Felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Keats of course confused Cortez with Balboa, but this seemed a minor lapse when compared with the confusion of viewpoints crying for notice last month in the Ohio capital named for yet another explorer of the Spanish Main. Site of the 177th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., Columbus proved a place of discovery for Presbyterians. Ecclesiastical crosscurrents were uncovered, and beneath these was disclosed an undertow of opinion that the theological voyage of American Presbyterians in this century is now in perilous waters.
The assembly commissioners (Presbyterianese for “delegates”) put in a hard week, but they seemed well aware that May 22 and 25 were the key dates that could be decisive in setting the course of their church for a generation or more. These were the days on which the proposed new confession of faith was to be debated (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY News, May 7, 1965). But in the corridors, every day was confession day, and on two occasions the Special Committee on a Brief Statement of Faith met late at night with groups of commissioners who wished to quiz them on the theology of the confession.
These discussions flowered in a total of more than three hours of floor debate, and when it was all over a largely conservative minority had been blocked, by a vote of 643 to 110, in its attempt to keep the church’s governing body from receiving and thus giving implicit approval to the report of the drafting committee. Recommendations were also endorsed by the assembly commending the new 4,200-word document to the 3.3 million church members for study, authorizing the appointment of a fifteen-member committee to consider amendments to the document, and asking that the drafting committee be continued as consultants to the new committee.
That committee will place its recommendations before next year’s General Assembly meeting in Boston. If its report is approved, the new confession will go to the church’s 195 presbyteries for a vote. If approved by a two-thirds majority of these, the document will go to the 1967 assembly for final action—hence its name: “The Confession of 1967.” This statement of faith is only one of a Book of Confessions proposed for “adoption,” which includes: the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Scots Confession (1560), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Barmen (German) Declaration of 1934, and the seventeenth-century Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism. Omitted is the Larger Catechism; this and the other two Westminster documents at present constitute the denomination’s only official confessional standards.
Chairman of the drafting committee, Professor Edward A. Dowey of Princeton Theological Seminary presented a masterly case for the new confession, though he was never able to convince the press that in its practical outworking the confession would simply be an augmentation of existing creedal statements rather than tending to replace them in popular Presbyterian usage. The latter possibility is regarded as particularly serious inasmuch as the new statement contains no doctrine of the Trinity or of the deity of Christ.
In introducing the document to the assembly, Dowey spoke of its incomparable importance to the future “direction and redirection of the life of our church.” He said significantly that the new document “expresses what we already are as a church.” Essential elements of the Westminster system, such as the doctrines of the double covenant and double predestination, “have dropped out of sight.”
Chief spokesman for the conservatives was highly respected Dr. William T. Strong, a Los Angeles minister whose origins like Dowey’s are in the old United Presbyterian Church of North America, a more conservative body than the former Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. with which it merged in 1958 to form the present denomination. He maintained that the drafting committee was appointed by the Union Assembly of 1958 in order to prepare a confessional statement “similar in scope and in theological character” to the former United Presbyterian confessional statement of 1925 and the Westminster Confession of Faith, these to be brought up to date only in terminology and simplified for more popular consumption. He charged betrayal of that agreement, citing the drafting committee’s declaration that the new confession “is not designed to define the faith of Presbyterians.” He made a motion for dismissal of the committee, rejection of their report, and appointment of a new committee to “carry out the terms of contract” of the union.
Dowey responded that the new confession was closer to Calvin than to the Westminster Confession by virtue of the committee’s having organized it around the doctrine of revelation, not inspiration. “But,” he added, “we still have the Westminster doctrine of inspiration, and it will not be held against anyone for holding it.”
Moderator William P. Thompson, a lawyer from Wichita, Kansas, who ably presided over the assembly, indicated that a vote to receive the report meant that the assembly would be giving approval in a general way. Strong’s motion to reject it lost heavily, ending the Saturday action.
