The 1966 Synod of the Reformed Church in America

The General Synod of the Reformed Church in America which met in Holland, Michigan, in June was neither more radically liberal nor more conservative than past synods. Instead, the Synod contributed predictably and substantially to conforming the Reformed Church in America to the thinking and action of the rest of the ecumenical denominations.

Three radical and devastating departures from Scripture truth and the Reformed Faith were evident in the actions recommended to and dutifully passed by the delegates. It will be recognized by all acquainted with contemporary ecclesiastical movements that these three are precisely the departures from the faith made by ecumenical Protestantism as a whole and the National Council of Churches in particular.

Biblical authority redefined

The most basic departure from the faith evident at Synod was a redefinition of the authority of the Word of God. The shadow of Barth hangs behind this spurious theologizing, but no one has to mention him any more. It seems now to be an accepted fact among the ecclesiastical elite that the expression “the Word of God” refers not to the Bible, but rather to Jesus Christ to whom the Scriptures “bear witness.” This is the position being taught to children in those churches in which the denomination’s Covenant Life Curriculum is being used. The theological alchemists have blended this idea with the concept that Jesus Christ is also the Lord of history. The utterly false conclusion is then drawn that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, speaks to the world and to the church in the movements of history, the “struggle for civil rights,” the “war on poverty,” Vietnam, the United Nations and the “Sino-Soviet rift.” The next step in error is obviously to say then that to be Reformed according to the Word of God is by definition to heed what “Christ” is saying in the convulsions of the contemporary scene and to become involved in them. The General Secretary of the Board of World missions said exactly that from the platform of Synod. He intimated that to be Reformed is to be constantly changing with the times because the movements and patterns in which Christ speaks to the Church are constantly changing. The denominational minister of evangelism urged the delegates to lay aside their systematic theology and get out into the world to join Jesus Christ where he is at work. Presumably this includes the protest marches and whatever else is happening in the world.

For those who still rightly believe that to be Reformed is to be faithful to the infallible Scriptures, and that missions and evangelism are the work of bringing men to salvation by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, it is difficult to understand how a mission secretary and a minister of evangelism can speak this way. The only explanation for it is that the missionary and evangelism machinery of the Reformed Church in America have been taken captive by those who believe and promote the ecumenical dogma that the “mission of the church” is social, political and economic activism “in the world.”

Conversion is not enough

And that was the second departure from the faith evident at the 1966 Synod: a redefinition of the “mission of the church.” Of course, it was never said that the mission of the church is not to win men to Jesus Christ. That would have been too explosive. The closest anyone came to that was the woman minister of another denomination who spoke at the commissioning service for missionaries, and who plainly declared in speaking of the goal of “mission” that “conversion is not enough.”

But the redefinition of the mission of the church was plain for all to see in the report of the Standing Committee on the Board of World Missions. The report began by quoting the Board’s position that “the task in mission is two-fold. It includes witness—to proclaim the new life in Christ to the world…It includes service—in gratitude to God to make the resources of the Christian community available to all men in relation to their need and aspirations.” Observant Christians will notice that the Gospel is missing from this official definition of “mission.” The Gospel is “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3, 4) not the manifestation of the new life in Christ. Further, the new birth and conversion are missing from this definition. The “resources of the Christian community” belong not to the world but to Jesus Christ. Biblically we are freely to give those resources to men not “in relation to their need and aspirations” but rather in relation to Christ’s “aspiration” that men everywhere may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. What is more, it appears that what the Board calls service has, practically speaking, the place of primacy. The only recommendation brought to the Synod (beside details of program and finance) in the area of World Missions was that Synod:

…send a communication to the President of the United States and the congress on behalf of the Reformed Church and its constituency, requesting the United States government to give high priority to new action and legislation toward alleviating world hunger and population problems.

