It is with considerable trepidation that I accepted the appointment to write, D.V., fourteen articles during the next year on the subject of ecumenicalism—and now take up my pen to begin. The fear (or knocking together of the knees) is not uncommon to those who appear before the public for the first time; something of that I feel,—knowing that regularly throughout the next year these articles will be printed for public consumption. There is also the fact that, ready or not, the articles must be submitted with faithful regularity to the editor. This may not greatly disturb the faithful regular contributors to the Standard Bearer, but it does loom oppressively large before my own mind.
But the subject itself gives pause for thought. Ecumenicalism is important, very important,—but probably a subject not sufficiently treated nor regarded in our churches in the past. We tend (and1 speak, first of all, for myself) to be so involved in our own families and our own church activities that we have little concern or interest in the developments in the church-world about us (outside, possibly, of the actions of the “mother” church: the Christian Reformed). Now, I would be the last to condemn the former (we can have even more of that), but at the same time we ought to understand that the activities of other churches do vitally concern us. This is true, first, because we must be in a position to warn each other and our children of the errors of our day; and secondly, because we must be able to recognize the development of the anti-Christian church which arises at the end of time. I desire to use this and future articles to that end.
There is the added difficulty to this writer that the material on the subject is unbelievably abundant. To write without any material for research is a great handicap; but the opposite extreme. is almost as bad: to have available more material than one can conveniently assimilate. In spite of this, I will attempt to present to you such material and information as I consider relevant to our instruction on this important subject.
The Subject of Ecumenicalism
The term “ecumenical” comes from the Greek and means literally “the inhabited world.” It can, then, be applied to anything which involves all mankind on earth. It does not have exclusively a religious connotation. However, to my mind (and likely yours as well), the word immediately suggests the present-day striving to unite churches, formerly separated, not only nationally, but also internationally. Strictly, the word ought to be applied only to the attempt to unite churches of “all the inhabited world” into one “super church.” As far as this series of articles is concerned, we will consider the subject in its broadest sense, that is, we will discuss the events of the church-world of our day which tend to bring denominations closer together, and, in conjunction with that, the events which could lead to the uniting of most present-day denominations into the one great church of the last day (the church of the antichrist).
Although I have in mind a general outline for future articles, I do intend to maintain a certain flexibility in this outline so that I can introduce “current events” in the ecumenical movement as these take place. The 1 articles, then, will review the past history as well as the present developments of ecumenicalism. In this connection I would ask you, the reader, to forward to me any information which you deem particularly relevant to this rubric. I can not promise to use all material so submitted, but I would appreciate the opportunity to consider it, and if it is appropriate to the subject being discussed, I might want to pass it on to our readers.
Future articles I intend to write in a manner similar to the six on the Second Vatican Council which appeared earlier this year in the Standard Bearer. Again, quotations will be used both from current magazines and from books to support the particular point presented. The danger in this, of course, is that the charge could be made of “quoting out of context,” and hence, of distorting the author’s intent. However, full references will be given, so that any dubious reader may check the source for himself.
There are several interesting facets of ecumenicalism which we must notice in following articles. First, again and again references have been made to scriptural passages which are supposed to teach the necessity of all Christians and all denominations to be united under one ecclesiastical roof. These passages teach, so it is maintained, that the blessing and encouragement of our God rests upon the present-day ecumenical movement. Two of the most often quoted passages are John 17 and Ephesians 4. It would be proper for us to consider these passages that we may see what God does say about union and unity.
Of interest too, will be a summary of the historical development of the ecumenical movement. Its development is rather recent and can easily be traced. We could consider some of the high-lights of this history. The development of the ecumenical movement is considered by many to have made of our present age one of the most significant periods in the history of the church of Christ. I would agree—though not for the same reasons that many church historians might present. Dr. Henry. P. Van Dusen, president of Union Theological Seminary, declares:
By any reasonable calculus that might be proposed, the period of which we are immediate heirs-roughly the last one hundred and fifty years from the dawn of the nineteenth century to midpoint in the twentieth—was the epoch of largest, most varied, and most notable Christian achievement in the nearly two millenniums of Christian history.
