Differing Views on the W.C.C.

Many comments and criticisms have been made about the World Council of Churches. Some of these comments are interesting and instructive—and usually reflect upon the person himself as well as that group of people for whom he stands as spokesman. In view of this, I would consider two expressions on the W.C.C. that recently came to my attention. Both come from men who profess to be orthodox, both are Christian Reformed ministers—but one reflects that liberal wing which advocates union with the W.C.C., the other shows rather a “middle-of-the-road” policy which disapproves of union at present but is ready to change position if this is the desire of the majority. 

Dr. Paul G. Schrotenboer, general secretary of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod reflects the latter position in a report he has presented on the W.C.C. after he attended the gathering of the W.C.C. at Uppsala. The report is rather strikingly “middle-of-the-road,” one might rather term it “hedging.” He is not ready to approve—but not ready to disapprove either. Writes he, “Any true appraisal of the W.C.C. will have to bear in mind its world wide mosaic nature. By the same token, just as one should avoid quick and easy condemnations of the Council, lest he misrepresent it, so too he should avoid the facile approbation that interprets every action and statement in such a favorable light as to mean that all changes that occur in W.C.C. ranks are a proof of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. The truth of the matter would appear to be somewhere between these two extreme positions.” This position is reflected throughout the report: we must not be too hasty in approving all that the W.C.C. does—nor must we be too hasty to condemn all of its actions. The article gives the impression that the reporter is willing to go along with any majority decision regarding the W.C.C. 

Schrotenboer does point out eight items concerning the W.C.C. which are worth noting. In his opinion, first, the W.C.C. has “become more noticeably biblical and orthodox than its previous deliverances” when it speaks theologically. He concedes, however, that the reason for this very possibly is not because that assembly desired to speak “according to Scripture,” but rather out of a desire to reach some sort of “consensus.” 

Secondly, he points out, the W.C.C. Assembly openly recognized that there were “many great differences in emphasis, in viewpoint, and in the message of the member churches and delegates.” 

Thirdly, “the main work of the Assembly was non-theological. Much of it was also nonecclesiastical.” He points to the decisions and recommendations which deal with world economic development, balance of power, disarmament, justice and peace in international affairs, new styles of living. The Assembly formally approved of the Official Report of the World Conference on Church and Society—a report which is far from the teachings of God’s Word to say the least. Especially this trend in the W.C.C. marks it as part of that which is false. Without judging individual members or denominations within the organization, one can readily see that the W.C.C. places ever less emphasis upon the preached Word of Christ and more emphasis upon a “social gospel.” Even its “social gospel” becomes sometimes revolutionary and opposed to the law of God itself. This can be shown without any difficulty from the reports and decisions taken. 

In the fourth place, says Scbrotenboer, there “was a marked trend away from the ‘vertical’ to the ‘horizontal.'” He means simply that there was less concern about God and His kingdom than there was about man and his earthly needs. The theme of the Assembly was, “Behold I make all things new.” That is a beautiful theme if interpreted in harmony with God’s revelation, but Schrotenboer reports that “in the working sessions . . . the theme was used to justify and bolster all kinds of secular innovations, and seemed at times to be an excuse simply to justify change. The changes that were proposed (and often endorsed) were generally those that concern human relations . . . without orientation to God’s salvation of man in Jesus Christ.” 

In the fifth place, there “is an indication that the World Council may be willing to discipline its member churches.” One of the complaints in the past against the W.C.C. was that it did not demand that member churches adhere to the Basis—such as it is. Now Schrotenboer reports that they did approve the substance of a report which declared, “Because racism is irreconcilable with Christian faith the churches should continue to rebuke those churches which tolerate racism, and make it clear that racist churches cannot be recognized as members in good standing within the ecumenical fellowship.” Schrotenboer considers this an indication that the W.C.C. might be willing to exclude some from its fellowship because of certain “heresy.” Yet the example which Schrotenboer uses would seem to show rather that liberal and modernistic trend today to be concerned with every sort of “heresy” except that which is doctrinal. It may well be that the day soon comes when the W.C.C. would exclude from its fellowship “racist” churches—but it will never exclude churches or individuals who deny the divinity of Christ or His cross. This is the trend within churches. The Christian Reformed Church also, in its last synod, was ready to declare that those who involve themselves in forms of racism would be worthy of excommunication—but Prof. Dekker continues to teach in their seminary in spite of his Arminian views. I fear that the trend which Schrotenboer regards as somewhat favorable is but one more clear indication of the goal and aims of the W.C.C. Such action is hardly encouraging. 

