8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
4.7. Report of Policy Reference Committee I

Click to any of the following:
I. The moderator's report
II. The general secretary's report
III. The policy statement "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC"
IV. Applications for membership
V. Relationships with the Orthodox churches
VI. Relationships with regional ecumenical organizations
VII. National councils of churches (NCCs)
VIII. Relationships with Christian world communions (CWCs)
IX. Relationships with the Roman Catholic Church: the seventh report of the JWG
X. Relationships with evangelicals
XI. Relations with Pentecostal churches
XII. Proposal for a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations
XIII. Amendments to the Constitution and Rules
Appendix I The Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria)
Appendix II Proposals regarding a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations

I. The moderator's report

The moderator's report offers a comprehensive assessment of the WCC's activities since the last assembly. It contains a challenging analysis of the present ecumenical dynamics, and points to the role of the WCC within the "one ecumenical movement", recalling the lessons learned from the reflection process leading to the policy statement, "Towards A Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" (CUV). It offers an honest evaluation of the relationships between the Orthodox churches and the WCC, and suggests constructive and mutually agreed solutions. It presents an encouraging reading of churches' attitudes towards human rights and the challenge of globalization. It also presents a forward-looking policy, integrating a vision for the role of the younger generation in the ecumenical movement.

The moderator called for confidence in the future, while speaking openly about a crisis caused by many factors, and summoning the Council to self-criticism and redefinition of its future orientations, its structures and its activities. Emphasizing the fact that there is a "crisis of institutional ecumenism", the report recalls that this crisis should not be uncritically qualified either as a "crisis of the ecumenical movement", or as "an Orthodox crisis" as such.

The awareness of a new situation calls for renewal. The CUV process has been an effort to give fresh expression to and reflect the coherence and integrity of the ecumenical vision. In the spirit of this process, the report calls for conversion and transformation, for an assessment of our understanding of the church in an ecumenical context, although it recognizes that some churches are not fully satisfied with the changes proposed. It stresses therefore the fact that the CUV process must be seen as continuous.

It is within the context of such a process that the report places Orthodox concerns. It reaffirms Orthodox commitment to the ecumenical movement, highlights the Orthodox contribution to the WCC, interprets the causes of present difficulties, and informs the assembly about the initiatives taken or the efforts made so far. Against this background, it suggests that a space be provided in which Orthodox churches engage in creative interaction with other member churches.

The report affirms the need for the WCC and its member churches to redefine and rearticulate their commitment to human rights, justice, peace and reconciliation. While the comprehensiveness of the report is to be stressed, one should also take note of the ensuing discussion, bringing forward the issue of forgiveness and repentance as integral part of the reconciliation process, and the issue of corruption which could be qualified as a chronic disease affecting all societies and all spheres of life.

In practically all parts of the report there are references to youth and a call for an integrated youth engagement in the ecumenical movement. This reminder was further strengthened by the moderator's response during the plenary discussion, that the churches themselves should create more opportunities for youth participation in their lives and in the ecumenical movement.

In 2001 Easter will fall on a common date, 15 April. The moderator highlighted the possibility of this point in time being a step toward a common celebration of Easter.

The eighth assembly received the moderator's report with appreciation and gratitude for what he has brought to the life of the Council since the WCC's seventh assembly.

II. The general secretary's report

The general secretary's report, reflecting and interpreting the experiences of the WCC and its member churches in the last years, leads from a realistic description of the jubilee assembly, through the present difficulties and challenges, to an ecumenical vision for the coming century. Referring to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the WCC, the report opts for a realistic assessment of the present ecumenical situation, recalling the signs of uncertainties about the purpose of the fellowship in the WCC and the doubts about the future of the ecumenical movement.

The report asks what inspiration and orientation can be drawn from the jubilee tradition for the common journey towards communion and what the place and task of the WCC could or should be in this context. Using the image of "institutional captivity", the report invites a thorough reflection on the meaning of "ecumenical space" today, an understanding inspired mainly by the theology of life programme. This is an attempt to overcome the limits of the present institutional ecumenism which goes far beyond the fellowship of the WCC member churches. The numerous possibilities for applying the notion of "ecumenical space" to a variety of activities and programmes of the WCC calls for a further deepening and exploration of its ecumenical implications. This could be the task, in the coming years, of teams and clusters in the new configuration of the WCC.

Following and sharing the moderator's concerns for the state of relationships with the Orthodox, the report widens the horizon and raises questions about the present institutional understanding of membership which reflects both choices made in past, and most recent, developments. The report does not try to provide solutions. It simply raises the question whether there are other forms of participation than institutional membership. It also raises the question whether the formation of a forum could give tangible expression to the WCC's readiness to foster wider relationships with ecumenical partners beyond its membership. Both questions invite further reflection and response during and after this assembly.

