Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the past years there appeared to be a slowing of the drive towards ecumenicity and union of denominations. More recently that has changed. Lutherans and Roman Catholics appear to have struck a kind of agreement which would rescind the Reformation. And Lutherans and Episcopalians seem very close to establishing ties almost equivalent to union. Christianity Today, October 4, 1999, reports on the meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) held last August in Denver, Colorado. The report states:
Meeting in Denver for a week in August, ELCA’s biennial Churchwide Assembly approved a unity proposal, “Called to Common Mission” (CCM), by 716 to 317—comfortably above the required two-thirds majority.
If approved by the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention next year, CCM would unite ELCA’s 5.2 million members with 2.4 million Episcopalians. Full communion would not be a merger, but it would enable the denominations to share clergy, celebrate Communion together, and work in more visible unity.
The previous Churchwide Assembly rejected the original full-communion proposal, the Concordat of Agreement, by a mere six votes two years ago…. CCM is a revision of the Concordat coming out of ecumenical talks that were revived last year….
Among Lutherans, CCM opposition focused on the ministry of bishops. Both denominations affirm the concept of apostolic succession as the authentic transmission of Christian faith through the ages. Many Episcopalians go further, saying they can trace the consecrations of bishops back to the original apostles and insisting that such lineage is essential to apostolic succession. During the sixteenth century, that link was severed for Lutherans (except in Sweden) because few Roman Catholic bishops joined the Protestant Reformation.
The article continued by quoting some of the debate on this question.
CCM supporter Tom Koch said the debate about the historic episcopate “has taken on a life of its own.” But it is not the real issue. He said, “Do we balk when we are asked to change? Sometimes there is a cost to discipleship.”
Supporter Mark Betley said that a “Lutheran heresy” says only, “God loves us just the way we are,” without adding “and loves us so much that God will not leave us there.”
“This is too big a chance to miss,” Betley said. “We must walk up to the precipice of the historic episcopate and remain people who live by the Word.”
Opponent Rebecca Wagner worried that CCM would dilute Lutherans’ confessional identity. “Words matter,” she said. “The words we have before us are words I cannot agree with.” Wagner said she could not reconcile CCM with the Augsburg Confession.
Marcus Miller disagreed. “Our ecumenical reach needs to be broad. It needs to be to the Right and to the Left,” he said. “We have an opportunity to act our way into new ways of thinking for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In this assembly, as in so many others within the church-world today, there was again a debate on the issue of homosexuality. Here, the issue was not whether practicing homosexuals can be members in good standing in the church, it was not whether these could be part of the clergy—provided they remained celibate; rather, the question now was whether it was fair and right for the church to maintain that “clergy with homosexual orientation abstain from sexual relations.”
“It is the equivalent of saying that over-weight people may be ordained, but may not eat,” said Betsy Liljeberg.
Jay McDivitt, vice present of ELCA’s Lutheran Youth Organization, said he has felt a longtime call to be a Lutheran pastor.
“If I perhaps fall in love with a man, which is a definite possibility, I would be prevented from serving the church I love,” McDivitt said. “This hurts me deeply, because it is wrong.”
The assembly overwhelmingly accepted a resolution, 820 to 159, that upholds ELCA’s current policies on noncelibate homosexual clergy, but encourages continued discussion. The resolution says there is no “arbitrarily set timetable for concluding the discussion” and that ELCA must “await a time of clearer understanding provided by the Lord of the Church.”
The arguments are simply unbelievable and amazing! “Await a time of clearer understanding provided by the Lord of the Church”?? Almost 2000 years ago there was a clear presentation of God’s position concerning homosexuality—and not merely about non-celibate clergy. It is found in Holy Scripture. For almost 2000 years there was hardly a question raised about the issue. But now the church is awaiting a “clearer understanding”? Are these awaiting a time when the King of the church might possibly change His mind—to accommodate those who “love the church” but find themselves loving also members of the same sex? Or perhaps these expect a new revelation from that Lord of the church which will replace (and contradict) that which He gave 2000 years ago?
It is a slippery slope. In recent years there have been attacks on important teachings of Scripture. Denominational walls are crumbling. Unity, irrespective of doctrinal differences, must be sought by all means. Where will it all end? It would seem that we see here the development of the antichristian church which will walk cooperatively with the antichristian world power.
The Christian News, October 11, 1999, points out that there is growing cooperation not only between various denominations, but also increasingly between the world’s religions. There are, of course, various things differing religions could properly talk about, especially wars and violent crimes done in the name of “religion.” But one has the impression that there is more than that behind these conferences. The article states:
Representatives of some 20 of the world’s religions will meet at the Vatican during October to discuss closer collaboration between believers to further justice and peace in the next millennium.
At least 235 clergy and laity from 48 countries—including Israel, Algeria, Iran and India—will attend the Inter-Religious Assembly called for October 24-29 by the Vatican’s Central Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000.
The theme of the meeting is “On the Eve of the Third Millennium: Collaboration Between Different Religions.”…
…The goal of next month’s assembly is to agree on a joint declaration on the role of religion in the next millennium.
“There are some major problems and challenges in the world which, for their solution, require the cooperation of all believers,” Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said. “Foremost among these are questions related to justice and peace.”
Arinze said the assembly would discuss such issues as discrimination because of race, religion, language, social status or sex; the refusal of the rich to practice solidarity with the poor; injustice toward women and children; and “the modern scourges” of AIDS and drug abuse.
“Believers in the various religions cannot remain unconcerned in the face of such major challenges and problems. They are convinced that the highest ideals of their religions oblige them to join hands to find lasting solutions,” he said.
Remarkable that all religions, according to the spokesman of this gathering, have “highest ideals” and that they can “join hands to find lasting solutions.” But where is there mention of the cross? Where is it pointed out that the only way of justice and peace is through Calvary? The above sounds very much like the peace of the Antichrist.
The same issue of Christian News points to the developing unity of religions as reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
On Monday, October 4, 1999,
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that 3,000 young people linked hands around the Trans-world Dome to pray for Billy Graham’s health, for the success of his crusade, and for souls to be saved.
According to the Post article “One of the themes of Graham’s crusades is breaking down false barriers, whether racial or theological.”
Major magazines including Time have pointed out in recent years that, if you look at what Graham actually does, rather than listen to his own prepared publicity, you will clearly see he is an ecumenist and not an evangelist. While numerous studies have repeatedly shown that few people actually get converted at a crusade, these mass gatherings have done much to undermine Biblical theology and the clear teachings of not only Lutherans but also other denominations. The goal of Graham crusades is to produce a type of “dumbed-down” Protestantism as found most typically among the Baptists. Both privately and publicly Graham disdains the Sacraments. He treats them as mere human ordinances and powerless symbols, even though Jesus clearly taught the life-giving power of the Sacraments. Several St. Louis area Lutheran churches, including Webster Gardens, Concordia Kirkwood, St. John’s Ellisville, and King of Kings Chesterfield, are cooperating as much as they possibly can to help Graham spread his anti-Biblical teachings. Do these LCMS churches agree with Graham and the Pope when they say that Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians can get to heaven without saving faith in Christ?”
Such is the development in the church-world today. But there are still some who recognize and condemn the false doctrines which are being taught by so many in our day. May our God preserve His people against the deceptive doctrines which appear to appeal to so many.