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Ecumenicalism: The 'Urge to Merge' within Christianity

International Christian organizations: Part 2

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This essay is a contination of Part 1

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The World Council of Churches (WCC):

The WCC was founded in 1948 as a fellowship of 147 Christian faith groups. It has since grown to include 342 denominations and churches. They represent 120 countries and about individual 400 million Christians. "The WCC was formed to serve and advance the ecumenical movement - the quest for restoring the unity of the church - by encouraging in its members a common commitment to follow the gospel. The prayer of the churches which belong to the WCC is for the renewal and faithful response of the people of God in witness and service to the world." 1

The modern ecumenical movement has roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the 1937 Oxford Life and Work Conference, called "Church, Community and State," religious leaders agreed to found a World Council of Churches. Organizational work was delayed by World War II. At their first assembly in Amsterdam, Holland on 1948-AUG-23, two ecumenical groups merged to form the WCC: Life and Work (L&W) and Faith and Order (F&O). The International Missionary Council (IMC) joined the WCC in 1961. The World Council of Christian Education joined in 1971.

Their goal is to seek fellowship in the midst of diversity. They do not intend to found a global super-church. They do not seek to standardize worship styles, beliefs, policies or practices among the various faith traditions. Their aim is to "deepen the fellowship of Christian churches and communities so they may see in one another authentic expressions of the 'one holy, catholic and apostolic church.' This becomes the basis for joining in a common confession of the apostolic faith, cooperating in mission and human service endeavours and, where possible, sharing in the sacraments."

Initially, membership in the WCC was open to "churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour". In 1961, they changed the definition to include: "churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Membership has grown to include almost all of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the churches of the Anglican Communion, and many Protestant denominations, including: Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Reform, independent and united faith groups. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC. However, the Vatican sends observers to all major WCC meetings. Their Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity cooperates with the WCC in preparing resource materials for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

A special commission was established in 1999 to study continued participation in the WCC by Eastern Orthodox churches. The latter are vastly outvoted by Protestant church members, and have suggested that some of the WCC decisions be made on the basis of a consensus rather than a majority vote. Some have perceived a split in the WCC between the Protestant member churches, which tend to be liberal in theology and practice, and the Orthodox church minority which tend to be quite conservative. At a meeting in early 2001, Georges Tsetsis, an Orthodox priest and representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, addressed the WCC central committee. He rejected the validity of a Protestant/Orthodox divide, stressing that internal differences were more between liberal and conservative faith groups. 

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World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC):

In mid 2010, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council merged to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). In a meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, Jerry Pillay the General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa was elected president.

They represent a global network of about 80 million members from 227 churches in 108 countries. . Their union combines many Presbyterian, Congregational, Reformed, Waldensian, Uniting, and United denominations. Their headquarters will be in Geneva, Switzerland.

They were saddened by the "absence of 71 sisters and brothers from around the world" who could not attend the meetings because they were denied visas to enter the USA. In their "Message from the Uniting General Council 2010" they emphasized a call to communion and committment to justice; in particularly involving:

  • "... those living in divided communities who long for reconciliation; for those whose voices go unheard, whose gifts are not valued, whose humanity is not respected; those subjected to humiliation and violence; those under oppression and persecution.

  • "... the earth, the water and the air as they suffer from human exploitation of natural resources, and for all those who suffer from the devastating effects of climate change.

Areas of participation will involve the strengthening of spirituality and worship and a committment to gender equality, justice, and reconciliation. They did not specifically include working for equality among persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities in their message. 2

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The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) -- formerly "WEF":

The WEA was founded in as the World Evangelical Fellowship 1951 as an international umbrella group for Evangelical Christians. 3Its roots go back to 1846. Current members include the Assemblies of God, Baptist General Conference, Campus Crusade for Christ Int., Christian and Missionary Alliance, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Full Gospel Assemblies, Jews for Jesus, Lutheran, Methodist, Navigators, Presbyterian Church in America, Salvation Army, and the Youth for Christ International, along with many Bible seminaries and conservative para-church organizations. During their 2001-MAY General Assembly, they changed their name to "World Evangelical Alliance." As of 2001-MAY, their network included 120 national or regional church alliances, 104 organizational ministries and six specialized ministries. Their offices are in Chicago IL and Singapore. They have observer status at the United Nations.

