A new 55-million-strong church family, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational), has pledged “full support to Christians throughout the world who labor at reconciling Christians of conflicting convictions, for instance as regards the social implications of the ministry of reconciliation, racial relations, alignment with national policies and development.”
In a strongly worded statement issued at the end of the ten-day uniting assembly, which met in Nairobi, Kenya, last month, the new ecumenical church called on its member churches “to root out racism, with its insidious substitution of color for the God of the Covenant sealed in Jesus.”
The statement condemned the Dutch Reformed churches of South Africa for giving the South African government the impression that the Church supports racial segregation and white supremacy, and the other churches in South African for their lukewarm opposition to apparent oppression and injustice.
It also condemned: the churches of the United States for failing to overcome cultural and social patterns that promote social segregation within the Church and allow injustices within the broader society; the churches of the rich nations for their complicity in structures of the international order that have led to the exploitation of the poor countries; and all churches, such as the Roman Catholic churches in Portuguese territories in Africa and the Presbyterian bodies in Ireland, guilty of supporting injustices committed against their neighbors, and of failing to minister to individuals and peoples who find themselves in conflict with society.
This new, outraged church came into being on August 20 when two confessional bodies, the International Congregational Council (ICC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), “died … to rise again as one,” after ten years of negotiations and growing together.
In two brief, separate assemblies at Taifa Hall of the University of Nairobi, the two bodies watched each other vote themselves out of existence. All 700 delegates, representing 127 churches in 75 countries, then came together and voted unanimously on a formal Act of Union.
This formal session, which included the addresses of the heads of the two organizations, Dr. Wilhelm Niesel, president of the alliance, and Dr. Ashby E. Bladen, moderator of the ICC, lasted only about an hour. Then came what to Kenyan observers was the highlight of the conference: a long, colorful procession of these men and women, old and young, from every continent, race, and political camp, along the beautiful University Way to St. Andrew’s Church, where in a service of Word and Sacrament the union was consecrated.
“We, the representatives of Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in all the corners of the earth,” the delegates declared at St. Andrew’s, “holding the word of God given in the Bible to be the ultimate authority in matters of faith and life, acknowledging Jesus Christ as head of the Church and rejoicing in our fellowship with the whole Church, covenant together to seek in all things the mind of Christ, to make common witness to his Gospel, to serve his purpose in all the world, and, in order to be better equipped for the tasks he lays upon us, to form this day the new World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Lord, keep us faithful to yourself and to our fellow-men.”
In his sermon Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said he was glad “that the setting of this new covenant is in Africa where we may hope that these once daughter churches of our missions, now sister churches in the alliance, may increasingly give to our fellowship forms of joyful celebration which we reformed of the Atlantic community have somewhere lost in the several centuries of our separate history.”
This spirit of joyful celebration had all but disappeared by the afternoon, when the delegates reassembled at Taifa Hall to start debate on the new organization’s stand on specific world problems, and to determine its course of action for the years to come.
Professor Jurgen Moltmann of Tübingen University in Germany jumped into the very heart of the controversy when in his keynote address to the first plenary session he called on the church to announce “publicly and clearly” its attitude toward apartheid and other institutions that divide the world today. Professor Moltmann was speaking on the assembly’s general theme: “God reconciles and makes free.”
In his audience were twenty-six delegates from South Africa, white and black, representing well over a million communicants of the family of Dutch Reformed churches, some of which are “hard-line” supporters of apartheid. Also present in Nairobi was the leader of the banned Pan-African Congress of South Africa, who challenged the presence in Nairobi of the South African delegates. “The Dutch Reformed Church,” he said in one of his many press statements, “is the corner stone and the main pillar of South Africa’s apartheid policy, which has produced a spate of oppressive laws, political hangings, trials, banishment, and life imprisonment among members of the African majority of South Africa.”
The main business of the assembly was conducted in four study sections. One section, introduced by Professor Hendrik Berkhof of Leyden University, Holland, discussed reconciliation as the key to creation, and the failure of the Reformed churches to keep personal and cosmic elements of the faith together. Berkhof wrote the sectional study paper: “Reconciliation and Creation: The Freedom of God’s World.”
