World Council of Churches - News Release
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For immediate release: 31 July 2004
Nature and mission of the church: the "BEM" of the 21st century?
This document "will become a major ecumenical instrument for the fulfillment
of Jesus' prayer" for the unity of Christian believers, stated Metropolitan
Dr Gennadios of Sassima from the Ecumenical Patriarchate today, as he
introduced the study "The nature and mission of the church" to the World
Council of Churches (WCC) plenary commission on Faith and Order.
Addressing the 28 July to 6 August, 2004 plenary commission meeting in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, Gennadios recognized the difficulties of the present
ecumenical scene: "The Christian world is still in 'schism' (
) unity of
faith has fallen apart (
) unity of love has cooled (
) The body of Christ
has been utterly disrupted," he said, adding: "Only the hope of unity has
not been fully lost."
Gennadios, who is one of the vice-moderators of the Faith and Order
commission, explained that the purpose of this study process is to promote
mutual understanding and convergences regarding the purpose and mission of
the church, and "to reconcile the hostilities and divisions of the past".
"It is our hope and we are optimistic that by God's grace we will continue
together, and this ecclesiology project will become a major ecumenical
instrument" for the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer for the unity of
Christians, he concluded.
Speaking after Gennadios, Bishop John Hind, from the Church of England,
highlighted that the document bears the hope of becoming - "ultimately, and
however long it takes" - a "convergence text on the church analogous to the
) text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry" (BEM).
One of the biggest successes of the Faith and Order commission was the
approval in 1982 in Lima, Peru, of a fundamental convergence text on
"Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry," known as BEM, which dealt with three of
the main doctrinal church-dividing issues. The document is now in its 37th
edition in English with some 500,000 copies in circulation in over 35
In his turn, Rev. Dr Peter Lodberg from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
Denmark emphasized that "the next important step is to take ownership in the
churches of the ecclesiological agenda," at both the "church leadership and
congregations at the local parish levels."
In the following plenary discussion, Bishop Dr Hilarion of Vienna and
Austria from the Russian Orthodox Church emphasized the importance of
recognizing that the churches are profoundly divided.
"Statements contained in the document, such as the statement that there is
'communion real but not fully realized' tend to overlook the fact that there
is no real communion but Eucharistic communion, which we do not have, and
therefore we should not deny that and pretend that we have achieved what we
have not." He exhorted the commission "to take more seriously the tragedy of
the division among Christians".
The study being "still in draft form and in a 'penultimate' stage,"
according to Gennadios, it has not yet been released to the public. A
possible publication of the text after it has been further revised is
envisaged for the next WCC assembly in February 2006, although the
commission will take up the study again afterwards.
Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363