The reader is acquainted with the fact that the Reformed Church of America and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (commonly known as the Southern Presbyterian Church) have been working towards eventual merger. This past summer, at their broadest gatherings, further action was taken in that direction. Through the courtesy of the office of the stated clerk of the P.C.U.S., I received a copy of the minutes of the General Assembly of the P.C.U.S. From this I would like to quote such parts as show the development which is taking place, and what can be expected in the future.
Both the Reformed Church of America (reportedly with about 90% in favor) and the Southern Presbyterian Church adopted the recommendations of its Joint Committee of 24 (12 men from each denomination). The following are the recommendations which were adopted (pg. 166 of the Minutes):
“WE RECOMMEND THAT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND THE GENERAL SYNOD AFFIRM ONCE AGAIN THEIR CONFIDENCE IN THE PROVIDENCE OF THE POSSIBLE AND THEIR SERIOUS AND ENTHUSIASTIC PURPOSETO PROCEED AS RAPIDLY AS POSSIBLE LOOKING TOWARD THE UNION OF OUR TWO CHURCHES.”
The Joint Committee submits the above as our first recommendation. We further recommend:
(2) that the General Assembly and the General Synod direct the presbyteries, classes, sessions and consistories to study the first drafts of the plan of union as they are published and to respond as soon as possible with their comments, criticisms and suggestions.
(3) that the General Assembly and General Synod urge the congregations and institutions of our two denominations to take the initiative in arranging means of mutual acquaintance; and that each presbytery and classis, especially, be requested to undertake a specific project to that end between now and the next meeting of our Assembly and Synod.
(4) The General Synod (RCA) and the General Assembly (PCUS) have directed the Joint Committee to present to the respective courts in 1968 a Plan of Union. Each of the courts will consider the plan at the 1968 meeting of the court and may well determine to amend, change, alter or otherwise act upon the plan prior to any action sending the Plan of Union to the classes and presbyteries for their advice and consent. In view of the fact that the plan may be amended, changed, altered or otherwise revised by the highest courts of the two denominations, it is recommended THAT THE GENERAL SYNOD OF THE REFORMED CHURCH and THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH meet simultaneously (but not at the same place) in 1968 and that the date of meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church be fixed by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
There had appeared to be one barrier to the proposed union: in 1966 the P.C.U.S. had decided to be a full participant in the Consultation on Church Union. That is the Blake-Pike union plan for the churches of our land. It appeared to many to be impossible to “woo two mistresses.” Some believe that the P.C.U.S. had to make a choice: merger with the Reformed Church or work with C.O.C.U. The Synod of the Reformed Church also submitted the following questions for an answer:
1. What is the relative importance of these several actions?
2. Were these actions intended to be inclusive or exclusive?
3. Is it expected that the General Assembly will vote on the matter of a commitment to the Church of the Consultation on Church Union either in 1967 or 1968?
4. Should the preparation of the Plan of Union of our two churches be continued as vigorously as possible in accord with the report of our Joint Committee?
The Joint Committee of the two denominations discussed these questions for some time—and arrived at the following answer:
The action of the 1966 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States changing its relationship to the Consultation on Church Union from that of an observer to full participation prompted the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America to inquire as to the meaning of this action as it affects the negotiations of the two communions looking toward union.
The Committee of Twenty-Four notes that both the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the United States have been related to COCU in some fashion for several years. The PCUS has been observer and is now a full participant in the consultation; the RCA has been an observer from the beginning. The 1966 General Synod instructed its Committee on Interchurch Relations to study the possibility of becoming a full participant in COCU.
The Committee of Twenty-Four also notes that the General Synod and the General Assembly have affirmed their support of the Committee of Twenty-Four in its studies of ways and means of developing a more effective witness to the Gospel on the part of our two churches, and in 1965 instructed them to proceed as rapidly as possible to create a plan of union. The 1966 action on this matter by the General Synod and the General Assembly was unequivocal and strong.
The Committee recalls its findings which it has previously reported to the General Synod and the General Assembly. It has been found that common ground exists in theology and polity, in work and worship. Common ventures have been undertaken and successfully carried out. There is substantial evidence that this union can be consummated with a minimum of loss and a maximum of strengthening our witness and service.
The committee believes that the union of our two denominations is the only viable possibility of union before us either now or in the immediate future. We recall the action taken jointly by the 1965 General Synod and the General Assembly, “that the most genuine potential for advance of church union for both our denominations at the present time lies in continuing with integrity these conversations which were begun in 1962 and which are looking increasingly toward the union of our two denominations.”
FULL SPEED AHEAD So these two denominations continue in the course towards eventual merger. Definite progress is being made. Documents have already been drawn up with suggestions what the combined denomination will be. Decisions must be taken with respect to the creeds of a merged church. In a draft document on theology, there is a listing of the confessions of both denominations: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechism with editorial notes concerning changes and clarifications made by either denomination.
The listing of old and tried creeds is one thing. But another point of great danger in this merger process is the real possibility that a new creed will be drawn up, which is not in harmony with the old confessions nor with Scripture. The document on theology is to include a “summary statement expressing the relevance of our combined doctrinal standards to our witness to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the present day.” Now such a “summary statement” might be very beneficial—but possibly could be used also to minimize the significance of creeds in our day.
But the committee working on the subject of “theology” wants “a ‘Statement of Commitment’ which will bind the uniting churches to the appointment of a theological commission to prepare a new Confessional Statement, and will suggest guidelines as to procedure and content. . . .” I would not deny that a new and profitable confession might conceivably be drawn up to guide such a united church. But considering the trends in our day, and recalling the obvious fact that there are “liberal” camps in both these denominations, one can only fear concerning the contents of any such new confession.
The Joint Committee has been drawing up also proposals on “Worship” and “Witness and Structure” for the new denomination. Some of these “draft documents” I. have in my possession and hope, D.V., to consider them later.
One final matter that has been of concern to many in these denominations is the possibility of refusing, as congregation, to join in any merger—without consequent loss of properties. Concerning this, the committee advises:
The Committee also wishes to point out that the spirit of the drafts is intended to be one of persuasiveness rather than coercion. The Committee believes that if our two churches vote to unite, congregations and ministers who might feel impelled to leave the united church should be allowed to do so according to a clearly described procedure without loss of property or pension benefits. The first drafts are being submitted in the hope that they “press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” and that they afford an avenue by which the Holy Spirit will lead our two churches toward a more effective witness to the Gospel.