World Council of Churches
Potsdam, Germany
29 January - 6 February 2001
Document No. GS 2



1. Once again, I add my words of welcome to those of the Moderator. This time I have the particular pleasure of welcoming you to my own country and to its re-united capital, Berlin. Even though, for practical reasons, our meeting is being held at Potsdam, we are conscious of the fact that the setting is marked by the particular role of Berlin for Germany and Europe as a whole. When we met in Geneva sixteen months ago, the invitation to hold the next meeting of the Central Committee in Berlin was only intimated by Bishop Huber, the Bishop of the regional Church in Berlin and Brandenburg. After careful explorations and the decision of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany to support this invitation with a generous special financial contribution, the Executive Committee gratefully accepted.

2. Since then, much work has been done here in Potsdam and Berlin as well as in Geneva to prepare for this meeting. We are grateful to our hosts for their warm welcome. This meeting of the Central Committee has generated considerable interest locally in Berlin, Potsdam and beyond as you will have realized already at the opening service yesterday, which was prepared and led by representatives of the German national ecumenical body, and at the subsequent reception. Our morning worship in the coming days will be led by representatives of the Christian churches in and around Berlin, forming the Ecumenical Council of Berlin and Brandenburg. There will be many opportunities during our programme to meet with and to hear representatives of church life and political leaders of Germany. These encounters will hopefully give you an impression of life in this country ten years after its unification and of the ecumenical activities of the German churches.

3. In presenting my report to you I shall first dwell on the context of our meeting. It invites us to reflect on the significance of our coming to the re-united capital of Germany which is no longer the symbol of division but of the beginning process of reconciliation in Europe. This provides a new perspective on the period of the "Cold War" and can inspire our reflections on overcoming violence. I shall then refer to some developments in the life of the WCC since our last meeting in 1999. In the concluding section I want to use the emphasis on "Being Church" from the report of the Programme Committee at our last meeting to reflect on the ecclesial identity of conciliar ecumenical bodies.

I. The Context

4. This is of course not the first time that a Central Committee of the WCC meets in Germany. But for many, if not the majority, of you it will be your first trip to this country and to Berlin. Recalling the three earlier occasions when the Central Committee met in Germany may help to introduce you to the context of our meeting which has been interwoven in so many ways with the life of the WCC during these past decades.

5. Since the inaugural Assembly of the WCC in Amsterdam in 1948, ecumenical developments in the following forty years have been deeply marked by the ideological and military bloc confrontation of the Cold War, symbolized by the so-called "iron curtain" running right through Germany. Nowhere, this history has been reflected and experienced as dramatically as in the divided city of Berlin. For decades, the German churches in East and West were the only institutions bridging this dividing line, and their special relationship continued even after the establishment of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The links of the WCC with the churches in the two German states became a testing ground for the resolve of the ecumenical movement to overcome the confrontational spirit of the Cold War and to act as a bridge-builder.

6. The earlier meetings of the Central Committee in Germany reveal therefore something of the tensions and ambiguities associated with this situation. In 1974, the Central Committee met in Berlin (West) for the first time. This was the official designation of the political entity of the western part of the divided city, the status of which was the subject of contentious discussions among the four powers which still held ultimate authority over the city according to international law. The coming of the Central Committee to Berlin required delicate negotiations. It caused the GDR government authorities considerable headache. It reflects the political realities of the divided Germany that, at the beginning of the same year, a meeting of the Executive Committee of the WCC was held in Bad Saarow, east of Berlin, at the invitation of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR. A recent evaluation of the materials from the state archives of the former GDR reveals how intensely both meetings in Berlin and Bad Saarow were being observed and what efforts were made to exercise political influence. None of this is of course reflected in the minutes of the Central Committee which deal especially with difficult decisions regarding the relocation of the Fifth Assembly of the WCC from Jakarta to Nairobi. From another perspective, the meeting in Berlin will be remembered as the occasion to consider and agree on the continuation of the Programme to Combat Racism which had become a very controversial issue within and between the churches in the two German states.

