains the Word of God, then everybody must select what is and what is not God’s message. This part of the Bible is the Word for Tom … That part is truth for Dick and still another part is truth for Mary. This has been our tragic legacy from neoorthodoxy, particularly from Karl Barth. Although he did place welcome emphasis on the Bible, Barthians, nevertheless, have promoted the idea of selective inspiration-that is, the Bible is only inspired when you think it is. Thus, Isaiah 53, that magnificent prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ, is only true if you happen to think so. Otherwise, it has no valid message about Christ.

I remember going to the University of Chicago to hear the last American lecture of Karl Barth. The huge cathedral was full to overflowing. During the question period, somebody asked Dr. Barth if he believed there are errors in the Bible. When Barth answered, “Yes, there are errors in the Bible,” a great wave of applause swept through that cathedral. Some people were so happy they stood up and cheered! Many of us believe that Scripture contains no error.

Many of us believe that Scripture is Truth in pure and reliable form. And, if this Truth is at times clouded, then we place the blame on our faulty understanding—we do not say the Bible is full of mistakes.

Before the mystery of God’s Truth we bow in awe. We believe that the Bible prophesies Christ’s coming … tells accurately what He said and did … reports exactly how the early church began to follow Jesus and apply His teachings … and finally reveals to us the broad outline of God’s plan for the end of history. We understand, by faith, that the Old and New Testaments together are the whole, complete counsel of God-His personal and reliable message to each succeeding generation.

We shall never fully understand Scripture’s profoundest depths. To do that would be to comprehend the very fulness of God. But by His grace, by the illuminating action of His Holy Spirit, we grow in faith as we penetrate deeper into the mystery and majesty of His Word.

I am familiar with various critical theories about the Bible. I am, after all, the graduate of a United Methodist seminary—so I know about demythologizing … about J, E, D, and P. I know the Q theory and other critical theories. As far as I am concerned these are all the efforts of ingenious minds to make the Word of God captive to human reason … to rationalize away the mysterium … to remove the supernatural, rendering the Bible as simply the words of human authors unaided or uninspired by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that the Bible contains more wisdom than I shall ever understand … more truth than I am capable of absorbing … more beauty than I deserve, and more power than I can possibly appropriate.

Our theological quest, as United Methodist evangelicals, must begin and end with WHAT SAYS THE WORD OF GOD?

Others may ignore or downgrade the Bible if they wish-that is their privilege. But we shall continue to praise God for His Word—the incarnate Word of Jesus Christ and the printed Word of Scripture, which Jesus said will be fulfilled down to the very smallest detail. Even though heaven and earth pass away, God’s Word will endure.

Now for my last point. The June 1974 issue of United Methodists Today printed a very interesting article by a young minister named Barry Johnson. Barry belongs to my annual conference Northern Illinois. He has pioneered a new program of local church evangelism known as “Euriskon.”

Barry makes some good points in his article, but I need to comment about one not-so-good point. Barry wrote, “I believe God has a purpose for a healthy mainline church with a MODERATE theological stance.

Moderation in all things—pluralism, here we come!

The trouble with our prevailing theology is that it is SO moderate!

It is not the radical Gospel which turns the world upside down. Instead, the prevailing theology is too often a lukewarm, moderate compromise between Christian tradition and what we imagine people will accept. It strives to be inoffensive … innocuous … acceptable and undisturbing to all.

I was talking once with the pastor of a large and successful United Methodist Church. We were looking over his Sunday bulletin and I commented about the fact that there was no portion of the service devoted to confession of sin. He looked at me in horror. Then he explained that his church members would be offended at the idea that they were sinners, needing to repent.

This pastor had modified his corporate worship to keep the people happy. By so doing he assumed a “moderate theological stance.” One wonders how God regards a church full of people too proud to repent. One wonders how God will judge a pastor who shields his people from their own sinfulness and thereby deflects the radical grace of God.

“Moderate” is a word that can never be used to describe theos: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor can “moderate” properly be used to describe God-ology. Instead, “moderate” describes that acculturated blend of religious form and deadness of soul which has come to characterize our theological wilderness …. our wasteland of pluralistic compromise and ambiguity.

How about some radical theology for a change? Theology which is red hot or ice cold, but not lukewarm (the only temperature, incidentally, which Jesus condemned).

If we take our theology from God, through the Scriptures, then it is going to be radical—for radical means going to the root, and God is the root of all true theology.

