|In accordance with the request of the Morges meeting of the Special Commission in December of 1999, Marlin VanElderen has prepared this survey of the churches’ responses to the CUV document, focussing on issues of membership, structures and decision-making.|
This is an overview of comments related to WCC membership, structure and decision-making made in written responses from member churches and ecumenical partners to the "Working Draft" for the CUV document sent out by the Central Committee in November 1996. These responses were taken into account in preparing the final policy statement adopted by the Central Committee in September 1997.
Chapter 3 of this "Working Draft" ("The Self-Understanding of the WCC") identified some common affirmations about and implications of WCC membership. Chapter 4 addressed "Relationships between the WCC and Other Partners in the Ecumenical Movement ". Chapter 6 outlined the "Implications [of the CUV process] for the Revision of WCC Structures", making some concrete proposals about "the Council’s basic institutional shape". These elicited considerable reaction; and it was judged premature to make specific structural proposals in the final policy statement; instead, a general section on "The Council as an Organization" was added to the chapter on the WCC’s self-understanding.
The proposals made in the draft (with their eventual disposition indicated in parentheses) were:
In what follows, a sampling of comments made in the responses are arranged under several headings which relate to issues before the Special Commission. Since the scope of this survey is limited to the body of responses received (about 150 in all, by no means representing all member churches or ecumenical partners), and since a process of selection is inevitable in extracting and sorting comments in this way, any general conclusions should be drawn with care.
I. The need for structural change
While the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia notes simply that "it is time for structural changes in the World Council of Churches’ organization", several responses are more specific in identifying the problem. According to the Church of Greece, the WCC’s "administrative machinery... is controlled to a large extent by the Protestant confessions". The Orthodox Church in America says "the structure and ethos of the WCC [make] equal participation by the Orthodox an impossibility". Similarly, the Romanian Orthodox Church regrets that "the [Orthodox] share in the decision-taking process within the framework of the WCC is not sufficient when faced with a Protestant and neo-Protestant world which imposes its own view due to the majority it enjoys".
Several Anglican and Protestant responses link the WCC’s structural difficulties to the tension within the Council between unity and diversity. The appeal for "unity in diversity must finally find its structural expression", says the Working Group of Christian Churches in Switzerland. Some emphasize inclusiveness: according to the Church of Sweden, "the WCC should be a pastoral and ecclesial forum, polycentric in character, with tolerance for theological variety and renewal". Its primary theological commitments, says the Anglican Church of Canada, should be to ">inclusivity and grassroots encounter". But the Swiss Protestant Missionary Council identifies a limit to inclusiveness: the WCC "needs a procedure allowing it to intervene... with churches which violate the very principles of the Basis... A trinitarian Christian fellowship cannot apply the principle of ‘non-intervention in the internal affairs of a member’."
The Anglican Church of Australia speaks of managing "the inherent tension between [the WCC’s] identity as defined by the constitutional Basis and its desire to be ever more inclusive". The Evangelical Church in Germany sees a "basic tension between ‘opening up’ and ‘consolidating’...; on the one hand [the WCC] tries to offer a platform for churches which cannot or will not become members, and on the other it wants to call the churches to responsible membership". The United Reformed Church (UK) says changes since the WCC was formed - the rise of new churches and movements which has "multiplied the wealth of Christian expression", church unions "forming new expressions of the church in their place and time", the creation of "more inclusive councils of churches" -- produce a "tension which is at the heart of all church life, the balance between unity and diversity... The task of a global Christian fellowship should be to help us live with this tension."
II. Membership issues
Growth in numbers
Two quite different opinions on the continued increase in the number of member churches were expressed. For the Moravian Church in Jamaica, since the WCC is fundamentally a council of churches, "it is desirable that we include more and more members in this fellowship". But the Church of Greece suggests that the present financial plight of the WCC -- and "the gradual downgrading of its constitutional declarations" - is due to an "arbitrary increase of member churches", a "mass induction of small missionary communities into its pale as equal members ". Whether this ascription of "equality" to all member churches, which is asserted by the CUV text, in fact corresponds to the reality of the WCC’s life is challenged by the responses from the Canadian member churches and from the United Church of Canada.
