by Arthur F. Glasser
The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches has come and gone. Uppsala (1968), a small university town in eastern Sweden, has joined Amsterdam (1948), Evanston (1954), and New Delhi (1961) in the unfolding of the Ecumenical Movement.
The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches has come and gone. Uppsala (1968), a small university town in eastern Sweden, has joined Amsterdam (1948), Evanston (1954), and New Delhi (1961) in the unfolding of the Ecumenical Movement. We are now in the post-assembly era when wcc’s Division of World Mission and Evangelism is renewing efforts in what it regards as the "difficult and delicate" task of improving relationships with non-member churches, "particularly Pentecostalists and conservative evangelicals." The following official invitation was issued by the Assembly at the recommendation of one of its committees. It was passed without debate in a plenary session.
The member churches of the World Council, which have already experienced something of the mutual correction and edification which is made possible by our common membership in the Council, need also the contribution of the evangelical churches and desire to share with them in such ways as may be found mutually acceptable, in practical tasks of service and witness. It is our hope that all who share together the Scriptural and Trinitarian faith in Jesus Christ as God and Saviour may thus be enabled both to work together anti to build one another up in the common faith.
At Uppsala, wcc leaders called for the appointment of conservative evangelicals to Council posts. Some suggested that themes of particular relevance to evangelicals be selected for future wcc study. Member churches were encouraged to be respectful of evangelicals already within their ranks. The text follows:
In view of the fact that there is in the membership of several member churches a considerable body of those who would accept the name "conservative-evangelical" whose theological conviction, spiritual experience, and missionary zeal might well find more vital expression in the life of the World Council of Churches, this Assembly hopes that these member churches will give serious thought to this matter, and will seek ways by which this witness may be more adequately represented in the life of the Council.
Previously, conservative evangelicals have proved to be a stubborn lot. Dr. Franklin Clark Fry in his report of the Central Committee of the wcc to Uppsala lamented: "We have striven assiduously over the past six years to increase contacts with these deeply committed and fervently Christian brethren (but) with . . . meager results." Has Uppsala made their task easier?
Uppsala was to be the first Assembly of the wcc after the incorporation of the International Missionary Council into its structure seven years previously. Before New Delhi (1961) missiologists argued that an mvrc-wcc merger would make possible an end to the nineteenth century distortion that placed church in tension with mission. The ecumenical slogan, "The Church is Mission," would then be realized in actuality. The worldwide mission of the church would be transformed from a peripheral activity to its central task. Evangelicals were particularly pleased when the newly-formed Department of World Mission and Evangelism (1961) accepted the charge "to help the churches . . . to confront men anal women with the claims of Jesus Christ wherever they may live . . . to further the proclamation to the whole world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the end that all men may believe in Him and be saved."
It is now 1968. Apparently, the IMC transfusion has not been successful. Uppsala uncovered "widespread defeatism in the churches about the work of evangelism and world mission," attributed variously to the process of secularization in society, the resurgence of non-Christian religions, and a "deep confusion (in the churches) about the nature of the Christian faith itself." Indeed, in the opening sermon of the Assembly, Rev. D. T. Niles put his finger on the crucial issue when he said: "A crisis of faith has overtaken the churches more rigorous, perhaps, than was ever true before. Structures of church life and congregational worship are under serious questioning. The Bible has increasingly ceased to be a book to be listened to. It is asked whether even Jesus points beyond man to God. And yet, just because this is the situation, God’s promise to make all things new must become explosive in our midst."
Evangelicals were heartened by this exposure of the basic illness of our day as a "crisis of faith." But they were disappointed when the actual Assembly agenda began to unfold. Hendrikus Berkhof and W. A. Visser t Hooft spoke of this crisis in plenary sessions and some of the discussions referred to it, but the majority of speakers ignored it. One observer was "struck by the absence throughout of an eschatological hope."1 No call was sounded to look to God to make "all things new."
