The Constitutional Basis of the W.C.C.

“The World Council of Churches is relatively young, but it did not come about overnight. After centuries of separation, the Christian Churches in the twentieth century set about to heal their divisions and earnestly to seek the unity of the Church.” So reads the brochure, “What is the World Council of Churches?,” published by the WCC shortly after the Conference in New Delhi in 1961. The history of the WCC begins in 1910 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A world missionary conference was held whose purpose was to prove that missions demands unity among the churches. From this first great endeavor to establish unity among the churches, three movements arose. The first was the International Missionary Council which was organized in 1921. The purpose of this council was to coordinate and assist missionary work throughout the world. This movement was followed in 1925 by the Life and Work order which had its first world conference in Stockholm, and had the purpose of stimulating Christian action in society. In 1927 the Faith and Order Movement was organized. This group was established in order to study the things that kept Christian communions apart. It also attempted to find those doctrines which were held in common, and which thus would be a basis for union and Christian fellowship. In 1938 the Faith and Order Movement and the Life and Work Order merged to form a provisional committee of the World Council.

The World Council of Churches was officially constituted in Amsterdam in 1948. In 1961 the International Missionary Council and the World Council were integrated. This was done at the third General Assembly held in New Delhi in that year. Since 1948, the World Council of Churches has held three world assemblies. In 1954 it met in Evanston, I,L on the campus of Northwestern University. Then in 1961 it met in New Delhi, India for the Third World Conference of the WCC. And this year it met in Geneva, Switzerland for the Fourth World Assembly.

The main consideration as far as we are concerned is the basis for the World Council of Churches. This basis is stated at the very outset of the Constitution. The full quotation of that basis is as follows: “The World Council of Churches 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.”

Superficially observed, this basis for the World Council of Churches is rather acceptable. However, we ought to notice several things about this statement which definitely make it completely unacceptable to the Christian Reformed Church in particular, and to all Bible believing Christians in general.

1. The World Council first of all deliberately does not define what this basis means. It states that all churches that accept this statement are eligible for membership. But then, in an amazing statement of double talk, it goes on to describe what this basis really means. I quote from a pamphlet distributed by the World Council entitled, “Questions and Answers about the World Council of Churches.” “The Basis is not a confession of faith, but an affirmation of belief which defines the nature of the Council and the limits of the unity it expresses. Any attempt to make it a confession would be totally unacceptable to the WCC’s member churches, since the duty to confess the faith in its fullness is considered by most Christians to be one of the distinguishing marks of the church. Were the WCC to adopt a confession of faith or seek to interpret the Basis as such a confession, it would itself become a church. The Council does not pass judgment upon the sincerity with which its member churches accept its basis, but it reminds them that without full and sincere acceptance membership would be meaningless.” Now this statement regarding the basis for the WCC is as subtle and ambiguous a statement as could be found. It says, for example, that it sets the limits of the unity it expresses. What does this mean? Apparently it means that this basis which is written is the bare minimum that could be found which would still be accepted by all the churches involved. But what is even worse, is that this statement that clarifies the basis states that the WCC is not really interested how any of the churches that form the WCC interpret this basis. For example, if a given church states that as far as it is concerned, Jesus Christ is not God and Savior, and the Scriptures are not in any sense the Word of God, it could still hold to this basis by a sort of mental reservation regarding both these points. Thus one can sign the basis and deny every part of it simply by holding that denial within his mind. And the Council states that if this is the way some church wants to take the Basis, that is strictly up to that church. The WCC is not going to pass judgment on how the churches interpret its basis.

When we consider this basis and the WCC’s interpretation of it, we must say in all charity that the doctrinal foundation is utterly meaningless as a platform for unifying any body of churches. Though the Council has words to act as the front for its movement, the council is as a matter of fact built on another basis, actually no basis at all as far as Christ’s Name is concerned. For the basis can mean just what anybody wants it to mean. The basis that is made by the WCC is nullified and thus actually denied by the statement used by the WCC to interpret and explain it. As one writer puts it, it is fundamentally dishonest to make such a confession and then withdraw it in qualifying explanations. The WCC would be honest with itself and the churches if it declared that it had no doctrinal statement at all, but was simply an association or organization of churches. At least that would be honest. But the Council is caught in the dilemma of trying to be what in fact it is not.

