As victory vibrations for the World Series-champion Cardinals died down in St. Louis, the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples) staged some celebrations of its own. Restructure and unity exponents rolled to a decisive (20 to 1) victory over conservative Disciples who vainly defended local autonomy against sweeping ecumenism.
For the first time the convention had elected delegates from congregations, regions, and agencies. Of the 9,575 persons registered at giant Kiel Auditorium last month, 4,085 were voting members.
Executive Secretary A. Dale Fiers called restructure approval “historic” and “the first step toward the Christian Churches’ becoming a denomination.” Delegates also sounded off on Viet Nam, narrowly rolled back a resolution supporting conscientious objection to a “particular” war, plunged anew into civil-rights and urban-renewal endorsements, and took a critical—but brief—look at ministerial racial discrimination.
Since the Christian Churches emerged out of nineteenth-century frontier America, the loosely federated congregations simultaneously have prized Christian unity and their own independence. The new “Provisional Design” could be adopted by the ICCC in Kansas City next September. Restructure will allow the local congregations to retain property, call pastors, and determine membership standards. But subsequently, the 1.9 million-member denomination would follow a centralized, representative government at regional and national levels.
Floor debate against restructure was mainly confined to a half-hour speech by the Rev. Tom Parish of Wichita, Kansas, speaking for the conservative Atlanta Declaration Committee. His contention that restructure was a “return to rigid sectarianism” was rebutted by Granville T. Walker of Fort Worth, chairman of the 130-member Restructure Committee. Said Walker: “The ancient and historic rights of congregations … are explicitly safeguarded.”
Alarmists immediately warned that one-third of the 8,000 congregations will bolt the “Brotherhood”; officials said no more than one-fifth.
Some delegates expressed fear that restructure will deliver the Disciples “holus-bolus” into the Consultation on Church Union. COCU advocates (by far a convention majority) admitted restructure “will be an aid to COCU,” but demurred about the merger matter. It won’t be decided right away, they said, so why worry about details now? Leaders of a unity workshop alluded to baptism, communion, bishops, and “mutual interchange of members” as major issues to be ironed out with the other nine COCU bodies.
Eugene Carson Blake, general secretary of the World Council of Churches and a native of St. Louis, spoke twice at the assembly. At a church-unity luncheon, 800 diners rose to applaud the gravel-voiced churchman. He said the ecumenical movement, far from being a failure, is “On the threshold of a new great development” with changes “no one would have dared predict.” Forecasting some unions within ten years, he urged Disciples to “press on patiently.”
Blake told newsmen, however, that he was impatient with those who say the Church should “stick to religious matters.… Life has changed; you’ve got to be political and economic.” Blake used a sunrise prayer service—preceded by a peace march of about 500 from downtown hotels to the Kiel Auditorium steps—to propose that the United States let a high-level conference of free Asian and Pacific governments decide whether American forces should pull out of Viet Nam. He also rapped U. S. policy there as “unilateral,” said the bombing of North Viet Nam should cease “unconditionally,” and urged government spending on poverty and race problems rather than war.
The convention took a tempered “dove” stance on Viet Nam during the final business session. A resolution that an opponent said “indicted our government as no good” (it included a critical statement by the National Council of Churches) was remanded to committee. But the final form was essentially just a rearrangement of the paragraphs. It carried easily after doves convincingly argued that the document requires the Brotherhood only to “study and discuss” the NCC material and “the basic justice of U. S. involvement.”
Chaplain E. T. Carroll, who recently returned from Viet Nam, was credited with persuading the ICCC to reverse last year’s stand and vote down support for conscientious objectors to “particular” wars. The resolution stirred explosive debate and a fairly close vote. Carroll asserted that bona fide objectors have an out under existing draft law.
Turning to urban problems, Disciples passed a resolution calling for solution to the crisis of American cities. A floor effort to join the Episcopal Church in its new $3 million-a-year urban program failed when it was pointed out the assembly couldn’t obligate agency or congregational money.
Continued existence of a separate Negro structure within the Brotherhood, the National Christian Missionary Convention, piqued some delegates of both races but didn’t stop election of NCMC officers. A resolution asked congregations to hire ministers without regard to race; a vociferous minority wanted a much stronger statement. Amiable convention President Forrest L. Richeson—no parliamentarian—finally gaveled down debate. Los Angeles layman Vance Martin, Jr., reminded delegates of the painful fact that last year’s lone Negro Disciple seminary graduate couldn’t find a church and finally became a Navy chaplain. Calling the Negro segment a “nineteenth-century cameo,” Martin declared Negro ministerial candidates will get the message.