It is rather significant that Dr. George W. Peters, professor of world missions, Dallas Theological Seminary, at the October, 1968, Missions Executives Retreat of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, identified this same period (1961-1968) as "a new age of evangelism" that has broken upon the evangelical wing of the church of Jesus Christ. Speaking of Evangelism-in-Depth campaigns in Latin America and their counterparts in Africa, he stated:
Evangelism is becoming a primary and determining concern in the minds of many Christian leaders, and a dynamic force in many individuals, churches and organizations. I can only attribute this to a new visitation from above. God is graciously raising up His servants to challenge His people and to channel His forces into evangelism …. He is not limiting Himself to one man or one society . . . . He is present in Latin America, Africa and Asia. We pray that He may also revisit North America and Europe in a new wave of evangelism.
EVANGELICAL DEBATE IN BRITAIN
During the same period, from New Delhi to Uppsala, conservative evangelicals in Great Britain have done much heartsearching over the Ecumenical Movement. The debate began when respected Anglicans (A. T. Houghton, James I. Packer, and John R. W. Stott) began to advocate the abandonment of a posture of opposition and pleaded for "involvement without compromise." They drew around them many young Anglicans and several prominent seminary professors, "all connected with IVCF" (lain Murray, Banner of Truth).
These men were not content to regard themselves as the custodians of an immobile position on this issue. In all honesty, they felt that they should be open to what was new in the ecclesiastical scene. In this context they began to bring their evangelical traditions under the judgment of Scripture, only to discover that some were mere evangelical prejudices, incapable of biblical defense. Although repelled by the "everincreasing centralization and terrifying bureaucratic cliques" controlling the Church of England, they sought to reform it under the Word of God. In the interval since New Delhi they feel they have enjoyed some success. At the same time, however, they have exposed themselves to the suspicions of their brethren in the Free Churches. These latter have long argued that the only biblical response to the Ecumenical Movement should be one of non-involvement. This provoked a cleavage in evangelical ranks. The retiring Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, Rev. A. Morgan Derham, recently stated: "The question of attitude to the Ecumenical Movement has become a barrier between brethren who previously held together."2
By 1964 Anglican evangelicals were in the thick of the debate on Anglican-Methodist reunion, contending for a position that could conceivably bring biblical renewal to both churches. But liberals offered opposition, charging evangelicals with intolerance, inconsistency, and party-mindedness. They wondered how Anglican evangelicals could hedge their endorsement of reunion with Methodists with biblical conditions, when they already tacitly acquiesced to the presence of Anglo-Catholics in their church. "If you regard the Anglo-Catholics as a vital, grevious error, how can you stay in the same church?" (Rupp). Some were surprised by this blunt attack, but the majority continued to feel that even the merger of stagnant, inclusivist churches could bring biblical renewal if evangelicals pursued a policy of irenic, well-articulated biblically-oriented dissent.
One reason for this optimism was the quiet conviction that time was on the side of the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Although liberals and Anglo-Catholics controlled the power structures and dominated in ecumenical matters, their congregations were shrinking, whereas those of the evangelicals were growing. Furthermore, did not evangelicals virtually control several recognized seminaries? Stott expressed this optimism at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Keele University:
We have witnessed remarkable development of evangelical life in the Church of England since the Second World War. During the last twenty years, evangelical Anglicans have grown in numbers, scholarship, cohesion and confidence. This is a matter for thanksgiving to God. It is not to be viewed as the expansion of a sinister "party" fired with fanatical "party spirit." On the contrary, it is the welcome increase within our national church of those who believe and love the biblical gospel, and who long to see the whole Church renewed in faith and life through submission to God’s Word and Spirit.
Some went beyond Stott and frankly admitted that evangelicals within the Church of England constituted a "party." Indeed, they even felt that their "involvement without compromise" in the ecumenical debate should be translated into an unabashed strategy for transforming the church. G. E. Duffield detailed its steps:
Often the debate begins where evangelicals might think it ought not to begin . . . . One simply tried to press the basic biblical questions, and challenge what is plainly not biblical . . . to make those who think differently produce biblical reasons for them case . . . . At first all the forces of officialdom feel they can ignore or shrug off what seems a small movement. Then they find it growing, so they abuse it or mock it . . . . Then follows grudging acceptance that perhaps the group has something of importance to say after all. Finally comes acceptance of the group’s case as a legitimate view, and it may even come to dominate the church. In transforming any church, one has to take a long-term view, and the strain is always greatest on the pioneers. They have to bear the brunt of the abuse, and the counter-attack.