The Council is, however, also dishonest when it constantly holds before the churches of the world the fact that it is based on belief that Jesus Christ is God and Savior according to the Scriptures. For the very Council itself denies this basis by the various members who are free to interpret it according to their own desires. The subtlety of the WCC is apparent, of course, by this kind of action. For when it parades the basis for the Council, many unwary and perhaps well-meaning people are led astray into thinking that the Council does indeed hold this basis. They are led to believe that if the WCC makes this statement as its doctrinal basis, then every individual church that forms that Council also holds to that basis strictly in accordance with the Word of God. But the fine print which is not of course paraded before the churches, is ignored. And as a result the WCC is able to win many unthinking and indiscriminate people to its side.

2. A second thing that ought to be pointed out about this Basis for the Constitution of the WCC is its great brevity. The statement that serves as the doctrinal basis for the WCC is only one sentence, and not a long one at that. Is there any reason for this undue brevity? After all, when a group of people get together in such an organization as this, one would think that the basis for unity would be spelled out in a rather elaborate fashion. But this is not so in perhaps the largest union of its kind in the world. Why not? The reason, of course, is obvious when you give it some thought. It is because this is the only common denominator that could be accepted by all the churches that were involved in the Council. The basis was so phrased and so designed so as not to offend any of the Catholic bodies that might be joining, or any of the liberal churches that were in fact already part of the World Council. If, for example, the Council had defined what it meant by calling the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior, and if it had defined this the way Scripture defines it, namely, by emphasizing the vicarious atonement of Christ, which is our righteousness on the basis of faith alone, and not at all on the merits of any works of ours, the Council would immediately lose all the liberals who deny the vicarious atonement of Christ, not to mention their abject denial of the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. And of course, such an interpretation would also scandalize the Roman Catholic Church which the Council would love to woo into its midst. And thus the council had to stop at the very minimum lest it destroy the friendship of those who deny the Scriptures. The basis as it was designed was written so as to include everyone who is even in the broadest sense of the term Christian. Those who hold tradition over and above Scripture will find no problem whatever with this basis; those who maintain the mediacy of the Virgin Mary, and the cooperation of the saints to be open to them through prayer will not find these heresies reproached by this basis. There is thus the opening of a kind of cooperation based on something so anemic, and yet so subtly evil that it masquerades as a tool of the Holy Spirit to bring about the kind of unity that Christ desires.

It is obvious to anyone who loves the Word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, that this brevity, this lack of explanation of these doctrines which are brought out in this basis is a most important reason for a complete separation of the Christian Reformed Church from the World Council of Churches. How can true Christians enter into cooperation with an organization that virtually denies the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ? How can a church which attempts to be true to the Word of God join in cooperation with those who refuse to praise the mercy and grace of God for the salvation that He has provided through the merits of His only begotten Son? It is, to say the very least, God dishonoring to refuse to come out strongly and courageously for the praise of God. When all that the Church holds dear concerning Jesus Christ is at stake, what is said in accordance with Holy Scripture must be specifically and unmistakably set forth for his glory, in order that there may be no trifling. compromising or debauching of his Name. God has given him a Name which is above every Name. There should be no hesitancy or disagreement on this point by any person who claims to believe the Scriptural teaching of the nature and work of Jesus Christ. It is this basic and fundamental flaw in the World Council’s setup, their disagreement over Christ himself, his person and his work, that must be seen by all who love the Lord. There can be no fellowship with those who disagree on these basis Scriptural teachings.

