Our March 15 issue carried an analysis of the World Council of Churches’ report entitled “Worship” under Rev. VanBaren’s Examining Ecumenicalism. It struck me as I was reading some of the quotations which Rev. VanBaren made from this production of the W.C.C. that there is a close similarity between the language of the W.C.C. and the language of men in the Reformed community who have been clamoring for change and even leading the way in proposing and making changes in liturgy and worship. And it occurred to me that a literal comparison of the language of the latter and that of the W.C.C. might prove to be rather enlightening.
From Rev. VanBaren’s article of March 15 I have lifted two quotations which rather clearly exemplify the language of the W.C.C.
Here is the first:
We are bound to ask the churches: whether there should not be changes in language, music, vestments, ceremonies, to make worship more intelligible; whether fresh categories of people (industrial workers, students, scientists, journalists, etc.) should not find a place in the churches’ prayers; whether lay people should not be encouraged to take a greater share in public worship; whether our forms of worship should not avoid unnecessary repetition, and leave room for silence; whether biblical and liturgical texts should not be so chosen that people are helped to worship with understanding; whether meetings of Christians for prayer in the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper) should be confined to church buildings or to traditional hours. In the same way in personal prayer should we not learn to “pray our lives” in a realistic way?
And here is the second:
The churches have traditionally known and still know the power of the preached word to convince men of the call of God to them in their situation. Yet, in our day, the sermon as prepared and preached by one man comes increasingly under question. In these circumstances the traditional sermon ought to be supplemented by new means of proclamation.
As possibilities for consideration in the churches, we suggest: (a) that through team work the congregation be engaged in the preparation and follow-up of the sermon (this would also help to relate the sermon more closely to daily life); (b) that other forms of a presentation be used, such as dialogue, drama, and visual arts. More careful use should be made of new church architecture, decoration, music, etc., to help modern men to understand the Christian message.
Compare with the above the following. I quote from a report carried by Calvin College Chimes (Feb. 27, 1970) concerning a seminar on “The Worship Service: A Dialogue,” in which Dr. Carl Kromminga (of Calvin Seminary) and Prof. Nicholas Wolterstorff (of Calvin College) participated. The Chimes reporter has liberally sprinkled her report of Dr. Wolterstorff’s part in said seminary with direct quotations.
Mr. Wolterstorff, professor of philosophy at Calvin replied to Kromminga by stating the new worship is not “a result of falling away from the faith or lack of desire to hear the Word, but rather a demand for a greater intensity in worship.” He asserted that the “new-worship people” are seeking spontaneous participation in worship. “The Christian Reformed service,” he lamented, “is a performance up front. Most of it could go on without a congregation. Even the terminology, such as ‘audience,’ ‘guest speaker,’ and ‘special music,’ denotes the relationship of the performer to audience.” Even though the new liturgy proposed by Synod in 1968 is a “great stride” toward participation, he observed that it is still highly structured.
Relevance is the second demand of the “new-worship people” cited by Mr. Wolterstorff. “Life in the church and life in the world should be integrated,” he said. “This is a radical plea for integrity, not just for churchiness.” According to Wolterstorff, this demand means that modes of worship should be contemporary. “There is no law,” he said, “that all church music has to be written before 1900, that church architecture cannot be great architecture, or that the church has to be the only major institution using Ring James English.”
A little later in Chimes‘ report we find these ideas on a new worship service:
He described a “not untypical” new worship service by saying that there would be no pews, no formal lecture hall arrangement. “The people would probably begin by practicing new and unfamiliar songs. Then the worshippers would welcome one another with a Christian greeting such as ‘The Lord be with you,’ followed by singing accompanied by guitar, brass, drums, and rhythm instruments, not organ,” he continued. “Next, there would be a free, unstructured expression of thanks, sorrows, confessions, signs of God’s love and praise, followed by more singing. Then individuals would read Scripture again to begin discussion. After offering free intercessory prayers for the world and each other, the people would all come to the front bringing their gifts and close the service with singing.”
And here is a glimpse of Wolterstorff’s ideas about preaching:
When asked if a change in preaching were needed, Wolterstorff asserted, “Proclamation is necessary, but I’m not convinced that is done only by one man preaching. Perhaps it can take place through film or drama or merely admonishing one another.”
Incidentally, tom prevent any false impression, I should add that this seminar was not under the auspices of either college or seminary. It was the third of six Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church seminars on “The Church in a Time of Change.”
In The Reformed Journal (February, 1970) in an article entitled “Underground Journey,” Dr. Eugene Rubingh, Secretary of Recruitment and Orientation for the Board of Foreign Missions of the Christian Reformed Church, also speaks language which reminds one strongly of the language of the World Council of Churches.
Compare, for example, the following statements. The first is from the World Council and the second from Rubingh.
Statement No. 1:
Since the Church should make clear its solidarity with the world, corporate worship and personal prayer alike should draw into themselves, with thanksgiving and faith, all the joys and sorrows, the achievements, doubts and frustrations of mankind today.
