RECENT MOVEMENTS TOWARDS ECUMENICISM
The unity of the church has always been a grave problem in the history of theology and of the church in the New Dispensation. In recent years this problem has come to the foreground of religious thought many times. The Roman Catholic Church, defining the unity of the church as a unity of external organization, has always claimed to have achieved the goal of “one holy catholic church.” For this reason also, Rome has often sneered at Protestant Churches who, since the Reformation, have been splintered into an almost innumerable number of groups, sects, denominations and organizations. It seems as if Rome’s criticism has had its effect, for more and more, Protestant churches also are striving for the unity of external organization. This has resulted in a number of mergers joining several denominations under one ecclesiastical roof, as well as several organizations more loosely bound, but uniting various denominations in councils, synods and associations. There are, for example, such organizations as the World Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
There have been some recent startling developments in this field of ecumenicism and church union. Timemagazine recently reported on one of these. A certain Rev. Dr. Eugene Blake who is the executive head of the United Presbyterian Church preached a sermon in San Francisco’s Episcopal Grace Cathedral, where Bishop James A. Pike is minister. He proposed in this sermon a union between four denominations in the country—the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ. This would form one denomination numbering 17,800,000 people. The United Church of Christ was recently formed by a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational Christian Churches. This latter merger is still the subject of dispute and court action, but will undoubtedly continue in the face of some scattered opposition. Dr. Blake also suggested some general basis on which these denominations could unite. He suggested a compromise between the Episcopalian emphasis on the apostolic succession of the bishops and the more Reformed and Presbyterian practice of voting in officebearers and calling ministers through a vote of the congregation. He spoke broadly of the doctrinal basis as necessarily including the doctrine of the trinity and the maintenance of two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He mentioned some minor points of dispute as, for example, the type of clothes that the ministers and bishops would wear.
There was considerable support for his idea among the leaders of the denominations he included in his plan, although there was by no means unanimous agreement. He suggested that it would take a minimum of ten years to effect such a merger, but evidently believes that the value of it would warrant the time and energy expended to make this super-denomination a reality.
Another development along these same lines was the recent meeting of the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the discussion that was held between these two men and the conclusions, if any, which they reached were never published, everyone interested speculated that they talked of union between the Anglican Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Press made quite a point of it that at least in this case here was no room for compromise. While the Protestant could merge denominations by compromise, each participant sacrificing some of its principles, the Roman Catholic Church would never do this. If the Anglican Church of England wanted to join with the Roman Catholic Church, that could be considered; but only by means of the Anglicans becoming completely Roman Catholic. The Anglicans did not have to expect that the Roman Catholics would meet them half way.
This striving in the church world for external unity is of utmost importance. It is difficult to say whether there will: be one massive church in which all so-called Christian Churches are united before the end comes. It is true, no doubt, that the false church will be the right arm of the Anti-Christ. It is also true that the church world in the days of Anti-Christ will be very sharply divided between the true church—the remnant according to the election of grace—and the false church which has apostatized. It is more than likely that the present trends towards merger will continue and in fact gain momentum as time goes on. And even if the church world-now I mean, as opposed to heathendom—never succeeds in forming one large denomination, nevertheless, as the churches drift deeper into apostasy they will certainly be one in organization, in purpose, in their efforts to support and promote the kingdom of the beast. It is for this reason that these movements warrant our close attention.
It is, as a matter of fact, the confession of believers that the unity of the church of Jesus Christ is not a unity of external organization, but a unity which is completely an object of faith. We believe “an holy catholic church,” even though that unity does not come to complete outward expression in time. And for this reason also, it is well to remember that this unity is spiritual: it is a unity of the body of Christ accomplished by Christ’s Spirit. It is a unity of faith, of hope, of doctrine, of calling. It is a unity that finds its deepest principle and ground in Christ Himself.
It is also for this reason that the true unity of the church can never be realized by the efforts of man; it is a work of God. Rev. H. Hoeksema writes in his dogmatics, “The church on earth is divided, not only because of the natural causes of separation, such as distance, language, differences in races and nationalities, but also in regard to doctrine, confession, form of worship and of church government. How must this be remedied? What must be the attitude of the church and of the individual believer over against this failure of the church to realize her true unity and to manifest that there is one Lord, one spirit, one faith, and one calling?
