World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Costly Commitment

This text is the fruit of the joint study programme on Ecclesiology and Ethics conducted by Faith and Order and the WCC's Justice, Peace and Creation team. The results of meetings in Rønde, Denmark; Jerusalem, Israel; and Johannesburg, South Africa, they explore how the churches are called to be a community of ethical reflection - and engagement - in today's world.

01 January 1997

Preface

1. This report - a record of work in progress - develops material produced at a meeting on the relation of ecclesiology and ethics held at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem, in November 1994. This gathering was the second in a series organized by the World Council of Churches Unit III (Justice, Peace and Creation) and Faith and Order (Unit I/Unity and Renewal). The first consultation, held at Rønde, Denmark, in February 1993,1 explored issues of koinonia in relation to justice, peace and the integrity of creation. A third consultation will focus on the role of moral formation within the life of the churches, in relation both to their search for visible unity and to their witness in the world.

2. We record here our warm thanks to Father Thomas Stransky and to the whole staff of Tantur for their hospitality and generous support. We wish them God's blessings and all success in their mission of justice, reconciliation and peace within the troubled context of the city of Jerusalem and of the Middle East.




I. Introduction: The relation of ecclesiology and ethics

3. In and through the ecumenical movement the churches have learned to reflect and act together. Together they have confessed that though we live in the reality of the world we live from the reality of God, who made the situation of humankind and the wider creation his own in order to redeem and transform it. Together they have brought hope through the gospel message and witnessed to that coming kingdom which is God's promise and goal for the whole of creation.

4. Yet their continuing divisions on important matters of faith, order, life and work have often prevented the churches from offering a unified witness on crucial ethical issues. These divisions among the churches reveal the brokenness of their koinonia, and hamper their prophetic mission and service in the world.

5. Some historical reminders will serve to sharpen this point. In the 1930s the ecumenical movement was unable to bring the churches of Europe to unite in opposition to rearmament. During the German church struggle against Nazism, the ecumenical movement found it exceedingly difficult to give its unequivocal support to the Confessing Church for fear of destroying its fragile relationship with the Evangelical Church in Germany as a whole.

6. After the second world war, the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948 signalled the resolve of the ecumenical community both to work for the fuller unity of the church and to participate in the struggle for a new just world order. Already in 1952 the third world conference on Faith and Order at Lund had issued the following challenge:


Should not our churches...act together in all matters except those in which
deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?
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Since then there have been continuing efforts within the ecumenical movement to foster the churches' common witness and action, and to relate these to the search for visible unity.

7. A notable expression of the churches' resolve to "act together" was the establishment of the WCC's Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) during the 1970s. But even then, some WCC member churches questioned the ecclesiological legitimacy of this programme. Some tried to hamper its work by arguing that it might disrupt the work of Faith and Order in its quest for the unity of the church - a view which Faith and Order explicitly rejected in the statement "Towards Unity in Tension".3

8. The need to relate ecclesiology and ethics, while long recognized within the ecumenical movement, has assumed a special urgency in recent years and has become a leading theme in recent ecumenical work. This is reflected in the meetings and texts to which we have referred in our reflections at Tantur (thus the Faith and Order/JPIC consultation at Rønde (Costly Unity4); the Faith and Order study document Church and World;5 the fifth world conference on Faith and Order held at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in August 1993;6 and the seventh assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra.7

9. This urgency is felt, in part, because of the complexity and severity of the challenges confronting humanity and the wider creation today. The background document for the fifth world conference on Faith and Order ("Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness"8) made strong mention of new and unsettling world situations that challenge the Christian churches to witness to Jesus Christ in ways perhaps not yet even conceived. To take examples from the social and political sphere, at Tantur we recalled how in the past decade geopolitical hegemonies, especially in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have collapsed; initially these developments had raised possibilities for peace, but were soon revealed as deeply threatening to fragile human communities which were left naked and without the moral resources to combat brutal and violent uses of power. As the same document noted, "we are witnesses of national disintegration and also of conflicting nationalistic tendencies".9 Problems have arisen not only for nations struggling to establish peace with neighbours, but also for societies seeking to build up their "moral fibre" where the churches have been repressed for decades. Similar problems face both church and society in the Middle East, in the Balkans and in the Caucasus. And in Western Europe and North America the moral influence of the churches has seriously diminished, resulting in a breakdown of those values necessary for a healthy and dynamic "civil society".

10. It is in full awareness of such situations that we have explored the relationship between ecclesiology and ethics. This relationship is not merely an abstract or theoretical matter; here we touch issues of life and death, of deep conviction and commitment. Here we deal with a fundamental vocation of the church and of Christians who work together in facing crucial issues of today. Thus we affirm wholeheartedly the call made by the churches at the WCC seventh assembly in Canberra in 1991

 

to recommit themselves to work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, linking more closely the search for sacramental communion of the church with the struggles for justice and peace.10



Furthermore, the churches must commit themselves to one another, recognizing that they need each other on the ecumenical journey. Such commitment is an essential foundation for their common reflection and action. It becomes increasingly clear that the road to a costly unity leads necessarily through a costly commitment of the churches to one another.

