AN OBSTACLE ON THE ROAD TO ROME REMOVED
In the March 1 issue of the Standard Bearer Prof. H.C. Hoeksema spoke of events in the Netherlands which indicate that the Reformed Churches there are increasingly interested in walking the ecumenical road that leads back to Roman Catholicism. In the last issue of the Standard Bearer there was another remainder of this in our column. These articles, however, spoke rather generally about the advisability of such an ecumenical endeavor. In a recent issue of the news bulletin from the Theological school of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Kampen appears a more specific treatment of this problem and an attempt to remove one big obstacle, the obstacle of Roman Catholic Episcopal church polity.
At the time in which he was appointed to the chair of Church History and Church Polity in the Kampen Seminary, Dr. J. Plomp gave an inaugural address on the subject “Presbyterian-Episcopal?” According to the review of the speech appearing in the news bulletin Dr. Plomp raised the question whether the “Presbyterian-Synodical” system of church government is really completely incompatible with the “Episcopal” system.
The Reformed Churches have always maintained a Presbyterian-Synodical system of church government. By this the Reformed Churches have meant that the authority to rule in the church, coming from Christ, is vested in the local congregation and exercised through the appointed and called officebearers in the church—officebearers who, while holding different offices, are nevertheless equal in authority. The addition of the word “Synodical” to this kind of church government refers to the fact that autonomous congregations nevertheless join in church fellowship and meet in classes and synods in order to solve their mutual problems and perform the work of Christ’s Church in cooperation with each other. The term “episcopal” on the other hand, is a description of the type of church government found in the Roman Catholic Church where the authority of rule is vested in a hierarchy of church officers beginning with the pope and continuing on down through cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests.
Prof. Plomp wanted to examine the question whether these two types of church government were so incompatible that they could not exist together in one denomination.
His point of departure was the question of the advisability of a denomination having a “pastor pastorum” (i.e., a pastor of pastors). The Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken had faced this question in 1961 and 1962. It had been rejected on the grounds that it tended towards an episcopal system of church government. This, of course, implies that any kind of episcopacy is bad.
Dr. Plomp turned to the examination of the question whether the Presbyterian-Synodical system is really so Scriptural and Calvinistic as it has been claimed. In answer to this question he discovered that while indeed there were Scriptural elements in our type of church government, there were also elements which were not Scriptural. At this point he introduced the observation, however, that even if it should be that our entire system was firmly grounded in Scripture, the question would still need to be answered whether Scripture is a rule of faith and practice on matters of church polity. He seemed to suggest that this was not necessarily so.
He also found evidence lacking to prove that our system as used in the Reformed Churches was really Calvinistic to the extent that it is usually claimed. He pointed out that in his opinion Calvin himself, as well as his fellow reformers and successors and many churches standing in the tradition of Calvin, at least did not oppose episcopal elements in church government and often favored an introduction of them.
Turning to the practical implications of the question, Prof. Plomp found that the Presbyterian system has serious drawbacks. Among others, it is inefficient and, as appears from history, is conducive to schism in the church and a proliferation of denominations.
He found therefore that it would not be contrary to Scripture or the genius of the Calvin Reformation to introduce an episcopal element in our church polity. And from a practical point of view it would have all sorts of advantages.
This is quite a major concession.
There is no doubt but that Plomp is wrong on several important counts. Surely Scripture is a rule of faith and practice also in matters of church polity. And surely our Presbyterian-Synodical system is scriptural throughout. It is a perversion of Scripture to say that it is not.
But what disgusts me is the fact that Church History can be so badly mauled to prove an erroneous contention. And that by a professor of church history. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Reformation knows how violently Calvin and his successors opposed the whole episcopal system of Rome. Anyone who has done even cursory reading concerning the Reformation under Calvin knows that part of its genius was a complete break with this episcopal system of Rome and the re-establishment of the Scriptural form of church government which has continued in the Reformed churches till now. One cannot help but think that Prof, Plomp either does not know his church history (which he is going to teach) or that he deliberately perverts it. This is disturbing.
And it is not an isolated instance. I recall that during the August session of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church the same thing was done in a different context. The Dekker case was being debated. The professor of Church History, at Calvin Seminary, Dr. Zwaanstra, made a long speech in which he attempted to prove that the fathers of Dordrecht were themselves men who held to the very position which Dekker occupies and for which he was, being criticized. How is it possible that a man could take such a position when the whole Canons were written against views similar to those, propounded by Dekker? It is a wonder that such a. thorough twisting of church history can escape unscathed and uncriticized.
But to return to Dr. Plomp. The trouble is that this is really a major concession to Rome. One of the chief obstacles in the path of ecumenical unity with Rome is the episcopal system of church government and the position of supreme authority in the church with which the pope has presumptuously clothed himself. It is increasingly apparent that the Roman Catholic Church will never surrender this position. (Pope Paul recently re-affirmed it in an encyclical). So those who will bring the Reformed Churches into Rome’s embrace will have to accommodate themselves to it. This apparently they are getting ready to do. This speech was laying the groundwork.
