The American Baptist Convention’s General Council voted 2-to-1 this month against joining the Consultation on Church Union. The secret ballot at a New York meeting followed a measured, ninety-minute debate and three months of discussion, meetings, and letter-writing within the denomination.
In view of the ABC’s general openness to inter-church cooperation, the decision was a significant defeat for plans to expand COCU (alias Blake-Pike talks) beyond the six mainline denominations now involved.
In formal terms, the council backed the recommendation of its Division on Cooperative Christianity that the ABC retain status as a COCU observer. That report was offered at the council’s last meeting (see “COCU on Ice?,” Dec. 3, 1965, issue, page 42). The key vote killed a substitute motion that would have proposed full COCU participation to the ABC’s annual meeting to be held in May in Kansas City, Missouri.
The forty-six-member General Council, as a between-conventions legislature, could technically bring American Baptists into COCU without specific convention authorization. But the step is generally regarded as too sensitive to be taken in that way.
Also, the council decision could be challenged from the floor in Kansas City, but both ABC President Robert G. Torbet and Chicago’s Robert Middleton, leader of COCU advocates on the General Council, say they doubt this will happen.
The council vote reflected grassroots sentiment. Council members had received 876 letters (not counting duplications) since the last meeting, of which 564 favored observer status and 192 a full COCU role, while 120 wanted to cut all ties with COCU. Responses came from 182 local congregations that voted on the issue.
The results of this unusual exercise of Protestant democracy troubled the Rev. Theron M. Chastain of Salina, Kansas. In the debate, he said the letters “showed no comprehension” and included “caricatures of other groups which were beyond belief … cock-and-bull stories about their neighbors.” Thus, while he favors COCU, he voted against it because the ABC membership is “utterly unprepared” for such a step. He advocated five or ten years of “intensive education.”
The vote was also affected by a letter from COCU Executive Secretary George L. Hunt answering ABC questions. He said the consultation talks of unity only in terms of organic union, and that the ABC and others are welcome “to come in on the basis of the work we have already done.”
While the COCU plan of union isn’t due until May, the proposed multi-denominational merger undoubtedly will include a historic episcopacy, baptism of infants as well as adult believers, and a common liturgy and creed. All are hard for Baptists to accept.
Parker Burroughs, an ABC administrator from Cleveland, feared the results of COCU rejection on the denomination’s “increasingly disillusioned crop of seminarians.… If we appear to be isolationists, out of the mainstream of American church life, we will lose their membership.” Baptist students at Yale, Andover Newton, and Colgate Rochester seminaries had been among those pressing for COCU.
The first formal meeting of high-level Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox representatives took place in Baltimore last month. The day-long discussion climaxed the ecumenical movement’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
On hand were more than a dozen members of the U. S. Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical Affairs, some twenty Protestant participants, including the heads of several major denominations, and five ranking Orthodox prelates.
Starting the day at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the group went through a service that included a hymn, special prayers for unity, Scripture lessons, the Apostles’ Creed, a meditation, litany, and more prayers.
Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, Archbishop of Baltimore, joined the group at lunch and gave a message of greeting.
But Mrs. Frank C. Wigginton, a vice-president of the National Council of Churches, said, “We must be in the mainstream of the Baptist movement.” And Seattle’s Robert W. Beach doubted that young people are leaving the ABC because it has no liturgy and doesn’t baptize infants.
Another fear, unmentioned in the debate, is that big-city churches favoring COCU will leave the ABC. This fear is the reverse of the contention by COCU opponents that participation would cause many congregations to withdraw. Members of the COCU camp had called that argument “blackmail.” Schism is an ever present hazard in the ABC’s loosely knit “free church” structure as compared with the centralization likely under the Blake-Pike proposal. But the council apparently agreed with Maryland’s Carl W. Tiller that “God’s blessing is not dependent on huge size or uniformity.”
COCU advocate Robert Middleton gave one of the most impassioned speeches: “The world is facing a crisis of belief. All other considerations fall into insignificance.… Structures are provisional and functional—the Gospel is the important thing!”
The Lutherans Revamp
The National Lutheran Council met in New York this month to make joyful arrangements for its own funeral. Next November it gives way to the new Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., which will bring the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod under an inter-church umbrella for the first time.
Besides housekeeping chores, the NLC’s forty-eighth and last meeting brought predictable nostalgia, serious words about church involvement in the federal Great Society, and sober words about the National Council of Churches.
