much in common
of interest in
the conversations between
the World Council of Churches and
the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Council of Churches Geneva 1973
© 1973 the book as a whole, by World
Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland
design by John Fulton
1-4 -- Contents (On
5 -- INTRODUCTORY
STATEMENT -- Regular
conversations between representatives of the WCC and Seventh-day
Adventists have been taking place on an annual basis in
Geneva and Collonges since 1965. The participants in these
meetings feel that the mutual comprehension engendered and
the personal fellowship enjoyed have been beneficial.
a result of these international contacts, and also independently,
contacts on national or local levels have been increasing
in recent years. It is now felt that it would serve a useful
purpose to make available to a wider constituency the results
of the WCC/SDA Conversations.
the above purpose in mind, various documents and publications
have have been brought together in a "dossier".
It is expected that the information here contained will
be welcomed by national councils of churches, SDA union
conferences and church officials or persons presently involved
in or contemplating future conversations or contacts on
a national or local level.
documents contained in this "dossier" are of various
kinds. Some present SDA or WCC self-understanding and give
basic information on the organization, basis and purpose
of both bodies. Other documents represent summaries and
analyses of the discussions or present statements that have
emerged from the Conversations during the past eight years.
difference in the character of the documents dealing with
the WCC and those presenting the SDA Church reflects the
fundamental dissimilarity in the nature of the two partners
in dialogue. As one document clearly points out: "There
is a fundamental difference in the nature of the organizations
which precludes comparisons. While the SDA Church is a world
church with established fundamental beliefs and one polity,
the WCC is a council or fellowship of churches representing
a great variety of theological beliefs, traditions and church
polities." This explains why the documents deal with
SDA beliefs and teachings, but cannot represent the WCC
in a comparable way.
is obvious that many more documents, articles or books having
a bearing on SDA relations to the ecumenical movement could
have been included in this "dossier". Rather than
to increase the content of the "dossier", bibliographical
reference to additional items interested parties may want
to consult have been included in order to point to further
useful sources of information.
involved in the organization of the contacts on the international
level do not expect these to now simply fade away in the
wake of enlarged local or national liaisons. On the contrary,
it is hoped that local or national conversations may provide
added meaning and justification for possible future contacts
on the world level and help establish a sound basis for
conscientious cooperation in those areas where this would
appear to be feasible and useful.
6 -- It is, therefore, sincerely desired and hoped that
there will be a regular feed-back to the undersigned regarding
the developments in this field. It is expected that possibly
another meeting of the WCC/SDA Conversations will take place
at some future date, when attention will be given to experiences
on the national and local levels.
Dr. B. B. Beach
Department of Public Affairs
119 St. Peter's Street
St. Albans, Herts.
Faith and Order Secretariat
150, route de Ferney
1211 Geneva 20
7 -- QUESTIONS
AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
-- 1. What is the World Council of Churches?
World Council of Churches is a fellowship of more than 250
churches in all continents. Its membership includes the
major churches in the Eastern and Western traditions with
the exception of the Roman Catholic Church. With this church,
however, it maintains fraternal relationships, as it does
with a number of other smaller Christian communities not
of its membership. The World Council is dedicated to the
restoration of unity in the Christian Church through the
renewal of all its members.
Council came into existence in 1948 after centuries of unsuccessful
attempts to find an effective tool for Christian unity.
Most major theologians and reformers tried to recover the
unity of Christ's Church, lost in the spiritual battles
among the confessions, in the beginning without success.
In the 19th century things started to change. Lay movements
and missionary societies broke through denominational barriers.
In the 20th, Christian missionary leaders, groups searching
for a common Christian response to social problems of the
times, and theologians seeking doctrinal unity, came together
to establish the World Council of Churches. For ten years
it had been "in process of formation" because
of World War II. These ten years were a testing ground for
the Council. It grew stronger in its resistance to the Nazi
movement in the European churches and through service given
to prisoners of war and refugees.
p 8 -- Since 1948 the Council has grown considerably
both in scope and in membership. At the Third Assembly in
India in 1961 the International Missionary Council integrated
with the WCC. All 16 Eastern Orthodox churches have become
25 years of discovery certainly give reason for gratitude
for the progress of the movement which the Council seeks
What is the significance of the Council's Basis? --
The Council's Basis states: "The World Council of Churches
is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus
Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and
therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to
the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
churches which accept this statement are eligible for membership.
Basis is not a full confession of faith but the foundation
of the Council and as such it determines the road along
which the churches in the Council travel together towards
the WCC is not itself a church, all its work is directed
towards a common confession of Christ in the One Church.
The Basis defines the
9 -- nature of the Council and clarifies the limitations
of its membership.
Council passes no judgement upon the sincerity with which
the member churches accept the Basis, but the member churches
remind each other that membership is meaningless if commitment
to the Basis disappears.
basic elements of the WCC's Basis are the confession of
the Lordship of Christ, fellowship of the member churches,
belief in the humanity and divinity of Christ, acceptance
of biblical authority, common witness and service, and the
worship of the Trinity.
What does Council membership mean for the churches? -- The
Council exists to serve the churches. This service brings
them into contact with one another, helps them to interpret
their tradition and their renewal to one another, makes
it possible to question, criticize, correct each other;
facilitates aid from one church to another, both spiritual
and material; gives national and regional churches a means
of witness and action on the international level; provides
the churches with a common voice, wherever possible, in
matters which concern them; provides them with opportunities
to act in concert as they desire; works towards joint action
for mission; helps the churches to respond to national and
10 -- emergencies; strives towards deeper understanding
of each other's faith and order, provides
a place for a common search for relevant expressions of
their faith and worship; and so helps the churches to re-establish
unity among themselves. The WCC is an instrument towards
unity; it is also a sign of the unity the churches seek.
WCC neither has nor desires power to control its members.
A statement of its Central Committee, the Council's interim
policy-making body, declares: "Membership in the Council
does not in any sense mean that the churches belong to a
body which can make decisions for them. Each church retains
the constitutional right to ratify or reject utterances
or actions of the Council".
the WCC's Assembly or any one of the Council's various committees
issues a public statement it speaks only for itself. The
decisions of its committees relate to the Council's programme
as such. Reports and resolutions as a general rule are referred
to churches for study and appropriate action. The Council
takes direct action only within the mandate received from
its member churches.
relationship was defined in these words by a former Archbishop
of Canterbury, the late William Temple, one of the Council's
founders; "Any authority the Council will have will
consist in the weight which it carries with the churches
by its own wisdom".
11 -- 4. Is there a "World Council theology"?
-- The World Council unhesitatingly repudiates any trend
towards theological indifferentism, doctrinal relativism,
or religious syncretism. It is impossible to speak of a
"theology of the World Council of Churches" as
such. Its constituency represents a great variety of confessional
theologies, as well as the theological trends which cut
across denominational lines. All its activities - study,
conferences, consultations, programmes, projects and publications
- are directed towards encouraging a creative encounter
between these different expressions of faith.
such ecumenical conversations result in a consensus, it
is expressed in the form of resolutions or statements addressed
to the churches or to the world at large, but such statements
are always the outcome of a process of confrontation of
widely diverse convictions. Theological agreements become
part of the teaching of the churches, rather than an ecumenical
Is the Council truly ecumenical? -- The member churches
of the World Council reflect the great diversity and richness
of Christian tradition and culture. Churches in nearly all
parts of the world and of almost all of the great Christian
families form its membership: rich churches and poor, old
and young, free and state, churches with large and complex
12 -- and churches with little formal structure. Included
are United churches, the Anglicans; there are Baptist, Brethren,
Congregationalist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian,
Old Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Presbyterian churches,
as well as Disciples, Quakers, the Salvation Army and some
number of churches are not members of the WCC. Most of these
regard full doctrinal agreement as a pre-requisite of such
fellowship as the Council incorporates. Some reject cooperation
with adherents of modern biblical scholarship or regard
the theological pluriformity of the ecumenical movement
as a threat to their own confessional unity. Sometimes they
object to the full international character of the WCC because
they cannot conceive of cooperation with Christians who
have different cultural and political loyalties. Others
feel that the WCC errs in paying too much attention to the
need for visible unity and hold that true unity is invisible
because it is purely spiritual. The Council tries to remain
in contact with all these groups, while insisting that authentic
ecumenicity concerns itself with the whole Gospel brought
to the whole world by the whole Church.
are also geographical areas where it has few members, as
for instance, Latin America, the continent in which Protestantism,
mainly in its Pentecostal form, is undergoing the most
13 -- rapid expansion.
the gaps, the Council's claim to the use of the word "ecumenical"
is not based upon the universality or variety of its membership,
but upon its foundation in Jesus Christ, who is worshipped
as Lord of the whole world.
range of its membership ensures that the Council will never
be dominated by any one church or group of churches or by
any national group. Both its committee members and staff
represent a wide variety of social, national and confessional
backgrounds, and this range is deliberately cultivated to
ensure the widest possible representation of different regions,
traditions, and spiritual and intellectual points of view.
What are the Council's concerns for mission and evangelism?
-- The integration in 1961 of the International Missionary
Council and the World Council gave formal recognition to
a long-established reality, for since their origin links
between the two bodies had been strong. The WCC's Third
Assembly called the act of integration "a fitting symbol
of the fact that missionary responsibility cannot be separated
from any other aspect of the Church's life and teaching...
Every Christian congregation is part (of it) with a responsibility
to bear witness to Christ in its own neighbourhood and to
share in the bearing of that
14 -- witness to the ends of the earth".
that integration, the work of the International Missionary
Council has been carried on by the World Council of Churches
through all its units, but especially through its Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism.
secretariat of this commission does not itself sponsor missionary
activity or seek to direct the activity of missions, but
it provides facilities for the study of missionary problems,
for the selection of priorities in mission, for consultation
and common planning, and for the strengthening of national
Christian councils and regional conferences in Asia, Africa
and the Pacific.
assists in cooperative endeavours for evangelism and for
the study of the dialogues with people of other living faiths
and ideologies; it also sponsors a Committee on the Church
and the Jewish People. Through its Theological Education
Fund, the Agency for Christian Literature Development and
the Christian Medical Commission - jointly sponsored with
the Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service
- it also seeks to raise the standards in these fields.
Commission is engaged in helping churches and missionary
agencies to examine, area by area, their total missionary
task and to plan their total witness together in each region.
This plan of "Joint Action for Mission" applies
to all the
15 -- six continents, for there is no place on earth
which is not a mission field.
the end of 1972 the Commission held a world conference in
Bangkok, Thailand on the theme "Salvation Today".
A sharing of biblical insights and contemporary experience
led to the joyful reaffirmation of the Salvation which God
is offering to the world in different cultures and situations.
This salvation was seen to demand participation in the struggle
for justice and the renewal of the churches on a basis of
How does the Council contribute to church unity? --
All that the WCC does is directed towards the unity of the
Church. The Bible teaches that since Christ is not divided,
there can be only one Church. One can also say with the
Stockholm Conference of 1925: The world is too strong for
a divided Church.
is not the purpose of the World Council "to negotiate
unions between the churches", one Central Committee
statement declares. "Such unions can be effected only
by the churches themselves acting on their own initiative,
and each member church of the Council remains wholly free
in its decision concerning the nature of its relations with
other churches". If requested, the World Council staff
can assist in union negotiations.
16 -- The World Council does not recognize any concept
or doctrine of church unity as normative, the same statement
emphasizes, but each member church "recognizes in other
churches elements of the true Church. They consider that
this mutual recognition obliges them to enter into a serious
conversation with each other in the hope that these elements
of truth will lead to the recognition of the full truth
and to unity based on the full truth".
the Council does seek to help its members in the quest for
unity. An important guideline for that search was laid down
in one of the major documents of the World Council's Third
Assembly. It says in part:
believe that the unity which is both God's will and His
gift to His Church is being made visible as all in each
place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess Him
as Lord and Saviour are brought by the Holy Spirit into
one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic
faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread,
joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching
out in witness and service to all and who at the same time
are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places
and all ages in such wise that ministry and members are
accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together
as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls His
17 -- This unity, it continues, "will involve nothing
lass than a death and rebirth of many forms of church life
as we have known them. We believe that nothing less costly
can finally suffice".
1968 the Fourth Assembly added: "So to the emphasis
on 'all in each place' we would now add a fresh understanding
of the unity of all Christians in all places. This calls
the churches in till places to realize that they belong
together and are called to act together. In a time when
human interdependence is so evident, it is the more imperative
to make visible the bonds which unite Christians in universal
Through its Commission on Faith and Order the Council seeks
to help the churches press on with these concerns by providing
the framework within which they can meet for discussions
in which misunderstandings can be removed, existing differences
can be faced frankly and new unity envisaged. "The
members of the WCC, committed to each other, should work
for the time when a genuinely universal council may once
more speak for all Christians, and lead the way into the
The Commission underlines the need to see the relation between
the unity of the Church and the unity of mankind. A study
along these lines is on the way.
present, the Secretariat for Faith and Order is beginning
to explore a new field of study. Many people feel that the
time has come to try to express the content of our faith
18 -- rather than concentrate almost exclusively on
the obstacles to Christian unity. Such an expression of
faith would of course be pluriform and would need a constant
process of revision and correction, but we are compelled
to testify together to the hope that is within us.
important series of studies is carries on under the general
title: Humanum Studies, through which studies of man are
given a new impulse.
emphasis is given also to Biblical Studies in relation to
the ecumenical movement. This is done through contacts with
member churches, Bible societies and other ecumenical agencies.
It includes writing of books on Bible Study, general guidance
to other world Council units on the way in which Biblical
studies function in their work, and research on the widely
diverse ways in which the Christian community reads its
How does the World Council help others? -- Through the
World Council's Commission on inter-Church Aid, Refugee
and World Service, the WCC's member churches express their
fellowship and Christian compassion in mutual aid and in
service to those in need.
originally conceived of as an emergency operation to help
prisoners of war, refugees and
19 -- other victims of World War II, this service to
the distressed, wherever they may be, is now recognized
as a permanent obligation of the churches.
programme is almost as wide as mankind's physical, intellectual,
and spiritual needs. Without reference to the creed, race,
or political views of the recipients, the churches, through
this Commission, have aided victims of scores of natural
and man-made disasters, helped resettle more than 300,000
refugees, provided more than 3,000 scholarships for theological
and other students, established 20 homes for aged refugees,
and given medical care to the sick.
efforts have strengthened minority churches through the
provision of loans, set up self-help programmes, subsidized
the foundation of Christian newspapers in crucial areas,
and helped to reestablish communities after earthquakes
and similar disasters.
of the aims of this Commission is to help churches find
their way into the world-wide efforts for development. It
urges member churches in the developing countries to gear
their social work to the task of nation-building in their
lands and encourages projects which serve those outside
the Christian community. Close relations with other agencies
for development, especially in the UN family, are fostered.
funds in the range of $10,000,000 - $15,000,000 are handled
by the Commission.
20 -- 9. Is the Council concerned with social and political
problems? -- Of course! All member churches of the World
Council live in the midst of political and economic systems,
many of which are in conflict with one another. In this
situation the Council's first responsibility is to maintain
Christian fellowship across geographical and ideological
boundaries as a witness to the common and primary loyalty
of all its churches to Jesus Christ. At the same time it
provides opportunities for Christians of differing political
opinions to meet together to discuss their views so that
they may help ensure that political institutions serve man
and a more responsible international and national society
World Council has constantly reaffirmed that the Christian
faith must speak relevantly and with power to each and all
of the political, social and economic problems of contemporary
man. To this end, it conducts international and interdisciplinary
studies and keeps in constant touch with Christian politicians,
experts in social ethics and institutions for the renewal
of society. Its Commission of the Churches on International
Affairs has a particular responsibility to express the convictions
of its member churches with,regard to international issues
to the United Nations, at diplomatic conferences, and similar
meetings. At various times it has advanced statements and
proposals on such issues as human rights, the cessation
of nuclear weapons testing, disarmament,
21 -- religious liberty, refugees, economic assistance
and national self-determination. It has also made itself
available for active reconciliation in political conflicts.
World Council's Working Group on Church and Society is concerned
with the study of problems which confront churches in societies
undergoing rapid social change. In countries in Asia, Africa
and Latin America it has stimulated meetings to deal with
concerns including: the attitude of the churches in the
face of rising nationalism; the threat of totalitarian ideologies,
or renascent ancient religions; more recently increasing
emphasis has been put on the repercussions for human freedom
and dignity of the vast scientific and technical changes
of recent years. At the Uppsala Assembly a study began on
nonviolent ways to change social structures.
of the most explosive issues of our time is the discrepancy
between rich and poor nations. The Christian Church lives
on both sides of this gap separating the human family, but
is identified with the rich. Charity from the rich to the
poor must be accompanied by a struggle for just economic
structures enabling the poor to become partners in development.
As the Fourth Assembly of the Council in Uppsala said: "Churches
are called, in their preaching and teaching, including theological
education, to set forth the biblical view of the God-given
oneness of mankind and to point out its concrete implications
for the worldwide solidarity of man
22 -- and the stewardship of the resources of the earth.
A selfish concentration on welfare within one nation or
region is a denial of that calling".
assist the churches in this task the Commission on the Churches'
Participation in Development (CCPD) was established in 1970,
and works through a network of national and regional development
committees. Its intent is to experiment with partnership
patterns in which the people of developing countries will
have the power to establish their own priorities and take
their decisions. A Special Fund is being built up to aid
the national and regional committees to undertake new programmes.
The CCPD places strong emphasis on education for development
in programmes to be carried out in relation to SODEPAX (secretariat
for society, development and peace, a joint effort between
the WCC and the Pontifical Commission, Justice and Peace
of the Roman Catholic Church.
another important concern of the Council is formulated in
the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR), which assists the
churches to translate their long term agreement on racial
justice into effective programmes through which the victims
of racism themselves may have a fuller share in power and
so realise their own identity within society. This programme
concentrates on white racism, although not exclusively,
because of the destructive combination of white racial prejudice
and economic/political power.
23 -- One part of the programme is a Special Fund from
which contributions are made to or organizations of the
victims of racism themselves and those supporting them.
The Fund does not exercize control over its grants; the
only condition is that money thus given can only be used
for humanitarian programmes.
number of PCR publications document the existence of racism
everywhere, the situation of the victims of racism and the
role the churches can play in the struggle against racial
What is the role of the World Council in education? -- The
role of the WCC is an educational instrument of its member
churches. In questions of the understanding of faith, the
need for new structures, the effectiveness of mission, the
search for social and political service, the churches face
a heavy task of education. Although all its units deal with
this concern, the Fourth Assembly authorized the establishment
of an Office of Education, which deals both with the churches'
contribution to general education and with the building
up of its own educational ministries.
What role does the laity play in the Council? -- In
the ecumenical movement Christians of all
24 -- traditions have learned again that each Christian,
whether ordained or not, is responsible for the Church's
ministry and mission.
World Council's commitment to this conviction is focused
in the work of its Programme Unit on Education and Communication,
which studies such issues as: the best use of the talents
and resources of each church member; the role of the laity
in relation to the work of the clergy in the fields of evangelism
and social and political action; and the meaning of vocation
and work in the total ministry of the Church. Close contacts
are maintained with lay academies in the member churches.
A special emphasis is being given to the role of women in
church and society. In many conferences and publications
the roles and rights of women are debated and pressed on
the member churches.
importance of the laity also is evident in the World Council's
organization. Although the Council is an ecclesiastical
body as an organ of its member churches, it is not an organization
of or for "ecclesiastics". In its policy-making
bodies and especially in its departmental committees, lay
men and women play a prominent role.
What is the role of youth? -- One of the great forces
which brought the World Council into being was the influence
25 -- youth and student organizations. Bodies such
as the Student Christian Movement , the YMCAs and YWCAs
provided the training grounds for ecumenical commitment
which formed many of today's leaders of the movement.
its inception, the WCC has placed great emphasis upon the
development of the particular gifts of youth. Through programmes
of its former Youth Department, such as the ecumenical work
camps and World Youth Projects, and in meetings bringing
together youth of different churches and nationalities,
it provides younger churchmen with opportunities to express
their concerns and convictions about all areas of church
life and to grow in a fuller understanding of their responsibilities
in the ecumenical movement. Youth participants are invited
to all major World Council meetings.
strongest contribution to the ecumenical movement has been
their sensitivity to, and their impatience with, the churches'
failure to move faster towards unity and renewal. Their
protests at the Fourth Assembly were recognized the section
reports: "We affirm that young people are right to
challenge authority which is not constantly earned. Young
people have a right as well as the old to participate in
decisions in schools and universities as well as in political,
business and family life, and to have their say in any structures
affecting them. We propose that churches in general and
particularly all ecumenical assemblies set an example
26 -- by giving voting rights to a fair proportion of
young participants. We think that Christians of all age
brackets should join with people of all convictions in providing
opportunities for the generations to grow together".
young people play a role in the whole of the WCC's work,
the Programme Unit on Education and Communication is especially
concerned to draw new generations into the ecumenical movement.
Does the World Council have relations with other ecumenical
bodies? -- Wherever possible the World Council works
in cooperation with or through national councils of churches
and national Christian councils. These bodies also send
non-voting representatives to its Assemblies and Central
World Council also has fraternal relationships with various
world confessional organizations, several of which share
its headquarters building in Geneva, Switzerland. It also
cooperates closely with international ecumenical bodies
such as the United Bible Societies, the World Alliance of
Young Men's Christian Associations, the World Young Women's
Christian Association, the World Student Christian Federation.
It merged with the World Council of Christian Education
27 -- Various national mission organizations also are
affiliated to its Commission of World Mission and Evangelism.
World Council also works closely with regional conferences
of churches, especially the East Asia Christian Conference,
the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Conference of
European Churches and the Caribbean Conference of Churches.
What is the relationship between the Council and the Roman
Catholic Church? -- The relationships between the Roman
Catholic Churches and the World Council of Churches have
changed fundamentally over the last decade. Until the pontificate
of John XXIII the Roman Catholic Church was in doubt about
the modern ecumenical movement. There were strong ecumenical
efforts made in Roman Catholic circles, for instance through
Abbe Couturier's Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity. A number of Roman Catholic theologians
were personally very much interested in the ecumenical movement.
But the official position of the Vatican remained negative
until Vatican II. Roman Catholics were forbidden to attend
the first two World Council Assemblies in 1948 and 1954.
II and especially the creation of a Secretariat for the
Promotion of Christian Unity
in the Vatican have changed this picture radically.
28 -- Today the Roman Catholic Church has fully entered
the ecumenical movement and established a number of relations
with the headquarters of the WCC and its member churches.
