Introduction – Confessional Alliances and Ecumenical Networks in the 19th Century
The 19th century was marked by an immense globalization process. This affected more than just the economy and was partly due to the improvement of means of communication and travel (telegraphy, steam navigation, railways). There was consequently a general trend towards internationalization.1 European and world organizations were formed and global conferences were organized (e.g. British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1843; the first world's fair in , 1851; the International Red Cross, 1864; the International Workers Association - First International, 1864, the modern Olympic Games, 1896).
Confessional associations formed at the global level. Christian denominations wanted to establish themselves as international communities, while generating external awareness. On the one hand, they tried to overcome limited national perspectives through the interest in a shared Christian testimony. On the other hand, however, by emphasizing the issue of confessional identity, they risked promoting divisions with the other "confessional families" as concerned Christianity as a whole. Among the confessional unions were the Lambeth Conferences in 1867;2 the First Vatican Council from 1869 to 1870;3 the World Alliance of the Reformed Churches holding the Presbyterian System in 1875 (merged with the World Council of Reformed Churches in 2010);4 the Ecumenical Methodist Conferences in 1881 (with Methodist World Council since 1951);5 the Old Catholic Union of in 1889;6 the International Congregational Council in 1891; and the Baptist World Alliance in 1905.7 The Lutheran World Convention followed in 1923 (which became the Lutheran World Federation in 1947).8 The Protestant side was a loosely knit community without jurisdictional powers over the churches belonging to it.
Apart from these associations of institutionalized churches, an interdenominational network of ecumenical initiatives was created that incorporates all Christian denominations. It originated from Christian groups and movements and, for the most part, very charismatic individuals. Historically, it belongs to the revival movement in 9 and the development towards Protestant alliance formation.10 Especially active in these associations were and North American Protestants, but there was also close cooperation from the start in . Linguistically, English dominated and became the greatest linguistic "winner of globalization" in the course of the 19th century.11 The best known and most dominant associations were the Evangelical Alliance (1846),12 the World Alliance of Young Men's Christian Associations / “Weltbund der Christlichen Vereinigung junger Männer” (YMCA / CVJM 1854),13 the World Student Christian Federation (1895)14 and the World Young Women's Christian Association (1894) ,15 and the Sunday School Movement.16 Another association with roots in the 19th century, and initiated by women, was the World Day of Prayer movement.17and the
The Evangelical Alliance is an early example of the emergence of an ecumenical dynamic, but also of the difficulties in this area of Christian cooperation. It was first conceived as an international gathering and forum for Christians to promote religious renewal18 with a view toward Christian unity, and not least as a clarion call in the face of increasingly hostile politics from the Vatican. Soon, the alliance directed its focus on the violation of the principle of religious freedom19 in different countries. In this respect, it took on to some extent the quality of a non-governmental organization. It also addressed social crises and wars, giving rise to ethical reflections (above all issues of economy and peace).20 After the Franco-German War of 1870/1871, the alliance committed itself to reconciling Christians of both countries. Major international conferences were held at regular intervals in various major cities in Europe and the USA. Here the situation of Christianity in individual countries and regions and generally relevant dogmatic and largely current ethical topics were deliberated. At the same time, there were numerous disputes such as the initially divergent views of the British and US-Americans on the question of slavery, which nearly brought the founding meeting in London in 1846 to its knees. This development calls to mind later ecumenical conflicts in about the handling of apartheid politics in South . In the realm of spirituality, there was a need for common celebrations of the Lord's Supper and a more vibrant worship community. Since its founding, the Alliance has understood itself as an ecumenical movement. Reference was thus made to all of Christianity and the world as a whole. Moreover, the Alliance adopted a critical role against the inherently exclusionary and delimiting aspects of denominationalism and nationalism. From the 1880s onwards, the Alliance’s focus became more attenuated, in particular because it assumed a stronger stance against liberal critical theology.21
The cooperation of Christians of different Protestant confessions or denominations in the Mission Movement was particularly intense. At the beginning, the aim was to inspire the strongest possible ecumenical impulses. Denominational fragmentation was seen as a major obstacle to missionary activity among indigenous peoples in Africa and . This led to a growing interest in cooperation among the churches and to progress towards inner-Christian unity, which was increasingly characterized by the term "ecumenical." From 1854 onwards, international mission conferences were regularly organized.