The report concludes with a reference to the second part of the assembly theme, "Rejoice in Hope", the core of a vision which could carry the churches as they move into the 21st century, an ecumenical vision which could be compelling enough to inspire the new generation.

The eighth assembly received the general secretary's report with appreciation and gratitude.

III. The policy statement: "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC"

The policy statement "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" (CUV) is presented to the assembly by the central committee as a significant milestone in an on going journey of self-reflection on the nature and purpose of the ecumenical movement in general, and the World Council of Churches' vocation in particular. Informed by several years of sustained theological reflection by the member churches and the various structures of the Council, the CUV process attempts to articulate values and principles that have been and will continue to be at the heart of the ecumenical movement. It identifies ways in which the ecclesial and global context has changed since the founding of the World Council of Churches fifty years ago. Finally, it sets forth a broad agenda for the future life of the Council along with suggestions for ways the Council, with other ecumenical partners, might implement that agenda. In so doing, it takes its place alongside other significant documents of the WCC expressing the Council's intense longing for the visible unity of the church and the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

The full title of the statement, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC," indicates that in this statement the member churches do not yet dare to speak of a common vision or a common understanding. This was evident in the plenary discussions as well as in the reports of the moderator and the general secretary which identified numerous ways in which full consensus has not been achieved in either our vision or our understanding. Thus, while the CUV is completed as a document, its reception in the life of the churches and in the WCC, including further clarifications, corrections and elaborations will be an on going process. Therefore, action by the eighth assembly of the WCC on the CUV document does not imply full agreement with all it contains, but an affirmation that it sets forth a sufficiently rich and promising understanding and vision for shaping and inspiring our future life together, as well as a commitment to draw concrete guidance for specific actions and initiatives in the years immediately following the assembly. The assembly is asked to begin this reception process by acting on a number of recommendations which follow in the report of the Committee dealing with the structure of the Council, the need to attend to the health of relationships among the member churches, particularly including but not limited to the Orthodox members, and the desire to provide a broad "ecumenical space" in which ecumenical relationships may be at once broadened and deepened.

It is clear from the plenary discussion that reception of the CUV document challenges the WCC and its member churches in a number of ways. There is the challenge to find language for our understanding and vision that is accessible and inspiring to all the baptized, not simply to specialists. There is the challenge to avoid being drawn into an institutional preoccupation that obscures the wider ecumenical movement's evangelical commitment to the mission of God. There is the challenge to the member churches to engage in a self-critical review of their commitment to membership and participation. There is the challenge to find new ways for discernment and decision-making in the life of the Council that will enhance the quality of the fellowship while at the same time empowering it for clear and decisive action. There is the challenge to seek ways to share power in the Council to embody its commitment to justice, inclusiveness, mutuality and participation. There is the challenge to nurture an ecumenical spirituality and a moral integrity undergirding a fellowship in which the voices of all are heard with respect and the concerns of all are received with understanding. There is the challenge to be a World Council of Churches serving the vitality and coherence of the one ecumenical movement.

Recognizing that much remains to be done, but with deep appreciation for the insight contained in the policy statement, the Committee affirms "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" as an important milestone in this, the jubilee year of the World Council of Churches, and as the starting point for our journey together into the new millennium.

The eighth assembly received with gratitude "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" and urged the WCC to use it as a framework and point of reference as the WCC programmes are evaluated and developed in the future.

IV. Applications for membership

A. On recommendation of Policy Reference Committee I, the eighth assembly agreed to receive the following churches into full membership of the World Council of Churches:

  1. Christian Protestant Angkola Church (Indonesia)
    (Gereja Kristen Protestant Angkola -GKPA)
  2. Christian Church of Sumba (Indonesia)
    (Gereja Kristen Sumba -GKS)
  3. Harrist Church (Ivory Coast)
    (Eglise Harriste, C“te d'Ivoire)
  4. The Council of African Instituted Churches (CAIC, South Africa)
  5. Reformed Church of Christ in Nigeria
  6. United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe
  7. Anglican Church of Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
  8. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
B. The eighth assembly further agreed to receive the following national councils of churches as associate councils with the World Council of Churches:
  1. Samoa Council of Churches
  2. Council of Protestant Churches of Equatorial Guinea
    (Consejo de Iglesias Evang‚licas de Guinea Ecuatorial)
C. The eighth assembly (according to rule XIV of the rules of the WCC) recognized the following organizations as international ecumenical organizations in working relationship with the World Council of Churches:
  1. Frontier Internship in Mission
  2. Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism
  3. World Young Women's Christian Association
  4. United Bible Societies
  5. Associations of Christian Colleges and Universities: International Ecumenical Forum
D. The Celestial Church of Christ [Nigeria] -see appendix I

[In presenting the above recommendations for action, Policy Reference Committee I is fully aware that the understanding of membership will constitute one of the issues to be further discussed during and after the eighth assembly in the light of the policy statement "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" (CUV) and its implications.]

