Many smaller items of interest accumulate over the weeks garnered from the Church Press. It is time to catch up on some of the more important ones.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE N.C.C.
The triennial General Assembly of the National Council of Christian Churches held in Detroit was a chaotic “happening” which made a mockery of what an ecclesiastical assembly ought to be. The many disturbances which constantly disrupted the proceedings were, on the whole, created by various groups of radicals all of whom wanted the NCC to move in their direction and follow their advice towards a better world. Some samplings:
—During a prayer at the opening worship service a group of hippies rose from their seats and went hollering out of the Cobo Hall arena where the meetings were held.
—A band of “yippies” rushed unexpectedly into the meeting firing toy machine guns and shouting at officials “you’re dead, you’re dead!”
—This same group snatched a microphone and shouted out a list of demands including freeing the eight members of the Chicago conspiracy, providing no-pay toilets, and legalizing marijuana.
—At the end of the meeting a young beatnik expressed vehemently his displeasure with the Assembly for not accepting a draft card of a student from the Reformed Church of America and poured a can of red paint down the table where the presiding officials sat drenching many of th6 documents in “blood.”
The Council also elected its first woman president, but only after a long and bitter fight. There were various black candidates nominated, including Rev. Albert Cleage, from Detroit, who believes that Jesus was black. The black candidates were defeated, and, in bitterness, Cleage said: “This white, racist institution is not going to live very long.”
But probably the most important action of the Council was a decision to investigate the dissolution of the NCC in favor of a new and broader organization to be called a Gerieral Ecumenical Council and to include not only all other Christians outside the present council but also Roman Catholics. This proposal was made by Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy, who is the general secretary of the NCC.
Some quotes from his speech will indicate what he had in mind.
The most comprehensive organ (of such an assembly) might be a Consultative Assembly in which all Christian communions and agencies could regularly gather to share their views on major issues in the life of the church and nation; speaking to their own faithful with a common voice whenever agreement is given to them.
This Consultative Assembly would have two parts to it:
One an official legislative body or parliament, the other a gathering of the people of the church on the order of the Kirchentag in Germany.
Such an organization would serve two purposes:
It would witness in maximum ways to the wholeness of the Church of Christ in the United States and it would enable those that are prepared to do so to move forward in social action, liturgical experimentation or anything else within broad policy guidelines without being held back by those that are disinterested, unable, or even opposed to a particular course of action.
Even as a United Europe may eventually grow out of the functional integration of iron, steel, agriculture and markets, so the shape of a United Church in the United States might gradually arise out of serious, continuous joint-in-action-for-mission, nurtured in the atmosphere of a General Ecumenical Council. Such a United Church would be solidly founded on the experience of an ecumenical movement of united mission by the whole church to the whole society.
A contemplation of the demise of the NCC is an occasion for joy. The thought of yet a new and broader ecumenical organization built by the blueprints of Espy is sickening.
DECLINE IN CHURCH ATTENDANCE
Gallup Poll also polls church members. It has been doing this since 1940. There are apparently some who would like to know how many people go to church on an average Sunday in this country. The latest poll has just been completed. It is not very encouraging to those who hope for a revival in the land.
The drop is steady and increasing in swiftness. The high point was reached in 1955 and 1958 when it was learned that 49% of the population attended church on an average Sunday. Since 1958 7% less of adults come to church. The drop among Roman Catholics was greatest. In 1958 74% went to church; now 63% attend. Among Protestants the drop was from 43% to 37%. The drop was greatest among young adults from 21 to 29 years old. 15% less of this age group go to Church now than did in 1958.
While there is never any valid excuse for not going to Church, it is not surprising that church attendance declines when people receive stones for bread.
ROMAN CATHOLICS, SAINTS, AND, ECUMENICITY
It was only last year that the, Roman Catholic Church shook the Church to its foundations by knocking out of the list of saints no less than 200 people such as St. Christopher, St. Nicholas and England’s patron St. George.
Now the Roman Catholic Church is about to add 40 saints to its list of those canonized, all from England. These forty suffered martyr’s deaths by order of Anglican rulers. They were executed between the reign of King Henry VIII and Cromwell. They were executed for high treason because they refused to take an oath accepting the King as supreme head of the Church of England.
The implications are profound for relations between the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church; and many fear that the cause of union will be, at best, set back several years and, at worst, destroyed altogether. It seems that the general feeling is that when the winds of union are blowing it is not the part of discretion to remind all concerned that there was a time when Protestants butchered Roman Catholics. And some feel that if the Roman Catholics want to go about canonizing those who lost their life for their faith they ought to canonize also the Protestant martyrs who were killed during the reign of Bloody Mary.
The pope and those about him are not too concerned about what all this will do to ecumenical relations. They are determined to press ahead with canonization at all costs.