The two underlying ecumenical currents (churches and networks) engaged in mission work were present at the World Missionary Conference in John R. Mott (1865–1955), co-founder of the Christian World Student Federation, and the Scot Joseph H. Oldham (1874–1969), who was also active in the Christian student movement. The assembly formulated, programmatically, three basic ecumenical concerns:in 1910, which was especially influenced by the American
- The evangelization of humanity ("Evangelization of the whole world in this generation");22
- The commitment to peace and social justice;
- The striving for the unity of the Church.23
The path toward the World Council of Churches (WCC)
The three general concerns formulated in Edinburgh were manifested institutionally in three ecumenical movements or three traditions. They were forerunners of the World Council of Churches: The Faith and Order Movement (1910),24 the Life and Work Movement 1920),25 and the International Missionary Council (1921). These different ecumenical currents would subsequently come together at world church conferences. Moreover, there were occasionally staffing overlaps between the confessional alliances.
The fact that European denominational divisions were reproduced in Africa, Asia, and activity. For this reason, "National Christian Councils" began to emerge in many of these countries from the 1920s. Cooperation was promoted between various Protestant denominations. The origin of the council system as an ecumenical structuring principle can also be traced here. Independent "young churches" gradually appeared in the mission countries.26was perceived as one of the deficits of earlier missionary
An important forerunner of the Life and Work Movement was the World Alliance of Churches for Promoting International Friendship. It was founded in First World War. In light of the escalating arms race, the World Alliance was a reaction to the perceived growing threat to peace. Leading figures in the association included the British liberal MPs Joseph Allen Baker (1852–1918), a Quaker, and Willoughby Dickinson (1859–1943), as well as the Berlin pastor Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze (1885–1969) and the North American theologians William P. Merrill (1867–1954), a Presbyterian, and Frederick Lynch (1867–1934), secretary of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ and the Church Peace Union.on August 2, 1914, the day after the outbreak of the
The World Alliance called for pro-active cooperation between the churches in matters of peace and international understanding. After the First World War, it understood its main task as contributing to the reconciliation between peoples and the support of peace. In 1919, at its conference in Nathan Söderblom (1866–1931),27 to found an ecumenical council, which was to represent all of Christianity.28( ) the World Alliance backed the proposal of the Archbishop of ,
Söderblom had already demonstrated a long commitment to peace and social issues. During the First World War, he was heartbroken that the protesting of individual Christians was ultimately futile because of a lack of coordination.29 Ultimately, the peace initiatives of Söderblom and Pope Benedict XV (1854–1922) foundered because of the national self-interests of the various churches and bishops’ conferences.
The first World Conference of Life and Work was held in . Almost all participants were official delegates of their churches; Orthodox Christians were also strongly represented.30 In 1919 the Patriarchate of had decided to invite all churches to found a "Federation of Churches." The movement was limited to questions of shared Christian action; doctrinal differences were largely excluded ("Doctrine separates, service unites"). The Stockholm conference called for the application of Christian principles in international, economic, social, and public life. It appointed a continuation committee, which grew into the "World Council for Life and Work" in 1930. In 1937, the movement came together in for its second conference ("Church, People, and State"). It took a stand on questions of nationalism and economics and showed solidarity with the Confessing Church in . The threat to stability posed by totalitarian regimes provoked an appeal for an international legal order to preserve and maintain peace.31from August 19–30, 1925
The first World Conference on Faith and Order was held in Charles H. Brent, 1862–1929, Anglican Bishop, USA). At their second conference in Edinburgh in 1937, consensus was reached on the doctrine of grace. The churches were to make the unity they had in Christ clearly visible.from August 3–12, 1927. The movement focused on issues of religious doctrine and the structure and understanding of the church. The main goal was to overcome the separation of the churches (Lausanne 1927) and the "reunification" of the separated churches (
The World Church Conferences in the 1930s – in addition to the 1938 World Mission Conference in (Madras), – exhibited the steadiness of the ecumenical movement, which had now achieved a degree of permanence. It had gained a solid foothold in the life of the participating churches, such as in North America, England, and even in the Confessing Church in Germany. However, ecumenical thought played less of a role in the local churches. To facilitate work at the international level, serious thought was given from 1933 onwards to the idea of merging existing ecumenical organizations. Moreover, there were personal unions across the individual movements. It was recognized that theological and practical questions and issues needed to be addressed in an integrative way. This was something that had also been realized from the nascent "Kirchenkampf" (church struggle) in Germany.32
In 1937, it was decided in London to establish a World Council of Churches. The plan was approved by the Oxford and Edinburgh Conferences. In 1938, a "Provisional Committee for a World Council" was established in Utrecht. Archbishop William Temple (1881–1944)(York) became its president; the Dutchman Willem A. Visser't Hooft (1900–1985) became general secretary and was from then on the World Council’s de facto leader. The interim office was established in Geneva.
