Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Nordic Churches and the Ecumenical Movement

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Nordic Churches and the Ecumenical Movement

Article excerpt

The individuals who energized the early 20th-century ecumenical movement, despite their confessional and theological differences, shared the conviction that the crisis reflected in two world wars, the German church struggle of the 1930s, the social disorder in Europe and the upheaval of communism in Russia challenged the churches to respond in cooperation with each other. In the Nordic region, early leaders such as Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden and Danish pastor Alfred Th. Jorgensen discovered in theory and practice the importance of the church as an essential component of the gospel.

The second world war strengthened cooperation among the Nordic churches. The Nordic Ecumenical Institute in Sigtuna, Sweden, founded in 1939, was an important ecumenical meeting-place during the war, not only for Nordic church people, but also internationally: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop George Bell met there in 1942. The Ecumenical Council of Denmark, founded in 1939, worked in close cooperation with Danchurchaid, founded in 1922, to provide spiritual and material support for the struggling churches and people in Norway and Finland. These war-time experiences showed the importance of structural cooperation among the churches. Ecumenism challenged the Nordic churches to build up new structures to establish and maintain contacts with other churches. Ecumenism was no longer an issue only for individuals, but for church structures; and the main question was to identify the functions of the church, which led to an instrumental ecumenical ecclesiology.

All the Nordic Lutheran churches took part in the founding assemblies of the Lutheran World Federation (1947), the World Council of Churches (1948) and the Conference of European Churches (1959). The ecumenical movement has given them an international dimension that they did not have and enlarged their theological self-understanding in a new, ecumenical direction. One might say that the Nordic churches and the ecumenical movement helped each other to accommodate to modernism -- the most powerful cultural and political development in the 20th century. Modernism sought a truly global, international culture instead of the divisive national, ethnic and religious traditions prevailing in the past. Ted A. Campbell describes it as a cultural movement that attempts to overcome the particularities of traditions.(1) Modern architecture, for example, rejected traditional architectural style and developed the so-called international style of architecture, with the rectangular concrete and glass and steel monoliths that until recently dominated the skylines of large cities.

A good example of this modernist architectural style is the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, which houses such international church institutions as the WCC, LWF and CEC. The building itself is made of concrete, glass and steel. The Danish artist Hans Lollesgaard designed the chapel, which is international in its style -- with its organ from the Western church and its altar from a combined Eastern and Western tradition. This chapel functions well as a place for ecumenical worship because it differs from confessional church architecture while at the same time placing recognizable elements from the tradition of the Christian church within a new international and ecumenical framework. The architecture of the Ecumenical Centre points to the fact that the ecumenical movement is a reaction against the particularities of church traditions, against the visible divisions of churches.

But the Ecumenical Centre chapel also indicates that the ecumenical movement does not aim at a complete loss of traditional and confessional identities. A central expression of the ecumenical vision is the "sharing of gifts", in which each tradition brings to the whole church the particular gifts that come out of its own identity and history.

Today the older forms of modernism have come to an end. Since the 1970s -- and especially in the 1990s -- the particularities of tradition, ethnicity and nationality have reappeared in striking contrast to modernism's attempts to overcome them. …

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