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The World Council of Churches is opening its doors to Pentecostals and Evangelicals, and at no better time. The Christian landscape is rapidly changing and the once-dominant mainline churches that make up most of the Council’s membership are diminishing in strength and influence around the world. The Council is therefore wise in tapping the network of fast-growing Evangelical-style churches while it still has the chance. But dialogue alone will not be enough to bridge the rift that has already formed between the liberal-ecumenical and conservative-evangelical movements.
Organizers of the ninth World Council of Churches Assembly, which began yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazil, said it “will mark the beginning of a new phase in search for Christian unity.” With dozens of Christian heavyweights scheduled to attend – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, Geoff Tunnicliffe, to name a few – this ambitious ecumenical effort has the potential to become the new Vatican II for Protestant Christendom.
However, for true dialogue to take place, the WCC must convince the Pentecostal/Evangelical community that it has changed, and that it is sincerely focused on what Evangelicals are most concerned about – evangelism.
These evangelism-driven churches have now grown to a force so powerful and large that according to some statistics, they make up a third of the world’s Christians at an estimated 800 million members. This may explain why the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, said he will meet privately with prominent Pentecostal pastors throughout the week to find areas of common ground.
But as in the past, Evangelicals are still critical of the Switzerland-based Council, whose membership includes those who support homosexual marriages, euthanasia, and abortion. Furthermore, many Pentecostals still regard the Council as a threat to their independent worship, preaching style and fund raising methods, and are unlikely to jump on a bandwagon of aging, traditional, denominations that seem to take more interest in the world of politics than the mission field.
As the ceremony began Tuesday, the Council set several themes for this week’s assembly – economic justice, Christian unity, overcoming violence, interreligious dialogue, Latin America and the assembly motto “God in your grace transform the world.” The Council also said it will make public statements “on such issues as nuclear disarmament, United Nations reform, terrorism and counter terrorism, and water.”
While these politically-charged issues are important from a holistic standpoint, for true transformation to occur and for the WCC to be representative of the whole ecumenical world, the Council must first clarify its identity as a Christian movement and focus on taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Unless this underlying theme of evangelism is firmly set, all dialogue between the world’s largest ecumenical body and the rising evangelical movement will remain as nothing more than mere conversation.
Therefore, as the assembly progresses and as evangelical finally meets ecumenical, the WCC should direct all its attention on Jesus Christ and the gospel. Only then will this assembly truly become everything organizers hope it will be – the launching pad for a modern ecumenical movement of Christ’s solidified Church.
NEW YORK – The largest ecumenical body of churches and two other church bodies held a symposium Saturday at the Interchurch Center in New York to discuss challenges facing the ecumenical movement in the 21st century, one of which is the marked absence of Evangelicals and Pentecostals from the ecumenical table.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) along with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the Armenian Apostolic Church of America welcomed to America Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and moderator of the Central and Executive Committees of the WCC. Dozens of leaders were in attendance from the Orthodox and Reformed faith traditions for the semi-formal discussion, Oct. 22.
The ecumenical tradition has historically consisted of mainline Protestant churches, as well as Orthodox churches, but does not include evangelicals and Pentecostals.
One panelist called the inclination to not include Evangelicals and Pentecostals indicative of a “disturbing isolation from the wider Church.”
This is especially true when Evangelicals/Pentecostals represent the “fastest-growing” movements within the Church, said the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, the Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson.
“Churches that are growing the fastest are not connected to the ecumenical fabric,” he said. “Pentecostals, evangelicals are no where to be found at our meetings.”
Granberg-Michaelson notes, however, that the groups that have rejected ecumenicalism have begun social movements of their own on the same issues that the Ecumenicals are known to care for. The Micah Challenge addresses global poverty in a cross-denominational way, and Rick Warren’s new HIV/AIDS initiative tries to remedy the social ills behind the devastating disease. He pointed out that these are new Evangelical-backed movements.
“A growing theological maturity and self-confidence is expressed in a strong missiological commitment that embraces a holistic Gospel... and engages such issues as poverty, HIV/AIDS, and environment destruction as expressions of faith,” he said. “Many evangelicals are articulating a fresh and compelling witness on issues once thought to be only on the ecumenical agenda.”
The keynote address, delivered by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, the WCC’s general secretary, touched upon the same need to include other church movements.
Kobia stated that they must seek ways of “widening the fellowship so that laity and youth as well as Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals who have not played a part in the WCC may feel fully welcome.”
The WCC head also touched on the question of relating to people of other faiths, especially clearing away misconceptions between Christians and Muslims and to communicate and defend the Gospel in an era of pluralism. There is also the challenge of engaging with a spirituality understood as existing over and against organized religion.
“I fear that the emphasis on ‘spirituality’ in religious discourse provides more enticement to battle-weary church leaders, and members, to retreat from social action and public controversy. Then, it might be that our theology and our practice will turn inward once more.”
Despite the various challenges, Kobia ended his address with his hope in God.
“God, in your grace, transform the world” is both his prayer and the theme for the WCC’s Ninth Assembly, to be held Feb. 14–23, 2005 in Porto Alegre , Brazil.
Speakers included Prelate of the Eastern United States of America of the Armeniam Apostolic Church, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan; General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar; Moderator of the U.S. Conference for the WCC & Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America, the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky; Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fr. Francis Tiso, PhD; and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Diane Kessler.
The Antiochian Orthodox Church is leaving the National Council of Churches because it says the Council has adopted a liberal “political agenda.”
“Unfortunately, the NCC USA started to adopt an agenda and positioning that appeared to depart from the primary purpose of spreading and witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Father George Kevorkian, Assistant to Metropolitan Philip Saliba - the denomination’s senior cleric - said Friday. “It seems to have taken a turn toward political positioning.”
The delegates to the Orthodox Church’s 47th General Assembly in late July voted to reject “all extremist positions that are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith,” which meant they would be leaving what they saw as a far left-leaning organization.
The decision marks the first time in over a decade that a church decided to rescind membership from the historic National Council of Churches, and highlights the tensions running through the left-and-right church divide.
“Very few denominations have pulled out of the NCC, and it’s admirable that the Antiochian Orthodox Church would leave on its own,” said Mark Tooley of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, a Washington-based conservative think-tank and critic of the NCC. “I hope other Orthodox churches can be inspired by the [Antiochian Church’s] example.”
The NCC is the ecumenical counterpart to the conservative National Association of Evangelicals; denominations must choose to align with one or the other - not both.
However, not all the NCC constituents are liberal, and the Council doesn’t believe “liberal” or “left-wing” are correct characterizations.
“There are member groups who will consider themselves as quite conservative, quite evangelical, and quite determined to uphold moral values,” explained Phillip Jenks, Communications Director for the NCC. “It’s very difficult to paint the NCC with such a wide brush.”
Still, many of the nation’s most liberal protestant churches – such as the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church – belong to the NCC.
The United Church of Christ’s recent decision to officially back gay marriages played a part in the Antiochian Orthodox Church’s withdrawal. Another disconcerting issue for the Orthodox Church was the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop.
