It is impossible to report in this column on all the actions taken by all the major church groups in last summer’s meetings. But some groups took significant and important decisions which are worth reporting in these columns. We give a brief summary of some of the more important actions taken around the country.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church did not hold what one would call an important Synod this year. We quote from the R.E.S. Newsletter which summarizes that Synod’s actions.
At its annual Synod here the Christian Reformed Church postponed action on the erection of a Reformed seminary in Tivland Nigeria until further study is made. The Tiv church (NEST) in Nigeria had requested a seminary of its own in 1968. The Synod wanted to assure the Tiv church that the Christian Reformed Church is concerned to provide adequate training for qualified national pastors and that it shares the Tiv church’s concern for a truly Reformed witness in Nigeria.
The decision to postpone action was taken on the ground that the issue of a seminary for the Tiv church is being discussed by the evangelical churches in Nigeria and its possible effect upon the unity of the church in Nigeria. Present action, it was thought would be premature also because the Christian Reformed Board of Foreign Missions has asked a committee of its missionaries in Nigeria to explore whether the present pastors’ training course in Uavanda in Tiv country can be upgraded to become a certificate English level theological college. The Christian Reformed Church cooperates in the support and staffing of the Theological College in Northern Nigeria in Jos. Two of its missionaries are presently lecturing at the Uavanda pastors training school.
This issue has caused considerable debate within the Christian Reformed Church. The Theological College in Northern Nigeria is a college supported by different denominations. The Christian Reformed Church has some teachers on the staff and is committed to a measure of support of this inter-denominational institution. There is an element in the Christian Reformed Church (including the teachers at the TCNN) who oppose the establishment of a theological seminary in Nigeria because they are afraid that such action will mean the end of the TCNN. The issue seems to be an issue of what constitutes the church’s ecumenical calling. The TCNN is an ecumenical endeavor. Many do not want it abandoned—even for a Reformed Seminary.
We continue to quote from the R.E.S. Newsletter.
In response to a letter sent by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1963 concerning the nature of the authority of Scripture, the Christian Reformed Synod decided to appoint a special study committee to inquire into the nature and extent of the authority of Scripture and in particular the connection between the content and purpose of Scripture as the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the consequent and deducible authority of Scripture. The 1968 RES referred to its member churches the 1963 letter of the Dutch church with an urgent request that the issue which the Dutch church raised be earnestly studied by all RES churches and that the conclusions of their study be communicated to the church in the Netherlands.
The Synod requested the committee I also to evaluate critically in the light of its study and the church’s confessional standards the manner of interpreting scripture employed by some contemporary Reformed scholars. The purpose of this study, the Synod indicated, is to provide the churches with pastoral advice.
In further action the Synod decided to
—admit 53 candidates to the ministry.
—extend its international radio outreach (Back to God Hour) to include the Portuguese language. The Gospel is now being broadcast in English, Arabic, French, and Indonesian.
—appoint a committee to consider the entire question of church office and ordination.
—instruct its Inter Church Relations Committee to examine whether changes which have taken place in the ‘sister’ churches in the Netherlands warrant any change in our relation to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The issue was raised as the result of discussions with the Canadian Reformed Churches which claim that the Reformed Churches have not remained true to their Reformed Christian position. The committee should also consider the position of the Dutch church on women in the ministry of the church and its sympathy toward the World Council of Churches.
—reiterate its stand on war and peace which allows for selective conscientious objections to military service.
—instruct its Inter Church Relations Committee to correspond with the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to clarify its position on the ‘Utrecht Conclusions.’
