The original title of last month’s excellent article by Dr. L. Praasma on the World Council of Churches mentioned only the Growth and Objectives of that organization. The writer felt that his article would not be complete unless he devoted some space to the Basis of the Council as expressed in its “affirmation of the Christian faith” and added some pertinent material on that point. For that reason we added the word “Basis” to the subtitle of his article. He did not know that the third, or following, article in this series, as planned by the Editorial Committee, would deal exclusively with that subject. This was assigned to the present writer. We shall try not to repeat what Dr. Praamsma has written on the Basis of the World Council but request the readers of this article to refer to his material on page eight of the March issue.
Before presenting our views on the Basis of the World Council we feel we should state that Our views are based on certain assumptions pertaining to the nature of the church of Christ, particularly its unity, which will be set forth in a future article. We hold on the basis of Scripture that the unity of the church is essentially spiritual. not organizational. This does not mean that there need not be a visible expression of this unity. For one thing, the coming together of Christians for public worship is a manifestation of that unity. Denominational gatherings and activities also reveal that unity. The same is true of inter-denominational agencies and organizations. But to say that “there is no such thing as an ‘invisible unity of the Church,’” is to forget that there is an invisible as well as a visible side to the Church and to ignore the spiritual bond that unites all its living members through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of them all.
We do not believe that the various denominations should seek organic union or some form of Federation unless they are agreed on fundamentals of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship. The external unity promoted by the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Christian Churches in America is built on the sands of internal division. Unity is sought at the expense of the truth, as revealed in Scripture. This kind of unity does not promote the welfare of the church nor will it in the end enhance its reputation in the world.
In this matter we can agree with the International Council of Christian Churches, one of the two principal competitors of the World Council. This body “does not seek organic union of its member bodies…(Art. B. of its Constitution) but seeks to be a world-wide agency…for fellowship and cooperation on the part of Bible-believing churches for the proclamation and defense of the gospel, for the maintenance of a testimony pure, and stedfast, and world-wide, to those great facts and revealed truths of historic Christianity and especially to the great doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, for the accomplishment of the tasks which can better be done in cooperation than separately…” We do not say that we favor affiliation with this Council but we do believe that its conception of ecclesiastical unity and of the proper basis of such unity is far sounder than that of the World Council. A future article in this series will discuss various organizations that are competitors of the WCC.
A COUNCIL OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN THE WORLD?
Why is the WCC called a WORLD Council? Merely because it desires to have Churches from all parts of the world in its fold or because its ambition is to include all the churches of the world? We are not sure. Nevertheless, its trend is definitely in favor of encompassing all of Christendom. The basis of this Council, as formulated in its “affirmation of faith,” still seems to exclude such very liberal bodies as the Unitarians and the Universalists. Before the Assembly at New Delhi, that basis read as follows: “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior.” At New Delhi, at the insistence of the Greek Orthodox Churches, the following words were added: “according to the Scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” However, it was stipulated when the Council was established, that it “does not concern itself with the manner in which the churches interpret these truths.” It is well to remember how common it is for liberals to pour new meanings into old terms. If a liberal Church feels that it can square its denial of the eternal Godhead of Jesus Christ, of the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the divine authority of the Bible with the loose affirmations of the World Council on these points, there would seem to be no reason for their exclusion from the Council. Take, for example, the statement about “God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Nothing is said here to the effect that there are three distinct persons in the one divine Being. Some hold that these three. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are one and the same Person in his various modes or manifestations. We suppose few liberals would refuse to subscribe to such a statement.
THE WORLD COUNCIL IS N OT A PROTESTANT ORGANIZATION
Our first objection to the Basis of the World Council is that it bypasses the Protestant Reformation and virtually denies its necessity. Its membership is not restricted to Churches that hold to the evangelical faith. By accepting the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and related Churches in the satellite countries, it has virtually repudiated the principles of Protestantism. The doctrine of salvation only by grace through faith, solely on the ground of the merit of Christ’s passive and active obedience, is the very heart of the gospel. The Basis of the World Council is much less specific than the Apostles’ Creed, which Protestantism has in common with Roman Catholicism. There is ample room for the Church of Rome in this Council; in fact, the Council is wooing this Church and would not hesitate, judging by its performance at New Delhi, to receive this Church with open arms even if the latter would refuse to make any concessions in matters of doctrine or government. And this, we are sure, Rome would not do. In fact, one of its prominent representatives who appeared on the recent hour-long television program extolling the World Council and its meeting at New Delhi, made the statement that on those two matters Rome would yield nothing.
