In the last issue I gave a brief review of a “regional conference” sponsored by the North American members of the R.E.S. (Reformed Ecumenical Synod). This was held at Knollcrest Campus of the Christian Reformed Church.
I personally appreciated the opportunity of hearing men of other Reformed denominations express what they believed. Conferences of this nature can serve such a useful purpose and be beneficial for the church. But these will be useful and beneficial only as long as they do not fall into that prevalent error of our day: that they become a form of “pressure group” agitating for union among denominations as is being done in the church-world today.
At the risk of appearing presumptuous, I would like to make a few suggestions concerning any conferences which may be held in the future. I believe these suggestions would make such conferences more beneficial to the denominations attending.
THE PRESENTATION OF MATERIAL
The conference which we attended lacked one important thing: adequate opportunity for discussion. After each speech there was group discussion—the conferees were divided into six groups for discussion of the speech. But these group discussions were limited to half an hour. Then, according to the program, there were to have been “plenary discussions,” that is, discussion by the entire group assembled. But these plenary discussions were also very limited (usually less than an hour) and were hardly “discussions.” The leaders of each of the six groups would present questions for the speaker to answer—but not much opportunity was given for discussion from the floor.
Possibly the system used at the last conference could be more profitable by allowing more time for discussion. I would suggest, though, an alternative.
There could be one major speech per day. This speech could be an hour to an hour and a half in length. The remaining part of the day could be spent in discussion centered about the subject of the speech. I could suggest that if such speech were given in the morning, there would be sufficient time yet in the morning to have some sort of a panel discussion. I would like to see a panel consisting of four or five members prepared to discuss the subject of the speech. Nor ought this panel to be five men who are ready to agree. Let each man represent a different viewpoint of the subject and present either his own personal opinion or the position of the denomination to which he belongs. Such a panel could take at least an hour and a half. It would serve to guide the group into further discussion later on.
The afternoon of the day could be used for “plenary” discussions. I would urge that these be then discussions. The members of the conference should be allowed to give their “speeches” on the subject of the day. Obviously, some rules would have to be in effect governing the length of each of the “speeches” of the members of the conference. Possibly each individual would have to be limited to a ten or fifteen minute speech with the participant limited to one such “speech” per day. This would give all an equal opportunity to present their thoughts for consideration.
A conference could also, as was true with the last one, continue for three days. Thus three major speeches could be given. A final, inspirational speech to which the public is invited could again fittingly conclude such a conference.
SUBJECTS FOR DISCUSSION
It was pointed out last time that the theme of the conference, “Christ or Chaos,” was one poorly chosen as a theme for discussion in a gathering of this nature. Personally, I thought it would be more suitable at a meeting of the W.C.C. It was a “catchy” theme, possibly; but it was broad, indefinite, and theologically questionable. Why should a serious conference of those who claim to adhere to the Reformed truths be handicapped with such a theme?
Here too I would offer a few suggestions. First, themes for any Reformed conference ought to be definitely scriptural and ecclesiastical. As Reformed people we ought to be spiritually mature enough to avoid in conferences the errors of the “church-world” of our day. Our Church Order states (Art. 30), “In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted and that in an ecclesiastical manner.” This applies to classes and synod—but is a good rule also for “Reformed” conferences. If “Reformed” denominations desire to debate the question of admittance of Red China into the U.N., if they want to discuss racial policy, if they want to question Medicare and the “great society,” there is room enough for such nonsense in the National and World Council of Churches. For this we do not need a ReformedEcumenical Synod or regional conferences thereof. Therefore I say that conferences as these ought to be emphatically Reformed.
Secondly, I believe that these conferences ought to have as subjects for discussion that which is divisive within Reformed circles and special difficulties which arise within Reformed communities. We all go under the name “Reformed”; we hold to the same creeds; yet the differences within the circle of the “Reformed” are painfully obvious. Conferences probably will not resolve differences—but the differences can be pinpointed and analyzed. We can come to understand better the stand of other Reformed groups—and show them our stand and its scriptural and confessional basis.
Thirdly, subjects for any given conference ought to be properly limited in scope. The theme, “Christ or Chaos,” is so broad that almost anything under the sun can be included under it. Subjects ought to be so restricted that one aspect of a problem or doctrinal question would be discussed. One could possibly go to the opposite extreme and limit overly much, but the danger is usually in the other direction. Only with such proper limitations can one study and analyze adequately Scripture and the Confessions which relate to the theme.
Finally, such conferences ought to be held with definite regularity. Possibly these could be annual events. After all, the questions which divide Reformed churches are many. A single conference hardly “scratches the surface.” Only regular conferences could begin to be beneficial.
But what subjects could be profitably discussed at these conferences? I could make several suggestions which probably are of special interest to us as churches. Aspects of that teaching of common grace could be discussed—particularly the first point. I suppose that the challenge might be made that this is simply a favorite “hobby horse” of ours. Fact is, though, that we greatly deplore this which we consider false doctrine and detect the sad results of this doctrine in the life and walk of those embracing it. Why not, then, study the matter very carefully again in the light of Scripture and the confessions? Another subject which could merit careful scrutiny is that of Arminianism. The Reformed churches, in the Canons of Dordt, express with our old church fathers that we want none of this awful error. Yet repeatedly the question arises: what is Arminianism? We hear charges of rank Arminianism within churches of Reformed persuasion. Let this question be thoroughly aired at a conference. Let us hear and discuss what Reformed leaders regard to be and not to be Arminianism. Related with this, there is the matter of the controversy now going on in the Christian Reformed Churches concerning the love of God and the extent of the atonement. Now it must be possible, without becoming too involved in local church controversies, to study that subject through the hearing of speeches and discussions on these. Or there is the subject of the “creation day.” Very profitably that could be discussed. Other possible subjects could deal with aspects of church polity. At the last conference a passing reference was made concerning the difference between Presbyterian and Reformed churches in ordaining the minister of the Word (local church vs. the presbytery). Some such question of polity could be studied. There is the matter of entertainment. Different views evidently exist among the Reformed on the subject. (One remark was made at the last conference to the effect that if one wanted to attend movies, he would still be very welcome within this particular denomination—but he would not be allowed to sing in church with musical accompaniment.). All right, let us hear the various views concerning proper entertainment for the Christian stranger on this earth. Questions of the lodge membership, labor unions, divorce and remarriage could be studied.
The last conference was not limited to the three member denominations which belonged to the R.E.S. I believe all Reformed churches were invited to attend. The speakers too were not chosen from only the three denominations, but from other Reformed circles as well. I think such is a good policy—for it does not obligate one to membership in an organization, yet it allows for full participation.
Speakers and panel members ought to be chosen in accord with the subject of a conference. Men and denominations which are most concerned with certain problems under discussion ought to be invited to present their views with good Scriptural grounds.
Such a conference, I believe, would be very beneficial to all those concerned.