This is the age of ecumenicism, the era of church union. With all this church union comes, sadly enough, doctrinal indifference and decay. One would think that if, as some claim, this is the golden age of the church when, as never before, the church is seeking the unity of the body of Christ, that these years would be characterized by increased doctrinal interest, by flourishing doctrinal studies, by important developments of the truth. But quite the contrary is the case. In their haste to come together, churches coldly shoulder doctrine aside. The towering truths of the church of all ages are cast away. The precious heritage of the Reformation is scorned. The glorious fruit of the struggles of the church against error is mocked. And the churches that seek the unity of the ecclesiastical world become mired in ambiguities, vague statements of “belief,” downright heresies and silly disputations about trivia.
Perhaps the most startling example of this (at least among Calvinistic denominations) is to be found in recent attempts in the United Presbyterian Church to rewrite its confessions.
This denomination stands historically on the basis of the Westminster Confessions, which are strongly Calvinistic. The attempt to substitute something else in the place of them began officially more than six years ago. The fruit of these six years of labor is a new “confession,” which is supposed to become the “working constitution” of “today’s church.”
The final draft of the “new confession” has not yet been submitted to the church for approval; but a working copy in its final stages of preparation has been made public. It will be submitted to the next General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in 1965.
Those who are laboring for this revision of the creeds would really like to see all the old confessions of the church simply filed away in the library of historical documents of interest to scholars who want to study the evolution of the church through the ages to its present modern form. But they have not dared do this yet, for there is still opposition. One of their spokesmen says, they will not venture to “repeal” the Westminster Confession but will honor it as “the great theological document of our tradition in the seventeenth century.” So they are proposing that all the previous confessions of the church be incorporated into one document as a sort of “book of tradition.” These confessions would include the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Scats Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Westminster Confession, the Barmen Declaration and the new confession that is being proposed.
However, when this decision is finally taken by the church (and there is some vagueness about this—almost deception), the practical result will be that the confessions listed above will be little more than historical curiosities without any binding authority in the church, while the new confession will be the real working document of the denomination.
There are two parts to the new confession entitled “God’s Word Of Reconciliation” and “The Church’s Ministry Of Reconciliation.” The first part has three sections: “The Grace Of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” “The Love Of God” and “The Communion Of The Holy Spirit.” The second part has four sections: “The Mission Of The Church,” “The Equipment Of The Church”—by which equipment they mean word, prayer and praise, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper,—”The Order Of The Church” and “The Fulfillment Of Reconciliation.”
There are several notable features of the document.
1) In the first place it contains almost no texts from Scripture. It mentions only II Corinthians 5:18 which becomes the main theme, as is evident also from the headings. (Although we may notice parenthetically that the whole idea of reconciliation is corrupted.) It concludes with the well-known benediction of Eph. 3:20, 21. This failure to refer at all to Scripture really characterizes the document, for it is not a statement of God’s truth, but of men’s philosophy.
2) In the second place it openly rejects the truth of the infallibility of Scripture; it avoids all mention of the Virgin Birth of Christ; it speaks of a second coming in somewhat vague language, but does not mention hell; it ignores such cardinal truths as predestination, sovereign salvation, creation, etc. In fact, one looks in vain for any definition of any truth. Doctrine simply is of no concern. Thus, this is really not a “confession” at all. “To confess” means “to speak with” God and in the fellowship of believers. It means to speak God’s truth. For this reason, the confessions of the church have always been statements of what the church believes to be the truth of Scripture. But this wretched document is a statement of the opinions of men.
In connection with this, it seems but natural that the doctrine that is taught is nothing but heresy condemned by the church in her previous confessions. To mention only one, the heresy of universalism is openly stated in various ways.
3) Thirdly, the greater share of the document deals with social questions; and it thus follows the modernistic trend to substitute for the preaching of the cross a social gospel. It considers as more important than questions of the truth, problems of war and race and poverty.
4) Finally, the entire “confession” is thoroughly humanistic, man-centered and man-glorifying. It is, in every part of it, a repudiation of the truth that God alone is God and that all praise must be His. It is an open denial of the very heart of the Calvin Reformation: “Soli Deo Gloria.” It is dedicated to man.
Some quotes briefly made will demonstrate the truth of this. The quotes are taken from Christianity Today, and the Presbyterian Journal.
In its preamble, it finds its man-centered keynote and speaks of all the good to be found in all kinds of other religions.
