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F&O: a perspective from the Caribbean

Rev. Callam of the Jamaica Baptist Union presents the development of Faith and Order and assesses the appeal and reception of Faith and Order texts in the "two-thirds world".

11 August 1995

by Neville R. Callam of the Jamaica Baptist Union

This paper was prepared for a Faith and Order consultation with Younger Theologians held at Turku, Finland, 3 - 11 August 1995.

Introducing the publication of some of the papers presented at two Missiological Conferences held in the Caribbean in 1975, Idris Hamid observed that

"the Gospel came to us on the back of colonialism (whose) assumption ... concerning the colonized, their potential and their destiny ... penetrated and often perverted that Gospel (and) produced in the process ... a colonial church."

This colonial church had its beginnings in the signal event of 1492 when the Caribbean discovered the miscalculations of the explorer Christopher Columbus. The church that was introduced into the region was the church of the metropole with all its historic disagreements with which Caribbean people had nothing to do but which we have been conditioned to accept without questioning. When, with the passing of time, we began to discover our complicity in the problem of disfiguring church unity, insofar as we accepted the divisions which had been exported to us, we started exploring an emancipatory theology which attempts to overcome the "patterns of domination and imposition (which) have shaped the theological enterprise in the region."

The urgency of the need for this emancipation becomes clear when one recognizes how "the colonising culture brings a message of superiority and inauthentication to bear upon the host culture." The development of such home-grown religions as Rastafarianism attests to the struggle of Caribbean people to develop a self-concept and an ethic which take seriously the reality and value of our own culture and history. The adjustments that such religious expressions have had to make in order to survive the ravages of the dominant imposed culture have been as radical as they have needed to be constant. Only so were they rescued from becoming totally routinzed in the social milieu.

One major problem resulting from the evangelization of the Caribbean region is the preponderance of churches of numerous confessional groupings which were "planted" by missionaries who were too busy compiling statistical reports to send to their homelands, to attest to their "success" and to justify the continuing financial commitment required, to find time to engage in the kind of ministry which takes St John 17 seriously. By and large, not only were the churches that were established isolated from each other, but in some instances they actively opposed each other, especially in relation to any perceived threat to the status quo. The churches led by the missionaries manifested little or no interest in the problem the churches pose for the church.

With the development in Caribbean churches of an increased awareness of the theological implications of our history and the commitment to working out a theology which rejects self-disparagement and self-hate. the churches began to discover how the divisions among them have hindered the effective fulfilment of the ministry to be carried out. The divisions were understood as a sign of the strategy, sometimes framed without an awareness of its devastating consequences, to divide and rule the oppressed people who had recently been evangelized. The development of local Councils of Churches and of such instruments as the Caribbean Conference of Churches represents efforts to meet the need to work together in the one ministry which has been given to the church by other than human agency.

If interchurch co-operation was motivated by a desire to protest against the taken-for-granted divisions which characterise us, it was predicated, also, on the need to unite in the face of a hostile social context which had not yet emerged from captivity to an implanted mentality which was insensitive to Caribbean reality. In the church in the caribbean region, the road to unity is paved not with the stones of doctrine and constitution, but with the marl of a deeply felt community sense emerging from a common history of slavery and emancipation. As it is put, "All a we a wan". In addition, we believe we have received a missional mandate which requires us, who are united by a history and culture over which the Triune God is sovereign, to live out our dignity together in community to the glory of God. The route to unity taken by the historic Faith and Order Movement may be differently directed.

On the way

The absorbing history of the numerous early efforts to foster the visible unity of the church has been well documented. That story should not detain us here. However, we must refer to initiatives of 1910 which were to contribute in no small way, to what eventually emerged as the Faith and Order Movement.

The initiative taken by the General Convocation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in which Charles Brent played no small part, yielded a decision to establish a Joint Commission charged with the responsibility of convening a "Conference for the consideration of questions touching Faith and Order". All "Christian Communions throughout the world which confess ... Jesus Christ as God and Saviour" were to be invited to the Conference.

