When the present United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was formed in 1958, a special eighteen-member committee was saddled with the task of formulating “a brief contemporary statement of faith” to be included in the denominational constitution. Next May the committee’s work is scheduled for presentation to the UPUSA General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. The committee plans to recommend that its two-part, purposely undefinitive 5,900-word statement built around a doctrine of “reconciliation” be given equal standing with a number of other historic creeds. A collection of these confessions would then be regarded as “the symbolical book of the church.” (See also the editorial on page 24.)
Thus far, the text of the proposed document has not been made public. A draft has been shared with United Presbyterian seminary faculties and other select groups, and this exposure has already aroused considerable controversy. United Presbyterian leaders are understood to have given the statement their blessing.
The new confession, if adopted, will considerably broaden and therefore alter the denomination’s theological rationale. Evangelicals contend privately that it would legitimize theological deviations that liberal and inclusivist churchmen have condoned and surreptitiously promoted for a number of years.
The document explicitly rejects the infallibility of the Scriptures and avoids reference to the Virgin Birth of Christ. It affirms a second coming of Christ but makes no mention of hell. Some of its observations skirt perilously close to syncretism, universalism, and pacifism.
The General Assembly will be asked to decide, not only on the content of the new confession, but on the question of the extent to which the church must subscribe to the proposed collection of creeds. The United Presbyterian Church requires creedal subscription only of its ordained ministers, who must now assent to “the system of doctrine in the Westminster Confession.”
Decidedly ecumenical, at the expense of conservatism, the new statement reflects a broad image of oneness rather than emphasizing distinctives. What few condemnations appear are reserved mostly for fundamentalist tenets. The statement assigns implicit priority to love and social responsibility but minimizes justice and individual initiative. The document singles out racial conflict, war, and poverty as conditions in our time “that threaten the humanity, if not the very existence, of man.” It blends principles and particulars, punctuated with equivocations; more than one critic complains that it makes ambiguity a virtue.
A 2,500-word preamble to the statement asserts there is historical precedent for the committee’s recommendations:
“Your committee is firmly persuaded that the original Reformed and Presbyterian approach to the writing of confessional statements was right. Therefore we are recommending that this procedure of building upon the past and adding what the present needs of the church require, be followed.”
The preamble describes the new creed as “a call to reconciliation in a divided world and a divided church, where nations, races, families, and individual lives are torn by strife and enmity. The statement is meant to summon the church to life in and for the world and is patterned upon the words of Paul, ‘God through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’ ”
(The only other direct biblical reference in either the preamble or the confession is found at the conclusion of the statement, where the familiar benediction of Ephesians 3:20 is quoted.)
Tracing the use and effect of confessions in American religious history, the preamble laments that “the Westminster documents had come to have the character of timeless truth rather than the truth for the times.” It asserts that “such anti-Reformed and anti-Presbyterian movements as Dispensationalism, ultra-nationalism and racism found an entry into the Presbyterian Church because the three hundred year old Westminster documents provided no barriers adequate to deal with these new heresies.”
The special committee that drafted the statement was composed originally of four theologians, four biblical scholars, four pastors, two historians, and four specialists in philosophy and ethics. Dr. Edward A. Dowey, Jr., a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, is chairman.
Two members of the original committee have resigned: Dr. Addison Leitch and Dr. David Reed. Two others, Dr. John Mackay, retired president of Princeton, and Dr. Ernest Wright, have not recently been active in committee deliberations.
Here are significant excerpts from a draft of the proposed new statement of faith for United Presbyterians:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This confession of faith is the foundation of any Christian statement about God, man, or the world.
On Jesus Christ:
In Jesus of Nazareth the omnipotent God entered human flesh to accomplish the reconciliation of men.
Jesus lived among sinners and called them his brothers. He shared with them the temptation and suffering that trap other men into bondage to sin, yet he sought the will of God and lived in perfect obedience to him. He was truly man as God intends man to be.
On Christ’s role:
In the cross of Jesus God took upon himself the judgment under which all men stand convicted.… The resurrection of Jesus is the promise of forgiveness and of life for all men, not just as a future hope but as eternal life in the present. To refuse life in the risen Lord is to remain separated from God in death.
