NEWS FROM CHURCH ASSEMBLIE
Spring and early summer is the time for the broadest assemblies of the various denominations to meet. The decisions which these assemblies take makes for sad reading. The decisions are the measure of the trouble, unrest, and spiritual weakness of the church world today.
To turn, first of all, to the 182nd General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church, probably the decision which created the biggest stir had to do with a report adopted by the Assembly entitled “Sexuality and the Human Community.” This report, prepared by a part of the Council on Church and Society, was the clearest definition yet of what precisely the church means by “situation ethics.” The report overtly denied that the Bible can serve as ethical and moral guidelines for our time.
After this basic and all-important decision, the rest was comparatively easy and to be predicted. It declared that present laws condemning homosexuality were not morally defensible. It urged that contraceptive devices be made available to all. It urged that laws against abortion be dropped. It vacillated on the question of premarital and extra-marital sexual intercourse. But really this was condoned. This part of the report reads:
If couples have taken a responsible decision to engage in premarital intercourse, the church should not convey to them the impression that their decision is in conflict with their status as members of the body of Christ.
The report was adopted by a vote of 485 to 259.
There was irony here and a bit of silliness. An attachment to the report was later passed by a margin of nine votes. The vote was 356 to 347. This attachment “reaffirmed its ‘adherence to the moral law of God as revealed in ‘the Old and New Testaments’ and acknowledged that lust, adultery, prostitution, fornication, and the practice of homosexuality are sin.” (Quoted from Christianity Today.) Present laws condemning homosexuality are not desirable, but homosexuality is sin. Couples engaging in premarital intercourse are sinning, but their conduct is not incompatible with membership in the church of Christ. These kinds of decisions are silly.
The UPUSA Church decided on many other matters. Among the more interesting and important:
—Dealing with the subject of special gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongue speaking, healings, etc., the Assembly decided that, on the one hand, these gifts should not be despised or forbidden; but, on the other hand, they should not be considered as the norm for Christian living.
—Addressing itself to the burning issue today of the offices in the Church, the Assembly rejected the historic Calvinistic position that the offices are important. They abandoned all ideas of an ordained clergy and spoke of a call of God which is to all the people of the earth. This, quite naturally, leads to the participation of laymen in the preaching, the administration of the sacraments, and other work which has been limited to the ordained clergy.
—Approval was given to baptized children to attend the Lord’s Supper. This must still be approved by the presbyteries.
—Once again spoke out against the war in Viet Nam and called for an immediate end to the fighting of U.S. troops in Southeast Asia.
—Decided to broaden the present merger talks with the Southern Presbyterians to include the United Church of Christ, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and other North American churches affiliated with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. This is still subject to the approval of the Southern Presbyterians. These other churches include the Reformed Church of America.
To turn now to the Reformed Churches of Australia, we find that these churches also were forced to deal with the question of special gifts of the Holy Spirit. A certain Dr. A. Schep had taught a baptism of the Holy Spirit apart from the preaching of the Word and special gifts imparted to select individuals by this baptism.
The Synod rejected this position and insisted that the work of the Spirit takes place through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.
Dr. Schep resigned from the ministry and membership in the church before Synod met.
This matter of special gifts of the Spirit is increasingly attracting the attention of the church. Apparently the whole idea of tongue speaking, gifts of healing, exorcism, etc. is spreading. It is not our intention to discuss this matter here; we have discussed some aspects of it in an earlier column in our paper. Suffice it, for the present, to note that, when the church becomes doctrinally weak and unsound, when unfaithfulness to the Scriptures is the order of the day, then there are these strong and irresistible tendencies towards this type of mysticism. These things are not signs of renewal in the church; nor are they signs of a strong and healthy church; they are signs of a critical weakness and terminal illness.
To refer again to a comment made above concerning merger proposals set forth by the UPUSA, we quote from the RES Newsletter.
(Grand Rapids, Michigan) Monday Morning, a fortnightly magazine for United Presbyterian ministers, reported that “a proposal to merge the Synods of New Jersey of the United Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in America will be voted on by the two bodies in May. If approved, the union would create the largest Protestant church in New Jersey—550 congregations and more than 250,000 communicant members. The merger plan requires ratification by the General Assembly of the UPUSA and the General Synod of the RCA.” For the plan to go into effect, it will need the approval not only of the RCA’s General Synod but also the subsequent ratification of two thirds of the classes. This proposal follows upon the defeat in June 1969 of a plan for union of the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the US (Southern).
