The World Council of Churches (WCC) is hoping to broaden its base in an appeal to Catholics and Pentecostals. But meanwhile, disenchanted Orthodox and mainline evangelicals are calling the world's largest ecumenical organization to affirm historic Christian doctrine.

At its eighth assembly, 960 WCC delegates gathered in Harare, Zimbabwe, to celebrate the Geneva-based organization's fiftieth anniversary and debate theological, moral, and political issues.

The WCC has had difficulty in maintaining unity and harmony among its 339 Protestant and Orthodox member communions. Orthodox and mainline Protestant evangelicals in recent years have pressed the WCC to refocus on historic Christian doctrine at a time when contemporary theology, some of which rejects traditional Christian teaching, is a potent force within some WCC-member churches.


Despite strong efforts to hold the WCC together, some have withdrawn from the body. Hilarion Alfeyev, leader of the scaled-back Russian Orthodox Church delegation attending the assembly, noted that two Orthodox bodies—the Georgian and Bulgarian churches—have quit in the past two years.

"If the structure of the WCC is not radically changed, other Orthodox churches will also leave the WCC," he said. At the meeting, the WCC voted to establish a special commission to try to resolve issues of Orthodox participation.

However, hours later, the Russian Orthodox Church—the largest member denomination in the WCC—voted to suspend its participation in the WCC's central committee until the special commission finished its deliberations, which are expected to take at least three years.

"If we are satisfied with the results of the commission, we will resume our work on the ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.