The rush towards Church mergers continues unabated.
Some recent developments that took place over the course of the summer are of interest to our readers.
The World Council of Churches, the largest of all Church organizations, which met in New Delhi, India, recently, took into its organization seven more Church groups. Its policy-making Central Committee approved the admittance of five Churches from the Soviet Union and two other smaller groups from Cilicia and South Africa. The five from the Soviet Union were the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (500,000 members), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia (350,000), the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of the USSR (545,000 members), the Georgian Orthodox Church (100 Churches), and the Armenian Apostolic Church (4,500,000 members including 1,400,000 members living outside the USSR). The other two Churches approved for membership were the Armenian Apostolic Church—Catholicate of Cilicia (495,000 members), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa—Southeast District (75,5S7).
The WCC now has a total membership of 201 Church bodies.
The Central Committee of the WCC also decided to send observers to the coming Vatican Council to be held this fall in the Roman Catholic Church. This move was especially encouraged by W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft, the General Secretary and chief spokesman of the World Council of Churches. Visser ‘t Hooft sees in broader and more frequently held discussions with the Roman Catholics the possibility of a future merger between all Protestants and all Roman Catholics into one super denomination. Such is the next step towards Christian unity.
It is not difficult to imagine that this wish shall some day become reality. Under the rule of Antichrist all the kingdoms of the world shall be united into one kingdom; no doubt all the Churches of the world shall also be united into one Church.
Considerable merger activity has also marked the denominational meetings of various Lutheran bodies in America.
In Detroit, four different Lutheran Churches merged into one Church called now the Lutheran Church in America. These Churches are the Augustana Lutheran Church (630, 000 members), the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (25,000 members), the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Suomi Synod) (36,000 members), and the United Lutheran Church in America (2,500,000 members). The actual merger was described in Christianity Today as follows:
These four churches in a constituting convention at Detroit’s Cobo Hall on June 28 merged into a single church bearing the name Lutheran Church in America. In an hour of business and pageantry a crowd estimated at 7,000 witnessed the largest Lutheran merger ever consummated in America. A three-foot high, B-inch-thick, quartered candle was used to symbolize the union of the four churches. Its separate lights were joined by four acolytes into a single flame and the union was then celebrated by a communion service.
The new Lutheran Church of America, sixth largest Protestant denomination in America, chose Dr. Fry as its first president. He was elected on the second ballot by the 1,000 delegates of the convention’s first business session . . .
The confessional basis for this new denomination was not difficult to establish since all the Churches had previously accepted the same creeds. These creeds include the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian creeds as well as the historic confessional statements of the Lutheran Church which date from the time of the Reformation.
Dr. Fry, the first president of the new denomination is also president of the Lutheran World Federation and is chairman of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
In other Lutheran activities, the Lutheran Free Church and the American Lutheran Church are contemplating a merger that will create a new denomination of 2,400,000 members. The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) is talking of merger with the National Evangelical Lutheran Church of 12,000 members.
It is surprising that since the time of the Reformation in Wittenburg, the Lutheran Church has splintered into so many different groups. This is however, partly to be explained by the fact that the Lutheran Reformation spread to all the different countries of Europe where national Churches were formed. These Churches spread to America, but retained in this country their individual national traits. Now it appears as if presently all Lutherans, especially in America, will soon be one large denomination. Conspicuously absent from the lists of Lutheran Churches engaged in merger is the Lutheran Church (Wisconsin Synod). This group of Lutherans is the most conservative of all Lutheran bodies and, in fact, recently split away from fellowship with the Missouri Synod on questions of doctrinal purity.
The Reformed Church in America was also caught up in the swirl of Church merger.
At its general Synod this past summer in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, there were 18 overtures pressing for merger. Thirteen overtures came from Classes, three from particular Synods. Eight of the overtures asked for merger with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern), eight others wanted contacts with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., one with the United Church of Christ, and one with the Christian Reformed Church.