Statement No. 2:
High on the list of their concerns, I found, was the conviction that the church is mission. Mission is not an addendum to this church, but the task that permeates all they do. In order to be God’s embassy at the pulse beat of the world, these Christians want no stupendous assets frozen in magnificent buildings or costly organs. They desire a minimum of the esoteric language of theology and hope for the demise of the edifice complex. They want the world to be welcome here. They are pledged to an apostolate where in the words of Emil Brunner, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”
Or consider this language about worship as conducted by the “unstructured church,” from the pen of Rubingh:
. . . But all have gifts, and these may well be used in the reading of the Scriptures, the liturgy, the music. The people must take part, and they will take part. In these new groups they already do; it is the hallmark of their liturgical life. They feel that if they form a group where this is done, they may be a blessing to churches still reluctant to put into practice these growing convictions. This too, they say, is part of their mission.
And is not the following very similar to the jargon of the World Council also?
It is undeniable that our society exists in the matrix of profound changes that the church dare not ignore. The church is no island retreat; it must go out to man in his multiform needs. Where the rigidity of traditional institutions is in danger of stifling the vibrancy of the Word and the breath of the Spirit, there the church ignores the call to reformation at her peril. This is not to say that the traditional structures are devoid of value; indeed, for some Christians they may provide the most viable avenues of communion with God and the most challenging source of inspiration to meet the world on Monday.
That is, I think, a point that has often been missed. The people of the unstructured church simply plead that there be more than one allowable pattern of worship. Society is complex, more than ever before, and hence the considerations and forms that loom large for these believers may not grab other Christians with the same intensity. Naturally not! This is the very diversity that makes the church a haven for men of many stripes and colors. So may blessings abound for those who cherish the ways in which they have worshipped through the years! They are a precious dimension of the total picture. This is the affirmation that sometimes, I fear, gets lost in the heat of the debate.
Indeed, the Spirit is leading the believers to realize that the whole people of God is the church, that they must participate, that they must move away from formalism and inflexibility to recapture the spontaneity and joy of the early church. There is a naiveté in this, no doubt, but it is the naiveté of those who have an untrammeled desire to find the strength of the church of the New Testament.
And here is one more enlightening passage from the same article by Dr. Rubingh about the so-called underground, or unstructured, church:
My children like the services of the unstructured church. I don’t believe this is mere childish whim, or simply a delight in novelty. My daughter happens to have a rhythmic-soul and likes to tap her feet and keep time with a castanet. She grew up in Africa and learned early to kneel at prayer with other missionary children and African, Christians. It comes naturally to her to do so in church, though we don’t insist on it. I think it is fine for her to stand up and read a verse from Scripture in the service and then to hear a sermon she can understand. I have come away with the conviction that here we are a family at worship, glad to be joined in a covenantal relationship to our God. Seeing children want to worship is a joy to cherish.
I believe that the infectious joy of this movement stems from the sense of being driven by the Spirit to this mission. These Christians are sure that this is the way the church will soon be moving, and that already they have found the freedom that Christ promised. The hope and spontaneity of the early church is riding high in people who sense already the wave of the future, the direction of the Spirit’s leading. They know that someday soon the building of huge churches will stop, that the people will all share in the church’s worship, that the children will be eager for church, that esoteric language will be reserved for other occasions. They have, found it so already and so have found a mission.
In the Netherlands, as might be expected, there are many who speak this kind of language. The Gereformeerde Kerken are already fully committed to the World Council. But let no one dream that it is the purpose of the Gereformeerde Kerken to reform the World Council, to purge it of its evil and heretical tendencies. Such would indeed be a dream! It is totally unrealistic. The Gereformeerde Kerken have joined the W.C.C. because they are already in agreement with it and its philosophy. This is the way these things happen. The order of events is not that a denomination first joins the W.C.C. and then becomes corrupted by the W.C.C. On the contrary, a denomination first becomes corrupted by imbiding the false philosophy of the W.C.C., and then, being in basic agreement with it, joins the organization. The first phase of this process is already taking place in the Christian Reformed Church in our country. But I wanted to point out that in the Gereformeerde Kerken this language of the W.C.C. is also spoken very openly. In various reports The Standard Bearer has called attention to the liberal trends in the Netherlands from time to time, as our regular readers will bow. But here is a quotation from the Dutch paper <>i>Voorlopig, (the name means: “Provisionally” or “Tentatively”) an avant garde type of journal, which also counts Dr. Kuitert among its staff members. A certain Mr. Pruim is quoted by Waarheid en Eenheid (Jan. 13, 1970) as having written the following in that paper (I translate):
A growing group of Christians no longer have any pleasure in Sunday church attendance. What happens there frequently does not strike them at all. [The idea is that they do not find that it concerns them, is relevant to them. HCH] Church services are no work-gatherings, they find. And they stay home, for the rest often with a crumb of a guilt-feeling. It is good therefore for us to realize that attending church services is but one form of worship.
Perhaps, indeed, the least successful. Worship takes place also and especially elsewhere and in other ways in house-congregations, in action-groups, in Bible-circles, through the means of literature, in (political) work-groups, on counseling week-ends, in boards, in the family.
Many suggest that these are secondary forms of piety. The traditional Sunday morning service is the primary, basis-form, they say. We shall have to stand more strongly for the multiformity of the church of Christ. And thus we can stay home on Sunday morning without guilt feelings. A church service is but one of the many forms of worship. If only, then, we indeed are actively present at those other forms. Or better: exactly there develop initiatives.
You see, in all these quotations there is the same basic language.
And the argument of this article is not that of guilt by association. It is rather that of guilt by similarity, by homogeneity.
And: by their speech ye shall know them!