V. Relationships with the Orthodox churches

In the period following the Canberra assembly it has become clear that the relations of the Orthodox churches with the Council have reached a critical stage. Indeed, two Eastern Orthodox churches have withdrawn from membership in the WCC: the Church of Georgia in 1997 and the Church of Bulgaria in 1998. In their reports to the assembly both the moderator and the general secretary gave thoughtful and careful attention to an assessment of the reasons which have brought the fellowship of the WCC to this critical situation.

At a meeting in May 1998, the Eastern Orthodox churches gave their initial evaluation of the current situation and proposed that a commission be created with the WCC to discuss "the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC". Also in May 1998, at an Orthodox pre-assembly meeting in Damascus, the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox church representatives together evaluated the ecumenical situation in which the Orthodox find themselves. They saw "the need for change which would enable a more effective presence and witness, together with a more constructive and engaged participation of the Orthodox".

The WCC's executive committee has given careful attention to the relationships of the Orthodox churches with the WCC and has affirmed the principles for the creation of a special commission and for the scope of its work (executive committee, Amersfoort, September 1998, doc. no. 7; executive committee, Harare, Zimbabwe, December 1998, doc. no. 5 and 5.1).

While it is the Orthodox concern about the nature and quality of the WCC ecumenical fellowship which has brought before the assembly the need for a special commission after Harare, it is clear that other churches and ecclesial families have their own - and sometimes similar - concerns which will find expression in the work of the commission. Thus in the commission's work, the WCC fellowship will continue the journey "towards common understanding and vision" and make a contribution to the life and ecumenical vision of all the member churches of the WCC. If the commission's work enables the churches, the families of churches and the World Council of Churches to address constructively the challenge we face, this will constitute a living and practical example of the new ethos we are seeking. The opportunity is offered, therefore, not only to manage the present critical situation, but to make a contribution to the quest for Christian unity - a quest not just for negotiated structural compromises but for discernment of God's will, God's truth, and God's love.

The eighth assembly approved the creation of the special commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC, with half of its members to be determined by the Orthodox Churches and half by the executive committee of the WCC after consultation with other member churches.

Further, the eighth assembly:

  1. requested that the special commission study and analyze the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the WCC, recognizing that many of these concerns are of importance to other member churches as well;
  2. asked that the special commission make proposals concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council;
  3. suggested that such proposals will be brought before the central committee for consideration and decision, while necessary constitutional changes will be presented to the next WCC assembly;
  4. proposed that the full scope of the commission's work be projected for a period of at least three years.

VI. Relationships with regional ecumenical organizations (REOs)

The Committee has studied the document on relationships with the regional ecumenical organizations approved by the executive committee (September 1998), particularly the chapter dealing with these relationships in the perspective of CUV. The Committee also considered a number of written responses related to this area of relationships, with special emphasis on possibilities of decentralizing the work of the WCC.

The CUV process has been the subject of dialogue with REOs in various settings during the past two or three years. It has helped the WCC see itself as one of several actors in a polycentric movement in which the REOs are full partners. REOs have begun to see the relevance of the CUV reflection for themselves. Some of the issues which have emerged in these discussions are the widening of ecumenical structures, in particular in the direction of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Pentecostal and evangelical churches, the interaction between movement and institutions, the transition to a younger generation and hence the importance of ecumenical formation.

In its final chapter, the CUV document states that "the relationship between the WCC and regional, national and local councils (conferences) of churches or Christian councils (conferences) is crucial for the vitality and coherence of the ecumenical movement". This includes seeking concrete ways whereby more coordination of activities, joint programme planning and common decision-making can be achieved, taking into account the particularities of the regions. The REOs have also raised the question of their possible representation and participation in WCC structures and processes. The CUV document does not speak to this specifically. Nevertheless, the inter-relatedness of the agendas of the WCC and the REOs and hence the need for coordination are no longer questioned by anybody. The challenge is to move to a common ecumenical agenda which will not only require coordination but steps towards an integration of ecumenical structures.

The issue of regional relationships is also relevant with regard to the proposal for a forum. However, the recent steps forward in REO-WCC relationships and the search for further coordination and integration should not be terminated or suspended if a wider process towards a forum involving more partners would begin. Rather, the present and future REO-WCC developments should eventually find their place in the broader framework of a forum.

