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Future Decline for World Council of Churches Unless It Returns to Founding Principles


Evangelicals To WCC: Come Home

By James V. Heidinger, II
Good News Magazine
January/February 1999

By the time you read this, the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) will be history. The world-wide ecumenical body met in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 3-14.

What's different about this Assembly is that a team of six evangelicals went as part of an effort by North American evangelicals to call the WCC back to its founding principles (see related article on p 38) This initiative for WCC reform came from the Association for Church Renewal, a group of renewal movement executives from the mainline denominations in North America (I have chaired this group since its founding in October of 1996)

United Methodist theologian, Thomas Oden, who led the ACR team, said in a news conference at which the initiative was publicly launched, "This could be the last assembly of the World Council of Churches " He noted that the Orthodox member communions were in the process of withdrawal from the WCC. They sent only a low-level delegation to Zimbabwe and chose not to vote He also added, "Under a rhetoric of inclusiveness, evangelicals have been systematically excluded " In light of the world-wide movement of the Holy Spirit taking place today, the WCC must acknowledge this and become open to evangelical voices and concerns. If not, it will become utterly irrelevant.

The ACR team went to Zimbabwe to try to encourage and network with evangelical delegates from the two-thirds world. The potential for such an effort was seen at last summer's Anglican Bishops' Lambeth Conference where African and Asian bishops joined with American and British evangelicals to help soundly adopt (by a whopping 526-70 vote) a strong biblical statement on the family and human sexuality.

The ACR initiative also raised a Macedonian call to the leaders of the two-thirds world churches to speak out boldly and prophetically to the churches of the West, which are confused and declining from their acutely impaired moral and theological vision.

The ACR's "Jubilee Appeal" urged the WCC to reject "macro-ecumenism," which would open the ecumenical movement to non-Christian religions. Instead, the evangelicals called the WCC back to its own constitutional definition, which states that the WCC is "a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." An authentic re-centering of the WCC around this affirmation would revitalize the movement and turn it toward the evangelistic imperative that inspired its founders.

That imperative can be seen in the writing of the late Anglican Bishop Stephen Neill, a respected theologian and one-time associate general secretary of the WCC. He wrote a book in preparation for the Amsterdam Assembly that brought the WCC into being in 1948. In The Church'.s Witness to God's Design, he said, "If an ecumenical movement is not primarily a strategy of worldwide evangelism, then it is nothing but an interesting academic exercise."

The WCC was launched with the hope that the 147 member denominations present at its founding would be more effective and unified in the task of world missions. Not all present at Amsterdam in 1948 shared that missionary passion Ernest Hocking's famous Layman's Report on Missions expressed the view of many liberal ecumenists of that day. It decried efforts to convert the heathen, claiming the aim of missions was not to convert Buddhists to Christianity but to make Buddhists better Buddhists.

In 1984, Kenneth Kantzer and Gilbert Beers wrote a joint editorial in Christianity Today, (4/20/84) taking a fresh look at the WCC. They noted several areas of continued concern: 1) The deity of Christ was left undefined and thus only given lip service; 2) The substance of the New Testament Gospel had become lost; 3) The Bible was an honored book from which proof texts were selected, but there was no real Scriptural authority; 4) Universalism—the view that all will be saved

In 1973, the WCC conference in Bangkok called for a "moratorium" on cross-cultural missionary activity, meaning there should be an indefinite suspension of sending missionaries. For Anglican theologian J. I. Packer, that ended his involvement in the WCC. He wrote concerning the moratorium, "Was the WCC assuming that universalism is true, so that all will be saved whether evangelized or not? Apparently so." Packer concluded that the new view of Christian world mission "equated present salvation with socio-politico-economic well-being.... The WCC leadership celebrated Bangkok as the close of the era of missions...." (Christianity Today, 4/5/93)

If the WCC does not soon recover its identity as a thoroughly Christian body, it will continue to decline in morale, financial support, and member participation. And well it should. There is no reason for the WCC to lend legitimacy to erring church leaders whose revisionism, deconstruction and syncretism have helped rob the Christian Church of its uniqueness and its world-wide missionary mandate.


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