Niemoller. . . .
The Rev. Martin Niemoller’s speech making tour of the U. S. officially ended in the latter part of March. Pastor Niemoller spoke to capacity audiences in 53 cities in the U. S. under the auspices of the Federal Council of Churches. Throughout his stay in America two questions have been raised time and again. The first deals with his relation to the Nazi regime under Hitler. It is well known that in the early part of the War he had offered his services to Hitler as a submarine captain; in which service he had distinguished himself in World War I. It is further established that Niemoller, and the German Churches generally, did not oppose Hitler’s rise to power but encouraged it, in the beginning at least. The second question concerns the Rev. Niemoller’s affiliation with the liberal Federal Council. How is it to be explained that he, Niemoller, who desires and expresses himself as an orthodox preacher can be friendly with the Council which is liberal and modern to extremes? Time and again in his addresses Pastor Niemoller emphasized the great truths of the Sovereignty of God, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, Election, the importance of the Scriptures for the life of believers, etc.; practically all of which the Federal Council has discarded and deny.
A fair and interesting answer to the first question is given by Time magazine in its issue of March 24.
“Since he first arrived in the U. S. in December, Pastor Niemoller has been quoted and misquoted by his defenders and detractors on almost every phase of his relation with Nazism. The feeling against him has focused on the fact that his opposition to Hitler was on religious, rather than on political grounds. Few have understood that for a traditional Lutheran, religious grounds are the only valid ones for opposition to the state.
Martin Luther’s troublesome teaching on the relations between church and State is largely based on Paul’s words in: ‘For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.’ Civil authority, however evil or foolish, said Luther, must be opposed only when it encroaches on the spiritual realm: And you must know that from the beginning of the world there was rarely a prince who was wise and even more rarely one who was pious. They are usually the biggest fools and the worst criminals upon earth….It pleases the divine will that we….be unto them humble subjects, as long as they do not overreach themselves and wish to be shepherds instead of executioners.”
The second question has been answered in various ways. Many were quick to label Niemoller “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, since his association with the Federal Council was his own condemnation. It was suggested that he was merely another prophet of modern ecumenicity and church union. Calm reflection and judgment, however, would seem to point out discrepancies in this explanation. Certainly, according to reports, his public expressions reveal him as maintaining the fundamentals that the Federal Council has rejected. This, undoubtedly, also explains the fact of his cool reception in America by many groups in the Federal Council.
As a suggestion and possible answer to the problem we offer the following; which is in part, Niemoller’s own. After the war the Germans and everything German, including the Church, were considered outcasts and held to be mutually responsible for the Germany of Hitler. It is certainly true that the “Church” in America and elsewhere “prayed” for the Allied cause and so doing actually condemned and denied the “holy catholic church” as it was represented among our enemies, especially Germany. After the war, therefore, all of Germany lay in disgrace; under the ban of God and man. In that situation the World Council of Churches, of which the Federal Council is a subsidiary, invited the German Churches into their fellowship. The Germans, naturally, responded like a drowning man would grasp a life preserver, even though it might turn out to be a rock. Though this may not be the last that can be said it does shed a bit of light and expresses a charitable attitude. Perhaps, some of our brethren across the sea can shed a bit more light! Let’s hear from you!
Ecumenicity. . . .
Everywhere, in our day, one hears of it. The newest movement is to unite the theological seminaries of our country. To accomplish this goal an Interseminary Movement” has been organized. At the present time four books are being circulated among all seminaries which are to be the basis for discussion and teaching among the students. Next June, at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, it is expected that 1,000 seminary students from 125 schools will meet to consider the “crisis in which a divided Protestantism now stands in relation to the secular culture of our time”; whatever that may mean. The “grip of sectarianism” and “petty denominationalism” will be decried and one great Church in which unity and numbers are stressed will be held up as the ideal to which these seminary students shall work.
Shades of the false prophet! But for its tragic results, one would pass over such plans as but another of the many vagaries of human philosophy not controlled by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
The above information is from an editorial in The Southern Presbyterian Journal of March 15. The writer, Dr. L. Nelson Bell, comments as follows: “As desirable as ecumenicity may be, we believe the history of the Christian Church proves without controversy that the things which make a Church strong and which makes it effective in its work in the world is what it believes, preaches and lives. These foundation doctrines of Christianity are fixed, not by decree of man but by the Word of God itself.” And in closing he makes this pertinent remark: “It is our observation that the strongest advocates of ‘ecumenical theology’ do not find room in their ecumenical fold for those who feel led by the Spirit to ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’. Herein lies food for thought.”
A New Plan. . . .