Before the debate was resumed the following Tuesday, the two late-night sessions with the committee were held. In answering a protest on the absence of any reference to the Virgin Birth in the new confession, Professor Arnold Come of San Francisco Seminary said that contemporary theology does not necessarily regard the Virgin Birth stories as representing the exclusive way of holding to the Incarnation.
There was obviously considerable unrest over the confession’s lack of a doctrine of inspiration and some of its statements on the Bible. For example: While Christ is named “the one sufficient revelation of God” and the “Word of God incarnate,” the Scriptures are not referred to as the Word of God in any sense, written or otherwise, though their words are termed “the words of men.” They are described as the “normative witness” to the revelation which is Christ. Commissioners objected to the term “normative” to a degree which led Dowey to the conclusion that it will have to come out, though he said the committee wished to reserve the word “authoritative” for application only to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He recalled his own shock as a student at his discovery of “mistakes in the Bible.”
By late Tuesday afternoon twenty-eight commissioners had expressed a desire to speak to the new confession. They were to speak in the order in which they had applied except that pros and cons alternated. Additional time was docketed for debate in the evening so that twelve speakers were heard in all before the assembly closed debate. Part of it went like this:
• “It is time to broaden our confessional base. I was uneasy about the way I took my ordination vows with their tacit distinction between the spirit and letter of the confession.”
• “The new confession will involve a change in our present ordination vows. The Bible will no longer be our final reference point. You can’t tell if our polity is Episcopal or Presbyterian or whether our theology is Arminian or Calvinist.”
• “It speaks to the basic sickness in society, alienation of men from themselves, each other, and from God.”
• “It says in effect that the Bible is fallible. There is thus no firm basis of God’s moral law.”
• “It has in view the Reformed faith more than the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Westminster.”
• “It points toward gnosticism, saying literary and historical scholarship are required for understanding the Bible.”
In his summary speech culminating seven years of labor, a tired Dowey almost overcome with emotion said, “Our Reformation fathers would be proud of us for dealing with the matter this way.”
The assembly’s vote of approval for the report came after attempts to amend the confession toward a higher view of Scripture failed. Yet Stated Clerk Eugene Carson Blake gave assurances of an attempt to include stronger representation on that side of the question in the composition of the new committee.
The only recourse left to conservatives at this assembly was to register a protest, which Strong did and to which the assembly replied. But conservatives maintain that there is a real chance of defeating the new confession at presbytery level when it goes there for vote.
After the first day’s debate on the confession, a markedly different form of protest came by way of a picket line of fifty-one representatives of the Bible Presbyterian Church, which was holding a concurrent synod in Columbus. Leader of the group was Dr. Carl McIntire, who carried a sign which read, “We told you so in 1933.”
Ecumenical concerns occupied a prominent place on the agenda, and Princeton Seminary’s President James McCord presented a sort of ultimate ecumenical benediction ranging from Paul Tillich to Billy Graham: “May the Ground of Being bless you real good!” The assembly voted down a motion to pull the church out of the “Blake-Pike” talks; it was assured that no slight was intended last month when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. (Southern), voted to bar United Presbyterians from three-year-old unity talks with the Reformed Church in America; it received a personal visit and greetings from the Very Rev. John J. Carberry, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Columbus; and it counseled fellow Presbyterians to attend Roman Catholic Mass occasionally in the interest of furthering Christian understanding.
In other action, the assembly:
• Sent to the presbyteries for approval an overture to standardize examinations to be given candidates for the ministry.
• Approved for study a plan which would radically reorganize church government along regional lines.
• Declared that it “finds no scriptural or theological grounds for condemning or prohibiting the marriage of a man and a woman of different races.”
The assembly also commended “the sound exercise” of the ministry of Blake, its chief executive officer, in view of circulation of charges concerning the “alleged abuse of the authority of his office,” Specifics accompanying the charges were characterized as consisting “largely of innuendo and opinions.”
