Togetherness in the Churches
To be against ecumenicism in our day is to run the risk of being branded as narrow and sectarian. Yet it is a risk anyone interested in the truth and in God’s church ought to be willing to run. Indeed, it is all but a compliment in this day to be pronounced sectarian, for it is an indication of a healthy protest against a lot of ecumenical rot.
There are various news items that have attracted wide-spread attention which breathe this foul ecumenical spirit. We call attention to several here.
January 18-25 was The Week of Prayer For Christian Unity. Among several denominations this was taken as an occasion to experiment in living together. Churches of the Methodist, Protestant Episcopal, United Presbyterian, Evangelical United Brethren, United Church of Christ, and the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) denominations encouraged individual congregations within their denominations to exchange pulpits to mark the beginning of this week of prayer. The arrangements were made on the local level so that ministers could participate as they chose; and many of them did.
These churches are the same ones that are presently engaged in merger discussions under the Blake-Pike proposals for church union.
One wonders what kind of sermons were preached on all these different pulpits on that particular Sunday. Were there any sermons in which the Word of God was preached? It is doubtful.
Although Roman Catholics have always been strictly opposed to marriages performed by any other than a priest (insisting, in fact, that there was no true marriage except where a priest officiated) even this seems to be changing. In the Netherlands, a Roman Catholic medical student married a Protestant girl. The wedding was performed by a Roman Catholic priest who conducted the ceremony and blessed the rings, and a Dutch Reformed Church pastor who delivered a sermon during the ceremony.
While the priest evidently insisted on performing the actual ceremony, it was quite a concession to permit a Protestant to participate; and the obvious implication was that it really did not matter whether the couple joined the Romish Church or remained in the Reformed Church.
In Scheelsburg, Pennsylvania there were four different congregations: a Lutheran Church, a Reformed Church, a Presbyterian Church, and a Methodist Church. The town was very small, about 300 people. The congregations were also small and none of them had a minister. The Methodist Church did not even have a building since their church burned in 1945. And so they all decided to merge into one congregation. Before the final merger was actually adopted, they met together for a year with a full-time minister. They merged as a United Church of Christ. Many dignitaries from the various denominations were present, all pronouncing their blessing upon the venture.
The strange part of it was that the only real disputes lay in liturgy; there seems to have been no major trouble over doctrine. But these liturgical differences were resolved by the new pastor. He borrowed prayers from the service books of all four churches and even composed a few new ones himself. The Lutherans agreed to use common bread instead of unleavened wafers at the communion service, while the Presbyterians agreed to take communion at the altar rail instead of in the pew. Methodists and Presbyterians both accepted the Lutheran phrasing of the Apostles’ Creed; and in the use of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts” is used in the services while “Forgive us our trespasses” is used in the Sunday School.
This fine spirit of cooperation was reported nationally in the newspapers and hailed as a wonderful solution to the problem of small churches in small towns which cannot survive alone.
No doubt a fine solution it is if these liturgical differences are really the only ones that separate the churches to begin with.
The World Council of Churches (Made up of better than 200 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and Old Catholic Churches) has formed a committee to study principles and methods of cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally the Vatican is deeply interested in this and has already expressed approval and appointed six committee members. There will be eight committee members from the WCC. The committee will not have the power to make any decisions; but they will study various areas of cooperation, including philanthropy, social and international problems, theological studies, ecumenical relationships, etc. They will also discuss mutual problems such as mixed marriages, religious freedom, missions, etc.
This is a significant development, although not too surprising. The apostate WCC is the largest and most widely respected representative of Protestantism; and the Roman Catholic Church has more power in the world than any other church organization. What a tremendous influence for evil could an organization made up of these two groups be.
The news also reports a merger of a somewhat different kind. Different because the possible merger is between two groups that are historically Calvinistic. The Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern) and the Reformed Church of America seem to be nearing formal merger. A joint committee that has been studying the matter is proposing to the two denominations that they be given authority to draw up the plan for union. Their proposals, as they appear in the Presbyterian Journal read:
1. Instruct the Joint Committee to begin drafting a plan of union for possible presentation to the General Assembly and the General Synod no later than 1968.
2. Authorize the Joint Committee to call on persons from various areas in both communions to assist in preparing the first draft of sections of a plan of union.
3. Authorize the committee to circulate to our presbyteries and classes the preliminary draft of sections of the plan, requesting that the presbyteries and classes send their suggestions concerning the draft to the Joint Committee for their consideration in the completion of their assignment.
