Cleveland Forum Sparks World Council’s Quest for Christian Unity

 — Nov. 8, 19868 nov. 1986

by Marjorie Hyer, Los Angeles Times

Support for the World Council of Churches and its quest for Christian unity remains strong in this country despite attacks in recent years on its social and political stands, according to the ecumenical agency’s general secretary.

“The aim of the World Council of Churches is to promote unity of the churches,” said the Rev. Emilio Castro, a Uruguayan Methodist minister and theologian who took over as general secretary of the international church agency two years ago.

Castro, in Washington recently to address the faculty of the Washington Theological Consortium, also spoke at an informal news briefing. He said he was heartened by the enthusiasm registered at a recent WCC-sponsored ecumenical forum in Cleveland.

More than 500 people, including more than 80 seminarians, from all over the country and a score of denominations turned out for the gathering that was originally planned for a maximum of 250, and that ultimately had to turn people away.

As another indication of ecumenical activity, Castro said the WCC has received “official reactions” from 150 denominations to the watershed document by Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians on their common understanding of baptism, Eucharist and ministry.

Agreement on “the meaning and practice of baptism” has reached the point, he said, that “we hope to eliminate the practice of rebaptism.” Rebaptism for a Christian moving from one church to another is viewed as particularly offensive because of the implication that the original baptism was less than authentic.

While there is also growing agreement among the churches on the Eucharist and “the presence of Jesus Christ in the elements” of bread and wine, Castro said that agreement by churches to recognize the ordination of one another’s ministers remains “the more difficult” area.

The “biggest challenge” of the WCC, he said, is “to advance a hypothesis for Christian unity” that is workable.

“It is impossible to imagine that all Catholics will become Protestants, that all Orthodox would become Catholic,” he said.

“How do we create a reality that will not be a superchurch, that will recognize everybody’s tradition but will be a model of unity for the world?”

Asked if renewed Vatican emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy might have a chilling effect on Catholic-Protestant unity talks, as some have charged, Castro replied that the results were mixed.

Recently, he said, Roman Catholic bishops in Switzerland, where the WCC has its headquarters, issued a reminder to their priests not to participate in eucharistic celebrations with Protestants. Such practices are officially prohibited, but in the flowering of ecumenism after Vatican II, they have taken place unofficially with some frequency.

“Of course we knew that (such practices) were doctrinally not allowed,” said Castro, but he added that the growing practice of intercommunion might eventually be recognized by a change in the law.

Posted: Nov. 8, 1986 • Permanent link:
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