Religious Trends of Today

Christian doctrine and belief was greatly affected by the growing emphasis upon the external which developed with recent scientific progress.

By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

Christian doctrine and belief was greatly affected by the growing emphasis upon the external which developed with recent scientific progress. Science was not judged by religious belief, but the fundamen­tals of Christianity were judged by science. Instead of remaining in their own realm of factual research, scientists began dipping into the philosophy of religion, and, sad to say, church leaders, in order to prove themselves as intellectual as the scientists, joined in the contagion of research and criticism. There was not much left of Christian doctrine by the time these scientific "bigots" had finished with it. Concerning this modern trend, much has been written. Two or three brief quota­tions will suffice to bring this to our attention.

"The direct influence of science and changed liv­ing conditions upon Christian thought has been most evident in the last fifty or sixty years, when a con­scious attempt has been made by Christian thinkers to apply scientific method to the study of history and psychology of religion, and to adjust theological teaching to its changed environment." —"The Growth of Religion," by Wiernan and Horton, p. 179. Willett, Clark, and Co., 1938.

'The glamour of a secular culture under which mankind seemed to be developing toward ever higher achievements in humanitarian welfare and good will has deceived the mind of the church and caused it to exchange its own ideology for the ideology of science or secular culture in general."—Christian Century, June z, 1938.

"This new method of knowledge was so patently useful, justified itself with such brilliant results, opened up such a shimmering vista of new possi­bilities, that it came to be looked upon as the method of knowledge. . . . Any knowledge beyond the reach of science was not worth knowing ; any aspect of reality which could not be handled by scientific instruments was not real.

"Science was powerful; it was successful; it prom­ised to perform ever more and greater wonders; it elicited high enthusiasm. . . . It enabled man to walk with firm and certain step toward the goal of his desires. It replaced the Christian concept of re­demption."—id., Sept. 14, 1938.

"For nearly fifty years, now, science has been almost a magic word. Multitudes who have not clearly known what science is, have known, never­theless, that it speaks only verity ; and every other approach to truth has been diminished by comparison.                               .

"So religion has been diminished, and more es­pecially revelation and the supernatural. And then —it was but yesterday—science discovered that some of its most emphasized teachings had not been verity. It discovered that spirit mind was a firmer value than matter itself, and that divine guidance was probably necessary not only to explain the extraor­dinary in history, but even the ordinary in life. . . .

"And so modern men are on the way back to religious faith because science itself is rediscovering God."—The Christian Advocate, June 8, 1939.

Religious leaders have come suddenly to realize that they have been led astray by an earthly conception, as they now view the re­sults of the liberalistic tendency. They see empty churches and crowded theaters; they see ridicule of religion on every hand; they see the youth growing up without standards of any kind; they are alarmed as they behold the increasing immorality and crime ; and they stand appalled as they note the rise of pagan­ism in large portions of the earth.

We now are hearing many confessions on the part of liberal Christians that they have taken the wrong tangent, and that they are now trying to find their way back to an assured faith. The liberal journal, Christian Century, for some time has been running a series of articles prepared by prominent men in the church and educational world on the subject, "How My Mind Has Changed in the Last Decade." These have contained some aston­ishing admissions.

The Methodist Christian Advocate calls at­tention to the change that has been taking place during recent years in religious thought, and makes the following statements:

'Men and women must have made a tremendous intellectual journey during the last ten years, to go all the way from humanism's shallow contempt for belief, which is interested only in conduct, to the position announced by Doctor Hutton, that the only cause worth fighting for is that of faith, of basic ideas ; and yet nothing less than this complete reversal is the distance we modern men have tray­eled."—Aug. 18, 1938.

Another prominent religious journal, the Baptist Watchman-Examiner, declares:

"What we need are men and women who will not betray our civilization by vain adulations of science and by a cynical attitude toward the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need a faith and ethic which comes only from sources higher than this world's laboratories."—Nov. 24, 1938.