In the perspective of the CUV document, relationships with the RCC are of special importance. In three regions (Pacific, Caribbean and Middle East) the RCC is a full member of the REO, in other regions there is increasing cooperation between the REO and its regional Roman Catholic partner body (e.g., Europe and Asia). The REOs have raised on several occasions the question of linking their relationships with the RCC more intentionally with those existing between the WCC and the RCC.

Another aspect of the CUV perspective regarding churches outside of WCC membership is the issue of relationships with evangelical and Pentecostal churches. These churches have formed alliances and fellowships in the regions which in some cases have grown to become representative bodies of a similar nature as the REOs. Responding to CUV's encouragement to "search for new forms of relationships at all levels", the WCC and the REOs could develop a common approach which would create space for a variety of new initiatives.

In light of the information above and in line with the CUV document, the eighth assembly encouraged:

  • the WCC and the REOs to engage in a process of reflection on a common ecumenical agenda and on the nature of the integration of global and regional structural expressions of the ecumenical movement (taking into account other processes, e.g., with the Orthodox and in relation to concept of the forum);
  • the WCC and the REOs to design ways of consultation and decision making on the division of responsibilities for ecumenical programmes;
  • that ways of representation of the REOs on the central committee be considered;
  • that a mechanism be explored whereby persons serving on WCC and REO governing bodies from the same region could meet at least once in between WCC assemblies;
  • that the REOs be consulted on the work of the JWG taking into account the regional cooperation between some of the REOs and the RCC;
  • the WCC and the REOs to develop a common approach to relationships with evangelical and Pentecostal churches and organizations.

VII. National councils of churches (NCCs)

The Committee received a report from staff describing work done in response to the seventh assembly's expression of a need for a "permanent framework of relationships with the NCCs as communities of churches rooted in a specific context". The Committee considered a summary of the work of the third international consultation of national councils of churches in February 1993 in Hong Kong, the "Guidelines for Relationships between National Councils of Churches and the World Council of Churches" adopted by the central committee in 1995, and the work of Unit IV in relating to NCCs in Africa. In addition, it was noted that opportunities were provided for the participation of NCCs in the reflection process leading towards CUV which states that "both the WCC and the REOs recognize the NCCs as essential partners in their work, mediating and coordinating relationships with the member churches in a given country; and this should be recognized in any effort to develop a comprehensive framework linking the different councils and conferences of churches in the one ecumenical movement". In spite of these affirmations and the important work done since the seventh assembly, it is clear that the question of a more effective participation of the NCCs in the WCC has, to this point, not found a satisfactory response.

The eighth assembly encouraged ongoing discussion by the WCC of its relationship to national councils of churches in order to learn from their experiences, and work with them to help member churches with the implementation and ownership of the ecumenical commitment locally and nationally, within the framework of CUV.

VIII. Relationships with Christian world communions (CWCs)

Cooperation between the WCC and various CWCs has to some degree been the case for many decades, examples being WCC presence at the meeting of secretaries of CWCs and the mutually sponsored forum on bilateral dialogues. Recent developments include Action of Churches Together (ACT) and Ecumenical News International (ENI). There is, however, a duplication of programmes and projects within the WCC and other CWCs which cannot be justified. As both are called to ecumenical work, to increase the level of sharing and mutual learning from one another becomes imperative.

It should also be recognized that advances made in the decades-old models of unity debate about conciliar fellowship and unity in reconciled diversity leading to current concepts of visible unity and full communion are the direct result of WCC-CWCs common engagement. Included in this process is the focus upon "ecclesial self-understanding" as manifested by some of the respective CWCs. This fact marks an important characteristic of WCC-CWCs relationships. It is for the reason cited above that the WCC should recognize the historical and ecclesiological uniqueness present in the effort to strengthen the ongoing relationship with the various CWCs.

The CUV document affirms that the WCC's relationship to CWCs is to be marked by mutual accountability and reciprocity. It asks that ways be found to associate such bodies more directly to the organized life of the WCC. The earliest proposal for a forum, for example, strongly supported by a number of CWCs, envisages the possibility of holding assemblies together. Also, the possibility of directly involving CWCs in the decision-making bodies of the WCC was investigated. Both attempts failed because of the present juridical and constitutional framework in which these ecumenical organizations operate. It should be noted here that the proposed constitutional amendment (article III) acknowledges the ecumenical partners of the WCC and sees it as a responsibility of the WCC to move "towards maintaining the coherence of the one ecumenical movement".

The eighth assembly recommended that a process be initiated to facilitate and strengthen the relationships between the WCC and CWCs as called for in the CUV document. The assembly recognizes the unique historical and ecclesiological contribution of CWCs to the one ecumenical movement. The proposed process aims to foster cooperation, effectiveness and efficiency in the quest for visible unity.

