|The Ecumenical Movement|
We believe that the Ecumenical Movement is a threat to the Reformed faith, because it seeks to compromise doctrine. There is a great war of words to water down what was established in the Reformation through such men as Luther, Calvin and Knox. In other words, the truth of the Bible, the intention is clear, it is to establish one church, that is all the Protestant denominations, together with the Roman Catholic church under one head., the Pope. The Roman church has not changed their unscriptural dogmas, they are as their motto claims, Semper Eadom (always the same). We in the Loyal Orange Institution are not taken in by the smokescreen being set up by the Ecumenical Movement. we believe that if the unthinkable takes place and the unscriptural alliance comes to pass then those outside it will be persecuted. The "Bill of Rights" of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701, which safeguard our Protestant Throne and Constitution are set to change. There are plans being put into operation to change the law for future monarchs to be able to marry Roman Catholics. We see the Ecumenical Movement as a group which compromises truth and in itself will be come a religion, but nothing like the Reformed faith which was established for us by the Reformers. Within the churches who are part of the Ecumenical movement all criticism of the Roman Catholic church has been silenced, because, all are told, to do so would be unchristian.
The Ecumenical Movement - Its Claims upon the Evangelical Christian Church
It is good to put the rise of this movement in its historical setting. I think it would be generally agreed that it had been thrust upon the Church from without under pressure of world events - some of them political, some judicious, some economic.
It appeared and gathered momentum shortly after World War I. It was an age of groupings, leagues and confederacies on an international scale. Men and nations had been badly shaken, and they felt unsure of themselves and unsafe as they stood alone. Hence the well-known groupings - in the political sphere, the League of Nations; in the forensic sphere, the International Court of Justice; in the cultural sphere, UNESCO, etc.
The Church too felt that in union is strength. She must regroup, close her ranks, and offer a united front. She must speak to the world from a position of strength. And so the movement towards ecclesiastical regrouping began.
In 1925, The Life and Work movement was inaugurated at Stockholm; and in 1927, The Faith and Order movement was launched at Lausanne.
And from these two there sprang in due course the Ecumenical Movement as we know it today. It was not concerned primarily, or indeed deeply, with matters of doctrine and the content of faith. It was a period when doctrinal beliefs had gone into the background: they were regarded as the main source of division and strife. I think it is just to say that at this period the content of faith became meager and shallow. So the motto of Stockholm was 'It is not credo, but amo'. So there was a studied silence on matters of faith and a call for action in charity and union.
Lausanne registered some progress in this direction for it was able to pronounce that 'the outward unity is lacking, but that within is becoming stronger'. This was surely a good omen for the future.
In 1938 the two movements - the Life and Work, and the Faith and Order - decided to unite in a single ecumenical movement, and in that year a constitution was drawn up.
Then World War 2 broke upon the scene, and sited further ecclesiastical proceedings. After the war, there came again the same impulse as before: the nations must unite, united they might stand, separated they would assuredly fall. The United Nations Organisation and kindred bodies sprang into life. And the Ecumenical Movement began to come forward on a rising tide.
But it was not until 1948 that the First Assembly was held at Amsterdam, consisting of 352 delegates representing 151 Churches. And on the 23rd August the World Council of Churches was formed. Once more the content of faith was more an embarrassment than an inspiration, and it was decided to rest content with the simple formula: 'The WCC is a fellowship of Churches which accept the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.
It was well understood that even this minimal doctrinal confession was capable of raising divisive issues if an attempt was made to interpret it. So it was decided that it could be soft-peddled, it was not to be insisted on further than making it a motto or symbol. It was again stressed that the Ecumenical Movement was not formed on the ground of faith, but as an incentive to common action. It is true, that, in response to appeals from constituent Churches this simple basis had been somewhat extended at the New Delhi Conference to read: 'The WCC is a fellowship of Churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.' We shall study this later on.
There are three broad statements that I am to make, and I shall gather what I have to say under them.
1. The Unity of the Church is a Reality
It is not in a merely rhetorical or formal sense that we say: The Church Of Jesus Christ is one. There is only one Church of God - the Church Catholic in the true sense of the word.
When we penetrate behind and beneath the outward aspects - the denominational distinctions - we can see that by virtue of its very nature the Church of Christ is one. These denominations are only scaffolding behind which the Church is being built.
