COCU Meeting Adopts Principles of Church Union

Diocesan Press Service. May 10, 1966 [43-1A]

The Consultation on Church Union--an attempt by eight Protestant communions to form a united church "truly catholic, truly evangelical and truly reformed"--took steps designed to insure the widest possible discussion and involvement by members of the participating churches in agreement on principles for such a united church during its fifth annual meeting in Dallas, Tex., the first week in May.

In a series of interrelated actions, adopted without dissent by the 72 delegates, nine from each communion, the meeting:

1. Adopted a 4,000-word open letter and requested the participating churches to give it immediate and wide transmission through their own channels.

2. Approved a document on "Principles of Church Union", sent it to the constituencies of the churches involved for study and comment with the understanding that this document, together with suggestions received from the churches and after approval by the Consultation, shall become the basis upon which to draw up a plan of union.

3. Received a paper on "The Structure of the Church", for transmission to the participating churches for information, study and comment.

4. Set the discussion and approval of principles of structure and organization of a united church as the major subject of its next meeting, to be held May 1-4, 1967, in Cambridge, Mass., with the Episcopal Church as host.

5. Approved an outline of time schedule and procedure for the establishing of a united church within 5--13 years, with the understanding that the time schedule may be modified in the future by the Consultation.

Present participants in the Consultation are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical United Brethren Church, The Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Two of these churches, the A. M. E. Church and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., have joined the Consultation since its last meeting in Lexington, Ky. The Southern Presbyterians joined the Consultation only the week before, after action by its General Assembly meeting in April.

Also present were consultant-observers from 17 Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. A new group to send an observer-consultant this year was the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.

The "Principles of Church Union" approved by the delegates and sent out to the participating churches dealt with the four crucial areas of faith, worship, sacraments and the ministry. Without attempting to reach precise and unchangeable language, general consensus was reached on such subjects as the relation of scripture and tradition, the use of creeds, baptism and Holy Communion, and the different types of ministry in the united church. Among the more outstanding agreements reached were these:

Maximum freedom and flexibility must be preserved. This principle underlies several other decisions.

The Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed will be used, together with other new creeds that may be devised at a future date. While accepting historic confessions the united church will not permit "the use of any single confession as an exclusive requirement for all or as a basis for divisions within the new community."

While hoping to develop new services of worship, there should be encouraged in every region and congregation "planned use and interpretation" of worship services and liturgies of all the churches involved. Any new forms of worship should recognize and encourage "as wide and rich a variety of mode and manner of worship as is compatible with unity."

Both infant baptism and believer's baptism will be accepted as alternative practices in the united church. Neither shall be imposed contrary to conscience. Baptism is to be administered only once but there will be provided a solemn act confirming baptismal vows.

The Lord's Supper shall only be celebrated by an ordained presbyter or bishop, although it is desirable that deacons and unordained men and women assist in the service in appropriate ways. Baptized Christians who are eligible to receive holy communion in their own churches are eligible to receive the sacrament.

While the ministry of the church is the ministry of the entire people of God, there will be three branches of the representative ministry: bishops, presbyters and deacons. In making the decision, no single doctrine of their nature or authority is accepted to the exclusion of others.

In receiving and passing on the paper on "The Structure of the Church", the Consultation added several comments, while pointing out that they would "regard any final decisions at present as premature. " Among their comments, they:

Commended a proposal that "task groups" for renewal of the church and for mission to the world be given a place of importance alongside parish congregations.

Favored the idea of a district small enough to facilitate the work of the bishop as chief pastor, the brotherhood of the clergy, and genuine interchange among the congregations.

Called for continued study on the placement of ministers, since widely varying systems exist within the eight denominations.

Recognized many problems resulting from "the sheer size" of the united church and stated they "feel the need of a sound sociological approach to problems of communication and decision making."

The time schedule and procedure are outlined in a paper, "Steps and Stages Toward a United Church." There are five of each. With the actions taken at Dallas, the Consultation enters on stage 3--preparing for a Plan of Union, the adoption of which would be step 3. Step 4 would be the unification of ministry and membership of the participating churches and the establishment of a Provisional Council, a central planning and administrative authority to assume responsibility for all significant corporate authority in the new church. This is the step where the "bones of a new church" would come into being and which might be reached in a period five to thirteen years in the future.

The final step, writing and adoption of a constitution of the united church, is foreseen as coming after a long period of mutual experience and understanding and no definite time table is contemplated.

Next meeting of the Consultation, will be chaired by the group's new chairman, the Rev. David Colwell; pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, D. C. Methodist Bishop James K. Mathews of Boston is the new vice-chairman and the Rev. Dr. George G. Beazley, Jr., of Indianapolis, Ind., president of the Council on Christian Unity of the Christian Churches, is secretary.

The retiring chairman is the Rt. Rev. Robert F. Gibson, Jr., Bishop of Virginia. He will represent the Episcopal Church on the executive committee of the Consultation for the next two years.

Other Episcopal representatives were the Rt. Rev. Stephen Bayne, director of Executive Council's Overseas Department; the Rt. Rev. G. Francis Burrill, Bishop of Chicago; Dr. Peter Day, ecumenical officer; the Rt. Rev. Richard Emrich, Bishop of Michigan; the Rev. Albert T. Mollegen, Virginia Seminary; the Rev. Canon Enrico Molnar, Diocese of Los Angeles; J. L. Pierson, Diocese of Missouri; the Rev. William Wolf, Episcopal Theological Seminary, and Presiding Bishop Hines.


Bishop Kurt Scharf, Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg of the German Evangelical Church and chairman of the council of German churches, and Dr. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, a German Council executive from West Berlin, visited the Consultation in Dallas May 3.

At a press conference at the conclusion of the fifth annual Consultation, Virginia's Bishop Gibson said "we came out of the meeting with more strength than we had when we went into it. " The new chairman, the Rev. David Colwell of Washington, told the group that his interest in the Consultation on Church Union is not interest in the numbers game but rather a desire to find the will of Christ for his Church.

One of the Roman Catholic consultant-observers at the meeting, the Rev. George H. Tavard of Mt. Mercy College, Pittsburgh, told reporters in Dallas that it is premature to talk of Roman Catholic-Protestant union and that Roman Catholics would want doctrinal union before such talks.

The Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, World Council of Churches general secretary-elect, was presented a citation by the Consultation on Church Union in appreciation for his many contributions. The presentation was made at a dinner during the recent Dallas meeting.