Called to be the One Churchsource
Without any doubt ecclesiology, in our times, still remains the crucial issue for Christian theology in ecumenical perspective.1 In the growing number of interchurch theological dialogues, a consequence of the ecumenical movement, this special topic of theology becomes more and more the focus of interest in modern theological research. At the same time, it becomes evident that the vast spectrum of ecclesiology in theological study assumes a concrete shape and a specific expression. As a response to the challenge to intensify interchurch relations or to make theology more explicitly relevant and concrete for the modern world, ecclesiology today becomes the meeting point for church-centered ecumenism and church centered theology.
Thus it is not astonishing that such rich theological production has been manifest in this area of ecumenical theology during the past decades. One cannot fail to appreciate the intense ecclesiological research work based on sound biblical premises and historical-patristic studies. Ecclesiology has therefore contributed not only to a better understanding between divided Christian Churches and confessional denominations, but also towards a more complete self-understanding on the part of each confession; and indeed, it has given a new impetus for the renewal of Christian theology itself.2
The new question is how to evaluate this extremely rich ecumenical heritage of the past and use it in an appropriate comprehensive and synthetic way, not so much for producing further statements of confessional ecclesiological positions-this only risks repeating positions which are already well-known - but rather to reflect on an ecclesiological renewal both in ecumenism and in theological work. It seems to me that our task at this moment is to use this enormous ecclesiological literature and attempt to find a new type of ecclesiological approach, with the intention of promoting an ecclesiology of more convergence, giving more ecclesiological space for discussion, study and mutual enrichment between our one-sided ecclesiological positions. It is precisely this kind of ecclesiological approach, which is behind or rather at the basis of such pre-consensus documents as the Porto Alegre Assembly Statement on Ecclesiology “Called to be the One Church.”The Statement indicates precisely where we are today on the ecumenical scene in the quest for the unity of the Church: “..the relationship among churches is dynamically interactive. Each church is called to mutual giving and receiving gifts and to mutual accountability. Each church must become aware of all that is provisional in its life and have the courage to acknowledge this to other churches. Even today, when Eucharistic sharing is not always possible, divided churches express mutual accountability and aspects of catholicity when they pray for one another, share resources, assist one another in times of need, make decisions together, work together for justice, reconciliation, and peace, hold one another accountable to the discipleship inherent in baptism, and maintain dialogue in the face of differences, refusing to say "I have no need of you" (1 Cor12:21). Apart from one another we are impoverished.” 3
The Christian world’s quest for unity is one with its quest for the Church. All who have been challenged by the important topic of ecclesiology, emerging also from the bilateral and multilateral theological dialogues of the Christian Church, which work for this reality must therefore ask themselves what kind of unity this is to be or, in other words, what nature the Church has so that it might correspond to God’s will and plans for our salvation. Of course, there are conflicting assessments concerning the nature of the Church’s unity, the role of the Church and its ecclesiastical and ecclesiological inner structure and tradition.
However, there are some common features that are particular to the theology emanating from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – a common historic framework, sometimes a continuity in tradition, an overall influence of Greek-Roman philosophy – particularly in Europe – sometimes a similarity in worship and a common consciousness in preserving, nurturing and developing the theological tradition of the Church.
Therefore, debates on unity become the focus of ecclesiological discussions in the ecumenical arena today. But diversity on the ecclesiological foundations of unity today remains the main obstacle for doctrinal agreement between the various Churches.
an official WCC report:
"The search for Christian unity is very costly, as well as slow and
painful," says Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople. "And yet there is hope for the quest of
church unity by God's grace."
Gennadios, a vice-moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of
Churches (WCC), speaks from a long experience within the ecumenical
movement, which he began to serve as a young steward at the WCC assembly in
Uppsala in 1968.
A key person in the organization of the 7-13 October meeting of the WCC
Plenary Commission on Faith and Order at the Orthodox Academy of Crete,
Gennadios was happy with the deliberations taking place in this Orthodox
"Crete has a long tradition of hosting great ecumenical events.
Due to the open-minded spirit of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there is a
favourable atmosphere here", says Gennadios. For historical reasons, Crete
belongs to the ecclesial jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of
Constantinople (today's Istanbul, Turkey).
For Gennadios, the "charisma" of the Faith and Order Commission is its
ability to deal with difficult issues and a great variety of theological
viewpoints. That has been achieved thanks to an attitude of cooperation in a
spirit "of friendship and mutual understanding".
The Faith and Order Commission is regarded as the widest Christian
theological forum in the world owing to the number of ecclesial traditions
involved, the regions represented and the fact that its members are official
representatives of their churches. It is made up of WCC member churches and
others, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Not only are almost 80 percent of the current members new to the commission,
but there is also a generational shift. "There are new faces; the older
generation is gradually giving wayto younger people", says Gennadios. The
average age of the 120 members is 48, and around 50 of them come from the
Seeking unity from an Orthodox perspective
"There has been very rich participation by the Orthodox from the beginning",
says Gennadios, who has been a Faith and Order staff member, as well as
vice-moderator and moderator of the commission. "Important personalities,
pioneers of the ecumenical movement in the Orthodox world, have been
Among the Orthodox contributions to ecumenical theological dialogue,
Gennadios mentions the concept of "conciliarity", which refers to the
relation in communion and unity in the faith between individual churches,
the theology of the Holy Spirit, and an emphasis on the communion of the
That is despite the particular difficulty that the Orthodox church has when
engaged in ecumenical dialogue, since "its thought forms and 'terms of
reference' are different from those of the West". Given that the ecumenical
movement works mainly with western patterns of thought, "Orthodox
participants were, from the very beginning, forced to express their
positions and points of view within a theological framework alien to [�] the
Gennadios acknowledges that there is a certain "stagnation" in the present
day ecumenical movement, leading sometimes to a "sense of frustration"
regarding the lack of achievements in terms of church unity. However, he
states, "we do have to bear in mind for how many centuries we have been
There have been real progresses. The 1982 Faith and Order text Baptism,
Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), "was indeed a revolution for the ecumenical
movement and for the churches," he says. "It has been the most translated
ecumenical text ever, and is still used today, although to a lesser degree."
In the Orthodox world the BEM text has been, alongside other results from
Faith and Order work, a tool often used in bilateral talks with confessions
such as Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans, and even between the two
Orthodox families (the eastern and the oriental).
For Gennadios, the "crucial question" in current theological debate is
"without doubt, ecclesiology", or, in other words, our understanding of the
"One Church" and its nature.
Dialogue on their different ecclesiologies has enabled the churches in
recent decades to reach a better understanding of one another and of
themselves. Today what is needed is a renewal able "to promote an
ecclesiology of more convergence".
According to Metropolitan Gennadios, for the Orthodox the aim is "not a
na�ve rapprochement, but unity in Christ". They hope for "a situation where
in their ecclesiological space and insight of their church boundaries might
be possible to recognize the others' ecclesial tradition".
Gennadios says there is need for a "spacing ecclesiology" � an enlarged
understanding of the "One Church of Christ". Today, churches "are called to
a new ecumenical 'ecclesial space of togetherness'in view of celebrating one
day together at the Lord's Table." Within such a space churches would be
drawn together on the condition that they all are "called to be the One
"The unity of the Church will be achieved only if we, with repentance,
humility and discernment, return to our common sources of the undivided
church." The hope of achieving that is based on our belief that "in spite of
this divided world, God's promise stands."
"We are all the people of God," Gennadios says. "And despite our being
divided God's grace reaches out to all God's children."
Gossips were gossips only.