The section that dominated the assembly was one that discussed a paper entitled “Reconciliation and Society: The Freedom of a Just Order,” prepared by Professor Charles West of Princeton Seminary. It dealt with the assembly’s most explosive issues. Among them: Can a Christian ever use or condone violence to change an evil society or defend a just one? Should a Christian advocate first of all individual liberties or social justice when the two conflict?
Statements issued by the study sections and approved by the general assembly will be distributed to the 55 million followers of the church. The recommendations establish the new church as a “world-conscious” and deeply “world-concerned” organization.
At the last press conference the newly elected president of the alliance, William P. Thompson of the United States, announced an unprecedented consultation in South Africa in which each member church of the alliance in that country will present its views on apartheid. He expressed appreciation for the open-mindedness with which the South African delegates had discussed the problems of their country.
In one of the most dramatic confrontations at the conference, an African churchman from South Africa made a slashing attack on apartheid after another African churchman had said: “I am not being oppressed in South Africa. I do whatever I like. I am a free man.” In reply the Reverend G. T. Vika said: “When my friend tells you we are not oppressed and that he is free, I must tell you that that is lies.”
In the end, however, all the delegates from Africa, including South African whites, issued a joint statement in which they declared their support for the struggle of the people of southern Africa who are denied certain basic human rights. But, as Christians, they said, they will continue to regard their struggle as a fight between wrong and right, justice and injustice, and not as one between black and white.
The North American Area delegation also issued a statement. Rejecting the belief that social separation of the races by national law is compatible with the demands of Christian love, the delegation pledged “renewed action for the reformation of our own life in this area of our witness as a church. Acknowledging the equality and unity of all mankind in Christ, we believe that de jure or de facto support of institutional racism by the church is a heresy which denies our unity, our worship of a common Lord, and our witness in a divided world.”
ODHIAMBO W. OKITE
Asa: ‘Rational Faith’
In an age of flight from both barren rationalism and “outdated” religion, where does a Christian scientist stand?
On firm ground, according to Dr. Richard H. Bube, professor of materials science at Stanford University: “Those who turn to an irrational or non-rational approach miss the idea that science hasn’t really made the Christian basis of life unacceptable … and that, in fact, this is the only basis for what they are seeking.”
Speaking at the twenty-fifth annual four-day convention of the American Scientific Affiliation last month in St. Paul, Bube urged the 100 members attending to present to the world a “rational faith.” He distinguished rational action as “on the basis of all the evidence”; nonrational, “without regard for evidence”; irrational, “in spite of evidence”; and rationalistic, “as though scientific evidence were the only evidence.” A rational faith is one based on all the evidence, according to Bube.
The evangelically oriented ASA seeks to promote Christian truth, particularly in the context of scientific evidence. Two major activities of members are witnessing to scientific colleagues and speaking to evangelical church groups on the value of relating science to faith.
Bube is also editor of the quarterly, forty-page Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, which presents science and Christianity in a vigorous and illuminating relationship. Its goal is to educate the public, especially Christians who fear or reject science. Original articles and reprints on scientific and social issues from other journals are used to give a healthy background for a “rational faith.”
Founded twenty-nine years ago, the ASA has doubled its membership in the past ten years to 2,000, with a growth rate of about fifty members a month. Members write and speak on an individual basis, as well as jointly producing books on the relation of Christianity and science, especially evolution.
Religion In Transit
A new corporation established in Illinois is described as the first predominantly black-owned publishing company designed to produce interdenominational Sunday-school literature. The Reverend Melvin E. Banks, formerly of Scripture Press, is the president.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, two young men were sentenced to twenty days in the workhouse for shouting obscenities during a Billy Graham rally in which President Nixon spoke last May.
A new plane purchased by the Sudan Interior Mission was lost while being ferried across the Atlantic to Nigeria. The Piper Comanche 260 apparently went down somewhere between Boston and Gander, Newfoundland. It was being flown by a commercial ferry pilot.
Northwestern College of Minneapolis is the latest among a number of evangelical schools to purchase educational properties from Roman Catholics. An 89-acre campus with four buildings is being acquired from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis for $2,575,000.
The United Steelworkers Union has reached an agreement with a factory in Sugarcreek, Ohio, that will permit young men from the local Amish community to work in the plant without becoming members of the union. They will contribute the equivalent of union dues to charitable projects.
The Lord’s Day Alliance is moving out of New York’s Interchurch Center to Atlanta. The 82-year-old organization will occupy a four-room suite in Atlanta’s Methodist Center.