The NLC campaign for Lutheran unity bore fruit in recent years when its eight member denominations merged into two, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church. With the addition of Missouri Synod and the tiny (20,000 members) Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the new council will represent more than 95 per cent of America’s nine million Lutherans.
But Missouri Synod persists in some separatist ways, such as staying outside the Lutheran World Federation. So at the New York meeting considerable time was spent in setting up yet another Lutheran entity, a U.S.A. committee for the Lutheran World Federation, to absorb international projects now handled by the NLC. The heir apparent to lead this organization is the NLC’s executive director, Dr. Paul C. Empie. Missouri’s insistence on a separate university ministry also forced the LCA and the ALC to form another new agency to carry on joint campus work presently under the Lutheran Council.
Since Missouri Synod sees theological study as the starting point for cooperation, this is the only required facet of the new Lutheran Council’s program. Beyond that, each denomination will decide how it will use the other consultation services, in welfare, education, missions, public relations, and military personnel. Missouri Synod and the others will continue to cooperate in the Lutheran Church Center in Washington, Lutheran World Relief, and projects such as immigration service and film production.
Empie said ecumenism will be a major project for the new Lutheran Council’s theological studies division. Ecumenical talks with Reformed Churches, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodoxy are the outgoing council’s most publicized projects. Although Missouri Synod has joined in these discussions, continuation depends on what the new Lutheran Council decides.
Empie said the Augsburg Confession makes only two requirements for Christian unity: preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments. Thus, Lutherans are under pressure to “distinguish between the clear biblical message of the Gospel, upon which there must be agreement, and human speculations on theological issues related to it—differences which do not justify denial of Christian fellowship.”
Lutheran ecumenical talks are in various stages. The NLC scheduled its second meeting with Roman Catholics in Chicago the week after the New York meeting, with baptism as the topic. These talks are starting with a point of accord—the Nicene Creed—but the meeting with Reformed representatives has what Empie called the “most controversial points.” He says the “Lutherans are in substantial theological agreement but have found a wide spectrum of views among Reformed representatives.” The last of the NLC-Reformed talks were to be held later this month, although individual Lutheran denominations may want to continue the effort.
The first meeting with Orthodoxy next October will start with each side’s describing itself and then move into the doctrine of the Church, an unusually wide-ranging topic for an initial meeting.
Church-state issues are another continuing Lutheran Council concern. Dr. Robert E. Van Deusen, Washington secretary for public relations, said the 1965 federal school aid bills “went a long way toward recognizing the Roman Catholic school system as an integral part of the American educational enterprise.” Parochial school aid is particularly important to Lutherans, since the Missouri Synod runs 1,374 grade schools, more than any other Protestant group. The synod modified its traditional ban on federal aid at last June’s convention, and local congregations are starting to participate, particularly in aid for disadvantaged children and libraries.
Van Deusen reviewed religious involvement in other programs and said the right of church groups to take positions on controversial issues is on a collision course with acceptance of public subsidies.
“A foreshadowing of it may be seen,” he said, “in the growing intensity of the feeling against those who, for religious or other reasons, oppose U. S. policy in Viet Nam. The time could come when an acquiesence to public policy is expected of church groups which receive public funds.”
Political statements had produced “growing disfavor” with the National Council of Churches, said Van Deusen, not only because of its advocacy of civil rights legislation but also because of a “genuine difference of opinion over the propriety of a church group’s speaking out on social and economic issues and engaging in political action.” He said the resistance has led to withdrawal of financial support and questions about the council’s eligibility for tax exemption. (LCA is the National Council’s only Lutheran member.)
The Rev. G. S. Thompson, executive secretary of the welfare division, said churchmen should not consider government welfare “a futile mirage which can never have substance in a sinful world.” “Political achievements for the betterment of men are, after all,” he contended, “the result of the Gospel.” However, he said, churchmen must not equate the material Great Society with the spiritual Kingdom of God, which is broader, and more important.
He said growing church dependency on government welfare raises the question at what point the church agency becomes “a tool of government.… However worthy the goal of government welfare programs may be, the Church and its agencies must always be solely responsible to the purpose of their Lord.” He called for research on church programs for needs unmet by government welfare.
Blossoms In January
“Getting Southern Presbyterians out of the magnolias and Dutchmen out of the tulips” is the way John A. Fulton describes the purpose of union negotiations between the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the U. S.
