Although many churches held their broadest ecclesiastical assemblies the last few weeks, we intend to make only brief reports about the most important actions of the best known churches. This is mainly due to the fact that this year’s ecclesiastical assemblies were rather identical in the types of decisions they made and in the meaninglessness of these decisions. It was a notably dull year and the actions were carbon copies of each other. It is doubtful, of course, whether these churches would agree to this, for they are undoubtedly rather pleased with what they accomplished. But the fact remains that with dreary monotony all they talked about was mergers and racial issues.
These two issues were the major concerns. The fact that churches could spend long hours and make countless decisions on these questions shows how far the church world has strayed from its reformation heritage. Concerned more with the question of the integration or segregation of the races than they are for their calling to preach the gospel, the whole church becomes a sad spectacle that fittingly demonstrates the truth of Jeremiah’s complaint: “How has the gold become dim.”
There was also a certain irony about it all: the church is becoming increasingly alarmed by the fact that the State is interfering more and more in ecclesiastical matters. But while they express horror that the State should ever enter their sacred spheres, the church continues to hand out all kinds of free advice to the government and cannot restrain itself from meddling in every kind of social problem and international political issue which rightly belongs to the magistrate. If some day the State steps into the church and begins to tell the church what it may and may not do, the church has only itself to blame, for they are constantly interfering with the State and pressing their every whim on the magistrate. Yet it makes no difference, really. The church no longer has the moral and spiritual strength to resist the State, and the leaders of the church seem increasingly willing to be nothing but vassals of an all-powerful government. As far as merger talks are concerned:
The “Blake-Pike Talks” go on. These talks involve several denominations—some of the larger ones in the country—including the United Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Episcopalians. The Methodists have become more like a coy girl who seems to be turning away from the attentions of a prospective suitor, for they have expressed grave doubts about the advisability of such a merger. But hopes continue high that progress will continue and that a large (20,000,000) denomination will be created.
The Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) are also still talking about merging into one denomination in order to have a “reformed and Presbyterian witness” in this country. The Presbyterian Church US decided to ask the Reformed Church in America to include the United Presbyterian Church USA and other Reformed bodies in the talks. They set up a committee should the Reformed Church agree to this. When the United Presbyterian Church heard about all this, they eagerly appointed a committee of their own. But the whole business gave way when the Reformed. Church turned it down. So only the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church US continue the talks.
Yet there is considerable opposition in both denominations. In the Presbyterian Church US there are evidently three groups: one very liberal group which wants merger with the United Presbyterian, Church; another group which wants no part of any of these mergers; and yet another group that wants union with the Reformed Church at all possible speed. The division is seemingly, quite deep, for some speak of the fact that the Presbyterians are heading for a major restructuring. Under the title “When Churches Fly Apart” the editor of the Presbyterian Journaldiscusses this. He writes:
Pressure to force a merger between the major Presbyterian bodies is mounting, paced by equally heavy pressure to discard the ancient faith and order of the Church and create a new one. This combination of pressures can (and possibly should) drive irreconcilable viewpoints within the Churches apart.
After proving his contentions quoted above, he goes on to say:
Except for the more denominational character of our seminaries, the description could almost as well be of the US Church (the editor’s denomination, HH) as it is of the UPUSA Church. But there is a possible difference. “Up” there “they” intend to meet the problem by overhauling the Standards in order to make the Church more “relevant.”
In the view of these men it is the shackles of the past (all the outmoded doctrines which reflect first century superstitions) that are impeding progress. In the US Church the majority opinion still has it that renewal will come when we throw off the accretions of unbelief and return to the first century gospel. In the difference we can see the two sides of modern Presbyterianism tugging against each other.
Our prayer is that when the Churches fly apart the greater part of the Presbyterian Church US will be salvageable—with the evangelical wing of the UPUSA Church and other evangelical and Reformed wings—to re-establish the Reformed testimony of the Gospel of the ,Lord Jesus Christ in a strong national—yes, world-wide, even—Church.
This same difference of opinion is true of the United Presbyterian Church where some want union with the Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ and everyone else that doesn’t care too much about doctrine; while others, in the UPUSA Church who are more concerned about preserving the historic doctrines of the Westminster Confessions, see their only hope in union with the conservative element in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
The Southern Presbyterians also made decisions on racial matters, chief of which was a decision which ordered their churches to integrate with all possible speed. Also this racial issue deeply divided the Church since these churches are predominantly in the south where racial issues burn brightly these days.
