THE VIEWS OF AN ECUMENICAL LEADER
Recently the name of Bishop James A. Pike, a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church, has appeared repeatedly in the news. He became prominent at the time of the election campaign of last year through his fierce opposition to the election of John F. Kennedy as a worthy president of the United States. His views were based upon Kennedy’s Catholicism.
More recently, he made the headlines once again in connection with the ecumenical movement. It was in Bishop Pike’s Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that Dr. Eugene Blake made his startling proposals to merge into one large denomination the Protestant Episcopal Church, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. This “super-denomination” to which we have referred before in this column, if formed, would number about 20,000,000 people or about one-third of the Protestant population of this country. It was Bishop Pike who immediately jumped to the support of Dr. Blake by calling the proposal the most inspiring suggestion he had heard from any Protestant source in a long time. He thus put himself and his bishopric on record as being in favor of it. Since then he has worked to put in motion the ecclesiastical machinery which will produce such a merger.
But now again Bishop Pike appears in the news. Only this time he is being charged as a heretic, and that by his colleagues—ministers with him in the Protestant Episcopal church. These clergymen, mostly from Georgia, have accused the Bishop of “disbelief in the virgin birth of our Lord, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as stated by the church, and the necessity of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.” Pike has turned on his critics with a pastoral letter in which he attempts to defend himself. But his defense clearly shows that the charges made against him are true in every respect.
First of all Pike attempts to defend himself by emphasizing that within the Episcopal Church there is enough freedom to maintain his views without being judged a heretic. He writes:
We, unlike most principle Christian traditions, are not bound to a particular set of concepts or form of words . . . It is true that we have a rather skimpy set of propositions, printed in the back of the Prayer Book, called the Articles of Religion; but they are not a Confession of Faith; they represent the allergic reaction of our Church to “papists” on the one hand and “puritans” on the other at a singular point in our history . . . Actually we take seriously the views of theologians and synods of all centuries—and precisely because we “sit loose” to all of them.
It is evident from this that Bishop Pike wants nothing to do with any creed except as these creeds may perhaps be interesting museum pieces to look at occasionally to learn what others once before may have said concerning their faith. By the “Articles of Religion” he evidently refers to the “Anglican Catechism,” a brief Catechism adopted by the Anglican Church in England in 1549 and officially revised in 1662. It is true that this Catechism is very brief. But is was intended as a short exposition of the main points of the doctrine of the Reformation over against the Roman catholic Church to be used by young people in confession of faith. It is put into question and answer form and contains the main points of the truth which Pike denies, such as the doctrines of the trinity, the divinity of Christ, the work of atonement, the doctrines of the sacraments. It is undoubtedly because it maintains these cardinal doctrines that Pike speaks sneeringly of it.
But the Bishop goes on to define and defend his own views with respect to these truths. He speaks of the Gospel as set forth in Scripture appearing in the form of a myth. The story of the garden of Eden is a myth, and Pike writes:
I do not know a single member of the Anglican communion—Bishop, presbyter, deacon or layman—who believes this story literally.
The ascension of Christ into heaven is also a myth:
We no longer believe in a three-level universe: a flat earth, Hell below and Heaven above… And as for “sitteth on the right hand of the Father,” I simply remind you that in certain Oriental areas of the Church the phrase is “on the left hand of the Father,” since in their cultures the latter is the place of honor.
So is the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ and even the truth of the trinity only a myth.
The 4th century church leaders, imbued with a dated Greek philosophy, tried to organize God’s revelation of himself into categories which thoughtful people of that time could grasp. They did a good job. They gathered up God’s true revelation of himself as Creator (we might say “Evolver”), Redeemer (we might say “Healer”), and Sanctifier (we might say “Community-Builder”) into “hypostatases” or “personae” in on “substance.” Bu nobody had thought in these terms for a long time.
It is obvious from all this Bishop Pike has put himself into the camp of the Modernists. He has no faith left at all. He does not accept the Bible as the Word of God. He does not believe in the virgin birth, nor even in the truth of the trinity. He believes nothing. His description of the trinity is repulsive, and a denial of every point of the Christian faith. The colleagues of Bishop Pike in Georgia have every right to accuse him of heresy. And yet he claims that, although his mind has changed on these matters in the last ten years, and that he has moved away from the orthodox position, his views are more true, or at least nearer the truth than the orthodox views.
There are several remarks that are in order.
In the first place, it is obvious that heresy always must first of all dispose of the creeds. This is true also of the efforts of Pike to supplant the truth with some strange views which are really no beliefs at all. He is deeply conscious of the fact that he must get rid of the confessions if he is to be successful. Therefore the creeds are certainly the prized possessions of the church to ward off all kinds of false doctrines, and ignorance of the creeds is a first step in the way of apostasy.
