Question: "What is the National Council of Churches?"
Answer: The National Council of Churches is an organization dedicated to ecumenical cooperation among churches “of every Christian tradition.” From their official website: “Since 1950, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) has served as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ. NCC unifies a diverse covenant community of 38 member communions—over 40 million individuals—100,000 congregations from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Living Peace traditions—in a common commitment to advocate and represent God’s love and promise of unity in our public square. NCC partners with secular and interfaith partners to advance a shared agenda of peace, progress, and positive change” (all quotes are from www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us, accessed 5/6/19)
Here is a list of the National Council of Churches member communions:
African Methodist Episcopal Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches in the USA
Armenian Church of America, Eastern and Western Dioceses
Assyrian Church of the East
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Church of the Brethren
Community of Christ
Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
Ecumenical Catholic Communion
The Episcopal Church (USA)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Hungarian Reformed Church in America
International Council of Community Churches
Korean Presbyterian Church Abroad
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, American Diocese
Mar Thoma Church
Moravian Church in America, Northern and Southern Provinces
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
Orthodox Church in America
Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA
Polish National Catholic Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Reformed Church in America
Religious Society of Friends, Friends United Meeting
Religious Society of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
The Swedenborgian Church of North America
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Archdiocese of the Eastern United States
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
United Church of Christ
The United Methodist Church
The National Council of Churches understands this ecumenical cooperation as a fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for unity among His followers in John 17:21. They agree on things they can agree on and agree to disagree on things they can’t. “Through their covenant as the NCC, the member communions grow in understanding of each other’s traditions. They work to identify and fully claim those areas of belief they hold in common; they celebrate the diverse and unique gifts that each church brings to ecumenical life; and together they study issues that divide the churches. And they cooperate in many joint programs of education, advocacy, and service that address critically important needs and witness to our common faith in Jesus Christ.”
The NCC statement of faith is as follows: “The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord.
“These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church. Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God.”
This unity finds primary expression through social action and “social justice.” The goals of the NCC are clearly delineated:
“In faith, responding to our Creator, we celebrate the full humanity of each woman, man, and child, all created in the divine image as individuals of infinite worth, by working for:
• Full civil, political and economic rights for women and men of all races.
• Abolition of forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children.
• Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage, with equal pay for comparable work.
• The rights of workers to organize, and to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth.
• Protection from dangerous working conditions, with time and benefits, to enable full family life.
• A system of criminal rehabilitation, based on restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.
“In the love incarnate in Jesus, despite the world’s sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of community, by working for:
• Abatement of hunger and poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.
• High-quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare.
• An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.
• Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.
• Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers’ rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.
• Sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety.
• Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.
“In hope sustained by the Holy Spirit, we pledge to be peacemakers in the world and stewards of God’s good creation, by working for:
• Adoption of simpler lifestyles for those who have enough; grace over greed in economic life.
• Access for all to clean air and water and healthy food, through wise care of land and technology.
• Sustainable use of earth’s resources, promoting alternative energy sources and public transportation with binding covenants to reduce global warming and protect populations most affected.
• Equitable global trade and aid that protects local economies, cultures, and livelihoods.
• Peacemaking through multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral force, the abolition of torture, and a strengthening of the United Nations and the rule of international law.
• Nuclear disarmament and redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses.
• Cooperation and dialogue for peace and environmental justice among the world’s religions.
“We—individual Christians and churches—commit ourselves to a culture of peace and freedom that embraces non-violence, nurtures character, treasures the environment, and builds community, rooted in a spirituality of inner growth with outward action. We make this commitment together—as members of Christ’s body, led by the one Spirit—trusting in the God who makes all things new.”
The National Council of Churches also seeks to strengthen understanding and relationships between Christians and those of other faiths as they work for the common good of humanity.
Certainly, the concepts of unity, justice, and cooperation are noble ideals. The problem is that the National Council of Churches focuses on relationships between people without addressing the key problem of sin and humanity’s relationship with God. The reason that people treat each other badly is that they are sinners at heart and need to be made new in Christ. No amount of organization and mutual understanding can change the human heart. The NCC allows for different ideas on how we are reconciled to God and suggests that Scripture is not clear on this issue or on what place the work of Christ may play in the lives of people in other religions. However, for the NCC these are secondary issues; the primary issue is showing love to other people regardless of their position or religious persuasion.
It cannot be denied that good works are biblical, but they are not the primary unifying factor for Christians. Paul emphasizes that the facts surrounding the gospel are primary: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–5). The books of Romans and Ephesians also emphasize this priority. The first half of each book is all about sin and how a person can be right with God through Jesus Christ. It is only after laying the doctrinal foundation that practical matters of interpersonal behavior are addressed. In Galatians, Paul condemns others who were claiming to preach Christ but were adding to the gospel (Galatians 1:6–9). He had no interest in unity with “Christians” who took a different view of the gospel, nor did he feel that his strong condemnation of “a different gospel” was in violation of Jesus’ prayer for unity among believers. In fact, Paul says, those who hold to a “different gospel” are not believers. Paul describes them as “false believers” (Galatians 2:4).
Within Christendom, there are two basic “approaches” to Christianity. Many churches and religious bodies believe that the primary message of Christianity deals with relationships between people. Love is the operative command. The National Council of Churches falls into this camp. The other basic approach sees that the primary focus of the Bible is the relationship between God and man. Therefore, evangelism and preaching the gospel take priority. Evangelical churches fall into this category. The churches of the NCC find unity in what they do. Evangelical churches find unity in what they believe; however, evangelical churches are increasingly emphasizing the need for practical good works as the logical outcome of their faith.
It is the sad but inevitable conclusion that many within Christendom who want to love their neighbors and make the world a better place are preaching a false gospel of human effort and are therefore not true believers. While some (though not all) of the goals of the National Council of Churches are noble, we cannot help but conclude that it is not a Christian organization in the biblical sense of the word.