Chapter 11: Christianity, Challenged and Expanding: The Half-Century Which Followed A.D. 1914
The summer of 1914 was marked by the inception of a fresh stage in the revolution to which we have repeatedly called attention and which began at least as far back as the Renaissance. During the half-century between 1914, and the time when these lines were penned, it continued to mount with increasing rapidity. We must first outline the main features of that stage of the revolution, next describe, also succinctly, the fashion in which it threatened Christianity, both by open attack and by less open but subtle and more dangerous erosion, and then call attention to how the challenge was faced — with the result of a greater impact of Christianity upon mankind as a whole than at any earlier time.
The Main Features of the Revolution
The feature of the augmented revolution to be mentioned first is that, as in its earlier stages, it originated in and radiated from what was formerly called Christendom — Europe, and especially Western Europe, where Christianity had longest had its best opportunity to make itself effective in the life of man. As we have earlier hinted, the question emerges as to how far, if at all, the revolution is attributable to Christianity. Had Christianity set in motion forces which it could not control and which were inherently destructive, not only of Christianity, but of all human civilization and even of mankind itself ? Had Christianity unwittingly created and opened a Pandora’s box? We can venture no conclusive answer. We can simply remind ourselves what he have repeatedly noted: that on this planet God seems to be intent on developing children and not robots and that in doing so He has deliberately taken the risk, as in the incarnation and the crucifixion, of having His freely offered gifts abused by the evils to which mankind is heir; but that here are also a challenge and God’s offer of power to overcome the evil in such fashion as to augment man’s welfare — that where sin abounded grace might much more abound.
The second and most spectacular feature was war. In contrast with the preceding century of relative peace, two major world wars engulfed all mankind. The major theater of both was Europe. The first (1914-1918) began in Europe, and the second, while having its initial rumblings in the invasion of China by Japan (1931), is usually reckoned as breaking out in Europe in 1939. Even if September 1939, is counted as the inception, World War II was more prolonged than World War I, for it lasted almost six years, until August, 1945. It was more widely destructive and exhausting than its predecessor. Other wars, mostly local, were born of forces released by the revolution — notably the civil war in Spain in the 1930’s, war in Korea in the 1930’s, and the prolonged struggles in what was once called Indo-China in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Overshadowing them all was the menace of thermonuclear war. The major accumulation of atomic weapons was in countries once counted as Christian. The order for the first use of the atomic bomb was given by a President of the United States who was a communicant in good standing in a Protestant church and had declared — although not specifically in that connection — that he endeavored to be guided by the Sermon on the Mount.
A third feature was closely associated with war: the emergence of totalitarian regimes out of the wreckage wrought by war — the most prominent being Communism in Russia and China led by Stalin and his successors and Mao Tse-tung, the Nazis and Hitler in Germany, the Fascists and Mussolini in Italy, and the Falange and Franco in Spain. Most of them professed to be democratic but all departed far from the Anglo-Saxon democracy sprung from radical Protestantism.
A fourth feature was the triumph of anti-religious (not just anti-Christian) Communism in large and growing segments of the world and the confidence expressed by its spokesmen that it would eventually be adopted by all mankind.
A fifth feature, more dangerous than Communism, was secularism. Secularism threatened to undermine the foundations not only of Christianity but also of all religion. It, too, was due to factors within the erstwhile Christendom and spread to other parts of the world. One source was intellectual. The scientific discoveries and the philosophies of the age appeared to many to make Christianity and every religion untenable by informed and honest minds. Another factor was the absorption of men’s interests in obtaining what they deemed the good things of life — the physical comforts and aesthetic values which seemed to be independent of religion. Still another factor was the disintegration of the social structure with which religion had been associated and the consequent weakening or disappearance of customs that ordinarily accompanied religion. Contributing to secularism was the surging tide of nationalism which made religion ancillary to patriotism and supported it only as it reinforced loyalty to the State. Thus conservative, anti-Communist forces in the United States invoked Christianity as a bulwark of "the American way of life." Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism were reviving, but they were valued chiefly because they were identified with particular nationalisms — Arab, Indian, Singhalese, or Burmese. One keen Chinese intellectual, Hu Shih, not a Communist, declared that the Chinese, because of a long tradition of agnosticism, would be the first people to outgrow religion — suggesting that religion is a stage through which mankind passes on its pilgrimage from infancy to maturity. Nationalism, like the other sources of secularism, had its first appearance in "Christendom."
A sixth feature of the mounting revolution was the surging tide of revolt against Western imperialism and colonialism. It was in part a fruit of nationalism and in part the almost inevitable reaction against the nineteenth-century domination by Western European peoples of most of the non-Western world. To no small degree it could be ascribed to the former Christendom, for one of its major causes was a burning and formerly impotent resentment against the assumption by the European that he was of a superior race and civilization and so had an inborn right to rule.
Even before World War I sensitive observers discerned the writing on the wall. Indians, Chinese, and Japanese were seething with indignation and were seeking ways of forcing respect from the Westerners and gaining full independence. In a very real sense the two world wars were Occidental civil wars, reciprocally destructive to the combatants. Western European powers were so badly weakened that demands for independence could not be ignored. After World War I in several lands concessions looking towards autonomy were forced on reluctant Western governments. After World War II independence progressed apace. Before the 1960’s most of Asia and Africa had been freed from the Westerner’s yoke.
