Perhaps the most astute observation made to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches last month (see news story, Feb. 2 issue, p. 52) came from a Roman Catholic guest. On the confessional frontiers, said French priest J. M. R. Tillard, “the walls of mutual incomprehension are tumbling down.” But, he went on, “the involvement of Christians in the world’s problems and their identification with the aspirations of their peoples are raising new walls.”

These walls, which could become formidable, were between traditionally Christian lands and former mission territories, between East and West, between rich and oppressed. WCC policy, declared Tillard, is dividing Christendom into new blocs that may continue to love and help one another while understanding each other less and less, so that differences now “almost amount to conscious differences in the interpretation of the faith itself.” There was an unresolved tension between doctrinal unity and what the Frenchman called “radical involvement in human hopes.” His prescription: a mandate for the Faith and Order Commission to give a lead not only toward interconfessional unity but also toward “a unity which has to be maintained amidst all the repercussions of cultural, social, and political factors on the understanding of the faith.”

Far from accepting that prescription, the committee fired Lukas Vischer, long-time head of the Faith and Order Commission, a dismissal backed by general secretary Philip Potter and a WCC staff majority that favors tying theological work to an overriding commitment to social action programs. Third worlders called Vischer’s scholarly attention to the biblical and doctrinal bases for activism as “elitist and irrelevant.” Europeans saw in Vischer’s ...

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