Among the mass of “junk” mail that regularly enters one’s mailbox, the minister is subjected to some in addition to that which most laymen receive. Here in Grand Rapids, we receive regularly and without charge, Grace Notes. Judging from its name, one would think it to be a commendable organization. How could it not be—if its emphasis is upon grace? In fact, a recent flier from GRACE asked the question, “What does GRACE mean to you?” Alongside of that question one could find the definitions presented in the dictionary. But the flier identified what GRACE meant to us, here in Grand Rapids. What do you think it means? It’s an acronym for Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism. Not surprisingly, this organization uses the symbol of the World Council of Churches: a boat on the sea with a cross as its mast.
G.R.A.C.E. recently adopted a new constitution setting forth its purposes and goals. G.R.A.C.E. itself originated out of an organization of ministers in Grand Rapids. Its new form makes it broader than the earlier organization, and allows it to further the cause of ecumenism.
A list of supporting churches and members proves to be rather revealing and enlightening. One would expect to see (and does) many Lutheran churches on the list, as well as United Methodist and Presbyterian. But there are others there too: St. Nicholas Orthodox, Salvation Army, Society of Friends, several Roman Catholic churches. Not quite so expected is the list of supporting Reformed Churches: Bethany, Central, Church of the Saviour, Ninth, Olivet; and one Christian Reformed Church: LaGrave Ave. But on the list is also Temple Emanuel—and as the name suggests, it is a Jewish Synagogue. One recent news letter from G.R.A.C.E. stated, “We are very grateful to all who support us; we hope we are serving you well and look forward to continuing and increased support from the community. We are very pleased to list Mayflower Congregational Church and Temple Emanuel as new members this year.” Well—that is how ecumenism goes in our city. The purpose of G.R.A.C.E. is stated in its constitution, adopted on January 29, 1974:
The purpose of GRACE shall be to promote programs and activities that will reflect the concerns of the faith community represented in the greater Grand Rapids area. Recognizing the diversity of congregations, GRACE will not seek to effect doctrinal unity, but shall endeavor to bring together people of concern, through joint ministry, based on the strengths and resources of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, demonstrating the power of ecumenism.
G.R.A.C.E. proposes to work through two major units of ministry: Ministries to the Church and Ministries to the Community. It professes “to enable collective action where individual action would be impractical or impossible.” G.R.A.C.E. presents a statement also of its activities for 1974:
Activities in 1974: representation on numerous boards of community agencies; workshops: Criminal Justice, Religious Education Resources; Resources for counseling, planning and management, Death and Dying, Serendipity; research and planning for churches and community organizations. We are also involved in planning for and implementing ecumenical worship experiences. Through the media ministries department we are involved in programming for religious topics in radio and TV as well as instrumental in securing fair employment practices in the media industry.
GRACE also works closely with Church Women United, the Sunday Evening Club, the Grand Rapids Ministerial Alliance and the Religious Educators of our Area.
G.R.A.C.E. recently (Sept. 8) held an “Ecumenical Service of Prayer and Praise confirming Gerald R. Ford as President.” The clergy of the city as well as others were invited to participate on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Prayers were offered by all those gathered together. This is one example of the “ecumenical programs” of the “faith community” that this organization sponsors. Many have considered such action praiseworthy and deserving of the support of any true Christian.
More disturbing have been recent announcements which link G.R.A.C.E. with Pine Rest Hospital. At least two announcements I have received, inform the clergy that “Grace and the Chaplains, Department of Pine Rest Christian Hospital invite you to a film discussion and lunch, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1974 at Pine Rest Christian Hospital.” I am uncertain what is involved in this joint sponsorship. However, there is at least the appearance of what I would consider to be an unholy alliance.
Well, what’s wrong with all of this? What objections could we possibly have for organizations, such as G.R.A.C.E., providing .for such endeavors which perhaps individual churches could not? One might indeed be regarded as a “stick in the mud” or some sort of fool for refusing cooperation. Opposition to all of this is considered tantamount to opposing Christ and His work.
Let us keep in mind what has been going on. It is a fact of our times that the drive towards formal mergers of churches has somewhat floundered. Some mergers are still in the wind. Most have fizzled. That is the case often because many people in individual denominations refuse to go along with leaders who are more ecumenically minded.
What is the next best thing—and perhaps even better in the long run than formal mergers? That is cooperation with all sorts of groups. Many peoples, many churches, cooperating together, can accomplish very much. And in the process of this cooperation, these churches and people come to know and appreciate each other. They come to admire the respective strengths of each group. These become fast friends. They may remain in their own separate denominations, but they are one in heart and mind.
It is this sort of ecumenism which must be deplored and denounced as wrong. How can there be union in spiritual endeavors, in areas of education, by those who are not one doctrinally? How can, for instance, Reformed unite with Roman Catholic (of whom the Reformed confess that these are guilty of an accursed idolatry)? How can Jew and Christian support the same projects? Fact is, light and darkness, the truth and the lie, can not unite together. Working together may “demonstrate the power of ecumenism,” but it surely does not demonstrate the power of the cross.
A further consequence of this sort of ecumenism is becoming very evident, especially among the youth. These see no major differences anymore between churches. They see no reason for separation. These increasingly approve closer ties between churches. And intermarriage between those of differing, radically differing, churches (at least, in former years) is on the increase. If the rabbi, priest, and minister can cooperate in many projects, why can not the youth unite in marriage with those of differing religious backgrounds? Why not “demonstrate the power of ecumenism” in this way? An ecumenism which could not attain its goal of formal unions, now seems to have been more successful through a unity in separation by cooperation. And it is having a decided effect upon the churches and especially the youth.
Criticism can justly be raised also concerning joint prayer and worship services. Now no true child of God is against proper prayer. And surely prayer is not uttered only by those of one specific denomination. But: in these joint services, are all really praying to the same God? When all are invited, from Temple Emanuel to LaGrave Ave. Christian Reformed (and we were too), can one really believe that unitedly these all would be addressing the same God? Can those guilty of “accursed idolatry” unite in prayer with those who confess, “I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ”? Can those who deny Christ as Son of God unite in prayer with those who acknowledge Him as Divine? Can those who deny or question the hereafter unite in prayer with those who look for the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells? The answer ought to be obvious.
I am convinced that in this instance G.R.A.C.E. is not grace. This sort of G.R.A.C.E. can only serve to tear down and destroy the foundations of the church. Increasingly, there is less opposition to improper and godless unions. The idea of cooperation is appealing. In unity there appears to be strength. And all this is but part of the world-wide endeavor to unite mankind.
We too must be warned. Our youth must beware. Be not swayed by the siren songs of unity and ecumenism. There may and can be the seeking of proper fellowship between those of like mind also within different denominations. But worship and prayer and cooperation in various endeavors between those of vastly different doctrinal positions certainly is not a fulfillment of Christ’s prayer, “That they may all be one.” Mark this sign of the end of the age. We will be seeing much more of this sort of thing in the next months and years.