The Quarterly of the World Council of Churches. (Editorial)

Article excerpt

Socrates asserted that "the unexamined life is not worth living", yet there is comfort in taking some things for granted. One such comfortable assumption, for many of us, has been the concept of "ecumenical convergence" in the area of worship. When the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church adopted and published a revised Book of Common Worship in 1993, an editorial introduction approached the lyrical in its discernment of recent progress towards Christian unity through liturgical agreement:

   During the past thirty years the Christian churches throughout 
   the world have seen a reformation in worship unequalled in any 
   other century. While styles vary between traditions, the shape 
   of the liturgy among the various Christian traditions is 
   witnessing a remarkable convergence. An example of such a 
   convergence is the work of the World Council of Churches in 
   Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and its related documents ... 
      We are beginning to move towards unity at the table, as we 
   are beginning to recognize that in belief and practice there is 
   more that unites us in the eucharist than divides us ... 
      We are learning that unity at font, pulpit and table is the 
   true road to healing the brokenness of Christ's church. (1) 

Nor were American Presbyterians alone in their optimism following on the "convergence texts" epitomized in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM).

In the summer of 2002, this assumption of convergence in worship was challenged at a Geneva meeting of the central committee of the World Council of Churches. The report and recommendations of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, (2) reviewing the same thirty years' experience which had warmed the heart of a Presbyterian editor, drew these decidedly divergent conclusions:

   Praying together has also revealed many of the challenges along 
   the way towards unity. This is in part because of confessional 
   and cultural backgrounds leading churches to worship in 
   different ways. In addition, common prayer as it has developed in 
   the World Council of Churches has caused difficulties for some 
   churches. Indeed, it is in common prayer that the pain of 
   Christian division is most acutely experienced. (3) 

In presentations prior to the central committee meeting, members of the Special Commission asked that the World Council of Churches abstain from using the term "worship" to describe gatherings for prayer conducted at major assemblies or conferences. Some consider "ecumenical worship" an unacceptable description for any form of common prayer now possible under the WCC's auspices. …