In the same year, the Disciples of Christ and the National Council of Congregational Churches in the United States registered their desire for discussions on, and progress in answering, the question of the unity of the church.

In the report of the "Joint Commission Appointed to Arrange For a World Conference on Faith and Order", it was proposed that the purpose of the world Conference should be to consider

"those things in which we differ, in the hope that a better understanding of divergent views of Faith and Order will result in a deepened desire for reunion and in official action on the part of the separated Communions themselves."

Ten years later, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued an encyclical calling for "pan-Christian Conferences" to undertake an "impartial and deeper historical study of doctrinal differences". That same year, the Lambeth conference in "An Appeal to All Christian People" expressed their vision of a church in which the "visible treasures of faith and order, bequeathed to us as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common, and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ."

The world conferences

When delegates to the First World Conference on Faith and Order assembled in Lausanne in 1927, they were careful to take note of the impatience of the churches on the "mission field" with the divisions in the Western church. Little was said, however, about the likely prospects of the younger churches acquiescing in the methodology of a "comparative ecclesiology" which was content to state the relative conflicting positions of the communions on matters of doctrine, without offering anything substantial in the way of how to overcome the disagreements.

The "Call to Unity", issued at Lausanne, accurately defines the acknowledged limited goal of the Conference which endeavoured "to register the apparent level of fundamental agreement within the Conference and the grave points of disagreement remaining; also to suggest certain lines of thought which may in future tend to a fuller measure of agreement." The absence of consensus on what was required for the unity of the church, which some believed the Conference did not intend to define, was an early signal of the limits of the methodology employed at Lausanne.

A christological focus to the unity of the church was evident at the Second World Conference held in Edinburgh in 1937. Differing accounts of the reasons for the disunity of the church underlay the various understandings of church unity that emerged. The clear acknowledgement that the unity of the church "does not consist in the agreement of our minds or the consent of our wills", and the recognition of the priority over other loyalties of the church's allegiance to Jesus Christ, opened the way for a fresh approach to unity which comprehends how "Jesus Christ our Lord ... makes us one in spite of our divisions". The model of church unity which was favoured as the goal after which ecumenical engagement should strive was identified as organic union.

The employment of a methodology of christological ecclesiology came to full flower at the Third world Conference held in Lund in 1952. In "A Word to the Churches", the Conference observed:

"we can make no real advance toward unity if we only compare our several conceptions on the nature of the Church and the traditions in which they are embodied ... We need therefore to penetrate behind our divisions to a deeper and richer understanding of the mystery of the God-given union of Christ and his Church".

With this, the door was open for the critical analysis of the traditions of the church to be examined in the light of the Gospel. From this could emerge patterns of cooperation which were perceived to proceed from the common heritage of the Gospel. According to what came to be called the "Lund principle", should churches not consider "whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?"

With the intentional self-critical spirit which Lund fuelled, the Fourth World Conference in Montreal in 1963 was able to distinguish between, and explicate in some measure, the Scripture, the Tradition and the traditions. Even if the delineation of the precise content of the Tradition remains somewhat elusive, the formulation developed at Montreal marked a step forward in the treatment of the issue of the sources of authority in the church.

The clear acknowledgment of the relation of the unity of the church and the unity of humankind was a significant achievement of the Montreal Conference. If the church's existence is predicated on God's mission to the world, the church's unity must always be "a solidarity that serves".

At the Fifth World Conference in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 1993, the location of the unity of the church in the life of the Trinity was repeatedly affirmed, even if its full denotation is as yet somewhat abstruse. The understanding of unity in terms of koinonia in faith, life and witness was generally affirmed, even if the notion of koinonia is still somewhat elusive in spite of - or is it, because of the neglect of? -John Reumann's excellent treatment of the subject of "Koinonia in Scripture: Survey of Biblical Texts".

