At 10:30 on the morning of May 24 a hearty and historic “Aye” was voiced across Boston’s spacious War Memorial Auditorium. Its effect was to approve a new theological foundation for much of American Presbyterianism.

The vote, nearly seven hours ahead of the printed schedule for the 178th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., moved to set aside the primacy of the Westminster Confession in favor of a creedal package. Enactment now needs only the expected endorsement of two-thirds of the 3,310,000-member denomination’s 188 presbyteries and formal constitutional incorporation at next year’s assembly.

In the assembly showdown, only a few of the 837 commissioners cried “No” (several of these later recorded signed dissents). The lopsided affirmative vote seemed to indicate that theological liberals and conservatives had found a patch of common ground on which to end more than a year of sizzling doctrinal controversy among the 9.000 United Presbyterian churches.

Contention focused upon the theologically disputed “Confession of 1967,” which together with the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism and six other historic creeds is to provide the church its doctrinal guidelines. The formula represents a sophisticated attempt to arrest the modern mind. What has bothered conservatives is that it also seemed to represent a drift away from biblical moorings.

A pointed exchange between two young ministers brought out the issue. They were speaking to an attempt to delete a phrase of the new confession that says Scriptures “are received and obeyed as the word of God written.”

“If this wording is used,” said campus pastor C. William Hassler of the University of Montana, “those students who are intelligently and vitally interested in what it means to be a Christian person will not be confronted with a confessional statement raising live issues but rather those issues which have been dead on campus for years.” In Hassler’s mind, the big question is whether God speaks “when and how and where he chooses” or “when and subject to man’s philosophical interpretation of the nature of the written language of Scripture.”

The rejoinder came from Louis H. Evans, Jr., a pastor in La Jolla, California, who after acknowledging the critical nature of the issue declared: “The word, Jesus Christ, is that which is speaking to us, in the living, dynamic, en Christo relationship. But this term is also used in the Scriptures for that which has been spoken.… I think we should explain this to our collegians, that God has entered into history. He has spoken to us. We have a witness to what he has said, and that witness still instructs and guides us.”

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Next Controversy?

A proposal to restructure the United Presbyterian Church promises to stir increasing debate. The plan suggested by a special committee of the General Assembly has already created so much controversy that some aspects have been eliminated. The committee, told by the Boston assembly to continue its study for at least another year, did gain endorsement for other elements.

In other action, the Boston assembly commended the Billy Graham crusade in London, authorized the Cuba presbytery to set up its own national church, and issued numerous pronouncements on social issues.

At about that point parliamentary monitors called for a reconciling word from Princeton Seminary’s Edward A. Dowey, the lanky professor who chaired the committee that drafted the original confession. The phrase “word of God written” was added by a special General Assembly review committee. The amendment in question would have restored the intent of Dowey’s committee.

Dowey strode hesitatingly to the podium, pressed a pen to his lips in a moment of contemplation, then said quietly, “I favor this amendment. I think the assembly should vote it down.” This puzzling statement stemmed from obvious agreement among members of both committees to oppose all attempts to amend the confession substantively, personal convictions notwithstanding. Such amending would have upset the delicate liberal-conservative balance achieved in the document through the revisions of the review committee. The assembly voted down the amendment decisively, and the phrase “are received and obeyed as the word of God written” was retained.

The move to “update the church” by changing its confessional standards had a quiet beginning. The General Assembly of 1958 brought together the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America, and a committee composed initially of nine members was appointed to prepare a historical introduction to the seventeenth-century Shorter Catechism, to revise its scriptural references, and to draft a brief contemporary statement of faith for the newly merged denomination. With the approval of the 1959 assembly, the committee shed its responsibility in connection with the catechism and concentrated on a new confession.

The proposal finally brought forth by the committee in 1965 included not only a new confession but also a plan to revamp the doctrinal basis of the church’s constitution. Instead of relying solely upon the Westminster Confession and Catechisms “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture,” the church was called on to create a “Book of Confessions” incorporating the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism, the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Scots Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Theological Declaration of Barmen.

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Moreover, the committee introduced a thorough revision of the questions put to candidates for ordination. No longer would they be asked. “Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?” The proposed substitute was, “Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the normative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church catholic, and by his Spirit God’s word to you?”

It was at the point of apparent deviation from biblical authority that the plan drew the most fire. The reviewers appointed by the 1965 assembly and popularly referred to as “The Committee of Fifteen” reported, however, a wide range of protests. Some felt the new confession came close to syncretism, universalism, and pacifism. Some demanded a stronger affirmation of the deity of Christ.

In a year of work, the Committee of Fifteen agreed on significant changes here and there in the new confession. Equally important changes were made in the proposed subscription questions. But the basic idea of shifting confessional standards remains intact.

