MORE ON CHURCH UNION
Our readers will recall that on various occasions we have discussed in this column a proposed merger between the Methodist Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church, the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ.
This merger was first proposed by Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in December of 1960. If the proposal were put into effect, the new denomination would number 19,000,000 members: 10,046,293 from the Methodist Church, 3,500,000 from the Protestant Episcopal Church, 3,259,011 from the United Presbyterian Church and 2,015,037 from the United Church of Christ.
Some forty representatives from each denomination met together recently for the first of a long series of consultations. This meeting was approved by each of the broader assemblies of the denominations involved. A brief survey of some of the problems and decisions would include:
1) Delegates agreed to invite three more denominations to join the discussions: the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) with nearly two million members; the Evangelical United Brethren with 750,000 members; the Polish National Catholic Church with about 300,000 members. It is hoped that at some future date the Baptists can also be persuaded to join; while the Lutherans, who have been discussing mergers of their own, would also be welcome. It is evident from this that the aim of the committee is to include in one denomination all of Protestantism, to establish one Protestant Church of America. The delegates are afraid, however, that the opposition to such a united Church will result in further schism in Protestant Churches, a result which they are exactly trying to avoid.
2) There are high hurdles to be overcome before such a super denomination can be realized even along the more modest lines of the Blake proposal. In these four Churches are represented Calvinist, Arminian and Catholic traditions. These will have to be overcome somehow. However, delegates happily note that throughout the years the historic creedal positions and traditions of these Churches have been watered down considerably. This makes the whole matter easier.
3) It seems as if the most formidable hurdle of all is the apostolic succession of bishops-a doctrine held to by the Episcopalians. This doctrine preserves in the Church the office of bishop in which is invested the authority of Church rule. It is much like Roman Catholicism, both in the authority vested in the clergy and in the teaching that the office is directly descended from the apostles. The Congregationalists, with their Congregation form of Church government (in which the local congregation retains all its authority and autonomy so that there are not even Classes and Synods) are bitterly opposed to this. Some are of the opinion that a compromise will be reached in which the apostolic succession of bishops is discarded, while the office is retained.
4) Further consultations of this committee are to be held in the future under the name of The Consultation on Church Union. James I. McCord, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, was elected chairman, for a two-year term.
The concluding statement of the delegation chairman reads:
We have met as delegates of the Methodist Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to discuss the possibility of the formation of a church truly catholic, truly reformed, truly evangelical. Each communion has been represented by both clerical and lay members, all of whom are deeply involved in the life of their churches and many of whom are widely experienced in ecumenical relations. We are grateful to God for having led us into these conversations, and we believe on the basis of our preliminary discussions that the Holy Spirit is leading us to further explorations of the unity that we have in Jesus Christ and to our mutual obligation to give visible witness to this unity.
We have made no attempt to reach agreement in areas of difference. Rather, we have sought to isolate issues that need further study and clarification. Among these are: (1) the historical basis for the Christian ministry that is found in the Scriptures and the early church; (2) the origins, use and standing of creeds and confessional statements; (3) a restatement of the theology of liturgy; (4) the relation of word and sacraments.
All of the delegations had in mind that they represent churches having deep roots in the Reformation. At the meeting they were likeminded by theological spokesmen of the “earnest concern” of the Reformation “for theological integrity and cultural relevance;” and that today these principles of “theological integrity and meaningful witness demand the mien of the churches.”
The delegates earnestly beseech the members of their churches to be constant in prayer that the people of God may be open to His leading, that these communions may receive from Him new obedience and fresh courage, and that God’s will for His people may be made manifest before the world.
It was the unanimous decision to hold further consultations. The nest meeting is March 19-21, 1963.
In other ecumenical news, two major denominations of the Reformed tradition are proposing a joint resolution “to seek together a fuller expression of unity in faith and action.” These two Churches are The Presbyterian Church in the United States with nearly 1,000,000 members and the Reformed Church in America with 250,000 members.
Although spokesmen are very careful not to talk of organic union into one denomination, they are not shutting the door to this future possibility. An appointed committee drew up a statement of areas of common concern in which the denominations can begin cooperation:
Doctrine and Polity, Worship and Liturgy; World Missions and Ecumenical Relations;
Christian Education, including higher education.
