ATTACKS ON PAPAL INFALLIBILITY
The Second Vatican Council which had begun its meetings under Pope John and finished them under Pope Paul had discussed at some length the problem of papal authority. It had adopted the principle of “shared authority”, i.e., the principle that the pope shared his authority in the Church with the bishops. But the Second Vatican Council had not specifically spelled out what this meant in actual practice. It was interpreted by each cleric in the Roman Catholic Church to suit his own ideas. The pope himself continued to insist on the absolute authority of the papacy and was supported by many conservative clergy. But many more liberal clergy were not of a mind to let the partial victory of Second Vatican slip away from them.
The clash came at a recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops. This Synod of Bishops includes one hundred and forty-four clergy from ninety-two countries. The meeting was in Rome.
From the outset it appeared as if the pope would surely dominate the meeting and have things his way. He personally drew up the agenda and it appeared as if his intent was to use the Synod to squash all liberal opposition. This appearance of papal domination was strengthened in Paul’s opening speech. He made no bones about it that he held supreme authority in the church; that while he honored the College of Bishops, he was not about to permit his authority to be conditioned by their clerical status in the Church. He was the Vicar of Christ.
But there were liberals in the Synod who were determined to talk back. Among them were Bernard Jan Alfrink of Holland, Leo-Josef Suenens of Belgium, Julius Dopfner of Munich and Franziskus Konig of Vienna. They were sharp in their criticism of the pope and were not afraid to castigate the pope’s views—even in his presence. They were determined to state their views that the pope’s authority had to be shared with the bishops.
As far as any concrete action accomplished however, there was disappointment. Every time a specific issue came up it was referred to the Theological Commission for further study. Yet it was apparent that a majority of the bishops present wanted greater power for the bishops even though they were not by any means agreed on just how this should be implemented.
While the Synod of Bishops was meeting, another group also held meetings in Rome. It was called the European Assembly of Priests, but was soon dubbed the Counter Synod. These were rebel priests who were weary of far more in the Church than the question of papal authority and who were dedicated to thorough and basic change in the whole structure of the Church.
They were not permitted a meeting place on any Roman Catholic property and met in a Waldensian Church. They asked for an audience with the pope but were refused. Their purpose was to form an international organization, but in this they failed. Partly they failed because of lack of unity; partly because the meetings were not well organized.
From the meeting emerged a document however. According to Christianity Today, the first part of the document called for
A Catholic Church free of the total authority of the Pope, decisions made on the local level by laymen as well as by clergy, and the opportunity for personal guidance of the faithful by the Spirit of God rather than by the direction of a priest as he sees the will of God. Systematic in its approach to reform for every major area of the church, it lays the foundation for a pattern of worship and life that could be truly universal.
The second part of the document, however, was social. The dissident priests demanded of the church that it involve itself in such matters as the population explosion, the problem of war, social discrimination, economic policy. Strikingly and threateningly, many saw the only hope of solving the many problems of the world in a single world church and a single world government.
There were some who viewed these recent meetings of the bishops and priests as giving evidence of a real reformation within the Romish Church. In fact, it was not uncommon to read of comparisons between recent changes within Roman Catholicism and the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. As a justification for such comparisons it was pointed out that the key issue with Luther, Calvin and the other reformers was also the issue of the authority of the pope.
This in itself is, of course, true. But the fact of the matter is that within Roman Catholicism the question is whether the pope shall exercise authority alone or whether he shall share his authority with other members of the clergy. This was not the question in the Sixteenth Century Reformation. For Luther and for Calvin the question was the authority of the clergy vs. the sole authority of the Scriptures. They unequivocally rejected the former and maintained the latter. Of this principle Rome wants nothing.
OPERATION ’76 AND THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
A mimeographed sheet has recently been given me which contains a reprint of an article by W. Henry MacFarland which was originally published in the Summer, 1967 issue of The American Mercury. It contains material of a “fantastic plan to turn the-church into an instrument of communist conquest.” It describes how Communists in this country and abroad, with the help of liberal churchmen especially to be found in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches intend to establish a world-wide and universal religion while outlawing all the true worship of God.
It is impossible to quote the entire document in the rubric. Nor am I reprinting parts of it because I believe the statements made in it are necessarily correct. The article is without any documentation bf any kind and is quite obviously without any firm proof. But it contains a kernel of truth and gives some idea of the direction of events in our day and the threat of liberal churchmen.
The plan described in the article is called “Operation ’76” since this is the target date for the accomplishment of the plan. The general plan is a blueprint for the “dechristianization of Christianity” by means of the establishment of a universal religion agreeable to all in the world. The plan is formulated by Moscow and the Communist regimes; it is steered by Communists in many countries in cooperation with liberal churches and present ecumenical organizations; it is legalized through the governments of various countries.
The “dechristianized Christianity” will be some kind of “social gospel” which is compatible with Communism.
For this reason, the World Communist Conspiracy has nothing to fear from a “religion” based on a social gospel which is itself the product of thinking in terms of the individual’s helplessness in the face of mass economic forces. Indeed, Communism can find in such religions invaluable allies in its quest for global empire, and if they feel the necessity for transforming “God” into an invisible earthly comrade prepared to lead “the masses” in battle against their “capitalistic oppressors” and keeping him as such, the Reds rightly judge that this profanation of Divinity is itself most useful to the Marxist cause.