The assembly noted with appreciation the important work already done by the conference of secretaries of CWCs, and encouraged that this Conference be called upon to contribute to this work in the future.

IX. Relationships with the Roman Catholic Church: the seventh report of the JWG

The committee has studied carefully the seventh report of the Joint Working Group (JWG) between the RCC and the WCC, taking into consideration the broader framework of relationships summarized in the moderator's report. The Committee expressed deep appreciation for the tangible expression of the irrevocable commitment of the RCC to the ecumenical movement found in the cordial and encouraging message sent to the eighth assembly by Pope John Paul II.

The report describes seven years' intensive work by the JWG. Both the Canberra assembly and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) had encouraged the following priorities for 1991-98: the unity of the church: goal, steps and ecclesiological implications; ecumenical formation and education; ethical issues as new sources of division; common witness in missionary endeavours; social thought and action. The report shows that the JWG has achieved concrete results in meeting most of the prioritized issues in its mandate. However, the ability for the JWG to fulfill its task was hindered by time and decreasing financial and staff resources.

The seventh report is both descriptive and evaluative. It emphasizes the importance of the relationship between the RCC and the WCC as a critical factor in the quest for Christian unity. It highlights some examples of ecumenical cooperation, including at the local level. It recognizes that there are possibilities for dealing with moral and social issues, using differing methodologies while still maintaining fellowship. It points to the fact that particular attention should be given to ecumenical cooperation especially at the local level. It demonstrates, through the representation of the RCC in nearly all of the programme activities of the WCC, the developing cooperation between the two parent bodies of the JWG. Finally, the report leads to some suggestions for future work.

Four issues can be identified throughout the report that are shaping the ecumenical agenda and demonstrating the potential special contribution of the JWG to the ongoing ecumenical dialogue: (a) the unity of the church - koinonia (in cooperation with the Faith and Order commission); (b) ecumenical formation; (c) further study work on moral issues and on common witness, and the resurgence of proselytism; (d) the growing participation of the RCC in the life and witness of NCCs and REOs.

The report also includes three important study documents: (a) "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions"; (b) "The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness"; (c) "Ecumenical Formation: Ecumenical Reflections and Suggestions". The section on the history of the JWG was provided as an educational background to promote better understanding of the JWG.

The Committee acknowledged the positive response of the PCPCU to the seventh report and expressed its appreciation for the suggestions for the future work of the JWG.

The eighth assembly approved the seventh report of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. Further, the eighth assembly endorsed all the specific priorities suggested by the JWG for the next period of its mandate (cf. pp. 22-23 of the report).

The eighth assembly encouraged the JWG to continue its efforts to understand past difficulties and open ways towards new perspectives and possible positive initiatives for future collaboration in the area of "social thought and action".

The executive committee has emphasized that the development of ecumenical relationships depends on the reception of theological dialogues. It has also noted the wider ecumenical implications of recent statements by the RCC. In light of this, the eighth assembly requested the JWG to re-emphasize in its agenda for the period 1998-2005 issues relating to: (a) the nature, purpose and methods of dialogue; (b) the nature of regional and national ecumenical organizations.

Expressing appreciation for the substantial response of the RCC to CUV, the eighth assembly requested the JWG to include in its future agenda the implications of the CUV for the understanding of membership and forms of participation in ecumenical organizations, as well as for the ongoing efforts to widen ecumenical partnership.

As in its seventh report the JWG has "Ahighlighted the ecumenical potential of a worldwide 'common celebration' of the new millennium" (p.15), the eighth assembly requested that the central committee of the WCC take into consideration opportunities to encourage common ecumenical celebrations at local, national, regional and global levels for the year 2000.

X. Relationships with evangelicals

Within the broader framework of relationships with churches which are not members of the WCC, the CUV document recognizes that the fellowship of the WCC is limited by the absence of many evangelical churches. The committee notes that there are some evangelical member churches in the WCC, and that most member churches include persons who describe themselves as evangelicals. Since the seventh assembly contacts have been initiated which have begun to break down barriers. Furthermore, the CUV document calls for the search for new forms of relationship between the WCC and other churches and ecumenical organizations, including evangelicals.

The eighth assembly encouraged the WCC and its member churches to continue the search for new forms of relationships with evangelicals, drawing on the many evangelicals within the WCC and its member churches, in the spirit of the CUV document.

XI. Relations with Pentecostal churches

The Committee considered the proposal to form a Joint Working Group between the WCC and Pentecostals, approved by the executive committee (February, 1998).

