When representatives of the World Council met in Toronto four years ago and chose the theme for the Second Assembly, "Christ the Hope of the World," it "was a bold decision, because it was bound to take us into territory where there is much disagreement." These were the words of Bishop Newbigin as he introduced briefly the task of the council to study and evaluate the Report on the Main Theme. Continuing, he said, "I am persuaded that it was a very wise decision, be cause there is no part of our Gospel which more needs to be boldly proclaimed today than that which assures us that Christ is Lord of the future."
He referred to a cartoon he had seen titled "The Twentieth Century Looks at the Future." The cartoonist had pictured a young man gazing at a vast question mark. "That is surely a true picture of our age," he said. And yet hope must mean more than "a wistful longing for good things to come, without any assurance of their coming." The Christian's hope is something more definite than that, but "we Christians have too often been without a living hope. We have not faced the future with the assurance that it is wholly in the hands of our crucified and risen Lord. We have not looked forward with the eager prayer of simple Christian believers who have no illusions about their own power to shape the world 'Come Lord Jesus.' We have often let it appear that the Church is the guardian of old things that are passing away, while new and revolutionary forces press forward in the confidence that the future belongs to them. What an absurd reversal of the proper roles! Surely it is our Lord Himself who is summoning us before the world to bear witness again to the hope He has given us."
Concluding, Bishop Newbigin urged that members "be more anxious to learn from one another's faith than to refute one an other's errors." And also to enter upon the task of study in the spirit of earnest prayer that God's Spirit would illumine their minds and make the things of Christ clear to them. The Report on the Main Theme With that challenge the assembly went into its study of the report, which was the result of a very large group, some four hundred minds actually have worked upon it. It is an illuminating document. It contains much with which we can perfectly agree. In fact, some paragraphs read just like our own books. There were some who expressed concern for the future of the document, for they recognized that when it came into the groups for close study it might, because of theological differences, have to undergo violent changes. But the remarkable thing is that after two weeks of earnest study this Report on the Main Theme, comprised of some thirty thousand words, was left unchanged and has now been sent to the churches for study, the obvious intention being that at the next World Council Assembly some report of that study in their many thousands of congregations will be brought back.
It was not easy for leaders representing more than 160 different denominations to come together and draw up a treatise on such a theme as "Christ the Hope of the World." It is difficult even for us, with all our spiritual advantages plus the guidance of inspired counsels, to produce a document on theology and prophecy that is wholly acceptable to all! But very careful work had been done by scholars over a period of three years, and the result was a comprehensive document that entered every field of Christian thought, touching some areas which we as a people would certainly have left untouched. This report was then placed before the delegation, which for purposes of study and discussion was divided into fifteen separate groups. Not only the theological con tent, but also the phrasing and minute wording were features for forthright discussion. Yet in spite of that the document emerged intact, and, as we have mentioned, is being sent to the different churches with no change whatsoever.
This is particularly heartening when we sense that some para graphs touch vitally on the great question of the Second Advent. With that long and involved report go two other brief documents to the churches; one going as an accompanying summary of the council, called "A Message From the Second Assembly," and the other, a "Statement by the Second Assembly on the Report of the Advisory Commission on the Main Theme," giving briefly the points of dis agreement. The council felt it was wise to state to the churches that the report was not endorsed in every detail by every delegate. One of the criticisms was:
"We find that the note of joyous affirmation and radiant expectancy which should mark a statement of the Christian hope does not sufficiently illuminate the Report. We find certain important omissions: The present work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the world; specific reference to 'signs of hope'; adequate treatment of the theme of creation and cosmic redemption." And further: "We are not agreed on the relationship between the Christian's hope here and now, and his ultimate hope." In these brief statements it is easy to discern disappointment on the part of some that the Advent was mentioned as specifically as it was, and yet in the minds of others there was even deeper disappointment that it was not mentioned still more definitely. We can truly rejoice, however, that so much of the Advent message has been included. Furthermore, this accompanying statement reads that having "engaged the full attention of the Assembly," it now goes forth to be "presented to the churches" "with the commendation of this Assembly, for their study, prayer and encouragement." "Because Jesus Christ died and rose again for the world and will come again to renew it and judge it in His glory and grace, this world is anchored to Him with unshakable hope," and the Christian church moves on ward declaring the gospel of grace and awaiting "His coming in glory and triumph at the end of this age."