However, Kevorkian explained, these are all just peripheral issues.
“I want to emphasize that the UCC position is disturbing,” he said. “But I don’t think a single distraction from a single jurisdiction within the NCC would have made us take the action we took.”
According to Kevorkian, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a recent NCC fundraising letter in which he said the NCC’s general secretary asked churches and member denominations to fight “right wing attacks.” It is this political positioning at the leadership level that concerned him the most.
“It is the broader-based representation of the NCC leadership that became a repress,” he said, referring to the NCC’s General Secretary Bob Edgar. “The action we took began when the core leadership started to develop and document political positions.”
Rev. Edgar was unable to be reached for comments.
NCC communications director Leslie Tune said the Council had not yet received an official statement from the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and that the President of NCC, Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr, may meet with the Church’s representatives next week to “work something out.”
Kevorkian confirmed that the “correspondence to the NCC is being prepared.” However, he added, “a reversal is highly unlikely.”
Instead, Kevorkian says, the Orthodox Church may form relationships with other ecumenical bodies.
“I want to say that this does not represent a signal that we will be withdrawing from ecumenical groups,” he said. “We have limited energy and resources, and this will allow us to focus those resources on groups and activities that are more aligned with the primary mission, which is spreading the word of Jesus Christ.”
European evangelical leaders addressed their roles as transforming agents in an increasingly secularized Europe at the conclusion of their annual assembly in Tavira, Portugal on Saturday.
Over 200 Christian leaders representing 35 countries gathered for the joint four-day assembly held by the European Evangelical Alliance, the European Evangelical Missionary Alliance and Hope for Europe, building stronger ties and renewing their faith around the theme “Gospel Relevance in Europe Today.”
“As a group of evangelical Christian leaders, we have benefited greatly from being together and thinking about our respective responsibilities in Europe,” said Gordon Showell-Rogers, general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA), according to report released Sunday by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). “Our hope is that what’s happened this week might become strategic for the welfare of European society.”
Networking opportunities sealed new and closer partnerships among the hundreds of European evangelicals for a solidified alliance. After a unanimous vote, EEA members welcomed the United Christian Council in Israel and the Protestant Evangelical Alliance in Bosnia and Hercegovina as their member alliances, now numbering 35. Membership requests from the European Evangelical Accrediting Alliance and JANZ team international were also accepted during the assembly.
With an expanded member network, participating leaders addressed their identities as evangelicals in Europe in the 21st century.
“Who are we?” was a question posed during the assembly.
The evangelical leaders newly assumed a broader role beyond the local church and into the political sphere of Europe. New developments in the EEA Brussels office have led politicians to take notice of the alliance’s united evangelical voice.
Newly appointed Brussels Representative Tove Videbaek said, “We will do everything we can to further Christian values.
“In Brussels, we can have an impact on the politics of all of Europe because it goes from here to 25 countries.”
As the European Evangelicals formed new relationships and stepped into new territories as catalysts for God, old and existing ties were also solidified.
The EEA adopted a statement recognizing a close partnership with the EEMA, whose collaboration dates back to 1984. Representatives from the two evangelical groups sealed their partnership with signatures at the close of the ceremony. The two alliances are also developing a memorandum of understanding with Hope for Europe.
Taking on several new changes and developments, the European evangelical leaders came to the conclusion of their identities as “Christian nobodies,” according to Showell-Rogers.
“God has, in His grace, touched our lives and chooses to take our lives and make them count for something,” he explained. “To make a difference in 21st century Europe, we do not need something that God has not already given.
“Europe needs us to be who we are, where we are at this stage in history,” he said. “Europe desperately needs God to visit us and for God’s people to live as God’s people.”
Evangelicals in Europe have committed to the holistic mission of transforming Europe on all levels with a larger network during the largest European Evangelical Alliance assembly in Portugal this week.
“We are here to win souls but we are also here to transform Europe,” said Leonardo De Chirico, vice president of the Italian Evangelical Alliance, on Thursday during the 2005 EEA in Tavira, Portugal. The annual assembly, which began on Wednesday and ends on Sunday, follows the theme, “Gospel Relevance in Europe Today.”
On the second day of its gathering, the EEA welcomed two new members, the United Christian Council in Israel and the Protestant Evangelical Alliance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, into its network.
“We have a passion for the Middle East and Africa,” said Gordon Showell-Rogers, general secretary of the EEA, who then explained how important is the membership of an Israeli group into the EEA for uniting the Evangelicals from different countries in Middle East.
Showell-Rogers said he was concerned that Israel would not be able to connect very easily with the countries in the Middle East for practical reasons, such as the absence of regional alliance for national evangelical groups in the region.
“The place for Israeli Evangelicals to interface with other Evangelicals is clearly through Europe,” Showell-Rogers therefore concluded.
Acknowledging this special connection, the European assembly attendees unanimously backed Israel’s membership into the EEA, even though the country is geographically disjointed from Europe.
Meanwhile, two other organizations – the European Evangelical Accrediting Alliance and JANZ team international – that have worked very closely with national Evangelical alliances in Europe were both accepted into the EEA as associates on Thursday’s gathering.
European Evangelical Accrediting Alliance is an agency that accredits schools of Christian higher education, while JANZ team international is a missions group that serves in several European countries.
On Thursday, the EEA assembly has also reviewed the establishment of a new EEA office near the European Union (EU) Institutions in Brussels and the selection of a new EEA Brussels representative earlier this year.
Located at the heart of the European 25-nations bloc, the EEA Brussels office enables European Evangelicals to step forward to transform Europe by political, social, and economic means.
“We will do everything we can to further Christian values,” said Tove Videbaek, who has taken leadership of the EEA Brussels office since June 2005.
Videbaek, whose leadership has been strongly based on the Biblical truth without leaning to certain political preference, reiterated that her vision is to “transform Europe.”
“There is no verse in the Bible that will tell you whether the EU is good or bad,” she told the assembly. “But I really love being a part of the EEA, and as evangelical churches in Europe, we can do so much in speaking the truth about biblical values.”
These values include the protection of life “at all stages,” upholding the sanctity of marriage, promoting religious freedom and human rights, and protecting the rights of pastors to freely preach, Videbaek added.
In addition, Videbaek noted, none of the work is possible without prayers and the blessing of God.
“Pray as if everything depends on God,” she said. “We know without God’s blessings we can do nothing at all.”
Videbaek is a 20-year veteran in Christian media and 7-year parliamentarian from Denmark. Her entry to EEA has revived the EEA Brussels office, which was opened many years ago but has not been operated in full extent.
Currently, she reported, people in Brussels are starting to notice the EEA’s presence.
Thousands of churches and church-goers around the world will celebrate unity in diversity during the upcoming World Council of Churches’ General Council in February.
The WCC’s ninth assembly is set for Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, marking the first time the event has been held in Latin America.
Up to 1,200 church delegates and representatives of affiliated organizations are expected to attend the event at the Catholic Pontifical University, along with about 1,800 non-official participants.
Preparations for the assembly, held once about every nine years, were already underway by early 2005, when top WCC representatives set the date, location, and theme of the assembly – “God, in your grace, transform the world.”
