Trends Toward Union of Protestant Churches

Is there evidence of Protestant Churches joining forces?

By THOMAS J. MICHAEL, Associate Secretary of the General Conference

The foreign Missions Conference of North America is an organization consisting of rep­resentatives of more than sixty Protestant denominations, and more than one hundred and twenty church organizations in the United States and Canada. The Seventh-day Adventist denomi­nation is a member of the Foreign Missions Con­ference. H. L. Rudy and I were appointed General Conference representatives to attend the annual meeting of this body, which was held at Toronto, Canada, January 4-18.

Much of the time was spent in discussing plans for postwar reconstruction along spiritual, social, and material lines. Inevitably there entered into the discussions the urge, which persistently comes from many quarters, for the Protestant denomi­nations to combine their efforts. From the stand­point of the other denominations there is much that can be said to justify such unity of action. When the Roman Catholic Church speaks, it can speak with authority in behalf of its adherents throughout the world, but there is no voice that can be claimed to be the voice of the Protestant church. This is recognized as a weakness in deal­ing with governments and in fostering interna­tional political action which may be thought to be essential from time to time.

Then, too, it is emphasized that if the Prot­estant churches would combine their resources and organizations, much more effective recon­struction work in the postwar era could be accom­plished than if the denominations work inde­pendently of one another. Looking at the matter from other than a Seventh-clay Adventist view­point, one wonders that the churches have not hitherto arrived at an arrangement whereby they could merge and combine their activities. We believe, of course, that union will come, and we know the significance of that development for us as a people. However, it is evident that the time has not yet come for the union of the Protestant churches preparatory to that larger and more sig­nificant union which we know will come.

For the past few years there has been under consideration a merger proposal. The plan would unite the Foreign Missions Conference, the Fed­eral Council of Churches, and six other important interdenominational organizations into one Prot­estant organization for North America, to be known as the North American Council of the Churches of Christ. During 1944 it became ap­parent that the churches in Canada might not be able to participate in such a movement, and so the name now being considered is the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Since it will be of interest to our workers and people to know the objectives of this organizational union, I give herewith some of the 'objects" as outlined in the proposed constitution which has been drafted:

1. To manifest the essential oneness of the co-operat­ing churches in spirit and purpose for the furtherance of their common mission in the world.

2. To carry on such work of the churches as they desire to be done in co-operation.

3. To continue and extend the work of the interde­nominational agencies named in the preamble, together with such additional objects and purposes as may from time to time be agreed upon.

4. To encourage devotional fellowship and mutual counsel concerning the spiritual life and religious ac­tivities of the churches.

5. To foster and encourage co-operation between two or more communions.

6. To promote co-operation among local churches and to further the development of councils of churches in communities, States, or larger territorial units.

7. To establish consultative relationships with Na­tional Councils of Churches in other countries of North America.

8. To maintain fellowship and co-operation with similar Councils in other areas of the world.

9. To maintain fellowship and co-operation with the World Council of Churches and with other international Christian organizations.

You will observe that while "agreement," "one­ness," and "co-operation" are the general objec­tives, there is a certain amount of limitation apparent in the second item. It is stated that the council shall only carry on the work of the churches "as they desire to be done in co-operation." Then in the article of the proposed constitution dealing with the authority of the council the following para­graph appears:

"The Council shall have no authority or administra­tive control over the churches which constitute its mem­bership. It shall have no authority to prescribe a com­mon creed or form of church government or form of worship, or to limit the autonomy of the churches co­operating in it."

The framers of the proposed constitution be­lieved that with these specific limitations in the authority of the council, and with the preservation of the identity of the churches with regard to their creed, form of worship, etc., being guaranteed, the proposed merger organization would be acceptable to the Protestant denominations of this country.

As I have said before, we marvel that they do not get together on some such basis as that out­lined in the proposed constitution. The fact is, however, that the majority, the great majority, of the churches and church agencies are not yet in the frame of mind to enter into anything that even remotely suggests the sacrificing of denominational identity and the surrendering of their creeds or fundamental doctrines and beliefs.