The Decree on Ecumenism praised the ecumenical sincerity
and energy of the "separated brethren". In 1965
the late Cardinal Bea came to the WCC to announce the Roman
Catholic acceptance of a proposal for a Joint Working Group
between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church. In this group,
which meets twice a year, relations between the Council
and the Roman Catholic Church are reviewed. It works on
the basis of the common conviction that the ecumenical movement
is one. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is now organized
by a group of Roman Catholic and WCC representatives. The
Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace and the WCC have
jointly appointed a Committee on Society, Development and
Peace (SODEPAX) which employs a common secretariat. Nine
Roman Catholic theologians are members of the Faith and
Order Commission of the WCC. In almost all WCC departmental
and programme unit committees Roman Catholics are now active
observers or consultants.
the WCC a number of national councils have Roman Catholic
dioceses as full members. Common social action and biblical
research are increasing. This new climate of cooperation
was underlined and symbolized by the visit of Pope Paul
VI to the headquarters of the WCC in June 1969. The discussions
of fuller relationships between the WCC and Roman Catholic
29 -- still in their early stages.
this should not obscure the real difficulties which continue
to exist between the WCC and the
Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church is one
church with a strong hierarchical organization; the WCC
is a fellowship of churches which has authority only as
far as the member churches give it to the Council. In the
areas of mixed marriages, recognition of the ministry, joint
action for mission and the relation between Church and State,
much of the old tension continues. On the other hand, local
ecumenicity is in some places easier than official relations
on the world level. The WCC in no sense discourages relationships
between its member churches and the Roman Catholic Church,
and has no authority to enter into negotiations with the
Vatican on behalf of its members. In this realm, as in all
others, its job is to promote ecumenical dialogue; to provide
the framework within which members can consult and cooperate
in their relations with the Roman Catholic Church; and to
keep them supplied with up-to-date information about inter-confessional
INFORMATION -- Organization -- The aims
of the World Council are carried out through its Assembly,
its Central and Executive
30 -- Committees, and through its permanent staff organization.
Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. It also has
offices in New York.
Assembly has met every six or seven years to establish the
broad outlines of basic policy. It is composed of representatives
of all member churches, and from its membership elects the
six-member presidium and the 120-member Central Committee.
Central Committee is the interim policy-making body which
meets annually. It elects from its membership a chairman,
two vice-chairmen and 16 members of the Executive Committee,
which meets twice a year to implement policy.
World Council's staff is directed by a general secretariat
and is organized into three Programme Units, composed of
several sub-units, and a central department for Finance
and Administration; the Library and the Ecumenical Institute
at Bossey come directly under the General Secretariat.
Programme Units are: I - Faith and Witness with sub-units
Faith and Order, World Mission and Evangelism, Church and
Society, Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies;
II -- Justice and Service with sub-units Churches'
Participation in Development, International Affairs, Programme
to Combat Racism, Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service;
and III - Education and Communication.
31 -- Budget -- World Council is supported by contributions
from its member churches which vary in amount according
to each church's resources.
largest part of the budget, as may be expected, comes from
the wealthier churches in North America, Western Europe
and the British Commonwealth. As "younger churches"
in Asia, Africa and Latin America have become more involved
in the work of the World Council, the total of their contributions
has risen. The general lines of financial policy are laid
down by the Assembly and the annual budget is established
by the Central Committee.
1973, the General Budget was established at SFr. 6,000,000.
From this are paid the salaries of the general staff in
Geneva (over 200 persons) and New York, and the expenses
of general programme activities, travel, meetings, publications,
Commissions of the World Council have separate budgets.
The operating budget of the Commission on World Mission
and Evangelism for 1973 amounts to SFr. 1,115,000 and is
supported by the contributions of its 42 affiliated councils.
The Service Programme Budget of the Commission on Inter-Church
Aid, Refugee and World Service for 1973 amounts to SFr.
7,680,000 and is financed by contributions of the inter-church
aid agencies of the WCC's member churches. The
32 -- Inter-Church Aid Commission channels some SFr.
76,800,000 annually on behalf of inter-church aid agencies
of member churches to help both churches and persons in
World Council also receives grants from time to time from
churches and foundations for specific projects, such as
studies, publications or consultations.
and Rules of the World Council of Churches --
The Constitution --
I. Basis -- The World
Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess
the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the
Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common
calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy
is constituted for the functions set out below.
Membership -- Those churches shall be eligible for membership
in the World Council of Churches which express their agreement
with the Basis upon which the Council is founded and satisfy
such criteria as the Assembly or the Central Committee may
prescribe. Election to membership shall be by a two-thirds
vote of the member
34 -- churches represented at the Assembly, each member
church having one vote. Any application for membership between
meetings of the Assembly may be considered by the Central
Committee; if the application is supported by a two-thirds
majority of the members of the Committee present and voting,
this action shall be communicated to the churches that are
members of the World Council of Churches, and unless objection
is received from more than one-third of the member churches
within six months the applicant shall be declared elected.
Functions -- The functions of the World Council shall
i) to carry on the work of the world movements for
Faith and Order and Life and Work and of the International
ii) to facilitate common action by the churches;
iii) to promote cooperation in study;
iv) to promote the growth of ecumenical and missionary
consciousness in the members of all churches;
v) to support the churches in their world-wide missionary
and evangelistic task;
vi) to establish and maintain relations with national
and regional councils, world confessional bodies and other
vii) to call world conferences on specific subjects
as occasion may require, such conferences being empowered
to publish their own findings.
Authority -- The World Council shall offer counsel and
provide opportunity of united action in matters of common
may take action on behalf of constituent churches in such
matters as one or more of them may commit to it.
shall have authority to call regional and world conferences
on specific subjects as occasion may require.
World Council shall not legislate for the churches; nor
shall it act for them in any manner except as indicated
above or as may hereafter be specified by the constituent
Organization -- The World Council shall discharge
its functions through the following bodies:
an Assembly which shall be the principal authority in
the Council, and shall ordinarily meet every five years.
The Assembly shall be composed of official representatives
of the churches or groups of churches adhering to it
35 -- and directly appointed by them. Their term of
office shall begin in the year before the Assembly meets,
and they shall serve until their successors are appointed.
It shall consist of members whose number shall be determined
by each Assembly for the subsequent Assembly, subject to
the right of the Assembly to empower the Central Committee,
if it thinks fit, to increase or to diminish the said number
by not more than twenty per cent. The number shall he finally
determined not less than two years before the meeting of
the Assembly to which it refers and shall be apportioned
as is provided hereafter. Seats in the Assembly shall be
allocated to the member churches by the Central Committee,
due regard being given to such factors as numerical size,
adequate confessional representation and adequate geographical
distribution. Suggestions for readjustment in the allocation
of seats may be made to the Central Committee by member
churches, or by groups of member churches, confessional,
regional or national, and these readjustments shall become
effective if approved by the Central Committee after consultation
with the churches concerned.
Assembly shall have power to appoint officers of the World
Council and of the Assembly at its discretion.
members of the Assembly shall be both clerical and lay persons
- men and women. In order to secure that approximately one-third
of the Assembly shall consist of lay persons, the Central
Committee, in allocating to the member churches their places
in the Assembly, shall strongly urge each church, if possible,
to observe this provision.
a Central Committee which shall be a Committee of the Assembly
and which shall consist of the President or Presidents of
the World Council, together with not more than one hundred
and twenty members chosen by the Assembly from among persons
whom the churches have appointed as members of the Assembly.
They shall serve until the next Assembly, unless the Assembly
otherwise determines. Membership in the Central Committee
shall be distributed among the member churches by the Assembly,
due regard being given to such factors as numerical size,
adequate confessional representation, adequate geographical
distribution and the adequate representation of the major
interests of the World Council.
vacancy occurring in the membership of the Central Comittee
between meetings of the Assembly shall be filled by the
Central Committee upon the nomination of the church or churches
The Central Committee shall have the following powers:
it shall, between meetings of the Assembly, carry out the
Assembly's instructions and exercise its functions, except
that of amending the Constitution, or modifying the allocation
of its own members;
b) it shall be the finance committee of the Assembly,
formulating its budget and securing its financial support;
c) it shall name and elect its own officers from
among its members and appoint its own secretarial staff;
36 -- d) the Central Committee shall meet normally
once every calendar year, and shall have power to appoint
its own Executive Committee.
No business, except what is required for
carrying forward the current activities of the Council,
shall be transacted in either the Assembly or the Central
Committee unless one-half of the total membership is present.
Appointment of Commissions -- 1. The World Council
shall discharge part of its functions by the appointment
of Commissions. These shall be established under the authority
of the Assembly in accordance with the Rules of the World
Council and the constitutions of the respective Commissions.
The Commissions shall, between meetings of the Assembly,
report annually to the Central Committee which shall exercise
general supervision over them. The Commissions may add to
their membership clerical and lay persons approved for the
purpose by the Central Committee. The Commissions shall
discharge their functions in accordance with constitutions
approved be the Central Committee.
In particular, the Assembly shall make provision by means
of appropriate Commissions for carrying on the activities
of Faith and Order, Life and Work and the International
There shall be a Faith and Order Commission of which
the following shall be the function
to proclaim the essential oneness of the Church of Christ
and to keep prominently before the World Council and the
churches the obligation to manifest that unity and its urgency
for world mission and evangelism;
ii) to study questions of faith, order and worship
with the relevant social, cultural, political, racial and
other factors in their bearing on the unity of the churches;
iii) to study the theological implications of the
existence of the ecumenical movement;
iv) to study matters in the present relationships
of the churches to one another which cause difficulties
and need theological clarification;
v) to provide information concerning actual steps
taken by the churches towards reunion.
Commission shall discharge these functions in accordance
with a constitution approved by the Central Committee.
invitations to World Conferences on Faith and Order, it
shall be specified that such conferences are to be composed
of official delegates of churches which accept Jesus Christ
as God and Saviour.
There shall be a Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.
aim shall be to further the proclamation to the whole world
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the end that all men may
believe in him and be saved.
37 -- The functions of the Commission shall be:
to keep before the churches their calling and privilege
to engage in constant prayer for the missionary and evangelistic
work of the Church;
ii) to remind the churches of the range and character
of the unfinished evangelistic task and to deepen their
sense of missionary obligation;
iii) to stimulate thought and study on the biblical
and theological basis and meaning of the Church's missionary
task and on questions directly related to the spread of
the Gospel in the world;
iv) to foster among churches and among councils and
other Christian bodies more effective cooperation and united
action for world evangelization;
v) to deepen evangelistic and missionary concern
in the whole life and work of the World Council of Churches;
vi) to assist in securing and safeguarding freedom
of conscience and religion as formulated in declarations
of the World Council of Churches on religious liberty;
vii) to cooperate with other units of the World Council
viii) to take such further action in fulfilment of
the declared aim of the Commission as is not otherwise provided
for within the World Council of Churches.
Other Ecumenical Christian Organizations -- 1. Such
world confessional associations and such ecumenical organizations
as may be designated by the Central Committee may be invited
to send representatives to the sessions of the Assembly
and of the Central Committee in a consultative capacity,
in such numbers as the Central Committee shall determine.
Such national councils of churches, other Christian
councils and missionary councils as may be designated by
the Central Committee may be invited to send nonvoting representatives
to the Assembly and to the Central Committee, in such numbers
as the Central Committee shall determine.
Amendments -- The Constitution may be amended by a two-thirds
majority vote of the Assembly, provided that the proposed
amendment shall have been reviewed by the Central Committee,
and notice of it sent to the constituent churches not less
than six months before the meeting of the Assembly. The
Central Committee itself, as well as the individual churches,
shall have the right to propose such amendment.
Rules and Regulations
-- The Assembly or the Central Committee may make and amend
Rules and Regulations concerning the conduct of the Council's
business, of its Committees and Departments, and generally
all matters within the discharge of its task.
38 -- B.
The Rules -- The World Council
of Churches shall be governed by the following Rules which
are to be interpreted in the light of its Constitution:
Membership of the Council -- Members of the Council
are those churches which have agreed together to constitute
the World Council of Churches and those churches which are
admitted to membership in accordance with the following
Churches which desire to become members of the World
Council of Churches shall apply to the General Secretary
in writing. Under the word churches are included such denominations
as are composed of local autonomous churches.
The General Secretary shall submit such applications
to the Central Committee (see Article II of the Constitution)
together with such information as will be sufficient to
enable the Assembly or the Central Committee to make a decision
on the application.
The following criteria, among others, shall be applied,
in addition to the primary requirement of the Constitution
that churches eligible for consideration for membership
shall be those <which express their agreement with the
Basis upon which the Council is formed.>
A church which is to be admitted must give evidence of autonomy.
An autonomous church is one which, while recognizing the
essential interdependence of the churches, particularly
those of the same confession, is responsible to no other
church for the conduct of its own life, including the training,
ordination and maintenance of its ministry, the enlisting,
development and activity of the lay forces, the propagation
of the Christian message, the determination of relationship
with other churches and the use of funds at its disposal
from whatever source.
A church should not be admitted unless it has
given sufficient evidence of stability in life and organization
to become recognized as a church by its sister churches,
and should have an established programme of Christian nurture
The question of size must also be taken into
with other churches. Regard must also be given
to the relationship of the church to other churches.
Before churches which are recognized as full members
of one of the confessional or denominational world alliances
with which the Council cooperates are admitted, the advice
of these world alliances shall be sought.
Where a church is a member of a council associated with
the World Council of Churches or affiliated to the Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism, there shall be consultation
with the council concerned.
39 -- 6. A church which desires to resign its
membership in the Council can do so at any time. A church
which has once resigned but desires again to join the Council,
must again apply for membership.
40 -- REVISED CONSTITUTION
AND RULES -- A. The
Basis -- The World Council of
Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord
Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the .Scriptures
and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling
to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Membership -- Those churches shall be eligible for membership
in the World Council of Churches which express their agreement
with the Basis upon which the Council is founded and satisfy
such criteria as the Assembly or the Central Committee may
prescribe. Election to membership shall be by a two-thirds
vote of the member churches represented at the Assembly,
each member church having one vote. Any application for
membership between meetings of the Assembly may be considered
by the Central Committee; if the application is supported
by a two-thirds vote of the members of the Committee present
and voting, this action shall be communicated to the churches
that are members of the World Council of Churches, and unless
objection is received from more than one-third of the member
churches within six months the applicant shall be declared
Functions and Purposes -- The World Council of Churches
is constituted for the following fund and purposes:
i) to call the churches
to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic
fellowship expressed in worship and in common life
41 -- in Christ, and to advance towards that unity in
order that the world may believe.
ii) To facilitate the common
witness of the churches in each place and and in all places.
iii) To express the common concern of
the churches in the service of human need, the breaking
down of barriers between men, and the promotion of brotherhood,
justice and peace.
iv) To foster the renewal of the
churches in unity, worship, mission and service.
v ) To establish and maintain
relations with national councils and regional conferences
of churches, world confessional bodies and other ecumenical
vi) To carry on the work of the
world movements for Faith and Order and Life and Work and
of the International Missionary Council and the World Council
on Christian Education.
Authority -- The World Council shall offer counsel and
provide opportunity for united action in matters of common
may take action on behalf of constituent churches only in
such matters as one or more of them may commit to it and
only on behalf of such churches.
World Council shall not legislate for the churches; nor
shall it act for them in any manner except as indicated
above or as may hereafter be specified by the constituent
Organization -- The World Council shall discharge its
functions through: an Assembly, a Central Committee, an
Executive Committee, and other subordinate bodies as may
a.) The Assembly shall be the supreme
legislative body governing the World Council and shall ordinarily
meet at seven year intervals.
The Assembly shall be composed of official
representatives of the member churches, known as delegates,
elected by the member churches.
The Assembly shall have the following functions:
i) To elect the President or
Presidents of the World Council.
ii) To elect its Chairman and Vice-Chairman
or Vice-Chairmen from among the members of the Central Committee.
iii) To elect the Executive Committee
from among the members of the Central Committee.
iv) To elect Committees and Boards
and to approve the election or appointment of Working Groups
v) Within the policies adopted
by the Assembly, to approve programmes and determine priorities
among them and to review and supervise their execution.
vi) To adopt the budget of the
World Council and secure its financial support.
vii) To elect the General Secretary
and to elect or appoint or to make provision for the election
or appointment of all members of the staff of the World
viii) To plan for the meetings of
the Assembly, making provision for the conduct of its business,
for worship and study, and for common Christian commitment.
The Central Committee shall determine the number of delegates
to the Assembly and allocate them among the member churches
giving due regard to the size of the churches and confessions
represented in the council; the number of churches of each
confession which are members of the Council; reasonable
geographical and cultural balance; the desired distribution
among church officials, parish ministers, laymen, women
and young people; and participation by persons whose special
knowledge and experience will be needed.
ix) To delegate specific functions to the
Executive Committee or to other bodies or persons.
Assembly or the Central Committee may adopt and amend Rules
not inconsistent with this Constitution for the conduct
of the business of the World Council.
By-Laws -- The Assembly
or the Central Committee may adopt and amend By-Laws not
inconsistent with this Constitution for the functioning
of its Committees, Boards, Working Groups and Commissions.
Quorum -- A quorum
for the conduct of any business by the Assembly or the Central
Committee shall be one-half of its membership.
43 -- Misprinted duplication of page 42 recopied
44 -- VI. Other Ecumenical Christian
Such world confessional bodies and such
world ecumenical organizations as may be designated by the
Central Committee may be invited to send non-voting representatives
to the Assembly and to the Central Committee, in such numbers
as the Central Committee shall determine.
Such national councils and regional conferences
of churches, other Christian councils and missionary councils
as may be designated by the Central Committee may be invited
to send nonvoting representatives to the Assembly and to
the Central Committee, in such numbers as the Central Committee
Amendments -- The Constitution may be amended by a two-thirds
vote of the delegates to the Assembly present and voting,
provided that the proposed amendment shall have been reviewed
by the Central Committee, and notice of it sent to the member
churches not less than six months before the meeting of
the Assembly. The Central Committee, itself, as well as
the member churches, shall have the right to propose amendment.
The Rules --
Membership of the Council -- Members of
the Council are those churches which having constituted
the Council or having been admitted to membership, continue
in membership. The term "church" as used in this
article includes an association, convention, or federation
of autonomous churches. A group of churches within a country
or region may determine to participate in the World Council
of Churches as one church. The General Secretary shall maintain
the official list of member churches noting any special
arrangement accepted by the Assembly or Central Committee.
following rules shall pertain to membership
Application --A church which wishes to become
a member of the World Council of Churches shall apply in
writing to the General Secretary.
45 -- 2. Processing
-- The General Secretary shall submit all such applications
to the Central Committee (see Art. II of the Constitution)
together with such information as he considers necessary
to enable the Assembly or the Central Committee to make
a decision on the application.
Criteria -- In addition to expressing agreement
with the Basis upon which the council is founded (Art. I
of the Constitution), an applicant must satisfy the following
criteria to be eligible for membership:
A church must be able to take the
decision to apply for membership without obtaining the permission
of any other body or person.
b) A church must produce evidence of
sustained independent life and organization.
c) A church must recognize the essential
interdependence of the churches, particularly those of the
same confession, and must practise constructive ecumenical
relations with other churches within its country or region.
d) A church must ordinarily have at
least 25,000 members.
Membership -- A church otherwise eligible,
which would be denied membership solely under Rule I.3.d)
may be elected to associate membership in the same manner
as member churches are elected. An Associate member church
may participate in all activities of the Council; its representatives
to the Assembly shall have the right to speak but not to
vote. Associate member churches shall be listed separately
on the official list maintained by the General Secretary.
Consultation -- Before admitting a church
to membership or associate membership, the appropriate world
confessional body or bodies and national council or regional
conference of churches shall be consulted.
-- A church which desires to resign its membership in the
Council can do so at any time. A church which has resigned
but desires to rejoin the Council, must again apply for
1. The Assembly shall elect one or more
Presidents but the number of Presidents shall not exceed
46 -- 2. The term of office of a President
shall end at the adjournment of the next Assembly following
his or her election.
3. A President who has been elected by
the Assembly shall be ineligible for immediate re-election
when his term of office ends.
The President or Presidents shall be ex
officio members of the Central Committee and
of the Executive Committee.
Should a vacancy occur in the Praesidium between assemblies,
the Central Committee may elect a President to fill the
47 -- 1.
-- THE CHURCH, THE CHURCHES AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Ecclesiological Significance of the World Council of Churches
by the Central Committee at Toronto in 1950 and commended
for study and comment in the Churches --
-- INTRODUCTION --
The first Assembly at Amsterdam adopted a resolution
on "the authority of the Council" which read:
"The World Council of Churches is composed of Churches
which acknowledge Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. They
find their unity in Him. They do not have to create their
unity; it is the gift of God. But they know that it is their
duty to make common cause in the search for the expression
of that unity in work and in life. The Council desires to
serve the Churches which are its constituent members as
an instrument whereby they may bear witness together to
their common allegiance to Jesus Christ, and cooperate in
matters requiring united action. But the Council is far
from desiring to usurp any of the functions which already
belong to its constituent Churches, or to control them,
or to legislate for them, and indeed is prevented by its
constitution from doing so. Moreover, while earnestly
48 -- seeking
fellowship in thought and action for all its members, the
Council disavows any thought of becoming a single unified
church structure independent of the Churches which have
joined in constituting the Council, or a structure dominated
by a centralised administrative authority.
purpose of the Council is to express its unity in another
way. Unity arises out of the love of God in Jesus Christ,
which, binding the constituent Churches to Him, binds them
to one another. It is the earnest desire of the Council
that the Churches may be bound closer to Christ and therefore
closer to one another. In the bond of His love, they will
desire continually to pray for one another and to strengthen
one another, in worship and in witness, bearing one another's
burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ." 1
statement authoritatively answered some of the questions
which had arisen about the nature of the Council. But it
is clear that other questions are now arising and some attempt
to answer them must be made, especially in the face of a
number of false or inadequate conceptions of the Council
which are being presented.
THE NEED FOR FURTHER STATEMENT --
World Council of Churches represents a new and unprecedented
approach to the problem of inter-Church relationships. Its
purpose and nature can be easily misunderstood. So it is
salutary that we should state more clearly and definitely
what the World Council is and what it is not.
more precise definition involves certain difficulties. It
is not for nothing that the Churches themselves have refrained
from giving detailed and precise definitions of the nature
of the Church. If this is true of them, it is not to be
expected that the World Council can easily achieve a definition
which has to take account of all the various ecclesiologies
of its member Churches. The World Council deals in a provisional
way with divisions between existing Churches, which ought
not to be, because they contradict the very nature of the
Church. A situation such as this cannot be met in terms
of well-established precedents. The main problem is how
one can formulate the ecclesiological
Report of Committee II (Policy). Cf. Official Report, ed.
by W. A. Visser't Hooft, p. 127.
49 -- implications of a body in which so many different
conceptions of the Church are represented, without using
the categories or language of one particular conception
of the Church.
order to clarify the notion of the World Council of Churches
it will be best to begin by a series of negations so as
to do away at the outset with certain misunderstandings
which may easily arise or have already arisen, because of
the newness and unprecedented character of the underlying
WHAT THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IS NOT
(3) -- 1)
Council o f Churches is not and must never become a Super-Church
-- It is not a Super-Church. It is not the World Church.
It is not the Una Sancta of which the Creeds speak. This
misunderstanding arises again and again although it has
been denied as clearly as possible in official pronouncements
of the Council. It is based on complete ignorance of the
real situation within the Council. For if the Council should
in any way violate its own constitutional principle, that
it cannot legislate or act for its member Churches, it would
cease to maintain the support of its membership.
In speaking of "member Churches," we repeat a
phrase from the Constitution of the World Council of Churches;
but membership in the Council does not in any sense mean
that the Churches belong to a body which can take decisions
for them. Each Church retains the constitutional right to
ratify or to reject utterances or actions of the Council.
The "authority" of the Council consists only "in
the weight it carries with the Churches by its own wisdom"
2 ) The
purpose o f the World Council o f Churches is not to negotiate
unions between Churches, which can only be done by the Churches
themselves acting on their own initiative, but to bring
the Churches into living contact with each other and to
promote the study and
discussion o f the issues of Church unity.
By its very existence and its activities the Council bears
witness to the necessity of a clear manifestation of the
oneness of the Church of Christ. But it remains the right
and duty of each Church to draw from its ecumenical experience
50 -- such consequences as it feels bound to do on the
basis of its own convictions. No Church, therefore, need
fear that the Council will press it into decisions concerning
union with other Churches.
