In ecclesiastical circles, the late spring is synonymous with church conventions—in North America and abroad. Here are reports from this year’s meetings (others will follow in subsequent issues ofCHRISTIANITY TODAY):

At Rock Island, Illinois—Delegates to the centennial (101st) synod of the 600,000-member Augustana Lutheran Church voted approval of a merger with three other Lutheran bodies. They asked the Joint Commission on Lutheran Unity, meanwhile, to consider changes in the consolidated constitution which would (1) record belief in the Bible as “the Word of God,” and (2) provide wider synod representation on the new church’s executive council.

A tentative plan calls for a constituting convention in June, 1962, to bring together the Augustana group with the United Lutheran Church in America, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Suomi Synod), and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church. The merged group is to be known as the Lutheran Church in America. Its three million members will make it the largest Lutheran denomination in North America.

The Augustana church is the first of the four merging bodies to give the unity plan a vote of approval. After consideration by the separate church conferences, the merger plan must then be ratified by a two-thirds vote of next year’s synod.

Delegates also adopted a resolution declaring that “ideological beliefs and affiliations or the lack of them are, among other criteria, valid grounds for judging the fitness of candidates for public office.”

“It is a misuse of the concept of tolerance to exclude such criteria from consideration,” the resolution said. “The Church reminds its members of their individual responsibilities as voting citizens and urges a conscientious and prayerful study of these factors before voting for any candidate for public office.”

The resolution was approved after delegates heard a report by the denomination’s commission on social action which raised serious questions relative to the fitness of a Roman Catholic to hold the office of U. S. President.

Unlike the Protestant, “who appropriates pronouncements of his church … in the light of his own conscience,” the Roman Catholic “can assert no broad right of conscientious testing except under the threat of very grave sin in the eyes of his church,” the commission’s report declared.

A candidate’s claim that he will defend the Constitution, the report added, is “hardly an answer” to the question of a Catholic’s fitness for the President’s office, since the Constitution is “subject to change as well as interpretation.”

Article continues below

Another resolution adopted by the delegates stoutly defended the National Council of Churches against charges of Communist infiltration. Still another called for special, thorough instruction of all converts from the Mormon faith.

Warning of the danger of the secularization of the church college, a Lutheran editor told the synod that many American colleges established by Christian communities have lost their original character and can “in no sense be recognized as different from state-supported schools.”

“The fate of these institutions,” said Dr. E. E. Ryden, editor of the Lutheran Companion and chairman of the board of directors of Augustana College, “brings home to us a lesson that we do well to heed with all soberness of spirit as we celebrate our centennial as a church and college.” He added:

“A primary requisite is to make sure that the church never loses ownership and control of its institutions of higher learning. This matter assumes all the more importance in the light of the impending merger with other Lutheran bodies where the relationship between the church and its various institutions has not been as clearly defined as in the Augustana Lutheran Church.”

The seven-day centennial meeting ended with the ordination of 42 young men. Officiating at the ordination service was Dr. Malvin H. Lundeen, Augustana president, assisted by a noted synod guest, Archbishop Gunnar Hultgren of Uppsala, Sweden.

In recognition of the centennial observance this year, the annual synod was designated a “general” convention, which permits each congregation to send its pastor and a lay delegate. As a result, more than 2,000 delegates were on hand as compared with the 600 usually present at an annual synod.

The Augustana church was organized June 5, 1860, at Jefferson Prairie, near Clinton, Wisconsin, as the “Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America.”

A prelude to the convention was a memorial service in a secluded cemetery at Jefferson Prairie, where church officials assembled to pay tribute to the founders. A massive granite monument marks the site of the first chapel.

At Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania—The 154th annual General Synod of the Reformed Church in America turned down an invitation to merge with the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. The Presbyterian body’s 1959 General Assembly had extended a merger overture to other denominations of the Reformed tradition.

Article continues below

Also rejected was a proposal by the church’s Christian Action Commission to endorse a ban on “all nuclear tests for military purposes by international agreement, together with all chemical, biological and radiological weapons of mass destruction.” Opponents maintained that the proposal would put the synod in the position of “advising the military what weapons to use.” Instead, a resolution was adopted which expressed “approval of all the efforts” of President Eisenhower in “search for adequate controls and the ultimate abandonment of such weapons of mass destruction.”