While this is not, strictly speaking, a news item concerning decisions of an ecclesiastical assembly, we quote from the RES Newsletter concerning a recent development in the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands:
(Grand Rapids, Michigan) Two pastors of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have called for the formation of a Consultation of Confessional Reformed Christians. The Rev. Messrs. M.P. van Dijk and J. Vlaardingerbroek, who are deeply concerned that the church not polarize more than it has into a left and a right group recently issued the call. In an interview with Kerknieuws they stated that many people are at a loss what to think of the new views that are propounded in the churches. The consultation should not, however, become a new modality in the church, the two organizers hold. On the basis of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, the two preachers stated, we are forced to take a stance against the various forms of horizontalism which have crept into the Reformed Churches. Against those who stress the need for a renewal for the structures of society at the cost of neglecting personal salvation, they maintain that the Christian’s only comfort, that he is not his own but belongs in life and death to Jesus Christ, may not be pushed into a corner of the Christian life. The two pastors are largely in sympathy with the “concerned” people in the churches, but decry their conservatism and regret their bad image.
Previously the two pastors had limited their speaking to church assemblies. With the issuing of their call for a consultation, however, they have made an appeal to the ‘great crowd of people who are neither left nor right and can scarcely make themselves heard.’
The two hold that the church confessions faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture and should be maintained. Although they see the need for improvement in the confessions, these should be observed in a juridical sense. Desiring to stress the positive side of their plan, they appeal to the church to confess and live its faith in the world of today.
The pastors have reacted negatively however to what they see as
—an activism that would make man’s works an ‘extra’ above the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
—the thought that the Kingdom of God will come in its perfection by man’s works in the world, not in the return in Jesus Christ.
—the idea that the Gospels are the deposit of the faith of the early congregation, but not a true presentation of what actually happened;
—the error that authority is valid only when it is recognized as such;
—the tendency to make the church a political pressure group.
The announcement of the new movement has aroused a variety of reactions. The Rev. D. van Swigchem, editor of the Amsterdams Kerkbode, wrote that the effect of the new movement would be to exclude those who are accused. “In spite of the good intentions, this is not the way toward a healthy church society.”
This whole matter is of considerable interest to us. In the light of all the departures from the truth which characterize so much of the Reformed Church world, a Consultation of Confessional Reformed Christians is a very desirable thing. This would be especially true if the purpose would be to discuss, on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions, what is our calling today to maintain the Reformed heritage. This question would have to be discussed in the light of the departure of so many denominations from this Reformed faith.
But it seems as if this is not what the two pastors have in mind. They speak of the fact that they do not want the consultation to become a new modality in the church. Presumably this means that they do not want the consultation to become a permanent organization and they do not want to face the prospect that church reformation may be the order of the day; even church reformation by secession. They deplore what they call the right wing; they want to appeal to the “middle-of-the-roaders”; they decry the “bad image” of the conservatives.
It is, in the light of this, a masterly stroke on the part of Rev. D. van Swigchem to write that such a movement as this would result in the exclusion of those who are accused. Apparently, these two men, calling for this consultation, do not want that. But is there any other way to preserve the heritage of the confessions and the Reformed faith? We hope that such a consultation will be held.
We hope that it will, ultimately, include all Reformed believers. We hope that the plea is earnestly and sincerely made—to preserve the Reformed faith in these times of apostasy.
AN INTERESTING QUOTE
In a recent issue of Lutherans Alert we read the following interesting “fable” in an article entitled “Heterodoxy or Realignment—Part II.”
I don’t wish to follow the example of the bear hunter who, after a long and tiresome hunt, finally cornered a bear. When the hunter raised his rifle to shoot, the bear raised one paw and said, “Don’t shoot! Let’s sit down and talk this over. After all, what you want is a fur coat and all I want is a full stomach, so let’s sit down and negotiate.” So the hunter, being one of these reasonable, middle-of-the road, fence-straddling Lutherans, put his gun down and sat down to discuss the problem . . . and, the hunter got a fur coat and the bear got a full stomach.
This is, indeed, the usual result of “dialogue.”