Receive one another, as Christ received you
The Plenary meeting of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World
Council of Churches (WCC) took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28 July
to 6 August 2004. The Commission consists of 120 theologians, appointed
on the occasion of a WCC General Assembly and serving until the next
General Assembly seven years later. They represent a very broad spectrum
of WCC member churches, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, including almost
all confessions, as well as some from churches and communities which are
not members of the WCC such as the Catholic Church.
The theme of the meeting was "Receive one another, as Christ received
you, for the glory of God" (Rom 15:7). The Commission reviewed the full
range of Faith and Order work involving studies on ecclesiology,
baptism, ecumenical hermeneutics, anthropology, ethnic and national
identity and the unity of Christians, theological reflection on peace.
Besides these current ongoing studies, Faith and Order work includes
supporting developments involving uniting and united churches,
organizing the bilateral forum sponsored periodically by the Conference
of Secretaries of Christian World Communions, and, since 1966, working
with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) to
produce the prayer materials used by Christians throughout the world
during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Although the Catholic Church is not a member of the World Council of
Churches, Catholic theologians have, since 1968, participated in the
Commission on Faith and Order as full voting members. They are nominated
by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and appointed by
the Central Committee of the WCC.
Twelve of the 120 Commissioners are Catholic theologians. One
Catholic Commissioner, Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, is
one of several Vice-Moderators of Faith and Order. Catholic participants
made significant contributions to the Kuala Lumpur meeting.
Archbishop Onaiyekan, as Vice-Moderator, skilfully conducted many of
the Plenary Sessions. Fr Frans Bouwen, M. Afr. (Jerusalem), gave one of
two keynote addresses on the theme of the meeting. Rev. Jorge Scampini,
O.P. (Argentina), gave a major presentation relating to Faith and
Order's baptism study. Sr Maria Ko Ha Fong, F.M.A. (Hong Kong/Rome),
gave one of two responses to the paper presenting the anthropology
study. Sr Donna Geernaert, S.C. (Canada), gave one of the daily bible
studies and was also a member of the Message Committee. Mons. John
Radano (PCPCU) presented the paper and led a workshop on the Bilateral
Other Catholic Commission members, most of whom have taken part in
one or other of the Faith and Order studies during this period, included
Rev. William Henn, O.F.M. Cap. (Rome), Sr Mary O'Driscoll, O.P.
(Rome/Ireland), Prof. Wolfgang Thonissen, (Germany) Rev. Prof. Angelo
Maffeis (Italy), Rev. Fr Michel Van Parys, O.S.B. (Belgium), Rev.
Professor Huberto Jimenez Gomez (Colombia) and Prof. Dr Guido Vergauwen,
O.P. (Proxy for Dr Barbara Hallensleben, Switzerland).
In addition, Faith and Order continues to foster interest among
younger people and two young Catholic theologians were invited to take
part. These were Ms Rebecca Cacho and Ms Jennifer Buya, who were
recommended by the Ecumenical Office of the Federation of Asian Bishops'
Conferences (FABC). Both are doctoral students and teachers of theology
at De La Salle University, College of St Benilde, in Manila, the
While Faith and Order is working on a variety of studies, the study
on the Church is central and primary.
Faith and Order Moderator Dr David K. Yemba drew a helpful image in
his "Moderator's Address", to illustrate the centrality of ecclesiology
in ecumenical work. He spoke of the 20th century as "the Century of the
Church". The missionary movement of the preceding century became the
entry point for understanding what the Church is.
In that initial stage of the ecumenical movement, crystallized by the
World Mission Conference at Edinburgh, 1910, the efforts to understand
the Church focused on what the Church was doing in the world (its
mission). "The passion for the unity of the Church in the 20th century
was prompted by the consciousness of a need for unity in the mission
of the Church throughout the world".
Soon afterwards, the Life and Work movement (First World Conference
in 1925) emphasized "the Church's unity in service".
The Faith and Order movement then addressed doctrinal and theological
issues connected with division in the Church: unity of the Church and
the nature of the Church. Even since its first World Conference
(1927), "Faith and Order has been committed to putting the Church as top
priority on its agenda".
Therefore, Faith and Order's focus on ecclesiology today has deep
roots in its history, even though it was only in 1998 that its first
comprehensive treatment of the Church: The Nature and Purpose of the
Church (Faith and Order paper 181) was published.
Nature and purpose of Church
Faith and Order is presently working on two ecclesiology projects.
The first and larger project is that of revising The Nature and
Purpose of the Church. In the draft revision it is now entitled "The
Nature and Mission of the Church".
The work of revision has benefited from many comments on the previous
document, including a lengthy critical commentary developed by a group
of Catholic theologians at the request of the PCPCU and sent to Faith
and Order three years ago. The current stage of the revision, which the
Plenary at Kuala Lumpur reviewed, is basically that presented in the
PCPUC Information Service (115 [2004172-73).