According to Norman Shanks of Scotland, moderator of the assembly planning committee, the theme reflects both the global and individual need for “healing and change, recognizing our dependence of God and acknowledging that we all have a part to play in the process of transformation.
The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concern, meanwhile said he believes the assembly will provide a great opportunity for Christians to taste that transformation in the ecumenical movement.
“My sense is that the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement face a time of transition and, yes, transformation,” he told the United Methodist News Service “As the Church’s witness to the world develops, the assembly is an opportunity for us to sharpen and focus our mission as God’s people.”
Plenary sessions and discussions will surround a variety of topics from economic justice, religious plurality and church unity.
Observers from evangelical circles, such as the World Evangelical Alliance, will also be present at the assembly, bringing yet another voice to the ecumenical table.
For those who are unable to attend but wish to partake in the assembly, the WCC has prepared a panoply of resources related to the event. A brochure on Feb. 12, “Assembly Sunday,” provides ideas for prayer and worship, and program documents, prayer, Bible studies, news stories and feature articles are regularly being posted on the assembly site.
The planning team has also prepared for live-webcasting of several plenary sessions, and will also provide video summaries of main events each day.
In light of such ongoing preparations for the assembly, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC, is urging “churches, communities and Christians in all places to pray together” on Sunday, Feb. 12, the day the assembly begins.
He is also encouraging Christians to continue praying throughout the assembly period “so that the Spirit of God will come upon us and guide our work during that time, and to offer solidarity and support for the event and the proposals and vision which will emerge from the gathering.”
Christians should solely commit themselves to Jesus, but should be open to pluralistic dialogue when addressing people of other faith, the symbolic head of the world’s Anglican Communion said at the largest ecumenical gathering in a decade.
“We are called to show utter commitment to the God who is revealed in Jesus and to all those to whom His invitation is addressed,” the Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Friday during a session on Christian identity and religious plurality at the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Addressing the struggle of maintaining a Christian identity while reaching out to a world of pluralistic convictions, Williams warned against what he viewed as two approaches to inter-religious dialogue that were unhelpful.
The first approach is to claim an exclusive possession of the truth, while the other is to lose confidence in one’s faith and “slip into a world-view that assumes every religion is as good as another.”
His precautions came amid ongoing violence in the Muslim world over the controversial cartoons depicting Islam’s founder, Muhammad. Religious scholars have long recommended using a pluralistic approach when dealing with such fundamentalists of other faiths.
Williams stressed this open approach to ministry and mission especially in the case of the Middle East, where a Christian minority lives among a Muslim majority.
“This is not the climate of ‘dialogue’ as it happens in the West or in the comfortable setting of international conferences; it is the painful making and remaking of trust in a deeply unsafe and complex environment,” the archbishop stated.
He therefore said, “When we face radically different notices, strange and complex accounts of a perspective not our own, our perspective must be not, ‘How do we convict them of error?’ ‘How do we win the competition of ideas?’ but ‘What do they actually see?’ and ‘Can what they see be a part of the world that I see?’”
At the same time, the Anglican head urged Council members to maintain its Christian identity and be not apologetic.
“Sometimes when we look at our neighbors of other traditions, it can be as if we see in their eyes a reflection of what we see; they do not have the words we have, but something is deeply recognizable,” Williams said.
Other guests at the plenary sessions included several Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist representatives.
Earlier at the WCC assembly, during a separate press conference, a Roman Catholic representative addressed conflicts that could arise as the world of Christian ecumenism rapidly changes.
Noting the rapid growth of the Pentecostal Church – according to some studies, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches make up a third of the world’s Christians – Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said theological dialogue will be crucial to maintaining a healthy ecumenical spirit.
“With classical Pentecostals, we have good dialogues. With these new churches, it is very difficult, because they have no central organization,” said Kasper on Thursday. “A dialogue of everyday life is possible, but a theological dialogue is not, because they have no unified theology and are often very aggressive.
“The neo-Pentecostal movement is evolving, and we don’t see what will be at the end of this development,” he added.
In regards to the Roman Catholic Church’s relation to the World Council of Churches, Kasper said there is “no rivalry or competition, but friendly collaboration.”
The WCC 9th Assembly, which began Wednesday, runs for ten days and concludes next Friday, Feb. 24.
World Evangelical leaders joined their Pentecostal counterparts to welcome better relations with members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on Monday. The drive for a greater co-operation in the future came as WCC members gathered for their 9th Assembly currently taking place Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The Rev Geoff Tunnicliffe, the International Director and CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), reported that the WEA “parallel network” of 400 million Christians identified with many of the WCC’s themes, such as HIV/AIDS, violence and poverty.
In particular, Tunnicliffe said that Evangelicals, many of which exist within WCC churches, were dedicated to integral mission, the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.
“If we ignore the world, we betray the word; if we ignore the word, we have nothing to bring to the world,” he said.
The WEA head went on to explain that the evangelical alliance was not a member of the WCC, partly because of the structural differences between the two worldwide bodies, and also due to some “historical and deeply-felt issues”.
However, he stated that the way forward was “to find connections around issues” such as the northern Uganda crisis, on which both organizations agreed.
When asked about evangelism and proselytism, Tunnicliffe said that the desire to see personal conversation was “at the heart of the evangelical movement.”
“We need to work on best practices about how we engage in evangelism,” he added.
The Chairman of The Church of Pentecost in Ghana, the Rev Michael Ntumy, also made an emotional call for closer connections between Pentecostal and WCC churches.
Referring to the origins of Pentecostal congregations a century ago, he said that many of them were the result of acrimonious separations from old churches. He said, “Although time does not necessarily heal all divisions, 100 years is long enough.”
Ntumy praised the strong emphasis in WCC churches on the social gospel, but said that “the Pentecostal emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel is an area WCC churches do not emphasize enough.”
Inviting a more unified future, he said that if Pentecostal, WCC churches and the Roman Catholic Church were to come together “we would become a spiritual colossus in the hands of God.”
He concluded: “Our doors are open; come, let’s talk.”
The World Council of Churches ended its ninth Assembly Thursday, after approving significant changes in its constitution and priorities, and re-dedicating itself to the Christian ecumenical movement.
“This Assembly has affirmed the vitality of the ecumenical movement and the commitment of the churches to the ecumenical vision and goal of unity, and to strive for a more just and peaceful world,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia.
Over 4,000 delegates, visitors and observers participated in the Assembly, which met from Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The Assembly marked the first to be held in Latin America since the Council was created in 1948.
Some of the highlights of the Assembly included the adoption of a revised constitutions, the move toward Christian unity, and a renewed dedication to youth.
At that light, the Assembly endorsed new proposals to create a special body that would represent young adults – under 30 years of age – in the decision-making and leadership process for the Council.
Delegates to the assembly also took action on “issues of international concern,” including globalization, counter-terrorism and human rights, nuclear disarmament, the scarcity of water, and the reform of the United Nations.