The start of the Second World War on September 1, 1939 delayed these plans. Nonetheless, the ecumenical movement provided – if to a limited extent – communication channels, disseminated information about the situation of the churches in the warring countries, and coordinated operational assistance (above all interchurch aid, support of refugees – the International Christian Council for Refugees had already been established in 1933 – care of prisoners of war, support in abandoned mission areas). In addition, the movement reflected on the global and European post-war order.33
After the end of the war, there was consensus that a recurrence of such a catastrophe needed to be avoided at all costs. In fact, this was an primary motivation behind the founding of the United Nations (UNO) in 1945. It also inspired the creation of the Commission of the Churches for International Affairs (CCIA) the following year.34 In essence, the Commission took over the tasks of the World Alliance of Churches for Promoting International Friendships, which disbanded in 1948. It was nevertheless more engaged and facilitated more opportunities for cooperation. Its tasks included the enforcement of human rights, the promotion of decolonization and economic development,35 the regulation of arms, and supporting the further development of international organizations and legal norms.36
In 1946, the Provisional World Council founded the Ecumenical Institute at 37near Geneva, initially for the formation and training of ecumenical staff. It provided a forum for communication on theological issues, ecumenical study, and theological research.
The reintroduction of German Protestantism into the ecumenical movement took place much earlier than in international politics or in many other fields.38 In this regard, the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, which the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany issued in October 1945, served as a "bridge of reconciliation".39 Conducted in the presence of an ecumenical delegation with representatives from the USA and Western Europe,40 the declaration was also accompanied by material assistance.41
The Ecumenical Confessional Alliances in the East-West and North-South Conflict
The Foundation of the World Council of Churches
The World Council of Churches was officially established at the end of August 1948 at the first World Church Conference in 42 It moreover alluded to the increasing secularization of the West and the anti-religion policies behind the so-called "Iron Curtain" in Eastern (Central) Europe. In any event, the standing of Christianity became weaker in the so-called "Third World”. In the wake of local national independence efforts, there was a renaissance of traditional indigenous religions. The decline of Christianity’s political influence also went hand in hand with the increasingly virulent demise of colonialism., with 147 churches from 44 countries being represented. The leitmotif was "The Disorder of the World and God's Plan of Salvation." This theme referred to the incipient Cold War between the superpowers USA and , which would come to dominate ecumenism in the following decades.
As announced in its founding appeal from 1947, the World Council of Churches set itself the goal of "the renewal or rather the rebirth of the actual churches."43 It was believed that Christianity could only raise a credible voice in the world if it was not torn internally. Priority needed put on service to the world based on a common listening to the gospel, common worship, and the experience of spiritual unity in Christ. The basic formula was: "The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour."44 By stressing the fellowship of churches and privileging the confession of Christ among faith communities, the WCC was open to churches with different understandings of the Church. This was even true for the Roman Catholic Church, although it remained on the sidelines.