The synod tabled a recommendation from its overtures committee to “record its disagreement and disassociate” itself from the 1958 World Order Study Conference which proposed U. S. and U. N. recognition of Communist China.

A resolution calling upon classes (local governing bodies) to open their churches’ “worship and fellowship” to all “irrespective of race” followed unanimous endorsement of a letter written by Dr. Howard G. Hageman, retiring president, to the Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa. Hageman asked for a declaration “that in Jesus Christ there is neither Afrikaner, Colored or Bantu.”

“We cannot justify this situation in our country,” he said, “nor, we believe, would you seek to justify it in yours.”

Dr. Henry Bast, former Reformed Church vice president and speaker on the denomination’s weekly “Temple Time” radio broadcast since 1952, was elected to succeed Hageman as president. Bast is a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

Delegates representative of the 223,000-member communion approved a theological commission report affirming the historicity of the book of Genesis.

But “we must be clear as to the nature of this history,” the report said. “The faith of the Bible is inseparably tied to historical events. We protest against all attempts to divorce faith from history, and to reduce the word which God would speak to us to abstract information about his nature and/or universal principles of moral behavior.”

The synod also proposed a study on the feasibility of adopting for the Lord’s Prayer the uniform sentence, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The World and National Councils of Churches were asked to consider the change to replace the present use in that sentence of the word “debts” by some groups, and “trespasses” by others.

Article continues below

Another development was the creation of a permanent “committee on the professorate” in lieu of a special standing committee to deal with ministerial candidates. The new committee was given responsibility to conduct studies concerning establishment of “minimum standards” of academic requirement and institutional accreditation for candidates from other than Reformed Church colleges and seminaries. It was also asked to define “proper credentials” for a minister ordained by another ecclesiastical body or religious group” for his reception into the Reformed Church ministry.

The committee was requested, moreover, to consider establishment of a “possible order of lay workers or lay ordination for specific purposes” as a means of helping to meet the “immediate shortage” of personnel in the “expanding program of the church.”

In the president’s annual report, Hageman called upon congregations to place a new emphasis on Christian witness and evangelism in their local communities.

“Too many of our congregations in metropolitan areas,” he said, “are steadily losing ground because they do not know how to minister to changing populations.”

He also challenged his constituents to “delineate much more carefully our ideas, our concepts, our doctrines, our point of view about the church.”

In suggesting a celebration in 1963 of the 400th anniversary of the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism, Hageman proposed particularly an international theological congress.

The catechism, a significant confessional statement, was written in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1563.

Hageman also recommended a meeting of all Reformed Church in America theological professors at the 1961 General Synod.

At Fargo, North Dakota—The 64th annual conference of the Lutheran Free Church heard a call from its president, Dr. John M. Stensvaag, to return to Sunday evening services.

“It is not comfortable to see our Lutheran churches dark and empty while others are open on Sunday evening,” he said. “Lively singing, strong expository preaching, rich in food for the believer and with a clear evangelistic tone, can make these services contribute greatly to the life of the church.”

Article continues below

Stensvaag also urged greater emphasis on adult education and wider participation by children in week-day released time classes.

Participating in the conference were 315 voting lay delegates, 155 pastors and 90 advisory delegates, plus visitors.

At Boston—Seven thousand delegates were on hand for the annual meeting of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ Scientist. Arthur W. Eckman, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, lawyer who has been general counsel of the legal department of The Mother Church since 1944, was named president.

At Guelph, Ontario—Chief development of the 86th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was establishment of an administrative council charged with ensuring that the work of the church is carried on efficiently and effectively.

Dr. Leslie King, retired physician, was named chairman of the council, which must coordinate the efforts of all church agencies and recommend policy (including budgetary aspects). To avoid “an entrenched bureaucracy,” executive secretaries will serve as non-voting members. Voting members will be appointed by the assembly and will be limited to six consecutive years in office.

Korean Violence

Club-swinging demonstrators broke into a compound where missionaries of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. were holding their annual mission meeting last month. Several American missionaries suffered minor injuries.

Police arrested IB demonstrators, said to be students representing a small, extremist anti-ecumenical element in Korean Presbyterianism. They waved a banner saying, “Unalterably Oppose WCC Ecumenicity,” and sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they invaded the compound and tried to break into houses where the missionaries had barricaded themselves.

The violence followed the mission’s reaffirmation of allegiance to the reunited General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea.

