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From the March 1983 issue of Fundamentalist Journal; click here to view the PDF of the original article.

The Two Headed Council

A Look at the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches

It began as a noble enough idea—bring the American and the world churches into unity under one common banner, thus creating a stronger base from which to battle evil and win the world for Christ. It was an idea that won worldwide plaudits.

The idea for such a movement to encourage ecclesiastic synthesis had taken seed in 1910 at the World Missionary conference in Edinburgh. Thirty-eight years later, following two world wars, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was officially born in Amsterdam in what has been called a burst of “ecumenical euphoria.”

Signing the original charter were 147 church organizations representing 44 countries. Protestant denominations from the United States signing on included the Reformed Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Protestant Episcopal Church. Notably absent from this impressive roster of founding members were the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptists. Today, 32 church denominations belong to the United States National Council of Churches (NCC).

For many, the inauguration of the WCC represented the beginning of a golden era for church cooperation and accomplishment. Charles Paul Conn, a visiting scholar at Harvard University who has studied the WCC, characterizes those early days as full of shining idealism: “It promised to be, in that day of bright beginning, simply a ‘fellowship of churches which accepts our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior,’ a nonpolitical forum for dialogue and cooperation among the many Christian organizations around the globe” (Saturday Evening Post, May/June 1982).

Conn further points out that the limits of the purposes and motivations of the resplendent new WCC were carefully delineated as spiritual and not political in nature. The primary concern was espoused to be the establishing of the lordship of Christ around the world.

The high point of the WCC and its ecumenical ecstasy was in 1954 when it held its second assembly in Evanston, Illinois. The idealism behind the drive for solidarity among the world’s churches was at a peak, and the WCC was enjoying the graces of a favorable press. But all was not as it seemed.

The Shift to the Left: The Liberation Shuffle

Change wormed its way into the structure and ideology of the WCC. More and more Third-World denominations joined, causing a determined shift to the left in theology and philosophy, and creating an insistent preoccupation with liberation politics. As Conn astutely observes, “The rhetoric of the Council has become that of the radical left.” And a WCC theologian is reported to have said that, while the WCC’s previous hero was Gandhi, it was now Che Guevara.

The change was not sudden, but subtle, taking effect over a period of years. According to The New Republic, September 9, 1981, “... the WCC underwent a gradual transformation parallel to the United Nations. It experienced a steady in crease in Third World participation, rapid growth of an inter national bureaucracy in Geneva and, finally, a crisis of con science among its Western members, chiefly as a result of the Vietnam War. By the late 1960s, the WCC had decided that its business—and God’s—was liberation.” And another U.S. theologian, John Meyendorf, lamented that “the World Council of Churches has become an ecclesiastical United Nations” (Time, January 22, 1979).

And while, as Dean Kelley, director of Civil and Religious Liberty for the NCC, stated recently in an article in Christianity Today, the NCC, composed of the same denominations, “is not a branch office of the WCC, each makes its own decisions” (September 17, 1982), the National Council of Churches clearly reflects the WCC’s strong political attitude and left-leaning inclinations. As pointed out by Conn, “The WCC’s willingness to mix religion with politics is shared by the National Council of Churches, its United States subgroup. The NCC, in fact, has begun taking official positions on partisan political issues at home.”

In recent years the WCC and NCC have taken clear-cut stands on a number of political issues:

  • 1972: the NCC urged support for the liberation forces operating in Angola and South Africa.

  • 1973: the NCC urged a “compe tent Christian stance toward the Com munist question.”

  • 1973: Claire Randall, the NCC’s general secretary, endorsed the Supreme Court’s ban on prayer in schools and expressed favor for the court’s decision to allow abortions.

  • 1975: the NCC’s Governing Board affirmed in a resolution that all per sons, including homosexuals, are en titled to full civil rights and “pastoral concern.” They also expressed strong support for the ERA.

  • 1977: the NCC’s governing board called for public financing of abortions for “poor” women, and it called for “normalization” of relations with Red Vietnam,

  • 1981: the WCC’s Central Commit tee forcefully criticized the U.S. role in El Salvador and other Central American countries, disapproved of the annexing of East Jerusalem by Israel, and called for “immediate negotiations” with the PLO as a means of resolving the Mideast crisis.

These and other political testaments have been reported in various media, including the Religious News Service, and documented by various watchdog agencies such as the Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois. The nonreligious gospel of the WCC/NCC is no secret, but it is annoying when it is preached under the banner of Christianity. As Charles Paul Conn states, “With such pronouncements filling the air, many American pastors are hard- pressed to convince their already dubious parishioners of the non political nature of the NCC and its parent organization.”

