Does God Favor a Union of All Religions?
THE Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council has caused quite a stir among Christendom’s clergymen. The Council “may have an effect as profound as anything since the days of Martin Luther,” said a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church.1 “If we should pray for anyone in the world today,” says Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, “we should pray for Pope John.”1 And just before the first session of the Council ended, a noted Catholic theologian, Dr. Hans Küng, said that far more important than promulgating formal decrees has been the development of a new “theology of union.”2
With the Roman Catholics speaking of a “theology of union” and the Protestants excited about the Council and the pope’s talk of unity, the question arises: Does God favor a union of all religions?
Much would depend upon what the objective is. Is it a movement to get back to the pure teachings and practices of the early Christians? Or is it a movement to have unity of headquarters and an easy tolerance of conflicting religious teachings? The apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Corinth: “I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Cor. 1:10) Is this the objective of Christendom’s unity movement?
To see whether the rooting out of falsehoods and traditions and the going back to the unspotted worship of the early Christians are the objectives of the so-called ecumenical or unity movement, let us take a brief look at the movement’s history.
THE MOVE TOWARD RELIGIOUS UNITY
One of the major early efforts to promote religious union was the World Parliament of Religions, held in the American city of Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. The theme on the last day of that clerical convention was “The Religious Union of the Whole Human Family.” Cleric T. Chalmers of the Disciples Church said:
“The first Parliament of Religions seems to be the harbinger of a still larger fraternity that will combine into one world-religion what is best, not in one alone, but in all of the great historic faiths. It may be that, under the guidance of this larger hope, we shall need to revise our phraseology and speak more of Religious unity, than of Christian unity.”3
Note that the emphasis was on all religions getting together rather than on Christians going back to the unified teaching of the early Christians. The idea was for Christians not only to put up with conflicting doctrines but also to put up with pagan religions, for a newspaper report said of that gathering in Chicago: “The creeds of Christendom, Buddhist and Baptist, Mohammedan and Methodist, Catholic and Confucian, Brahmin and Unitarian, Shinto and Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Pantheist, Monotheist and Polytheist, representing all shades of thought and conditions of men, have at last met together.”3
How would those religious leaders go about uniting such a colossal hodgepodge of religions? The formula for such a union was discussed back there in 1893 by cleric J. H. Barrows, who said:
“Those churches which are most nearly on common ground of faith and doctrine must unite—the various branches of Methodism and Presbyterianism, for instance. Then when the sects are united among themselves Protestantism in general will draw together. In the progress of education Catholics and Protestants will discover that the differences between them are not really cardinal, and will broach reunion. This accomplished, the union with other different religions [pagan] is only a question of time.”3
How has this “theology of union” fared since 1893? The progress, clergymen admit, has been slow. In 1908, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America came into being. Then followed a number of conferences, such as the 1927 Lausanne Conference on Faith and Order, which spurred churches to try to understand one another despite their conflicting teachings. Then at Amsterdam, in 1948, the World Council of Churches came into formal existence.
The World Council of Churches has since spearheaded the ecumenical movement among Protestants and non-Roman churches. Since its formation, this council has met twice in general assembly. It met in 1954 at Evanston, Illinois, the Protestant clergymen being somewhat elated because the Roman Catholic Church sent unofficial observers. Then in 1961 the World Council of Churches met in New Delhi, India; this time there were official tag-wearing Catholic observers, the Catholics even marching in the opening ecclesiastical procession, rubbing shoulders with Orthodox, Baptist and Pentecostal participants.
With the urge to merge being made more and more prominent, a number of mergers have followed, as in India, where the Episcopal, Congregational and Presbyterian churches were molded into a single Church of South India, which draws on the theologies of each. Also in the United States, for instance, the Reformed, Christian, Congregational and Evangelical Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ.
Besides some actual mergers there have been many expressions of the growing urge to merge; for example, between Britain’s Anglican and Methodist churches. In America Presbyterian leader Eugene Carson Blake dramatically proposed a merger of his denomination with the Episcopal, Methodist and United Church of Christ groups.
What has especially stimulated the merger movement, of course, has been Pope John XXIII’s call for an ecumenical conference—not a conference with Protestants but an assembly for Catholic leaders, with Protestants attending only as observers. This Catholic conference has come to be known as Vatican II, since it is only the second Catholic Council to have met in the Vatican itself. (Previous Councils met at other locations; the first one to meet at the Vatican was in 1869.) One purpose of the Council, declared Pope John XXIII, is to help “clear away some of the roadblocks” to reunion of religions.
VIEWS OF THE CATHOLIC COUNCIL
In the minds of some clergymen the Catholic Council had an auspicious background in the fact that Pope John XXIII had had a private meeting with the archbishop of Canterbury, the first archbishop of Canterbury to call on a pope since the Church of England separated from Rome in 1534.
