A major ecumenical statement on the nature and purpose of the church, the broadest ever created, has been launched by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva.
World Council of Churches’ General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, launched The Church: Towards a Common Vision at the WCC Executive Committee meeting on 6 March 2013, which took place at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland.
The document is a ‘convergence text’ (the bringing together of a range of documentary work) of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order, in which Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical, indigenous and Catholic Churches have participated over many years to seek a shared understanding of the nature and development of their common life and witness.
“The Commission on Faith and Order presents to us a gift, a statement about the Church,” says Dr Tveit in his foreword to the document.
“Work on ecclesiology [the nature and doctrine of the church] relates to everything the Church is and what its mission implies in and for the world. It reflects the constitutional aims and self-identity of the WCC as a fellowship of churches who call each other to the goal of visible unity,” he adds.
The Church: Towards a Common Vision identifies what Christians can say together about the church in order to grow in communion, to struggle together for justice and peace, and to overcome together their past and present divisions.
After twenty years in the making, The Church: Towards a Common Vision was finally approved by the Standing Commission on Faith and Order at its 2012 meeting in Penang, Malaysia.
The document was later received by the WCC Central Committee and commended to the churches for study and formal response.
It is the second major convergence text to be approved in the long life of the Commission, the first being Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which was celebrated at the WCC 6th Assembly in Vancouver, in 1982.
“The aims of The Church: Towards a Common Vision are twofold. The first is renewal,” said Canon John Gibaut, the WCC director of Faith and Order. “Some reading this text may find themselves challenged to live more fully the ecclesial life; others may find in it aspects of ecclesial life which have been neglected or forgotten; others may find themselves strengthened and affirmed.”
“The second objective is theological agreement on the term ‘Church’. The responses to the document will reflect the level of convergence on ecclesiology amongst the churches. Such convergence will play a vital role in the mutual recognition between the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship,” noted Gibaut.
In his foreword, Dr Tveit declares: “Unity is a gift of life and a gift of love, not a principle of unanimity or unilateralism. We have a calling as a fellowship of churches to express the unity of life that is given to us in Jesus Christ, through his life, cross and resurrection so that brokenness, sin, and evil can be overcome.”
The document is currently being translated to German, Spanish, French, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian. Cooperations for translations into additional languages are being explored. The English version has been published online.
* Read full text of The Church: Towards a Common Vision here: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-commissions/faith-and-order-commission/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/the-church-towards-a-common-vision.html