The situation was complicated by the fact that in large sections of the globe a new imperialism, that of Communist Russia and China, succeeded Western imperialism. Communist Russia dominated much of Central Europe, the Balkans, and Mongolia, was seeking to penetrate the Americas through a puppet regime in Cuba, and was aspiring to control much of the Middle East and Africa. The Chinese Communists, from their capital in Peking, had mastered Tibet, were reaching their tentacles into Southeast Asia, and were endeavoring to make their weight felt in Latin America and Africa.
Associated with revolt against imperialism and colonialism was a seventh feature: conflicts over race. The legal emancipation of Negroes brought by the Protestant conscience in the British Empire and the United States did not immediately solve the problems born of slavery. If anything, for a time it aggravated them. In many countries interracial tensions existed and mounted in Africa, especially South Africa, between peoples of African habitat or ancestry and "Christian" peoples of European ancestry, in the West Indies, and in the United States. Conflict arose in Assam from the demand of hill tribes, recently become Christian, for a degree of autonomy as against Indian nationalism, which insisted on their integration with the predominantly Hindu Republic of India.
An eighth aspect of the revolution was a further stage in the industrial and technological revolution. This, too, had its radiating center in the former Christendom. It made vast strides in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia and spread throughout the non-Western world. It was a means to material wealth and as such was eagerly sought by industrially "backward" peoples, for to them it appeared to be a way of freeing themselves from their chronic poverty and acquiring the wealth and the power which they envied in Western European peoples.
The industrial and technological revolution was made possible by advances in science. Men now seemed about to eliminate poverty and disease and aspired to reach beyond the planet into the other members of the solar system. All peoples sought to equip themselves with science and its tools.
From the industrial and technological revolution came a ninth aspect of the revolution. Vast changes were wrought in the life of mankind. Rapid communication and travel — by radio, television, and the automobile and airplane — made the planet a shrinking world and brought men into a neighborhood. The neighborhood was quarrelsome, all the more dangerously so because of its narrowing physical dimensions and the tools of destruction with which industries and technology had equipped it. Cities burgeoned. In several countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and even Africa, lately brought into the zone of the revolution, great urban centers and clusters of urban centers appeared, almost before men were aware of them. They became aggregations of deracinated individuals and small family units. The older rural communities dwindled, and with the new means of communication their collective life was threatened or disappeared. Through the improvement in public health brought by science, populations mounted. Few parts of the world escaped the population explosion brought by the reduction of the death rate.
The Threats to Christianity Brought by the Revolution
In each of its features the revolution was a threat to Christianity. The menace brought by war is obvious. The toll of life in the twentieth-century wars was numerically larger than that of their predecessors. Among the losses were young men who held promise of constructive contributions had they lived to maturity, even more millions of non-combatants, and other millions of deracinated refugees. Still more serious from the standpoint of Christian morals were the inevitable concomitants of dishonesty, cruelty, and hate.
The totalitarism régimes were accompanied by the loss of that respect for the individual which is inherent in Christianity and the callous liquidation of minorities who stood in the way of the dictator. Among the mass atrocities were the executions of those who were obstacles to Stalin and the starvation of millions in Russia through the deliberate neglect of the Communist rulers, and the execution of thousands in the accomplishment of "land reform" by the Communist Party of China, and the virtual enslavement of other thousands in forced labor by that party. Especially sobering was the fate of the Jews in Nazi Germany and the lands overrun by the Nazis, for Germany had been the original source of the Protestant Reformation and was the home of some of the most vital movements in both Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were nominally Roman Catholics. Was Christianity powerless to prevent the horrors wrought by the descendants of generations who for centuries had been nurtured in a civilization which was ostensibly Christian?
The threat of Communism was sobering too, for it had been formulated in "Christendom," by men reared as Protestants, and had its first triumphs in "Holy Russia," whose capital, Moscow, had been acclaimed by Russian Orthodox as the third Rome, the seat of true Christianity. As we shall see, the Communists did not succeed in fully eliminating Christianity in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but one of their early acts was to sever the tie between the Russian Orthodox Church and the State and they waged a persistent anti-Christian — and anti-religious — campaign. In the Soviet satellites in Central Europe and the Balkans the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches were curtailed. In China, during the latter half of the nineteenth and the first five decades of the twentieth century, as much Christian missionary effort, Roman Catholic and Protestant, had been expended as in any other one section of the nonEuropean world. By the mid-l960’s the (Communist) People’s Democratic Republic was slowly tightening the noose about such Christian churches as survived on the mainland — the area under its domination.