It is our conviction that the teachings of Scripture imply that every church councilor federation or association should be evangelical in its basis and that such a basis should find a clear and unequivocal expression in carefully formulated statements. Such statements are found, for example, in the articles of faith adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE ) and the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC). We quote just a few of the NAE formulations; “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in his virgin birth, in his sinless life, in his vicarious and atoning death through his shed blood, in his bodily resurrection, in his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in his personal return in power and glory. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful man, the operation of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.” The ICCC has a similar, evangelical statement of faith. The same is true of the Evangelical Press Association (EPA) and other inter-denominational agencies. Why is it impossible for the World Council to make such specific affirmations of the Christian faith? Because its avowed purpose is to include all or nearly all church bodies in its membership, whether they are evangelical or liberal. As a matter of fact, many of its constituent bodies and prominent leaders deny or question the evangelical faith. Many reject the most fundamental of all Scriptural truths, basic to all other revealed truths, that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. The Council’s General Secretary, Visser ‘t Hooft, a Hollander, is known as a Barthian and all Barthians deny the infallibility of Scripture. The teaching that men can be saved only by the merits of Jesus Christ through a personal faith in him as their atoning Substitute, who bore the penalty of their sin, is anathema to many in the Council.
According to a recent release of the ICCC, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, a newly elected officer of the WCC, in a lengthy interview in the London Daily Mail, Monday, October 21, 1961, was reported as saying; ‘Heaven is also not a place to which we humans go in our present bodily state, nor is it a place for Christians only. Those who have led a good life on earth but have found themselves unable lo believe in God will not be debarred from Heaven. I expect to meet some present-day atheists there’.” Many more radical utterances could be added by men who are conspicuous in World Council activities. To be sure, there are not a few evangelicals, Bible-believing Christians, in the World Council and in Churches belonging to it, but its doctrinal basis and its inclusivistic policy makes it impossible for the evangelical element to keep the liberals out and to put their stamp on the policies and activities of the Council.
If our position is correct, that the doctrinal basis of every church council should at the least be evangelical, there can be no place for a union of all the churches of Christendom. There is a thoroughgoing, basic difference between those churches that adhere to the gospel as taught by Christ and the apostles and those that have departed from it. We deplore this, we grieve because of it, but it is a fact that cannot be controverted. A world council, one that seeks to embrace all the churches of Christendom, is basically unsound because it ignores the cancer of apostasy that has been allowed to eat its way into the vitals of many a church, dooming them to spiritual death. Or to change the figure, these churches have been infected with the deadly virus of unbelief which not only works havoc ill their own ranks but also makes them a source of danger to others who arc closely associated with them.
THE TRUE AND THE FALSE CHURCH
The exclusivism which we have defended is justified by what the Scripture and our Belgic Confession teach on the subject of the false church in distinction from the true church.
Scripture does not speak literally of a false church, but it does warn the believers against false christs and false prophets and those who teach a false gospel. Jesus speaks of the former in his discourse on the signs of the times (Matthew 24) and Paul condemns the latter in what some might call intemperate language in Galatians 1. He speaks of those who “pervert the gospel of Christ” and adds these blistering words: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him by anathema. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.” What was that “other gospel” which some preached to the Galatians? That sinners are justified partly by faith and partly by obedience to the ceremonies of the law. But that “false gospel” was almost a mild heresy compared with the radical teachings of many in the modern church.
Moreover, much of what the New Testament teaches about false prophets and false gospels implies that they were doing their nefarious work in the churches of that day. They had even corrupted some of these churches so that they had lost or nearly lost their identity as churches of Christ. This wiU explain the urgency and frequency of the New Testament warnings against this evil. Jesus speaks of the false prophets as coming in sheep’s clothing. In this way they gain entrance among the saints (Matt. 7:15), TI)is thought is given special prominence in the parable of the sheepfold (John 10). In his farewell to the elders at Ephesus Paul minces no words i.n describing the designs of false teachers against the church: “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” This is as true of the Church today as it was of the church at Ephesus.
In his first and second epistle the apostle John warns against the deceivers who deny that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh and forbids the faithful to have fellowship with them. And, to mention no more passages, the glorified Christ commends the church at Ephesus (they had not forgotten Paul’s farewell admonition): “thou didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false.”
The contention by defenders of the World Council anti kindred organizations that the true·false church distinction is no longer valid today or that the false church consists only of individuals in the church who deny the faith, not of churches as a whole, is only Wishful thinking. Many congregations and even denominations that once adhered to the doctrines of salvation now espouse or at least tolerate the false gospel which the New Testament condemns and warns against. The appeal to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, in which he warns us against trying to separate them, is misplaced. The “tares” of which the Lord speaks do not point to those who openly deny the doctrines of grace or lead godless lives but signify the hypocrites in the church who cannot be distinguished from true believers because they imitate their professions and their godly walk.
Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, which describes “the marks of the true church, and where it differs from the false church,” was written before the present-day fragmentation of Protestantism into many denominations and sects. The Reformed Church is spoken of as the true Church while the sects, as for example the Anabaptists, and especially Rome are described as the false church. This article is badly in need of revision. Nevertheless, the fundamental ideas of this article are as valid today as in the days of Guido de Bres. It explains by what objective standards the churches and sects must be judged. Significantly, these standards are not said to be the creeds of the church, for churches do not always adhere to their doctrinal standards. This article teaches that a church must be judged by its preaching of the pure gospel, the maintenance of the sacraments in their purity, and the faithful exercise of disciple. In short, a church is a true church of Christ only “if all things are managed according to the pure Word or God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged [not only in word but in deed!–K.} as the only Head of the Church.”
