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World Council of Churches

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Headquarters  United States of America
Founded  August 1948
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The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a worldwide inter-church organization founded in 1948. Its members today include the Anglican Communion, the Assyrian Church of the East, most jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, most mainline Protestant churches (such as the Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian and Reformed) and some evangelical Protestant churches (such as the Baptist and Pentecostal). Notably, the Roman Catholic Church is not a member, although it sends accredited observers to meetings. The WCC arose out of the ecumenical movement and has as its basis the following statement:

Contents

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior 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.

The WCC describes itself as "a worldwide fellowship of 349 global, regional and sub-regional, national and local churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service." It is based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization's members include denominations which claim to collectively represent some 590 million people across the world in about 150 countries, including 520,000 local congregations served by 493,000 pastors and priests, in addition to elders, teachers, members of parish councils and others.

History

The Ecumenical Movement met with initial successes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 (chaired by future WCC Honorary President John R. Mott). In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Germanus V of Constantinople, wrote a letter "addressed 'To all the Churches of Christ, wherever they may be', urging closer co-operation among separated Christians, and suggesting a 'League of Churches', parallel to the newly founded League of Nations". Church leaders agreed in 1937 to establish a World Council of Churches, based on a merger of the Faith and Order Movement (under Charles Brent of the Episcopal Church of the United States) and Life and Work Movement (under Nathan Söderblom of the Lutheran Church of Sweden) organisations.

Its official establishment was deferred with the outbreak of World War II until August 23, 1948. Delegates of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to merge the Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement. This was consolidated by a second meeting at Lund in 1950, for which the British Methodist Robert Newton Flew edited an influential volume of studies, The Nature of the Church. Subsequent mergers were with the International Missionary Council in 1961 and the World Council of Christian Education, with its roots in the 18th century Sunday School movement, in 1971.

WCC member churches include most of the Orthodox Churches; numerous Protestant churches, including the Anglican Communion, some Baptists, many Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian and other Reformed, a sampling of united and independent churches, and some Pentecostal churches; and some Old Catholic churches.

Many churches who refused to join the WCC joined together to form the World Evangelical Alliance.

Delegates sent from the member churches meet every seven or eight years in an Assembly, which elects a Central Committee that governs between Assemblies. A variety of other committees and commissions answer to the Central Committee and its staff. Assemblies have been held since 1948.

The "human rights abuses in communist countries evoked grave concern among the leaders of the World Council of Churches." However, historian Christopher Andrew claims that, during the Cold War, a number of important WCC representatives of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe had been working for the KGB, and that they influenced the policy of the WCC. From 1955-1958, Robert S. Bilheimer co-chaired a WCC international commission to prepare a document addressing the threat of nuclear warfare during the Cold War.

At the 1961 conference, a 32-year-old Russian Orthodox Bishop named Aleksey Ridiger was sent as delegate to the assembly, and then appointed to the WCC's central committee. He was later elected as Russian patriarch in 1990 as Alexei II.

The ninth assembly took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006, under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world". During the first Assemblies, theologians Vasileios Ioannidis and Amilkas Alivizatos contributed significantly to the debates that led to the drafting of the "Toronto Statement", a foundational document which facilitated Eastern Orthodox participation in the organization and today it constitutes its ecclesiological charter.

The 10th Assembly was held in Busan, Republic of Korea, from 30 October to 8 November 2013.

In 2013 Dr. Agnes Abuom of Nairobi, from the Anglican Church of Kenya, was elected as moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches; she is the first woman and the first African to hold this position.

Assemblies

The World Council of Churches held 10 Assemblies to date, starting with the founding assembly in 1948:

  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 22 August – 4 September 1948
  2. Evanston, Illinois, United States, 15–31 August 1954
  3. New Delhi, India, 19 November – 5 December 1961
  4. Uppsala, Sweden, 4–20 July 1968
  5. Nairobi, Kenya, 23 November – 10 December 1975
  6. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 24 July – 10 August 1983
  7. Canberra, ACT, Australia, 7–21 February 1991
  8. Harare, Zimbabwe, 3–14 December 1998
  9. Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, 14–23 February 2006
  10. Busan, South Korea, 30 October - 8 November 2013

Presidents

Presidents of the current 10th Assembly are:

  • Africa: The Rev. Dr. Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel (Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa)
  • Asia: The Rev. Dr. Chang Sang (Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea)
  • Europe: Archbishop Anders Wejryd (Church of Sweden)
  • Latin America and Caribbean: The Rev. Gloria Nohemy Ulloa Alvarado (Presbyterian Church in Colombia)
  • North America: The Rt Revd Mark L. MacDonald (Anglican Church of Canada)
  • Pacific: The Rev. Dr. Mele'ana Puloka (Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga)
  • Eastern Orthodox: John X of Antioch (Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch)
  • Oriental Orthodox: Karekin II (Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church)
  • Former presidents of the World Council of Churches include:

  • Rev. Martin Niemöller, the famous Protestant anti-Nazi theologian
  • T. C. Chao, Chinese theologian
  • General secretaries

    Since the World Council of Churches was officially founded in 1948, the following men have served as general secretary:

