much in common
of interest in
the conversations between
the World Council of Churches and
the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Council of Churches
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
of Public Affairs
119 St. Peter's Street St.
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? -- The
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.
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 members.
25 years of discovery certainly give reason for gratitude for the progress
of the movement which the Council seeks to serve.
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 unity.
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
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
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 theology.
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 Pentecostal communities.
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
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 re-affirmation 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 equal partnership.
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
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 people."
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 fellowship".
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 future".
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 together
18 -- rather than concentrate almost exclusively on the obstacles
to Christian unity. Such an expression of faith would of course be pluri-form
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 ecumenicall 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 Christiain 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
programme is almost as wide as mankind's physicial, 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 re-establish 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?
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 inter-national and national society is built.
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 inter-disciplinary 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 non-violent ways to change social
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
22 -- and the stewardship of the resources of the earth. A selfish
concentration on welfare within one nation or region is a denial of
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
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 injustice.
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
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 of ecumenical
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
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
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
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?
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 Committee
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 in 1971.
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
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. Unil the pontificate of John XXIII the Roman Catholic Church
was in doubt about the modern ecumenical movement. There were strong
ecumenial 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
II and especially the creation of a Secretariat for the Promotion of
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 WC 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
Romnn 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 developments.
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
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 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
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, etc.
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 distress.
World Council also receives grants from time to time from churches and
foundations for specific projects, such as studies, publications or
33 --Constitution and Rules
of the World Council of Churches -- A.
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 Spirit.
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 be:
i) to carry on the work of the world movements for Faith and
Order and Life and Work and of the International Missionary Council;
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
vi) to establish and maintain relations with national and regional
councils, world confessional bodies and other ecumenical organizations;
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 interest.
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 churches.
-- The World Council shall discharge its functions through the
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
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 concerned.
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
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 Missionary Council.
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
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 of Churches;
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 Churchcs.
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 non-voting representatives to the Assembly and to
the Central Committee, in such numbers as the Central Committee shall
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
-- Tthe 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 rules:
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
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.
b) Stability. 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 and evangelism.
c) Size. The
question of size must also be taken into consideration.
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
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 Constitution -
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:
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 organizations.
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 interest.
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 churches.
Organization -- The World Council shall discharge its functions
through: an Assembly, a Central Committee, an Executive Committee, and
other subordinate bodies as may be established.
a.) The Assembly shall be the supreme legislative
body governing the World Council and shall ordinarily meet at seven
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:
To elect the President or Presidents of the World Council.
42 -- 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 and Commissions.
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 Council.
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 willl be needed.
ix) To delegate specific functions to the Executive Committee
or to other bodies or persons.
-- The 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 here.
44 -- VI. Other Ecumenical Christian Organizations
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 non-voting
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 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 -- Meembers 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
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
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
A church must be able to take the decision to
apply for membership without obtaining the permission of any other body
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
Associate 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
-- 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 membership.
1. The Assembly shall elect one or more Presidents
but the number of Presidents shall not exceed six.
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
The President or Presidents shall be ex
officio members of the Central Committee and of the Executive
Should a vacancy occur in the Praesidium between assemblies, the
Central Committee may elect a President to fill the unexpired term.
47 -- 1. -- THE CHURCH, THE
CHURCHES AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES -- The
Ecclesiological Significance of the World Council of Churches -- Received
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 --
(2) The 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
-- Amsterdam, 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) The
World 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.
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" (William Temple).
-- 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.
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
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.
-- 3) The
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.
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."
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 relative.
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.
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
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
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
(8) -- We must
now try to define the positive assumptions which underlie the World
Council of Churches and the ecclesiological implications of membership
The 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.
Basis of the World Council is the acknowledgment of the central fact
that "other foundation can no man lay
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.
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 Christ." 2
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.
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 members extra
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.
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
-- 4) The
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.
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.
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.
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
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 poinang 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
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.