A few weeks ago we called attention to a plan for reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (North) with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (South) and also pointed out that there was much objection to the merger. Recently a new plan of union was drawn up which replaces the older form and will be submitted to the general assemblies of both denominations in May. The revised plan supposedly adds provisions relating to organization of synods and tenure of property which had caused differences between the two groups.
It is evident that the new plan will postpone the final action of merger for another year, at least. Resolutions will be recommended to transmit the revised plan to the presbyteries for a year’s study, and then be taken up by the general assemblies in 1948. If favored by presbyteries the general assemblies will approve it in 1949, and the first general assembly of the reunited church will meet in 1950.
According to the Southern Presbyterian Journal, the situation is not greatly changed by the revision. Although the new plan will not be made public until the meeting of the General Assembly in May, there is still sufficient reason to oppose the union, according to Mr. Randolph B. Lee. In an open letter in the Journal of March 15, he asks and answers the following questions: “Are we ready to liquidate the Southern Presbyterian Church?” The implication is that any “union with a Church having five times the membership of our Church can mean only one thing: the absolute and complete destruction of our beloved Church.” Two questions follow to which the Southern Church must answer with an unqualified negation, according to the writer. They are: “Do we see eye to eye in questions of important Doctrines, and in the interpretation and application thereof?” and, “Are the interests, problems and the way of thinking of our people similar to those of the Northern Church?” His next two questions and answers point out that the history of the Northern Church reveals no regard for Churches with whom it has previously united and only a desire to be large and strong in numbers, without regard for right or merit of united groups. The writer closes by maintaining that it is his conviction that the preponderant desire of the membership of the Southern Church is to remain separate. “Open your eyes, you Southern Presbyterians, you with your glorious heritage. Get busy and help us defeat this movement, the only possible result of which, will be the absolute destruction of our beloved Southern Presbyterian Church.”
v. S. Views
Under this caption we hope to write a series of articles . Mostly they will be a translation of what appears in De Reformatie under the title “Uit Amerika”. Mr. Van Spronsen, the writer, with whom many of our readers are familiar and, perhaps, have heard speak, has been in the U. S. for several months. He has written a series of articles containing his impressions of us and the U. S. Much of the material is simply interesting, but much of it is also pertinent and contains valuable truth as it teaches much needed lessons. It’s always interesting to know what others think of us and especially so when the commentator is of kindred faith. We expect to transcribe what Mr. Van Spronsen has written without comment but may slip in an observation and remark occasionally. Before we begin, it might be well to state that our ability as translator is limited and if Mr. Van Spronsen or any of our readers notice that we misquote him, accept our apologies and feel free to point it out for correction.
Mr. Van Spronsen begins his series by stating that at the time he first arrived in the U. S. the campaigning of the November elections was in full swing. He speaks a bit about the Democrats and Republicans and the attitude which we Americans assume toward politics and then goes on as follows:
“Of one thing I am firmly convinced: that in America, which is generally regarded as the land of democracy, it is but a step from democracy to dictatorship. The trade unions are under the control of one man, and whatever he decrees, comes to pass. The Americans do not think for themselves, and have no guiding principle to lead them in thought and action. Essentially the American is like a herded animal who is lost in the mass, and yet understands nothing of the mass-psychology. The American democracy consists merely of externalities; they pride themselves that all may have the same food on the table as the capitalists; they glory in the fact that they do not have to remove their hat in the presence of the boss, but can speak to him and call him by his first name. As a classic example of democracy in America, it is pointed out that there are no class distinctions on the trains and steamers. In the same way they express what a great privilege is theirs, over other people’s, since each home has its own bathroom and every workman, of average means, has his own automobile. Naturally these are things which make life pleasant and agreeable and reveal a radically different aspect than life in the countries of Europe; superficially at least. What most Americans of Holland origin forget, however, is that in Western Europe, and especially in the Netherlands, things have change a great deal in the last 30 years But whenever anyone digs a bit deeper into the American psychology of life (volkspsyche) he finds that essentially American life is governed by a staid uniformity; a uniformity of which Dr. Kuyper once said that it is the curse of modern life. It is a uniformity that extends to weary one, as he travels through the various states. All the cities are built on the same uniform plan. All hotels are of one type, both within and without. All houses are just alike. All house arrangements are in the same style. All stores bear the same stamp. It is all very practical and convenient but wearisome through uniformity. And this uniformity stigmatizes the American; it stifles his individuality and personality.”
Mr. Van Spronsen goes on to admit that it makes us a strong nation of boundless opportunities and gives us a standard of living higher than any other. But there are serious drawbacks on the debit side, he claims. He begins on these in his second article from which we quote in the following issue.