The Reformed Ecumenical Synod, meeting at Lunteren, the Netherlands, has finished its sessions. Because our Churches have been interested in the affairs of the R.E.S., we give here a summary of some of the more important decisions.
Synod adopted a statement on race relations—a subject which has been a difficult one for the R.E.S. especially because of the membership of the South African denominations. The complete statement reads:
1. God’s commands to men that they display love and practice righteousness are not contradictory but harmonious norms for man’s personal and group attitudes and conduct, and are the guiding norms for race relations.
2. True love among men requires that we accept our neighbor, regardless of his race or culture, as created in the image of God, respect him in his person as God’s creature, and be willing to put ourselves in his place in order thus to understand how we should behave toward him in personal and social relations.
3. Since men inherently seek their own interests rather than the welfare of their fellows, the church should stress the duty of men individually and collectively, to practice self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. Self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ is the highest form of self-preservation, for self-preservation is only the concomitant with obedience to the second great commandment when it is qualified and limited by the biblical demands of love and righteousness, so that it does not interfere with the inalienable rights of other people.
4. For a true understanding of the rights, equality, and dignity of man, we should see all men not only as creatures of God, made in his image, but also as those who have sinned, and need redemption. Therefore in our relation to fellow believers we should recognize the new unity which all Christians, regardless of race, have by virtue of their being redeemed by Christ.
5. Christians should be urged to acknowledge their common involvement in guilt with a world torn by sinful divisions and attitudes. They should be called upon to repent of their own sin in this respect and to make restitution by following Christ in the way of love.
6. In the proclamation of the Word, the church, to whom has been entrusted the message of Christ’s kingdom, should speak courageously and relevantly on the issues of the day, both for the edification and correction of her members and, where necessary, in criticism of the activities and policies of governments and organizations.
7. Believers should be equipped by the church through teaching and discipline to serve God, in all spheres of society, individually, and where possible, corporately. Believers must also proclaim the commandment of love in race relations and make it applicable to the affairs of civil government and the structures of society.
8. Christians in general and the church in particular bear a responsibility towards members of all races who suffer from poverty, under-development, and political oppression. Believers should be willing to bend every effort to alleviate the suffering of such peoples.
9. In her pastoral ministry the church should strive to eradicate attitudes of racial superiority and racial prejudice by leading her members into full Christian maturity in race relations. This should be done urgently, persistently and patiently.
10. In obedience to the mission mandate of Christ, the church must bring the Gospel to all nations regardless of race. The principle of love for the n&ghbour requires that this mission respect the character and culture of the recipients of the Gospel so that new churches may come to self-expression in harmony with Scripture.
11. The unity of the Body of Christ should come to expression in common worship, including Holy Communion, among Christians regardless of race. It may be that linguistic or cultural differences made the formation of separate congregations, often with their own type of preaching and worship, advisable; in these cases it is wise not to force an outward and therefore artificial form of unity but to recognize the differentiation within the circle of God’s people. However, the worshipping together of people of different races, is a sign of the deepest unity of the church, and can be an example for the life of society as a whole.
12. Holy Scripture does not give a judgment about racially mixed marriages; contracting a marriage is primarily a personal and family concern. Church and state should refrain from prohibiting racially mixed marriages, because they have no right to limit the free choice of a marriage partner.
13. Each racial group should have the right to prefer a measure of distinct development, but never at the expense of a racially distinct group in the same country. While the manner of such development may vary from place to place, it is a requirement of the Christian ethic that love and justice be exercised, and that all groups avoid isolation and promote a relation of mutual helpfulness.
14. With a view to the great tensions in the sphere of race relations in the world today, Synod strongly urges the member-churches to test conditions in their churches and countries by the norms as set forth in these resolutions, and to report back to the next Synod.