World Council cannot and should not be based on any one
particular conception of the Church. It does not prejudge
the ecclesiological problem.
is often suggested that the dominating or underlying conception
of the Council is that of such and such a Church or such
and such a school of theology. It may well be that at a
certain particular conference or in a particular utterance
one can find traces of the strong influence of a certain
tradition or theology.
The Council as such cannot possibly become the instrument
of one confession or school without losing its very raison
d'etre. There are room and space in the World
Council for the ecclesiology of every Church which is ready
to participate in the ecumenical conversation and which
takes its stand on the Basis of the Council, which is "a
fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ
as God and Saviour."
The World Council exists in order that different Churches
may face their differences, and therefore no Church is obliged
to change its ecclesiology as a consequence of membership
in the World Council.
4 ) Membership
in the World Council o f Churches does not imply that a
Church treats its own conception o f the Church as merely
There are critics, and not infrequently friends, of the
ecumenical movement who criticize or praise it for its alleged
inherent latitudinarianism. According to them the ecumenical
movement stands for the fundamental equality of all Christian
doctrines and conceptions of the Church and is, therefore,
not concerned with the question of truth. This misunderstanding
is due to the fact that ecumenism has in the minds of these
persons become identified with certain particular theories
about unity, which have indeed played a role in ecumenical
history, but which do not represent the common view of the
movement as a whole, and have never been officially endorsed
by the World Council.
51 -- (7) --
5 ) Membership
in the World Council does not imply the acceptance of a
specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity.
The Council stands for Church unity. But in its midst there
are those who conceive unity wholly or largely as a full
consensus in the realm of doctrine, others who conceive
of it primarily as sacramental communion based on common
church order, others who consider both indispensable, others
who would only require unity in certain fundamentals of
faith and order, again others who conceive the one Church
exclusively as a universal spiritual fellowship, or hold
that visible unity is inessential or even undesirable. But
none of these conceptions can be called the ecumenical theory.
The whole point of the ecumenical conversation is precisely
that all these conceptions enter into dynamic relations
with each other.
In particular, membership in the World Council does not
imply acceptance or rejection of the doctrine that the unity
of the Church consists in the unity of the invisible Church.
Thus the statement in the Encyclical Mystici
Corporis concerning what it considers the error
of a spiritualized conception of unity does not apply to
the World Council. The World Council does not "imagine
a Church which one cannot see or touch, which would be only
spiritual, in which numerous Christian bodies, though divided
in matters of faith, would nevertheless be united through
an invisible link." It does, however, include Churches
which believe that the Church is essentially invisible as
well as those which hold that visible unity is essential.
THE ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
We must now try to define the positive assumptions which
underlie the World Council of Churches and the ecclesiological
implications of membership in it.
member Churches o f the Council believe that conversation,
cooperation, and common witness of the Churches must be
based on the common recognition that Christ is the Divine
Head o f the Body.
The Basis of the World Council is the acknowledgment of
the central fact that "other foundation can no man
52 -- than that is laid, even Jesus Christ."
It is the expression of the conviction that the Lord of
the Church is God-among-us Who continues to gather His children
and to build His Church Himself.
Therefore, no relationship between the Churches can have
any substance or promise unless it starts with the common
submission of the Churches to the Headship of Jesus Christ
in His Church. From different points of view Churches ask,
"How can men with opposite convictions belong to one
and the same federation of the faithful?" A clear answer
to that question was given by the Orthodox delegates in
Edinburgh 1937 when they said: "In spite of all our
differences, our common Master and Lord is one
- Jesus Christ who will lead us to a more and
more close collaboration for the edifying of the Body of
The fact of Christ's Headship over His people compels
all those who acknowledge Him to enter into real and close
relationships with each other - even though they differ
in many important points.
-- 2) The
member Churches of the World Council believe on the basis
of the New Testament that the Church of Christ is one.
The ecumenical movement owes its existence to the fact that
this article of the faith has again come home to men and
women in many Churches with an inescapable force. As they
face the discrepancy between the truth that there is and
can be only one Church of Christ, and the fact that there
exist so many Churches which claim to be Churches of Christ
but are not in living unity with each other, they feel a
holy dissatisfaction with the present situation. The Churches
realize that it is a matter of simple Christian duty for
each Church to do its utmost for the manifestation of the
Church in its oneness, and to work and pray that Christ's
purpose for His Church should be fulfilled.
-- 3) The
member Churches recognize that the membership of the Church
of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their
own Church body. They seek, therefore, to enter into living
contact with those outside their own ranks who confess the
Lordship of Christ.
the statement presented to the Conference by Archbishop
Germanos on behalf of the Orthodox delegates. The statement
is not part of the conference report. It is printed in the
minutes. Cf. Official Report. ed. by L. Hodgson, p. 157.
53 -- All the Christian Churches, including the
Church of Rome, hold that there is no complete identity
between the membership of the Church Universal and the membership
of their own Church. They recognize that there are Church
muros, that these belong aliquo
modo to the Church, or even that there is an
ecclesia extra ecclesiam. This recognition finds
expression in the fact that with very few exceptions the
Christian Churches accept the baptism administered by other
Churches as valid.
But the question arises what consequences are to be drawn
from this teaching. Most often in Church history the Churches
have only drawn the negative consequence that they, should
have no dealings with those outside their membership. The
underlying assumption of the ecumenical movement is that
each Church has a positive task to fulfil in this realm.
That task is to seek fellowship with all those who, while
not members of the same visible body, belong together as
members of the mystical body. And the ecumenical movement
is the place where this search and discovery take place.
member Churches of the World Council consider the relationship
of other Churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the
Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless,
membership does not imply that each Church must regard the
other member Churches as Churches in the true and full sense
of the word.
There is a place in the World Council both for those Churches
which recognize other Churches as Churches in the full and
true sense, and for those who do not. But these divided
Churches, even if they cannot yet accept each other as true
and pure Churches, believe that they should not remain in
isolation from each other, and consequently they have associated
themselves in the World Council of Churches.
They know that differences of faith and order exist, but
they recognize one another as serving the One Lord, and
they wish to explore their differences in mutual respect,
trusting that they may thus be led by the Holy Spirit to
manifest their unity in Christ.
54 -- (12)
-- 5 ) The
member Churches of the World Council recognize in other
Churches elements of the true Church. They consider that
this mutual recognition obliges them to enter into a serious
conversation with each other in the hope that these elements
of truth will lead to the recognition of the full truth
and to unity based on the full truth.
It is generally taught in the different Churches that other
Churches have certain elements of the true Church, in some
traditions called vestigia
ecclesiae. Such elements are the preaching of
the Word, the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, and the administration
of the sacraments. These elements are more than pale shadows
of the life of the true Church. They are a fact of real
promise and provide an opportunity to strive by frank and
brotherly intercourse for the realization of a fuller unity.
Moreover, Christians of all ecclesiological views throughout
the world, by the preaching of the Gospel, brought men and
women to salvation by Christ, to newness of life in Him,
and into Christian fellowship with one another.
The ecumenical movement is based upon the conviction that
these "traces" are to be followed. The Churches
should not despise them as mere elements of truth but rejoice
in them as hopeful signs pointing toward real unity. For
what are these elements? Not dead remnants of the past but
powerful means by which God works. Questions may and must
be raised about the validity and purity of teaching and
sacramental life, but there can be no question that such
dynamic elements of Church life justify the hope that the
Churches which maintain them will be led into fuller truth.
It is through the ecumenical conversation that this recognition
of truth is facilitated.
member Churches of the Council are willing to consult together
in seeking to learn of the Lord Jesus Christ what witness
He would have them to bear to the world in His Name.
Since the very raison
d'etre of the Church is to witness to Christ,
Churches cannot meet together without seeking from their
common Lord a common witness before the world. This will
not always be possible. But when it proves possible thus
to speak or act together, the Churches can
55 -- gratefully accept it as God's gracious gift
that in spite of their disunity He has enabled them to render
one and the same witness and that they may thus manifest
something of the unity, the purpose of which is precisely
"that the world may believe," and that they may
"testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the
Saviour of the world."
further practical implication o f common membership in the
World Council is that the member Churches should recognize
their solidarity with each other, render assistance to each
other in case of need, and refrain from such actions as
are incompatible with brotherly relationships.
Within the Council the Churches seek to deal with each other
with a brotherly concern. This does not exclude extremely
frank speaking to each other, in which within the Council
the Churches ask each other searching questions and face
their differences. But this is to be done for the building
up the Body of Christ. This excludes a purely negative attitude
of one Church to another. The positive affirmation of each
Church's faith is to be welcomed, but actions incompatible
with brotherly relationships towards other member Churches
defeat the very purpose for which the Council has been created.
On the contrary, these Churches should help each other in
removing all obstacles to the free exercise of the Church's
normal functions. And whenever a Church is in need or under
persecution, it should be able to count on the help of the
other Churches through the Council.
-- 8 ) The
member Churches enter into spiritual relationships through
which they seek to learn from each other and to give help
to each other in order that the Body of Christ may be built
up and that the life of the Churches may be renewed.
It is the common teaching of the Churches that the Church
as the temple of God is at the same time a building which
has been built and a building which is being built. The
Church has, therefore, aspects which belong to its very
structure and essence and cannot be changed. But it has
other aspects, which are subject to change. Thus the life
of the Church, as it expresses itself in its witness to
its own members and to the world, needs constant renewal.
56 -- The Churches can and should help each other
in this realm by a mutual exchange of thought and of experience.
This is the significance of the study-work of the World
Council and of many other of its activities. There is no
intention to impose any particular pattern of thought or
life upon the Churches. But whatever insight has been received
by one or more Churches is to be made available to all the
Churches for the sake of the "building up of the Body
-- None of these positive assumptions, implied
in the existence of the World Council, is in conflict with
the teachings of the member Churches. We believe therefore
that no Church need fear that by entering into the World
Council it is in danger of denying its heritage.
As the conversation between the Churches
develops and as the Churches enter into closer contact with
each other, they will no doubt have to face new decisions
and problems. For the Council exists to break the deadlock
between the Churches. But in no case can or will any Church
be pressed to take a decision against its own conviction
or desire. The Churches remain wholly free in the action
which, on the basis of their convictions and in the light
of their ecumenical contacts, they will or will not take.
-- A very real unity has been discovered
in ecumenical meetings which is, to all who collaborate
in the World Council, the most precious element of its life.
It exists and we receive it again and again as an unmerited
gift from the Lord. We praise God for this foretaste of
the unity of His People and continue hopefully with the
work to which He has called us together. For the Council
exists to serve the Churches as they prepare to meet their
Lord Who knows only one flock.
57 -- THE
SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH -- This
essay is intended to serve as an introduction to the Seventh-Day
Adventist Church for any interested parties in the membership
of the WCC. It is necessarily sketchy and deals only with
certain aspects of the witness of Seventh-Day Adventists,
but a fuller picture can be gained from consulting the books
listed in the bibliography. Here the plan will be, first
to discuss some general characteristics of the denomination,
then describe it in terms of its place in the theological
spectrum, and finally indicate some of its distinctive doctrines.
The purpose is to present a sketch which can serve our member
churches, yet one which will at the same time be considered
a fair representation by Seventh Day Adventists themselves.
Characteristics -- Developing in the middle of
the nineteenth century out of the Millerite advent awakening
in the United States, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church today
is the hardiest and most active of the groups which trace
their beginnings to this period. It is a fully autonomous
church. Its supreme governing body is the General Conference
of Seventh-Day Adventists with headquarters in Washington,
D. C. It has been an organized body since 1863, and maintains
an extensive system of parochial schools, institutions of
higher learning, clinics and hospitals. As of 1964 it published
293 periodicals in 228 languages.
the year of its organization the Adventist movement had
3,500 baptized members, all in the United States. Its viability
is attested by the fact that by 1963 it had 380,855 members
(25%) in North America and 1,197,649 (75%) in other parts
of the world. Its churches have grown from 125 in 1865 to
14,651 today. Always missionary-minded, the church has extensive
missions all over the world and is growing fastest in Latin
America, Africa and Korea.
Adventists have a deep conviction that it is their duty
to proclaim their distinctive witness, and the church therefore
consistently rejects any kind of comity arrangements. Nevertheless,
since 1926 it has had an official policy which will interest
WCC members because of its close resemblance to the provisions
concerning proselytism put
58 -- forward at the New Delhi Assembly in 1961 in
the document entitled "Christian Witness, Proselytism
and Religious Liberty." Here is one paragraph from
their statement as an illustration of their position:
We recognize that the essence of true religion is that religion
upon conscience and conviction. It is therefore to be constantly
our purpose that no selfish interest or temporal advantage
shall draw any person to our communion, and that no tie
shall hold any member save the belief and conviction that
in this way he finds true connection with Christ. When change
of conviction leads any member of our society to feel no
longer in accord with us in faith and practice, we recognize
not only his right but his duty to change his religious
affiliation to accord with his belief. 1
These principles are not left vague, and their implications
for policy are spelled out in the remainder of the statement.
only is the movement committed to an official policy favouring
religious liberty, it has been active in seeking its maintenance
- particularly since Adventists have themselves suffered
under discriminatory Sunday laws:
Church and state should operate in entirely separate spheres;
we do not believe that in an attempt to control men's religion
or religious activities the church should dominate the state,
or that the state should govern the church 2.
particular interest to WCC members is the question of how
the Adventists would react to the WCC basis. As revised
at New Delhi this reads as follows:
The WCC is a fellowship
of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and
Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to
fulfil together their common calling to the glory of one
Son and Holy Spirit. 3
While only the General Conference itself could state its
reaction to this basis, in the light of the first three
articles of Adventist "Fundamental Beliefs" 4
it would appear that there is no obstacle
to a positive evaluation. 5
p. 626. Note: abbreviations are explained in the bibliography.
QD, p. 24.
3 NDR, p. 426. Article I of the WCC
4 QD, p. 11.
5 It may be of interest to draw attention
to the fact that advocacy of the seventh-day Sabbath is
itself characteristic of one WCC Church. The Seventh-Day
Baptist General Convention has been a member since Amsterdam.
Obviously, varied eschatological beliefs also characterise
the WCC, obtaining not only between but within member churches.
Such differences provide occasions for dialogue rather than
being an obstacle to fellowship in the ecumenical movement.
59 -- Adventism in the theological spectrum -- The Adventist
position is more in sympathy with Arminius than with the
Calvinistic Synod of Dort (1518-19). They reject double
predestination and affirm the free will of man. While salvation
is by grace and grace alone man can accept or reject it.
Accepting it men are enabled "to endure unto the end
and be presented `faultless before the presence
of his glory with exceeding joy' (Jude 24)."
to this concept is the doctrine that men are not "automatically,
involuntarily, impersonally, or universally saved en masse."
While Christ died "provisionally
and potentially for all men, and nothing more
can be added," his death is ultimately efficacious
only for those who "individually accept and avail themselves
of its benefits." 2
Furthermore, while Christ's death is once
for all and sufficient for man's atonement, "the application
of the atoning provision of the cross... becomes effective
only through Christ's priestly ministry." 3
While his atoning death was made provisionally for all men,
his ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is for those who
accept his salvation. 4
In the words of Vincent Taylor, the atonement on the
cross is "accomplished
for us," while the high-priestly ministry
enables the atonement to be wrought in
few other characteristics are here listed without comment
or exposition. Adventists practice the baptism of believers,
not of infants, and by single not trine immersion. They
claim that tithing is God's plan for the support of his
church and is still to be enjoined, though tithing is not
made a test of fellowship. 6
Footwashing is an ordinance of Christ and is
to be practiced at the time of the Lord's Supper. The Seventh-Day
Adventist Church practices open communion.
of Seventh-Day Adventism --
Ellen G. White's
Writings. -- Mrs. White (nee Harmon) began her
public life at the age of seventeen after she had experienced
her first of many visions. The year was 1844, and many Adventists
had been disappointed
QD, p. 417.
2 QD, p. 351.
3 QD, p. 352.
4 QD, p. 354 (See Hebrews 4. 14-16;
5 The Cross of Christ, p. 89, cited
QD, p. 354.
6 It should be noted, however, that the tithe
is used to support the ministry, and other
programmes are paid for by various offerings and fund-raising
campaigns (including the
annual "ingathering," which is an appeal for funds
from the general public - primarily
for Adventist welfare, educational and missionary work at
home and abroad). As a result
most Adventists contribute considerably more than a tithe.
60 -- when William Miller's prophecies of the end of
the world had not been fulfilled. Through Mrs. White, Adventists
believe, the Spirit of prophecy spoke. Through prayer, study,
and a growing amount of public speaking and writing, Mrs.
White helped guide the developing Sabbatarian church through
early crises. She never claimed nor accepted the role of
infallibility, but she did seek to illuminate and apply
biblical truth and give guidance to her fellow believers.
Throughout her life (she died in 1915) she was never ordained
and never held office in the church. She was nevertheless
a real leader and her writings came to be held in universal
respect among Adventists. 1
might raise the question whether Adventists really adhere
to the phrase "according to the Scriptures" in
the development of their doctrine. Can they truly affirm
the authority of Scripture when they make extensive use
of the writings of Ellen G. White in the exposition of their
doctrine ? The Adventists answer "Yes," since
they affirm that their doctrinal positions "are based
upon the Bible, not upon Mrs. White's writings."
Her writings are not canonical and therefore not
of universal application; Holy Scripture stands "alone
and unique as the standard by which all other writings must
be judged." 3
Mrs. White, in The Great Controversy and elsewhere,
affirms that "the Scriptures explicitly state that
the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and
experience must be tested." 4
Certainly Adventist doctrines are proved not on the
basis of these writings but are based upon Scriptural exegesis.
The writings are held in great esteem as the product
of one who was inspired with the "Spirit of prophecy,"
but the doctrinal position of the Church is that this very
Spirit must be distinguished from false spirits by the criterion
of the Word of God. 6
For purposes of comparison it would seem that her
writings have somewhat less doctrinal weight in Adventism
than the Lutheran Confessions have in confessionally conservative
Lutheran Churches but somewhat more than the corpus of Luther's
writings. They do not have the authority among Adventists
that Mary Baker Eddy's writings seem to have among Christian
Scientists. Adventists claim rather that they "test
the writings of Ellen G. White
Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers
(Washington D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association,
1954), Vol. IV, pp. 976 ff.
2 QD, p. 183.
3 QD, p. 89.
4 TGC, p. vii.
5 See especially T. H. JEMISON, Christian
6 Fundamental Beliefs, I and 19;
CB, p. 53.
61 -- by the Bible, but in no sense test the Bible by
her writings." 1
This is true enough, but in matters pertaining to
biblical interpretation her writings do provide Adventists
with an important hermeneutical device (much as do the Reformation
confessions for other Churches). In both cases the claim
would be made that such use can be made of these writings
because they are themselves in accordance with Holy Scripture.
and works. -- Adventists,
because of their insistence upon the observance of the seventh-day
Sabbath and certain distinctive dietary practices, have
been said not to preach the doctrine of salvation by faith
alone. However, in the statement of Fundamental Beliefs,
No. 8, stands the following:
That one is justified,
not by obedience to the law, but by the grace that is in
Christ Jesus. By accepting Christ, man is reconciled to
God, justified by His blood for the sins of the past, and
saved from the power of sin by His indwelling life. Thus
the gospel becomes "The power of God unto salvation
to everyone that believeth" (Rom. 1. 16). This experience
is wrought by the divine agency of the Holy Spirit... inducting
the believer into the new covenant relationship, where the
law of God is written on his heart, and through the enabling
power of the indwelling Christ his life is brought into
conformity to the divine precepts. 3
Mrs. White insists that any "salvation
by works" is ruled out : "God rejoices to bestow
His grace upon us, not because we are worthy, but because
we are so utterly unworthy." 4
Further on Mrs. White observes:
Some will be found whose minds have been so long debased
that they will never in this life become what under more
favourable circumstances they might have been... Christ
is able to uplift the most sinful and place them where they
will be acknowledged as children of God, joint heirs with
Christ to the immortal inheritance. 5
in Adventist theology would seem best to be characterised
not as efforts unto salvation but as the vocation of the
Christian. Great emphasis is laid upon the "new law
written on his heart." Briefly stated, "While
works are not a means
to salvation, good works are the inevitable result
of salvation." 6
In Mrs. White's words, "With Christ working
2 E.g. "Preface" to the Book
of Concord, "that no other doctrine be treated
and taught in our lands, territories, schools and churches
than that alone which is based on the Holy Scriptures of
God and is embodied in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology,
3 QD, p. 13.
4 MH, p. 161.
5 Ibid., p. 169.
6 QD, p. 141.
62 -- you, you will manifest the same spirit and do
the same works - works of righteousness, obedience.... We
have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope
is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in
that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us."
The Law is therefore guidance concerning how we are
to "grow in the grace of our Lord" (II Peter 3.
-- For two reasons Adventists insist upon the observance
of the seventh-day as the Sabbath: a)
because, since creation was through Christ the Word, the
Sabbath was directly instituted by Him prior to the fall;
b) because the Ten
Commandments "constitute in principle God's eternal
law" (moral law), and the fourth commandment is of
a piece with the other nine. 4
compendious summary of the Adventist position on this matter
is given in these words:
We as Adventists believe that Jesus Christ Himself - who
was the Creator of all things (John I . 3, 10 ; I Cor. 8.
6) and the original maker of the Sabbath, and who is the
"same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb.
13. 8) - made no change in the Sabbath. And He authorized
no change to be made by His followers. We therefore believe
that until the Sabbath law is repealed by divine authority,
and its change made known by definite Scripture mandate,
we should solemnly "remember" and "keep"
the unrepealed original seventh-day Sabbath of the Decalogue,
which is explicitly on record. 5
addition to the exegesis of the Old Testament on this point
the Adventists rest their position on the claim that Jesus
never repudiated the Sabbath. Mark 2. 27 f. is taken to
be a) the repudiation of "traditions
of men" which had grown up around the Sabbath, and
b) an indication that the Sabbath
was instituted by Christ in creation.
the Sabbath is enshrined in the Decalogue, and is a part
of the moral law, it is durable for all generations as are
the other nine commandments. Passages such as Romans 14.
5, Galatians 4. 10 and Colossians 2. 16 are interpreted
as referring to Jewish or pagan holy days, not to the Sabbath.
Since Jewish holy days other than the Sabbath are part of
the ceremonial code rather than the moral code they cease
to be binding after Christ's death and resurrection. 6
STC, p. 65.
2 QD, p. 140.
3 QD, pp. 149-175.
4 QD, p. 150, pp. 129 ff.
5 QD, p. 175.
6 See Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary.
63 -- In the early history of the Church observance
of the Sabbath was common. By a gradual and rather diffuse
process Sunday came to replace the Sabbath as the Christian
day of worship. Seventh-day observance was common longer
in the East than in the West, but even in the West there
were many places which observed both the seventh and the
first days well into the fifth century. Hastening the change
to Sunday were the decree of Constantine in 321 proclaiming
Sunday as the official day of rest, and Canon 29 of the
Council of Laodicea late in the fourth century which commanded
Christians to rest on "the Lord's Day" and prohibiting
rest on the Sabbath. 1
Later the claim that the Church had "changed
the decalogue" was used to buttress the then current
Roman affirmation that the Church was "above"
Because the Roman Church (and the Roman civil government
under Justinian) thus sought "to change the times and
the law" (Daniel 7. 25) Adventists identify Rome (in
the "papal" phase) with the "little horn"
of Daniel 7. 8. 3
For this reason they believe "that the term 'Babylon',
referred to in Revelation 17, has been rightly applied to
the Papacy." 4
Similarly, Sunday observance is then connected with
the "mark of the beast" in Revelation 13. 16 f.
