The Doctrine of the Church in These Times
"What is the Church? This question poses the unsolved problem of Protestantism. From the days of the Reformation to our own time, it has never been clear how the Church, in the sense of spiritual life and faith - the fellowship of JESUS CHRIST - is related to the institutions conventionally called Churches." Emil Brunner (Misunderstanding the Church, p. 5)
"The first fact to face is that there is no agreed Christian interpretation of the doctrine of the Church." (Man's Disorder and GOD's Design, Amsterdam Report, p. 17)
"This is true:
If the Churches had been faithful to their commission from CHRIST,
- if they had spoken the word of truth committed to them,
- if they had rightly interpreted to the world the causes of its sicknesses,
- if they had ministered to the world grace and power,
- above all if they had manifested in their own life the only true medicine for the healing of the nations
- if they had done all this, humanity might not have come to the present extremity.
On the contrary, man's disorder finds its most pointed expression in the disorder of the Church itself." H. P, Van Dusen (Man's Disorder and GOD's Design, Introduction)
"Another form of this danger to the Church through human error appears when the congregation absolutely forgets its peculiar endowment and its mission, and devotes itself to the concerns and wishes, the convictions and endeavors of the people who constitute its membership, concerns foreign, and perhaps even directly opposed to, its relation to JESUS CHRIST.
- Then faith in the gospel degenerates into religiosity.
- Love becomes devotion to certain ideals.
- hope becomes confidence in all kinds of social and individual progress.
The Bible is interpreted by alien criteria, and quietly ceases to be read or used . . . The Church has now itself become the world, a 'religious' world, with a prophetic ministry so weak and feeble that the world can well afford to ignore it altogether," Karl Barth (Man's Disorder and GOD's Design, pp. 70, 71)
"It is GOD's Church where the risen Lord operates and works, and it is man's Church which must incessantly be freed from apostasy and superstition, from self-esteem and stubbornness," K. E. Skydsgaard (The Nature of the Church, Edited by R, N. Flew, p. 74).
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Revelation 2:5).
Theological liberalism, searching for a new panacea for the world's ills has finally "re-discovered" the Church, and insists that only a united Church can face effectively the problem of world disorder.
Modernism first raised the cry, "Back to Christ," as a refuge from the Pauline development of Christian doctrine, but the new biblical scholarship which set out to "re-discover" the Jesus of history bogged down in disagreement.
During the first World War, we heard much about "making the world safe for democracy" and liberals literally and figuratively shouldered the gun and set out bravely to solve the problem of tyranny by the method of war. The deep disillusionment of liberalism with that experience is expressed in the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick (The Secret of Victorious living, p. 91) when he says, "If I blame anybody about this matter, it is men like myself who ought to have known better. We went out to the army and explained to these valiant men what a resplendent future they were preparing for their children by their heroic sacrifice. O Unknown Soldier, however can I make that right with you? For sometimes I think I hear you asking me about it." The world was not made safe for democracy, and liberalism passed on to create new nostrums for the salvation of the world.
Then we heard a great deal about "the teaching Church" and the world was to be saved through religious education, patterned after John Dewey, an atheist, rather than CHRIST. It resulted in more biblical illiteracy than before, but it did create a pantheistic appreciation of singing birds and babbling brooks. But religious education was discovered to be more religious than Christian and generally ineffective.
Now the liberals have "re-discovered" the Church and brought into general usage the magic word "ecumenical" which none can really define, but which everybody is supposed to practice. William Adams Brown (Liberal Theology, p. 225) says, "The most significant change that has taken place in the consciousness of the American liberal Christian has been the change in their attitude toward the Church. . . . They had little faith in the ability of the Churches, as at present organized, to make any significant contribution." So the liberals became Church-conscious, and it became more important to be ecumenical than scriptural.
Due to the "re-discovery" of the Church by the liberals, the rise of the ecumenical movements, the whole matter of the nature of the Church, the faith of the Church, the authority of the Church, and the task of the Church became questions of importance again. Believing that the times demand a new study of these questions, we turn to the Word of GOD as our authority.
Chester E. Tulga