Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Mandate of the Ecumenical Movement

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Mandate of the Ecumenical Movement

Article excerpt

Stockholm 1925

At the moment when a world assembly of the churches begins its work in this country and in this place my thoughts go naturally to the very first ecumenical assembly of the churches which I attended in 1925 as a very young participant, namely the Stockholm Conference on Life and Work. That conference had a close relation to Uppsala. For it was in the archbishop's palace in this city that Archbishop Soderblom laid the foundations of this pioneer meeting, an astounding achievement at a time when the churches had yet to be convinced that this plan without precedent was not just a castle in the air and at a time when there was no such thing as a staff of ecumenical workers. The closing meetings of the conference were held in the cathedral here and in the university. The young Dag Hammarskjold, a son of the provincial governor and a friend of the Soderblom family, was one of the stewards and thus got his first introduction to the problem of management of an international assembly, not realizing that this would become his chief task in his later years. We have reason to take our stewards seriously; there may be a future Secretary General of the United Nations among them!

The days of a generation in the ecumenical movement are--to use the psalmist's words--just "a few handbreadths" (Ps. 39:5). For only two or three participants of the 1925 meeting are also participants in this assembly.

At first sight it would seem that there is an enormous difference between Stockholm 1925 and Uppsala 1968. As a first attempt to bring together all the churches, Stockholm was more successful than most had dared to expect, but it was still far from being fully ecumenical. The American, British, and European sections had sent large numbers of delegates, but of the Orthodox churches only six had sent delegations and the fifth section, oddly designated as that of "other churches," and meant to include all of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, had a very small group of delegates from only four countries. We have reason to be deeply grateful that in the relatively short period since 1925, the ecumenical movement has become more truly ecumenical and that this assembly embraces a much larger part of Christendom. No less significant is that at the time of the Stockholm Conference the Roman Catholic Church stood quite outside the ecumenical movement and that today this great church is an active participant in the movement, which collaborates in many ways with our World Council and which will, through its official observers, undoubtedly make an important contribution to our discussions.

There are many other differences, but it is perhaps more important for us today to consider the points of analogy and similarity. The real significance of the 1925 meeting was that, after a very long period in which the churches had made no serious effort to understand the changing social and international realities and to help men to find illumination in the Gospel for their common life, they now made a common attempt to rediscover their task with regard to the world. What Soderblom had in mind is best illustrated by a sentence of his sermon at the closing service in Uppsala cathedral. He said that the divisions and silence of the churches impeded the work of the Saviour. In other words there was one task with two aspects: to manifest the oneness of the people of God and to enable it to witness with a common voice to the full gospel of salvation with its definite implications for the world.

The responsible organizers of the conference believed that this task could be performed without raising the doctrinal issues which had divided the churches and which would be the specific theme of the Faith and Order movement. They were right in so far as the Stockholm Conference did not become a dialogue between the various confessions. But in another way the conference became much more theological and less practical than had been anticipated. …

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