WCC IN GENEVA
If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of anyone that the World Council of Churches is a manifestation of the false church, last summer’s “Conference on Church and Society” must surely have dispelled them.
Delegates from all over the world (including delegates from the Russian Orthodox Church) met together for two weeks in Geneva, Switzerland under the auspices of the WCC to discuss “the need for a new ecumenical examination of Christian social ethics in a world perspective.”
There was some conflict at the meeting; but the conflict was not over fundamental principles — a clash between conservatives and liberals; it was rather conflict over the best means to bring about social revolution in the world. In several hundred pages of speeches and reports there was only one passing reference made to Scripture. The delegates were concerned only with bringing about social and political change in an effort to solve the world’s ills. One delegate even urged the church to use a new strategy of revolution– small guerilla units similar to those used in military campaigns to attain these revolutionary objectives. All the efforts of the church had to be directed towards these ends.
While the council had nothing to say about Scripture, it had a great deal to say about Viet Nam. Especially American involvement there came up time, and again. Some wanted the American military efforts there to be condemned out of hand. Releases were sent out condemning the bombing of North Viet Nam. A cable was sent to President Johnson asking him to refrain from reprisals against the North Vietnamese for their treatment of American prisoners. The Russians urged loud and long in support of the Communist position in that war. And, as usual, a resolution was passed demanding the admission of Red China into the United Nations.
Visser ‘t Hooft and Eugene Carson Blake spoke of the Council as very fruitful and beneficial.
Obviously the meeting looked for a Kingdom of Christ to come upon this earth through solution of the world’s problems. And those who are entrusted with bringing this kingdom to earth are the world’s ecumenical leaders — to hear the delegates speak. These men have all the solutions in their pockets. Apparently they were convinced that if only enough people would listen to them and do what they say, heaven would come tomorrow.
Such pompous conceit is hard to imagine. But there is a deadly serious implication in all this nonetheless. These men are the spokesmen for a large part of the church in today’s world. They have countless supporters abroad and here in this country. Their views are current theology in innumerable places. Their arrogance stems from the assurance that they really are riding the wave of the future.
Consequently also these men have no time for the church which maintains that the kingdom of heaven is to be realized above in the return of Christ. They deride those who refuse to become enmeshed in political and economic issues, but who preach the gospel of Christ. Obviously, as their voice becomes louder in ecclesiastical circles, the alternative for the people of God will be: Go along with all this or be rudely shoved aside. There is no room in the WCC for the Church of Christ.
COCU stands for Conversations On Church Unity. And this title is the name given to the merger balks between eight denominations (United Presbyterian Church, Southern Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Evangelical United Brethren.) which will eventually become a super church of some 25,000,000 members.
We have reported on this movement before in these columns. There are some new developments.
— A union proposal has been drafted and sent to all the churches for study. This proposal also lays a plan for union to be accomplished in various stages. It is envisioned that it will take from 5 to 15 years more to work out all the details of a union and to get approval from all the participating denominations. The union itself would come about through a service or series would unite, perhaps in a mutual laying on of hands. But for a generation or more, the united church would be a loose federation governed by a provisional council representing all the participating denominations. Most administrative matters would remain within the separate denominations for the time being. Only after all the members had lived together long enough to develop mutual trust would an attempt be made to draft a constitution which would finally merge all the denominations into one ecclesiastical structure.
A basis for unity was also accepted by the representatives. The following summary will give some idea of the type of decisions made on these crucial issues.
1) On the question of faith, the church would affirm the authority of the Bible as the norm according to which all doctrines must be measured, along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. But this must be understood in the light of the calling of the church to make reformulations of the faith from time to time to present a confession which is always relevant to new times and new situations.
2) On the question of worship, freedom will be permitted within the united church so that each congregation may continue with its familiar rites and forms. But there will be considerable experimentation in the hope that, after a generation or so, a new form of worship will evolve to be used by all and which includes all the diverse traditions of the participating denominations.
3) As far as the sacraments are concerned: both infant and adult baptism will be permitted, and that either by sprinkling or immersion. No congregation is required to baptize infants against its will. But every church must make provision for a solemn act of confirmation at which time each member accepts “his personal responsibility as a Christian” and makes appropriate affirmations to membership in the church.
The Lord’s Supper will be celebrated after the manner of any of the uniting churches. The service must be under the direction of an ordained minister, although laymen and women may assist “in appropriate ways.’ The question of how Christ is present in the sacrament was conveniently side-stepped — most likely because there was too much difference of opinion among the delegates. The assembly was content to declare that the Eucharist is “an effective means whereby God in Christ acts and Christ is present with his people.”