Those who persist in such observance will, in the final
conflict, receive this "mark," for Seventh-Day
Adventists believe that these prophecies will come into
sharp focus shortly before the second advent of Christ.
Sabbath observance is commanded by God as part of his eternal
moral law, its observance is seen by Adventists as part
of the eschatological testing. It will become a worldwide
test when, as they believe, the decree goes forth for men
to worship on Sunday under penalty of death. 5
At that time the "remnant church" will
be gathered from those in all confessions who observe God's
commandment rather than man's; other will receive the "mark
of the beast" and be destined for annihilation.
Adventists have never, though, equated themselves with the
entire church of God. This rather consists of those in every
denomination who remain faithful to the light which God
See Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia (Volume 10
of The Seventh-Day Adventist
Commentary and Commentary Reference Series), pp. 1113
2 See the Augsburg Confession, Art.
28. 32 f.; for the Lutheran answer to this claim,
and for its position concerning Sunday, see 28. 57-68.
3 QD, pp. 179 ff.
4 QD, p. 201.
5 QD, p. 185.
6 QD, pp. 197 ff., pp. 535 ff.
64 -- them. It is their conviction that in the final
conflict between Christ and Satan all true Christians will
see the need for "obedience to all the precepts of
the decalogue." 1
heart of the Seventh-Day Adventist theology of the Sabbath
is, however, not found in its eschatological significance
- important as this is for them. Rather it is found in the
testimony Sabbath-observance gives to the freedom of God
and the freedom of man. God's setting aside of this day
and no other testifies to his sovereign freedom; in this
sense man's observance of the seventhness
of the day is really "a recognition on man's part that
God is Creator, and that he himself is creature. This distinction
constitutes the foundation of the worship of God."
On the other hand it is equally true that the Sabbath
is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It is a provision
by God for periodic release from the unvarying round of
daily toil and an opportunity for man to cultivate his nature
as a moral being. In this sense, then, it is testimony to
God's gracious provision for man to develop his freedom
to the fullest and thereby a sign of the divine love. Therefore
its basic requirements are not the biblical restrictions,
but that opening up of communication with God and the developing
of man's spiritual and moral nature which these very restrictions
sought to make possible. Understood in this fashion the
Sabbath is seen as a tie between creation and the covenant,
God's plan of salvation; observed in this manner it becomes
a testimony to faith.
practices. -- In common with some other Christian
groups Adventists strongly condemn the use of narcotics
or stimulants such as alcohol and tobacco. In addition they
caution against tea, coffee, and highly spiced foods because
of their unhealthy effects. 3
Most distinctive, perhaps, is the counsel to eat
mainly grains, fruit and vegetables and to abstain from
all flesh. 4
While Mrs. White appeals to the Bible for guidance,
the major part of her argumentation is not exegetical, but
theological in a broader sense. Her arguments regarding
diet are advanced with physiological reasons and not advanced
as "law" - e.g. "We should consider the situation
of people and the power of lifelong habit, and should be
careful not to urge even right ideas unduly."
p. 678; see also Mrs. White's exegesis of Isaiah 58. 13
f. and its relation to the rebuilding of the wall under
2 SDABC, Vol. 10, p. 1105.
3 CB, p. 271 n ; MH, pp.
4 MH, pp. 295-317.
5 MH, p. 317.
65 -- recommendations are advanced as part of "a
well-balanced health programme" commended because "our
bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit" and should
be taken care of properly. 1
Therefore the emphasis in eating is to be placed upon nutrition,
appropriateness for a person's way of life, and simplicity.
of Seventh-Day Adventism:
Second Advent --
In terse terms the Adventist attitude toward the second
coming can be termed pre-millennial and historicist. The
first term means that at the second coming of Christ the
just will be raised to rule with him in heaven, and that
a thousand years later the resurrection of the unjust will
occur, and then their final annihilition. The second term
means that the advent will take place in history with the
literal, personal, audible and visible return of Christ.
Finally after reigning with Christ in heaven for the millennium
the saints will return to a purified and regenerated earth
to abide forever. 2
However, their reign in heaven and subsequent abode
on earth are both considered to be in the eternal
as these details of teaching are for understanding the Seventh-Day
Adventist doctrine, in order for a non-Adventist to understand
the missionary impetus of their Church he must realize the
importance given in their preaching and missionary witness
to the imminence
of the second coming. The belief that men are living in
the climactic period of this world's history gives urgency
to the proclamation of their message and accounts in part
for the expansion and growth of the Seventh-Day Adventist
Church all over the world.
of the heavenly Sanctuary. -- William Miller,
a Baptist, had predicted, upon the basis of his study of
the prophecies of Daniel, that the end of the world would
come in 1844. Upon the disappointment of this prophecy the
Millerite movement broke up. However, some were convinced
that Miller had been essentially right in discerning a particular
significance in the date 1844, but wrong in his interpretation
this significance was. Seventh-Day Adventism is an heir
of this group, and is similar to the Millerites also in
its premillennialism. For them 1844 marks the beginning
of what they term the "cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary."
QD, p. 624.
2 Fundamental Beliefs 11, 12, 20-22;
QD, p. 24, No. 9.
3 See articles on "Sanctuary" and
"Investigative Judgment," in SDABC, Vol.
66 -- According to their reading of Daniel 8 and 9 the
2,300 days mentioned there signify the same number of years;
these began in 457 B. C. with an initial period of 70 weeks
of years (490 years) which lasted until 3 1/2 years after
the death of Christ (who was crucified in the middle of
the last "week" of years). Therefore the date
upon which the "cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary"
would begin, on this basis of calculation, is 1844 (i.e.
2,300 years after 457 B. C., 1810 years after the last of
the 70 weeks of years).
work of judgment has three phases: the investigative, the
pronouncing of the sentence, and the execution of the sentence.
Miller was wrong in prophesying 1844 as the date of execution.
It was rather the beginning of the investigative phase,
when the book of Life is examined and names accepted and
rejected. When this is finished the sentence will be pronounced
and Christ will descend to execute the sentence: the living
just will be translated, the sleeping just will be resurrected,
and the millennium will begin. At the end of this time the
unjust will be raised and the sentence of annihilation pronounced
and executed. 1
Most important, perhaps, is the deep-seated
belief that Christ's "personal, visible, audible, bodily,
glorious and premillennial" second advent is imminent,
"at a time that is near but not disclosed."
For Adventists man is inherently mortal, subject to death.
There is no immortal "part" such as the soul or
spirit. Man is an integral unity not separable into "parts."
He dies. He has a possibility of eternal life at the resurrection
only because of Christ. 3
"They (the saints) will live again, but they
come to life and live with Jesus after they are raised from
the dead. While asleep in the tomb the child of God knows
However, because this immortality is conditional,
only the just will receive it. Granted that the unjust will
be raised at the second resurrection they will be raised
only to receive the sentence of annihilation. For Adventists
their punishment will be everlasting or eternal, not in
the sense of "eternal duration of conscious suffering"
but rather eternal death "from which there will not,
and cannot, be any resurrection." 5
QD, p. 422, pp. 443 ff.
2 QD, p. 463.
3 QD, pp. 518 f.
4 QD, p. 523.
5 QD, p. 539.
67 -- Summary -- Seventh-Day Adventism arose
in the midst of the nineteenth-century adventist movement.
It is one of the longest-lasting and most stable and active
groups which trace their heritage to that time. It is strongly
evangelistic and missionary in emphasis, with a world-wide
outreach. It is especially active in the ministry of healing,
having numerous hospitals and dispensaries in various parts
of the world; education, having the largest worldwide Protestant
parochial school system; welfare work, and publishing. In
overall doctrinal position it is an heir of the reformation,
more akin to Amminianism than Calvinism, and having an understanding
of the relation of faith and works more reminiscent of Wesley
the Adventist view, the "spirit of prophecy" spoke
through Ellen G. White, and all of their distinctive doctrines
are ultimately derived from Holy Scripture, rightly interpreted.
While insisting upon their right and duty to proclaim these
distinctive doctrines Adventists do not exclude other Christians
from the faith, but trust that in the last days all the
faithful will see the rightness of their doctrines. They
officially reject any attempts at proselytism, as this is
defined in the WCC document on "Christian Witness,
Proselytism and Religious Liberty," believing that
conversion can come only by sincere and uncoerced faith.
position in regard to the ecumencial movement as it is manifest
in the WCC is not clear. There is a tendency to speak of
some denominations as "daughters of Babylon" and
to separate from them because of "modernist apostasy
entrenched in the controlling leadership." 1
The major question to be raised with them on this
point is whether in the light of the openness of the WCC
Constitution and its neutrality on doctrinal and ecclesiological
questions, a proper place of witness and engagement is not
precisely within this movement rather than apart from it.
Can the WCC, in their own view, be seen as one more place
where witness to the full truth of the Gospel is needed
and can be made?
QD, p. 201
68 -- BIBLIOGRAPHY
-- T. H. Jemison, Christian Beliefs: Fundamental
Biblical Teachings for Seventh-Day Adventist College Classes
(Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain
View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
--- The New Delhi Report: The Third Assembly of the
World Council of Churches, 1961 (London : SCM Press, 1962).
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, The Story of Prophets and Kings
(Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
1917, 1943). Volume 2, Conflict of the Ages Series.
-- Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine.
Prepared by a representative group of Seventh-Day Adventist
leaders, Bible teachers and Editors (Washington, D.C.: Review
and Herald Publishing Association, 1957).
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, Steps to Christ (Washington, DC:
Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1921).
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, The Great Controversy between Christ
and Satan (Mountain
View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
1888, 1911). Volume 5, Conflict of the Ages Series.
-- The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary and Commentary
(Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association,
1953-1966), 10 vols.
above volumes are those actually cited in the present paper.
Below are listed other books of importance.
volumes in the Conflict of Ages Series, by ELLEN G. WHITE:
Patriarchs and Prophets (1890, 1958), Volume 1.
The Desire of Ages (1898, 1940), Volume 3.
The Acts of the Apostles (1911), Volume 4.(Mountain
View, California : Pacific Press Publishing Association).
Le Roy EDWIN FROOM, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers
(Washington, DC Review and Herald Publishing Association,
1965 and 1966).
Le Roy EDWIN FROOM, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers
(Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association,
1946-1954), 4 vols.
FRANCIS D. NICHOL, Ellen G. White and Her Critics
(Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association,
69 -- FUNDAMENTAL
BELIEFS OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS -- Seventh-day
Adventists hold certain fundamental beliefs, the principal
features of which, together with a portion of the scriptural
references upon which they are based, may be summarized
That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments
Were given by inspiration of God, contain an all-sufficient
revelation of' His will to men, and are the only unerring
rule of faith and practice. 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
That the Godhead, or Trinity, consists of the Eternal Father,
a personal, spiritual Being, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient,
infinite in wisdom and love; the Lord Jesus Christ, the
Son of the Eternal Father, through whom all things were
created and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts
will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, the third person
of the Godhead, the great regenerating power in the work
of redemption. Isa. 44:6; 48:13; Matt. 12:32; 28:19; 2 Cor.
13:14; Rev. 1:8, 11.
That Jesus Christ is very God, being of the same nature
and essence as the Eternal Father. While retaining His divine
nature He took upon Himself the nature of the human family,
lived on the earth as
a man, exemplified in His life as our Example the principles
of righteousness, attested His relationship to God by many
mighty miracles, died for our sins on the cross, was raised
from the dead, and ascended to the Father, where He ever
lives to make intercession for us. John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:9-18;
8:1, 2: 4:14-16: 7:25.
That every person in order to obtain salvation must
experience the new birth; that this comprises an entire
transformation of life and character by the recreative power
of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. John 3:16;
Matt. 18:3; Acts 2:37-39.
That Baptism is an ordinance of the Christian Church and
should follow repentance and forgiveness of sins. By its
observance faith is shown in the death, burial, and resurrection
of Christ. That the proper form of baptism is by immersion.
Rom. 6:1-6; Acts 16:30-33.
That the will of God as it relates to moral conduct is comprehended
in His law of ten commandments; that these are great moral,
unchangeable precepts, binding upon all men, in every age.
That the fourth commandment of this unchangeable law
requires the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. This
holy institution is at the same time a memorial of creation
and a sign of sanctification, a sign of the believer's rest
from his own works of sin, and his entrance into the rest
of soul which Jesus promises to those who come to Him. Gen.
2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Heb. 4:1-10.
That the law of ten commandments points out sin, the penalty
of which is death. The law cannot save the transgressor
from his sin, nor impart power to keep him from sinning.
In infinite love and mercy, God provides a way whereby this
may be done. He furnishes a substitute, even Christ the
Righteous One, to die in man's stead, making "Him to
be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made
70 -- the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Cor.
5:21. That one is justified, not by obedience to the law,
but by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. By accepting Christ,
man is reconciled to God, justified by His blood for the
sins of the past, and saved from the power of sin by His
indwelling life. Thus the gospel becomes "the power
of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth."
Rom. 1:16. This experience is wrought by the divine agency
of the Holy Spirit, who convinces of sin and leads to the
Sin-Bearer, inducting the believer into the new covenant
relationship where the law of God is written on his heart,
and through the enabling power of the indwelling Christ,
his life is brought into conformity to the divine precepts.
The honor and merit of this wonderful transformation belong
wholly to Christ. 1 John 2:1, 2; 3:4; Rom. 3:20; 5:8-10;
7:7; Eph. 2:8-10; 3:17; Gal. 2:20; Heb. 8:8-12.
That God "only hath immortality." 1 Tim. 6:15.
Mortal man possesses a nature inherently sinful and dying.
Eternal life is the gift of God through faith in Christ.
Rom. 6:23. "He that hath the Son hath life." 1
John 5:12. Immortality is bestowed upon the righteous at
the second coming of Christ, when the righteous dead are
raised from the grave and the living righteous translated
to meet the Lord. Then it is that those accounted faithful
"put on immortality." 1 Cor. 15:51-55.
That the condition of man in death is one of unconsciousness.
That all men, good and evil alike, remain in the grave from
death to the resurrection. Eccl. 9:5, 6; Ps. 146:3, 4; John
That there shall be a resurrection both of the just and
of the unjust. The resurrection of the just will take place
at the second coming of Christ; the resurrection of the
unjust will take place a thousand years later, at the close
of the millennium. John 5:28, 29; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev.
That the finally impenitent, including Satan, the author
of sin, will, by the fires of the last day, be reduced to
a state of nonexistence, becoming as though they had not
been, thus purging God's universe of sin and sinners. Rom.
6:23; Mal. 4:1-3; Rev. 20:9, 10; Obadiah 16.
That no prophetic period is given in the Bible to reach
the Second Advent; but that the longest one, the 2300 days
recorded by the prophet Daniel in Dan. 8:14, terminating
in 1844, reaches an event called the cleansing of the sanctuary.
Dan. 8:14; 9:24, 25; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6.
14. That the true sanctuary, of which the tabernacle
on earth was a type, is the temple of God in heaven, of
which Paul speaks in Hebrews 8 and onward, and of which
the Lord Jesus, as our great high priest, is minister; and
that the priestly work of our Lord is the anti-type of the
work of the Jewish priests of the former dispensation; that
this heavenly sanctuary is the one to be cleansed at the
end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14; its cleansing being,
as in the type, a work of judgment, beginning with the entrance
of Christ as the high priest upon the judgment phase of
His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary foreshadowed in the
earthly service of cleansing the sanctuary on the day of
atonement. This work of judgment in the heavenly sanctuary
began in 1844. Its completion will close human probation.
Dan. 7:9, 10; 8:14; Heb. 8:1, 2, 5; Rev. 20:12; Num. 14:34;
15. That God, in the time of the judgment and in accordance
with His uniform dealing with the human family in warning
them of coming events vitally affecting their destiny (Amos
3:6,7), sends forth a proclamation of the approach of the
second advent of Christ; that this work is symbolized by
the three angels of Revelation 14; and that their threefold
message brings to view a work of reform to prepare a people
to meet Him at His coming. Amos 3:6, 7; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev.
That the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, synchronizing
with the period of the proclamation of the message of Revelation
14, is a time of investigative judgment, first with reference
to the dead, and second with reference to the living. This
investigative judgment determines who of the myriads sleeping
in the dust of the earth are worthy of a part in the first
resurrection, and who of its living multitudes are worthy
of translation. 1 Peter 4:17, 18; Dan. 7:9, 10; Rev. 14:6,
7; Luke 20:35.
That the followers of Christ should be a godly people,
not adopting the unholy maxims nor conforming to the unrighteous
ways of the world, not loving its sinful pleasures nor countenancing
its follies. That believers should recognize their bodies
as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore they
should clothe that body in neat, modest, dignified apparel.
Further, that in eating and drinking and in their entire
course of conduct they should shape their lives as becometh
followers of the meek and lowly Master. Thus the followers
of Christ will be led to abstain from all intoxicating drinks,
tobacco, and other narcotics, and to avoid every body- and
soul-defiling habit and practice. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 9:25;
10:31; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 John 2:6.
That the divine principle of tithes and offerings for the
support of the gospel is an acknowledgment of God's ownership
in our lives, and that we are stewards who must render account
to Him of all that He has committed to our possession. Lev.
27:30; Mal. 3:8-12; Matt. 23:23; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; 2 Cor. 9:6-15.
That God has placed in His church the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, as enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians
4. That these gifts operate in harmony with the divine principles
of the Bible, and are given for the perfecting of the saints,
the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ.
Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 1 Cor. 1:5-7. That the gift of the Spirit
of Prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant
church. 1 Cor. 1:5, 7; 12:1, 28; Rev. 12:17; 19:10; Amos
3:7; Hosea 12:10, 13. The remnant church recognized that
this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen
That the second coming of Christ is the great hope of the
church, the grand climax of the gospel and plan of salvation.
His coming will be literal, personal, and visible. Many
important events will associated with His return, such as
the resurrection of the dead, the destruction of the wicked,
the purification of the earth, the reward of the righteous,
the establishment of His everlasting kingdom. The almost
complete fulfillment of various lines of prophecy, particularly
those found in the books of Daniel and the Revelation, with
existing conditions in the physical, social, industrial,
political, and religious world, indicates that Christ's
coming "is near, even at the doors." Matt. 24:33.
72 -- The exact time of that event has not been foretold.
.Believers are exhorted to be ready, for "in such an
hour as ye think not the Son of man" (Matt. 24:44)
will be revealed. Luke 17:26-30; 21:25-27; John 14: 1-3;
Acts 1:9-11; Rev. 1:7; Heb. 9:28; James 5:1-8; Joel 3:9-16;
2 Tim. 3:1-5; Dan. 7:27; Matt. 24:36, 44.
That the millennial reign of Christ covers the period between
the first and the second resurrections, during which time
the saints of all ages will live with their blessed Redeemer
in heaven. At the end of the millennium, the Holy City with
all the saints will descend to the earth. The wicked, raised
in the second resurrection, will go up on the breadth of
the earth with Satan at their head to compass the camp of
the saints, when fire will come down from God out of heaven
and devour them. In the conflagration which destroys Satan
and his host, the earth itself will be regenerated and cleansed
from the effects of the curse. Thus the universe of God
will be purified from the foul blot of sin. Rev. 20; Zech.
14:1-4; 2 Peter 3:7-10.
That God will make all things new. The earth, restored to
its pristine beauty, will become forever the abode of the
saints of the Lord. The promise to Abraham, that through
Christ he and his seed should possess the earth throughout
the endless ages of eternity, will be fulfilled. "The
kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under
the whole heaven, will be given to the people of the saints
of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey Him." Dan. 7:27.
Christ, the Lord, will reign supreme and every creature
which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth
and such as are in the sea will ascribe "blessing,
and honour, and glory and power," unto "Him that
sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and
ever." Gen. 13:14-17; Rom. 4:13; Heb. 11:8-16; Matt.
5:5; Isa. 35; Rev. 21:1-7; 5:13; Dan. 7:27. (Seventh-day
Adventist Yearbook 1972)
73 -- RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER SOCIETIES -- (First voted
by the General Conference Executive Committee in 1926)
the desire to avoid occasion for misunderstanding or friction
in the matter of relationship to the work of other societies,
the following statement of principles is set forth as a
guidance to our workers in mission fields in their contacts
with other religious organizations:
We recognize every agency that lifts up Christ before
men as a part of the divine plan for the evangelization
of the world, and we hold in high esteem the Christian men
and women in other communions who are engaged in winning
souls to Christ.
Wherever the prosecution of the gospel work brings us
into touch with other societies and their work, the spirit
of Christian courtesy, frankness, and fairness should at
all times guide in dealing with mission problems.
We recognize that the essence of true religion is that religion
is based upon conscience and conviction. It is therefore
to be constantly our purpose that no selfish interest or
temporal advantage shall draw any person to our communion,
and that no tie shall hold any member save the belief and
conviction that in this way he finds true connection with
Christ. When change of conviction leads any member of our
society to feel no longer in accord with us in faith and
practice, we recognize not only his right but his duty to
change his religious affiliation to accord with his belief.
Before admitting to church membership anyone who is
a member of another church, every care shall be exercised
to ascertain that the candidate is moved to change his religious
affiliation only by force of religious conviction and out
of regard to his personal relationship to his God; and wherever
possible, consultation shall be had with those in charge
of the church or mission with which the applicant is connected.
Persons under censure of another mission for clearly established
fault in Christian morals or character shall not be considered
eligible for membership in our mission until they have given
evidence of repentance and reformation.
An agent employed or recently employed by another church
or mission shall not be employed by our church or mission
without preliminary consultation with the church or mission
with which the agent is or was formerly connected.
The local mission auditing committees are advised to
give consideration, when setting salaries, to the salaries
paid by other missions operating in the same field.
As to the matter of territorial divisions and the restriction
of operations to designated areas, our attitude must be
shaped by these considerations:
a. As in generations past, in the
providence of God and the historical development of His
work for men, denominational bodies and religious movements
have arisen to give special emphasis to different phases
of gospel truth, so we find in the origin and rise of the
Seventh-day Adventist people, the burden laid upon us to
emphasize the gospel of Christ's second coming as an event
"even at the door", calling for the proclamation
of the special message of preparation of' the way of the
Lord as revealed in Holy Scripture.
As this advent proclamation is described
in Scripture prophecy, particularly as it is set forth in
Revelation 14:6-14, it is commissioned that this special
message of the "everlasting gospel", which is
to precede the coming of the Saviour, shall be preached
"to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."
This commission makes it impossible for us to restrict our
witness to this phase of the gospel to any limited area,
and impels us to call it to the attention of all peoples
everywhere. (General Conference Working Policy, 1970)
75 -- SDA
QUESTIONS REGARDING THE WCC --
As a church we would undoubtedly have the opportunity of
becoming members of the WCC. Why do we not join?
is true that if the Seventh-day Adventist Church applied
for membership in the World Council of Churches, the application
would in all likelihood be accepted. If we agreed to take
up membership in the organized ecumenical movement, this
could be interpreted as meaning that we regard ourselves
as one Christian communion - albeit one with a distinctive
"time of the end" message - among others seeking
for qualitative as well as quantitative and corporate unity.
