The RES and the WCC (2)

Last time I called your attention to the fact that the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES) reaffirmed its previous stand that the member churches ought not to join the W.C.C. (World Council of Churches) in the present situation. This decision was based upon the advice of a study committee which, in the majority report, set forth its reasons for the advice. In reviewing this report, we have already noticed how this committee points out the nature and the basis of the W.C.C. both of which give reason for the advice: do not join the W.C.C. 

There is a final section in the report of the majority of the committee of pre-advice which is worthy of consideration: the unity of the church as conceived and practiced by the W.C.C. 

The report points out that there has been a development or evolution of the concept of unity in the W.C.C. At the inception of the movement toward unity, there existed an “as if”-concept of unity. One writer declared, “that in the region of moral and social questions we desire all Christians to begin at once to act as if they were one body in one visible fellowship. This can be done by all alike without any injury to theological principles.” However, this early concept of unity soon met with several objections. Some of these were: (a) “Common action without attempting to agree on the content of the Christian faith, is altogether different from the fellowship in Christ of which the New Testament speaks.” (b) “It creates the impression that a utilitarian relationship is an adequate response to the call which God addresses to His Church and to the need of the world.” (c) It is inadequate to restore real physical unity. 

Gradually, among those promoting organic unity, this “as-if” idea of unity was replaced by the idea that “we have our unity already in Christ”—which was regarded as the given unity upon which organic unity might be based. This given unity was then the starting point

The report suggests that the unity as conceived of by most of the members of the W.C.C. consists of four aspects: (a) the given unity which is the basic starting point; (b) the present manifestation of unity and its growth; (c) the unity towards which we must work—physical unity of the church on earth; (d) the unity as ultimately realized in Christ. This “given unity,” the first of the four points listed above, is explained in W.C.C. decisions and publications. The following was presented in the official report from New Delhi:

The unity which is given is the unity of the one Triune God from whom and through whom and to whom are all things. It is the unity which he gives to his people through the gift of his Son, who by his death and resurrection binds us together in him in his sonship to the one Father. It is the unity given to his people through his Spirit, and through all the gifts of the Spirit which enliven, edify, and empower the new humanity in Christ.”

The second point above, “the unity of the road,” has become the basis for combined action. On the basis of this, the Christian is compelled to do together whatever his conscience does not compel him to do separately. 

The third point above, the “unity of goal,” emphasizes especially what members of the W.C.C. have in mind. The W.C.C. declared at New Delhi: “Christian unity has been the primary concern…from the beginning, and the vision of the one church has become the inspiration of our ecumenical endeavor.” The same gathering declared:

We believe that the unity which is both God’s will and his gift to his Church is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Saviour are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls his people.

Finally, there is envisioned also some sort of eschatological unity—that which is realized when “God sums up all things in Christ.” 

The RES committee report points out that there are certain ideas of unity as expressed by the W.C.C. with which they could agree. The committee notes “with appreciation that the W.C.C. sees the spiritual unity of all believers in Jesus Christ as the essential aspect, which underlies all other aspects.” The committee also agrees that this “spiritual unity must be realized in avisible unity.” 

Yet the committee has “fundamental objections to the way in which the W.C.C. operates with this unity-concept.” First, the committee has real problems with the way in which the W.C.C. interprets what is called the “given unity.” The committee writes:

But we have also seen that in the New Testament this unity is always a “qualified” unity. It is a unity characterized and determined by faithful adherence to the word of the apostles (cf.

John 17).

It is always a unity-in-the-truth . . . . 

Precisely on this point we encounter one of the great problems of the modern ecumenical movement. It is an undeniable fact that in many of the churches, which constitute the W.C.C., the situation is such that heresy is tolerated and that those who preach and teach it have a legitimate place in their church. Here we find the deep ambiguity and “schizophrenia” of modern ecumenical thought. 

Here the basic question lies, which all Reformed Churches will have to answer in order to come to a conscious and justified decision concerning the ecumenical problem. Are they allowed and prepared to accept co-responsibility for this situation by affiliation with the W.C.C.? Are they able and prepared to agree with this witness of the W.C.C. concerning the given unity,—a witness that is given in behalf of all the participating churches—, while they know that many of these churches tolerate liberalism as a legitimate modality and some of them also become more and more “catholic” in their doctrine of the ministry? We for ourselves believe that, on the basis of the New Testament, the answer must be in the negative.

Secondly, the committee has objections to the W.C.C.’s concept of unity because it involves recognizing many other churches as manifestations of the Body of Christ-churches in which fundamental heresies are condoned. They write:

Today there is a general awareness that it is our task “to seek fellowship with all those who, while not members of the same visible body, belong together as members of the mystical body.” In reality, however, the W.C.C. goes much further. It proclaims this fellowship as an existing reality in the ecumenical movement (i.e. the W.C.C. itself), without, in all earnestness, speaking against or rejecting that which threatens or denies this unity. To put it in the terminology of the Belgic Confession: the W.C.C. speaks only of the true church-aspect, without explicit rejection of the false church-aspect (i.e., the work of Satan). It even refuses to accept the possibility of the false church within the W.C.C. itself, for in the report on “Christian Witness, Proselytism, and Religious Liberty,” (adopted by the Central Committee at St. Andrews, 1960) it says: “Membership in the W.C.C. places a moral obligation upon the churches to observe a particular attitude in this discussion. It would be inconsistent with this membership for one member church altogether to deny another member church the status of a church, or to regard it as entirely heretical or hopelessly given over to abuses, so that its members could only be helped by being rescued from it. On the basis of their common confession of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour and as the One Head of the Church, member churches jointly recognize ‘hopeful signs’ in each other.”

The committee, in conclusion, warns against two extremes: “On the one hand, there was the danger ofdoctrinal labadism, that absolutizes its own formulations and is unable to see the difference between centre and periphery. On the other hand, there was the danger of doctrinal latitudinarianism, that relativizes all differences and refuses to speak the ‘anathema’ (Gal. 1:8).” The committee believes that the first extreme is one into which churches of the Reformed faith can easily fall. The latter extreme is one into which the W.C.C. has fallen. The committee quotes from W.C.C. decisions and publications showing that consistently the W.C.C. minimizes doctrinal differences. It refuses generally to speak of heresy or recognize its existence. The W.C.C. speaks of “common faith (which) allows for certain differences of interpretation and practice”—but nothing is said of heresy within churches. 

On the other hand, this same W.C.C. speaks out forcefully regarding separation between churches. This is regarded as THE heresy of which churches are guilty today. The W.C.C. says, “When diversity disrupts the manifest unity of the body, then it changes its quality and becomes sinful division.” And, “Even when we have done that which we thought it right to do, we must remember that we are culpably implicated in sin not wholly of our own making and cannot dissociate ourselves from the sin of division.” 

The committee’s conclusion, in the conviction of this writer, on the basis of its report, is correct: churches ought not join the W.C.C. in the present situation. Fact is, the situation in the W.C.C. will not improve—it will only deteriorate. It rests upon wrong foundations and principles—its structure, therefore, can not somehow become sound. Any church would simply delude itself were it to think that by joining, the W.C.C. it could make its own good influence felt. Light and darkness may never work together.