Secularism, more dangerous to Christianity and all religion than Communism, was taking heavy toll in lands where either the Roman Catholic Church or Protestantism had long had its chief strength. In Latin Europe, Eire, and much of Germany, historically Roman Catholic, the overwhelming majority were baptized. The same was true in the Protestant portions of Europe, including Great Britain and North Ireland. But Roman Catholic authorities sorrowfully said that only a minority of their baptized, even in almost solidly Catholic Spain and Portugal, were practicing their faith. In the 1950’s two French Roman Catholic priests, Henri Godin and Yvan Daniel, wrote a book, La France, Pays de Mission? in which they spoke of their native land as a mission field. In the Protestant sections of Western Europe after 1914 church attendance in both cities and rural districts drastically declined and recruits for the ministry fell off: Christian conviction was confined to minorities. In Latin America secularism and skepticism continued to penetrate the nominally Roman Catholic majority, of whatever class. For example, in Uruguay Christmas was re-named "Family Day" and Easter "Tourist Day," and the leading newspaper in Montevideo printed the name of God in small letters. In Brazil the vacuum left by the decay of the Roman Catholic faith was partly filled by spiritualism, much of it a crude animism derived from Africa and some a more sophisticated form inspired by Hinduism. In the United States the proportion of church members to the population fairly steadily increased, until it was nearly two-thirds. But the complaint was repeatedly voiced that the growth was more from social convention than religious conviction and that actually among professed Christians much indifferentism existed. In French Canada the Roman Catholic Church was vigorous, but much of the loyalty could be ascribed to a French Canadian particularism as against the Anglo-Saxon majority — as could that in Eire of Irish nationalism against the long-standing tie with Great Britain, recently dissolved. Of the Protestant elements in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, in the census returns almost all continued to express a church preference, but church attendance, while large, was only of a minority, and the numbers of indigenous clergy did not keep pace with the demand. In Protestantism and among non-practicing Roman Catholics in both Europe and the Americas much religious relativism existed. The opinion was widely held that truth and error in all religions were equal, that religion was a symptom of man’s effort to penetrate the mystery of his existence and of the universe, and that none of the many answers which had issued from the quest had ultimate validity. Significance may be seen in the fact that most of the comprehensive studies of the religions of mankind had been made in Christendom rather than by adherents of the non-Christian religions.
The revolt among non-European peoples against Western imperialism and colonialism often heightened the denunciation of Christianity because of its association with the Occidental expansion of the nineteenth and earlier centuries. Presumably the mounting nationalism and resentment against the white man would erase the footholds won by missionaries from the Occident.
The industrial and technological revolution augmented secularism, in whatever part of the world it was found. The vast increase in population which arose from that phase of the revolution multiplied the numbers of non-Christians. Since the most spectacular growth was in Asia, overwhelmingly non-Christian, by the mid-1960’s the earth contained more outside the Christian fold than when Christ died — or even at the outset of the twentieth century. Although the numbers whom religious statistics labeled Christian — at best a doubtful and superficial classification — were increasing, the proportion of mankind listed in that category was declining.
The Response of Christianity
Serious as was the threat, and sobering as were the losses, the response in the fifty years which succeeded the summer of 1914 shows that far from being moribund, Christianity was rising to meet the challenge. More than in any preceding age, the contrast to which we have repeatedly called attention was striking. On the one hand were the mounting dimensions of the chronic ills of mankind — the outcome of man’s ignorance, folly, self-interest, and pride — reaching their most colossal expressions in an ostensible Christendom; on the other hand was the power issuing from what Christians believe to have come from the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. As always, much of that power was seen in humble persons who were remembered only by a few and of whom a later generation and the historian would be unaware. But some was displayed in ways which the historian could detect.
Part of the response was directed to the challenge of war. In World War I, fought almost entirely between professed Christians, most of the belligerents invoked the aid of God and declared that they were fighting for justice. In the case of the United States, late to come into the war, its President, Woodrow Wilson, summoned the nation to enter the struggle as a war to end war. Himself earnestly Christian, from a long Protestant heritage and from a commitment made in impressionable adolescence, Woodrow Wilson was inspired and sustained by his faith. From that faith arose his championship of the League of Nations. For many years the dream of such an international organization to bring all mankind into cooperation, to seek the welfare of non-European peoples ruled by Westerners, to solve international tensions through international action and without war had been cherished in Christendom. Since the Napoleonic Wars it had become more insistent and had taken the form of concrete proposals, Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Covenant of the League of Nations be written into the peace treaties which terminated World War I. The League of Nations did not prevent the outbreak of World War II. Although technically it survived until 1946, actually it had been proved impotent before 1939.
The dream did not die. Chiefly through the determined labors of Protestants, it was embodied in the United Nations, through the Charter framed in 1945. No one strove more earnestly to make the United Nations an effective instrument than its Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, who, reared in the Lutheran household of Nathan Soderblom, in his later years returned with deepened convictions to the faith which for a time he had felt himself intellectually constrained to surrender. Through Protestant leadership the United Nations adopted the Declaration of Human Rights. Because of the Christian convictions of a Protestant, John Foster Dulles, the treaty of peace between the victorious United States and the defeated Japan was not made punitive but gave the vanquished an opportunity for recovery. During and after each of the two world wars measures for the relief of suffering by combatants and non-combatants on both sides of the warring front were undertaken by Christians, Roman Catholic and Protestant, on a scale greater than in any previous war, and far larger than any in wars waged by non-Christians — such as those of Moslem Arabs, animist Mongols, Hindu and Buddhist conquerors, and the Moslem Timur (Tamerlane).
In 1964, when these lines were penned, in no country, except possibly North Korea and North Vietnam, had Communism succeeded in fully liquidating Christianity. In the U.S.S.R. the Russian Orthodox Church, the Armenian (Gregorian) Church, and Protestantism not only persisted but as well recruited members and clergy from the younger generation. Much the same record was seen in Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. In the People’s Republic of China both the Catholic Church and Protestantism survived, and Protestantism had some adult conversions and trained clergy. The possible disappearance of Christianity in North Korea and North Vietnam — for in 1964 no dependable religious news came from either — was partly due to mass migrations of Christians to South Korea or South Vietnam.