Inflammatory agitation by the International Council of Christian Churches is blamed in part for continuing incidents involving the extremists.

Korean missionaries are urging U. S. Christians to “pray for us and for the terrific spiritual low that has settled down on a good segment of the Korean church.”

The assembly accepted an invitation from the Anglican Church of Canada to enter into “conversations” regarding common theological, administrative, and parochial concerns.

Article continues below

A proposed revision of the Book of Common Order was sent to presbyteries for study following a debate centered on alleged “high church” tendencies in the book and criticism of the lack of prayers which reflect contemporary concerns and which are expressed in modern language.

The assembly also (1) gave Montreal’s Presbyterian College permission to sell its property to McGill University and to relocate near the campus; (2) elected the Rev. Robert Lennox, principal of the college, as moderator; (3) approved a “programme of advance, emphasizing evangelism” with a view to doubling the present communicant membership of 198,000 by 1975, when the church will mark its 100th anniversary; (4) commended the Canadian government for admitting 200 European refugee families, each having one tubercular member, noting that tuberculosis hospitals in Canada have many empty beds while people in other lands are unable to be treated; and (5) referred back to the presbyteries a proposal to ordain women (the assembly refused to hear from Shirley McLeod, 19-year-old coed who aspires to be the church’s first woman minister).

At Hamilton, Ontario—The Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec voted to explore the possibility of some control over its 450 traditionally-autonomous churches. An investigating committee was named after the Rev. Harold Stibbards said that conditions in congregations sometimes become “so bad” that the reputation of the Baptist communion is endangered. Stibbards argued that churches in the same association should be given authority to move in and say: “Either you fellows act like Christians or we’ll be forced to take over your affairs.”

The Rev. A. S. McGrath, general secretary-treasurer of the Lord’s Day Alliance of Canada, told the Baptist assembly that some change in the Lord’s Day Act “is inevitable.” McGrath’s remarks were widely interpreted as indicative of a somewhat easing attitude toward Sunday offenders.

At Belfast—The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland voted against the use of “financial pressure” to influence a merger proposal between the United Church of North India and the Indian Presbytery of Gujarat. The Irish church, which sends about $280,000 annually to India, decided by a vote of 386–106 to continue support regardless of the outcome of the merger plan.

Article continues below

At Edinburgh—Delegates to the 400th annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved, by a vote of 165 to 164, the principle that women should be eligible for the office of elder. The 1,000 clergy and lay delegates also: (1) decided to resume unity talks with the Church of England (previous negotiations broke down with the assembly’s rejection last year of the “bishops-in-presbytery” concept); (2) sanctioned family planning but condemned use of contraceptives from motives of indulgence or luxury; and (3) rejected a committee report, by a vote of 220 to 208, which said in effect that after the duty of worship there should be a place for physical recreation and that a negative attitude to the problems of the present generation should be avoided.

In a message to the assembly, Queen Elizabeth II stated her intention of attending the Scottish church’s special 400th anniversary celebrations in October. According to religious historians, no sovereign has been present at a Church of Scotland General Assembly since 1603.

At Edinburgh—By a majority of 44 to 40, commissioners to the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland expressed the denomination’s “dissatisfaction at the attitude of the Royal Family towards the Lord’s Day.” The rebuke was added to the church’s traditional loyal address to Queen Elizabeth II after the message had been read to delegates.

Korean Ecumenism

The election of a Presbyterian minister as the new general secretary of the Korean National Council of Churches last month ended a debate over whether the individual filling the post must belong to a member church of the World Council of Churches.

The new secretary, the Rev. Simeon (Shin Myung) Kang, is a member of the Presbyterian Church in Korea which reluctantly withdrew from the WCC in February in a move to restore peace and unity after an anti-ecumenical minority had split the church. This left the Methodist Church in Korea as the only Korean denomination in the WCC.

It had been argued that since the Korean NCC is a member of the International Missionary Council which is in turn related to the WCC, its executive official must be elected from a WCC-related church. This would have excluded candidates from other churches in the Korean NCC.

The election of the 51-year-old Presbyterian pastor was closely followed by a significant endorsement of the Korean NCC by the Holiness Church which resisted strong pressures to leave the NCC and in a close vote chose to retain its historic ties with the interdenominational council, which represents about 75 per cent of Korea’s Protestants.

Article continues below


[See also “Korean Violence” on page 29—ED.]

