Prof. H. Hanko in the Oct. 1, 1968 issue of theStandard Bearer gave a brief summary of the decisions of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod which met at Lutheran in the Netherlands on August 13-23, 1968. Those interested could well review that article.
In this issue, I would enter into greater detail on the decision taken concerning membership in the World Council of Churches. Earlier synods of the R.E.S. have gone on record as being opposed to membership in the W.C.C. as presently constituted. But repeatedly the question arises again. This past summer the R.ES. reaffirmed its old decision. The following was decided:
The Synod endorses the recommendation in Study Committee Report 8 (on the “Nature of the Church and its Ecumenical Calling”) that Synod reaffirms the advice which previous Synods have given to member churches “not to join the W.C.C. in the present situation.”
1. Re: The Nature of the W.C.C. The W.C.C. claims to represent the given unity in Christ, but this is an illegitimate claim, because the W.C.C. does not unitedly and unconditionally acknowledge the authority of Christ, the Head of the Church, as He speaks in the infallible Word, accordingly it does not unequivocally reject that which is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor does it warn its member churches against the false gospel that has a recognized place in many of these churches.
2. Re: The Basis of the W.C.C. and its Functioning. Although the words of the Basis are in themselves a summary of the gospel ma 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 ma 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.
However, the Acts of the R.E.S. reflect what must have been considerable disagreement concerning membership in the W.C.C. The minority recommendation was defeated—but it reflects an obvious attempt to approve the idea of membership in W.C.C., but in such a way as to satisfy those who saw real obstacles to such membership. The minority recommendation which was defeated, declared:
The Reformed Ecumenical Synod advises the member churches not to take a decision with regard to the World Council of Churches before they have thoroughly studied the ecumenical problems in the context of their own situation and before they are certain that in their particular situation a decision to join the World Council of Churches does not endanger their loyalty to the Reformed confession.
The majority report of the study committee
The decision of the R.E.S. opposing membership in the W.C.C. is very brief. But what was adopted forms the conclusion of a rather lengthy critical study of the W.C.C. This entire report can be found in the Acts of the R.E.S. of 1968. I will attempt to present a brief summary of that report.
The report begins by summarizing past actions of the R.E.S. on the W.C.C. From the beginning, the R.E.S. has opposed membership in the W.C.C.: first in Amsterdam in 1949, then in Edinburgh in 1953, again in Potchefstroom in 1958, finally in Grand Rapids in 1963. In 1963 the decision stated in part: “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 honour as preachers and teachers, deniers of cardinal truths of the Christian religion” and also spoke of “the antithesis of belief and unbelief, the true Church and the false; as, taught in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession and Ch. XXV, v of the Westm. Conf. of Faith and in such passages of Scripture asGal. 1:8, 9; II Cor. 6:14-18; and II John 10:11.”
The report continues by discussing three aspects of the organization of the W.C.C.: its Nature, its Basis, and its Conception of the unity of the church.
The report quotes from various W.C.C. decisions to show the official position of the W.C.C. concerning its own nature. In one document, the W.C.C. said concerning itself:
(a) The W.C.C. is composed of Churches which acknowledge Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. (b) These Churches find their unity in Christ. They have not to create this unity; it is the gift of God. (c) But this unity must be expressed in work and life. (a) The W.C.C. wants to serve the Churches as an instrument whereby they may bear witness together to their common allegiance to Christ, and co-operate in matters requiring united action. (e) The idea of a super-church is expressly rejected. (f) The aim of the W.C.C. is rather to express the unity by binding the Churches closer to Christ and therefore closer to one another.
The report aske two questions concerning the nature of the W.C.C. as presented by that organization. The first is, “Is the declaration acceptable from the Reformed point of view?” (In the report, several other documents are summarized in addition to that which I have quoted above.) It concludes that much of the declarations can be endorsed by Reformed Churches. However, the report asks: “What does the recognition of the ‘vestigia ecclesiae‘ (marks of the church) in one another’s church mean and entail? What does it mean, e.g., with regard to the unity as a present reality? Does it mean that we can already say: we are already one in Christ—all that has to happen is to find means and ways to express it in work and life . . .” Does it also mean: as churches we are already able, to a certain extent and in certain respects, to give a common witness? . . . In our opinion it is HERE, where we find the real problems. . . .”