SDA Church stepped upon the stage of history - so Adventists
firmly believe - in response to God's call as expressed
through prophecy and the workings of the Holy Spirit. Adventists
believe, it is hoped without pride or arrogance, that the
Advent Movement represents the divinely appointed instrument
for the organized proclamation of the "eternal gospel",
God's last message, discerned from the prophetic vantage
point of Revelation 14 and 18. In the focalized light of
its prophetic understanding, the SDA Church sees itself
as the eschatologically oriented "ecumenical"
movement of the Apocalypse. It begins by "calling out"
God's children from "fallen" ecclesial bodies
that will increasingly form at the end of time organized
religious opposition to the purposes of God. Together with
the "calling out" there is a positive "calling
in" to a united, world wide - that is ecumenical -
movement characterized by "faith of Jesus" and
keeping "the commandments of God" (Rev. 14:12).
In the WCC the emphasis is first of all on "coming
in" to a fellowship of churches and then hopefully
and gradually "coming out" of corporate disunity.
In the Advent Movement the accent is first on "coming
out" of Babylonian disunity and confusion and then
immediately "coming in" to fellowship within the
globe-encircling Advent family, in unity, truth and love.
could the SDA Church be a sincere, whole-hearted member
church of the WCC, not having serious reservations? Would
it be logical to join organized ecumenism in search for
organic Christian unity in a direction which SDA's anticipate,
in accordance with their understanding of Bible prophecy,
is doomed to ostensible ascendancy and ultimate failure,
despite the dedication and sincere zeal of many ecumenical
leaders? Would it be wise and honorable to become members
of a fellowship of churches, with the intention - imposed
by the very raison
of the Advent Movement - of witnessing within this
fellowship and draw as many as are led to embrace Adventism
into the Biblical "remnant", in contrast to the
apparently inclusivistic World Council?
Would membership in the WCC keep us from proclaiming the
Sabbath as the only Biblical day of rest?
in the WCC would not mean that we no longer could proclaim
the seventh-day Sabbath as the Biblical day of rest. In
fact, the Seventh-day Baptists, have been members of the
WCC since its founding assembly in Amsterdam (1948) and
one of their representatives is currently
76 -- a member of the Central Committee. There would,
however, be some real practical problems. For example, WCC
assemblies, committees, consultations and other meetings
regularly have working sessions on Friday evenings and Saturdays,
and SDA participants would not be able to take part and
influence decisions on Sabbath. Also our prophetic understanding
of the future Sabbath vs. Sunday issue (seal of God, mark
of the beast,etc.) would hardly be very palatable to our
brethren within the WCC.
Would affiliation with the WCC force us to enter into comity
agreements limiting our outreach in mission lands to work
among non-Christians only?
would not formally require that we limit our witness in
the mission fields to non-Christians. We would be expected
not to engage in corrupt witness (in ecumenical circles
sometimes called "proselytism"), that is make
use of cajolery, material inducements, playing on the ignorance
of uneducated persons, in order to attract people to our
church. Seventh-day Adventists have long condemned such
evangelistic methods, so this represents really no problem.
On the other hand, membership might have the psychological
effect of reducing, for reasons of "good neighborliness",
the vigor and zeal of SDA witness and evangelism. Furthermore,
the WCC is pushing for "joint witness" as much
as possible and this would be hard to harmonize with the
distinctive nature of the SDA witness in preparation for
the soon coming of Christ.
What additional disadvantages would WCC membership
have already referred to problems or disadvantages that
might arise in connection with a hypothetical SDA membership.
It is perhaps better to speak in terms of problems - serious
problems - rather than about specific disadvantages. There
are problems of principle; we have already mentioned some.
There are practical or pastoral problems. The SDA Church
is a world church. Membership in the WCC is really based
on national churches. If we should join as one church (among
over 260) our influence could easily be so diluted that
it would be almost negligible. Outside of the WCC Adventism
is a world religious force. What would it be inside the
WCC? On the other hand, if the SDA Church joined by unions,
that would hardly be fair to the other churches (there are
about 75 union conferences and missions!).
is another problem. The WCC passes all kinds of resolutions
and makes many statements regarding political and other
questions, It is true that these statements are not binding
upon their member churches. On the other hand, it is not
always so easy to disassociate one's self from certain decisions.
It is not desirable to play too often the negative role
of opposition. This does not make for unity and friendly
personal experience I would like to mention two additions
problems for Adventists. We like to follow health and temperance
principles in our lives. Some ecumenists have similar principles;
quite a few do not. We can hardly expect the diet served
to meet our standards.
77 -- Adventists are ill at ease when alcoholic drinks
are served in connection with ecumenical meetings. It is
rather disconcerting to have to sit in closed rooms and
breathe polluted air, because some ecumenical leaders place
their smoking habits before the rights and health of their
last point touches upon the spiritual atmosphere of WCC
meetings. It certainly is very different from SDA gatherings.
We emphasize the personal religions dimension of conversion.
We call upon people to come closer to God in a personal
experience, in character development, in sanctification.
We look for individual commitment to gospel preaching, to
revival, and earnestly pray for the out-pouring of God's
spirit to finish the evangelistic task on earth. At WCC
meetings the emphasis is more on facing as churches the
economic, organizational, social, political and moral problems
of society in order to improve the world and churches. The
way this is done makes an Adventist wonder at times whether
he is not attending a kind of U.N. meeting, plus formal
5: Would membership not involve some positive aspects,
such as no longer being considered as a sect?
am not convinced that WCC membership would automatically
mean that we would no longer be considered at all as a "sect".
The term "sect" has many definitions. As understood
by sociologists, the SDA Church has, I believe, and should
have, various characteristics of a "sect". We
want to hold to high standards of membership and not be
too latitudinarian and inclusivistic. On the other hand,
it is true that we have suffered in the past considerable
discrimination, even abuse, from majority churches. Membership
would mean that the other churches would tend to consider
us as a Christian church, without the pejorative connotations
of "sect". Contacts would be facilitated. We would
be better informed. Access to the mass media, especially
TV and radio, would become easier in a number of countries.
There would be less prejudice against Adventists. As a result,
SDA's might become less isolated and more involved in various
aspects of society and church life, which today largely
escape our influence. This increased involvement would,
however, not necessarily be an unmitigated blessing. The
current tide of secularization is already licking at the
flanges of the church.
6: We recognize earnest Christians of other churches
as fellow Christians. Do we expect in the time of the end
that all true Christians will join organizationally the
believe that God has faithful children in all denominations.
We recognize as instruments of the plan of salvation all
ecclesial agencies that lift up Christ. However, the New
Testament does not envision anti-Christian elements as existing
only outside organized Christianity. The apocalyptic writings
indicate that the nearer the approach of the parousia, the
greater the resistance to Christ will be even within the
churches. The New Testament picture of' the Christian Church
prior to the second coming of Christ is that of a "remnant"
consisting of those who have "come out" of Apocalyptic
Babylon. Whether all the people of God
78 -- will belong organizationally to the SDA Church,
I do not know. God will know His own. I do know that they
will "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony
Since we do not join the WCC, could we not be accused of
selfish neglect of the unity Christ prayed for in John 17?
is a problem that we must face. We cannot afford to adopt
an "anti-unity" stance. Adventists believe in
unity. The fact that we operate a world-wide united church
shows this. The writings of E. G. White emphasize the need
for unity. She indicated that if Christians were united
they could move the world. It is out of a sense of deep
conviction, not egocentricity, that we believe the solution
to the divided state of Christianity is for a11 to accept
the teachings of the Bible, the timely messages of the three
angels of Revelation 14 and join together with us in evangelizing
the world in preparation for the soon coming of Christ.
We would not impose our convictions upon those who feel
unable to share them with us, but we are compelled, precisely
because of our love for unity and for our fellow Christians,
to abstain from joining in any syncretistic or pro-forma
type of unity or any action or organization which might
weaken doctrinal and spiritual unity or put in an equivocal
light our witness to
the gospel and our prophetic understanding of our mission
and the signs of the times.
8: On the basis of non-membership, are there not various
areas and ways in which we could work together without compromising
there are areas where Adventists can and should work together
with other Christians. Adventists are willing to cooperate
conscientiously wherever this does not involve compromising
their principles or deep felt loyalties. E. G. White invites
our ministers to meet with other ministers. We believe that
God has been gracious in His gifts to the Advent Movement.
We have much to share. We must
be willing to give and share, through theological studies
and discussions with other Christians, the reasons for our
faith. We must also be ready to listen. We have not fully
plumbed as yet the depths of Christian truth. SDA's are
invited to send observers and consultants to meetings of
church councils, including the WCC. This is a useful opportunity
for exchange of views, making the SDA position known and
keeping ourselves informed regarding developments in the
religious world. Other areas of possible cooperation appear
to me to be, for example, relief and refugee work, broadcasting,
WCC medical commission, missions, education, religious liberty,
crime and delinquency. In many cities SDA ministers have
found it beneficial to belong to the local ministerial association.
I believe that we would welcome cooperation with the WCC
in the fields of pollution control, alcoholism, smoking
and drug dependence. Unfortunately in these important areas
the WCC and national church councils have done very little
so far. The WCC is now showing an interest in the problems
connected with ecology and pollution
79 -- Question 9: What is your personal opinion of the
responsible leaders of the WCC?
would not presume to judge the character and Christian experience
of the WCC executive staff. Only God knows men as they really
are. I am acquainted with quite a number of WCC leaders.
There are many others whom I do not know personally. One
of the problems is that there is quite a turn-over in the
WCC staff in Geneva. Many are appointed for three year terms
and then they leave. Some serve for even shorter periods
of time. There are men on the staff who must be respected
for their high idealism, Christian integrity and dedication
to truth and unity as they see it. Others seem to fit more
into the category of international ecumenical officials.
We must remember these Christian leaders in our prayers,
because they do carry important religious responsibilities.
We should come near to "these shepherds of the flock".
- B. B. Beach.
80 -- COMMON
WITNESS AND PROSELYTISM - A STUDY DOCUMENT
following document, prepared by a Joint Theological Commission,
was received by the Joint Working Group between the Roman
Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches at its
meeting in May, 1970, which recommended it for publication.
The document was elaborated by the commission on the initiative
of the Joint Working Group. The commission held two full
meetings (in Arnoldshain, Germany, in 1968, and in Zagorsk,
USSR, in 1968). Various subsequent drafts were submitted
to a wide group of consultants. The text being presented
now has been formulated in the light of comments received.
Joint Working Group, having examined it, recommends it to
its parent bodies that it be offered to the Churches as
a study document for their consideration. Although there
may not be complete agreement on everything contained in
the document it represents a wide area of consensus on common
witness and proselytism.
is, therefore, suggested that the Churches in the same area
study it together. The further examination of the theme
of common witness will inevitably demand a fuller development
of, and agreement on, the content of the witness Christians
are bound to give to Christ and his Gospel.
1. Unity in witness and witness in unity.
This is the will of Christ for his people. The Lord has
called all his disciples to be witnesses to him and his
Gospel, to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1. 8), and he
has promised to be with them always, to the close of his
age (Mt. 28. 20). But for centuries, in their efforts to
fulfil this mission, Christian Communions have borne the
burden of divisions, even differing about the meaning of
the one Gospel. They have not been a clear sign of the one
and holy people, so it has been hard for the world to believe
(cf. John 13. 35 ; 17. 21).
81 -- 2. Today, moved by the Holy Spirit,
the various Christian Communions are seeking to restore
the unity they have lost, in the hope that one day, when
they are fully renewed and united in faith and charity,
they may be better able to glorify God by bringing home
to the whole world the hope of the coming kingdom. They
are striving to overcome whatever indifference, isolation
and rivalry has marked their relations to each other and
thus has distorted Christian witness even to that unity
with which God has already blessed them.
This document is an attempt to state the
implications of the obligation
- to bear common Christian witness, even while the Churches
- to avoid in their mutual relations and in their evangelising
activities whatever is not in keeping with the spirit of
- - to provide one another, as far as possible, with mutual
support for a more effective witness of the Gospel through
preaching and selfless service to the neighbour.
This document is offered to the Churches.
Its reflections and suggestions may serve as a basis of
discussion among Christians in varied circumstances, in
order to arrive at a line of conduct where they live and
OF THE TERMS: Christian Witness, Common Witness, Religious
1. CHRISTIAN WITNESS.
1 Witness is taken here to mean the continuous
act by which a Christian or a Christian Community proclaims
God's acts in history and seeks to reveal Christ as the
true light which shines for every man. This includes the
whole life: worship, responsible service, proclamation of
the Good News - all is done under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit in order than men may be saved and be gathered into
Christ's one and only Body (Col. 1. 18; Eph. 1. 22-23),
and attain life everlasting - to know the true God and Him
whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17. 3).
-- Modern languages use several biblically
derived terms which denote particular aspects of the announcements
of the Gospel in word and deed: Witness, Apostolate, Mission,
Confession, Evangelism, Kerygma, Message, etc. We have preferred
here to adopt "Witness", because it expresses
more comprehensively the realities we are treating.
82 -- 6.
2. COMMON WITNESS. Here is meant the witness
which the Churches, even while separated, bear together,
especially by joint efforts, by manifesting before men whatever
divine gifts of truth and life they already share in common.
3. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.
Religious freedom is not used here in the wider biblical
sense (e.g. Rom. 8. 21). It is pointing to the right of
the person and of communities to social and civil freedom
in religious matters. Each person or community has the right
to be free from any coercion on the part of individuals,
social groups, or human power of any kind; so that no individual
or community may be forced to act against conscience or
be prevented from expressing belief in teaching, worship
or social action. 2
4. PROSELYTISM. Here
is meant improper attitudes and behaviour in the practice
of Christian witness. Proselytism embraces whatever violates
the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian,
to be free from external coercion in religious matters,
or whatever, in the proclamation of the Gospel, does not
conform to the ways God draws free men to himself in response
to his calls to serve in spirit and in truth.
. COMMON WITNESS --
9. There is a growing recognition
among the Churches that they must overcome their isolation
from each other and seek ways to cooperate in witness to
In face, however, of difficulties and obstacles, a clear
basis and source of power and hope is needed if the Churches
are to embark on this common witness.
This basis and source is given in Christ. He is sent
into the world by the Father for the salvation of mankind.
There is no other Name in
Christian Witness, Proselytism and Religious Liberty
in the Setting of the WCC, of the Third WCC Assembly
(1961); Declaration on Religious Freedom, of the
Second Vatican Council (1965); Universal Declaration
on Human Rights, of the United Nations (1948), esp.
N. 18. Since the right to religious freedom operates in
society, these documents also mention rules which modify
the use of it.
-- In certain linguistic, cultural and confessional
contexts, the term "proselytism", used without
qualification, has acquired this pejorative sense. In those
other languages and contexts in which the term still retains
its more original meaning of "zeal in spreading the
faith", it will be necessary always to use "proselytism
in the pejorative sense" or some phrase which denotes
defective attitudes and conduct.
-- Cf. Second Vatican Council Decree, Ad
Gentes, 6 and 15; and the proposals for "Joint
Action for Mission" formulated by the 1961 New Delhi
Assembly of the W CC and affirmed by the Report of Section
II of the 1968 Uppsala Assembly.
83 -- which men may find salvation and life (Acts 4.
12). Christian Churches confess Christ as God and only Saviour
according to the Scriptures, and most adhere to the ancient
Creeds which testify to this central truth of faith.
Moreover, the Churches believe that they live only by
the divine gifts of truth and life bestowed by Christ. Most
Churches acknowledge that gifts of divine grace are a reality
in other Churches which also provide access to salvation
in Christ. Thus all Christian Communions, in spite of their
divisions, can have a positive role to play in God's plan
The Churches have the privilege and the obligation of
giving witness to the truth and new life which is theirs
in Christ. Indeed both privilege and obligation are entrusted
to the whole community of Christians to whom God gives a
vital role in his plan for the salvation of the world.
Therefore Christians cannot remain divided in their
witness. Any situations where contact and cooperation between
Churches are refused must be regarded as abnormal.
The gifts which the Churches have received and share
in Christ have demanded and made urgent a common witness
to the world. The needs of men and the challenges of a broken
and unbelieving world have also compelled the Churches to
cooperate with God in deploying his gifts for the reconciliation
of all men and all things in Christ. This common witness
takes place in many areas of social concern, such as
the development of the whole man and of all men;
-- the defence of human rights and the promotion of religious
-- the struggle for the eradication of economic, social
and racial injustice;
-- the promotion of international understanding, the limitation
of armaments and the restoration and maintenance of peace;
-- the campaign against illiteracy, hunger, alcoholism,
prostitution, the traffic in drugs;
-- medical and health and other social services;
-- relief and aid to victims of natural disasters (volcanic
eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.).
15. Cooperation has also extended to include the production,
publication and distribution of joint translations of the
Scriptures. Moreover, an exploration is being made of the
possibility of common texts to be used for an initial catechesis
on the central message of the Christian faith. In this connection,
cooperation in the field of education and in the use of
communications media is already going on in some places.
The cooperation of the Churches in these varied fields
is increasingly being accompanied by common prayer and common
acts of worship for each other and for the world. Of particular
significance is the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity"
which is now celebrated in many places around the world.
This practice of common prayer and of acts of worship has
greatly helped to create and develop a climate of mutual
knowledge, understanding, respect and trust. The World Council
of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church have contributed
to this improved climate by their studies and guides to
common prayer. This fellowship in prayer, nevertheless,
sharpens the pain of the Churches' division at the point
of eucharistic fellowship which should be the most manifest
witness to the one sacrifice of Christ for the whole world.
The central task of the Churches is simply to proclaim the
saving deeds of God. This then should be the burden of their
common witness; and what unites them is enough to enable
them in large measure to speak as one. Indeed all forms
of common witness are signs of the Churches' commitment
to proclaim the Gospel to all men; they all find in the
one Gospel their motivation, their purpose and their content.
Whether in witness or service, the Churches are together
confronted by the fundamental issues of the nature and destinies
of men and nations; and while they face these questions
they encounter men of other religions, or men who are indifferent
or unbelievers who hold to a variety of ideologies.
But at this vital point of mutual engagement, the Churches
become aware not only of their shared understanding of the
Gospel but also of their differences. They all believe that
Jesus Christ has founded one Church, and one alone; to this
Church the Gospel has been given; to this Church every man
has been called to belong. Yet today many Christian Communions
present themselves to men as the true heritage of Jesus
Christ, and this division among the Churches greatly reduces
the possibilities of common witness.
20. In the context of religious freedom and the ecumenical
dialogue, respect is due to the right of Churches to act
according to convictions, which they believe should be held
in fidelity to Jesus Christ:
-- 1. While it is indeed aware of its pilgrim condition,
a Church can be convinced that in it subsists the one Church
founded by Christ, that also in it one can have access to
all the means of salvation which the Lord offers, that its
witness has always remained substantially faithful to the
-- 2. A Church can regard itself as bound in conscience
to proclaim its witness to its own belief, which is distinct
from that of the other Churches.
-- 3. While the major affirmations of faith, such as
those which are formulated in Scripture and professed in
the ancient Creeds, are common to almost all the Christian
confessions, different interpretations can sometimes call
for reservations on this common character.
-- 4. The teaching of certain Churches can place limits
on cooperation in social concerns, for example, different
positions on family ethics (divorce, abortion, responsible
Nevertheless, it is not enough to know the limits which
the division of Christians places on common witness. The
more the need of common witness is grasped, the more apparent
does it become that there is a need to find complete agreement
on faith - one of the essential purposes of the ecumenical
Differences about the content of witness, because of varied
ecclesiologies, are by no means the only obstacle to cooperation
between the Churches. The rivalries and enmities of the
past, the continued resentments due to the memory of ancient
or recent wrongs, the conflicts generated by political,
cultural and other factors - all these have prevented the
Churches from seeking to bear a common witness to the world.
Only the willingness to extend mutual forgiveness of past
offences and wrongs and to receive correction from each
other will enable the Churches to fulfil their obligation
to show forth a common witness to each other and to the
There is, however, an understandable hesitation of a
Church to cooperate in witness where this may trouble and
confuse its members.
86 -- Among other reasons, it may be due also to lack
of contact and mutual understanding between the clergy and
the laity of Churches. In all such cases, a patient and
determined effort should be made to create conditions which
A further obstacle to joint action in witness derives
from receiving and interpreting the Gospel in forms so exclusive
as to lead to a refusal of all discussion and an unwillingness
to recognize that the Spirit can operate in groups other
than one's own. This attitude is generally labelled "sectarianism"
and such exclusive and excluding groups are often called
"sects". When faced with this situation, Churches
should first of all recognise the challenge which these
groups present to them and examine themselves as to their
inadequacy in meeting the profound spiritual needs of their
members and of those around them. They must also guard against
the very spirit of sectarianism which they so rightly deplore
in others. Rather should they strive to hear God's call
to renewal and to greater faithfulness to his message of
Moreover, the Churches should pay particular attention
to groups which seem open to receive those aspects of the
Christian message which those Communities have hitherto
neglected. The Churches must thus always stand ready for
dialogue and to seize every opportunity to extend a fraternal
hand and to grasp the hand held out to them.
PROSELYTISM AND RELATIONS BETWEEN CHURCHES --
Christian witness, to those who have not yet received or
responded to the announcement of the Gospel or to those
who are already Christians, should have certain qualities,
in order to avoid being corrupted in its exercise and thus
becoming proselytising. Furthermore, the ecumenical movement
itself had made Christians more sensitive to the conditions
proper to witness borne among themselves. This means that
witness should be completely
-- conformed to the spirit of the Gospel, especially by
respecting the other's right to religious freedom, and
-- concerned to do nothing which could compromise the progress
of ecumenical dialogue and action.
1. Required Qualities for Christian Witness
In order that witness be conformed to the spirit of the
The deep and true source of witness should be the commandment
"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind... You must love
your neighbour as yourself" (Mt. 22. 37 and 39, cf.
Lev. 19. 18; Deut. 6. 5).
b) Witness should be inspired by the true end of
the Church; the glory of God through the salvation of men.
Witness does not seek the prestige of one own's community
and of those who belong to, represent or lead it.
c) Witness should be nourished by the conviction
that it is the Holy Spirit who, by his grace and light,
brings about the response of faith to witness.
d) Witness respects the free will and dignity of
those to whom it is given, whether they wish to accept or
to refuse the faith.
e) Witness respects the right of every man and community
to be free from any coercion which impedes them from witness
to their own convictions, including religious convictions.
27. Witness should avoid behaviour such as:
Every type of physical coercion, moral constraint or psychological
pressure which would tend to deprive man of his personal
judgement, of his freedom of choice, of full autonomy in
the exercise of his responsibility. A certain abuse of mass
communications can have this effect.
b) Every open or disguised offer of temporal or material
benefits in return for change in religious adherence.
c) Every exploitation of the need or weakness or
of lack of education of those to whom witness is offered,
in view of inducing their adherence to a Church.
d) Everything raising suspicion about the "good
faith" of others - "bad faith" can never
be presumed; it, should always be proved.
e) The use of a motive which has no relation to the
faith itself but is presented as an appeal to change religious
adherence: for example, the appeal to political motives
to win over those who are eager to secure for themselves
the protection or favours of civil authority, or those who
are opposed to the established regime. Churches which form
a large majority in a state should not use legal methods,
social, economic or political pressure, in the attempt to
prevent members of minority communities from the exercise
of their right to religious freedom.
f) Every unjust or uncharitable reference to the
beliefs or practices of other religious communities in the
hope of winning adherents. This includes malevolent criticism
which offends the sensibilities of members of other communities.
In general, one should compare the good qualities and ideals
or the weaknesses and practices of one community with those
of the others, not one's ideals with the other's practice.
