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FEATURES: Review of Religious World Events in 1951

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Archives / 1952 / February

 

 

FEATURES: Review of Religious World Events in 1951

J. C. Thompson

Associate Secretary, War Service Commission

 

[The author of this article, because of his official relationships during and after World War II, has had unusual opportunity to study recent epochal events. His experience as a Seventh-day Adventist minister enables him to present a timely review of real value. In this review of religious events of 1951 the author has not felt free, for obvious reasons, to discuss in detail developments in one half of the world. Because of his long stay in Berlin (five and a half years), and because of his official Government connections, there is much more that might have been told. EDITORS.]

Among Seventh-day Adventists perhaps the three most significant events in a "year of great activity and progress were the European Youth Congress, held in Exposition Park, Paris, France, July 24-29; the first North American Laymen's Congress, at Grand Ledge, Michigan, August 29-September 2; and the Autumn Council of the General Conference Committee held in Cleveland, Ohio, October 19-31.

In these times of European scarcity and want and of international tension and suspicion, so near the end of World War II, to bring 7,000 youth together from 25 countries of Western Europe and Northern and Central Africa is no mean accomplishment. Imagine bringing 1,200 Adventist young people from Germany on a special train to be, in a sense, guests of French Seventh-day Adventist youth, in the city of Paris, which was occupied by the German Army as late as 1944!

Described as one of the most significant meetings ever held by Seventh-day Adventists, with 12,000 believers attending over the week end, the North American Laymen's Congress marks a new era for lay evangelism. The delegates pledged to win more than 8,000 souls in 1952.

At the recent Autumn Council it was voted to establish a dental school at Loma Linda, this school to be affiliated with the College of Medical Evangelists and to be operated in connection with that institution. The council also voted the largest appropriation in the history of our movement, the total being $17,060,650.68.

We turn now from our own denominational circles to look at some of the outstanding events in the world of religion that took place in 1951.

Membership Growth of U.S. Religious Bodies

The Christian Herald's annual report on church membership in the United States, released July 25, 195.1, in surveying membership growth from the vantage point of the half-century, shows that in 1900, 34.7 per cent of the population were members of organized religious bodies; and in 1950, 55.9 per cent. The figures are: 1900, U.S. population 75,994,575, church members 27,360,610; 1950, population 153,085,000, church members 85,705,280.

Yet in spite of the uncertainty and insecurity that enshroud the world, there are 44.1 per cent of Americans unchurched. Of the total church population, 58.5 per cent (50,083,868) are Protestant, 33.2 per cent (28,470,092) are Catholic, and all others total 8.3 per cent. Jewish congregations number 5,000,000 members, and the Greek Orthodox faith claims 1,000,000. Concerning Protestant gains, The Christian Herald states: "With their emphasis on evangelism through simultaneous sectional crusades, the Southern Baptists are not only the fastest growing [major] denomination in the United States, but within ten years may well be our largest religious fellowship."

Confirming the idea that more people, relatively, attend church than ever before, the National Council of Churches has surveyed the 54 largest denominations, which number 50,000 members or more. Between 1926 and 1949, while the U.S. population grew just less than 30 per cent, the 54 largest religious bodies increased their member ship 51.6 per cent. According to Time (April 2, 1951), the "membership figures of leading U.S. churches in 1949, in thousands, with percentages of increase over 1926," are:

"Assemblies of God                                               275                       474%

Baptists, Northern                                                  1,583                    23

Baptists, Southern                                                  6,761                   92

Church of God in Christ                                         340                      1,025

Congregationalists                                                1,184                    19

Disciples of Christ                                                  1,738                   26

Episcopalians                                                          2,298                   24

Evangelical Lutherans                                           1,677                    61

United Lutherans                                                    1,952                    61

Methodists                                                                8.792                    30

Mormons                                                                   980                       81

Presbyterians, Northern                                         2,401                    27

Presbyterians, Southern                                         653                       50

Seventh-day Adventists                                           230                      107

Unitarians                                                                  74                         24

Roman Catholics                                                     27,610                 48

Jewish Congregations                                           5,000                    23"

Rome's Holy Year

Following a precedent established in 1500, the year 1951 began with a proclamation by the Pope of Rome that during 1951 Catholics who had been unable to make the journey to Rome during the Holy Year of 1950 could earn the plenary indulgence of remission of temporal punishment for sin, gained by all who went to Rome in 1950, by observing terms of the jubilee in their own diocese.

The Catholic Church claims that the Holy Year of 1950 was one of the most successful since the first Holy Year in 1300. More than three million pilgrims visited Rome from all lands on earth. A new dogma of the church was also pronounced: the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. And near the end of the Holy Year the Pope announced that the tomb of Saint Peter had finally and definitely been found right under St. Peter's Basilica.