A large number of books are being written by Christian leaders, many of whom have been outright liberals, revealing this same revul­sion of feeling against the radical tendencies of recent times. The range of topics are as follows, according to recently announced volumes: "The Faith We Declare," "The Quest for Religious Certainty," "The Case for Evangelical Modernism," "The God Whom We Ignore," "Christian Faith and the Science of Today," "The Pendulum Swings Back," "Let's Go Back to the Bible," "Five Minutes to Twelve." Following are quotations from two of these books:

"We prate of certainty of 'progress' and the thrill of 'living in the twentieth century; but despite our far-reaching scientific and industrial achievements, contemporary life has failed to satisfy the deepest cravings of the human heart. In the face of the complexity and splendor of present civilization, a large proportion of our lives is distraught with nerv­ous haste, conflicting purposes, lack of a definite goal, and a haunting fear of we know not what. There is hardly a period in all history in which civilized man has been more depressed and pessi­mistic with regard to the future than at the present time, by reason of perverted uses to which we have put the 'glorious inventions' and the 'marvelous dis­coveries' of modern science. To make matters worse, the old landmarks of faith and appraisal of values have disappeared one by one until we have been cut adrift upon an uncharted sea of indecision and shifting alleoiance."—"The Pendulum Swings Back," by Marvin .11;1. Black, p. 225. Cokesbury Press.

"We have forgotten that the Bible does not speak of a world which would grow better and better, day by day, in an eternal process of evolution, but rather of a judgment day which would bring the world to an end. . . .

'The present hopeless chaos teaches us again that the world is not so malleable as our optimism led us to think, but is a transient abode where we suffer the 'crafts and assaults of the devil' and are tempted to resist the will of the Creator. The Bible has a truer, more profound knowledge of the nature of the world than science, which gives us only one aspect of it."—"Five Minutes to Twelve," by Adolph Keller, pp. 28, 30. Cokesbury Press.

"A world which no longer has religious significance has come to an end."—.H., p. 32.

Christian leaders are now trying to grope their way back. Just how far back they should go they are not at all certain. Some of them hesitate very much to make a full and com­plete repentance and go back to what has been called 'traditional supernaturalism," which means the primitive faith. They are trying to find some halfway station between "super­naturalism" and "naturalism." They have not as yet found it, and as a result religious thought is in a state of flux, and no one can predict the form which "the new theology" will take. Much is being written concerning this religious uncertainty and the pity of it. Note the following from an editorial in the Christian Century:

"A church that yearns to help the world today is in profound perplexity to know what to do. Not in a century has there been such chaos in respect to specific programs. Not only so, but the church was never so put to it to distinguish between right and wrong. In international relations, in economic proposals, in political systems, in personal and marital and social morality—who will give the church a clear and unchallengeable cause to fight for ?"—April 27, 1938.

A professor of Yale University makes the following comment on present religious un­certainty:

"We have insensibly entered upon a stage of modern thought—roughly speaking since the war—which as yet no one understands, and the outcome of which no one can predict. It is full of uncer­tainty and paradox. It is doubtful whether there has ever been an age in which man has understood himself so little; in which he has been so knowing and yet so unaware, so burdened with purposes and yet at bottom so purposeless, so disillusioned and feeling himself so completely the victim of illusion. This indecision permeates our entire culture—our science and our philosophy, our industry and our art. It is not strange that it should have entered into our religion and our religious life."—"Affirma­tions," edited by Bernard Iddings Bell.

Another editorial in the Christian Century states:

"As I look back upon both the liberalism of the early period and the social gospel of our later period, St. Paul's words haunt my mind. 'We know in part,' he said, 'and we prophesy in part.' If ever the truth of this insight needed confirmation, it should be found in the Christian Century's thirty years of history. Our liberalism was 'in part.' Our 'social gospel' was 'in part.' We now await some fresh revealment of that 'perfect' which is always yet to come."—Oct. 5, 1938.

