Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

In the first half of a two-hour on line discussion speakers explored the complex relations between multilateral and bilateral dialogues, then looked at the cross-fertilisation—or lack of it—between methodologies, experiences, and results of both types of dialogue.

In the second hour, speakers explored the theme “Local church-universal church and actual societal challenges.”

Rev. Canon Dr John Gibaut, president, provost and vice-chancellor of Thorneloe University, spoke about the role of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order in the cross-fertilization between bilateral and multilateral dialogues.

“The iconic example of this is ‘The Church: Towards a Common Vision,’ he said, referring to a 2013 convergence document published by Faith and Order which was the result of a two-decade long and intense theological work including two intermediate texts. “I count 40 references in ‘The Church’ to the bilateral dialogues as they touch on ecclesiology.”

Prof. Dr Dirk G. Lange, assistant general secretary for ecumenical relations, Lutheran World Federation, reflected that the dynamic of such cross-fertilisation goes back to the 1960s, when many theologians were involved in a search for identity. “In a certain sense, it is a fervent desire to understand our ecclesial identity,” he said.

Fr Prof. Dr James Puglisi, director, Centro Pro Unione, noted that, when we speak of cross-fertilisation, we are borrowing a term largely used by scientists. “We are looking at biology and genetics,” he said, and transferring this to a theological approach.

Rev. Prof Dr Dorin Oancea, professor emeritus at the Faculty for Orthodox Theology, Sibiu, Romania, spoke on the relationship between “local” and “universal,” while also referring to the social impact. "We learn to respect unity and learn to understand it not as uniformity but always together with diversity,” he said. “Today our interest is focused on the elements of the relationship between unity and diversity, between universal and local with regards to the ecumenical movement.”

Rev. Dr Vell-Matti Karkkainen, professor of systematic theology at the Fuller Theological  Seminary (USA), explored some major societal implications to the way we conduct dialogue, whether at a local or global level. “One of the phenomena we have to consider is the well-known globalization of the church,” he said. In fact, as a global Christian church, he said, “the majority of Christians are young as opposed to old, they are women as opposed to men, they are poor as opposed to middle class or rich.”

Rev. Dr Dagmar Heller, acting director of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies and Research, Bensheim, Germany, said that, over the years, the WCC has developed a framework for visible point of unity. “Here, we can see two levels, or two poles, of unity, she said: “The church is local and universal at the same time.”

The webinar was moderated by Katerina Pekridou, executive secretary for theological dialogue, Conference of European Churches.