In the September 1, 1997 issue of this magazine, I commented on a recent ecumenical conference of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and ecumenicals (“‘That They All may be One,’ or ‘The Mystery of the Great Whore’?”). This summer saw another significant ecumenical development. Four large denominations in the tradition of the Reformation adopted a “Formula of Agreement” that established “full communion” among these churches.
Adoption of the “Formula” meant that each denomination now recognizes the others “as churches in which the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered according to the Word of God.” It also meant that each denomination allows the members of the other denominations to partake of the sacraments in its fellowship. Members of the other churches may now come to the Lord’s Table in each of the uniting denominations. In addition, the ordained ministers in the four denominations may now not only preach in all the denominations but also serve as full-time pastors and teachers in all the other denominations, subject to the procedures in the various denominations.
The four denominations are the Presbyterian Church (USA) [PCUSA], the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Reformed Church in America (RCA).
This is a significant ecumenical development. The denominations are large, influential Protestant churches. Their combined membership is some ten million people. There is also the fact that three of the churches stand in the Reformed tradition of the Protestant Reformation, while the fourth is a Lutheran church. The accord is heralded as a healing of the rift between the two great wings of the 16th century Reformation of the church, Reformed and Lutheran.
This ecumenical event manifests important features of the present-day movement to unite all the churches. There is the declaration and expression of oneness without insisting on organizational union. Organizational union will come later. But already now there is oneness. The oneness is expressed by partaking together of the Lord’s Supper. The churches in the Reformed tradition are now one with the Lutherans. The members of the Reformed Church in America are now one with all the members of the United Church of Christ.
Another important feature of contemporary ecumenicity is that the official actions of the churches are promoted by the everyday ecumenicity of the people. This was pointed out by a minister in the RCA in his defense of his church’s uniting with the other churches, especially the godless UCC. Writing in the January, 1997 issue of the Church Herald, Dr. Louis Lotz argued that the people in the RCA and in the ELCA are themselves practicing the oneness of the churches’ official agreement: “There are hundreds of Promise Keepers groups where Reformed and Lutheran men study the Bible and pray together.” Lotz neglected to mention that at the meetings of Promise Keepers and elsewhere, Reformed people are studying, praying, and worshipping also with Roman Catholics, the wildest of charismatics (the Vineyard), and Mormons. Shall the RCA, therefore, unite with Rome, the Vineyard, and the Latter Day Saints? But his point is well taken. If Reformed people can have such fellowship regardless of doctrinal differences, their churches can unite. Indeed, the people put pressure on their churches to unite. There is today a powerful grassroots ecumenicity. The priests and prophets prophesy falsely, but the people themselves would have it so.
In a striking way, the uniting of the four churches makes plain that union of the Protestant churches with Rome is not far off. The same indifference to doctrine that enabled the four churches to unite will enable them all to return to the embrace of “Mother Rome.” This is particularly the case as regards the difference in sacramental doctrine. The three churches in the Reformed tradition were able to unite with the ELCA by ignoring Lutheranism’s doctrine that Christ is physically present in the bread and wine of the Supper so that all who eat, unbeliever as well as believer, eat the substantial body of Christ with their teeth. They will have little difficulty similarly to ignore Rome’s related doctrine of transubstantiation.
The implications of the uniting of the four Protestant churches for the union of all of them with Rome (if Rome will have them!) are even clearer. The August 20, 1997 issue of the Grand Rapids Press reported that the ELCA endorsed a joint declaration with the Roman Catholic Church on how humans are saved from eternal damnation. The declaration states that the two churches are agreed that “humans are saved by the grace of God, and not by anything humans can do on their own.” There is sufficient agreement between the ELCA and Rome on the doctrine of justification that “remaining differences are no longer ‘church dividing.'”
The theologically informed and observant son or daughter of the Reformation will have noticed at once that the declaration does not say, “humans are saved by the grace of God only.” Nor does it flatly assert, “and not by anything humans can do. Period!”
The ELCA took this decision confessing fundamental agreement with Rome on the gospel, with its clear intimation of coming church union, the day after the ELCA approved “historic unity accords” with the PCUSA, the UCC, and the RCA.