[KH: mainline churches getting more liberal]
AMERICAN CHURCH OFFICIALS pleaded for forgiveness for the sins of the United States last week—from the Iraq War, to Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Accord, to the racism exposed by Hurricane Katrina, to economic exploitation, and for the more general American sin of idolatry.
The clerics were representing 34 Protestant and Orthodox denominations in America at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
“Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests,” lamented the apologetic Americans. “Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous.”
The Geneva-based WCC, which includes 340 churches totaling 550 million members, has been governed by leftists for decades. About 25 percent of the world’s Christians belong to Protestant or Orthodox communions in the WCC. Thanks largely to leadership by leftist Europeans, the WCC long ago abandoned traditional Christian notions of ecumenism and evangelism in favor of radical liberation theologies that demonized the West, capitalism, and even Christianity. (Perhaps most famously, the WCC grudgingly refused to criticize the Soviet bloc during the final decades of the Cold War, while supporting and sometimes actually funding Soviet backed insurgencies.)
But the WCC’s core constituency and primary donors are the waning European Protestant churches. Christians from the Global South, whose “liberation” the WCC advocates, tend to be more interested in the traditional faith than in the WCC’s political causes. Maybe this growing dichotomy between the WCC staff and their constituency explains why delegates in attendance responded unenthusiastically to the self-abasement of the U.S. clerics.
Naturally, the WCC staff carefully manages which Global South Christians are allowed positions of leadership. At Porto Allegro, the WCC staff stage managed the schedule, prohibited direct votes by the delegates, and limited participation from outsiders—especially from Brazil’s own robust evangelicals.
American participants at the WCC Assembly did not need such managing. Representing the left-wing curia of mainline Protestant denominations, and of some Eastern Orthodox Churches, they were eager to encourage the WCC’s traditional hostility to the United States.
AFTER THANKING THE WCC for its “compassion” after 9/11 and Katrina, the U.S. delegates acknowledged ruefully that they are “citizens of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation.” In response to post-9/11 sympathy, they said, the United States “responded by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors.”
The letter to the WCC from the U.S. churches was read to the Assembly by Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church in America and a former president of the U.S. National Council of Churches (NCC).
“We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights,” the letter implored. “We acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name . . . Lord have mercy.”
The U.S. ecclesiastics are also distraught that the America has “violated” the “rivers, oceans, lakes, rainforests and wetlands that sustain us” and allowed global warming to go “unchecked” while the earth “veers towards destruction.” Indeed, the United States has denied “its complicity and rejects multilateral agreements aimed at reversing disastrous trends.”
In the face of global poverty, the United States “clings to . . . possessions rather than shares.” And at the same time, Hurricane Katrina “revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract.” Naturally, America refuses to recognize its racism at home and the “racism that infects our policies around the world.”
The U.S. delegation thanked the WCC for the “hospitality we don’t deserve, for companionship we haven’t earned, for an embrace we don’t merit.” Seeking God’s forgiveness, they pleaded, “From a place seduced by the lure of empire we come to you in penitence, eager for grace, grace sufficient to transform spirits grown weary from the violence, degradation, and poverty our nation has sown . . .”
AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AFTERWARDS, several of the U.S. representatives continued in the same vein. “The United States is increasingly being seen as a dangerous nation,” said United Church of Christ President John Thomas. “To come to a World Council of Churches Assembly is to come to a place of accountability, and this letter is an act of accountability.”
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) President Sharon Watkins went further: “We benefit every day from the policies our government undertakes. As beneficiaries, we have to confess.”
Some of the U.S. clerics admitted that they did not represent all U.S. churchgoers. “It is entirely possible that, in returning to the U.S., I will be subjected to criticism within my own church,” acknowledged Fr. Kishkovsky. When asked if the clerics would share their letter with President Bush, he responded, “Experience has shown that the White House is not welcoming.”
The anti-U.S. letter fits neatly with the WCC’s theology, which claims that Western greed and capitalism, rather than human sin, are responsible for the world’s sufferings. The empty European churches that fund the WCC (German churches along account for 40 percent of WCC membership income) may still buy into this ‘60s-era revolutionary-religious claptrap. But fortunately, most of the growing Global South churches, many of which still belong to the WCC, have moved on to something else and, hopefully, something better.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
by George Conger
The decision has been a generation in the making, and no single vote, speech, motion, paper, legislative minute, consciousness-raising session, litany of repentance, people’s drama, or interpretive dance arising from the World Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly, held February 14–23, 2006, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, can be accounted as the definitive end of its Christian life. The thirty-year battle for the soul of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the institutional ecumenical movement has ended.
Founded in 1948 to foster the reunification of Christian Churches, the WCC has effectively shed its religious calling, and in its place has chosen social activism in the pursuit of “relevance.”
The Relevant WCC
This “relevance” found voice at the opening session of the 9th Assembly when the North American delegates offered a litany of repentance. Americans and Canadians confessed to the delegates from more than one hundred countries “the sin of racism,” “our compulsion to despoil the earth,” “our thirst for violence,” “the hunger for revenge,” “our lust for empire,” our “self satisfaction and self-adoration,” and our “hearts hardened by terror and media manipulation.”
Latin American delegates joined the chorus agreeing that America was the problem, confessing to having “to breathe air polluted by foreign-owned industries” and to being “subjected unilaterally to the interests of large corporations or the countries reckoned to be great.”
Asian delegates added a refrain, calling for repentance for “the invalid babies still born in Vietnam as a result of Agent Orange used [by America] during the war in Vietnam.” The call had to be made in absentia, however, as no Vietnamese were actually present.
But while the seed of political relevance has taken root in the institutional ecumenical movement, it has yet to flower in all of the WCC’s 348 member churches, and thus prompted the call for a new “ecumencial paradigm” at this gathering. The 691 delegates learned from the WCC’s Moderator, Aram I, the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, that some believed their organization was in “crisis.”
The ecumenical movement had lost “contact with the vision; and the vision appears to be vague and ambiguous” he said; yet this presented an opportunity for the WCC. The way forward was not to regain the WCC’s founding vision of a fellowship of churches but to adapt the WCC to the changing state of the world.
“More and more churches and ecumenical circles consider the ecumenical movement as a ‘forum’ or a ‘space’ for encounter and collaboration,” he said. Although this had led to “sidelining the goal of visible unity,” this should not be of concern, Aram concluded, as “we should not waste any more time and energy on the perpetuation of vestiges of ageing ecumenism. The ecumenical movement must serve its sacred cause and not remain paralyzed within ossified structures.”
Over the following ten days, the assembly served the cause. Delegates were asked to “take a firm faith stance against hegemonic powers” and to “make ourselves accountable to the victims of the project of economic globalization.” There was no need for the delegates to vote, however, as the playfully named AGAPE document (Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth) had been pre-approved by the WCC’s Central Committee.
Not satisfied with their opening litany, the 34 American Churches present at the assembly returned to the confessional and offered an apology to the WCC, lamenting their having “turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and world.” “By seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world,” America was “raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors,” they said. The United States was further “complicit in a culture of consumption that diminishes the earth,” despoiling the environment and promoting racism, economic inequality, and other generally bad things.