More than two dozen amendments were introduced at the Boston assembly. Only a few were accepted, and these were minor revisions. Aside from the question of scriptural authority, commissioners spent the most time debating the propriety of saying in the new confession that reduction of strife and the broadening of international understanding require “the risk of national security.” A Pentagon employee who was a commissioner finally succeeded in getting a favorable vote on the substitute phrase “and even at the risk to national security.”

Following the vote of endorsement on the whole package, the assembly discharged Dowey’s committee. His parting word: “May I suggest that this does not discharge the church. We are only beginning.”

The New Creed

In acting upon the Confession of 1967, the United Presbyterian General Assembly in Boston adopted all the revisions suggested by the official reviewers, the so-called Committee of Fifteen headed by W. Sherman Skinner. A few additional changes were made by the assembly itself, but these were minor.

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Skinner’s committee had the responsibility of hearing objections from the whole church and determining if and how they should change the confession. Under the strain of duplicating so many proposals and petitions (about 1,100 in all), the chairman reported, a photocopier at the Witherspoon Building “blew up.”

Many of the criticisms were based upon what the confession fails to say. Drafters countered these by declaring that the document was not intended to be definitive and comprehensive. “Our generation stands in peculiar need of reconciliation in Christ,” the preface reads. “Accordingly this Confession of 1967 is built upon that theme.”

The committee’s changes made Christ’s deity “more explicit” in the new confession, according to Skinner. Jesus was made the saviour “for all men” rather than “of all men,” and the necessity for man’s response to God’s love was indicated more clearly. A section on the Holy Spirit also was expanded. The only new section added was a paragraph of about 200 words on sexual relationships.

Southern Baptists In Michigan

The 10,700,000-member Southern Baptist Convention covers Dixie like the dew, but this year’s annual meeting was in pioneer country—Detroit—one reason for the lower-than-usual count of 10,500 “messengers.”

Arthur Rutledge, executive of the SBC Home Mission Board, said, “For years we sat in the Bible belt, content with feeling no responsibility for the lost in the West and North.” Now eight per cent of SBC members live outside the South and border states, and the North is becoming the promised land.

Former convention president Herschel Hobbs said, “Somewhere along the line we lost our forward thrust,” and Sunday Schools “are little more than holding their own.” In contrast, SBC in Michigan is nearly half as big as the American Baptist Convention (which has a 100-year jump), the ratio of baptisms to membership is twice as favorable as in SBC as a whole, and the per capita giving of $73 is nearly as good as that of Episcopalians nationally.

Southern Baptists may find the North rubs off. Detroit SBC members not only seek Negro converts, but even cooperate with other Protestants and Roman Catholics in inner-city projects. SBC’s first vice president for next year is Fred Hubbs, executive secretary for Michigan. The new convention president is Dr. H. Franklin Paschall, 44, of First Baptist Church, Nashville, whose congregation has had Nigerian student members but no local Negroes. Paschall hopes churches can “go beyond what the U. S. government has done to encourage the right attitude toward people. We have the laws that provide for integration. Now we must instill love.” He said an increase beyond the 4,000 Negroes now in SBC must be normal and voluntary … in love and mutual understanding.”

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In the style of old, the Rev. C. A. Roberts of Tallahassee spoke on “practicing the new birth we preach by mentioning sex and swearing, but not race.” But Jimmy Allen of the Christian Life Commission in Texas charged that “the sphinx-like silence of generations of Baptist preaching on the subject of racial prejudice has produced a generation of church members who do not really understand that racial discrimination and prejudice tears out the heart of the Gospel.”

By coincidence, Paschall was on the program to preach hours after his election over eleven opponents to SBC’s top post. Paschall is soft-spoken outside the pulpit, but his address was an amplifier-crackling performance. “The modern sinner may resent our preaching to him, but he won’t deny us the right to love him,” he said. Paschall thinks a “federated church is not the answer to our problems, nor would it be good for Baptists to unite organizationally.”

Visiting American Baptist President Carl Tiller (see story following) stretched his hand of friendship as far as possible, and the next move seemed up to the Southerners. Tiller proposed stages of cooperation: 1966, Joint Bible study; 1967, joint city-wide rallies; 1968, “a substantial number of pulpit exchanges;” and in 1969, the hemisphere-wide Crusade of the Americas. ABC has yet to give the crusade project final approval.

The 1969 effort got a rousing sendoff at the climax of the SBC meeting. Outgoing president Wayne Dehoney believes the crusade will be the biggest evangelistic thrust in the history of Christianity.

In some respects, Detroit was a stalemate. Foy Valentine, executive of the Christian Life Commission, said “a new era of Southern Baptist acceptance of Christian social responsibility seems to have dawned during the past year.” Even so, his commission got its fingers burned on a race resolution in 1964, offered no recommendations for 1966, but it plans some next year.