Theological Education, including exchange of students and professors; A nationwide strategy for Evangelism and Church Extension and Retention.
Communicant referrals and mutual pastoral care, including chaplains and Armed forces personnel;
Stewardship Education and Cultivation.
Interchange of Ministers and Church Workers, inc1udin.g considerations of pensions and annuities.
Men’s Work, Women’s Work, and Youth Work:
Christian Social Concern and Action.
Reciprocal studies of denominational administrative and organizational structure.
Exchange of pulpits, conference leaders, consultants and advisors.
Use of official church papers to acquaint our entire constituencies with the life and-work of both churches, including church publications and communications media;
Developing personal acquaintance through exchange of sizeable groups of fraternal delegates to the General Synod, the General Assembly, Synods, Presbyteries and Classes, to Men’s, Women’s, and Youth assemblies and conferences.
The national assemblies are now being asked to accept this resolution and, if this is done, each Church will appoint a committee of 12 to engage in a study of these areas and make future recommendations. \
U.S. AID TO SCHOOLS IN COLOMBIA
The United States government has earmarked $40,000,000 for aid to education in Colombia according to a recent report in Christianity Today. This was done through the Alliance for Progress Treaty signed by President John Kennedy and aimed at developing South American countries economically and culturally. Already sites have been chosen for 22,000 new classrooms and architects named for the program that is to be carried on over four years.
This would be of little interest to our readers who are accustomed to hearing of millions of our tax dollars being poured out overseas to help other countries, except for the fact that this money is to be used to develop a school system in a strongly Roman Catholic country. The schools, including many of the “public” schools, in Colombia are, to a great extent, under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church. Two Vatican Pacts, the Concordat, and the Treaty on Missions, give the Catholics almost complete control over education since Roman Catholicism is the state religion there. The result is that American tax dollars are now being used to promote Roman Catholic religion and education in South America.
The history of the persecution of Protestants by the Catholics is long and bitter. In this South American country in the past few years alone more than 200 Protestant schools have-been closed by Catholic clerics even though the country is 50% illiterate and the Romish Church makes pious pronouncements about her efforts to banish illiteracy. Protestant children have been refused enrollment in “public” schools. Students of Protestant parents and missionaries that attend schools at all are forced to join their Catholic classmates in taking three hours of Catholic instruction each week and attending Mass on Sundays and feast days. Often in school Protestantism is ridiculed publicly by Romish teachers.
American aid is also intended to be used for the establishment of Catholic normal schools which Protestants may not enter. Since Catholic prelates have the control over the hiring and firing of teachers as well as over the textbooks used in all the schools, it is next to impossible for Protestants to get teaching certificates without which they cannot teach, and to use material that is not biased strongly towards the Church of Rome.
But even this is not all. In the last fourteen years alone 116 Protestant Christians have been martyred by the Romish Church because of their faith, 66 Protestant Churches and Chapels have been destroyed by fire or dynamite and over 200 schools have been closed.
The Colombian Ministry of Education has given certain assurances that all the American-financed schools will be built outside areas where Catholics have absolute control; that Protestant children will not be denied access to these new schools nor forced to take Catholic instruction; that prospective Protestant teachers will be permitted to attend normal schools and will be issued teaching certificates. But Protestant missionaries in Colombia are not satisfied and still fear the long arm of Rome. For one thing, the two Vatican Pacts still stand as law. As long as this is the case there is very little hope of promises being fulfilled. Besides, a new government is scheduled to take power this year, a government which is more conservative and therefore much more favorably inclined towards Roman Catholicism than the present one.
It seems sometimes as if there is little justice left in this country. Not only are the tax dollars taken from our people to support the public school system in this country—tax dollars urgently needed for our own schools; now these tax dollars are to be sent to a foreign country to promote Roman Catholic education. It is bad enough that we must support atheistic religion in this country as taught in the public school system; it is adding insult to injury to insist that we must now also support Romish teachings in a country in South America. Forced by our government, that supposedly grants freedom of religion; we must pay the Church that killed the saints to educate their children in their corrupt teachings.
How difficult, if not impossible, it becomes for the faithful Christian to be a steward over the material possessions which he has received from his God.