The Conference declared that "there is no turning back, either from the goal of visible unity or from the single ecumenical movement that unites concern for the unity of the church and concern for engagement in the struggles of the world". It also emphasized that:

"The churches have made some progress in implementing the 1952 Lund principle that they should 'act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately'. But they must go further. Unity today calls for structures of mutual accountability."

The insistent call for a study on the nature of the church and the unity we seek in the light of koinonia reflects the seriousness with which the churches are determined to advance on the road to visible unity.

Of course, the gains registered at each of the World Conferences owed much to the insights arising in the rich history of Faith and Order both in and between the World Conferences. Needless to say, the Assemblies of the World Council of Churches (WCC) - in Amsterdam in 1948, in Evanston in 1954, in New Delhi in 1961, in Uppsala in 1968, in Nairobi in 1975, in Vancouver in 1983 and in Canberra in 1991 - have elaborated the themes and guided the programme of Faith and Order. In addition, the contributions of the various divisions within the Council have helped enrich the work of the Faith and Order Commission, partly by forcing the Commission both to sharpen its theological focus and to deal with matters whose practical implications are as important as are the profound theological formulations which may be made about them. Faith and Order, in turn, offers its work as a contribution to the churches through the WCC.

Three major texts

Another angle of vision from which the work of Faith and Order may be viewed is that of its numerous publications. Especially three of the more recent publications are of great moment, namely Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community, and Confessing the One Faith: An Ecumenical Explication of the Apostolic Faith as it is Confessed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381). In these, the common concern and striving for the visible unity of the church is in evidence.

BEM has been described as "the most widely published, translated, discussed and commented-upon text in the history of the ecumenical movement". The extent to which the churches have engaged in discussing the issues raised by this Lima document bears testimony, not only to the importance of the work, but also to the way in which the Spirit is enabling the churches to come closer to ecclesial unity. BEM is a useful instrument in the awakening of the vision of the unity after which we strive in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Church and World is a study document of enormous significance. It reflects a clear grasp of the relationship between unity and mission, "between the search for the visible unity of Christ's Church and the search for common Christian proclamation, witness and service as expressions of God's mission and love for a world crying out for renewal".

Here, at last, is an unambiguous acknowledgment of the need to overcome the polarisation of church and humanity, and an attempt to identify "elements of an ecumenical convergence on the understanding of the church and its relation to the wider human community".

If Church and World and Costly Unity have found much more acceptance in the Two-Thirds World than elsewhere, it may be because of its grasp of the kind of issues and concerns which we identified at the start of this paper. The church's concern for unity is not propelled merely by a desire for unity for its own sake. The church's unity supports its mission as much as disunity hinders it. The church's unity should support the establishment of justice as much as our disunity puts it at risk. Further, "the unity of the church must be envisaged ... as a sign and instrument for healing and sustaining both humanity and creation."

Confessing the One Faith offers an exposition of one form of the confession of the apostolic faith. The hope is that this explication is understood as an invitation to a shared understanding of the faith. It is not a mere appeal for unanimity in the regular use of a single formulation, to yield the boredom of conformity and to stir the memory of the days when the capacity for repetition by rote of cliches developed in distant shores was deemed to qualify the resident in the colony as "civilized". It is the one faith that must be confessed. It is the one faith that each church must strive to recognize in each other, and the contribution of Confessing the One Faith is laudable in explicating a historic creed, thereby opening the door for those who do not normally recite it to recognize in it a sufficient statement of fundamental beliefs. Those who use this particular creed are challenged to consider whether the faith reflected in this credal formula is present in churches that do not normally recite the creed. Additionally, if this creed could be affirmed, if even on occasion, it would serve as a sign of the unity in faith which is indispensable to the manifestation of visible ecclesial unity.

International bilateral dialogues

If the Faith and Order Commission is a forum for multi-lateral dialogue and if, from time to time, the Christian World Communions enter into bilateral conversation, the need arises for ways to be sought to relate these different dialogues to each other. This ensures complementarity in a mutually enriching process.