4) With respect to the ministry, the new church will have bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons. Bishops would be chief pastors of districts or dioceses, but their decisions would have to be approved by broader gatherings. There will be two kinds of elders or presbyters: a group of full time professionals who are theologically trained men, qualified to serve as pastors. And there will be non-professionals who will labor in secular work along with ministerial duties. These would be ordained to administer the sacraments and do other work of a pastoral nature in which a theological education is not required.
5) The organization of this new church will be along the following lines. All local units of the church would be governed democratically, with some decisions made by elected representatives and others made by the whole congregation. The next higher unit would be comparable to a diocese, presbytery or classis. It would normally include from 40 to 120 local units and would be administered by a bishop and a representative council. Above these units would be regional units, comparable to particular synods. And at the top would be a national convention, meeting every four years, with a presiding bishop elected for five years and an elected council to administer affairs in the interim.
There are several features of this plan which immediately strike us.
In the first place, it is apparent that, with the exception of one statement on the Bible, there is no mention of any doctrines. With the vast diversity of beliefs within these denominations, it appears that one can believe anything one chooses to believe and still be a member. It is well-known that there are men influential in those COCU talks who deny the very fundamentals of the Christian faith — the Apostle’s Creed notwithstanding.
Secondly, there is no mention at all of Scripture as a rule of doctrine, life or polity in the actual decisions on the points mentioned above. Scripture is after all irrelevant, despite a passing reference to it. On the important questions, decisions are made on the basis of expediency only.
In the third place, the proposals are so broad that it appears sometimes as if all the delegates did was take the various beliefs of all the denominations, throw them together, and state them as a basis for merger.
Finally, the strong impression is left that the COCU talks have one eye constantly fixed upon the Romish Church and later possible union with it. The result is that such a union cannot possibly express the unity of the church of Christ.
— Very recently a new denomination joined the COCU talks. This brings the total up to nine. The new denomination is predominantly Negro, is called the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and numbers some 770,000 members. This addition gives hope too of the new denomination speaking strongly on the question of civil rights.
The delegates are encouraged by recent additions of other denominations and look to yet more churches coming into the talks.
THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERLANS AND COCU
We have noted before that the Southern Presbyterians have decided to join. This was done in a surprise move at last Spring’s annual Assembly meeting. Since the Reformed Church of America was involved in its own merger talks with the Southern Presbyterians, some thought that the decision to join COCU would end these private merger talks. But such is not the case. The Reformed Churches decided to go ahead with merger talks with the Southern Presbyterians, with the result that quite possibly the Reformed Church itself will some day join COCU.
There is a strong conservative element in both the Southern Presbyterian and the Reformed Church which opposes participation in COCU, but also strongly fights against all the liberalism rampant in these denominations. The Presbyterian Journal is the conservative voice among the Southern Presbyterians. The editor, G. Aiken Taylor, in a recent issue of theJoumal takes a hard look into the future in order to come to some conclusions about what must be done as his denomination drifts deeper into liberalism. Among other things he writes:
We never intend to separate, or counsel separation from the historic Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, or from the Presbyterian Church as represented by those who committed their faith and lives to that tradition. Others, including some denominational leaders and executives, already are openly separating from that tradition and calling for the whole Church to leave it.
In view of the separation which has begun, and which can be abundantly documented, it should be said that the Presbyterian Church US, as an organized Church, must continue, yea, will continue.
The Church may be a bit smaller in size and numbers after separation has been complete. But it will continue as presently constituted, by presbyteries . . . . . by synods…and as a continuing General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States…. We have no intention of being any part of, withdrawing from the Church movement. No. We intend to stay with the Church — with as much of the Church as proves willing to stand on the historic Presbyterian faith and order.
We believe there are enough faithful Presbyterians to keep intact the formal structure of nearly every presbytery and synod in the present organization.
While we admire this firm stand taken by the editor as he envisions a split within his denomination, we cannot help but ask whether or not he is evading the issue. He speaks of staying with the Church — with as much of it as stands for the historic Presbyterian faith and order. But the Church, in its highest ecclesiastical assemblies, no longer wants to do this — obviously. The church has decided, in effect, to discard all this. The editor does not suppose, does he, that those who forced through joining COCU are themselves going to leave the Church? This will never happen. What then will he do? And what will those do who agree with him? How can they maintain their principles within the Church that has officially decided to abandon them. The question seems to us to be urgent, for we can conceive of the possibility of their being dragged along (if they refuse to separate) in spite of their good intentions, and all their firm resolves notwithstanding.
COCU is on the way. The Southern Presbyterians are officially a part. What now?