7. Seven years later, the Central Committee again met in Germany, this time in Dresden, on the invitation of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR. Only once before, i.e. in 1956 at Galyatetö in Hungary, had the Central Committee met in one of the communist-ruled countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The minutes of the meeting, recording the greetings from church and government representatives in the GDR and summarizing the reports of the Moderator and the General Secretary, reflect the awareness of the special occasion. Only between the lines and particularly in a public statement on "Increased Threats to Peace and the Tasks of the Churches" do the minutes acknowledge the intense discussion among the churches of the country about their responsibility for peace and in particular for the recognition of an alternative to military service in the form of a "social peace service". The discussions at Dresden became one of the sources of the conciliar process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, initiated by the Vancouver Assembly. Others will remember the Central Committee in Dresden for the discussion of the report and recommendations from the Sheffield Consultation on the Community of Women and Men in the Church, which had taken place shortly before.

8. Again seven years later, the Central Committee met in Germany once more, this time in Hanover in the Federal Republic of Germany, the city in which the Evangelical Church in Germany has its central offices. In comparison with the two previous meetings, the particular situation of the divided Germany did not feature specifically in the discussions. However, the meeting which marked the 40th anniversary of the Amsterdam Assembly and devoted major attention to the theme and programme of the Seventh Assembly of the WCC, noted the first signs of the forthcoming changes in Europe. In a "Statement on Some New Developments in International Relations" it expressed its satisfaction "that there appears to be the beginning of a new international climate for which the churches have been praying and working for a long time. While undue optimism may not be called for, the signs of hope are encouraging". In particular, the Central Committee felt that special attention should be given "to the study and examination of new developments in Marxist-led societies, especially economic and political changes and possible fresh approaches to ideological and philosophical issues. These developments have profound implications for the life and witness of the churches in these societies and the ecumenical community". In the discussion, reference was made in particular to the changes taking place in the USSR, while there was some division of opinion how to respond to the situation in Romania.

9. Now we meet in Germany for the fourth time. The twelve years since the meeting in Hanover have seen dramatic changes in Europe and the world at large which are very tangibly reflected here in Berlin. The wall which divided the city for 28 years has disappeared. Germany is united and the process of healing the division of Europe is gaining momentum, following enactment in 1991 of the Paris Charter for Europe which sealed the end of the Cold War. What were signs of hope in 1988 have become a dynamic new reality which poses fresh and bewildering challenges to the churches. As we reflect about the new reality in Europe today, we are mindful, however, of the continuing division of Korea, of Cyprus and of the situation of conflict over Jerusalem. These concerns were on the agenda of the first meeting in Berlin in 1974 and have called for ecumenical attention ever since.

10. The post-war division of Germany and of Europe had not only established an ideological frontier, but had truncated the historical memory of the peoples concerned. The Cold War had turned this separation into a militant antagonism. Since 1990, Germany and Europe as a whole are confronted with the challenge to reappropriate the suppressed and alien part of their own history and identity. For Germany, both Potsdam and the re-united Berlin stand for significant phases of national history which await reappropriation. Potsdam - residence of the Prussian kings - has been a symbol both of military discipline and of tolerance as exemplified by the French, Bohemian, Dutch or Russian colonies established since the 18th century. Berlin, since 1871 the capital of the new German empire, has been a symbol both of the most creative and most destructive features of modern German history. On Sunday, 4 February, we will be invited in connection with the launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence to engage in a brief pilgrimage of commemoration in order to become sensitive to the task of bringing together the fragments of history which is the common challenge for the European people today.

11. Today, Berlin is again the capital of Germany and since last year the seat of the government. The transition has taken place without major problems and the process of unification of the country has been completed at least on the political level. But the divided mentalities and identities of the last forty years cannot easily be merged. This is the task of Europe as a whole. Berlin is closer to Poland and the Czech Republic than to France or the United Kingdom. Therefore, Potsdam and Berlin are the proper places for the proposed regional focus on Europe at this meeting of the Central Committee. The Executive Committee has proposed "reconciliation, truth and justice" as the overall theme for this process of sharing and reflection which will seek to highlight Christian historical experiences and contemporary responses in Europe. We will hear testimonies about the experience of Christians and churches with the legacy of Nazism and fascism, with the struggle against racism and discrimination, with divided memories and the search for truth in post-communist societies, with contemporary situations of violence, healing and reconciliation. The common questions in these exchanges will be: When does the pursuit of truth become the enemy of reconciliation? Whose memories, experiences or written records control the story that we tell about ourselves and others? How does the Christian faith affect our understanding of justice as retributive or restorative? How can churches be liberated from being part of the problem and learn to become part of the solution? These questions have also been the concern of churches in South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador. Their experience with truth commissions may be of significance for Europe as well, as it struggles with the legacy of the Cold War.

