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Report of the General Secretary

Report of the General Secretary to the Central Committee, 2003

02 September 2003

World Council of Churches
CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 3 September 2002

Report of the General Secretary



I. The Challenges of Globalization and Violence

1. It is now nineteen months ago that we last met in Potsdam as the Central Commi ttee of the World Council of Churches. The special feature of that meeting was the fact that we inaugurated together the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence on the international level. Since then a large number of impressive and imaginative launching events have taken place in all parts of the world. Churches, ecumenical partner organizations, action groups and networks have begun to respond actively to the appeal of the Central Committee. The Decade has become a new rallying point for ecumenical initiatives world-wide.

2. On 11 September 2001, just as news broke about the terrorist attacks in the United States, the Executive Committee received a report about developments and plans regarding the Decade. The events in the twelve months since then have placed the world and the churches before dramatic and unexpected challenges. Security has now become the central preoccupation of governments and people. In the name of security, national and international agreed standards of human rights are being put aside, international law is being ignored, and the use of military force has again become accepted as a legitimate means in the pursuit of political ends.

3. In Potsdam we also considered and received a discussion document on the “Protection of Endangered Populations in Situations of Armed Conflict”. The debate since 11 September about how to interpret and respond to “terrorism” has placed this discussion in a new light. Churches are deeply divided about the question whether and under what conditions to support military interventions in the context of the “war on terrorism”. No doubt the Decade to Overcome Violence is more urgent today than it was nineteen months ago or at the time of the Harare Assembly. However, the churches are more uncertain than before about their witness for peace and reconciliation.

4. Since the end of last year, numerous high-level interreligious encounters have taken place, especially involving Christian and Muslim leaders. All of them have made solemn declarations rejecting terrorism and violence and affirming their common commitment to peace and reconciliation. There are growing expectations from governments and international organizations that the leaders of religious communities might be able to restore communication between conflicting parties and break the spiral of violence, particularly in the Middle East. At the same time, religious sentiments and loyalties continue to be used to nurture enemy images and to legitimate aggressive strategies.

5. The attacks of 11 September and the developments since then have also given added urgency to a further theme which was discussed in Potsdam, i.e. the challenge of economic globalization and the search for an alternative ecumenical vision regarding globalization. While it would be an obvious over-simplification to establish a direct and causal link between the impact of economic globalization and the emergence of international terrorism, the potential of structural and even direct violence inherent in the power logic of economic globalization has become apparent. The search for an alternative to economic globalization which has been actively promoted over the past one and a half years by the WCC in cooperation with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and Regional Ecumenical Organizations, and the Decade to Overcome Violence with its search for peace and reconciliation are expressions of the same ecumenical commitment.

6. It has been a central, biblically rooted affirmation in ecumenical discussion that peace and justice are inseparably related. True peace is the fruit of justice in the sense of right relationships in community. It is however precisely at this point that the impact of globalization is most acutely felt. By submitting all relationships and interactions in society to the economistic logic of the market, i.e. the calculation of cost and benefit, and by obliging all countries to open themselves to the unrestrained dynamic of the global market, globalization has the consequence of breaking up communities and of pushing large numbers of people and whole communities to the margin or excluding them from participation. Economic globalization has exposed hundreds of millions of people to extreme vulnerability by depriving them of what is due to them to satisfy their basic needs of life. Vulnerability as a consequence of poverty, disease, unemployment and violence in its many forms condemns more and more people to a perennial experience of victimization under the domination of powerful forces beyond their control. It is this generalized sentiment of being condemned to the status of victims which in turn is being exploited by those who engage in acts of terrorism.

7. The brutal shock of 11 September has suddenly revealed that in a situation of globalization even the seemingly powerful who are enjoying the benefits of economic globalization are vulnerable. For a short while after the events of 11 September there was the vain hope that the shock might lead to recognizing and acknowledging the fundamental condition of mutual vulnerability and thus might become an incentive for new forms of cooperation and solidarity. In fact, efforts to redress the injustice which has been exacerbated through the process of globalization and to turn mutual dependency into an active partnership would have prepared the ground for a framework of common security overcoming the dangerous asymmetry of the relationship of victim and victimizer.

8. I said that it was a vain hope because the response on the part of people and governments in the powerful industrialized countries has instead been to demand increased security against the threats of terrorism. The fact that globalization exposes winners and losers to increased vulnerability and the shock, not only in the United States, of having become the victim of a brutal attack has sharpened the conflictual dynamic inherent in the process of globalization. Where both sides in a conflict consider themselves to be victims of the violence and aggression of the other we enter the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence which justify each other mutually. The violent confrontation of Israel and Palestine provides the most dramatic evidence of this condition.

