In a former article our attention was directed toward that organization called “The Reformed Ecumenical Synod,” or, R.E.S. for short. To this body belong several of the Reformed and Presbyterian church denominations from various parts of this earth. We as Protestant Reformed Churches has also considered the possibility of sending observers to its Synods. Because of our own interest in this body, it is proper that we know what has been done by the R.E.S. in the past. It has made decisions, and has committees making studies, on various issues. To some of these I hope, D.V., to call your attention in this and later articles.
One significant subject, which remains a matter of continuing study, is the question of ecumenism. It would seem that as soon as two or more church groups gather together in our day, this subject inevitably arises. I present some of the decisions taken by the last R.E.S. in 1963 in this field of study.
UNITY AND UNION AMONG REFORMED CHURCHES
Two documents before the last R.E.S. urged study and decisions with regard to the relationship of Reformed denominations with each other. One of these documents came from the Reformed Churches of Australia, another from the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands. Both favor closer ties between Reformed groups. The R.E.S. decided:
1. Synod declare that it is desirable that the member churches seek to establish contact with other churches of Reformed structure, whether in the R.E.S. or outside it, in order that, under the operation of the Holy Spirit, Reformed Churches may be brought into closer ecclesiastical fellowship with one another.
2. Synod declare that the unity among its member churches, now coming to expression in mutual understanding and cooperation in many spheres, should come to expression in union wherever possible.
3. That Synod refer this matter to the member churches for their earnest consideration, and request them to inform the secretariat of the R.E.S. on any developments on recommendations 1 and 2. (pg. 50).
Such a decision is rather vague. There is the question of the meaning of “closer ecclesiastical fellowship.” If such “fellowship” involves correspondence between denominations to apprise each other regarding mutual problems and solutions -—this could prove very beneficial. But possibly this “fellowship” involves something different than this. It should be further defined.
The second point reminds one of the many other ecumenical organizations of our day which urge unity of churches. It is true that this is modified by the addition, “wherever possible.” What does that mean, to urge unity “wherever possible” of member churches of the R.E.S.? Does this mean that doctrinal differences among Reformed churches of the R.E.S. ought to be ignored? Or is it doctrinal differences which make union impossible? One receives the impression from the decision that those who subscribe to the doctrinal basis of the R.E.S. ought to be able to unite together denominationally on the same basis. Is this the intent of the R.E.S. decision?
ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE- ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURGH
The “attention of the R.E.S. is called to a certain development in the Roman Catholic Church of which the Second Vatican Council gives evidence.” The question was raised whether there ought not to be a revision in the attitude of the churches of the Reformation over against Rome. The following declaration was made:
Although the latest development in the Roman Catholic Church seems to have raised high expectations in some Protestant circles regarding the possibility of a reapproachment of the Churches of the Reformation and the Church of Rome, there are no decisions of the Second Vatican Council to make such expectations realistic.
Although the Roman Catholic Church shows a tendency to soften its attitude towards those who do not belong to that communion, and seems to have under consideration a re-evaluation of the Bible in relation to tradition, yet there has not been any attempt on its part towards removing the real barriers between the Churches of the Reformation and the Church of Rome, i.e., the unscriptural doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Churches of the Reformation in their approach to the Roman Catholic Church and its members cannot do otherwise than to point to the infallible Word of Cod as the sole rule for faith and conduct, while praying that the Holy Spirit may open the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church to the sole mediatorship of Christ, and the truth of salvation by grace alone, as set forth in the Holy Scriptures.
The Churches of the Reformation should assiduously resist tendencies to compromise with such practices of the Church of Rome as are at variance with the centrality of Holy Scripture in the service of Cod and the simplicity of the New Testament worship. (p. 51).
FIVE RECOMMENDATIONS ON ECUMENICITY
The Gerefovmeerde Kerken in Nederland presented a copy of a report on Ecumenicity and “Plurifomity” to the R.E .S. for their study and opinion. The report was prepared by “Deputies for Ecumenicity” of theGerefovmeerde Kerken for their Synod of Utrecht in 1959. The R.E.S. gave the following recommendations with respect to that study:
1. That Synod express its appreciation of the vast amount of valuable material contained in this study, particularly the statement of the nature of the Church in relation to ecumenicity: that the Church of Jesus Christ is one, that the church in its visible aspect must strive to manifest this oneness, and that in consequence membership in the R.E.S., important though it is, does not exhaust the ecumenical task of a Reformed Church.
2. That Synod express the hope that the “Deputies for Ecumenicity” will continue to labor at the admittedly unfinished task of solving “the concentration problem”; that is, the basic question of the extent of the doctrinal agreement prerequisite to ecumenical relations among churches.
3. That Synod express the wish that the “Deputies for Ecumenicity” expand their study so as to include the consideration of Calvin’s evaluation from the viewpoint of ecumenicity not only of the Church of Rome and the Lutheran Churches and the reformed episcopal Church of England, but also his attitude towards the Anabaptists of that day; in other words, that the deputies face the ecumenical problem involved in the distinction between churches and sects.
4. Taking note of the fact that the “Deputies for Ecumenicity” have not completed their study, and in view of the undeniable fact that outspoken liberals are active, and in some instances prominent, in the W.C.C. and that some of its member churches knowingly tolerate and even highly honor as preachers and teachers, deniers of cardinal truths of the Christian religion, Synod is assured that in their further study the deputies will do justice to the antithesis of belief and unbelief, the true Church and the false, as taught in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession and Chapter XXV, v of the Westminster Confession of Faith and in such passages of Scripture as
. Synod looks forward with great interest to the results that may be expected of further study of these deputies, presuming that no definite steps concerning affiliation with any ecumenical organization will be taken by the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, without consultation beforehand with the R.E.S.
5. That Synod express the desire that the “Deputies for Ecumenicity” in their further study emphasize on the one hand the need of strengthening the R.E.S. and on the other hand give serious consideration to the question whether a Reformed Church should affiliate itself with one or another of the existing evangelical councils or ought rather to help bring into being a new evangelical council of churches.
That expresses the “ecumenism” favored by the R.E.S. Can we as Protestant Reformed Churches work with this organization which has adopted the above? The above five paragraphs represent only a declaration in response to a study made by one denomination. Yet questions arise. What does the R.E.S. conceive the “ecumenical task of a Reformed Church” to be? (paragraph 1). They state that it includes MORE than membership in the R.E.S. How much more? The questions raised in paragraph 4 concerning the W.C.C. are very pertinent. The passages of scripture and confessions on that subject are relevant. Fact is, though, that answers are not definitely given to the questions which are asked. One must wait and see what their final stand on the W.C.C. will be.