12. There are few places in Europe where the legacy of the Cold War is as present as it is in Berlin. Therefore, in this context the search for truth and the effort to reconcile memories is not a purely intellectual exercise, but rather a vital necessity to establish a sustainable basis for life in community. Together with the whole of society, it also concerns in a particular way also the churches and their role during the period of the Cold War. The immediate tasks of responding to the political, economic and structural changes which followed the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe have left little time and space to listen to and appreciate the different memories and forms of Christian witness in a divided Europe. Not only in Germany, but in Europe as a whole, the Western perspective and experience seems to have become the norm, and there is little willingness to see Europe and the role of the churches through the eyes of Central and Eastern Europe. It is true that the churches there have regained their freedom, but they now realize the extent to which secularization has progressed during the period of communist rule. How should they define their position in negotiations with the new governments regarding legal or constitutional guarantees of religious liberty, Christian education in schools, restitution of church property, etc.? They had to learn to live without privileges as a church in an ideological diaspora. What is the value of that experience today? They had to come to terms with the realities of state socialism and its omnipresent system of control without any realistic hope for change. What can they share about defending the integrity of the church in a hostile environment?

13. And what has been the role of the ecumenical organizations during this long period of the Cold War? In view of a situation of ideological confrontation and self-isolation of the communist part of Europe, the establishment of ecumenical relations had become a survival issue for many of the churches in Central and Eastern Europe. Was the price paid for establishing and maintaining ecumenical relationships through the World Council, the Conference of European Churches and the Christian Peace Conference too high? Should the voice of those who have become "dissidents" in their respective churches and societies have been heard, acknowledged and supported more clearly?

14. It should not come as a surprise that these questions are being asked with special urgency here in Germany, and that they are also being addressed to the WCC. This is partly due to the special circumstances which have made the materials from the state archives of the former GDR widely accessible also for historical research. Last year, a voluminous study was published in Germany dealing with the World Council, the American churches and the Christian Peace Conference during the Cold War period. Its very critical analysis of the policies and initiatives of the WCC has provoked thoughtful reactions by engaged church leaders in East and West, including a detailed response by the former Moderator of the Central Committee, Bishop Dr. Heinz Joachim Held. The central focus of the analysis has been the attitude of the ecumenical organizations regarding the violation of human rights and specifically of religious liberty in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This is a legitimate perspective which is being reinforced in the dialogue with former dissidents, like members of the Charter 77 in the Czech Republic. It is however not the only perspective for an analysis of this period of history of church and society in Europe. One might reflect on the question how much the churches, with their witness for peace with justice, have contributed to the non-violent revolution which took place in Central and Eastern Europe. What can we learn from this experience for the present commitment of the ecumenical movement to overcome violence? It has become obvious that the re-reading of this crucial period of history is an essential step, both for the European context and for the ecumenical movement, in the ongoing process of reconciling memories and linking again the separated parts of Europe. The WCC as well as the Conference of European Churches are committed to this effort. We hope that this meeting of the Central Committee will provide new insight and make visible the importance of this process for the ecumenical movement worldwide.

15. But the question of reconciliation, truth and justice and the task of reconciling memories arises not only with regard to Europe’s troubled past. It also concerns our response to the tensions and antagonisms in Europe today. The further unfolding of the changes in Europe after 1990 has frequently taken a violent turn as in the breakup of the former Soviet Union, especially in the Caucasus region, and in the wars between the different ethnic and religious communities in the former Yugoslavia. In their responses, the churches were caught in deep controversy, sometimes reproducing the divisions of the Cold War period. New manifestations of racism, anti-semitism and aggressive xenophobia have arisen in many of the European countries, both West and East. We are still confronted with an exclusivist, defensive or confrontational mentality which projects enemy images and responds with intolerance to what is alien and strange in an increasingly pluralistic and multi-cultural context. Several Padare sessions during this meeting will address these new situations of conflict in Germany and in Europe at large and outline the response of the churches. This will provide opportunities to establish the linkage to situations of racial, ethnic or national conflicts in other regions.

