From the theological test tube of the embattled United Church of Canada a vague new creed will be poured this week. The ninety-word statement (see text below) may cause a fresh wave of disappointment and dissent among members of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination.
The new document, billed by spokesmen as a contemporary expression that “says enough without attempting to say too much,” comes from the United Church’s Committee on Christian Faith. It will be formally examined for the first time at the twenty-third General Council, the denominational legislature.
The ten-day biennial session of the council begins August 27 in the Ontario port city of Kingston.
A new service book is being suggested also, to contain the newly drafted creed along with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the statement of faith drawn up by the United Church of Christ in the United States about ten years ago.
A Canadian church official said the committee formulated the new creed upon request of a previous General Council. He expressed surprise that the wording had been made public, saying he thought it was to have been kept secret until the council convened. He said about thirty attempts were made at a creed before the present wording was adopted.
United Church leaders have been under severe criticism in recent years because of the denomination’s marked theological drift to the left. A church education curriculum and other literature coming out of the denominational publishing house stirred a major crisis, and an undetermined number of members left the denomination and withdrew financial support. Some congregations have left virtually as a whole.
The initial reaction of conservative theologians in the church indicates that the new creed will encourage further dissension and might even jeopardize proposed merger with the Anglican Church of Canada, which tends to take creeds very seriously. Most Anglican leaders were attending the Lambeth Conference in London and were unavailable for comment.
For more than two decades there have been on-again, off-again merger talks between the United Church and Canadian Anglicans. The two denominations are reportedly planning joint publication ventures, including a new journal by 1970. Speculation is that final organic union will take place by 1974.
Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, a theologian who serves on the United Church negotiating team, said the group had “not the slightest inkling” that a new statement of faith was being prepared. He called it “tendentious,” “extremely superficial,” and “slightly ridiculous.” Hamilton is associate professor of systematic theology at the University of Winnepeg.
Dr. R. C. Chalmers, professor of theology at the United Church’s Pine Hill Divinity Hall in Halifax, described the new creed as “theologically thin.” He added, however: “It will have no authority in the church, so we’re not getting very excited about it. I wouldn’t use it.”
The United Church’s doctrinal stand is officially a document upon which the denomination was founded. The United Church of Canada, North America’s most ambitious experiment in ecumenicity, came into being with a merger of Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches in 1925.
The use of the new creed, if any, will be decided by the General Council. Spokesmen in advance stressed its “experimental” character.
“It is not our law; it is the law of God,” pleaded Pope Paul VI this month in yet another defense of his new decree against “artificial” birth control (August 16 issue, page 41).
Ramifications have been far-reaching, but makers of oral contraceptive pills expressed confidence that sales would not dip. Millions of otherwise loyal Roman Catholic women use the pills and undoubtedly will continue to do so. An important moral “out” was the encyclical’s explicit provision that the church “does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism, even if an impediment to procreation, which may be foreseen, should result therefrom, provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive, directly willed.” Contraceptive pills are also widely prescribed by doctors for regulation of menstrual cycles, thus making moral judgment highly subjective.
An anti-poverty agency in predominantly Catholic Rhode Island stopped plans for a planned-parenthood program. Four University of Wisconsin botanists urged Catholic candidate Eugene McCarthy to protest the Pope’s decision. United Nations leaders were privately upset. British prelate John Cardinal Heenan said those who continue birth control should still partake of the sacraments.
The New York Times offered inside details on preparation of the encyclical: A largely conservative group of twelve theologians worked on the statement through last October. Then the Pope wrote a draft and showed it to a dozen churchmen. Belgian Jesuit Gustava Martelet is widely reported to be the chief author of the final encyclical text.
