Faith and Order Commission

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This entry examines the history and accomplishments of the Faith and Order Commission of the world council of churches (WCC), established in 1927 as the Faith and Order Movement and integrated into the WCC in 1948.

Impetus for the Faith and Order Movement came from the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910). After the conference, one of its delegates, Bishop Charles H. brent of the episcopal church, u.s. proposed a conference on matters of faith and order, with a view to working for the unity of all Christians. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved his proposal in October 1910. During the next few years, Brent and Robert H. Gardiner, an Episcopal layman, met with the leaders of other churches to lay the foundation for this movement. In 1927 Protestant, Anglican, Old Catholic, and Orthodox delegates met in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the First World Conference on Faith and Order. The Roman Catholic Church was invited but did not participate. The aim of the conference was to "draw churches out of isolation into conference" to remove misunderstandings, discuss obstacles to reunion, and issue reports for consideration by the churches. The basis for dialogue was explained as follows: "We are assembled to consider the things wherein we agree and the things wherein we differ."

The second World Conference on Faith and Order was held in Edinburgh in 1937 to explore further the possibilities for realizing the unity of Christian churches. Its report distinguished between cooperative action, intercommunion, and organic union, but delegates were unable to agree upon the exact form unity should take. At the Edinburgh conference, concurrently with the Oxford Conference on Life and Work, a proposal for the formation of the WCC was approved. When the WCC was established in 1948, the Faith and Order Movement became a part of this new organization.

The Third World Conference was held in Lund, Sweden, in 1952, followed by the Fourth World Conference in Montreal in 1963. The Montreal conference was a watershed in many respects. For the first time, observers from the Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostal delegates were present, Orthodoxy was widely represented, and Third World representatives were welcomed. The fruitful interaction of the member delegates and external observers at this conference became the basis for the decision made at the commission's 1967 plenary session in Bristol, England, where it revised its rules so that 40 of its 150 members might be invited from churches not currently members of the WCC. This resolution, confirmed at the 1968 meeting of the WCC in Uppsala, Sweden, made it possible for nine Roman Catholic observers to become members of the Faith and Order Commission and to participate at its 1971 meeting in Louvain, Belgium. Additionally, Cardinal Leon-Josef Suenens of Malines-Brussels gave one of the two opening addresses on the theme of this meeting: "Unity of the ChurchUnity of Mankind."

The theme emerged out of the concerns of earlier conferences. The Bristol meeting posed the question, "What is the function of the Church in relation to the unifying purpose of God for the world?" Later the Uppsala assembly noted that the world may hear with skepticism the claim of the Church to be a sign of the coming unity of mankind. Rather, "to the outsider, the churches often seem remote and irrelevant, busy to the point of tediousness with their own concerns."

At a 1970 working committee meeting in preparation for Louvain, John Deschner of the United Methodist Church saw the theme as evidence that Faith and Order was entering into a new stage in its history. It demanded new consideration of the secular import of church unity (its impact on racial, economic, social, generational, and sexist divisions) and of the significance of corporate Christian responses to secular issues.

Upon its introduction at Louvain, the theme was quickly challenged by John Meyendorff of the Orthodox Church in America, chairman of the commission. Highly critical of the more humanistic approach favored at the Uppsala assembly, Meyendorff regarded secular categories of thought as decisive in the "iconoclastic years" from the Montreal conference on, during which time "what F & O represents was largely overshadowed by noisy talk about various social causes." Reproving those who reject "the idea that the Church has a God-given structure [and] think that it must learn from the world how to make the world better," he called for a "Eucharist-centered eschatology" to regain a place over against false social utopianism.

Rejoinders to this criticism were strongly argued. Thus, José Miguez-Bonino, an Argentinean Methodist, argued that "the prophetic message [is] that there is no 'Eucharist' outside the conditions of justice and faithfulness which God has covenanted with his People."