The seventh assembly had formulated recommendations concerning the relationships between the WCC and Pentecostals. Since then, several steps have been taken. Consultations, along with visits and other initiatives, have contributed to the opening up of channels of communication through which it is possible to relate to significant levels of leadership of the international Pentecostal movement, as well as to Pentecostals directly involved in local communities. These steps forward, made at the level of the WCC, should be seen in the wider context of other initiatives, e.g., the RC-Pentecostal dialogue, in existence for 25 years, the role of the Latin American Council of Churches in relation to Pentecostal churches in the region, the entry of the Korea Assemblies of God into the National Council of Churches in Korea and the discussions in many local situations.

The eighth assembly approved the proposal of the February 1998 executive committee to form a WCC-Pentecostal joint working group and asked the central committee to monitor the process. On the basis of consultation between the WCC and Pentecostals since the seventh assembly, the assembly recommend that some of the tasks of this joint working group be:

a) consolidating existing relations and broadening the range of WCC and Pentecostal constituencies involved;

b) initiating studies and exchange on issues of common interest, including controversial issues;

c) exploring forms of participation in the spirit of the CUV document which are not primarily based on formal membership in the WCC;

d) encouraging REOs and NCCs to explore possible ways and forms of collaboration.

In making this recommendation, the eighth assembly recognized the important contribution of Pentecostal churches currently members of the World Council of Churches.

XII. Proposal for a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations

The Committee reviewed the parts of the moderator's and general secretary's reports referring to the idea of a Forum, studied the presentation by Marion Best, listened carefully to the plenary discussion, and received written contributions. The Committee received the document, "Proposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations", based on an August 1998 consultation convened following the February 1998 executive committee meeting which encouraged "further exploration of issues as well as the calling of a consultation to examine the proposal (i.e., of a forum) in more detail with key partners". This consultation brought together participants from the conference of Christian world communions, from the REOs and the NCCs, from international ecumenical organizations and from member churches of the WCC.

The eighth assembly encouraged the central committee of the WCC to continue the process of consultation with leaders of the various bodies who have expressed interest in the forum.

In this process, the eighth assembly commended for serious attention the report of the August 1998 Bossey consultation setting out AProposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations" (see appendix II).

In affirming further work towards the goal of providing opportunity for a more effective, more sustaining, more inclusive network of relationships among churches and ecumenical organizations, the eighth assembly offered the following guidance to the central committee in this effort:

a) the WCC needs to give careful consideration to the nature and scope of its role with other partners in working towards the initiation of the forum;

b) there needs to be a clearly articulated distinction between the nature and purpose of the WCC and that of the forum;

c) participation by churches in a forum should in no way be seen as comparable to the ecumenical accountability and commitment of ongoing membership in the WCC;

d) much can be learned from the positive experience of various kinds of forums currently existing in some regions of the world, and exploration of the usefulness of forums in other regional or national contexts is encouraged;

e) it is assumed that there will be the need for a modest organizing and facilitating structure with limited responsibility for convening, organizing, funding, and evaluating the forum; establishing and sustaining this structure should be the shared responsibility of the participating churches and organizations;

f) in order to achieve comprehensive participation, the process of invitation should be as inclusive as possible, based on the criteria for participation stated in appendix II, point 9, and should remain open into the future;

g) the distinctive ecclesial self-understanding of each member church and ecclesial family of the WCC, of Christian world communions such as the Anglican Consultative Council, the Baptist World Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, needs to be honoured as the concept of the forum is developed;

h) consultation with the Joint Working Group between the RCC and the WCC, and with the proposed WCC-Pentecostal joint working group is encouraged to help clarify the potential nature of the involvement of these churches in the Forum;

i) consideration should be given to whether regional or national forums could be seen as an alternative or as complementary to the concept of a global forum.

XIII. Amendments to the constitution and rules

The Committee has looked at the proposed amendments to the constitution and rules of the WCC in the light of the overall debate around the CUV document and its implications, the plenary presentation by Georges Tsetsis and a number of written suggestions.

1. Article III on the purposes and functions
The proposed amendment incorporates a number of convictions emerging from the reflection process on the CUV. It affirms that the WCC is constituted by the churches to serve the ecumenical movement; recalls the ecumenical legacy, specifying that the WCC is the heir and the continuation of the world movements; brings into the heart of the common calling the concern for visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, stressing the significance of churches calling one another to this aim; describes the possibilities offered to the churches within the fellowship in the search for koinonia in faith and life, witness and service; and emphasizes the role of the WCC in the effort to strengthen the one ecumenical movement by nurturing relations with ecumenical partners at local, national and regional levels.

The eighth assembly agreed to the proposed amendment.

2. Article V: on organization
2.1. The proposed amendment to para V.1.c)3), with regard to the assembly's functions in determining the policies of the WCC consists in the insertion of a single word, "overall".

The eighth assembly agreed to the proposed amendment.