One phase of our mission as United Methodist evangelicals may be helping our church and our people to escape the numbness of “moderate,” culture-conditioned theology.

Can you imagine Jesus with a “moderate theological stance?”

Can you imagine a “moderate” Martin Luther standing alone against the terrifying power of the institutional church … defying the whole corrupt hierarchy … saying, “Here I stand, so help me God, I can do no other”?

May God deliver us from the “moderate theological stance” which makes so many preachers afraid to stand openly, boldly, forthrightly for what they know in their hearts is enduring truth.

I doubt that many people today want a “moderate theological stance.” Many youth have deserted so many churches because these hungry, searching youth are not interested in “moderate” churches whose main virtue is smooth -running committees and subservient clergymen.

People in the golden years find no ultimate spiritual answers in those churches whose theology has been so moderated that they have no clear word of assurance concerning the experiences of death and resurrection.

All these people are rejecting doctrinal pluralism, for it is the principle of moderation in all things applied to theology.

Moderation and pluralism …

How nice!

How dead!

How deadly!

Instead, by the grace of God, we shall find a theology of living fire … a theology of assurance that the final word will be spoken by our heavenly Father … a theology of confidence that one day the world’s babble shall cease and then “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Brothers and sisters, that is our kind of theology! ! !

Let’s discover its fulness.

Let’s proclaim it.

Let’s glory in it.

Let’s enjoy it.

And above all, let’s share it with others who have not yet come to the Father through Jesus the Son. And we’ll give God the glory—great things HE has done.

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

Hopeful Signs

Hopeful Signs

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

There can be no mistaking an important trend: We see a growing emphasis upon the Holy Spirit across United Methodism. So-called “Holy Spirit Conferences” are being sponsored by more and more annual conferences. For example, 700 pre-registered and some 1,200 attended a Holy Spirit meeting in Michigan recently. In Arkansas, a Holy Spirit Conference in which the bishop took part, attracted some 1,500.

Here and there, local churches are doing the same thing. Lots of people are involved—freely and enthusiastically. And at long last, the much-neglected Third Person of the Holy Trinity is being included in United Methodism’s official programming.

What has caused this welcome change?

The “Charismatic Movement” is the most obvious answer. Like a rising tide it is moving across the church at the local level, involving countless lay people and pastors. They relate with excitement to God, themselves, and to a new world of speakers, writers, groups and conferences- all centering around activity of the Holy Spirit today.

Less spectacular perhaps, but none the less significant, has been the “remnant” of Bible-believers who, through the long years of liberal church dominance, have escaped spiritual starvation by participating in Lay Witness missions, ashrams, retreats, conferences, revivals, prayer groups and camp meetings. These Good News-type people constitute the evangelical core of the church. Their work, their faithfulness and their prayers have created a kind of evangelical “underground” which has persisted despite indifference and/or sometimes open hostility from upper levels of the church. Now, with liberal institutionalism dead or dying, the evangelical underground is coming alive. This is a worldwide movement, as evidenced by this summer’s world evangelization meeting in Switzerland.

U.M. evangelicalism is just one manifestation of a worldwide movement of God, and our Holy Spirit conferences are thus a welcome sign that Father, Son, and Spirit are indeed moving in people’s lives and in the church.

Regardless of why the new Holy Spirit emphasis is happening, the most appropriate response is Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

Attendance at these meetings is impressive, and we think th is says something that our leaders would be wise to note. Contrary to what a lot of people have been telling us for a long time, the “whole man” includes a soul, and the human soul is hungry for personal relationship with the Living God. This being true, people are more eager to attend Holy Spirit Conferences than conferences on human sexuality, conflict management or church goalsetting.

Wouldn’t United Methodism be wise to broaden its programming to include more Biblical topics? The Spirit, after all, is simply one-third of the Trinity—why not schedule some conferences concerning the Father, the Son, as well as the Spirit? And why not some conferences dealing with prayer, the Scriptures, or “going on to perfection”?

We hope that Holy Spirit Conferences keep on increasing. We also hope this is just the beginning of a movement which will restore spiritual concerns to their rightful place as the fountainhead of all that United Methodism is and does.

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

Our Sacred Responsibility

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

Who can describe our feelings after the political turmoil of this year? A new President sits in the White House. We have been shaken to the very foundations.

From it all, Christians should draw at least one vital lesson: we must support our President with regular, fervent, believing prayer!