. . .During the past century and a half, the life of the non-Roman Christian churches of the world has been marked by two major developments, each of unprecedented proportions and power in the history of Christendom. It is these two developments together which constitute the most significant feature of Christianity in the modern era and give to this period of a century and a half a character as distinctive and as distinguished as any previous “Great Age” of Christian faith—the early church, the Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation. One is the modern movement of Christian missions; the other, the contemporary movement for Christian unity.¹
Connected with this “movement for Christian unity” is the establishment of the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) in Amsterdam in 1948. This council of churches; by far the largest organization of churches outside of the Roman Catholic Church, is composed of nearly two hundred denominations from all parts of the world. Its power and influence appear to be growing. Its composition as well as its goals merit our scrutiny. Besides, it numbers among its constituent denominations, Reformed churches in this country and abroad,—including the Reformed Church in America. Even within the Christian Reformed Church, which has thus far refused to join the organization, the complaint is heard that “. . .there are also among us those who are World-Council-minded. Our church, they believe, is in error in withholding its membership and influence from this worldwide organization. It is their conviction that we should get into this mainstream of Protestant Christianity so that we may be in a position to do something about directing its course;”² And it must be stated; if the claims of its proponents are true, all Christians of necessity must be members. One man closely associated with the W.C.C. put it this way:
All of the pressing problems of life, from those of the individual to those of the world community, must be solved in accordance with the divine will, for there is no other permanent solution. “If it be of God,” then it is not difficult to see where the major responsibility of church members lies. They are to pray and labor for making the Church just what God intended it to be, “a unique community of men without boundaries of nation, race, culture, or tradition—unconditional unity grounded in the unconditional love of God.” Herein lies the importance of all phases of the ecumenical movement, especially the World Council of Churches which is the latest but not necessarily the last expression of the will to unity.³
In addition to the W.C.C., there are other, in a sense competing, councils composed of more conservative and evangelical membership. Among these are the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.), the International Council of Christian Churches (I.C.C.C.), and the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (R.E.S.). The last of these ought to interest us, since our synods of the past have appointed men to attend meetings of the R.E.S. as observers—though for various reasons they did not attend. A study of these organizations would be beneficial.
Finally, case histories of church mergers would prove both interesting and instructive. What takes place when two denominations decide they must become one? What do they hope to gain? Do such churches lose anything in this merger process? A study of specific mergers reveals that such take place not only between denominations of similar doctrinal and church political background, but also very diverse denominations have joined hands in union one with the other (as for instance the recent E and R—Congregational merger). There are right now several proposed mergers which are in the discussion stage, but have not yet been consummated. One of these which should be of special interest to us is the Reformed Church—Presbyterian U.S. discussions. Some of these mergers—proposed and completed—will be subjects of future articles.
Finally, though not least, there is the continuing Vatican Council at Rome. The third session began this past September 14. According to news releases, significant decisions are being made there—decisions which will make Rome more appealing to many Protestants. The “liberals” seem to have gained the upper hand at the third session. What will be the significance of this third session to the whole ecumenical movement?
Ecumenicalism: Right or Wrong?
The question as stated above is not quite fair. If ecumenicalism is the attempt of children of God to seek out others of like faith and confession in order to become one with them,—this is right. In a day of rapid transportation and instant communication, such fellowship can be sought with Christians not only in our own land, but also in all the world. Should not those who are one in faith and doctrine be united in this day of great apostasy, a day in which the antichristian kingdom and church, foretold in Scripture, are in the process of realization? In a negative way our Church Order suggests this “ecumenicalism” too, for we read in article 85: “Churches whose usages differ from ours merely in non-essentials shall not be rejected.”
But, the “ecumenical movement,” as this phrase is generally understood today, is wrong—very, very wrong. The child of God must have no part with union or affiliations which in the name of Christ deny the Christ of Scripture. He can have no part with councils whose aim is to assist in the formation of the “super church.” He can not join with those who care not one whit about doctrine or truth, but can fret endlessly about the necessity of presenting a united front before the “heathen.” The Word of God is so very clear in its condemnation of developments of our day when it declares, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). It becomes increasingly clear that our “epoch of largest, most varied, and most notable Christian achievement” represents nothing less than the development of the church of the antichrist.
¹ Henry P. Van Dusen, One Great Ground of Hope, Westminster Press, pp. 11, 14
² The Banner, September 18, 1964, p. 8
³ Paul Griswold Macy, If It Be of God, Bethany Press, p. 145