But there is more to the subject of confessions for the proposed new church. Churches today want “new” and relevant confessions. The present instance is no exception. Although the proposed plan of union does not declare that a new confession shall be made—it does declare that an attempt shall be made to compose a new confession. Article 12 of their Covenant of Agreement states:
(1) The General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States shall, following the final vote for the union of the two Churches, each appoint six members to a committee to undertake the formulation of a new Confession. The membership of this committee shall be broadly representative of the two uniting Churches, and shall be drawn from those most competent in the field.
(2) As far as possible, the whole Church shall be enlisted in a study of the great historic creeds of the Reformed Churches as well as more contemporary creeds, and in consultation with the committee, so that the new Confession will be a confession of the whole Church and a worthy witness of a living Church to her living Lord.
The Reformed Church in America has refused to be a full participant in COCU—the attempt to unite nine large denominations into one. The Southern Presbyterian Church is full participant in COCU. What happens should these two denominations now unite? Would the new denomination participate in COCU or not? This question disturbs many in the Reformed Church. Union would almost undoubtedly bring the new denomination into the consultations. The plan of union proposes the following:
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in America, at its first meeting, shall determine the ecumenical relationships of the denomination, taking into account those previously sustained by the two uniting Churches.
The proposed plan for union was approved this past spring by the General Synod of the Reformed Church and the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church. During the next few months the various classes of the R.C.A. and the presbyteries of the Presbyterian U.S. must vote on the plan. If two out of three classes of the R.C.A. approve, and if three out of four presbyteries approve, then the plan of union must go again to the General Synod and General Assembly of the two churches next spring. If it is then approved by those two bodies again, then the proposed merger goes into effect. From reports which I have read, I gather that the general opinion is that the proposed plan of union will fail to receive the approval of the necessary two-thirds of the classes of the R.C.A. The next five or six months will tell. If it should pass that hurdle, it would likely be approved at the other levels.
Though many in both church communions favor the merger, there are also many in both denominations that oppose it—and for various reasons. One opinion was set forth by a certain W.A. McIlwaine, a retired missionary of the Southern Presbyterian Church, in an article of the Presbyterian Journal of July 3, 1968. The man has a good point:
In principle, everything would seem to be in favor of uniting the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the United States to form the Presbyterian Reformed Church in America.
Both Churches are Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in government; they are similar in general outlook. And if the Plan of Union had been drawn up so as to uphold and unite the fullness and intent of the confessions and forms of government of the two Churches, their union would strengthen both parties to it.
However, the Plan of Union will not achieve this end. On the contrary, its provisions will produce a Church that is more liberal and less Reformed in doctrine and less Presbyterian in government than either of the Churches it would unite; the issue of ownership of Church property will have been settled—perhaps beyond recall.
That is the sad fact—it will produce a church more liberal, less Reformed.