The desire for greater religious certainty is growing. Says the Christian Advocate of May 25, 1939, in referring to the recent union of the Methodist Church: "The church must recover a knowledge of its faith. Our new unity of outward organization must be ener­gized by a new-old unity of the inward spirit." Even the well-known Modernist, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, cries out for a faith that is founded upon a rock, in the following words:

"You see, we Modernists have often gotten at our faith by a negative process. We do not believe this. We do not believe that. We have given up this incredible idea or that obsolete doctrine. So we pare down and dim our faith by negative abstractions until we have left only the ghostly remainder of what was once a great religion. Then seeing how few our positive convictions are and how little they matter, we grow easygoing about everybody else's convictions, and end in a mush of general conces­sion. Then a crisis falls upon the individual soul, upon the family, upon the world at large, where a religion that is going to amount to anything must have deep conviction in it.

The rain descended,  and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not : for it was founded upon a rock'—how much we need that."—Watch­man-Examiner, Aug. 25, 1938.

Again quoting from an editorial, we find these reassuring words regarding the conflict:

"We are in the last stages of the struggle. His­toric Christianity is steadily winning on all parts of the field of conflict. Destructive criticism of the Bible is passe. The Book of books comes unscathed out of the dust of conflict as the authoritative norm of Christian truth, faith, and practice."—Id., Nov. 17, 1938.

To what is this remarkable change in re­ligious thought leading? We have seen that scientists and religionists alike feel the need of a stabilizing faith, and the hope that derives from a realm beyond the field of science. They do, in fact, declare the overwhelming need of more religious certainty, and a revival of faith. The prospects for such a revival will be considered in a later article.

"Union" Must Embrace Catholicism

Despite the present international up­heaval, attempts at church unity con­tinue as before. But the widely heralded con­cordat between the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches in the United States of America has struck a snag in the objection raised by Protestant Episcopal Bishop William T. Man­ning of the New York diocese. He declared that it would "work untold harm," because it would only perpetuate "actual division," on the premise that there can be no real church union that ignores the Catholic Church. The words of the bishop, and comments by the Baptist Watchman-Examiner (October 26, 1939) follow:

"'In all our efforts for unity we must keep before us the fact that Christian reunion does not mean a union only of Protestants on the one hand, or of Catholics on the other, but that it means the reunion of the whole of Christendom.' He then describes how fortunate is the Episcopal Church in 'holding a middle place between the Catholic churches of the world and the Protestant churches.' (Through its 'high' church element it approaches Rome; through its 'low' church section it draws near to the evan­gelical denominations.) Consequently, 'the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church would not aid the cause of Christian reunion, but would gravely injure it, if, in order to draw nearer to the Protestant churches, they repudiated or compromised those principles which identify them with the Cath­olic churches.'"

The Anglican position is thus analyzed by this Baptist journal:

"The Anglican Communion shall be the ecclesias­tical colossus which with one arm embraces the Protestant churches and with the other envelops the Catholic world. Bishop Manning's letter indi­cates—from our point of view—that the desirable objective in church union must include the Church of Rome. We have pictured the Anglican Com­munion as being the uniting factor between Protes­tantism and Catholicism. But with 'high church' factions in that communion already disposed to recognize the authority of the Papacy, should we not expect that by the use of ecclesiastical subtleties and 'adjustments the whole organized church uni­versal would be asked to acknowledge the suprem­acy of the Pope? Where, then, in the long run, would be free religion?"

Thus we see the currents and the cross currents in the movement which involves Protestantism's stretching her hands across the gulf to clasp hands with Catholicism. Despite protests, the destined union is in process of development. Protestantism is making the overtures, and will make the fatal capitulations. Let us follow with discerning eye the developing scene.

Foreign Missions and War

Under the heading "Foreign Missions and the War," the Baptists discuss frankly in the Watchman-Examiner of November 9, 1939, the readjustments forced upon their or­ganization because of war conditions. Their problem quite closely parallels our own.

