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NOT ALL ECUMENICALLY MINDED

In this age in which ecumenicism seems to be the controlling desire of most church bodies it is rather startling to come upon news in which denominations sever relationships which have bound them together for many years. Yet this has recently been the case among a part of the Lutheran Church in America.

There is in this country what is called the Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America composed of four different Lutheran bodies. These churches were united in much the same way as “Sister Churches” are united in Reformed circles. They held joint worship services and cooperated in joint projects such as mission work, charities and ministry of the Word on college and university campuses. The four churches which made up this Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America were the 14,000-member Synod of Evangelical Churches (Slovak), the 9,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Norwegian), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 352,563 members. The Missouri and Wisconsin Synods of the Lutheran Churches, directly involved in this matter, have long been known for being the most conservative among Lutherans in this country.

At the last biennial meeting of the Wisconsin Synod a resolution was adopted to sever all relationships with the Missouri Synod. The basic issue seemed to be a statement that had been prepared by the Missouri Synod’s theological faculty in which the infallibility and authority of Scripture was attacked. However, in general, the liberal tendencies of the Missouri Synod were severely criticized and given as reasons for breaking the ties. Dr. John W. Behnken, president of the Missouri Synod, was present. He tried to persuade the delegates of Wisconsin not to sever the ties that bound them together for 90 years. He said, “If there are errors in our midst, then remain with us and help correct these errors.” He insisted that the differences between the two Synods were not differences of doctrine, but of application of Scripture. The statement prepared by the theological faculties of the various seminaries, he said, was not a decision of the churches as a whole, but was merely a study document submitted to the denomination’s clergy for examination. It was therefore still subject to correction. His plea went unheeded.

The resolution adopted by the Wisconsin Synod read in part:

Whereas the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has lodged many admonitions and protests with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod during the past 29 years to win her from the path that leads to liberalism in doctrine and practice . . . and, whereas, our admonitions have largely gone unheeded and issues have remained unresolved; and . . . whereas the Commission on Doctrinal Matters has faithfully carried out-its directions to continue discussions but now regretfully reports that differences with respect to the Scriptural principles of church fellowship . . . have brought us to an impasse . . . therefore, be it resolved that we now suspend fellowship with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod on the basis of

Romans 16:17-18

(“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”) with the hope and prayer to God that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will hear in this resolution an evangelical summons to “come to herself”,

Luke 15:17,

and to return to the side of the sister from whom she has estranged herself.

Another resolution was passed in which the delegates made a point of emphasizing that they were not “passing judgment on the personal faith of any individual member of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” but that they were instead addressing themselves to the denomination as a corporate body.

Still another motion left the way open for the fellowship that was broken off to be restored.

Under conditions which do not imply a denial of our previous testimony we stand ready to resume discussions with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod with the aim of re-establishing unity of doctrine and practice and of restoring fellowship relations, these discussions to be conducted outside the framework of fellowship.

It is somewhat surprising to read of a denomination that still has sufficient interest in maintaining the truth to sever relationships with other churches when this truth is threatened; and by doing so to buck the strong winds of ecumenicism. It is also refreshing.

This same Synod of the Wisconsin Lutheran Churches a few years ago ordered the deposition of a certain minister who denied the teachings of the church. If my memory serves me properly, this was in connection with the divinity of Christ. Although they were roundly condemned by the ecclesiastical press and other church bodies, they nevertheless proceeded with their deposition and maintained their convictions. This cannot always be said even of Reformed Churches. It seems as if there is considerable spiritual strength left in these churches.

DECISIONS ON INFALLIBILBITY

Since the controversy over the infallibility of Scripture has been raging for some time in the Christian Reformed Church, and since our people were vitally interested in this controversy and its outcome, it might be of interest to quote the decisions of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church with regard to this matter. The controversy began when certain articles appeared in the paper of the Christian Reformed Seminary Stromata in which a student questioned the historical stand of the churches in the matter of infallibility and inspiration. The president of the Seminary, Dr. John H. Kromminga, was also drawn into the controversy through the means of a protest by Dr. Wyngaarden who objected to certain statements Dr. Kromminga had made with respect to the questionable infallibility of “peripheral” matters in Scripture. In 1959 the matter was referred to a Study Committee which gave a lengthy report to the Synod of 1961. After much discussion and several changes the decisions in their final form read as follows (Quoted from The Torch and Trumpet):

A. That Synod declare, as the study committee indicates in the fulfillment of its mandate, that both Scripture and the Creeds establish an essential relationship between inspiration and infallibility, in which the infallibility of Scripture is inferred from inspiration, and inspiration secures the infallibility of all Scripture. Note: Although a due appreciation of this fact requires a complete study of the entire report, the following quotations may illustrate the above: 

1. “Initially we may say that infallibility as an inference drawn from inspiration is to be ascribed to Scripture only in accord with the extent, nature, and purpose of inspiration. 

2. “Divine inspiration establishes Scripture as an infallible rule and sufficient canon for all of Christian faith and life by securing it against falsification, error, and deceit. 

