World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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13 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 48

The Church is at a crisis point in its history, the Most Rev. Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, said Sunday (13 December) when he preached at the Anglican Church of St Mary and All Saints in Harare, Zimbabwe. Many delegates from the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly, which is meeting in the city, were among the congregation.

Dr Carey said that the Church must make a decision. "Are we going to seek unity in the service of Christ Jesus for the world or sink under the weight of division, controversy and suspicion?"

The Archbishop said that at times one "finds oneself tempted to agree with the view that a council is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and quietly strangled". But, he said, gatherings like the Assembly should be occasions where there is a common vision, dreams are shared and where all are all energised for new action.

Dr Carey called his sermon "Crisis or Christ?" He said: "The word "crisis' should not be understood in the present-day sense of disaster or approaching doom." Rather it should be in the biblical sense of decision and opportunity. "I believe such a moment has come in the history of Christianity," he said.

This century had begun with great enthusiasm for world mission. He quoted John R. Mott: "Let's plan as if there were no such thing as prayer and pray as if there were no such thing as planning."

"Since the beginning of this century, worldwide Christianity has tripled," Dr Carey said. "So much so for the decline of the Church. But there is a crisis, a moment of decision. In spite of the growth of the visible unity of the Church in some ways, in other ways the splits are wider now. The Roman Catholic Church still remains outside the council. The Orthodox churches are at present nervously reluctant participants and the future of the World Council of Churches is uncertain without them.

"So, too, our sense of mission is under attack. For example, I look at Western Christianity and I see our preoccupation with single-issue matters sapping our energy and occupying almost totally our attention. In some sections of the Western church we are bleeding to death."

Dr Carey contrasted the African church and the Western church. He said he thanked God "for the enormous vitality of this continent and the faith it represents. We in the West can learn so much from you in Africa. But Africa is bleeding also, bleeding from too many mouths to feed, too many calamities to cope with, too much debt to repay, too many wars going on, too many natural disasters to confront."

The Archbishop said that the burden of faith "is precisely a burden because our faith relates to the whole of life". He quoted the words of a bishop in Sudan talking about the difficulty of evangelising in refugee camps: "Empty stomachs have no ears."

Dr Carey said he loved the church. "I believe that the church has a wonderful mission, which is to be a sacrament of the gospel in the world, a worshipping, blessing and joyful community of sharing and love."

"And how should we cope with this responsibility which makes mission and unity one? We must again determine to place all we do, all our concerns, all our ideals and hopes in the context of the mission of Christ in his world today. And for that, for the Western church, issues such as homosexuality, homelessness, deprivation, church maintenance or even Third World debt must never become the be-all or end-all of life. Important though they are, they must be seen in the light of the Gospel and the dominating drive to take Christ's love to every person everywhere.

"For much of this century the Western church, especially in Europe, has accepted decline as the inevitable result of secularisation. And I want to challenge that this morning. We must not be lured by some craven acceptance of death.

"Christ was raised from the dead and faith in him still conquers, still triumphs and still gives life to what we might think are dead congregations. It's in mission that the Church discovers itself again and it is in mission that she discovers true unity.

"Christ must be the heartbeat of our preaching, our living, our social work and our concern for justice and peace. And only when we walk in his light we will find that our crisis will become our opportunity for growth and source of confidence for the future. And that's why the WCC message is so right: Turn to God, rejoice in hope."

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.