This article brands the false church as one which ascribes more power to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, refuses to submit to Christ’s yoke, and fails to administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word. Then the article adds: “These two churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.” It was much easier in those days, and it is today, to distinguish between a truly Reformed Church and the Church of Rome. with its many errors, than it is for us to separate the true church from the false church in the multiplicity of denominations and sects. It is difficult sometimes to draw the line between a church that is very impure and one that is false; between one that is mistaken in many of its teachings but still holds inconsistently to some of the most essential doctrines of the gospel and one that has definitely abandoned the true message of salvation. However, if a denomination no longer tolerates men who preach the unadulterated gospel of free grace and protest against those who deny it, if it refuses to discipline the ungodly and unbelieving, if it compromises with organizations that are anti-christian in character, if it casts out faithful ministers of the gospel, it shows plainly the marks of a false church.
It would be very difficult for a Church Council that has an evangelical basis to refuse membership to denominations that have begun to depart from the Word of Cod in their preaching, administration of the sacraments, and exercise of discipline. These should be accepted if they are willing to subscribe to an evangelical creed like that of the NAE as quoted above. 1t is not at ull likely that a denomination whose synods and boards are controlled by men with modernist leanings would care to subscribe to a doctrinal statement which affirms the deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of our Lord, his literal ascension to heaven and his bodily return on the clouds of heaven.
This is certain: If the World Council had an evangelical basis many, if not most, of the church bodies now affiliated with it, would not and could not have become members.
FELLOWSHIP WITH LIBERALS IS CONTRARY TO SCRIPTURE
There are orthodox Christians, even in some churches of Reformed persuasion, who hold that evangelical bodies should seek membership in the World Council in order to strengthen the conservative element among its membership and its leaders. That is one of the arguments used by prominent theologians in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Billy Graham, one of the evangelicals present at New Delhi, apparently cherishes the same opinion. We read on page 26 of Christianity Today, December 8, that he made the following statement: “While the influence of the great evangelists has waned in the World Council, I’m hoping that some of that influence can be preserved.” But anyone who looks at the World Council with unclouded eyes and without wishful thinking will realize that this hope is an illusion. From the beginning of its existence in 1948 it has been dominated by men of the liberal stamp and there is no evidence that there will be a real change in direction. The same is true of nearly all of the Conferences out of which the Council has grown, beginning with Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. Only a world-wide revival and return to the true gospel and the principles of the Reformation, at the time when the World Council was established, could have produced an organization with a more evangelical stamp. But those who took the lead in its formation were liberals or semi-liberals, many of them ardent supporters of the social gospel, while many of the Churches which joined were unconcerned about sound doctrine. Now that the Greek Orthodox Church and the clergy of Russia and its satellite countries were admitted, without debate, and the leaders turn their longing eyes to the Church of Rome, the desire for a more evangelical trend is a forlorn hope.
Besides, the contention that conservatives should join the Council for the sake of reforming it, or purifying its witness, stands condemned by the Scriptural prohibition of seeking Christian fellowship with those who deny the teachings of the Word of God. How can we ever justify close voluntary association with men as brothers in Christ who deny the infallibility of the Bible, the eternal Sonship of Christ, the virgin birth, and the physiC’ll resurrection of our Lord; who refuse to believe in the doctrine of salvation only by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Spiritual fellowship with those whom we must regard as enemies of the truth, wolves in sheep’s clothing, is treason to the cause of Christ. The words of the apostle Paul are applicable here: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity…and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?…Wherefore, come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” We do not deny the sincerity, the earnestness, and the zeal of the leaders of the World Council for the ecumenical cause; but they are deluded men, judged by the standards and criteria of the Word of God. Let us not be deceived by their pious utterances.
The modern movement for church union, fostered especially by the World Council and the National Council in our country, is a tremendously popular movement. We cannot brush it aside. It is no exaggeration to say that it is, by all human standards, the most powerful movement in Christendom today. Though we must reckon with, we should fear it. If it is not a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that his disciples may be one, which we strenuously deny (see the next chapter ), it is a ghastly attempt to combine truth and falsehood, the church of Christ with the synagogue of Satan, and should be abhorred by all who love the gospel of divine grace. We regard it as “the beast out of the earth,” depicted in Revelation 13, whose appearance is like that of a lamb but whose speech is that of the dragon (vs. 11).
The World Council reminds us of the Juggernaut of India. This was the title given to a prominent Hindu deity, and it means: the Lord of the World. At an annual festival in his honor in one of the cities of India it was customary for its devotees to place this idol in a large car shaped like a temple and to draw it through the city. As it approached, the worshippers were supposed to throw themselves under its wheel where they would be crushed to death as a sacrifice to this god.
We regard the World Council as a modern Juggernaut, riding victoriously over the ecclesiastical terrain, flattening out the denominations and old historic churches which have fallen for its pious pretensions. They are crushed under the weight of its errors, not realizing that it will squeeze out the few remnants of their doctrinal and spiritual distinctiveness. In time they will conform more and more to the colorless pattern of the modern church, shunning everything that is truly evangelical and Scriptural, substituting a social gospel and a humanistic faith for the real evangel, and in the name of Christ offering the heathen nations only an amalgam of diluted Christianity with the pagan religions of the non-Christian world.