"A Message From the Second Assembly"
The other brief document, already referred to as "A Message From the Second Assembly," is sent "to all our fellow Christians, and to our fellow-men everywhere," and it goes as a greeting in the name of Jesus Christ. It aims to state clearly, simply, and concisely the great truth that "though we were the enemies of God, He died for us. We crucified Him, but God raised Him from the dead. He is risen. He has overcome the powers of sin and death. A new life has begun. And in His risen and ascended power He has sent forth into the world a new community bound together by His Spirit, sharing His divine life, and commissioned to make Him known throughout the world. He will come again as Judge and King to bring all things to their consummation. Then we shall see Him as He is and know as we are known. Together with the whole creation we wait for this with eager hope, knowing that God is faithful and that even now He holds all things in His hands. "This is the hope of God's people in every age, and we commend it afresh today to all who will listen. . . . Whatever men may do, Jesus reigns and shall reign."
Privileged as a few of us were to sit in with the select committee that made the final draft of this message, we found it interesting to observe the efforts of the chairman, Bishop Newbigin, in his attempt to preserve the eschatological features of this "Message." One particular paragraph was questioned very candidly. It reads: "For beyond the judgment of men and the judgment of history lies the judgment of the King who died for all men, and who will meet us at the last saying: 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.' Thus our Christian hope directs us towards our neighbor. It constrains us to pray daily 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' and to act as we pray in every area of life. It begets a life of believing prayer and expectant action, looking to Jesus and pressing forward to the day of His return in glory."
It was obvious that the chairman wanted to retain that statement, and there were others present who shared his concern, one of whom was a Mr. Goyder, a layman from London. He was the one who made a speech before the crowded assembly at an evening session when the Archbishop of Canterbury was in the chair. His statement made news in both the secular and the religious press. Among other things he said: "I am not a Seventh-day Adventist nor a German theologian, but I represent the common people in our churches, men and women who long to see a more definite emphasis given to the Second Advent of our Lord, which is the real hope of the church." The applause at the conclusion of his forthright speech re vealed that nobody was asleep. It was clear and convincing. We were not surprised to learn while conversing with him later that he had some knowledge of prophecy, his father having been "studying diligently for twenty years the particular prophecies concerning our Lord's return."
At the conclusion of that special commit tee meeting on the last Sunday afternoon, a smaller drafting committee went to work to put the "Message" in its final form. How pleased we were, when it was placed in our hands the next day, to discover that in this supplementary document the Advent hope had been retained in almost the exact wording of the draft we had been studying! Stepping up to Bishop Newbigin, the chair man, I congratulated him on a very fine piece of chairmanship and expressed my particular pleasure that the features concerning the judgment and the Second Ad vent had been retained. "Yes," he said, "I am glad we were able to hold those, be cause the Second Advent of our Lord is the real hope of the world. And I am glad that we could keep that sentence in concerning the judgment, because that is what we are all facing, and both the world and the church need to know that."
An Unprecedented Opportunity
This "Message" concludes with a very personal appeal and a reminder that there are countless multitudes to whom Christ is unknown. Then the question is asked: "How much do you care about this? Does your congregation live for itself, or for the world around it and beyond it? Does its common life, and does the daily work of its members in the world, affirm the Lordship of Christ or deny it? ... Do you forgive one another as Christ forgave you? Is your congregation a true family of God, where every man can find a home and know that God loves him without limit? "We are not sufficient for these things. But Christ is sufficient. We do not know what is coming to us. But we know Who is coming. It is He who meets us every day and who will meet us at the end Jesus Christ our Lord. "Therefore we say to you: Rejoice in hope."
Such a clear statement concerning our Lord's return as is contained in these important documents should make the heart of every Adventist preacher rejoice. For, coming as it does out of the most representative council since the Protestant Reformation, it places in our hands an opportunity we have never had before. It challenges us to proclaim God's truth for this generation with new power. We could well wish that more had been included. But let us thank God for all that is there and make the most of our chance.