Under the auspices of the Conference of the Christian World Communions, Faith and Order has organized six international meetings of a forum on bilateral conversations, the most recent of which was held in 1994. The extent to which international and multilateral dialogues influence each other and serve to further the cause of visible church unity is good reason for the inclusion in Faith and Order work of collaboration in international bilateral conversations.

United/uniting churches

The United and Uniting churches (UUCs) should not be regarded as analogous to the Christian World Communions. Endeavouring to ensure that there are no walls around this group of churches, the UUCs are markers of progress on the road toward the one Church of Jesus Christ. Their genesis is in the theological conviction that arises from the prayer of Jesus for the unity of the church. These inclusive churches model diversity within unity at a time when there seems to be a resurgence of a divisive confessionalism. Having experienced a kind of death and resurrection to a new identity, these churches challenge the CWCs to work toward one of the goals the WCC has set itself, as set out in its Constitution, namely:

visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, and to advance towards that unity in order the world may believe.

The facilitation Faith and Order offers the United and Uniting Churches is an important part of the Commission's work. While it is not mandated to initiate union negotiations, Faith and Order fulfils a helping and advisory function to churches in union conversations. By critically examining the steps taken by churches toward closer unity, that is, organic union, and by sharing information about these developments, Faith and Order contributes to the process of keeping before the churches the goal of visible unity.

The accounts of the shared experience of UUCs and the findings of their Consultations held at Bossey in 1967, Limuru in 1970, Toronto in 1975, Colombo in 1981, Potsdam in 1987, and in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, earlier this year, have served to keep before the churches the need to go beyond rhetoric in the committed work toward visible church unity.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

In 1908, an Anglican clergyman and an Episcopal priest proposed a week of prayer for Christian unity. This Week of prayer was expanded in the 1930s "in such way that Protestants, Orthodox and Roman Catholics could unite on the basis that 'our Lord would grant His church on earth that peace and unity which were on His mind and propose, when, on the eve of His passion, He prayed that all might be one'".

Since 1966, Faith and Order has collaborated with what is now called the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the preparation of material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This collaboration reflects, in part, awareness in Faith and Order of the place of prayer and corporate worship in the search for the visible unity of the church.

In the corporate worship life of the Commission and of the World Conferences, profound appreciation is expressed for the indispensability of prayer to the realization of the goal of visible unity. Well has Dr Gassmann stated that "common prayer and worship has been and is the most profound resource of the ecumenical movement".

The Faith and Order Commission also analyzes the observance of the Week, ever seeking to discover how to further the goal and impact of the Week.

The Basis behind the tasks

The By-Laws of the Faith and Order Commission state clearly the aim of the Commission:

"... to proclaim the oneness of the church of Jesus Christ and to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, in order that the world may believe".

The Commission's mandate is demanding. It includes the requirement to "study such questions as faith, order and worship" and to examine and bring before the WCC factors affecting the unity of the church, to "promote prayer for unity" and "to study the theological implications of the existence and development of the ecumenical movement", to take note of the steps churches are taking toward closer unity with one another and "to provide opportunity for consultation among those whose churches are engaged in union negotiations".

Whilst the clear theological focus on the unity of the church must always be affirmed, a successful attempt to alienate this focus entirely from the consideration of issues affecting God's reconciling and transforming purpose for all of creation will blunt the appeal of Faith and Order to most of the churches in the Two-thirds world. That the importance of this claim has not been lost on Faith and Order is supported by Church and World, in which this declaration is made:

It is in and for the world that God calls the church to be the people of God, a servant-people, ... in order that it may be a sign and bearer of the Triune God's work towards the salvation and renewal of all humankind. For the fulfilment of this vocation God wills the churches to move toward the unity for which Jesus prayed, a unity visible to the world and having a spiritual authenticity as a communion of worship, witness and service which can help the world to respond in faith.