R.E.S. OR W.C.C.
Our readers, generally speaking, are aware of the fact that the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands (The Reformed Churches) are members of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (R.E.S.) and have stated officially that they see no obstacle to membership in the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) This question of dual membership is scheduled for discussion at the meeting of the R.E.S. in Australia in August of 1972. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is asking the R.E.S. to declare that membership in the R.E.S. is incompatible with membership in the W.C.C. and that such churches (there are also two Indonesian Churches which hold such dual membership) should be given two years to make up their minds concerning which organization they wish to be members of.
The General Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have, according to the latest R.E.S. Newsletter, taken note of this request of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. They are in favor also of asking the R.E.S. to consider this problem, but they are not in favor of the “ultimatum” sponsored by the Orthodox Presbyterians. They prefer to ask the R.E.S. to request such churches who hold dual membership to give an account of their position on the matter. This is, of course, a milder and weaker proposal,
We applaud the request of the Orthodox Presbyterians. It seems to us to be obvious that membership in both organizations with such widely divergent bases and with such different membership and character is a spiritual impossibility. And it is equally obvious that if the R.E.S. should permit such dual membership to continue, it has thereby lost its claim to be aReformed Ecumenical Synod. The Gereformeerde Kerken itself should be able to see this. But if it cannot, then perhaps the time is overdue when the R.E.S. forces the issue and calls upon theGereformeerde Kerken to be honest and forthright in its relationships with the rest of the Reformed Churches.
There is no need therefore, for the R.E.S. to request the Gereformeerde Kerken to “give account of their position.” The issue is clear-cut enough.
The trouble is, however, that the Gereformeerde Kerken is the largest denomination to hold membership in the R.E.S. The loss of this denomination would be a serious one to those who are interested in a large and influential organization. But if the R.E.S, is more concerned about its Reformed testimony than about its numerical strength, it will adopt this proposal of the Orthodox Presbyterians.
THE PRAYER AMENDMENT
Nothing contained in this constitution shall abridge the right of persons lawfully assembled, in any public building which is supported in whole or in part through the expenditure of public funds, to participate in nondenominational prayer.
It is this short paragraph which has stirred the nation deeply in the last several months; for this is the proposed amendment to the Constitution which is presently before the House of Representatives and which is intended to restore prayer to the public schools and other public buildings.
The battle began several years ago when Madelyn Murray fought her case against prayer in the public schools all the way to the Supreme Court and gained a verdict from this highest tribunal which outlawed prayers in properties supported by public money.
Since that day the pressures have steadily mounted to adopt an amendment to the Constitution which would restore such prayers to the public schools—at least on a voluntary basis. Senator Dirksen, the late senator from Illinois, was a strong backer of such an amendment. But the cause has been carried on and just this month the first vote on such an amendment is scheduled in the House of Representatives.
I have never considered this issue to be a. very important one. It really makes very little difference to me personally whether such an amendment is passed or whether the ruling of the Supreme Court is permitted to stand.
My indifference is for various reasons. Perhaps the chief reason is that the whole question presupposes, it seems to me, an erroneous conception of prayer. This erroneous conception of prayer is apparently that one can go through the motions and words of prayer and actually pray in a way that is pleasing to God. Or, if this is not the case, then at least the supposition is that a facade of religion, an outward appearance of recognition of God is desirable for this country. We disagree with this—violently. The Scriptures are quite explicit on the point that prayer is possible only for a child of God who has been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. This possibility is due to two considerations. The first is that any man for whom Christ did not die (and that includes all those who are not elect), does not have the right to appear before God in prayer. Even apart from the question of whether such a man can pray, the more important question is: does he have the right to pray? We answer this with a firm negative. It is a privilege to come to God. And it is possible only for one who is as holy as God is. God will not and cannot (as a holy God) tolerate in His presence a man who is a sinner. The fierce wrath of God consumes such a man and drives the sinner away from His presence. God’s people have this right, this unspeakably blessed right, to come to God. Not because they are in themselves holy and worthy to appear before God. But rather because they come to God in Christ. And God receives them “for Jesus’ sake.”
But it is also true that the unregenerate lack theability to pray. They cannot pray. For prayer is a spiritual activity born in a regenerate heart and worked by the sovereign and irresistible operation of the Spirit of Christ. A man devoid of that Spirit and lacking regeneration has not the spiritual ability to pray—even if he should go through the motions.
Nor does such a man even want to pray. After all, the deepest principle of all sin is enmity against God. The sinner is implacably set against God and filled with an implacable hatred of Him. This is the deepest principle of his life. He is this way, or he is not a sinner at all. It stands to reason that such a man does not want to pray. He may want to go through the motions of prayer in order to assume an external pious mask of religion or because it seems, generally speaking, to be the thing to do—to acknowledge in some way some higher being. But this is not prayer.