Looking back on the tragedy of President Nixon’s decline and fall, must we not confess that we often failed to intercede in his behalf with the Heavenly Father? And must we not also admit that our criticisms, or our defensive arguments, often outweighed our prayers—both in volume and intensity? Would things have been different if our prayer volume had exceeded our volume of argumentation, rhetoric and analysis?

It is a deep article of our evangelical faith that “prayer changes things” … that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

There is not much that we ordinary citizens can do about many of the complex problems which swarm around us. We cannot solve the inflation problem, the farm problem or the Arab-Israeli problem. But we know the One whose grace is sufficient for every need! No problem is too difficult for Him who hung the world in space … who holds together the atoms of this far-flung universe … who planned all things from the foundation of the world. This great God has invited us to come to Him in prayer. Through Jesus Christ the way is free and clear. The only limitation is our forgetfulness, our carelessness in coming to Him.

Let us determine to come boldly before the Throne of Grace interceding daily for our President.

Let us vow that not a single day will pass without praying for him and the other leaders of our nation.

As Christians who honor God by being good citizens, let us resolve that: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3).

The Apostles Creed Says it Best

An Interview with Dr. Sam

An Interview with Dr. Sam

Dr. Samuel Kamaleson, Pastor of Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Madras, India, bears witness to what the Holy Spirit is doing around the world. He also offers some exciting ideas for new missionary strategy centered on conversion to Christ.

Question: You travel extensively and you come into contact with many Christians. What evidences do you see that the Holy Spirit is working within the Church?

The Holy Spirit is giving a new sense of oneness that transcends structural and denominational boundaries. Within the church, people now seem to feel more liberated than ever before. This is prevalent everywhere.

In my city there is a prayer meeting once every month, where 2,000 people gather together and stay throughout the night. Every denomination is present; the major mood is what is known as charismatic. This is the working of the Holy Spirit.

He also gives, within the Church, a holy boldness that recaptures Simon Peter’s experience in the earliest day of Pentecost. The message itself has so gripped the mind, the heart, and the will of the individual that he will almost die if he doesn’t share it. Here is a boldness that the world knows no way of stopping. The world has to stand back in amazement, as it did on the first day of Pentecost.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is working all over the world. He is moving in the secular world, bringing people into the consciousness of Jesus Christ, whether they recognize Him as such or not. He is also moving in the universal Church in all the Eastern countries that I’ve visited. For instance, in Malaysia, there is an intense hunger among the Methodists for a movement similar to Good News.

Question: How do you see God operating in today’s world?

In India we talk much about Democratic Socialism and lifting people up. There are many things happening which, except for the pressure from outside, churchmen will be very reluctant to accept. For instance, there is a new law in India which forbids religious institutions from holding too much wealth for themselves. At the end of every year the churches are accountable to the government.

This seems to impinge on individual rights—but the law is not talking about individuals. It refers to collective groups (i.e. churches) which have purposed to serve and help mankind. On the one hand it seems as though this law will prevent the church from doing the things she wants to do. But it does not. It gives options to clearly categorize and earmark certain funds.

The law does bring pressure upon all institutions to carry out the work of compassion and not stagnate or fail in their mission through complacency. In this way ·it seems as though secular government is saying to the Church, “You shall not hoard. You will share what you cannot reasonably use for yourself with others around you.” Thus the plain Gospel is being preached by the government of India to the churches. This and other acts of God are too clear to be denied.

Question: Are you saying that some of the movements that Christians might tend to fear in terms of being secular are, in fact, being used of God for His own purposes?

Yes. We have a tendency to pull back from these things because they seem strange in their newness and we’ve not been used to them in the past. This kind of [secular] pressure has never been brought to bear on the church. But now it comes and one has to ask, “Why?” Is God saying something new to us in this?

I believe He is. I’m convinced that all the lines of history are irrevocably moving toward one point, and that is Jesus Christ. Man cannot stop this movement, no matter how he may try.

There is the oft-repeated complaint that the Indian government doesn’t permit Christian missionaries to come into India. This is true. But I think concern is uncalled for. What this new restriction has done is to make the Indian church accept her responsibilities for evangelization and for growing and surviving. In this way the government’s law is a part of God’s plan for the strengthening of His Church in India.

Question: You mentioned the sense of oneness and boldness brought about by the Holy Spirit. What else do you see as a result of His movement these days?