At the 18th National Convention of the Communist Party, U.S.A., the Red faithful found “Godless religion” incorporated in “Operation ’76” as an instrumentality, coequal with the ratio-political modality reported in News-letter No. 72, for effecting our Country’s surrender to a Soviet-dominated World State by July 4, 1976. . . . The plan of action is quite precise. It is geared to the creation of a single Church of World Brotherhood seated in the Holy Land by the mid-1970’s. The ultimate goal is a Global State Religion in which the political and church powers are one and the same, but this objective extends beyond the terminal date of Operation ’76, whose blueprint in this area is restricted to fostering a domestic interfaith union of the “mainstream” of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish denominations in an expanded National Council of Churches, which by a series of “guidelines” to be laid down by several agencies of the Federal Government, and later to be sustained by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, will BY FORCE OF LAW, COME TO INCLUDE ALL CHURCHES, DENOMINATIONS, SECTS AND INDIVIDUAL CLERGYMEN AND EVANGELISTS LEGALLY RECOGNIZED AS HAVING THE RIGHT TO FUNCTION IN THE FIELD OF RELIGION! All seeking to operate outside either the Council or the guidelines will, in the earlier stages of the plan, be subjected to crippling economic disabilities, and later be included under statutory and prosecutable offenses. . . .
(The National Council of Churches), in collaboration with the political arm of Operation ’76 will undertake to intensify the assault upon churches and individual clergy and evangelists who remain outside the Council and faithful to fundamental tenets which fall to yield to the secularizing of God and His forms of worship. The assault will take two approaches: one frankly political, the other psycho-sociological. In the first, resisting churches, missions, and individual religionists will be identified with the “lunatic fringe” in the political area—the so-called “far-right,” the “extremists ” “fascists,” et. al. In the second, the resistors will de portrayed as “sick,” paranoid,” “escapists” and a menace to the “mental health” of both the local community and the Nation.
As these twin onslaughts, perpetuated by the liberal-oriented mass communications media, are determined by professional opinion surveys to have sufficiently isolated the non-ecumenicals from the sympathy, and even the toleration, of the conditioned mass public, the Federal Government will move into position, first to circumscribe and then to render virtually unlawful the formal propagation of those religious teachings to which the National Council of Churches has objected. . . .
This will be done first of all by removing the tax-exempt status of all these Churches and imposing on them various financial burdens.
At the same time, the NCC’s psycho-sociological thrust will be reinforced by the’Federa1 Government through another executive agency, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, under which is operated the National Institute of Mental Health.. . . Under the present plan as conceived in Operation ’76, the National Institute of Mental Health will receive and accept recommendations from the World Health Organization, a Socialized Agency of the United Nations, setting forth “standards” for “healthy mental attitudes on religion and moral conduct.” It is projected that these “standards”. will parallel the “creed” of the National Council of Churches with respect to such matters, and that such concepts as Divinity, Salvation, “literalism” in Bible interpretations, chastity before marriage, abstinence from homosexual and perverted heterosexual relationships, etc., will be spelled out as latent signs of actual or potential “mental illness.”
The year chosen by the Kremlin’s blueprint is 1973, and the legislation (presently drafted by top Communist legal experts) provides for compulsory “observation, custodial care and such treatment as may be indicated by the patient’s condition and prescribed by competent medical authority” in cases involving individuals “whose behavior, demeanor or public utterances as an individual religious practitioner shall be such as to impair the emotional well-being of the community as defined in Article II , of this Act.”
The article concludes with a quotation from some of the documents and with a description of plans to publish a new universal Bible which will “ultimately come to engage and reconcile the religious beliefs of all rational Twenty-First Century Mankind.” All that gives offense to any religion will be removed. The author claims that already legislation is being prepared to erase all records of the crucifixion of Christ as being offensive to Judaism. The legislation is being prepared by the Anti-Defamation League.
There is just enough truth in an article like this to give pause to the reader. Surely, for one thing, Scripture itself points clearly in the direction of a one-world religion under the rule of Antichrist which will tolerate any religious beliefs but the truth of the Word of God. For another thing, it is surely true that the liberal church of our day is dedicated to precisely such a one-world religion and is ready also to join with government in order to promote such plans. And there are other such elements of truth.
But the details are quite another matter. For one thing, the article does not give sufficient proof to claim belief in itself. Whether all these things which the article claims are really happening are true is an open question, For another thing, Scripture does not give us the details either. We are not told in Scripture whether Communist Russia will be the leader in such a movement as described in the article. We are not told precisely in what manner the Antichristian kingdom will suppress the preaching of the true gospel of Scripture. And it is always dangerous to speculate. It is dangerous because God usually surprises us when He does actually reveal the details of His counsel and will. Dangerous because if we swallow all these details hook, line and sinker, we run the risk of looking the wrong direction when these days actually come. It is safer stay with Scripture.
Nevertheless, all this is but another indication that the days are short. We hasten rapidly towards the end. We may be nearer than we sometimes think or like to think. Watch therefore and pray.