Behind convention main events there was a ripple of discontent and impatience. Restless young liberals agonized over the seeming inability of the church to reach thinking, sensitive people on the fringe. Two hundred activists seeking “renewal” responded warmly to the waspish words of Albert Pennybacker, pastor of a church in wealthy Shaker Heights, Ohio. He warned that “in the shadow of hypocrisy,” restructure may be “enormously dull” and may be met with a “mighty ho-hum.” Then he challenged the renewal group (which formed officially on the spot with $50 annual memberships) to “get going on the serious social problems of race, war, and poverty.”
Pennybacker and other backers started zeroing in on the Great Society with action-program proposals. Some topics: world hunger, automation, guaranteed annual income, and controversial justice ministeries in Milwaukee and in Delano, California.
A Sunday-morning ecumenical youth service in the civic hall also pointed to where many younger Disciples think the action is: modern liturgy in contemporary argot, highly charged symbolism, and fervor for political action. Human Rights Director Ian McCrae of the United Christian Missionary Society gave a rambling sermon out of a newspaper. He told 700 teen-agers that the U. S. Department of Defense is more blatantly pornographic than the worst smut slicks. Then he mapped a political gospel: “The young Christian not in politics in 1967 isn’t working with God.… Decide where God is working in the political scene, then join in ‘Making Whoopee’ for God.”
If there was a hang-up among ICCC delegates, it was over the crisis of authority. Many, worried now about structuring and delegating power, will be still more queasy under the impact of their avant-garde theologians. A sample: The Rev. Robert A. Thomas of Seattle’s University Christian Church told a late-night discussion session that there are no longer any absolutes. This includes the Bible, which gives “no authoritative plan of salvation.”
The ICCC also:
• Heard the president of the Methodist Council of Bishops, San Francisco Bishop Donald Harvey Tippett, praise “new patterns of ministry” such as the Glide Foundation (which this month adopted a policy boycotting firms that discriminate against jobless homosexuals.)
• Heard a “State of the Church” message by Executive Secretary Fiers in which he said 4,823 participating congregations have only 3,157 pastors, and seminary graduates are too few “just to hold our own.”
• Appointed seven new missionaries and commissioned one.
• Named Myron C. Cole, Hollywood pastor, president-elect.
SYNOD STORM ON MIXED MARRIAGE
Europe was hit by a powerful 100-mile-an-hour gale October 16, but a storm raged even harder in the corridors at the Vatican Synod of Bishops. It reminded observers of the black week in November, 1963, during Vatican II.
Dutch labor reporter Richard Auwerda was the first to discover the mess of intrigues that surrounded drafting of the report on mixed marriage. Before the bishops came to Rome they had received a document drafted by Cardinal Ottaviani’s Congregation of the Faith. The men of Cardinal Bea’s Secretariat for Christian Unity didn’t know whether to be more upset by the paper’s conservative tone or by the fact that they had been bypassed, even though they had discussed the subject for months with leaders of the World Council of Churches (see “Mixed Marriage Rules: An Ecumenical Flaw,” April 14 issue, page 50).
Those unaware of the power struggles within the Roman Curia would have expected the secretariat to write the report. But Ottaviani came out on top and did his conservative best to propose as few changes as he dared. Bea’s men weren’t easily defeated, however, and threatened to send the bishops a minority report.
The Pope came up with a very Pauline solution. He ordered a mixed group of Ottaviani and Bea men to work out a compromise. Then came the question of who would introduce the compromise report, and some saw Paul’s hand in the choice of Cardinal Marella, head of the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, who had nothing to do with either the old or the new draft.
The report tries to combine the same two views present in discussion of canon law: defense of abstract faith (Ottaviani), and defense of the rights of men, who have the responsibility to decide whether to be Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, theists, or nothing (Bea).
The ire of some bishops was caused not by the report but by the way Marella introduced it. Not only did he tell the bishops what questions they had to discuss, but also supplied the right answers. And his speech was full of quotes from the original, rejected draft. His argument against change drew extensively from Old Testament bans on intermarriage between Jews and pagans. Informants said Marella made no distinction at all between marriage of Roman Catholics to Christians from other churches and to non-Christians. Protestants who had hoped the turmoil would result in a good discussion and an acceptable solution were extremely disappointed. Mixed marriages are a growing problem, particularly in Europe. In Germany, 40 per cent of marriages cross the Protestant-Catholic line.
The speakers were organized so that the first came from countries where mixed marriages are rare. Most of these wanted to continue the rule that a marriage is valid only if instituted by a Catholic priest.
Evidently there was no agreement on the related issue of requiring the non-Catholic partner to promise that children will be reared as Catholics. Only the Vatican can give dispensations, but the Dutch bishops have found a loophole somewhere that lets them decide, if the number of requests gets sufficiently large. So six of the seven jurisdictions don’t bother to ask Rome anymore, requiring only an “evangelical”—that is Christian—education for the children.