9. International terrorism uses the technological means and strategies of globalization to attack its very symbols (World Trade Center and Pentagon) and thus to challenge and expose the inherent logic, a logic of power as hegemonic domination which is in need of security and therefore seeks to reduce vulnerability to a minimum. The defensive reflex of security reveals the contradictions inherent in the project of globalization, as manifested by the protectionist policy decisions of the US government. Security requires tightly guarded borders. Exclusion or even the active “liquidation” of those who are perceived to constitute a threat is seen as a legitimate consequence of the demand for security. However, the gates which have intentionally been opened by globalization cannot be closed again, even by erecting fences or stepping up the policing of borders. The example of South Africa shows that even an apartheid policy is unsustainable in the long run.

10. Any alternative sought by the ecumenical movement which is intended to respond both to the challenge of globalization and to the “culture of violence” must seek to transcend the logic of power as domination. It must take seriously the condition of mutual vulnerability and deepen the insight that being vulnerable is not identical with being a victim. Vulnerability is not necessarily and inevitably a sign of weakness; rather it points to the basic fact that all human community is sustained and supported by relationships of mutuality in and with the wider earth community, acknowledging the needs of self and other as being inseparably interwoven. The ecumenical response to globalization therefore must resist the temptation to adopt the perspective of the potential or actual victim seeking to protect himself/herself in a situation of vulnerability. Rather, it should nurture and extend relationships of mutuality and reciprocity which increase the sense of human security. There is no way to peace with justice through protective security, but only by turning the basic human fact of dependency and vulnerability into a source of energy for strengthening sustainable relationships within and between communities and with all of creation. This is at the core of the Decade to Overcome Violence as well as the struggles for justice in a globalized world.

11. The Christian community is rooted in the fundamental affirmation that God accepted in Jesus Christ the utter vulnerability and defenselessness of death on the cross in order to restore the covenantal relationship broken by human sin. God, the source of all power, became powerless in order to break the logic of domination and violence. Thus God in Christ reconciled the world to Godself, opening the way to reconciliation even in human community and to a new creation. Transforming the situation of mutual vulnerability into the building of reconciled communities runs counter to the logic of globalization. It requires an attitude of constant spiritual discernment and vigilance and does not easily lend itself to the shaping of strategies of countervailing power. To be sure, the ecumenical movement must build alliances with those who struggle for a “globalization from below”, a “globalization of solidarity”. However, the ecumenical vision of transforming globalization and violence reaches further and is rooted in the very being of the church as an alternative community and thus transcends even the most well intentioned action programmes or strategies. We are returning here to an insight which began to emerge in the course of the JPIC process but still waits to be acknowledged and developed.

12. One such effort has been undertaken with the study process on “Ecclesiology and Ethics” which was carried out during the period from 1993-1996 (see Ecclesiology and Ethics. Ecumenical Ethical Engagement, Moral Formation and the Nature of the Church, ed. by Thomas F. Best and Martin Robra, WCC Geneva 1999). The insights gained during this study process receive new significance in the context of the present ecumenical search for a response and an alternative to globalization and violence. This is particularly true for the central affirmation that “faith has always claimed the being of the church as itself a ‘moral’ reality. Faith and discipleship are embodied in and as a community way of life. The memory of Jesus Christ (anamnesis), formative of the church itself, is a force shaping of moral existence. The Trinity is experienced as an image for human community and the basis for social doctrine and ecclesial reality. Such explication could continue, but need not, since it all comes to the same point: the church not only has, but is, a social ethic, a koinonia ethic” (loc.cit. 4f.). The church is meant to live a new form and quality of relationship, a new community in Christ which already constitutes the alternative to the distorted relationships under the impact of globalization and violence. But the churches as we know them are largely conforming to the norms and patterns of social relationships in their respective societies. Reflecting together about what it means to be church therefore constitutes a challenge to all of us.


II. “Being Church” as the Thematic Focus of this Meeting of the Central Committee

13. I started my report by looking to our last meeting in Potsdam, recalling our deliberations there and placing them into the context of the dramatic events which have occupied our attention during this past year. This has led me to continue reflections which I began to develop during my period of study leave in October and November of last year, the results of which will shortly be available in published form. I welcome the fact of the, at least implicit, convergence between the report of the Moderator and my own presentation in the effort to link the discussion about globalization and violence with the fundamental ecumenical concern for ecclesiology.