The 1950 Toronto Statement defined the WCC as ecclesiologically neutral, i.e. the WCC did not see itself as a church but as a fellowship of churches that recognize each other in their diversity. The WCC does not commit member churches to a particular concept of unity or ecclesiology, nor does it have legislative power over them. Nevertheless, the WCC takes its responsibility for its member churches seriously. The WCC provides the organizational framework for ecumenical efforts and activities of its member churches and enables them to make common cause on specific issues. The work of the WCC therefore concerns coordination, the provision of information, and the facilitation of exchange. Where it lacks ecclesiastical authority, it nonetheless carries the authority of its own wisdom.45
In Amsterdam, there was a contrasting appraisal of the East-West conflict. The Cold War had reached its first climax with the Berlin Blockade. The US politician John Foster Dulles (1888–1959) (The Christian citizen in a changing world)46 endeavored to present the Christianity that was united in the WCC as an ethical counterweight to Eastern communism. He envisioned the peaceful coexistence of free, democratic societies in a global community. This possibility was opposed, in his view, by communism, which relied on violence and coercion.47 The WCC was also probably supported financially in its early years by the industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960) because of these very motives.48
Conversely, following the abandonment of democratic Josef L. Hromádka (1889–1969) (Our Responsibility in the Post-War Period)49 did not believe that Western democracies could solve the problems of the time. Up until the Second World War they had proved too weak to keep German nationalism in check. The Western nations had thus squandered their moral authority and their claim to a leadership role in the world. Communism was not simply to be equated with totalitarianism, even though Hromádka did not deny the dangers inherent in the system. It had a social dynamic which, for example, had also become effective in Early Christianity and in the Reformation. In Hromádka’s view, the Church of Christ was charged with transcending the barriers of nations, political systems, and blocs.50in 1938, the Czech theologian
The clash of the two positions made it clear that not only Germany, but also Europe and the world were divided. The Assembly recommended a "third way" that would link the social systems. Churches were to work on behalf of a "responsible society,"51 a term that would become a guiding principle of ecumenical social ethics for the coming decade. It encompassed the field of human rights and the demands for individual freedoms, including freedom of religion, a democratic constitutional state, and justice. On this basis, both political systems could be criticized, although the outlined propositions were closer to the model of Western democracy. The Assembly responded to the dawn of the nuclear age with the exclamation "."52
The Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years, became the governing body of the WCC.53 In August 1954 in , Illinois (USA), under the theme "Christ – the hope of the world," the WCC Assembly emphasized the common ground of the churches' actions. Deep religious differences ought to be the exception. The Assembly declared: "We appeal to the representatives of the churches in those countries where tensions exist to visit each other so that they ... strengthen the bonds of communion and promote the reconciliation of nations".54
The Christian Peace Conference
Subsequently, contacts between German church representatives and university theologians intensified, especially in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.55 These efforts toward understanding led to two ways of institutionalizing East-West contacts: The Conference of European Churches and the Christian Peace Conference. Both initiatives were based on the conviction that the WCC (as well as the Lutheran World Federation) was oriented too much to the West. At issue was a spiritual and above all spiritual overcoming of the East-West conflict, a rapprochement beyond the political-ideological borders, and a contribution towards a new and better Ostpolitik. The Conference of European Churches – initiated by Ernst Wilm (1901–1989), Heinrich Held (1897–1957) and Heinz Kloppenburg (1903–1986) – was initially concerned with exchanging information on church life in both social orders and mutual consultation. Between countries where a common political understanding was impossible, the churches were to act as bridge-builders. From January 1959 onwards, regular meetings were held in ( , Liselund), which culminated in official founding of the association in 1964.56
The Christian Peace Conference came into being at about the same time. The principal catalyst was the Czech theologian Josef Hromádka. On the one hand, Hromádka was responding to the fact he could not participate as he wanted in the upcoming Conference of European Churches (CEC). A major reason for this was his assessment of the Hungarian Revolution, published in December 1956. He had accused the Lutheran bishop Lájos Ordass (1901–1978) and the Hungarian Reformed church leader Professor László Pap (1908–1983) of supporting "counterrevolution."
