Faith and Order
Abstract and Keywords
Generically, ‘faith and order’ designates the contents of doctrinal belief and the patterns of social and governmental structure that mark the historically varied communities that claim the name and status of ‘church’. Concern with these closely connected areas has been central to the worldwide ecumenical movement since the early twentieth century. The chapter focuses on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, which has the overall aim of calling the churches to the goal of visible unity in order that the world may believe. It considers the activities and organization of the Commission, and various fruits of its work across a range of issues, including the apostolic faith, anthropological and moral issues, tradition, and ecclesiology. It particularly highlights the consensus document on ‘Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry’ (1982), and the process culminating in the report: ‘The Church: Towards a Common Vision’ (2013).
All communities claiming the name and nature of ‘church’ have to deal—already within their own life and borders—with matters of belief and teaching (which may be called matters of faith) as well as matters of organizational structure and discipline (which may be called matters of order). Historically, it is in these related—indeed twin—areas of faith and order that disputes have most often arisen and persisted between churches. It was therefore inevitable that, in seeking to understand and settle such disputes and divisions for the sake of communal resolution and even corporate reconciliation, the modern ecumenical movement should have developed a matching instrumentality. While other names might have been chosen, it is largely under the name of ‘Faith and Order’ that efforts towards resolution and reconciliation in these matters have found organizational forms as commissions, committees, or departments amid and within councils of churches at various geographical levels. Our main concern in this chapter will be with Faith and Order in the context and framework of the World Council of Churches.
Early Ecumenical History
Faith and Order can claim pride of place among the long-term instruments of ecumenism since its concerns address the very substance of Christianity and its institutional forms in the effort to resolve those differences and divergences that have—in various senses and to varying degrees—disrupted the unity of the church. The phrase, ‘Faith and Order’, became the consecrated term thanks in no small measure to its use by Bishop C. H. Brent who, upon his return from the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910, encouraged the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal (p. 378) Church in the USA to convene a conference of ‘Christian Communions throughout the world’ to answer questions touching Faith and Order. Those origins help to account for the fact that the Faith and Order movement has consistently included in its agenda the items of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral that were first set by the Episcopalians in their 1886 proposals for ecclesial unity in the United States, and then endorsed by the worldwide Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1920, according to the following adapted formulation:
We believe that the visible unity of the Church will be found to involve the wholehearted acceptance of:
The Holy Scriptures, as the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith; and the Creed commonly called Nicene, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, and either it or the Apostles’ Creed as the Baptismal confession of belief;
The divinely instituted sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion, as expressing for all the corporate life of the whole fellowship in and with Christ;
A ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit, but also the commission of Christ and the authority of the whole body. (Bell 1955: 1–5)
In 1920, a preparatory conference, attended by 130 delegates from eighty churches and forty countries, met in Geneva and set up a ‘continuation committee’. While continental European Protestants found it sufficient to seek unity in ‘faith’, Anglicans thought it necessary to add ‘order’; the Orthodox meanwhile considered that more was needed in the way of friendship, cooperation, and mutual information before coming to matters of dogma and ecclesial structure. By 1927, a First World Conference on Faith and Order could be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, under the presidency of Bishop Brent. The call to unity as ‘God’s clear call’ was adopted unanimously:
God’s Spirit has been in the midst of us. It was He who called us hither. His presence has been manifest in our worship, our deliberations and our whole fellowship. He has discovered us to one another. He has enlarged our horizons, quickened our understanding, and enlivened our hope. We have dared and God has justified our daring. We can never be the same again.
Many matters of faith and order had been discussed as needing resolution, and now, ‘with faith stimulated by God’s guidance to us here, we move forward’ (Vischer 1963: 28–29).
The Second World Conference on Faith and Order was held in Edinburgh in 1937, under the leading theme of Grace. Several ‘Conceptions of Church Unity’ were reported, ranging from ‘a confederation or alliance of Churches for cooperative action’ through (p. 379) ‘intercommunion or mutual recognition’ to ‘corporate union’ or ‘organic unity’ (Vischer 1963: 61–64). From Edinburgh, a commission was appointed by the Faith and Order movement with a view to joining with the Life and Work movement—whose Second World Conference had just taken place at Oxford—in the formation of a World Council of Churches (WCC). After the Second World War, the founding Assembly of the WCC was held in Amsterdam in 1948.
