World Council of Churches

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The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an inter-church organization founded in 1948. Its members today include most mainstream Christian churches, but not the Catholic Church, which sends accredited observers to meetings.[1] It arose out of the ecumenical movement and has as its basis the following statement:

"The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." [2]

The WCC describes itself as "a worldwide fellowship of 349 global, regional and sub-regional, national and local churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service."[3] It is based at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland.[4] The organization members include denominations, which claim to collectively represent some 590 million people, across the world in ca. 150 countries, including 520,000 local congregations served by 493,000 pastors and priests, in addition to elders, teachers, members of parish councils and others.[5]

History[edit]

After the initial successes of the Ecumenical Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 (chaired by future WCC Honorary President John R. Mott), church leaders agreed in 1937 to establish a World Council of Churches, based on a merger of the Faith and Order Movement (under Charles Brent of the Episcopal Church of the United States) and Life and Work Movement (under Nathan Söderblom of the Lutheran Church of Sweden) organisations.

Its official establishment was deferred with the outbreak of World War II until August 23, 1948. Delegates of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to merge the Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement.[6] This was consolidated by a second meeting at Lund in 1950, for which the British Methodist Robert Newton Flew edited an influential volume of studies, The Nature of the Church.[7] Subsequent mergers were with the International Missionary Council in 1961 and the World Council of Christian Education, with its roots in the 18th century Sunday School movement, in 1971.

WCC member churches include most of the Orthodox Churches; numerous Protestant churches, including the Anglican Communion, some Baptists, many Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian and other Reformed, a sampling of united and independent churches, and some Pentecostal churches; and some Old Catholic churches.

Many churches who refused to join the WCC joined together to form the World Evangelical Alliance.[8]

Delegates sent from the member churches meet every seven or eight years in an Assembly, which elects a Central Committee that governs between Assemblies. A variety of other committees and commissions answer to the Central Committee and its staff. Assemblies have been held since 1948.

The "human rights abuses in communist countries evoked grave concern among the leaders of the World Council of Churches."[9] However, historian Christopher Andrew claims that, during the Cold War, a number of important WCC representatives of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe had been working for the KGB, and that they influenced the policy of the WCC.[10]

At the 1961 conference, a 32-year old Russian Orthodox Bishop named Aleksey Ridiger was sent as delegate to the assembly, and then appointed to the WCC's central committee. He was later elected as Russian patriarch in 1990 as Alexei II.[11]

An assembly last met in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006, under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world".[12] During the first Assemblies, theologians Vasileios Ioannidis and Amilkas Alivizatos contributed significantly to the debates that led to the drafting of the "Toronto Statement", a foundational document which facilitated Eastern Orthodox participation in the organization and today it constitutes its ecclesiological charter.[13]

In 2013 Dr. Agnes Abuom of Nairobi, from the Anglican Church of Kenya, was elected as moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches; she is the first woman and the first African to hold this position.[14]

Events and presidents[edit]

Assemblies[edit]

The World Council of Churches held 10 Assemblies to date, starting with the founding assembly in 1948:[15]

Presidents[edit]

The Presidents of the World Council of Churches are:[17]

A former president of the WCC was Rev. Martin Niemöller, the famous Protestant anti-Nazi theologian.

General Secretaries[edit]

Since the World Council of Churches was officially founded in 1948, the following men have served as general secretary:[18]

Years Name Churches Nationality
1948–1966 W. A. Visser 't Hooft Reformed Churches in the Netherlands/Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Geneva Netherlands
1966–1972 Eugene Carson Blake United Presbyterian Church (USA) U.S.
1972–1984 Philip A. Potter Methodist Church Dominica
1985–1992 Emilio Castro Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay Uruguay
1993–2003 Konrad Raiser Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Germany
2004–2009 Samuel Kobia Methodist Church in Kenya Kenya
2010– Olav Fykse Tveit Church of Norway Norway

Commissions and Teams[edit]

There are two complementary approaches to ecumenism: dialogue and action. The Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement represent these approaches.[19] These approaches are reflected in the work of the WCC in its commissions, these being:

  • Echos- Commission on Youth (ages 18–30)
  • Commission of the Churches on Diakonia and Development
  • Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation
  • Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
  • Commission on Justice, Peace and Creation
  • Commission on World Mission and Evangelism
  • Faith and Order Plenary Commission and the Faith and Order Standing Commission
  • Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals
  • Joint Working Group WCC – Roman Catholic Church (Vatican)
  • Reference Group on the Decade to Overcome Violence
  • Reference Group on Inter-Religious Relations
  • Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC

Diakonia and Development & International Relations Commissions[edit]

The WCC acts through both its member churches and other religious and social organizations to coordinate ecumenical, evangelical, and social action.