Workshops, dramas (pantomime and spoken), and poetry readings explained the injustices of Israel and the need for solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Peruvian panpipe musicians serenaded delegates at presentations on the environment, while Swedish Lutherans, clothed in wool stockings and open-toed sandals, danced in time, their pale arms swaying in the Brazilian night like sea fans in an ocean current.
Not all of the assembly was so insubstantial, as some speakers from the margins of the WCC’s power structure offered alternatives to the politicized religion.
Dr. Jacob Kurien, an Oriental Orthodox seminary professor from India, decried the “comparative silence on holiness,” saying it was “conspicuous” by its absence from the WCC’s deliberations. “Is this symbolic of the growing signs of unholiness becoming legitimized in the Churches? Is not this ‘missing’ a reminder to rethink the Churches’ preoccupation with money and power-politics?” Dr. Kurien asked.
An Argentine Pentecostal speaker, Norberto Saccaro, suggested that the best paradigm for ecumenism was evangelism. Dr. Saccaro, whose church is not a member of the WCC, explained: “An ecumenism of mission is possible insofar as Jesus Christ is proclaimed as Savior and Lord, and the gospel presented in its entirety. We believe that the centrality of Jesus Christ points up the difference between the mission of the church and religious compassion. We need to be clear. Latin America needs Jesus Christ and we should come together in mission to declare that truth.”
The President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, explained that the Catholic Church valued the work of the WCC, but it had no intention of joining. Rome, he explained to the media, was a “universal Church,” while the WCC was a collection of “local and regional ecclesial bodies.” The Vatican much preferred bilateral dialogue, he said, citing the church’s exchanges with the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, jetted in for a day to address the topic of “Christian Identity and Religious Pluralism” and decisively, but circuitously, affirmed the centrality of the creeds, sacraments, and Scripture in the life of the Church. However, in line with his thinking about the ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion, he declined to say where the line should be drawn between those who were part of the Christian Church and those who were not.
While uncomfortable with the language of the “hidden Christ” in other faiths, he argued that glimpses of the divine were present outside the Church. “In spite of the heritage of sin, there is still the possibility of some kind of constructive response to the gift of God among human beings by the virtue of being made in God’s image,” he argued.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu went a step further, telling the WCC that “God is not a Christian,” in the most warmly received speech of the week, and one that seemed to express the mind of the majority.
After first thanking the WCC for its support of the African National Congress, which “was quite critical in saying our cause was just and noble and that those who as a last resort had opted for the armed struggle were not terrorists but freedom fighters,” he told the assembly that “God is allowing any and everybody into heaven.” The Nobel laureate noted, “I myself have not felt that I needed to convert other people.”
“Black and white, yellow and red, rich and poor, educated and not edu-cated, beautiful and not so beautiful, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, all belong, all are held in a divine embrace that will not let us go, all, for God has no enemies,” he said. “Bush, Bin Laden all belong, gay, lesbian, so-called straight, all belong and are loved, are precious.”
While the WCC holds its conferences, writes its reports, and congratulates itself on its high-mindedness and “inclusivity,” the real work of Christian ecumenism has passed it by. Dialogue between churches and denominations has grown over the past decade, but the WCC’s role in it has declined. Ecumenical enterprises independent of the WCC—missions programs, social action, publishing, theological dialogue—continue to grow rapidly without the involvement of a group that sees the institutional church as a drag upon its social agenda.
Supported by funding primarily from German, Scandinavian, and American churches, the WCC will not be disappearing soon, however. But the WCC’s search for relevance in social activism, at the expense of Christian witness, will push it further to the margins of Christian life and ultimately to irrelevance.
SEOUL, South Korea – Three world church bodies made an unprecedented move in ecumenical history on Sunday when Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Methodists signed a joint agreement on justification.
“We plowed new ground today,” commented Dr. George H. Freeman, general secretary of the World Methodist Council. “This opens the door for future ecumenical relationships.”
Following years and even decades of dialogue with one another, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Roman Catholic Church, and the World Methodist Council took part in what Dr. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, identified as “a new ecumenical landmark” and what will go down in history.
“You’re at a historic and significant moment here this Sunday,” Geoffrey Wainwright, a professor at Duke University Divinity School, told the thousands of Methodists who witnessed the historic event. “When they put pen to text, something will have changed.”
Two representatives from each of the three church bodies inked the agreement with their signatures, enlarging ecumenical dialogue and relationships and achieving a significant new step in reconciliation.
Wesleyan followers at the 19th World Methodist Conference stood up out of their seats to witness Lutheran representatives Noko and Sven Oppegaard, Methodist representatives Freeman and Sunday Mbang, and Roman Catholic representatives Cardinal Walter Kasper and Soo-Hwan Kim make history.
Kasper called it “one of the major achievements of ecumenical dialogue” and quoted Pope Benedict XVI who had noted the triparted agreement as a “full visible unity in faith.”
Dialogues between Methodists and the Roman Catholic Church have been long-running for over four decades. After the Roman Catholics shook hands on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with Lutherans in 1999, Methodists, who had also been in dialogue with Lutherans for some two decades, came in as a third party to endorse the agreement and at the same time be included in it.
A Methodist statement was drafted and circulated among all member churches of the World Methodist Council and according to Wainwright, every response was positive and some even enthusiastic. With “strict unanimity,” the Methodist Council approved the statement last week and officially signed it Sunday.
“This is a gift of God,” commented Kasper, “[and] a joint living out of the gospel message.”
Noko expressed his hope that other international and national bodies will pay attention to the joint ecumenical move.
According to Gillian M. Kingston, chairperson of the Program Committee of the World Methodist Conference, the Methodists are also in dialogue with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Anglican Church, as well as The Salvation Army. While dialogue began with the Orthodox Church, talks are currently on hold.
As a guest speaker, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches and a Methodist, highlighted Sunday’s event as “a giant step to … overcoming Christian divisions.”
“Our world needs a church that bears witness to the gospel in word and deed,” he added.
The largest Christian ecumenical body in the world has urgently appealed for the international community to “do whatever is possible to stop the bombings, negotiate a cease-fire and a comprehensive peace settlement.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev Samuel Kobia, has called on the “leaders of the international community, especially to those from the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom” to bring about a resolution to the conflict currently raging in the Middle East.
The WCC appeal also calls on the Israeli government to “give guarantees that humanitarian organizations will be allowed unhindered access to those in need of assistance.”
“Our hearts cry out to the leaders of the international community”, said Kobia, who described the current fighting as “a war of ominous dimension and of far-reaching consequences” that is causing “unimaginable and untold suffering to the people in Lebanon.” [KH: what about Israelites, hit by thousands of rockets aimed to kill innocent people? Kobia is obviously biased. The later addition below is likely just for appearance.]
While “a major tragedy continues to unfold in the troubled region of the Middle East,” the world sees the “shocking and disgraceful” spectacle of world leaders announcing “in a most callous manner that fighting will continue till strategic military objectives are met.”
Kobia alleged that what leaders were really saying was that “more people can continue to be killed while they take their time to settle their political differences.”