3. The third, and perhaps most basic, of the things that must be said regarding the Basis for the Constitution of the World Council of Churches is the fact that it is called a fellowship. The basis as stated by the WCC reads, “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures.” Were the Christian Reformed Church to become part of the World Council, it too would be part of this fellowship. We must ask, therefore, in regard to this basis just what is meant by “fellowship.” What is fellowship, and on what basis can such fellowship be maintained? We are speaking here in this basis about a fellowship that is based upon what these churches believe about the Lord Jesus Christ. It is therefore a fellowship that exists regarding spiritual beliefs and understandings. One can conceive, for example, of a fellowship between people that is based upon a common love for fishing. The Isaac Walton League would be comparable to that kind of fellowship. But obviously, the WCC is not based on a common love for fishing, or any other natural or physical thing. It is based on a common expression of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore when we consider what this fellowship consists of, we must go to the place where that kind of fellowship is most clearly defined and expressed, namely the Scriptures.

The Bible is very clear on its definition of what fellowship is, and upon the basis for such fellow~hip. Perhaps the clearest statement of such fellowship is found in the first epistle of John. In I John 1:6,7 we read, “If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” What John is saying is that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Therefore if someone is walking in darkness, it is obvious that he is not walking with God. For God is light, there is nothing dark with him. Thus John can say that there is no possibility of any fellowship with God on the part of those who are walking in darkness. Now as we have already seen, the basis that the WCC drew up is so worded so as to leave room for any interpretation of what it means that Jesus Christ is God and Savior; it further is so worded as to carefully avoid any offence to those who deny the very truths which ought to be found in the statement that Jesus Christ is God and Savior. Those who are able to maintain this basis do so at the risk of denying the great truths of Scripture as they are brought to bear upon the Person and Work of Christ. For the same statement that one holds as true is denied by another, and yet both can be found equally well within the context of the World Council. It is obvious, therefore, that those who deny the truth of Scripture regarding God, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are not walking in fellowship with God. They are instead living in darkness. They are denying the only light of the world, who is Jesus Christ. There can be no fellowship that they experience with the God of light in whom is no darkness at all.

But that is not all that John says. He goes on to speak of the effect of such walking in darkness upon others. He says, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There is clearly defined the basis for fellowship one with another. It is based only upon a common walking in the light. There can be no fellowship with those who walk in the darkness. The fellowship that we may have, he points out, is only a fellowship that is with those who walk in the light as Christ is in the light. And who are those who walk in the light? They are those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Son of God. This is most clear. On the basis of what the Word of God says here, the only kind of fellowship that is permissible, indeed that is even recognized, is a fellowship that is based on belief in the forgiveness of sins through the atonement of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Let us ask ourselves as a Church in all honesty: does the World Council of Churches say anything about that kind of basis for fellowship? Does it speak about the atonement of Jesus Christ to take away the sins of those who believe in him? On the contrary, far from saying anything so specific, it takes away the very thing that it does say about Jesus Christ by leaving the door wide open to any and all who find even this brief statement too demanding for their churches. There can be no fellowship with that kind of group. Such union is a travesty on the Scriptural definition of fellowship.

On the other hand, when those who would advocate our membership in the WCC claim that such membership would only be a place where ideas and differences can be discussed; that such membership would not mean partaking in the same beliefs that are held by other member churches; they are contradicting the very basis of the WCC itself. The WCC defines what membership means. And it does not define such membership as a mere clearing house for ideas and discussion. It defines membership as a fellowship among churches. As we have seen, when we talk about fellowship we are talking about a great deal more than discussion. We are talking about the kind of thing that the Bible means by fellowship. namely holding in common to the Scriptures and all that they infallibly teach. This kind of fellowship cannot be maintained by the Christian Reformed Church with the World Council of Churches.

Let us therefore keep our terms straight. We cannot join such an organization on our terms. It must be on their terms that we would be accepted as members. And their terminology is that the Churches that are members of the WCC are a fellowship. This ought to be unacceptable even to those who would advocate our membership.

Does the basis for membership with which the World Council of Churches operates allow Bible-believing churches, generally, and the Christian Reformed Church, more specifically, to unite in good conscience with that organization? To that question the Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel, pastor of the Princeton Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI, states the reasons for his negative answer. Two additional articles on the World Council will appear in our next issues.