To mention just two changes: first, the current revised draft gives
more priority and expression, then did the 1998 text, to the notion of
the Church as koinonia which is emphasised today in ecumenical
discussions on the Church.
Second, much more attention is given to the question of primacy than
in the 1998 text. The Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order (1993)
raised the question of "a universal ministry of Christian unity" as
needing discussion in Faith and Order work. This statement was cited by
Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995), as he
invited Church leaders and theologians to engage in a frank dialogue
with him on his universal ministry.
Faith and Order has initiated further discussion on this in the
current project of revision.
Bishop John Hind, an Anglican member of the Faith and Order Commission,
in introducing the revised draft text at Kuala Lumpur, indicated that it
has been determined by the Faith and Order Standing Commission that "the
intention is to produce
ultimately, and however long it takes
document on the Church parallel to BEM (Baptism, Eucharist and
Ministry)". He was expressing Faith and Order's hope of producing a
report which will help foster reconciliation among separated churches as
effectively as did BEM.
The 1982 Faith and Order text "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry"
showed many convergences and agreements on those three issues over which
Christians have been divided for centuries. BEM was submitted to the
churches for a response and reception process "at the highest
appropriate level", and almost 200 churches and ecclesial communities
Generally, it was positively reviewed, although many critical
comments were also made, and a programme for continuing work on
unresolved issues was outlined by Faith and Order in 1990.
Nonetheless, the convergences and agreements which BEM identified on
these issues have made BEM an important theological resource, used
especially by Anglican and some Protestant Churches in different parts
of the world as they - have entered into binding agreements based on
shared faith, which allow them to achieve deeper levels of communion. It
is hoped that a convergence text on the Church can have a similar
Statement on ecclesiology
The second ecclesiology project on which Faith and Order is now
working is a "Statement on Ecclesiology" for the coming Ninth Assembly
of WCC in 2006. This statement will be brief and somewhat in the line of
brief statements describing the nature of "the unity we seek" which were
published by WCC assemblies at New Delhi (1961), Nairobi (1975) and
These Assembly statements on unity are vital for keeping the
ecumenical movement focused on the visible unity of the Church and
describing even more precisely the nature of that unity.
One finds in the current statement a number of aspects reflected in
the previous Assembly statements on unity. But several new emphases can
The first concerns reflection on the local and universal aspects of
the Church, and its unity in diversity. The local and universal aspects
are alluded to in previous statements, most clearly in the Camberra
statement (cf. n. 21). But in the present statement, a deeper, though
still brief, theological foundation is given to these qualities of the
Church than previously. Thus:
"Its oneness, locally and universally, is an image of the unity in
diversity of the Triune God. In Scripture, the Christian community is
described as the body of Christ whose interrelated diversity is
essential to its wholeness (cf. I Cor 12). The Church is diverse as
God's gifts are diverse... the Church always lives in the tension
between oneness and diversity" (n. 3).
"Each local church is the church Catholic and not simply a part of
it. Each local church is the church Catholic, but not the whole of it.
Each local church only finds its Catholicity when being in communion
with the other local churches" (n. 5).
Another characteristic of this statement is that it gives more
attention to baptism than did the previous Assembly statements: each of
the latter referred directly but briefly to the importance of baptism:
"baptized into Jesus Christ" (New Delhi); "they have received the same
baptism" (Nairobi); "a common sacramental life entered by the one
baptism" and "the challenge... to recognize each other's baptism", and
"on the basis of convergence in faith in baptism, eucharist and ministry
to consider, wherever appropriate, forms of eucharistic hospitality"
But the current unity statement gives two paragraphs to baptism:
"We affirm that there is one baptism, as there is one body and one
Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father
of us all. Baptism manifests that, in the mystery of God's grace, we
belong to one another, although now our churches are unable to recognize
each other as churches in the true and full sense of the word. We affirm
that 'the membership of the Church of Christ is more inclusive than the
membership of [our] own church body'" (Toronto Statement) (n. 7).
"Baptism creates space for us to walk together with integrity, even
when we are in disagreement. It encourages us to speak the truth to one
another in love, even when doing so is difficult, in order that we might
grow up in every way into Christ (Eph 4:15). It gives us the freedom and
the responsibility to stay together on the journey toward a common
confession of the one faith, a full sharing in one ministry, and one
Eucharist" (n. 8).
It also mentions as one of seven "most pressing matters" that still
remain to be addressed by the churches: "to what extent does each
acknowledge the one baptism in the others" (n. 12). In the 1991
Canberra statement, the issue of recognition of each other's baptism is
put in terms of a "challenge at the moment" (n. 3, 2).
Both of these studies are obviously still in process. But they both
illustrate further ecumenical convergences regarding the nature and
mission of the Church, and reflect the present state of dialogue on the
content of the unity that we seek.