16. It should be clear from these observations about the context of our meeting that the challenges to Christian witness here and in the European region at large are of significance for the ecumenical movement as a whole. It is appropriate, therefore, that the launch of the Decade to Overcome Violence should take place in this context. The synods of the Evangelical Church in Berlin and Brandenburg and of the Evangelical Church in Germany as well as the Council of Churches in Germany have welcomed the Decade and taken active measures of support. Bishop Huber, in a pastoral letter looking forward to this meeting of the Central Committee, has pointed to the significance of the fact that the launching of the Decade will take place on the day when Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have celebrated his 95th birthday. The name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not only intimately linked with Berlin and this context of our meeting; he has in addition become an ecumenical prophet for peace and reconciliation, truth and justice. In the spirit of Bonhoeffer, Bishop Huber writes, "we are called again today in this city and in this country, even though under different conditions, to hold back the arm of the perpetrators of violence, to stand up against contempt of human dignity and organized brutality and become advocates of those living under the threat of violence. The Decade will help us in the effort of overcoming violence as it does help many people all over the world in their every-day conflicts."

II. Some Developments in the Life of the WCC

17. More than two years have passed since the Assembly at Harare. In 1999, the agenda of this newly constituted Central Committee was marked by the evaluation of the Assembly and the determination of the programme perspectives for the seven-year period ahead. On the recommendation of the Programme Committee, the Central Committee agreed to adopt a framework for the Council’s work grouped around four broad concerns: (1) Being Church; (2) Caring for Life; (3) Ministry of Reconciliation; and (4) Common Witness and Service amidst Globalization. The Central Committee also appointed the membership of the commissions and advisory groups for the different areas of activity and took note of the main elements of a three-year plan of work up to the Central Committee in 2002. Since then, all the commissions and advisory groups have held their first meetings; they have considered and refined the proposed activity plans. These have subsequently been integrated into a comprehensive planning document "From Vision to Action" which has served as a basis for negotiations with funding partners and as the frame of reference for initiating and monitoring the work of the teams and clusters.

18. In preparation for this meeting, you have received a "Report of the Officers" (Doc. GS 1.1) summarizing the main actions and decisions taken by the Executive Committee at its two meetings in March and September 2000, and by the Officers at their intermediate meetings in December 1999 as well as June and November 2000. The detailed activity reports have been submitted to the Programme Committee which met for three days prior to our meeting as Central Committee. It will bring an initial report to you tomorrow afternoon. The preparatory documents have also included an overview of the financial situation (Doc. FSA 1) and an account of actions and initiatives in the area of Public Issues (Doc. PI 1). Assuming, therefore, that you are familiar with the main developments in the life of the WCC during these past sixteen months as presented in the above-mentioned reports, I shall limit myself to highlighting a few features which merit your attention.

19. Let me begin once again with the evaluation of the Assembly. The Central Committee in 1999 decided "to request the General Secretary to initiate a process of reflection on the nature and purpose of the assembly against the background of the considerations arising from the CUV process and the Harare Assembly, and to bring a report to the Central Committee in 2001". This process of reflection was to involve a wide constituency, including Assembly delegates not serving presently on the Central Committee. Due to other more immediate concerns, it has so far not been possible to initiate such a wide-ranging process of reflection. In addition, internal discussions in the Staff Leadership Group led to the conclusion that the reflection should go beyond reviewing the process, shape and style of work of assemblies; rather, it should aim at reviewing the entire governing structure of the WCC in the light of the CUV emphasis on the WCC as a "fellowship of churches". Very little attention has so far been given to the implications of the CUV process for the constitutional framework and the governing structures of the WCC. These have remained essentially unchanged since the early days of the WCC.