Current WCC programs include a Decade to Overcome Violence, an international campaign to combat AIDS/HIV in Africa and the Justice, Peace and Creation initiative.

Faith and Order Commission[edit]

WCC's Faith and Order Commission has been successful in working toward consensus on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, on the date of Easter, on the nature and purpose of the church (ecclesiology), and on ecumenical hermeneutics.

Texts[edit]

Justice, Peace and Creation Commission[edit]

Justice, Peace and Creation has drawn many elements together with an environmental focus. Its mandate is:

To analyze and reflect on justice, peace and creation in their interrelatedness, to promote values and practices that make for a culture of peace, and to work towards a culture of solidarity with young people, women, Indigenous Peoples and racially and ethnically oppressed people.[25]

Focal issues have been globalization and the emergence of new social movements (in terms of people bonding together in the struggle for justice, peace, and the protection of creation).[26]

Attention has been given to issues around:

Relations with the Catholic Church[edit]

The largest Christian body, the Catholic Church, is not a member of the WCC, but has worked closely with the Council for more than three decades and sends observers to all major WCC conferences as well as to its Central Committee meetings and the Assemblies (cf. Joint Working Group).

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also nominates 12 members to the WCC's Faith and Order Commission as full members. While not a member of the WCC, the Roman Catholic Church is a member of some other ecumenical bodies at regional and national levels, for example, the National Council of Churches in Australia and the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC).

Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC[edit]

A Special Commission was set up by the eighth Harare Assembly in December 1998 to address Orthodox concerns about WCC membership and the Council's decision-making style, public statements, worship practices, and other issues.

The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC represents the potential for fresh and creative high-level discussion about the structure and life of the Council, a discussion explicitly seen as continuing the foundations laid by the process and the policy document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches".

Peace Journalism[edit]

The WCC is also a prominent supporter and practitioning body for Peace Journalism: journalism practice that aims to avoid a value bias in favor of violence that often characterizes coverage of conflict.[35]

Spin-offs and related organizations[edit]

The ACT Alliance, bringing together over 100 church-backed relief and development organizations worldwide, was born out of the merger of ACT International (Action by Churches Together International) and ACT Development (Action by Churches Together for Development) in March 2010. Both ACT International, established in 1995, and ACT Development (2007) were created through the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The two bodies coordinated the work of agencies related to the member churches of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation in the areas of humanitarian emergencies and poverty reduction respectively.[36]

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance was officially founded in December 2000 at a meeting convened by the WCC. There are currently 73 churches and Christian organizations that are members of the Alliance, from Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. These members, representing a combined constituency of tens of millions of people around the world, are committed to working together in public witness and action for justice on defined issues of common concern. Current campaigns are on Food and on HIV and AIDS.[37]

The Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF) was founded in 1946 as one of the world's first international micro-credit institutions in the service of the poor. Willem Visser 't Hooft, then general secretary of the "WCC in process of formation" played an important role in founding ECLOF. It was he who sketched the prospects and challenges for the proposed institution and gave specific ideas on potential sources of funds. His inspiration and team work marked the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation between ECLOF and the WCC.[38]

Ecumenical News International (ENI) was launched in 1994 as a global news service reporting on ecumenical developments and other news of the churches, and giving religious perspectives on news developments worldwide. The joint sponsors of ENI, which is based at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland, are the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches, which also have their headquarters at the Ecumenical Centre.[39]

Regional/national councils[edit]

The WCC has not sought the organic union of different Christian denominations, but it has, however, facilitated dialogue and supported local, national, and regional dialogue and cooperation.

