Archive: The Ministerial Faith Crisis Seen by a Local Pastor

By Howard E. Chattin, Pastor, United Methodist Church, Southport, Indiana

Once a dog food company held a sales meeting. The president was pacing the floor. “We came out with this new dog food and everybody agrees it’s the most nutritious on the market,” he declared. A chorus of agreement came from the salesmen. “We have the highest protein and the highest vitamin content.” Again, full agreement. “We have the most attractive packaging and the best sales organization in the business. But look at that sales chart—terrible! What’s wrong?”

Finally a little salesman on the back row got to his feet and said, “Sir, the dogs won’t eat it.”

The American people are not accepting the pap that passes for religion in many of our churches. Sales technique won’t do it. Packaging is not the answer. We’ve got to re-examine the product.

Let me quickly outline a few contrasting ideas, all of which are being presented vigorously by ministers in the confusion of theology today. Of course there are some differences of opinion with which all of us can healthfully live. But certain ideas are what I call the “Mutually Exclusives.” That is, if one is true, the other just cannot be.

(1). Underlying much of our problem today is the traditional doctrine of Judgment versus the widely held view of Universalism.

Jesus spoke often about rewards and punishments, about separating the sheep from the goats. By actual count, said more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Yet our age is so enamored of universalism and the term “acceptance” that a teacher of youth at our church camp, after assuring a young person that the reward of a good Christian life was Heaven, also added that the worst man of all was also destined for Heaven because of God’s love and acceptance. Either this is true or the Bible is true in saying some will be saved and others lost.

(2). There is a contrast between the advocates of supernaturalism and those who would reduce Christianity to a baptized naturalism or humanism.

By supernaturalism, I mean prayer, and Spirit, and resurrection. For me, prayer is not self-hypnosis nor auto-suggestion. It is contact with a Power outside myself. But I have been informed that one pastor felt his counselling cases had been terribly muddled by previous pastors who had said, “Let’s pray about it.” Either God is greater than the world He created, or the world is greater than God.

(3). I believe in a Living God, but there are many across the Church who would try to make palatable to us the notion that God is dead.

They say we need to understand the “God is Dead” theologian’s language. And I say that these men are well educated men who know how to handle the King’s English. They are saying exactly what they mean. The two ideas are mutually exclusive and a confrontation must come between those who believe God is alive and those who believe He is not.

(4). I say that the Church, with all its admitted imperfections, is of God and shall remain to the end of time. Yet others are seeking to abandon the Church as totally irrelevant.

I heard a Methodist leader on the platform of Christian Theological Seminary say, “At the time I was a pastor, I knew of no church in Indiana, including my own, in which the worship service had any meaning for me whatever.” Either the Church is important or it is not.

(5). It is the strong conviction of many of us that Christianity involves a basic decision about the integration of life around Christ; and that good works become a manifestation of that fact.

Some are convinced, however, that Christianity is social action only. They are no longer interested in conversion on a personal level. When a circle from the Woman’s Society of one of our city churches went to one of our Methodist social agencies to offer their help they were told by the minister-director, “I am not interested in souls. I am interested in bodies.” Either the whole person (body and soul) needs saving or not.

(6). Many of us believe that the Christian life involves discipline and an honest movement toward holiness of life.

Others are proclaiming a world embracing secularism. They want no truck with the “legalism” of the ten commandments, but prefer rather to teach our young people their version of “situation ethics.” Either God has absolute standards of truth and perfection or He does not, and every man is free to do as he pleases.

(7). Many of us still believe in the life eternal and fashion our theology and life against such an eternal backdrop.

For Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19). Yet I have been told by church leaders that “This life is the only one I know and the only one with which I am concerned.” Either life has an eternal dimension or it does not.

All these things come under the category of “Mutually Exclusives,” and must submit themselves to confrontation. The confrontation must come. For how long can the Church tolerate leadership that preaches that “God is Dead” and thumbs its nose at the Church? And I remind you, I have not reported to you theory or hear-say. I can add names to every idea presented.

Some have told me the course I advocate is disruptive of peace in the Church. And I only reply that surgery for the removal of malignancy is always a disruptive process. On the other hand, our present tranquility is the sleep of death. Our statistical reports reveal how far that process has already gone.

Some have feared that such a course is divisive. And I only answer, “We are already divided. I am not willing to go further undoing—and being undone—by the words of other church leaders.” At this point I can only pray for the strength and courage of that sturdy German Reformer Martin Luther. His words have become my own: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand; I can do no otherwise. God help me! Amen.”


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