Regional ecumenical councils look at the past and the future
The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) will train future ecumenical leaders at a School for Ecumenical Leadership Formation in September in Sri Lanka. A Jubilee Declaration issued before its fiftieth anniversary celebration in March urges "the assertion of an Asian identity and spirituality that was [the CCA's] heritage and distinct contribution . . ."
Europe's Islamic presence has reopened issues about religion in the public sphere that Europeans thought were closed, sociologist Grace Davie said at an event in Germany organized by the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the [Catholic] Council of European Bishops' Conference. The conference was a prelude to the Third European Ecumenical Assembly meeting in September. Click and link to EEA3 Stage 3 for speeches.
The opening worship of the Council of Latin American Churches (CLAI) 5th General Assembly was in a Pentecostal church -- a reminder that CLAI, once seen as a bastion of liberation theology, also includes evangelicals and Pentecostals. Participants heard their general secretary speak about service and evangelization. Read the declaration of the assembly.
All Africa Council of Churches' (AACC) general secretary is speaking out on Africa's problems. He has said that gender-based violence is increasingly a weapon of war and that holy scriptures are used to justify violence.
In the face of what he sees as an aggressive global economic strategy of Europe, he called African trade ministers not to be pressured to sign on to economic partnerships before an impacts assessment.
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) ninth Assembly, to meet in November 2007, will set directions for the next four years and choose people to carry them out. The MECC includes Orthodox, Evangelical, and Catholic churches. It works to sustain Christian-Muslim dialogue in the Islamic heartland. The MECC general secretary and the grand imam of Al Azhar, who is president of the Higher International Islamic Forum (HIIF), plan a third MECC-HIIFconference.
International: bilateral relationships
Seventh-day Adventists and World Evangelical Alliance meet
After world-level theological conversations on August 5-10, 2007, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) are expected to announce a joint statement identifying common goals and results of their conversation. They had met earlier in 2006. Adventists agreed with the WEA statement of faith (focused on the Bible as the Word of God, the Trinity, the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, prayer, conversion, sanctification, and the second coming) while the two disagree on the authority of Ellen White, pre-Advent judgment, and the Sabbath as a Christian day of worship. Their agreement is expected to lead to cooperation on common issues, such as religious liberty.
German churches celebrate baptismal agreement
On Sunday, April 29, 2007, representatives of eleven church bodies signed a document declaring their fundamental agreement regarding baptism, despite differences in their understanding of the Church. Signers included the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), the Anglicans, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox (ENI #07-0325). The common declaration sees in baptism an expression of the unity founded in Jesus Christ. It was initiated by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The agreement recognizes water baptism "carried out according to the mission of Jesus, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The churches say that baptism in this way "is one and cannot be repeated." Earlier, in 2004, the EKD and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople signed an agreement to mutually recognize one another's baptisms.
Lutherans and Reformed in France aim for union
The Reformed Church of France and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France have agreed to discussions with the objective of developing a united denomination by 2013. The Reformed body has some 300,000 members and the Lutheran church has 40,000 members. Their proposal calls for one church with different confessional regions, thereby maintaining distinctive Lutheran or Reformed identities in their historic geographic areas.
Catholic-Anglican statement on growing together is published
Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 Years of Anglican and Roman Catholic Dialogue, prepared by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission, was published in February 2007 (ISBN #978-0-281-05939-3). It is intended to foster discussion and reflection and offers a call to action, based on finding sufficient common ground to enable working together on practical matters.The London Times said that Anglicans and Roman Catholics were being urged to explore how "the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”
Last November the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope issued a common declaration after they met together at the Vatican. They listed areas for cooperation today: pursuit of peace, promotion of the respect for life and of the family, outreach to the poor and vulnerable, care of the creation, interreligious dialogue. They also acknowledged the challenges of "new developments." Strain has been caused by the issues of gay bishops and ordination of women as priests -- and especially as bishops, who are seen as a sign of the church's unity.
Lutheran-Orthodox Commission adopts statement on the Eucharist
The Mystery of the Church: The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church has been adopted as a common statement of the international Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission. The commission stated, “Orthodox and Lutherans both confess that Christ’s body and blood are united with bread and wine, to be consumed by communicants, uniting them with Christ and with each other.” The group next meets in 2008.
Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is constructively continued
Before the Catholic-Orthodox Joint International Commission for a Theological Dialogue met in 2006, the hope was that a somewhat "derailed" dialogue could get back on track. Obstacles have included the issue of papal primacy, the Orthodox Church’s organization on national grounds, uniatism and Catholic parishes in traditionally Orthodox territory, and war crimes committed by members of the two churches in the former Yugoslavia. After the dialogue meeting, its constructive nature was generally stressed, but it had also exposed a growing tension in which Moscow and Constantinope vie for influence.The Russians had objected to what they perceived as a placement of Constantinople and Rome on a par, from the viewpoint that Orthodoxy has no figure comparable to the Pope and that no such illusion should be created.
Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey in November 2006, he met the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos. The two signed a joint declaration to reaffirm Orthodox-Catholic collaboration, particularly in the defense of life and the recovery of Europe's Christian roots. In the Pope's travels to Turkey, he had been hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I (pictured right) and the two leaders had committed themselves to work toward restored full communion between their two churches. They issued a common declaration. In June 2007, ENI reported that the archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, said he might be able to help get a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church (pictured left). (ENI # 07-0466) Earlier, in a May 28, 2007 interview, Hilarion declared that there would be no "compromise" with the Roman Catholic church over the issue of papacy.
See an outline of the recent history of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and The Quest for Unity: Orthodox and Catholics in Dialogue : Documents of the Joint International Commission and Official Dialogues in the United States, 1965-1995 (by John Borelli and John H. Erickson, ISBN #0-88141-113-2).
Tiny Catholic church in Greece officially doesn't exist, its archbishop says
The archbishop of Greece's tiny Catholic church says his church's situation is hopeless in the face of the denial of legal recognition. The Greek constitution calls Orthodoxy the "dominant religion" of Greece and requires all public office-holders to take an oath before an Orthodox priest. In mid-2006 Greek parliamentarians took away the right of the Orthodox Church to approve the construction of non-Orthodox places of worship.
Orthodox-Anglican statement may help Lambeth Conference
The Church of the Triune God: the Cyprus Agreed Statement has been released by the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ISBN #6000000061). The document examines the ordained ministry and the question of who may be ordained. The report will be offered for consideration at the Lambeth Conference inn 2008.
Lutheran-Anglican commission looks at episcopate, diaconal ministry
The Anglican-Lutheran International Commission established by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the World Lutheran Federation (LWF) on May 14-20 looked at work before each communion, considering the implications for a dialogue on episcopé of the LWF-adopted Lund statement on “Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church," and the ecumenical implications of the "Anglican Covenant" now being drafted. The group will meet in Norway in 2008.
World Methodists affirm agreement on doctrine of justification
In July 2006 the World Methodist Council’s (WMC) governing body associated themselves with the April 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church, an agreement addressing a key issue that has divided Western Christians since the Reformation. The WMC affirmation was made in a “substantial theological statement” and was officially received by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. LWF general secretary Ishmael Noko called the WMC acceptance an ecumenical landmark because now JDDJ is no longer an ecumenical specialty of only Lutherans and Roman Catholics. (For full reading of the Catholic-Lutheran documentation, see the paperback Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification).
International: other churches' relationships
Catholic Church documents have impact on wider Christian community
What happens to non-baptized infants who die? The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, a product of the Catholic Church's advisory International Theological Commission, addresses the question of limbo -- not a defined dogma but a common teaching and now an urgent pastoral issue. More babies (and fetuses) are dying without baptism. An growing awareness of God's mercy, the commission said, must reckon with the teachings about original sin and the necessity of baptism for salvation, yet infants themselves "do not place any personal obstacle in the way of redemptive grace." The present Pope was a member of the commission when it began its work and has now approved the present document's public release. The Lutheran scholar, Martin Marty ( Sightings of April 30) cites some issues raised by a changing viewpoint: What about babies the church earlier said were sent to limbo? Will this pave the way for the relativism of a greater openness to universalism? Will it change a stance about abortion?
