Our readers will recall that in the last issue of theStandard Bearer we reported concerning a movement in the Southern Presbyterian Church which has as its goal the spiritual revival and renewal of the Church. This movement is composed of ministers and laymen who dedicate themselves to work and pray for a return of the denomination to the truth of the Westminster Confessions.
There are several remarks that we want to make about this movement,—a movement, by the way, which has spread also to other denominations, including Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans.
First of all, we want to make it clear that we have no criticism .of the aims of this group of Concerned Presbyterians. Surely all who are willing to fight for the truth and preserve the faith against the inroads of modernism are to be sincerely commended.
But, and this secondly, goals may be ever so lofty; but if the means of attaining them are wrong, there is little to hope for. We offer therefore the following criticism of this movement in the hopes that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is given.
On the one hand, then, while this is not a condemnation of the movement itself, we question whether the realities of church history and of the revelation of the will of God in Scripture are properly taken into account. When once a denomination begins to drift on the road to apostasy, there is little reason to expect that it will return. This is, most generally, not the way in which God works. Besides (and in close connection with this), the whole movement is based upon the- hope (often expressed in the pages of thePresbyterian Journal) that our world and country can still expect a revival of the true religion. This, it seems to us, flies in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture which speaks rather of increased apostasy as we near the end of time and never mentions revival as something which we may expect and for which we may pray. The church becomes smaller, not larger. “Will I find faith yet on the earth?” is the warning of the Lord.
On the other hand, it is a question that needs answering whether this is a proper method to follow in seeking a return of the church to the truth. I presume the rebuttal would be that any efforts to bring about a revival which do not violate God’s law are justified. But is this really true? Within the framework of the church there is explicit ecclesiastical procedure to deal with apostasy and heresy. This is to bring officially to the church’s attention the deviations in doctrine and life which are ruining the church. The correct procedure is to bring the church back again to its faith through appeal to its ecclesiastical assemblies.
It may perhaps be argued that this is impossible as long as the ecclesiastical assemblies are under the control of liberals; that a group such as Concerned Presbyterians is devoted to a spiritual restoration in the church which will bring the control of the denomination again into the hands of conservatives. But the fact remains that this movement is more like a “church within a church” than anything else; that it is therefore really a movement that stands defiantly opposed to the directions and decisions of the major ecclesiastical assemblies. The rule of the church is surely that decisions of assemblies are binding upon the constituency—at least to the extent that it becomes ecclesiastical rebellion to oppose them in any other way than through official channels. Is not the result of defiance ecclesiastical anarchy? And is not this movement, as commendable as it may be in its aims, becoming guilty of just such defiance? Surely, if the shoe were on the other foot,—if the conservatives were in the majority, and organizations were formed within the church which were dedicated to the promotion of liberalism and modernism,—conservatives would have every right to attempt to stop such movements on the grounds that they were rebellions.
We cannot see the justification of such a movement as this. It seems to be a result of the utter frustration of conservatives who see their beloved denomination carried down the road to the false church, and who simply do not know what to do about it.
Some issues back, we discussed an article appearing in the Reformed Journal in which Prof. Henry Stob took the position that membership in existing labor unions was indeed possible for the Christian because these unions were truly “neutral.” He took the position that these unions as organizations were neither for Christ nor against Him; that therefore, a man could belong to them while still retaining his religious convictions either for God or against Him.
We criticized this on the grounds that neutrality is always an impossibility.
In the last issue of the Reformed Journal Dr. Stob writes once again about this matter of neutrality. He writes about it in two separate articles which are interesting to compare.
In the first article, he writes concerning a Mr. Mostert who worked as a diesel mechanic in a factory in Vancouver, Canada. This Mr. Mostert was fired from his job because he refused to join or support the International Association of Machinists, Vancouver Lodge, No. 692.
Concerning the firing of this man, Dr. Stob writes:
If Mr. Mostert’s refusal to join the union had been based on the peculiar and un-Reformed notion that a neutral union is an impossible possibility, and that every union which is non-Christian is by that token anti-Christian, he would now be deserving of little writes sympathy. And by the same token the people who fired him would have a claim on our understanding and support.
But the facts put Mr. Mostert in the right. According to reports published in the Christian Vanguard—which we are bound to believe—Mr. Mostert was committed by the constitution of the International Association of Machinists to subscribe to the principle of “class struggle,” a Marxian principle which goes counter to the Christian faith. That is, he was bound by the constitution to make a religious commitment which as a Christian he could not possibly make. It is a testimony to the solidity of his Christian convictions that he refused to make this commitment even though it resulted in his dismissal.
In other words, Mr. Mostert was fired, not because he was convinced that to join a “neutral” union was itself contrary to the will of God; rather he refused to join because he had to subscribe to a basic principle of Marxianism. Indeed, if he had refused to join because membership in a “neutral” labor union is incompatible with a Christian’s faith, “he would now be deserving of little sympathy.”
On the very next page of the Reformed Journal, Dr. Stob has presented in writing his convocation address which he delivered at Calvin Seminary when this institution opened its doors for a new semester last September. In the very beginning of his address the professor writes:
In an effort to delineate the Seminary’s stance I call attention to three well-known facts: that the Seminary is a Christian institution, that it is a Reformed institution, and that it is a Christian Reformed institution.
