THE GEREFORMEERDE KERKEN AND THE WORLD COUNCIL
The issue of membership in the World Council of Churches is very much alive in the Gereformeerde Kerken in spite of the decisions taken at the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and in spite of unfavorable advice which the Gereformeerde Kerken received from their sister church, the Christian Reformed Church. In the October 22 issue of the RES Newsletter we read of a pamphlet recently published by a committee appointed by the General Synod in which membership was discussed. Our readers will bear in mind that theGereformeerde Kerken has already officially decided that there are no barriers to membership in the World Council. The denomination has not yet joined and thereby implemented the decision. But this is not for principle reasons. The reasons are practical. The article in the RES Newsletter reads:
On request of the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, a committee has issued a 36 page pamphlet “Reformed Persons Look at the World Council” (Gereformeerden Kijken Naar de Wereld Raud). In the pamphlet five leaders answer specific questions concerning the Reformed Churches and World Council membership: Why did the General Synod change its course? Is this change due to changes in the Reformed Churches? Do you welcome this reversal of viewpoint? Do you feel that membership would endanger the unity of the Reformed Churches? Would joining then be worth the risk?
The Rev. D.H. Borgers, pastor in Soest, replied that internal unity is worth more than membership. He found no change of course in the World Council and therefore the objections brought against the WCC in 1949 (that the WCC does not assume responsibility for the functioning and interpretation of the basis and claims to be a fellowship of faith while allowing liberal churches as members) still stand. Mr. Borgers objected also to the political declarations of the WCC and to the fact that the WCC chose against tie United States and for Russia in the Cuba crisis.
Dr. P.G. Kunst, President of the General Synod, traced the history of the church since 1834 and showed how the isolation of the church in the early years and the early stage of development has gradually led to contacts and relations with the wider circle of the world church. “Whoever wants to carry out his responsibilities in his own and the wider circle is confronted with all the questions of the ecumenical movement. This presents to our churches a new situation,” Dr. Kunst stated. “I am of the opinion that our churches are called to ask for membership in the World Council as soon as possible. The decision to do so is the seizing of an opportunity, the acceptance of an experiment,” he concluded.
Prof. A.D.R. Polman wrote in his contribution that membership is a duty. He saw in the Reformed Churches change in view regarding the World Council: no change, of course, in principle, but rather “obedience to the facts.” The World Council has declared against a multiplicity of interpretations regarding the confession of Christ as God in Evanston and in New Delhi. The Reformed Churches on their part came to recognize that the confession that Christ is Savior includes different possibilities of interpretation and that one may not posit the doctrine of atonement through satisfaction as a sina qua non. He stated also that it has become clear since 1949 that the refusal of the WCC to express a judgment concerning the seriousness and the uprightness with which a member church accepts the basis is not due to a relativizing of its basis but to a respect for the limits set for itself in not wanting to become a super church. Therefore, Prof. Pohnan stated, there is no objection in principle against joining the World Council.
Mr. A. Warnaar Jzn, who has a leading position in the International Council of Christian Churches in the Netherlands, stated that in no case was the change in standpoint due to a change in the World Council. He cited instances in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand as proof that churches in the WCC do not abide by the basis of the Council. In his view, therefore, the development in the Reformed Churches is plainly in conflict with the Word of God. “Eventual membership would not only endanger the unity of the Reformed Churches but could be a breaking point.”
Professor C. van der Woude, a delegate of the Reformed Churches to Uppsala, pleaded for carefulness and wisdom in the matter of World Council membership. He stated that he was not a priori against membership but feared that there would be dire consequences. The change in viewpoint by the General Synod, he found to be in the fact that the WCC has not made any declarations which are in flagrant conflict with the basis adopted in New Delhi and in the refusal of the WCC to become a super church. The change in viewpoint was also due to a development within the Reformed Churches. The tactics of the General Synod have been to lead the churches ever closer to membership. In mission work, in world relief, in participation in the Nyborg Conference and in sending observers to New Delhi and delegated observers to Uppsala one can see a changing of course. The change, he continued, is due to the means of communication; to the tendency to ‘deconfessionalize’ and to the ‘misery of the divisions in the church’. “One is over wary of the unpalatable church struggle and longs for unity.” He welcomed the possibilities for greater contact with other churches but regretted the deconfessionalizing and the ecclesiastical indifferentism: In reply to the question whether membership is worth the risk, he pointed to the danger of causing a crisis among the churches of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod if the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands would join the World Council. “If the danger of a schism in the church would become real and great, I consider it an act of true ecumenism to remain together.”