The erosion by secularism in Western Europe, the Eastern Churches outside Communist domains, the Americas, and Australasia was countered by vigorous movements, some of them new, in all branches of Christianity.
In Western Europe the Papacy saw the continuation of the succession of able and devoted Pontiffs which had marked the second half of the nineteenth century. Benedict XV (reigned 1914-1922) spanned the years of World War I and the first quadrennium of the uneasy peace. He worked tirelessly to relieve suffering and put forward proposals for terminating the agonizing struggle. Pius XI (reigned 1922-1939) was an able administrator of vision, determination, and sterling character. He entered into an arrangement with Mussolini which eased the long-standing tension between the Church and the State, partly through the creation of Vatican City and partly in decreased control of the Church by the Italian Government. He also aided the expansion of the Church and its deeper planting in the nonEuropean world. In the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931) he renewed and adapted to the changing times the principles put forward by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. Pius XII (reigned 1939-1958), at the outset of his pontificate was faced by World War II. As had Benedict XV, he endeavored to put before the world suggestions for ending the struggle. Like Benedict, he gave himself unsparingly to the relief of the suffering. He stoutly denounced Communism when that ideology was sweeping across much of Eurasia. As was to be expected from his deeply religious nature, he issued (1943) the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, dealing with the Church as the mystical body of Christ and identifying it with the Roman Catholic Church. While warning against rash deviations from current practice, he somewhat guardedly endorsed the Liturgical Movement, with its emphasis on the intelligent participation of the laity in the mass. He encouraged Biblical scholarship but deplored Modernism, Neo-Kantianism, Marxism, and rationalism. He promulgated (1950) as a doctrine to be held by all the faithful the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. In the world mission, he stressed an indigenous clergy and episcopate among non-European peoples. John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963) came of peasant stock and rejoiced in his humble parentage. As pastor, administrator, and diplomat he had had extensive experience before ascending the throne of Peter. Although seventy-eight years of age when installed, he brought to his post imagination and energy. In his encyclical Mater et Magistra he supported in terms of his day what Leo XIII had formulated in Rerum Novarum and Pius XI had reiterated in Quadragesimo Anno. His encyclical Pacem in Terris, issued a few weeks before his death, bravely called all men of goodwill, Christians and non-Christians, to comprehensive efforts for peace. In a generation near despair because of the threat of atomic holocaust it inspired hope and renewed determination. John XXIII endeavored to establish friendly personal relations with leading Communists. His crowning achievement was the Ecumenical Council of which we are to speak later. Paul VI (1963-) followed John XXIII and continued much of the latter’s program. The Ecumenical Council resumed its sessions (1963). Friendly relations with non-Roman Catholic Christians were cultivated — partly by inviting accredited observers to the Council and appointing observers to meetings of the Divisions of the World Council of Churches, and partly by a visit to Jerusalem and a friendly conference with the Ecumenical Patriarch. Paul VI also authorized courteous approaches to non-Christian religions.
In other ways the Roman Catholic Church displayed great vigor, especially but by no means only in parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and North Italy where the forces making for secularism were particularly potent. That vigor had several expressions. One was the continuation of the Liturgical Movement, accentuating the participation of the laity in the central rite of the Church, aided by the dialogue mass and putting all but the heart of the Communion into the vernacular. Another was the multiplication of Eucharistic Congresses, some of them on a world scale and some national. Much stress was placed on Catholic Action, for the coöperation of the laity in making Christianity effective in every phase of life, in deepening the devotion of the rank and file of the Church’s constituency, and in winning others to the faith. Lay movements of many kinds proliferated — among youth, students, workers in various occupations, and women, and in efforts to strengthen the Christian family. Christian Democratic parties emerged, made up chiefly of Roman Catholics, particularly after World War II. They were potent in several countries. Bible study was promoted, partly by fresh translations of the Scriptures into the vernacular. So prominent were the lay movements that at times the age was described as the century of the laity. "The priesthood of the laity" became almost a cliché — not in the Protestant sense of the priesthood of all believers, but with the inference that, although the functions of the laity did not supplant those of the clergy, the role of the laity was quite as important as that of the priests. Much scholarly activity was seen, in the professional study of the Bible and in theology and philosophy, the latter to take account of contemporary currents in thought.
In Protestant Europe and the British Isles, although church attendance fell off sharply and candidates for the ministry declined in numbers, many new movements appeared — in what might be called creative minorities — and enlisted hundreds and in some cases thousands. Among them were the Evangelical Academies, chiefly of post-World War II origin and centering in Germany. They paralleled the emphasis on the laity in the Roman Catholic Church, for their purpose was to gather laymen and lay women of various professions and occupations into centers for free discussion of what the Christian faith demanded in daily life. Under the leadership of Reinhold von Thadden-Trieglaff (1891-), a scion of the East German Pietist nobility and a former prisoner of war in Russia, beginning in 1949 great assemblies of German Protestants were held, under an old name, Kirchentag, but with a new program, to promote worship, Bible study, and the Christian life and to give a sense of community to what had been the sadly beleaguered anti-Nazi Protestants and those who sympathized with them. In Germany much of the vigor of the post-World War II years came from the Confessing Church (bekennene Kirche). As a result of World War I the territorial churches (Landeskirchen) of Germany had been disestablished, but strong ties with the community as a whole remained and there was a temptation to perpetuate under the Nazis the submission of the Church to the State which had existed from the time of the Protestant Reformation. Hitler attempted to bring into being a Protestant church which would support his regime. However, a substantial minority would not conform and constituted the bekennende Kirche. Many persons were imprisoned and some were liquidated. Among the latter was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Of a scholarly, cultured family, Bonhoeffer could have been secure in a pastorate in London or the United States, but he chose to return to Germany, took his place with the Confessing Church, was incarcerated, and was executed shortly before the Nazi collapse. His writings, several of them composed in prison, had a wide influence on post-World War II youth, both in Germany and elsewhere.