Witness and Relations between the Churches
The Lord has willed that his disciples be one in order that
the world believe. Thus it is not enough for Christians
to conform to the above. They should also be concerned in
fostering whatever can restore or strengthen between them
the bonds of true brotherhood. Proposed suggestions:
In each Church one is conscious that conversion of heart
and the renewal of his own community are essential contributions
to the ecumenical movement.
b) Missionary action should be carried out in an
ecumenical spirit which takes into consideration the priority
of the announcement of the Gospel to non-Christians. The
missionary effort of one Church in an area or milieu where
another Church is already at work depends on an honest answer
to the question: what is the quality of the Christian message
proclaimed by the Church already at work, and in what spirit
is it being proclaimed and lived? Here frank discussion
between the Churches concerned would be highly desirable,
in order to have a clear understanding of each other's missionary
and ecumenical convictions, and with the hope that it would
help to determine the possibilities of cooperation, of common
witness, of fraternal
89 -- assistance, or of complete withdrawal. 5
In the same manner and spirit the relations between minority
and majority Churches should be considered.
c) Particularly all competitive spirit should be
avoided by which a Christian community might seek a position
of power and privilege, and concern itself less with proclaiming
the Gospel to those who have not yet received it than with
profiting by chances to recruit new members among the other
d) To avoid causes of tension between Churches because
of the free exercise of the right of every man to choose
his ecclesial allegiance and, if necessary, to change it
in obedience to conscience, it is vital:
that this free choice should be exercised in full knowledge
of what is involved and, if possible, after counsel with
the pastors of the two Churches concerned. Particular care
is necessary in the case of children and young people; in
such cases, the greatest weight and respect should be given
to the views and rights of the parents and tutors;
(ii) that the Church which admits a new member should
be conscious of the ecumenical repercussions, and not draw
vain glory from it;
(iii) that the Church which has lost a member should
not become bitter or hostile, nor ostracise the person concerned;
that it examines its conscience as to how it has done its
duty of bringing the Gospel to that person. Has it made
an effort to understand how his Christian convictions ought
to affect his life, or rather was it content that he should
remain a nominal and official member of that community?
(iv) that any change of allegiance motivated mainly
by the desire to secure some material advantage should be
Some points of tension between the Churches are difficult
to overcome because what is done by one Church in view of
its theological and ecclesiological convictions, is considered
by the other as implicit proselytism. In this case, it is
necessary that the two sides try to
speaking of Joint Action for Mission, the World Council
of Churches distinguishes presently three degrees of missionary
collaboration: surveying the possibilities of missionary
action; joint planning; and joint action. The meaning of
common witness is wider than that of joint action for mission.
90 -- clarify what is really in question and to arrive
at mutual understanding of different practices, and if possible,
to agree to a common policy. This can be realized only if
the carrying out of these theological and ecclesiological
convictions clearly exclude every type of witness which
would be tainted by proselytism, as described above. Some
examples of such tensions:
(i) The fact that a Church which reserves baptism
to adults ("believer's baptism") persuades the
faithful of another Church who have already been baptized
as infants, to receive baptism again, is often regarded
as proselytising. A discussion on the nature of baptism
and its relation to faith and to the Church could lead to
(ii) The discipline of certain Churches concerning
the marriage of their members with Christians of other communities
is often considered as proselytic. In fact, these rules
depend on theological positions. Conversations on the nature
of marriage and the Church membership of the family could
bring about progress and resolve in a joint way the pastoral
question raised by such marriages.
(iii) The Orthodox consider that the existence of
the Eastern Catholic Churches is the fruit of proselytism.
Catholics level the same criticism against the way in which
certain of these Churches have been reunited to the Orthodox
Church. Whatever has been the past, the Catholic Church
and the Orthodox Church are determined to reject not only
proselytism but also the intention even to draw the faithful
of one Church to another. An example of this pledge is the
common declaration of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras
I, on October 28, 1967. The resolution of these questions,
evidently important for the ecumenical movement, should
be sought in frank discussion between the Churches concerned.
29. CONCLUSION -- These reflections and suggestions
on common witness and proselytism will, it is hoped, offer
the Churches an opportunity of moving more quickly along
the way which leads to the restoration of complete communion
91 -- As they travel that path to unity the Churches
realize that Christian witness can never be perfect. They
can never cease to strive for a deeper realization and clearer
expression of the Good News of the unfathomable riches of
Christ (cf. Eph. 3. 8), and for a more faithful living in
accord with His one message. By fidelity to this striving
the Churches will grow together in witness to Christ, "the
Faithful and True Witness" (Rev. 3. 14) in expectation
of that day when all things will be perfectly reestablished
in him (cf. Eph. 1.10; Col. 1.20).
92 -- AN
ADVENTIST REACTION -- B.
B. BEACH *-- The
Report on Common Witness and Proselytism presented to the
Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and
the World Council of Churches is certainly a fine document
and probably one of the best ever produced on the issue
of Christian witness and proselytism. The fact that Roman
Catholics were very much involved in writing the statement
helps, I believe, to explain this. The document contains
many excellent statements and is evidence of a very laudable
desire for understanding.
overall tenor of the statement represents a gratifying degree
of progress towards mutual respect, freedom of action and
understanding among the churches. Seventh-Day Adventists
must agree with much - even most - of what is said. Paragraphs
1, 5, 20, 26, 27, and 28 reflect quite closely the Adventist
position. Adventists must concur heartily in rejecting as
un-Christian the various types of corrupt witness listed
in paragraph 27. Conversely, they agree with the qualities
required for Christian witness given in paragraph 26. The
christological emphasis in the paper merits every commendation.
Any remaining questions and hesitations do not impede an
overall positive evaluation of the document.
paper assumes commitment to ecumenical ideals and objectives
on the part of those to whom it is addressed. The question
arises whether the authors of the document envision authentic
Christian witness apart from participation in the ecumenical
movement as such. I certainly hope that a more or less exclusive
stance is not being assumed, i.e. that the document is not
implying that only ecumenical participants can bear sure
witness to the Gospel. For, while Seventh-Day Adventists
share in the spirit of brotherhood that binds all Christians
together in Christ, and choose to have fellowship with followers
of Christ in other churches, they have never considered
themselves to be part of the organized ecumenical movement,
as generally defined or understood.
From an Adventist viewpoint the document is partial, not
in the sense of biased, but in the etymological meaning
of incomplete, in its approach
B. B. BEACH, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists,
is the Secretary of the Department of Public Affairs, Northern
European Division, United Kingdom.
93 -- to true Christian unity and common witness. The
constant implication is that common witness and unity require
union, in some form, of church organizations. Common witness
is seen exclusively as witness together of churches.
According to Adventist understanding, Christian unity is
based on oneness in Christ; joint efforts of churches do
not necessarily produce Christian unity, nor proclaim the
Good News. Church bodies can be caught up in the official
ecumenical movement and work together in various areas of
social concern and yet differ deeply in motive and spirit.
On the other hand, individual Christians and Christian communities,
not mutually involved in ecumenical structures, can be one
in Christ in their witness through faith and conscientious
paper sets up universal unity as a desirable goal to be
reached, but we must not forget that unity is more a fruitage
than a goal, the result of the mutual acceptance of the
truth as revealed in Christ. The document correctly implies
in its closing paragraph that it is fidelity to Christ and
His one message that produces unity. The establishment some
day in the future of complete unity
and communion of the churches is taken for granted
throughout the document and specifically indicated in both
the introduction and conclusion. However, the New Testament
speaks about final apostasy, about a "falling away",
and it seems to me that the New Testament does not envision
anti-Christian elements as existing only outside of organized
Christianity, but also "in the temple of God".
(2 Thess. 2. 4 NEB.) The apocalyptic writings in general
(and specifically 2 Thess. 2) declare that the nearer the
approach of the parousia, the greater the resistance to
Christ will be, even in the religious world. The New Testament
eschatological picture of the Christian Church prior to
the parousia is not one of a Church of vast dimensions gathering
all churches and mankind together, but of a comparatively
small "remnant", a depictment of complete unity
and communion of Christians who "keep the
commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus"
(Rev. 12. 17).
is clear-cut convictions of dedicated Christians on doctrines,
methods and goals that make for dynamic common witness based
on commitment. In discussing relations between churches,
the document in paragraph 25 states that witness is to be
"completely concerned to do nothing which could compromise
the progress of ecumenical dialogue and action". This
is a rather sweeping and indefinite norm which is hard to
accept, as presently formulated, by those who would exalt
94 -- of the Word above the mechanics of ecumenical
dialogue and action. Is there not a real danger of Christians
or churches being so absorbed by "doing nothing"
which could in any way damage ecumenical relations, that
indeed they will do precisely "nothing" in the
dialectic area of Christian evangelism? The Christian Church,
it seems to me, is strongest when Christians work in the
Spirit of the Gospel toward common goals, unconfined, uncramped
and in full harmony with the beliefs and purposes espoused.
When churches end up without a strong - even controversial
- message to challenge commitment, sacrifice and apostolate,
they lose their thrust. Soon churches may find it easier
- perhaps even more ecumenical - to postulate a universal
and cosmic redemption in Christ, which removes both the
burden and impact of a particular message to earth's peoples.
2 speaks about overcoming "rivalry" between Christian
communities. Certainly there has been unchristian rivalry;
there often has been a deplorable element of unseemly antagonism
in church relations. However, all rivalry is not to be condemned.
The dictionary tells us that a rival is "one who is
in pursuit of the same object as another, or strives to
equal or outdo another". He is not only a competitor
(with a possible pejorative meaning), but an emulator. In
this sense, we need worthy "rivalry". Christians
and churches should try to emulate the best in each other
and "outdo another" in Christian witness while
always dwelling and drinking at the same "river of
life" (the word rival is taken from the Latin stem
"rivalis", "one using the same stream as
another". Church history shows that lack of rivalry
can produce evangelistic stagnation.
7 defines the term religious freedom. I wish the Working
Group had not simply adopted the negative formulation of
Vatican II (right not to be coerced). It is quite understandable
that past Catholic teaching made it necessary for the Vatican
Council to reach for the adroit solution of a negative approach.
However, in the context of the World Council of Churches
it would have been preferable to define religious liberty
positively, that is, as the
right to express belief (and not just the right
not to be prevented from expressing such belief).
very much appreciate footnote 2 to paragraph 4 regarding
"proselytism". The problem is that the dichotomy
in the meaning of proselytism is difficult of application.
Personally I feel that the term is ambiguous and should
generally only be used with a qualifier. For some people
witnessing to a nominal member of another church, with a
95 -- of encouraging that person to join your church,
is ipso facto
improper practice of Christian witness. Paragraph 28 e)
(i), in fact points out that persuading adults, who have
been baptized as infants, to experience believer's baptism
is often regarded as proselytizing, but I believe this is
not the case if, following the document's own definition,
the principles of' paragraphs 26 and 27 are followed. Is
it not rather the "remain-a-member-of-our-church-at-all-cost"
attitude, whether this membership corresponds to a person's
convictions and innerfelt needs or not, that is proselytic
in the depreciatory meaning of the term?
"positive role" that Christian communions can
"play in God's plan of salvation" is underlined
in paragraph 11 and we are then told that refusal of contact
and cooperation between churches is "abnormal"
(par. 13). Seventh-Day Adventists recognize every agency
that lifts up Christ as part of the divine plan for the
evangelization and salvation of the world. Nevertheless,
church history gives considerable evidence of churches hamstringing,
corrupting and even persecuting the saving Gospel message.
Thus, when the purity of the Apostolic Word, deliverance
from divine judgment and salvation of souls are at stake,
it would seem indispensable to decide, before engaging in
continuous official, wholehearted cooperation (in contrast
to occasional limited contacts) with another Christian group,
whether the negative role played by that church does not
possibly outweigh any positive role it may exert. Refusal
to cooperate fully with another church may be "abnormal"
(in the sense that sin and the present situation of the
universe are abnormal and will remain so until the parousia
and the restoration of normalcy), but necessary, because
its witness is largely counterproductive evangelistically,
due to its unfaithfulness to the gifts received.
This brings us to paragraph 14. Does the document not tend
here to slip into universalism? When does "reconciliation
of all men and all things in Christ" take place? The
paragraph does not speak of struggle against
"injustice", but of struggle for the
of injustice. Is it implied that men will succeed to eradicate
such evils prior to Divine intervention at the end of the
While Adventists desire collaboration with other Christian
groups in most of the specific areas of social concern mentioned
(not the least being the campaign against alcoholism, where
World Council of Churches involvement would be greatly welcomed),
they have serious reservations regarding the promotion by
of limitation of armaments and maintenance of peace. Such
programmes in the public sphere
96 -- have, inevitably, strong political overtones leading
to division of opinion that tends to polarize people's minds.
The Gospel kerygma requires Christians to function as exemplary
citizens and thus individual Christians must do a great
deal to promote peace and international understanding, first
the church, and then without
the church in the public sphere. However, Christ's own refusal
to adjudicate socio-economic matters (Luke 12.13) and His
declaration that His kingdom (or proper sphere of activity)
is not "of this world" (John 18. 36) would seem
to bar the church in its formal capacity as a church from
activity in respect to socio-political matters. Such entanglement
would compromise her influence by identifying the church
with some political programme or ideology and thus neutralize
her capacity for leading men of any segment of society or
ideological school to Christ.
Paragraph 23 deals with so-called "sects" and
"sectarianism". When employed by sociologists
the term "sect" has a legitimate use. I doubt,
however, that this is often the case when churchmen avail
themselves of the expression. It is a confusing term, with
various definitions and pejorative connotations, being easily
tailored to whatever proportions the user wishes to attribute
to it. "Sect" is usually applied to smaller churches
by majority churches, especially where the dominating church
feels it has a kind of "geographical right" to
the area. The document employs exclusiveness and exclusionism
as criteria for sectarianism. By this definition, could
not for example the Roman Catholic Church, until a few short
decades ago, have been considered a "sect"? And
yet it was practically never so called, even by its most
determined opponents. There is an Italian saying that sheds
some light on this somewhat anomalous situation: "due
pesi, due misure"! Very freely interpreted
"God is on the side of those with the biggest battalions!"
It is, therefore, refreshing to read in the document that
must "guard against the very spirit of sectarianism
which they so rightly deplore in others" and "strive
to hear God's call to renewal and to greater faithfulness
to his message of salvation".
find the required qualities for Christian witness and behaviour
which should be avoided, very well stated in the second
part of the document. Certainly, "exploitation of the
need or weakness or lack of education of those to whom witness
is offered, in view of inducing their adherence to a church"
(par. 27 c), should be eschewed. This principle, of course,
works in various ways. Exploitation does not only take place
when, playing on the ignorance or weakness of certain individuals,
97 -- encouraged to switch religious allegiance; exploitation
is even more frequent where the great majority of a population
finds itself in almost complete religious illiteracy and
is induced to adhere to the "church of their fathers"
through nominal membership.
allusion to mass communications (par. 27 a) is commendable
for its timeliness. The desirability of an open market for
Christian expression - majority as well as minority - might
well be emphasized. There is a current trend in certain
countries for Councils of Churches to dominate non-Catholic
witness through radio and television. The document emphasizes
the need to give "priority to the announcement of the
Gospel to non-Christians (par. 28 b), rather than recruiting
members from other Christian communities. A problem arises
in deciding exactly who are "non-Christians" and
who are those "who have not yet received" the
Gospel. People can have a formal, nominal church membership
(and there are literally millions in this category) without
having really "received" the Gospel. Christianity
is rapidly becoming, where it is not already the case, a
minority religion. "Competitive spirit" (par.
18 c) can be a danger, but no spirit of witness at all is
a much more serious problem in this age of increasing secularization.
Despite the problems mentioned and the caveats listed, Adventists
cannot but appreciate the endeavour, reflected in this document,
to find ways in which Christians can cooperate and bear
more effective witness to the lordship of Christ. It is
obvious that a lofty idealism inspires the document and
would like to assure our brethren in other churches that
Adventists wish them well and that they desire to cooperate
in worthy projects, without compromising what Adventists
understand to be their own particular witness and mission
to the world "in expectation", as the document
states, "of that day when all things will be perfectly
re-establishd in him".
98 -- THE
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES/SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CONVERSATIONS
AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE -- In
view of the fact that informal conversations between the
World Council of Churches and the Seventh-day Adventist
Church have been taking place on a regular basis for over
four years, it is not inappropriate to consider the significance
of these contacts and take stock of what has been accomplished
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND -- Strange as it may seem, these
yearly Consultations are an indirect by-product of Vatican
II. In fact, while in Rome in connection with the Vatican
Council a WCC staff member and an Adventist representative
came to the conclusion that an informal meeting of a small
group of Seventh-day Adventists with an equal number of
representatives from the World Council of Churches would
fulfil a useful purpose - Adventists being insufficiently
informed regarding the World Council of Churches, and the
WCC staff and church leaders being equally in need of additional
and more comprehensive knowledge regarding the Seventh-day
first meeting was held in 1965, the particpants being selected
by the two organizers. Thus, the Conversations got under
way on a completely informal basis and were held under the
sole responsibility of the participants. Subsequent meetings
have become somewhat more formal, in the sense that the
employing bodies of the SDA participants have authorized
and financed their presence and the executive committees
of the three Adventist Divisions involved have given their
blessing by facilitating the selection of the SDA representatives;
the World Council of Churches has defrayed the expenses
of its group. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
has been kept informed regarding the meetings, though it
has taken no direct, active part in the Consultations, except
through its three European Divisional branch offices. The
November 24-26, 1969, Consultation was the fifth in the
PURPOSE OF CONVERSATIONS -- The original purpose in
meeting together was quite simple, straightforward and unpretentious:
to acquaint each side with the structure, functioning and
thinking of the other side. This frank exchange of views
was to be accompanied by a sincere endeavour to remove misconceptions
and improve understanding. Because of the incontestable
usefulness of the first meeting, it was felt by all participants
that the Conversations should be continued on a regular
basis. As a result, subsequent Consultations have been more
in the nature of dialogue, by moving from the level of information
to the niveau of serious theological discussion.
was made unmistakably clear from the very start, that there
is no plan or expectation on the part of the Adventists
of joining the WCC ; nor is the WCC pushing for SDA membership,
though, taking a long-range view, it may feel that this
would be desirable. On the other hand, the Adventist partners
in the Conversations do not expect their partners in the
dialogue to become a part of the Advent Movement, though
they may feel this would be a propos. It is of course appreciated
by all engaged in the Conversations that there is a fundamental
difference in the nature of the organizations which precludes
comparisons. While the SDA Church is a world church
with established fundamental beliefs and one polity, the
World Council of Churches is a council
or fellowship of churches representing a great variety of
theological beliefs, traditions and church polities, each
church preserving its own doctrines, ecclesiology and that
measure of complete independence which it feels called upon
to exert. The World Council is not empowered to legislate
for its member chruches.
99 -- In addition to generating increased mutual understanding,
the exploration of possible areas of Christian cooperation
and concrete, practical Christian service has become another
valuable intent of the Conversations.
STYLE OF MEETINGS -- The Conversations have been conducted
in a rather free, informal and friendly atmosphere, under
the joint chairmanship of the WCC and SDA conveners. Approximately
15-20 participants have taken part each time. WCC participants
have included members of the WCC staff (especially from
the Faith and Order Secretariat) and representatives of
various Christian traditions. The SDA group has included
SDA church leaders and educators. There has been a greater
turnover of participants on the WCC side. The Consultations
are held on the basis of equal footing, each yearly meeting
taking place part of the time at the WCC headquarters in
Geneva and the rest of the time at the nearby Seminaire
Adventiste at Collonges, just across the border in France.
The core of each Consultation centers around the presentation
and discussion of papers dealing with the subject matter
chosen for the meeting. In addition, time has been given
over to general discussion and exchange of views regarding
questions and developments of mutual interest or concerning
matters needing clarification.
SUBJECT MATTER OF CONVERSATIONS -- The 1965 Conversations
started with a broad
tour d'horizon and concentrated on discussion
of the organizations, beliefs and aims of the Seventh-day
Adventist Church, and consideration of the organization,
basis and aims of the World Council. The questions of proselytism
and religious liberty were briefly touched upon. Subsequent
Consultations dealt with the following areas: law and grace,
Sabbath versus Sunday, proselytism and religious liberty,
prophecy. The November, 1969, Conversations pin-pointed
the 1968 general discussions of prophecy by coming to grips
with specific exegesis of Revelation 13, 14; Matthew 24,
and 2 Thessalonians 2, passages which Seventh-day Adventists
believe have a real relevance to Christianity today.
endeavouring to present here a full summary of the subject
matter of the Conversations, a few general observations
can be made. In the discussion on law and grace there was
considerable agreement. If there was a difference, it was
mostly one of emphasis, the WCC representatives possibly
laying greater stress on the superiority of grace and the
SDA participants giving more emphasis to the compatibility
of law and grace.
the discussions dealing with Sabbath and Sunday, the incongruity
of views, as could be expected, was quite substantial. For
the Seventh-day Adventists the seventh-day Sabbath is a
weekly memorial of God's creative act as recorded in the
Old Testament, and of Christ's redemptive act in the New
Testament. The fourth commandment, therefore, has continuing,
heterocentric significance for modern man. The WCC participants
connected the Sabbath commandment more with Mosaic social
legislation than with creation and felt that the present-day
Christian Sunday is tied to the resurrection and eucharistic
service, and has only a remote connection with the Sabbath
requirement of the Decalogue. In regard to the related question
of calendar reform, the discussions revealed that Seventh-day
Adventists have no objection to a fixed Easter date in the
present Gregorian calendar, but strongly oppose calendar
reform of the "blank" day type, which would disrupt
the orderly succession of the weekly cycle by interposing
from time to time extra days. This would cause the first
(Sunday) or seventh (Sabbath) day of the week to fall on
other days. Some WCC participants expressed similar opposition
to this type of new calendar suggested in some circles.
agreement in the discussions about religious liberty was
very substantial indeed. Increased cooperation in this area
is considered by both sides to be desirable. Concerning
proselytism, there was a large measure of mutual understanding.
Agreement was complete regarding methods, the SDA Church
having since 1926 an official policy which in its provisions
closely resembles the 1961 WCC document entitled "Christian
Witness, Proselytism and Religious Liberty". Both sides
fully agreed that conversion can only come by uncoerced
faith and sharing of Christian conviction is not only a
right, but a duty. Conversations did reveal some divergence
of views regarding relationships
100 -- and ecumenical implications of Christian witness.
Seventh-day Adventists have a deep conviction that it is
their duty to proclaim their distinctive witness to all
men, and the church therefore consistently stands aloof
from territorial comity arrangements. There was some discussion
regarding the proper use of the term "proselytism".
Both sides admitted that the expression is somewhat ambiguous,
because the word has received in ecumenical circles a definitely
pejorative connotation, implying corrupted witness, which
does not harmonize with the common dictionary definition
Faith and Order Secretariat has prepared an excellent analysis
of the discussions regarding "Apocalyptic Prophecy"
(see below p. 167 ff.). Suffice it to say here that while
exegesis of particular passages does not by any means always
lead to disagreement, there are some marked differences
in the respective understanding of the prophetic and apocalyptic
texts. The Conversations indicated that the SDA approach
tends to be more "systematic" (looking for inner
coherence and parallels between various apocalyptic texts)
and the WCC approach more "situational" (looking
for the original purpose and situation for which the texts
were written). The WCC side greatly underlined the "paranetic"
nature of prophecy, while the SDA representatives dwelt
at greater length upon the "predictive" dimension
of the apocalyptic writings.