It was a rather nice balance that the pamphlet stuck: two on one side; two on the other; and one in the middle. Those two who are opposed to membership. appeal chiefly to the generality of the basis which is subject to so many interpretations and to the political pronouncements of the WCC. These are certainly important objections because they raise the fundamental issue of whether the WCC is a Scripturally correct expression of the unity of the Church of Christ. Any man who bases his conclusion on Scripture will have to conclude that the WCC certainly does not and cannot in its present form express this unity.
The two men who favor WCC membership advance no worthwhile argument at all. Dr. Kunst simply speaks of the responsibilities of the Church over against a wider circle of other churches. This means nothing. He speaks of membership in the WCC as “the acceptance of an experiment”. Is the church of Jesus Christ something with which to experiment? But Dr. Polman, in my opinion, really touches upon the central issue—at least in the minds of those favoring membership. He speaks of a certain compromise which the WCC has made when it declared against a multiplicity of interpretations regarding the divinity of Christ—a declaration which means nothing if we may judge by the current membership. And he speaks of a certain compromise which the Reformed Churches have made: that the interpretation of Christ as Savior and of the atonement has different possibilities. In fact, he goes on to say that the doctrine of the atonement through satisfaction is not a necessary doctrine. This is, after all, the point. The truth of the Word of Godmust be sacrificed to find entrance into the WCC. And the fundamental truth of Scripture is precisely the truth of atonement through satisfaction by Christ. To deny this truth is to deny the blood of atonement. This is the end of the church.
When Prof. Vander Woude takes a position in between he really comes out in favor of membership from a principle point of view; but from a practical point of view he has reservations. He is afraid of a possible split in the RES and in the Reformed Churches. His opinion is that it is better to forego the unity of the WCC even though joining it is not wrong in order to maintain the unity of the RES. This argument really means very little except that if Scripture demands of us that we seek the unity of the church, and if that unity is to be found in the WCC, Prof. Vander Woude faces the onerous task of trying hard to persuade the brethren of the RES that this is their solemn duty.
It seems increasingly to be but a matter of time before several of the churches which bear the name “Reformed” will join the World Council. This will be a sad day in the history of the Reformed faith.
RUMBLINGS ON THE RIGHT
Dr. Carl McIntire has long been associated with conservative politics and fundamentalist religion. He has organized a large network of radio broadcasting, newspaper writing, and ecumenical organization to further the cause for which he stands. His voice is heard over 600+ radio stations in the “Twentieth Century Reformation Hour”. His Christian Beacon has a circulation in excess of 200,000. He is an influential voice in the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC). He is president of the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) which numbers about 8 million people from all parts of the world. He is president of Shelton College in New Jersey and has a large resort area on the Atlantic seaboard. He is also minister of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, New Jersey. His voice, inveighing against the evils of liberal politics, of Roman Catholicism, of the NCC and the WCC, and of all apostate Christianity, is the voice of thousands the world over.
But there are rumblings of trouble. Chiefly these rumblings come from the current leadership of the ACCC including especially the newly elected president, Dr. Philip Clark, and the general secretary, Dr. John E. Millheim. It is somewhat difficult as yet to determine precisely what the issues are. But, at least in part, the ACCC has the following objections against McIntire and the whole movement which he heads. In the first place, they are embarrassed over the use of the Twentieth Century Reformation Hour and theChristian Beacon over the use to which McIntire puts these instruments of teaching. They would like to see the “rabble-rousing” character of them toned down. In the second place, they are not happy with McIntire’s involvement in all kinds of political issues and, apparently, want McIntire to stick more to ecclesiastical matters. In the third place, and closely connected with the above two objections, they protest the fact that McIntire does not always make clear the organizational distinctions that exist between the various projects in which he has a hand. They protest the fact that, in the minds of many, the voice of McIntire’s radio broadcast and of the Christian Beacon is the voice of the ICCC and the ACCC. This objection certainly has validity to it. But the ACCC leaders are not of a mind to let McIntire speak for them on everything. And, finally, there seems to be some objection to the “one-man-rule” which characterizes most of McIntire’s enterprises.
On the other side of the picture, McIntire objects that the leaders of the ACCC are executing a coup d’ etatto get rid of McIntire so that they can go their own individual way. McIntire is afraid that that way is a softening of attitude towards communism and apostasy. He charges the leaders with desiring broader contacts with other men who have already sold their ecclesiastical heritage for a mess of ecumenical pottage. Specifically McIntire has in mind some alleged overtures made by the ACCC to the leaders of neo-evangelism of which movementChristianity Today is the chief voice.
What the full extent of the problem is, is at this point difficult to determine. But a possible split between McIntire and the ACCC seems to be a definite possibility. What repercussions such a split might have in the ICCC is difficult to say. That it will have its effects is certain.