    Commissions and teams

    There are two complementary approaches to ecumenism: dialogue and action. The Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement represent these approaches. These approaches are reflected in the work of the WCC in its commissions, these being:

  • Echos- Commission on Youth (ages 18–30)
  • Commission of the Churches on Diakonia and Development
  • Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation
  • Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
  • Commission on Justice, Peace and Creation
  • Commission on World Mission and Evangelism
  • Faith and Order Plenary Commission and the Faith and Order Standing Commission
  • Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals
  • Joint Working Group WCC – Roman Catholic Church (Vatican)
  • Reference Group on the Decade to Overcome Violence
  • Reference Group on Inter-Religious Relations
  • Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC
  • Diakonia and development and international relations commissions

    The WCC acts through both its member churches and other religious and social organizations to coordinate ecumenical, evangelical, and social action.

    Current WCC programs include a Decade to Overcome Violence, an international campaign to combat AIDS/HIV in Africa and the Justice, Peace and Creation initiative.

    Faith and Order Commission

    WCC's Faith and Order Commission has been successful in working toward consensus on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, on the date of Easter, on the nature and purpose of the church (ecclesiology), and on ecumenical hermeneutics.

    Texts

  • Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Paper No. 111, the “Lima Text”; 1982)
  • The Churchː Towards a Common Vision (Faith and Order Paper no. 214; 2013 ) after The Nature and Mission of the Church – A Stage on the Way to a Common Statement (Faith and Order Paper no. 198; 2005 ) and The Nature and Purpose of the Church (Faith and Order Paper no. 181; 1998 )
  • Towards a Common Date of Easter
  • Justice, Peace and Creation Commission

    Justice, Peace and Creation has drawn many elements together with an environmental focus. Its mandate is:

    To analyze and reflect on justice, peace and creation in their interrelatedness, to promote values and practices that make for a culture of peace, and to work towards a culture of solidarity with young people, women, Indigenous Peoples and racially and ethnically oppressed people.

    Focal issues have been globalization and the emergence of new social movements (in terms of people bonding together in the struggle for justice, peace, and the protection of creation).

    Attention has been given to issues around:

  • economy
  • environment
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • peace
  • people with disabilities
  • racism
  • women
  • youth
  • Relations with the Catholic Church

    The largest Christian body, the Catholic Church, is not a member of the WCC, but has worked closely with the Council for more than three decades and sends observers to all major WCC conferences as well as to its Central Committee meetings and the Assemblies (cf. Joint Working Group).

    The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also nominates 12 members to the WCC's Faith and Order Commission as full members. While not a member of the WCC, the Roman Catholic Church is a member of some other ecumenical bodies at regional and national levels, for example, the National Council of Churches in Australia and the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC).

    Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC

    A Special Commission was set up by the eighth Harare Assembly in December 1998 to address Orthodox concerns about WCC membership and the Council's decision-making style, public statements, worship practices, and other issues. It issued its final report in 2006. Specific issues that it clarified were that the WCC does not formulate doctrine, does not have authority to rule on moral issues, nor does it have any ecclesiastical authority. Such authority is entirely internal to each individual member church. It proposed that the WCC adopt a consensus method of decision making. It proposed that Orthodox members be brought in parity with non-Orthodox members. It further proposed clarification that inter-confessional prayer at WCC events is not worship, particularly "it should avoid giving the impression of being the worship of a church", and confessional and inter-confessional prayer each be specifically identified as such at WCC events. It also clarified that the so-called "Lima Liturgy" is not an interfaith eucharistic service: 'the WCC is not 'hosting' a eucharist'.

    Peace journalism

    The WCC is also a prominent supporter and practitioning body for Peace Journalism: journalism practice that aims to avoid a value bias in favor of violence that often characterizes coverage of conflict.

    The ACT Alliance, bringing together over 100 church-backed relief and development organizations worldwide, was born out of the merger of ACT International (Action by Churches Together International) and ACT Development (Action by Churches Together for Development) in March 2010. Both ACT International, established in 1995, and ACT Development (2007) were created through the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The two bodies coordinated the work of agencies related to the member churches of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation in the areas of humanitarian emergencies and poverty reduction respectively.

    The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance was officially founded in December 2000 at a meeting convened by the WCC. There are currently 73 churches and Christian organizations that are members of the Alliance, from Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. These members, representing a combined constituency of tens of millions of people around the world, are committed to working together in public witness and action for justice on defined issues of common concern. Current campaigns are on Food and on HIV and AIDS.

    The Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF) was founded in 1946 as one of the world's first international micro-credit institutions in the service of the poor. Willem Visser 't Hooft, then general secretary of the "WCC in process of formation" played an important role in founding ECLOF. It was he who sketched the prospects and challenges for the proposed institution and gave specific ideas on potential sources of funds. His inspiration and teamwork marked the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation between ECLOF and the WCC.

