Living in the midst of revolutionary changes and overwhelmed by the effects of his own scientific achievements, modern man finds himself today in a world in which God seems less and less real.

The more he has learned, the less man has felt the need for an all-knowing God. The more powerful he has become through his discoveries, the less he has felt the need for an all-powerful God. Consequently, God has become more and more unreal, with the inevitable result that man has more and more abandoned the formalities of religion itself.

Because he has managed to unlock the secrets of the universe, modern man no longer recognizes any place for mystery in the order of things. Surrounded by the wealth of his discoveries and looking beyond what he conceives to be a limitless horizon, he no longer is willing to be bound by any creed. Having decided that he is sufficient unto himself for all his material needs, he no longer looks for help from sacrament or ceremony.

He has discarded all the ancient superstitions. He readily denies any supernatural dimensions to reality even though he may want to retain a semblance of interest in religion itself. He is likely to use the language of devotion mainly for his own and others’ emotional stimulation. He may view corporate “worship” as an exercise for promoting cultural fellowship. He probably has turned the “school of the church” into a training academy for social action.

Secular man believes that even the social convulsions of our time are signs that both humanity and society are coming of age. Just ahead he sees world-wide triumphs of reconciliation in which all distinctions of class, race or standing will be eliminated on a global scale.

This is secular man in his secular world.

The Christian knows that the image of a brave new world projected by his secular counterpart is only a shadow of reality. The reality itself will remain forever elusive so long as man is alienated from God.

The Christian knows that man’s spectacular discoveries are but windows opening into previously unseen aspects of God’s handiwork. If man has managed to effect changes in his environment, the Christian knows that these are circumscribed by God’s eternal laws and that they remain obedient to God’s sovereign purposes.

As for the secular man himself, the Christian marvels that he should be so deluded by his own technological accomplishments. He has changed his environment but he clearly remains unable to change himself. On every hand, multiplying signs of individual immorality and social disintegration eloquently testify that wisdom and human strength are incapable of meeting the basic issues of life.

Wars and rumors of war continue to demonstrate that man does not know how to follow the paths that make for peace. Lost and without God, he makes his proud way through the years of his increasingly precarious existence without ever realizing that he is bereft of hope in this life or the next.

In the Church, Too

Yet, the body of Christ also is gripped by uncertainty, as new interpretations of the Gospel compete with frankly alien theologies for preeminence in the Christian Church.

Even within so-called evangelical churches, and particularly among the younger adults in these churches, it has come to be widely accepted that the institution called “church” has little, if anything constructive to offer in this revolutionary age.

In such a world and condition as this, the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ continues her testimony. To a convulsed age she comes with a revolutionary mandate and a revolutionary message. She is called today, as always, to turn the world upside down in the power of the Almighty. She bears her witness in the confidence that not even the gates of hell shall stand against the Gospel.

Old patterns of life pass away and new patterns emerge, and with the changes we are tempted to believe that truth itself passes away and new truth emerges. What happens is that new demands arise to adapt the unchanging truth to new styles of life. If the witness of the Church seems to become irrelevant, it may be because the meaning of discipleship has not been adjusted to the new patterns in order to keep peace with change. Perhaps faith itself was so conditioned by the old patterns that when these underwent revolutionary change faith found itself without support because it was leaning on a transitory thing and not on the eternal Christ.

Perhaps modern secular man is unable to recognize the Gospel as the good news that it really is because the achievements of his intellect and genius have obscured his spiritual needs as a sinner and permitted him to forget that he is but a creature. On the other hand, perhaps we who name the Name of Jesus Christ have not presented Him as Lord of the atom as well as Lord of the loaves and fishes.

Most important of all, perhaps the word “church” has been so completely identified with institutional forms that we have forgotten the word mean people. Man made institutions come and go but the people of God can never be irrelevant in the world if they are faithfully about their Lord’s business.