Is this Christian missions? If one accepts the ecumenical definition of the mission of the church, it is. Reformed Church in America ecclesiastical officials apparently accept that definition. And so did the Synod. The recommendation was approved. An attempted amendment which would have left the recommendation intact but added an affirmation of the primacy of the Gospel of salvation in missions little enough for evangelicals to ask—was defeated! The defeat was at least partially because of a missionary to Arabia who arose to say (in agreement with the Board’s definition of “mission”) that he gives men physical and material aid not to bring them to Christ, but simply because they are in need. An objection that that is not Christianity but humanism was rebuked from the chair. And Synod went on to approve the recommendation of its Board of North American Missions that this year’s financial drive be to provide grants in aid for students pursuing advanced degrees in social work.

Recognition of Red China urged

The third departure evident at Synod was from faith in a sovereign God who must be obeyed at any cost and whose grace and omnipotence alone are the hope of his people. This was evident in Synod’s adoption (sometimes by a narrow margin) of most of the recommendations of its unquestionably left-Wing Christian Action Commission. Synod voted 105–100 to adopt a “Policy Statement on the Admission of Red China to the U.N.” The prevailing mood was that we must recognize Red China, trade with her and draw her into disarmament because she is too formidable an enemy. No one can withstand her! One was reminded of the attitude of the craven world toward the beast of the sea in Revelation 13.

In the same spirit, Synod adopted 93–87 the infamous National Council of Churches statement on Vietnam that calls for cessation of all bombing of North Vietnam and a conference table that would include the Viet Cong.

No voice was raised in the Synod to call upon the Church to be an inspiration and example of righteousness and faith to the nation rather than of expediency and compromise. It seems to this writer that the words of our national anthem “then triumph we must, for our cause it is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust’…” is a Reformed sentiment and would therefore have been an expression more worthy of a Reformed Synod.

Let it be said that not all of the delegates to synod went along with these three departures. Many knew that there was something wrong somewhere and voted opposition. Some saw clearly that the root of the whole grotesque theological growth is the displacement of the written Word of God from its position of absolute control over the faith and life of the church. A few saw that the ecclesiastical elite were riding roughshod over the doctrinal Standards of the church. Fewer were willing to call it by its right name: apostacy. And there was no little or no clear, organized and articulate opposition to the ecumenical march. The leaders of that march were unquestionably emboldened to devise more radical proposals for next year.

Other decisions

In other actions, the Synod of 1966:

– took note of the fact that the Classes of the church narrowly defeated the proposed Constitutional amendment to permit the ordination of women to the offices of elder and deacon. A delegate then introduced a new motion to permit the ordination of women as deacons only. The motion was referred to the Executive Committee.

–adopted a statement on “The Unity We Seek to Manifest,” which says, among other things, that the Reformed Church in America is “willing to converse with any church, ready to cooperate with all Christians, committed to participate in councils of churches on all levels, prepared to merge with any church when it is dearly the will of God…”

– voted to proceed with the preparation of a Plan of Union with the Presbyterian Church, U.S., despite the fact that that church has entered the Consultation on Church Union, commonly known as the Blake-Pike Plan. A letter was dispatched to the Presbyterian Church, U.S., asking the meaning of that action. But a conservative minister’s motion that merger plans be held in abeyance until a satisfactory answer is received was defeated. A minister favoring merger proceeded to serve notice on the Synod and on the church that, if the merger were blocked or defeated, he and others would go ahead and merge anyway. Apparently some want merger so badly that they are willing to split in order to have it.

– heard the admission from the Board of Education that only 30% of the churches are using the doctrinally unsound Covenant Life Curriculum, and instructed the Committee on the Revision of the Constitution to determine whether the rest of the churches can be compelled to use it on constitutional grounds.

– heard a report concerning the progress of the Reformed Church Development Fund, a project to be conducted by Ketcham, Inc., a professional church fund-raising organization, for the purpose of securing $6 million in capital funds. The services of Ketcham, Inc. will cost a minimum of $l85,000.

– referred to the churches for study a new brief confession of faith which, among other remarkable features deals with sin and redemption without a single mention of the wrath of God.

Conservative Reformed Christians had little about which to be encouraged.