Faith and Order retained its own clear identity within the WCC. Its aim was classically framed at its plenary meeting in Accra, Ghana, in 1974, as being ‘to proclaim the oneness of the Church of Jesus Christ and to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, in order that the world may believe’ (Faith and Order 1974, 110). Amongst its many activities in accord with that aim, Faith and Order has facilitated, since the late 1960s, regular international consultations of representatives of united and uniting churches. Strikingly, the WCC’s primary purpose has been kept close to that suggested by Faith and Order and affirmed at the WCC Assembly at Nairobi in 1975.
Visions of Unity
At the Third Assembly of the WCC in New Delhi, India, in 1961, the International Missionary Council was integrated with the WCC. A paragraph from New Delhi that came to be regarded as the classic definition or description of ‘the unity we seek’ had been decisively drafted by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin—of the Church of South India—in the context of Faith and Order’s working committee in 1959:
We believe that the unity which is both God’s will and his gift to his Church is being made visible as all in each place who are baptised into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Saviour are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls his people.
(Vischer 1963: 144–145)
At first, ecumenists concentrated their attention locally, on the unity of ‘all in each place’, but later their interest expanded to unity in ‘all places and all ages’, for the purpose of which ecclesial fellowship was detected and promoted in terms of conciliarity. With the Fourth Assembly of the WCC at Uppsala, Sweden, in 1968, the horizon was expanded, at least briefly, to the possible calling of ‘a truly universal council’. By the time of the WCC’s (p. 380) Fifth Assembly at Nairobi, Kenya, in 1975, the chief concern was with the geographically intermediate structures between the local and the universal:
The one Church is to be envisioned as a conciliar fellowship of local churches which are themselves truly united.…Each church aims at maintaining sustained and sustaining relationships with her sister churches, expressed in conciliar gatherings whenever required for the fulfilment of their common calling.
(Gassmann 1993: 1–3)
The WCC’s Seventh Assembly at Canberra, Australia, in 1991, adopted a statement prepared by the Faith and Order Commission under the title, The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling, which included this:
The goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness. This full communion will be expressed on the local and the universal levels through conciliar forms of life and action. In such communion churches are bound in all aspects of their life together at all levels in confessing the one faith and engaging in worship and witness, deliberation and action.
(Kinnamon 1991: 172–174, 249–250)
Activities of Faith and Order
The constitutional centre of faith and order from the start has been precisely the Commission on Faith and Order. Membership—long numbering 120—is by appointment through the WCC Assembly or its Central Committee. The Commission has typically held plenary meetings every third or fourth year (at least once, sometimes twice, in the intervals between WCC Assemblies), while its smaller standing commission has met on an annual basis. Matters of coordination and stimulus are handled by the latter thirty-member body and a small staff in the Geneva offices of the WCC, led by a director. Detailed work is pursued in thematic studies undertaken by specialist groups. Ongoing connection with the churches and the wider theological public is maintained through personal contacts and official visits as well as literary reports, published by the WCC in a numbered series of Faith and Order papers, through the holding in varying geographical locations of WCC Assemblies every seven or eight years, and through the rare but important World Conferences on Faith and Order (Lund 1952; Montreal 1963; Santiago de Compostela 1993).
Notice must be taken of the shift in range and procedures concerning matters of faith and order brought by the official entry of the Roman Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement with the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). By mutual agreement, the (p. 381) Catholic Church has not sought membership in the WCC overall, but collaborates closely with several WCC programmes, notably the Commission on Faith and Order. Since 1968, the WCC Faith and Order Commission has regularly enjoyed the official participation of twelve theologians from the Roman Catholic Church. A notable feature of this relationship has been the annual joint production of texts for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Moreover, matters of faith and order have figured prominently on the agenda of the bilateral dialogues in which Rome has shared with the other Christian world communions. For the sake of mutual awareness, and to help coordinate ecumenical efforts towards unity, WCC Faith and Order has facilitated joint gatherings of representatives from the various bilaterals at fairly regular intervals since 1978.
While the early decades of Faith and Order were largely occupied with the self-presentation of the various confessional traditions and church families, an important shift in perspective and method occurred when the Lund Conference (1952) decided that the time had come to move from mutual comparisons around the circumference of a circle to a common concentration on the Christ who is at the heart of ‘God’s dealings with his whole people’ (Vischer 1963: 85–86, emphasis in original). This move, at a time of particular interest in the history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte), found formal expression in the rapprochement reached at the Montreal Conference (1963) regarding the relations between Scripture, Tradition, and traditions, a theme that was being simultaneously pursued, with much overlap of interests, and some of personnel, in the work of the Second Vatican Council towards its dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (1965). The chief concern lay, of course, in ‘the problem of the one Tradition and the many traditions of Christendom as they unfold in the course of the Church’s history’ (Rodger and Vischer 1964: 50). The measure of agreement sketched at Montreal underlay the work of the next two decades that prepared the text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982).