3. “An examination of the Church’s interpretation of the Belgic Confession as well as of the principles which it has enunciated forces us to the conclusion that the approach of the Church to the trustworthiness of the Scripture is . . . to give testimony to the faith of the Church, on the basis of the demands of Scripture, to its own authority and trustworthiness.”

B. That Synod commend this study committee report to the church. Grounds: 1) This report will serve to remove misunderstandings that have arisen; 2) This report is a framework for further study of the relationship between inspiration and infallibility. 

C. That Synod declare that Dr. M. Wyngaarden’s charge (“that President Kromminga makes an unwarranted distinction between this so-called periphery and that which does not belong to this periphery” and that this view is inconsonant with the creeds) is unsubstantiated. Grounds: 

1. Dr. Kromminga has removed an ambiguity in the presentation of his view by stating that his use of the word “periphery” was in no way intended as a limitation of the extent or the degree of the infallibility of Scripture. 

2. The Study Committee in its report indicates that it is possible to make such a distinction which is not inconsonant with the creeds “. . . there are in the Scriptures incidental and circumstantial data which have no independent revelational significance, but are dependent for their revelational significance upon the relationship they sustain to the central intent and purpose of a given passage. When viewed in this light, the term ‘periphery’ must be judged not inconsonant with the creedal teachings on infallibility.” Dr. Kromminga assured the Committee that the above statement reflects his view. 

D. That Synod declare that “the specific charge that President Kromminga committed himself in his policy as President to a ‘drastic reinterpretation’ of Articles III and VII of the Belgic Confession is unsubstantiated.” 

Synod affirms the faith of the Church in the infallibility of Scripture and urges upon the Church the approach of humble faith in the Word of God. 

Synod decided to continue Dr. T.H. Kromminga as President of the Seminary for one year.

Although the decision is somewhat of a victory for the historical position on infallibility, there is some reason to conclude that it is not as clear and incisive as it could have been. There seemed to be a desire on the part of the Synod to re-affirm the church’s historical stand on the matter; but this desire seems to be mixed with a fear of offending those who originally compromised the doctrine. The lack of clarity is particularly evident in the fact that Synod never specifically defined the extent of infallibility. There is some inconsistency in the decision on this point. On the one hand, the Committee said, as quoted by Synod, “Divine inspiration establishes Scripture as an infallible rule and sufficient canon for all of Christian faith and life by securing it against falsification, error, and deceit.” This was used as support for Synod’s expression that “inspiration secures the infallibility of nil Scripture.” This would seem to indicate that Synod wanted to maintain the truth of verbal inspiration. But from other parts of the decision, this was evidently not Synod’s intention. Although Dr. Kromminga himself said that his use of the word “periphery” was not intended as a limitation of the extent of inspiration, nevertheless Synod agrees with the study committee when they say, “There are in Scripture incidental and circumstantial data which have no independent revelational significance, but are dependent for their revelational significance upon the relationship they sustain to the central intent and purpose of a given passage.” The question still remains, Are these peripheral matters infallibly inspired? or are they not? Does Synod still mean to say that Scripture is only inspired as to its main purpose? This almost seems to be the meaning of the statement above and of another quotation from the committee report: “Initially we may say that infallibility as an inference drawn from inspiration is to be ascribed to Scripture only in accord with the extent, nature, and purpose of inspiration.”

The main question is yet, “Does Synod believe, in verbal inspiration?” If it does, it should have said so. If it does not, then the battle for the truth of Scripture will yet be lost. Either all of Scripture, word for word, is inspired by God or none of it is. If there are peripheral matters in Scripture that are not inspired directly by God, who is to determine what these peripheral matters are? Obviously, no one can, for each may have his own idea as to what is peripheral and what is not. There is no standard by which to judge.

It seems as if the opponents of infallible and verbal inspiration still have room in this decision to propagate their views. And no doubt they will utilize their opportunities.

GROWTH IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Roman Catholic Church has shown remarkable growth in the last few years. Some figures recently released may be of interest.

In a brief article in Our Sunday Visitor the figures show that the Netherlands now has more Roman Catholics than Protestants:

The Hague, The Netherlands—(NC)—Catholics outnumber Protestants in the Netherlands for the first time since the Reformation, according to preliminary figures released here. 

Final census results are not yet available, but the preliminary totals show: 

—Catholics number 4,900,000 or 40.5 per cent of a total population of 12 million. 

—Protestants number 4,500,000 or 37.5 per cent of the population. 

—There are 2,100,000 persons without religious affiliation and 493,000 in the “other” category. 

At the time of the Reformation, according to estimates, about two-thirds of the Dutch people became Protestants. A century ago Protestants still had an absolute majority of the population (54.5 per cent) and Catholics accounted for 38.1 per cent of the people. 

At the time of the last census, 1947, Catholics were 38.5 per cent of the population and Protestants 40.8 per cent, compared with 36.4 per cent for Catholics and 44.9 per cent for Protestants in the 1930 census.

Growth in the United States of the Roman Catholic Church is the highest of any church body with the exception of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Romish Church showed an increase of 3% while the Lutheran Church showed an increase of 3.2%. U.S. Roman Catholic membership increased in the past year by 1,233,598 to bring the total of Roman Catholics in this country to 42,104,900.

—H. Hanko