It has majored in politics—to the detriment of missions, evangelism, and its own theology division.

Back in the inquisitorial 1950s, Senator Margaret Chase Smith commented that freedom of speech had been so abused by some that it was not exercised by others. A case can be ruined equally by silence and by overstatement. Thus the World Council of Churches has reason to be grateful to the more outrageous of its critics who in the past have, as it were, debased the coinage by unruly demonstrations and scurrilous articles. From this developed the unlovely conciliar tendency to dismiss as fanatical and contentious those who opposed “the ecumenical movement” (deft propaganda having made that term synonymous with the Geneva-based body). Even thoughtful churchmen who had misgivings about the WCC maintained a decent reticence because they recoiled at the way in which dissidents of the extreme right had expressed protest.

The council is now into its fourth decade. Demonstrations against it have all but vanished. But this does not mean that criticism is waning. Far from it. It has increased, become more sophisticated, more reasoned, more responsible—and originates often among those who are themselves actively involved in WCC-member churches. Such strictures came from the floor at the 1975 Nairobi assembly, to the healthy discomfiture of the establishment.

There have also been books, two of the more notable published in 1967. Ian Henderson, a radical Scots theologian, produced the highly entertaining and shamelessly overwritten Power Without Glory. He pointed to the WCC as a divisive factor, and suggested that whoever it was who marveled how Christians loved one another didn’t really know them very well. Paul Ramsey’s Who Speaks for the ...

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