A big emphasis I noticed is the shift away from seeing the WCC as a programmatic agency or a kind of Vatican (central office of Christianity), but a fellowship of churches. In my work on the programme guidelines committee, we read about the need for the WCC to figure out how to better work through member churches in order to achieve programmatic goals.
The beauty of the WCC is that it isn’t just the usual suspects of mainline Christianity that we in the U.S. are used to – multiple Orthodox traditions are members, and there is a long-standing relationship with the Roman Catholic tradition, as well as sustained conversations with Pentecostal and evangelical traditions. The WCC also values conversation with representatives of other religious traditions.
I seem to recall that in many PC(USA) General Assemblies, there are questions that come up about the PC(USA)’s significant support for conciliar efforts, such as the National Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the World Council of Churches. Why would we as a church support other organizations when we ourselves face constricting budgets due to reduced revenues?
True, I cut my church teeth as a young adult doing ecumenical work across national and confessional boundaries, so I have never been neutral in this question of the value of ecumenism. I went to McCormick Seminary in part because of its robust ecumenical atmosphere in the student body and on its faculty. But this has been reaffirmed during my time here: the support or the withdrawal of support is a theological statement by the PC(USA) on Christian community. We have theological and Biblical reasons for our long-standing ecumenical activity. Succumbing to our desire to hoard our diminishing resources and the influence of the isolationist/conservative element in the PC(USA) would be a theological statement – that we believe we do not have enough. We believe in scarcity. We believe that our own institutional preservation is of greater theological value and import than our commitment to being part of the larger Christian family.
At gathering of Reformed churches, basically the members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, I realized how very Reformed I am. We discussed our theological commitment to making room for disagreement, our commitment to reading Scripture together and allowing one another to come to different conclusions based on that study. We talked about our strong Biblically-grounded historical commitment to justice especially regarding economics and racism, etc. We are committed to balance among lay and clergy leadership, because we take the priesthood of all believers thing seriously. A few members said we as Reformed churches were not making our presence known enough at the assembly, considering we are the largest single confessional group present (we had to have our meeting in the Auditorium… no little conference room for us!). Another member said the WCC has gone back on its historic justice commitments, and it is time for us as Reformed people to share our theological convictions on why justice is one of the pillars of our faith. This, coming from Reformed Christians from all over the world.
This is not to say other Christians don’t hold these values, but these are certainly hallmarks of Reformed Christianity.
This is totally church geeky of me to say, but I left feeling just a little bit prouder of my Reformed heritage and family.