UNION OF EVANGELICALS
The tides of ecumenicity run strongly and seemingly irresistibly. Most of it is evil, and the Church of Christ can have no part of it. But what about the faithful people of God who are still waging a battle for the truth within many separate denominations? Is it not their calling also to come together into one ecclesiastical household? Ought they not make every effort to join in the cause of Christ?
There are several options. There is the RES -the Reformed Ecumenical Synod which is not an organic union of denominations, but a grouping of several denominations who all belong to the Reformed faith. Our Synod has gone on record as favoring some contact with this organization. There is the ICCC—the International Council of Christian Churches which, headed by Dr. Carl McIntyre, is also a loosely knit organization of all churches who still maintain “the evangelical faith.” To this organization our Synod was invited this year. Synod declined chiefly on the basis of the fact that there are all kinds of “Holiness” Churches and “Pentecostal” groups which belong; that therefore this organization stands outside the stream of Reformed tradition.
But this has not yet touched upon the problem oforganic church union; i.e., merger with others into one denomination. Are we in favor of this?
For the believer, the answer ought to be and undoubtedly is a resounding “yes”. Our Church Order, e.g., speaks of not rejecting churches “whose usages differ from ours merely in non-essentials”. This unity is certainly the content of the prayers of God’s people.
But there are problems.
The editor of the Presbyterian Journal recently turned his attention to this question and to these problems. He did this in an article entitled “Things That Separate Evangelicals”. There is no space in these columns to discuss this rather important article in detail. Nor is this presently necessary. But one section of it particularly attracts our attention. The author finds, generally speaking, three categories of issues which separate evangelicals. These are: 1) The Church—questions relating to its form, its order; its authority. 2) The Gospel—questions relating to primary doctrine and beliefs. 3) The Christian Life—questions relating to the fruits of the Spirit, to the separated life, to discipline, etc.
It is this second category which is of immediate (and principal) interest. Surely, if doctrinal obstacles can be removed, the rest is bound to follow of itself, for the form of the church and questions of the Christian life flow forth from doctrine.
In connection then with this second category, the author comes to the overriding question of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. This is indeed an important question. How often has it not troubled us that those who seem to be fighting for the truth in denominations where liberalism and modernism run rampant nevertheless vitiate their witness with Arminianism?
The author writes about this problem as follows:
On the other hand we must not minimize the very real doctrinal obstacles to unity within evangelical Protestantism. Most important—and perhaps most representative—is the conflict between the Arminian and the Calvinistic views on the plan of salvation. This difference is not imagined—it is not superficial—it is not irrelevant. Any merger movement which tries to bypass the issue of the relation of freedom to sovereignty in theology is not really being helpful. This issue (and others like it) belongs to the heart of things.
It was the iron in Calvinism which made St. Bartholomew’s Day one to remember in French history; which brought Scotland her freedom; and which populated New England with Pilgrims. And it was the passion of Arminianism—from Wesley to the New World frontier—which often brought the flame of revival when the iron had turned to dead wood.
Surely there cannot be a hopeless incompatibility between interpretations of the Gospel that each have been blessed with such clear evidences of the Lord’s approval—no matter how irreconcilable they may seem to us. If it is true that by their fruits ye shall know them, both are of God. Surely the truth which is in Christ Jesus must somehow include both the iron of Calvin and the flame of Arminius. Without compromising conviction in any way perhaps it is the task of this generation to search out the possibilities of bringing these seeming opposites together. For many of us they already come close. I remember the sage advice of my homiletics professor who told his classes: “Gentlemen, believe like a Presbyterian and preach like a Methodist!” Perhaps in the emphasis there is a clue.
As you can see, this solution brings Calvinists and Arminians into a union in which each maintains his own position, complements the other and lives in ecclesiastical fellowship in this manner.
We shall have to go on record as emphatically disapproving of this sort of union. It would be a disastrous marriage.
The reasons are obvious.
In the first place, the two (Arminianism and Calvinism) can never complement each other. They are diametrically opposed to each other. And this is true because Calvinism is based on Scripture and Arminianism is a denial of Scripture. It is not merely a question of “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It is rather a question of which is in harmony with God’s revelation. The answer to this question is beyond doubt. There is here then a fatal flaw, for the true union of the saints—union which is going to be successful can take place only on the basis of Scripture. There cannot be room for compromise here any more than anywhere else. Our basic objection against all ecumenicism has always been that the truth is sacrificed on the altar of unity. Churches join by compromise of the truth. We cannot now do what we criticize others for doing.