 Freedom from being a slave to structure. The Spirit has broken right through that, and I praise God for it! Structure is unavoidable, but dependence on structure alone is basically damaging. It inhibits us from acting upon the new incentives the Spirit wants to give us these days.

Question: Advocating freedom from structure could be misunderstood. Some may interpret this as divisive …

If I’m really divisive, then I would move out of the responsibility of being part of the total thing called Methodism. I would begin to attack from outside.

But I’m not doing that! I’m still a Methodist and I’m proud to be part of the total confession of The United Methodist Church. But where the United Methodist Church structure seems to be moving away from what the church ought to be, as a son within the family, I have a right and duty to point this out.

Question: Has this failure of the institutional church affected United Methodist concepts of missions?

A long time back, in 1955 or so, felt that too much institutionalized rigidity in the concept of missions had ruined our total mission purpose. We seem to be more and more in mission for ourselves than for. the Lord. We seem to be so eager to put a tag on it and stamp it and say this is ours and not yours—forgetting that it is really His. This paternalism, this institutional ism, has killed the true spirit of missions.

Fortunately, this kind of rigid institutionalism is being bypassed. The Holy Spirit seems to be saying today, as in the times of John Wesley, ” If the church is so very stuck up that she will not listen to My message within the walls, then I’II take My messenger out into the tombstones and make him preach the Gospel there. I’ll get My work done, and I’II sidestep the church institution. It is not indispensable to the Kingdom. My work must be done!”

This seems to be the mood of the Spirit at this time.

Question: Have you experienced this type of freedom in your own work in India?

I’ve been attached to a farm, an agricultural fellowship. From the beginning we said we would not be tagged as a mission at all. We’ll be free of that, and we’ll not be under any denominational tag. We are all kinds of people working in this group-Frenchmen, girls from Switzerland, a Japanese couple. They come and live with us and work with us in India. There is no systematic way for anybody to channel funds to us, no structures at all. But it has worked. It has survived now nearly 13 years. It has been prosperous. The Lord has blessed us, and the witness seems effective in the surrounding communities. We have baptisms in this agricultural fellowship and those who are baptized become part of the Church of South India.

Question: Do you think evangelical Methodists can reach out directly and bypass dead institutions which limit them in fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus?

Already this is happening. This may be new to us in Methodism, but this is happening all over. That I know.

For a long time evangelicals have reached forth with compassion, with love, and have been doing redemptive work. We who have been Methodists traditionally have always moved through the structure, because we have had undying confidence in our structure.

Now it is a new thing for us to move out of this, and it is painful. It’s very traumatic but the time has come.

Question: Would there be a receptivity to U.S. evangelicals establishing direct contact with Methodists in India?

There will be an intense interest. You will find people in India who have a tremendous lot of know-how in this kind of direct action.

Question: What place does the evangelical have in terms of World Christian mission?

The mood in the Third World—particularly in India—is the mood of revolution. The true evangelical (one who has been liberated by Jesus Christ) has a more rightful place, a more logical place in today’s mission than the one who is caught merely with the cultural consciousness. The liberal is attached to what is cultural, what is environment, whereas the true evangelical is the liberated individual. The true evangelical is set free by Christ from the cultural hangups. The true evangelical is so liberated that he or she is able to think of things that, as the young people say, blow the mind. So new that it cannot be described in old language.

Somebody has said that the Book of Acts is dominated by people who are drunk with the Holy Spirit and who march off the map. They did the most unexpected things! People couldn’t predict them and that is why they were the ones who turned the world upside down. That is the evangelical idea of missions.

Question: As a Christian from the “Third World” what do you see as the greatest needs in missions today?

For people who permit passionate compassion to take hold so completely that they forget all other distinctions—and know only the thrust of compassion motivated by Jesus Christ. When all talents and training are in His control, you become most beautifully available to people around you. This is the most important thing needed in Christian missions today.

Question: We hear that doors are now closing all over the world to Christian missions. Is this true?

Let us correct that basic attitude. Doors are not closing to the Christian missionary; but some doors are closing to the traditional methods of being a missionary. The old concept of a missionary is one who is sent overseas through a mission board. Such doors are closing and praise God for that! I think this is God’s action.

You see, the traditional, categorically-described missionaries experience built-in difficulties. If you are known as a missionary in India, and categorized as such, then the person whom you are trying to reach will raise up all kinds of barriers.