He affirmed that “blind faith in military violence to resolve disputes and disagreements is totally unwarranted, illegal and immoral.”
Judging that the present “disproportionate acts of violence of immense magnitude can have no justification,” he noted that the United Nations Security Council “has been paralyzed by the power and politics of the dominant nations and its charter undermined.”
The WCC general secretary has offered his prayers for “all the people of Lebanon, Muslims and Christians alike” and “the people of Israel who have fallen victims to the missiles that continue to be fired indiscriminately into their towns and villages.”
The WCC is currently working on putting together a pastoral delegation to Lebanon, an initiative that is on hold for the time being given security concerns and logistical difficulties.
Unity within the body of Christ and the common mission of evangelism were emphasized Thursday at a six-day Lausanne gathering in Malaysia.
Phil Butler, senior associate with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and international director of visionSynergy, stressed the importance of collaboration in missions to the young Christian leaders at the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering.
“We are in the middle of a revolution,” said Butler as he highlighted partnerships that are taking place around the world, according to Lausanne. As an example, Butler shared about a gathering of believers in Hong Kong who met to pray for Christianity to take root in the country of Mongolia.
“Fifteen years ago there were only five or six known believers in Mongolia…today there are thousands,” Butler said. “After two thousand years of darkness, God is transforming a nation in one generation. The impossible dream is possible as we join hands.”
Nearly 500 young leaders from over 110 countries have gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for six days, Sept. 24-30, for Christ-centered leadership development. The Younger Leaders Gathering is a ministry of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization where emerging leaders aged 25-35 in churches, ministries and the marketplace convene to learn new leadership skills, strengthen their spiritual life, and form networks with other young Christian leaders around the world.
Mario Cappello, head of the Institute for World Evangelization, also spoke during the plenary session about the need for unity in the global Church. According to Lausanne’s report, many in the audience were overwhelmed with emotion when Cappello thanked the evangelical community for working to bring salvation to others.
“[Cappello’s speech] changed my life!” said Marcellus Mbah, who founded The Strong Revival Prayer Force in Cameroon, to Lausanne. “I think I had had this mindset about the Catholic Church and now I know that God is doing amazing things everywhere. I am amazed.”
Cappello has trained more than 200,000 Catholics in missions and discipleship by using the JESUS Film project and other evangelism tools.
“If we want to understand why we are not seeing hundreds of millions coming into the kingdom, it isn’t because of a lack of wealth [or]….a lack of prayer,” concluded Butler earlier in the session. “It is not a question of holiness or adequate leadership. Jesus’ personal credibility has been destroyed by divisions in the body of Christ.”
The Lausanne Movement was formed in 1974 during a meeting of 2,500 Christian leaders for Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Switzerland. Lausanne has helped launch numerous mission initiatives, organizations, and provided more than 30 Lausanne Occasional Papers which help church and mission leaders understand current missiological issues.
“It is a Scandal for Christians to Remain Isolated”
By World Council of Churches
The rich ecumenical and church experience of Archbishop Dr Anastasios of Tirana, head of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, spans four decades and several continents. Sent to Albania for the first time in 1991, he has led the devastated church, the largest and oldest in this majority-Muslim country, to an extraordinary renewal. In 1967, under communist rule, Albania’s population of 3.5 million people were prohibited from any practice of religion. Anastasios found 1,600 destroyed or closed churches and only 22 elderly priests still alive of the 440 who had served Albania before communism. Since then, he has led the effort to reconstruct church life, baptizing thousands, and opening hundreds of places of worship, schools, youth centres, clinics and monasteries.
From 1984 to 1991, Anastasios was moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism; from 1981 to 1990, he was the acting archbishop of East Africa, where he organized and developed the Orthodox mission in the region; and from 1983 to 1986, dean of the theological school at the University of Athens. A renowned theologian and missiologist, Archbishop Anastasios is professor emeritus of the National University of Athens, an honorary member of the Academy of Athens, and has received 15 honorary degrees from universities in Europe and the United States. In 2006, he was elected as one of the eight WCC presidents.
How did you first become involved in the ecumenical movement and what was your first contact with the WCC?
Anastasios: My first contact was in 1963 at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Mexico to which I was appointed by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and I quickly became involved in international ecumenical work.
After WCC’s Vancouver assembly in 1983, I was elected moderator of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism and worked on the theme “Your will be done: mission in Christ’s way”. I think this theme has marked my calling, spiritual life and work.
How do you see the current situation of the ecumenical movement?
Anastasios: I think we are in a transition. It is clear that the ecumenical movement is not an institution, a house; it is more like a river. A river exists in different environments, starting as a source and changing as it flows along. But a river is extremely beautiful and extremely useful for the whole environment.
We speak about crisis and difficulties and disappointments. Nevertheless, I believe that the ecumenical movement is a must for all of us. We must think together, we must speak together and act together, and even quarrel together, without letting other ambiguous or secular interests interfere with and pollute the river.
What do you see as your role as WCC president?
Anastasios: As a president, my role is to participate in the deliberations of the Council, share experiences of past decades, contribute to the discussions on the present and gaze on the problems of the future.
Outside, my task is to promote ecumenism and to interpret the work of the WCC. Of course, when you speak of interpretation, you must know both languages, the language of the WCC and also how others outside will understand it.
Especially for the Orthodox Church, it is to help the Orthodox to see the responsibility that we have towards the whole Christian world and not to remain isolated in our own communities. For we in the Orthodox Church are a living part of the modern world.
In the environment of other churches my role is to articulate the Orthodox experience and conscience and our interest in the plans of the WCC. I think the spirituality and sense of the faith and work of the church is a useful contribution of the Orthodox Church to the ecumenical movement.
Can you tell us something about the current situation in Albania?
Anastasios: Albania is a unique place. It was the only state that outlawed religion for 23 years. The current generation bears the marks of that time. Thank God, there is now religious freedom. The Orthodox Church started from nothing, from scratch. But now we have a vital church life. We try also to be active in social life, and in the areas of health, education, agricultural development, culture and the environment.
We are not a closed community, acting for ourselves, but we share with the others what we have. The Orthodox Church in Albania is not the majority, but it is a strong presence in society. There are good relations between religious communities, including the Muslim majority. I think we have the best relations in the Balkans region.
It is not enough to speak about coexistence; we must speak about collaboration. And the religions must come together in periods of crisis. At the time of the Kosovo crisis in 1999, when the refugees started to come to Albania, and all of them were Muslims, we went in the midst of those suffering and shared their difficulties. We made an appeal to the ecumenical family and there was a moving response. Working through WCC’s Action by Churches Together (ACT) we brought assistance to 33,000 people. It was not only symbolic but also extremely important for the whole situation in the Balkans.
In Albania we emphasize that we must not leave the religious field to be used by other forces; we must use religion for healing wounds and making hearts human.
As WCC president, what is your message to the churches?
Anastasios: I don’t like to speak about a message; I like to speak about sharing our concerns, because I am also an active person in a concrete local church. My concern first of all is to understand that we must be together. Any isolation to ourselves would be a great mistake and even a sin. It is a scandal for Christians to remain isolated.
