The process and proposals of merger are rather interesting to observe—particularly when these take place in denominations which have, historically, close ties with our own. That is especially true today for us as we observe the developments taking place in the Reformed Church of America. And, of course, it is ever easiest for those on the sidelines to make remarks, suggestions, and criticisms. Yet for our own consideration and instruction, there are certain remarks which must be made.
REACTION TO THE PROPOSED MERGER
A rather strange aspect of the proposed merger between the Reformed Church of America and the Presbyterian Church U.S. is that the conservatives of the P.C.U.S. strongly favor the proposed union whereas the conservatives of the Reformed Church appear, for the most part, opposed to such merger. One well-known conservative in the P.C.U.S. wrote in a personal letter:
Actually one of the curious things about developments in our denomination is that the liberal wing of the Church is strongly opposed to the proposal. They feel that it will set up an unshakable conservative denomination which will be nation-wide and which will attract conservative elements from other Presbyterian and Reformed bodies, to the exclusion of the UPLJSA and the so-called Blake-Pike plan. Consequently, the enthusiasm within our denomination for merger with RCA in the future will be a relatively accurate barometer of the conservative sentiment within our denomination.
Another article was brought to my attention which is worthy of consideration. It was the printed report of the speech of Dr. B. Brunsting, former president of the Synod of the Reformed Church, delivered before the Synod of North Carolina of the Presbyterian Church U.S. The speech appears in The Presbyterian Journalof July 8, 1964. He explains first the fact of varied reactions within his own denomination:
Although differing in age and geography, those continuing in the Reformed Church came to know each other, work together and regard each other with mutual respect and regard. There is no civil war. A remarkably good climate prevails in the Church. Those living in the East and those living in the West, those 100 years old and those 300 years old are more of a complement than a source of conflict to each other.
But a differing view concerning the conciliar movement (the movement supporting councils of churches) is beginning to emerge and it follows, somewhat, the place and time lines described above.
Differing points of view concerning Church union are being brought into focus by our conversations with your Church. There are those who are committed to the conciliar movement and those who are not. Those committed to it are favorable to union with the Southern Church and .many would feel that union with the United Presbyterian Church must be included in ultimate plans. Those who reject the conciliar movement in the Church are hesitant about merger with your Church, largely because it is thought this would add to the strength of the conciliar movement.
BASIS OF OPPOSITION
Dr. Brunsting points out three areas of disagreement between proponents and opponents of merger in his church. He says:
The first concern is for the purity of the Church.
is often quoted: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.”
Those who remain cool toward the conciliar movement are dedicated to the doctrine of a “pure” church. Two tests are most often used: one, the latitude allowed on the doctrine of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures; and, two, the place in religion given to a definite conversion experience.
A major source of distrust is the willingness of Churches to ordain men with an implied doubt as to the full authority of Scripture. . . .
The second source of difficulty is the anticipated size of merged denominations:
The second concern is about the so-called “monolithic character” of the conciliar movement.
There is a strong suspicion that decisions in the conciliar movement and in the denominational life of larger Churches are made at the top and imposed on the grass roots. There is fear of an ecclesiastical dictatorship. There is opposition to a few making decisions and pronouncements in the name of everybody.
Thirdly, there is the problem of, what appears to be, spiritual deadness and lack of concern for the calling of the church on earth:
Thirdly, there is the test of results. The question is raised, why has there been so little accomplished by those committed to the conciliar movement? Why has not the giving, the witness and missionary activity increased by merger?
Denominations not committed to the conciliar movement are the fastest growing religions bodies in the nation. Some of the most effective extension work being done is by groups who are outside the ecumenical movement. . . .
The number of foreign missionaries of all agencies related to the Division of Foreign Missions of the National Council increased from 1952 to 1962 by 4.5%; those unrelated increased by 149.5%. The income of the former by 50%; of the latter by 167.3%. Overseas missionaries from member churches of the National Council numbered 10,324 in 1960; of those not related, 16,066.
