Any organization has a certain purpose or reason for existence, but also it is motivated by, or based upon, certain principles. One can determine the value or worth of an organization by examining its basis and purpose. Such an examination also ought to reveal whether it is proper for a Christian (or a church) to be member of a specific organization. With this in mind, I intend to present a study of the goals as well as the basis of that organization known as the World Council of Churches (hereafter known as: W.C.C.). Is this an organization of which it could be said that it is possible to belong or not to belong as one might desire? Ought membership in this Council be condemned or praised?
First of all, one must consider the basis for existence. As in most other organizations, the W.C.C; declares its basis in its constitution.
The Constitutional Basis of the W.C.C.
At its organizational meeting in 1948, the W.C.C. approved a constitution which included this as its Basis: “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.” That’s all. Though the statement is so obviously brief, it does seem to include one important element,—the divinity of Christ. It calls Jesus both “God and Savior.” That would seem to imply that the W.C.C. could not receive modernists or “liberals” into its fellowship. For the Constitution further states, “Those churches shall be eligible for membership in the World Council of Churches which express their agreement with the Basis upon which the Council is founded . . . .”
But this extremely brief Basis was undermined by the Provisional Committee which had called the churches to join the proposed Council:
The Provisional Committee, in the Autumn of 1938, sent the proposed Constitution, and an invitation to join the Council on the basis of it . . . . Along with it went an explanatory memorandum that had been prepared by Archbishop William Temple of England who had been elected chairman . . . . In explaining the doctrinal basis, the memorandum said: “It is an affirmation of the Incarnation and the Atonement. The Council desires to be a fellowship of those Churches which accepts these truths. But it does not concern itself with the manner in which these Churches interpret them. It will, therefore, be the responsibility of each particular Church to decide whether it can collaborate on this basis.”¹
Imagine! This basis stresses possibly two things: the divinity of the Savior, and the atonement (if the name “Savior” is supposed to imply that). Yet these two things can be “interpreted” in any manner! What, then, is left of the Basis? The very little that was there in the first place has lost all of its significance. It permits membership of those who deny both the incarnation and atonement.
But this original Basis has been revised by the Third General Assembly which met at New Delhi, India in 1961. Since the organization of the W.C.C., there have been member denominations agitating for an expanded Basis which would include a confession concerning the Trinity. At New Delhi, the Basis was amended as follows: “The W.C.C. is a fellowship of Churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior 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.” So, apparently, the enlarged Basis contains the added references to Scriptures and to the Trinity.
But also this, evidently, is subject to the private interpretation of the individual denominations. Some of the following remarks were made in the discussion of this “Basis”:
By the Remonstrant Brotherhood (Arminian Church) of the Netherlands: “. . . We are able to agree to the final words of the proposed Basis if they are to be regarded as doxology, but we trust that the dogma of the Trinity may never become the touchstone of the admittance of the churches into the World Council.”
Dr. Westphal stated that the Synod National de l’Eglise Reformee de France would accept the new Basis as an attempt: to express the mystery of the divine revelation which does not intend to impose upon the member churches any particular theology.
The Rev. Clifford W.P. Hansen (Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, USA): . . . The proposal “might tend to exclude some conscientious Christians who Jesus himself would welcome, and thus be contrary to the ecumenical spirit. I therefore hope that this Assembly will oppose the motion in anticipation of some more acceptable proposal in the future.”²
So the W.C.C. has a Basis which is open to private interpretation. It is a Basis which contains nothing, nothing binding.
A Basis Without a Foundation
There are many things which could be said about the above Basis. For one thing, it is incredibly brief. Certainly many other points of Scriptural truths ought to be emphasized in a Basis before any church which truly loves God’s Word would desire to join. I do not intend in this article to suggest necessary additions—except one.
The Basis of the W.C.C., though apparently maintaining two or three fundamental Scriptural doctrines, fails exactly because it does not insist on the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It does mention “Scripture,” but that can be interpreted as the constituent members desire. Exactly because the few “doctrines” that are mentioned in the Basis are not founded upon the inerrant Scripture, they are open to all kinds of interpretation. The Basis rests only upon man’s interpretation of it. Therefore some are ready to recognize in the last part of the Basis (. . . one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as a “doxology” but assuredly not as the “dogma of the Trinity.” Then one of the leaders of this ecumenical movement could say, “I see nothing in the Bible, as critically viewed, which supports this particularly weak and unintelligible philosophical organization of the nature of God” (Christian Century, Dec. 21, 1960). And one can see why one of the present six presidents of the W.C.C., the Most Rev. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, although he too confesses “Jesus Christ as God and Savior,” could declare in a newspaper interview in 1961, “Heaven is not a place for professing Christians only. Those who have led a good life on earth but found themselves unable to believe in God will not be debarred from Heaven. I expect to meet some present-day atheists there.”³ Oh, much more could be quoted, but this ought to be plain: when the Basis is not founded upon the inerrant Scripture, then it is open to any interpretation one pleases to give it.