14. This coincidence is prompted at least partly by the fact that the question of what it means to be church has emerged as the central thematic focus for this meeting of the Central Committee. “Being Church” has been identified by the Central Committee in 1999 as one of the four areas of concentration in the work of the WCC during this period between the Eighth and the Ninth Assembly. I concluded my report last year in Potsdam with some reflections on this theme referring especially to the interim report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation. Now we have before us not only the final report of the Special Commission and its recommendations which invites us to deepen our dialogue about the church and the churches. We have also been invited to participate in an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the first Faith and Order World Conference at Lausanne in 1927. This coincidence of dates has motivated the Officers to suggest that two plenary sessions during this meeting of the Central Committee be devoted to the current work of Faith and Order.

15. Thus we will consider in the two sessions tomorrow morning questions arising from the Faith and Order study on “The Nature and Purpose of the Church” and the more specific issue of the ecumenical implications of the mutual recognition of our common baptism which has been discussed not only within the Faith and Order Commission, but also in the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation and in the Joint Working Group with the Roman Catholic Church. The two other thematic plenary sessions proposed for this meeting, i.e. the regional plenary on Asia tomorrow afternoon and the plenary on the Ecumenical Study on Racism, in different ways continue this focus on ecclesiology and being church. The discussion on the report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation which will be presented on Thursday morning can therefore draw on the deliberations during the preceding days and will fittingly conclude our reflections around this focus on “Being Church”.

16. The study document by Faith and Order on “The Nature and Purpose of the Church” presents the preliminary results of the efforts of the Faith and Order Commission after the Fifth World Conference at Santiago de Compostela to work towards a common or convergence statement on what the churches can say together about their understanding of the church and its mission in and to the world. As a document intended to show emerging convergence, it concentrates on fundamental doctrinal affirmations and does not immediately respond to the question of what it means to be church in this present challenging situation. However, the proposal that in our plenary session we should concentrate our discussion on the two sections on “Communion and Diversity” and “The Church as a Communion of Local Churches” (pp 28-33) establishes at least implicitly the link with the concern about being church under the condition of globalization and violence.

17. We affirm in the revised Article III of the Constitution of the WCC that it is the “primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches … to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.” In a world where many celebrate post-modern diversity and unbridled individualism while others are experiencing the fragmentation of communities under the impact of globalization, this fundamental commitment to the unity of the church receives renewed significance. This is and remains the basic raison d’être of the ecumenical movement – not as an end in itself but as the central criterion of all its efforts. To further communion among each other in faith and life, witness and service is the commitment which the churches have accepted in the fellowship of the WCC.

18. However, the very process of globalization with its logic of power and domination reminds us that unity in the sense of unification and homogeneization can become oppressive, thus provoking the defensive or even militant affirmation of particular identities based on nationality, ethnicity, culture or religion. The vision of the unity of the church is not an imperial project which aims at establishing a unified system of doctrine, structure and ways of worshipping; it is a unity which acknowledges that “there is a rich diversity of Christian life and witness born out of the diversity of cultural and historical contexts” (para. 62). It is unity in diversity and diversity in unity. “Authentic diversity in the life of communion must not be stifled: authentic unity must not be surrendered for illegitimate diversity. Each local church must be the place where two things are simultaneously guaranteed: the safeguarding of unity and the flourishing of a legitimate diversity” (para. 63).

19. But what is “authentic” and “legitimate”? What is required is a continuous act of discernment which defies the attempt of establishing fixed rules. But it is precisely in this ongoing effort to hold together unity and diversity, the local and the global, that the churches are shaping their alternative to the vision of globalization. To the extent that the churches can recognize each other in the diversity of cultures, spiritualities and confessional identities they affirm their coherence in communion and resist the forces of exclusion and fragmentation. By accepting the discipline of mutual accountability the churches can transform the woundedness of their continuing separation into tangible ways of sustaining one another rather than seeking to promote their self-interest in a competitive global context. In affirming the unity of the church as a “conciliar fellowship of local churches truly united” (Nairobi Assembly 1975) they present an alternative model of linking the global and the local which challenges the contemporary trend to oblige local communities to subordinate their needs and resources to the demands of the global system.