15. Recognizing that the real problem of race relations in member-churches of the BBS lies not so much in the area of the acceptance but in that of the application of the above principles, Synod urges its member-churches:
a. To put forth renewed efforts to live wholly in accord with biblical norms;
b. To reject every form of racial discrimination and racism;
c. To reject every attempt to maintain racial superiority by military, economic, or any other means;
d. To reject the subtle forms of racial discrimination found in many countries today with respect to housing, employment, education, law enforcement, etc.;
e. To pray for themselves and for one another that God may give wisdom and faithfulness in every circumstance.
In a very interesting decision the Reformed Ecumenical Synod rejected the recommendation of a study committee appointed five years ago and, according to the RES Newsletter, declared that “it is the plain and obvious teaching of Scripture that women are excluded from the office of ruling and preaching elders.” The delegates of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were not happy with the decision and formally declared to the Synod:
Considering that the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, after ample consideration and study by various committees and successive Synods, in principle has decided to admit women to the ecclesiastical offices, but has postponed putting this into effect awaiting further principal arguments that might be put forward by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, regret that the RES, in deviation from the recommendation, both of the study and advisory committee, namely to leave the matter open for further study, now has decided that on clearly and undoubtedly Scriptural grounds women should not be admitted to ecclesiastical office in the full sense of the word.
With respect to the permissibility of women in the office of deacons the Synod noted that its committee did not answer the question of the God-given place of women in relation to men, and that therefore member churches should be cautious in permitting women in the diaconal office. A further committee was appointed, to report to next year’s Synod on the whole question of the office in the New Dispensation and on the question of whether an elder may pronounce a blessing upon the congregation in the worship services.
An important decision was also taken concerning membership in the World Council of Churches. The committee advising Synod on the matter was split. The Synod rejected advice to urge the member churches to proceed cautiously in joining this organization and instead reaffirmed its decision taken in 1963 which advised member Churches not to join the World Council of Churches “in the present situation.”
One of the grounds given was that:
The World Council claims to represent the given unity in Christ, but this is an illegitimate claim, because the World Council does not unequivocally reject that which is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor does it warn its members against the false gospel that has a recognized place in many of these churches; therefore it does not unitedly and unconditionally acknowledge the authority of Christ, the Head of the Church, as He speaks in the infallible Word.
The Synod also commented on the Basis of the WCC.
Although the words of the basis are in themselves a summary of the gospel and include a reference to the Scriptures, this is inadequate as a basis or starting point for an ecumenical movement, because when understood in the light of history and in the context of contemporary theological discussion it is open to various unbiblical interpretations; and in effect the World Council does permit such essentially different interpretations.
We shall not enter into a detailed evaluation of these decisions. Perhaps our “Ecumenical Editor,” Rev. G. VanBaren, will have opportunity to discuss them in his rubric in the future.
For the present we only note that the decision on race relations is by far the weakest. The chief objection against this statement on race relations is the main basis on which the conclusions of Synod rest. This basis is the presence in every man of the image of God. In any sense in which the term “image of God” has been used in Reformed theology this cannot possibly be correct. Reformed theology has always insisted that the image of God in man, at least in the “material” sense was lost completely through the fall. To base conclusions on a theological error of this nature (an error commonly enough made today) is to render the whole decision suspect. The way is paved for a “social” reconciliation of the races. Far better it would have been to discuss the question of race relations within the context of salvation for the elect in Christ from every nation and the removal of racial barriers through the blood of the cross for the Church. The decision leaves much to be desired.
We are not only in accord with the other decisions which were taken, but appreciate deeply the stand of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod on these matters. The issues of women officebearers and membership in the WCC are critical issues within the Reformed Church World. The unequivocal stand of the RES is praise worthy.
Seven new Churches were accepted into the membership of the RES. These include the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa, The Presbyterian Church of Korea (Hapdong), the Presbyterian Church of Korea (Kosin), the Independent Presbyterian Church of Mexico, The Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (Bantu), The Christian Church of Mamasa (Sulewesi, Indonesia), and the Nkhoma Synod Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian (Malawi). The total membership of the RES is now nearing five million. At this writing it is not known what the RES did with the request of our Synod addressed to it last June.