The first meeting of the Christian Peace Conference was held in communism unresolved. The proposed undertaking was to address Christians who could not be reached through secular Soviet-friendly organizations such as the World Peace Council.from June 1-3, 1958. It was formally connected to the Prague meeting of the World Federation for Friendship Work of Churches in 1928. From the outset, the Christian Peace Conference received financial and logistical support from the state authorities of the Eastern Bloc. It was hoped that the project would have a significant impact on the WCC and strengthen Hromádka's weakened position in Geneva ecumenism. The project was to focus on the peace issue, while leaving other concerns such as the relationship between Christianity and
The Russian Orthodox Church became directly involved in the project in 1960. The First All-Christian Peace Assembly took place in Prague from June 13-18, 1961 with almost 700 participants under the motto "Peace on Earth." In the run-up to the meeting, the International Secretariat of the CPC had submitted working materials, some papers, and draft resolutions to the Communist State Offices for Church Issues for review. This was to become common practice in the years to come. Western Europeans and Americans initially took greater advantage of CPC events because they considered them a good opportunity to establish and maintain East-West contacts. Following unilateral statements on the Middle East conflict and the dismissal in 1969 of the now reform-oriented socialist leaders Josef Hromádka and Jaroslav N. Ondra (1925–2000) the CPC suffered a clear loss of credibility.57
The World Council of Churches and Its Major Policies
The third WCC Assembly, held infrom November 19 to December 5, 1961, witnessed a significant expansion of the WCC's membership. Orthodox churches from , , and participated for the first time. Also in attendance were a number of "young churches" from Africa and Asia as a consequence of decolonization. At the same time, the International Mission Council was integrated (the World Council of Christian Education followed in 1971).
The former dominance of Western Europe and North America in the WCC began to dwindle and a "de-Westernization process" began.58 This also later applied to the other international confessional associations and, with a certain time lag, to the Catholic Church. Generally speaking, New Delhi seemed to mark a "turning point" in ecumenism. Political issues dominated the negotiations more so than in Evanston in 1954. Furthermore, there was a lack of strong criticism of the policies of the Eastern bloc and Marxist-Leninist ideology. The situation in the was an exception: In criticizing the state's refusal to allow East German delegates to travel, the restrictions on Christians in the GDR became a matter of public debate around the world. In the end, however, there was no consensus judgment on the construction of the Berlin Wall. They were rather united in the fact that instead of reunification (a word that was not mentioned), the focus needed to be on détente between the two German states.59
The mandate of the WCC was now defined by the Assembly in its self-description as "witness - service - unity" (instead of "unity - witness - service"). Ethics was thus given a higher rank, whereas common action became one of the prerequisites for the unity of world Christianity.60
The 1960s and early 1970s were also characterized by optimism with regard to reform in ecumenism. At the same time, the awareness of "being part of one world" grew among the Geneva Central Committee and the members.61 This was exemplified, among other things, by the emergence of new church partnerships between "First" and "Third World.”62 At the "World Conference for Church and Society" organized by the WCC (July 12–26, 1966 in Geneva), the "right to revolution" was re-evaluated, although the stance on the theology of revolution was not unanimous. At the same time, the gulf with Western democracies widened. The involvement of social, political and economic scholars demonstrated the WCC’s increasing professionalization.63
The WCC Assembly in Uppsala (Sweden; July 4-20, 1968) was also influenced by the reformist spirit of the 1960s. The poverty of the greater part of mankind was intensively examined for the first time. This was accompanied by questions about an appropriate Christian lifestyle and reflections on combating racism. The conference launched the anti-racism program, which was not uncontroversial because of its support for armed liberation movements.64 Instead of revolution, however, the conference now spoke somewhat more pragmatically of the renewal of the world and humanity towards a just society. By the same token, it addressed the necessity of a renewal of (ecumenical) theology and church structures.65 The Assembly’s motto was "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5). Cooperation with the Vatican also intensified, albeit without regular membership.66
In the 1970s, the WCC took up the concerns of the new women's movement. The "Sexism Consultation" in 1974 in West Berlin67 grew into the "The Community of Women and Men in the Church" study program (terminated in 1981). In 1988, a call was made for a “Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women,” but this led to little in the way of actual change in the churches.68