In a climate of euphoria the National Evangelical Anglican Congress was convened at Keele in April, 1967. In a most decisive fashion the delegates made the following commitment:
We recognize that in dialogue we may hope to learn truth held by others to which we have hitherto been blind, as well as to impart to others truths held by us and overlooked by them. . . We desire to enter this ecumenical dialogue fully . . . . We are no longer content to stand apart from those with whom we disagree. We recognize that all who "confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill their common calling to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (WCC Basis), have a right to be treated as Christians, and it is on this basis that we wish to talk with them. Through dialogue, we look to God to instruct and reform us all, and thereby to integrate us into one, through a deeper common grasp of His truth ….
The die was cast. With high hopes they ‘set their face toward Uppsala. But not without serious misgivings. Understandably, their Keele commitment was almost immediately challenged. Although non-conformist evangelicals respected the venturesome spirit of their Anglican brethren, they felt that twilight was falling on the evangelical movement within the Church oï¿_ England. David Marshall, a non-conformist minister and leader, spoke to the obvious when he pointed out that this means that evangelical Anglicans had accepted the wcc definition of the word "Christian"- a blunder of major proportions. He wrote:
They mean that from now on Anglican evangelicals will be prepared to regard all sincere Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholics as fellow Christians . . . . The Anglicans who gathered at Keele did not learn this definition of Christian from John Wesley, Martin Luther, nor from St. Paul, the Holy Spirit, or the New Testament.4
Liberals similarly identified Keele as an "evangelical turning-point." John Lawrence was their spokesman:
For fifty years there has been a wall of partition between conservative evangelicals and the rest of the Church. So far as evangelicals in the Church of England are concerned, this is now broken down. In ten years the whole face of the Church in Britain will be changed. These things have been on the way for some time, but the critical point has come suddenly . . . . At Keele, conservative evangelicals were saying, in effect, "tee are convinced that we have the truth but we do not claim to have the whole truth. We have been narrow and refused to learn from others. We have exalted preaching, which is good, but we have often done this at the expense of the Holy Communion, which is bad." . . . Pietism is out, ecumenism is in, and the magnitude of the change is frankly admitted.5
Meanwhile, non-conformist evangelicals were also being drawn into the ecumenical debate. In the aftermath of the 1954 Billy Graham Crusade in London, the British Council of Churches concluded that what was needed was a nationwide mission. Realizing that conservative evangelicals were both burdened and knowledgeable when it came to evangelistic preaching, overtures were made to Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others to probe the possibility of a cooperative effort that would embrace all churches. A discussion group was formed and given the awkward but revealing name: "Group with Differing Biblical Pre-Suppositions." The British Council carelessly assumed that the sole issue to be resolved was the evangelical hang-up on the inspiration of the Scriptures. They suggested that it be the first subject of the agenda. But Dr. Lloyd-Jones countered with the suggestion: "Let’s discuss the subject `God’; this is the term everyone uses but no one defines." Actually, the group met regularly for four to five years before the subject of the Scriptures was formally considered. When an evangelical, Rev. Leith Samuel, Above Bar Church, Southampton, presented a paper on it, his position was dismissed as "absolute rubbish" by Huxtable, leader of Congregationalists in Britain. Shortly thereafter the group folded because the BCC lost interest and stopped sending top-level representatives. In this protracted interchange it was discovered again and again that no vital relationship existed between liberals and evangelicals. Indeed, all they have in common is a set of religious terms. An unbridgeable gulf appears when these terms are defined. No wonder the dialogue broke down!
