The summer months are the days for ecclesiastical, assemblies. Synods, Conventions, Conferences, or whatever they may be called, have met throughout the country, have adopted their resolutions for good or for bad, and have gone home. Reading over the countless reports of all these ecclesiastical assemblies, one is struck by the fact that the main topic of discussion and resolution throughout practically all of them was the topic of church merger. There have been several important developments.
The United Church of Christ is a reality. This merger between the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches has been in the making now for several years; yet it was not until this summer that the final steps to realize union were accomplished. The new denomination numbers 6,422 congregations and 2 million members to constitute the seventh largest Protestant church in the United States. Elected as the new president is Rev. D. Ben M. Herbster of Norwood, Ohio. This man is a native of Prospect, Ohio, has been pastor of the Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church in Norwood for 30 years, and was active for some time in the National Council of Churches. He has already expressed himself on various issues which are currently being discussed in the new church—medical care for the aged through Social Security (he is in favor of it); right to work laws, (he is opposed to them); United States recognition of Red China in the United Nations, (he favors it). This new denomination has kept the wheels of merger turning by inviting the Disciples of Christ; to join their denomination. If this should become a reality, the new denomination would number 14,000 congregations and 4 million members.
However, this same denomination is deeply involved in further merger plans with other denominations. We have reported more than once in this column on the plan advanced by Eugene Carson Blake to form a denomination of four major Protestant bodies in the United States. This proposal was first suggested by Dr. Blake in a sermon in the Cathedral of Bishop James Pike in San Francisco. It called for a merger of the Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and the Protestant Episcopal Church. This merger would unite almost 20,000,000 Protestants or 1/3 of the total Protestant population in this country into one large denomination. The United Presbyterian Church, of which Dr. Blake is Stated Clerk, has already decided favorably on this merger—deciding to invite “the Protestant Episcopal Church meeting in general convention in Detroit, Michigan, in this same year, to join with us in an invitation to the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ to explore the establishment of a united church truly Catholic, truly Reformed, and truly Evangelical.”
Although enthusiasm for the plan runs high in the United Presbyterian Church, there is considerable opposition to the plan in other circles.
Although the Protestant Episcopal Church will not receive this invitation officially till its convention in September, nevertheless several dioceses have already spoken out against the plan. The Diocese of Long Island, New York is afraid that such a proposal will undermine the confessional basis of their church; the diocese of Maine believes it would be more appropriate to seek affiliation with the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The Southern Presbyterians were also invited to discuss merger with the United Presbyterian Church. They turned down the invitation because the United Presbyterian Church was contemplating merger with denominations of different dogmas and church polity than that to which the Southern Church was committed. Others in the Southern Church have proposed that the liberals in their church get out to join the United Presbyterian Church, while the conservatives in the United Presbyterian Church get out of their denomination to join the more conservative church in the south.
All these mergers and merger discussions point to the trend, increasing daily in momentum, to unite all churches together into one denomination. This will have to be accomplished first of all among Protestants, but there are already those who are advocating affiliation or, at least, closer contact with the church of Rome. These churches, while succeeding in their efforts to grow to almost unbelievable sizes, nevertheless fail entirely to reveal the body of Christ upon earth. On the altar of merger they sacrifice the truth of the Word of God, in the lust for material and physical strength they prostitute their calling to represent God’s cause in the world.
A little closer to home there is also talk of merger on a smaller scale. The Christian Reformed Church decided at their last Synod to seek closer affiliation with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These two denominations have had fraternal relations for several years already, but are seeking now a closer union with hopes of future denominational merger.
Also the Christian Reformed Church, in their Synodical sessions, responded to a request from the “De Wolf Synod, of last year which asked the Christian Reformed Synod to declare the three points non-binding. This the Synod refused to do; but guessing correctly that it would make very little difference anyway, they formulated steps to be followed for the “De Wolf Synod,” to return to them.
The Synod of the former Protestant Reformed ministers and churches met this past week. Although the Christian Reformed Church had not heeded their request, this did not prevent them from passing a motion to return. The vote was 12-5.
This morning, while this article is being written (July 14), the schismatics are attending the “funeral,” of their denomination in the last session of their Synod. Somehow the whole thing fills one with sadness. Not because their decision affects our churches in any adverse way—we go on as Protestant Reformed Churches as we have in the past with vigor and zeal. But these men and the people they are supposed to represent once stood with us in the battle lines of faith. They have forsaken these lines to retreat to a church that no longer fights this battle with complete faithfulness and perseverance. Once with us, they are with us no longer. Rather than marching forward in our ranks, they have slipped backward where to fight the battle of faith becomes ever more hopeless. They have, by returning, adopted theological and doctrinal tenets which they know and once said were not Reformed. They have entered a denomination that has fervently denied the principles of Christian conduct and life. We are sorry to see them go, for we had hoped they would return.
Nevertheless, they have not all been in favor of returning, and are not today. Perhaps by this time, those who do not want to make the long and dark trip back will see that their calling is indeed to come to us. As their denomination fades away, may God grant that they see this and have the courage to act.
