Following is the first in a series of roundup articles on developments at denominational meetings.

Disunity has plagued the 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) in recent years, resulting, according to some, in the loss of several thousand members. At the church’s triennial convention, Ralph Bohlman, re-elected LCMS president despite a strong challenge from the church’s most conservative wing, said he would make building bridges a high priority during his three-year term.

Bohlman’s critics say he has not taken strong enough disciplinary action against pastors who depart from the denomination’s strict theological standards, particularly in the areas of LCMS relations with other church groups and the role of women in the LCMS, which forbids women’s ordination. At a press conference during this year’s meeting, Bohlman suggested the church needs to find ways to recognize the contributions of women.

Meanwhile, a professor at an LCMS college, who had been accused of false doctrine because of an article he wrote, has been informed by the church’s doctrinal review commission that his revised article “contains nothing that conflicts with Scripture and the Lutheran confessions.” Daniel Bruch, of Concordia College in St. Paul, Minnesota, had been accused of advocating women’s ordination in the article, which discussed Jesus’ and contemporary society’s attitudes toward women.

Together Again

For the first time since the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) split in 1857, the denominations met concurrently in shared facilities. RCA delegates narrowly rejected a proposal to elevate the church’s status with the ecumenical Consultation on Church Union from observer to full status. Edwin Mulder, the church’s general secretary, said many in the church were concerned about “being aligned with mainline churches that don’t seem to be growing.”

Meanwhile, the CRC, the more conservative of the two denominations, suspended ties with South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church until that church declares apartheid to be sin. The CRC also instructed its churches in the Washington, D.C., area to refrain from ordaining women as elders on grounds that it violates church restrictions on the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.

On The Move

The 1.7 million-member United Church of Christ (UCC) decided to move its national headquarters from New York City to Cleveland, becoming the third major Protestant denomination to leave New York in recent years. (Previously the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.] left New York.) Delegates to the church’s general synod also called for the adoption of an “economic bill of rights” that would guarantee a national minimum income for the purpose of ensuring food, clothing, and shelter for all.

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Evangelism and church growth were among the new priorities adopted by the UCC this year. In addition, delegates took action opposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would criminalize flag burning, and expressed cautious endorsement of genetic engineering and new reproductive technologies. The pronouncement on genetic engineering acknowledges the possibility of its misuse, but states that “the greater immorality would be for the church to stifle or ignore genetic engineering’s promise for human benefit.”

In other developments at this summer’s denominational meetings:

• The general conference of the Evangelical Free Church of America elected Paul Cedar, senior pastor of Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Congregational Church, to succeed Thomas McDill as president. But Cedar said he did not feel the call of God to accept it. McDill will stay on while the search for a new president continues. In McDill’s 13-year tenure, the number of Evangelical Free churches has increased from 532 to 1,010.

• Delegates to the biennial meeting of the American Baptist Churches passed a resolution denouncing the treatment of refugees from Central America who are being held in federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the resolution, those being detained are fleeing “war, poverty, and oppression” in Central America.

The 1.6 million-member denomination also passed resolutions that denounced recent Supreme Court rulings against affirmative action; called for the immediate release of children being detained in South African jails; and condemned the Chinese government’s suppression of students.

The 90,000-member Evangelical Covenant Church accepted the Chicago-based Jesus People USA (JPUSA) into its ranks, JPUSA is one of a handful of remnants of the Jesus movement that blossomed in the 1970s. Members of the group live communally. Its ministries, supported by businesses owned and operated by JPUSA, include providing some 250 meals a day to street people and operating a crisis pregnancy center. Timothy Ek, secretary of the denomination, cited JPUSA as a model community of Christians “equally concerned with spiritual and physical needs of people.”

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By Randy Frame, with Religious News Service reports.



Prayer Warriors

Christians and Muslims faced off in West Berlin in June for a two-hour prayer confrontation that seemed to end in a draw. The unusual showdown grew from a challenge issued in February by a Turkish hoja, a leader of a mosque in Berlin, according to a Baptist Press report. To the surprise of the hoja, Christians from several denominations accepted.