11. Such a commitment has sustained the fellowship of the ecumenical movement, even when it has been placed under considerable strain by such issues as mentioned above. This commitment is expressed, on the one hand, in a growing consensus on the need to affirm and emphasize the ethical character of the church (over against those who were previously wary of "moral reductionism"). As stressed in Church and World, this has direct consequences for our understanding of "the unity which we seek":


The connection between unity and justice makes it necessary to ask of every expression of visible unity: "Does it promote justice in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, both within the church and the world?" and secondly, "Does it foster the engagement of the church in God's work for justice?"
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12. This commitment is equally expressed, on the other hand, by a concern for ecclesial renewal amongst those who have been more deeply engaged in ethical praxis. The situation in South Africa today is particularly indicative of this latter need. Now that the struggle against apartheid as the governing ideology is at an end, the South African Council of Churches and its member churches, who were deeply engaged in that struggle, are being forced to give urgent attention to the recovery of a concern for ecclesial unity and fellowship in the task of national reconstruction, the development of a moral society and a just democratic culture. (One sign of unity and renewal in this situation is the formation in April 1994 of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. But far more remains to be done to manifest fully the unifying power of the gospel against the forces of hatred, fear and division.)

13. Another side of the issue is seen in the strong identification of the Armenian Orthodox Church with the Armenian people in the present conflict with Azerbaijan over the fate of Nagorno-Karabagh. In many other cases too the historical form of ecclesiastical institutions comes into tension with the evangelical mission of the church, and the preaching of a gospel that transcends ethnic particularism and eschews violence.


II. Basic convictions


14. At Tantur we found ourselves in agreement on certain basic convictions which undergird our efforts to inter-relate ecclesiology and ethics. These perspectives, which are recorded briefly below, concern the ecumenical dimension of our work, the nature of the ecumenical journey, issues of grace and discipleship, the distinctive resources for Christian engagement in ethical issues, and the relation of Christian ethics to ethical reflection as practised within society generally.

A. The ecumenical dimension is fundamental

15. At Tantur we faced with special urgency a series of questions arising from our conviction that unity and ethical engagement, ecclesiology and ethics, belong together. We listened to the experience of Christians working together for peace, for justice and for the care of creation. We were mindful of the fact that we were meeting in Jerusalem - that "city of peace" dreamt of by the prophets of so many generations, a city defined by the intersection of so many strands of history and tradition and so in need of healing. From all these factors we have become especially aware of the ecumenical dimension of our topic.

16. Despite all the complexities described in paragraphs 5-13 above, the ecumenical struggles of recent decades have had significant results. They have left important moral "deposits": the reverence for the dignity of all persons as creatures of God, the affirmation of the fundamental equality of women and men, the "option for the poor", the rejection of racial barriers, a strong "no" to nuclear armaments, the pursuit of non-violent strategies for conflict resolution, and the imperative for a responsible stewardship of the environment - all these are ecumenical achievements, given by God as the churches have worked together on crucial ethical issues facing humanity and creation.

17. We believe that the churches have not yet grasped the full implications of this decisive "ecumenical dimension". The churches have not fully realized that a costly unity requires a costly commitment to one another. We believe that the experience of the churches in facing ethical issues together poses fundamental ecclesiological questions, not only to the ecumenical movement but also to the churches themselves. Thus we invite Christians and the churches to join us in considering the following questions:


a) What difference does it make that the churches increasingly reflect - and act - together in responding to ethical issues?

b) Is there an ecclesial dimension to the reality of Christians coming together across the lines of confession and tradition and, through their common service, "being Christ for the other" (Martin Luther) in that place?

c) Is it enough to say (as we did in Church and World and Costly Unity) that ethical engagement is intrinsic to the church as church? Is it enough to say that, if a church is not engaging responsibly with the ethical issues of its day, it is not being fully church? Must we not also say: if the churches are not engaging these ethical issues together, then none of them individually is being fully church?



B. The ecumenical journey18. In our reflections on these questions we began from the affirmation of the fifth world conference on Faith and Order that:


The Church is the community of people called by God who, through the Holy Spirit, are united with Jesus Christ and sent as his disciples to witness to and participate in God's reconciliation, healing and transformation of creation.
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At Tantur we explored again the meaning of this vocation of the church within the trinitarian work of reconciliation, healing and transformation. Our experience of ecumenical reflection and engagement, and the history of the ecumenical movement in both its success and failure, offer us encouragement and challenge for our future work. This experience and this history have led us to see that the quest for unity and the struggle for justice are integral to the life of the church. They should not be separated.

19. So, too, we have been led to see that the fullness of the church is more manifest when this integral vision is embraced by the churches together rather than separately. The koinonia which Christians and the churches increasingly share is itself a source of inspiration - and challenge - for their further work on issues of ecclesiology and ethics.

20. Yet with the WCC Canberra assembly we acknowledge that, despite such significant examples of common reflection and action as given in paragraph 16 above, often the

 

churches have failed to draw the consequences for their life from the degree of communion they have already experienced and the agreements already achieved.13



Thus the churches are still challenged by the affirmation made at Lund in 1952, and referred to in paragraph 6 above: that common reflection and action, common confession, mission, witness and service should be the norm, rather than the exception, in the lives of the churches today.

C. The church: grace and discipleship

21. The church is God's gracious gift to us; this grace calls forth and shapes the moral life of disciples. We rely on God's forgiveness and renewing grace in our faithfulness and infidelity, in our virtue and our sin. The church does not rest on moral achievement, but on justification, on God's justice and not our own. It is on this basis that we affirm that moral engagement, common action and reflection are intrinsic to the very life and being of the church. Thus we affirm the original intention of Costly Unity, paragraph 7.2, to say that while the church is not constituted by or dependent for its ongoing existence upon the moral activities of its members, the holiness of the church calls for their constant moral struggle.