Enhancing the Vatican credibility gap, L’Osservatore Romano’s English edition published two columns of reactions to the encyclical—all favorable. Not that favorable comments were lacking. In response to a campaign that got 420 U. S. theologians and canon lawyers to oppose the decree,Among signers: Father David Bowman, first Catholic on the National Council of Churches staff, and Father Bernard Haring, perhaps the world’s most eminent Catholic moral theologian. Detroit Archbishop John Dearden, president of the U. S. bishops’ conference, announced a united front of the 265 bishops behind the Pope. The heads of the Catholic Theological Society and the U. S. Catholic Conference denied that members are free to follow their own consciences on the matter.
The bishops of Puerto Rico unanimously supported the Pope, even though the ruling Popular Democratic Party is considering inclusion of government birth-control programs in its 1968 platform. At the Vatican, Monsignor Ferdinando Lambruschini, who announced the Pope’s decision to the world, said Catholics must accept it with “complete submission.” Embattled Polish primate Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski said his flock accepted the decree “with great relief,” though the Communist government was announcing plans to begin production of contraceptive pills. In Paris, a group of scientists announced plans to form a Humanae Vitae Center, named for the encyclical’s title, to work for a more accurate version of the papally approved rhythm method.
Among non-Catholic supporters was Liberia’s President William V. S. Tubman, a Methodist. Methodist Bishop Fred Pierce Corson of Philadelphia and Denis Duncan, editor of the British Weekly and a member of the Church of Scotland, praised the Pope’s courage in standing for what he believes is right. In South Africa, one of the three major Reformed churches revealed that a birth control ban may be proposed at its 1970 synod.
On the negative side, the 12,000-member National Association of Laymen said the decree asserts “irresponsible parenthood.” Twenty of twenty-four U. S. delegates to last year’s Vatican laity congress signed a critical statement. Dr. John Rock, 78, Catholic layman who invented the pill, said. “I was scandalized.”
In the Netherlands, where liberal trends are worrying the Vatican, the nation’s bishops said the encyclical can help members form their consciences, along with other factors such as conjugal love, family relations, and social circumstances. Although the Dutch bishops’ statement was carefully phrased to appease Rome, it is considered a sharp rebuke of the Pope. Tübingen scholar Father Hans Küng said that those who thoughtfully decide they cannot be guided by the encyclical should follow their own consciences. The archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, Denis Hurley, admitted, “I have never felt so torn in half.”
Prelates, Pigeons, Pills
Last century the first Lambeth Conference brought to London a mere seventy-six bishops of the Anglican Communion. The figure had grown to 460 this year when the decennial assembly began its month-long deliberations. The number would have been larger if a number of U. S. bishops had not canceled plans to attend, presumably because of possible racial troubles in their dioceses. American-born Robert Mize, Bishop of Damaraland, which takes in South-West Africa, faced a different problem: on arrival in London he was told that the South African government had refused to renew his residence permit.
Theme of the conference was “The Renewal of the Church.” Much of the discussion was shrouded in secrecy. It is known, however, that two separate plans from Canada have been put forward for changing Anglicanism’s top structure. One calls for an annual meeting of fifty bishops, clergy, and laymen to discuss church problems. The other wants a governing body of 500 elected representatives in order to ensure “that in all our Anglican world mission we … should speak with one voice … and establish unity in administration, finance, and personnel.”
As if to offset an ill-considered section in the conference booklet which, inter alia, directed the prelates to a restaurant which offered “ludicrously large helpings of wood pigeons in wine,” the bishops went without lunch one day and gave the money saved to War on Want. This gesture was appreciated by “Church,” a new radical organization that sent members dressed as beggars to various places where the bishops have been gathering and distributed leaflets asking them to give up their “palaces” and garden parties and live as Christ did.
The conference, which included twelve Roman Catholics and observers from other churches, heard the assembly endorse the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of the papal encyclical on birth control. The encyclical would be a great disappointment to many people, said Anglican executive officer Ralph Dean of British Columbia. He added that it was “entirely possible” that some Roman Catholics would seek to come into the Anglican Communion on this issue. The conference (which can act only in an advisory capacity) disagreed with the Pope’s belief that birth control violates any “order established by God.”