About 100 Christians and 200 Muslims gathered in a city park. The hoja read from the Qur’an, including a passage that says when non-Muslims hear the Islamic message and do not respond, Muslims are to pray that God will curse them. One Christian participant read several New Testament passages, and a German Baptist pastor explained salvation through Christ. Both groups then prayed quietly.

The confrontation drew some criticism from European Christian leaders, who felt such an approach to Muslims was counterproductive. “Spiritual encounters of this type are an increasing phenomenon,” said Bill Wagner, head of the Muslim awareness committee of the European Baptist Federation. He noted that some Islamic sects have challenged Christians to such debates in South Africa and England.


Police Ignore Protest

Prolife demonstrators blocked the entrance to a Rio de Janeiro medical clinic that performs abortions, closing the clinic for a morning and bringing unwelcome attention to the practice of abortion in Brazil. Though abortion is illegal in that country, authorities have generally ignored its availability.

About 30 people organized by Rescue Outreach, a newly formed U.S.-based group that promotes Operation Rescue-style demonstrations worldwide, staged a sit-in at Santiago Clinica, which is located just around the corner from a police station. Demonstrators called police to report the illegal activities of the clinic, but according to Juli Loesch Wiley, a spokesperson for Rescue Outreach, police merely drove past the clinic and did not stop.

The rescue attracted television cameras and front-page headlines, Wiley said, and has helped accelerate the formation of a nationwide prolife movement in Brazil.


Church Attacked

Gunmen attacked worshipers in a remote church on the Philippine island of Mindanao, killing about 40 men, women, and children. A unit of the Communist New People’s Army (NPA) claimed responsibility for the June 25 attack.

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Government military officials said church members had formed an anticommunist vigilante group and refused to pay “revolutionary taxes” to the NPA. Witnesses said as many as 100 gunmen surrounded the church and opened fire. A few of the worshipers, armed with shotguns and knives, fought back. Most of the victims were women and children; two bodies were beheaded. Ten others were injured. The church, located in Sitio Rano, is an outreach congregation of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP). UCCP officials, who have been criticized by the government for sympathizing with the Communist rebels, called on both sides to cease fighting. They report NPA and government leaders have expressed willingness to talk in the wake of the killings.


Missionary Released

Independent missionary Bruce Olson was released by his guerrilla captors July 19, near the Colombia-Venezuela border. He was taken captive October 24, 1988, by forces of the guerrilla group known as ELN (CT, Dec. 9, 1988, p. 60). ELN issued a number of press statements during Olson’s captivity, accusing him of various actions detrimental to the native Colombian population. On at least one occasion, ELN announced that Olson had been sentenced to death by a “people’s court.”

Olson, 47, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, had worked in Colombia for 28 years and holds Colombian citizenship. Negotiations for his release involved representatives of the native population served by Olson and his family. The Colombian government, the Red Cross, the U.S. embassy in Bogota, and the State Department in Washington also assisted in arranging his release.

Olson was in good health after his nine-month captivity. According to a family spokesperson, he will return to the U.S. for several months but has made no decision about the future of his work in Colombia.


Briefly Noted

Nominated: As U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Thomas Melady, a former diplomat and an active Catholic layman. If confirmed, he will become the third person to hold the post since the U.S. restored formal diplomatic ties to the Holy See in 1984.

Died: Mark Buntain, an Assemblies of God missionary who established major medical and educational institutions in India during 35 years of service there, in Calcutta on June 3. He was 66. World Relief presented its Helping Hands award to him in March in recognition of his history of ministry to suffering people.

Baptized: As a child, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Rumors have circulated for some time that Gorbachev’s mother is a practicing Christian. At the time of the leader’s birth in 1931, the antireligion campaign of Stalin had only just begun. When reporters in Paris recently asked him about his religious roots, Gorbachev confirmed, “I was baptized. I was christened, and I think this is quite normal.”

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