In fact, the situation is becoming so extreme that prominent individuals within the NCC and WCC are criticizing the Councils for their non-Christian evolution.

American Lutheran theologian Richard John Neuhaus has cited the NCC’s “one-sided political activity” as “obscene.” Neuhaus spoke to the NCC’s Information Committee at their headquarters luncheon, saying, “Today an obsession with the alleged systemic and inherent injustices of America precludes the affirmative, even patriotic, vision that is required if critical judgment is to be meaningful and effective.” Neuhaus further stated that, because of the NCC’s obtuse confusion of theology and politics, “Even prayer and doctrine are suspected of being in the service of partisan purpose” (Christianity Today, April 23, 1982).

Simply, what has happened is the loss of Christian vision in the Councils. The task of unifying thousands of churches and hundreds of denominations, representing a myriad of doctrinal differences, has proved impossible. The WCC and NCC have whittled away at the particulars of difference, try ing to reduce them into a handful of generalities around which everyone can rally. In doing so, they have cut away from the Councils the very meaning and substance of Christian faith. And they have ignored the necessity of diversity within unity.

As stated in an editorial in Christianity Today (February 2, 1979), “Now unity itself is apparently being relegated to in significance in the shadow of the social action concerns of Life and Work [committee within the Council], the other WCC arm [opposed to the Faith and Order committee]. The result was inevitable: the eroding of commitment to any common belief. If a biblical basis is irrelevant, activism may take many forms.”

WCC & Terrorism: The Contribution Heard Round the World

How extreme the WCC’s radical attitude had become was made glaringly evident in 1978. Under the headship of Philip Potter, the General Secretary, who is “fond of citing Marxist writers. . . [also admires black-power advocates like Stokeley Carmichael and Malcom X” (Reader’s Digest, August, 1982), a new and controversial committee was formed: The Program to Combat Racism (PCR).

And in 1978 the PCR displayed its true colors, and WCC critics and friends saw red. The PCR contributed a generous $85,000 to the Patriotic Front, a Marxist guerilla organization fighting to overthrow the mostly white regime of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The Patriotic Front, reportedly, had been responsible for killing more than 200 white civilians, over

1,700 blacks, and was involved in the slaying of nine white missionaries and their children. Considering the expense of arms and ammunition, the Patriotic Front could obviously put the $85,000 to good use.

The repercussions from this five-year-distant shock are still rumbling through the WCC even today. In protest of the grant, the Salvation Army withdrew from the WCC. Harry Williams, international secretary of the Salvation Army, at the time pointed out to the WCC that the Salvation Army had been striving against racism and preaching the gospel in Rhodesia for 80 years, and doing it without violence and bloodshed. “Should not. . . WCC funds be mediated through such church councils, rather than directly to a militant organization?” Williams asked (Saturday Evening Post, May/ June, 1982).

Other church organizations within the WCC were also visibly and vocally upset, as reported in a Time magazine article titled “Going Beyond Charity: Should Christian cash be given to terrorists?” (October 2, 1978): “There has been an ‘enormous disturbance’ in British churches, says one Executive Committee member. As for West Germany—which now provides 42 percent of the budget for the financially pressed WCC—official protests are muted, but one top churchman reports ‘bitter reaction in our churches.’. . . In the U.S., important elements in such WCC member groups as the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese are upset.” Many denominations sent letters of protest to the WCC and threatened to pull out.

In short, the reaction to the WCC’s contribution to violence and terrorism brought what was termed “a fierce wave of church protest” from both members and nonmembers. The protest, however, is somewhat surprising, since contributions by the PCR to Marxist and guerilla groups had not been uncommon.

The Program to Combat Racism had been launched in September 1970. Since its inception, the PCR has given over $5 million to more than 130 organizations, most outside the organized Church. In 1970 alone, the PCR contributed to 14 groups known to be involved in terrorist guerilla activities, with some who were also known to be Communist in ideology and receiving arms from the Soviet Union (Reader’s Digest, October 1971).

But, unscathed by the rage of harsh criticism it received from both the religious and secular press in 1978, the WCC defiantly granted more money to the Patriotic Front in 1979. At a meeting in Bosse, Switzerland, in September 1979, the WCC Executive Committee boldly approved a generous gift of $35,000 to the African terrorist group. As reported in Christianity Today, “The only concession this time around—after more than a year of heated debate on the issue, which led a few church bodies to suspend their WCC membership—was a more careful targeting of funds. The grant was designated for supportive and administrative costs for the guerilla grouping’s delegation at the constitutional conference in London. The all-parties conference was convened to bring a settlement to troubled Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia” (October 17, 1979).

