A significant book has recently been issued by the Methodist Church through its Commission on Courses of Study, entitled Protestantism--A Symposium.
While it cannot be recommended either as an adequate or a safe analysis of its subject, nevertheless Seventh-day Adventist preachers will do well to acquaint themselves with its content, if for no other reason than to learn how far Protestant spokesmen of today have departed from original Protestantism.
The publishing agency is Methodist, its field being the extension education of Methodist ministers. Among the contributors, however, are Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and leaders of the reformed churches. The writers, coming from all over the United States, comprise a cosmopolitan group.
In harmony with its announced intention of using the Protestant chaplains of the military forces in the nation to influence servicemen in the direction of "ecumenical Christianity," the General Commission on Army and Navy Chaplains is supplying copies of this book to all Protestant chaplains in the armed forces the world around.
Its twenty-five papers are divided into three sections: history, interpretations, opportunities. It has a distinguished roster of contributors. Some are true to historic Protestantism; some are not. Samuel McCrea Cavert, of the Federal Council, sounds what we are encouraged to believe is the keynote in the opening sentence of his introduction: "The hour has struck for a strong reaffirmation of the basic principles of the Protestant Reformation." A few of the writers make that reaffirmation, but most of them do not.
It is an excellent point, too, which is emphasized in the introduction: "The Reformation was not merely an episode in history: it initiated a process that is still going on. It should be regarded less as a consummation than as a beginning." That lofty note is not maintained throughout.
Martin Rist, of the Iliff School of Theology, points out that when the Reformers "rejected papal authority, the Bible became the absolute, infallible word and revelation of God, the complete and perfect guide and norm of Christian belief and practice." "An infallible pope was replaced by an infallible Bible." He does not point it out with approval, however. With satisfaction he observes:
"They [the Reformers] retained more of Catholicism than they rejected." "The Bible has lost much of its preeminence as the complete and infallible authority for the church and for the individual Christian." "While we should use the Scripture as a guide, mentor, and tutor, . . . we become involved in grave difficulties when we make ourselves subject to it as a complete, absolute, and infallible norm of belief and conduct."—Pages 21, 22.
Albert C. Knudson, dean emeritus, Boston University, is even more pronounced in his repudiation of genuine Protestantism:
"The Bible was held to be the one infallible source and ground of religious belief. But this -point of view now belongs largely to the past. It has succumbed to the modern theory of knowledge and to modern Biblical criticism. The theory of knowledge has made it clear that there can be no purely external or objective authentication of truth. The ultimate standard of truth must be found in the mind itself."—Page 129.
The book closes on a sinister note—one which the Reformers would vigorously reject and denounce. "Only a world church is adequate to a global age," writes Henry P. Van Dusen, of Union Theological Seminary, in his paper, "A Growing Ecumenicity." He points out two significant developments as characterizing "Christianity in the modern era": "a movement of expansion" and "a movement of consolidation." "The movement of expansion, in its major manifestation, is the enterprise of Christian missions; the movement of consolidation is the effort toward Christian unity." He adds:
"Through most of the last century each development has been pursuing its own course with little apparent relation to the other. In the last decade they have delibrately drawn closer and closer together until today they constitute two intimately related and fully coordinated arms of one organism.
"It is this inclusive development in its two correlated phases which is coming to be known by the phrase, still stumbling for Anglo-Saxon tongues but of majestic tradition and meaning—'Ecumenical Christianity' or the 'ecumenical movement.' For 'ecumenical' means, precisely, 'universal.' It implies a reality that is both worldwide and united."—Page 268.
The significant and sinister meaning of all this will be found in the closing words of the paper, "Cardinal Principles of Protetantisrn," by 'Albert C. Knudson:
"This at least would seem to be clear from the last four centuries—that both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have won the right to exist, and that in the world-wide mission of Christianity each has an important part to play. The time is past when we can look upon Catholicism as simply 'a compound of stupidity, superstition, and lust of power.' The Catholic Church, as Harnack said, is 'the greatest religious and political creation known to history.' She is our mother church, and a sympathetic understanding of her world mission is of the utmost importance. On the other hand, it is equally important that Roman Catholic scholars should cease to represent Protestantism as a willful and wicked revolt against divinely constituted authority and as owing its existence to the mere accidents of European politics. Each church has its own place to fill in the providence of God. The two are supplementary to each other.
"This, of course, does not exclude the possibility of their ultimate union. . . The first great step in this direction must be the recognition of each by the other as a constituent part of the true church of God."—Page 536.
No comment on this could be more apropos than that of Luther's statement to Spalatin: "I hear that, albeit not willingly, you have begun a wonderful work at Augsburg, viz., that of uniting the Pope and Luther. But the pope will not, and Luther declines. Look ye to it that ye do not throw away your labor. If, in spite of both, ye carry the thing so far, then I will follow your example and unite Christ and Belial."