22. In the living Christian community there can be no ecclesiology without ethics and no ethics without ecclesiology. As Santiago de Compostela reminds us,

 

The being and mission of the church, therefore, are at stake in witness through proclamation and concrete actions for justice, peace and integrity of creation. This is a defining mark of koinonia and central to our understanding of ecclesiology... our theological reflection on the proper unity of Christ's Church is inevitably related to ethics.14



23. The traditional marks of the church - oneness, catholicity, apostolicity and holiness - are all to be expressed in the moral life of its members. Oneness calls for deepening love and communion; catholicity involves a welcome to rich diversity within community; apostolicity suggests reaching out to the neighbour in sharing truth received from Jesus Christ; and straightforward, unselfconscious goodness is an essential dimension of holiness. These are central expressions of what it means to be the body of Christ.

24. The discipline of discipleship, which is both corporate and personal, involves witness to the truth and loving service. God's loving discipline is a sign that we are God's children; it is "for our good, that we may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10); it is training in discipleship (paideia), which is for our encouragement:


Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb. 12:12).



This is reflected in the structures of discipline in the churches, which provide for nurture (formation), pastoral care, and the integrity of the community, and frequently are concerned also with the institutions of society, with doing justice in social life, and with the healing of broken relationships.

25. A process of discernment is proper to the Christian community as koinonia, and is an essential part of its life. As Costly Unity affirms, the Christian community is

 

a place where, along with the confession of faith and the celebration of the sacraments, and as an inseparable part of it, the gospel tradition is probed permanently for moral inspiration and insight, and where incessant moral counsel keeps the issues of humanity and world alive in light of the gospel.15



26. Thus as disciples we are called together to a constant process of discernment how best to participate, in the light of our faith, in the moral struggles, complexities and challenges facing humankind. This discerning of the signs of the times is a constant responsibility for Christians and the church (Matt. 16:1-4). It is only to the faithful and the humble that it is given to discover the signs of the coming of God's reign in the midst of the confusions of the world's history, and to adjust their behaviour to this discernment of God's purpose and call. Disciples are not left to face these tasks alone; they are equipped with formidable resources in the form of their hope for God's future for humanity and creation, and their memory of God's gracious gifts given in past and present.

D. Hope and memory: resources for Christian engagement

27. "In the Kingdom of God both the church and the whole of humanity have their goal."16 The church looks forward to the Kingdom with hope. While the church through its own striving does not bring about the rule of God, the church's life as a witnessing and serving community is part of its coming.

The kingdom is a gift; its full realization is the very work of God. As partakers of the trinitarian life, however, the members of the church are called to be co-workers with God (1 Cor. 3:9) for the implementation of the values of the kingdom in the world.17


28. The ethical reflection and engagement of the church, as it wrestles with the moral issues and problems of today, takes place at an intersection of future, past and present. Its account of the moral life, expressed in its commitment to specific actions in response to particular situations of need, is shaped in a threefold interaction, the elements of which are (a) its hope for the realization of God's promises for humanity and creation; (b) the sources of its life in Scripture and Tradition, worship and reflection; and (c) all the complexities of the issues confronting the church and Christians today. In shaping and putting into practice its response to the issues of the day it is enlivened by its hope for the coming kingdom, the disturbing memory (anamnesis) of Jesus Christ, and the sanctifying and renewing power of the Spirit.

29. In this process the church looks not only to itself and its own life; it is called to be in solidarity with the whole of creation, and its witness and service is given in the name of Christ, in whom the whole creation has its purpose and goal.

30. The fullness of God's purpose for humanity and creation (Rom. 8:15-39; Col. 1:15-29; Eph. 1:3-10) is a constant judgment upon our partial and imperfect response to the issues confronting us today. But our hope for the kingdom, and our experience of God's forgiveness and mercy, empower us to continue our witness and service in the world.

E. Ethics, church and humankind

31. Ethics is a general human enterprise: to be human is to be a moral agent. Reflection on the human condition and its relation to nature has taken various forms throughout history. There has always been a complex interrelation between Christian ethics and various other ethical approaches. Therefore, reflection on the relation of ethics and ecclesiology necessarily includes reflection on the ways in which modern culture affects the societies and the cultures to which the church belongs.

32. For its part, Christian ethics relates both to the church and to the wider creation. It is rooted in and shaped by the eucharistic community, and as such it does not stand aloof from the moral struggles of humankind. Christian ethics can define itself fully only in relation to both the eucharistic community and to the wider creation, on the basis of the nature of the church itself. As Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry emphasizes,


The eucharist embraces all aspects of life. It is representative act of thanksgiving and offering on behalf of the whole world. The eucharistic celebration demands reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic and political life (Matt. 5:23f.; 1 Cor. 10:16f.; 1 Cor. 11:20-22; Gal. 3:28). All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ.
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33. This leads to a series of questions about the relation of Christian ethics to other forms of secular and religious ethics. How does the church relate to this public realm? How does Christian ethics relate to the ways in which human beings face moral issues? What are its methods in putting these issues into the perspective of the kingdom? How does Christian ethics relate to the various ethical theories important in ethical reflection today? More generally, how does Christian ethics relate to the various ways of life, and their moral underpinnings?

34. These issues require sustained attention from the churches and the ecumenical movement. They are not only practical but missiological and therefore fundamentally theological in nature. They invite us to speak theologically about humankind and creation, its unity and destiny, the ambiguities of its struggles. These ambiguities, too, belong to the life of the church. The integrity and relevance of the churches' social witness and moral life depend on the degree to which they are taken seriously.