20. But all of this: mutual recognition, mutual accountability and the ability to live in conciliar fellowship, presupposes that there exists a fundamental bond of communion even though the churches are not yet fully united. This bond of communion is established by the one baptism into Christ and therefore the recognition of this one baptism has become a focal point of ecumenical discussion. In recognizing each other’s baptism the churches affirm that their fellowship is not just a functional or instrumental arrangement of cooperation, but is rooted in the communion of the Triune God. But this also leads to the further conclusion: “The recognition of the one baptism into Christ constitutes an urgent call to the churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their communion in faith in all aspects of Christian life and witness” (see The Nature and Purpose of the Church, p. 38). In baptism Christ has claimed all of us and conferred a new, common identity upon us. We cannot escape the bond of baptism without betraying the prior claim and action of Christ.

21. A very different perspective on being church will be provided by the Asian plenary. While Asia and its people share much of the predicament of other regions of the South in terms of the impact of globalization, it is the condition of religious plurality and the encounter between Christians and people of other faiths which marks the life of the churches in Asia. They have never known the experience of an established church. Against the background of the Asian religious traditions, even the church as a structured body and as a distinct community of believers continues to encounter difficulties of acceptance while the Christian message has entered into a complex dialogical relationship with Asian religious wisdom and spirituality. “Being Church” in Asia raises profound questions, more than in other regions, and it is not surprising therefore that it is particularly from Asian voices that we have heard the call for a “wider ecumenism” going beyond the search for church unity and including the need for interreligious dialogue. In a globalizing world where religious traditions have begun to interpenetrate each other, sharpening the concern for maintaining the integrity and identity of one’s own faith, and where religious loyalties serve to legitimate enemy images and even militant confrontation as in India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the witness of the Asian churches about interreligious dialogue and the mission of the church under the conditions of religious and cultural plurality is of vital importance for our common ecumenical reflection about “Being Church”.

22. With the plenary session on “Being Church and Overcoming Racism” we come back to a concern which has been in the centre of ecumenical discussion for the last thirty years. Within the fellowship of the WCC we have affirmed many times that racism and racial discrimination pose a challenge to the unity of the church and thus not only to the actions but to the very being of the church. However, racism is still deeply entrenched even in the life of the churches who fall short of realizing the vision of being just and inclusive communities. In the draft of an ecumenical study document on racism, the call to metanoia is being interpreted through the concept of “transformative justice” with the goal “to achieve healing, reconciliation and the re-establishment (‘to put things right’) of people’s relationships with a particular focus on justice to racially and ethnically oppressed peoples” (see Study Document p. 5). Transformative justice requires more than an adjustment of existing structures and practices. It implies a paradigm shift, a transformation of structures, cultures and defining values. The reference to St. Paul’s injunction: “Do not be conformed to (the logic of ) this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2 NRSV) could serve as a basic directive for all our reflections about being church under the conditions of globalization and violence and the search for an alternative vision. And it is obvious that the emphasis on transformative rather than retributive justice “has implications for the world context, particularly for its economic (dis)order, and for a vision of the world as a global community” (loc.cit. p. 7).

23. The focus on “Being Church” not only holds together the four thematic plenary sessions, but is also reflected in several of the Padares, i.e. hearings on specific ecumenical concerns. Thus the Padare on “Issues concerning People with Disabilities” addresses, among others, these questions: “In what ways do we have to change our ecclesiologies so that the church can be truly accessible and inclusive towards people with disabilities? How does that change our understanding of the church as the body of Christ?” The Padare which will discuss “Human Sexuality ” as an issue for theological anthropology and ecclesiology poses, among others, the following question: “How do we say mutually that we intend to stay together when our differently held, authentic self-understandings of the faith offend each other so deeply?”

24. In this context let me also draw your attention to another ongoing reflection process under the title “On Being Church: Women’s Voices and Visions”. This has arisen out of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. “During the Decade many stories were heard about women standing in solidarity with each other, of their commitment to a renewed community of the church. … Women affirmed the diversity of their experiences and were aware of the multi-faith contexts in which they strive to be a community that respects plurality. The ways in which women experience being church need now to be shared, explored, and reflected upon with the member churches themselves, so that together we may learn more of the community that God is calling us to be and to live in this world” (Prospectus for the reflection process, p. 1). The study wants to make more widely known some of the ecclesiological insights of the Decade and to encourage a more in-depth study of some of those issues. It is therefore a direct response to the designation by the Central Committee of “Being Church” as one of the areas of concentration. It is being carried out in close collaboration with the Faith and Order Commission and is expected to contribute to the further development of the common statement on “The Nature and Purpose of the Church”.