Enthusiastic and glowing accounts of the Catholic Council have appeared even in nonreligious magazines. Typical of many are the words of The Saturday Evening Post, which said: “The Ecumenical council of Pope John XXIII . . . is still one of the most significant events in religious history. It is a move toward unity, in the slow tradition of the Church, as evidenced by invitations to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and to observers from the Church of England, the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Presbyterian Alliance, groups which effectively represent 351 non-Catholic churches in more than eighty countries.”4
Catching the spirit of the theology of union, the religious journal The Christian Century, which had called itself “An Undenominational Weekly,” changed over to calling itself “An Ecumenical Weekly,” saying: “The council may prove to be the most important religious event of our time. . . . The Second Vatican Council extended the ecumenical movement. . . . The success of the World Council [of Churches] has made it possible for the pope to bring a Catholic council into existence much earlier than would have been possible otherwise.”5
Illustrating the keen Protestant interest in the Catholic Council is the fact that leaders of the Episcopal, United Presbyterian, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox and other churches have urged prayers by their members in the council’s behalf. For example, Anglican Bishop E. S. Reed of Canada urged his group: “Will you, a loyal Anglican, pray for the Pope’s Ecumenical Conference that God may use it for His glory?”
So, as religious leaders talk about religious unity and urge prayers for the pope’s conference, it is timely for true Christians to go to God’s Word, the Holy Bible, to see what the divine will is concerning a union of all religions.
GOD’S VIEW OF A RELIGIOUS UNION
Since the Israelites were God’s people in ancient times, it is well to ask: Did God direct the Israelites to merge with other religions? The Bible account shows that instead of fusing them with other religions, God separated them. He freed his people from Egypt and the idolatrous worship there. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Almighty God instructed them to stay away from the Canaanite religion of the people; hence the Bible record says:
“Jehovah continued to speak to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and you must say to them, “I am Jehovah your God. The way the land of Egypt does, in which you dwelt, you must not do; and the way the land of Canaan does, into which I am bringing you, you must not do; and in their statutes you must not walk. My judicial decisions you should carry out, and my statutes you should keep so as to walk in them. I am Jehovah your God.”’”—Lev. 18:1-4.
When the Israelites disobeyed that divine command and started to mix with the pagan religions, God’s anger was aroused: “So I, in turn, have said, ‘I shall not drive them away from before you, and they must become snares to you, and their gods will serve as a lure to you.’”—Judg. 2:3.
God’s will was no different with the early Christians; they were to shun union with any false religions, which all other groups were. Jesus Christ made it clear that true Christians were not to unite with other groups, not even with groups such as the Pharisees who professed to worship the same true God, Jehovah. Declared the Son of God: “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Let them be. Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Jesus explained that the traditions of those religious leaders had made “the word of God invalid,” so true Christians must shun such religions; for as Christ’s apostle Paul was later to state: “A little leaven ferments the whole lump.”—Matt. 15:13, 14, 6; Gal. 5:9.
So true Christians cannot condone traditions of men that invalidate God’s Word. Yet the present unity movement in Christendom would require Christians to be tolerant of conflicting doctrines, many of which must be false. Said Dr. Samuel McCrea Cavert, recently retired as executive secretary of the New York office of the World Council of Churches: “The question is whether we can find a united church where there is enough room for differences.” The assumption, then, is that God would put up with falsehood, even a little falsehood. But on the contrary, Christ’s apostle declared: “Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole lump?”—1 Cor. 5:6.
GOD IS DIVIDING PEOPLE
Moreover, how can religious leaders expect God to favor a union of all religions when God through his King Jesus Christ is dividing people?
Yes, Jesus Christ foretold a great dividing work for these last days in his illustrative parable of the sheep and goats: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”—Matt. 25:31-33.
Hence people of all nations are being separated, some into the sheep class, some into the goat class. From Jesus’ statement that “broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it,” it is clear that the majority of people are being separated into the goat class. (Matt. 7:13) How, then, could those truly of the sheep class even think of union with those who give evident manifestation of being of the goat class? Can man unite what God is dividing?
Not that God does not favor true Christian unity; he does, but not at the expense of purity of doctrine. God favors unity of Christians in one true religion—worship that centers around the pure religion as practiced by early Christians before it became corrupted with conflicting doctrines and corrupting traditions. God favors true Christianity, which is based on his Holy Word and which centers around the kingdom of God. That is God’s way to religious unity, and it is the way the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses has chosen. For details see the special Awake! of April 22, 1962, entitled “Early Christianity and Modern-Day Religion,” available from the Watch Tower Society. Therein are presented the facts of early Christian worship and who measure up to it today.
Since God is dividing people, he could never favor a union of all religions. What God favors is one true religion and the uprooting, not the uniting, of all the rest. This will take place at God’s war of Armageddon when ‘every plant that the heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted.’—Matt. 15:13.
1 Time, January 4, 1963.
2 New York Times, December 6, 1962.
3 Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. IV, pp. 181-183.
4 Issue of October 6, 1962.
5 Issue of January 2, 1963.