But the ecumenical debate spread among evangelicals. It broke out into the open at the October, 1966, National Assembly of Evangelicals, called the Evangelical Alliance. This Assembly was charged with the task of grappling with growing ecumenical pressures and with Britain’s appalling spiritual need. Among other things, it was resolved that "a strong representative group of Anglicans and Free Churchmen 11 study radically "the various attitudes of Evangelicals to the Ecumenical Movement, Denominationalism, and a possible future `United Church.’" At this convocation they heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones ask two crucial questions:
(1) Are we content as evangelicals to go on as the evangelical wing of other churches, making our protest, hoping to infiltrate into positions of influence in churches in which are many who hold views on the sacraments, the Bible and the Being of God utterly opposed to our own? Are we content as evangelicals to become the evangelical wing of a territorial church which must include in the end the Roman Catholic Church? (2) What is the Church? The ecumenists put fellowship before doctrine. We are evangelicals. We put doctrine before fellowship. The Church is the place where true doctrine is preached, where the sacraments are duly administered, and discipline exercised.6
Dr. Lloyd-Jones then charged evangelicals with schism if they chose closer ecclesiastical relations with those who rejected the biblical gospel and kept at distance those Christians who accepted this gospel. He appealed for a coming together of churches of like faith "in a fellowship or association."
To date little interest has been generated in structuring a new denomination: a "United Evangelical Church." Nonetheless, all who participated in these debates gained an enlarged appreciation for the fundamental issues of truth and the church as its God-ordained custodian. Naturally, their prayers as well as their fears followed their Anglican brethren who went to do the Lord’s business at Uppsala.
SITUATION IN AMERICA
During this same period in North America evangelical polarization over the ecumenical movement has not been as evenly balanced. A few evangelicals in the main-line denominations and in some non-denominational seminaries have called for "involvement without compromise," but this position has been regarded as "unwarranted optimism" by many in the nonconciliar churches. Inasmuch as evangelicals do not control any of the seminaries of conciliar churches, the prospects for biblical renewal in their denominations are bleak. As a result, they are largely involved in fighting rearguard actions. All are uncertain of the future, now that the tempo of denominational mergers keeps steadily rising.
In all honesty, it must be admitted that in North America a mood of uncertainty and uneasiness has settled over the evangelical scene. Fundamentalist triumphalism-a simplistic, unwarranted optimism regarding the future of their organizations-is rapidly fading. Pastors are burdened for troubled parents and restless congregations. Christian colleges no longer educate tractable students. Even missionary societies reflect the times. Costs keep rising, but not income. It has never been so difficult to recruit personnel of gift, grace, top-quality training, and experience. Alert Christian students know that change is inherent in history and that the tempo of change is rapidly accelerating in their world, but they cannot understand why missions persist in conducting their operations with a veiled paternalism consonant with the Victorian Era. They are particularly impatient with the evangelical tendency toward fragmentation, mutual suspicion, and un-Christian competition. These students are also repelled by what they regard as the lack of authenticity and spiritual vitality of their elders. God may be at work today in many parts of the world, but these students yearn for more evidence of His reality and presence in themselves, their fellow-Christians, and in their home churches.
The latest fissure in the ranks of non-conciliar evangelicals is theological, but its ecclesiastical implications are far-reaching, especially for evangelical, interdenominational missions. Among the seminary-trained, younger pastors one encounters a growing impatience with some of the essentially Arminian aspects of Fundamentalism and a growing interest in the Reformed faith, but not covenant theology. These men, not unnaturally, only want to support missionaries concerned with reproducing overseas churches of similar ethos. They want more part in influencing field policies. Tension with mission boards arises over the issue of "taxation without representation." They are not happy when some evangelical missionaries become involved with wcc-related churches overseas. Uppsala only served to confirm their darkest thoughts of the Ecumenical Movement.