A Papal exhortation on the Eucharist reiterates the Catholic stance on non-Catholics. Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), a lengthy apostolic exhortation from the Pope was released by the Vatican on March 13, 2007. The Pope's intent is to "offer some basic directions aimed at a renewed commitment to eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church" and to set this alongside his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, in which he stressed the relationship of the Eucharist to Christian love (par. 5). Organized in three sections, the document looks at eucharistic belief, celebration, and life.The document asks Christians who are not Catholic to respect the church's conviction "that eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter" (par. 56) and notes that exceptions are "precisely defined." The document states, "Everyone is obliged to observe these norms faithfully," while expressing a longing for a day when we will be able to celebrate the Eucharist together. The norms are strict enough to lead the Pope to ask priests to refrain from celebrating the Mass at weddings and funerals attended by non-Catholics. Concrete practice is addressed: the use of Latin in some circumstances is endorsed;. further study of the process of Christian initiation is encouraged; concern is expressed lest the passing of the peace become a distraction; questions related to an inability to receive Communion are addressed, including irregular marital status and not being in a "state of grace." Believers are called to defend fundamental values, such as respect for human life, especially if they are in positions of power, but the document does not address the question of withholding Communion from politicians who are not seen to have acted in defense of these.
Benedict XVI speaks about apostolic tradition and the Church of Rome
In his general audience on March 28, 2007, the Pope tied apostolicity particularly to the Church of Rome. He spoke about the apostolic tradition Irenaeus received from Polycarp who, in turn, was a disciple of the apostle John. He went on to give characteristics of apostolicity: it is public; it is one; it is pneumatic, guided by the Holy Spirit who guarantees the fidelity of its transmission. He said, "The faith publicly confessed by the Church is the common faith of all. This faith alone is apostolic, . . . In adhering to this faith, . . . Christians must observe what their Bishops say and must give special consideration to the teaching of the Church of Rome, preeminent and very ancient. It is because of her antiquity that this Church has the greatest apostolicity; in fact, she originated in Peter and Paul, pillars of the Apostolic College. All Churches must agree with the Church of Rome, recognizing in her the measure of the true Apostolic Tradition, the Church's one common faith."
Pope reviews ecumenical activities during a general audience
Pope Benedict XVI, in his general audience on January 24, 2007, said, "Reviewing he ground we have covered in the past forty years, it is surprising to see how the Lord has awakened us from the torpor of self-sufficiency and indifference: how he makes us ever more able to listen to each other . . .; how he has loosened our tongues." He spoke about the slow, penitential process and the joy in ecumenical journeying. Benedict also mentioned the official visit of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and a document of the International Commission of the Catholic Churches and the Reformed Churches, "The Church as a Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God."
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia reunited with Russian Church
On Russian Ascension Day 2007, the émigré church that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1927 over a church leader's declaration of loyalty to the Soviet state was officially reunited in "canonical communion" with it. Vladimir Putin is said to have played a role in bringing the leaders of the two churches together. The restored unity was approved by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ceremonies were led by Patriarch Alexei II of the Moscow Patriarchate and Metropolitan Laurus (pictured) of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the ROCOR. An ENI news story says that the New York-based ROCOR has been known not only for being anti-communist but also for opposing ecumenism, " but the Rev. Alexander Lebedev, a ROCOR priest, said his church had come to an understanding that the Moscow Patriarchate should remain in the World Council of Churches, for now." The Wall Street Journal has published an article raising some of the political and historical issues that linger.
Baptist World Alliance has new general secretary
Neville Callam, a Jamaican, has become the first person from outside Europe or North America to be named general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). It is the largest umbrella organization for Baptists, gathering representatives from more than 200 conventions / unions worldwide, and its general council made the decision at its Accra, Ghana meeting in July. A pastor, theological teacher, and media board member, he is a member of the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission. As of September 2007, he will work from the BWA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.
On a visit to a former slave castle on Ghana's coast, Callam repeated, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," and the Baptists renewed a pledge to fight racism. Another Jamaican, Cawley Bolt, forced upon the BWA the contentious issue of compensation for former slaves, perhaps through an act such as putting money into educational institutions.