But this did not end the matter. Dr. Edward Stimson, twice host pastor to the General Assembly and now pastor of the 2,500-member Dundee Presbyterian Church of Omaha. Nebraska, called a press conference on the steps of the meeting site, the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. He identified himself as “a vocal leader of the loyal United Presbyterian opposition.” In past years he has served on the Advisory Committee on Education and Social Action. Theologically, he made it clear that he was not a conservative but rather an “evangelical liberal,” and he identified himself with attacks on “the evils in Barthian theology” from the liberal left. He professed support for the ecumenical movement with possible union along federal lines and organic mergers among churches of the same denominational families.
Stimson charged Blake with “abuse of the great powers of his office” in initiating the Blake-Pike proposal for merger with other denominations. That proposal, he said, “put into jeopardy the ministry of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Presbyterian ministers like me—if his purpose succeeds, we’ll have to leave the church, which will no longer be free and Presbyterian reformed.… We may feel that we should take whole presbyteries and synods with us … before serving under monarchical bishops and submitting to a mutual laying on of hands which could be interpreted by high Anglicans as giving us an addition to our ordination so that we could perform the sacraments as within the historic episcopate.” Stimson sees the attempt to reorganize the church along the lines of regional synods as the introduction of prelacy into the church.
Stimson’s other chief concern, along with preservation of Presbyterian polity, is the moral purity of the church. He decries the absence from the new confession of reference to the moral law, and points to a student publication at San Francisco Theological Seminary as an example of the type of morality produced by a “peculiar type of Barthianism”: “When the scandal of pornography and encouragement of social acceptance of homosexuality in the student paper … was publicized in the Presbyterian Journal, April 28, I secured the original evidence … and saw that the president of the seminary [Dr. Theodore A. Gill], author of the lead article, is the primary cause.” Concern that the church should care about the “atmosphere of sick sexuality in one of its seminaries was not sufficiently heeded.”
The Standing Committee on Theological Education reported earlier to the General Assembly that the seminary administration had “expressed embarrassment and regret over this publication” and had taken steps “which preclude repetition of such an incident.”
The General Assembly declared that no action was necessary on petitions from four presbyteries requesting reaffirmation of “the church’s adherence to its historic moral standards.” The assembly “does indeed reaffirm its adherence to our historic moral standards.…” Reference was made to action taken by the 1962 assembly.
It was one of the liveliest General Assemblies within memory. Even so, it seemed but a prelude.
The World: ‘Your Baby’
For the 3,000 American Baptist Convention delegates, meeting in San Francisco’s big Civic Auditorium May 19–23, the most controversial issue was whether the convention should continue meeting once a year or go to a biennial schedule. By a two-to-one majority the delegates voted to continue meeting yearly.
President J. Lester Harnish presided over the convention, whose theme was “One Lord, One World, One Mission.” The sessions, attended also by 5,000 visitors, were characterized as bland by some observers.
Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen of Union Theological Seminary in New York addressed the opening session on “The Holy Spirit at Work in the World Today.” He said that Western culture is “far gone toward moral degeneration.” We must look to Asia, Africa, and Latin America for dynamic “for recovery and renewal and resumed advance.” In a position paper on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Gerhard Spiegler of Berkeley Baptist Divinity School left his audience apathetic. “The Holy Spirit abhors the rigor mortis of dogmatic finality,” he said, and the “Holy Spirit is not a general possession but a specific endowment.” The inimitable Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy delivered a fine but routine address at an evening session. Pastor O. Dean Nelson of Park Ridge, Illinois, passionately called for the church to react to poverty, prejudice, intimidation, and loneliness. The program committee’s highest expectations were realized in Dr. Culbert Rutenber of Andover Newton Theological Seminary, who was enthusiastically applauded as he presented to the church for reconciliation “a broken, howling, disease-ridden world, with all its sores.” It is “your baby,” he said. Dr. Robert Campbell of California Baptist Theological Seminary urged the delegates, in a richly rewarding address, to accept God’s commission to “disciple the nations for Christ.”
