Efforts for a Second Conference on Faith and Order in North America: A Progress Report *

Article excerpt

Throughout the history of the church, some Christians have always been aware of the scandal of their disunity. Whenever the church of Jesus Christ has been visibly rent asunder, members of the church have acknowledged that they were less than faithful to the prayer of their Lord and that their division hampered the mission of the church to the world.

Thus, in 1910 the modern ecumenical movement began. It was at first a movement of individual Christians and then of churches. Its purpose has been to seek the truth as it is found in Jesus Christ and into which the Holy Spirit leads. This movement embodies at its best a search for the will of God in every area of life and work. At the center of this movement with its many dimensions is the Faith and Order movement, which endeavors to serve the churches by leading them into theological dialogue as a means of overcoming the obstacles to, and opening ways toward, the realization of their unity given in Christ. Thus, Faith and Order has always been inherently theological, but never for its own sake. Rather, it is theological so that it can be a resource to all the churches in order to assist them to move beyond their visible disunity to a visible expression of their oneness to Jesus Christ.

With leadership of such figures as Bishop Charles Brent of Western New York in the United States, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, and others, Faith and Order helped form the first phase of the modern ecumenical movement in the first half of the twentieth century. Internationally, it held world conferences from 1927 until the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948. After this date the Commission on Faith and Order, as a part of the World Council, conducted several world conferences, including those in Lund in 1952 and Montreal in 1963, with the last being in 1993 in San Diego de Campostella. (1)

No doubt, the most significant achievement to date of the global Faith and Order Movement has been the document, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. This text has become the most widely known and circulated document of the ecumenical movement. (2)

Over the years the Commission on Faith and Order has come to have ever more members, including from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as from the churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Its agenda of studies has increased and broadened during the years.

Interestingly, the first impulses of the Faith and Order movement took place in North America. In 1910 both the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church and the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) took action to appoint a commission to bring about a conference on the questions of Faith and Order. These energies flowed first into the international arena and into a series of world conferences and then into the formation of the World Council of Churches. (3)

It was only after the Third International Conference in Lund in 1952 that the need was recognized to formalize Faith and Order in the United States. This resulted in the North American Conference on Faith and Order in 1957 at Oberlin, Ohio, and its influential report, The Nature of the Unity We Seek. (4) One of the results of the Oberlin conference was the creation in 1958 of a Faith and Order Commission within the structures of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Even at that time, the location of the Commission was a matter of some debate. There was the precedent internationally of the Commission on Faith and Order within the World Council of Churches, although prior to Amsterdam in 1948 there were voices raising questions about this decision. Subsequent history on the world level certainly has shown that, whatever the advantages, the role of Faith and Order within the World Council has not been easy and frequently has been unappreciated.

Over the years the United States Commission engaged in important studies dealing with such topics as the ecclesiological significance of councils of churches, the confession of the apostolic faith among historic black churches, racism, and teaching church history ecumenically. …