"The difficulties facing our foreign mission enter­prises are complicated vastly by the war. Our boards and their missionaries were beset with de­pressing problems before this evil came to afflict the world. Now they must gird themselves to master new situations and obstacles which will steadily grow worse as the war is prolonged. It must be evident to all that our workers in foreign lands are much more remote from our contacts than they were. The delay of mails and the requirements of censor­ship, besides the military control of means of com­munication, are factors which abolish the compara­tive ease with which headquarters normally keep in touch with the various mission fields. . . . Travel costs immediately increased. Add to these conditions new difficulties in transmitting funds and uncer­tainty as to the rates of exchange, and already we have a glimpse of the involved state of mission ad­ministration which the war has caused.

"As time passes, the state of affairs will become more intricate. Consider the financial aspects of the situation alone. The problem of international ex­change will be more and more complicated. Liv­ing costs will have a tendency to rise, in some fields more rapidly than in others, adding new burdens to the missionary's all-too-poor allowance. Build­ing costs and repair work will take increasing funds. As the war progresses, the younger men and trained personnel of our stations and institutions may be taken from the missions by government, as in the last war, complicating indescribably the work of our overburdened missionaries. In the last World War the churches of America contributed $1,700,000 in extra funds to take care of mission work carried on by missionary personnel who became interned ac­cording to the provisions of war regulations. The same situation is occurring again. . . In some way we shall have to undertake our share of this work.

"Consider the problems facing various national Baptist groups in Europe. Northern Baptist Con­vention interests there are thrown into distressing uncertainty. What has happened to our Polish Bap­tist work we do not know. . . . For years we have fostered work among the Baptists of Esthonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. . . . It would be an unspeak­able tragedy if the excellent undertakings in these countries should now be destroyed. We have no word from the Czecho-Slovak Baptist Union, but we cherish the hope that, even though their lot is difficult, they are able to continue. . . . Our whole European missionary effort is in danger, and is full of challenge to us all. Without doubt, the impover­ishment and dislocation wrought by the war will call for additional sacrifices on the part of American Baptists.

"Our Baptist missions in Africa face the difficulty of being almost isolated. American neutrality may yet cut off American shipping to the African West Coast entirely. It is already a 'danger zone.' Ship­ping in that area is at a premium. Southern Bap­tist missions in Nigeria and Northern Baptist mis­sions in Congo are subjects of grave concern. . . .

"All the above, together with the almost prohibi­tive state of affairs as to administrative conference and travel, leaves us all rather helpless, except for our resources in prayer. In this brief recapitula­tion of our new problems, we foster the belief that among our people there are abundant reserves of faith and sacrifice to meet this test. Only let us not be dilatory in calling them forth. While in some situations the best thing to do is to wait and see what happens, this is no time for it now, When the call for help comes, it will be loud and long and late. If we have to wait until our ponderous de­nominational machinery can get into full motion, the missionary opportunity of our lifetime may be lost. Let us be good Christian strategists and fortify our missionary resources for the days of trial which are ahead by creating the necessary reserves to cope with the emergency at once."

Catholic Gains in Heathendom

I should be aware of the marked mem­bership gains of the Catholic Church in heathen lands, as claimed by Our Sunday Visitor (R.C.) for October 22, 1939. The heading condenses the story into a sentence, and reads as follows: "As Church Spread Here in Past Century, It Is Growing Today in Other Countries; 6,800,000 Catholics in Africa, 4,000,000 in India, 3,000,000 in China

Testify to Success of Missionaries." This claim is of sufficient significance to us to warrant quoting certain paragraphs from the text of the article, for we are living in the days of the healing of the "deadly wound," with world wondering after this apostate power gaining increasing headway. We quote:

"Consider a few contrasts between the picture of the missions a century ago, in /839, and that of the missions today. In 1839 there were in teeming India, 500,00o Catholics governed by two archbish­ops, two bishops, and two vicars apostolic. Today there are 4,000,000 Catholics, and besides the many European bishops and priests, there are 14 Indian bishops and 2,600 native priests. In that same year China had but 230,000 Catholics, while today she has 3,007,361 Catholics, 2,300 European missionaries, 1,800 native priests, 4,916 nuns, and 14,503 cate­chists.

