The news is ecumenical this month. Some items follow.
While denominations move speedily towards greater and broader ecclesiastical union, there are various local congregations who nevertheless consider the pace sluggish. Ignoring their own denominations’ efforts to unite in broader ecclesiastical fellowships, they pursue the path of ecumenism alone.
Such was the case recently in the Seattle suburb of Newport. There Rev. Bertram Apman (as reported inTime), pastor of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church (affiliated with the American Lutheran Church), proposed union with the local Episcopal Church. He was of the opinion that he was too busy with counseling, fund raising, youth work and administration to spend adequate time on sermon preparation. His solution to the problem was to merge his “weak” church with a larger and stronger church; divide the labors with the pastor of that church, and hopefully, have a more effective ministry besides being able to raise more money.
After discussing the idea with Rev. Paul Christensen, the minister of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, they decided that the best solution to the problem was for the Lutherans to become Episcopalians.
Lutheran officials were furious and are trying to put a stop to it. But the majority of the members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church evidently favor the plan. Rev. Apman is of the opinion that his parishioners are pretty much like millions of other U.S. Protestants in being generally indifferent to the old theological quarrels of their churches. He pointed out that any number of Lutherans already attend any denomination when they are unable to attend their own. And this, to him is evidence that the people are not really concerned about where they go to church.
The plan looks so good to him that he is also talking to other churches in the area in the hopes that all the churches will eventually unite into three or four large congregations, each with a team of four ministers so that ministers can specialize in youth work, counseling, fund raising or preaching and thus share each other’s work load.
His evaluation of indifferent Protestants is most probably correct in the main. And indeed, when there is no longer interest in, much less love for, the truth, really, what difference does it make? Churches might just as well accept his ideas and be done with it.
Merger plans between the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) and the Reformed Church of America are proceeding apace. Recently 130 representatives met in Louisville with the committee of 24 (instructed to draw up merger plans to be presented to both denominations by 1968) to discuss the problems involved.
The difficulties are present, however.
The first is the confessional basis for the proposed new denomination. Some wanted the adoption of confessions now in use in both denominations. (These would include the confessions of the Reformed Church: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the positive part of the Canons of Dordt; and the Westminster Confessions which form the confessional basis of the Southern Presbyterians.) Evidently these were in the majority. Others wanted to wait with composing this doctrinal and church political basis till after the merger—which seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Still others wanted a new confession drawn up. It was with these latter that another difficulty arose.
This group was really interested in union with the United Presbyterian Church. So they wanted a confession which would make it easier to unite presently with the United Presbyterians. And here is the real rub. Two overtures are already being prepared for consideration by the next Southern Presbyterian General Assembly asking for such a union with United Presbyterians. They point out that already in some areas the two denominations are cooperating in various aspects of church work. There is a great deal of opposition to union with United Presbyterians, however; some of it comes from the Southern Presbyterians, but most of it comes from the Reformed Church. Several Reformed Church Classes have overtured their General Synod to withdraw immediately from merger negotiations because they are convinced that the present proposed merger is intended only as a first step towards union with the United Presbyterian Church.
But this isn’t the whole story. Another group wants to discontinue the present merger discussions because they are of the opinion that the present discussions are an obstacle to union with the United Presbyterians.
So it all gets rather involved and complicated.
Another problem is to draw up a plan which will be mutually acceptable to both denominations since before the merger can be realized, three-fourths of the Southern Presbyterian presbyteries and two-thirds of the Reformed Church Classes must approve the plan.
All this leads to the conclusion that the merger is, as yet, by no means certain. Surely the intentions of both denominations regarding the United Presbyterians will have to be settled once for all before progress can bear its fruit.
Forty-five church leaders formed recently an Inter-Religious Committee Against Poverty (IRCAP) to aid the government in its own “war on poverty.” The significant point of all this is that these forty-five church leaders were from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations. They are of the opinion that the support of the churches aided immeasurably in passing civil rights legislation; they are now prepared to lend their assistance in making the war on poverty a success.
So now the ecumenical movement embraces the three major religious groups in this country (going even beyond the National Council of Churches) and unites in turning to affairs of government. The vast differences between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Judaism are to be pushed aside while these church men stand together in the cause of social justice.
Once again the name of Eugene Carson Blake turns up—this time as the chief spokesman for this committee. He is the Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church and recently elected head of the World Council of Churches. He seems to have his finger in almost every ecumenical pie.
It is not difficult to see how all this is related. In the grand push towards church cooperation (and union), the church’s real calling must necessarily be ignored. The result is (for the church has to find something to do) that, forsaking her calling, she turns to affairs of state and involves herself in social action, which is none of her business. And an alliance of considerable significance is formed between the secular world authorities and the apostate church. How clearly these things remind us of the seriousness of our times and the nearness of the end of the ages.
A recent poll conducted in England shows why the church can go so far astray. The reason is that there is no spiritual life any more among the “laity” of the Church. The strength of the Church is the strength of her “lay” members. When these lose their concern for the cause of God, their interest in sound doctrine, their zeal for the righteousness of the cross, what is to be expected but that the leaders run away with the denominations and manipulate them to serve their own purposes ? The poll, reported by Christianity Todaytells the following sad story of decay and confusion.
—Most people consider religion irrelevant to daily life. Yet they think churches achieve much in social welfare and should continue.
—They consider religion old hat. Yet nearly all demand religious instruction for their children.
—The percentage who hear sermons drops yearly. Yet the men who preach are generally respected, thought to be doing good work for good motives with little reward.
—Some 78% see no connection between churchgoing and leading better lives. At the same time, 60% believe one must be dishonest to get ahead, and two-thirds are either apathetic about or in favor of cheating on tax returns.
—Two-thirds of the English believe the influence of religion is decreasing. Two-thirds would like religion to have more influence.
—Even though 94% identify themselves with a denomination, church involvement lags. Church attendance is now estimated at 10%, and only 12% say they read the Bible regularly.
How urgent is the calling to the faithful laity in God’s Church that they retain and increase their interest in the cause of God’s truth!