Within the limits of the Louvain meeting it was not possible to reconcile these two perspectives; one more typical of Orthodox spokesmen, the other of Protestants. Neither did it become clear which, if either, perspective held greater favor among the Catholic members present for the first time. Yet the underlying question was urgent and difficult. In response, the commission concluded recommending that further studies be carried out on the main theme and in three other areas: (1) the development of a common expression of the Christian faith ("Giving an Account of the Hope That Is in Us"1 Pt 3:15), (2) the conceptualization of church unity and models of church union, and (3) the understanding of ministry and sacraments in the local and universal church.

Since then, two general foci of theological research and publication emerged within the commission: working out the details of a visible unity, i.e., the internal ecclesiological life of a united Church; and contextual studies relating the unity of the Church to its role in the mission to the human community. The work on contextual biblical hermeneutics at Louvain contributed to both of these, by amplifying the classical work on doctrine to include contextual as well as biblical and historical methodologies in the pursuit of unity.

Visible Unity. The vision of "a Conciliar Fellowship of local churches which are themselves truly united," articulated at the Nairobi Assembly of the WCC (1975), pictures local unity combined with a worldwide unity focused on a truly ecumenical council recognized as such by Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, and Roman Catholic Christians. These studies entailed extensive ecumenical research on the early councils, the understanding of "local church" among the communions, and the limits of diversity and unity required by the theologies of participating churches in their understanding of the biblical mandate for unity. This vision was the product of studies and consultations of the commission over the previous 50 years.

Three elements are identified as necessary before such unity can be achieved: a common understanding of the apostolic faith as it is to be confessed today; full mutual recognition of one another's baptism, Eucharist, and ordained ministry; and common ways of decision making and teaching authoritatively. At the Accra, Ghana, meeting (1974) work was done on the second of these items and circulated to the churches for their study, feedback, evaluation and revision. This work had been prepared for by detailed work on baptism, Eucharist, and the understanding of ordination throughout the churches and in the biblical and historical sources. The results of this wide theological consultation process produced the statement that was approved for distribution at the Lima meeting of the commission (1982) and the World Council Assembly at Vancouver, British Columbia (1983), called Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and also known as the lima text.

In the years following the Stavanger meeting (1985) of the commission, the responses of the churches were published and evaluated in preparation for a World Conference on Faith and Order to take place after the next WCC assembly, in Canberra, Australia (1991). In addition to the wide participation of the churches in the official response process, many popular studies of this document and unofficial reactions from individual scholars and groups have enhanced the material available for digestion and review. During this period extensive research is in progress on the apostolic faith and on the process of reception of the Lima Text in preparation for the third study necessary in the Conciliar Fellowship process, "Common Ways of Deciding and Acting Together."

The flowering of the bilateral dialogues between churches and the church union negotiations, such as the consultation on church union in the United States, have both contributed to and benefited from the similar themes on which ecumenical research has been carried out in Faith and Order. The rich harvest of bilateral results in the 1970s prepared the ground work for the Lima Text studies of the 1980s. The latter, in turn, has made clear the connection between bilateral, multilateral, and church union dialogues all contributing to the common reconciling purpose and producing a coherent convergence theology for church union. During these same decades the model of visible unity was much debated between the Conciliar Fellowship vision of Nairobi and a Reconciled Diversity vision proposed by the Lutheran World Federation. Subseqent dialogues, including the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Facing Unity have pointed the way to reconciling these two visions. Proposals before the churches of the Consultation on Church Union call for giving concrete expression, among these nine U.S. churches, to the Conciliar Fellowship vision realized in concrete stages of covenanting.

As the Third World churches, and voices of women and minority churches in the First World have begun to be heard, along with Orthodox voices from the Second World and the European and American theological efforts, more participatory and contextual styles have been added to the researches of Faith and Order. At the Accra meeting (1974) a study, "Giving Account of the Hope" was featured, and brought to fruition at the Bangalore meeting (1978). Likewise, at that meeting a study, "The Community of Women and Men in the Church," was featured, which continued through Lima and Vancouver. This study complemented an ongoing study that was formalized at Lima under the title "The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community." Major reports on this study were presented at Stavanger and consultations and research continue.