In the 1970s, the North-South conflict increasingly came to the fore (69 including in the Catholic Church due to the Latin American liberation theology.70 In the CSCE process (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe), the Vatican, unlike the Geneva Ecumenical Conference, was directly involved thanks to its governmental structure. It had a moderating effect and was committed to the integration of the human rights concept into the Final Act (in particular the establishment of the right to freedom of religion).71 In some respects, the Concordia of Reformatory Churches in Europe ("Leuenberg Agreement"; March 1973) can be regarded as the ecclesial counterpart to the CSCE process. Since then, most Lutheran, Reformed and united churches in Europe, as well as the Waldensians and Bohemian Brethren, have had full church fellowship, especially pulpit and table fellowship.72Assembly in 1975),
Ecological problems were also addressed. The world conference "The Importance of Science and Technology for Human Development" (73 This communicated even more effectively that the humanity’s survival issues around the globe were closely linked. Although the peace council envisaged by the Federal German physicist, philosopher, and peace researcher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912–2007) at the Düsseldorf Kirchentag in 1985 did not come to fruition, delegates from the GDR, including the Erfurt provost Heino Falcke (born 1929), initiated a conciliar process of joint reflection at the WCC Assembly in in 1983. This process was intended to help find common positions on the issues of "Peace, Justice, Integrity of Creation.” It first took place at the regional and continental level and culminated in the 1990 world assembly in .74 Within this context, the Ecumenical Assemblies in the GDR in 1988/1989 took on a politically explosive dimension. In line with the more than 10,000 letters from church members and members of initiative groups in response to the motto "Eine Hoffnung lernt gehen"(A hope learns to walk), they focused on societal problems. Demands were subsequently made for a democratic transformation of the GDR, some of which were actually included in the program texts of the new parties and civic movements founded in late summer and autumn 1989.751974) formulated the socio-ethical program of a "sustainable and just society." At the Assembly in Nairobi, focus was then placed on a "just, participatory and sustainable society."
In 1989, the apartheid policy in .76 At its Assembly in 1984, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) decided to suspend the membership of two "white" churches from South Africa and .77 On the other hand, the LWF simultaneously elected as its president the Hungarian bishop Zoltán Káldy (1919–1987), who was highly controversial because of his loyalty to the government.78, with which the ecumenical movement had dealt critically and intensively, came to an end
This demonstrated the ambivalent approach to the socialist states in East Central Europe since the 1970s: On the one hand, ecumenism contributed to opening up the Iron Curtain by facilitating encounters and the exchange of information. Moreover, positions taken in Geneva could give Eastern churches the necessary "tailwind" for their social-ethical actions.79 Finally, the conciliar process was one of preconditions for the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR. On the other hand, the criticism of human rights violations in Eastern Central Europe decreased in official declarations. Additionally, there was often a stronger orientation toward the official church leaders than those disadvantaged by those in power, persecuted Christians at the grassroots level, or even regime critics or dissidents.80 “By and large" after the end of the Soviet-style state socialism in Europe, the ecumenical associations "found it difficult" to "seriously come to terms with their own role" in the Cold War.81
After various ecumenical co-operations and initiatives had already been established in the 19th century, the ecumenical movement from the 1920s onwards gained a stronger organizational form not least because of the experiences connected with the First World War. Although the movement subsequently became more church-based, the clout of individuals who developed initiatives and formed networks persisted.82 In the aftermath of the Nazi dictatorship, the work of the ecumenical associations was dominated by the East-West conflict and, since 1961, increasingly by the North-South conflict. Since the 1970s, certain affinities with socialism and criticism of capitalism led to an at least public marginalization of criticism of human rights violations by Soviet-style governments. Then again, the WCC took up and strengthened grassroots Christian initiatives, contributing to the overthrow of the SED regime and the end of apartheid in southern Africa.
Since 1990, ecumenism in Geneva has suffered an increasing loss of importance. Furthermore, the Catholic Church continues to not be a member and representatives of Orthodoxy keep blocking projects. Moreover, there is also a general self-satisfaction with past achievements while, at the same time, individual churches are afraid of losing relevance with expanded ecumenical commitment. The decline in financial resources raises the question of a concentration of forces analogous to the Evangelical Church in Germany, in which the confessional unions, Union of Protestant Churches and United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany, are now more strongly integrated into the synod and the church office.