25. Finally, the presentation of the “Final Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC”, together with the report of the special “Membership Study Group” appointed by the Executive Committee, will reinforce the emphasis on ecclesiology and focus our attention on the World Council itself. In this present context I shall refrain from commenting in detail on the report; this is the purpose of the plenary session on Thursday and of the two Padare hearings on the report scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday. However, I want to refer briefly to the section of the report which deals with “ecclesiology” and opens with the statement: “Ecclesiological issues embrace all of the matters under the consideration of the Special Commission; response to social and ethical issues, common prayer at WCC gatherings, matters of membership and representation, as well as how decisions are made together” (para. 12). This is indeed one of the decisive insights which have matured during the three years of the work of the Special Commission, and thus the report can affirm unambiguously: “Joining a World Council of Churches entails accepting the challenge to give an account to each other of what it means to be church; to articulate what is meant by ‘the visible unity of the church’; and how the member churches understand the nature of the life and witness they share together now through their membership in the WCC. This is the question of how the Church relates to the churches” (para. 13).

26. The Special Commission recognizes that there are ecclesiological presuppositions underlying both the Basis and Constitution of the WCC. But the attempt to clarify these presuppositions is influenced by the fact that we encounter among the member churches “two basic ecclesiological self-understandings, namely of those churches (such as the Orthodox) which identify themselves with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and those which see themselves as parts of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These two ecclesiological positions affect whether or not churches recognize each other’s baptism as well as their ability or inability to recognize one another as churches. They also affect the way churches understand the goal of the ecumenical movement, its instruments – including the WCC and its foundational documents” (para. 15). And the report continues by repeating the two crucial questions which I lifted up already in my report in Potsdam: “Within the two basic ecclesiological starting points there is in fact a certain range of views on the relation of the Church to the churches. This existing range invites us to pose to one another the following questions. To the Orthodox: ‘Is there space for other churches in Orthodox ecclesiology? How would this space and its limits be described?’ To the churches within the tradition of the Reformation: ‘How does your church understand, maintain and express your belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?’ ”(para. 16).

27. The ability of the Special Commission to formulate these fundamental questions with such clarity constitutes a breakthrough in the dialogue between the churches in the fellowship of the WCC. It echoes the CUV document which already spoke of the existence of the WCC as a fellowship of churches, as posing an “ecclesiological challenge” to its member churches (para. 3.4 – using language from a response by the Ecumenical Patriarchate). But never before have these questions been formulated so directly as a mutual challenge. And this spirit of genuine mutuality became more and more tangible in the work of the Special Commission and has enabled it finally to speak with one mind even on the potentially divisive issues of ecumenical responses to social and ethical issues and on “common prayer”. The Special Commission does not pretend that with this report it has resolved all the difficult matters on its agenda. But read against the background of the critical and confrontational situation which existed four years ago, the report is the expression of a renewed attitude of mutual trust which should enable the churches to integrate the difficult issues into the praxis of fellowship rather than risking that they become divisive or lead to mutual rejection and even exclusion. Even though the recommendations of the Commission do not seem to go very far in the direction of a “radical restructuring of the WCC”, it is my conviction that the proposed changes in the areas of membership/representation and decision-making – if implemented – will initiate a fairly radical change of the “institutional culture” of the WCC. They take seriously the CUV emphasis on “fellowship” and translate it into the institutional life of the WCC, thus in many ways completing the CUV process.

28. These considerations on the fellowship of churches and their implications for the internal life of the WCC are intimately related to the question of what it means to be church and to the search for an alternative vision responding to the challenge of globalization. In fact none of the churches can respond to this challenge alone: they need each other. Here the WCC as the expression of their fellowship with each other has a vital and critical role to play. However, as the report of the Special Commission states clearly in its opening section, the churches cannot simply delegate these difficult questions to the WCC. Ultimately the churches themselves are the subject of the quest for visible unity and not the WCC; they have to make the doctrinal and ethical decisions and eventually proclaim consensus and cannot blame the WCC for a lack of progress in ecumenical dialogue. Speaking positively – and here I want to quote in full the concluding paragraph of the introduction to the report: “The Commission envisions a Council that will hold the churches together in an ecumenical space:
where trust can be built,
where churches can test and develop their readings of the world, their own social practices, and their liturgical and doctrinal traditions while facing each other and deepening their encounter with each other,
where churches freely will create networks for advocacy and diaconal services and make their material resources available to each other,
where churches through dialogue continue to break down the barriers that prevent them from recognizing each other as churches that confess the one faith, celebrate one baptism and administer the one Eucharist, in order that they may move to a communion in faith, sacramental life and witness” (para. 11).