20. The need for such re-assessment has also been confirmed through the work of the Special Commission and the exchange with ecumenical partner organizations, in particular Regional Ecumenical Organizations and Christian World Communions. Drawing on insights gained in these different contexts, a discussion paper with "Considerations regarding WCC Governing Structure" has been prepared which was initially presented to the Officers and, after revision, then shared with the Executive Committee. With the comments and advice provided by the Executive Committee, the matter will be considered further in Policy Reference Committee III, which will bring recommendations later in our meeting about how to continue this process of reflection. The main question emerging from the critical analysis of the governing structure of the WCC concerns the weight which has traditionally been given to the "legislative function" of maintaining the WCC as an institution. The CUV document, on the other hand, called for a form of governance which would give "priority to reflection and deliberation on the key issues facing the churches in the world" and would stimulate the member churches and their leaders "to act ecumenically in their local contexts, rather than perpetuating an impression of the WCC and the ecumenical movement as something apart from and outside of the churches". In fact, the affirmation of the WCC as a "fellowship of churches" remains weak as long as it is not sustained by a praxis of genuine fellowship between the member churches "in each place". The consequences of the CUV document still need to be spelled out for the governing structures of the WCC, and it is my hope that this Central Committee will give the necessary advice on how to accomplish this task.

21. In addition to affirming the nature of the WCC as a "fellowship of churches", the CUV document underlined the task of the Council to maintain the "coherence of the one ecumenical movement in its diverse manifestations". The final chapter of the CUV document therefore dealt with "relationships with partners in the ecumenical movement, churches outside of WCC membership and other bodies". This has become an area of intense activity since the last meeting of the Central Committee. Detailed reports will be presented to Policy Reference Committee I regarding the work of the Joint Working Group with the Roman Catholic Church, which has held its first meeting after the Assembly in Antelias in May 2000, focusing among other things on the "nature of ecumenical dialogue"; on the first meeting of the newly constituted Joint Consultative Group with the Pentecostal Community worldwide; on the Liaison Group with the LWF (and WARC); on progress in exploring the proposal of a "Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations" (cf. Doc. REL 2) as well as on the Special Commission (cf. Doc. GS 4). I shall come back to the interim report of the Special Commission a little later.

22. In this context, however, I want to mention one initiative which may prepare the way for a new form of relationships and cooperation with ecumenical partners, i.e. the founding in December 2000 of the "Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance". This Alliance, which is being coordinated by the WCC, brings together in a unique framework of cooperation the Regional Ecumenical Organizations and fellowships, church agencies, particularly in the North, specialized networks in the South, Christian World Communions, international ecumenical and Roman Catholic organizations. It is intended as a "flexible and open instrument enabling participating organizations from the broad ecumenical family to work strategically on priorities identified as common to our witness and work" (final communiqué). The founding meeting selected two priority areas for attention in the next years: (1) global economic justice with a focus on global trade, and (2) ethics of life with a focus on HIV/AIDS. Of course, advocacy and prophetic action have always been part of the stated objectives and activities of the WCC and other partners in the Alliance. What is new is the resolve to strengthen the prophetic voice and the impact of ecumenical witness on the crucial social, political and economic issues of the day by pooling the resources and experiences of partner bodies in the ecumenical movement.

23. In many ways, the project of the Alliance is a response to the new situation created by the process of globalization. In order to address global structures and processes of decision-making, the ecumenical partners have to go beyond the limitations of their particular constituencies and their established ways of working and seek to create an effective framework of cooperation and mutual support. The Alliance represents the endeavour to create an open ecumenical space in which all partners in the ecumenical movement can participate equally. It departs from the institutional logic of most of the ecumenical organizations based on formal membership of churches or communities and instead seeks to encourage voluntary participation based on the commitment to certain issues. The Alliance might thus provide a new model of ecumenical cooperation and could become the source of new inspiration and encouragement, showing that the ecumenical movement has the potential of shaping an alternative to the process of globalization based on solidarity and cooperation rather than on competition and confrontation. The WCC efforts to address the issues of economic globalization will be the focus of a special plenary session tomorrow.

24. The founding of the Alliance is only one response to the need to develop new ecumenical responses to the evolving global situation. Two other examples should at least be mentioned briefly. In June of last year, a special session of the UN General Assembly was held in Geneva to follow up the 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen. The WCC was actively involved in accompanying and monitoring this event through a large ecumenical team. The potential role of the WCC among other international NGOs and organizations of civil society on the global level was highlighted when our Open Letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations raised critical questions about his unqualified support of the document "A Better World for All" which presented the positions of the international financial institutions and their views on social development. Since then, the WCC has been solicited from different sides, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum, to join discussions about the ethical issues and a framework of common values which could provide orientation for the process of globalization. A similar initiative has been the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders which was held in August of last year at the seat of the United Nations in New York following a proposal of the UN Secretary General. Apart from a declaration of common commitment to peace, the summit did not produce any specific results, but was a further indication that the process of globalization raises new questions about the role of religion and religious communities in public life and about the purposes of interreligious dialogue.