Church orders are only pillars by which the fabric of the Church is kept in position. Church ordinances are only means of tying up the various strands that compose the texture of the Church. Take the classic passage in John 17, where in His High Priestly Prayer, our Lord prays that his disciples who believed on Him and those who should afterwards believe in Him through their word might be one: He uses the simile, 'As Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.
I would like you to think of the Church under three aspects common in the New Testament: (a) a body - the organic aspect; (b) an assembly - the fellowship aspect; (c) a stewardship - the witnessing aspect; and taking each of these in turn, I think we can see why the Church is a unity.
(a) A Body: the Organic Aspect
This is Paul's figure and its meaning is self-explanatory. As the body is the outward expression of the inner man, his medium of communication, his point of contact with extra-personal objects, so the Church is the body of Christ - the outward and visible expression of the uplifted and enthroned Christ, through which He expresses His mind and fulfils His purposes.
Paul in Romans 12:4-8 develops this figure to show that the unity of the Church as the body of Christ is a unity in a diversity of gifts and functions and operations. This unity in diversity must ever characterise the living Church of God. Its unity derives from its relation to the Head whose fellowship it enjoys and whose will it obeys. Its diversity derives from the various manifestations that the will of the Head may take. It is the unity of a body, and to regiment all the members of the body into a pattern of uniformity would be to paralyse action. Christ has only one visible body and it is His Church.
(b) An Assembly: the Fellowship Aspect
The koinonia or fellowship of the early Church was a very real thing from the day of Pentecost onwards. It was always based on the possession of certain things in common - a common faith, a common experience and a common loyalty.
To be in the unity of Christian Fellowship there must be these three things: (1) a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the body of truth that is inseparable from His revelation; (2) a common experience of His grace that brought regeneration, peace and sanctification - a new consciousness, a new life, a new character; (3) a common loyalty to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master and the surrender of the life to His will.
These are the things that made the fellowship of the early Church into a unity. That is why no man durst join himself unto them; nobody without this faith, this experience, this loyalty would feel at home there.
Now the unity of the Church is a reality here and now. It is not our duty to create it, to patch it up, to enforce it. It is our duty to accept it, to realise it in personal experience and to act on it. It is a given something, ours in virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ.
(c) A Stewardship: the Witnessing Aspect
As stewards in the one household we have a common function, we are unified in a common duty - that of obedience and fidelity.
That was the figure of the Church used by our Lord in the classical passage in Matthew 1 6: 16-19 where He speaks of building His Church and handing over the keys of administration. Stewards were appointed to administer the affairs of His household and it was required of a steward that he be found faithful. And in this fidelity to the will of the Master who says to each 'Occupy till I come', there is unity of spirit, of devotion, of aspiration. And in this fidelity to the living Lord, to His message and mission, to His commission and kingdom, lies the true unity of the Church of God.
Thus we conclude that the unity of the Church is a reality, a unity of spirit holding together diversities of worship and government.
2. The Union of the Church is a Distant Goal
It is, of course, desirable that if there be unity of spirit within, there should be an attempt made to have a corresponding union without.
The Church has no such union today and it is very doubtful if it ever had it, apart from a few years following Pentecost. Once the Church spread over the nations and took root in Gentile soil, its outward union Was scarcely apparent.
But it did not regard its absence as a sin or a disloyalty to the will of its Master - it was natural and inevitable in the nature of things and it did not hinder its witness overmuch.
One is not disposed to make a plea of justification for the cleavage in Christendom today, but I am not at all disposed to agree that the denominational aspects of the Church throughout the world is a sin. If sin there be, in disunion that fosters strife and animosity, then the sin is in the cause of the disunion - in that which has disrupted the outward union of the Church - in the divisive and disruptive forces that entered. 'I am not at all sure,' said Sir William Robertson Nicoll, 'but that heretics should be burnt; not for the views they hold, but for the way they disturb the Church.
The Church has lost to a large extent its sense of sin. Or it calls it by other names. And so it is clamoring for a common front against Communism, Neo-Paganism, The Spirit of the Age, and so on.
The Early Church recognised its avowed enemy to be sin and the devil and did not seem concerned about other movements. The goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the Apostles, the noble army of Martyrs were not concerned about the isms and ideologies of their day. But they were intensely concerned about the sin of their age, and so they struck at the roots of the disease.
But it is the desire of every Christian that the divisions of the Church of Christ should be healed - healed, not plastered over - nay, it is his faith and vision that the divisions will be healed, as all wounds will be healed by the healing properties of the life-blood within.
