Magna Charta on Ecumenical Formation in Theological Education in the 21st Century-10 Key Convictions

By Werner, Dietrich | International Review of Mission, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Magna Charta on Ecumenical Formation in Theological Education in the 21st Century-10 Key Convictions


Werner, Dietrich, International Review of Mission


1) Ecumenism as an urgent need in theological education

The basis of the WCC affirms: "The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." In the constitution of the WCC the concern for ecumenical theological education therefore receives a high priority: it is defined as one of the primary purposes and functions of the WCC to "nurture the growth of an ecumenical consciousness through processes of education and a vision of life in community rooted in each particular cultural context" (WCC Constitution para. III). The ecumenical movement from its very beginning and even before the founding of the WCC in 1948 (cf. history of World Council of Christian Education) had a profound impact on the understanding of Christian education in general and ministerial formation for future ministers and priests in particular. If the ecumenical movement as a whole is about strengthening common witness and promoting new forms of the visible unity between churches of different denominational and confessional traditions then the scandal of churches remaining in disunity and using distorted images of sister churches in one's own educational materials and publications needs to be overcome, with foremost priority in the area of theological education and ministerial formation. The strengthening and pursuit of church unity in theological education is a gospel imperative for any church joining in the affirmation of the church as being "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" in its essence (The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed [381]) (interdenominational or ecclesial dimension of ecumenical formation). The emergence of interdenominational or non-denominational institutions of theological education in the '50s and '60s which was intentionally supported by the Theological Education Fund (TEF) of the IMC as well as the introduction of distinct courses and curriculum models on ecumenism and the ecumenical movement was a consequence of this ecclesiological insight. The emphasis on interdenominational cooperation in theological education as well as the development of proper teaching materials on ecumenism remains an indispensable and in many places still lacking component of the theological education of pastors and ministers. There is no future for the ecumenical movement as a whole if there is no commitment to ecumenical formation processes in formal and non-formal theological education programmes of WCC member churches. If theological education fails to be guided by an ecumenical vision of a church renewed in mission and service to the whole of humankind there will be a serious shortage in terms of a new generation of Christian leaders, pastors and theological teachers carrying on the ecumenical vision and commitment into the 21 st century and a widening gap and estrangement between the majority clergy and ever fewer experts on the ecumenical movement and ecumenical theological discourse which can already be observed in a number of member churches.

2) Contextualization of theological education

Ecumenical formation in theological education is guided by the vision of the church truly united and serving the renewal of the human community. Therefore, ecumenical formation reaches beyond the realm of issues of inner church unity in addressing fundamental questions of the human family and the survival of the whole earth. Being inspired by the ecumenical vision of God as the owner of the whole earth (oikumene) as well as the eschatological vision of a new heaven and a new earth, theological education in ecumenical understanding will always try to respond to the pressing needs of social contexts and to be related to issues of human survival both in global and in local environments. Relating theological education to the realities of particular social and cultural contexts, liberating theological education from any captivity of certain social milieus, cultural one-sidedness and spiritual blindness to religious values existing in certain indigenous traditions has been a major emphasis of the WCC in the programme on theological education (PTE) since the sixties (social or contextual dimension in ecumenical formation of theological education).

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