The church also decided to permit the ordination of women, and to continue as members of the National Council of Churches even though several overtures were treated asking the Assembly to withdraw.
On the other hand, the Reformed Church in America rejected proposals to permit the ordination of women, but created a special Race Commission to promote integration and work for the attainment of negro rights.
As an example of how deeply the church is involved in matters of social importance only, we list briefly some of the decisions of the United Presbyterian Church. This church made strong recommendations to “all church bodies, pastors, and members of the United Presbyterian Church to redouble their efforts to support and be involved in those groups—church, private, and governmental—that are working to bring about racial freedom and justice.” They decided that there was nothing wrong with breaking the law of the land under certain conditions to advance the cause of negro rights. (It seems that the principle is “the end justifies the means,” a principle that can only lead to every moral crime and to total anarchy if consistently applied). They approved of participating in civil rights demonstrations and even commended their stated clerk, Eugene Carson Blake, for being arrested in a demonstration in Maryland.
Besides this, the assembly felt the need to comment favorably on the president’s anti-poverty efforts; to condemn the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere; to urge negotiations that would ban underground testing; to, urge the government to stimulate world trade for the benefit of the under-developed governments and countries; to press: for greater measures on the part of the government to erase poor housing facilities and develop various urban areas; to declare Bible reading and prayer in the public schools as unconstitutional; to condemn smoking and work towards the, erection of clinics for those who want to quit smoking but need help.
It is almost, unbelievable that a Church historically rooted in the Calvinistic Reformation and committed to the Westminster Confessions can fritter away the days of its assembly discussing such meaningless trivia—matters that are none of their business. No wonder the Church becomes increasingly apostate, neglects sound doctrine, fails to concern itself with the preaching of the gospel, enters in matters of social problems, steps into the sphere of the State, and makes a laughing stock of itself in the eyes of the world.
But it is obvious that the Confessions mean nothing any more, for this same denomination decided to continue its committee to revise completely the confessions they have and which they claim are outdated in our modern 20th century.
But even the Christian Reformed Church has not succeeded in resisting the temptation to enter fields beyond its, jurisdiction. While I do not have a complete report of their Synod, evidently they referred the “Dekker Case” to a committee of study there to “die in committee” presumably. But quite an issue was made of a study committee’s statement on nuclear war. This was discussed at length and debated extensively. Doctrinal error of the most serious type goes easily into a committee while Synod becomes deeply involved in the hydrogen bomb.
We have in our Church Order an article which reads in part: “In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters only, shall be transacted . . .” It is this fundamental rule which is so flagrantly violated. We are aware of the fact that the churches which decided on every conceivable matter would insist that all these social problems are “ecclesiastical matters,” but the fact remains that they are not. Ecclesiastical matters are, after all, matters which deal with the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline. That is, really only the preaching of the gospel is the business of the Church, for the other two are also preaching, in their own unique way. It is also true that these same churches would plead that better housing, foreign trade, smoking, etc. are matters pertaining to the preaching of the gospel; but the fact is that they are not; for they are not talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ, but rather some kind of a social gospel; poles removed from the gospel of Scripture.
One of the striking things about God’s Word is that Scripture never cares in the least about such problems as consume the time of today’s church leaders. Jesus never once bothered about such matters as inadequate housing, the fishing business at Galilee’s Sea, trade with Phoenicia, race relations, etc. One cannot and a single pronouncement of the Lord on the social ills of His time—and there were plenty of them.
This does not mean that the gospel itself is without effect, also in matters of our lives in the world. Indeed; when the gospel is preached, the elect are converted and brought to repentance. And that same gospel is a power within the elect to cause the law of God to be fulfilled in them so that they walk in the ways of truth and righteousness. A converted child of God is one who walks in the ways of Scripture.
But this is altogether different from the pronouncements of the church that issues with pompous ecclesiastical dignity its silly platitudes about every kind of ill. It is no wonder that hand in hand with this disgraceful conduct goes also a total indifference to the gospel and to the preaching of the truth. No wonder that the Church which busies itself with these things is a church that has lost her calling to preach.
This is a church exactly that Antichrist will need when he comes to his day of power. A social church that can promote his social gospel; a church totally under his control; a robot church exercising the will of him who, in league with Satan, opposes God and Christ. This is the destiny of today’s church.
But there is a warning to us and to all that love the truth. We must not be tempted to follow this example. Our calling is to preach the gospel. Nothing more; nothing less. In the gospel alone is our strength and hope. From this high calling we must never be led astray.