Almost every week a church member or pastor calls my office asking the same question: Is the General Conference a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC)? My answer is always the same: No! It is not “No, but . . .” It is a “No, period!” However, most callers seem to feel they know the answer better than I. They believe we are secretly members or in a sub-category similar to membership, but this is not true. Visit the WCC Web site and read the list of members. You will not find our name. We are not a member of the WCC, and we are not planning to become a member. Period!
Others may ask, Does the Seventh-day Adventist Church have a relationship with the WCC? Yes, we do. From time to time we attend the WCC Central Committee and their General Assembly as observers. This fact is not a secret, and articles about it are published in the Adventist Review.
Others say they have heard that a delegation from the General Conference attends the Conference of Christian World Communions (CS/CWC) meeting every year. Is this true? Yes, it is! But the WCC is not the CS/CWC. The confusion may arise from the names of these two groups.
Let me explain the difference. The World Council of Churches is the official organization of the ecumenical movement. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Approximately 340 denominations are members of the WCC, representing 592 million Christians, a little more than 25 percent of the Christian world. The purpose of the WCC is to promote Christian unity. “To promote” would have been too weak for the founders, who wanted to build a visible unity of Christians. The dream was conceived after two World Wars between so-called Christian countries turned the world upside down. Christian unity would have been the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer and a major factor for peace in the world.
Today, unity—even among the members of the WCC—is a real challenge. Orthodox and Protestant members cannot share the Eucharist together after a half century of meetings, statements, and studies. The majority of Christians are not members of the WCC, and the most dynamic wing of the Protestants, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals has not expressed an interest in becoming members. The Roman Catholic Church is very influential within the WCC but is not a member.
When we think about the WCC, we must remember its purpose: the visible unity of Christianity. This concept may have different interpretations, and attaining this goal may seem a long process, but the WCC is the only religious organization totally committed to this goal.
What is the Conference of Christian World Communions? The Adventist Church is not a member of the WCC but is a member of the CS/CWC. The difference is that the CS/CWC is not an organization but rather a conference of Christian leaders. It is made up of Secretaries General or other top officials representing world church organizations. Its purpose is not to build the visible unity of the Christian family but to share information, concerns, and reports, and to become better acquainted with one another. No one is encouraged to change beliefs or create new Christian churches. Doctrinal issues are not on the agenda. Leaders represent their denominations and their beliefs. They are accepted as they are.
This group of Secretaries represents about 2 billion Christians and covers more churches than any other organization, including the WCC. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church are represented, as are the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Mennonite Convention, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and many others. Adventists have played an important role in this conference in opening it to Evangelicals. Dr. Bert B. Beach was the Secretary of the conference for 32 years. I have held this position since 2002. Our presence in such an elite group, which represents the Christian world, has been extremely helpful for our church around the world. It has shown that we are a Christian church recognized by the Christian family of leaders, that we are not a cult or a dangerous group of fanatics but a Christian denomination.
Adventists have always been open to developing good relationships with other churches and religious groups while staying faithful to our mission and beliefs.
How are the relations between the WCC and the CS/CWC? The relations between the WCC and the CS/ CWC were difficult in the beginning but have since improved. The CS/CWC accepted churches as they were and respected their differences; the WCC believed that this did not build unity. Today the WCC has a representative within the CS/CWC. Will the CS/CWC join the WCC? Some people on both sides think a close cooperation would be good for all, and a consultative commission was set up last year. But other members of the CS/CWC don’t want the conference to change its main purpose, which is to be a unique fellowship of Christian leaders who spend time together, pray together, read the Bible together, and try to better understand each member of the larger Christian family.
Adventists have always been open to developing good relationships with other churches and religious groups while staying faithful to our mission and beliefs. We are not an isolated church, but we believe God has called us to fulfill a specific mission and to proclaim a specific message for the last days. Meeting other Christian leaders gives us a great opportunity to be better known and to share our mission, as we are able to respect others without compromising our identity and our faith.
Building one Christian church is the dream of many sincere Christians. The Seventh-day Adventist Church also prays for Christian unity based on the Word of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But our church is not a member of the WCC even though we respect this institution and recognize its positive initiatives. We believe we can build good relations and show respect for everyone without being a member of the WCC!
John Graz is director of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department.