The World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order meets in Montreal for its fourth world Conference on Faith and Order from July 12 to 26. The discussions will indicate what new doctrinal guidelines ecumenical scholars influential in the four international theological commissions are proposing, and the resultant decisions may influence the ecumenical strategy for church unity during the remainder of this decade.

The conference sends its conclusions to member churches “for study.” Prevalent theological positions often supply the presuppositions of the denominational press, and sometimes become swiftly determinative for denominational commitments at the hierarchical level. But more often they are wholly ignored by ecclesiastical machinists who wish to “get on with the real business of merger.” A standing indictment of the World Council, now voiced even by some of its earlier enthusiasts, is that merger more than mission, or more than message, has come to absorb some of the movement’s main energies. The political cadre regards doctrinal considerations as marginal if not disruptive, and even uses its favored position to advocate controversial policies in international affairs quite outside the Church’s competence and mandate.

A look at the agenda of the Montreal conference indicates the overwhelming task before the delegates, who cannot hope to arrive at truly definitive positions in two weeks of discussion. The sessions can give a barometer reading of the theological climate in 1963. Ministers wanting to keep abreast of the times or to set the modern mood in the framework of post-Reformation dialogue will be satisfied with this.

But some confessional churches voice increasing demand for more earnest doctrinal discussion, ...

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