In the Netherlands in World War II numbers of Protestants, especially among the clergy, courageously spoke out against inhuman measures of the Nazis who were occupying the country. After the war a movement akin to the Evangelical Academies — Kerk en Wereld — was initiated to train youth among the laity in theology and methods of evangelism. Conferences on a variety of subjects were convened and workers were prepared for leadership in social and cultural relations and for the promotion of good relations in industry. To coördinate the various centers the Federation of Lay Training Centers in Holland was organized. Regional Kerkdagen were held, inspired by the Kirchentagen of Germany.
Sweden had the Sigtuna Foundation, organized in 1917 in a town not far from Stockholm. Its purpose was to provide an opportunity for intellectuals, not all of whom might be committed to the faith, to work in a Christian environment and thus to penetrate Swedish culture with Christianity and make possible conferences for the discussion of social and cultural problems.
The Iona Community, the creation of George Fielden MacLeod (1895–), later Sir George MacLeod, centered on the island off the West Coast from which much of the conversion of the country had been accomplished, endeavored to create and nourish a fellowship which would bring renewed life to the Church of Scotland, especially in urban depressed areas.
The English scene was varied. The free churches were handicapped, partly by the blows dealt the middle class by the two world wars and the economic and social changes. They had drawn most of their strength from the middle class, but although they lost in membership, they persisted. The Church of England also suffered in attendance and from a shortage of clergy. It continued to display a great variety in churchmanship — from these with an extreme emphasis on the Catholic tradition, through Evangelicalism (some of it very conservative in its attitude to modern scholarship), to what was formerly called Broad Church, sometimes self-styled as Modern Church, whose extreme representatives denied the virgin birth and many of the miracles of Jesus. In accord with trends which we have seen in the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism on the Continent, the Church of England provided for an enlarged participation by the laity. To the Church of England came bishops of outstanding devotion and ability. The most notable was William Temple (1881-1944), the brilliant son of an Archbishop of Canterbury and successively rector in a London parish, Bishop of Manchester, Archbishop of York, and Archbishop of Canterbury. He was eager to have Christians address themselves to the problems presented by industrialized society. Bishops were no longer great lords but lived simply and for the most part gave themselves devotedly to their flocks. Incomes of clergy declined. But in many pulpits were courageous voices, and both parish priests and bishops undertook to deal with the personal and collective problems of the times. Retreat centers multiplied, with opportunities for withdrawal for brief periods from the rush of contemporary life for quiet meditation and prayer.
Protestant theological and Biblical scholarship in Europe flourished and had many expressions, evidence that, as in the Roman Catholic Church, efforts were not lacking to keep Christian thought creatively abreast of the changing currents. In theology the Swiss pastor and teacher Karl Barth (1888 – -) was the most widely influential. Reacting from the liberalism of the pre-1914 decades, with its confident trust in the human intellect and will, he caught the attention of many of the more thoughtful, disillusioned by the gulfs in Western civilization revealed by the two world wars. He did not yield to the despair of many of the skeptical existentialists but, recognizing the weaknesses of man in his search for truth and taking account of nineteenth-century scholarship, stressed the initiative and action of God in the progressive revelation of Himself in the ancient Jewish prophets culminating in the incarnation and work of Christ. He became one of the formulators of what was known as neoorthodoxy.
In Biblical studies the most discussed scholar in the postWorld War II years was the German Rudolf Bultmann (1884–). Bultmann employed the methods of Formgeschichte (form criticism), which had emerged in Germany on the eve of World War II. In the effort to make the Gospel relevant to contemporary man, bemused by science, the application of current historical methods to the Bible, and existentialism, Bultmann furthered "de-mythologizing," endeavoring to free the Gospel from the integuments of the first-century culture of the Mediterranean world and showing its eternal relevance, including especially its message to twentieth-century man. He provoked much controversy and did not win general agreement among scholars, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant.
In the Eastern Churches, long resisting change in their efforts to preserve their existence in the face of the encompassing aggressive Islam, some fresh currents made their appearance. In the Orthodox Church in Greece the Zoë Brotherhood of theologians, begun shortly after World War I, although having a small membership, helped to bring new vitality to the faith with application to the contemporary scene. Through Zoë the Bible was widely circulated and the education of the clergy was improved. In the ancient Coptic Church great reverence was still paid to the monastic life in which the Christians of Egypt had been pioneers. Seeking to counter the inroads of secularism, some of the laity strove to raise the cultural level of members and to make preaching and the liturgy more pertinent to the life of both the educated and the rank and file. Sunday Schools multiplied and the Bible was studied. In Ethiopia the Emperor Haile Selassie endeavored to make the Church more nearly autonomous as against the Coptic Church, for the latter had long appointed the leading ecclesiastic. He also furthered the education of the clergy.
