In the last issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET attention was called to the present crisis in the sizeable and influential United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. A new confessional basis is being proposed which will officially approve of conflicting and contradictory teachings concerning God, salvation and the church. If adopted, this will spell the end of all confessional honesty and integrity. With official sanction, then, the lie may be propagated in the church which God declares to be “pillar and ground of the truth.” And should this take place as many influential leaders in thai church expect, the United Presbyterian Church can no longer rightly claim to be church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For decades, indeed, doctrinal error has been winked at. Yet the official creeds of the church, basically Reformed in spite of some serious modifications, were a silent but strong reproach to those who signed but did not believe them. Now this last harrier to a complete perversion of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is in danger of being removed.
Not all members of that church, however, are prepared to capitulate without strong protest. Recently the “Presbyterian Lay Committee Inc.” issued the following clear and ringing testimony concerning their united efforts on behalf of church reformation before it is too late.
“Our objective is to work inside the Church for the following goals:
1. To enlarge the emphasis on the teaching of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God in our seminaries and churches.
2. To emphasize at every opportunity the need for preaching the Gospel of redemption with evangelical zeal, the need for regular Bible study and prayer.
3. To encourage ministers and laymen alike to take their places as individuals in society and, as led by the Holy Spirit, to become involved in the social, economic and political problems of our time and to assert their position publicly as Christian citizens on all such matters.
4. To discourage public pronouncements by the Church as a corporate body on political, social and economic issues.
5. To provide an adequate and reliable source of information for laymen on the issues being proposed for consideration at General Assembly and other judicatories in order to enable laymen to express an informed position.”
This testimony, too long to reprint here, can be obtained from the Committee’s headquarters, Room 1404, 200 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. Here in obedience to the Scriptures and in accordance with the Westminster Confession of Faith concerned members are calling the church to proclaim the Word. “The mission of the Church is to call all men to redemption and only as she redeems individual people will society be effectively transformed.”
There is in this significant document much for which we give thanks to God. Here arc church members deeply concerned about the direction which the church under much of its present leadership has been taking and proposes to take in the future. There are statements, however, which are open to some serious objection as they stand presently. These, we trust, will be revised in such a way that the call to reformation within that church may be sounded with unequivocal and unmistakeable clarity.
Undoubtedly those who want to keep the wheels of ecclesiastical machinery well-oiled will protest loud and long against this activity. They will in characteristic “liberal” fashion challenge the “method” and “approach” and “suspicious spirit.” But let them look to what they through the past decades have done to divert the church’s attention away from the doctrinal and church political issues which were brought to the attention of synods and assemblies. Meanwhile the Committee has God’s Word on its side. John the apostle of true love urges his readers, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Peter does not hesitate to warn, “But there arose raise prophets also among the people, as among you there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them.” And our Lord himself announced, “And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”
The sound way to church reformation is that prescribed by the ecclesiastically adopted constitution and order. But lest the time come when neither preachers nor people recognize the difference between truth and error, the entire membership must be aroused to test the spirits whether they be of God. This is not merely a privilege; it is a solemn, God-given obligation. Unless church members take this aspect of their “office” seriously, they have no right to expect that our Lord will revive and refresh and restore the church by his Word and Holy Spirit.
Christians throughout the centuries have always been urged to have a healthy respect for the law. In the written code was found the surest safeguard under God of true freedom. Even in times when evil and self-seeking men held political power and oppressed the church, believers were to live lives marked by forgiveness, sobriety and obedience. Only when commanded to sin openly against God and his revealed will must they disobey. Here true Christians are allowed no choice!
These moral and spiritual principles are being overthrown today.
And, strange as it may seem, the church calling upon the name of Christ is leading the way into lawlessness.
In an article which appeared in several newspapers Dr. Eugene Carson Blake defends civil disobedience. He acknowledges that together with a sizable number of clergymen and many laymen he had “broken deliberately the trespass law” of the state of Maryland. For this he was arrested. And this action he justifies on these grounds, “So we must be entirely clear that law is not God. It has always from the first been a basic Christian conviction that there are times when a Christi(m ought to break the law, any law.” In the course of his defense it becomes unmistakably clear that the individual is to be the final judge of whether a law shall be obeyed or disobeyed. Nothing may stand in the way of what the individual considers to be his “witnessing to Jesus Christ.” In fact, he goes so far as to say that “the present-day effort by American Negroes to win an equality in voting, in education, in job opportunity and advancement, in housing, and in public facilities (even amusement parks) has as much to do with witnessing to Jesus Christ, as acts of Christian heroism in the first century” (i.e. the preaching of Peter and John, etc.). Thus social and economic betterment of our fellow-men is identified as the true gospel of God.
The consequences of such a position are clear. The church no longer has to call men as sinners under God’s judgment to repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Christ; its message is simply the common brotherhood of all men which must be increasingly realized by means of social revolution. In this program every law which someone supposes stands in the way of that ideal ought to be disobeyed. Small wonder that those whose properties have been seized from time to time can no longer find protection in the law. And should this notion prevail, human relationships in the United States will shape themselves according to the patterns of the jungle.
What has all this to do with us in confessional Reformed churches? Much more than may be apparent at first glance.
Dr. Blake is one of the most influential leaders in American Protestantism today. He together with Bishop Pike has proposed a grandiose plan for the unification of major denominations. He is the Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. He acknowledges that he took part in the disobedience demonstration to which he refers as acting chairman of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches. Recently he has been elected General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, assuming the powerful position held for so long by the well-known Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft. Thus he may be fairly said to represent the basic line of thinking which characterizes all these organizations. If this were not so, he would never have been elected to such posts of high honor.
Here let the confessional Reformed churches beware. Today the Reformed churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerden) are seriously considering membership in the W.C.C. Voices urging the same action are heard in the Christian Reformed Church. Always the argument is advanced that by such action we shall exert a wholesome influence in these organizations. Are these advocates actually so naive as to suppose that mere membership in the ecclesiastical power structures of our age will make men like Dr. Blake and those who support his position any more amenable to the Biblical doctrines concerning Christ, salvation by grace and the church than they are now? Or isn’t doctrinal and moral integrity really very important? Can we say one thing in our pulpits and synods and share in the responsibility for having a contrary doctrine affirmed in such councils? These are the issues which must be faced.