Making a Common Vision of the Church Possible

  • William Henn
Part of the Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue book series (PEID)


The final pages of a report on the responses by more than 150 churches to what is undoubtedly one of the most widely known and appreciated ecumenical documents of the twentieth century—the Faith and Order Commission’s Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), adopted in Lima, Peru, in 1982—include the following lines:

The search for Christian unity implies the search for common ecumenical perspectives on ecclesiology. This need is strongly underlined by the analysis of the responses to BEM which reveal many different presuppositions but also convergences regarding the nature of the church… In the light of the Lima document, to which Christian churches throughout the world are responding, new momentum is given to the search for common perspectives on ecclesiology… many responses to BEM requested that ecclesiology be made a major study in future Faith and Order work. Such an ecclesiology in an ecumenical perspective must take into account the various ideas of the church which reflect the churches’ different self-understanding and their views on the nature of the church and its unity. It also requires the search for basic ecclesiological principles, which could provide common perspectives for the churches’ different ecclesiologies and serve as a framework for their convergence. These principles could be appropriately applied in different contextual situations in the life of the churches.1


Common Vision Remote Preparation Christian Community Common Perspective Full Communion 
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  1. 1.
    Faith and Order Commission, Baptism, Eucharist & Ministr y 1982–1990: Report on the Process and Responses (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990), 147–48.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The complete title of the document to which I am referring is “The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches: The Eccle-siological Significance of the World Council of Churches.” The circumstances of its composition and its essential content are nicely summarized in Morris West, “Toronto Statement,” in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, 2nd ed., ed. Nicholas Lossky et al. (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002), 1137–39;Google Scholar
  3. Erin M. Brigham, Sustaining the Hope for Unity: Ecumenical Dialogue in a Postmodern World (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 110–32, has recently summarized some of the subsequent discussion of the Toronto Statement and argued for its enduring relevance as a support for maintaining the inclusivity of dialogue within the WCC. Her view, influenced strongly by postmodernist thought and by the epistemology of Jürgen Habermas, cautions against seeking ecclesiological convergence or consensus that might exclude any ecumenical partner and, as such, would seem to be in striking contrast with the quotation with which my essay opens.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    The first three of these can be found in Günther Gassmann, ed., Documentary History of Faith and Order 1963–1993 (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1993), 3–5, while Porto Alegre’s “Called to be the One Church”Google Scholar
  5. is printed in Luis N. Rivera-Pagan, ed., God, in Your Grace: Official Report of the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2007), 255–61.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See World Council of Churches, Called to Be the One Church: Faith and Order at Crete, ed. John Gibaut (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2012).Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church can be found in Jeffrey Gros et al., eds., Growth in Agreement, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 566–82.Google Scholar
  8. An excellent account of this agreement by an observer who was very close to the unfolding developments leading to the joint declaration is John A. Radano, Lutheran and Catholic Reconciliation on Justification (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    World Council of Churches, The Church: Towards a Common Vision, Faith and Order Paper No. 214 (Geneva: WCC, 2013), 22.Google Scholar

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© William Henn 2016

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  • William Henn

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