“Many there are in our day who find the cause of all the dissension and division in the church in too much doctrine and in creeds that are too specific in their doctrinal declarations. Hence, they advocate that all these specific declarations of faith by which each church erects a wall of separation around itself be forgotten, erased, eliminated, that the confessions be broadened, generalized, and that on the basis of this broad declaration of general principles the various denominations merge, and thus realize the unity of the church. However, it should be evident that in this fashion an outward unity may indeed be effected, but only at the expense of the truth, at the cost of the church’s faith, which is the same as saying that it is a unity without, the Christ of the Scriptures. The church is not interested in an outward unity, that reveals itself in a mighty human institution, as, for instance, the present existing World Council of Churches. And the church on earth that understands the character of the true spiritual unity of the body of Christ and that realizes her calling with respect to the manifestation of this unity can never co-operate with such humanistic, faith-destroying, Christ-despising movements of amalgamation. The unity of the church is centered in Christ. If the church is to grow in this true unity, she must grow in Christ. She must not have less of Christ, but always more. And her Christ is in the Scriptures. Hence, she must appropriate the Christ of Holy Writ. And that means that she must instruct and be instructed in the truth. She must not seek union in the way of less, but rather in the way of more and richer doctrine. She must put aside all doctrines of men, to be sure; but she must ever grow in the doctrine of Christ. Let the true church be ever so small in the world, she dare not seek the realization of her unity in any other direction than that of growing in the knowledge of Christ her Head . . . Only they that strive to approach that stature (of the fullness of Christ) are really working for the manifestation of the unity of the church, and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.”
THE ADAM QUESTION
Some years ago I received some pamphlets from a Consistory of a Reformed Church in New Jersey which dealt with a problem of the real existence of Adam, As I recall these pamphlets now, a certain student was being examined by a Classis prior to being ordained to the office of the ministry of the Word. During the course of the examination, it became evident that the student did not believe that Adam was a real person, and in fact he rejected the idea of the first three chapters of Genesis as describing something which actually took place. He preferred to speak of these chapters as an allegorical explanation of something other than the literal interpretation of the text would allow. When it was pointed out to him that Paul referred to Adam as a real person, he informed the Classis that he was of the opinion that Paul was mistaken. When quizzed further on the matter, he complained that he was not the one who should stand trial for these views but that the responsibility lay with the New Brunswick Seminary of the Reformed Churches by whose professors he had been taught these things. This became an issue of some importance in the Reformed Church, being referred first to the Particular Synod, and later to the General Synod. I have not heard for some time what happened consequent to these events. But recently an article appeared in Christianity Today which speaks of a report of a committee appointed by the General Synod to study this issue of the historical reality of Genesis 1-3. The report was made and adopted by the General Synod last summer. The report is only very briefly quoted and evidently maintains the historical character of Genesis, but adds that the church must allow a certain latitude in the understanding of details.
Several men of the Reformed Churches criticized the report severely. They condemned it as too vague to be of any use and as opening the doors to the destructive hammer blows of higher criticism. Dr. John H. Ludham and Mr. John Richard De Witt wrote a pamphlet in which they expressed their concern about the report. This pamphlet was printed by the Consistory of the Sixth Reformed Church of Paterson, New Jersey. That indeed the report of the committee was vague and general is evident from the fact that Mr. De Witt himself wrote to each of the members of the original committee that drew up the report asking for their interpretation. Their responses showed that even they did not agree on what the report meant. Some said that the report expressed a belief that Genesis 1-3 were indeed descriptions of actual history; others thought it did not, and were sad about it; still others said it did not, and rejoiced; one did ,not commit himself on the question.
One cannot escape the conclusion that this is the sad and disastrous result of tampering with the simple meaning of the profoundly beautiful description of creation as given in Genesis 1. Once an attempt is made, in the name of so-called honesty to scientific advancement, to twist the meaning of the Scriptural narrative of creation beyond its obvious meaning and intent, this can only be the result. To make of the six days of creation long periods of time is to changeGenesis 1 almost beyond recognition. And then the real meaning of the whole account is called into question. The result is that the whole narrative must be rejected as altogether too fanciful for the scientifically enlightened mind. Paradise the first did not exist, Adam is a fanciful or allegorical figure, the worlds came into being by some evolutionary process, and the fall is a figment of man’s imagination.
But even here the matter cannot rest. For if the fall is not real, certainly there is no longer any need for the cross or for Christ who died on it “on account of sin.” If one part of Scripture is called into question, the whole of Scripture is open to debate. Paul’s words cannot be trusted, nor the words of Peter or John or even Christ. Scripture stands or falls as a whole. No, Scripture stands. And all the efforts of men to destroy it cannot take one part from it. And because Scripture stands the faith of the church stands—a faith also that understands that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made from things which do appear.
Certainly this history in the Reformed Churches ought to have a sobering effect upon those who are eager to promote their views of periods instead of days of twenty-four hours. It is our hope that there is enough strength left in the Reformed Churches to combat this deeply serious error and to purge itself of it.