Furthermore, the study process on the Lima Text and the means churches took to make their official responses, as well as the contextual processes used within the apostolic faith study as it moves forward, all relate the work on the internal life of the Church to its mission in the world. Recognizing that the elements of mission and social ministry in the ecumenical movement are contributing in their own way to Christian unity, while the theological research continues, is all part of the one ecumenical vision. The Commission on Faith and Order of the National Council of Churches in the U.S. has assisted the WCC studies for the American churches. Programs have been done on the Lima Text, Apostolic Faith, Conciliar Fellowship, the Community of Women and Men in the Church, and the Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community. In addition, studies on the bilaterals, on spirituality, interreligious dialogue, on such controversial issues as homosexuality, abortion, and the unification church have been undertaken and published.

Bibliography: j. e. skoglund and j. r. nelson, Fifty Years of Faith and Order (New York 1963). l. vischer, ed., A Documentary History of the Faith and Order Movement (St. Louis 1963). a. dulles, SJ, "Faith and Order at Louvain," Theological Studies 33, 1, 3567. Meetings of the Faith & Order Commission. 50th Anniversary Celebration, Lausanne, Switzerland (1977); Bangalore, India (Aug. 1530, 1978); Lima, Peru (Jan. 216, 1982); Stavanger, Norway (Aug. 1326, 1985). Consultations and meetings for ongoing studies have taken place each year, and are reflected in the titles of WCC papers. The following Faith and Order (WCC) Papers are of particular importance: #59 Faith and Order Louvain 1971 (reports and documents); #60 Faith and Order Louvain 1971 (minutes of commission and working committee); #69 What Kind of Unity? (1974); #72 Uniting in Hope (reports and documents) (Accra 1974); #73 One Baptism, One Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry: Three Agreed Statements (1975); #74 Confessions in Dialogue; Survey of Bilateral Conversations among World Confessional Families, 195974, eds. n. ehrenstrom and g. gassmann (1974); #77 What Unity Requires (papers and reports on the unity of the Church) (1976); #81 Giving Account of the Hope Today, intro. c. s. song (1976); #82 Lausanne '77: Fifty Years of Faith and Order (1977); #86 Giving Account of the Hope Together (1978); #92 Sharing in One Hope (reports and documents) (Bangalore 1978); #93 Faith and Order, Bangalore 1978 (minutes); #97 Louisville Consultation on Baptism, Rev&Exp (Winter 1980); #102 Episkope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective (1980); #103 Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ: Ecumenical Reflections on the Filioque Controversy, ed. l. vischer (1980); #105 Ordination of Women in Ecumenical Perspective, ed. c. parvey (1980); #111 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982); #112 Towards Visible Unity: Commission on Faith and Order, Lima, 1982, v. 1 Minutes and Addresses; #113, ibid., v. 2 Study Papers and Reports; #114 Growing Together in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. A Study Guide (1985); #116 Ecumenical Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, ed. m. thurian (theological essays) (1985); #117 Baptism and Eucharist, eds. m. thurian and g. wainwright (ecumenical convergence in celebration) (1984); #121 Minutes of the Standing Commission, Crete, 1984; #125 Fourth Forum on Bilateral Conversations Report (1985); #127 Called to Be One in Christ, eds. t. best and m. kinnamon; #129 Churches Respond to BEM, v. 1., ed. m. thurian (official responses to the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry text) (1986); #130 Church, Kingdom, World, ed. m. thurian (The Church as mystery and prophetic sign) (1986); #131 Faith and Renewal (Faith and Order Commission meeting held in Stavanger, Norway, Aug. 1326, 1985); #132 Churches Respond to BEM, v. 2 (1986); #135 ibid., v. 3 (1987). Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite? Towards Convergence in Orthodox Christology, ed. p. gregorios et al. (1981).

[m. b. handspicker/

j. hotchkin/

j. gros/eds.]