III. Towards a new Ecumenical Configuration for the 21st Century

29. In this concluding part of my report I want to relate the previous reflections about the challenges of globalization and violence and about being church to the situation of organized ecumenism today. I believe that the time has come to review the organizational and structural arrangements in the world-wide ecumenical movement which we have inherited from the generations before us and to explore a new ecumenical configuration which can respond effectively to the challenges which lie ahead in the 21st century.

30. In fact, ecumenism today confronts a complex situation full of uncertainties. On the one hand, ecumenical commitment is claimed by most Christian churches and integrated into their self-understanding. Only a minority of Christian communities would openly question or resist the call to greater fellowship. On the other hand, we see an increase of denominationalism in all parts of the world and the tendency among churches to affirm particular identities and to strengthen their institutional profile. In most churches ecumenism no longer seems to have the quality of a vision which mobilizes people to transcend inherited traditions and to engage in acts of renewal. The younger generation which, in the early stages of the ecumenical movement, was its main protagonist is less and less attracted by the search for visible institutional forms of church unity and cooperation. While there is a genuine spiritual quest, the concern for “Being Church” cannot easily be communicated, particularly through the secular media. Simultaneously, church leaders defending the commitment to ecumenical fellowship find themselves confronted with conservative and fundamentalist positions that identify ecumenism with tendencies that relativize and weaken the foundations of culture and religion. For many even the term “ecumenism” provokes suspicion and rejection.

31. These uncertainties have also caught up with the ecumenical commitment to the struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. The new dynamic which was generated through the conciliar JPIC process has lost much of its appeal, particularly among the younger generation, and it remains to be seen whether the Decade to Overcome Violence can rekindle some of this enthusiasm. At the same time, single-issue campaigns and civil society organizations have begun effectively to compete for support, public attention and funding, including support by church-related agencies. The multi-faceted approach of the traditional conciliar ecumenical organizations encounters difficulties in a climate dominated by the expectation of effective immediate action and visible results. The WCC and most of its partner organization on the regional and national levels have come under severe pressure due to this shift in funding interests.

32. Difficulties in terms of orientation and objectives are also reflected in a lack of coherence on the organizational level. Until the early 1970s the conciliar model of ecumenism represented by the World Council of Churches and based on the membership of autonomous churches seemed to provide the appropriate form of organization for ecumenical initiatives. The integration into the WCC of the International Missionary Council in 1961 and of the World Council on Christian Education in 1972 seemed to validate the claim of the WCC to be the “privileged instrument” of the ecumenical movement. Soon however the situation began to change. After the Bandung Conference in 1956, a new form of ecumenical organization began to emerge in the continental regions. The process of creating Regional Ecumenical Organizations which was begun in Asia in 1959 reached its completion in 1982 with the inaugural assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches. Regionalization thus became a dominant trend in ecumenical organizations and the Regional Ecumenical Organizations found their particular profile in strengthening regional identity, sometimes in competition with the WCC, and drawing inspiration from the agenda of the non-aligned movement around decolonization, liberation and development. At the same time, the decision of the Roman Catholic Church not to seek membership in the WCC and instead to give priority attention to bilateral dialogues with Christian World Communions strengthened the voice of these communions as important ecumenical actors. Bilateral ecumenism became an important counterpoint to the multilateral approach favoured by the WCC.

33. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, we therefore encounter a highly complex picture. The World Council of Churches is still the most comprehensive and representative ecumenical organization world-wide. It maintains working relationships with a great variety of ecumenical partner organizations, but all these organizational manifestations of ecumenism remain independent in policy-setting and decision-making. Coordination bodies have been created with several groupings of ecumenical partner organizations, but they remain consultative and have no authority for decision-making. The oldest of these bodies is the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions which meets annually with the participation of WCC representatives, but follows its own procedures. A similar regular meeting between the General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches and Regional Ecumenical Organizations has been taking place annually for almost twenty years and has significantly improved relationships and cooperation. Many of the Regional Ecumenical Organizations, however, face severe financial and structural crises and in some of the regions, sub-regional fellowships of churches and councils have moved to the fore, raising the question of the continued significance of the traditional continental regions in an age of globalization.