Tremendous events are taking place in the churches in fulfillment of the Word of God. The adoption of the “Formula of Agreement” by the four churches was a stage in the formation of the great whore of Revelation 17, the false church of the Antichrist. That this ecumenicity is the unholy counterpart to the oneness of the church of Jesus Christ is proved from the fact that the four churches united, not on the basis of the truth but by ignoring the truth. This was especially evident in the uniting of the three Reformed churches with the Lutheran church in complete disregard for the historical, creedal differences in doctrine over the sacraments.
For three of the churches, the unity could be grounded in their mutual rejection of the truth of Holy Scripture. They are notoriously apostate. The PCUSA is the church that adopted the Auburn Affirmation, which denies cardinal doctrines of the faith, and that expelled J. Gresham Machen, who was contending for the faith. The ELCA is a federation of liberal Lutherans, including those driven out of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church a few years ago for their theological modernism. The UCC is probably the most corrupt Protestant church in North America. Such is its depravity in faith and life that it has officially approved the ordination of practicing homosexuals and lesbians. Darrell Todd Maurina’s “United Reformed News Service” report of March 24, 1997 noted that the 1991 General Synod of the UCC declared that the denomination “boldly affirms, celebrates, and embraces the gifts of ministry of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.”
With these churches, the RCA officially declared “full communion.” By this decision, the RCA made itself and every member of it fully responsible for the unbelief and ungodliness of the other denominations, including the homosexual and lesbian ministers in the UCC. The RCA recognizes the other denominations “as churches in which the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered according to the Word of God.”
The issue that caused the most concern in the RCA was the official approval of homosexuality by the UCC. With good reason. Now the RCA has approved the UCC’s approval of homosexuality. It has become a real possibility that a practicing homosexual or lesbian (the RCA has itself approved the ordination of women ministers) will be called as pastor of an RCA congregation. Adoption of the “Formula of Agreement” opened up the Lord’s Table in every RCA congregation, conservative as well as liberal, to UCC homosexuals and lesbians. There is now “full communion.”
This exposes every RCA congregation and every member in every congregation to the wrath of God. For the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper still means something. The sacraments are still an issue. According to Question and Answer 82 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a creed of the RCA, admission to the Lord’s Table of unbelieving and ungodly persons profanes the covenant of God and kindles His wrath against the whole congregation.
Nevertheless, the RCA’s dismissal of the doctrinal differences between Lutherans and the Reformed over the Supper was even worse. Historically, these differences separated the two great branches of the Protestant Reformation. Originally, Luther and his Lutherans refused fellowship to the Reformed. As the Lutheran theology of the sacraments developed, the Reformed sharply condemned the Lutheran doctrine.
These differences were, and are, weighty. Serious theological issues were, and are, at stake: the nature of grace and salvation; the extent of grace; the nature of the ascension of Christ; the two natures of Christ Himself. These issues are confessional matters for all Reformed Christians, including Reformed Christians in the RCA. Lord’s Days 18 and 25-30 of the Heidelberg Catechism make them confessional matters.
By entering into full communion with the Lutherans, without resolving the differences over the sacraments in general and the Lord’s Supper in particular, the RCA judged the great sacramental controversies of the past to be vain, if not foolish. Implicitly, it denied the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in its own confession, as well as the creed’s condemnation of Lutheran doctrine. At bottom, the RCA’s ecumenical act declared that doctrine as such no longer matters. Doctrine may be set aside in the interests of “love, unity, and peace.”
But doctrine is the Word of God.
The “love, unity, and peace” of the “Formula of Agreement” are at the expense of, and in contempt of, the Word of God.
This is horrible to contemplate.
But this is the spirit, the ecclesiastical spirit, of our age. He will gain power.
Let us who are determined to remain Reformed listen to Calvin in this matter:
We acknowledge no Unity except in Christ; no Charity of which He is not the bond; and … therefore, the chief point in preserving Charity is to maintain Faith sound and entire.
Agreement, or union, is, indeed, singularly a good thing, because there is nothing better or more desirable than peace. But we must ever bear in mind, that in order that men may happily unite together, obedience to God’s Word must be the beginning. The bond, then, of lawful concord among us is this—that we obey God from first to last; for accursed is every union where there is no regard to God and to His Word.
“Accursed is every union where there is no regard to God and to His Word.”