Campus Expansion

Ground was broken last month for a $1,000,000 library on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

The library will be named after G. J. Van Zoeren, retired Holland industrialist and a Hope alumnus who advanced $525,000 toward its construction as a memorial to his late wife.

Scheduled completion date is September, 1961. The new library is part of a $3,000,000 campus development program which will also include a new academic building and an athletic field. Officials are hoping that the expansion will be complete by 1966, when the college marks its 100th anniversary.

Hope, founded by a group of religious immigrants from The Netherlands, is governed by a 56-member board of trustees 50 of whom are chosen by synods of the Reformed Church in America. Two-thirds of its 1311 students this year were members of the Reformed Church in America. The remainder represent 19 other denominations, led by the Christian Reformed Church.

A Study of Freedom

The National Council of Churches is launching a year-long, nationwide “study of religious freedom” among its member communions. It will be conducted by the council’s Department of Religious Liberty under a newly-appointed executive director, the Rev. Dean M. Kelley, former pastor of Crawford Memorial Methodist Church in New York City.

Dr. Roy G. Ross, NCC general secretary, says the study program will place emphasis on local discussion of questions such as: Should Christians be concerned about freedom and how should that concern be expressed? Should there be any religious tests for public office? How does “free speech” affect the broadcasting of derogatory statements about religious groups?

Other questions include: What about the use of tax money for denominational hospitals and schools? How does one arouse a church to witness to its social responsibility? What should be done when a Congressional investigation violates religious and human rights?

The religious freedom inquiry comes on the heels of a year-long “peace program” conducted by the council.

African Documentary

The day following the climax of the capital crusade, “Africa on the Bridge,” had its world premiere in Washington’s National Guard Armory. A feature-length documentary, the new film treats the viewer to a first-hand account of Graham’s 17,000-mile “safari for souls” earlier this year. Photographed in authentic sound and natural color in 17 cities across Africa, it depicts the continent as being in a period of transition—on a bridge—between ancient tribalism and the shining goal of independence from colonial rule.

Article continues below

Following the Washington premiere, “Africa on the Bridge” will be shown in churches throughout the United States and Canada. The film was produced by World Wide Pictures and directed by Dick Ross. Scheduled for October release by World Wide Pictures is “Shadow of the Boomerang,” dramatic film built around Graham’s Australian crusade.

Manchester: How Broad The Way?

When the Billy Graham team first indicated that the evangelist was contemplating a crusade in Manchester, England, next spring, certain church council officials of the area apparently felt that time was ripe for a new deal in evangelism.

Their initial overture came in a letter early this year from Canon Eric Saxon of the Manchester, Salford and District Council of Churches. The Graham team was in Jos, Nigeria, at the time.

“My Council represents the denominations in Manchester and … is a cross section of all churches and opinion in the area,” wrote Saxon. He indicated that many council members are reluctant to commit their churches to a campaign of one particular emphasis, and inquired whether Graham would widen his platform to reflect the views of all supporting churches.

Graham’s representatives replied by outlining the nature and procedures of the evangelist’s mission in previous crusades.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the team received another letter from Saxon. Indicating that the Council of Churches had discussed the proposed crusade at length, he offered the possibility of “official support of the denominations, rather than only of individual clergy and ministers.” The council’s condition was that Graham “share his Campaign with men of great standing in the Church, whose outlook may be a little different but who would bring into the Crusade the Churches they represent. For instance if Father Trevor Huddleston, Dr. George F. MacLeod of the Iona community, and Dr. Donald Soper, and the Bishop of Middleton … could be brought into the Crusade … I am authorized to say that the Council of Churches would give its wholehearted support to the proposed Crusade … by a unanimous resolution of the Council.…”

Article continues below

If not possible, Saxon said, the council feared a serious difference of opinion in Manchester which would make it difficult for Graham to receive an invitation from the churches of the city.

All four of the assistant missioners suggested by Saxon are known to be to the theological left of Graham. MacLeod, for instance, is a Pacifist who majors in social concern; he op posed Graham’s coming to Scotland in 1955 on the floor of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly.

An inquiry among Manchester churches by Christian businessmen, meanwhile, showed 850 of the first 1,000 responses favorably inclined toward the Graham crusade.