The Kimbanguist Church says the criteria for WCC membership should be simple: a church should have a minimum of 20,000 members and confess the christological dogmas of Nicea and Constantinople, and its ministers should be trained in reputable theological schools. But the Baptist Union of Great Britain finds the WCC’s operative understanding of "church" as a national body uncongenial to its own congregational ecclesiology -- a comment echoed by the World Convention of Churches of Christ.
The "family model"
Responding to the statement in the draft text that the number of member churches has more than doubled, the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland says this is true "only if each confession in each country is counted as one church. If one counts church families or Christian world communions, the result looks quite different."
The Orthodox Church in America says the current reckoning of membership is based on the "denominational principle", and says this "has increasingly marginalized the Orthodox member churches". The Romanian Orthodox Church attributes the WCC’s current crisis to its "repeated attempts... to propose... models of unity made in its own laboratories, with the obvious purpose to save the identity of the Christian denominations which make up the Council, rather than to set up a strong foundation for Christian unity". For its part, however, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries calls the WCC "the most significant expression of Christian unity" at a point "when the role of denominations seems to be fading in North America".
It is not only responses from Orthodox churches that raise the possibility of modes of membership different from the current pattern. The Church of England, asking whether WCC membership can "more accurately mirror the Christian presence in the world today", suggests exploration of a "family" model, in which each "recognizable grouping" of churches would determine how to form its own delegation to the Central Committee. The Mennonite Church in the Netherlands wonders "why it is not possible to guarantee a certain percentage of seats to each church tradition, including Pentecostals, historic peace churches, African Independent Churches, evangelicals, etc."; the Mennonite Church in Germany warns that if each confession does not have a voice in the WCC, the whole point of the CUV document is contradicted. According to the Unit I Commission, " the question of whether representation on governing bodies should be allocated in some relationship to families of churches needs some detailed analysis."
Roman Catholic -- Evangelical -- Pentecostal
Many responses welcome the openness of the CUV draft to three specific "families" which are largely outside the WCC: the Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostal and evangelical churches. Some speak more generally of closer ties. Acción Médica Cristiana (Nicaragua) says the WCC needs "an inclusive strategy towards evangelical and Pentecostal groups"; the Baptist Union of Great Britain holds that "the future of the WCC as a credible institution requires... extending the community of Christians who work together by continuing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and the various evangelical and Pentecostal groupings which are outside the membership of the WCC"; and the response of the Ecumenical Patriarchate reiterates its earlier convictions that "a Roman Catholic presence would truly enrich the WCC and give to it still wider ecumenical dimensions".
Others raise directly the issue of membership: the Church of England calls for exploration of "the grounds on which the Roman Catholic Church would consider becoming a member of a Council at the world level". The Working Group of Christian Churches in Switzerland poses the "radical question: Should the WCC, together with the Roman Catholic Church..., not work out a fundamentally new structure of the Council with a view to full Roman Catholic membership)?" The World Methodist Council "urges that renewed efforts are made to bring [the Roman Catholic Church and certain evangelical and Pentecostal churches] into full membership".
From the side of the Roman Catholic Church itself, the response from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity indicates that it "can accept the present WCC Basis as a point of reference". Moreover, "the PCPCU affirms as an ecumenical necessity that it continue to be an active partner in the life and activities of the WCC as they are listed in the purposes and functions." Regional and national councils of churches and agencies Several responses underscore the need to take geographical considerations seriously in the structuring of the WCC. The Church of Ireland, for example, says the heads of churches meeting proposed by the CUV draft could be regionally organized. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia suggests allotting Central Committee membership according to region or denomination while ensuring adequate balances for gender, age, ethnicity and ordained/laity. Other responses refer directly in this connection to regional and national councils of churches. Perhaps the most specific proposal for linkage comes from the Methodist Church in Tonga: "The WCC needs to recognize the existence of NCCs at the local level as its own manifestation before it can claim its identity as a fellowship of churches... Each member of an NCC should nominate four delegates to the Central Committee; each region should elect four members from its region to the Executive Committee." The Christian Council of Sweden says the WCC should "take on a more distinct function of coordination and networking" with the regional and national councils. Both the Swiss Protestant Missionary Council and the Evangelical Church in Germany recall that some of these councils already have an institutional link with the WCC through the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (as successor of the International Missionary Council of which they were members).