We must not leave basic issues for others to be protagonists. For example, in the last century it was a mistake to let other ideologies be at the forefront in human rights, social justice, and the interests of the poor. In the 21st century, it would be a graver mistake to allow other religious entities to be the main protagonists, while Christians are associated with the powerful, and seemingly indifferent to injustice, human indignity and poverty.
We are co-workers in the transforming energy of Divine Grace. We must accept this role. Perhaps the most important contribution for us Christians, as churches, is to be really what we pretend that we are: the living body of Christ. The church must be a people which is creative, responsible, full of love and energy.
Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance and Seventh-day Adventist Church recently met for a second round of theological discussion that will serve as a key factor in determining whether the Adventist Church will become a member of the WEA.
Theologians from both parties met Aug. 5-10 at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., to discuss theological differences, common goals and whether there are enough commonalities for the Adventists to join the WEA family.
“The progress seems to have been that although there are these differences, which no one wants to gloss over, that does not mean there cannot be cooperation and fellowship in other areas, especially in moral matters,” explained the Rev. Dr. David Parker, executive director of the WEA Theological Commission, to The Christian Post Tuesday.
“This is similar to other situations where denominations and religious groups may have differences of belief but do hold common values in some areas allowing them some measure of cooperation and joint-action,” said Parker.
A well-known difference between Adventists and other Protestants is in regards to the Sabbath. Adventists hold their Sabbath on Saturday rather than on Sunday. Moreover, they believe death is a time of “sleep” until the second coming of Jesus Christ, rather than the soul going to heaven or hell.
One of the greatest and most divisive differences, which is the foundation of Adventism, is the pre-Advent judgment. Adventists believe Jesus will give the final judgment before his second coming, whereas Protestants believe the last judgment will occur at or after the second coming.
“We were able to share with the evangelical world the Adventist self-understanding in an effort to eliminate prejudice and clarify questions about our message,” said Adventist meeting organizer John Graz, secretary of the Council on Inter-church and Inter-faith Relations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (CIRA), in a statement.
“Instead of knowing about us through questionable means, this allowed us face-to-face interaction to share where our church stands,” he said.
The idea for a WEA-Adventist dialogue came several years ago when the Adventist Church approached the WEA Theological Commission. They wanted to be considered more as part of the mainstream evangelicalism than they had in the past, leading them to seek a top level theological discussion with WEA to clarify differences. The first WEA-Adventist dialogue was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in August 2006.
“From the WEA side, there had been approaches in some parts of the world for Adventists to join the WEA family as members of national evangelical alliances or the like,” said the WEA’s Parker. “And so the WEA was interested to know what the theological situation was at the present time and whether there was enough compatibility for Adventist to be able to sign the WEA Statement of Faith.”
Both parties are now contemplating what appropriate steps should be taken, if any. The WEA leadership is currently deciding whether the outcome of the theological talks would “give sufficient warrant” for further steps and if interested Adventists groups around the world should be allowed to join the WEA as members based on theological compatibility. The Adventists are also deciding what the next step should be.
Last week’s discussions were led by Dr. Rolf Hille, chairman of the Theological Commission of the WEA, and William G. Johnsson, assistant to the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for Interfaith Relations.
The head of the Vatican’s office for Christian unity has responded to concerns among Europe’s Protestant church leaders over the Vatican’s recent statement asserting that the Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ.
The 16-page document, ratified by Pope Benedict XVI in July, stated that the Roman Catholic Church is “the one true Church of Christ.”
It also claimed that “communities emerging from the Reformation” – the Protestant and Anglican Churches – are “not Churches in the proper sense of the word.”
In an attempt to temper the assertion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly currently taking place in Sibiu, Romania, that by claiming other communities “were not churches in the proper sense, we did not mean that these others were somehow false churches.”
“We meant that the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) or the Church of England, for example, have a different understanding of what the church is,” the ecumenical leader stated.
Bishop Wolfgang Huber, chair of the council of the EKD, said he regretted the negative phrasing of the Vatican’s statement in deeming some churches to be “not churches in the proper sense.” He added, however, that he was encouraged to hear Kasper’s more positive description of communities having their own understanding of what it means to be the church.
“We continue on our journey together,” said Huber, “with the Holy Spirit leading us.”
The president of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, also pushed back concerns over the Vatican statement.
While noting that the statement did not reflect a Protestant view of the Church or of Protestantism, De Clermont said the Vatican’s assertions were “nothing new” and should not be given too much weight.
“Ecumenical life does not issue from the summit, but from the base of the church,” he said.
Currently, some 2,000 delegates from churches across Europe are gathered for the Third European Ecumenical Assembly to share their vision and hopes for renewal and unity on a continent that both secular and religious press have described as “post-Christian” and thoroughly secularized.
The assembly, which has as its theme “The light of Christ shines upon all. Hope for renewal and unity in Europe,” is being organized jointly by the Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Europe (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) – which groups most Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches in Europe.
According to reports, European identity, other faiths, migration, creation, justice and peace will be on the agenda for the Sept. 4-9 assembly, alongside questions of unity, spirituality and witness.
Delegates will also share in prayer and worship from different traditions; discover the Christian heritage and hopes of Romania – a nation which looks forward to playing a full part in Europe; and set an agenda for common witness and action across Europe at a time of tremendous challenge.
Christian Post Comments:
Catholicism is a false religion based upon false teachings. In fact, the Canons in the Council of Trent don’t even line up with biblical teachings. Also, according to the Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraph 841, they believe that they worship the same god as the muslims.
[KH: dangerous compromise; why are none of the leading real evangelicals present?]
WASHINGTON – The line dividing evangelicals from progressives blurred Wednesday as members from both parties joined in a new mission to erase long-held stereotypes of one another and seek commonality on polarizing issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the role of religion in public life.
Both sides agreed the “civil war” between evangelicals and progressives needs to end and common ground pursued in order for the nation to make significant progress on divisive issues.
“I think the way we have been dealing with differences in this country simply doesn’t work,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Northland Church in Florida.
The evangelical leader contends arguments between some evangelical leaders and liberals have not only blocked progress but also isolated a lot of evangelicals who are looking for “reasonable” leadership that allows for development while maintaining values.
“I think it has almost taken until now for us to realize that this isn’t working,” responded Hunter when asked why it has taken evangelicals so long to work with progressives.
The pastor told a story about a recent conversation he had with one of his church member on abortion. The female congregant was a former dancer and had five abortions. She said that although she was not sure she wanted to have an abortion walking into the clinic, the anti-abortionists yelling and holding placards outside the clinic “absolutely” confirmed her decision to have the abortions.
“To me it is a picture of how it ain’t working,” emphasized Hunter, who is on the board of directors for the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Evangelical Alliance. “The thing we think is curing the problem isn’t curing the problem. I think we (evangelicals) are maybe slow learners, but we’re ready,” he said drawing laughter from the audience.
Evangelical and liberal leaders together held up their joint new paper, “Come Let Us Reason Together: A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Progressives and Evangelicals,” as a model of how the two sides could cooperate and find a shared vision on divisive cultural issues.
