The most comprehensive church-state study document ever to come out of an American church was adopted by the 175th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. last month.
Dr. Elwyn A. Smith, professor of church history at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and chairman of a special committee that drafted the report, described it as a “guideline” for local action. He regarded the report as an expression of the traditional Presbyterian principle, “God alone is the lord of the conscience.”
In adopting the report the assembly declared that “Bible reading and prayers as devotional acts tend toward indoctrination or meaningless ritual and should be omitted for both reasons.” It is “completely appropriate,” the report added, to introduce Bible reading “in connection with courses in the American heritage, world history, literature, the social sciences, and other academic subjects.” This part of the report aroused the greatest excitement of any of the assembly’s meetings, and extended debate. The Rev. Nevin Kendall of North Tonawanda, New York, told the 840 commissioners that they should not “let our public schools be part-time churches. I submit that we dare not identify ourselves with those people who insist upon using their majority position to cram this position down their neighbors’ throats. We want our children to hear the Word of God, but we will find other times and other places.”
Objection was registered also against the report’s theological basis: “The sole ground for the church’s critique of the state is that in Christ, God and the world are reconciled.” The Rev. Thomas P. Lindsay of Haddonfield, New Jersey, charged that the statement contained an implicit universalism, was contrary to fact, and was not ...1
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