Responses from church-related development agencies, not directly mentioned in the working draft, underscore their ecumenical role. Finnchurchaid says these bodies "are not just funding agencies but an essential part of the life of their corresponding churches". APRODEV (an association of WCC-related agencies in Europe) goes further to propose a "world ecumenical council, made up of many semi-autonomous networks which are... enabled to interact by the Geneva office". While acknowledging the need for establishing "ecumenical meeting places", however, the Church of Norway says "only churches should be allowed membership in the WCC". The Black Church Liaison Committee (USA) expresses concern that the structural ideas in the CUV draft, especially the Forum proposal, move in the direction of a council of ecumenical bodies rather than a council of churches. And the United Reformed Church insists that "the relationship between members and global Christian fellowship must be kept as direct as possible" -- and that "a council of councils... would not serve the cause of Christian unity".
Groups and movements
A considerable number of responses speak of "groups and movements", those diverse and often informally organized bodies in which individual Christians work together ecumenically on a faith basis to address specific concerns. The Conference of Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand says "the WCC has a distinct role in bringing diverse groups together, whether they be churches, agencies, or any other variety of ecumenical group". For the National Council of Churches in the US, a fellowship of churches should "encompass the rich variety of ecumenical expressions -- including agencies, dynamic ecumenical local groups, women and youth organizations". The Evangelical Church in Germany calls "groups and initiatives which exist on their faith, outside formal church structures... an essential component of church life". The United Church of Canada says the draft text needs "a stronger acknowledgment of the good of greater cooperation with Christian communities or movements".
The World YWCA criticizes the text for "very general, very causal language regarding Christian communities and movements" and says it needs "more detailed and substantive description", which indicates "the mutuality of relations between the WCC and these groups". The Asian Regional Meeting is even more broadly critical of the CUV draft on this point, arguing that its "definition of ‘fellowship of churches’ is a structural definition and there needs to be recognition that churches are made up of the people of God and that they in their uniqueness make testimony to God".
Certain responses are critical of the role of these groups. The Russian Orthodox Church says "para-ecumenical, youth, feminist and other groups and movements use the WCC to express their own interests"; and its response insists that "the WCC was a fellowship of churches at its founding and it remains so today". The Kimbanguist Church warns that movements should not put pressure on member churches, which are "independent, sovereign and free, and maintain their identity".
Other responses, by contrast, urge a greater structural recognition of these bodies within the WCC. The Youth response calls for a broad understanding of membership "in which churches and movements can be in relationship to one another both inside and outside WCC membership". The Swiss Protestant Missionary Council asks: "Can the WCC, while retaining the essential core of instituted churches as full members, not imagine forms of ‘membership’ open to Christian movements, associations, organisms..., the dynamic base of the ecumenical movement...? Do the churches not need incitements to renewal inscribed in the very statutes of the WCC" by the presence of these movements? But the Orthodox Church of Finland argues that such groups "represent an element which essentially differs from the character and role of the churches themselves". And the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, while welcoming a larger "table to facilitate the seating of ‘ecclesial’ entities other than those now defined as member churches", insists that "the ecclesiastical realities of the member churches and their representative role" is "basic to any redefinition of the WCC".
III. Governance issues
The Youth response criticizes the CUV draft for lacking any critical analysis of power within the WCC: "It does not reflect issues of power that exist within the Council and how these are present in decision-making".
A number of responses recognize that the proposal for a heads of churches meeting does raise issues of power. The Anglican Church of Australia sees a risk of "elitism" in such a meeting (but nevertheless finds the proposal a good one). The Anglican Church of Canada describes it as problematic; its response speaks more generally of the need to share power and avoid concentrating it in the hands of fewer persons. The Church of Norway insists that if such a meeting were instituted, it should not be an alternative power structure.
More generally, the dangers of "elitism", "exclusion" and "concentration of power" are raised in quite a few responses to the CUV draft. Acción Médica Cristiana (Nicaragua) says the WCC must prevent the ecumenical movement from falling into the hands of leadership elites. The Black Churches Liaison Committee sees the proposed Forum itself as an exclusivistic idea.
The Faith and Order Board insists that any new structural divisions of power and responsibility should not "marginalize the voices of the member churches, not least those new and small churches from the South". A similar point is made by the Unit IV Commission: "The WCC must present no barriers to the partnership of the churches of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded... The inclusiveness of the partnership must be expressed in institutional conditions of membership that do not impede participation by these churches (e.g. requirements of size of membership, polity or other institutional affiliations)." From the so-called first world, Canadian member churches say the structures of the Council need to reflect the two-thirds world better. And the Church of Sweden, itself one of the WCC’s largest, notes that "the large church traditions, by virtue of their size, have too great an impact on developments within the Council".