2.3. The proposed amendment to the article V.2.c)1) gives the responsibility for electing the collegial presidency to the Central Committee. While the Committee has not achieved consensus on this recommendation, it does recognize that this amendment comes from the central committee as an attempt to affirm and strengthen the moral and spiritual authority of the presidency by altering an electoral procedure which has proved to be politicized and painful in the past. The change is also intended to allow, after an assembly, a more extensive and sensitive consultation process with member churches and REOs in identifying candidates widely recognized and respected for their spiritual leadership and ecumenical commitment. In order to enable the plenary to deliberate on this amendment, the Committee recommends that the eighth assembly adopt the proposed amendment.

The proposed amendment was defeated.

2.3. The proposed amendment to paragraph V.2.c) 4) affecting the method of electing commissions and boards, which now becomes a prerogative of the central committee is, in fact, a slight adaptation to the new working structures of the WCC. Although the Committee understands that the structures of the WCC should remain as flexible as possible, it regrets that already foreseen commissions and advisory groups are not spelled out, at least not in the rules.

The eighth assembly agreed to the proposed amendment.

2.4. The proposed amendment to paragraph V.2.c) 5) specifies the responsibility for WCC programmes and activities according to the new structural reality of the Council. The role of the Programme Committee (cf. rules VII).

The eighth assembly agreed to the proposed amendment.

3. Article VI: on other ecumenical organizations
The proposed amendment to para VI.1. with regard to the assembly's functions in determining the policies of the WCC consist in the insertion of a single word, "international".

The eighth assembly agreed to the proposed amendment.

4. Amendments to the Rules proposed by the central committee
These amendments intend to embody the provisions already made by the central committee to ensure that the main directions advocated by the CUV document are reflected in the WCC structures. They also make the rules compatible with the constitution (if the proposed amendments adopted).

The eighth assembly confirmed the following amendments proposed by the central committee:

  • I.3, 4, 5 and 6: criteria for membership of the Council and for associate membership, and financial obligations of member churches to the WCC;
  • IV.5.a.1 on the function of the central committee in electing the Programme Committee;
  • IV.5.d. on determining priorities and policies for the WCC;
  • VII. on the Programme Committee.
The eighth assembly recommended that the central committee continue the reflection on the understanding and criteria of membership in the light of developments emerging from experiences and discussions at various levels.

The eighth assembly further recommended that the central committee review the possibilities for churches and ecumenical partners to participate in governing, consultative and advisory bodies of the WCC, so that participation is not confined to the limited number of seats in the present committees, commissions and boards.

The Celelstial Church of Christ [Nigeria]

The Celestial Church of Christ in Nigeria was one of nine churches recommended by the executive committee for acceptance into full membership of the World Council of Churches (doc. No. PL 1.1).

In its interim report to the assembly (doc. no. RC-I 1), the Policy Reference Committee recommended that the decision on the reception into full membership of the Celestial Church of Christ be postponed in order to allow for further study.

Policy Reference Committee I formed a sub-committee which met with the leaders of the Celestial Church of Christ who were attending the eighth assembly; also present at the meeting was a member of the WCC delegation which visited the Celestial Church of Christ in Nigeria in September 1998. The main item which needed clarification was the policy of the church with regard to polygamy. Along with many other African Instituted Churches, the Celestial Church of Christ has admitted polygamous converts, but in document PL 1.1 it was reported that clergy may also remain polygamous.

The sub-committee reported back to Policy Reference Committee I, explaining that the church in the past admitted polygamous clergy but in 1986 it had ruled that all new clergy must live a monogamous marriage, and this rule was now strictly observed with regard to all candidates for the ministry. The few remaining clergy of the previous period were allowed to continue exercising their spiritual leadership. The sub-committee also gained more insight into various other aspects of the life of the Celestial Church of Christ and its motivations for seeking WCC membership. It became convinced that membership would be beneficial for the church in its efforts to proclaim and live out the gospel message within the African culture.

The report of the sub-committee satisfied Policy Reference Committee I which decided to recommend that the eighth assembly receive the Celestial Church of Christ into full membership of the WCC. The vote to accept this church into membership had been lost. This vote, however, had been challenged as not being in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The WCC's legal advisers admitted that this challenge was in order, and that the vote was invalid. The general secretary invited the assembly not to take a new vote on this matter, but rather to refer the matter to the central committee for further consultation with the Celestial Church of Christ.

The eighth assembly agreed to refer the matter to the central committee.

Proposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations

1. A consultation took place at the Château de Bossey, near Geneva, 26-29 August 1998, to consider the possible creation of a broad-based forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations. Twenty-eight participants represented the WCC, Christian world communions, regional ecumenical organizations, national councils of churches, international ecumenical organizations and churches not at present associated with major ecumenical structures.

