President Hunter runs through the familiar litany of modern progress in the material economy: improved communications, efficient agriculture, mass production of cheap, quality goods.

But he warns that mankind is one. Material progress, the growth of material capital leading to ever greater and greater returns, will surely lead to disaster if social capital continues to decay.

How right he was. We are now in the middle of that social disaster. Childlessness, anomie, illegitimacy, mental illness–it is decay and misery that is building its capital and reaping more fruits from year to year.

It is interesting how much he emphasizes the collapse of the mainline Protestant churches:

Society has made a great effort to modernize the world in education, communication, travel, health, commerce, housing, and in many other ways, so as to increase the standard of living; but what has this socialization and modernization done to the family—the basic institution of society? Never before has there been greater instability. The divorce rate is higher now than at any time in history. Modernization has transferred the responsibility of education from the family to public institutions where modern thought has become paramount and moral principles have become abandoned. . . ..

In the past, churches have taken a leading role in teaching men to have faith in God and to develop moral stability. What is happening to organized religion as a stabilizing force in society? Many of the largest of the Christian churches have reported losses in membership and also in income to carry on the work of their religious endeavors. Here again modernization has taken a heavy toll.

Modernism has become the order of the day in some religious thought. Modernists advocate a restatement of traditional doctrine on the grounds that today’s modern scholastic and scientific advances require a new critical interpretation of the Bible and the history of dogma. The term “modernism” is often used interchangeably with “liberalism.” Its advocates claim that religious truths are subject to constant reinterpretation in the light of modern knowledge; therefore, new and more advanced concepts are required to express modern thought and progress.

The Bible has been the subject of attack by modernists. It is said by some that science refuses to support the authenticity of such Biblical accounts as the creation of the world, placing life upon the earth, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the flood, and many other happenings in the Old and New Testaments. What is claimed to be superior knowledge in this day of enlightenment causes some men to look upon these accounts as fables. Because of this, can believers in Christ repudiate them? In an attempt to regain the confidence of communicants who have ceased to believe, many liberal churches have abandoned one doctrine after another, even to the extent of failing to stand by the doctrine of the existence of a personal God.

The mainline Protestant churches are a horrible warning that too many of our own people are bent on ignoring. All this “outreach” and “making concessions” and “social gospel” and “relevancy” has been tried and tried before. How many patients must die before you stop thinking that bloodletting is a cure?

I am guilty of a bit of triumphalism at the fate of the mainlines. But they were great deposits of social capital. We are all worse off for their fall. So also with the current Pope.

Other posts from the Saturday morning session of the October 1973 General Conference

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