They hold meetings every four years. Almost 600 delegates from 81 countries attended their 11th General Assembly in 2001-MAY in Kuala Lumpur.  Major concerns at that meeting were third world debt, spousal abuse, and religious liberty.

They sponsor the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

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The Worldwide Anglican Communion:

The Anglican Communion split away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530s, over a matter of divorce. King Henry VIII of England wanted to terminate his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon because she was viewed as being incapable of producing a male heir. [Medical science was quite primitive in those days; physicians did not realize that it is the male who determines the gender of his children. Lack of a male heir was the King's "fault"]. The Pope refused to grant the divorce. Eventually, King Henry VIII declared that he was Supreme Head of the Church of England

The Church subsequently expanded worldwide with the British Empire. Over time, the Anglican Communion has deviated from the beliefs, policies and practices of the Roman Catholic church in many areas: simplification of the liturgy; tolerance of diverse views among the clergy and laity; a democratic internal organization. Major liberalization has ocurred over matters of human sexuality such as birth control, abortion, marriage within the priesthood, female ordination and homosexuality. Unity talks continue with the Roman Catholic Church. However, little progress is being made.

The world-wide fellowship of Anglican churches 4now  includes the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA), 5 the Anglican Church of Canada, 6 the Church of England in Britain, 7and 35 other national churches elsewhere in the world. They have an active presence in over 160 countries. Total membership is approximately 76 million. Each national church, or province, has wide powers of self-government. Bishops meet every ten years in England at the Lambeth Conference to reach general agreement on basic matters of faith and social policy. 

As with most other mainline and liberal Christian faith groups, the Anglican Communion has been facing serious division over matters related to human sexuality: 
bullet At the 1988 Lambeth Conference, there was a major inter-provincial conflict over female ordination. Liberal Anglican provinces had eliminated gender as a condition for ordination; conservative groups opposed women in the priesthood. Both factions justified their position with the usual biblical passages. By the time of the 1998 Conference, the conflict had been largely resolved. Most provinces now ordained women and a few female priests have been consecrated as bishops.
 
bullet At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a new problem emerged in force: equal rights for gays and lesbians within the Communion. Currently, gays and lesbians may be ordained within the Anglican Communion, but only if they undertake to remain celibate and without a partner for the rest of their life. The Anglican communion currently does not recognize or perform gay and lesbian union ceremonies. No significant changes were made at the 1998 Conference over these matters.

 
bullet In recent years, the conflict over homosexuality has reached a crisis point within the Anglican Communion. The American province -- the Episcopal Church, USA  is undergoing a schism; some of their conservative dioceses and congregations are splitting from the Episcopal Church and linking up with foreign bishops. The core cause of the conflict is over methods of biblical interpretation. It is surfacing mainly over the six clobber passages related to same-sex activity, and what they imply for the recognition of loving, committed same-sex relationships.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The World Council of Churches' web site is at: http://www.wcc-coe.org/ They can be contacted at: PO Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. Telephone: (41 22) 791 6111. Fax: (41 22) 791 0361. E-mail: info@wcc-coe.org.
  2. "Message from the Uniting General Council 2010," World Communion of Reformed Churches, 2010-JUN, at:  http://www.reformedchurches.org/ This is a PDF file.
  3. "World Evangelical Fellowship reflects new face of Christianity," Religion Today, 2001-MAY-07, at: http://news.crosswalk.com/religion/item/0,1875,343007,00.htm 
  4. The Anglican Communion has an official web site at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/site.html
  5. The Episcopal Church of the USA has a web site at: http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/ 
  6. the Anglican Church of Canada's web site is at: http://www.anglican.ca/
  7. The Church of England's web site is at: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/
  8. E. Doogue & S. Brown, "Orthodox official vows strong commitment to World Council of Churches," PCUSA News note #6373, 2001-FEB-6.
  9. The official web site of the World Evangelical Fellowship is at http://www.worldevangelical.org/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-FEB-7
Latest update: 2010-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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