And this is what is so sad. The speech was not an honest investigation of these problems of church polity. The conclusions would then have been quite different. It was a determined attempt to introduce into Presbyterian church government elements of Romanism to prepare the way for return.
An interesting magazine called “The Plain Truth” and edited by Herbert W. Armstrong (well known for his radio broadcast “The World Tomorrow”) has recently come to my attention. It seems to be the purpose of this magazine to demonstrate how Scripture is being fulfilled in the current events of our day and to give to these current events their true Scriptural interpretation. This is, of course, a laudable enterprise, although fraught with grave dangers.
But apparently the editor and writers of this magazine are quite oblivious of these dangers. They plunge ahead. And the result is some very strange interpretations of God’s Word which are also exceedingly dangerous. We pick out some random illustrations in the January, 1968 issue.
In a long article the paper discusses the recent devaluation of the British pound and the near bankruptcy of the British nation. In speaking of the great economic, military and political power Great Britain once exercised, the magazine writes:
While her sailors ruled the seas, her soldiers manned the forts guarding the major strategic gateways of the whole earth. Britain gained a stranglehold on most of the strategic areas of the world. Long ago, God Almighty promised that our people would possess these vital sea gates of the Gentiles,
Although the text is not even quoted and no explanation is offered in the article as to its meaning, we quote it here. It is part of the blessing of God spoken to Abraham in the establishment of His covenant. “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” Exactly how this is supposed, to predict the rise of the British Empire is impossible to see.
The economic trouble in which Britain found herself after World War II is supposed to be predicted inHosea 5:13. Once again the text is not even quoted, much less explained. It reads: “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.” One wonders whether America to whom Britain turned for help is supposed to be Assyria.
Along another line the magazine contains an article about the terrible effects of the foot-and-mouth-disease recently plaguing Great Britain. This inspires the author to say:
God, knowing what is in the heart of man, inspired His Prophets to record today’s tragedies—and the blessings of the world tomorrow—for us to read with our own eyes in this 20th Century.
The reference is to Deuteronomy 28. The magazine continues:
Here God plainly tells us a curse such as this foot-in-mouth epidemic results from disobedience to His laws.
Turning then to the great economic and industrial advance of Japan since World War II, the magazine also finds several prophecies fulfilled. One has to do with the place which Japan occupies in world history. The magazine claims that Japan, in Bible prophecy, is “The ‘Tarshish’ of the Orient.”
But all this is in preparation of the people for the realization of the kingdom of heaven here upon earth.
In an article dealing with present problems of science the magazine affirms:
And, true to what most world leaders have recognized, the answer is ONE WORLD GOVERNMENTI But, not knowing God, these same world leaders have not remotely suspected HOW any world government could successfully RULE this earth, and bring it peace, at last!
But Jesus Christ of Nazareth proclaims a world-ruling government, taken out of the hands of man. . . .
And in its article on Japan:
Before the dawn of the 21st century all nations will be experiencing an unparalleled time of peace and prosperity. By then, however, a totally new and different world—the wonderful World Tomorrow—will have replaced this world’s present political, social, economic and religious structure. The entire world will be reaping the abundant blessings of living under the rulership of the kingdom of God. . . . .
The writers of the magazine are really the only ones who understand all this, of course. Garner Ted Armstrong writes:
We, of The WORLD TOMORROW program both on radio and television, of this PLAIN TRUTH magazine, and the many books, booklets, and articles on various subjects concerning this wonderful GOOD NEWS which Jesus brought, are your WATCHMEN to proclaim the impending disasters which are going to strike mankind, and which are SURE—and also to proclaim the good news to you and to anyone who will listed or read that there IS a way out—that there is hope of a solution in the years ahead.
These are false prophets who deny Scripture and lead multitudes away into unbelief. There are also false prophets who come with their Bibles under their arms but use it to twist God’s Word and lead people into false utopias of heaven here on earth. One wonders who are the most dangerous. There are always some shouting: “Lo, here is Christ,” or “Lo, there.” The people of God must not go after them.
THE REFORMED CHURCHES AND THE WORLD COUNCIL
In a nearly unanimous decision, according to the RES Newsletter, the General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken decided not to join the World Council of Churches just yet. They have already decided that there are no principle objections to joining, and they recently reaffirmed this decision. But actual joining must wait. The reason given is that the opinion of the church is divided on the matter. Hence Synod will send out a pamphlet providing clear information on the decision.
This is becoming increasingly the practice. An ecclesiastical assembly wants to go the way of false doctrine or false ecumenicity. They decided to do this, but have to reckon with a certain amount of protest by those who want to maintain the historic faith. So they wait in the execution of the decision until some soothing and blithe pamphlet can still the protest, lull the people to sleep and give time for the opposition to disappear.
This is the case once again with the Gereformeerde Kerken. After all, if the calling of the Church is to participate in the ecumenical movement, if this calling comes from Christ Himself, if there are no principle objections to joining the World Council, theGereformeerde Kerken had better get on with fulfilling their calling in spite of any objections. But it’s not all that simple. The W.C.C. is false ecumenicity. Would that rather than trying to soothe the objectors they would instead listen to them.