The meetings emphasized the theme of personal involvement. Convention resolutions committed the denomination “to fulfill the task of redemptively confronting our world with the Lordship of Christ, transforming the political, social, economic, family and individual life.” Such statements reflected the reorientation of evangelism by the Secretary of the Division of Evangelism, Dr. Jitsuo Morikawa, who wrote that “evangelism … must be addressed also to the renewal and reshaping of society, so that our human communities—our home, schools, neighborhoods, industries, and cities—may become open societies, provisional embodiments of the New Humanity, which is God’s goal for the world, hence God’s goal and purpose in evangelism.… The result has been a ministry which reflects this radical understanding of evangelism [italics added], even while conserving the values in established program.” President Harnish had arranged for “Operation Outreach,” in which the delegates were to ring San Francisco doorbells on Sunday to bring men the Gospel, but not more than 25 per cent of the delegates had registered to help as late as Saturday afternoon.
A small intensely earnest group tried to take the ABC out of the National Council of Churches. The effort proved abortive as the delegates overwhelmingly expressed their continued confidence in the NCC. Delegates also voted to condemn all forms of racial segregation, registered their opposition to gambling and obscenity, recommended a re-evaluation of U. S. relations “with all governments to which the United States does not now extend recognition” (without mentioning Red China), and adopted a spate of resolutions on public welfare, women, human rights, immigration. South African apartheid, world economic development, and public welfare programs. The convention recommended that the Baptist World Alliance send official observers to the fourth session of Vatican Council II. Some noted with humor the resolution condemning right-and left-wing extremism, since the ABC’s Anabaptist antecedents were among the most extreme of all religious groups.
Harvard professor-elect Harvey Cox of Andover Newton addressed a luncheon sponsored by the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of the ABC for 1,600 ministers. He strongly endorsed a departure from “denominationalism” and a transformation into something “radically new.”
The ABC is one of the few major denominations that have failed to grow over the past fifty years. Its membership is only slightly larger, the number of foreign missionaries has declined substantially, and hundreds of thousands of former members have left the denomination to form the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and the Conservative Baptist Association of America. For the past seven years it has failed to meet its annual budget. But it looks ahead with optimism. A budget of more than $12 million was adopted, and a world mission campaign was launched to secure $20 million in the next few years.
Edwin Tuller was re-elected general secretary, and Robert G. Torbet, dean of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, assumed presidential leadership of the 1½ million American Baptists with their 6,200 churches.
A Censure Attempt
A resolution that would have made Bishop James A. Pike unwelcome in the Pittsburgh area was defeated at the one-hundredth annual meeting of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese. The proposal charged that Pike “had the audacity to suggest that another clergyman of the church, disagreeing with the bishop’s views, be brought to trial for heresy.”
“Only the charity of the Christian congregation spares the bishop of California from a similar trial,” the resolution said.
The proposal was put before the meeting by John W. Patrick, senior warden of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, as the result of opinions expressed by Pike on a Pittsburgh visit. Pike referred to an Episcopal clergyman at Selma, Alabama, who said he would not allow a demonstration in his church.
The Rev. Canon Robert E. Merry, chairman of the committee on canons in the Pittsburgh Diocese, was one of a number of clergymen who opposed the resolution during debate.
“The question is not on the views of Bishop Pike,” Merry said. “Many of us would be against his views. The question is the right of a convention to censure a bishop. The bishop is the divinely ordered leader of the diocese and subject only to the House of Bishops.”
Charting A Strategy
Resolutions recognizing the need for improved Protestant-Roman Catholic relations and outlining steps toward formation of a federation of minority churches were passed last month at the second Italian Evangelical Congress.
Both actions were reported to be rather cautious and vague and were said to have represented a compromise between progressive and conservative factions, according to Religious News Service.
Among the 300 official delegates to the five-day conclave, Baptists, Methodists, and Waldensians were seen favoring increased dialogue with Catholics and acceleration of the federative process.