Having attended this historic council and having felt the pulse of it all as it moved forward, sometimes over smooth highways, at other times over rough and rugged terrain; and having made friends with many of the leaders, often conversing with them and expressing freely to individuals our own convictions on the subject, we came away with hearts rejoicing that in spite of obvious weaknesses and disagreements there was nevertheless a note of confidence, not only in the return of our Lord at the end of history, but, in the minds of many, even the thought that His coming is near. The last few meetings, especially the last day, were in some ways the most important of all. Many press representatives and hundreds of the accredited visitors had already left, but those of us who remained felt amply rewarded. To have sat with the drafting committee of the final "Message" was a rare privilege.
Some Things to Remember
No longer are Adventists a little, isolated group sounding their message in the ears of Christians and worldlings who do not want to know the meaning of the times. Instead, we never had a more favorable setting in which to proclaim the great truths that for more than a century have shaped our course. Confidently we can go to the Christian world, and, if we care to, we can take those paragraphs from the Report of the Main Theme, which set forth so clearly and definitely the Advent hope, and using them wisely we can call men and women of varied Christian backgrounds to a new study of the precious Word of God, declaring the thought of many speakers "everyone who hopes in Christ is bound by His commandment to make known His gospel." "No one can keep the hope silently for himself with out losing it," declared Dr. Schlink in his opening address to the assembly. "The command of God the Redeemer requires of us the greatest speed. We do not know how much time we have left." Then quoting the words of our Lord, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28), the professor went on to emphasize that "for those who hope in Christ, however, the tumult of this world is a sure sign of Christ's coming. . . . The wintry gales that are now howling over the world are the signs of the coming springtime. The sicknesses of our time are the birth pangs of the new creation." The very fact that millions of professing Christians will erelong be diligently study ing these things in their churches should lay upon us the burden of prayer that God will touch the hearts of preachers and congregations alike, that they may find the truth as it is in Jesus and be brought to surrender their hearts in full obedience to Him.
To criticize these men while failing to understand their eagerness to follow truth is not only unkind, it is unchristian. Let us as workers begin to pray for a real revival in our own hearts while we bear up before the throne of grace those whose eyes seem blinded to the great apocalyptic message of eschatology. We have been told: "Before the final visitation of God's judgments upon the earth, there will be, among the people of the Lord, such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times." The Great Controversy, p. 464. Only earnest, importunate prayer can bring it. "From the secret place of prayer came the power that shook the world in the Great Reformation." Ibid., p. 210. The Reformers of the sixteenth century discerned the clear issues of their day. They were men of importunate prayer. We have been called by God to complete the Reformation. May His Spirit lead us into ear nest, heartfelt intercession for ourselves and His people scattered in every nation and in every denomination.
World Council of Churches. At Amsterdam the member churches pledged to stay together. They recognized that they were engaged on a common journey. This is a perilous journey, for these early years of the World Council's life coincide with one of the worst storms in human history. The passengers of the ship are of many races, nations, and denominations and find it hard to understand one another. The crew is inexperienced, for this is a new adventure in which established precedents are of little use. But above them and in the midst there is the mast: the cross.
When they all look up to the cross they are made one, for their common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gathers them together. The nearer they come to Him, the nearer they come to one another. It is not known how long the journey will last nor how many storms the ship will have to brave. One thing is sure. We know our destination. It is the kingdom of God. And it is the sure hope that that destination will be reached which encourages us on the journey. The churches in their togetherness form the Oikoumene, that is, the fellowship of the Churches of Christ, which is worldwide and which seeks to serve all men everywhere. "Oikoumene" is the old Greek word that refers to the universality of the church with its many races, nations, and tongues and to the universality of its mission as it seeks to penetrate into all corners of the world and into all realms of life. There are moments and there will be many more when the passengers on the ecumenical ship cry out: "Save, Lord. We are perishing." But if they have complete confidence in their Captain they will discover "that even the winds and the sea obey him."
The Reverse Side
"Christ, the Hope of the World," in the outside band, states the main theme of the Second Assembly. The inside space tells the story of Evanston in architectural symbolism. Pictured are churches rep resenting the various communions. Only two are actual structures in the right background is St. Paul's, London, and in the forward center the Orthodox tower is a composite of the cathedrals at Istra and Novgorod, both destroyed in World War II. (For photographs of the originals see Lost Treasures of Europe, Pantheon Books, Inc.) The others are merely types; at the left an American New England church and spire and in the fore ground a simple chapel such as may be found in areas of reconstruction and among the younger churches. Mr. C. Harry Atkinson, executive director of the Bureau of Church Buildings for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America, assisted in laying out the design.