The World Council of Churches, meeting at Uppsala, Sweden in 1968, had as its general theme, “Behold, I make all things new.” The gathering produced and adopted six reports related to that theme. The first of these six reports I consider in this article. The report treats “The Holy Spirit and the Catholicity of the Church.”
The report gives to me a feeling of revulsion. How any child of God could go along with such a report, even for a time, is beyond my understanding. It must be stated that there are indeed parts in it which seem very orthodox and Scriptural. But again, other parts reflect the liberalism within the W.C.C. and other churches which is so prevalent today. And this gives rise to that sense of revulsion. One senses an attempt to mix poison and medicine; light and darkness; the truth and the lie. Not only this, but also the wording of the document is so cleverly phrased that virtually all men could subscribe to the statements-liberal and conservative alike. One of the delegates also pointed this out. He stated, “It is a mixture in such a way that everyone reads and understands it in his own way.” (p. 9, Uppsala Report)
But allow me to point out several parts of this report which show what is suggested above. There is, first of all, the question: what did the W.C.C. mean when it speaks of “catholicity”? In several parts of the report one finds suggestions of that which it has in mind. The following paragraph, however, somewhat summarized its thoughts:
Since Christ lived, died and rose again for all mankind, catholicity is the opposite of all kinds of egoism and particularism. It is the quality by which the Church expresses the fullness, the integrity and the totality of life in Christ. The Church is catholic, and should be catholic, in all her elements and in all aspects of her life, and especially in her worship. Members of the Church should reflect the integrity and wholeness which is the essential character of the Church. One measure of her internal unity is that it is said of believers that they have but one heart and one soul
There are then two factors in it: the unifying grace of the Spirit and the humble efforts of believers, who do not seek their own, but are united in faith, in adoration, and in love and service of Christ for the sake of the world. Catholicity is a gift of the Sprit, but it is also a task, a call and an engagement.
Here one has an example of the sort of statement which can interpreted by anyone as he would desire. There is the statement that Christ died and rose again—though his bodily resurrection is not mentioned. A person can understand the statement in several ways. It could satisfy both the modernist who denies bodily resurrection and the Reformed person. And what does it mean that Christ died and arose again “for all mankind?” Is this meant in the sense of the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 15? Or does the report mean it in the Arminian sense? Or does it suggest a universal salvation of all men? Or does it refer to the idea of modernism that Christ serves as a good example to all who followed after Him? You can take your pick of these.
Again, catholicity is said to be a union “in love and service of Christ for the sake of the world.” I suppose I could accept the statement if the world “world” is to be taken in the sense of John 3:16. Yet the liberal who denies the atonement but emphasizes rather the duty of the church to find answers to the earthly problems of this age—could also accept the statement. And the concluding statement no one could deny—because one can not possibly know how that must be interpreted. Catholicity as described in this paragraph can mean anything to any reader—hence, in reality it means nothing.
And what does the Holy Spirit work in the church? Several suggestions are presented concerning His work. Some are:
We give thanks to God the Holy Spirit that at this very time he is leading us into a fresh and exhilarating understanding of the Body of Christ, to the glory of God the Father. He is transforming the relationships between separated Christian communities, so that we now speak to each other with greater mutual trust and with more hope of reconciliation than ever before. (p. 11)
In giving this life the Holy Spirit brings sinful men through repentance and Baptism into the universal fellowship of the forgiven; bears witness through the Church to the truth of the Gospel, and makes it credible to men; builds up the church in each place through the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist; stirs the conscience of the Church by the voice of prophets to keep her in the mercy and judgment of God; maintains the Church in communion and continuity with the people of God in all ages and places; equips the Church to accept and make use of the great variety of God’s gifts bestowed upon its members for the enrichment of human life; empowers the Church in her unity to be a ferment in society, for the renewal and unity of mankind; sends men into the world equipped to prepare the way for God’s rule on earth by proclaiming freedom to the captives and sight to the blind; awakens Christians to watch for the Lord’s coming, when he will judge the living and the dead, and open the gates of his city to all his people (p. 13). The Holy Spirit has not only preserved the Church in continuity with her past; He is also continuously present in the Church, effecting her inward renewal and re-creation. The Church in heaven is indeed one with the Church on earth, yet the Church on earth does not stand outside the historical process. As the pilgrim people of God she finds herself at every point of time implicated in the varying hopes, problems and fears of men and women, and in the changing patterns of human history. The Church is faced by the twin demands, of continuity in the one Holy Spirit, and of renewal in response to the call of the Spirit amid the changes of human history. (p. 16).
The above is another instance of clever use of words so that everyone can agree. The modernist might have a bit of a problem with the reference to “heaven” and “the Lord’s coming when he will judge the living and the dead,” otherwise he can find these statements perfectly compatible with his own belief. And the modernist would wholeheartedly subscribe to statements such as: (the Spirit) “sends men into the world equipped to prepare the way for God’s rule on earth. . .” and “empowers the Church in her unity to be a ferment in society, for the renewal and unity of mankind;” etc. The very vagueness of the above quotations might make them acceptable to a Christian of Reformed persuasion—yet the philosophy of modernism oozes out of almost every statement. How can any be satisfied with this mixture of light and darkness?
The aim and purpose of the W.C.C. shows itself at several points in the document. It can not be completely hid-not even behind the vagueness of the language used. The ideas of the following statements are clear. The W.C.C. would have a united church over the whole earth, united finally with all men on the earth, to from a tremendous force for “good.” And when one turns to Rev. 13, he must admit that here we have the beginnings of the manifestation of the two beasts. This is what Upsala said:
. . .In the agonishing arena of contemporary history—and very often among the members of the Churches—we see the work of demonic forces that battle against the rights and liberties of man, but we also see the activity of the life-giving Spirit of God. We have come to view this world of men as the place where God is already at work to make all things new, and where he summons us to work with him.
The ecumenical movement helps to enlarge this experience of universality, and its regional councils and its World Council may be regarded as a transitional opportunity for eventually actualizing a truly universal, ecumenical, conciliar form of common life and witness. The members of the World Council of Churches, committed to each other, should work for the time when a genuinely universal council may once more speak for all Christians, and lead the way into the future.
Catholicity is also a constant possession and pursuit of the mystery of faith, the sacramental experience of that incorporation into Christ and involvement with mankind of which the Church is the form and the Eucharist the substantial focus. . . The Church’s mission to the world will bring an enrichment from the world into the Church. Only in the fulness of redeemed humanity shall we experience the fulness of the Spirit’s gifts.
The conclusion of the document is very appropriate. Said Uppsala, “With a single voice all members of the Assembly pray ‘Come, creator Spirit,’ knowing that any answer to this prayer should open our eyes to God’s future, which is already breaking in upon us.” I consider that an appropriate ending to a very sick document. It concludes not with the Scriptural, “Even so, come Lord Jesus quickly,” but with the sorry imitation, ‘”Come, creator Spirit.” And the concluding sentence reminds of “God’s future, which is already breaking in upon us.” The conclusion presents the spirit of the document: a vagueness which allows the orthodox to concur and the modernist to join hands with him. Can a faithful child of God approve of such union of light and darkness?