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MERGER WITHIN A MERGER 

Although merger talks are proceeding rapidly within the COCU (Consultation On Church Union) organization, evidently some participating churches feel that union is not proceeding swiftly enough. The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church—both participants in the COCU talks—recently made a merger of their two denominations a reality.Newsweek writes:

In scarlet stoles and black robes, Bishop Lloyd C. Wicks of the Methodist Church and Bishop Reuben H. Mueller of the Evangelical United Brethren stood facing each other on the stage of Dallas’s Memorial Auditorium. Then, before 10,000 spectators, they clasped hands across a small table symbolically bearing such documents as hymnals, prayer books and a joint plan of union for the two churches. “Lord of the church,” they declared in unison, “we are united in Thee, in Thy church and now in the United Methodist Church.” 

By making that vow, repeated by 1,200 delegates, the two leaders last week formally merged their denominations, creating a union of more than 10 million Methodists and nearly 750,000 Brethren. Now the second largest denomination in North America, the new United Methodist Church is a powerful amalgam of 78 hospitals, 141 educational institutions, 32,924ministers and some $5 billion worth of property.

The origin and similarity of the churches is explained by Newsweek:

The merger is not surprising. The two churches share the Wesleyan heritage, including similar doctrines and episcopal organizations, and have been divided historically only by language. In the 1760’s, Methodism grew up mainly among English-speaking colonials. Soon afterward, the United Brethren movement—led by German Reformed minister Philip William Otterbein—attracted many Maryland and Pennsylvania farmers whose tongue was German, as did lay preacher Jacob Albright’s Evangelical Association, which was formed in the early nineteenth century. The United Brethren joined the Evangelicals in 1946.

There were indications of trouble, however. Not all were in agreement with the new merger. More than half of the Evangelical United Brethren congregations of the Northwest part of the country have made plans to withdraw from their denomination because of the merger. Forty-seven congregations out of eighty informed the denomination that they were leaving and asked for a way to gain title to their church properties when they withdraw. These are more conservative churches who object to the liberalism and modernism in the Methodist Church. But the same problems face the Methodists. Twenty-seven regional Methodist organizations overseas have expressed their desire to be autonomous or join with other churches. These organizations number about a half-million members. 

The new denomination is interested in further mergers. The president of the new church’s council of Bishops, Bishop Frank, publicly affirmed the desire of the denomination to seek union with other groups and hoped aloud for “new levels of understanding and co-operation” with the Roman Catholic Church.

What effect this has upon the whole COCU movement cannot be known. Evidently it is the prerogative of each participating church to seek mergers among others while joining in the larger merger of COCU. The Southern Presbyterians, now almost full participants in the COCU talks, are doing the same in their conversations with the Reformed Church of America. 

That the ecumenical movement is heading in the direction of a one world church is no longer a doubtful matter. But the question that remains unanswered is: What will all those who refuse to go along with modern and liberal ecumenism do?

THE BLASPHEMY OF CHRIST’S SHROUD 

The Roman Catholic Church has claimed to be in possession of the shroud in which Jesus was buried. This, of course, involves a miracle—the miracle of preservation of the garment. This is not an isolated instance in the Romish Church. This church claims to have in its possession thousands of “sacred relics” which are supposed to have miraculous powers and which are worshipped in the Romish Church. 

An Italian scholar recently spent a great deal of time studying this shroud and has come up with some interesting conclusions concerning the appearance and suffering of Jesus. 

Reporting on his findings, Newsweek writes:

How big was Jesus? Pious pictures of Jesus as a tall man are not accurate. Or so claims an Italian scholar who estimated that he was a shade under 5 feet 4 inches and probably weighed about 155 pounds—a normal stature for a Palestinian of Christ’s era. 

Msgr. Giulio Ricci, a respected archivist at the Vatican, has reached these conclusions after eighteen years of study of the Holy Shroud of Turin, a linen winding sheet discovered by crusaders in the fourteenth century and venerated ever since as Christ’s burial cloth. While some scholars disagree about the authenticity of the shroud, the Vatican weekly L’Osservatore Della Domenica was sufficiently impressed with Ricci’s detective work to publish this month a long article on his findings. 

According to Ricci, who has written two books on the subject, the shroud is clearly legitimate; it bears the marks of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced in the side with a sharp instrument. The general imprint on the shroud, explains Ricci, was the result of the chemical action of myrrh and aloe powder—used in ancient burials—mixed with the urea in the body’s sweat. 

Together with Dr. Nicolo Miani, a professor of anatomy at Rome’s Sacred Heart Medical School, Ricci spent months wrapping corpses in winding sheets to check his calculations. Linking his scientific research with historical study, he has added details to the account of Jesus’ whipping, walk to Calvary and Crucifixion. For example, Ricci believes that Jesus was beaten while bent over a low pillar by two soldiers using three-pronged whips tipped with lambs’ or dogs’ bones which left gaping wounds in his flesh. In all, the marks from the shroud indicate Jesus was scourged at least 98 times—more than twice the usual number of lashes—and possibly 120 times. “I would say,” he says, “that the soldiers didn’t even count when they administered the lashes.” 