STRAWS IN THE WIND – WCC STUDIES PRIOR TO UPPSALA
Conservative evangelicals do well to emulate the industry of the wcc Division of Studies. This body undertakes long-term investigations of a wide range of subjects under the general headings: Mission of the Church, its Life and Work, and its Faith and Order. In preparation for Uppsala it authorized more than a score of special studies. Central among them was an attempt to set guidelines for "A Quest for Structures of Missionary Congregations." In 1967 the Department oï¿_ Studies in Evangelism produced The Church for Others. (by Europeans) and The Church for the World (by North Americans). To read these studies is to find oneself in a strange world in which familiar themes are discussed in anything but conventional terms. Although two or three years in preparation involving major revisions, these documents are almost totally silent on the great basics of the "faith once delivered to the saints." Nothing of man’s ruin by the Fall, little of reconciliation by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, and the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. These have been replaced by the call to "recognize and proclaim Christ’s work in the flower shop, at the street-car stop, in the slums of the big cities, in the cinema, in the picket line." Nothing of God’s gracious provision of new life in Christ to His elect, the forgiveness of sins, purpose in life, and deliverance from fear of death. Man’s accountability to God and Satan’s activity in the world are completely overlooked. The presuppositions underlying these studies are "horizontal" not "vertical." Absolutes do not appear. Man is central. God is ephemeral. Relativism rules, in ethics as well as truth. No contributor defines truth other than by implying it is something men do not now possess, but which they should seek through dialetical encounter ("dialogue") with the wishful hope that it may perhaps be found in the future.
Another significant step toward Uppsala was taken at the Geneva Conference on Church and Society. Delegates gathered from 70 countries, including all the Socialistic bloc (except Albania and Red China) and urged the churches "in all forms of mission and ministry" to make full and effective use of "the insights and data of the social and behavioural scientists."’ On the surface, the Conference was a representative group of experts "charged with advising the churches and the wcc on their ministry in a world undergoing revolutionary social change." But its delegates had been so artfully selected beforehand that evangelicals were quick to protest. Dr. Carl F. H. Henry was spokesman when he questioned the Conference’s concern for nothing less than the "conspicuous promotion of a Socialist ideology and of revolutionary means of achieving it." Why must wcc be so eager to be identified with a particular political and economic position? Eugene L. Smith, the Executive Secretary of the wcc in the U. S. A., came to the defense of the Conference by describing it as "a responsible attempt of Christians – from many countries, many churches, and many cultures – to lift before the churches, the World Council of Churches, and the world the moral and spiritual issues we face in seeking today to alleviate human suffering. This attempt was set within the larger framework of an effort to assess in Christian terms the revolutionary changes of our time and the response the Church should make to them."
Dr. Smith insisted that the wcc had no "plan to restructure the world economy and to redistribute wealth among nations," but evangelicals felt that if this were true, the wcc should take steps to correct the ideological imbalance of Geneva. An opportunity was afforded at the U.S. Conference on Church and Society, sponsored by the National Council of Churches in October, 1967, but those who dominated the 700 delegates continued to press for the use of violence to further socio-political goals. Never were the views of evangelicals so "suppressed and trampled upon." Never was a church conference so devoid of biblical authority and biblical objectives. Later, in April, 1968, the wcc Beirut conference reiterated the same sort of policial=social-economic involvement as the central task of the churches. Both conferences left evangelicals wondering what Uppsala would be like.
Most important of all, however, were the actual Uppsala documents for the Assembly Committees; New Delhi to Uppsala as reported by the Central Committee; Drafts for Sections; and the study booklet, All Things New. These were long in preparation, especially the Drafts for Sections, which according to the official text had been "twice subjected to discussion by widely representative groups of persons involved in World Council work, after which they were redrafted" (p.5). Since it was hoped that this Fourth Assembly of wcc would break upon world Protestantism with the same explosive impact that Vatican II had on Roman Catholicism the Drafts were read with particular interest. They were hailed as "the precise issues" the wcc regards as "most relevant to the contemporary situation and tasks of the Ecumenical Movement" (p.5). Built around the theme, "All Things New," it was apparent to even the casual reader that they introduced a major shift in the direction of ecumenical thinking. Here was a call for a new theology and a new methodology to support a radically new objective for the Christian Church – "all in all a radically new emphasis that could move the institutional church away from its primary, Christ-commanded task of preaching the biblical gospel that men of all nations and races might become disciples of Jesus Christ" (Carl Henry).