Some interesting developments took place within Lutheranism this past summer.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been plagued by increasingly bitter controversy between liberals who deny the truth of the infallibility of Scripture and conservatives who want to maintain this doctrine. It was really this issue which was behind the struggle between those who opposed a proposed plan of “pulpit and altar fellowship” with the American Lutheran Church and those who favored the plan. The ALC is decidedly more liberal than the Missouri Synod Lutherans. These issues were the main issues at last summer’s Convention. The issues first came to the floor at the time of the election of a president. The president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been for many years Dr. Oliver Harms. The conservatives opposed his re-election because he was said to favor the liberals—or at least that he was not inclined, to discipline them. On this issue the conservatives won the day: Their candidate was Dr. J.A.O. Preuss a staunch believer in the absolute infallibility of Scripture. It evidently took some politicking to get him in, but the efforts were successful. This was only the second time in all the history of this church body that an incumbent president had been defeated for reelection.
Whether it was bitterness over the politicking of the conservatives, or whether the conservatives were not as strong as the election of a president seemed to indicate, the liberals won their victory in the passage of the proposal to establish pulpit and altar fellowship with the American Lutheran Church. This means that the Synod has put its stamp of approval on combined worship services and interchange of ministers. The conservatives did not take this defeat graciously and vowed to continue to oppose it with all their strength.
But the conservatives scored another victory when the Convention refused, by a vote of 620-272, to join the liberal Lutheran World Federation.
It was a strange convention. Only time will tell whether Dr. Preuss and the conservatives will be able to arrest the liberal drift of the Synod. We quote a brief editorial which appeared in Christian News.
The time has come for all loyal Lutherans in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to take a united and open stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and against the theological liberalism which prevails within their church. Evangelical Lutherans should not accept the decision to declare altar and pulpit fellowship with a church which is a member of the World Council of Churches ad which allows its clergymen to deny basic doctrines of God’s Word.
Many fought long and hard against a declaration of fellowship with the liberal ALC. We urge them not to become discouraged and take some rash action which will fragmentize and weaken the evangelicals within the LCMS. The declaration of fellowship with the ALC may actually be a blessing in disguise. Some top officials in the LCMS, who opposed fellowship with the ALC, now recognize that they must take an open stand against the liberalism within both their own synod and the ALC. Evangelicals should encourage and strengthen these officials. There is nothing in the fellowship resolution stating when it must be implemented. It can be revoked in two years when the next LCMS convention will not be stacked with liberal speakers and a liberal essayist.
We plead with our conservative friends to give President Preus and his vice-presidents au opportunity to deal with the tremendous crisis they now face in a church which no one can any longer deny is seriously divided. Denver showed just how divided the LCMS is. A major split now seems almost inevitable.
We suggest that LCMS evangelicals enter a state of protest against the liberalism in their synod and call a national meeting to discuss their concerns. We pray evangelicals will work together in a true spirit of Christian love and unity.
We remind evangelicals to remember that some of the reports they read about the Denver convention may not be entirely accurate. Some of our friends have been extremely concerned about some statements Dr. Preus is supposed to have made about his supporters. Dr. Preus is reported to have repudiated his conservative supporters. Remember that such liberals as Dr. Walter Wolbrecht, who give information to the press, would like to divide evangelicals and even get them to attack President Preus. Evangelicals in the LAMS cannot afford the luxury of battling among themselves at this crisis in the history of their church. Many of the newspaper reports we are receiving which say Dr. Preus repudiated Christian News are not true.
Now is the time for all evangelicals to take a united and public stand for the truth of God’s Word.
Another group of Lutheran conservatives organized under the name LUTHERANS ALERT-National held their Fourth Annual Convention last summer in Tacoma, Washington. Their most significant action was the adoption of a doctrinal statement in which the traditional doctrines of Lutheranism were emphatically reaffirmed and the establishment of a new Theological School in Tacoma. The Seminary is to be called Faith Evangelical Seminary. It is to open its doors this Fall and is intended to provide conservative instruction for young men who aspire to the ministry in Lutheran Churches but who cannot obtain a conservative education in existing seminaries.
Although the organization is open to any conservative Lutheran, the membership of LUTHERANS ALERT-National is chiefly from the American Lutheran Church.