TROUBLES ON THE QUESTION OF CELIBACY
It is generally recognized among Protestants and Catholics that Pope Paul is conservative. In fact, some are convinced that his conservatism is wrecking the Roman Catholic Church. And they are not about to permit this to happen.
The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands is perhaps the most progressive and aggressive branch of the whole Church. This was demonstrated once again recently when the Dutch Pastoral Council met and decided to endorse a policy statement that “obligatory celibacy as a condition of the priesthood should be abrogated.”
There are a couple of very surprising aspects to this decision. In the first place, the Dutch Pastoral Council is a unique organization, the only one of its kind in the world. It is a representative church body consisting of bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians and lay men and women.
In the second place, the vote on this and on related issues was overwhelming. On the statement, quoted above, e.g., the vote was 93 to 2.
In the third place, the other recommendations passed were also policy statements which flew in the face of Romish teaching. Statements were passed urging that future priests not be obliged to take the celibacy oath, that priests already married be allowed to remain in the active ministry, that married men be ordained, that women be admitted to all ecclesiastical functions including the priesthood.
In the fourth place, these decisions were taken even though Rome made it very clear that it would tolerate no deviation from official church dogma and even though it would refuse to consider any policy statements made by the Council. The decisions were deliberate defiance of papal authority.
The bishops of Netherlands, including Bernard Jan Cardinal Alfrink, judiciously abstained from the voting although they seem to side with the Council.
Some fear that a break with Rome is imminent. This would not come about, however, unless the church in Netherlands decided to implement its decisions. So far the decisions are only policy statements which will not, for the present, be put into effect.
The issue is, in part, one brought on by a vast and growing shortage of priests. In 1968 alone the Dutch clergy lost 250 priests most of. whom left the priesthood because of the oath of celibacy.
A conservative pope and curia cannot hold off change in the Church forever.
IMPORTANT CHURCH PROPERTY DECISION
According to Christian News, by refusing to review the case of two former Southern Presbyterian congregations, the Supreme Court opened the way for these congregations to keep their property.
The history of this case is briefly this. The two congregations originally left the Southern Presbyterian Church because of doctrinal departures by the General Assembly. The denomination filed suit to claim the property on the grounds that the property belonged to the denomination should a congregation secede from the union of churches. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the property belonged to the local congregations because indeed the General Assembly had forsaken its historic position. This decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court last year, and the highest judicial body in the country sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court to reconsider. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the State Supreme Court had made its decision on erroneous grounds, since no judicial body may enter into the internal affairs of a church group to decide if there is any departure in matters of doctrine and church polity.
Many thought that this decision was a victory for the denomination and that the two congregations which had originally seceded would have to give up their property. But the Georgia Supreme Court immediately decided again in favor of the local congregations. Their ground was that if a judicial body may not interfere in the internal affairs of a denomination, then the “implied trust” doctrine is also invalid. This “implied trust” doctrine gives the property of any seceding congregation to the denomination.
Once again the case was appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the decision of the lower court. Apparently this means that the local congregations will be able to retain their property.
The result of the whole case is that many are wondering if now any group seceding from the denomination can keep its property as long as it constitutes the majority of a congregation. If this is indeed the implication, it will be a serious blow for many who are pushing ecumenicity, for they have used the threat of litigation to persuade many wavering congregations to remain in the denomination even when these congregations were greatly disturbed by the direction their higher ecclesiastical assemblies were taking them.
McINTIRE IN DEBATE WITH A THEIST
Carl McIntire has announced that he will face Madalyn Murray O’Hair in a televised debate March 16 in Austin, Texas. Madalyn Murray, as almost everyone knows, is the professional atheist who was instrumental in having Bible reading and prayers eliminated from the Public Schools and, who recently protested the reading of Scripture by the astronauts.
It is our firm conviction that Carl McIntire is making a most serious mistake in engaging in public debate with this woman. It seems to us obvious that no believer may ever debate with an unbeliever. The subject of the debate has not yet been announced, but presumably it will be some religious subject. But how is it possible for such a debate to be carried on?
McIntire, as a believer, must argue on the basis of Scripture. Madalyn Murray will never do this. If the two cannot argue on the basis of Scripture, how can they debate at all?
McIntire would probably respond by saying that he will seize every opportunity to make his witness publicly and refute the unbelief of people. But he must remember that he is choosing an illegitimate way to witness for the truth, for by his very witness he is giving a woman who is nothing but a blasphemer of God an opportunity to broadcast her views and engage in her blasphemy on a public radio station. McIntire is responsible, in part, for giving her this opportunity.
McIntire ought to reconsider before March 16 and politely refuse the invitation refusing to have any part of the horrible sacrilege of which this godless woman has been guilty. If he persists, he will do the cause of the gospel harm.