Although seemingly moribund, the Christianity of Latin America gave indications of fresh life. After World War II Catholic Action began to spread. In 1955 a world Eucharistic Congress was held in Buenos Aires, out of which came the Latin American Bishops Conference, known by the initials CELAM. From headquarters at Bogotá, through several departments it sought to improve the quality of the professing Roman Catholics. Now that Europe was unable to supply as many clergy as formerly, increasing help in personnel came from Roman Catholics in the United States. After World War I Protestantism grew rapidly, in part through immigration, chiefly Lutherans from Germany to Brazil. Until World War II most of the Lutheran clergy came from Germany, but after that war an indigenous supply of clergy emerged. Several major denominations of the United States had missions. Their converts were mostly from the middle class. Fastest growing of Protestant bodies were the several Pentecostal groups. They drew chiefly from lower income and educational levels and were most numerous in Brazil and Chile. Increasingly they were self-supporting and had indigenous leadership.
The United States forged to the head of the non-Communist world and therefore of what was historically Christendom. It was religiously pluralistic. Roman Catholics increased in numbers, chiefly by birth. With the exception of Louisiana, they were still strongest in the inner-city metropolitan areas, mostly in the North and West. Originally predominantly unskilled laborers, their educational and economic level rose. Many had only a nominal connection with their church and were subjected to secularizing currents. Difficulty was encountered in recruiting clergy, and numbers were imported from Ireland, where the supply was ample and where no language barrier existed to service in the United States. Jews multiplied but were largely secularized. Most of them conserved their heredity ties in special social centers and in a few ritual observances inherited from their ghetto status in Europe. In 1928, on the initiative of a Protestant, E. Clinchy, the National Conference of Christians and Jews was begun to promote sympathetic understanding among Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.
In its denominational proportions, the complexion of Protestantism in the United States remained substantially as it had been in 1914. Except for the Lutherans, Protestantism had its core chiefly in descendants of those who had come to the country in colonial days. However, millions of the offspring of more recent arrivals were incorporated in its churches. In general, except for the Negroes, Protestants were from middle and upper income levels. Although they were still strong in the dwindling rural communities, increasingly they moved to the suburbs of the growing cities and were characterized by the attitudes common to suburbia. Here was much fluidity, for changes of residence became characteristic of a larger proportion of the population. Denominational affiliation was determined as much by geography and social status as by distinctive religious convictions. As the educational and economic levels rose of denominations which had traditionally been recruited from the lower economic strata — such as Methodists, Baptists, and Disciples of Christ — other denominations and movements grew by their appeal to elements, largely of the older American stock, who remained on the level from which these proletarian denominations had once drawn most of their constituencies. So far as they were church members, Negroes were still chiefly Baptists and to a lesser degree Methodists. Many Negroes, especially among the educated, were subject to the prevailing secularism and if they had a church connection it tended to be purely nominal. Increasing difficulty was experienced in recruiting a Negro ministry, especially from men of better than average educational training.
So multiform was the Protestantism of the United States that if an attempt is made to suggest other general trends, many exceptions can at once be named. We can merely note a few which would have to be given a place in a complete picture. To one we have already called attention the increasing percentage of the population who had church membership in Protestant churches. Within the Protestant membership a general drift, varying from denomination to denomination, occurred from a firm adherence to earlier Evangelical theology and the inerrancy of the Scriptures to a modification of these convictions arising from adjustment to the intellectual currents of the day. Conservatives enrolled a larger proportion from the lower than from the higher intellectual and economic levels. Soon after World War I conservatism found expression in a militant Fundamentalism formulating what were esteemed as the minimum bases of Evangelical belief: the deity and virgin birth of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation through faith in His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the visible return of Christ, in judgment, to set up His Kingdom. Soon after World War I Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878 – -), a Baptist clergyman, became a focus of the Fundamentalist attack. He was supported by large elements of Evangelical heritage who held to what they believed to be the heart of that heritage, but with attempts to take account of the intellectual, economic, and social currents of the revolutionary age. Through the radio he had a nation-wide audience. Fosdick was also pastor of the new interdenominational Riverside Church whose building, as a kind of symbol, loomed high above the Hudson in a district in New York City in which were several institutions of higher education. Across a street from the Riverside Church was eventually erected the Interchurch Center, which housed the national and international headquarters of a large proportion of the Protestantism of the country. The kind of evangelism represented in the nineteenth century by men like Charles G. Finney and Dwight L. Moody persisted, with an appeal to many in the strata which had been moved by these and less famous men. In the 1950’s and 1960’s its outstanding representative was William Franklin (more familiarly "Billy") Graham (1918 – -). Graham held meetings in most of the major cities, had millions of listeners through radio and television, and presented his message in all the continents. Transparently sincere, humble, and forthright, with a simple Evangelical message which was not unaware of contemporary theological and Biblical scholarship, Graham was acclaimed by millions, generally of the background which had been reached by his great predecessors but now only a minority of the population.
As in Western Europe, in the United States a major theological trend came from the disillusionment born of World War I and the burgeoning industrial society. For countless persons the hope was shattered of achieving the Kingdom of God in the United States and in the world which had long been cherished, especially in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Instead, man was regarded as basically sinful; though if repentant he could be forgiven, he and his fellows could never attain perfection. The most widely heard exponent of this conviction was Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – -). He spoke of Christ as setting forth "impossible possibilities," but, undespairing, labored indefatigably to promote measures which would keep society from complete deterioration. After World War II his friend and colleague Paul Tillich (1886 – -) had a wide hearing among intellectuals. A refugee from the Hitler regime and a sensitive, highly intelligent, and painfully honest soul into whom the iron of the revolutionary age with its two world wars had deeply entered, Tillich wrestled with the issues faced by mankind and especially by Christians, both collectively and individually, and was listened to wistfully but not always with understanding.
