Now that the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken) have judged that membership in the World Council of Churches may be considered a live option, the matter of such affiliation will undoubtedly come into sharp focus in other churches who with their sizeable and influential Dutch sister hold membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
The issue which will have to be resolved is whether membership in such an ecumenical organization as the World Council is compatible with the Lordship of Jesus Christ over his church. The church is not ours but his!
To this question, which seems so simple, there doesn’t seem to be a simple and straightforward answer which will commend itself to all who love the Reformed faith and would seek to expedite its clear and uncompromised witness throughout the world. Time and again appeal has been made to the basis upon which the world organization of Christian churches rests. And here, to be sure, few would have any qualms so long as this testimony is taken at face-value, that is, interpreted in obedience to the Holy Scriptures which are the charter for the church’s life in the world. The matter, however, can hardly be settled on such a naive basis. Words, even those borrowed directly from the Bible, apparently mean totally different and even contradictory things to different people. And the interpretations given to the basis of the World Council of Churches are so varied, that it seemingly can mean almost all things to all men. Precisely because of this confusion and contradiction the churches will be compelled to judge the organization much more by its activities and their practical consequences than by its basis. To do so would seem to be mandatory in the light of our Lord’s warning, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Time and again it has been claimed that the World Council is not and does not intend to become a super-church. When one leader or another would offer such a suggestion, immediately those who championed the organization insisted that it was unfair to pin the opinion of one on the entire Council.
Recently, however, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the genial and capable Visser’t Hooft, claimed that the work of this organization is only beginning. “The WCC as it is today is only an instrument for church unity. It must disappear in its present form when the unity of the church becomes a reality…It is for God in His wisdom to decide when the whole flock shall be gathered together under one Shepherd. All we need to know is which way we are going…the one body is still in the future and the WCC is God’s instrument to effect the unity of the church.”
These words should be clear to anyone who knows the English language. And although the general secretary is not the Council, he better than almost anyone else may be regarded as spokesman for its policies and goals.
That already on several local levels this ideal is being fostered will be denied only by those who are willfully blind.
Recently the Pacific Council of Churches was organized as an ann of the World Council. Now the Rev. A. H. Hawley, president of the South Seas Evangelical Church, writes that the 280 national churches in the Solomon Islands which he represents are under direct fire of the ecumenical methodology. “The WCC, with all its grandiose ecclesiastical mergers, apparently intends to bring about the dissolution of Evangelical Missionary Societies and the incorporation of the younger National Churches into its programme. This modem approach then, towards Overseas Missions, is based upon the erroneous premise that all men everywhere are already saved, including the devotees of the ancient Oriental religions and of heathenism. Those who cherish their evangelical faith must face up to the whole problem of the inclusiveness of Syncretism (making all the religions of the world one) and Universalism (believing that all men everywhere are saved, irrespective of their beliefs)…Already the head-footed tentacles of the ecumenical octopus are stretching out in these South PaCific Islands…”
Nor are the fruits of a more consistent Christian witness produced by men and gatherings who are influential in the World Council and its more or less related organizations.
This was demonstrated at a recent gathering organized in Djakarta by the National Council of Churches in Indonesia and the Roman Catholic diocese of Djakarta. The occasion was the coming to the islands of an Australian goodwill work team, forty-six church leaders sponsored by the Australian NCC and the Roman Catholic Pontifical Mission Aid Society.
Here the sponsoring churches silenced the prophetic voice with which Christ expects them to speak. The chief address was delivered upon church invitation by Dr. J. Leimena, acting president of Indonesia and Soekarno’s deputy. What he had to say was a far cry from anything that smacks of the church’s calling to a sinful and distressed world. “If the church is to follow God’s ordinance, then it should readily respond to the challenge offered by the developments within the nation of which it forms part and parcel.” The church must “bring itself in continuous harmony with the changes in the progress of the new era. If it fails to do so then it runs the danger of becoming soon a dead church…In Indonesia the church gives its unrestricted and unqualified endorsement of support to the three pillars of the state structure…” In fact, Dr. Leimena did not hesitate to claim that the aims of the Christian churches “run parallel with those of the Indonesian revolution which aims at the creation of a just, prosperous society without the exploitation of men by man.” In this context the speaker affirmed that Britain’s aim with organizing Malaysia and sending military support was a “front” for perpetuating colonialism and a plot to “encircle” Indonesia.
Here the church is prostituting herself to become a sounding-board for social and political philosophies instead of witnessing to the Lord Jesus Christ in whose name alone there is salvation. She is urged to identify her message and her efforts with the goals of a utopian society. Hers is the calling, if she does not want to become outmoded, to hitch her wagon to the star of the state’s ambitions. How much this sounds like the approval which many German ecclesiastical leaders gave to Hitler in the days before World War II, which many Russian and non-Russian leaders accord to the Soviet government, which many ecumenically-minded preachers and organizations give to almost every piece of social-welfare legislation which comes out of Washington. Here the offense of the cross has been effectively removed and the gospel reduced to a this-worldly ideal.
The above, we realize full well, are only incidents. Yet they could be multiplied many, many times. We would challenge those who champion affiliation with the World Council of Churches for confessionally Reformed churches to present evidence of some weight that this organization actually assists its member-churches to do the work which Christ has assigned—to “preach the gospel to every creature” and to “make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.”
SYNOD UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS…
Far to the south on the continent of Australia we find one of the younger Reformed churches, a small denomination of some 30 congregations and 7,000 members which sprang up after World War II largely in consequence of the liberalism which characterized the older denominations. Throughout its rather brief history this church has consistently attempted to develop a vibrant Reformed life. Churches have been organized; schools established; a theological seminary maintained; a strong missionary witness in its several communities, among the aborigines and by means of the radio encouraged.
During the month of February these churches will again meet in synodical session.
A perusal of its synodical agenda will fascinate anyone acquainted with Reformed struggles and successes in other parts of the world. Basically the same issues confront these newer churches which have been or are being faced by sister denominations.
Preparatory work is being done for the establishment of an Australian Council of Reformed Churches. Far-reaching proposals concerning home and foreign missions are on the docket. After careful study of the Revised Standard Version a committee is proposing that the synod do not single out this version as another synodically-approved Bible but permit pastors to use it at their discretion.
Overtures from consistories and classes will also consume much time. Classis Victoria urges that synod take steps to deal with the position of “evangelists” in the revised Church Order. Classis Tasmania would have synod declare that candidates should wait six weeks after being declared eligible for call by the churches before accepting such a call. The church at Perth urges synod to study the matter of the ecclesiastical discipline of members by baptism only who are indifferent to the Christian faith. The church at Penguin would have synod advise the churches whether unmarried mothers (members of the church, of course) may present a child born out of wedlock for adoption. May ordained men accept appointments as teachers at Christian day schools and retain their ministerial standing? This question is raised by Classis Tasmania. And the Classis New South Wales would have synod declare that for all financial commitments the “quota” system is to be used by the congregations to raise the needed sums.
Nearly if not all these issues have been discussed by other Reformed churches at other times. It will be interesting and instructive to note what the Australian churches win do in an attempt to consolidate and expand their Reformed witness. May the Spirit of our Lord and Savior, himself the head of his church, lead the synod into paths of truth and peace and pleasantness.
– PETER Y. DE JONG