In view of this, it is interesting to note that the first formal action of the assembly was a unanimous vote to support the Anglican Center in Rome, the purpose of which is to disseminate full information about the Anglican Communion for scholars and others.
J. D. DOUGLAS
ANGUISH OVER BIAFRA
Controversy surrounded church relief efforts to save thousands in starving secessionist Biafra (see August 16 issue, p. 46), as Nigerian troops pressed to crush the last rebel bastions.
Anti-Roman Catholic demonstrations erupted in federal territory, and some Catholics said they planned to cut their churches loose from Vatican ties. In Rome, Pope Paul huddled with John Garba, Nigerian ambassador to Italy, who blamed the outbursts on papal speeches sympathetic to Biafra and on Vatican relief airlifts to the rebels. The Pope later appealed to negotiators of both sides to give priority to the saving “of thousands and thousands of innocent persons menaced by hunger and disease.” Meanwhile, the Catholic relief agency scheduled nightly relief flights from off-shore islands.
World Council of Churches officials argued over the use of Henry A. Wharton’s air charter company for church relief flights. Wharton’s gun-running operations were being subsidized, claimed critics, by church funds. The WCC decided “for moral reasons” to switch from Wharton to another charter service, operated by Lucian Pickett, an inactive Baptist who flew airlifts in the Congo crisis.
Pickett signed a substantial contract with Church World Service, relief agency of the National Council of Churches, to haul food and medicine past the Nigerian blockade. CWS officials declined to state figures, but charter operators were said to be charging about $3,000 per hour for mercy flights. (In Washington, Pickett aides said they did not know if any CWS flights had yet been made. In July, Pickett and others set up the Biafran Relief Foundation in Washington; spokesmen said they did not know how much money BRF had received or how it was spent.)
NCC official Jan van Hoogstraten criticized the WCC decision as well as hesitant International Red Cross moves. Both, he said, were too sensitive to political considerations “while thousands of children are starving.”
Frustration over the crisis surfaced elsewhere. WCC head Eugene Carson Blake blamed both Nigeria and Biafra “equally” for failure to allow relief supplies to flow. Interfaith groups of religious leaders met with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and, with some political figures, urged that the United States apply more pressure. Others wired Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who replied that negotiations “could bear fruitful results only if the almighty God guides the deliberations.”
Canadian Presbyterian refugee worker Ron McGraw, 30, who was in Port Harcourt when it was retaken by federal troops, charged that Nigerians bombed a hospital and leper colony and that they killed 400 wounded Biafrans. He also claimed that Nigerians were withholding “abundant supplies” from Biafrans in recaptured territory. A Red Cross leader admitted he had heard other similar reports which “perplexed” him.
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
WORLD VIEW FROM BOSSEY
At Bossey, Switzerland, the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute, sixty persons from thirteen nations gathered last month to discuss what the Bible teaches about Christian responsibility in the world. Some participants had just come from the WCC’s assembly at Uppsala. A sizable contingent of evangelicals was there, and the full spectrum of non-Catholic theology was represented.
On the issue of universalism, evangelicals divided from others on the possibility that all men will eventually be reconciled and saved. Largely, evangelicals hold that the atonement is sufficient—but not efficient—for all.
The issue of Christ’s lordship over the unregenerate world reflected the theological positions taken on the reconciliation effected by Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Those emphasizing the Bible’s universalistic strain tended to give primacy to the working of God in the social, political, and economic spheres. Those holding to the Bible’s emphasis on human responsibility and the power of decision tended to give primacy to the inner spiritual life, with implications for the social areas. Yet the Gospel was recognized as good news for both individual and social reconstruction. In this view, the Christian generally sees God’s power and work in the struggle for justice for the poor, exploited, and hungry. But he does not identify all change and revolution with God’s work, since some of it only intensifies human misery.
Whatever difficulties evangelicals may have had in getting exposure for their position at Uppsala, they had an open hearing in the frank, high-level dialogue at Bossey.
HAROLD JOHN OCKENGA
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