Membership in a regional or national council does not mean that the particular group is also a member of the WCC.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cross & Livingstone The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church OUP(1974) art.
  2. ^ "About us — World Council of Churches". oikoumene.org. 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  3. ^ single. Publications.oikoumene.org. Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  4. ^ World Council of Churches — World Council of Churches. Oikoumene.org (2013-08-04). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  5. ^ "Who are we?". World Council of Churches. 2003. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  6. ^ "WCC Assemblies 1948 - today". World Council of Churches. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Flew's ODNB entry: Retrieved 18 September 2011. Subscription required.
  8. ^ http://www.worldea.org/
  9. ^ Forsythe, David P. (2009). Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. p. 277. ISBN 0195334027. 
  10. ^ Christopher Andrew, "KGB Foreign Intelligence from Brezhnev to the Coup"', in: Wesley K. Wark (ed), Espionage: past, present, future?, Routledge, 1994, p. 52: "One recently declassified document of 1969 describes the work of five KGB agents on the WCC Central Committee and the appointment of another to a 'high WCC post'. A similar report from 1989 claims that, as a result of agent operations to implement 'a plan approved by the KGB leadership', the WCC Executive and Central Committee adopted public statements (eight) and messages (three) which corresponded to the political course of Socialist [Communist] countries'. While it would be naive to take such boasting entirely a face value, there can be little doubt about the reality of Soviet penetration of the WCC."
  11. ^ John Gordon Garrard et al., Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia., p. 37 f. Google books preview here [1].
  12. ^ Strong impact, lasting memories
  13. ^ "WCC General Secretary Welcome Speech of the Official Visit of His Beatitude Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and of All Greece to the World Council of Churches, 29 May 2006". World Council of Churches. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  14. ^ http://allafrica.com/stories/201311081461.html
  15. ^ Timeline | | World Council of Churches. Oikoumene.org. Retrieved on 2014-01-15.
  16. ^ 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches — WCC 10th Assembly. WCC-Assembly.info (2012-10-29). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  17. ^ Press Center | World Council of Churches. Oikoumene.org. Retrieved on 2014-01-13.
  18. ^ WCC general secretaries since 1948 | | World Council of Churches. Oikoumene.org. Retrieved on 2014-01-15.
  19. ^ What is Faith and Order?
  20. ^ Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Paper No. 111, the “Lima Text”)
  21. ^ Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Towards a Common Date of Easter, (10 March 1997), World Council of Churches/Middle East Council of Churches Consultation held at Aleppo, Syria, 5 - 10 March 1997
  25. ^ World Council of Churches Justice, Peace and Creation
  26. ^ Schmitthenner, Ulrich (1999). Contributions of churches and civil society to justice, peace and the integrity of creation: a compendium (with CD-ROM). Frankfurt, Germany: IKO. ISBN 3-88939-491-4. 
  27. ^ JPC Concerns - economy
  28. ^ Climate change and water
  29. ^ JPC Concerns - indigenous
  30. ^ JPC Concerns - Peace
  31. ^ World Council of Churches — World Council of Churches. Wcc-coe.org (2013-08-04). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  32. ^ JPC: Racism (E)
  33. ^ JPC Concerns - Women
  34. ^ Youth in the ecumenical movement
  35. ^ World Council of Churches Living Letters - Ecumenical team visits
  36. ^ WCC press release: Churches launch major humanitarian alliance (24/03/2010)
  37. ^ WCC press release: Christian alliance for advocacy marks successes, future challenges (09/12/2010)
  38. ^ ECLOF press release: Happy Birthday WCC! (Dec. 1998)
  39. ^ eni.ch
  40. ^ All Africa Conference of Churches - Welcome
  41. ^ Index
  42. ^ CEC-KEK.org
  43. ^ Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias
  44. ^ The Middle East Council of Churches
  45. ^ Pacificforum.com - Stay Tuned!

Bibliography[edit]

  • W. A. Visser't Hooft, The Genesis of the World Council of Churches, in: A History of The Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948, R. Rose, S. Ch. Neill (ed.), London: SPCK 1967, second edition with revised bibliography, pp. 697–724.

External links[edit]