In the words of Philip Potter, organized international ecumenicity is in the wilderness.

That assessment of the World Council of Churches’ position, given by its own general secretary, summed up the feeling of many delegates on the last day of the council’s Fifth Assembly, held in Nairobi, Kenya. For the organization’s top executive and other veterans, as well as for the 80 per cent of the delegates who were attending their first assembly, it was hard to see ahead to any “promised land” after their eighteen days together in November and December.

Potter is confident, however, that there is at least a call to the “holy land” even though current ecumenical leaders may not see its features clearly. The 54-year-old Methodist from the West Indies has participated in one capacity or another in all five of the assemblies, and he has a theory about the council’s historical development that labels the fourth one (in 1968, at Uppsala, Sweden) as the “exodus.” It was that turbulent meeting which mandated a clear turn from more “churchly” activity to the more “worldly.”

Even though there may be general agreement on the WCC’s distance from Zion, the consensus ends there. Some of the delegates went home with a conviction that the ecumenical body is now headed toward an emphasis on evangelism and missions. For others, the council is finally ready to promote utopian socialism on a worldwide basis. Another group is convinced that the “holy land” is the organic union of all denominations. Still others think the WCC will concentrate on combatting repression, colonialism, and violence.

Whatever the destination, Potter is the WCC’s Moses. He became its top executive between the Uppsala and Nairobi assemblies, succeeding Eugene Carson Blake in 1972. ...

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