Five years of covering major ecumenical occasions for this journal have seen the steady growth of what used to be a mere sneaking suspicion. It is now my firm conviction that in its Geneva fastness the World Council of Churches keeps a specialist word-spinner. His job (and he’s no slouch at it) is to put a gloss on all outgoing materials intended for general consumption. He makes certain that ecumenical utterances are hazy, ambiguous, and vaguely euphoric. Widely acclaimed for his dexterity in playing striking new variations on tired old themes, the word-spinner can take this a stage further and say things differently without being suspected of saying different things.
This brings me to the Heraklion meeting of the Central Committee, where evangelism was billed as the chief topic—and discussed surprisingly little, apart from a keynote address by the Rev. Philip Potter. He recognized three major questions: Is evangelism at the heart of the WCC’s life and work? What does the WCC mean by evangelism? How can the WCC better show its concern for evangelism? Good questions, deserving better answers than they got.
To the first, after surveying past WCC thinking on the subject, Potter replied in effect that it all depends on what you mean by evangelism. He went on to quote ecumenical statements of yesteryear, beginning with the pre-WCC World Missionary Conference declaration at Tambaram in 1938: “By evangelism we understand that the Church Universal, in all its branches and through the service of all its members, must so present Christ Jesus to the world in the power of the Holy Spirit that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, accept Him as their Saviour and serve Him as their Lord in the fellowship of His Church.”1
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