25. Apart from focusing on the ministry of reconciliation and witness and service amidst globalization, the report of the Programme Committee in 1999 suggested caring for life as an overall theme for the Council’s work. The report called special attention "to the spiritual dimensions of caring for life, particularly as these relate to ethical questions arising from bio-technology, birth control, abortion, and human sexuality". Specific reference is then made to the section on "Human Sexuality" in the Programme Guidelines Committee report of the Harare Assembly which suggested that an ecumenical approach to issues of human sexuality should establish a linkage between Christian anthropology, biblical hermeneutics, ethics and cultural analysis. In pursuit of these suggestions a tentative process of reflection has begun under the guidance of a small Reference Group on Human Sexuality with Dr. Erlinda Senturias, the former Director of the Christian Medical Commission, serving as Moderator. It is recognized that any ecumenical approach to the question of human sexuality must bring together the perspective and competencies of different WCC teams and programmes, including Faith and Order with its emphasis on theological anthropology, Justice, Peace, Creation with the Decade to Overcome Violence, Mission and Evangelism with its focus on HIV/AIDS, Education and Ecumenical Formation and also the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey which has initiated a series of seminars on human sexuality. Out of these different teams and programme areas, a staff group has been formed which is coordinating the process. The Reference Group has held a first meeting in November of last year and has developed a plan of work which, in the first phase, focuses on an effort to gather and analyse official church statements on sexuality together with their supporting study documents. The plan further includes the preparation of a study guide booklet as well as surveying of theological, social, scientific and bio-medical literature on human sexuality so that annotated bibliographies can be established. Members of the Reference Group and the participants in the Bossey seminar which immediately preceded its meeting were conscious of the fact that any discussion on human sexuality needed to be approached with great care and humility. It is hoped that the World Council can offer a safe ecumenical space where a new quality of ecumenical dialogue can be developed.

III. Being Church in Conciliar Fellowship

26. You may have noticed that I have been referring to the four broad concerns identified by the Programme Committee as a framework for my reporting. In this light, I want to group the final part of my report around the theme of Being Church. Here my interest is to draw attention to some major developments among member churches and ecumenical partner bodies and to consider their significance for the WCC. I am referring to the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, but also to the declaration on "Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards other Christian Confessions" adopted by the Jubilee Bishops’ Council on 14 August 2000, to the declaration "Dominus Iesus" which was released by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 5 September 2000, and also to discussions with and among many of our partner organizations on the national or regional level about the ecclesial identity of conciliar bodies, most notably discussions at the recent General Assembly of the NCCCUSA. It appears to me that these developments reinforce the proposal by the Programme Committee to consider Being Church as an overarching issue for the period ahead. This proposal has meanwhile been taken up in the form of a study process on "New Ways of Being Church: Women’s Perspectives", as well as in the revision of the draft statement of the Faith and Order Commission on "The Nature and Purpose of the Church".

27. In proposing this emphasis, the Programme Committee drew on the report of the Programme Guidelines Committee of the Harare Assembly which mentioned the development of "an ecumenism of the heart" and the search for "inclusive community" among the overall themes around which the work of the WCC should be integrated. As you may recall, the Programme Guidelines Committee concluded its report with a paragraph on "A Framework and Focus for the Council’s Future Work". There it said:

"The Common Understanding and Vision process calls the World Council of Churches decisively to deepen, as well as broaden, the fellowship which we share as churches. Our witness and service in the world, now needed ever more urgently, depend upon strengthening spiritually our bonds of commitment and accountability. We must, as we have promised at Harare, ‘build together’.

To do so in the period following the eighth assembly and as we enter the 21st century, the WCC’s fellowship must directly engage each member church around four questions central to the purposes of the World Council of Churches:

  • How do we as churches engage together in mission and evangelism in the midst of a highly pluralistic world?
  • How do we understand baptism as a foundation for the life in community to which we are called to share together?
  • How do we offer together our resources, witness and action for the sake of the world’s very future?
  • How do we walk together on the path towards visible unity?