A growing feature of the religiously pluralistic United States was the mounting number of Orthodox. They came, by immigration, from several of the national bodies. They continued to suffer from the divisions of their Old World background but trained indigenous clerical leadership and groped towards a united front.
The members of the British Commonwealth peopled predominantly by Western European stock — Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — showed the effects of the revolutionary age in much the same way as did the British Isles and the Protestantism of the United States. Indigenous leadership developed, more rapidly in Canada and New Zealand than in Australia. Partly because of the tradition created by the convict beginnings and not entirely displaced by the free immigration from which the majority were recruited, and partly because of the tropical and semi-tropical climate which favored outdoor sports and recreation, Australia was more nearly secular than were its sister commonwealths.
By the mid-1960’s what had been another British commonwealth, the Union of South Africa, had completely broken away (1961) from its imperial ties. Now, as the Republic of South Africa, dominated by the Afrikaners who constituted the majority of the European elements, it attempted to solve its pressing race problem by apartheid. As in the nineteenth century, the overwhelming majority of the Afrikaners were members of one or another of the Dutch Reformed Churches. A courageous minority in these bodies endeavored to modify apartheid in a fashion which they deemed more equitable to the Africans and were assisted by some of British background.
The revolt among non-Europeans against imperialism and colonialism was accompanied by the deepened rootage of Christianity. Because Christianity had been associated with that imperialism and colonialism, the revolt might have been expected to lead to the waning of the Christian communities as alien enclaves. As we have suggested, that was the case on the mainland of China. But elsewhere the result was the exact opposite. In land after land the Christian churches grew and were increasingly self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating — as a long-cherished dream of Western missionaries had envisioned them.
In most of Africa south of the Sahara the proportion of Christians — Roman Catholic and Protestant — rapidly mounted and received more and more African leadership, lay and clerical. The increase was particularly marked after World War II. In the Roman Catholic Church African priests multiplied and were rapidly placed under African bishops. By the early 1960’s an African had been elevated to the cardinalate. In 1962 the Roman Catholic bishops of Africa formed a continuing organization to deal comprehensively with the problems of the continent. More and more Protestant churches were autonomous and independent of foreign control. Protestants had difficulty in developing a highly trained African ministry and were troubled as the newly independent governments took over the schools, which had long been staffed by African Christians and partly subsidized by foreign funds. Many individuals had combined the functions of teacher and pastor. As the two became separated, the pastor had less social recognition and a smaller salary than the teacher — to the detriment of the pastoral functions. African Protestants came together across political and denominational lines. In 1963 an all-Africa youth conference was held in Kenya and a continuing all-Africa (Protestant) Christian council was set up by a delegated conference in Nigeria.
In India, in spite of the mounting population, between 1914 and 1963 the proportion of Christians grew from about one in a hundred to between three and four in a hundred. Indian leadership emerged in both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. In Indonesia, when, during World War II, all missionary personnel were expelled or imprisoned, Batak Christians increased by about 100,000. The Bataks were a vigorous, formerly animistic folk in the highlands of Sumatra. In the second half of the nineteenth century German Protestants had planted the faith among them. So thoroughly rooted had it become that after foreign personnel was withdrawn Batak leaders continued to spread it. After World War II some help came from abroad, but only as the Bataks asked for it, and chiefly for assistance in preparing clergy. In the Republic of Korea, with the achievement of independence Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, multiplied and Korean leadership mounted. Much the same happened on Taiwan under the Republic of China. In the Philippines the Roman Catholic Church was more and more staffed by Filipino clergy and bishops, and Protestants grew in numbers and Filipino initiative. In 1959 the East Asia Christian Conference was inaugurated. It had as its purpose coöperation among the Protestants of East Asia in spreading the Gospel in that part of the world. In other words, the Protestants, most of them small minorities, were not willing to lead self-enclosed ghetto existences but were helping one another in witnessing to the faith.
To the growing Christian communities among non-European peoples aid continued to be given by Christians in Europe and the larger Europe. Most of the assistance to the Roman Catholics outside the Occident came from Europe. From France still went more missionaries than from any other country — although not, as in the nineteenth century, more than from all the rest of the Roman Catholic Church. Belgium and the Netherlands ranked next after France. Roman Catholics gave more support in personnel than did Protestants. In 1958 the latter’s foreign staff numbered 34,181. While that total had doubled since the eve of World War I, in 1950 Roman Catholic missionaries were said to be 42,689. In money the cost of Protestant missions was much larger than that of Roman Catholic missions. In the Protestant enterprise an increasing proportion of personnel and finances came from the United States and Canada. In 1911, 7,239 Protestant missionaries were sent out from North America and 14,068 from other regions, predominantly the British Isles and the Continent of Europe. In 1958 the corresponding figures were 25,058 from North America and 13,548 from the rest of the world. The changing proportions were presumably a reflection of the growing wealth of Canada and the United States and the impoverishment of Western Europe by the two world wars. But they may be ascribable in part to more rapid progress of secularization on the eastern than on the western shore of the Atlantic.
