The long talked of merger between the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) and the Reformed Church of America took another giant stride forward. The General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church and the General Synod of the Reformed Church, meeting concurrently, passed motions of approval on the merger and referred the merger plan drawn up by the joint committee of 24 back to the presbyteries and classes for their vote.
The General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterians, meeting at Montreat, North Carolina, passed the motion after a very short discussion and by a vote of 406 to 36. There was more difficulty in the Synod of the Reformed Church of America. Meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Synod spent hours debating the question and finally passed the motion in a secret ballot by a 183 to 103 vote.
The plan is now to be brought to the presbyteries of the Southern Presbyterian Church where it needs approval by three-fourths of the presbyteries and to the classes of the Reformed Church where it must be approved by two-thirds of the classes. If the merger plan is successfully guided over this important and difficult hurdle, it will be returned to the top ecclesiastical assemblies for final approval next year.
Several amendments were made to the merger plan at this year’s general assemblies which are of some importance. One amendment had to do with, the confessional basis of the newly merged church. The Classis of South Grand Rapids had petitioned the General Synod of the Reformed Church to reduce the number of confessions from six to two, but they had wanted the new church also to forget about a proposal which had already been adopted to form a new confession. Classis South Grand Rapids was afraid that the writing of a new “contemporary Confession” would result in a position similar to the United Presbyterian Church with its “Confession of 1967.” However, while the part of the proposal to reduce the number of confessions passed, the proposal to eliminate the writing of a new confession failed. The result is that the confessions of the new church will be the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Dropped were the Larger Catechism and the Canons of the Synod of Dordt. When and if the new church is formed, one of the first items of business will be the formation of a new contemporary and relevant confession.
The merger plan also contained no provision for the office of deacon. Several attempts were made to restore this office, but they failed. The new church will have no diaconate.
The merger plan had made some provision for the safeguarding of the property of congregations which do not want to go along with the merger. If congregations left the new church within a stipulated time, they would be permitted to retain their property. This part of the merger plan was broadened by amendment to include not only the present merger but also any future mergers into which the new denomination might enter.
The opposition to the merger came mostly from members of the Reformed Church. Some of their objections include the following. There is the problem of the Southern Presbyterians’ commitment to the COCU plan of union. (Cf. below.) Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, chosen as vice-president of the Reformed Church Synod and author of the well-known book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” argued that, after the merger, the new church could vote to discontinue affiliation with COCU. Many in the Reformed Church also objected to the plans to write a new confession, fearing that such a confession would incorporate modern and liberal theology after the pattern of the “Confession of 1967.” There were also objections to the dropping of the Canons of Dordt, the Presbyterians’ position favoring ordination of women, the omission of the office of deacon, and important changes which will be made in church polity.
Observers of the merger predict that, should the plan pass the presbyteries and classes, it will be by a very narrow vote. There is considerable doubt that it will pass at all.
In separate action, the Reformed Church refused to become a participant in COCU. The standing committee on interchurch relationships had advised joining this proposed twenty-three million denomination. And, while the Southern Presbyterians have partially committed themselves to joining COCU, the Reformed Church, in what seems to be contradictory action, voted to remain outside.
Many decisions taken by the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church were highly distasteful to conservative leaders in that denomination. It was, in the opinion of many, one of the more liberal Assemblies; it committed the Church to a course of social action which will take the denomination farther along the road of the social gospel and modern day liberalism. One member, quoted in the Presbyterian Journal, remarked: “Knowing our Church, if the Reformed Church in America is made up of people willing to merge with us, I’m not so sure I want to associate with them!”
THE CAUSES OF VIOLENCE
With the recent assassinations ‘of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy the nation is undergoing one of its periodic times of soul-searching. Prodded on by President Johnson’s new commission on violence which was asked to determine “what in the nature of our people and the environment of our society makes possible such murder and such violence,” the soul-searching has come up with some interesting answers. In a lengthy article entitled “Understanding Violence,” Newsweek gives some of these answers. It is instructive to listen.
The floor is first of all given to the non-experts which Newsweek lightly dismisses. California’s Governor Ronald Reagan blamed demagogic leaders in and out of office and the “spirit of permissiveness that pervades the courts.” Senator Eugene McCarthy found the cause in the violence of the Vietnam war. The young, when quizzed, blamed the “intransigence” of the establishment; the old, the disrespect of the youth. The whites blamed black militants and the blacks blamed white racism. The latter has, apparently, the most effect upon people. Estimates are made of 50 million private weapons in the hands of the citizenry because of the threat of racial conflict.
But quickly the floor is given to the experts. Here is their testimony based on studies in the fields of sociology, ethnology, zoology, neurophysiology, etc. Many claim that violence has always been an integral part of the history of our Republic. From the violence of the frontier days through the war for independence, on to the civil war and urban riots of the 1800s and the labor disputes of the early 1900s, we have lived with a tradition of violence which makes “violence as American as cherry pie.”
In support of this contention it is pointed out that violence is greater in the U.S. than in any other industrialized society.
The U.S. homicide rate is five per 100,000 persons annually, a figure roughly eight times that of England and Wales and four times that of Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—though less than the rate of some Latin American countries.
Other experts turn to the political assassinations which have characterized our history.
Most ominous of all, the pattern of political assassinations in the U.S. now resembles what one would expect in a banana republic. “The assassination of Lincoln established a scenario for political violence.” Starting the count with Lincoln, four of twenty U.S. Presidents have been assassinated, and assassination attempts have been made on three more. Moreover, a Secret Service report released in January shows that the number of persons arrested for threatening the President of the United States has increased alarmingly since John Kemedy’s assassination, from 80 arrests in 1963 to 425 arrests in 1967.