III. The question of "Koinonia-generating involvement"


35. We also considered the complex and sensitive issue of what the fifth world conference on Faith and Order called "koinonia-generating involvement". This refers to the possible ecclesial significance of experiences (both within and outside the traditional boundaries of the church) of community arising through work for justice, peace or the stewardship of creation. Thus Santiago de Compostela stated:

We affirm that, in many places and at different levels, koinonia-generating involvement in the struggles of humanity is taking place. We recognize in these common involvements an urgent, real, but imperfect koinonia, and urge the Faith and Order commission to give priority to lifting up and clarifying their ecclesiological implications.19


36. It is helpful to set this issue within a larger context. The quest for fuller koinonia among churches and their members is an essential aspect of the ecclesial and ethical dynamic among those engaged in the ecumenical movement. This applies to churches with long traditions, to churches which have emerged from processes of theological and institutional reformation, to churches which have been integrated for centuries in a given culture, to churches springing (whether in the 4th or the 19th century C.E.) from the missionary efforts of other churches, and to the so-called "new" or "independent" churches. It also applies to experiences of koinonia arising in and through common engagement, within and across the lines of the various Christian traditions and confessions, for human dignity and justice, peace, or the safeguarding of creation. All these expressions of the Christian tradition are equally called to find ways to discover and enliven koinonia within themselves and amongst one another.

37. But these are not the only experiences of shared participation and, in the view of some, of koinonia. Costly Unity pointed to two other contexts in which common engagement in ethical issues may raise ecclesiologically significant questions. One has to do with the sense of participation and commitment experienced in "Christian movements which may not feel the sense of accountability that should be present in the established organs of the church". Costly Unity noted that these groups "bear an important witness to official church bodies".20 There is a profound experience of church stemming from communities of the faithful who dare to become involved in particular issues, and find that their experience challenges the traditional ways of living and probing the gospel. Examples would include some Christian "base communities" in Latin America; prayer groups, movements and action groups identifying themselves as Christian but not in direct contact with official structures of the churches; and groups of women who claim a Christian identity yet, due to their experience, feel that the church is distant or alienated from them.

38. A second area is "the issue of cooperation with people of good will outside the Christian faith".21 This points to another experience, one beyond the confines of the church, in which persons who do not claim to be Christians (and sometimes openly refuse to be identified with them, or with the church) may share with Christians specific moral goals and actions. Some would use the term "koinonia" also for such wider experiences, to point to that sense of community arising from common reflection and engagement on ethical issues of today. Surely we are called to celebrate such a sense of community, and to affirm the efforts of all persons of goodwill on behalf of humanity and the creation.

39. Nevertheless because the term "koinonia" is rooted in the New Testament, and has a long and particular history in theological and ecclesiological discussion, there are advantages in reserving it for use in specifically Christian contexts. It is best used in reference to the church or to Christian groups, whether those related directly to the church or those whose relation to the church is more distant, but who claim a clear Christian motivation for their work. This is intended to affirm that Christians bring to their engagement in ethical issues the distinctive resources of their faith, their tradition, and their life in Christian community. It is not meant to judge, or lessen the importance of, the community formed among those outside the church as they work together on issues of justice. Indeed by clarifying such distinctions one can better appreciate that community on its own terms.

40. Because the Spirit is constantly renewing the church and the world, we should expect new things, new experiences of faith, new expressions of the church coming to life. In this spirit we are called to face a changing world. It is changing first of all due to the work of Christ, both within and outside of the church. And since God has granted humanity the liberty - with all its benefits and dangers - to participate in the preservation and transformation of the world, human efforts and agency are part of this work. Through Christians and non-Christians, the Spirit is "making all things new".

41. We summarize these reflections in a series of affirmations. These are given here to encourage reflection and discussion among the churches and those engaged in movements of witness and action, both within and outside of the church. The following statements concern the koinonia generated by Christian involvement in ethical issues:

 


a) Koinonia is generated and nurtured as churches and Christians reflect together on issues of ethical concern, and seek a response to the challenges facing humanity and the creation today.

b) Such koinonia may be experienced both within the church, and among Christian groups not directly related to official church structures.

c) These statements, in turn, raise serious questions for ecumenical reflection:

(1) There is a reality of Christian koinonia not directly connected to official church structures. How does this relate to the renewal which has taken place among followers of Christ over the centuries - a renewal which has, indeed, sometimes meant the emergence of new church bodies?

(2) What are the gifts, and where are the limits, of such developments?

(3) How do we distinguish renewal from fragmentation and disintegration?


42. Other affirmations concern the wider human community and its engagement with the issues of today. Thus we note that:


a) An important sense of community is generated among those who (while not connected with the church and not claiming a Christian motivation) work together on issues facing humanity and creation today.

b) This sense of community, though not ecclesial, may have implications for the way in which we understand church in so far as such communities embody prophetic signs of the reign of God and bring not only the world but also the churches closer to God's mysterious purpose in the world.

 

IV. Eucharist, covenant and ethical engagement

43. Christian traditions have understood the relationship of ecclesiology and ethics in diverse ways. Distinctive perspectives - for example, the "liturgy after the liturgy", the "confessing church", the witness of the historic peace churches - illuminate different, and important, aspects of this relationship. Several such "models" for understanding, and living out, the link between ecclesiology and ethics were explored at the Glion meeting within the JPIC process, and are referred to in Costly Unity.22 This exploration needs to continue, not least because these models for linking ecclesiology and ethics are in many ways convergent. At Tantur we discovered a convergence through the notion of covenant in relation to eucharist, and this is developed in outline form below.

A. Eucharist

44. The eucharist, as anamnesis of God's salvific act in Christ, is the starting point for Christian life, witness and transforming service. As foretaste of the fulfilment to come the eucharist is also, in a certain sense, the place where all human endeavours find their completion and are offered to the Father in the paschal mystery of Christ, in order to become in him thanksgiving and doxology.