From the side of smaller member churches, the United Protestant Church in Belgium expresses concern that the working draft proposal for " electoral groupings" would be at the cost of minority churches. The Church of Christ in Thailand says that "the dream of unity at the WCC level seems rooted in greatness... Will there be room for little churches doing little things for little people?" The Kimbanguist Church notes that the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant communions have a "superiority complex vis-à-vis ‘younger’ churches".
Representation and quotas
The combined response from the Canadian member churches underscores the importance of representativeness; and the Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends suggests that current practices for representation, elections and decision-making in Canadian Council of Churches work well (although it does not spell out what these are or how they might be applied to the WCC).
The one specific reference in the CUV draft to a "quota" -- which was in fact a proposal to maintain the status quo: 25 percent Orthodox representation on governing bodies -- elicited considerable critical comment. The Christian Council of Zambia asks why it is proposed; the Czech Hussite Church says there is no justification for it. If numerical quotas are to be set, they should be used for all groups, says the Youth response; similarly, the Unit III Commission asks why 25 percent is guaranteed to the Orthodox but not reasonable levels to women and youth; the United Church of Canada, more generally, asks "why a quota for Orthodox and not for others?" From the Orthodox side, the Ecumenical Patriarchate says that the 25 percent quota "was never considered by the Orthodox as satisfactory" , since it consigns them to the status of a de facto minority. Thus, "we believe that the time has come to seek a qualitative rather than quantitative presence of the various ecclesiastical traditions" in the WCC.
A more broadly critical remark in this connection comes from the Church of Finland, which describes the WCC’s present understanding of representation as "non-theological: it can only bring about sociologically representative bodies".
The role of member churches in governance
The Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa (Indonesia) asks: "How do member churches participate in the governing or policy-making bodies of the Council?" While precise and specific answers to this question are few among the responses, insistence on the surpassing importance of the member churches’ exercising such a role is widespread.
According to the Church of Greece, the WCC should be "an institutional framework within which dialogue between member churches can be carried on". The Ecumenical Patriarchate says member churches "must place themselves at the epicentre of the WCC". Relating this centrality of the member churches to the specific issue of governance, the Presbyterian Church (USA) says the WCC should find means of including the widest possible representation of member churches in its governing structures. This is echoed by the response from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which says that while the management of the WCC "has to be strengthened..., adequate involvement of the member churches has to be safeguarded... We should prevent a situation in which some of those member churches provide substantial financial resources feel excluded from decision-making processes."
Some of the strong emphasis on the role of member churches in governing the Council emerges in response to the proposals for a heads of churches meeting and for a Forum. For example, the Czech Hussite Church thinks the former idea has merit for it "because our church had no delegate in the Central Committee during the whole time from the beginning of the WCC". On the other hand, the Anglican Church of Canada criticizes the Forum proposal on the ground that "it does not provide an opportunity for wide exposure and communion among representatives of member bodies". And the Anglican Church of Australia echoes a number of responses expressing reservations that the Forum proposal presents the danger of weakened commitment.
In some responses the assembly is the focal point of this emphasis on the predominant role of member churches. The Friends General Conference emphasizes the importance of each church taking part in discerning the broad policy decisions that shape their joint endeavours; thus the function of the assembly must be maintained. The United Reformed Church in the UK, while favouring wider representation (the Roman Catholic Church, evangelicals, Pentecostals), says this should not be at the expense of the WCC’s role as a council of churches in which each member is directly represented in the assembly. In this connection, the Uganda Joint Christian Council expresses "fear that the continuous expansion of membership of the WCC will make it logistically impossible for the assembly as a representative policy-making institution to function properly".
Others focus on the role of the Central Committee. For example, the Faith and Order Board warns that if member churches themselves do not elect the Central Committee, they will not support it. The most radical specific proposal regarding the Central Committee is that of the Church of Denmark, which suggests that it should be made up of one representative from each member church, with NCCs, REOs and agencies represented by advisors; and that it should replace the assembly.
The Waldensian Church, while affirming the need "to create a greater liaison between the WCC and the churches", says the WCC should not "simply become a reflection of the churches... and that it should not lose its ability to offer a more advanced position than most churches, indicating new frontiers of faithful Christian witness".