    Before we meet again in assembly, the life of each member church must be addressed ecumenically with these four questions. Our shared responses will build our common life and empower our witness in the world. No task is more important than this. All the WCC’s work should be focused by these four concerns."

  • Our own Programme Committee, in interpreting its emphasis on Being Church, explicitly refers to these four questions and adds: "Given the different ecclesiologies within the WCC, the search for the oneness of the church and the quest for a more visible unity remains at the heart of the life of the Council and needs to be discussed by member churches in each region of the world." It then refers specifically to the search for inclusive community and affirms its conviction that the WCC should encourage and support ‘safe arenas for dialogue’. It underlines in particular the challenge which an emphasis on inclusive community poses to churches which are divided by racial and/or ethnic identity and points to the relevant studies undertaken by the Faith and Order Commission. The paragraph ends with an emphasis on the continuing need for ecumenical formation.

    28. Being church means being in relationship. This is true in the life of each local church as well as between them. In order to be truly church, the churches need each other. Being in fellowship is constitutive for being church. This affirmation which provides the fundamental rationale for the fellowship of churches in the ecumenical movement has found expression in the well-known New Delhi statement on unity speaking of the "fully committed fellowship". Since then it has been progressively unfolded through an ecclesiology of koinonia (communion) as well as the rediscovery of conciliarity as a basic dimension of being church. A mature expression is found in the declaration of the Canberra Assembly on "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling" which says: "The goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness. This full communion will be expressed on the local and the universal levels through conciliar forms of life and action. In such communion churches are bound in all aspects of their life together at all levels in confessing the one faith and engaging in worship and witness, deliberation and action."

    29. However, it is precisely at this point that we encounter the greatest challenge to our work in the WCC and other conciliar bodies. On the one hand, we have the official positions of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of our Orthodox member churches, who both consider their own communion to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church as established by our Lord and Saviour himself. They both declare that in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition they cannot recognize in other churches the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church even though they consider the restoration of the unity of the church a gospel imperative and are prepared to acknowledge that a certain incomplete fellowship exists with the separated communities which, in the words of the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, "serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the church, to catholic fullness and oneness". On the other hand, we have the large majority of member churches who are constituted as one of the denominations in the Protestant tradition. They have no basic difficulty in recognizing each other as churches, but their attachment to denominational autonomy and/or confessional integrity stands in tension with the affirmation of the catholicity of the church. While they have increasingly opened themselves for the call to ecumenical fellowship with other churches, their being part of this fellowship does not fundamentally affect their "being church".

    30. Conciliar ecumenical bodies, i.e. Councils or Conferences of Churches, find themselves between these two poles: the demanding Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology, on the one hand, and the situation of denominational pluralism among the Protestant churches, on the other. Councils of Churches, like the WCC, reflect in their structures and ways of working the ethos of historic Protestant denominations. This means that they have been largely functional agencies of service and church cooperation, which today have to compete with secular, non-governmental organizations. These often can render a more professional and effective service and thus attract funding even from sources which traditionally supported conciliar ecumenical bodies. With the increasing spread of Evangelical and Pentecostal communities which adapt more easily to the competitive dynamics of civil society than the structured denominations, members of conciliar bodies often reduce their commitment to simple co-existence and concentrate energies on strengthening their denominational identity. For many Protestant denominations, being members of a conciliar body and thus nominally in fellowship with each other, unfortunately does not mean that they will "act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately" (Lund principle). These admittedly brief and general observations could be supported by reports from countless dialogues and exchanges with the responsible leaders of National Councils of Churches and Regional Ecumenical Organizations.

    31. The other challenge to conciliar ecumenism comes from Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. I shall concentrate in this context on the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation and its critical analysis of the structures, working methodologies and ethos of the WCC. As you know from the interim report of the Special Commission (Doc. GS 4), it has grouped its critical analysis around five clusters of concerns: "Issues related to membership; a review of decision-making processes; worship/common prayer; ecclesiological issues; and developing ecumenical methodologies for approaching social and ethical issues" (see para. 2.8). There is no need for me at this point to summarize the main thrust of the interim report of the Special Commission which is in your hands. Admittedly, the observations are tentative and need to be developed further. Underlying the proposals of the Special Commission, in particular in the first three clusters of concerns, is a basic challenge to the ethos of Protestant denominationalism and its reflection in the structures and working styles of the WCC.