45. In the eucharist, Christians living in the world and involved in the joys, sufferings and expectations of humankind come together in response to God's call. This coming together has many aspects, among which are the following:


a) The eucharistic assembly is a living image of the church, the church which the Father is calling and gathering around the world.

b) The believers listen together to God's word and are renewed in their discipleship and mission.

c) Partaking in the same body and blood of Christ they are called to a love without limits. They are called to transcend all barriers, in their celebrating community and in the world.

d) In prayer and thanksgiving they are called to become a living and a spiritual offering, not only in worship, but in all their commitments and in their life as a whole.

e) The eucharist is also the meal of the kingdom, a foretaste of God's final fulfilment in store for humanity and creation. As a consequence, Christians are called to live today in tension with the promises of the kingdom in its fullness, the kingdom yet to come.


46. Each of these dimensions of the Eucharist implies a true and demanding commitment to witness and service. Surely - as noted in paragraph 32 - "all kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ..."23

B. Covenant

47. The covenant, as an expression of God's will for humankind and creation, creates an indestructible relationship between the living church gathered for worship, and the church as it is church in the world. To state this schematically:


a) The covenant in the Old and New Testaments which God offers to humankind in word and sacrament - a covenant expressed according to Christians most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - finds a special expression in the celebration of the eucharist. This celebration is itself called "testament" or "koinonia" (1 Cor. 11).

b) The same term, "koinonia", also describes the ethical engagement of Christians (thus Rom. 15:26 on the collection of money for "the poor" in Jerusalem; this act is not only "a sign" of koinonia, but is koinonia).


The conciliar process on justice, peace and the integrity of creation has, with good reason, emphasized the importance of covenant as undergirding the church's ethical actions.

48. This reflection is complemented and deepened when covenant is seen in its intrinsic relation to the eucharist. The link made above between the covenant, in both Old and New Testaments, and the eucharist is made also by Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. At the beginning of its consideration of the eucharist, BEM notes that:


Christians see the eucharist prefigured in the passover memorial of Israel's deliverance from the land of bondage and in the meal of the covenant on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24). It is the new paschal meal of the Church, the meal of the new covenant, which Christ gave to his disciples as the anamnesis of his death and resurrection, as the anticipation of the supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).24


C. Eucharist and ethical engagement as expressions of koinonia

49. Thus on the basis of the Christian understanding, we may say that the eucharist and ethical engagement are both expressions of God's covenant. Put differently, using the language of our earlier discussion of koinonia, we may speak of a "continuum" between the koinonia given and experienced in the eucharist, and the koinonia given and experienced in ethical engagement. Stated again schematically:


a) The koinonia experienced in the eucharist and the koinonia experienced in ethical engagement - these two dimensions of the covenant - are, each in their own way, an anamnesis. That is, they are an active remembering, a "re-presenting" of the covenant between God, humankind and creation, a testimony to God's mighty acts (1 Pet. 2:12). They make visible to the world God's initiative in Jesus Christ for the salvation of humankind and creation, and God's insistence upon just relationships between human beings, and between human beings and the whole creation.

b) Both dimensions are filled with the confidence of the certainty of the coming kingdom of God, and are signs and foretastes of this kingdom. They engage the church to be open faithfully for the future.

c) One of their common goals is the realisation of life lived in full dignity. This will make persons joyful and thereby also make God joyful.


50. Furthermore, these two experiences of the one koinonia are strongly interdependent: one cannot exist without the other. This is apparent in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, where Paul criticizes the celebration of the Lord's Supper among the Corinthian Christians on the grounds that it treats some members of the community unjustly. This emphasizes that (again stated schematically):


a) Eucharistic koinonia has always an ethical manifestation. If this is not the case, the koinonia is betrayed and degenerates into spiritualism.

b) Ethical koinonia is always grounded in the life of worship (most especially, in the eucharist). If this is not the case, the koinonia is imperfect and degenerates into activism and moralism.

 

V. The ethical character of the ekklesia:Reflections on moral formation and discernment


51. At Tantur we have reaffirmed our conviction that ethics belongs to the esse of the church. In spelling out the implications of this for the life of Christians and the church, we have reflected particularly on the notions of moral formation and discernment. As part of this process we have entered into discussion with reactions to Costly Unity, and have considered one particular understanding of the church (the "ethos of the household of faith") in more detail as a resource for ethical reflection and engagement.

52. The categories of moral formation and discernment follow from the nature of the church and its life as church in the world. The churches are expected to provide important moral resources both for their own members and for the wider world. This involves, as part of the churches' overall task of spiritual formation, the moral formation of the faithful. An important part of this is training in discernment, helping church members to analyze ethical issues from the perspective of the gospel and preparing them to judge "how best to participate in the light of their faith in the moral struggles, complexities and challenges" of the present day (see para. 26 above). More broadly the churches are expected to contribute to the moral well-being of the societies in which they live, for example through informed participation in public debate on specific ethical issues. The fraying of the "moral fibre" in many societies makes this role all the more urgent today.

A. Moral formation and moral community

53. The language of "moral formation" clarifies and takes forward the discussion of church as "moral community" which featured at the Rønde consultation. There it was noted that "all understandings of the church have affirmed its nature and vocation as a ‘moral' community".25 This language points to the fact that the church and its members are, necessarily, moral agents whose actions reflect, consciously or unconsciously, their values and convictions. This language has proved helpful in focussing on aspects of the church's life which promote, or hinder, its participation in public discourse, and the shaping of public policy, in secular and pluralistic societies.

54. Within such societies moral discourse, having lost its traditional foundation, is in a state of confusion. Here the church may make an important witness by taking stands on issues of the day, through educational campaigns, through works of mercy, through the ministry of the laity in society, through the quality of its own community life, and so on. To identify the church as a "moral community" makes clear its right - indeed, its responsibility - to participate in such ways in the wider life of society.