The Louisville lawyer, a Presbyterian, gave the flowery illustration as his city played host last month to 130 representatives of the two denominations. The “consultants” came to snow-covered Louisville for a three-day meeting at the invitation of the formal negotiating group, the “Committee of 24,” headed by Fulton and a Reformed Church pastor, the Rev. Norman E. Thomas of Albany, New York.
A question that remained unanswered as the consultants returned home was whether the talks would lead both bodies into a more productive garden.
Facing a 1968 target date for submission of a plan of union, the committee sought ideas from throughout both churches. The seeds planted by the consultants were as mixed as their feelings about merger possibilities.
Cool toward any merger not including the 3,292,000-member United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., a small group of the consultants pressed for a doctrinal stance similar to that now being considered by the United Presbyterians. A majority in the theology sub-committee, however, recommended adoption of the confessions now in use in both denominations. Also suggested was a commitment to develop a comprehensive and contemporary statement of faith after union.
Writing a complete polity scheme into the plan was suggested, but it was proposed that a new liturgy could wait until after the merger.
Next on the agenda for the committee is the important job of culling and weeding. The plan will have to have the right combination to get the necessary approval in three-fourths of the presbyteries and two-thirds of the Reformed classes. The drafting of a plan of union is to begin immediately.
While the consultation was in progress, two overtures were being readied for presentation to the Presbyterian U. S. General Assembly asking for union with United Presbyterians. Unlike previous overtures, these asked for union of synods and/or presbyteries in Kentucky and Missouri. The overtures cite joint work now being carried out in these areas by the two denominations. Earlier, the Central Texas Presbytery (US) and the Brazos Presbytery (USA) had asked their highest judicatories for permission to unite. United Presbyterian Stated Clerk Eugene Carson Blake conferred on the strategy with Presbyterian leaders in Texas while on a recent trip there.
Agitation for union with the USA church is seen by some, especially those in the Reformed Church, as a threat to union between the US and Reformed churches. Several Reformed classes have overtured their General Synod to withdraw from merger negotiations because they regard them as a first step toward union with the USA church.
There is speculation, on the other hand, that some super-ecumenists are out to block the US-RCA union because they feel it will impede negotiations with the USA church and might even make harder going for the Blake-Pike talks.
ARTHUR H. MATTHEWS
Canada: Mobilizing Women
The Church Army in Canada, an evangelical Anglican organization, is beginning to recruit women for the first time in its history. With sixty male officers in Canada and eleven cadets under training at army headquarters in Toronto, the group sent its first woman, Miss Lyn Heffernan, to England for training at a school in Black-heath, Surrey. A spokesman said there are three or four more female applicants.
In recent years, there has been opposition to women membership from several areas of the church, according to Religious News Service. Such opposition has been based on the fact that there is already an Anglican Women’s Training College, which prepares deaconesses for more traditional roles in parish life.
CA officers—all hold the rank of captain—serve in downtown missions, courts, homes for delinquents, and isolated parishes and missions where no priest is available.
The Canadian spokesman declared that there is plenty of precedent for women CA officers in Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and East Africa.
A Vote For Women
The denomination known as the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands took a large step last month toward ordination of women. Its General Synod voted 66 to 2 in favor of the conclusions of a subcommittee, which specified women are to be accepted not as equal to men for ordination but within their own God-given gifts, and always beside men. The proposal now goes to the churches and regional presbyteries for recommendations. No women are to be ordained before these are considered by the next synod. Another committee is to give a report on how the tasks of ordained women should differ from those of men.
A move to give the office of deaconess to an ordained woman failed. Many who opposed the suggestion feared that such a step now would block ordination of women as elders and pastors later on.
The Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (the name is plural because the local church is emphasized) separated from the Dutch Reformed State Church during the last century. Their combined membership, 800,000, is smaller than that of the state church, but their Sunday morning attendance statistics are reported to be consistently higher.
The Reformed Churches’ synod accepted a proposal from the state church that the two groups send observers to each other’s synods. It also decided to apply for membership in the World Presbyterian Alliance.
‘One Race, One Gospel, One Task’
There will be approximately 1,200 attendants from about eighty-five countries, and yet only One Race. They will come from different cultures and from scores of church groups, but with only One Gospel. They will represent almost every position of Christian leadership, but with only One Task.
So the theme of the World Congress on Evangelism—One Race, One Gospel, One Task—is developed by Dr. W. Stanley Mooneyham, who is coordinating director.