34. More recently, church-related agencies for development and humanitarian assistance have moved into the foreground and have begun to establish themselves as new global actors on the ecumenical scene. The Heads of Agencies Network, created some ten years ago with WCC assistance, has become a strong counterpart seeking its own profile on the global scene, supported by effective networks of cooperation between agencies in Europe, on the one hand, and in Australia, New Zealand and North America, on the other. A regular WCC Roundtable meeting with agency representatives has begun to consider the question of the appropriate place of this group of ecumenical partner organizations in a new ecumenical configuration for the 21st century. The ecumenical responsibility for emergency response has been transferred to a new joint organization “Action by Churches Together”. Meanwhile, this initiative has been followed by the creation of the “Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance” with the participation of a wide range of ecumenical partner organizations. Mention must also be made of the regular links which the World Council of Churches maintains with non-member churches, in particular with the Roman Catholic Church through the Joint Working Group and more recently with the Pentecostal community through a Joint Consultative Group. Finally, there are the many non-church and non-governmental organizations with an ecumenical agenda. For the purposes of cooperation with the WCC they are grouped in the WCC Rules under the general rubric of “International Ecumenical Organizations”.

35. Obviously this inherited pattern of ecumenical organization lacks overall integration. Much of this configuration can only be explained by particular historical circumstances. The significant organizational expansion of ecumenism over the last thirty years was facilitated by funding made available through churches and public sources of funds for the general purposes of social development, education, health, human rights and similar concerns. As has been indicated already, there is currently a clear decrease in the availability of such funds and the number of actors in civil society competing for such resources has increased. The process of globalization has added further difficulties. The influence of the non-aligned movement in the post-Bandung period has largely disappeared, weakening the case for classical regionalism. Instead there is a strong temptation for all ecumenical actors to gain global visibility. The ethos of competition and the logic of the corporate world are beginning to make their inroads into the field of ecumenical organization. The WCC has begun to focus its attention on the task of convening, coordinating and networking among the partners, leaving the operational responsibility to others. This however implies a loss of visibility and of clear profile with immediate consequences for the availability of funds. On the part of the churches, a pragmatic view of ecumenical organizations seems to prevail, judging their importance by the “added value” or the comparative advantage of the services they render. To give an example: the WCC does not seem to be as effective in promoting church unity as Christian World Communions through bilateral agreements. Also ecumenical resource sharing seems to be more effective in bilateral relationships between churches and funding partners than through multilateral instruments coordinated by the WCC. In addition it appears that many of the traditional ecumenical organizations depend for their leadership on circles of ecumenical friends with the consequence that the organized churches as members feel only a limited sense of co-responsibility. The formation of a new generation of ecumenical leaders has been neglected for too long.

36. In this situation the WCC adopted the policy document on a “Common Understanding and Vision” placing all the emphasis on the understanding of the World Council as a “fellowship of churches”. The CUV perspective certainly has the potential of generating a new quality of relationships. Together with the reports of the Special Commission and the Membership Study Group a new ethos and culture of ecumenical organization is emerging which would represent incentives for shaping an alternative to the vision of globalization. However, can we honestly assume that the churches are fully committed to fellowship and genuinely seek to be and to act together in all areas where they are not prevented from doing so by deeply rooted differences of conviction? The report of the Special Commission has clearly stated the “ecclesiological challenge” which is inherent in the CUV perspective, but this challenge has not really been accepted by all member churches.

37. Nevertheless, this lack (so far) of decisive response on the part of the churches cannot and must not have the consequence that the WCC should give in to the pressure to adopt the NGO model emphasizing and sharpening its programmatic profile according to the political or corporate logic. Indeed, the very challenges of globalization should lead the ecumenical organizations to maintain and strengthen their ecclesial and spiritual character and vocation. While in many of the areas of traditional ecumenical activity, including the concerns for peace and conflict resolution, justice and development, human rights and ecological responsibility, the churches and ecumenical organizations will find their role increasingly challenged by secular NGOs, it is the act of spiritual discernment which gives credibility to their “prophetic” voice. It is in this way that they can make a difference globally and locally. Therefore the focus on what it means to be church remains decisive, not least for the search for an ecumenical alternative to globalization.

38. Fellowship, both in the full ecclesial sense of koinonia/communion and in the secular understanding of living in community, is the essential dimension of what it means to be church. With the notion of the catholicity of the church and its expression in conciliar forms of life, the early church has developed an understanding which holds inseparably together the global or universal and the local dimensions of the church as fellowship/koinonia. The objective of shaping a new ecumenical configuration for the 21st century must be to regain this fundamental ecclesiological interdependence between the local and the global manifestations of being church. The traditional vertical model which distinguishes the different levels (local, regional, global) will have to be replaced by the horizontal concept of interlocking networks. In both directions, i.e. the global and the local, a new ecumenical configuration should aim at building community and developing a new culture of dialogue and solidarity, of sharing and communication, of non-violence and reconciliation.

