ECUMENISM AND MERGERS
The time of Synods and Church Assemblies is once again almost past. While a host of decisions on a variety of subjects were taken, ecumenism dominated the discussions of the broadest assemblies of the nation’s churches. A survey of what happened includes the following.
—Christianity Today has proposed and is pushing hard for a union of evangelicals in a new ecumenical movement. This proposal, rising out of last year’s Berlin Congress on Evangelism, is not specifically aimed at the formation of a new denomination to compete with the COCU talks (cf. below), but is rather aimed at greater cooperation between evangelicals in various areas of church work. In a recent editorial the following comments were made:
Our editorial (a former editorial proposing this alliance of evangelicals) specifically said that the call for evangelical cooperation did not envision an organizational counterpart or competitor of the conciliar movement. Yet the promotion of evangelical distinctives surely would conflict with certain conciliar aims. In some areas, however, evangelicals and conciliarists might have similar objectives. Evangelical unity cannot be built negatively on the basis of either separation or the complaints of disgruntled former “ecumaniacs.” It must be positive.
Going on to discuss the number of evangelicals who would potentially figure in such a plan, the editorial goes on to say.
The potential for evangelical cooperation is numerically staggering. The National Council of Churches lists 42,000,000 persons in its member churches. Nearly 3,000,000 of these are in the Eastern Orthodox and Polish National Catholic Churches, so that the council’s Protestant representation is about 39,000,000. But Protestants in the United States now number over 69,000,000. Most of those unaligned with the NCC are theologically conservative, while at least one-third of the NCC constituency is also considered conservative. The total number of evangelicals, in fact, is estimated at more than 45,000,000: 13,000,000 in the NCC; 2,500, 000 in the National Association of Evangelicals; 1,000,000 in the ACCC; and 29,000,000 unaligned. This means that if evangelicals ever band together, they will outnumber the present NCC constituency. At most the non-evangelical wing of Protestants in the NCC totals 26,000,000.
What would be the purpose for creating such an association? The answer given includes the following specific points:
…to coordinate evangelistic and missionary effort more effectively….
Evangelicals will benefit greatly by getting together for prayer, for worship, for interchange of ideas, and for fellowship…. Evangelicals working together can test new ideas, develop a needed sense of community, and show the world more clearly than ever before what they believe in and what steps they intend to take to implement their visions.
….Evangelical unity would lead to involvement in depth of service…. Evangelicals ought to be making a far greater impact on communications, in the arts, in the inner city, in the small towns and rural areas, and among minority groups….
…a compelling reason why evangelicals must cooperate is that the Holy Spirit works most mightily where believers are gathered together in one accord. There were no party labels on the lapels of the believers at Pentecost. There were no tribal axes to grind when the Paraclete came down in power. There were diversities of gifts and understanding; yet the original churchmen took their stand together upon the great facts of the Christian revelation and proclaimed them boldly to a needy and alienated world. They inscribed their convictions on this kind of a doctrinal charter, and so must we.
All this is somewhat nebulous and fuzzy. Perhaps it can be no different at this point. But what needs to be done first of all, is to discuss thoroughly doctrinal differences which separate evangelicals. It is not enough to propose unity on the basis of belief in the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith. There are other important differences which are of a confessional nature which must be resolved: differences in views of the millennium, differences in the idea of the kingdom of God, differences in the all-important subject of the application of the blessings of salvation—many evangelicals are thoroughly Arminian, differences in the doctrine of the atonement. The question must also be answered: Will evangelicals be willing to discuss the unique Reformed heritage of the truth? These are not peripheral topics which can be ignored; these are creedal matters which must be resolved if the creeds are still to serve their purpose as forms of unity.
It might be argued that no denominational union is being proposed; that the remarks above are therefore irrelevant. But this is not true. Unity in the work of the kingdom must be based upon unity in the truth or the work will flounder.
What will come of this remains to be seen.
—While the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands have decided that there is no obstacle to membership in the World Council of Churches, they have not yet joined while they await the opinions of their fellow Reformed Churches. Three particular Synods in the Netherlands (Friesland South, Gelderland and Groningen) have asked the General Synod not to join. But apparently none of the Particular Synods had principal objections. According to the RES News bulletin, one did not want the denomination to join for fear of destroying cooperation with other Reformed Church bodies. Gelderland did not want to join thinking that to send observers was sufficient. And Groningen wanted opportunity for the churches to get used to the idea first. The general Synod will meet later this summer.
—The Christian Reformed Church, at its Synod last June, decided against approving of membership in the WCC. The study committee appointed last year was split on the issue. The majority of the committee (whose report was substantially adopted by Synod) had very principal reasons for advising against joining. The minority did not want to join at the present, but wanted Synod to express that there was no basic reason for withholding membership. Yet this strong stand was weakened somewhat by another decision to send observers to the Fourth Assembly of the WCC meeting at Uppsala in 1968.
