This WCC Assembly will take place only a couple of years before the turn of the
century and the 3rd millennium. It is timely to come together, to take stock and to
deliberate together on the significance of being a Christian today. One hundred years
ago Christianity and Christendom were, in many of the dominant places of the world,
quite interchangeable concepts. One hundred years later hardly anyone mentions
anymore Christendom, not after colonialism, two world wars, the Holocaust, the bombs
over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arrogance and hubris.
The pace of change in the world and the advent of a new millennium have raised questions about the future. In the face of projections of catastrophe and utopia, the churches confront uncertainty and doubts about their identity and self-understanding. The WCC, gathering for the Assembly in Harare, will need to reflect upon Christianity without Christendom, the identity and self-understanding of Christianity in a world which has become increasingly complex. When Christendom can no longer be held up as an armour against the many complexities, there is a need to rethink what it means to be a Christian in a world of simultaneous globalisation and fragmentation, of differences and contradictions, what Christian diversity and Christian unity might mean, what religious plurality means and how Christians are to relate to people of other faiths in a respectful and constructive way.
The WCC has tried to capture the context of our world today and the way forward for Christian churches in a document called "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches". In a few sentences it addresses the role of the WCC in a religiously plural world: "The inseparable connection between work for the unity of the church and work for the healing and wholeness of all creation will often bring the Council into dialogue and collaboration with persons, groups and organisations that are not identified by a specific Christian purpose or commitment. This includes in particular representative organisations of other faith communities or inter-religious bodies. ... they are indispensable partners for the WCC in its effort to foster dialogue and co-operation with people of other faiths in order to build viable human communities."
The WCC has invited to the Assembly in Harare 15 guests of other faiths and has asked the Office on Interreligious Relations (OIRR) to give visibility to "dialogue and co-operation with people of other faiths". The Assembly delegates, observers and visitors will have an opportunity to participate in 8 different seminars addressing various issues and themes from an interreligious perspective. Looking at the list of seminars, I think they highlight exactly those concerns that we need to approach together in the future work of the WCC and in interfaith relations. Together with our advisors our guests of other faiths will in Harare address the following themes, which I think each in its own right could serve as the agenda for interfaith dialogue in the years to come:
A web-page of the Office on Interreligious Relations has been set up and will be a developing feature of the work on interreligious relations and dialogue of the WCC. Important documents and articles are and will be posted on our home page. We will as the home page grows also provide space for cyber-space dialogue on dialogue. The URL is http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/interreligious/index-e.html.
With this issue of Current Dialogue the Office thanks Audrey Smith for many years of service in the interreligious work of the WCC. As of January 1999 the administrative assistant will be Ms. Yvette Milosevic and we wish to welcome her into our work.
Hans Ucko, Editor
Inside this issue . . .