In meeting the challenge of industrialization and of the mounting divorce of laborers in factories and mines from Christianity, no striking progress could be reported. Many earnest efforts were made. They included worker-priests in France in the 1930’s and especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Under various names and auspices the worker-priests attempted to reach the de-Christianized laborers by joining with them in their daily toil and ministering to them at night and at odd hours. However, some phases of the enterprise came under the censure of ecclesiastical authorities. In Great Britain, Germany, and the United States, Protestants had other experiments, but without making any considerable dent on the problem as a whole.
A striking development, most of it after 1914 and rapidly mounting with the years, was the movement towards the unity of all Christians. From the very beginning the dream was inherent in Christianity. Jesus was remembered to have commanded His disciples to love one another as He had loved them and to have prayed that all who believed in Him might be one as He and the Father were one. Yet never had all who believed in Him been in a single fellowship. Rifts had always been present. They multiplied! Christians became more divided than the adherents of any other high religion. During the nineteenth century and notably in the twentieth century the trend was reversed — and chiefly through Protestantism, by its genius the most fissiparous form of Christianity.
Movements towards unity had several expressions. (1) Christians of many denominations came together as individuals and not as officially representative of their respective churches, as in the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations. (2) Unions of severed branches of one denomination took place — as Methodists in Britain and in the United States. (3) There were unions of different denominations — as the United Church of Canada, a fusion in 1925 of the Methodists, the Congregationalists, and a majority of the Presbyterians in that country; the Church of Christ in Japan (in 1941), principally of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, but also including some smaller bodies; the Church of South India (1947), made up of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists; and in the United States the United Church of Christ (1957-1961), composed of Congregationalists, Christians, Evangelicals, and Reformed. (4) Regional or national councils of churches were formed in which several denominations joined. Among them were the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, organized in 1908, in which churches of the United States and Canada joined, enlarged in 1950 to the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America; the British Council of Churches, brought into being in 1942; Die Evangelische Kirch in Deutschland (the Evangelical Church in Germany), in 1945, usually called EKD or EKiD for short; and several national Christian councils in Asia, formed after World War I. All were parts of what Protestants called the Ecumenical Movement.
The Ecumenical Movement had its global expression in the World Council of Churches, originally a fusion of the World Conference on Faith and Order and the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work. Both had come into being after 1914 and the latter was at the outset due to the vision and will of Nathan Söderblom. The two authorized a meeting of representatives of member bodies at Utrecht (1938) under the chairmanship of William Temple to draw up a provisional constitution for the World Council of Churches. During World War II that body was described as "in process of formation." From its headquarters in Geneva in neutral Switzerland it served effectively in many ways. In 1954 it was formally constituted in a gathering in Amsterdam. In 1961 at a meeting in New Delhi the International Missionary Council was integrated with it as the Division on World Mission and Evangelism. By 1963 the member churches embraced the overwhelming majority of the Protestants in Europe, the majority of the Protestants in North America, and almost all the Eastern Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, which included the large majority of the membership of that divided wing of Christianity. In 1961 the Pope sent official observers to the New Delhi meeting.
In the meantime many Roman Catholics, especially in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, developed an eager interest in the Ecumenical Movement. Paul Couturier (1881-1953), a priest in Lyons, promoted a prayer for unity in which Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants joined. It sought God’s guidance in achieving unity but did not attempt to dictate the method by which it should be attained. When, in 1962, the twenty-first Ecumenical Council, called by Pope John XXIII, met in the Vatican, at his invitation official observers were present from several Anglican and Protestant churches and from the Russian Orthodox Church. The council had as its announced objective the renewal of the Church to meet the challenge of the changing times. It also sought to promote the unity of all who bore the Christian name. One of the first utterances of Paul VI, elected in June, 1963, to succeed John XXIII on the latter’s death, promised the resumption of the Council, which had been adjourned in December, 1962.
In the Ecumenical Movement, very much in its infancy, but in one form and another embracing the large majority of Christians, was an attempt to bear a united witness in the rapidly shrinking and dangerously quarrelsome world.
The Mounting World-Wide Influence of Christianity
In the twentieth century more nearly on a world-wide scale than ever before, Christianity made itself felt far beyond the formal borders of the churches. That influence was seen in a variety of ways. Among them was the United Nations, sprung from Christian faith but with a membership embracing predominantly non-Christian nations whose total populations exceeded those of the members from the former Christendom. The Red Cross, with a symbol giving evidence of its Christian origin and doing a service which encompassed all the non-Communist world, had become quite thoroughly secularized, but owed its beginning to the Christian faith — and, ultimately, to Christ. Gandhi would not call himself a Christian. In his younger days while in South Africa he had been urged to identify himself with Christ but had decided not to do so. Yet he was a warm admirer of Christ both as a person and for His teachings and used Christian hymns in his entrance into some of his fasts and when, feeling his object attained, he resumed eating. Through him something of the influence of Christ had an effect on millions of Indians. When he fell at an assassin’s hand thousands of Indians said that he had died a Christ-like death. Thus, perhaps without realizing the full significance of what they were saying, they acknowledged Christ as the ideal by whom to measure their national hero.
In the mid-twentieth century Christ was by no means dominant and of the minority — although a large one — of mankind who statistically were Christians only a portion could be said to have made a full commitment to Christ. Indeed, with the population explosion even the nominal Christians were a smaller minority than fifty years earlier. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that no other being who has lived on the planet was as influential as Christ and that that influence, far from fading, was growing.