REPORT ON THE WORLD COUNCIL MEETING IN NEW DELHI, INDIA
The Editorial Committee of TORCH AND TRUMPET is greatly pleased to be able to present to its readers a report of the third meeting of the World Council of Christian Churches. It came fresh from the pen of one of our own ministers, Rev. Roger Greenway of Ceylon, who attended the meeting as delegate of the Dutch Reformed Church of Ceylon.
Though the Reformed Fellowship Inc. is not in sympathy with the principles and objectives of the World Council, it cannot afford to ignore the modem ecumenical movement, as represented especially by this formidable organization. A proper appraisal is impossible without a knowledge of its origin, progress, and activities. This is all the more necessary because there Is a definite trend in some denominations of Reformed persuasion with which the Christian Reformed Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are affiliated to seek closer contact with the World CounciL We are thinking particularly of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, one of our sister churches, which at its Synod of Apeldoorn decided to send observers to the meeting at New Delhi. That Church also decided. not long ago, to affiliate with the International Missionary Council which has just affiliated with the World Council, being of similar spirit.
It would not at all surprise us if at the coming meeting of the Reform ed Ecumenical Synod in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1963, the attitude of Reformed church bodies toward the World Council will become a subject of earnest debate. The question will probably have to be faced whether membership in the World Council is compatible with membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod; also whether membership in the International Missionary Council, which has just united with the World Council at New Delhi, is not tantamount to membership in tIle World Council.
We thank Rev. Roger Greenway most heartily for his willingness to serve as our correspondent at New Delhi. We trust he will favor us with his reactions and evaluations after he has had opportunity to reflect on what be heard and saw at the meeting.
STRAIGHT FROM NEW DEHLI
The snake charmers of New Dehli are out in full force across the road from the magnificent Vigyan Bhavan building where the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches is meeting. TIns article is being written in New Delhi as the Assembly enters its second week of deliberations. The International Missionary Council has already merged with the WCC; the Russian Orthodox Church has become a member. The committees and subcommittees, studying the three main subjects of Witness, Service, and Unity, are preparing their reports, and the general direction in which this Assembly is moving is becoming clear. The guiding genius of the General Secretary, Dr. W. A. Visser ’t Hooft of the Netherlands, is leading the Assembly’s delegates toward the preparations of the Drafting Committee and the completion by this Assembly of another forward step in the Ecumenical movement.
It is not my intention to present a close analysis of this Assembly or its overall contribution. That will come later when there is time for more thoughtful analysis of everything which has taken place. But in this article I hope to communicate something of the spirit of the Third Assembly and share a few insights into the things that are happening here in New Delhi.
MARY AT NEW DEHLI
Shortly after the delegates of the Third Assembly of the WCC voted (144 to 3, with 4 abstentions) to admit the Russian Orthodox Church into the WCC, Archbishop Nikodim Rostov, who headed the Russian delegation, offered a prayer before the Assembly in which he invoked the intercession of the “blessed Virgin” as well as Jesus Christ. This created a considerable stir among the delegates, especially among those from countries such as Spain, Mexico, and the Latin American countries, where Protestants are even now being persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Throughout the various sessions of this Assembly, the Roman Catholic Church is referred to in increasingly friendly terms. Many speakers seem to find it exciting to venture statements which imply that reunion with Rome is possible and even highly desirable.
The Roman Catholic Church has sent a delegation of Observers to tins Assembly and, in addition, a large staff of Roman Catholic Press reporters is covering the various sessions for the benefit of Roman Catholic periodicals and magazines. These reporters tend to crowd out the reporters of the Protestant Press, especially since only a limited number of reporters are permitted into each sub-committee meeting. The Roman Catholics are particularly interested in Unity deliberations.
SOUTH AFRICANS INFURIATED
An address delivered before the Assembly at a public session by the wife of Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam, on behalf of her husband who was absent. stirred all those gathered at New Delhi and brought a strong protest of the South African delegations.
Dressed in her native costume. Lady Ibiam, speaking on behalf of her husband. challenged the Assembly by saying: “I ask what harm can come to a white man because he sits next to me. a black man, whether it be in a restaurant. cinema hall, in the park. at school, University or even in the Church? It would seem to me that those who engineer and encourage discrimination against the African only because of the dark color of his skin are trying to be cleverer than God. The Church of Christ must obstinately refuse to lend support in any way to those acts which seriously stand in the way of the acceptance of the Good News by the people of Africa.”
