ECUMENICITY AND SEPARATION
In a booklet by two New Zealand ministers on “Evangelicals and the Ecumenical Movement,” the Rev. J. Graham Miller speaks about “separation,” Mr. Miller is aware of the fact that he belongs to a church that is just as “mixed” in nature as the present-day ecumenical movement. What is his view of the position of himself and his fellow evangelicals in his own church? Does he feel that the time may come when they will have to secede from this church for the sake of God’s truth? I am afraid that this idea of secession is for rum just as horrible as the ideals of the ecumenical movement.
Mr. Miller has no good word for the idea. of separation. Without any qualification he calls it a matter of “rank and untamed spiritual pride,” or “pride, intolerance and personal aggressiveness” (p. 7). His advice to fellow evangelicals is: “We must be patient. We must avoid hasty and precipitate conclusions and actions. We must pray to be kept from erroneous judgments, and utterly renounce a critical sectarian spirit. These temptations are ever with us, and we need daily grace to be preserved from all such dishonouring conduct” (p. 12). He further declares that “however much we grieve over the confusion and diversity of belief in our own denomination, we are determined, God helping us, to serve the Lord within her fellowship. Here many of us were led to the Saviour; here the ‘Word of God may be preached with complete freedom; here the Confession of our Church links us with generations which witnessed severer tests of loyalty and obedience than we have known….We have both the right and the duty of constructive criticism only when we are part of the organism. We have our Lord’s commandment: ‘Let them both grow together until the harvest’” (p. 13).
On what grounds does Mr. Miller defend this attitude of what he calls “critical involvement” ? If we are right, there are two grounds; the one biblical, the other historical. (1) He appeals to the parable of the tares (Matt. 12:24–30 and 36–43), and especially to verse 30: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” This would mean that it is not our task to separate, but we should wait for the eschatological separation-activity of God in the last judgment. (2) Mr. Miller appeals to Calvin’s strong words against separation in the Institutes (quoting from Augustine): “Christians should correct in mercy whatever they can; what they cannot, they should patiently bear, and affectionately lament, till God either reform or correct it, or, at the harvest, root up the tares and sift out the chaff.”
What shall we say of this? Is Mr. Miller right? This is not a theoretical question by any means! If this were so, we would not write about it, for we do not feel any urge to engage in a controversy with men whom we regard as brethren in Christ, even as very “close” brethren, sharing the same spiritual inheritance. But, as I said, this is not a matter of theory. The right of existence of many Reformed churches depends on this question!
In our opinion, Mr. Miller’s view is untenable. Both of his arguments cannot stand the test of close examination.
(1) His appeal to Jesus’ parable of the tares is clearly beside the point. For in this parable Jesus does not deal with the matter of ecclesiastical separation at all. The parable does not speak about the situation in the church, but about that in the world. “The field is the world,” Jesus himself emphatically declares (Matt. 13:38). 1n other words, in this parable Jesus speaks of God’s longsuffering in dealing with the world as a whole and teaches his disciples that in this world there will always be ” mixture of good and evil people. As far as the church is concerned, we have to look for other passages in the New Testament and they speak a clear language (e.g., Gal. 1:8, 9; Tit. 2:10, 11; II John 9–11; II Cor. 6:14ff.; etc.).
(2) The appeal to Calvin is equally invalid. Indeed, in his Institutes Calvin warns against all easy “separatism,” i.e., separation on the ground of non-essential matters, or of a wrong desire for a morally pure church. In this connection Ca1vin goes even so far as to declare that we have to bear with much moral weakness in the church. But in Calvin’s view this never extends to important and essential doctrines of the Christian faith. When these doctrines are at stake, Calvin is quite firm. In fact, he himself separated from the church in which he was born (the R. C. church) for these reasons.
As Reformed people we also hate the very idea of separation. It is the duty of every church member to stay in his church as long as he can, but on one condition only; he has to be constantly engaged in the task of reforming his church. He has to fight the good fight of faith in his church, without hesitation and without compromise. If the church refuses to listen to him but forces the one compromise after the other upon him, the time will come that a child of God must leave his church. This is not “separatism.” In itself it has nothing to do with “pride, intolerance and personal aggressiveness.” It is simply a matter of obedience and duty.
We realize that what we say here is contrary to the spirit of our age. Are not separation and ecumenism opposite extremes? This is indeed what we hear on all sides. But we do question this sincerely. We believe that in certain situations separation is the “really ecumenical” attitude. For is it not in the spirit of the Bible (and only the Bible can ten us what real ecumenicity is; read John 17 and Eph. 4) to separate from those who refuse to obey the Word of God and to unite with those who accept Holy Scripture “because it is the word of God” (Westm. Conf., Ch. I, iv)?
LEARNING UNDER THE LAMP OF GOD
Schools throughout Canada and the United States have again opened their doors. Millions of children and young people, not to speak of those who take advantage of specialized programs for adults, are in process of receiving an education. More money is spent for this by the governments than for anything else except national defense. No wonder so many speak of the schools as big business.
But schools are big also in a pro founder sense. Here citizens are trained who will in large measure shape the society of the future.
The rate at which man’s knowledge is proliferating in our times is little short of shocking. Not long ago someone pointed out that all the knowledge which the race had accumulated by 1900 was doubled by 1950, and in the ten years between 1950 and 1960 this vast storehouse had again doubled. It need surprise no one that educators are experiencing great difficulty in keeping up even within their own specializations. This has resulted in a loss of both a sense of unity and a sense of direction which should characterize man’s understanding of himself and his world. Conflicting theories on the nature, scope and goal of the educational task of our schools are bidding for men’s loyalties.
In all this the Christian community has -or at least should have -something positive and pertinent and persuasive to say. Of the Christ, whose we are and whom we serve, we confess that in him “are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.” Millions throughout the world acknowledge that for them he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” He has been “made unto us wisdom from God” as well as “righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” in order that all our glorying may be in the Lord. On the basis of these and many other testimonies in Holy Scripture our forefathers have sought to develop a system of Christian schools. This heritage they have bequeathed to us. But well may we ask, whether our generation understands the urgency and uniqueness of Christian day-schools as well as did those who preceded us.
Because all of us as members of the confessing Christian community need to be reminded repeatedly of our calling in the field of education, we take delight in announcing a simple but extremely serviceable publication by “The Christian School Herald,” 212 Seneca Ave., Hamilton, Ontario. It is a small pamphlet bearing the title Learning under the Lamp of God. In it are seven brief articles, each discussing an important aspect of education. Here we are introduced to such matters as the reason for distinctive Christian education, character training and discipline in the schools, and Biblical perspectives for the teaching of such subjects as history, foreign language, and literature. Although addressed to the non-professional reader, these articles deserve to be read by everyone. And the price matches everyone’s purse -50¢ per single copy; 30¢ each for fifty copies.
In a day when many are asking, “Who will show us any good?” Christians should feel challenged to testify of the Christ who is the source and center and end of all true learning. May this be a year wherein all of us, whether old or young, are engaged in learning under the lamp of God.
PETER Y. DE JONG