CARICATURES OF REFORMED TIRUTH
There are many thousands and even millions of Protestants today who have severed the last ties which bound them to the Protestant Reformation. They are the ones who hate the Reformed truth and will have nothing of it. This is really not so strange, and in fact, is to be expected. When the fundamental truths of God’s Word are emphasized, it stands to reason that there will be all kinds of opposition from those who have fallen into Arminianism and Modernism. Expecting this, it is not too difficult to put up with it.
But these same men who deny the fundamental truths of God’s Word commit a more serious sin. They do not simply deny the truth of God’s Word, but they make all kinds of caricatures of it. They slander the truth and describe Reformed believers as holding to truths which in fact they do not hold to at all. They do this sometimes out of ignorance no doubt, but oftener out of a desire to make the truth repugnant to others.
Such a caricature of the truth was recently made inTime in a lengthy discussion of church merger. Discussing the views of John Calvin, Time writes:
As a young man at the University of Paris, John Calvin caught the fervor and excitement of Luther’s break with Rome and became one of the keenest theological thinkers Christianity has produced. Most of his body of thought, set forth in his book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion,” first written when he was only 26, has survived the passage of time. One major Calvinist tenet now generally discredited is the doctrine of predestination—which he himself called “the horrible decree.”
Calvin founded this belief on the inexorable deterministic logic of Augustine in that saint’s 5th century controversy with Pelagius, British heretic. Pelagius’ heresy—too widespread in the modem world to raise an eyebrow—was that Adam’s disobedience had affected no one but himself; all men are not born sinners, but free to opt for good or evil, salvation or hell. Standing firmly on Scripture, both Augustine and Calvin after him held that Adam’s fall was man’s; all men are born in sin and deserve damnation. God in his love sent men the means of salvation in Jesus Christ, but obviously all do not repent and mend their ways and receive Christ; most go to the hell they merit.
Calvin postulated that since God as Creator of all things is omniscient, knowing the future and the past as one, he knows in advance who will be saved. And since God is omnipotent—able to save all men if he wills—the damned are damned by God’s consent, damned eons before they were born, and there is nothing they can do about it.
To predestination Calvin added such corollary conclusions as “particular redemption” (God’s picking and choosing the elect), “moral inability” (the impossibility of doing anything to save oneself), “invincible grace” (the impossibility of doing anything to damn oneself if God has decreed otherwise) and “final perseverance” (the guarantee that all the elect will reach heaven—no matter what).
It is interesting to note that at least Time’s religious editor gives credit to Calvin for standing on Scripture in his defense of predestination. In some respects, his presentation of Calvinism is correct; in others it is a serious caricature bound to deceive. From the religious editor of Time such a caricature is somewhat to be expected, for he may not know exactly what Calvinism is. But when this happens also in a Christian Reformed periodical, that is quite a different story. Rev. Rolf L. Veenstra writes in a recent issue of The Banner:
Unhappily, it is to be feared that much of what passes for predestination in Reformed circles is little better than Mohammedan fatalism. Many people have the mistaken notion that the will of God is a cold and inflexible scheme that was completed before the beginning of the world, with which our prayers have little or nothing to do, and which God is as incapable of changing as the Medeo-Persian monarchs were the very laws that they themselves had made. We must not think of God in terms of human time, as though He finished His planning and thinking and willing on such and such a day in human history. The Bible gives the lie to that crude notion in describing God’s response to human behavior and pious prayer as reported in
etc. God is the eternal Now, and His plan for our lives: and the world does not exist apart from Him, the way a architect’s blueprint does.
When it comes to the matter of personal salvation, let us be done once and for all with the idea that if we are elect we are going to be saved in spite of ourselves, and if we are not elect there is nothing that we can do about it. (This is a caricature of Scripture as much as the opposite Arminian error that God himself cannot save you unless you are willing.) The problem of predestination vs. free will, on which is spent so much time that could more profitably be given to other Scriptural subjects, is, like many of our problems, purely a theoretical one. That is, nobody ever wanted to become a Christian and couldn’t: nobody in hell will deny that it was his free choice. The problem is real and practical only when predestination becomes, as it is in many minds, fatalism or determinism.
This certainly cannot be explained as ignorance. At least if it must be explained that way, it is a shame. Rev. Veenstra may have a certain group of people in mind when he writes this way—people who actually do make of predestination and God’s counsel a certain fatalism; but it is obvious that he also refers to those Reformed people who still maintain the truth of God’s Word. He himself slips into the worst sort of caricature of God’s counsel when he obviously means to maintain that the counsel is flexible, adaptable td human responses and therefore changeable. All he writes is quite contrary to the Canons of Dordrecht which it would be advisable for him to read. In a truly Reformed community, a man would be censured for writing these things. Rev. Veenstra writes that too much time is being wasted on the problem of predestination vs. free will. It would be advisable for the brother to spend a little more time on the problem that he may learn the creedal position of his church on the matter.