The convention also had laryngitis on two big internal issues: a new name for the denomination to reflect its national character, and federal aid to SBC colleges (two resolutions, passed without discussion, reaffirmed past stands for separation of church and state without getting into specifics).

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The interest of Rutledge and other individuals in friendly talks with Roman Catholics, reported in the Detroit Free Press, may become a pivotal issue in coming days.

American Baptists In Midstream

The annual American Baptist Convention last month dodged a clear-cut vote on joining the Consultation on Church Union, even though ecumenical strategy is the denomination’s most pressing problem.

One can read the returns from Kansas City several ways, but the denomination obviously is not ready for COCU.

Despite attendance by 3,500 delegates and several thousand visitors, interesting issues, and some good music, the proceedings seemed pallid. Convention mythology has it that locale affects voting under the ABC’s permissive delegate scheme. COCU advocates are already gearing for next year’s Pittsburgh meeting and, in particular, the 1968 Boston session.

In Kansas City, observed one veteran ABC employe, “the liberals had the microphone but the conservatives had the votes.”

Before the convention opened, the General Council, the ABC’s central policy-maker, spent a night rehashing its February vote against COCU (see February 18 issue, page 42). The reconsideration, sought by the COCU camp, backfired. The vote against COCU was more lopsided than ever—29 to 5—perhaps reflecting some discontent with plowing old ground. The council and the resolutions committee decided not to take COCU to the main floor, but the door was open for amendments.

The General Council approved outgoing President Robert Torbet’s plan for a permanent commission on Christian unity to talk with “other Christian bodies” and explore organic union or federation where approved by the full convention.

The closest thing to a COCU showdown came when a resolution to back this commission plan was introduced. An amendment by Missouri’s ex-Congressman O. K. Armstrong squeaked through (1,010 to 920); “for the further guidance of the commission” it lists distinctive Baptist beliefs,The amendment in full: “For the further guidance of the Commission on Christian Unity, we reaffirm our loyalty to the great distinctives that have formed the cherished heritage of Baptists from the beginning of our fellowship, among them specifically our belief in the New Testament as a sufficient guide for faith and practice, the competency of the individual in matters of religion, believer’s baptism by immersion for entry into the church, the symbolic understanding of the ordinances, the freedom of each local church to order its own life without control by an episcopacy, the advisory and cooperative natures of our associations and denominational organizations, and separation of church and state. We urge our Commission on Christian Unity to continue and if possible to increase every appropriate effort for greater unity with other Baptist bodies in the United States; and for greater unity with other free churches, in a federation or other cooperative organization that would involve no sacrifice of the New Testament principles which have been, and will ever be, the source and reason for our Baptist witness in the world.” Those beliefs are the main problem with COCU, and Armstrong’s speech, replete with historical name-dropping, made it clear where he stood. The Armstrong amendment also emphasized bids toward other Baptist and free church groups.

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COCU advocates got a consolation prize later in the day when the depleted convention refused (by 478 to 221) to “commend” the General Council decision on COCU. Thus the ABC withholds support of its own council while, in another resolution, it notes the COCU talks “with commendation.” That resolution asks continued COCU observation “so that our constituency may be well-informed for any possible future change in our relationship.”

ABC’s new President Carl W. Tiller debated and voted against COCU in February. A layman. Tiller is chief of budget methods for the United States Bureau of the Budget. Because of his vocation he hopes “some things may happen at headquarters.” Other platform planks are fresh emphasis on evangelism, more community relevance for local congregations, and more faithful giving of money.

Although Tiller was uneasy about some wording in the Armstrong amendment, he said it doesn’t “foreclose” talks with non-Baptists but merely advises the new commission to “keep our Baptist insights well in mind.” Tiller Would like the ABC to look toward both other Baptists and other non-Baptist Christians.

The conservative wing that seeks Baptist unity has little to sponsor. The current Southern Baptist Convention President Wayne Dehoney is friendly, but in a joint appearance with Tiller he said he saw no future beyond such existing ties as the Baptist World Alliance and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Both agreed that congregations dually aligned with the ABC and the SBC (like ones where Tiller and Armstrong belong) are valuable tests of unity.

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The ABC is also gaining dually aligned churches from Negro denominations, particularly the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Rev. Charles Sargent, Jr., a civil rights leader in Stamford, Connecticut, said many Negroes see in the ABC “the potential for a racially inclusive church body.”

The 1.5 million American Baptists continue to lag in most indicators of church vitality. COCU backer John Skoglund of Rochester envisions a struggling ABC caught between two giants, the COCU church of 24 million and the SBC of 11 million.

“Given the size of such competitors, with their accompanying power, influence, prestige and ability to get an effective job done,” he predicts, “there will be an accelerating movement of American Baptist members, ministers, and congregations to affiliate with either of these two strong churches. This will surely mean that the present ABC will continue its present decline in church membership and number of churches.”

