The World Council of Churches
What is the World Council of Churches?
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an inter-church organization founded in 1948. Its members today include most mainstream Christian churches, but not the Roman Catholic Church, which sends accredited observers to meetings. It arose out of the ecumenical movement and has as its basis the following statement:
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 members include denominations, which claim to collectively represent some 590 million people, across the world in ca. 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.
After the initial successes of the Ecumenical Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 (chaired by future WCC Honorary President John R. Mott), 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) organizations.
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.
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.
An assembly last met 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.
Relations with the Roman Catholic Church
The largest Christian body, the Roman 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.
The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC represents the potential for fresh and creative high-level discussion about the structure and life of the Council, a discussion explicitly seen as continuing the foundations laid by the process and the policy document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches".
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