39. The decisive test for a new ecumenical configuration will therefore be whether it can organize effectively the interplay between the global and the local dimensions and create an organic framework for this purpose. All the intermediate and/or parallel forms of organization should be related functionally to either of the two focal points. For the global expression of the fellowship of churches the WCC remains the principal instrument. Ways should therefore be found of associating the other global ecumenical actors organically with the WCC. This refers particularly to the Christian World Communions and the Regional Ecumenical Organizations. They should be directly related to the forms of decision-making of the churches on the global level. The largely uncoordinated sequence of major assemblies of these bodies should be transformed to develop a framework which begins to respond to the vision of a “genuinely universal council”.

40. The local manifestation of the fellowship of churches is dependent on historical, cultural and geographical conditions. In most instances, the National Councils of Churches would be considered as the appropriate organizational framework. Traditionally, however, many councils of churches have limited themselves to furthering cooperation in practical fields relating to development, mission, education, health, etc. Only a limited number among them have considered the promotion of ecclesial fellowship as part of their mandate. However, the living fellowship of churches “in each place” is the decisive test for an understanding of the nature and mandate of any ecumenical organization as strengthening the fellowship of churches. Considering the obvious weakness of National Councils of Churches in many parts of the world and taking seriously the recommendations of the Membership Study Group regarding a “grouping” of churches locally for the purposes of participation and representation in the World Council of Churches, a new ecumenical configuration must place priority emphasis on strengthening local ecumenical organizations. This should include an openness for alternative ways of organization and networking beyond the classical conciliar bodies, e.g. coalitions of churches and ecumenical organizations, fraternities, etc. The newly formed sub-regional councils and fellowships should be considered as being functionally related to the task of supporting the local expression of the fellowship of churches.

41. Obviously these indications do not yet provide an outline but only a few basic criteria for a new ecumenical configuration. They are related to ongoing conversations with the partners in Regional Ecumenical Organizations as well as Christian World Communions. The meeting of representatives of National Councils of Churches which has preceded this Central Committee meeting also has underlined the need for reviewing the patterns of ecumenical organization. The same is true for the discussions with the Heads of Agencies Network. The financial pressure felt not only by the WCC but by the majority of ecumenical partner organizations gives added urgency to these reflections. Among the recommendations of how the WCC could respond to its difficult financial situation has been the proposal to regionalize certain activities and share responsibilities, including staff and financial resources, with Regional Ecumenical Organizations. This presupposes an otherwise viable form of ecumenical organization on the regional level. This assumption, however, has to be qualified in view of recent experience. In medium or long-term perspective it would be more in line with the general orientations formulated earlier to seek ways of integrating the WCC and the REOs into a common framework which might eventually also include the Christian World Communions. They tend to operate as independent ecumenical actors on the global level but are exposed to the same need to hold together the global and local dimensions of being church. Ways should be found to recognize within the global fellowship of churches not only geographical or regional groupings but also distinct affinities of churches belonging to the same confessional family. In any case, the existence of multiple membership of churches in international ecumenical organizations and the difficulties arising from this parallelism have often been pointed out by member churches and require a response.

42. In the light of the general orientations developed before about the interdependence of the local and the global, a new configuration must overcome the situation that the allegiance to different international or global ecumenical organizations fragments the community of churches in a given place and undermines its potential of growing into a genuine fellowship of churches. In order to help the formation of a new ecumenical configuration, National Councils of Churches and similar local ecumenical frameworks have to be encouraged to consider their ecclesial character and to become spaces for common witness and shared life. In many instances the participation of the Roman Catholic Church in councils of churches on national and regional levels has helped this development which in turn opens the possibility of associating the Roman Catholic Church more directly with a future ecumenical configuration.

43. I am aware of the fact that I have come almost to the end of my mandate as General Secretary and that I will only have limited possibilities to influence the shaping of a future ecumenical configuration. At the same time, this very fact may make it easier to engage in the kind of critical self-assessment and analysis which have been the point of departure for these reflections. In any case, I felt that it was my responsibility to share with you my conviction that the process of transformation needs to continue in the ecumenical movement if we are to provide a credible response to the challenges of the 21st century.