Since Christianity is man’s historical response to God’s act in Christ, it is fallible and infused with elements belonging to the natural religiosity of sinful men . . . . As a human phenomenon the Christian religion may benefit from the wisdom of other religions, as well as from secular institutions and movements . . . When in other religions some echo of God’s Word of grace and reconciliation is heard, the Christian rejoices.
On Jesus Christ the document says:
Jesus lived among sinners and called them his brothers. He shared with them the temptation and suffering that trap other men into bondage to sin, yet he sought the will of God and lived in perfect obedience to him. He was truly man as God intends man to be.
The statement that Jesus Christ is “very God and very man” is intended by Christians today, as long ago, to affirm the uniqueness and the mystery of God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ.
This affirmation is not intended to answer questions about the origin of matter or of species. Rather it is to acknowledge God’s goodness to man . . . .
The sufficiency of the Bible does not depend upon the certainty with which its various authors can be identified. Neither is it derived from regarding the Bible as a book of inerrant and infallible formulations. . . .
On other religions:
As a human phenomenon the Christian religion may benefit from the wisdom of other religions, as well as from secular institutions and movements.
Each Christian participates in the mission of the church by the quality and spirit of his relations with other persons and the work he does in the world. His participation may take the form of telling his neighbor of God’s forgiveness; of personal help or shared concern; it may prompt him to resist an unjust law or government, a selfish pressure group, or an irresponsible employer. He may be led to change vocation or party, or even to break with the system altogether and rebel against constituted authority. . . .
There are then included statements, concerning “race”, “war” and “poverty.”
There is not one single false religion that could not find some room to stand under the protecting wing of this “confession.” There is no single heresy that could not be satisfied with this expression of “faith.” That is, there is room for all viewpoints except the truth. For the truth of Scripture there is no room at all. Everything and everyone can be tolerated except the truth of Scripture and those who confess it.
As a confession, it is an expression of a sick and degenerate church that speaks the weak and beggarly philosophy of an ecumenically-obsessed church which despises God and dishonors his name.
Although all over the country denominations are drifting more and more the way of apostasy, there remain in these denominations groups of ministers and laymen usually in the minority, who are determined to maintain the historical and orthodox position of the church. They are a minority consistently out-voted in ecclesiastical assemblies, constantly spurned by the majority in their position, but retaining hopes that the church to which they belong will change. Their efforts are generally futile for they have little official influence in the church, and the result is that the denomination continues its perilous journey in spite of them.
Recently, in the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) there were a group of people who decided to do something more concrete than simply bemoan privately the spiritual decay of their denomination. They organized a group called “Concerned Presbyterians.” They are determined to attempt a “spiritual awakening” within their denomination in the hopes that this will bring back the church to its historical position. A statement of their concern is worth quoting in full.
We are concerned:
1) Because the primary mission of the Church—winning people to Jesus Christ and nurturing them in the faith—is being compromised today by overemphasis on social, economic and political matters, forgetting the basic necessity for regeneration.
2) Because the integrity and authority of the Word of God are being questioned by dubious theories of revelation in some of the literature of the Church.
3) Because some presbyteries no longer require complete loyalty to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms.
4) Because the plan to establish a central treasurer now approved by the General Assembly indicates a determination to regiment the benevolence giving of the Church’s members by equalizing their gifts—in effect actually thwarting the wishes of the donors.
5) Because continued membership in the National Council of Churches involves us in activities, pronouncements and programs of which we strongly disapprove; and repeated protests to that body have been ignored.
6) Because another determined effort has been started to effect a union of the Presbyterian Church US with the United Presbyterian Church USA which is now engaged in negotiations to unite with denominations that do not adhere to the Reformed faith. Further, all persons becoming members of this
organization of Concerned Presbyterian are asked to express their concerns in some or all of the following ways:
1) To pray regularly for a spiritual awakening in the Church, beginning with me, and extending throughout the pews, pulpits, boards, agencies and institutions of the Church.
2) To devote time daily to the reading of God’s Word, seeking earnestly to know His will for my own life and for the solution of the problems facing the Church.
3) To work for withdrawal of membership in and support of the National Council of Churches.
4) To encourage and work for the union of evangelical Christians who embrace the Gospel according to the Reformed faith.
5) To oppose any plan which has as its express or implied goal union with bodies not holding to Reformed faith.
We have some comments we would like to make on this venture in the Southern Presbyterian Church; but will have to hold them for the time being.