The Montreal Faith and Order Conference, which gathered five hundred participants from fifty countries July 12–26, faced the World Council of Churches with the thorny question of whether to widen or relax the role of theology in its quest for church unity. In the first world theological study conference of its kind on the North American continent, the 270 delegates from 138 Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches sensed from the outset that doctrinal issues may be cresting toward “a moment of truth” in the ecumenical movement. They hoped before the final days of their dialogue to clarify the ecumenical role of faith and order concerns.

Not a few ecclesiastical leaders saw Montreal as essentially “a holding operation” by delegates trapped between conference fever pressures to “say something manifesting unity” and the theological urge to probe doctrinal debate in depth. Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, chairman of WCC’s Central Committee, characterized the conference as “transitional” and stayed for two days. Anglican Bishop Oliver Tomkins of Bristol, England, later elected conference chairman, reminded the opening press conference that the World Council has been “trying to elucidate the causes of church disunity for twenty years.” The Montreal conference, he added, was “simply an incident in a long continuing process.… Faith and order is not the only nor even the chief effort in the ecumenical field.”

Delegates and sixteen observers from nine churches outside the World Council assessed reports summarizing the ten-year effort of four theological study commissions named at Lund in 1952 to explore Christ and the Church, Tradition and Traditions, Worship, and Institutionalism.

Most theological world giants were notably absent. ...

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