RESULTS OBTAINED -- Measured within the frame-work of
the avowed purposes of the Conversations, it can be said
that their results have been definitely positive and useful.
There have been no measurably negative outgrowths. In order
to clearly see the substantial number of accomplishments,
it would appear helpful to succinctly list some of the major
results that have emanated from the Conversations:
Personal acquaintance and fellowship -- The discussions
have been very beneficial on the plane of personal relationships,
with consequent better understanding and appreciation of
the Christianity and humanity of the participants. Friendships
have been formed and fellowship experienced.
Information and Understanding -- Without doubt the
Conversations have enabled the participants to gain accurate
information and a better understanding of the background,
approach, thinking, developing trends, aims and expectations
of the other side. Mutual knowledge has increased and erroneous
views, based on prejudice, have decreased.
Channels of communication -- While prior to 1965
the channels of communication between the SDA Church and
the WCC were not non-existent, they were very weak and spasmodic.
Today, largely as a result of the Consultations, a number
of actively used channels of communication are entertained,
especially with the General and Faith and Order Secretariats.
Information once ignored or difficult to come by, is now
regularly communicated. In addition the SDA/WCC Conversations
were at least partly instrumental in opening new channels
for contacts between the SDA Church and other confessional
bodies or churches.
WCC Statement concerning SDA Church -- A very useful
product of the Conversations is the statement regarding
the SDA Church which was published in the January, 1967,
issue of the Ecumenical Review. While the statement
was prepared by the Faith and Order Secretariat, the SDA
participants in the 1966 Conversations had the opportunity
to discuss the draft statement and make some useful observations.
After incorporating some relatively minor suggestions, the
document was published substantially as originally written.
The statement has had a wide distribution, not only through
the Ecumenical Review, but as a Faith and Order paper.
Seventh-day Adventists consider this article as one of the
fairest and finest statements published by non-Adventists
Participation in Meeting of World Confessional Families
-- Since 1968 the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
has been actively represented at the annual meeting of "Secretaries
of World Confessional Families". This participation
is largely the result of the WCC/ SDA Conversations and
contacts that were made at the time of the Uppsala Assembly.
101 -- It is hoped that expanded cooperation will ensue
between the World Confessional Families in the vital realm
of religious liberty.
Observer and Advisor Status -- Since the Conversations
got under way, it has become the accepted procedure for
the SDA Church to be represented at various WCC meetings,
including the Assembly, by observers. These observers have
not just been present pro
forma, but have taken an active interest in the
meetings they attended. An additional step was taken when
the General Conference, as a world confessional body or
church, was represented by an advisor in Canterbury at the
1969 meeting of the WCC Central Committee.
SDA on Faith and Order Commission -- An evident
result of the Conversations was the appointment of a Seventh-day
Adventist as a member of the Faith and Order Commission
of the World Council of Churches. While it is clear that
churches are not members of this Commission and theologians
selected for membership are chosen in their personal capacity,
and therefore the SDA Church is not a member of the Faith
and Order Commission, it does mean that the Commission will
have the benefit of hearing a bona fide SDA voice, and the
Seventh-day Adventists would have the opportunity of learning
from the discussions of the Faith and Order Commission.
SDA/WCC Conversations in the United States
-- As a kind of corollary to the Geneva Consultations, Conversations
began in 1969 in the United States between Seventh-day Adventists
and a WCC appointed group. While each Conversation will
follow its own style and choose its own subject matter,
those responsible for the Conversations on both sides of
the Atlantic are keeping in touch with each other.
Contacts on National Levels -- It is interesting
to note that the contacts on the WCC level have, to some
extent, filtered down to certain national levels. As examples
one can mention the SDA contacts with the British Council
of Churches, the Finnish Council of Churches and the office
of the German Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in
Deutschland. There are many other contacts, but here we
are only thinking of those that are at least to some extent
directly attributable to the Geneva Consultations.
GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE -- As reinforcement of the already
mentioned nine results, which in themselves certainly highlight
the significance of the Conversations, there are a few more
points of a more interpretative nature which throw additional
light on the significance of these Consultations:
It is quite clear that the SDA attitude
toward the ecumenical movement, and more specifically the
World Council of Churches, is unavoidably strongly influenced
by the church's
understanding of prophecy, eschatology, current
trends and past church history, and its self-understanding
of the role
of the Advent Movement as epitomized by the SDA
Church. It thus appears that a central problem of inter-church
theological discussions in which Seventh-day Adventists
are involved would be biblical interpretation in general
and prophetic interpretation in particular.
The participants in the Conversations discovered that
each side approaches the Bible with respect and the basic
expectation to be guided by Scripture into truth. There
are, however, some noticeable differences
in approach. While SDA theologians believe in
the inspired integrity of the Bible and insist on the historicity
of the record, the participants on the WCC side tend to
favour a larger use of historical and form-critical methods.
Underlying these dissentient approaches are differing views
regarding the nature of revelation and inspiration. It should
not be overlooked, however, that similar differences in
approach can be found within the constituency of the World
Council of Churches.
In view of the prominence Seventh-day Adventists
have traditionally given to religious liberty, it is significant
to note the very substantial agreement that prevailed in
this area of the discussions. While the SDA contribution
to religious liberty has been largely of a pragmatic nature,
without ignoring the necessary biblical basis, the World
Council of Churches has through its Religious Liberty Secretariat
concentrated on providing a sound theological foundation
for religious liberty, and through the CCIA has underlined
the general importance of human rights.
4. The Conversations have made Seventh-day
Adventists rather more aware of ecumenism as an expanding
and driving influence, with strengths, weaknesses and problems.
On the other hand, the World Council of Churches and some
of its member churches appear more conscious of Adventism
as a growing world-wide religious force. Both sides have
gained a deeper understanding of each other's raison d'etre.
There has been a growth of mutual respect. The SDA participants
cannot but respect the scholarship and "studiousness"
of the World Council of Churches and its representatives.
Faith and Order studies have shed considerable light on
various contemporary theological issues. There is also evidence
that the WCC members have gained a measure of respect for
the calibre of Adventist scholarship. The Conversations
have demonstrated that the participants on both sides are
capable of respect the differing views, especially when
held by partners in dialogue whose Christian commitment
cannot be questioned.
The Conversations have been significant as an educational
instrumentality. Minds have been opened and enlarged. Adventists
have become more clearly aware that there is more than one
point of view to most questions, and that there are earnest
Christian men who hold differing beliefs that should be
taken into account. While beliefs merit to be safeguarded,
serious thought must be given to expressing them in terms
that will be readily understood and, in some degree, accepted
by those with divergent convictions.
same educational process has enabled the WCC participants
to realize that Seventh-day Adventists are genuinely committed
Christians, who hold clearly-defined, defensible beliefs
in all major areas of Christian doctrine.
Conversations have made it abundantly clear that first-hand
information is better than second-hand misinformation, that
sharpening one's theological views on the grindstone of
dialogue is not only at times painful but profitable, and
that ignorance of the other side is not bliss.
B. BEACH *
Dr, B. B. BEACH,
General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, is the Secretary
of the Department of Public Affairs, Northern European Division,
OF DISCUSSION ON "APOCALYPTIC PROPHECY" --
The Significance of the Bible for Ecumenical
Discussion. -- Studying the Bible is of decisive
importance for any meaningful ecumenical discussion. Wherever
Christians meet, they must turn to the common source of
their faith. Without the Bible conversations between separated
Christians would lack a common frame of reference. Discussions
between representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
and the World Council of Churches have made this point clear
once again. It must also be recognized, however, that the
appeal to the Bible does not necessarily overcome divergencies.
When Christians turn to the Bible, they discover that their
interpretation proceeds on the basis of different presuppositions
and that they use different criteria or keys of interpretation.
Therefore, in studying the Bible they find themselves both
united and confronted with the deepest roots of their differences.
Different Approaches to the Bible.
-- The participants in the meeting discovered that
they were approaching the Bible with respect and that they
expected to be guided by it into truth. There were, however,
noticeable differences in their approaches. While Seventh-day
Adventist theologians tended to take for granted the inspired
integrity of the Bible and to insist on the historicity
of the record, the participants on the WCC side tended to
admit a larger use of historical-critical methods. Discussion
of particular exegetical problems raised again and again
the issue of the inspiration of the Bible, and it became
obvious that this problem needs to be further clarified
in the future.
Exegesis of the Text. -- In
spite of different approaches, however, there was in many
instances almost complete agreement on the original meaning
of the text, and it became apparent that exegesis of particular
passages does not necessarily lead to disagreements. This
is due to the fact that both sides agree that the historical
situation of both the writer and the addressee needs to
be carefully taken into account in order to discover the
meaning of the text. But even in the stage of exegesis in
the narrower sense of the word, differences may arise. To
give an example: Though Seventh-day Adventists would admit
that the authors of the synoptic gospels have to a
103 -- certain extent selected, arranged and interpreted
the material available, they maintain the historical reliability
of the framework given by each evangelist. They prefer to
consider the specific information, given by each evangelist,
as of a complementary rather than interpretative nature.
The main problem of mutual understanding does not arise,
however, at the level of exegesis but rather at the level
of the interpretation and application of the texts. Similar
differences can be found within the World Council of Churches
as well. There is not one single hermeneutical criterion
within the fellowship of the World Council of Churches.
Therefore, the discussion with Seventh-day Adventists does
not constitute anything foreign to the World Council of
Interpretation of Prophetic and Apocalyptic
Texts. -- In the course of the conversations it
became clear that special attention needed to be given to
the interpretation of the prophetic and apocalyptic texts
of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Daniel,
Matthew 24 et par., II Thessalonians and Revelation). Seventh-day
Adventists attach great importance to these texts. This
does not mean that they regard these texts as the key of
interpretation or that they wish to isolate these texts
from the rest of Scripture. They turn to Scripture as a
whole and it is only within the context of the whole that
they wish to give to the prophetic and apocalyptic texts
their due attention. They feel that these texts are not
sufficiently studied by many other Christians and Churches.
The discussion revealed that there are indeed different
approaches to these texts and that they are differently
interpreted. It was recognized, however, that they are also
respected by other Churches. If the Seventh-day Adventist
interpretation is not shared, it does not mean that the
texts are not taken seriously.
Differences in Understanding of Prophetic and
Apocalyptic Texts --
a) Seventh-day Adventists find
an inner coherence among the various prophetic texts. They
show striking parallels and the connections between these
texts have to be recognized. The participants on the World
Council side tended to stress more the particular situations
in which apocalyptic material has goon used. Their interpretation
is more situational and gives stronger weight to the paranetic
The WCC participants tend to interpret the
apocalyptic images as an attempt to characterize in general
the forces and powers which operate in history leading to
the final disclosures of the Kingdom of God. Seventh-day
Adventist interpretation, though agreeing with this approach,
attaches much more importance to the predictive element
in biblical prophecies. They find it reasonable to believe
that the texts provide a discernable sequence of events
which precede the second coming of Christ. They feel that
many Christians tend to be too vague in their interpretation
of prophecy as it relates to history.
Both sides agree that the immediate purpose of a text needs
to be discovered. Why did the author write to the addresses
in this particular way? What are the historical phenomena
and events he is referring to? Seventh-day Adventist interpretation
tends to find that, apart from the situation, the texts
often convey knowledge about historical events to come.
Therefore, they ask the question what particular events
the revealing spirit was referring to. Participants on the
WCC side tend to consider the original message as a meaningful
model for later generations. Decisions today have to be
taken in the spirit of this model. The true meaning of the
text for today will best be established by the use of hermeneutical
Seventh-day Adventists tend to identify
certain biblical statements with particular historical events;
e.g. they hold the view that several passages, in particular
Revelation 13, point to the papacy. While participants on
the WCC side did not agree with such identification and
fail to see how the transition from the text to such an
interpretation can be made, SDA expositors feel that the
evidence supporting their interpretation is substantial.
Both sides agree, however, that Christians need to interpret
history and that this must be done in the spirit of Scripture
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was generally
felt that Seventh-day Adventists are today more circumspect
in identifying events than they used to be in previous generations.
God and History. -- The discussion revealed a number
of points which need further clarification.
a) The discussion of prophetic and apocalyptic
texts made clear that the revelation in Christ and in particular
the inspiration of Scriptures is not understood in the same
way on both sides. What is the relation between God as revealed
in the person of Christ and Scriptures? What is the significance
of the fact that Christ did not himself write and that the
New Testament is the result of an oral transmission? What
is the relation between the Word of God and the words of
It was also felt that the meaning of resurrection,
the work of the Spirit in the last days and the cosmic aspects
of the Christ event needed to be further explored.
Several pointed out that the use of the word
"coming" needed to be examined. What is the relation
between Christ's coming whenever the word is preached and
the sacrament administered, and his final coming? Is the
term "second coming" appropriate in view of the
fact that he is constantly coming to us? Would it not be
more appropriate to speak of the final manifestation of
being the Lord?
The discussion raised the question as to, the
interpretation of the signs of the time. What is the relation
between the sign (the death and the resurrection of Christ
as well as Pentecost) and the signs? All Churches have to
interpret the signs. Can this interpretation be derived
directly from the Bible or must it be discerned under the
guidance of the Spirit in each situation? Who interprets
the signs? The individual, the Church as a whole? Which
are the signs? Some felt that Seventh-day Adventist identification
of certain events could make irrelevant other events which
may be of decisive importance both for the human race and
the future of the Church. Attention should not be detracted
from events which seem to determine our immediate future
(e.g. secularization, the growing together of mankind, racial
problems, etc.; in comparison to these papacy seems to be
a factor of minor importance which less obscures the meaning
of the Gospel). On the other hand, the Seventh-day Adventist
participants felt that the WCC emphasis on current events,
which seem to determine mankind's present and near future,
tends to neglect the vertical dimension.
The Significance of a Particular Interpretation of Prophetic
and Apocalyptic Texts
for the Unity of the Church. --
The question was raised to what extent a particular interpretation
can be regarded as a condition for fellowship and unity.
WCC participants generally felt that various interpretations
of prophetic and apocalyptic texts could be admitted within
one and the same fellowship. It was precisely the task of
the fellowship to confirm or to correct any interpretation
of the signs of the times. Seventh-day Adventists find it
difficult to see how somebody can belong to their fellowship
without sharing certain identifications. They hold the view,
however, that the importance of the prophetic interpretation
of history should not be overemphasized. The unity of the
people of God is primarily based on the work and presence
of Christ, and it is only on this foundation that the prophetic
interpretation acquires its relative importance.
to be mutually addressed:
Adventists could ask other Christians the following questions:
1. Does their reluctance with regard to any time-table
of events not very often mean that they do not speak of
the final coming of Christ at all?
Do non-Adventist Christians not often remain too vague in
their witness, not having the courage to interpret the signs
of the times?
Do they not tend to make too sharp a distinction between
prophetic and apocalyptic texts, and to stress too exclusively
the ethical and paranetical elements in the prophetic and
participants could ask the following questions:
1. Do not Seventh-day Adventists tend to isolate
the prophetic and apocalyptic texts from the rest of the
Do they not expect too clearly defined guidance in the
Bible concerning major events in history?
Do they not too quickly establish a link between certain
texts and certain events? Do they not perpetuate exegesis
once adopted in spite of further historical developments?
Dr. LUKAS VISCHER is Director of the Secretariat of the
Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches,
105 -- THE
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES/SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CONVERSATIONS
-- MEETINGS IN 1970 AND 1971 --
The Commission on Faith and Order has
long understood its mandate to include the task of establishing
and maintaining contacts with Churches not in membership
with the World Council of Churches. Thus, the Commission
counts among its members a number of theologians from non-member
Churches and has initiated a series of publications in which
the history, the life and teachings of Churches outside
the World Council are presented to a wider audience (see
Ecumenical Exercise I, II and III, published as Faith
and Order Papers No. 49, 58 and 61, reprinted from The
Ecumenical Review Vol. XIX: 1, Vol. XXIII: 3, Vol. XXIV:
the Churches presented was the Seventh-Day Adventist Church
with which informal contacts were opened in 1965. Since
then the Commission on behalf of the World Council has taken
responsibility through its Secretariat for regular yearly
conversations between a group of theologians from member
Churches of the World Council and representatives of the
Seventh-Day Adventist Church. (See the descriptive analysis
of the development and the wider significance of these conversations
up to 1969 by B. B. Beach in The Ecumenical Review
Vol. XXII: 2.) The continuity of these conversations both
regarding the themes and the participants has made it possible
to discover more clearly the broad area of commonly shared
Christian belief and commitment and to delineate the points
of critical difference.
group felt that in addition to summarising and analysing
its discussions year by year an attempt might be made to
draw up a statement which maps out the existing doctrinal
agreement between Seventh-Day Adventists and Churches in
the World Council, evaluating at the same time the relative
weight of continuing differences. All the texts presented
here have individual authors. But they have been revised
after discussion in the group and have in principle been
accepted by the participants. They are published here with
the hope of thus stimulating and helping similar discussions
on the local and national level.
DOCTRINAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS AND CHRISTIAN
CHURCHES BELONGING TO THE WORLD COUNCIL (Dr. Paul SCHWARZENAU)
In 1957 the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists
sponsored a careful and representative exposition of their
church's doctrine which was published under the title Seventh-Day
Adventists answer Questions on Doctrine. That study
simplifies the task of this paper which is to show where
they agree doctrinally with the churches and communions
belonging to the World Council of Churches.
the other hand, we have to face the difficulty that the
World Council of Churches is not itself a church but a fellowship
of churches holding different positions and traditions,
which are, moreover, subject to different theological interpretations
even within the individual churches themselves. It would
hardly be meaningful to restrict our attention here to those
doctrines which are common to all the churches in the ecumenical
movement. Often, then, we shall be able to speak only of
agreement with some (many or few) churches and theological
trends. In many instances, agreement is only with the substance
of a doctrinal position or with a doctrinal tendency, while
in other respects there are still undeniable differences
in the respective doctrinal formulations.
addition it must not be overlooked that in many ways the
whole of a church's doctrine is an inseparable unity so
that dividing it into constituent parts is somewhat questionable.
We need, therefore, to turn our attention first of all to
this integral aspect of church doctrine, before turning
(in Section II) to the doctrinal statements in detail. Profound
disagreements can be concealed behind
106 -- agreed formulae and vice versa. The trinitartan
formulation of the creed, for example, can be understood
in terms of a philosophy of being or by reference to certain
scriptural passages. The common formulation then serves
only to conceal the fundamental difference in the conception
of God and in the relationship of the believer to God. Conversely,
the consensus of Seventh-Day Adventists with conservative
positions in other churches,often stressed in Questions
on Doctrine, may be overlooking the profound agreement
with the basic eschatological approach of modern theologies,
and therefore with their "concealed Adventism".
even the notion of "church doctrine" is not necessarily
unequivocal. Some churches intentionally keep authoritative
doctrinal statements to a minimum, whereas others possess
a great collection of confessional statements. For example,
the Eastern Churches, despite a rich heritage of apocalyptic
and eschatological movements, refuse to fix this in dogmatic
statements. Much the same thing is also true of the Lutheran
Church, although it owed its origin to strong apocalyptic
impulses. But if this church and others treat as an undercurrent
the prophecy which among the Adventists is presented as
a constituent element of church teaching, it becomes almost
impossible to compare one church doctrine with another church
doctrine in a purely statistical fashion. Such a procedure
would mean that precisely the best and most important things
one church has to say to another would be left unsaid! As
a rule, official statements of faith give only fragmentary
expression to church doctrines by not expressing them in
their full complexity. Such statements of faith represent
(symbolize) the whole of a particular type of church doctrine
and as "symbols" (which is one of the names given
to such statements) they differ from the explicit total
presentation sought in theology. As an expression of the
total resources of a church they are always different in
kind from theology, which is inevitably a time-conditioned
enterprise of individual theologians or theological schools.
They also differ in kind from exegesis since here again
the basic decisions of faith represented in the confessions
of faith determine the status and authority of the particular
exegetical findings. These distinctions become blurred when
people are convinced that the biblical witness only represents
a doctrine which is inherent in it. The biblical kerygma
then becomes in principle identical with revealed doctrina.
exegetical finding is at once a confirmation or an expansion
of a church doctrine which is constantly developing and
which theology systematizes. But this system in turn influences
retrospectively the standpoint from which individual passages
of Scripture are approached and ultimate exegetical decisions
reached. This method, often described as biblicism, is widely
represented, particularly in the churches of the Reformation,
so that the preference for it in the teaching of Seventh-Day
Adventists cannot be considered a basic difference from
other churches, but rather as an impressive contribution
to a general discussion about doctrine and confession which
has begun both within the individual churches and in inter-church
to and underlying every particular church doctrine, however
objectively it may be based on biblical exegesis and theological
argument, are experiences of faith which have left an indelible
mark on that doctrine and are the source which consciously
or unconsciously determines the questions, inquiries and
teachings of the church in question. The living resonance
of the Protestant, "Scripture principle" rests
on the fact that Luther had earlier experienced in the depths
of despair the converting power of the Gospel (his so-called
"Tower experience"). And it is very much to the
point that Adventist doctrine is rooted in and derives strength
from an event which Adventists later referred to as "the
great disappointment" (October 22, 1844). A group of
believers, buoyed up with expectancy of the nearness of
the Parousia, learned through experience of disappointed
hope that they had failed to grasp the true nature of the
Scripture promise and realized that in this profound despair
they were like the disciples of Jesus who, with the promise
of the Kingdom of God before them, fell into despair and
crisis because of the death of Jesus on the cross, or again,
like the early church which counted on the early return
of their Lord and were disappointed when He delayed. This
experience lies behind the birth of Seventh-Day Adventism,
just as Luther's "Tower experience" lay behind
his posting of the Theses and the birth of the Protestant
churches. Those who are caught up in such fundamental experiences,
for the most part fail at first to realize that out of
107 -- the crisis through which they have to pass something
new is seeking to arise and take shape.
The full truth of a church's doctrine is therefore not yet
grasped so long as, in its details or as a whole, we see
it in isolation from such events and as mere doctrine. In
inter-church discussion there may be different views about
the individual doctrines and about the doctrine of a church
as a whole, but if we go back to the actual experiences
on which churches were founded and which are represented
in their official statements of faith, then faith testifies
directly to faith. Discussions so far in Geneva between
Seventh-Day Adventists and the Churches of the World Council
of Churches provide a proof of the benefits to be derived
from testifying to faith.
These insights must be kept in mind, when we compare the
essential doctrinal statements with each other. To begin
with, it would appear that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church
is not in disagreement with the theological basis of the
World Council of Churches, as voted at New Delhi in 1961:
"The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches
which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according
to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together
their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit."
member churches of the World Council of Churches and Seventh-Day
Adventists are in agreement on the fundamental articles
of the Christian faith as set forth in the three ancient
church symbols (Apostolicum,
Nicaeno-Constantinopolitum, Athanasium). This
agreement finds expression in unqualified acceptance of
the doctrines of the Trinity and the Two-Natures.
Adventism arose largely in a Protestant setting and thus,
historically speaking, it is quite natural that Adventists
show considerable affinity with the churches issuing from
the Reformation. This does not mean that Adventism shows
no doctrinal affinity with other religious traditions, for
example Eastern Orthodoxy. However, due to lack of historico-theological
contact (separation was enhanced by official religious intolerance
vis-a-vis Adventists in countries where Orthodoxy was the
state religion) such agreement has not been so apparent.
Seventh-Day Adventists fully agree with the Protestant Scripture
scriptura) and the Reformation doctrine of justification
by faith (sola
fide, sola gratia per Christum). They also share
the Protestant linking of justification and sanctification.