But in spite of this “more careful targeting” of money, the WCC has acknowledged that once the money is handed out, they have no real control over how it is or is not spent. Nor is the Patriotic Front the only organization receiving funds from the PCR. Other groups receiving hand outs recently include:

$200,000 to the Southwest Africa People’s Organization; $44,000 to the efforts of Australian aborigines to stop oil drilling in Western Australia; $10,000 to the Movimiento Ecumenico Nacional seeking to “decolonize” Puerto Rico—over 47 similar groups “com bating racism” receiving substantial sums of money (Saturday Evening Post, May/June, 1982).

Yet, while contributing generously to leftist (often anti-American) groups, the WCC is strangely silent in criticizing racist and oppressive activities in Marxist countries. As Conn states, “expressions of concern over the human- rights violations in Eastern bloc countries or objection to Soviet influence in Poland or to the invasion of Afghanistan are muted or nonexistent.”

This tunnel vision is further criticized in The New Republic, September 9, 1981: “There is not a penny to suggest that there may be racial or ethnic problems in black Africa, Indochina, Asia, or the Soviet bloc, One might, for example, have thought that if ethnic repression in the Soviet bloc would not move the WCC, then religious repression would. At the 1975 WCC assembly in Nairobi, efforts to condemn Soviet restrictions on religious liberty were defeated. About all the assembly could bring itself to do was to resolve to note that it had ‘devoted a substantial period to the discussion of the alleged denials of religious liberty in the USSR.’

“Predicting who will be condemned by the WCC is easy. It has nothing to do with the relative level of violation of human rights, as documented, for example, by Amnesty International. A practically infallible predictor of who will be singled out by the WCC is a country’s ideological affinity with the U.S.”

NCC and the Bible, Homosexuals and ERA: Unholy Alliances

While its Big Brother is seeking social justice by courting guerilla terrorists, the NCC has been practicing the Council’s nonreligious gospel at home. Most notable of its actions has been the advocacy of homosexual rights, support of legalized abortions on demand, and its impotent support for the failed Equal Rights Amendment.

However, when it comes to homosexual rights, the NCC has been known to waffle. For years the NCC has recognized the civil rights they believe are due homosexuals, and urged acceptance of homosexuals into the congregations of member denominations unequivocally and without judgment.

Yet, in 1981, when the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), whose member ship consists largely of homosexuals, applied for membership in the NCC, they were put on hold. The Christian Century reported that, “Even before the MCC had formally made application... some council officials were predicting publicly that its bid would be rejected. Assistant General Secretary Arleon L. Kelley issued a statement for the Council: ‘Considering the historical position and doctrinal practices of the communions that compose [Council], it appears to me extremely doubtful that 21 of the necessary members would vote for the inclusion of the MCC’ “ (September 30, 1981).

The impression generated from the discussion surrounding the MCC’s application for membership in the NCC is that there is hope for truly scriptural sanctions within the Council. But that is only the impression, not the reality. The MCC’s application was not rejected.

On May 13, 1982, the NCC’s Governing Board met in Nashville, Tennessee. A hot item on the agenda was the MCC’s application for membership. Oscar McCloud, the NCC Credentials chairman, stated that the MCC met requirements for membership and recommended that the Board declare the MCC eligible. However, by a narrow vote of 88 to 77, the Board instead elected to place the MCC’s application in the hands of the NCC Commission on Faith and Order “for a study of the ecclesiological issues raised by the application.” That com mission’s report must be in by May 1983.

The NCC released a statement to the press saying, “Although many of the member communions support civil rights for homosexuals, none affirms homosexuality as a Christian lifestyle and many believe its practice to be a sin and contrary to the will of God.”

Mary V. Borhek, in an emotional article appearing in the April 14, 1982, issue of Christian Century advocated acceptance of the homosexual denomination into the NCC. Borhek discusses her own personal turmoil after discovering that her son was homosexual, doing a “180-degree reversal” from believing that homosexuality was an individual choice and a sin, to now affirming that homosexuality is a biologically predetermined “given.” She says that, “Not to accept the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches as a member denomination of the NCC carries with it some uncomfortable theological implications. The criterion for being a Christian is whether a person or a denomination accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This requirement seems to have sound biblical support. That one must also be heterosexual or, if this is impossible, celibate, introduces a condition which could well be considered heretical. It is dangerous for human beings to take for themselves the task of judging the quality of the relationship between other believers and God. We may think we know who is saved and who is not, but how can we really tell?”