55. We recognize that the term "moral community" has engendered considerable debate, not least at Tantur. Difficulties have arisen through the term being misheard as a full description of the ethical character of the ekklesia. Certainly Rønde did not intend any reductionism of the church, leading to moralism or a self-righteous triumphalism. For Rønde the identity of the church as "moral community" is a gift of God, a part, though not the whole, of the fullness of the church. The term "moral" has also been misheard as "moralistic", thus confusing our understanding of the ekklesia with such movements as Moral Rearmament or the "moral majority", or as representing the ethical character of the ekklesia as an individual or "ghetto" morality.

56. At Tantur we explored how the language of "moral formation" and "discernment" can carry forward the discussion of the ethical nature of the church, and its implications for the life of the church in the world. Thus "moral formation" is not understood as an alternative to "moral community", but as one explication and development of this perspective on the reality of church.

B. Moral formation: a resource for ecumenical reflection

57. Attention to moral formation and discernment is a promising way to explore dimensions of the church's very nature and mission. This approach helps discover the riches, as well as the shortcomings, of the various church traditions in facing ethical issues. The process of moral formation and discernment - and the moral inquiry which belongs to it - can offer a language for the churches to speak both among themselves and to society. Because this process, though it may be carried out differently, is common to both church and world, it offers a helpful bridge from the reality of the church to issues of society's well-being. It is indeed a promising avenue for ecumenical inquiry and ecumenical formation.

58. The process of "moral formation" and discernment within the Christian community means an openness to new realities, insofar as they are consistent with the work of God. Here discernment is not always easy. For example, moral assessment is helpful not least in analyzing patterns of power and power relationships. But power may be used both for good and for evil, and the analysis of situations in the "real world" will often have to grapple with the ambiguity of good and evil in complex ethical decisions.

59. Such "discernment of the spirits" inevitably involves an informed critique of the world's structures and hidden agendas. Thus the process of moral assessment will sometimes call the church, in faith, to sharp prophetic judgment upon society. It will sometimes lead the church to advocate a life-style which is counter to prevailing cultural values (for example, in criticizing a "consumerism" which values material gain and possessions more highly than persons).

60. This process will sometimes call the church to self-criticism, reminding it how these same worldly forces and structures affect its own life as an historical institution. Sometimes the church will need to confess that, wittingly or unwittingly, it condones attitudes which allow injustice to continue or which obscure the root causes of injustice. Sometimes the church will discover that its own processes of ethical judgment, and of moral formation, have become distorted by such factors.

61. Moral formation indicates the shaping of human character and conduct from a moral point of view; it involves both "being" and "doing". Moral discernment indicates how we decide what we are to be and to do, that is, how character should be nurtured and what decisions and actions we take on particular moral issues. Of course all human interaction plays a role in forming character, and shaping decisions and actions; the process is, in this sense, "worldly", and continual. But this only emphasizes the need for the churches as churches to offer both nurture and discriminating judgment.

62. This process takes place within the ethos or environment of a particular society, community or church. The songs we sing, the stories we tell, the issues we debate, the instruction we offer, the persons thought worth emulating, the common habits and practices of a culture - these are the sources and "signatures" of "our" ethos. And the "moral environment" is marked not least by the way a community, society or church is ordered - who does what, by what means, and with what kind of authority. Thus it is the whole way of life which morally forms and educates (or malforms and miseducates), and this way of life both creates and reflects a particular moral ethos.

63. The language of moral formation and discernment can be helpful for the ecumenical discussion in several ways. For one, it would "mine" the moral substance of our various understandings and images of church. For example, consider the traditional "marks" of the church as developed in terms of the Christian moral life in paragraph 23 above. The "oneness" of the church, it was there suggested, implies that its members should act so as to deepen their love and communion; the "catholicity" of the church implies behaviour that is welcoming of diversity within community. The language of moral formation and discernment would ask: what kind of environment nurtures such moral practices? What patterns of behaviour help create and foster them? What virtues, values, obligations and moral vision do each of these marks imply for Christian catechesis and the life of the church as a whole? How should church life be ordered to promote these practises? How are these practises a source for spiritual and moral discernment on specific issues which Christians face?

64. The church has, from its heritage, many scriptural and traditional resources for pursuing the moral dimension intrinsic to the life of the church. The questions in paragraph 63 above could be posed in respect of other rich images and understandings of the church, such as the body of Christ, the discipleship community, church as sign and sacrament, the covenant community and so on. For example, what resources for moral formation and discernment follow from starting from "eucharistic community" as a designation for the life of the church?

65. We discussed one of these "rich images and understandings" in more detail, namely the ekklesia understood as a saving, eucharistic and covenantal "household of faith". The term is rooted in scripture and able potentially to describe the ethical character of the church.26 Such images, however, are not simply abstract ideas for understanding church; they help shape and undergird various ways of living out our faith in the world. This broader dimension we indicate by using the term "ethos". Thus in speaking of the "ethos of the household of faith" we mean the way of life, the distinctive patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, which characterize those who live within that "household". (This recalls the etymological and theological connection between "ethos" and "ethics".)


a) We acknowledge that every image or metaphor for the church is inadequate, and unable to illuminate the full range of ecclesiological issues and problems. In particular we acknowledge the patriarchal and hierarchical nature of the Graeco-Roman household; any use of the "household" metaphor must take into account how the early Christian movement transformed some values from its prevailing culture, while accepting others. Yet we still affirm that the "household [Greek oikos] of faith" is a productive metaphor for focussing on various dimensions of the ethical character of the church.

b) It points to the local household of faith in each place (in our terms today, to local congregations, to monastic communities, base communities and so on) but also beyond this, to the ecumenical movement, the universal church, and the oikoumene. The term is located ecclesiologically within the trinitarian economy of salvation and points beyond the present to the eschatological fulfilment of the oikoumene.

