ECUMENICITY IN REVERSE
At the last General Synod of the Reformed Church in America the deep-seated split between liberals and conservatives was recognized and dealt with in a way which deals a serious blow to ecumenicity in that denomination. The issues dividing the two elements in the Church are deep and of long standing. For many years there have been major disagreements on questions of doctrine and Church Polity. But the immediate cause of the trouble in the RCA was over the questions of church union. There was first of all the union proposals which the RCA had considered for merger with the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern). These proposals had failed by a very narrow margin. Especially the churches in the East were incensed over this defeat of their hopes. Then, at the Synod, proposals came before the body asking for complete participation in COCU—the super-church of over 25 million members. Currently the Reformed Church sends observers only. The Eastern Churches especially wanted full participation. When the vote came at the General Synod, full participation in the COCU talks failed by a narrow margin leaving the liberals completely exasperated. This was sufficient reason for the liberals to conclude that the conservatives still ruled in the Church and that the RCA was about to drop completely by the wayside in the ecumenical movement.
The result of all this was the adoption of a “plan of understanding.” The essential features of this plan are, first, that a special committee of eighteen work for a year to attempt some form of reconciliation between the liberal and conservative wings in the Church. Secondly, if these efforts towards reconciliation fail, a new committee of eighteen be appointed to draw up a plan for the orderly dissolution of the Church. The committee for reconciliation is given a year to do its work.
Thus the Church faces the imminent prospect of dissolution; and it is just possible that, within a few years, the RCA will exist no longer.
The votes on the various merger plans currently facing the Church show the extent of the split between liberals and conservatives. The merger proposal with the Southern Presbyterians was defeated by a vote of 23 classes in favor to 22 opposed. (Two-thirds approval was needed for passage.) The vote to join COCU (with full participation) was defeated on the General Assembly by a vote of 130 to 103.
It is difficult to tell at this time what will be the result of this new idea to attempt reconciliation and to face honestly the prospect of dissolution if reconciliation fails. It is possible that the whole idea behind the plan to dissolve the denomination was put forward in a fit of pique and that its purpose is to scare the conservatives with the specter of the loss of a denomination in the hopes that the conservatives will lose their grip on the Church. It is obvious that the liberals (particularly in the East) do not care a great deal if the denomination ceases to exist. They are above all interested in joining other denominations. But, at least, there is an honest effort being made to recognize the differences which exist in the Church and to do something about them rather than paper them over or hope that by ignoring them they will go away. It is a plan worth consideration by other denominations which are torn by internal struggles between liberals and conservatives. It could conceivably result in a realignment of denominations in which conservatives band together while liberals go their own strange ways in search of that which is no gospel.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
The Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern), the bride left standing at the altar in the PCUS RCA talks, resolved not to let the defeat of the merger talks with the Reformed Church stop her in her ecumenical search. In that denomination the liberals are firmly in control. At the General Assembly Meeting held earlier this summer in Mobile, Alabama this denomination took various decisions which moved the Church rapidly in the direction of a super church.
Most important was a decision to form a committee with the United Presbyterian Church to settle their historic differences and proceed with plans to merge. This is what many liberals have long wanted; and the defeat of the RCA merger paved the way. Already various presbyteries and particular synods have been moving swiftly towards union without the consent of the General Assembly.
The General Assembly also reaffirmed its decision to participate in the COCU talks over the strenuous objections of conservatives.
The chief protest of conservatives in the PCUS Church has always been against the social emphasis which the denomination is making. But no conservative agitation could stem the tide at this year’s General Assembly. The assembly, among other things, adopted resolutions favoring selective conscientious objection to the draft, urging the country to restraint in the nuclear arms race, questioning the wisdom of the anti ballistic missile system, and approving a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr.
In the area of doctrine the Church faced once again the question of evolution. At four previous assemblies, since 1886, the Church had maintained that evolution was incompatible with the truth of Scripture. This year’s assembly decided that the Genesis account of creation and the theory of evolution were not contradictory.
A committee was also appointed to study the causes of unrest in the Church; which, translated, means: how best can the conservatives be placated and silenced, if at all?
