Everyone who has read history,
and especially Church history, knows how true it is that people
have very often thought of their own time as being the most
significant or even critical of all times. The language of crisis
has characterized many periods and phases of human life and the
course of the world. Many such times while they lasted were
regarded as the most epochal of all times. Some have
certainly been outstandingly revolutionary. We may, or we may
not, be right in regarding this present part of the twentieth
century as more outstanding and significant than other times, but
we should be blind indeed did we not recognise the tremendous
changes that are so rapidly taking place.
This is true in the realm of
all the sciences, in politics, industry, and not least in
Christianity (we use the word in its broadest sense at the
moment). The features will be easily recognisable by those who
have eyes and are willing to use them honestly, neither closing
them nor putting on blinkers. But it is not only these changes in
themselves but their significance that God's Watchmen ought to
recognise. A great responsibility rests upon Watchmen, as we know
from Ezekiel 33. Note, we say Watchmen, not watch-dogs.
It is easy and cheap to take on the role of the watch-dog and yap
or bark at any 'suspect', or even bite indiscriminately. It is
different to be really able to discern the portents or
implications of developments.
We venture to suggest the
following as being significant of a time of very great portent.
It may be that it is no other or less than the end-time of this
Big-Scale Net of Evangelism
Whatever may be the criticisms,
the questions, the reservations as to the incidents and
accompaniments, the results and fruits, of big evangelistic
efforts and movements, what we have to take note of is that, on a
scale unparalleled in history, the call to give Christ His place
as Saviour is sounding over the world. When we think of the
campaigns and the vast radio broadcasting of the Gospel we are
not exaggerating when we say that no previous age in the history
of Christianity has known anything nearly so immense. But the
impressive feature is that which we may call the Sovereign factor
in it. God just seems to have decided that, by the simplest
possible declaration of salvation in Christ, millions shall daily
be placed in a position of being without excuse when the day of
That is the simplest fact.
Criticisms of and questions about the instrumentalities and means
employed quite apart, it would seem that in His Sovereignty God
is determined that men shall know the bare foundation of their
salvation. The writer was being given the various criticisms and
adverse judgments of a well-known evangelistic campaign in one of
America's greatest and worst cities. When the critics had
unloaded, he just asked the simple question - "Well,
imperfections, weaknesses, and all that apart, is it better for
such a city to be made aware of the fact of God than
otherwise?" Whereupon the critics just said, "Well, of
course, if you just bring it down to that alone, the whole thing
would be justified." This is certainly not all that God
would have, and it is no argument for the justification of some
features, excesses or deficiencies, but, we repeat, may it not be
one sign of the end that - on such an immense scale - Christ is
being heralded as men's true and only Saviour?
This phase must be viewed in
this setting and possible meaning, and not as something in
itself. To view it in the former is to give it a meaning beyond
itself. To view it as something in itself is to court
disappointment, and to take up something that will not bear the
weight of God's full purpose.
Intensifying and Expanding Dissatisfaction with Tradition
This is no view from a cloister
window, but the result of world-wide travel and contacts. The
positive way of speaking of this discontent is to say that there
is a deep and strong reaction toward reality and realism. People
of "the old school" are conscious that their traditions
are not standing up to new demands and changing conditions. The
younger generation is not willing to take these traditions and
institutions for granted and as a matter-of-course. Many are
standing back and asking questions, not altogether due to
lawlessness and a new age, but because of disappointment and a
shrewd perception that things are not vital and dynamic in many
of the historic and traditional realms.
There was a time when young
people recognised, accepted, and were subject to their elders,
and took everything from them, just because they were their
elders. That time has completely passed - especially in the West
- and now everything has got to prove itself before it is
accepted. So the hoary institutions, the established order, the
ecclesiastical mentality is just not respected or accepted.
Whether this is all a part of, and in keeping with, the general
world-movement toward "self-determination", and the
revolt against the controls of many centuries - the swing of the
pendulum toward a new "liberty" - or whether it lies
deeper in the stirrings of spiritual forces toward the ultimate
climax, does not alter the fact that it is here and has to be
recognised. The inner fact within the general is that there is a
new hunger for bread that satisfies. In a time which has so many
appearances of superficiality, cheapness, flimsiness, and
frivolity, there is an undercurrent of discontent, and an
inarticulate cry for the more substantial. This may be limited to
a comparative few, but it is real and by no means insignificant.
The booksellers tell us that there is a growing demand for the
old spiritual classics, the solid stuff of fifty and more years
ago, even for the Puritan writers, and the discerning are
reproducing such works.
There is a sense of spiritual
loss in those directions where, formerly, there was such a wealth
of spiritual measure. We have read the reports of two conferences
of leaders of the one body from which more spiritual food has
been given to the Church of God than any other in the last
century. In these reports there is not only the evidence of
tragic loss of measure, but the open confession that it is so.
Perhaps we should draw what comfort we can from the fact that
there is a consciousness of this loss, but even that is made the
more pathetic by the evident absence of any sense of how rightly
to recover it. There appears to be no searching for the cause or
causes of decline.