The promise of Christ’s return opens the prospect of a final resolution of the issues of reconciliation and so discloses the ultimate seriousness of life. All who put their trust in Christ may look to that judgment without fear, for the Judge is their Redeemer.
… The statement that Jesus Christ is “very God and very man” is intended by Christians today, as long ago, to affirm the uniqueness and the mystery of God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ.
The mystery of God’s being, of his acts, and of his love is beyond the grasp of man’s mind; human thought at its best can ascribe to God mere superlatives of power, wisdom, and goodness.… To praise God as Creator and Lord of all is to affirm that his purpose prevails despite sin and evil and will triumph in all things visible and invisible throughout eternity. This affirmation is not intended to answer questions about the origin of matter or of species. Rather it is to acknowledge God’s goodness to man.…
On the Holy Spirit:
… the source of life and the bond of love and unity in all things.
The reconciling work of Jesus is the supreme crisis in human history, for his cross pronounces judgment on man’s sin. The cross becomes personal judgment and present crisis through the power of the Spirit when the gospel is proclaimed and heard.… The Spirit provides nurture and direction for the new life in preaching and prayer, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in the discipline and community of the Christian community, and in opportunities to witness and to serve.
The Spirit not only gives direction but leads into action.… Although members of the body of Christ are emissaries of peace they do not escape struggle. They contend with powers and authorities in the realm of politics, economics, and culture.
On the Bible:
The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness. The church has received the Old and New Testaments as the unique and normative witness to God’s Word, and has set them apart from other writings as Holy Scripture.… The Bible should be interpreted in terms of the over-all pattern and purpose of revelation rather than under the control of particular details. The human character of its writings requires for their understanding that all resources of literary and historical scholarship be used with complete integrity.
The sufficiency of the Bible does not depend upon the certainty with which its various authors can be identified. Neither is it derived from regarding the Bible as a book of inerrant and infallible formulations.…
On the Church:
The body of Christ is one, but its oneness is hidden and distorted by the struggles and enmities that persist in the church as they do in the world. Thus the church appears in many divisions and forms.… Nonetheless the church is one body in a unity yet to be disclosed.
On other religions:
As a human phenomenon the Christian religion may benefit from the wisdom of other religions, as well as from secular institutions and movements.
Each Christian participates in the mission of the church by the quality and spirit of his relations with other persons and the work he does in the world. His participation may take the form of telling his neighbor of God’s forgiveness; of personal help or shared concern; it may prompt him to resist an unjust law or government, a selfish pressure group, or an irresponsible employer. He may be led to change vocation or party, or even to break with the system altogether and rebel against constituted authority.…
The church is often called to proclaim the Word of God directly with reference to a particular evil.…
The reconciling act of God in Jesus Christ exposes the radical meaning of what men already know as evil.… In his pride man declares his independence from God, and so loses his freedom.… Sin divides man within himself and puts him at enmity with his neighbor.… Because God’s love jealously resists all that denies and opposes it, sinful man experiences that love as all-consuming wrath. God’s wrath and Law are always expressions of his love. By revealing to man the seriousness of his rejection of Christ, God leads him to repentance and bestows upon him the gift of forgiveness.
The Christian community works for the removal of physical, legal, and psychological barriers between races. The mission of the church in this regard is to assist people of different racial origins to know and enjoy each other as persons so that they may live and work together in all levels of common life. When some persons are led across racial lines into the intimacy of courtship and marriage they should not find themselves therefore rejected but rather supported by the church.
… The church can neither seek to protect partisan interests nor to hold itself apart from them. It is constrained by Christ to expose the relativity of all human conflict and the lie that lurks in all hypocrisy, and to bring support to such policies and institutions as promote justice and preserve peace within and between nations.… Those who reject conscientiously all participation related to war ought not to find themselves for this reason forsaken by the church.
Men and nations blessed with material prosperity and scientific leadership are under the law of Christ constrained to share from the abundance they have received whatever will protect the human dignity of people in need, and will help them make more effective use of their own talents and resources. The church’s mission in this regard is to induce men of good will to make it possible for all men to engage in such dignified labor as will enable them to enjoy the material things of this life.
From Warring To Wooing
Some startling developments in the fast-moving Second Vatican Council have made it plain that the Roman Catholic Church seriously seeks Orthodox-Protestant-Roman Catholic unity.