c) The concept of household (oikos) also relates the witness of the church to the economic and ecological realities of our world, in which such realities as the exploitation of creation, and widespread poverty, contradict the message of the reign of God.27 It points to how the church "in each place" manages its life in relation to its witness in the world. It points equally to the ethical accountability of the universal church, in relation both to the local church and to the global concerns for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Understood in this way, the notion of oikos mediates between the micro and macro levels of human life and activity.

d) Moreover the "ethos of the household of faith" also refers to the social and cultural context within which the moral formation of the members of the church occurs. Here we note especially the connection between the "household of faith" and the various households or families which make up the church and which are fundamental to the moral formation of its members.28 As St John Chrysostom reminds us, "the household is a little church"; if we regulate it properly, he continues, "we will also be fit to oversee the church". Thus the term encourages us to take account of the family and its special role in creating, nurturing and sustaining the ethical aspect which is intrinsic to the church.

e) One matter of prime importance for the ethos of the household of faith is the relationships among the persons within it, and the way in which they participate together in its life and mission. The Christian ethos implies that relations within the church are intended to be covenantal, to be shaped and nurtured by the gospel and by the liturgy of the church. At their best, such relationships affirm human equality and nurture plurality at all "levels" of the life of the church and of society. This has clear implications for the structure of the church and the relations of power within it. Various churches are structured in different ways; but however the internal life of a particular "household of faith" is organized, a true understanding of oikos excludes the suppression of some members of the community by others (as, for example, in a system of patriarchal domination). It encourages the full use of each person's gifts (charismata), and celebrates the variety of cultures and communities found within the one household.

f) Each household of faith must respect and nourish the relationships among its members, lest they become distorted by the misuse of power. When the church fails to fulfil its responsibility in this regard, it contributes to the creation of a moral vacuum in society - a vacuum soon filled by distorted forms of the oikos. This is seen today in the emergence of new and often violent nationalisms, religious fundamentalisms, and nihilistic forms of secularism. These undermine and destroy genuine forms of human community, and are contrary to the character and purpose of the household of faith. Christians need urgently to participate with others in nourishing the values which help to form and sustain just societies which promote the growth and fulfilment of their members. This leads to reflections on the "moral formation" of Christians as a priority within the household of faith.


66. This is an example of how one particular image may enrich our reflection on the ethical dimension of church. It is important to note that each such ecclesial "perspective" will nurture some virtues more than others, prize some values more than others, emphasize some obligations more than others. Each will shape some particular vision of the Christian moral life, bringing the Good, the Beautiful, and the True together in different and distinctive constellations. (Of course, the Christian life carries many images at once: but then the particular combination creates its moral ethos.)

C. Moral formation: its context in the life of the church and the world

67. Such understandings and images must also be understood in their historical, sociological and psychological dimensions, for these contribute to their effect upon persons and communities. Moral formation, too, has its "genes" and this means that the process of formation and discernment must take seriously the experience of the church in each place. At issue is how Christian teachings and values have related to wider cultural patterns, and have actually been embodied in daily life. This involves the consideration of what patterns of daily life, what values, virtues, obligations and visions actually developed as the church interacted with the wider society; how what was taught as "the Christian life" was actually put into practice day by day; and what was the concrete moral substance of sin, salvation and redemption as experienced in daily life.

68. We take now a concrete example to show the potential of moral inquiry as an ecumenical language for understanding the ethical dimensions of church. This is the relation between moral formation and discernment, and the various ways in which churches of the oikoumene are "ordered".


a) Such inquiry assumes that the ordering of a church is already both a creation of, and a reflection on, its ethos and way of life: a polity is already an ethic. How gifts (charisms) are ordered, and roles assigned and carried out, is already a way of being people of God together and a way, as church, of being in the world. So if the perennial Christian "strategy" is (1) to gather the people, (2) to break the bread, and (3) to tell the stories, then certain questions follow.

b) These questions include the following: What shape does the gathering take? Do some sit in designated seats in carefully arranged spaces while others sit elsewhere? Who breaks the bread? If only some, for what reasons? Who tells the stories? Do the gathered speak in turn, with some speaking first or foremost in accord with some teaching, tradition, or practice? Are some designated "proclaimers of the word" and others "hearers" of it? Do all perhaps take a turn, without regard for status or office? Or are there no "turns" at all, and each speaks as the Spirit prompts in the midst of the congregation? Are some stories "more" stories than others, holding formal or informal canonical status? Are some interpretations and interpreters more authoritative than others? If so, on what grounds?

c) Whatever answers are given, there is a further and more basic level of questions: what are the reasons for such differences among Christian communities? what moral ethos and substance belongs to each of them?

The point is that how church is ordered has consequences for spiritual and moral formation and discernment, and thus is subject to scrutiny of the kind we propose. Practices, structures and roles (like moral exemplars and like catechesis) are morally potent.


69. There are, of course, reasons other than moral ones for ordering church the way we do - the understanding of scripture, the witness of tradition, historical experience - and these are vital. Yet they do not remove the need for a moral assessment of how the church "is" a way of life of its own, and a way of life within the world. For how church is manifest as a way of life indicates what it regards as good, right and fitting.

70. Moral assessment is also an important means by which the church can make its presence felt in society. For these same questions can be posed by the churches to the world in which they live, in the interest of fostering the moral formation of the human community (and of exposing its malformation). This is because communities, too, live from explicit and implicit understandings of the good life; they nurture some virtues, values, obligations and visions more than others; they shape, for better and worse, human character and conduct. And the way in which they are ordered and governed in all arenas of life is morally potent, and subject to assessment and correction.