However, there undoubtedly are
reactions, and it is evident that, where solid food is known
to be available, many hungry ones are to be found resorting
thither. If that end-time sign of "a famine of the hearing
of the word" (in spiritual life, power and fulness) is
clearly discernible, it is also clear that not a few are aware of
the famine and are distressed. This will be a governing factor in
God's having a representative company which answers to His fuller
thought at the end.
Growing Concern About the Church As Such
In these pages we have recently
referred at greater length to this matter, but we are
increasingly impressed with the growing and strengthening
occupation with it in all directions. It is not only in those
quarters from which we expect such reactions, the
"evangelical", "conservative", or
"fundamentalist", but as a part of a tremendous
theological swing-round in "liberal" circles there is an
almost astonishing "new look" in this direction. As
typical of this, here are some quotations from foremost
theologians of our time.
"How stands the Church,
regarded as a spiritual organism, as the Body of Christ, in
relation to the institutions we call 'churches' today? Which
ought the Church to be, primarily? Fellowship or institution? Can
there be any doubt where the Pauline stress falls? For him, the
Church is pre-eminently a fellowship, not an institution. It is a
pure communion of persons united to Christ, its living Head, and
to one another through the Holy Spirit: not a highly organised,
legally administered institution."
"...if we look at our
own 'churches' today, are we never smitten with an awful sense of
their unlikeness to the Body of Christ as Paul conceived
"Consider, next, the
perennial problem of our Church disunion. 'There is one Body',
says Paul. For him, the oneness of the Church is as axiomatic as
the uniqueness of the Church's Lord. It is with sheer horror that
he hears of 'parties' in Corinth. 'Is Christ divided?' And we
cannot doubt that if he were here today, he would condemn our
ecclesiastical divisions as roundly as he condemned the cliques
"We comfort ourselves by saying that, in
spite of all our denominations, we have a spiritual union with
Christians in other 'churches', and we sing (God forgive us)
We are not divided,
All one Body we."
"It is in the mission
field that the scandal of our divisions presses most heavily.
Converts not unnaturally ask, 'Why force your divisions on us?'
...There is no real answer to this question..."
we look at our denominations and divisions today, in which one
man says, 'I am of Calvin', and another, 'I am of Luther' - can
we not hear Paul, across the centuries, indignantly demanding,
'Is Christ in fragments?' Were we baptized into the name of John
Calvin? Did we profess our faith in John Wesley? Do we pray to
"Surely it is a task
laid upon the minds and hearts of all who call themselves
Christians, of all who believe the great High Priestly Prayer
(John 17) to be a true mirror of the mind of Christ, to work and
pray for the healing of the Broken Body of our Lord."
"Or take the question,
What is the true mission of the Church in the world? No worthier
answer has been given than Paul gave in Ephesians, perhaps the
most contemporary book in the New Testament.
"In the forefront he
sets the Body of Christ, 'the fulness of him who is being wholly
filled'. Christ and His Church, Head and Body, form a corporate
Personality, and Christ is 'filled' as the Body grows up into its
full spiritual stature. The mission of the Church is to 'gather
into one all things' in Christ the cosmic Redeemer."
"Such is Paul's vision,
and he speaks with pointed directness to the men of our day,
hungry for true fellowship, yet living a 'barbed-wire' existence..."
The above are but selected
extracts; they could be extended to many pages.
A part of their significance,
we repeat, is that they come from the top ranking theologians of
our time, and not from the general level of evangelical leaders.
The main import is that they are just fragments of volumes being
written in our time and indicating the new and great
concern in this direction.
As we have said elsewhere, it
is a tremendous thing to live in a time when there can be so
clearly discerned an enforced recognition of God's original and
unalterable position that the Church is His means, method,
object, and answer. That He is compelling to such a recognition
is a matter of momentous account, and, at least, indicates that -
even if only in a "Remnant" - God will end where He
Ordeal and Trial
If we add one further sign of
the times, for the moment, it would be that movement over the
earth in which Christians are being tested by fiery ordeal and
trial. A large part of the world is already undergoing this
"baptism", and the waters are moving steadily on over
widening areas. They are moving from the Far East toward the
Nearer and Middle East and the Near East.
While Christians in parts of
the West can still meet in conference and debate the question:
"Will the Church go through the tribulation?", many
believers are asking - "Can the tribulation be any worse
than that through which we are now passing?" For one it is
all objective, future, and doctrinal. For the other, real,
actual, and ghastly. It would be more healthy and valuable were
we to face the matter from another angle and ask - "Have we
reason to believe that the Scriptures point to an end-time in
which all artificial supports, 'foreign' aids, external forms,
and all that which keeps Christians going from the outside, will
be stripped off, and they will stand or fall in so far as they
really know the Lord and He is more real than all the
accompaniments and things of Christianity?" This will
be the ultimate criterion, whether in the increasing spiritual
pressure upon believers more generally, or by the force of
adversity such as that which is now spreading over the world.
God will have reality. For Him
His Son is the only reality. He, as such, is the End, the Amen,
and God works all His works toward Him, "that in all things
he may have the pre-eminence".
First published as an editorial in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, Sep-Oct 1956, Vol 34-5