Lutheran place in the ecumenical movement is LWF focus
The focus of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) today is its place in the ecumenical movement, said LWF general secretary Ishmael Noko at the conclusion of the March 20-27, 2007, meeting of the LWF council and church leadership consultation. Noko's report to the meeting emphasized the importance of building bridges with other Lutheran churches and between ecumenical counterparts. "Our credibility is constantly undermined by the fact that we are not in pulpit and altar fellowship with each other in spite of common confessional writings," he said. Key issues before the LWF council and leadership consultation -- the issue of marriage, family, and sexuality and the issue of the episcopal ministry within the apostolicity of the church -- have profound implications for LWF churches' relationships with one another and with others. Noko likened the sexuality issue to people invited to a party who may not like each other but accept one another because of their host; Jesus is the host, he said, and the rest are simply invited guests who partake of one holy Communion.
Lutherans look at their fundamentals and fundamentalism
Just prior to the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation's council, the LWF department for theology chaired by American Barbara Rossing (pictured), held a seminar on "Fundamentals for a Lutheran Communion in the Face of Fundamentalism." Participants discovered that perceptions about fundamentalism vary in different contexts, including contexts where Lutherans are among people of other faiths. Out of the seminar came a letter that sets out some theological fundamentals that Lutherans stand for and lists some things to which they need to give attention. These include increasing biblical literacy, making people more comfortable about sharing their religious experiences, and giving public witness by advocating for the common good.
Scottish churches coming closer
Representatives from the ecumenical committees of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland have been meeting together regularly in recent years to discuss better relations. Both churches share a common basis for their doctrine and practice in their use of scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Now the General Assemblies of the two churches in May 2007 were asked to "make public affirmation of recognition and mutual need, both to inform and to lead minds in the direction of closer relations, as also to grow in prayer for one another." They realize that the process likely cannot be completed in a short period of time, so they are avoiding any rush towards organizational unity. Earlier, in 2006, the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church adopted a covenant that recognizes their "persistent failure to give sufficient priority to the healing of [their] differences." The Church of Scotland and the United Free Church are both members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). See the history of the two free churches.
Church of Sweden and Mission Covenant Church sign agreement
On December 2, the Church of Sweden -- a member of the Lutheran World Federation -- and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden -- a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches -- celebrated an ecumenical agreement. The two recognize each other as sharing in the apostolic mission, having the same confession of the apostolic faith, the same understanding of the sacraments. They recognize each other's ordinations and recognize the ministry of episkope in each as being personal, collegial, and communal. Both churches are members of the World Council of Churches. The Mission Covenant Church is and has been a free church. The Church of Sweden's relationship to the State changed at the beginning of 2000, so that it "has left the public sector and now is on more of a par with other religious communities."
Latter-day Saints assert their Christian identity
At their 177th General Conference, Latter-day Saints repeatedly asserted that they are Christians, no matter what their critics may say, according to Salt Lake Tribune writer Peggy Fletcher Stack. Reports on speeches at the conference include Stack's article and an Associated Press article by Jennifer Dobner. The speeches from the conference are available on the web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of particular interest is the Sunday morning speech by President Gordon B. Hinckley who, at the advanced age of 96, gave testimony to those things of which he is certain. He described the Nicene Creed as being "confusing," and man-made, but said that the Latter-day Saints rely on the personal experience of Joseph Smith who had a vision of God and Jesus, heard their voices, and responded. "Each was a distinct personality." Hinckley said.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has said that "Mormonism is a new and emerging religious tradition distinct from the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church, of which Presbyterians are a part" (see the brochure on Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints).
PBS produced four hours of documentary television on "The Mormons" that were broadcast on April 30 and May 1. A DVD, online viewing, and web resources are all now available. Additionally, PBS's Religion & Ethics broadcast a feature on African-American Mormons on March 31 that can be still be watched online. Many Americans will be aware of the church again when hear broadcasts of the celebratory concerts from April through August, marking the reopening of the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City which has reopened after extensive renovation.
MORE on Ecumenical Relations: U.S. on the following page
On the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly web site
- The permanent General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations: information on its membership and responsibilities
- The Department of Ecumenical and Agency Relationships: resources of the office
On this web site
- General Assembly: ecumenical and interfaith business
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