Some overtures were very insistent in their demands: the overture from Classis Metropolitan New Jersey declared:
If it be the policy of General Synod to continue aloof . . . the General Synod should clearly state that policy, enabling constituent congregations, ministers and members to plan accordingly.
The Classis of Ulster said:
If . . . a majority . . . prevent us again from merging in strength . . . why then should not (1) Synods . . ., (2) Classes . . . (3) Churches unite individually?
The result was that Synod decided to seek closer union with the Southern Presbyterian Church with which it had already had contacts through committees appointed by both denominations. The other possibilities of union were temporarily held in abeyance.
Another interesting decision of the Reformed Church was a rejection of an overture from Classis Grand Rapids South to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. This Classis insisted that the World Council of Churches held a theological position that was unacceptable to orthodox Churches, and that the admittance of the Russian Orthodox Church was reason for withdrawal since this Church was completely subservient to Communism. Synod rejected both contentions and voted to remain in the WCC.
THE CHRISTIAN LABOR UNION IN CANADA
Some articles have recently appeared in, the Bannerand in the Torch and Trumpet which discuss problems which the Christian Labor Association has faced in its fight for legal recognition. As early as 1951 and again in 1958 this organization (evidently comparable to the Christian Labor Association here in America) sought recognition from the Ontario Labor Relations Board. This Board is evidently comparable to the National Labor Relations Board that functions here south of the border—a government agency that regulates management-labor relationships and rules on disputes.
The appeal made for recognition was turned down both times on the ground that the Labor Union was discriminatory and would not allow others than Christians into its organization. Since then several changes were made in the Constitution of the CLAC and the association itself was completely reorganized. The following statement was included as Article 6 of the Constitution: “No applicant for membership shall be refused by reason of color, creed, race, or national origin.” It was hoped that this would satisfy the objections of the Labor Relations Board. The argument of the leaders of the union was not that this article would destroy the Christian character of the union-several articles were incorporated which lay down a Christian basis for the union. Rather now the point was that any person could join who was willing to subscribe to the Constitution. Thus the Union took a stand exactly like the other worldly unions that a member could join as long as he would abide by the Constitution—only the Constitution of the Christian Labor Association spelled out its Christian basis.
Nevertheless, the Labor Relations Board still turned down their request. The argument of the Board was that the Christian character of the CLAC served to impose restrictions on eligibility for membership and was therefore discriminatory. The Union, they said in effect, might not ask any religious commitment from any possible member. If it did, it became discriminatory.
The leaders of the Christian Labor Union in Canada protested that this was unjust. Worldly unions, they argued, could assume a neutral position over against religion and be recognized. But there is not such a thing as neutrality; the worldly unions are not truly neutral but worldly—and thus anti-Christian. So, they say, that which is opposed to God is recognized while that which is based on the principles of the Christian life is refused recognition.
There is, of course, some truth to this. Especially is it true that there is no such thing as neutrality in this world. One is either for God or against Him. But it is equally true that the Constitution of the CLAC does not make sense when on the one hand it lays down a Christian basis for its organization to which all members have to subscribe; while on the other hand it says that no applicant for membership shall be turned down on the basis of religion.
One might perhaps say that this recognition of the National Labor Relations Board is not important, and that the CLAC could very well function without recognition. But the trouble is that the government will not recognize that union then as a legitimate and legal bargaining agent for workers in the plant. So the protection of the law does not stand behind the union and its policies and demands cannot be legally enforced.
This story pinpoints the problem of Christian Labor Unions. In the abstract it is surely possible for Christians to organize a labor union. But such a union would then have to limit its membership to Christians or lose its Christian basis and character. It would also have to eliminate every provision for the use of coercion to bring the employer around to union demands. Then the law would not recognize it and it would have to function on its own. But who would want to belong to such a union without any power? In fact, what real purpose could such a union ever serve? The purpose of any union is, after all, to persuade by united action an employer to give in to employee demands. For this purpose to be successfully accomplished, the law must stand behind a union and recognize its right to bargain collectively. But such a union is no longer Christian, for it violates the proper relationships between employer and employee—relationships of authority and obedience given and commanded by God.