In the sixth place, Schrotenboer points to a “discernible difference in emphasis and direction between the Staff and the constituency of the non-Western countries.” He refers to the fact that the Staff of the W.C.C. seem always to emphasize the social, economic and political affairs but that some of the churches definitely lean toward the evangelistic position. And though this might well be true, the question can not be silenced: who elects this Staff? 

Next, he declares, “Evangelicals can freely speak at the World Council, but the influence they exert upon the Council can easily be overrated.” He adds, “Evangelicals were not encouraged that they could make a meaningful contribution to the work of the Council by the words of the General Secretary about the critics of the W.C.C.” 

Finally, Schrotenboer states that the W.C.C. “has stressed some of the most pressing concerns of Christianity today, namely, the relation of church and society and the Christian’s attitude to the world.” 

The R.E.S. secretary concludes by stating the self-evident: the W.C.C. is too great to ignore; but he adds, “There is no reason. . . why the R.E.S. should change its advice to the member churches not to join at this time the W.C.C.” He could, I think, have rather emphasized that on the basis of his own observations and conclusions, it would be wrong for any Reformed church to consider joining such an organization. He points out that its approach is “horizontal” rather than “vertical.” He admits that the voice of the “evangelical” does not carry much weight. Why not condemn it outright? 

A second article concerning the W.C.C. and the decision of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1967 was written in the Reformed Journalby Dr. James Daane. Anyone knowing Daane understands that here is a man who strongly advocates joining the W.C.C. In his article found in the January 1969 issue, he takes the C.R.C. Synod to task for its decision rejecting W.C.C. membership. The article reminds one of the teacher who strongly reprimands the pupil for failing to do his homework properly. Daane attempts to show the decision of the C.R.C. Synod to be silly, foolish, absurd, and even contradictory. The sad fact is, that to a large degree he is correct. He points out that the C.R.C. decision declares that the W.C.C.’s activities in political matters are sometimes, even “frequently,” but not always embarrassing to a Reformed church. “The failure,” says he, “of the Synod. . . to provide examples of what is embarrassing is regrettable. . . . As it now is, we are left in the dark as to the kind of W.C.C. action which is embarrassing to a Reformed church.” Again, he points out that the Synod declared that the W.C.C. admits into its fellowship churches to which the qualification “modernist” is “fully or partly applicable.” Rightly he points out, “If only the Synod had spoken forthrightly and given the name of at least one church that is truly so modernistic it could not without dishonesty have subscribed to the W.C.C. Basis!” He adds in conclusion, “Nor do I know how, after the Synod had decided to do these things, it could then decide to send two official observers at the Fourth Assembly of the W.C.C. at Uppsala. This constituted a very limited but nonetheless real act of official fellowship with a ‘fellowship of churches’ against which it had marshaled a series of arguments climaxed with an anathema! Is this the way in which the C.R.C. maintains its own basis and theological position in a ‘meaningful way'”? 

It is indeed sad that the Synod of the C.R.C. could not have formulated its decision far more definitely and positively as well as without compromise. But it did not. The result is that opponents to that decision can easily point out its logical fallacies and thus seem to prove that opposition to the W.C.C. itself is logically fallacious. This is what Daane does.

He indicates that the C.R.C. Synod actually opposed the W.C.C. on only two grounds (though they listed more than two): first, that the social, economic, and political activities of the W.C.C. are “frequently” of such kind as to be “an embarrassment to a Reformed Church.” The second, says he, is that the W.C.C. is not merely a “forum for the discussion of differences” but is a “‘Council of Churches’ which defines itself as a ‘fellowship of churches’ and thus claims to be at least a provisional manifestation of the unity for which Christ prayed (John 17)” Daane then seeks to demolish these grounds. I am not interested at this time in all of the argumentation he presents in opposition to the synodical decision. I would have, however, two suggestions to Daane. First, instead of revealing the puerility of his own synod in print, he could better protest to it the decision taken on the W.C.C.—and then properly overture it to take an intelligent decision guided perhaps by his own recommendations. Secondly, though he may have done this in the past, I would like to see an article by Daane showing positively why he would advocate union with the W.C.C.—giving scriptural, confessional grounds as well as showing the wisdom of his advice by quoting the decisions of the W.C.C. itself.