Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 17, 1960
NUMBER 44, PAGE 5-7b

Beyond The Horizons

By Wm. E. Wallace, Box 399, McAlester, Oklahoma

The Ecumenical Movement .

The Movement: The ecumenical movement is a unity effort in which Protestant leaders seek to create cooperation and solidarity among denominations. The word ecumenical means world-wide. The word is used as freely in Protestant circles as the term unity is used among churches of Christ.

The following definition of the ecumenical movement is given by the Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: "The movement in and of the churches which seeks to manifest both the unity and universality (in the dynamic, missionary sense) which are inherent in the Christian Church ... The ecumenical movement therefore embraces all such bodies as . . . seek to give expression to the solidarity and the fundamental unity of Christians of different confessions and denominations."

The movement is slowly picking up steam. The machinery involved is performing efficiently. Denominational authorities and leaders are cooperating. The ecumenical spirit is developing among the "laity" of the denominational world.

World Council of Churches: The WCC is the central organ of the ecumenical movement. It was formerly created in 1948. It has projected itself into world-wide importance. Over 150 denominations in about 50 countries cooperate in the council. The function of the WCC is "to bring the churches in living contact with each other." Its many departments and commissions perform in all fields of denominational interest, throughout the world. The WCC presents something of a united front for a divided Protestantism.

The National Council of Churches: The NCC is the American agency for interchurch cooperation. It was born in 1950 from a merger of several interdenominational bodies. About 30 denominations are listed as cooperating bodies.

Evaluation: The most we can say for the ecumenical movement is that it projects the idea of unity among believers in Christ. But the movement is a denominational one in that it is motivated and perpetuated on behalf of denominationalism. While the many cooperating denominations are grappling with the problem of how far to go in giving up rights and distinctives in order to create a united front, the real organic oneness of the New Testament church is left abandoned.

The ecumenical movement is partially a reaction to the solidarity of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant bodies are almost desperate in their desire to counteract the Roman Catholic Church with a united front and a common action.

The ecumenical movement directs the various denominational structures toward a duplication of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. As more and more authority is granted to and concentrated in the world organization, another structure foreign to the New Testament faith arises.

The ecumenical movement with its WCC and NCC is several thousand years behind the rise of the papacy. Indeed, it denies any ecclesiastical authority. But a pope and a college of cardinals were far-fetched possibilities at the close of the apostolic age. The developments of the apostasy eventually created the pope and his clerical hierarchy. Given time, the ecumenical movement can create a Protestant hierarchy with an inquisitional force.

The unity for which Jesus prayed cannot be reached by the ecumenical movement. Nothing short of an abandonment of all ecumenical and denominational boards, creeds and entities will bring the multitudes to that ancient faith as clearly set forth in the New Testament.

Straight And Narrow Way

Time magazine, February 1, 1960, reports on the qualifications for faculty members at Wheaton College. Some of the questions asked prospective faculty members are: How long have you been saved? Do you accept the account of the creation of the world and man as recorded in Genesis? Do you recognize a position in Wheaton College as a divine calling to Christian service? Have you used tobacco, alcoholic beverages or narcotic drugs in any form within the past year, or danced or played cards or attended the theatre or moving-picture theater? Time states that a wrong answer to any question automatically eliminates the candidate.

We wonder if some prospective professor, who has a divine call to teach at Wheaton, would be turned down if he indulged in pipe-puffing or if he had frequented the theatre? If God calls a man to teach at Wheaton, and the examining board turns the man down, it appears dangerous ground is being treaded. Perhaps participation or indulgence in any of the strictures marks the "call" as being something other than divine? I suppose the examining board has a divine calling to determine whether or not a candidate's calling is divine. Or does God call through the board's examination?

Many denominational preachers who claim a divine call are examined before a denominational board. The board determines whether or not the divinely called preacher is to be admitted to the ministry of the denomination. We wonder what God thinks about these human boards examining these men He has called?

Divinely called preachers and professors like Isaiah and Amos, or Paul and Silas would have had some difficulty with such examining boards. If men are called today, like the prophets and apostles, they can do what the prophets and apostles did. But what makes people think that God calls preachers in a different way than he calls others in this Christian age? The call to preach is merely the burning desire in the heart of a Christian to fulfill his Christian duty. Others with the same burning desire to do their duties are "called" to do other things for the Lord besides preach. Why limit board examinations to preachers? If those who receive the divine call are to be subjected to a human examination before they can do what God has called them to do, obedience to the call depends on the will of the examining board.

Pithy Quotes

"The fault of Methodism lies in the irreverence and infrequency of its communion services. . . ." Franz Hilderbrandt in Christian Advocate.

"Too often when a man thinks his mind is broadening, it's his conscience stretching." Stephen S. White in Herald of Holiness.

"I think The Methodist Church is top-heavy with supervision." "Another thing: There is a strong feeling among ministers and laymen that there is far too much regimentation in The Methodist Church. The church has a habit pattern of drive after drive, crusade after crusade, quota after quota." Halford E. Luccock in Christian Advocate.