“When we started this process, the progressive and Evangelical communities had begun to come together on issues like Darfur and the environment. We believed we could go further and talk with each other, and not at each other, even about the toughest cultural issues,” said Rachel Laser, director of the progressive think tank Third Way Culture Program and co-author of the paper. Laser was formerly the director of Planned Parenthood in the Washington, D.C.-area.
The paper is the first of its kind to outline a way for evangelicals and progressives to bridge the cultural divide.
“This paper has achieved what many thought was impossible,” Laser said. “It has taken the first steps forward on issues at the heart of the cultural wars.”
Dr. Robert P. Jones, co-author of the paper and religion scholar, highlighted a key finding in the paper which helps people understand the diversity of the evangelical community.
The new formula shows evangelicals are roughly one-fifth progressive, one-third moderate, and one-half conservative.
In other words, although half of the evangelical population is more conservative than the general population, the other half have views that can co-exist comfortably with progressive ideas, explained Jones.
The movement’s representatives assured skeptics that neither side had to compromise their beliefs, but that there was plenty of room for consensus even on tough issues like gay rights and abortion.
On gay rights, for example, progressives and evangelicals found they both shared a commitment to human dignity and the Golden Rule.
For evangelicals, support of human dignity is based on the ultimate belief that all humans are created in the image of God, explained the paper. As a result, all humans deserve respect regardless of what they do and believe.
“Protecting the human rights and dignity of all, even for those with whom one disagrees, is not only a consistent thing to do; it is a proud American tradition and a high moral and religious calling,” read the joint paper.
However, the group also agreed no legislation should infringe on the right of religious groups to manage their communities, regulate their religious practices, and to express their beliefs publicly on issues around homosexuality.
Evangelical and liberal supporters of the initiative will spread the idea by inviting the other side on broadcasted shows for dialogue, organize discussions among leaders on some of the divisive issues, among other methods.
“Come Let Us Reason Together answers the plea form the vast majority of Americans who want an end to the rancor and divisiveness. This is a path forward together,” they concluded.
Other supporters of the initiative include: Dr. David P. Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology; the Rev. Brian McLaren, author, speaker and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists; Dr. Paul de Vries, president of New York Divinity School; Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners/Call to Renewal; and Tony Campolo, president of The Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.
Mark D. Tooley
The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), which has yet to recover from its 1970’s era infatuation with Liberation Theology, recently sent a solidarity delegation to the U.S. to investigate America’s “violence.” Predictably, the “violence” includes the lack of gun control, U.S. international arms sales, and the war in Iraq.
According to the pacifist assumptions of the Religious Left, all “violence” is equally reprehensible, but violence perpetrated by American injustices is among the most insidious.
This international ecumenical team was called “Living Letters” and was formed as part of the WCC’s “Decade to Overcome Violence,” a goal that evidently will be achieved in 2011. The 4-member team included a South African ecumenical official, a Lebanese hospital executive, a Brazilian ecumenist and a Pakistani human rights lawyer. They visited Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans.
“We need your help,” National Council of Churches President Michael Livingston implored of the WCC’s “Living Letters” team while they were in Washington, D.C. “We need your help to turn around this terrible situation we have.” No doubt sincerely, he told the ecumenical group: “We want to learn from you, and from our own stories, to make this world a world of peace.”
Mostly Livingston wanted the “Living Letters” to help advocate stricter gun control in the U.S. He was joined by Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who bewailed: “We have a real pride in violence in our country.” He likewise exclaimed, “We also profit from it,” fingering the U.S. films that “glorify violence and promote vigilante justice,” according to a WCC account.
More revealingly, Everitt insisted that “the government must have a monopoly on force,” according to an account by my assistant Rebekah Sharpe, who attended the meeting. He identified the obstacles to fuller gun control as “hardcore gun owners” who have a “profoundly, virulently anti-government attitude.” Many of these hardcore zealots adhere to the National Rifle Association’s ostensible belief that “if our government becomes tyrannical they have a right to take over that government, our democratically elected government!”
Apparently uninformed about the political thought behind America’s founding, Everitt cluelessly asked: “If we love to say that we’re the freest country, then why [do]… our elected representatives… talk about getting government out of people’s lives? If you’re so proud of democracy then acknowledge that government had some role in that.” Undoubtedly, the “Living Letters” must have been nodding their heads. The South Africa “Letter” responded: “Yes… the right wing out there wants to de-legitimize government… [If we give in to them] we are playing into the hands of the forces of chaos.”
NCC “peace” executive Antonios Kireopoulos boasted to the “Living Letters” of the NCC’s strong opposition to the U.S. led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He admitted that members of the NCC’s denominations had not bee supportive of the NCC’s zealous anti-war stance, but he insisted that the NCC was obliged to “teach” and “speak prophetically.” While many church congregants “did support the war, that was because of the fear of 9/11; it was a manipulation of that fear by this government,” he explained.
NCC lobbyist Brenda Girton-Mitchell confessed to the “Living Letters” that the NCC is “viewed as more Democratic leaning,” while NCC President Michael Livingston chimed in “Well, it is what it is, and it’s that way in the Bible!” He tried to insist that the NCC is non-partisan. But joining the discussion was Democratic Faith Working Group staffer Acacia Salatti, who celebrated that “faith issues” such as fighting poverty and saving the environment were now working to the advantage of Democratic members of Congress.
At their Capitol Hill briefing, the “Living Letters” were told that an American dies every 17 minutes from a gun shot. Meanwhile, the U.S. refuses to sign international treaties about gun control. Afterwards, the “Letters” toured the U.S. Capitol, where the “contrast between the founding values of this nation and the policies of today were evident,” as the Brazilian acerbically noted, evidently unaware that America’s gun owning founders were not enthusiasts for internationally imposed gun control.
The “Living Letters” also toured Washington’s many presidential monuments and war memorials, where they found lots of glorification of “violence.” Naturally, they were very concerned and asked, “Victory and sacrifice are the only way to build a great nation?” They also wondered why the “cost of freedom is paid by so many human lives.” While visiting the recently built World War II Memorial, they realized to their horror that “these praises of violence and sacrifice are not only memories of humanity’s past but are very much present today, in times we as churches are called to be protagonists.”
Later, the “Living Letters” visited with Amish families in Pennsylvania who had endured the murder of five Amish girls and the wounding of five others. They were unavoidably inspired by the Amish community’s Christian response to the killing. The gunman had committed suicide, but the Amish provided aid to the gunman’s widow and children to show they bore them no ill will. Responded one WCC official: “We talk about forgiveness, but our countries’ national systems of punishment and persecuting offenders don’t generally make room for forgiveness.”
The Amish were probably too polite to point out to the WCC officials his theological confusion. Traditionally the Amish are separatists and pacifists. But they do not dispute the divinely ordained vocation of the civil state to punish wrongdoers. Christians traditionally are called to offer redemption and forgiveness to the wicked; governments are called to perform vengeance upon them. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, but the “Living Letters” were too focused on their search for “violence” in the U.S. to worry about the details of theology.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.