Pentecostals, Adventists, the Salvation Army, and several smaller groups advocated a more rigid stand against Catholicism and expressed fear that a formal evangelical federation might limit their individual activities.
The meeting was held in Rome. The only Roman Catholics present were those representing news media.
There are now about 130,000 Protestants in Italy. The last such congress was held in November of 1920.
From Calvin To Calder
“Onward, Christian soldiers, not too fast in front,” sang a porter at Edinburgh’s fruit market as the fathers and brethren made their way uphill to the Church of Scotland General Assembly last month. First impressions suggested this year’s crop of commissioners were a docile bunch, for when the Lord High Commissioner, Lord Birsay, announced as is customary the Queen’s resolution “to maintain Presbyterian church government in Scotland,” there was not the ripple of approval so noticeable in previous years. The docility was deceptive, as was to be seen in later sessions.
In his address Lord Birsay had some outspoken things to say about what passes for contemporary culture. “Some few treat the most of us in writing, drama, art and music and the spoken word like morons,” he said. “Undisciplined orgies and obscenities … rationalized as being in the name of so-called adult freedom of choice … ignore the ‘child in the midst.’ ”
Some found these words not irrelevant a few days later when, after a stormy and highly emotional debate, the assembly withdrew an invitation to speak extended by its youth committee to Mr. John Calder, a publisher not conspicuous for Christian sympathies. Mr. Calder was remembered chiefly for his part in the notorious “nude in the gallery” affair at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago, and the present invitation to him was compared by one lay commissioner, a medical specialist from Glasgow, to asking Al Capone to address the police commissioners. The assembly voted on a motion by the Rev. lain Campbell, minister of a country parish in Perthshire. He was not afraid that Mr. Calder would say something shocking at the youth meeting; he objected because Mr. Calder stood for a way of life that he took no pains to hide and was “not ashamed of being a publisher of pornographic books”—and indeed thought that by these he was doing the public a service.
The voting (478–341) showed Calvin to have triumphed over Calder and caused the kind of correspondence in Scottish national dailies so typical of a people that takes its religion seriously. In Mr. Calder’s place as speaker on the traditional assembly youth night was Professor James Whyte of St. Andrews University, who described the assembly’s ban as “sheer folly” and as “one of the most remarkable examples of censorship in the history of mankind.” Continued Dr. Whyte, who teaches Christian ethics. “I suppose you realize the significance of my presence here tonight. The nearest thing our church can find to an agnostic is a theological professor but this is only because we have not got any bishops to fall back on.”
The assembly had earlier received a rebuff from the Free Church General Assembly meeting across the street, when that body by a 46–38 vote made it clear that the Auld Kirk’s moderator. Dr. Archibald Watt, on his courtesy visit would not be allowed to address them. It is 122 years since the Disruption, but Free Kirk memories are long, and the present Establishment came in for the customary modicum of plain speaking. “They have taken away our discipline; they have taken away our Lord’s Day …,” declaimed the Rev. Murdo Macaulay of Lewis, that most Calvinistic of Hebridean islands. “Is it right for us to acknowledge these people as representatives and as people on the same basis as ourselves?”
The larger assembly, having had it suggested that its moderator should not cross the street at all under such conditions, would not hear of it. Neither would the moderator himself, and the visit was duly paid. Two ministers and six elders of the Free Kirk Assembly walked out in protest at even this compromise, though it involved little more than two men shaking hands in public. (Admittedly Dr. Watt effected a piece of oneupmanship by directing some remarks to his fellow moderator in order to be overheard by the assembly he was not allowed to address.)
The big kirk paid tribute to Dr. John Mott, “one of the truly apostolic figures of this century,” the centenary of whose birth fell while the assembly was in session; heard that Church of Scotland members gave an average of twenty-five cents a week (“less than the cost of a daily newspaper”); called for control of gambling in so-called private clubs; decided a further year’s study was necessary before resuming discussion on the thorny question of ordaining women (at present only one of Scotland’s five Presbyterian bodies does this); and declined to change its official policy on alcohol from “temperance” to “total abstinence.”