The government of Kenya, East Africa, has approved the purchase of a thirty-acre campsite outside Nairobi by Word of Life Fellowship.
The American Bible Society will distribute Scriptures in New York City, formerly the exclusive territory of the New York Bible Society, by mutual arrangement.
Any Roman Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who takes part in an abortion will be automatically excommunicated, decreed Archbishop Timothy J. Manning.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State changed its mind and sued the Internal Revenue Service in an attempt to recover its tax-exempt status.
International Students Incorporated has made its Assisting Indigenous Developments Division a separate corporation, headed by ISI founding-president Robert Finley. The new organization is called Christian Aid Mission.
Construction on the $5.5 million Special Events Center at Oral Roberts University is underway; the facility, which will seat 10,252, is expected to be the largest of its kind in Tulsa.
The Federal Communications Commission refused to renew the license of radio station KAYE in Puyallup, Washington. The Anti-Defamation League, among other groups, charged that the station “consistently broadcast antiblack, anti-Semitic, racially and religiously inflammatory matters.…
OLIVER GREEN-WILKINSON, 57, Anglican archbishop of Central Africa; in Lusaka, Zambia, from injuries suffered in a highway accident.
RALPH W. SOCKMAN, 80, distinguished radio preacher and pastor emeritus of Park Avenue’s Christ Church, Methodist; in New York City.
IVAN Q. SPENCER, 81, founder and past president of Elim Bible Institute, in Rochester, New York.
A news release announcing the forthcoming marriage of Bob Turnbull, chaplain of Waikiki Beach, to Orange Bowl Princess Julie James ended with these words: “This is the first (and last) marriage for both!”
The board chairman of Union Theological Seminary, New York, was named undersecretary of state by President Nixon. He is John N. Irwin II, an attorney who is also president of the executive committee of Princeton University.
Richard Cardinal Cushing resigned this month as Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston and was succeeded by the Most Reverend Humberto S. Medeiros. The 75-year-old Cushing said he was “too weak and too old to carry on.” Medeiros, 54, is a native of the Azores who has been a champion of the poor while serving as bishop in Brownsville, Texas.
Dr. H. Leo Eddleman is joining the staff of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in the newly created position of “doctrinal reader.” Eddleman, known as a theological conservative, is a former president of the Southern Baptists’ seminary in New Orleans. The board’s publishing arm has been under fire for concessions to liberal scholars.
The United Methodist Board of Missions in New York reported that the Reverend Emilio Castro had been detained for six days by police in Uruguay. Reports received by the board said that the president of the 2,700-member Methodist Church of Uruguay had been arrested for allegedly trying to act as a mediator in the kidnaping of a U. S. agricultural advisor and a Brazilian diplomat.
Kenneth Shoemaker, a vice-president of the H. J. Heinz Corporation, was appointed director of foundation relations for Wycliffe Bible Translators. He has served on a White House task force on rural America.
Anglican Bishop Chiu Ban It of Singapore has been named acting chairman of the East Asia Christian Conference, filling the vacancy left by the death of Dr. D. T. Niles … Anglican Bishop Ian Shevill of Australia has been named executive secretary of the venerable United Society for the Propogation of the Gospel.
Bishop Alejandro Ruiz was elected to an unprecedented third term as leader of the 32,935-member Methodist Church of Mexico.
Wallace Henley, a Southern Baptist clergyman who has been religion editor of the “Birmingham News,” was appointed top press aide to the new Cabinet Committee on Education, organized by President Nixon to smooth out desegregation problems in the Deep South.
The new president of the Latin American Biblical Seminary in San Jose, Costa Rica, is the Reverend Ruben Lores. The Cuban-born Lores has been assistant general director of Latin America Mission, which operates the seminary, and director of the mission’s evangelism-in-depth program.
Sweden has its first female vicar. She is Dr. Margit Sahlin, 56, an ordained woman who was appointed to a parish in Stockholm. The state church now has about sixty women clergy.
J. Clyde Cox was appointed territorial commander of the Salvation Army’s eleven-state Central Territory, and Paul J. Carlson was named to head the eleven-state Eastern Territory.
Rising Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves, 36, will become associate professor of Christian ethics at Union Seminary in New York, beginning January, 1971.
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