This is another denomination which could profitably face the question of whether dissolution would be more honest and better for the Church as a whole.
UNHOL Y DEMANDS
The Churches of America have been put on the spot. James Forman, the head of a militant group of blacks, has recently drawn up a “manifesto” in which he demands of the Churches $500,000,000 in “reparations” for the suppression of and the injustice to the black race by the Churches throughout the years. Recently this figure has been raised considerably into the billions.
Forman and his followers have been disrupting church worship services to read their manifesto from pulpits and have presented their demands to various broader assemblies with the threat that they would use violence against the churches if their demands are not met.
The Churches have consistently involved themselves in the racial problems of the day in an attempt to find a social solution to a problem which can only be solved within the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of the Church. These Churches have forgotten their calling to preach the gospel and have entangled themselves in social matters. Now their chickens are coming home to roost and they are faced with preposterous demands to contribute money to aid the militant blacks in their efforts towards overthrowing the existing social and political order. The manifesto is a plea for revolution.
The liberal churches have little choice but to comply. And this is what they have been doing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been promised to various black agencies. Churches contributing include the National Council of Churches, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, The United Methodist Conference of Western Pennsylvania, the American Baptist Convention, and others.
The Churches will now be forced into a position where they support and finance the efforts of militant blacks to plunge this country into revolution and anarchy.
In a recent issue of Christianity Today, Joseph Martin Hopkins, associate professor in the Department of Bible and Philosophy at Westminster College, tells of a Bible test which he gave to a group of 100 freshmen to discover their knowledge of the Scriptures. The students given the test were all (with two exceptions) from homes with Church connections. In fact, the majority were Presbyterians. Taking into account that these were college freshmen and that the students were from Church homes, the results are incredible. A brief run down appears at the end of the article which we reproduce. The figures indicate the number able to answer the questions.
1. Name the second book of the Bible.
2. Name the last book in the Bible.
3. Name the author of many of the Psalms.
4. Name the author of thirteen N.T. letters.
5. Name the book which tells the history of the early church (its spread from Jerusalem to Rome).
6. Name one of the sons of Jacob. 23
7. Name one of the kings of Israel or Judah. 56
8. Name one of the Old Testament prophets. 54
9. Quote one of the Ten Commandments. 38
10. Name a missionary companion of the Apostle Paul. 16
11. Quote one of the Beatitudes. 24
12. Name the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from the dead. 35
13. Name the Fourth Gospel. 52
14. Quote the Golden Rule. 78
We quote Dr. Martin on some of the answers received:
Two New Testament books and “New Testament” were given as the second book in the Bible. No fewer than six Old Testament books and “Old Testament” were guessed to be the last book in the Bible. The author of many of the Psalms was identified as John, Paul, Saul, Luke, Peter, Jesus, and “shepherds.” One student attributed thirteen New Testament letters to David. The thirteen wrong guesses for the book that relates the history of the early Church included Eli, “Genisus,” “Isiah,” and Moses! Added to the list of Jacob’s twelve sons were Simon, Isaac, David, Abraham, Esau, “Jobe,” “Able,” “Cane,” and “Izia.” Joseph, Jeremiah, Samuel, Herod, and “Seul” were crowned kings of Israel or Judah. And the ranks of the Old Testament prophets were swelled by the addition of John, Matthew, John the Baptist, Paul, and Mohammed!
Asked to state the first commandment, one student wrote, “Be faithful to your wife.” Another offered, “Thou shalt not believe in false kings.” Samuel, John, Bartholomew, and “Steven” were named as missionary companions of the Apostle Paul. Nominated for the brother of Mary and Martha were James, Mark, Zacharias, Levi, and “Magdeline.” And credited with the authorship of the Fourth Gospel were Luke, St. Paul, and Peter.
The author quotes the prophet Hosea who warns: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And this is indeed true. If these elementary questions, known by most second graders, are not known by many college freshmen, it is not strange that the Church of today goes in the foolish roads of apostasy. At the root of all the trouble lies ignorance of God’s Word. May God grant that our covenant homes, schools and Churches remain faithful and untiring in their calling to teach our children the Word of God.