In the second place, departures of the truth necessarily lead to Modernism. It may take many years and decades, but the road is straight and sure and from it there is no return. When a church denies one of the truths of Scripture, it necessarily starts the long but inevitable way to a denial of all the truths.
In the third place, that Pike should be among the leaders of this ecumenical movement inaugurated by Dr. Blake bodes ill for the movement. Not that the churches which Dr. Blake and he suggested should be merged into one are much stronger than he, But a merger will certainly be the result of adopting a basis which is the lowest common denominator of all participants. If such a merger is ever consummated under Pike’s influence, it will certainly be nothing else but the false church. And it is reasonably certain that the church does not have the moral and spiritual strength and courage to purge itself of him and those who agree with him. What the apostle John writes is uniquely applicable: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.” I John 4:1-3.
THE CHURCH IN EAST GERMANY
At the time of the Reformation the stronghold of Lutheranism and one of the citadels of the Reformed faith were in what is now known as East Germany, and are therefore under the political control of the Communists. In recent times the Lutheran and German churches have united in East Germany to form The Evangelical Church in Germany, which denomination embraces five-sixths of the population. Since World War II and the take over of Communism, this church has had an intense struggle which has increased with the years.
In a recent issue of Christianity Today there is a report of how the Communists are attempting to take over the church and the church’s functions. For one thing, the Communist regime has substituted its own ceremonies to take the place of the ceremonies of the church. It has what is called a “socialist name-calling ceremony” which is meant to take the place of baptism. This was introduced in 1955, and since that time the number of those who are not baptized by the church but who participate instead in this government ceremony has steadily grown. In 1955 about 15% of the children were said to have taken part; in 1956 about 25%; last year about 65%.
In the place of confirmation or confession of faith and first communion, the Communists have substituted what they call “youth dedication ceremony.” The Communists claim that about 88% of the young people now follow the Communists and no longer make confession of faith in the church.
Because of their success in these attempts to turn the church membership from the faith, the regime has also begun to promote socialist marriage vows and burial services as well. The result of this is that the church is diminishing rapidly in size.
Besides there are many subtle pressures exerted against those who are members of the church. It is very difficult to obtain jobs if one has not participated in the Communist ceremonies; those who maintain their faith are usually put on the bottom of the list to be placed in adequate housing as it becomes available; they are sneered at by the more “forward” looking citizens of the state, Thus only the older people usually attend church faithfully on the Lord’s Day and the new generation that is coming up is turning its back on the faith of their parents and leaving the church.
According to the church leaders of East Germany there are several reasons for this. One reason is said to be that the leaders have not emphasized strongly enough the duty of the young people to remain faithful to their calling. They have, up to this point, been looking forward to the time when East and West Germany would be reunited and when the problems the church must now face would be solved. But reunification now seems to be farther away than ever, and the church will have to face the fact that it must instill into its young people a deep sense of devotion to the church over against the Communist Party.
Another factor is said to be that there is a continual stream of members of the church flowing into West Germany. In one week alone in January, 3,085 refugees asked for asylum in West Germany. And although many Germans are staying because they feel a responsibility for their church, nevertheless it stands to reason that this steady exodus weakens the church. But as the Communists are more successful in luring the youth away from the church, and as the church is weakened through this exodus, the danger of overt persecution grows. Now already the church meets resistance at every turn and finds recognition virtually impossible in any phase of life involving the government. In the words of Christianity Today: “This situation may well be the making of martyrs.”
It is difficult to determine how far the church in East Germany has drifted from the truth of the Reformation, especially in its affiliation with the Lutheran Churches. But it is evident that the church there is in deep trouble, that the battle against atheistic Communism is in danger of being lost. And it seems that at least part of the trouble lies in the fact that the church has not trained its covenant youth in the fear of the Lord, nor inspired its children with a zeal for the cause of Christ.
There is no doubt a note of warning here—a warning which the church in America can very well take to heart. Already now the dark clouds of trouble loom on the horizon of history, and it appears as if the storms which the church is undergoing in other parts of the world will soon break forth in fury over our own heads. It is well that in these days of comparative peace and quietness we prepare ourselves and the youth of the covenant in God’s church—prepare them intensely and faithfully in the truth; prepare them, to fight the good fight of faith armed with the weapons of spiritual warfare so that when this storm does break our youth will not be led to depart from the ranks of the saints and from the cause of Christ to join with the enemies of Christ’s kingdom.