Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 29, 1959
NUMBER 38, PAGE 6-7a

Religion In Review

James Deforest Murch

(Editor's note: From time to time we hope to publish significant articles from the denominational press. This article by James DeForest Murch (of the Conservative Christian Church) gives a summary of religious developments in 1958 as seen from the point of view of an "evangelical" — that is one who accepts the fundamentalist or super-naturalistic view of religion in contradistinction to the modernistic or naturalistic view.)

The major concern of the Protestant world in 1958 has been in the field of ecumenicity. Everywhere there is a sincere desire that the blessed fellowship Christians know in Christ Jesus should be a practical reality — one flock, one fold under one Lord, both spiritually and in daily practice. We deplore the humanisms, the perversities and the feverish ways in which useless division are promoted and maintained, keeping Christians apart and hindering the evangelization of the world.

Christian Unity

Millions of prayers have gone up in all parts of the world for a larger measure of Christian unity than now exists. Simultaneously there has been an enormous amount of ecclesiastical propaganda for the creation of "The Coming Great Church" — an institutional answer to the Church of Rome.

The World Council of Churches has strengthened its organization and program of service. With the Churches added during 1958 it now has 171 constituent members in 52 countries. Toward the close of the year significant conferences were held with the Moscow Patriarchate looking toward the acceptance of the Russian Orthodox Church into full membership. In the USA the National Council of Churches expanded its membership and took an increasing role in ecclesiastical and public affairs.

Partially under the pressures of the ecumenical machine but largely through the cooperation of local pastors and lay leaders several denominational family mergers moved toward consummation. The union of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America resulted in formation of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA with a membership of over 3,000,000. The merger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the American Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Church became a certainty with the constituting convention scheduled for 1960 in Minneapolis. The merger of the Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church moved down a thorny path to final realization. Three protesting fellowships have left the Congregational fold, including some of the largest churches of the denomination. The International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) expressed continued interest in joining the United Church of Christ. The Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church agreed on terms of eventual union. The Evangelical United Brethren are in conversations with the Methodists; the Episcopalians are growing more friendly with the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Christian unity is high on the Protestant agenda in the USA.

Cross the world the same pattern holds. In Lambeth Palace, London 300 Anglican bishops took united action bringing the Episcopal system into closer and more harmonious fellowship than it has enjoyed in 600 years. In a number of Asian lands considerable progress was made in uniting native churches and the activities of foreign mission boards into National Churches which are to become a part of the World Council of Churches.

Christian Missions

Christian missions faced the gravest crisis in modern history. For some years the ecumenical leaders of the world have been planning to replace "Christian missions" as practiced by the apostolic Church with a new world strategy called "the world mission of the Church." The objective of the new thrust will be the creation of a new social order embodying the ethical and spiritual principles of the Master Teacher. In Ghana, Africa the official representatives of the World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council agreed on a merger of the two organizations. The Churches involved are moving toward the reorganization of their foreign mission boards into "commissions on ecumenical world mission." The new United Presbyterian Church in the USA took action at its Pittsburgh meeting. The Disciples followed by significant votes at Saint Louis. All other WCC denominations will fall in line in due season. This means the early death of evangelistic missions in all these churches.


Evangelistic gains in the USA during 1958 were spotty. Visitation evangelism became increasingly popular. In mass evangelism Billy Graham's campaigns in New York, San Francisco and Charlotte held major interest, with records broken in both attendance and souls saved. There was increased opposition from extreme liberals and extreme fundamentalists. The official support of councils of churches lagged and it became increasingly clear that support for Graham-type crusades will come from the "grass roots" of American Protestantism — Christ-honoring, Bible-believing, born-again Christians. World-wide revival did not break in 1958, but fervent prayer continued to rise in its behalf. An increasing number of people have faith to believe that it will come when the church is ready.

Conservative Theology

The trend toward a more conservative and biblical theology continued. A survey of American Protestant ministers conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Christianity Today showed that 39 per cent were "conservative," 32 per cent were "fundamentalists," 12 per cent were neo-orthodox and only 14 per cent "liberal." Evangelical theologians strengthened their position through restudy of Bible truth in the light of scientific discoveries and moved toward the elimination of traditional theological opinion which cannot be substantiated either by Scripture or scientific fact. An increasing company of substantial conservative scholars are expressing themselves in theological journals and in new volumes like Revelation and the. Bible (Baker). Classical liberalism is dead. The ranks of neo-orthodoxy and neo-supernaturalism, reputable refuges for disillusioned liberals, continued to expand and to exert a wider influence on Protestant education and culture. Basic doubts concerning the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures persist alongside commitment to the critical techniques of the old liberalism.

Christian Education

In Christian education there was encouraging growth in college enrollment, faculty development, buildings and equipment and financial undergirding. This is the day of the small Christian college. It is the answer to the overcrowding of state and municipal universities which tends to become a greater problem because of college-age population increases. The Christian Day School movement burgeoned beyond all previous annual records. This was due to two developments — the rise of secularism in the public schools and racial integration in the schools of the South. The Sunday School movement made amazing strides in the erection of adequate education buildings and the improvement of personnel and equipment for graded instruction. The rapid growth of the National Sunday School Association attests the convictions of pastors and local church leaders that the future effectiveness of the church depends on a new emphasis on teaching and training an intelligent, efficient and active church membership.

Church Membership

In 1958 church membership statistics continued to mount. Sixty-one per cent of the nation's estimated 170,500,000 people were reported to be members of churches and synagogues. Membership now stands at 104,189,778 for all faiths — 59,823,777 Protestants. Many of these people, however, have only a superficial religious faith. Moral losses in America during the year were tremendous. F. B. I. figures again showed staggering increases in crime and juvenile delinquency. Government investigations disclosed unprecedented dishonesty, corruption, fraud and villainy in public affairs Racketeering in unions reached a new high. Alcoholism became an increasing problem in business and industry. Mental illness rose to alarming proportions. While the Congress strengthened laws dealing with commercialized obscenity, pandering to the1/4prurient interests remained essentially uncurbed. Even churches reflect the moral sag in lowered standards of personal righteousness and an emasculated gospel of holiness.

The influence of the Church in public affairs underwent startling changes. The November elections presented a fascinating and fearful demonstration of the growing power of Roman Catholicism in government. State houses in three pivotal states — Ohio, Pennsylvania and California — were won by candidates of broad political skill who are Romanists, to say nothing of important seats in legislative halls. Political parties are now aware that they need the Roman Catholic vote added to the old blocs they control in order to win elections. The clever propaganda against so-called "Protestant bigotry and intolerance" has won the popular mind so that there is no longer any fear of Vatican control. On the brighter side there is a new Protestant interest in training youth for public life. The Methodists are matching Georgetown University's school for diplomats. The NAE is opening an annual Washington seminar for evangelical students who major in economics and government. Offices of public affairs are being maintained by several Protestant bodies in the nation's capital. Certain agencies are preparing to meet the possible challenge of a Romanist candidate for President two years hence.


The modern world is still yearning for a Utopia but is gripped by a growing pessimism as to whether this generation will live to see it. Russia's educational and scientific achievements on the traditional preserves of the West cause men to sense that they are living in a fool's paradise which momentarily could be reduced to atomic wasteland. Evangelicals need to evaluate their rich opportunities in these crucial times and boldly lay hold of the promises of God. Great things can be done in His strength. The situation calls for humility, self-searching, a restudy of God's Word, a more effective prayer life, all-out commitment to Christ and the presentation of the Gospel as the full and final answer to the problems of mankind.