Good works are not the means of justification but its fruit.
accordance with the Protestant view, acceptance of these
doctrines takes place, not on the authority of the Church,
but on the basis of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith.
This also applies to the respect in which the writings of
eminent doctors of the Church are held. Such writings are
only authoritative to the extent that they are in agreement
with the Scriptures. There is nevertheless progress in the
understanding of Scripture. In this sense, certain doctors
of the Church and certain events in the history of the Church
acquire an increasing significance. Many aspects of the
biblical revelation can only be clearly understood and given
precise formulation as church doctrine at certain historical
junctures. The doctrinal traditions which come within this
category do not, however, constitute any addition to the
canon, but are the historical development of the truth contained
in Scripture. There are within the World Council of Churches'
ranks various views regarding revelation and the inspiration
of the Bible. Many Christians in the World Council of Churches
member churches hold views very similar to those presented
by Adventists, many do not.
Adventists express considerable agreement with conservative
evangelical Christians and with the historic confessions
of Protestantism. Specific mention should be made here of
the following doctrines : the inspiration of Holy Scripture,
the Virgin Birth, the atoning death, the bodily Resurrection
and Ascension of Christ, the literal view of the Return
of Christ, of the resurrection or "taking up"
of the saints, and of the general judgment, the work of
the Holy Spirit, the church as the body of Christ. There
is also, however, in some sense an affinity with modern
theologians too. Modern Protestant theologians do not in
fact intend to deny the statements of biblical interpretation
and of the historic creeds of the ancient Church and of
the Reformation, but rather to re-interpret them (recognising
that every credal statement is historically conditioned).
108 -- particularly to the common belief in the inspiration
of Holy Scripture. Since God speaks through the words of
men, diverse views arise regarding the role played by man
and his history in the biblical writings and in the final
redaction of these writings into a single whole.
Adventists for the most part see the connection between
the Old and New Testaments (especially in reference to the
Old Testament sacrificial system) in typological terms (type
and antitype). Many non-Seventh-Day Adventist theologians
are equally fully committed to a typological exegesis of
the Old Testament in opposition to an allegorical interpretation.
agreement with the main doctrinal tradition of Christianity,
Seventh-Day Adventists understand the Son of Man as the
Incarnate Son of God. Over against this view is that of
modern exegesis which sees the Son of Man primarily as the
pre-existent prototype of mankind and of the people of God,
to whom as such the judgment of the world has been committed.
But Adventist theology to a large extent embraces this circle
of ideas by its interpretation of the term "Archangel
Michael" as a christological title (cf. Dan. 10: 5,
6, 13 with Rev. 1: 13-15).
Adventists understand the resurrection of Jesus as resurrection
in a glorified corporeality. The Earthly Jesus and the Risen
Jesus are one and the same. The member churches of the World
Council of Churches hold officially the same view.
Adventists reject the doctrine of double predestination
traditionally held in some churches. Adventists stress the
conditional character of divine promises and warnings. Man
is gifted with a free will to choose or to reject. Yet a
rapprochement is taking place, because in many churches
which hold the doctrine of predestination, the view is gaining
ground that this doctrine is not to be interpreted in the
sense of a naked determinism or of an absolute decree. It
has, therefore, been reinterpreted in various ways, allowing
more room for genuine human decision, and has even been
rejected by some as contrary to the Gospel and as positing
a conflict of wills in the Godhead. Modern exegesis of the
teaching of the prophets has, in particular, brought out
the conditional character of the divine promises and warnings.
Man's freedom is important for God too; but that freedom
does not make it impossible for God to achieve His purpose
of redemption, even if it means that He does so in ever
new ways which take human decision seriously into account.
God remains the author of the conditions of ultimate salvation
and its surety. It may, therefore, be said that there is
here a convergence of standpoints.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church regards the Decalogue to be
a permanent and unchanging Divine standard of life. Segments
in Protestantism are engaged in a discussion of the absolute
claim of the Ten Commandments on the Christian. Along with
the Law has not the Decalogue been abrogated by Christ?
Statements tending in this direction are found not merely
in the works of modern theologians but even in Luther. On
the other hand, it has been Protestant doctrine, at least
since Melanchthon (with Luther's assent), that in the Ten
Commandments God reaffirmed and expressly emphasised the
established in and with creation. In connection with this
doctrine, a distinction has been made in Protestantism since
Melanchthon between the Decalogue which is permanently valid
and the ceremonial law which has been abrogated. Discussion
is far from being closed on this issue, and it should not
be prematurely broken off, since both positions are concerned
to affirm the Gospel on the basis of the testimony of Scripture.
the Adventist view baptism is to be administered by immersion;
it needs faith on the part of the candidate. In harmony
with other followers of the Baptist tradition, Seventh-Day
Adventists thus reject infant baptism, believing that there
is no Biblical warrant for this custom. Although many churches
defend infant baptism as scriptural, it is impossible to
ignore the lively debate which has opened up in these churches
on this subject. It will, moreover, be readily acknowledged
that the total immersion of the baptismal candidate is strongly
attested both in the Bible and in early Christian practice.
Few would deny that the Christian's baptism, in accordance
with Adventist teaching, into the once-for-all death, the
once-for-all burial, the once-for-all resurrection of Christ
(Rom. 6) is more clearly represented by a once-for-all immersion,
than by a threefold dipping, sprinkling or pouring with
a Trinitarian reference. Difference in baptismal
109 -- practice, however, does not exclude a consensus
so far as the theological affirmation made by Adventist
practice is concerned.
same may be said of the Adventist association of the feet-washing
(ordinance of humility) and the Lord's Supper. This is biblically
defensible, even if there is still a difference of view
as to whether we are dealing here with a command and institution
of Christ which has to be strictly observed. At least there
is agreement about the substantial point that Jesus' sacrifice
and service for us finds its true continuance in brotherly
love and humility (John 13:15).
Adventists believe together with many Christian Churches
in the conditional immortality of man and reject the idea
that the soul has an innate, indefeasibly immortal existence
separate from the body. As a sinful creature, man is subject
to death and will rest in the tomb until the resurrection
day. Eternal life is available only in Christ. The unjust
will be destroyed forever.
is a broad tradition of doctrinal agreement in the interpretation
of biblical prophecy, and of apocalyptic writings in particular.
Historical criticism has, however, often produced divergent
findings and these deserve attention. But preoccupation
with the interpretation of prophecy in terms of its original
historical setting can easily lead us to forget the total
context of prophecy on which traditional interpretation
differences in detailed interpretation, we share the conviction
that God speaks to us even about our own times and about
the future, sometimes in an indirect symbolic way through
prophecy. The full truth of prophecy will only be clearly
unveiled to us, of course, as history unfolds itself. But
prophecy in any case sharpens our awareness of the imminent
parousia of Christ, however well or badly the fulfilment
of prophecy may have been understood in fact since the early
days of Christianity. Christian faith is vivified by belief
that the day of the Lord is at hand. It is thus a forerunner
and a sign pointing to the future of Christ. Whenever such
a prophetically inspired faith appears in Christendom, it
is always a prophetic sign for the whole Church. A vigorous
advent hope is an essential mark of Christian faith.
the abstention from alcohol and tobacco and the adherence
to a specific health
programme the Adventist Church does not adopt an exclusive
attitude to other churches and does not turn this into a
condition of salvation. Here again, however, there is an
underlying common ground, namely, that the Christian in
his service of God has responsibility for his health.
Adventists believe that religious liberty and the interests
of both church and state are best preserved and served when
each operates in its domain (see Matt. 22:21) under the
policy of what is generally called separation of church
even in churches which still have a more or less close connection
with the State, the call for the separation of Church and
State is growing. For many Christians today, what Marx called
"the removal of the Church from the State into society",
includes the mighty relevance of their
faith to contemporary society. Service of the
world - "God so loved the world" (John 3: 16)
- by no means implies an empty secularisation, but rather
applying the gospel of salvation to the needs of mankind.
SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS OF RECENT DISCUSSIONS (1970 and 1971)
-- For several years informal conversations were held between
the World Council of Churches and the Seventh-Day Adventist
Church. The discussions in November 1969 dealt with the
understanding of "Apocalyptic Prophecy" (cf. the
analysis of these discussions in The Ecumenical Review
1970/2, pp. 163 ff). As one of the general results it was
commonly recognised that the study of biblical texts provides
the conversations between separated Christians with a common
frame of reference. At the same time, it became evident
that the simple appeal to the Bible does not necessarily
overcome differences. Thus, it was decided that the discussions
in 1970 should concentrate on the process of interpretation
of the Bible itself in the hope that light could be thrown
on the underlying differences of approach to the Bible.
Earlier discussions had shown that some of the differences
were rooted in the respective conceptions of revelation
and inspiration. An attempt was made to relate systematic
statements on the doctrinal
110 -- position of either side to concrete examples
of biblical interpretation.
a certain continuity with these discussions (see especially
below I, 6) it was suggested for the conversations in 1971
to concentrate on the social responsibility of the Church.
It was hoped that this would offer an opportunity to discuss
not only the foundations of Christian social ethics but
to engage in a debate about concrete issues arising in particular
from the World Council's involvement in social and political
following summaries have been discussed and accepted by
the participants of the respective meetings. Since both
texts, however, have been prepared by participants from
the side of the World Council, their status as common documents
is necessarily limited.
WORD OF GOD - REVELATION AND INSPIRATION
of biblical texts. -- The results of the
discussion on "Apocalyptic Prophecy" were again
validated (loc. cit., p. 167, paras. 2, 3). There was almost
complete agreement on the original meaning of certain passages
and on the methods to be used for their interpretation.
Both sides employed the means of historical and of form-criticism
to arrive at a clear understanding of the original message
of the text. Differences arising in this area mainly concerned
the evaluation of certain exegetical findings. It was only
in the area of a contemporary interpretation and a meditative
rethinking of the original message that marked divergences
became apparent. Since this interpretation made use of the
results of exegetical analysis even exegesis could become
approach. Discussion of the respective systematic
presuppositions necessarily has to work with abstract concepts
open to multiple interpretation. A specific difficulty arose
for the participants from the side of the World Council
of Churches since there is no unified body of doctrine accepted
by all member Churches. Differences regarding the systematic
approach to the problem must not be interpreted as evidence
of a basic disagreement between Seventh-Day Adventists and
the World Council of Churches. The position put forth by
the Seventh-Day Adventist participants can be found either
in full or at least in part in many churches belonging to
the World Council of Churches and was shared by a number
of participants from the side of the World Council of Churches.
-- All start form the basic assumption that there is the
promise of Christ's presence in the Spirit. The reality
of the working of the Spirit was never questioned. No agreement
could be reached, however, as to how this active presence
of the Spirit could be grasped and expressed.
All agree on the conviction that the Bible is inspired and
that study of the Bible leads - at least potentially - to
encounter with the Spirit. No agreement could be reached,
however, as to the extent to which the Spirit has bound
himself to the literal understanding of the biblical text.
There is agreement that changing human affairs show signs
of God's activity and may properly be understood in terms
of it. No agreement could be reached, however, about the
question whether the Bible as inspired word of God provides
us with clear knowledge about God's way of acting or whether
it is essentially an act of faith informed by biblical witness
by which we recover his way out of the ambiguities of history.
-- Disagreements arose mainly concerning the proper way
of relating the different factors of
the process of revelation, i.e. God's own action through
the Spirit, b)
the biblical writing, and c)
the interpreting community and its witness.
of Seventh-Day Adventist participants could be
summarised in this way:
The Bible is recognised as an inspired book.
This appreciation of the Bible is based on the affirmation
that it represents the normative record of God's revelation.
The biblical writings are clear and sufficient
in themselves. Their different parts are in harmony with
each other. The inspired character of the Bible implies
that no basic contradiction can obtain between any of its
authors or writings.
The present Christian community in its witness
always has to refer back to the normative witness included
in the biblical
111 -- texts. Witness today essentially is re-affirmation
of the biblical witness.
of most of the participants from the side of the World Council
of Churches appeared to converge along the following
The Bible is understood as the principal
source by which men acquire access to the divine revelation.
It is inspired in the sense that it potentially leads to
encounter with God in the Spirit. But neither in the past
nor in the present has God bound himself exclusively to
the Bible as the only mediator of his revelation. Thus,
in spite of its inspired character the Bible by itself alone
is not understood as normative.
The Bible is not, by virtue of its inspiration,
dissociated as a holy book from human history. It was written
by human writers who participated in the historic circumstances
of their particular time. Their writing represents in the
first instance their witness to their particular community,
and any contemporary interpretation will have to take this
Thus, strong emphasis is laid on the role of the
community in the process of interpretation and witnessing.
Since the biblical witness is not understood as being itself
normative, present witness has to grow out of participation
in the process of witnessing since biblical times.
mutually addressed. -- On the side of Seventh-Day
Adventist participants it was repeatedly stressed
in the discussions that the approach to the biblical witness
and its interpretation which is characteristic for many
Churches in the World Council leaves far too much room for
arbitrariness. Where the Bible is not understood to be normative
in its direct meaning it is left to the free choice of the
individual interpreter which aspects of the biblical witness
he wants to select as relevant for his own community.
On the side of the World
Council of Churches participants the criticism
was expressed that the Seventh-Day Adventist understanding
of inspiration makes the Bible into a sacred book and forces
the texts into a preconceived scheme of thought. The texts
cannot any longer speak for themselves.
problems. -- Underlying much of the discussion
was the general problem of the relationship between inspiration
and authority and in particular the authority of the Bible
as inspired witness. When inspiration is understood as an
event occurring in situations of immediate existential involvement,
the authority of the biblical text is established in the
very moment of inspiration. If, however, the Bible is considered
to be authoritative and inspired by itself, independent
of its being experienced as such, how can the misuse of
this authority in an oppressive sense be avoided?
difference of orientation reveals a fundamental problem.
We recognise today, even in "Bible-oriented" communities,
a decrease of Bible-study and of interest in the Bible.
In many places we even see a strong resistance against Bible-study
emerging, although a remarkable resurgence of interest in
the Bible can be observed at the same time. These developments
in their contradictory character call for an explanation.
With regard to the decline of Bible-study the question might
be asked whether it is due precisely to the "authoritarian"
concept of authority and inspiration traditionally connected
with the Bible that an open encounter with the biblical
witness has become impossible for many people. On the other
hand it could equally be asked whether historical and form
criticism have not gone too far and destroyed the very basis
of biblical authority. Perhaps it is symptomatic that very
often groups and communities which stress the literal authority
of the Bible go along with politically conservative movements.
Contrarywise we observe a certain correlation between liberal
political attitudes and a critical view regarding the authority
and inspiration of the Bible. However this may be, the discussion
has shown that in addition to strictly theological presuppositions
a number of "non-theological" factors may be operative
in determining our respective approach to the interpretation
of the biblical texts.
THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH.
The discussion of "The Social Responsibility of the
Church" has shown that Adventists, on the one hand,
and the Churches which have chosen to enter the fellowship
of the World Council of Churches, on the other, share a
common yearning to respond more
112 -- fully to the saving love which has been made
manifest to the world in Jesus Christ. While agreeing that
this faith carries profound implications for the Church's
witness in society, we differ markedly in the ways we formulate
these. Such differences stem partly from the varied experiences
we carry with us, as individuals or denominations, and partly
from disagreements about the relative weight to be given
to specific doctrines within our common faith-tradition.
We should, however, emphasise that these differences do
not represent a clear distinction between Adventism and
World Council member Churches, for the kind of debate we
have had at this meeting has often been heard - and will
continue to be heard - within many member Churches and within
the governing bodies of the World Council of Churches itself.
We affirm that the Church has been constituted
by God's saving action in Jesus Christ whose selfless love
for the world is to be reflected by those who bear his name.
In isolating itself from the world, or in serving mankind
simply to strengthen itself as an institution, the Church
would be untrue to that outreaching divine love whose Incarnation
we recognise and proclaim. The Church like its Lord is called
the world in order to exist for
the world. Differences exist between us, however, in interpreting
how these elements of "withdrawal from" and "existence
for" are to be held together.
The Church lives as a sign and servant of the Kingdom which
has come and which is to come. Its sure hope constitutes
an eschatological dynamic for social service and action,
and also sets an eschatological limit to what we may expect
from such service and action. We appear to differ, however,
in the relative weight given to the "dynamising"
and "limiting" aspects of eschatology.
Responsibility for the neighbour cannot be
separated from love for God, any more than verbal proclamation
can be divorced from our attempts to embody the reconciliation
and healing of which we speak. The Church's social responsibility
is therefore not a peripheral matter but a concern which
emerges from the heart of the Gospel itself. Each group
in this discussion, however, has expressed misgivings about
what it sees as the other's imbalance in relating proclamation
and social responsibility.
The witness of the Church is addressed to the
salvation of the whole
man, body, mind, and spirit. Each person, whether
he likes it or not, lives in a society which supports and/or
oppresses him and upbuilds and/or distorts his humanity.
Its concern for man drives the Church to take very seriously
the social, political and economic structures of society.
Believing in the creation of every man in the image of God
the Church must stand for the dignity and freedom of the
individual against every tyranny. Equally, it must defend
the welfare of the human community against the individual
or sub-group which would misuse its freedom.
We have consensus on the need for forms of Christian
social action which respond to the political and economic
realities of the day without being solely determined by
them; on the need for the Church to avoid both the Scylla
of a Constantinian captivity to a particular social order
as well as the Charybdis of a total disregard for the social
order; and on the need to find more effective ways of linking
ethical insights which are to be derived from Christian
faith with the passing issues of social, political and economic
decision-making. Yet there remain disagreements about the
forms of political action which are appropriate for the
individual Christian, and even more substantial differences
about the ways in which Churches and councils of Churches
should act to support and encourage responsible Christian
We are in agreement that Christian diaconia
is at the same time caritative, structural and "conscientising".
These three forms of service in society are complementary,
interdependent and inseparable. However, we could not resolve
difficulties arising from the question whether there obtains
an order of priority among these forms of diaconia and by
which methods "structural" diaconia in particular
should be carried out. Should the Christian community work
for the change of the structures of society, even if this
involves revolutionary methods including the possible use
of violence? Does the biblical witness oblige us to give
a priority to spiritual means of inducing change and thus
to the "conscientising" aspect of diaconia? Adventist
participants expressed the fear lest the Church in its "structural"
diaconia should become exclusively identified with any one
side of the political struggles in society.
113 -- HOW
TO USE THESE MATERIALS IN LOCAL AND REGIONAL CONVERSATIONS
-- Those engaging in
conversations on local and regional levels will have to
develop their own method and choose their themes according
to the circumstances. Some words might be in order concerning
the possible use to be made during such conversations of
the materials assembled in this "dossier":
groups may want to start with a critical study and appraisal
of the two sets of reports on the series of international
meetings. Within this framework they could concentrate on
one of the three analyses of discussion on individual topics.
From there the work could progress to a joint study of the
document on "Common Witness and Proselytism".
Finally, one could turn to a mutual clarification of the
self-understanding of the partners in the conversation.
groups might wish to start with the question: Who are we?
Such mutual introduction and information could be based
on the documents included in the first part of the "dossier".
Further information will doubtlessly arise out of the respective
situation. In a second phase conversation could be directed
toward one specific issue or theme of common concern, using
either the study document on "Common Witness and Proselytism"
or one of the themes from the international discussions.
On the basis of such common study, the results of the international
meetings held so far could be evaluated.
further ways of proceeding and using the materials presented
here could be conceived. In any case, conversations should
stay as close as possible to the particular situation in
which they take place. Thus, the reports coming from the
international meetings might soon have to be left aside.
114 -- For your future reading
the World Council of Churches
Speaks (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1968, Sfr 4.80)
contains the Message and Section Reports of the Council's
Fourth Assembly and is thus the most comprehensive and the
most official text for the current positions and strivings
of the Council. The Fifth Assembly will be meeting in 1975.
authoritative history of the ecumenical movement from 1517-1968,
sponsored by the WCC, is published in two very large volumes:
A History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948, eds.
Rouse and Neill and The Ecumenical Advance 1948-1968,
ed. H. Fey (both London: SPCK and Philadelphia: Westminster
Press). Readers looking for a shorter historical account
can best consult the two volumes by Norman Goodall: The
Ecumenical Movement - what it is and what it does and
Progress (1961-1971) (both London and New York: Oxford
University Press). The achievements of the Faith and Order
Commission which, within the WCC, is particularly concerned
to keep open inter-confessional conversations, can be studied
in A Documentary History of Faith and Order (St Louis:
Bethany Press), and its current discussions in Faith
and Order Louvain 1971 (Geneva: WCC). Written especially
for British readers and with the critical judgement of a
single writer is The Churches Search for Unity by
Barry Till (London: Pelican/Penguin Books 1972).
the Fifth Assembly pulls the many strands of the Council's
work together again, the debates on major issues and the
insights of the various projects can best be followed in
the WCC journals: The Ecumenical Review (see e.g.
October 1972 on the Council's self-understanding or July
1972 on relationships with Roman Catholics), the International
Review of Mission (see e.g. January 1972 on Salvation
Today or April 1972 on Africa), Study Encounter (see
e.g. SE/22 Biblical Interpretation in the WCC or SE/35 Can
the Pentecostal Movement Renew the Churches?),and RISK
(see e.g. 1971 no. 3 on African Independent Churches or
1972 no. 3 on a WCC Central Committee meeting). The Ecumenical
Press Service, especially its This Month series,
brings up to date news and reports from all over the Christian
of these materials are available also in French and German;
please write and ask about this, as for the current catalogue,
subscriptions and any other point concerning the Council's
work to: WCC Publications Office,
route de Ferney
1211 Geneva 20
475 Riverside Drive
New York, N.Y. 10027
U S A
For your future reading
the Seventh-day Adventist Church
B. B., Ecumenism - Boon or Bane?, Washington D.C.:
Review and Herald, 1973
W. R., Dimensions in Salvation, Washington DC: Review
and Herald, 1963
W. L., God's Good News, Watford, Great Britain: Stanborough
L. E., The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vols.
I-IV, Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1954
L. E., Movement of Destiny, Washington DC: Review
and Herald, 1971
Booton, The Seventh Day, New York: McGraw-Hill Book
Company Inc., 1960
Edward, Our High Priest, Washington DC: Review and
T. H., A Prophet Among You, Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press, 1955
T. H., Christian Beliefs, Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press, 1959
F. D., The Midnight Cry, Washington DC: Review and
F. D., Reasons for Our Faith, Washington DC: Review
and Herald, 1947
R., Prophet of Destiny, New Canaan, Conn.: Keats
Publishing, Inc., 1972
N. F., And Worship Him, Nashville, Tenn.: Southern
Publishing Association, 1967
R. M., The Search for Meaning in Nature, Mountain
View, California: Pacific Press, 1970
Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, Washington
DC: Review and Herald, 1957
Adventist Bible Commentary, Vols. I-VII, Washington
DC: Review and Herald, 1957
116 -- Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Washington
DC: Review and Herald, 1966
Arthur W., The Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists,
Vols. I-III, Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1961
G., Unser Ruhetag, Zurich: Advent-Verlag, 1970
E. K., The Wisdom Seekers, Nashville, Tenn.: Southern
Publishing Association, 1972
A., L'Histoire du Salut, Dammarie-les-Lys, France:
Les Signes des Temps, 1951
Edward, Let Me Assure You, Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press, 1968
E. G., The Desire of Ages, Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press, 1898
E. G., The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan,
Mountain View,California: Pacific Press, 1911
E. G., Steps to Christ, Washington DC: Review and
Herald, 1956 (copyright)