"In all Africa beyond Suez and the Sahara Desert, there were no organized Catholic communities. ' Ethiopia and Madagascar were closed to evangeliza­tion. In the whole of the Congo there remained only the bishop of Loanda, now Portuguese Angola, with thirty parishes and six priests and 30,000 nominal Christians. The Dutch Protestants had shut out all Catholic missionaries from South Africa. The interior of Africa was the happy hunting ground of slave traders; this very region was un­known to white men, and utterly barbarous and pagan. Africa can show today thousands of mission­aries and 6,794,951 Catholics.

"In Korea roo years ago, there were 6,000 Catho­lics, but no priests. Japan was hermetically sealed, though we were to learn later that there some thou­sands of Catholics were secretly keeping their faith in spite of the lack of a priest. The Dutch Protes­tants had destroyed every vestige of the church in the East Indies. The Philippine Islands afford the only glimpse of sunshine in the dark picture of the religious condition of the Far East one hundred years ago. There were four and a half million Catholics there under the rule of Spain."

Membership statistics from Roman Catholic sources may well be evaluated in the light of the following observation from the Presby­terian of October 12, 1939:

"The claims of the Roman Church as to the great numbers within her fold must be heavily discounted, as has often been shown. W. C. Taylor lately wrote in the Western Recorder :

"'The supposed 350,000,000 or 400,000,000 Roman Catholics in the world no more exist than do Nep­tune, Venus, Mercury, and other deities of ancient Rome. The New York Times, on the eve of the crowning of a new pope, gave Catholic statistics by nations, evidently furnished from Catholic sources. The first nation was France, with 40,000,000. Every intelligent and observing tourist knows the falsity of that. The British Weekly of March 9, 1939, says: "France, 'the oldest daughter of the church,' has a population of some 41,000,000; of these, some 30,000,000 have no connection with the church." The Weekly writer is commenting on facts given by Dr. Adolph Keller in a recent book. Presidents of France have made similar statements. Brazil is put down as second. Now Brazil has 47,000,0,00 in­habitants, and the clergy claim ninety-five per cent of them as Catholics. But President Getulio Vargas utterly ridiculed the idea in speeches made when he was senator. He says that not even a large fraction of that number are Roman Catholics in either faith or practice.' "

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

January 1940

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Our Task in Time of War

In the crisis hour many are asking, What is our task? What can we do to help a world in distress?

Modern Movements in Hinduism

A look at various movements that constitute a challenge to our mission­aries who are commissioned to carry the ever­lasting gospel to the ancient land of Hindustan.

Native Evangelism in Africa

Ways and means of native evangelism.

Our Stupendous Responsibility

The progress, prosperity, and success of the cause of God on earth will be in direct proportion to the faithfulness, devotion, and effectiveness of His ministry.

Advertising the Evangelistic Effort

Advertising is a great means to the end of moving our Eastern cities, or any city, to accept of this the greatest message ever given to man.

Value of Films and Slides

Why do we not make use of more slides?

Winning and Holding Our Youth

The winning of our youth is a problem for every worker in the conference.

The Necessity of Organized Study

Our multiplied duties tend to reduce study to the barest minimum.

Make the Bible Foremost

In these days of Modernistic views, higher criticism, and doubt, we as Seventh-day Adventist ministers consider it a profound privi­lege to uphold the Book of books as the inspired word of God, as a harmonious unit in both the Old and the New Testament, as the infallible guide to mankind on his journey heavenward.

Leading Your Own Song Service

Many conferences cannot afford to send out a song leader with every effort; so the evangelist must lead his own music. What, then, must a minister do to make the song service attractive?

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All