These documents used traditional Christian terminology, but with new meanings to even the most basic "Christian" words. One illustration will suffice. "Christian conversion is a turning around in order to participate by faith in a new reality which is the future of the whole creation. It is not, in the first place, either saving one’s own soul or joining a society. It is both of these things secondarily …. Fundamentally, conversion means commitment with penitence and faith to what God Himself is doing in human history."8 To the discerning evangelical, this deliberate distortion of Scripture simply meant that the wcc considers conversion to mean the process of getting involved in those socio-political events that one regards as God’s present acts in history. Nothing about personal commitment to Jesus Christ, in repentance and faith, as Scripture so clearly teaches!
These pre-Uppsala wcc publications provoked warnings by prominent evangelicals. Henry wrote: "Evangelicals inside and outside the Council must evaluate the wcc program with discernment and caution. Those inside should courageously affirm the eternal verities of the gospel axed oppose efforts to dilute or distort them. Those outside should forego any thought of joining wcc ranks until the Council unequivocally commits itself to biblical theology and objectives."9
Dr. Donald A. McGavran of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Institute of Church Growth charged that Draft for Section II (Renewal in Mission) was nothing less than "a betrayal of the two billion who either have never heard of Jesus Christ or have no real chance to believe on Him as Lord and Savior."10 In his judgment its concept of mission was contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, a neglect of the plain meaning of Christ’s redemptive work, and a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from man’s need to hear the Gospel of salvation. Indeed, he pointed out that Section II was concerned not with mission -but with"renewing existing churches and getting them involved with all of life in points of tension, revolutionary movements, critical points of society, and the agenda of the world." Whereas Dr. McGavran heartily endorsed the Christian obligation to respond to human need, he bluntly stated that "Christianizing the social order is not mission and should not masquerade as such." He noted that Section II had not been thrown together hurriedly or by accident. Long months had been spent over its text. "A new theology has been forged which apparently intends to have no place for mission from the Church in one land to non-Christians in other lands." Its writers have "determined to change the course of missions by employing the simple expedient of using the classical words heavily freighted with emotion, with an entirely new purpose."11
Dr. McGavran’s "Special Uppsala Issue" of the Church Growth Bulletin also exposed the illiberal stance of the wcc establishment toward dialogue. His associate, Dr. A. R. Tippett, commented on the irony of the conciliar contention that Christians should engage in dialogue with one another and even with men of other faiths, when these Drafts revealed that the establishment apparently engaged in almost no dialoguing with those who disagree with its radical theology. Certainly Section II contained none of the insights of the large number of conservative evangelicals known to be within member churches of the wcc.
Dr. McGavran’s evaluations were widely publicized. Copies were sent to many officials within the wcc establishment. These men could not have been told more plainly that their radical theology was totally unacceptable to evangelicals. They went to Uppsala knowing their Drafts would be hotly challenged. J. D. Douglas voiced the prayers and hopes of many all over the world when he wrote: "We hope that the evangelical members of that particular section which has been allocated Renewal in Mission will take up Dr. McGavran’s points. We find nothing to comfort us in what the Rev. Albert van den Heuvel, head of the wcc Information Department stated in reply to our protest-that this is only a draft document put forward to provoke discussion. Nothing should have been considered more provocative than the matter of the two billion."12
Many who attended the wcc Fourth Assembly at Uppsala -the writer was not among them-recorded their impressions with a measure of awe. There had not been such a representative church gathering for 900 years. More than 2,500 participants (704 voting delegates) from most Protestant communions, as well as the Anglican and Orthodox churches (235 member churches) gathered from 80 different countries of the world’s continents. Even the Roman Catholic Church was officially represented by fifteen observers and numerous journalists. Dr. Fred H. Klooster of the Christian Reformed Church commented: "The comprehensiveness and tie representative character of such a gathering makes an unmistakable appeal. One might say that it is agonizingly appealing to anyone concerned about the unity of the Church."13 Many conservative evangelicals would react similarly; they are concerned to express the unity for which Christ prayed.
One observer described Uppsala’s bigness and busyness as "2,500 peop