Faith and Order and the Multilateral Dialogue on the Church

Faith and Order and the Multilateral Dialogue on the Church

Mons. John A. Radano

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.

Catholic participation

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 Forum.

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 Philippines.


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 — a 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 responded.

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 impact.

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 Canberra (1991).

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 be noted.

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" (Canberra).

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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 February 2005, page 11

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069