—The union talks between the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) and the Reformed Church in America are somewhat more complicated. A committee of 24 has been studying merger for several years now. And both the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church US and the Synod of the Reformed Church in America decided by large majorities to continue the Committee of 24. In fact, the committee was given instructions to present both churches with a specific plan of union next year. This is a large step in the direction of merger. If the plan is received by both major assemblies next year, it will be submitted to the churches for approval. Approval necessary to put the merger in effect will require a favorable vote by 3/4 of the Southern Presbyterian presbyteries and by 2/3 of the classes of the Reformed Church. The merger then would be completed by 1969.
The complication in these merger talks arises out of the decision (taken last year) of the Southern Presbyterians to join the COCU talks (Consultation on Church Union, originally called the “Blake-Pike Plan”). At their last Synod, the RCA decided against joining these talks, although the vote was close: 140-128. But the Southern Presbyterians decided to continue as participants. So now there are merger talks going on between two denominations, one of which has joined COCU, the other of which has decided not to join. The trouble is that there is some difference of opinion among Southern Presbyterians concerning just what this participation involves. Some argue that participation means that the Southern Presbyterians have really cast their lot with this proposed 25,000,000 member church. Others argue that participation means no such thing, but that the Church has committed herself to nothing until a formal plan of union is proposed and submitted for a vote to the presbyteries of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
But this latter argument is evidently a ploy designed to beguile those opposed to participation in COCU. The fact of the matter seems to be that the leaders of COCU are determined to press ahead for merger between the denominations involved even before a formal plan of union is drawn up. The opinion is that first the churches must unite to form a new denomination, and then the churches together can draw up their plan of union. This is all strange procedure, but the idea is that a final constitution will be deferred for a generation or two and that a formal plan of union will be postponed till 1970, or 1980, or later—that is, indefinitely. The result is that, in the meantime, the participating churches of COCU are already merging their boards, agencies, programs and mission work. And a merger will come about in fact before the member churches ever get an opportunity to vote on it.
This is very deceptive and the Reformed Church had better make up its collective mind very shortly. It is just possible that it will become a part of COCU by a very devious and deceptive method and lose entirely what little Reformed witness it has left.
CONTROVERSY ON ABORTION
The rightness of abortion has become a deeply controversial issue. Legally, in this country, abortion is not allowed except in cases when the life of the mother depends upon it. But, in fact, an estimated one million illegal abortions are performed every year. The state of Colorado was the first to alter this law; it has now made abortions legal in three instances:
1) where pregnancies resulted from rape or incest;
2) where a pregnancy threatens grave damage to a mother’s physical or mental health; 3) where a pregnancy is likely to result in the birth of a child with mental or physical defects.
There is a strong movement in this country to make the laws even more liberal. This movement is closely tied up with the fear of the population explosion and with the social problems which arise from unwanted children. But the movement is directed towards making abortions available legally to anyone who desires it for any reason whatsoever.
The churches are caught up in the controversy. The Roman Catholic Church has (at least officially) maintained its historic stand that any abortion is a violation of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” But the voices within the Romish Church which disagree with this official stand are becoming louder. Protestants are divided deeply on the matter: generally the more liberal they are, the more favorable attitude they take towards legalized abortion.
But it is all part of the general movement in this and foreign countries towards moral anarchy. Those who are pushing the hardest for legalized abortion are the same ones who have favored contraception as a method of family planning. And these same ones are not going to be content with legalized abortion. The next step is going to be some form of total family control. Already there is talk (Interior Secretary Stewart Udall speaking in Denver and Joseph Spenger from Duke University) of passing legislation on a federal level which would financially penalize those who have more than three children and giving financial rewards to married couples who have none. And the day will surely come when this becomes law.
As if all this were not enough, leaders of Christian churches have been recently promoting what they call “trial marriages”. In harmony with the general acceptance of the “new morality” or “situation ethics,” as it has recently been called, these men are urging that the act of marriage be divided into several stages. One stage would be a “recognized premarriage” in which a young couple would live together as man and wife although not yet married. These could be dissolved at any time. Of course, the couple would have to promise to practice birth control. But it is hoped that this would alleviate the problem of divorce and broken homes.
And the day is coming too when this will be accepted practice in this country.
Such is the fruit of hatred of God’s law. God’s law, it is said, is nothing but an outdated system of laws which were of some value to nations in earlier years, but they are of no value in our enlightened times. All objective moral law is to be discarded. A new code of ethics is needed and no rules of behavior are required by our times. And this new code of ethics is based upon the passing whims of man. But the result is a growth in immorality and sexual depravity such as this world has never seen. In the midst of such a generation, the church is called to keep herself unspotted from the world.