Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Mutual Accountability: Building Together on the Achievements of the Ecumenical Movement

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Mutual Accountability: Building Together on the Achievements of the Ecumenical Movement

Article excerpt


The theme of this year's NAAE assembly is inspired by the statement of the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC): "Called to Be the One Church." In this essay I will first reflect on that statement and some of its features, keeping in mind its call to mutual accountability; second, reflect on mutual accountability in light of a century of ecumenism; and third, reflect on mutual accountability and the year 2017.

1. "Called to Be the One Church ": A Contribution to "The Unity We Seek"

The statement, "Called to Be the One Church" of the WCC's Ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2006, (l) is in line with and the most recent of WCC assembly descriptions of "the nature of the unity we seek," published by assemblies held in New Delhi (1961), Nairobi (1975), and Canberra (1991). These statements, though brief, are one gauge of some major developments in ecumenical dialogue and of ecumenical progress. Looked at together, these statements can help provide a sense of where we are in the ecumenical movement.

Each of the statements has built on the last, identifying further qualities of "the unity we seek," based on new developments in the ongoing dialogues since the previous statement. The 1991 Canberra statement, "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling," (2) reflected the strong focus on the biblical concept of koinonia/communion emerging strongly in dialogue concerning the church in the period just before Canberra. The Canberra statement's challenges to the churches (no. 3.2) also build on significant Faith and Order developments in the years before it. To mention two, Canberra calls the churches "to recognize each other's baptism on the basis of the (1982) BEM [Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry] document" and "to move towards the recognition of the apostolic faith as expressed through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the life and witness of one another," referring to the 1991 Faith and Order study on this theme. (3)

Some new aspects in "Called to Be the One Church" concern its treatment of baptism, of the church and its mission, and this clear call to mutual accountability, again reflecting developments in the period between Canberra and Porto Alegre. Regarding baptism, the Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the WCC had published with its Eighth Report in 2005 a lengthy study titled "Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of a Common Baptism," (4) building on BEM. In the period leading up to Porto Alegre, Faith and Order did significant work on the church, inspired by BEM, publishing in 1998, "The Nature and Purpose of the Church" (5) and a revised version of that in 2005, "The Nature and Mission of the Church." (6) Some of this work is reflected in "Called to Be the One Church."

While baptism has been basic in each of the previous statements as an important part of the unity sought in the ecumenical movement, "Called to Be the One Church" treats it more at length than did the prior statements. Two full paragraphs are dedicated to baptism (nos. 8-9). More poignantly, these paragraphs spell out more than in earlier statements, and with biblical support, the implications of a common baptism for ecumenical responsibility in seeking the unity of Christians. We will come back to this later.

The Porto Alegre statement reflects further agreement and common understanding regarding the church, developed in the fifteen years since Canberra. For example, Canberra states, "The goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness" (no. 2.1). Porto Alegre states more dramatically: "We confess one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381)" (no. 3; emphasis added). Furthermore, it develops in several paragraphs some explanation of the meaning of each of these marks (nos. …

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