Meanwhile, at its plenary meeting in Bangalore, India, in 1978, Faith and Order completed a thematic study under the title, A Common Account of Hope, published in Sharing in One Hope (Faith and Order 1978). A remarkable text from that meeting—‘Witness unto Death’—was put to service several decades later in a joint project between Faith and Order and the ecumenical monastic community of Bose in northern Italy: A Cloud of Witnesses: Opportunities for Ecumenical Commemoration (Grdzelidze and Dotti 2009). Already in his encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint (1995), Pope John Paul II had written:
Albeit in an invisible way, the communion between our Communities, even if still incomplete, is truly and solidly grounded in the full communion of the Saints—those who, at the end of a life faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory. Those Saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation.
(Pope John Paul II 1995: n. 84)
(p. 382) In regaining a calendar of saints for observance in their liturgical worship, several Protestant churches have included figures from the ‘other side’ in cases of confessional schism (see Wainwright 2007a, 222–247).
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982)
The topics of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the ordained ministry had figured on the agenda of Faith and Order since Lausanne 1927 and Edinburgh 1937, but it was only in the mid-1960s that the idea of bringing the trio together gained ground. A draft of what was to be the most remarkable and remarked Faith and Order document so far was completed at the Accra meeting of 1974 under the title, One Baptism, One Eucharist, and a Mutually Recognized Ministry (Faith and Order 1975). Several years of input from a large and varied number of theologians made it possible for the final version of the convergence statement to be unanimously approved by the Plenary Commission in Lima, Peru, in January 1982, as ready for respectful submission to the churches, with a request for ‘an official response at the highest appropriate level of authority, whether a council, synod, conference, assembly or other body’ (Faith and Order 1982, Preface).
In fact, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order 1982, quickly nicknamed BEM in practically whatever language!) attracted studious attention at many levels of church life, helped by the fact that it dealt with features encountered Sunday by Sunday in congregational practice. Over the next few years some 180 high-level official responses were received in Geneva from churches of every denominational or confessional hue; these were published in six volumes under the editorship of Frère Max Thurian of the Taizé Community, Churches Respond to BEM (Thurian 1986–88). Some evidence of the continuing reception of BEM may be found in BEM at 25: Critical insights into a continuing legacy (Best and Grdzelidze 2007; see also Wainwright 2007b).
A synthetic reading of the responses to BEM was published as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry 1982–1990: Report on the Process and Responses (Faith and Order 1990a). Highlighted as major topics needing further reflection were ecclesiology, sacramentality, and Scripture and Tradition; and these were considered at the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 1993. In line with the Faith and Order statement adopted by the WCC Seventh Assembly at Canberra in 1991, the favoured ecclesiological category became that of a Trinitarianly inspired ‘koinonia’ (fellowship). The Santiago Conference issued a ‘call to move towards koinonia in faith, life and witness’, a call ‘to move towards visible unity in order to proclaim the gospel of hope and reconciliation for all people and to show a credible model of that life which God offers to all’ (Best and Gassmann 1994: 268).
(p. 383) Scripture and Tradition
Running partially alongside the BEM process was another Faith and Order project, ‘Towards the Common Expression of the Apostolic Faith Today’. The Nicene Creed was chosen as its basis. Quite high-powered consultations were devoted to each of the three articles of the Creed. Eventually a substantial text was written, where each creedal clause first received a linguistic and historical explanation, then had its ‘biblical witness’ displayed, and finally (in a riskier move) saw some possible contemporary applications proposed in an ‘explication for today’. Envisaged was an exploration of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition (as embodied in the creed), with the various contemporary confessional ‘traditions’ all invited to participate, as they seek to carry the gospel message yet further forward into the world of today. It was hoped that, following a draft Confessing the Faith (1987), the revised Confessing the One Faith (Faith and Order 1991) would be given the same kind of attention by the churches as BEM had received, but that did not occur. Perhaps the project was not sufficiently promoted from the centre, or it may be that the churches were still tired from their efforts devoted to BEM. The saddest possibility would be a loss of interest in classic questions of faith and order on the part both of the WCC and of the wider ecclesial administrations and populace. More recently, the text of Confessing the One Faith was reprinted, with a fresh introduction by Mary Tanner, former moderator of the Commission (World Council of Churches 2010).