    32. It is therefore of particular significance that the interim report of the Special Commission in a section on "ecclesiology" gives its understanding of what it means to be church in conciliar fellowship. "Joining a council of churches means accepting the challenge to give account to each other of being church and to articulate what is meant by the visible unity of the Church" (para. 6.1). This affirmation is then being applied to the internal contradictions of conciliar ecumenism. The Commission addresses the churches belonging to the Orthodox families with the question: "Is there a space for other ‘churches’ in Orthodox ecclesiology? How would this space and its limits be described?" (para. 6.2) This is precisely the ecclesiological challenge which the existence of the WCC as a fellowship of churches poses to its member churches: Does the fellowship of churches in this Council have any significance beyond its pragmatic value of furthering cooperation? In what sense can we continue to speak of a "fellowship of churches" as long as the ecclesial quality of the separated communities is uncertain? On the other hand, the same paragraph challenges the churches within the tradition of the Reformation with the penetrating question: "How does your church understand, maintain and express your belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?" Even though the question does not make explicit reference to the denominational self-understanding of Protestant churches, this is precisely the thrust of the question: How can a genuine understanding of the catholicity of the church be recuperated against the background of Protestant denominationalism? It is no surprise that the Special Commission, in line with Orthodox convictions, does not claim any ecclesiological significance for the WCC or any other Council of Churches as an institution. But it is equally clear that the churches must not expect a Council of Churches to do and accomplish what only the churches in fellowship with one another can do. Being church in conciliar fellowship means to accept a commitment to one another in the centre of ecclesial identity. This distinction between the Council as an organization and the churches in fellowship with one another is important and needs to be spelled out more fully and intentionally (cf. para 8.2).

    33. The interim report of the Special Commission therefore confirms from a very different perspective the conclusions emerging in dialogues with Regional Ecumenical Organizations and National Councils about a critical re-assessment of conciliar ecumenism at the beginning of the 21st century. From both sides, there is the urgent call to clarify and strengthen the ecclesial identity of conciliar bodies and thus to draw a clear line of distinction over against the wide-ranging spectrum of non-governmental organizations and other initiatives in civil society. The same experiences consistently point to the local level as the decisive context for Being Church.

    34. Many of the conciliar ecumenical partner bodies of the WCC are engaged in difficult debates whether to give priority to a deepening of existing links of fellowship or to a widening of the scope to include communities which have so far been outside the organized ecumenical movement. On the one hand, there is the conviction that the sense of mutual obligation and accountability in ecumenical fellowship needs to be strengthened and that the members of conciliar bodies need to recognize each other as churches. On the other hand, there is the conviction that conciliar fellowship must not become exclusive and provide space for the participation of all who are prepared to join the search for unity. The Special Commission does not directly address this tension, but if one follows the final section of the interim report on "The Future Shape of the Council", it seems clear that the Commission would not consider deepening and widening the fellowship as mutually exclusive alternatives. Rather, the Commission "envisions a Council that will hold churches together in an ecumenical space where trust can be built, (and) where churches can test and develop their readings of the world, their own social practices, and their liturgical and doctrinal traditions while facing each other and deepening their encounter with each other" (para. 8.4).

    35. It is the metaphor of an ecumenical space around which this vision has begun to crystallize. It should be a safe space which allows for open discussion where all can get a hearing and where the search for a common mind can take place without the pressure to win an argument or a vote. It should be a sacred or spiritual space which is continuously being reconstituted and protected through common prayer and worship and which acknowledges that fellowship is based on the gift of communion offered by God in Christ and mediated to us through a continuous process of tradition and reception. It should finally be a sustainable space with structures of governance which are open and flexible, while they protect the integrity of the ecumenical space, and with a praxis of education and formation which continuously reconstitutes new generations of leadership. If the Special Commission and, with its help, the Central Committee and eventually the member churches succeed in spelling out this vision more fully, they will not only revitalize the life of the World Council of Churches but provide new inspiration for being church in conciliar fellowship.

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