The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa came in for repeated attack in Sir Ibiam’s address. “The saddest thing,” said Sir lbiam, “is that the Dutch Reformed Church strongly supports the Government of South Africa in these evil measures and oppressive Laws.” Referring to the withdrawal of the Dutch Reformed Churches of South Africa from the WCC after the attempts by the WCC to mediate in the whole apartheid matter. Sir Ibiam said: “Such a rejection by a Church of Christ shows an inherent and studied hatred for the black man by the Dutch of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk.”
Delegates from South Africa, including those not directly involved ill Sir Ibiam’s remarks. were deeply hurt by these attacks upon their nation and the Christian community of South Africa. Even the native Africans from the Union of South Africa (and some of these are at the Assembly) were abashed by this address from a fellowAfrican Christian. A native African from Kenya remarked: “What right has Sir Ibiam to speak for the whole of Africa?” South Africa, guilty as it may be of discrimination of the worst sort. does not stand alone in this matter. There is a prevailing tendency everywhere to make South Africa the scapegoat for the consciences of a prejudiced world. It is unfortunate that the large public audience at New Delhi bad to hear one nation, and one church, Singled out to bear the brunt of the sins of many others, as weU as their own.
The glee expressed by a Ceylonese ecumenical spokesman, that “now even the evangelicals are coming into the World Council,” was dampened by a closer investigation of the Iglesia Pentecostal of Chile which joined the wee at this Third Assembly. When questioned, the Rev. E. Chavez Campos of the Chile Pentecostal church stated that his group represented a divergent branch of Pentecostalism, and in theology and practice resembled the Methodists more closely than other Pentecostalists. They practice infant baptism. which is abhorred by all other Pentecostal groups, and in overall outlook would not find it difficult to fit into the WCC pattern of thinking.
ONWARD TOWARD UNITY
It is noteworthy that while on the one hand the spokesmen for church union are speaking long and loud about the Biblical and principal demands for church union. nevertheless the discussions respecting concrete union efforts are usually concerned more with the practical consequences than with any other aspects. After all the ecumenical steam has cleared. questions relating to balance of power and financial obligations receive most of the attention, and appear to be the determining factors in the church union discussions around the coffee table.
Everyone. however, must recognize the earnestness with which many people attending this world Assembly view the drive toward ecclesiastical unity. They will never be content until there is final unification among all Christians, including Rome.
The voice which may eventually be the most compelling and authoritative in the entire unity movement is that of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Their claim to historic continuity is of course unchallenged. The power of Eastern Orthodoxy, which most Protestants never knew existed, has been strongly felt at this Third Assembly, and there is every likelihood that it will exert an increasing influence on the ecumenical movement in the years ahead.
THE WITNESS OF EASTERN ORTHODOXY
The address by Nikos Nissiotis of the Eastern Orthodox church was by far the most important contribution of the first week of the Assembly. Delegates scrambled for printed copies and in the Press Room reporters sent the full text or long excerpts to their home editors. The following paragraphs are from Nissiotis’ address.
“The wind of the Holy Spirit is driving us forward with pressing urgency. This Assembly is a time for action towards the restoration of unity.
“In Orthodox thinking Church Union is an absolute reality pre-established by God. It is not a ‘spiritualized’, sentimental. humanistic expression of good will. It is not the result of a human agreement or of the acceptance of a particular confessional position. Unity among Christians is to be identified with the union of the Father and the Son—‘that they may be one, even as we are one’ (John 17:22–23). Unity among men in the Church is the result, the reflection, of the event of the Father’s Union with Christ by His Spirit realized in the historical Church on the day of Pentecost. The One undivided historical Church is the outcome of God’s revelation and His real Presence which is realistically effected in His Communion with men. Unity is not an attribute of the Church, but is its very life. It is the divine-human inter-penetration realized once and for all in the Communion between Word and Flesh in Christ. It includes the act of Creation of man by the Logos; Redemption through Him, and the participation and consummation of all history in the event of Pentecost—when the Holy Spirit accomplished the communion of mankind in Christ.