2. The gathering noted dramatic changes in the world situation, as well as major developments in relationships between churches and between ecumenical organizations. Efforts to advance Christian unity now take many forms, have many players and focus on many centres. However, this diversity raises urgent questions about how to strengthen the wholeness of the movement against tendencies towards fragmentation and competitiveness, not least in view of shrinking resources. A more effective, more sustaining, more inclusive network of relationships is needed to bring differences of understanding among the partners into a mutually committed dialogue so that all may find their way to a clearer discernment and a more faithful obedience.

3. The following proposal for a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations emerged in the course of the consultation. It is offered in the hope that churches and ecumenical structures may discern in it a way forward for the years immediately ahead.

Goals and objectives

4. The proposed forum is possible because of the unity which is already given in Christ. It is called for because of our common faith in a reconciling God whose church knows itself summoned to become God's reconciled and reconciling people.

5. The forum is intended to help build more significant, more inclusive relationships. It will not speak for the participating bodies, but it will provide a way for them, transcending the limitations of existing frameworks, to think new thoughts, dream new dreams, and glimpse new visions.

6. Seeking to be open to the charisma the Spirit gives to Christ's people, the forum's style will be open, expectant and relying on a minimum of rules and structures. One condition for participation, therefore, is a willingness to accept other participants as bona fide partners in a dialogue, the aim of which is to strengthen the obedience of all to Christ.

7. The occasional gatherings of the forum will provide opportunities for worship, exploration of matters of common Christian concern and development of enhanced mutual understanding. They are not conceived as decision-making, programme-initiating or document-producing events. However, they might lead to new forms of cooperation.


8. This is a forum, not an organization, therefore the question to be considered is participation, not membership.

9. Participation will be based on confessing the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and seeking to fulfil together the common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It should be characterized by the desire to mutually engage in the search for obedience to Christ.

10. Participants will mainly be representative of church bodies and ecumenical organizations of international significance. Some participants will also be individuals who are representative of and accountable to identifiable constituencies with a commitment to our common calling.

11. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and other families represented in the conference of Christian world communions, as well as regional ecumenical organizations, international ecumenical organizations and the World Council of Churches, are among those envisaged as participants in the forum.

12. Criteria of participation include willingness to listen, to talk and respond together with others in the Christian family to God's calling. Participants must have mutual respect and respect for the self-understanding of the others.

Size, process and content of forum meeting

13. The forum is a concept that will be manifest in many ways, including international meetings. Once the idea has taken root, it could meet in various configurations and locations.

14. The initial meeting should be made up of 150 -250 participants, depending on the response to the invitations issued. The process will be designed to allow maximum participation. This will begin by soliciting issues and challenges from the participating bodies prior to the meeting.

15. There will be a balance of plenary and small group time, with space for celebration and spontaneity. Worship will be an integral part of the forum. The meeting should reflect awareness of the historical forces that bring participants together and should provide opportunities for in-depth discussion.

16. The distinctiveness will be in the style of meeting which will promote open dialogue of sharing without a focus on documentation and recommendations. No votes will be taken.

17. Provision might be made for a group of Alisteners@ to help discern and articulate the insights gained by the gathering.

Funding, timing

18. Participants would be expected to cover their costs. In order to ensure fullest participation, the organizing committee will seek funds to cover certain overhead expenses and make available a modest amount for subsidies.

19. The initial forum meeting may take place as early as the year 2001.

Organizing mechanisms

20. A small continuation committee drawn from the consultation of August 1998 will continue as a bridge between the process thus far and its future. It could also become the nucleus of the organizing committee for the first forum meeting.

21. The continuation committee is to consider responses to this proposal and to work out the modalities of a first meeting of the organizing committee by October 1999. This continuation committee will need to meet before mid-1999.

22. A small group of eminent persons who have a broad basis of credibility among Christians and churches might be constituted by the continuation committee to serve as an inviting body. This group may or may not need to meet. Invitations to participate would then go with the signatures and under the patronage of these persons.

23. The organizing committee should be called by the continuation committee in consultation with the leaders of the interested bodies who by the responses to the initial proposal sent after this meeting would have expressed interest in the forum.

24. It will include representatives of ecumenical partners of international significance who currently have various levels of collaborating as well as new partners representing the wider community such as Pentecostal churches, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Organization of African Instituted Churches who may express interest. A strong representation of the Roman Catholic Church was also stressed.

25. The tasks of the organizing committee will include:

a) receiving and evaluating responses which contribute to building the agenda;
b) building an inclusive agenda;
c) taking care of logistics and budget of the forum;
d) raising some funds for the overhead costs as well as for granting a small subsidy to those who might need one;
e) preparation of a procedure for evaluating the first meeting of the forum.

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