SYNODS, CONVENTIONS, CONFERENCES . . .
It was a comparatively quiet summer in the highest ecclesiastical assemblies of the nation’s Protestant denominations.
This is in sharp contrast to the past several years.
The winds of ecumenicity and church merger have been blowing strongly in years gone by, and news often broke faster than one could report it. Churches came together in some instances; committees were formed to talk over differences in other instances; but this summer it seemed as if there was a collective pause while everyone caught their breath for the next surge of activity.
Besides, last summer the most conservative denominations were caught in the throes of discussions on the question of the infallibility of Scripture. This was true of the Southern Baptist Church, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), the Southern Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. This summer these storms seemed past; there was hardly any trouble over this fundamental question. In some cases at least one wonders whether the controversies that stirred a year ago were not a kind of a last gasp of a dying denomination.
Briefly reviewing some of the most important decisions of some of the nation’s denominations we find the following:
The Christian Reformed Church
Decisions were made to continue the building program at the new campus on Knollcrest. An auditorium-music speech building and a physical education plant were authorized at a cost of about $1,000,000 each. Synod also approved of the building of a natatorium (a unit housing a swimming pool) if funds could be raised for it outside of usual church sources and methods.
Although Synod received two reports from an equally divided committee of pre-advice, the decision was made to continue to operate the hospital on the Rehoboth mission field. The arguments to close the hospital were summarized in the words of Torch and Trumpet: “the medical needs of the Indians can be adequately met in government hospitals in the area; missionary personnel can receive medical attention in other hospitals with the aid of hospitalization insurance; the hospital is no longer an effective aid to evangelism; the continuance of the hospital would call for two full-time doctors; more nurses, more equipment, and in ten years a new building.”
The Dekker case marked the Synod this year with an indelible mark. The case came on Synod through an overture from Classis Orange City. This overture registered “serious objections” to Dekker’s views expressed in his articles in the Reformed Journal on God’s love for all men. It spoke of “suspicions” that had been raised in the denomination by these articles; and it used these suspicions as a ground to ask Synod to examine Dekker as required in the Formula of Subscription “so that if Prof. Dekker’s position be truly Reformed and Scriptural, synod may clear him of suspicion; and should synod and his position not in harmony with the Scriptures and the creeds, that synod take appropriate action “to preserve the uniformity and purity of doctrine in our church and seminary.”
The committee of pre-advice was divided: the majority advising Synod to adopt the overture of Classis Orange City; the minority advising “that Classis should supply grounds for its charge or submit sufficient grounds for its suspicion.” This recommendation (although slightly altered) was adopted, and Synod did not go into the doctrinal questions raised by Prof. Dekker’s articles.
(We refrain from comment on the church political issues involved inasmuch as Rev. Hoeksema is busily engaged in discussing this matter, and will-undoubtedly enter into this question.)
There was an interesting side-light to this decision. A delegate requested Prof. R.B. Kuiper’s opinion of the recommendation of the minority report. But before he could give his opinion, the president, Rev. William Haverkamp, warned Prof. Kuiper that he would be speaking under restrictions. When the professor asked what these restrictions were, he was told that he could not enter into the doctrinal questions involved. This ruling brought applause from the visitors of Synod. Rev. Kuiper informed the Synod that in that case he could not answer the question addressed to him, for an adequate answer necessitated entering into some aspects of the question. One observer of the Synod’s actions referred to the whole affair as “Synod’s disgraceful moment.” He wondered whether “this was a demonstration of that ‘love’ we hear so much about.” Prof. Kuiper later presented a protest to the Synod on this matter which was ruled by the president to be an appeal from the ruling of the chair. A vote was called to see whether Synod would uphold the chair’s ruling, which it did. The president first ordered the protest and the action of the Synod on it to be recorded in the Acts; but the next morning he ruled that it would be deleted.