In midyear, for the first time in nearly three centuries, a Pope was beatified (the second stage in canonization, in which a person is declared entitled to public religious honor and to be called Blessed, the first stage being veneration). The son of a poor Italian shoe cobbler, Pope Pius X occupied the papal throne from 1903 to the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914. Time (June 11, 1951) described the beatification ceremony as follows:

"Last week his blackened body was exhumed from its tomb in St. Peter's and the face covered with a silver mask replica of his features. The body was dressed in new papal vestments, then placed in a gold-leaf sarcophagus with a glass top for public view. As it was unveiled this week, at the height of the beatification ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's archpriest, Federico Cardinal Tedeschini. spoke for the first time the words of public veneration, to which only saints and blesseds are entitled:" 'Rente Pie, ora pro nobis [Blessed Pins, pray, for us.]' "

Of General Interest

According to an announcement of the Methodist Church Board of Missions, since the outbreak of war in Korea 439 full-time Christian workers of all denominations have been lost most of them believed to be dead. The Presbyterian Church in Korea suffered the heaviest: 247 pastors lost, 136 in South Korea, 111 in North. Roman Catholics lost 80 Korean priests and nuns; Methodists, 55 pastors; Holiness Church, 6 pastors; Anglican Church, 6 priests; Salvation Army, 4 officers; Y.M.C.A., 8 secretaries; Y.W.C.A., 1 secretary.

The American Bible Society celebrated its 135th anniversary in 1951. Meeting on May 8, 1816, in New York to discuss this country's need for Bibles, a number of Christian leaders founded the American Bible Society. In its 135 years the society has distributed 38,552,554 complete Bibles and 367,869,450 New Testaments and portions of the Bible. It has published the Scriptures in more than 200 languages and dialects and distributed them in more than 40 nations. In 1950 there were printed 711,- 221 complete Bibles and 10,345,357 Testaments and portions. The British and Foreign Bible Society announced at its 147th annual meeting in London, also in the month of May, that during 1950 it had published 1,357,749 complete Bibles and 1,881,651 Testaments and portions.

Appearing first as a monthly, a new 16- page tabloid newspaper named the Protestant World was born early in January, 1951, in New York City. Its announced aim is "to present fairly, comprehensively, concisely and accurately the news of what Protestant churches, denominations, leaders, boards, and agencies are doing and saying, together with reports of such secular news as may bear upon the moral and spiritual life of the nation."

Religions News Service reports that in Huntington, West Virginia, a Federal judge ruled that a man may be a conscientious objector by personal conviction though the religious faith he professes re quires no abstention from bearing arms. Judge Harry E. Watkins so decided in granting temporary C.O. status to "Howard Everngam, twenty-three-year-old Roman Catholic. Everngam, a former New Yorker, had been charged with violating the Selective Service Act last August when he re fused to be inducted at Charleston, West Virginia, claiming he was a conscientious objector by religious training. When the case was carried to a regional board in New York, the examiner, himself a Catholic, ruled that Everngam's stand could not be based on the latter's religious faith. Judge Watkins, in agreeing to rule on an appeal from the examiner's report, said that the question to be decided was not whether profession of the Catholic faith implied objection to military service but whether the individual's own interpretation of its teachings led him to object to such service. The judge's final verdict upheld Everngam's right so to interpret his religious training.

On November 17 the 132 bishops of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, meeting at Catholic University, Washington, D.C., issued to the nation a warning signed by three cardinals, six archbishops, and four bishops, concerning immorality in public life. In part the warning, which could apply to the entire world, is as follows:

"An alarming parallel exists between the situation facing us today and that which faced the Roman Empire 1,500 years ago. The problems of the Empire closely resemble those which sorely test us now barbarianism on the outside, refined material ism and moral decay within."

US. Ambassador to the Vatican

Coinciding with the adjournment of Congress in late October, President Truman nominated General Mark Clark to be United States ambassador to the Vatican. Until Myron Taylor's resignation in January, 1950, Mr. Taylor had served as Mr. Truman's special representative to the Holy See. In response to questioning by the press the President said his nomination of an ambassador was based upon a conviction that the cause of peace would be served by the presence of a United States ambassador at the Vatican. This act on the part of the President has raised a tempest across America.

The President wishes Congress to pass a special act permitting the general to remain in military service while occupying the diplomatic post. Thus the issue carries over into the 1952 Congressional session, and at the time of this writing it appears that the fight will be a bitter one. The general board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America has issued a warning that the sending of an ambassador to the head of a church would be "an alarming threat to basic American principles." Many other religious and secular bodies in America and elsewhere have taken notice to this issue. Significantly the Seventh-day Adventist de nomination went on record on this issue as follows:

"Resolved, That we, the General Conference Committee o£ Seventh-day Adventists, in Autumn Council assembled, do hereby express our most earnest protest against the appointment of an ambassador from the United States to the Vatican on the ground that it is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state."

Our Religious Liberty Department in Washington, D.C., has brought out a special forty-eight-page issue of Liberty (see p. 40), dealing with this question from the standpoint of our historic stand on separation of church and state. This special edition of Liberty will have a circulation of nearly three hundred thousand copies.

In Retrospect

As the student of prophecy takes a retrospective view of the events of the year just closed, several points must stand out in bold relief. There was a tremendous march of significant events in the religious world. These have brought to the church as well as to the nations increasing perplexities. Neither have Seventh-day Adventists escaped the problems of the relation between church and state, the steadily growing power of the Roman hierarchy, and various political and national events that have tended to bring our mission program in some areas into jeopardy.

There is, however, a more cheering picture to be caught by the church. A great revival spirit has gripped America and is spreading into many other lands. It has grown out of a sense of fear and the futility of human plans, but it carries with it nevertheless a certain wholesomeness. As a de nomination entrusted with a saving message for this hour, we must catch a new sense of direction in our evangelistic planning. These days require broad thinking, sound counsel, and devoted service to a message that figures in the purposes of God in earth's closing scenes. May we each with humility of heart prove true to our God- given responsibilities. We need not fear for the future, brethren, for God is still on His throne.

 

 

 

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