Secondly (and this point cannot be divorced from what I have just said), the church has historically condemned Arminianism as a heresy so terrible that there cannot be room for it within the church of Christ. This was done especially at Dordrecht in 1618-1619. It may be objected that this condemnation of Arminianism was done by only one branch of the church—that branch in the Netherlands which produced the Reformed Churches; and that therefore this has nothing to do with say, Presbyterianism. But even this is not true. At Dordrecht were met delegates from all the Calvinistic Churches of the Reformation. These concurred in the decisions of Dordrecht and also signed the Canons which this Synod adopted in condemnation of Arminianism. We cannot and may not now go back and undo what they did.
We cannot and may not ignore the Spirit of Truth which led the Church to this development of the truth and condemnation of the lie in a bygone era. This would be a sin of the first magnitude, and it would destroy our firm connections with the church of all ages and cut us loose to drift hopelessly on the ecclesiastical seas. The result would be (and this is, after all, the logical conclusion of Arminianism) that we would be wrecked on the shoals of liberalism and modernism after all.
To change the metaphor, we destroy the foundations upon which we are supposed to build. Union is indeed to be strongly desired with all God’s people. But it must be union of those who love the truth of Scripture and who stand together in the battle for the faith. For this goal we must strive and pray.
The union of the body of Christ is not a crazy patchwork of disagreeing entities stitched together in false union. It is a unity of the organism of the body of Christ of which Christ is the Head.
PROGRESS WITH BLAKE AND PIKE
We have at various times reported in this column of the huge church merger proposed jointly by Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church and Bishop James Pike of the Episcopal Church. This merger, if effected, would bring together into the largest denomination in this country outside of Roman Catholicism the United Presbyterians, the Episcopalians and the members of the United Church of Christ.
Although there has not been much news lately about progress in merger talks, the original planners of this merger consistently come into the news.
Concerning Eugene Carson Blake, the Presbyterian Journal reported on a speech he recently made in which he made, among others, the following points: 1) the Presbyterian Churches should be prepared to accept bishops as a condition of merger. This was because churches without bishops are in the minority. Hence, although Blake did not say this, the merger would be another step away from historical Protestantism and another step closer to Roman Catholicism. 2) There are many other churches which have parts of the truth, and merger between them would be mutually enriching. He said nothing about mutual destruction through continuous absorption of the lie. 3) The new “Confession of Faith of 1967” (the confession which the Presbyterian Church is preparing to adopt, which would do away with the historic creeds of the Church) is not intended, Blake says, to down-grade Scripture. The point is that there is question as to how Scripture must be interpreted; and it is well to get rid of the idea prevalent in some Reformed Churches that Scripture is of absolutely equal authority in every part of it over all of faith and life.
The other party in these merger proposals has recently been under fire within his own denomination. Bishop Pike had charges brought against him by fourteen (although one later retracted his charges) of his colleagues from Arizona. They charged him with denying the divinity of Christ, the incarnation, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the truth of the trinity. That he indeed denies these most fundamental truths has long been evident. It has been generally known for years that he considered these Scriptural doctrines to be only myths and that their historic teachings have blocked modern man’s search for faith.
These ministers protesting his heresy asked that the church require of Pike that he publicly repudiate these views or stand trial for heresy. And, if necessary, that he be put out of the bishopric.
But it didn’t work. The Episcopal House of Bishops, meeting in Glacier National Park, was in no mood for a heresy trial. Pike was his own attorney for the defense; and when he stated that he would publicly defend his orthodoxy, the House of Bishops worked out a compromise in which they expressed satisfaction with the sincerity of Pike’s faith and admitted the right of ministers to put old truths in new formulations. Of Pike they demanded nothing more than that he express his loyalty to the church and promise not to be too blunt in what he wrote and spoke.
One can scarcely imagine what an evil merger this will be when these two men are at its head.
And, indeed, this is proof positive that it is no longer possible to exercise discipline within the church even when the most outrageous heresies are being taught.