CONFESSION OF GUILT
The following article appeared in the R.E.S. News Exchange:
Following an animated discussion, the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken) decided to express guilt for the church conflict that led in 1944 to the formation of the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
The Synod made clear that it was not trying to fix the blame solely on those who were the only ones to recognize their guilt. It rather wanted to state in humble confession that in the entire quarrel among brothers it was not guiltless.
The Synod thereupon asked the Liberated churches for forgiveness for everything done in conflict, especially in disciplinary action, which was not according to the Spirit of Christ or the catholicity of the church.
The decision was occasioned by numerous requests received by the Synod from church councils, from eleven theological students in Kampen and several ministers. The Synod decided to send the letter to the Synod of the Liberated Churches and to urge its own congregations to seek reconciliation with local sister churched. Except for a single dissent, the decision was unanimous.
It is interesting that, as far as can be judged from this report, while the Gereformeerde Kerken made a general confession of guilt, they did not specifically say what actions of theirs were wrong. They spoke generally of things “done in the conflict, especially in disciplinary action, which was not according to the Spirit of Christ or the catholicity of the church;” but they do not make mention of specific errors. If some sort of reconciliation is to be effected (and this seems to be the intent of the decision), the question comes up how this can be done without treating specifically the causes which led to the breach. It will be interesting to see what the reaction of the Liberated Churches is to this confession.
FREEDOM FOR LAWBREAKERS
In an editorial which was first given over WRALTV in Raleigh, North Carolina and which was quoted in thePresbyterian Journal, some interesting statistics were cited. The editorial was dealing with the part the church has played in bringing about recent race riots. But the article also gives some figures concerning what has happened to those arrested in the rioting.
Speaking of the Watts riot in Los Angeles in 1965, the claim is made that, while 3,827 persons were arrested for crimes of violence, looting and destruction, only seven have been given prison sentences. The same thing is true in Chicago. In 1966, 533 people were arrested for participating in the riots there. Of these only three were given prison sentences.
In May of 1967 rioting broke out on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston. A police officer was murdered and 400 were arrested, including 5 charged with the murder of this police officer. The results to date are: 1) Not one of the five charged with murder have been tried and convicted. 2) These five have had their charges reduced and are presently free on bond awaiting trial tentatively scheduled for last month. 3) Congress is investigating charges that federal funds were used to post bond. 4) Two of the men were on government payrolls as poverty workers. They were fired after their arrest, but the Houston poverty office is protesting their firing and is asking that their salaries be continued even though they are accused of murdering a policeman.
Presumably the figures are not yet in on last summer’s riots, and the machinery of legal processes has not yet finished processing the many cases of arrest. But the fact is that this is the general course this country is taking. In the Congress the charge was raised that rioters are being rewarded by the Federal Government when, even though they destroy property and steal, the government pours federal funds into these areas to rebuild them and eradicate the scars caused by the violence. This is surely true and a devastating indictment of what goes on in this country. But the fact remains that murder, theft, arson, and general lawlessness go unpunished. What will ‘be the end of this? Is it not plain to those in positions of authority that such action can only increase lawlessness? The argument is raised that to crack down hard on law breakers will only incense rioters to great hatred and move them to worse acts of destruction than ever before. But if a man can steal with impunity, commit arson without fear of punishment, engage in acts of brutality and murder without having to endure the consequences of his crime, then lawlessness will be “encouraged and crime will continue to increase to unimaginable proportions.
The trouble is that men will not recognize that these things are violations of the law of God. The little word “sin” is no longer in style. Men find the root of these problems in social, economic and environmental maladjustments and not in the wicked heart of man. The result is that these acts are condoned as being but natural outbreaks and protests against social injustices. And so guilt and punishment are no longer good words to use.
But it still remains the God-given calling of those vested with the authority of Christ to punish evildoers with the power of the sword. To fail to do this will result in anarchy.
We have tried to keep our readers posted on developments in the merger talks currently going on between the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) and the Reformed Church’ of America. The two broadest ecclesiastical assemblies of these denominations voted last summer to instruct their joint committee to come with definite merger proposals.
It appears now as if the committee is going to recommend that all congregations of both denominations be obligated to join the newly merged Presbyterian Reformed Church when it is brought into existence. However, this will last for one year. During a second year to follow every congregation will be given the option of withdrawing from the new denomination with their property if it chooses. If personally a congregation is not happy with the marriage, it has the right to call it quits without being penalized in any way. But if, after the second year is over, a congregation has not withdrawn, withdrawal after that is no longer possible.
It strikes me as a strange way to marry. In a marriage between a young man and a young woman the marriage partners first attempt to learn whether they are suitable to each other before the wedding is celebrated and the marriage consummated. If their marriage is in the Lord, this is surely what they will do. But it seems that this same principle holds good in an ecclesiastical marriage. Surely the two contemplating such a union ought to decide before the wedding whether before God they are suited to each other. A trial marriage seems to be out of keeping with the dignity and sanctity of ecclesiastical affairs. The trouble is that those congregations who want no part in the merger will not need a year of experimentation to find out their mutual compatibility. They must know that in advance. But if they are forced to join in the marriage against their better judgment and wishes, it will be extremely difficult to sue for divorce after the year is up. A separation seems to be a trying and difficult process, fraught with many dangers.
It is still a question whether the two denominations will accept such a plan as this.
Pike has been in trouble with his church for denying cardinal truths of the Christian faith. Last year the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to which Pike belongs had called his statements irresponsible. This mild rebuke made Pike furious; and, in a fit of pique, he demanded a heresy trial. This kind of trial the leaders in the church wanted to avoid at all costs fearing what it would do to the church’s “image”. To avoid it a committee was appointed to advise on the general subject of “theological freedom”. Pike let it be known that if this report was favorable and if the Episcopal Convention adopted it, he would drop his request for a trial. When the report came out it was apparent that Pike had gained the victory. The report advised the Convention to declare that the term “heresy” was out of date and that therefore censure should never be brought against a person for opinions and teachings. The Convention ratified this report and Pike seemed to have gained the day.
However, in the course of the discussion, someone asked whether last year’s action to censure was still in force. The presiding officer said it was. Pike began to scribble furiously and shortly advised the assembly that he was renewing his call for a heresy trial. A motion was made to erase last year’s censure of Pike, but a motion to adjourn carried before this could be acted on. In the recess the leaders huddled and came up with a compromise. This compromise was presented to Pike (also behind closed doors) and he agreed to it. It stipulated that while the censure was still in force the House of Bishops was also to be reprimanded for denying Pike due process of law. The compromise was ratified by the Convention.
As far as the Episcopal Church is concerned, there is no longer any such thing as heresy. Yet, even though the Episcopal Church openly took such a stand, nevertheless, this is implicitly the position of practically every denomination in the country. It is almost impossible these days to get an ecclesiastical assembly to declare any statement to be heretical. Ministers, professors or members teach anything they please; but, while some voices of protest may be raised, the power to condemn such statements has disappeared from the churches. This was evident too in the decisions of the Christian Reformed Church on the Dekker case. The truth of God means nothing. And the churches go the sad way to apostasy.