At a historic meeting here, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order approved a new theological agreement and proposed a major restructuring of its work in the future.
Under the leadership of its moderator, Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia-Ammochostos, the WCC’s Standing Commission on Faith and Order met from June 17-22 on this Malaysian island, hosted by the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM).
The commission approved the text on “The Church: Towards a Common Vision” the second convergence document in the history of Faith and Order. The WCC director of Faith and Order, Canon John Gibaut, explains that “this ‘convergence’ text show how closely the members of the commission are able to come together to agree on what it means to be the one Church of Jesus Christ. The agreement reached by the commission then will be tested among the churches.”
The document will be received in August by the WCC Central Committee for commendation to churches for study and formal responses and will be publicly available afterwards.
The commission also approved the creation of a guidebook to encourage Christians to read the scriptures together ecumenically, using biblical commentaries by the teachers of the early church. The guidebook, designed for all Christians, is intended to introduce these teachers to members of those traditions which are not normally accustomed to reading these ancient writers. The guidebook will be available from the WCC Publications later this year.
“The ecumenical value of reading the Bible together with the early teachers,” says Gibaut, “is that they are our common parents in the faith, and despite their vast differences from one another, they are witnesses to the unity-in-diversity of the undivided church.”
The commission also considered a draft study text on “Moral Discernment in the Churches” which challenges churches on how they engage in deeply divisive questions concerning moral issues. The aim is to assist the churches in preventing principled differences on moral questions from becoming church-dividing. The standing commission agreed to schedule a final consultation on this text by the end of 2012.
The commission approved unanimously a major revision of its bylaws which propose a thorough restructuring of the commission. The principal features of the restructuring involve the move to a single commission of 40 theologians from around the world, representing the various church traditions. This also includes: requirements for nomination to the commission which reflect its expertise-based function; the creation of an executive body within the commission; and the restoration of the commission’s capacity to appraise the results of its own work. The approved bylaws would come into effect if given final approval by the WCC Central Committee this year.
The members of the commission had the opportunities to interact with the local Christian communities in Penang, by attending Sunday worship, by joining in a banquet organized by the CCM. There the commissioners met leaders and representatives of the local churches. They also visited the local Roman Catholic and Baptist seminaries.
The commission expressed its gratitude to the general secretary of the CCM, the Rev. Hermen Shastri, for the generous hospitality of the local community and for providing the context in which the commission was able to work so effectively. Shastri, also a vice-moderator of the commission on Faith and Order, presided at the session in which final approval was given to “The Church,” a text which is already being called “the Penang document.”