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."
7) A 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.
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
Churchh 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 purposee 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
-- 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.
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 of Christ."
-- 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.
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
-- 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 SeventhDay 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
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. 1
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
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
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 God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. 3
the General Conference itself could state its reaction to this basis,
in the light of the first three articles of Adventist "Fundamental
it would appear that there is no obstacle to a positive
p. 626. Note: abbreviations are explained in the bibliography.
QD, p. 24.
3 NDR, p.
426. Article I of the WCC Constitution.
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
us," while the high-priestly ministry enables the atonement
to be wrought in us.
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
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; 9. 11).
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
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." 2
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."
Certainly Adventist doctrines are proved not on the basis of
these writings but are based upon Scriptural exegesis. 5
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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 in
QD, p. 90.
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, correctly understood."
3 QD, p. 13.
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. 18) 2
-- 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; 3
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" Scripture. 2
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."
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.
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. 6
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 has given
See Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia (Volume
10 of The Seventh-Day Adventist
Commentary and Commentary Reference Series), pp. 1113 ff.
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.
5 QD, p. 185.
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." 2
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." 5
p. 678; see also Mrs. White's exegesis of Isaiah 58. 13 f. and its relation
to the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah, Ibid.
2 SDABC, Vol. 10, p. 1105.
p. 271 n ; MH, pp. 325 ff.
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.
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 of what
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." 3
Beliefs 11, 12, 20-22; QD, p. 24, No. 9.
3 See articles on "Sanctuary"
and "Investigative Judgment," in SDABC, Vol. 10.
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." 2
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 nothing." 4
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
2 QD, p.
3 QD, pp.
4 QD, p.
5 QD, p.
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 world-wide 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 than Luther.
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
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."
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, 1959)
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905, 1942).
--- 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,
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, Steps to Christ (Washington, D.C.: Review
and Herald Publishing Association, 1921).
-- ELLEN G. WHITE, The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan
View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1888, 1911).
Volume 5, Conflict of the Ages Series.
-- The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary and Commentary Reference
(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1953-1966),
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:
and Prophets (1890, 1958), Volume 1.
of Ages (1898, 1940), Volume 3.
of the Apostles (1911), Volume 4.(Mountain
View, California : Pacific Press Publishing Association).
Le Roy EDWIN FROOM, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers (Washington,
D.C. Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965 and 1966).
Le Roy EDWIN FROOM, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946-1954), 4 vols.
FRANCIS D. NICHOL, Ellen G. White and Her Critics (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951).
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 as follows:
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
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. Ex. 20:1-17.
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 reiationship 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 transforms tion 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 unconsciou ness. 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 5:28, 29.
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. 20:5 -10.
That the finally impenitent, including Satan, the author of sin,
will, by the fires of the last day, be reduced to a state of non-existence,
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; Eze. 4:6.
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 procaimation
of the approach of the second advent of Christ; that this work is symbolized
by the three angels of Revelation 14; and that their three-fold 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. 14:6-12.
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 folowers 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 acknowledgement 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 G. White.
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
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 fricion 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
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
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:
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,
SDA QUESTIONS REGARDING THE
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
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
Would affiliation with the WCC force us to enter into comity agreements
limiting our outreach in mission lands to work among non-Christians
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 involve?
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 working
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, organzational, 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 devotions.
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
ess 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.
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 SDA Church?
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
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 of Jesus."
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 our mission?
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 plllution. .
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.
80 -- COMMON WITNESS AND PROSELYTISM
- A STUDY DOCUMENT -- The
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 are divided;
- to avoid
in their mutual relations and in their evangelising activities whatever
is not in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel;
- - 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
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 witness.
OF THE TERMS: Christian Witness, Common Witness, Religious Freedom,
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
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 coercionn 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 the world.
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
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 of salvation.
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 freedom;
-- 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:
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 Gospel.
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
-- 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 parenthood).