Such an analysis as that by Borhek is obviously based on only a carefully selected portion of Scripture, and not on the whole content of the Bible. But it is this type of twisted apologetic and exegesis that has plagued the NCC, and is likely to be the basis for relieving its current dilemma of sup porting homosexuality in Christians while rejecting the homosexuals. This is a complete reversal of Christ’s example of accepting the sinner (the person) and rejecting the sin (the wrongdoings).

And the NCC isn’t satisfied with merely misinterpreting the Bible, but is actively engaged in changing it. As reported in Time magazine (December 8, 1980) in an article titled “Un manning the Holy Bible: the sexual-textual revolution comes to Scripture,” the NCC’s education division is overseeing the removal of sexist terminology from the Revised Standard Version. This rewrite of Scripture is an off-shoot of the feminist movement.

The NCC has balked at radical revisions of the Scripture’s wordings, but has instructed its translators “to get rid of as much ‘masculine-biased language’ as possible.” And it has been admitted by feminists and scholars alike that some parts of the Bible, while sexist in wording, cannot accurately be translated otherwise. But in spite of this problem, feminists are not discouraged. As Sister Ann Patrick Ware stated in the Time article, “‘There are parts of Scripture that are sexist, and there is nothing you can do about them.’ Of course, she adds, ‘you don’t have to read them either.’ “Ware is ranking theology executive with the NCC.

Misdirection Blues: Which Way From Here?

How did such a well-intended idea as represented by the founding of the WCC and the NCC become so perverted?

First, any organization that seeks to encompass such a massive number of groups and individuals can not begin to hope to maintain close touch with those it supposedly represents at the grass roots.

As the Councils have grown in numbers, power and authority have become more centralized, posited in a concentrated left-leaning elite. “Failing a consensus within the

Council, leadership reverts to an elite—and this does appear to be the trend in the WCC. Cynthia Wedell, one of the WCC presidents, pointed out that ‘half the member churches cannot be represented even in the Central Committee, and many who represent their churches on commissions and committees have no direct access to the decision-making bodies of their own churches.’ That can be compensated for when grass-roots church members and Geneva staff are committed to the same causes, But when they are guided by different stars, or marching to different drummers, the elite can take up a position that, if not arrogant, is highly condescend ing” (Christianity Today, February 2, 1979).

A second problem of the Councils is their push toward a reductionist syncretism of the diversity of doctrines. The goal is to discover the fewest elements of faith and doctrine that will cover a multitude of doctrinal differences.

Often, actions of the Council have been defended as being carried out in “love.” But this use of a blanket term tends to reduce its intended universal meaning to meaninglessness. “To use love as an umbrella to cover doctrinal differences and deficiencies does not solve the basic problem. Doctrine does divide. It always has. It always will. It must do so, as the Bible does, in order to separate truth from error” (Christianity Toda February 2, 1979).

Also, such reductionism tends to strip away the very covering of biblical mandate that is supposed to give the Councils their cohesiveness and reason for being: to. serve God and proclaim the gospel of Christ. And it is this strip ping away of the diversity inherent in biblical authority that has led the Councils into their nonreligious political ideological ghettoes. As Dr. Peter Beyerhaus, director of the Institute of Missiology and Ecumenical Theology of Tubingen University, has stated, in the theology of the Councils “sin is no longer regarded as a ‘consequence of rebelling against God, but rather as being left behind in the process of liberation experienced by society in the course of the history of the world’ “(The Presbyterian Journal, November 17, 1982). As theologian Helmut Thielicke has stated, “We can only note with alarm the byways and wrong ways of an ecclesiastical institution which has strayed from the Father’s mansion of the gospel into the alien world of an ideological spell” (Christianity Today, November 20, 1981),

The World Council of Churches’ next assembly is scheduled for 1983 in Vancouver. The decisions generated from this massive gathering will be reflected in the actions of the National Council of Churches. Will there be a turning away from the present course of left-wing political activity, and a returning to the founding intention of establishing the lordship of Christ in all the world? Such a drastic and much needed philosophical and theological realignment is unlikely.

If the majority of the grass-roots constituency would stir, rouse itself, and make itself heard, the Council executives might realize their misdirected guidance, and steer the organizations back onto the intended course. But if the people in the churches of the member denominations keep silent, allowing the Councils to pursue their descent into the shadows of nonreligious political action and theological bankruptcy, the WCC and NCC should be steered clear of by concerned Christians worldwide.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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