Attention centered on ecumenical maneuvers, but there was the usual spate of political resolution-making at Kansas City. Two anti-labor amendments and one against “civil disobedience of any form” were killed, along with a liberal move to cast doubts on the U. S. government’s approaches to getting peace in Viet Nam. The ABC ducked endorsement of the NCC and WCC resolutions critical of America’s Viet Nam policies. Liberals also lost by 459 to 434 a dramatic bid to back diplomatic recognition of Red China and seek an end to U.S. opposition to seating her in the United Nations.

Other resolutions supported national open-housing legislation, federal rent subsidies for the poor, laws requiring minimum safety standards in automobiles, and the right to refuse to serve in the Army because of moral objections to a particular war.

ABC resolutions are usually handled in haste and are often written by staffers of the Division of Christian Social Concern. This year, the ABC will use an experimental system featuring a steering committee of six, periodic meetings on resolutions, and a cut-off date two months before the convention. The changes represent a compromise with those who seek stronger grass-roots participation in resolution-making and official pronouncements on current events.

In a major convention speech, Lutheran and World Council of Churches leader Franklin Clark Fry offered some thinly veiled COCU criticisms. He considers it “heresy” to “attach religion too closely to national culture.… It may be one of the evil days in the church if we unite so that the only distinctness is not interpretation of the faith, but a national cast placed on Christianity.”

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The WCC, he said, offers unity without “bleeding out all the vivid colors each brings into the tapestry of Christianity.” Through the world organization, Fry said, he has learned to appreciate Eastern Orthodoxy, with its “art of the adoration of God.” By contrast, he said, many American Protestants “have the unfortunate habit of sauntering and slouching into the presence of the Almighty with an easy comradeship and informality we wouldn’t think of using with the President of the United States.”

Kyle Haselden, editor of the Christian Century, an ABC clergyman, and a voting delegate at Kansas City, made a clean break with the new morality in a speech. Haselden rejected legalism because it “tends to negative human conduct … mechanizes the good life … binds the future … and precludes the working of the Holy Spirit.” Situational ethics, he said, is a “modern rebellion” against such legalism.

But he said Christians should repudiate the new moral relativism for these reasons: its origins is not in Christian thought but in writings of men like Rousseau; it is too easily distorted into license, especially “sexual libertinism,” which makes it popular with “broad segments” of high school and college students; and it “clashes sharply with the realities of the human situation.”

An unstructured love, he said, “trusts everything to the dominant impulse of the moment and that impulse may be wholly foreign to the Christian love that has its focus on the sacredness of persons and the holiness of community.”

Pondering Religion’S Role

The old, easy assumptions about religion in public education are out-of-date in the light of recent Supreme Court decisions. And academic presentation of the religious side of life seems increasingly constricted in an age of onrushing technology.

With such problems in mind, eighty-five scholars assembled at Harvard University May 19 and 20 in an off-the-record Conference on the Role of Religion in Public Education, sponsored by Harvard and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

They pondered the relation of the new technological civilization to previous social structures, the ways in which religion is vital to this civilization, and how religion can properly affect the society through public education. The papers presented, all of which were revised as a result of the discussions, will be published by Houghton Mifflin next spring in what is likely to be the most comprehensive volume yet on the question.

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The idea emerged that tensions between education and religion perhaps take a unique form in our culture because it is shaped by an increasingly comprehensive and ambitious technology. An age whose patterns are laid down by technological advance is without precedent. Symbols and images (perhaps, the categories) by which life was ordered as recently as fifty years ago no longer exist. The problem arises whether the technological culture can provide a framework in which man can live coherently.

The role of religious faith in such an age was said to require definition. Man needs a center around which to order his life, no matter what forces press upon him; but such a center is difficult to achieve in the analytical mood of the time. Conference participants sought to show how religious instruction can provide guidance in this area.

But religious instruction must be consonant with the demands of our pluralistic society. Representatives of the three major faiths faced the questions whether a “neutral” projection of religion can avoid drifting into insignificance, and whether objective, non-sectarian teaching can retain two essential elements of a religious outlook: knowledge and mystery.

In the third major area of discussion, how religion can affect the society through public education, it was assumed that the Supreme Court ruling against devotional Bible reading and prayer in the schools will be determinative for the decades ahead. This raised the question: What part must religious education play in preparing students for citizenship in a democracy?

The educators whose papers formed a structure for the conference seemed most concerned with “human” issues—how religious instruction in public education can relate to interests and needs of the individual pupil.

The theologians present were divided. Some were most deeply exercised on the constitutional issue, especially as it concerns the safeguarding of minority rights. Others wondered whether it is possible today to produce a methodology and curriculum that retain the mystery inherent in religion, particularly in a society and educational system that seek to eliminate the element of mystery from human life. This problem is crucial, if teaching is to do justice to the element of the supernatural.

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