We desire a united Church for many reasons, let me mention four:
(a) For professing, interpreting and proclaiming the Christian Faith more fully.
I believe a united Church could set to the interpretation and dissemination of its faith to a fuller extent - at least to the essentials of its faith. Now that is where the ideal of the Ecumenical Movement falls lamentably short. It is not vitally interested in the doctrines of its faith: it regards them as potentially dangerous.
It is true that under pressure from some of its constituent Churches, the WCC was forced to be more explicit about its doctrinal confession as I have already indicated. But it immediately disavowed any desire to define and interpret these simple terms - Christ as Lord, as God, as Saviour.
They knew very well that there was a wide divergence of opinion among its members as to what deity in Christ meant, as to what Saviourhood in Christ meant, as to what a Trinity of Persons meant. But they showed no zeal whatsoever to proclaim this.
Indeed, when the historic Nicene Creed came to be recited by the assembled gathering at New Delhi it left a clause out, because the Greek Orthodox Church did not hold by it. Consideration for the brethren, you say. But consideration for the truth? That is secondary.
Since every body is at liberty to interpret the doctrinal formula in accordance with their traditions, it is clear that there can be no united attempt to declare or interpret the Christian faith - and that is the primary function of the Church.
If the Church could get united in the Faith - united around the faith for its interpretation and proclamation - rather than round the one doctrine of unity, then there would be a binding force within. It would not be a mere sentimental: let us come together, join hands, say nothing about our differences, say nothing about anything in particular. Sentiment of that kind does not hold for long. It is only love centralised on one Person that does this.
The first believers continued in 'the apostles doctrine and fellowship' - the order is the doctrine as an introduction to the fellowship, and then the doctrine as the foundation of the fellowship.
(2) I think a united Church would be in a better position for the extension of the Church 's witness throughout the world. It would have a stronger missionary thrust.
The WCC has not been unmindful of this, for it has its missionary branch. Indeed it was the missionary limb that took shape first. In 1910 the Edinburgh Missionary Conference planned a combined missionary effort for the world - though the field in which the Roman Catholics worked was not to be encroached on.
In 1921 the International Missionary Council was formed, and at New Delhi in 1961 the integration of the International Missionary Council with the WCC took place: and now it has a Division of World Mission and Evangelism which superintends the missionary enterprise of the Churches.
And it can be said at once that it is found helpful in its approach to governments and other official bodies. But it is more or less a closed Shop in the sense that no Church outside the WCC can expect its assistance or expect to be recognised by government departments. Its policy is that no mission field of any member of the WCC can be encroached
Upon by another body. That leaves vast tracks of virgin territory in the hands of bodies that have no zeal for evangelisation, and if and when the Roman Catholic Church joins the WCC all missionaries must leave Latin America and Roman Catholic countries of Europe.
The last thing, however, the Church should want is to introduce into the Mission Field the controversies and divisions that cut so deep into our Church life at home. But an agreement of this kind is not so easily come to, and not easily implemented and respected by all parties. Since there will always be some bodies outside the WCC one can expect the intrusion into mission areas, reserved for the recognised missionary agencies of the Churches, of missionaries from the fringe bodies - such as Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so on. And then trouble starts.
A united Church alone could organise missionary enterprise on a world scene.
(c) The union of the Churches is a desirable goal for the upholding of public morality and national righteousness. There is no doubt at all but that a Church that could speak with one voice on public questions would get a readier hearing than would the spasmodic efforts of a denomination here and there.
These are issues which belong unquestionably to the domain of the Church: the suppression of vice in the form of white slave traffic, narcotics, drunkenness, gambling. It should be able to speak on matters affecting social justice, the exploitation of one class of society in the interests of another class, the policies and alliances that are based on self-interest and not on right dealing. There is such a thing as a public conscience that can be educated, public opinion formed on matters of public morality and righteousness. It is the Church's vocation to do this, and without doubt a Church that could co-ordinate all its efforts would produce better results. But it must be agreed on general principles: a Church that encourages Binge in its Halls cannot speak convincingly on the evils of gambling.
If the Church were one, it were easier to get general principles accepted and enforced.
(d) The union of the Church is a desirable goal for the sake of advancing the cause of human rights, preserving the spiritual equality of man, defending the liberty of mind and conscience that is basic to all freedom. A divided Church is crippled in this larger field.
The Church in Britain sees clearly the basic evils inherent in the application of apartheid in South Africa: [ Written in 1963]. the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa does not recognise these evils: if it did, and spoke against them, the government policy would not survive another year.