Newsweek reported some findings and opinions on this.
The men (who have threatened a Chief Executive) tended to have much in common: several were young and many came from unhappy homes. Typically they were raised by dominant mothers, while their fathers stood ineffectually by or were absent altogether—not unlike the youth accused of murdering Robert Kennedy.
Although their threats were directed at men, (one who studied these matters) found the underlying source of their resentment was directed at their mothers. Rage against mother, he said, “is only later displaced on to male authorities,” then to the government and finally to the President, “the embodiment of the U.S. Government.”
So a dominant mother is an important cause of political violence.
The experts in other fields were also given their day. One argues thus.
. . . Aggression is an evolutionary instinct—a drive inherited by man from the lower animals. He also holds that modern man finds himself trapped in his violent patterns because of a trick of evolution. Most carnivores, especially those equipped with lethal teeth and nails like the wolf, have instinctive inhibitions against killing members of their own species. On the other hand . . . . evolutionary man never had to develop inhibitions against killing other men for the simple reason that he was so physically ill-equipped to kill—until, that is, his brain grew, and he invented weapons. Among all the carnivores, man—and the rat—are the only species that kill their fellows.
A physiologist weighs in with his views.
Experiments in both animals and men show that the brain contains a well-defined “aggression center.” In humans the area is the amygdala nerve cells, located in the temporal lobe. When the amygdala of a mild-mannered woman patient was stimulated electrically with a thin wire passed through her skull, she turned abusive and threatened to strike the attending surgeon. When the current was turned off, she became her customary gentle self again. This aggression center is part of man’s hereditary endowment, but it is affected by changes in body chemistry and mediated by the higher centers of the brain that have learned the evolutionary lessons of social adaptation, cooperation, empathy, loyalty to others, postponement of gratification, attachment to ideas and symbols—in short, all the forces that can control and contain aggression.
TV also comes to its share of blame.
. . . . For most Americans, the Vietnam war is a television war, live and in color in U.S. living rooms nightly. And as such, it becomes another example of the sado-violence that is the new pornography on television and in movies. One survey—made a few years ago—showed that between the ages of 5 and 14 the average American child will witness 13,000 violent deaths on TV. In one Monday-Friday period on four commercial channels in a major city, Stanford University researchers counted twelve murders, a guillotining, 37 hand-to-hand fights, sixteen major gunfights, two stranglings, an attempted murder with a pitchfork, a psychotic loose in an airliner and two attempts to run cars over persons on sidewalks, among other episodes.
And so it goes. Newsweek points out that while politicians are talking about gun control, psychiatrists “in their brisk professional way have now begun to weigh the possibilities and problems of people control.” In an ominous way,Newsweek describes this.
Such a suggestion grew out of a meeting in Boston last week aimed at getting the U.S to establish one or more $25 million research canters for the detection and treatment of potentially dangerous individuals. . . The program would treat violence just like typhoid fever or any other major public-health problem. Large numbers of citizens would be screened, perhaps when they apply for a driver’s license. What would be needed is a simple and reliable battery of tests to judge an individual’s “impulse control”. People with “poor impulse control” it seems, are often involved in traffic accidents, beat their wives and children, and become uncontrollable on small amounts of alcohol.
President Johnson appointed a commission on violence to find answers to two questions. The first is: What in the nature of our people makes possible such murder and violence? The answer to this question is easily found on the pages of Scripture. Man is, in his condition of total depravity, desperately wicked, capable of every crime and filled with violence from birth. Paul quoting the Psalms writes in Romans 3: “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth . . . . Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known.” The earth is described in Genesis 6:11 as filled with violence. In that memorable Psalm of Asaph, Psalm 73, Asaph describes the wicked as being covered with violence as with a garment. The Word of God explains in a few words what all the experts in this country have not been able to understand.
President Johnson’s second question is: “What in the nature of the environment of our society makes possible such murder and violence?” The answer here too is not difficult to find—if one is willing to measure society by the standard of God’s Word. A complete breakdown of the principles of authority-obedience in every sphere of life, given impetus by an abandonment of the law of God for some nebulous “new morality,” has contributed to lawlessness. The higher courts of the land have effectively handcuffed the law enforcement agencies by building legal walls of protection around the criminal. Violence is condoned and preached and taught in civil disobedience, marches, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, etc. The door is opened to violence knocking always at society’s threshold. When it comes rushing to plunge us into anarchy, do we have to ask silly questions? If we can only ask silly questions, we shall get silly answers. And then we are in for some bad days.
RESOLUTION ON COCU
An interesting resolution on COCU was adopted by the American Council of Christian Churches quoted in Lutheran News.
The Executive Committee of the American Council of Christian Churches, meeting in Dayton, Ohio, April 1-2, 1968, expresses emphatic opposition to the Consultation on Church Union for these reasons among others:
1. COCU creates a non-creedal church in which any belief or radical unbelief is allowed. We hold the Bible to be our “only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
2. COCU creates a “uniting” force which, according to the remarks of President James I. McCord of Princeton Theological Seminary, moves “beyond the unity of the church to the unity of mankind.” Not “One Christian Church” is contemplated, but “One Secular World.”
3. COCU creates a power force in this country which, fortunately, the USA has never known. As we see clergy-led riots, the thought of these same clergymen claiming to represent, initially 25 1/2 million Americans is frightening. We thank God for the unity in freely expressed diversity which Bible-believing Christians have enjoyed, even while they have sought for Christian understanding and cooperative witness . . .