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Ecumenicalism: The 'Urge to Merge' within Christianity

International Christian organizations: Part 1

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Background:

Christianity remains seriously fragmented throughout the world. In North America alone, there are over 1,000 Christian organizations of significant size. 

bullet Christianity is sometimes viewed as being divided into three wings: conservative, mainline and liberal.
 
bullet Others view Christianity as being composed of two or more quite different religions, each sharing the same name and each being based on a different interpretation of the Bible - one liberal, the other conservative. 
bullet Many faith groups can be grouped into families of denominations which share a common history: e.g. the Anglican communion, Lutheran denominations, and Reformed Churches.

These divisions are reflected in the multiplicity of Christian associations at the international level. The main ones are listed below:

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Baptist World Alliance (BWA):

The Baptist World Alliance's motto is "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism." They unite 196 Baptists conventions and unions worldwide, in over 200 countries. They indirectly represent approximately 43 million Baptist members. 1 They were founded in London, UK, in 1905 at the first Baptist World Congress. "For more than a hundred years, Baptist leaders had written of the need of an organization to bring Baptists, a highly autonomous people, together. Ninety five years later, the BWA still exists to provide fellowship, meet human need, lead in evangelism and work for justice.

They moved their headquarters to the U.S. in 1940 because of World War II. Their largest member denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention -- a Fundamentalist denomination, with more than 16 million members. The more liberal American Baptist Convention is also a member of the BWA. 

About 75% of the BWA members live in North America. However, their areas of fastest growth are in Africa, Latin America and Asia. They have established six regional fellowships: the North American Baptist Fellowship, Asian Baptist Federation, All Africa Baptist Fellowship, Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, Union of Baptists in Latin America, and European Baptist Federation. Each region is served by an Executive Secretary who is also the BWA Regional Secretary.

One of the major concerns of the BWA has been to guarantee human rights for all people, and in particular, the fundamental human right of religious freedom. Baptists have had a long history of promoting human rights. Notable leaders include John Bunyan, John Milton, Roger Williams, Isaac Beckus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jimmy Carter. 

The membership of the BWA is divided over whether to allow women to be ordained as pastors. The SBC recently decided that women were not longer eligible for ordination because of their gender. It is unlikely that the BWA will be promoting full and equal rights for homosexuals, including the right to marry, in the foreseeable future. Both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and American Baptist Convention have expelled member churches because they had welcomed gays and lesbians as members. 

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The Lutheran World Federation (LWF):

This is "a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition." 2It was founded in 1947 and currently has as members 131 churches and 12 recognized congregations in 72 countries. Together, they represent about 95% of the 64 million Lutherans in the world. Their membership grew by 1.3% during the year 2000. This is only slightly less than the 1.4% growth rate of the world's population. Membership increased in Africa, Asia, and South America, but fell in Europe and North America. 

The LWF act "on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work." They have co-sponsored ecumenical discussions with the Anglican Communion,  Baptist World Alliance, Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholic Church, Seventh Day Adventist Church, World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.

Their Department for World Service (DWS) operates international relief, rehabilitation and development programs in 21 countries. Their Department for Mission and Development operate about 500 mission, communication and development programs. Lutheran World Information, provides a news and information service, in English and German. The LWF holds an Assembly every six or seven years. Representatives from each of their member churches attend. 

Some of the concerns of the LWF in recent years are:

bullet Their 1997 General Assembly meeting in Hong Kong issued a report saying, in part: "Our churches affirm fidelity as the norm for relationships of sexual intimacy while continuing to seek clarity about forms of partnership which have recently been the subject of debate among us (marriage, premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, single parenthood, divorce, etc.)."
bullet At their 2000-JUN council meeting in Turku, Finland, they received a report warning that religious intolerance and related violence were increasing in many parts of the world.

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The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC):

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) links more than 75 million Christians in over 100 countries around the world. It is a fellowship of more than 200 Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox and others. Most of these churches live and witness in the southern hemisphere; many are religious minorities in their countries." 3 "The aims of the Alliance are to strengthen the unity and witness of Reformed churches, to interpret and reinterpret the Reformed tradition, to work for peace, economic and social justice, human rights, and the integrity of the environment, to promote fully inclusive community, and to further dialogue with other Christian communions and other religions."

In 1970, "The Alliance of the Reformed Churches throughout the World holding the Presbyterian System" (founded 1875) and the International Congregational Council (founded 1891) merged to form the WARC with 114 member churches in 70 countries. 

WARC has six regional councils: the Caribbean and North American area council (Canaac), the European area and the Southern Africa Alliance of Reformed Churches (Saarc), the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America (Aipral) and the Northeast Asia area council.

In 1982, their general council declared that apartheid in South Africa was a sin and that the theological underpinnings of apartheid were a Christian heresy. They suspended the WARC membership of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. 

In 1989, the general council committed the WARC "to the inclusive community of women and men in church and society." In 1997, they expressed concern over economic injustice and ecological destruction. During 2000-JUL, the WARC executive committee debated a statement on human rights and sexual orientation prepared by one of its task forces. The report recommended that member churches "...work with civil authorities" to ensure that people of homosexual orientation received "full and just protection under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN". 

In 2010, the WARC merged with the Reformed Ecumenical Council to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

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This essay continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The official web site of the Baptist World Alliance is at: http://www.bwanet.org/ They can be contacted at: Baptist World Alliance, 6733 Curran St. McLean, VA 22101 USA. Telephone: 1 703 790-8980. Fax: +1 703 893-5160
  2. The Lutheran World Federation has a web site at: http://www.lutheranworld.org/ They can be contacted at: 150, route de Ferney, Case postale 2100, CH-1211 Genève 2, Switzerland. Telephone: (41 22) 791 61 11. Fax: (41 22) 791 66 30. Email: info@lutheranworld.org
  3. The official web site of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches is at: http://www.warc.ch/ They can be contacted at: World Alliance of Reformed Churches PO Box 2100 150 route de Ferney 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland. Telephone: +41 22 791 6240. Fax: +41 22 791 6505

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Copyright © 2000 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-FEB-7
Latest update: 2010-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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