This proposal will come before the Presbyterian General Assembly in April and the Reformed Church’s General Synod in June. If the proposals are adopted, merger could be attained by 1970.
Both churches have Calvinistic roots, although the Reformed Church has its roots in the Calvinism of the Netherlands, while the Presbyterian Church has its roots primarily in the Calvinistic Church of Scotland. Yet, over the years, both churches have become increasingly liberal, and the result is that today both denominations are waging battles against modernism within their ranks.
There is some opposition to the merger, and it comes from two different groups. One group in each denomination, the more conservative element, opposes the union on the grounds that the merger would advance the liberal cause and make it more difficult to fight modernistic inroads. Christianity Todaysays, “Separatist elements in both denominations may protest, but their influence is not regarded as substantial.” (It is grossly unfair to call these elements separatist, for they are the ones who are trying to maintain a semblance of the historical Calvinistic tradition within the denomination.) From the other direction comes opposition from those who are in favor of merger, but who want to make the merger much broader to include other denominations, particularly the United Presbyterian Church. But so far the committee and the broader ecclesiastical assemblies have resisted the pressures to include in the discussions these other denominations.
If the merger would be accomplished a rather large denomination would be the result. The Southern Presbyterians have churches in sixteen states stretching from Maryland to New Mexico, but only in the South. They number some 950,000 members. The Reformed Church has congregations in 26 states but all in the north and Canada, except for Florida. Their membership numbers 240,000.
Television and Crime
Television programs have not improved since the days when they were an oddity in our homes. The content of the programs, in fact, is getting so bad that a committee of the United States Senate is investigating television and its effects upon juvenile delinquency. The chairman of this committee, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, expresses alarm at the fact that twenty-five million children under twelve watch television every day and spend more time before the TV set than they do in either school or church.
Lawrence Sullivan reviews what the committee has thus far found in an article in Christian Economics. We quote some parts of Sullivan’s article.
“In addition there were five fights with fists, funds, knives, and rope, and three assaults by guns, fists, and rocks. There were also four threats by guns.”
This particular show “was first televised early in the evening on Christmas, 1963, at 7:30 P.M. It was seen by an estimated ten million children.”
At the National Training School for Boys, Washington, D.C., 23% of the inmates related their crimes to prior TV habits; and at the Ashland Youth Center, Kentucky, 26% mentioned TV violence as a contributing motivation. In both of these juvenile detention centers together, 95% of the inmates acknowledged they formerly had spent three to five hours daily watching TV thrillers.
Dr. Albert Bandura, professor of psychology in Stanford University, conducted TV exposure experiments with a group of three to five-year-olds in a carefully controlled laboratory.
“Eighty per cent of the children exposed to adult violence on film proceeded to duplicate that violence against the doll, hammering it with the mallet, kicking and punching it, and calling it names.”
If even worldly people are becoming increasingly frightened by the evil influences of these programs on TV, how much more ought not covenant parents who have the responsibility of the education of the covenant seed be alarmed by these ghastly statistics and take warning about the evil influences of television on their children.
Every year a Yearbook of American Churches is published, and we usually give a brief summary in these columns.
In 1964 church membership was listed at 121 million people, about 64% of the population. There was a 2.6% increase in church membership over the foregoing year, and this is hailed as significant inasmuch as it is slightly higher than the population growth of 1.5%. Protestants numbered 66,854,200; Roman Catholics, 44,874,371; Jews, 5,585,000; Eastern Orthodox, 3,094,140. Following are the top ten Protestant denominations:
1. Southern Baptist Convention—10,393,039
2. The Methodist Church—10,304,184
3. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A, Inc.—5,500,000
4. Protestant Episcopal Church—3,336,728
5. United Presbyterian Church—3,279,240
6. Lutheran Church of America—3,227,157
7. National Baptist Convention of America—2,668,799
8. Lutheran Church-Missouri—2,591,762
9. American Lutheran Church—2,468,407
10. Churches of Christ—2,250,000
The utter vanity of it all is evident from the fact that as church membership increases, so does apostasy within the churches, crime and delinquency within society, breakdown of law and order throughout the country, and disintegration of morals. The trouble is that the churches are often leading the way with their modernism, their participation in racial demonstrations, their open advocation of the abolishing of moral law. Church membership increases only to increase also evil influences upon the country.