Wiersinga and Atonement
From the R.E.S. News Exchange of Dec. 7, 1976, comes a further report concerning Dr. Wiersinga and developments in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands:
The consistory of the Reformed Church of Amsterdam sent a letter to, the Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) expressing consternation at the latter’s statement that the views of Dr. Herman Wiersinga on Christ’s atonement are inadmissible. The Amsterdam consistory claims that despite important differences, there is nevertheless far-reaching agreement on essential points. “In view of this agreement and unity in the faith, the consistory accepts Dr. Wiersinga in trust as its minister of the Word and believes that his views are admissible within the bounds of the confession, namely as a contribution to the discussion concerning the meaning of the atonement.” The consistory also challenged the Synod’s characterization of Wiersinga’s views as a “threat to the unity of the faith.” Part of the Synod’s recent judicium expressed confidence that the Amsterdam consistory would see to it that no denial of the Reformed doctrine of the atonement would occur in Wiersinga’s ministry. The consistory obviously would have no part in this.
The RCN Synod of November 24 responded that the letters of the Amsterdam consistory proposed no new arguments in favor of Wiersinga’s doctrineSynod referred the consistory to a Synodical committee to discuss the possibility of framing an appeal to the next Synod (1977) to revise its earlier judicium.
Reacting to the letter of the Amsterdam consistory, Dr. Herman Ridderbos (Gereformeerd Weekblad) expresses his consternation at the attitude of the consistory. Reminiscing, Dr. Ridderbos pointed out that this same church that now expresses alarm at the idea of having to discipline someone who challenges the doctrine of the atonement was one of the leaders in the Reformation of the Dutch church during the last half of the 19th century. During that period, the Amsterdam consistory required everyone coming to the Lord’s Supper to express their accord with Paul’s confession regarding the atonement of Christ, “Who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
COCU and Unity
The Christian News, Nov. 15, 1976, reports on a meeting of COCU which recently met at Dayton, Ohio. The report is of interest especially because of the clever (?) way in which these unite all divergent views to form the basis for unity.
Delegates from the nine denominations of the Consultation on Church Unity (COCU) chose a new president, accepted a 10th member body, and debated a revised theological basis for their unification at COCU’s 13th plenary meeting here. . . .
Chief architect of the seven-chapter “theological basis for union,” Prof. John Deschner of Dallas, urged COCU delegates to “invite the churches to consider it officially and decide whether they are willing to gather around it.”
The 1970 union plan, of which this is a revision, was widely criticized for some of its organizational proposals, though at the time the theological portion seemed more acceptable.
Prof. Deschner said the new proposal is “not a kind of theological constitution but rather a “movable, changeable starting point” which the COCU denominations can use “to work with other churches to create a revised plan of union.”
At the 1973 COCU plenary in Memphis, delegates decided not to pursue union via a once-and-for-all plan, but rather to “grow toward union” in a variety of ways.
Eight of the denominations have agreed to work toward “mutual recognition of members” as part of growing together. COCU has also fostered local efforts (“interim eucharistic fellowships,” “generating communities,” and “communities in correspondence”), and work on common worship materials as part of the growth effort.
Among the “notable improvements” in the revised plan listed by Prof. Deschner are a “much stronger explication” of the three uniting principles, a church “truly catholic, truly evangelical, and truly reformed”; a “considerably strengthened” emphasis on diversity, inclusiveness, and participation in membership; and a strengthened discussion on both lay and episcopal ministry.
Among its other points:
—Acceptance of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, but with no single confession required for all.
—Baptism by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling for both adults and infants.
—The Lord’s Supper or Eucharist at the heart of worship, but with a recognition of the sacramental nature of other rites.
—Three kinds of ordained minister: deacon; presbyter (similar to pastor or priest or elder in current denominational usage), and bishop.
—The bishop as chief symbol of ministerial unity and continuity, but with no bishop functioning autonomously.
In addition to the seven-chapter theological document, the drafting committee presented an “alert on the new church-dividing potential of some persistent issues,”—racism, sexism, institutionalism, and congregational exclusivism.
The above surely represents an attempt to be all things to all men—not to the furtherance of the gospel but rather to the destruction of the truths of that gospel. The denominations participating in COCU are: The United Church of Christ; The Disciples of Christ; Episcopal; Christian Methodist Episcopal; African Methodist Episcopal Zion; United Methodist; United Presbyterian Churches; and the newest member: the National Council of Community Churches.
Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
The Christian News also reports in its Nov. 15. 1976 issue that the new Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) now numbers some 6 0,000 members with 119 congregations. These represent those who have separated from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the so-called “moderates,” who refuse to abide with the more conservative rulings of the Missouri Synod especially on the infallibility of the Bible.
A relatively new organization held its second annual meeting in Grand Rapids. The organization is North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). There are presently five member denominations: the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. There is a sixth application for membership for the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Meeting at Calvin College, representatives of these denominations toured Calvin’s facilities where, in June of 1978, the General Assemblies and General Synods of these denominations expect to meet concurrently.
The council also voted to hold a conference on “Office in the Church” in March of 1978.
The editor of the Presbyterian Journal, Nov. 10, 1976, comments about this conference and presents his own suggestions in drawing these various bodies closer—and hopefully into union.
We no longer believe that the pathway to union is best paved by formal negotiations between formally appointed committees, charged to hammer out agreement in all points of potential differences; in the course of drawing up detailed plans of union to be adopted by intricate constitutional processes.
There are two ways that men of good will can come together—if they are willing. The first of these is by a form of federalization, somewhat similar to the philosophy which underlay the willingness of the 13 original colonies to come together as united and yet sovereign states. Such a plan might include the erection of a provisional General Assembly in which separate delegations could participate without surrendering their denominational sovereignties. This was detailed in the June 18, 1975 Journal.
Another, more drastic and yet fully workable way in which compatible Christians from various traditions could form a more perfect union—if they could summon the courage to do it—would be the way of a great constitutional convention. A great congress on the Christian faith, bringing together all those interested in belonging to such a body, could resolve itself into a constitutional convention, adopt a working constitution and walk out as a Church. It has been done repeatedly on a smaller scale, in the formation of a presbytery, a synod and even a General Assembly!
New Confession for the Presbyterian Church U.S.?
This fall and winter the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern Presbyterian) will be voting on the new confession entitled, A Declaration of Faith. This confession was adopted by the 1976 General Assembly (similar to our Synod) and now must receive approval of the presbyteries.
Those who have studied the new confession suggest that, though many acceptable statements are made, and though the “conservatives” are finding it difficult to condemn this confession, yet that there are “grave weaknesses” in the confession. In an article from thePresbyterian Journal of Nov. 3, 1976, the author, John Davis, points out that the confession suggests that though the Bible is the “Word of God” in a unique sense, it is no longer to be considered infallible: He points out a “creeping universalism” in this new confession. He writes, “By affirming neither universalism nor double predestination, the confession ends with a note of hesitation rather than the triumphant confidence of our Christian faith.” The same author suggests there is “an unhappy combination of the classic views of the Westminster divines and the views of Karl Barth.” Though this author does not believe the confession ought to be adopted, he also insists that its adoption ought not to justify a conservative exodus from the denomination.