Perhaps the most surprising decision to come out of the stepped-up meetings in Rome was one permitting Roman Catholics under “special circumstances” to say prayers with their Protestant “separated brethren.” Sacramental services are explicitly excluded, but the definition of what constitutes “special circumstances” under which common worship is permissible was left to bishops.
In Boston this month Archbishop Richard Cardinal Cushing made it clear that such circumstances need not be a personal crisis or a national calamity. Referring to a complimentary editorial, “Bravo Billy,” printed in the archdiocesan newspaper when Graham held his 1950 crusade in Boston, Cushing said, “I am 100 per cent for Dr. Graham, and if I were to rewrite the article in the Pilot now I would go right out and encourage all Catholic people to attend the meetings.”
Cushing was as good as his word. He urged Roman Catholic youth and college students to attend the Graham meetings that were then in progress in Boston, because, he said, “his message is one of Christ crucified and no Catholic can do anything but become a better Catholic from hearing him.” The Archbishop said Catholics “have everything to gain by going.”
After Cushing and Graham had conversed for forty-five minutes in front of newsmen and TV cameras, the Archbishop told the evangelist:
“I’ve never known of a religious crusade that was more effective than yours. I’ve never heard the slightest criticism of anything Dr. Graham has ever said from any Catholic source.” And, Cushing added, “I only wish that we had a half dozen men of his character to go forth and preach Christ crucified as he does.” Evangelical Christians could hardly have written a better testimony if they had had the opportunity to write a script for the Archbishop.
If formal discussions of church unity ever occur between the forces of evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism, evangelicals will doubtless offer stiffer resistance to some elements in Catholicism than will their more liberal brethren. Yet evangelicals will also find that on many fundamentals they are much closer to Rome than to liberal Protestantism. In responding to Cushing’s comments, Graham said, “I feel much closer to Roman Catholic traditions than to some of the more liberal Protestants.”In contrast to the endorsement from Cushing, Graham got not a word of official encouragement from either the Massachusetts or Boston Councils of Churches.
Another sign of change is the often-repeated affirmation that the Bible is a “common heritage.” Beginning in January, Roman Catholics in Great Britain will be able to use a New Testament that is adapted from the Protestant Revised Standard Version. Earlier this month Bishop John van Dodewaard of the Netherlands told Vatican Council fathers that translations of the Bible into modern languages “should be done with separated brethren.”
It has been said that the Roman church has suddenly opened out to the world. Evangelicals will find it even more exciting that the Roman church has opened itself to the Bible. Now, they may say, anything can happen.
The most dramatic sign of change and renewal within the Roman Catholic mind is the inclusion of Martin Luther’s hymn. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” in a new Roman Catholic hymnal, “The People’s Mass Book.” The volume in which the famous hymn of the Reformation appears bears the official imprimatur of Auxiliary Bishop Paul L. Leibold of Cincinnati. Some observers conclude that when Roman Catholics and Protestants can join in singing what was the battle hymn of the Reformation, then the claim may well be true that the Counter-Reformation is finally over. The most superficial interpretation is that Rome is wooing, not warring on, Protestantism.
Informed Protestants realize that no change that has occurred thus far in the Roman Catholic Church constitutes a change in basic position. Nor does Rome hold up such a hope. Roman Catholics are also “fundamentalists,” who hold doggedly to the unchangeability of Christian doctrine. Cardinal Bea has put it bluntly: “There can be no question of seeking a compromise on dogma, no divinely revealed doctrine.”
There remain, then, what seem immovable roadblocks to total unity. Among them are what Protestants call Mariolatry and Catholics, Mariology, and papal infallibility. Protestants are also taking a long look at the council’s decision of episcopal collegialily, according to which bishops share fully in the total authority of the church, which is to say with the pope, who nonetheless is described as primate of the Roman church. No matter from which end one views this doctrine, the other end always appears to be larger.
A German Groundswell
While the Bultmannian empire in Germany has been shaken from within by a lack of theological and methodological agreement, it has also been assailed from without by those who find its existentialist theology irrelevant and its impetus to evangelism in arrears. Last month, as if to document this groundswell of religious protest, a three-week series of evangelistic meetings was conducted by the Janz Brothers Gospel Association in the picturesque West German town of Biedenkopf within the shadow of Marburg University and the vacant Bultmannian throne.
