In examining ecumenism it is beneficial for us to observe also the actions and reactions of other denominations to this trend of the day towards church unity. This column has called attention to the recent concern of the Christian Reformed Church towards the ecumenical movement as embodied in the W.C.C. The Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands had asked member churches of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to give their reaction to the stand of the Gereformeerde Kerken that it was permissible for Reformed churches to belong to the W;C.C. This caused considerable discussion in the Christian Reformed Church. There were those who strongly voiced support for the W.C.C. as well as many who voiced strong opposition. When the appointed study committee reported to the synod of the C.R.C. this year, there was both a majority and minority report on the subject. The advisory committee of this synod was likewise divided. I quoted some of the minority report in the last article. In this article I would quote from the final decision on the subject as it was adopted by the Synod of the C.R.C. I believe that on this score the Synod is to be commended in that it was willing to state that it was “inadvisable” and even “not permissible” to join the W.C.C. as presently constituted.
STATEMENTS CONCERNING THE W.C.C.
With regard to the World Council of Churches, the majority committee reminded the C.R.C. Synod of the following:
While Synod would be well advised to address itself solely to the issue which is before it, it should be borne in mind constantly, that all our statements are made within the faith of the Christian Church. Specifically our pronouncements issue from these convictions:
—that there is only one Church of Jesus Christ and that the Church’s unity should come to visible expression;
—that the Christian Reformed Church has a responsibility with respect to all Christian churches;
—that we want to, obey the Lord, both in seeking fellowship with all those who confess Jesus Christ, and in separating ourselves from those who reject, deny or pervert the truth of the Gospel.
THE C.R.C. POSITION TOWARDS THE W.C.C.
The Synod adopted the following position with regard to the W.C.C. (as quoted in the Banner of July 14, 1967:
Although fully aware of the ecumenical calling of Christ’s church as expressed in the synodical Report of 1944 (Acts 1944, pp. 330-367), and therefore of the responsibility to contact all those churches in which some traces of the catholic church of Jesus Christ are still to be found, Synod declares with regret that it is not permissible for the Christian Reformed Church to join the fellowship of the W.C.C. because of the present nature, its inadequate basis, its maintenance and functioning of that basis, its socio-political activities and declarations, and the implications of membership in this Council. Following are the grounds for this decision:
1. Concerning the Nature of the W.C.C.—The W.C.C. claims to be, and is in fact, substantially more than a forum for the discussion of differences. It is a “council of Churches” which defines itself as a “fellowship of churches,” and thus claims to be at least a provisional manifestation of the unity for which Christ prayed,
Furthermore, the ecclesiological character of the W.C.C. is ambiguous and is regarded differently by various member churches.
2. Concerning the inadequate Basis of the W.C.C.—Although the words of the Basis are in themselves a summary of the Gospel, the Basis is inadequate for ecclesiastical fellowship in view of the doctrinal errors within the churches today. In the light of history and contemporary theology, the Basis is inadequate for excluding radically unbiblical interpretations of the Gospel. Hence the Basis admits to membership in the W.C.C. such churches with which we may not have fellowship (koinonia).
3. Concerning the Maintenance and Functioning of the Basis—The W.C.C. does not maintain the Basis in a meaningful way since it does not consider it within its jurisdiction to judge whether member churches are really faithful to the Basis. The W.C.C. declares that, if it were to judge whether an applicant or a member church was actually living in harmony with the Basis, the W.C.C. would become a “super-church.” That the Basis does not function meaningfully is evident from the admission that there are churches within the W.C.C. “to which the qualification ‘modernist’ is fully or partly applicable.”
4. Concerning the Socio-Political Activities and Declarations of the W.C.C.—The activities of the W.C.C. in the social, economic, and political areas involve it in pronouncements and programs which are not the immediate responsibility of the church. The type of action taken in these areas is frequently an embarrassment to a Reformed church.