Dutch Cardinal Alfrink raised another point. He asked recognition of civil marriages, which involve the question of validity. The permissibility of marriage is a separate question of faith, he said.
Discussion of a less noticed synod topic, seminaries, showed uncertainty about the function of priests and orders and about the value of educational methods of the past. Suggestions included deemphasis on the cloister ideal, specialized training, and great freedom for bishops to work out programs needed in their own areas. A few bishops touched on celibacy, even though the Pope hadn’t put this on the agenda.
Meanwhile, a twelve-man body was at work rewriting the synod’s first document, on doctrine. The men chosen were quite progressive, and there were no professional theologians or Curia members among them. The Pope reportedly has accepted the bishops’ line of thinking—that dangers to the faith should be approached from a pastoral rather than a judicial view.
JAN J. VAN CAPELLEVEEN
OTHER ROME DOINGS
Various side events in Rome stole some attention from the Synod of Bishops. First, the Italian parliament voted a compromise motion seeking talks with the Vatican on revising the concordat between Pius XI and Mussolini. The main irritation is the treaty’s absolute ban on divorce, but it also makes Catholicism the state religion and gives it special privileges.
Then a communications symposium in Rome sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Catholic International Documentation Center attacked the strict secrecy policies of the synod: Since the Church is “a public community … secretiveness within the Church is a denial of its very nature.”
Then 2,500 delegates to the third world meeting of Catholic laymen heard Pope Paul warn against lay attempts to “act without the hierarchy or against it.” The advice seemed forgotten when the final resolution said laymen want “a clear stand by the teaching authority of the Church which would concentrate on fundamental moral and spiritual values while leaving the choice of the scientific or technical means of realizing responsible parenthood to the parents, acting in conformity with their Christian faith and on the basis of trained medical and scientific advice.” The Vatican press later interpreted the statement as being no more than a repetition of what Pope Paul and Vatican II had said on the matter of birth control.
NO ‘SI’ ON SIGNING
The conflict between Spain’s 31,000 Protestants and the Franco government is fast coming to a head. By December 31, non-Catholic churches must register under the new “religious freedom” law or be illegal. But last month the Federation of Spanish Evangelical Churches, which represents the nation’s Protestants, opposed the registration requirement. Most churches are now expected to refuse to sign up.
Previously, the Spanish Baptist Union had recommended that member churches not register. Outgoing President Juan Luis Rodrigo said, “We must be prepared to pay the price that will have to be paid. Some churches will suffer more than others because some areas are more liberal than others. We need to be united and firm in our loyalty to the Lord.”
But disunity between Protestants and Seventh-day Adventists increased when the latter decided to seek recognition in Spain. Ironically, government officials privately expected mainstream Protestants to accept the law while the sects would refuse and could then be outlawed.
Jose Cardona Gregori, a Baptist who directs the interdenominational Spanish Evangelical Defense Committee, is optimistic. He predicts the Protestants’ conscientious objection will force the government to extend the deadline. The pessimists point out that Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, now next in line to Franco, is the strongest foe of religious liberty in the government. There is some hope that negative world opinion might soften the strict rules in the new law, which requires churches to hand in membership lists and financial records to the government. The European Evangelical Alliance issued a statement opposing the law, pointing out it contravenes the decrees of Vatican II.
Meanwhile, Father Carlos Giner de Grado, editor of a progressive Catholic monthly, was acquitted on charges of damaging the reputation of police in Barcelona. His paper had criticized tactics in putting down a student protest march.
LAYMEN DEFEAT RACE RESOLUTIONS
Thanks, said South Africa’s Prime Minister John Vorster when lay delegates to last month’s Anglican Synod squelched an anti-apartheid resolution. You have “the real interests of the country at heart.” Vorster admitted some of the worst foes of the government’s racial separation policies are Anglican clergymen.
The laymen defeated three motions on apartheid from the House of Clergy. The action followed a strong condemnation of apartheid on opening day from the Archbishop of Capetown, Robert S. Taylor. He said it is impossible to estimate the amount of suffering the racial laws cause, and charged that the promised “equality with separation” has not occurred.
Taylor said the recent deportation of Bishop Clarence E. Crowther was similar to the treatment of Old Testament prophets. But Vorster said clergymen “have been kicked out of South Africa, leaving the country better for it.”
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingWorship Music Is Emotionally Manipulative. Do You Trust the Leader Plucking the Strings?The Spirit is at work, but so are the mechanisms around high-production sets.español
- From the MagazineOur Worship Is Turning Praise into Secular ProfitWith corporate consolidation in worship music, more entities are invested in the songs sung on Sunday mornings. How will their financial incentives shape the church?español
- Editor's PickDied: Paul Eshleman, Who Brought ‘Jesus’ Film to the Ends of the EarthThe Campus Crusade evangelism strategist wanted everyone in the world to hear the good news that God loved them.