But a second question also arises: “Has the W.C.C. in its actual existence, both in structure and actions, adhered to this declaration?” The report points out that in spite of frequent claims to the contrary (see quotation above), the W.C.C. stands in permanent danger of acting as or speaking like a Super-Church. The report goes on to show how this “Super-Church” image is evident in official statements made by the W.C.C. There is also the official position of the W.C.C. that it is not its duty to negotiate unions between churches—however the report points out instances where the emphasis in the W.C.C. in recent years has been upon mergers and that there are even instances of pressure being applied toward that end.
Secondly, the report discusses the “basis” of the W.C.C. The original basis of the W.C.C., as stated in its constitution, read: “The W.C.C. is a fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.” However, in 1961, at New Delhi, the basis was revised as follows: “The W.C.C. is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The report states:
The present Basis, as extended at New Delhi, contains three main statements. (a) A Christological statement: Jesus Christ is God and Saviour. This is the original and fundamental statement as accepted at Amsterdam, 1948. (b) A Trinitarian statement: “the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This was already implicit in the original Basis . . . , but now it has been made explicit by the extension. It is more than a mere precise statement of the Christological theme. It is a confession of the Triune God Himself. (c) A statement about the Bible: “according to the Scriptures”. It does not deal with the nature, revelatory character or inspiration of the Bible, but only wants to emphasize the authority which these Scriptures possess for ah Christians . . : . At the same time, however, it indicates how the Christological statement must be understood, viz., as speaking of the Christ of the Scriptures.
The report points out that if the “Basis” is to be considered an “Erasmian reduction,” that is, a reduction of truth to the lowest common denominator upon which all churches can not only agree but also unite, Reformed Christians could not agree. However, if the “Basis” represents a “concentration” or brief summary of what is the very heart of the gospel (that Jesus is both God and Saviour), and that all of Scripture must be understood in that light, then Reformed Christians could agree that this might be a basis and starting point for an ecumenical movement.
However, the report does express certain grave and valid reservations concerning the “Basis” of the W.C.C. For instance, what does the phrase “according to the Scriptures” really mean? It says nothing of “plenary inspiration, canonicity, and the historical realism of the historical accounts of the Bible.” This part of the Basis is “badly in need of further definition before it can be regarded as a significant step toward a truly orthodox articulation of the faith of the Bible.” In addition to that, the report wonders if the “Basis” is sufficient to ward off threatening syncretism. There is today the attempt even to relate Christianity to all manner of other world religions. The report points out that also in W.C.C. documents there is a looking upon non-Christian religions as vehicles through which Christ addresses Christianity. They quote from theNew Delhi Report which says concerning the heathen: “We must take up the conversations about Christ with them, knowing that Christ addresses them through us and us through them.” If the “Basis” of the W.C.C. can allow for this, it certainly is not adequate.
The report goes on to discuss the question: does the W.C.C. actually maintain that “Basis” which it professes? The position of the W.C.C. is this: “Each church which joins the W.C.C. must therefore seriously consider whether it desires to participate in a fellowship with this particular Basis. . . . On the other ha the W.C.C. would overstep the limits it has se; for itself if it should seek to pronounce judgment as to whether any particular church is in fact taking the Basis seriously. It remains the responsibility of each church to decide itself whether it can sincerely accept the Basis of the Council.”
The report concedes that the W.C.C. indeed has no right to exercise discipline over the internal life of the member churches. However, it points out that since “the W.C.C. as au organization has accepted the Basis as its normative starting point and requires from all prospective members a written declaration of agreement, in our opinion, this gives the W.C.C. the right AND the duty to exclude from membership those churches, which, after affiliation, would deny the Basis in official statements. Secondly, the report points out that the W.C.C., in affirming the positive statement of its Basis, must also emphatically warn against all teachings in conflict with it—specifically modernism and liberalism. But this, the W.C.C. refuses to do. As one man wrote: the W.C.C. has “infinite tolerance in matters of faith, of which the W.C.C. ‘knows everything,’ and pious intolerance towards unbelief, of which it shows nothing.”
I hope to conclude a summary of the report on the W.C.C. as given at the R.E.S. in the next issue, D.V.