To Canadian-born evangelists Leo and Adolf Janz, soloist Hildor Janz, and the other members of their diversified evangelistic team, the problems of crusade evangelism in Germany are largely the problems of the state church itself, which dominates 95 per cent of the religious life of the German people. Weakened by decades of Bultmannian theology with its philosophical pre-commitments and a heavy dosage of extreme biblical criticism, many pastors have lost faith in the ability of the Bible to speak to laymen and are themselves many times uncommitted to the ruling doctrines of Reformed, Protestant theology. At an organization meeting that preceded the Marburg-Biedenkopf crusade, many of the 140 pastors and religious leaders who attended voiced objections to Leo Janz’s nightly call to decision, termed by one state pastor a threat to “the decision which is the step of God toward me in Jesus Christ.” Objection was made also to the Scripture-centered counselor-training program, which many pastors with their own heavy dependence upon higher criticism of the Scriptures and formal theology are reluctant to endorse.
To the members of the Janz team, such opposition is vigorously overthrown by the enthusiasm of consecrated laymen that has greeted the evangelists in crusades at Zurich, Munich, Hamburg, Basel, Mainz, and Augsburg over the past few years. “Preach the Gospel so that the layman can understand the message,” admonished the editor of the Hinterlaender Anzeiger at the Biedenkopf crusade. “Not even Hitler could have managed to gather such crowds to this place,” declared one alderman as he watched the people gather from remote areas of the Westerwald, many in colorful national dress. At Biedenkopf closely knit participation by several state churches, the Evangelical Gemeindeschaft, the Marburger Deaconesses, and the Evangelical Free Church kept attendance close to 5,000 nightly.
As the Janz organization enters its ninth year of work in German-speaking Europe, it is furthering an effort that has grown greatly since its beginnings in 1955. Three weekly gospel broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg now blanket East and West Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Austria. Two periodicals, Ruf zur Entscheidung (Call to Decision) and Crusade for Christ, now circulate to German- and English-speaking readers. And a department of Sunday school promotion is now making adapted Scripture Press material available to churches that have never experienced departmentalized Christian education for all age levels and have until now relied largely upon rote learning in catechetical and pre-catechetical classes.
The Janz brothers do not expect criticism from theological quarters to cease. They are accustomed to objections to evangelization in general, such as that by one state pastor, “Whether I am a Christian, a heathen or a Hottentot, I am one who is loved by God and brought home to him in Jesus; thus far is God the father of all men and not only of the Christian, as Leo Janz maintains.”
But there is no indication that Leo and Hildor Janz intend to change their message. “A man is saved,” the evangelists reply, “not by baptism, nor by membership in the church, but by a personal and genuine conversion to Jesus Christ.”
Supreme Court Review
Of the some 100 cases the U. S. Supreme Court is expected to review during its 1964–65 term, a number involve questions of religion, morals, and ethics.
The court opened its new session October 5, confronted with two crucial tests involving the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It broke precedent by hearing cases on opening day, an indication of the importance the court attached to the cases that were before it.
In all, more than 1,000 appeals have been filed, running the gamut from cases involving millions of dollars or involving the entire nation to hand-scrawled pleas from prison inmates.
One that has religious overtones and involves the entire nation is an appeal by Mrs. Madalyn Murray, the professed atheist who was also an appellant in the prayer ruling of 1963. Mrs. Murray holds that the words “under God” may not be included in the Pledge of Allegiance as used in public school classrooms. She regards the reference, appended to the Pledge by Congress in the mid-fifties, as “offensive” because her children, she says, do not profess a belief in God.
A similar but more restricted case centers on whether persons must profess belief in God before they can qualify for draft exemptions as conscientious objectors. Central to the issue is whether religious precepts alone are the criteria on which a decision is to be made.
An appeal from Connecticut seeks to have a state law declared unconstitutional that forbids use of contraceptives and penalizes medical authorities and Planned Parenthood officials who prescribe or advise clients in matters involving birth control. Appellants contend they cannot give what they consider the best medical advice so long as the Connecticut law is enforced.
The question of movie censorship comes up in an appeal from Maryland, where law requires that motion pictures be submitted to a state board before they can be shown publicly.
A question involving race centers on state laws against intermarriage of whites and Negroes and is also expected to be ruled on by the court during the current term.
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