“Therefore, the Church does not move towards unity through the comparison of conceptions of unity, but lives out of the Union between God and man realized in the communion of the Church as union of men in the Son of Man. We are not here to create unity, but to recapture it in its vast universal dimensions. Unity as Union is the source of our life. It is the origin and the final goal of the whole Creation in Christ represented in His Church. We are not only moving toward Unity, but our very existence derives from the inseparable union between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity given to us as a historical event on the day of Pentecost. Therefore, unity, which is the essence of God’s act in Creation, Incarnation, and Redemption, and which is reflected in the historical life of the Church, constitutes the first chapter of an authentic ecclesiology. This solid theological conception of unity is the only firm foundation for ecumenical thinking about the Church.
“Ceasing to livc in the past, we should cease calling each other, ‘schismatics.’ There are no ‘schismatics’, but the historic churches in their divisions represent a schismatic situation in the One Undivided Church. This means that the Churches which came out of the Reformation as new churches will have to study and consciously accept all the consequences of their belonging to the Catholic stream of church life through the centuries. They are invited by the witness of the Eastern churches to see themselves as particles of the One Church which cannot be circumscribed within the limited forms of congregational existence only. Through ecumenical intercourse they can experience the main ecclesiological dimension hidden in Christ beneath the simple forms and without which there is no historical Church, no congregation. It is not a question of ‘confessions’, but of accepting the fact that they live as churches within the universal Church in which the Holy Spirit creates, sanctifies, and shapes the historical-charismatic order of an ecclesial institution, not invented by man but created by the grace of Pentecost, in which real freedom is experienced in unbroken communion.
“It is through the dynamic openness and inclusiveness of Orthodoxy that the Eastern Church can fulfill its function as the pivot of the reunion movement today.” (Italics mine–R.S.G.)
PEACE CONFERENCE RIDDLE UNRAVELED
The chief benefit of a world assembly such as this one is the opportunity which it provides for communication and discussion. This is particularly true in respect to the churches on either side of the Iron Curtain. So many misunderstandings exist. The delegates from Communist countries, including Hungary and Czechoslovakia as well as the Soviet Union, are extremely guarded in their replies to the questions put to them. They know that whatever they say may be transmitted immediately to Moscow. But nevertheless they are able to shed light on certain things which puzzle churchmen from the West and their own understanding of the Western Christian attitude can be greatly enhanced.
One thing that puzzles anyone who receives the monthly bulletins and periodicals of the Reformed and Lutheran churches of Hungary and Czechoslovakia is the continual reporting of “Peace Conferences.” Judging from these publications, the only thing which is talked about in the churches behind the Iron Curtain is the need for peace and the sins of war-mongers.
A bishop from one of these churches leaned across the breakfast table this morning, and with the most pathetic look on his face, explained why this situation exists. “Peace Conferences’ are the only conferences we are permitted to hold,” he said. “They provide our only opportunity for fellowship with members of the various churches. Don’t be deceived by them.”
The Reformed and Lutheran churches under Communist domination are experiencing a living martyrdom for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. But despite the hardships, the Reformed and Lutheran communions in Soviet-controlled countries are still living churches’ as this same bishop expressed it. More than anything else they need our prayers and sympathy.
THE VOICE OF EVANGELICALS
The presence of Billy Graham at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches has given the evangelicals a reason for taking their heads from under their pillows to see one uncompromising Christian who dares walk through the halls of the Vigyan Bhavan without blushing.
The evangelical voice is being heard, and its contribution would be greater if its exponents were more articulate. Each day begins with an hour of Bible study led by such men as Bishop Otto Dibelius and Professor Martin Niemuller. Twenty-five minutes is given for individual contribution from the delegates. Sharp contrasts in faith and outlook are evident from these speakers but nevertheless the voice of conservative Christianity is not inaudible nor is it unappreciated.
Talking with the various delegates from countries as far removed as Kenya and Formosa, Indonesia and Sweden, one realizes afresh that the basic source of disunion, and the one which will be the most difficult to overcome, lies in the area of approach to the Word of God. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most Rev. A. M. Ramsey, can say very nicely before the Assembly that in our quest for church unity we must seek the truth “in Christ, in scripture, in the fathers, in the liturgies, in contemporary scholarship, in the self-criticism of systems and formulations.” But evangelicals want far more emphasis on the Truth coming from the Scriptures, whether the fathers, liturgies, or contemporary scholarship have it or not. The Truth in the Word will be the Truth in Christ. It is in this area that the evangelicals are the most capable of exercising an influence and should be more active.