    The Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society U.A (now known as Oikocredit) was developed from discussions at the 1968 Uppsala 4th Assembly, regarding church divestment from financial institutions supporting apartheid-era South Africa and the war in Vietnam. After several years of planning, the cooperative society was founded in 1975 in the Netherlands to provide an alternative ethical investment vehicle to church institutions, by providing credit to productive enterprises serving economically disadvantaged populations. Originally organized for large institutional members of the WCC, by 1976 local congregations developed Support Associations to enable congregations as well as individuals to participate. EDCS became independent from the WCC in 1977.

    Ecumenical News International (ENI) was launched in 1994 as a global news service reporting on ecumenical developments and other news of the churches, and giving religious perspectives on news developments worldwide. The joint sponsors of ENI, which was based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, are the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches, which also have their headquarters at the Ecumenical Centre. A shortage of funds led to the suspension of the work of ENI in 2012 As of 2015 ENI remains closed.

    Regional/national councils

    The WCC has not sought the organic union of different Christian denominations, but it has, however, facilitated dialogue and supported local, national, and regional dialogue and cooperation.

    Membership in a regional or national council does not mean that the particular group is also a member of the WCC.

  • Africa – All Africa Conference of Churches
  • Organization of African Instituted Churches
  • Asia (including Australia and New Zealand) – Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), Hong Kong
  • National Council of Churches in Australia
  • National Council of Churches in the Philippines
  • Caribbean – Caribbean Conference of Churches
  • Europe – Conference of European Churches, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Latin America – Latin American Council of Churches
  • Middle East – Middle East Council of Churches
  • North America
  • Canadian Council of Churches
  • National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
  • Pacific – Pacific Conference of Churches, Suva, Fiji
  • Alleged neglect of suffering church in Eastern Europe

    The US State Department alleged that the KGB's influence directly, or through lobbying by means of a front organisation, the Christian Peace Conference, resulted in the WCC's failure to recognise or act on calls for help from persecuted East European Christians at the 1983 Vancouver General Assembly.

    Claims of infiltration and influence by the KGB

    It is claimed the KGB has infiltrated and influenced past WCC councils and policy. In 1992, Father Gleb Yakunin, a vice Chairman of a Russian parliamentary commission that investigated the activities of the KGB, citing verbatim KGB reports, claimed that its Fifth Directorate was actively involved in influencing WCC policy from 1967 to 1989. For example, in the 1983 WCC General Assembly in Vancouver, one cited document described the presence and activities of 47 KGB agents to secure the election of an "acceptable" candidate as General Secretary. The Mitrokhin Archive reveals more about the depth of the penetration and influence wielded by the KGB over the WCC. Metropolitan Nikidim was a KGB agent, codenamed ADAMANT, who served as one of six WCC Presidents from 1975 until his death. His earlier intervention had resulted in the WCC making no comment on the invasion of Czechoslovakia. As a result of his influence and that of other agents, it is claimed the USSR was rarely publicly criticised. In 1989, copies of the KGB documents claim "the WCC executive and central committee adopted public statements (eight) and messages (three)" which corresponded to its own political direction. Appeals from suffering dissidents both from within the Russian Orthodox Church and Protestants were ignored in 1983. Metropolitan Aleksi Ridiger of Talinn and Estonia was repeatedly alleged to be a KGB agent codenamed DROZDOV, who in 1988 was awarded an honorary citation for services to the KGB by its chairman. Despite official disavowals, The Guardian described the evidence as "compelling". In 1990 he became Aleksi II, the 15th Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Upon his death in 2008, the WCC's official tribute, by its Council officers, described him as "courageous ", "supportive and constructive" and the recipient of "abundant blessing", no reference was made to the allegations.

    Attitude towards Israel

    The World Council of Churches has been described as taking an adversarial position toward the state of Israel. It has also been claimed the council has focused particularly on activities and publications criticizing Israel in comparison with other human rights issues. It is similarly claimed that it downplayed appeals from Egyptian Copts about human rights abuses under Sadat and Mubarak, in order to focus on its neighbour. In 2009, the Council called for an international boycott on goods produced in Israeli settlements, which it described as 'illegal, unjust' and 'incompatible with peace'. In 2013, the General Secretary was reported to claim in Cairo, "We support the Palestinians. The WCC supports the Palestinians, because they are in the right." The WCC's Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) has been criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for promoting "an inflammatory and partisan programme at the expense of its interfaith relations". The WCC secretariat was involved in preparing and helped disseminate the Kairos Palestine Document, which declares “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights”, and in the view of one critic, its "authors want to see a single state ". On the other hand, the WCC claims "Antisemitism is sin against God and man".

    Opposition to Christian Zionism

    Christian Zionism, which has long represented a substantial proportion of historic and contemporary Protestants, is characterised as a view which "distort(s) the interpretation of the Word of God" and "damage(s) intra-Christian relations".

    A professor emeritus of political science outlined the WCC's focus as having "shifted the discussion of the disturbing problems of the Middle East from the acute ones in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran, to the alleged deficiencies of Israel."

    In this context, what is a source of concern is that Islamic fundamentalisms are giving rise to a counter reaction of other religious fundamentalisms, the most dangerous of which is Jewish fundamentalism which exploits the Islamic fundamentalist phenomenon to justify before western societies the distasteful aberrations of Zionism in Palestine.

    References

    World Council of Churches Wikipedia


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