But suppose an Indian looks at you as somebody who has come to India on your own, working for the government or a company, not as a “missionary.” Then this inhibition is not immediately present. You can more readily communicate your faith, your commitment, your knowledge of Jesus Christ if you come to India as a non-traditional missionary in the non-traditional understanding.

Question: Does this mean that the historic denominational mission board is now obsolete?

That is right. But the way this change is interpreted by our structure- oriented people is, “The day of the missionary is over.” This is not true! Our approach to mission-sending needs to be different, that is all.

My contention is that evangelical Christians should not wait for a mission board’s endorsement to go and do what the Lord is asking them to do. The mission board is not the only way a person can be “in mission” today. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is saying, “Maybe it will not be the same old thing as it used to be. I’m moving you in different directions and I want you to follow Me.”

Question: Could you explain this new approach more exactly?

I’ve been telling young people there are many ways they can go overseas and be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The Peace Corps is one possibility. I’ve met some dedicated Christian youth in the Peace Corps and I believe that these young people, working in the backwoods in India, out in the sticks, are really being missionaries in the best sense of the word. Their price tag is picked up by the United States government!

In a country like India, where religious freedom is given to every citizen, anybody can talk about God. An Indian farmer may be raising chickens, and the Peace Corps Christian working with him. After they talk about chicken-raising, eventually they will get into discussions of the bigger questions of life. Then the Christian Peace Corps worker can naturally communicate his or her faith in Jesus Christ.

Question: What about professional people who are interested in serving Christ overseas?

Suppose that six doctors in the United States decide that they have a spiritual obligation under Christ to witness in India through medicine. They can easily do this on their own. A three-month tourist visa is easily granted to anybody. If these doctors can earn their twelvemonths’ salary in 10 months, they can then give two months of that year to one spot in India. Six U.S. doctors could keep that spot completely staffed throughout the year. To do this doesn’t require a mission board.

Question: Have you used this approach in your own work?

I am a veterinarian. If I am working with people in breeding and preventive methodology, and they ask me, “Why are you here instead of in another place?”

I have a reason to give—Christ.

If they see a difference in my lifestyle and want to know the reason for this difference, and if they ultimately say, ” I’d like to be like you,” then I point them to Christ, who is the source of anything good in me. This is the evangelical’s great advantage. We know that Christ is the answer to all these questions. And to this knowledge we witness.

Question: What are some of the secular channels through which evangelicals may work as missionaries?

The United States’ oil and tire companies collaborate with similar concerns in India. A young person from the States, committed to Jesus Christ and employed by one of these firms, can volunteer for overseas work. He then comes as missionary and, I am told, that the U.S. company may add a bonus to his salary. Can you beat that? You get paid more for being a missionary!

These are the new things that we really ought to explore. We can so cultivate this possibility that it will be more than just a trickle here and there. I know people who have done this. It can happen. It is happening now.

Question: What other creative, new possibilities are there for people interested in serving Christ overseas?

College students can go for postgraduate studies overseas. India has scholarships available for students from the United States. Qualifying young people can go to India, and while on the campus as students, they can be living witnesses for Christ. They can be missionaries for one, two or three years.

When they finish their two-or three-year degree program in India, they can say, “Now I’ve done my job. I’m going out to a new field.” And all the while somebody else has picked up the price tag, giving Christians uninhibited liberty to work with ardent Marxists and other revolutionaries. No traditional missionary can have this opportunity—because of being tagged as a missionary.

Good News needs to probe into these possibilities, make data available, and virtually recruit people on this basis.

Being a United Methodist, when you reach the land where you are going to work, you get in contact with the local Methodist congregation and become part of it. Here is where the universality of the United Methodist Church comes into focus. You are then a United Methodist missionary freed from the traditional stigma and from the load of an institution which may not be essential for our mission to be fulfilled.

Question: You have talked about the work of the Holy Spirit, both in the world and in the church. You have mentioned the need to bypass traditional church structures in order to get the Gospel to all people. And you have suggested some exciting ways to serve Christ overseas. How does all this relate to the community of believers? How does the community of believers reach out into the world?

We should sense the mood of the Holy Spirit within the community of the committed. If He tells us to get into operation and action somewhere, we need not wait for a mission board’s sanction. We will go ahead and do it! Not simply as an ant1thesis to the structure, but in obedience to the will of the Lord.

The time is right for this obedience.