As is so often true these days, the news is of the ecumenical variety.
Two issues ago we called attention in the Standard Bearer to the fact that the Gereformeerde Kerken had sent a letter of confession of sin to the “Liberated Churches.” This was, no doubt, in the hopes of attaining reconciliation. But the Gereformeerde Kerken did not stop there. They also sought closer contact with the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Not the Christian Reformed Church in this country with whom they already have fraternal relations). Conversations with the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands have been going on since 1959, but have not had much success. The Christian Reformed Churches fear (and rightly so) that the Gereformeerde Kerken are too interested in union with the Hervormde (State) Kerk. They also are afraid that the Gereformeerden have left the teaching of the Confessions, have become very worldly, and have gone far in the direction of union with the World Council of Churches. These fears are certainly justified and ought to serve to give the Christian Reformed Church pause in these negotiations. If there are any there who still love the truth and the cause of Christ they surely will.
Another item concerning the Gereformeerde Kerken appearing in the R.E.S. Newsletter reads as follows:
The General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken) decided to establish official relations with the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. The decision was occasioned by the pastoral council of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformed churches could not be present at the Council because they had no official relationship. There are now 18 professors, ministers and others however, who are involved in the various activities of the Council.
In January the Synod hopes to issue a communiqué jointly with the Roman Catholic Episcopate on the meaning of baptism and the mutual recognition of the administration of this sacrament.
Another item of ecumenical interest appearing in the R.E.S. Newsletter reads as follows:
The Joint Committee of the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. on Church Union met in Atlanta, Georgia, September 6-8 to continue their preparation of documents as bases for the proposed new Presbyterian Reformed Church in America.
The committee of 24 gave considerable time to more than 1,000 letters received offering comments and suggestions concerning the first two sections of the study draft of a Plan of Union dealing with the Form of Government and the Worship and Work of the Church and Its Discipline. A third section concerning the Witness and Scripture Principles of a New United Church and Theology is expected to be ready for distribution shortly.
The committee voted that as soon as the new Presbyterian Reformed Church is constituted, the formulation of a new Confession “be taken without delay.” The new Confession, said the committee, should be “as broadly Christian as possible, while faithful to the Reformed tradition.” The committee to write such a new Confession would have equal representation from the two merging churches, and would also be charged with involving the new church in studies of the historic Reformed creeds and contemporary statements of faith. The existing doctrinal standards of both denominations are being proposed as the confessional basis of the new church.
A transition commission on Witness and Structure, consisting of twelve members from each denomination, is to be named at the constituting meeting of the new church, to plan the structure of the new church. This committee will be given the task of redesigning the organizational chart of all the program boards and agencies of the new church.
This commission will also have the task, “in close cooperation with the lower judicatories (presbyteries and classes, synods and particular synods), to study, develop, and propose to the General Assembly a plan for the reorganization of existing lower judicatories into more effective units for carrying out the business and mission of the church (possibly in the form of regional presbyteries).”
The committee voted specific time stipulations in its proposed provisions for withdrawal of a congregation from the new denomination. The agreement would bring all congregations of both communions into the new church for a period of one year. After that time, a congregation would be allowed to withdraw, with its property, during the second year. Thereafter, none would be permitted to withdraw.
A suggestion that the same provision for the withdrawal of a congregation be written into the Form of Government for any future union was made by two Reformed Church members on the committee, who reported that many people in their areas were greatly concerned about possible later unions under discussion eyen now, and that such a standing provision would gain support for the present proposed union. There was little comment, and apparently little interest given to such a provision for possible future mergers.
The Committee of 24 also approved for publication a Statement containing a number of proposals for a more radical restructuring of the new church. These are not to be written into the Plan of Union, but will be published in the third book of the committee’s first draft of a union plan. Some of these proposals were described as a “creative structuring” which would enlist the support of the “avant garde” in both denominations who may be interested in a more radical reorganization of present structures in the interest of a more tightly knit church organization and greater centralization of authority.
While more liberal churchmen have been capturing the ecclesiastical headlines with their ecumenical maneuverings, evangelicals have been not far behind.
A year ago the first efforts towards evangelical alliance were made at the World Congress on Evangelism. A lot of speeches were made at that meeting, but nothing concrete was accomplished. One important development however was the adoption of a working definition of evangelism which reads:
Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, the only Redeemer of men, according to the Scriptures, with the purpose of persuading condemned and lost sinners to put their trust in God by receiving and accepting Christ as Saviour through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to serve Christ as Lord in every calling of life and in the fellowship of his Church, looking forward toward the day of his coming in glory.
While we have no intention of entering into a detailed discussion of this definition which is quite unacceptable on the basis of Scripture, it ought to be pointed out that there are serious doctrinal errors as well as important omissions. The definition hints, at least, of a universal atonement in the phrase “the only Redeemer of men.” It speaks of the preaching of the gospel in terms of its purpose to persuadecondemned and lost sinners, totally ignoring the fundamental truth that the gospel is God’s power of salvation. It pointedly omits any reference to the relation between the eternal decree of election, the cross of Christ and the preaching of the gospel which would, in the nature of the case, force an entirely new definition.
But however that may be, this World Congress on Evangelism was followed up last September by a meeting of evangelicals in a motor hotel just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital. Represented at this meeting were forty delegates from more than thirteen denominations including Baptist, Presbyterians, Reformed, Christian Reformed (represented by Dr. Anthony Hoekema from Calvin Seminary), Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Churches of Christ. The meetings were chaired in turn by Carl F.H. Henry and Billy Graham.
According to Christianity Today, this series of meetings went beyond the Congress held in Berlin last year in that, while last year the task and methods of evangelism were discussed, at this meeting the representatives explored ways of furthering cooperation among evangelicals in fields other than evangelism and in facing the pressing problems of these days by closer contact among evangelical churches.
The following areas were suggested as worthy of consideration for fields of cooperation:
Local fellowship of biblically minded clergy with a view to common evangelical witness and action.
Enlistment of the laity in larger fulfillment of the demands of Christian discipleship and vocation.
A special witness for biblical perspectives to the laity and to theological students, perhaps through a seminary-level Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.
A selective theological journal or monograph series on key issues, and perhaps a comprehensive evangelical book program.
A probing of mass media visibility for evangelical concerns, perhaps in a conference shaped by Evangelical Press Association.
A consultation to consider effective evangelical confrontation of secular ideas and ideals in the realm of education and learning.
This much the meeting accomplished concretely: it endorsed a proposal for a nationwide cooperative evangelistic campaign to be held in 1973. A committee of ten men was appointed to study the feasibility of such meetings in 1973 and to begin to coordinate church efforts.
Strikingly enough Christianity Today reported that “theological and ecclesiastical differences were not discussed at the Key Bridge Meeting.” This was interpreted favorably as meaning that “participants made no move to compromise present denominational loyalties, and there were no proposals for a new organization.”
However, this remains the crux of the question. In our opinion there is little point in any evangelical cooperation of any sort unless there is an honest and forthright attempt made to do exactly what the meeting did not do: discuss theological and ecclesiastical differences. This must be done before any efforts towards cooperation are made. This must be done on the basis of Scripture. “How shall two walk together except they be agreed?”
If this is not done, the venture becomes little more than a competing organization or effort which sets up some rivalry with the existing ecumenical endeavors. And this will produce nothing.