71. These reflections on moral formation have important implications for our understanding of the church. While affirming the transcendent reality of the church we recognize that the church is not yet, in its empirical historical manifestation, fully what it is in God. In this sense we can say that the church as historic institution is itself undergoing a process of "moral formation" guided by God, a process which will continue until the full eign of God dawns. Thus the tasks of spiritual and moral formation and discernment will always be part of the church's life and mission. This is to say yet again: in the church's own struggles for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, the esse of the church is at stake.29

72. A further implication is that the boundary between moral formation in the church and moral formation in the world is fluid. We noted in paragraph 16 above some important results of the churches' common struggle with ethical issues (for example, the affirmation of the fundamental equality of women and men, and the need to exercise a responsible stewardship of the environment). Yet these results have also come as the churches interacted with moral struggles in society, struggles in which the church has learned as much as it has taught. In this sense the efforts for moral formation in society have had an ecclesial significance: through these efforts the church has learned how better to be church.

73. Here the language of moral formation and discernment relates to our earlier discussion of "koinonia-generating" engagement in ethical issues. We see that moral struggle, discernment and formation are not optional "extras" alongside the understandings of church which come from our various traditions. They also challenge those traditional understandings, helping us learn from God's world how better to be church. As noted in paragraphs 35-42 above, the community born in the cooperation of people of goodwill working for a peaceful, just, and sustainable world may not be ecclesial per se. But it has ecclesial consequences insofar as it is the agent of God's process of moral formation for the church itself.

74. We feel that the language of moral formation and discernment can be helpful in reflecting on many more areas of the faith, life and witness of the church: for example, the empowerment of the laity, catechesis directed to the formation of Christian conscience, a content and form for the church's social witness, and the linking of koinonia, diakonia, martyria and leitourgia. At the same time, this language can help re-weave the "moral fibre" of society and contribute to its moral and spiritual health when both are in disarray. These matters need to be developed through a more thorough analysis of the process of moral formation and discernment. That task lies before us.


List of Participants


Anna Marie Aagaard, Denmark (Co-moderator)
André Birmelé, France
Frans Bouwen, Israel
Emilio Castro, Uruguay
Emmanuel Clapsis, USA
Duncan Forrester, Scotland (Co-moderator)
John de Gruchy, South Africa
Vigen Guroian, USA
William Henn, OFM Cap., Rome
Bert Hoedemaker, The Netherlands
Timothy Kiogora-Gideon, USA
Jan Lochman, Switzerland
Peter Lodberg, Denmark
Nestor Míguez, Argentina
Valamotu Palu, Tonga
Elisabeth Prodromou, USA
Larry Rasmussen, USA
Mary Seller, UK
Geraldine Smyth, O.P., Ireland
Thomas F. Stransky, Israel
Elisabeth S. Tapia, Philippines

WCC staff

Thomas Best, executive secretary, Faith and Order
Martin Robra, executive secretary, Economy, Ecology and Sustainable Society
Marise Pegat-Toquet, administrative assistant, Economy, Ecology and Sustainable Society

 

Notes


1. The report and papers from this meeting have been published in Costly Unity, Thomas F. Best and Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, eds., WCC, Geneva, Unit III and Faith and Order/I, 1993.


2. Faith and Order: The Report of the Third World Conference at Lund, Sweden: August 15-28, 1952, Faith and Order Paper No. 15, O. S. Tomkins, ed., London, SCM Press, 1953, pp. 5-6.


3. The statement, submitted to Section II on "What Unity Requires" of the Fifth WCC Assembly in Nairobi (1975), insisted that "An ecclesiastical unity which would stand in the way of struggles for liberation would be a repressive unity...We must resolutely refuse any too easy forms of unity..." See Uniting in Hope: Commission on Faith and Order, Accra 1974, Faith and Order Paper No. 72, pp. 93-94.


4. See note 1.


5. Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community, Faith and Order Paper No. 151, 2nd, rev. printing, Geneva, WCC Publications, 1992.


6. On the Way to Fuller Koinonia: Official Report of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order, Thomas F. Best and Günther Gassmann, eds., Faith and Order Paper No. 166, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1994.


7. Signs of the Spirit: Official Report, Seventh Assembly, World Council of Churches, Michael Kinnamon, ed., Geneva and Grand Rapids, WCC Publications and Eerdmans, 1991.


8. On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., pp. 263-295.


9. Para. 1, p. 269.


10. "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling", most recently available in On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., para. 3.2, p. 270.


11. Chapter IV, para. 32, p. 49


12. Report of Group IV, para. 25. See On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., p. 259.


13. Para. 1.3. See On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., p. 269.


14. Report of Group IV, para 25. See On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit.


15. Para. 29.


16. Church and World, op. cit., Chapter III, para. 1, p. 22.


17. Santiago, Report of Group IV, para. 8. See On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., p. 255.


18. Faith and Order Paper No. 111, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1982, "Eucharist", para. 20, p. 14.


19. Report of Group IV, para. 32. See On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, op. cit., p. 260.


20. Para. 42.


21. Ibid, para. 44.


22. Para. 19.


23. "Eucharist", para. 20, p. 14. (See also paras. 2-26, pp. 10-15).


24. "Eucharist", para. 1, p. 10.


25. Costly Unity, op. cit., para. 1.


26. The final report from the study process may be enhanced by an excursus on Biblical material relating to this theme.


27.The final report from the study process may be enhanced by an excursus on Biblical material relating to this theme.


28. The final report may be enhanced by an excursus on the "Haustafeln" in the Pastoral Letters, including reference to John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus.


29. Cf.Costly Unity, op. cit., para. 5.