World Council of Churches

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

World Council of Churches

World Council of Churches, an international, interdenominational organization of most major Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches; founded in Amsterdam in 1948, its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. The idea of a world fellowship of Christian churches took concrete form in 1937, when two ecumenical conferences—on life and work and on faith and order—elected a joint committee to formulate plans for a world council. This provisional committee met at Utrecht in 1938 under the organization's first general secretary, Willem Adolf Visser't Hooft, but it was not until after World War II that the first assembly took place (1948) and formally ratified the constitution. At Amsterdam there were 147 Christian churches from 44 countries; today there are 341 member churches from over 100 countries.

The governing body of the council is the assembly, which meets every seven years. The assembly appoints a central committee of 150 members, which meets five times between assemblies; this committee in turn elects a 26-member executive committee. The council also has a presidium to which eight persons are appointed. The council, which has no legislative power over its member churches, provides an opportunity for its constituents to act together in matters of common concern under their common calling "to accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior." Its concerns include international relations, environmental justice, education, and mission. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the council but sends delegated observers to its assemblies; it has full membership on the council's Commission of Faith and Order and on its Joint Working Group.

See ecumenical movement.

See W. A. Visser't Hooft, The Genesis and Formation of the World Council of Churches (1982); J. A. A. Vermaat, The World Council of Churches and Politics (1989); M. Van Elderen, Introducing the World Council of Churches (1990).

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