It had been hoped that by the time of the Foreign Missions Conference meeting held at Toronto in January, a sufficient agreement would have been reached to justify a report to the gathering indi­cating encouraging developments and trends toward the desired goal. Prior to the meeting the various boards had been circularized, the request being made that their secretaries report not deci­sions but trends in their denominations. During the conference at Toronto a report was made of the responses received from the board secretaries, but the report must have been a painfully discouraging one to the sponsors of the merger proposal. A large proportion of those who had reported "trends" indicated that they were definitely unfa­vorable. An attempt was therefore made to have the Foreign Missions Conference take action at the Toronto meeting definitely rejecting the merger proposal and declining participation in the Na­tional Council. The motion would in all probabil­ity have carried, but a very earnest and quite sentimental appeal was made to give more time for the matter to be studied by the churches. And so, largely on the basis of sentiment, the unfavor­able motion was withdrawn.

To us who attended that meeting it was appar­ent that while there is considerable talk of the need for unity among the Protestant churches, and a great deal of sympathy for proposals and plans that encourage trends toward unity, many of the churches, including the large, influential denomi­nations, are not yet ready for a general union.

It will come, however, and there are at work powerful forces that will not be discouraged. The Spirit of prophecy warns that the final movements will be "rapid ones." We are disposed to think of these rapid movements as being the enlarged and intensified activities of God's people in the finish­ing of our task. Let us realize also, however, that some of these other events that fulfill prophecy and are so definitely unfavorable to our work, will be liable to develop and culminate rapidly. It be­hooves us, therefore, to work most diligently, for "the night cometh, when no man can work."

Stimulating "Flashes" on Evangelism

During the meeting considerable time was spent in discussing the needs and problems of evange­lism in the postwar activities of the Christian church. I shall quote some "flashes" from state­ments made by some of the denominational leaders of North America:

"What we need is not a new missionary vision but a new and living experience in the faith of Jesus Christ." "We need men who are not afraid to do different things in different ways in these different times." "Evangelism must get out of its old ruts."

"Pursuit of numbers in evangelism dare not be central or predominant. Quality as well as quantity must be sought."

"Evangelism is the instrument by which God, through the Holy Spirit, makes His impact on the souls of men."

"Evangelism is Christ's men, possessed of Christ's Spirit, working out Christ's purposes."

"Every denominational worker, no matter what his professional work may be, should be an evangelist."

Without the urgency of the advent message to stimulate them, these men were earnestly seeking ways and means of making the evangelism of their churches more effective. These were stimulating thoughts to which they gave utterance, and Sev­enth-day Adventist evangelists and leaders can well give heed to them. We all need a new, wider, and larger missionary vision. But more than that, we who profess to have "the faith of Jesus" need to have a living experience in the exercise of that faith.

With the challenge of our immense task, and the necessarily short time in which the task must be accomplished, how much this movement needs men and women "who are not afraid to do different things in different ways in these different times." The message, of course, is changeless in its funda­mentals, but in these tremendous times, we must lift our evangelism "out of its old ruts." Methods must be changed, adapted, and discarded if need be, as we seek to discover God's way of accom­plishing that "quick work" which is to be done. Let us never be satisfied to feel that the methods used in the past, however successful they may have been, are necessarily the only methods that can take "this gospel of the kingdom" to all the world in "this generation."

The greatest work of our evangelists lies ahead of us. The Spirit of prophecy assures us that the numbers to be converted and added to the remnant church will be greatly multiplied as the end draws near. But as we plan and aim for those greatly enlarged numbers, let us all make certain that quality features more prominently in our ideals and objectives than mere numbers. We desire to see souls not merely added to the church but saved into the kingdom.

This denomination, believing in the nearness of the end and the soon coming of our Lord, should be satisfied with no lower standard than that "every denominational worker, no matter what his pro­fessional work may be, should be an evangelist." And O that God would in a very real sense help us all to be "Christ's men, possessed of Christ's Spirit, working out Christ's purposes."

In visions of the night representations passed before me of a great reformatory movement among God's people. Many were praising God. The sick were healed, and other miracles were wrought. A spirit of intercession was seen, even as was manifested before the great day of Pente­cost. Hundreds and thousands were seen visiting families, and opening before them the Word of God. Hearts were convicted of the power of the Holy Spirit, and a spirit of genuine conversion was manifest. On every side doors were thrown open to the proclamation of the truth. The world seemed to be lighted with the heavenly influence. —Testimonies, Vol. IX, p. 136.

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By THOMAS J. MICHAEL, Associate Secretary of the General Conference

April 1945

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