The World Congress on Evangelism, a tenth-anniversary project of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, will be held in Berlin’s famous Kongresshalle October 26-November 4 of this year. Dr. Mooneyham, a special assistant to evangelist Billy Graham, has already taken up residence in Berlin to direct preparations. He and another Graham staff member, Dr. Victor Nelson, flew to Germany in January and will be remaining there through the intervening months.
A Historic Scope. Dr. Mooneyham raises hope that the congress will be “the largest evangelical transdenominational endeavor in evangelism ever held in modern times.” He also envisions it as “the most representative ecumenical gathering ever held for the specific purpose of creatively exploring the full implications of biblical evangelism.”
The meeting will be preceded by a major evangelistic crusade in Berlin to be conducted by Graham and his team. The evangelist is honorary chairman of the congress.
“Our prayer,” Graham has said, “is that through the medium of the congress the Church today will receive renewed power and a sense of urgency such as was characteristic of the early Church after Pentecost.”
Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY and chairman of the congress, says the meeting comes at a “critical moment in church history.” He declares that “either spiritual forces will cushion and contain the violent flow of secular events or modern civilization will tumble through its rejection of the Judeo-Christian heritage.”
A global wave of prayer support for the congress is being sought. Dr. Henry notes that “the fervent prayers of the early Christians were crowned by the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, arch-persecutor of the early Church. Dare we pray that Mao Tse-Tung might even become the Billy Graham of Asia? Or that, in a time when many Protestants are minimizing their heritage of biblical theology, Pope Paul might emerge as the Martin Luther of the twentieth century?”
Most Prayed-For Event? Dr. Mooneyham has voiced the prospect that the congress will be “the most prayed-for event” in the history of the Church. He has issued five suggestions for Christians interested in supporting the congress through prayer:
1. Add the congress to your prayer list for daily intercession.
2. Request prayer for the congress in church prayer meetings and other public services.
3. Form a prayer cell to pray for the congress and for world evangelism.
4. Mention the congress in correspondence with Christian friends and urge their prayer interest.
5. Write especially to friends overseas and ask them to share a prayer burden for the event.
The program of the ten-day congress will be built around a series of major addresses on evangelistic and theological topics, special research papers, panel discussions, and reports on evangelistic progress. Each morning session will begin with a Bible study hour led by such well-known evangelical teachers and authors as Pastor Wilhelm Busch of Germany and Dr. John R. W. Stott of England. Dr. Oswald C. J. Hoffmann of St. Louis, preacher on the “Lutheran Hour” radio broadcast, also will participate.
Anglican Bishop A. W. Goodwin Hudson of London will be a key program personality, presenting a major position paper on the theological basis for evangelism. After the papers are given, delegates will separate into six major groups to discuss them.
Graham heads the list of major evening speakers. He will be joined by Bishop Chandu Ray of Pakistan, Dr. Ishaya S. Audu of Nigeria, Dr. Akbar Abdul-Haqq of India, Dr. Kyung Chik Han of Korea, Dr. Gerhard Bergmann of Germany, and Pastor Fernando Vangioni of Argentina.
Worldwide News Coverage. More than 100 newsmen are expected to cover the congress. They will represent secular as well as religious newspapers, magazines, and television and radio networks and stations all over the world. Primarily because of limited seating in the Kongresshalle, only accredited newsmen will be admitted. Those accredited, however, will have access to the whole program; no closed sessions are anticipated. Accreditation is available to editors and reporters of bona fide news media on a first-come, first-served basis. A number have already been accredited.
The aim of the congress will be to face anew the duty and need of evangelism, the obstacles and opportunities, and the resources and rewards, and to encourage Christian believers of common faith and doctrine in a mighty offensive for the Gospel in the remaining third of the twentieth century.
The congress already seems to be having a beneficial effect upon evangelicals around the world. Letters report enthusiasm building as missionaries and evangelistically minded churchmen consider the great potential of such a representative gathering. There may be a special impact upon those working in areas where political conditions have hindered the spread of the Gospel and where response to evangelistic efforts has been minimal.
New Hymn Contest
A contest is under way for development of a new hymn to serve as theme song for the World Congress on Evangelism. Deadline for submission of entries is April 15, according to Dr. Donald P. Hustad, chairman of the congress music committee.
Hustad says the hymn should have the flavor of contemporary literature and must be strophic. It must also possess a common meter for each stanza, but the rhyme scheme need not be rigid.
Further details may be secured by writing Dr. Hustad, 5721 South Harvey Avenue, La Grange, Illinois 60525.
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