Yet the council of churches, as late as April 1, still insisted that Graham share his pulpit for 20 minutes each night with Huddleston, Soper, MacLeod, or the Bishop of Middleton as a condition of their cooperation. Jerry Beavan, one of Graham’s top aides, then declined the offer.

Subsequently, 600 of the ministers who had responded favorably to an inquiry about a Manchester crusade assembled to hear Beavan and two other team members.

This favorable response was augmented by a resolution adopted unanimously by the Anglican Ministers Evangelical Fellowship to invite Graham to come to Manchester next year.

The council continues to stand aloof, insisting on a “broadened platform” but giving no definitive interpretation other than the use of the missioners indicated. The council minimizes present support of the crusade, saying that the major denominations are as yet uncommitted. But many affirmative replies have come from Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, as well as from Plymouth Brethren and Nazarene groups. The Church of England Newspaper spurred interest in the crusade with a front-page report.

Plans call for formation of a Manchester crusade executive committee in September. The council must then decide whether to support it.

Married Priests

A 54-year-old former Lutheran pastor, married and a father, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month.

Father Olav Roerdam Bonnevie was given special permission from the Holy See to receive “holy orders” while remaining in the married state.

Pastor of a Lutheran parish in North Jutland for 12 years, Bonnevie was received into the Catholic church in 1945. His wife and only daughter were converted two years later.

The permission for ordination parallels several recent cases in Germany. Since World War II, about half dozen married Lutheran ministers are said to have been ordained.

Article continues below

Controversial Prelate

Archbishop Yegishe Derderian, 50-year-old native of Turkey, was elected last month as Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church. He thus filled a vacancy created by the death of Cyril Israelian in October, 1949.

The new patriarch was elected by a vote of 18 to 5 of the General Assembly of the Brotherhood of St. James, supreme governing body of the patriarchate, in a dramatic climax to one of the most bitter and disturbing chapters in the history of the church whose adherents include nearly 1,000,000 Armenians living in Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East.

His election in Jerusalem came less than a week after he had been forcibly installed as locum tenens of the patriarchate by Jordanian Military Governor Hassan el Khatib, backed by a detachment of army officials and police, despite the fact that he had been expelled from the St. James community three years ago and placed under ecclesiastical interdiction by Catholicos Vazgen I, supreme head of the Church, whose seat is at Etchmiadzin in Soviet Armenia.

Archbishop Derderian had originally been appointed locum tenens at the death of Patriarch Cyril, but was expelled from the brotherhood after being found guilty by the General Assembly on nine counts of “misdemeanors and abuse of office.” He is now reported to have been granted a spiritual pardon.

The Golden Years

Professor and Mrs. Andrew W. Blackwood are marking the 50th anniversary of their marriage by renewing wedding vows in a public service to be held in the Presbyterian Church of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, on July 14. Blackwood is professor emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary and a well-known authority in homiletics. The Rev. Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., will conduct the service.

Celebrating their 60th anniversary are Dr. and Mrs. Nathan Wood, beloved for their work with Gordon College and Divinity School and now retired. Gordon’s commencement this spring came on the 50th anniversary of Wood’s arrival at the school. He subsequently served a term as president and his wife as a dean.

People: Words And Events

Elections: As bishops of The Methodist Church, Dr. Fred Garrigus Holloway, president of Drew University; Dr. William Vernon Middleton, general secretary of the Methodist Division of National Missions, Dr. William Ralph Ward, Jr., minister of Mt. Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Methodist Church; and Dr. James K. Mathews, associate general secretary of the Methodist Division of World Missions … as first African president of the Lutheran Church of Christ in the Sudan, the Rev. Akila Todi.

Article continues below

Appointments: As president of Meadville Theological School, the Rev. Malcolm R. Sutherland … as professor of systematic theology at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Dr. Gerrit T. Vander Lugt … as executive director of the proposed National Presbyterian Center in Washington, D. C., Dr. Ralph Cooper Hutchison.

Resignation: As general secretary of the Methodist Board of World Peace, soon to be integrated into the broader Board of Christian Social Concerns, the Rev. Daniel E. Taylor (to accept the pastorate of the 2,000-member Rose City Park Church in Portland, Oregon).

Quotes: “One of our serious troubles in the Church today is that it has become legitimate to be emotional in anything but religion. The need is for something that will summon one’s whole enthusiasm.”—Dr. John A. Mackay, Presbyterian “elder statesman” to the Cumberland Presbyterian General Assembly.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.