5. Concerning the Implications of Membership in the W.C.C.—The general character of the W.C.C. is ambiguous. Its membership is diverse ecclesiastically and doctrinally. By joining this organization we would endorse the ecumenical methodology of the W.C.C., give a measure of recognition to churches with a radically different interpretation of the Gospel, and thereby becloud or relativize our own witness. “Scripture forbids such association with unbelievers and with those who preach another Gospel.” Cf.
(Acts 1958, p. 92)
One point ought to be noted at this point. If the above decision is a true evaluation of the W.C.C., and I believe that it is, there is no reason at the present time that the Christian Reformed Church, or any other Reformed church, should have anything to do with this organization. The resolutions above emphasize that the W.C.C. IS NOT a manifestation of the unity for which Christ prayed. That is true at the present date. Even past history shows that the W.C.C. is not improving; it is not approaching more closely to that which is “orthodox”; but each year the evidence accumulates showing that the W.C.C. departs ever further from the Scriptural unity. Then there is absolutely no reason for imagining that in the future this organization will conceivably change for the better.
On the basis of the above resolutions, the Synod also adopted statements in response to the resolutions of the Gereformeerde Kerken. The Synod stated:
1. Synod judges that in view of the grave implications of membership in the W.C.C., it is not sufficient to state that there is “no decisive impediment” to such membership, but that it is necessary to demonstrate convincingly that one is acting in obedience to Scripture and in line with the Confession.
2. Synod urgently requests the assistance of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in working out a positive statement on our ecumenical calling, in the context of our common confession of Articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession. This Confession demands of us (a) fellowship with all who confess and obey Jesus Christ, and. (b) separation from those who reject, deny, or pervert the truth of the Gospel.
3. Synod requests its sister churches to bear in mind the situation from which we are speaking. On our Continent we are daily confronted by the blight of theological modernism, and by the fact that the evangelical churches—which, for example, supply the largest number of missionaries—are generally opposed to the W.C.C.
4. Synod reminds the Gereformeerde Kerken that to join the W.C.C. means to give recognition also to churches with a radically different interpretation of the Gospel. One cannot claim to be engaged in a “common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” with churches which in fact require the evangelistic endeavors of our local Reformed congregations. Therefore, membership in the W.C.C., even if it were permissible, would be inadvisable.
In addition, it was decided to forward to the Gereformeerde Kerken a transcript of the decisions together with the Majority and Minority Reports on the W.C.C. by Synod’s study committee. A transcript of the decisions is to be sent also to the member churches of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and to the General Secretary of the W.C.C.
It was rather sad, I feel, that the C.R.C. Synod also decided to send two observers to the Fourth Assembly of the W.C.C. which convenes at Uppsala, Sweden, July 4-20, 1968. Rev. William Haverkamp and Rev. John Vriend (the president and the first clerk respectively of this last Synod) were chosen as observers. Why such a concluding decision would be taken, I am not sure—unless it is to satisfy a large number within the C.R.C. who reveal strong leanings toward the W.C.C. I am convinced that the C.R.C. Synod, if it is to continue to maintain its position of opposition to membership in the W.C.C., should not have decided to send observers. For several reasons I am convinced of this:
1. The presence of observers gives the appearance of a real interest and concern in the W.C.C.—despite the decisions which had been taken. Yet if the decisions taken were correct, there should not be any measure of interest at all in this organization at this time.
2. What conceivable advantage will the presence of observers gain the C.R.C.? It could give such observers the. opportunity to convey a very favorable report of the gathering (especially if sue h observers were predisposed in favor of the W.C.C.) which will place renewed pressure on future C.R.C. Synods to join the W.C.C. Yet, finally, a decision to join or not to join the W.C.C. can only be based on official published decisions and actions. Observers can not change or even interpret these decisions. If there is a change for the better in the W.C.C., the official decisions will plainly show this.
At this point, one can only wonder what consequences there will be as a result of this decision. Two years should tell.