A. Christian. Calvin Seminary is Christian. This means many things that I cannot now enter upon, but among the things it means is that the Seminary is not neutral. So far is the Seminary from being or wishing to be this that it is built on the conviction that neutrality is impossible. (Here the italics are mine, H.H.) It holds that all men are religious and that they are this basically, prior to anything that they do, think, or feel. John Calvin, whom we honor as one of the great teachers of the Christian Church, ascribed to all men a sensus divinitatus which he recognized as the seed of religion, and for him it was an indisputable fact that all men serve a “god,” either the one who has revealed Himself in the Incarnate Word, of whom the Christian Scriptures testify, or one whom men in their imaginings have devised. He taught—and in this teaching he is quite correct—that there is no non-presuppositional approach to anything. The first and radically determinative decision of man is for or against Jehovah, i.e., the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this decision governs and controls every subsequent decision of whatever sort.
Here Dr. Stob affirms not only that Calvin Seminary is not neutral, but that neutrality is impossible. One wonders by what semantic legerdemain Dr. Stob would explain this flat contradiction.
Labor unions do not simply lose their neutrality by adopting a Marxian principle; neutrality is impossible. And labor unions are dedicated to sin. Neutrality is no more possible for them than it is for Calvin Seminary.
One additional remark. Prof. Stob pleads for religious freedom. He writes, “No one may be compelled, on pain of losing his job, to subscribe to a creed that goes counter to the historic Christian confession.” Yet, there are those who sincerely maintain that to join a “neutral” labor union “goes counter to the historic Christian confession.” To these Prof. Stob says, “If, as a result of your conviction you lose your job you are deserving of little sympathy. Rather, the men who fired you have a claim on our understanding and support.”
It all comes down to this. In our days of tolerance there is abundant room for anyone who maintains any kind of error; but there is, no room for one who defends the truth. For the truth there is no place. For the man who maintains it there is nothing but scorn.
Atheists in the Church
A startling report of a survey appeared in Christianity Today which revealed the extent to which atheism has penetrated the Church. We quote the following pertinent paragraphs:
(The survey reports) that 1 percent of the Protestants and 1 percent of the Roman Catholics . . . are agnostic. These said baldly, “I do not know whether there is a God, and I don’t believe there’s any way to find out.”
As for atheism, the investigation discovered that 1 percent of. the Congregationalists (United Church of Christ) and something less than one-half of 1 percent of Methodists and Episcopalians interviewed asserted, “I don’t believe in God.”
These percentages are admittedly small. But the actual number of atheists within American Churches, computed on this basis, is not. The 1 per cent of the membership of the United Church of Christ amounts to about 20,000 atheists; and even if only one-third of 1 per cent of Methodists and Episcopalians are atheists, this means there are about 45,000. A total of 65,000 atheists in three American denominations is a lot of atheists. The most recently published FBI figure for membership of the U.S. Communist party was 17,360.
And what more shall we say about the pulpit when this same investigation reveals that 32 per cent of the Congregationalists, 24 per cent of the Methodists, and 16 per cent of the Episcopalians do not believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God; that 43 per cent of the Protestants do not believe in the Virgin Birth; that 72 per cent of the Congregationalists, 63 per cent of the Methodists, 59 per cent of the Episcopalians, 42 per cent of the Presbyterians, 38 per cent of the Disciples of Christ and of the American Baptists, and 31 per cent of the American Lutherans do not believe that the biblical miracles actually happened; and that 35 per cent of the Protestants either believe that Christ’s promise of eternal life is only “probably true” or have “no hope” for a future life at all.
Not very surprisingly, this same survey revealed that denial of these fundamental doctrines of Scripture was most prominent in those Churches who are the most deeply involved in current ecumenical discussions. This certainly supports the contention that theological apostasy and modern-day ecumenicism generally go hand in hand.
The Vatican Council
The third session of the Vatican Council is over.
Two things again stand out.
The first is that this third session, like the one before it, did very, very little. Many topics were discussed; some were given the approval of the Council; most were sent back again to committee for re-drafting. Any specific decisions that really are of major concern to the church were not made. The Roman Catholic Church remains precisely the Roman Catholic Church it has been untie the Reformation.
But the second important development is, in the words of Time, that “Paul VI last week coldly and dramatically reaffirmed that it is the Pope, and not the bishops of the Vatican Council, who really runs the Roman Catholic Church. Just as the third session of the council was ending, Pope Paul—siding with the conservative cardinals of the Roman Curia—took a major decision out of the hands of the progressive majority of prelates.”
There were many who went to the Vatican Council and who took part in its activities who were more interested in a statement on religious liberty for all faiths than any other matter up for discussion. They were prepared to judge the success or failure of the entire Council on what the Council decreed concerning this question. They were determined at all costs to get the Church to declare that all religions must be tolerated by the Romish Church.
But just as the council was ready to vote on a statement declaring this, the president ruled that no vote would be taken on the entire matter. Many bishops were stunned and furious. Within minutes they had succeeded in drawing up a petition to the pope signed by more than 800 prelates and asking the pope to overrule the president. The pope flatly refused; and that was the end of that.
Besides, through various changes which the Pope had made in schemata already adopted, Paul made it clear that he intends to do very little sharing of authority with the bishops as they had decided; that he favors development in the doctrine of Mary, for he declared that Mary is now “Mother of the Church;” and that with all this he was taking sides with the Vatican curia that fights change every step of the way.
This is the Roman Catholic Church,—a Church where the pope assumes all authority to himself alone.
What the future will bring remains to be seen. There is to be another session, but probably not before 1966. But before then many things can change.