The Global Christian Forum, an historic achievement

 — Nov. 12, 200712 nov. 2007

When I teach my students about the ecumenical movement, I tell them that the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948 is an historic achievement. It is historic because the WCC is the principal instrument of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century. It is historic because it sets a benchmark in church history for the commitment of the churches to walk together. It is an achievement of unparalleled importance because it brought together the historic churches of the Reformation together with the Eastern churches in a commitment to seek visible unity and common witness. However, even in 1948 there was an awareness that there were essential voices missing from the ecumenical table.

In 1961, at the WCC’s New Delhi assembly, additional voices from the Eastern churches were added, and the Roman Catholic Church sent official observers for the first time. Still the table had empty seats. In the years since New Delhi there has been a growth in WCC membership from formally colonial churches, from Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and from the African Independent churches. However, for numerous reasons there were many churches who could not join the conversation. For some, the ecumenical process was flawed in its goals and its methods. For others, participation in the process would conflict with their own ecclesial identity, or in some cases, their non-ecclesial identity.

The WCC has participated in other global ecumenical processes. In 1968, the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church was established to provide for the active participation of Catholics in the WCC-led ecumenical movement, while permitting the Catholic Church to remain outside the formal membership of the WCC. The regular meetings of the Christian World Communions has allowed the WCC to gather with international agencies representing the major Christian traditions.

In recent years there have been numerous changes to the WCC and its process. The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation assisted the WCC to move towards a consensus-based decision making process. The restructuring of the WCC has allowed churches to participate directly in those programmes that correspond to their own ecumenical vision, and to abstain from other programmes as appropriate.

In the mid-90s, Konrad Raiser, then the WCC general secretary, proposed a new ecumenical structure that would be more inclusive than the WCC. The WCC would not be absorbed into the new structure, but would remain one of the participating groups. Out of this proposal has developed the Global Christian Forum. The Forum had its inaugural meeting in Limuru, Kenya from November 6 to 9. Over these days, some 240 leaders from a broad range of churches, confessions and interchurch organizations from over 70 countries agreed to carry forward what they call “the Global Christian Forum process.” This new forum will be an open space for encounter and dialogue with the stated goal to “to foster mutual respect and explore and address together common challenges.”

The Christian traditions represented at the Forum meeting in Limuru were: the African Instituted churches, Anglican, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical, Disciples of Christ (Churches of Christ), Holiness, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, Roman and Eastern Catholic, Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventist, the Society of Friends, and the United and Uniting churches.

The Forum process also involves a number of Christian organizations: regional ecumenical organizations, youth and student international movements, YMCA and YWCA, United Bible Societies, World Vision International, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches, and a number of forum-type organizations.

The participants issued two documents at Limuru: the Global Christian Forum Guiding Purpose Statement and a Message from the Global Christian Forum to Brothers and Sisters in Christ Throughout the World.

When I walk into my classroom this week to introduce my students to the ecumenical movement, I will need to add a mention of the Global Christian Forum to my lecture. The WCC describes itself as the “privileged instrument” of the ecumenical movement. Though the Global Christian Forum does not seek to become such an instrument, it wishes to be an open space for encounter and dialogue. The very scope of the forum participation is historic. Only time will tell whether this new ecumenical venture will become a new benchmark in church history.

Posted: Nov. 12, 2007 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: 2007, Christian unity, events, Global Christian Forum, statements
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : 2007, Christian unity, events, Global Christian Forum, statements

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