We must learn how to say to secular man, living in a secular age and supremely confident in the power of science to accomplish almost anything, “This is not enough. It is not even the beginning of wisdom. Which of man’s discoveries have lifted him to a higher moral and spiritual plane? Which has not rather accentuated his depravity? Only Jesus Christ satisfies.” We must learn how to say that relevantly, persuasively, effectively.

But the Church not only needs to know what to say and how to say it, the Church also must know where to say it. And in the final third of the twentieth century the place of witness is not only the pulpit, the classroom and the home, it also is the marketplace and the council chamber.

Christians are a people with a commission and a message. These are given and they are eternal. But while the commission and the message remain changeless, the circumstances of the testimony and the conditions of witness may change. This is to say that the Church may often be called on to adjust. The Church may turn a deaf ear to the call. But fidelity to Jesus Christ demands that His disciples should be willing to make any adjustments necessitated by the situation in which they find themselves, or by any fresh and authentic understandings of God’s Word.

It is not unrealistic to believe that such adjustments can begin in our relations with each other. For long years evangelical Christians of different traditions have found it difficult to make common cause against the common enemy of souls. May not the crises of these last days help God’s children break down the walls of partition and come closer to one another?

Genuine repentance is always a prerequisite to blessing. Should we not repent of our pride and lack of faith, not only with respect to our individual and corporate relationship to Christ but also our individual and corporate relationship towards one another?

Evangelical Christians profess to believe that the life of faith is a life in Jesus Christ in which a believer enjoys gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Evangelical Christians profess to believe that the members of the body of Christ are interdependent. Evangelical Christians profess to look only to the Word of God written for their guidance, to the living Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and mediatorship, and to the Holy Spirit for sanctification. Evangelical Christians profess to consider it their first and foremost duty to seek and to save the lost by the power of that same Holy Spirit. Should not their common faith bring them ever closer together in a united witness? Should not their common duty turn their faces outward, towards the world, in a united testimony?

While they are not of the world, Christians live out their lives in the world and therefore it is in the world that they make their witness. For them to remain aloof from concrete decisions affecting social developments in our time would be to suggest that they do not believe God is sovereign in all the affairs of men. For them to withhold their love in any measure from those in need would be to suggest that they do not believe God is love.

The Christian witness, then, is that of a whole Gospel for the whole man to the whole world, by the whole people of God.

A Double Risk

But social involvement carries with it a double risk. The Christian who devotes his total energies to justice, equality and peace may fail to keep uppermost in his testimony that Christ came to seek and to save those who were lost.

And, in his desire to be relevant in his testimony, he may lend support to objectives that seem to advance the cause of justice, equality and peace by secular standards, but which do not accord with the will of God.

For the church, social involvement on either a competing or cooperative basis with secular agencies creates the possibility, which often has been realized in history, that the institution will become so impressed with what she considers to be her divine calling that she begins to act as lord over God’s heritage and not rather as the servant of all men, but only for Christ’s sake.

The people of God are called to be servants. Those who are chief among them are those who serve. Their Lord did not come to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many. Those who follow Him are crucified with Him. They have a cross to bear. They are called sacrifice and, if needs be, to suffer.

By word and deed the people of God witness to the life which is available in Jesus Christ, to the indescribable wealth of the inheritance belonging here and in the world to come to those who have been redeemed.

Individually, the believer in Jesus Christ includes in his testimony loving deeds in the name of Him who said. “…forasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these…” In concert with other Christians he looks for ways to give expression to the fruits of faith in the love of God. When gathered in the visible community of believers, the church, he endeavors to exhibit to the world the ideal social order which is willed by God and made possible in the unity of the Spirit.

The church’s ministry in the world is a ministry of reconciliation. Until Christ returns she is charged to become involved in reconciling men first to God through the Gospel by the work of the Holy Spirit, and to one another according to the precepts of the written Word.

If she is faithful to her task, the people of God must sacrifice, many may suffer, some may die. But the victory most surely will be Christ’s.