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  • Writer's pictureHeavenly Path News Team

"What is the World Council of Churches?"

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

The data was obtained from the WCC website.

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, "so that the world may believe." (John 17:21) The World Council of Churches (WCC) is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity.

The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 120 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 580 million Christians and including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. While the bulk of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, today most member churches are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. There are now 352 member churches.

For its member churches, the WCC is a unique space: one in which they can reflect, speak, act, worship and work together, challenge and support each other, share and debate with each other. As members of this fellowship, WCC member churches:

  • are called to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship;

  • promote their common witness in work for mission and evangelism;

  • engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation;

  • foster renewal in unity, worship, mission and service.


The historical roots of the World Council of Churches are found in student and lay movements of the 19th century, the 1910 Edinburgh world missionary conference, and a 1920 encyclical from the (Orthodox) Synod of Constantinople suggesting a "fellowship of churches" similar to the League of Nations. Leaders representing more than 100 churches voted in 1937-38 to found a World Council of Churches, but its inauguration was delayed following the outbreak of the second world war.

Predecessor bodies that have been incorporated in the Council over the decades include international conferences on "faith and order" (theology, sacraments, ordinances) and "life and work" (social ministries, international affairs, relief services), the International Missionary Council (IMC), a world alliance of churches for global peace as well as a council descended from the 19th-century Sunday school movement.

Two pioneering WCC projects were launched in co-operation with the IMC in 1946: the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), and the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland. Today the Ecumenical Institute offers master's and doctoral degrees in ecumenical studies through the theological faculty of the University of Geneva.


At its founding assembly In 1948, WCC member churches understood that the new Council was not a church above them, certainly not the church universal or incipient "world church". They understood it to be an instrument whereby the churches bear witness together in their common allegiance to Jesus Christ, search for that unity which Christ wills for his one and only church, and co-operate in matters which require common statements and actions.


What was not clear in 1948 was whether membership of a church in the WCC would have any consequences for the "self-understanding" or ecclesiological position of that church? To clarify positions, the WCC Central Committee in 1950 adopted the Toronto statement on "The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches". According to this statement, the WCC "is not and must never become a super-church". It does not negotiate union between churches. It "cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the church". Nevertheless, the common witness of the members "must be based on the common recognition that Christ is the divine head of the body", which, "on the basis of the New Testament", is the one church of Christ. In practice, common WCC membership implies that the churches "should recognize their solidarity with each other, render assistance to each other in case of need, and refrain from such actions as are incompatible with brotherly relationships".


Over the years since the Toronto statement was adopted, the issues it addresses have remained on the agenda of the WCC. The statement in the constitution regarding the purpose of the WCC has developed from the 1948 formulation, "to carry out the work of the world movements for Faith and Order and Life and Work", to the much more specific language of Nairobi (1975), which speaks of calling "the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in the common life of Christ, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe"; to the even more detailed formulation adopted by the Harare assembly (1998): "The primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe".

Common Understanding and Vision

The extensive process of study and consultation "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" (CUV), launched in 1989 and culminating in the policy document under this title adopted by the Central Committee in 1997, treats the Toronto statement as "foundational for any common understanding of the WCC" (para. 1.12). It then goes on to note how reflection and discussion over succeeding years have deepened this understanding. At the same time, it observes that "for many people the understanding of the WCC as a living fellowship of churches has emerged more vividly through specific initiatives to engage the churches in reflecting and acting at the local level" (para. 1.15). In addition, the long chapter on "The Self-Understanding of the World Council of Churches" in the CUV statement picks up the idea of the World Council as an "ecclesiological challenge" to its member churches, noting that while different churches may understand the use of the word "fellowship" in the Council's basis in different ways, the term does at least suggest "that the Council is more than a mere functional association of churches set up to organize activities in areas of common interest" (para. 3.2). The text also outlines some shared understandings of what it means for a church to be a member of the WCC (para. 3.7). The Central Committee commended the CUV text to the WCC member churches "to encourage and help them to evaluate their own ecumenical commitments and practice"; and the eighth assembly acknowledged it as the "framework and point of reference" for the WCC's work in the years ahead. These actions underscore that the issues about the identity of the WCC which were raised in Toronto remain alive in the churches - to the extent that they must continue to be a subject of discussion; indeed, says the CUV text: "it is of the essence of the churches' fellowship within the ecumenical movement that they continue to wrestle with these differences in a spirit of mutual understanding, commitment and accountability" .

The WCC and ecumenism

Stimulated by the CUV study and document, reflection on ecumenism has pursued various avenues over the past decade. For example, a Special Commission examined Orthodox participation in the WCC; a change from parliamentary to consensus decision-making procedures was one direct outcome of this four-year effort, that ended in 2002. Pursuing another avenue of reflection, consultations on "Ecumenism in the 21st century" focused on the "reconfiguration" of the ecumenical movement. A 2004 meeting on this topic suggested ways to strengthen and systematize relationships between ecumenical partners. The CUV document itself continues to provide resources for the ongoing development of ecumenism. For example, the WCC claims to be a "fellowship of churches", but this is sometimes challenged from a spiritual perspective. "Praying together" has become an ecclesiological and spiritual challenge, and the CUV has much to say on this subject.


The Assembly is the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches, meeting every eight years. WCC Executive Committee
The Central Committee elects twenty of its members to serve as the Executive Committee of the WCC, meeting twice a year. Presidents and leadership
Presidents of the World Council of Churches and the leadership of the WCC Central Committee Central Committee

The Central Committee is elected by the Assembly from among its delegates and serves as the chief governing body of the WCC until the next assembly.

General secretary
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca has been confirmed WCC acting general secretary until the end of December 2022, ensuring continuity in leadership to the WCC 11th Assembly. Related organizations

Various types of organizations formed by churches play a vital part in the life of the ecumenical movement as a whole.


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