Although this was supposed to be the year in which the revised Church Order was voted on for adoption, Synod appeared reluctant to do this mostly because there had been some agitation in the Church against various proposed revisions throughout the year. Again there was a majority and minority report. The final decision postponed the question of final adoption till 1965 in order for the churches to have time for further discussions and to present additional amendments if they desire.
Southern Baptist Churches
Last year the trouble in this large Protestant body centered about the question of whether the first eleven chapters of Genesis were true history or whether they had only a symbolical meaning. The question came up through a book written by Ralph Elliott, a professor in the Old Testament in Midwestern Seminary and entitled “The Message of Genesis.” The Convention last year already had treated this question and had decided that the trustees had to take appropriate action to see to it that “liberal” views were banished from the seminary. This decision was the basis for the removal of Elliott by the board of trustees. But the question would not die. The trouble was that there were evidently many others throughout other seminaries that supported Elliott’s position. But the Convention refused to take any further action on the matter, deciding that the decision of last year was sufficient. The result is a deep and widening split between liberals and conservatives in the Church.
The Reformed Church in America
The Synod met in Pella, Iowa this year and was mainly characterized by cautiousness and inactivity.
Before it was the major question of ecumenical ties with the Southern Presbyterian Church. The Synod decided only to continue discussions with this denomination. Also a statement of doctrine previously drawn up by the two committees of the Reformed Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church was considered. This statement was sharply criticized by the editor of the Presbyterian Journal as being too general and vague, and it was roundly condemned for omitting such important doctrines as the doctrine of the vicarious atonement, and the election of grace. There were two overtures from Classes North and South Grand Rapids requesting the Synod to permit churches to remain outside the merger without loss of property rights if congregations by a two-thirds vote decided to “retain their identity.” The requests were referred to the committee on ecumenics.
The Reformed Church has membership in the World Council of Churches. When the question of communistic influence in the World Council of Churches came up, these questions were referred for study to the committee on the WCC.
One overture from California petitioned the Synod to reconsider its membership in the WCC, but no action was taken on this overture.
Only on the question of race problems did the Synod take definite action. The Synod decided to “convey to the President of the United States its hearty agreement with all steps taken by his administration to eliminate racial injustice,” and to “commend the negro sit-inners and nonviolent demonstrators for their courage, their willingness to suffer for the sake of freedom, and their self-discipline and non-violence in the face of extraordinary provocation.” Synod also decided to accompany this decision with a gift of money to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Lutheran Church—Wisconsin Synod
This branch of Lutheranism decided to withdraw completely from the federation of Lutheran Churches in protest over the liberalism which is increasing among Lutherans and especially among the Lutherans of the Missouri Synod Branch. This friction between the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod has been increasing for some time, and reached its climax this year,
Wesleyan Methodist Church of America
Besides deciding questions of racial policy (it approved negro efforts to gain equal rights), this denomination decided to reopen negotiations with the Pilgrim Holiness Church in efforts to accomplish merger. Delegates ordered a committee to draw up a merger plan to be submitted to the 1967 Conference.
Baptist General Conference
The main problem before this 85,000 member body was the resolution that called for prayer for peace and support of reduction of armaments in order to lessen tensions that lead to war.
The Pentecostal Church of God of America
Their only decision of worth was a decision which opposed the Supreme Court ruling banning Bible reading and devotional acts in the Public School system.
This dangerous and evil sect heard reports at its International Conference which claim for this group the distinction of being one of the fastest growing religious bodies in the world. In 1939 there were 41,000 witnesses in 2,425 congregations in the United States. At present there are 308,000 members in 4,708 congregations in this country, while Witnesses claim a world membership of about 1,000,000. This body also condemned the United Nations as a symbol of “idolatrous worship,” and pledged that they would never worship any organization which stands for world sovereignty of political men.
Reviewing all these Conventions, Synods, Conferences and what have you there is one impression that stands out above others: while the church world drifts rapidly on the currents of terrible apostasy, these conventions and conferences and synods sit back and pass their time in exercises in trivia and making decisions that are of no concern to them or anyone else. They preside over the destruction of the Church while making silly motions about sillier things.