But why, then, is not this important truth included? The advocates of the W.C.C. do have an answer:
The criticism of the ecumenical movement for not explicitly affirming the authority of Scripture has a measure of justification. If there were such an avowal in the World Council’s constitution, it would be a stronger document for its purpose. But the lack of such a formula in the constitution by no means involves a lack of biblical foundations in the Council. Any examination of either its documents for study or of the reports of its Assemblies will provide overwhelming evidence that the Scriptures actually are taken as the authoritative standard . . . .
This does not mean that all participants in the Council’s program describe the authority of the Bible in the same way. They would not all say, for example, that the Scriptures are inerrant in factual data . . . .4
It would be interesting to study all the documents and meetings mentioned above to see the correctness or falsity of the claim that “the Scriptures actually are taken as the authoritative standard . . . .”
You know why the W.C.C. will never plainly “affirm the authority of Scripture,” that is, that Scripture is inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God? The whole organization would be “blown apart” by insisting upon this truth. Surely not a very large percentage of the denominations would agree to such a Basis. Listen what the host-pastor for the Second Assembly at Evanston says concerning Philippians:
Who will deny that Paul made his point,—made it so effectively that it is about all most of us remember from the entire letter of the Philippians? (
ff.) We forget that he no sooner had made it than his common sense tapped him on the shoulder and warned him that he may possibly have overmade it . . . .5
That’s the common view of the inerrant Scripture. Listen to another leader of the ecumenical movement:
Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S. . . . answered virtually scores of questions at an afternoon gathering of the congregation of the church . . . .
Asked whether it is true that Bishops James A. Pike and G. Bromley Oxnam, among others, have cast doubt on the Bible, Dr. Blake suggested that those who question the integrity and judgment of these men read what they have said and not just listen to what is being said about them . . . .
Regarding his own faith, Dr. Blake said that the heart of the matter is that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that absolute adherence to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not necessary to be a Christian. Asked about other religions, he answered that God is the one to decide questions of salvation and that “I am not one to say.” He urged that “we are humble in our judgment of others.”6
Or, there is this report concerning statements made by a W.C.C. member:
Equally friendly, the six presidents of the Christian Assembly went to lay a wreath on the samadhi, the sacred spot which is the memorial to the greatest of Indian Hindus, Mahatma Gandhi . . . . “Wherever the love for God and his fellow man sifts down to earth there is Light, as in Gandhi,” one Christian leader said.7
Quotes could be multiplied a hundred-fold. No wonder the inerrancy of Scripture will never become part of the Basis of the W.C.C. Then too, the Basis necessarily falls as did the house built upon the sand.
On the Basis of the Basis . . . No
May a truly Christian denomination belong to such an organization? There is no doubt that denominations considered “evangelical” do belong to the W.C.C., as the Reformed Church in America. The argument that we are the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) is often used. We must be a good “savor” within such organizations in order to direct them in a proper Scriptural way. We can there “let our light shine.” (The same arguments are used to support membership in other worldly, “neutral” organizations.) But the question arises, how can salt either “preserve” or be a “savor” to that which is thoroughly rotten? As far as I know, that has never been shown. And the official decisions of the W.C.C. show little, if any, of the Reformed “influence.”
On the basis of the Basis, we must conclude that no truly Christian church has a right to belong to the W.C.C. How can such unite with others on the basis of a Basis which contains nothing definite? The little it does contain, is openly, freely refuted by members of the W.C.C.
But there are also other reasons why membership in the W.C.C. is incompatible with the calling of the church of Jesus Christ.
¹ Paul Griswold Macy, If It Be of God, Bethany Press, p. 63
² The New Delhi Report, edited by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft, Associated Press, pp. 153-154
³ Louis Cassels, Christian Primer, Doubleday and Co., pp. 77, 78
4 Samuel McCrea Cavert, On the Road to Christian Unity, pp. 102, 103
5 Harold A. Bosley, What Did the World Council Say td You?, Abingdon Press, pp. 84-85
6 Santa Barbara News-Press, March 20, 1961
7 Grace Nies Fletcher, The Whole World’s in His Hand, E.P. Dutton & Co., p. 36