The Church itself has a lot of house-cleaning to do in order to keep itself free from blame in this matter. It can too readily fall into the ways of the people among whom it works.
The Greek Orthodox Church is a member of the WCC. It controls the policies of the Greek nations, and it fosters the most outrageous persecution of religious minorities. Compare the Greek Patriarch at Amsterdam lauding the new spirit of fellowship and co-operation, and then going back to Athens and getting a pastor of the Greek Evangelical Church, also a member of the WCC, thrown into prison - for illegally distributing copies of the New Testament. It rocked the WCC to its very foundations. If the Roman Catholic Church enters, a similar situation will soon arise.
What I am getting at is, that the kind of union fostered by the WCC, or the ecumenical movement generally, does not of itself suffice to give that union of mind and heart necessary for this task.
What makes the goal of Church union so remote? There are factors that must be present to ensure a coming together for full fellowship and co-operation.
(a) They must accept a common authority. At present they are far from agreeing to this. The Roman Catholics accept the authority of the Pope as supreme. The Orthodox Church accepts the authority of tradition. The Reformed Churches accept the authority of Scripture. The Liberal section accept the authority of the Christian consciousness which it regards as under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Until the Church can bow before the one authority as supreme and final there can be no coming together. Ecclesiastical leaders are prone to ascribe disinterest in ecumenism to evangelical obstinacy and obstructionism. They turn a deaf ear to criticism of the Ecumenical Movement.
(b) They must cherish a common purpose . Their vision of the Church is not one, and until it is, there can be no reunion. One Church's vision is the Church's impact on society from the top - by means of social betterment. The other concentrates on the salvation of the individual, and believes that society can be leavened only in that way. The one Preaches a social gospel, the other a gospel of personal redemption. The one believes in Christianising the existing agencies at work in the social, including the entertainment sphere, the educational, the political. The other believes in doing its work independent of these, and regards social matters as either outside the sphere of the Church or an added something.
(c) It must be actuated by a common loyalty. The Church must be Christ-centred ere it can work together. Christ is the centre of fellowship and the inspiration of service. Many Churches are man-centred. They decry what they see in other Churches as other-worldliness, puritanical, unrealistic, fanatical, obscurantic! But the Church's duty is to present the one Christ. For this a common loyalty to the Christ of the Scriptures is needed. And that is the only Christ we know.
3. The Uniformity of the Church is an Illusion
(a) For one thing it is impracticable. You cannot put the entire Church in every nation into one mould - you cannot gear it into the one machine. National characteristics will assert themselves. National aspirations will find outlet. If the Church is to be truly indigenous it must have liberty of expression.
(b) For another thing it is undesirable. A vast monolithic Church can be a menace to the liberties of a people - a grinding machine - impressive but crushing.
(c) It is unattainable. There never was such a Church: even the Church of Rome at the height of its power was a divided Church. I am not at all convinced that the damning sin of the Church today is its division into denominations. How often we hear the confession: 'We humbly acknowledge that our divisions are contrary to the will of Christ.' It just depends on what we mean by divisions. When Christ addressed the Seven Churches of Asia, He had many sins to charge, but being seven was not one of these.
The apostolic Church, when it received its Pentecostal vision, separated itself to the gospel, and along the ways of life it left an infinite variety of testimony to the will of Christ. The formation of a streamlined world charge may not be God's answer to the problems of the age.
We do not solve these problems by forgetting or minimising the historic distinctions between our several Churches, but by using this very distinctiveness to serve God in our appointed spheres. It is no solution to abandon our Creeds and put slogans in their place, even if that is easier for the modern jaded intellect to grasp. For theology it is no answer to substitute a mystical piety which we do not fully understand and certainly cannot commend to others. A coming together in some amorphous union or uniformity is not the answer.
I do not depreciate the need for more united efforts, but I think the call of the hour is for each denomination to fulfil its distinctive calling more faithfully.
Let those who gather round the historic symbol of the Cross of Canterbury take with renewed spiritual fervour that venerable Prayer Book into their hands and such absolution at the throne of the heavenly grace, in order that the candle lit by Ridley and Latimer may not be snuffed out.
Let those who find their sphere within the bands of Presbytery remember that they are compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses urging them on to a more faithful testimony to the spiritual kingship of Jesus Christ.
Let those who make a stand on the symbolism by which they were buried with Christ in baptism, now get agreeing to serve Him in the power of a risen life.