Dr. Brunsting then proceeds to point out differences within the Eastern and Western sector of the Reformed Church. Remember, the Eastern sector, by and large, supports the “conciliar movement” and proposed mergers, whereas the Western-sector (including the midwest) opposes this. Brunsting points to figures of 1962 during which members of the Western sector of the Reformed Church contributed $36.18 per member for all benevolences. The per-member contribution in the Eastern sector was $14.74. Is there perhaps a relationship between the views toward ecumenism and spiritual fruits seen in the membership? That question seems to trouble Brunsting and others with him.
Dr. Brunsting calls first for understanding and respect between those “who hold differing views concerning the conciliar movement.” Secondly, he declares that the matter of Church union must be resolved with dispatch, “not thoughtlessly or hastily, but nevertheless, with dispatch.” Finally, he emphasizes that the Church must keep its eye. on its purpose or mission. The watchword, says he, must be: “evangelize or die.”
THE THREE ALTERNATIVES
Dr. Brunsting presents three alternatives in the merger negotiations. The first, which is presently being followed, is union with the Southern Presbyterian Church ultimately, with a plan of-union to be drawn up by the Committee of 24 to be submitted to the Churches for decision. Secondly, if the above fails, there should be a halt to all union talk “so that we can get on with our work of witness.” “We cannot,” says he, “constantly live and work while we are embroiled with strong, differing opinions concerning Church merger.”
The third “alternative” I found rather interesting, and (to my mind) preferable for the denominations involved. Brunsting points out a strong desire on the part of many both in the Reformed Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church to seek union with the United Presbyterian Church USA. He suggests the possibility that opportunity be given either churches or classes (presbyteries) to unite with that larger denomination if they wish. The remaining churches of both denominations could either unite together or continue independently as they wish. He maintains, correctly, I think:
Denominational lines should circumscribe people of similar viewpoint and conviction of doctrine, polity and ecumenicity. Unless they do, the strength of the denomination is dissipated in intra-denominational differences. Similarity of viewpoint produces denominational lines. The present denominational lines were drawn on bases which quite possibly have changed.
This third alternative, though I can not imagine that it should ever be the basis for any plan of action in these two denominations, has much in its favor. The sad fact of our day is that many have a denominational loyalty without any unity based upon the truth of Scripture nor of the old confessions of the church. Variations of belief are usually so wide that it can truly be said of many, formerly very orthodox, denominations: the variations between churches within a particular denomination often are greater than differences between two different denominations. That is true for those denominations presently under discussion too. Instances can be pointed out of liberalism in its worst sense in both denominations. On the other hand, both denominations contain men who appear rather staunchly Calvinistic and Reformed—holding firmly to those Scriptural truths which are the backbone of the Church.
When such is the case within denominations, they have ceased to serve their purpose. When one denomination can encompass vast and fundamental differences concerning the truth, there is no more any basic reason why any or all denominations can not be united with this one denomination (except, possibly, a fear of its “monolithic character”). Denominations must exist on the basis of “similarity of viewpoint.” Of course, that can not mean that every person in a denomination in every respect thinks exactly alike. Then denominations would have to consist, ultimately, of but one person. But there must be similarity of viewpoint with respect to the truths of Scripture as set forth in the confessions of a Church. If such is not true within a denomination,—and usually it is not since there is almost a total lack of discipline today,—there is no good reason for its existence. Union, then, even of churches which appear more “conservative” and Scriptural than others, can only perpetuate a sad situation in which the denomination will degenerate from bad to worse. Let the two denominations, if they can, draw firm lines of demarcation with respect to the fundamental truths of Scripture. Let them demand unequivocal subscription of both clergy and laymen. (Brunsting has a good beginning along this line when he sets forth “our faith.” He points to the “sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture,” to the “total corruption of human nature,” to Christ’s death as the only “satisfaction for man’s sin,” and “no sonship without regeneration.”) Those who agree to these truths of Scripture can form one denomination which is nationwide in scope. Those who disagree, can find readily a place in many other denominations who care no longer for the Word—but welcome liberals andmodernists with open arms.