Supposing, therefore, that the government would once again permit prayer or that a constitutional amendment would be passed which would restore prayer to public school classrooms and other public buildings, would this automatically make people pray? And if it be objected that true Christian children are deprived in the public schools of devotions which they consider essential, then the answer, quite obviously, is this: they have no business in the public schools to begin with, for the public school system cannot offer instruction in the fear of the Lord.
It is for this reason that it really makes very little difference to us what happens to the prayer amendment.
There is, however, one good argument which I recently came across which is the best argument in favor of the prayer amendment that I have read and even seems to have some validity. This argument does not consider the whole matter of prayer in the public schools or in public buildings by itself, but considers the matter from the point of view of the question of religious freedom. This argument is advanced by Clyde Taylor in the Presbyterian Journal. He argues that it is very well possible that prayer and Bible reading no longer have a useful place in the public schools and perhaps never did have; but that this is not the point. The point is that the ruling of the Supreme Court is an abridgement of the freedom of worship. There is probably some validity in this argument. But even then, one must face the more difficult question of whether the government has the right in any case to establish schools when the responsibility is laid by God upon parents. And the answer to this question would determine whether the government has any right to say anything at all concerning the whole matter of education and devotions which are held in the classroom.
The trouble is, after all, that when fundamental principles of Scripture are violated in a wicked world, problems are created to which there are no solutions. For these problems are created by sin; and they cannot be resolved without taking sin away first of all. That is the hopelessness. and vanity of the world in which we live.
(In tonight’s paper, Nov. 9, a news item appeared which told of the defeat of the “prayer amendment” in the House of Representatives. A majority voted in favor of the amendment, but not the necessary two-thirds. So the advocates of this amendment will have to wait till next year to get another vote on the matter.)
DO IT YOURSELF DIVORCE
Divorce is now, in California, a very cheap and simple procedure—under the right circumstances. It is possible in this state to obtain a divorce without the help and assistance of attorneys and without costly court battles and without staggering fees—and without establishing “fault.” It is a kind of “no fault” divorce procedure. It works like this. If a husband and wife decide to part ways and dissolve their marriage, and if there are no disputes concerning property and children, then one party files for divorce with the county clerk on the grounds of “irreconcilable difference.” The party pays a filing fee of around $35.00, fills out a simple form and can expect a decree in about six months. A notice must be sent to the other spouse, costing an additional $10.00 or so; and that is about all there is to it. If there are problems concerning property or custody and support of children, then attorneys and courts must still handle the matter.
This is about as simple as it can be made. And it certainly reflects the wholly evil attitude of the world towards marriage. No longer is marriage considered an indissoluble union of man and woman. No longer is marriage considered the only God ordained reason for divorce—although not ground for the dissolution of the marriage bond. No longer is it considered important to ascertain who is to blame in the divorce and who is the innocent party. God’s prescriptions are cast to the winds. The sacred and holy bond of marriage is mocked and derided. People can enter it and leave it at any personal whim. That which is sacred and holy is trampled in the mud of filth and sin. And it all spells the destruction of the home—that central unit of all society and the inevitable breakdown of all institutions among men. The world writes its own death sentence and sounds its own death knell. And in its foolishness thinks it is making progress.
DISCIPLINE OF TONGUES SPEAKERS
A congregation which belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has recently, according to Christian News, suspended twelve of its members for taking part in a charismatic movement (the movement which seeks the “baptism of the Spirit” as manifested in gifts of healing and speaking in tongues) and for praying with others who are not in doctrinal agreement with the denomination.
Evidently this branch of Lutheranism takes a strong position against neo Pentecostalism and is convinced that the movement is contrary to Scripture and makes one who participates worthy of excommunication. This is certainly a Scripturally sound position to take. What amazes us is that this Lutheran denomination takes a much stronger stand on this matter than many Reformed denominations. Groups of those who have received this “baptism of the Spirit” and have the gifts of healing and speaking in tongues have appeared in Reformed denominations and are growing rapidly. While there are those in these denominations who speak out against this movement, we have not heard that these Reformed denominations are prepared to censure such people. Nevertheless, the Lutherans referred to above are correct.
But there is one other interesting feature about this news item. Those who were censured for their participation in the movement were censured also for praying with others who were not in doctrinal agreement with the denomination. We find this very heartening and very much to the point with respect to this whole issue. More and more it is becoming obvious that neopentecostalism is a kind of short cut to ecumenicity. The idea seems to be that people from all different denominations as widely divergent as Methodist, Reformed and Roman Catholic, can practice some form of ecumenicity in this matter of tongue speaking and healing by the baptism of the Spirit. The point is apparently that there is a unity in this baptism of the Spirit which transcends and ignores doctrinal differences as irrelevant. All that counts is some kind of unity in charisma. In other words, the unity of faith is abandoned for a unity of tongue speaking. The true unity of the Church of Christ is defined in terms of the gift of tongues rather than in terms of the truth of the Scriptures.
The congregation referred to above has seen the error of this position and is prepared to censure those who hold to it. Would that the Reformed Churches would have the same kind of conviction.