Meanwhile, separated by the width of a street, the moderator of the Free Church General Assembly, the Rev. James W. Fraser, pointed out that they were not hostile to the idea of true ecumenicity. The objection was rather against “an ecumenicity so poverty-stricken in its credal statements and so all-embracing that it stretches out one hand to conservative Protestants and the other to the Church of Rome.” He described the much-heralded wind of change in the Roman communion as “merely a gentle zephyr,” and affirmed that it “would take a hurricane to blow away the false dogmas and unscriptural ritual … entrenched for centuries.”
An even more scathing attack on Rome was made in Inverness at the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church, which fired a broadside also at the Church of Scotland for its departure from the fourth commandment. During the year, it was announced, the F.P.’s had dispatched twenty-six protests to various sources against Sabbath desecration, including four to Prince Philip for playing polo on Sunday, and one each to Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra for traveling by air on Sunday.
J. D. DOUGLAS
Secrecy And The Kirk
For the first time in its history the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has discussed the issues involved in being members of secret societies or Freemasons. In the voice that has electrified open-air audiences for forty years, the kirk’s senior evangelist, Dr. D. P. Thomson, spearheaded the attack. He moved that the assembly remind ministers and members that their vows of membership in the body of Christ take precedence over all other vows; that in Christ alone there is salvation for men; and that the supreme rule for faith and life is to be found in the Scriptures.
The motion was lost by a substantial majority, and an even larger vote defeated an addendum that called the church’s attention to the notable services made by Masons to the cause of Christ and his Church.
The outcome was that the assembly merely expressed gratitude to the Panel on Doctrine for its report on the subject. This had suggested that two separate questions were involved: (a) Are secret activities necessarily incompatible with the Christian life? (b) Is it permissible for the Christian to commit himself to action the nature of which is as yet concealed from him?
To (a) the panel gave the opinion that secrecy is necessary to some activities, is desirable in others (e.g. a large part of married life), and may be permissible in others. Though secrecy and secret oaths have cloaked evil activities (Kenya, South Africa, United States), it can be used to defeat such activities.
To (b) the panel commented that where persons were in doubt about the wisdom of the “blank check” type of action, they ought to refrain from it. Some of the panel members went further, and criticized the fact that the initiate is required to commit himself to Masonry in the way that a Christian should only commit himself to Christ. J. D. DOUGLAS
A Reason For Dissent
At a rare joint sitting last month in Westminster, the Anglican Convocations of Canterbury and York extended another wary hand to English Methodists by approving a series of resolutions. The first of these expressed desire for full communion and eventual union. The second acknowledged difficulties and hesitations found in reports from the dioceses but saw sufficient support for the controversial service of reconciliation, Methodist acceptance of the “historic episcopate” and episcopal ordination as the rule for the future, and a first stage of full communion to be followed by a second stage of organic union. It was further resolved that a joint Anglican-Methodist commission examine some crucial questions needing clarification before Stage I of the union proposals could be implemented, and that the bishops should meanwhile encourage closer fellowship with the Methodists in work and worship. These resolutions have now been transmitted to the Methodist Church, due to meet next month.
The Rev. R. P. P. Johnston, vicar of Islington and the only member of the reporting committee who withheld support from the proposed service of reconciliation, cited diocesan clergy reaction as one reason for his dissent. In Salisbury diocese, he pointed out, 289 said they would be prepared to take part in the service and 89 said they would not. In Ripon the respective figures were 85–81, in Worcester 98–22 (with 47 abstentions), in Truro 39–138 (22 abstentions). “The dissenters,” said Mr. Johnston, “cannot be written off as the lunatic fringe.” Deep theological objections were involved, and it would be right to go forward only if the present scheme were adopted by overwhelming majorities in both churches.
J. D. DOUGLAS
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