Theological Anthropology and Moral Theology
As successive generations of church leaders, preachers, and teachers take responsibility for maintaining the Gospel Tradition, they must often grapple with shifts and developments in the broader human society and culture. Questions arise, particularly with regard to theological anthropology and moral theology, and the attempt must be made to face and settle these ecumenically (see Best and Robra 1997).
The Eighth Assembly of the WCC at Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1999 prompted Faith and Order to undertake a study of Christian Perspectives on Theological Anthropology (Faith and Order 2005b). The ‘theological response’ to a number of ‘contemporary challenges’ was framed in terms of human beings as ‘created in the image of God’, with Jesus Christ as ‘the one in whom true humanity is perfectly realized’, and ‘self-emptying (kenotic) love’ is ‘expressed most profoundly’ (Faith and Order 2005b, II. B and III. C), as the churches were called to affirm in their words, actions, and lives. Anthropological and moral interests also figured in Faith and Order’s collaboration with other projects in the WCC: ‘The Program to Combat Racism’ in the 1970s; ‘The Community of Women and Men in the Church’ in the 1980s; ‘Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation’ in the 1990s (p. 384) (see Best and Granberg-Michaelson 1993); not forgetting Faith and Order’s own Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community (Faith and Order 1990b).
Tradition and Traditions
The theological and ecclesiological theme of Tradition returned firmly to the agenda of Faith and Order with a proposal from Orthodox quarters at the plenary meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004, for ‘a special study of patristics within the framework of hermeneutics’. Consciously echoing the insights and terminology from Montreal in 1963, this developed into the Faith and Order study on ‘Tradition and traditions: Sources of Authority in the Church’. While honouring the foundational role of the patristic period, its broader goal is a better mutual understanding of the sources and functions of authority within the various churches. A first consultation focused on ‘Teachers and Witnesses of the Early Church: A Common Source of Authority, Variously Received?’ (2006–2008). A later study focused on ‘The Use of the Bible by Teachers of the Early Church’, aiming to introduce those teachers to members of traditions which are not normally accustomed to reading ancient writers, via a guidebook: Reading the Gospels with the Early Church: A Guide (Grdzelidze 2013).
The Church: Towards a Common Vision (2013)
Around the turn of the century, the broadest questions in ecclesiology were treated by Faith and Order in The Nature and Purpose of the Church (Faith and Order 1998), which was transformed after feedback into The Nature and Mission of the Church (Faith and Order 2005a), both texts being sub-titled ‘a stage on the way to a common statement’. The labours of the Ecclesiology Working Group finally found shape in The Church: Towards a Common Vision (Faith and Order 2013). Approved by the Standing Commission of Faith and Order at its June 2012 meeting in Penang, Malaysia, this document was envisaged as a convergence text that, with the approval of the WCC Central Committee, would be submitted to the churches for their active consideration and responses after the manner of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Drawing from Scripture and Tradition, the Church is here conceived in its nature and mission as a ‘koinonia’ (‘communion’) that shares in the being and character of the divine Trinity and bears the charge of participation in the Triune God’s gracious design for humankind and the whole created world, which involves the healing of historic brokenness, and creation’s positive transformation towards the kingdom of God (Faith and Order 2013: nn. 1, 13, 58–59). Faced by the divisions among traditions that have occurred in Christian history, (p. 385) the ecclesiological task is to recognize and celebrate legitimate diversities that offer mutual enrichment, while on the other hand analysing and seeking to resolve the contentious differences.
The text acknowledges the success of BEM in promoting significant agreement across a broad range of churches in respect of baptism and Eucharist. The greatest remaining differences and difficulties concern the structures and exercise of ‘ordained ministry’ (Faith and Order 2013: nn. 45–57). These find sharpest expression in the area of authority, though it is agreed that ‘the ministry of oversight…needs to be exercised in personal, collegial and communal ways’ (n. 52; see already BEM, Ministry, nn. 26–27). Drawing encouragement from Santiago de Compostela in 1993 and from Ut Unum Sint, the text is bold enough to present in a moderately positive light the need for a universal ministry of ecclesial unity (nn. 56–57). The final chapter—‘The Church in and for the World’—touches on the emergent differences in moral matters that may be, for the immediate future, the most sensitive questions within and between the churches as they face the perpetual need to evangelize. The document has been ‘sent to the churches as a common point of reference in order to test or discern their own ecclesiological convergences with one another, and so to serve their further pilgrimage toward the manifestation of that unity for which Christ prayed’ (‘Historical Note’, final paragraph).
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