"An evil thought passes the door as a stranger, then enters as a guest, then it installs itself as master." — Augustine

Congregational Pressures

In the book "The New Shape of American Religion" an overall picture of the changing status of the various bodies is well presented. The author, Martin, an associate editor with The Christian Century, describes five forms of pressure on local congregations. These pressures affect the nature of the local congregation and often govern its mission. These five pressures should be recognized by churches of Christ and withstood for the sake of the ancient faith.

The first pressure is from the society which surrounds the local congregation. The world expects to adjust and conform to norms which are alien to the New Testament faith. It is easy for a church to drift along with its environment, to compromise with and patronize various denominational or worldly projects. I know of congregations which have obviously been guilty of submitting to this pressure from society through such things as affiliation with ministerial alliance projects.

The second pressure mentioned by Dr. Marty is in the organized life of a denomination or church. "Every local parish is expected to pull a certain weight for the denomination, whose program and progress are portrayed as the marks of the march of the Kingdom of God." While churches of Christ are not known to be tied in with denominational ecclesiastical boards, the missionary and benevolent organizational boards which exist among us bombard the congregations with near demands for support. The organizational thrust among us is creating an organizational party to which churches must conform or else be branded as "anti". Elders who do not diligently cooperate with the organizations are accused of not having "vision".

The third pressure is the competition among local churches of different religious bodies. Certainly there is a legitimate competition between the Lord's body and denominational churches in that we would seek to win souls from those bodies. But competition in the sense of generally "outdoing" the denominations will lead brethren to compromise various principles for the sake of competitive statistics.

A fourth type pressure is in the matching of congregation against congregation within the same religious body. We saw a little of this in the Lord's body when the Madison church near Nashville competed with Broadway church in Lubbock for records in Sunday school attendance. Such activities relegate the mission and meaning of a congregation behind competitive spirit. "The intention is that the success story shall inform and inspire the failures. But it does little to picture the real nature of evangelism and conversion."

The fifth type of pressure comes from within the congregation. The congregation pressures the elders or preacher toward various activities for purposes other than the edifying of the body of Christ. "Symbolic of this . . . is the familiar instance of congregations which goad their ministers into calling on newcomers `so that we can meet the budget' ". A congregation may not be sensational in growth, but being sound in faith it has much to its credit. And, its true growth is in adding to its number those whom God has added to His church.

The City-Church State

Americans are moving to town. The farm population dwindles as machinery takes the place of the hired hands and smaller farms are swallowed up in ranches and plantations. I can remember when Oklahoma City advertised a 183,000 population. Now it reaches close to 600,000.

Churches of Christ have done well in rural areas and small communities. In the past the big cities have been known for strong Catholic concentrations and liberal Protestant centers. But everybody is moving to town and churches of all sort spring up, branch out and grow up.

Back in the rural and small town areas folks had time to study and meditate. Christianity was an every day, all day thing. Church houses were patronized everytime the doors were opened. There was more Bible talk among the people and God was a real, ever present guide and aid.

Now that the church has gone to town folks do not have the time to live constantly with God. Everything is rush and schedule. It takes longer to get to the church house, through heavy traffic, so the assembly of Christians does not occupy quite as important part of the individual's life as it once did. With frozen foods, including complete frozen meals, minute and instant products, one hour dry cleaning, and do-it-yourself commodities, Christianity has been packaged in a quick and easy method.

"Man is crowded, adjusted, conformed, persuaded, organized, surfeited, tranquilized, homogenized, contended, robotized, manipulated, alienated, and engineered". God is offered to man "in packaged and highly marketable forms." He is referred to as "the Man Upstairs" and "Boss". In the words of Martin Marty: "America has tended to package God, to make Him more marketable. He has been useful to boxers who fervently prayed as they entered the ring intent on severing their opponents' heads from their bodies. He has ridden — they said so! — with daredevils and racers. He has bided time with and guided the fortunes of motion picture actresses of questionable repute — they said He did. He helped rearrange affairs toward the positive prosperity of men."

God has been relegated in the minds of the public to a position comparable to the good luck charm. He fits into a circle along with the doctor, the psychiatrist, the professor and various other "experts." He is called on when it is expedient to do so.

The church finds a place in the circle of fraternal lodges, political parties, society functions, sports and recreational events. She must await her turn. She must not occupy too much time nor make stringent demands. She is dispensable.

The contribution on Sunday, liberal or stingy, takes care of all the benevolent and evangelistic obligations. The church like the lodge does what the individual ought to do, and the institutions do what the churches are supposed to do. Church members sing "To the work, to the work...." and then close out with "God be with us 'til we meet again" . . . through a predominantly secular week until the next Sunday morning.

What a mess! This is what is called "the new shape of American religion". God forbid that churches of Christ be so shaped! As Christians move to town let the churches be active communities of everyday Christian thrust. May Christ be formed in us, dwell in us so that everything else is consigned to a secondary position. Christians must remember that it is their obligation to be what the Bible defines them to be, and they must live as the Bible instructs them to live. We are saints, servants, children of God, brethren and followers of Christ who must seek first the kingdom of God. We must not be conformed to this world, but rather transformed by the renewing of our minds that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.