Marks from wounds on the right shoulder and left shoulder blade have convinced Ricci that Jesus carried only the horizontal bar of the cross on the way to Calvary. He estimates that the bar weighed between 66 and 83 pounds, and was tied with a rope to the shoulders, arms and left ankle. “The walk to Calvary must have been horrible,” said Ricci last week. “As the imprint of the left knee shows, he probably fell many times. Because his arms were tied and extended, he couldn’t ward off his fall, so he fell squarely on his forehead or nose. The image on the shroud shows a cut forehead and a broken nose.” 

On the basis of Ricci’s elaborate deductions about the Crucifixion, Jesus was nailed through the wrists and the center of his feet with the left foot folded over the right. In a crucifixion, the weight of the body hanging fully from the arms quickly hampers breathing. “One can see from the imprint of the wounds in the feet that he tried to rest his weight there to avoid asphyxiation,” Ricci surmises. “If his feet hadn’t been nailed, he would have died in ten minutes.”

Such a concoction of surmises, guesses, speculations and known facts of the crucifixion based on a spurious shroud can only detract from the wonder of the atonement and the salvation God wrought for His people in Christ. 

DR. KUITERT AND EVOLUTION 

In an interesting and informative series of articles in Church and Nation, Dr. L. Praamsma has been examining the theological situation in the Netherlands, particularly in the Gereformeerde Kerken. In a recent article he comments on the views of the historicity of the Genesis account of creation as maintained by Dr. Kuitert. He writes:

In our former article we raised the question whether the elasticity of the word ‘history’ expressed at the Dutch Synod of Lunteren (1967) allows for a Barthian exegesis of the stories of

Gen. 1-3

in these churches. 

As matters presently stand the answer must be a definite yes. 

In 1966, a year before the Synod of Lunteren, Dr. H.M. Kuitert delivered a speech on Creation and Evolution and in 1967 he was appointed professor in Dogmatics in Amsterdam; he is one of the future advisors of the Dutch Reformed Synod. 

In his 1966 speech Dr. Kuitert offered his view of the first chapters of the Genesis account. 

His point of departure was the (in his opinion) unshakable fact of evolution; in no uncertain terms he rejected the idea that evolution might be called a hypothesis, it should be accepted as a fact. The story of creation in Genesis is Israel’s version of all kinds of creation tales from the cultural unit of the ancient Middle East. Israel has conquered and baptized all that material, it has shaped it into a confession of the God of the covenant, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who had brought it out of the house of bondage. Dr. Kuitert continues to say that “contents and form of the Biblical creation-account cannot be possibly understood by us as references to historical situations which once were there and now are no longer. This is unquestionably true as far as

Gen. 1

and

Gen. 2

are concerned, and consequently also as far as

Gen. 3

is concerned. These Biblical stories don’t present scientific or non-scientific historical data, and they should not be used for it, neither directly neither indirectly. They cannot serve as a record of a creation event and fall in sin.” 

When questions are raised concerning

Rom. 5

and original sin, Dr. Kuitert gives a very bold answer. He denies not only the historical element in that chapter’s reference to Adam, he also denies the theological ‘construction’ of original guilt and he declares that “this construction cannot be true for this reason that it has simply been based on the historical existence of a special man called Adam, while we conveniently forget (in that old construction) that Eve was the one who did it and only then Adam. But we took always conveniently Adam into the bargain, that means the whole patriarchally-structured society; for actually Eve should have been mentioned first, and after her Adam; but it is of course a typical O.T. feature, totally fitting in the patriarchal world of that time that Adam was considered to be responsible and not Eve. Adam in

Rom. 5

is therefore not history, for in that case the name of Eve should have been mentioned.”

Quite naturally this involves also the whole idea of sin and redemption through Christ. Praamsma goes on to explain Dr. Kuitert’s views on these questions.

He criticizes the traditional order of creation-fall-redemption. As far as creation is concerned,

Gen. 1-3

is no history but only a teaching model (cf. Barth’s idea of Adam as our representative in the sense of a model of man); and creation is not something of the past, it is also something of the presence (present?) and of the future, it can be told in terms of evolution-history. And as far as sin is concerned, the best term to be used for it is regression (cf. the traditional transgression); and as far as redemption is concerned: Christ is the One who annihilates this regression.

Kuitert has seen the implications and is not reluctant to insist on them. Destroy the creation account and the fall is gone. Lose the fall and there is no more sin. Deny the reality of sin and the atonement of Christ is gone. This is the inevitable outcome of evolutionism. TheGereformeerde Kerken tolerate it all not only in their churches but in their universities and seminaries.