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 movement.
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 world.
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 favour cooperation.
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 salvation.
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
-- 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 Gospel:
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).
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.
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.
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.
2. Christian 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 Christian communities.
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;
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?
that any change of allegiance motivated mainly by the desire to secure
some material advantage should be refused.
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
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 new attitudes.
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 among them.
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.
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.
an Adventist viewpoint the document is partial, not in the sense of
biased, but in the etymological meaning of incomplete, in its approach
Dr. B. B.
BEACH, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, is the Secretary
of the Department of Public Affairs, Northern European Division, United
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
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 cooperation.
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 the authority
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 un-Christian 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 erm 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 possible view
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 prrsuading 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,
deliveruncc 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.
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
but of struggle for the eradication
of injustice. Is it implied that men will succeed to eradicate
such evils prior to Divine intervention at the end of the present age?
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 church
organizations 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,
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.
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 churches
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, they
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 de facto
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.
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 its writers.
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 so far.
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 Adventist Church.
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 series.
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
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 of proselytism.
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
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 about 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
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
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.
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
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
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. B. BEACH *
Dr, B. B. BEACH,
General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, is the Secretary of the
Department of Public Affairs, Northern European Division, United Kingdom.
OF DISCUSSION ON "APOCALYPTIC PROPHECY" --
The Significance of the Bible for Ecumenical Discussion.
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 Churches.
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 interprrtation is not shared, it does not
mean that the texts are not taken seriously.
Differences in Understanding of Prophetic and Apocalyptic
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 dimension.
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 Scripture?
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
The Significance of a Particular Interpretation of Prophetic and Apocalyptic
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:
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 apocalyptic texts?
participants could ask the following questions:
not Seventh-day Adventists tend to isolate the prophetic and apocalyptic
texts from the rest of the biblical witness?
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, Geneva.
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: 2).
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
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
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
exoressing 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
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 principle (sola
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
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 lex naturae
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 rested.
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
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 and state.
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
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
Exegesis 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 controversial retrospectively.
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
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 a)
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.
The position 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
The position of most
of the participants from the side of the World Council of Churches
appeared to converge along the following lines:
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
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 into account.
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
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.
-- Underlying much of the discussion was the general problem of the
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
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 out
of 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
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 social engagement.
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
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 Ecumenical
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 world.
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,
1211 Geneva 20
|| Room 439
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
W. R., Dimensions in Salvation, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald,
W. L., God's Good News, Watford, Great Britain: Stanborough Press,
L. E., The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vols. I-IV, Washington
D.C.: Review and Herald, 1954
L. E., Movement of Destiny, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald,
Booton, The Seventh Day, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company Inc.,
Edward, Our High Priest, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald,
T. H., A Prophet Among You, Mountain View, California: Pacific
T. H., Christian Beliefs, Mountain View, California: Pacific
F. D., The Midnight Cry, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald,
F. D., Reasons for Our Faith, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald,
R., Prophet of Destiny, New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing,
N. F., And Worship Him, Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing
R. M., The Search for Meaning in Nature, Mountain View, California:
Pacific Press, 1970
Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, Washington D.C.: Review
and Herald, 1957
Adventist Bible Commentary, Vols. I-VII, Washington D.C.: Review
and Herald, 1957
116 -- Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Washington D.C.:
Review and Herald, 1966
Arthur W., The Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists,
Vols. I-III, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald, 1961
G., Unser Ruhetag, Zurich: Advent-Verlag, 1970
E. K., The Wisdom Seekers, Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing
A., L'Histoire du Salut, Dammarie-les-Lys, France: Les Signes
des Temps, 1951
Edward, Let Me Assure You, Mountain View, California: Pacific
E. G., The Desire of Ages, Mountain View, California: Pacific
E. G., The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, Mountain
View,California: Pacific Press, 1911
E. G., Steps to Christ, Washington D.C.: Review and Herald, 1956