I. COMMON WITNESS
There is a growing recognition among the Churches that they must
overcome their isolation from each other and seek ways to cooperate
in witness to the world4.
In face, however, of difficulties and obstacles, a clear basis
and source of power and hope is needed if the Churches are to
embark on this common witness.
This basis and source is given in Christ. He is sent into the
world by the Father for the salvation of mankind. There is no
other Name in which men may find salvation and life (Acts 4: 12).
Christian Churches confess Christ as God and only Savior according
to the Scriptures, and most adhere to the ancient Creeds which
testify to this central truth of faith.
the Churches believe that they live only by the divine gifts of
truth and life bestowed by Christ. Most Churches acknowledge that
gifts of divine grace are a reality in other Churches which also
provide access to salvation in Christ. Thus all Christian communions,
in spite of their divisions, can have a positive role to play
in God's plan of salvation.
The Churches have the privilege and the obligation of giving witness
to the truth and new life which is theirs in Christ. Indeed both
privilege and obligation are entrusted to the whole community
of Christians to whom God gives a vital role in his plan for the
salvation of the world.
Therefore Christians cannot remain divided in their witness. Any
situations where contact and cooperation between Churches are
refused must be regarded as abnormal.
The gifts which the Churches have received and share in Christ
have demanded and made urgent a common witness to the world. The
needs of men and the challenges of a broken and unbelieving world
have also compelled the Churches to cooperate with God in deploying
his gifts for the reconciliation of all men and all things in
Christ. This common witness takes place in many areas of social
concern, such as
- the development of the whole man and of all men;
- the defence of human rights and the promotion of religious freedom;
- the struggle for the eradication of economic, social and racial
- the promotion of international understanding, the limitation
of armaments and the restoration and maintenance of peace;
- the campaign against illiteracy, hunger, alcoholism, prostitution,
the traffic in drugs;
- medical and health and other social services;
- relief and aid to victims of natural disasters (volcanic eruptions,
earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.).
Cooperation has also extended to include the production, publication
and distribution of joint translations of the Scriptures. Moreover,
an exploration is being made of the possibility of common texts
to be used for an initial catechesis on the central message of
the Christian faith. In this connection, cooperation in the field
of education and in the use of communications media is already
going on in some places.
The cooperation of the Churches in these varied fields is increasingly
being accompanied by common acts of worship for each other and
for the world. Of particular significance is the "Week of
Prayer for Christian Unity" which is now celebrated in many
places around the world. This practice of common prayer and of
acts of worship has greatly helped to create and develop a climate
of mutual knowledge, understanding, respect and trust. The World
Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church have contributed
to this improved climate by their studies and guides to common
prayer. This fellowship in prayer, nevertheless, sharpens the
pain of the Churches' division at the point of Eucharistic fellowship
which should be the most manifest witness to the one sacrifice
of Christ for the whole world.
The central task of the Churches is simply to proclaim the saving
deeds of God. This then should be the burden of their common witness;
and what unites them is enough to enable them in large measure
to speak as one. Indeed all forms of common witness are signs
of the Churches' commitment to proclaim the Gospel to all men;
they all find in the one Gospel their motivation, their purpose
and their content.
Whether in witness or service, the Churches are together confronted
by the fundamental issues of the nature and destinies of men and
nations; and while they face these questions they encounter men
of other religions, or men who are indifferent or unbelievers
who hold to a variety of ideologies.
But at this vital point of mutual engagement, the Churches become
aware not only of their shared understanding of the Gospel but
also of their differences. They all believe that Jesus Christ
has founded one Church, and one alone; to this Church the Gospel
has been given; to this Church every man has been called to belong.
Yet today many Christian Communions present themselves to men
as the true heritage of Jesus Christ, and this division among
the Churches greatly reduces the possibilities of common witness.
In the context of religious freedom and the ecumenical dialogue,
respect is due to the right of Churches to act according to convictions,
which they believe should be held in fidelity to Jesus Christ:
1. While it is indeed aware of its pilgrim condition, a Church
can be convinced that in it subsists the one Church founded by
Christ, that also in it one can have access to all the means of
salvation which the Lord offers, that its witness has always remained
substantially faithful to the Gospel.
2. A Church can regard itself as bound in conscience to proclaim
its witness to its own belief, which is distinct from that of
the other Churches.
3. While the major affirmations of faith, such as those which
are formulated in Scripture and professed in the ancient Creeds,
are common to almost all the Christian confessions, different
interpretations can sometimes call for reservations on this common
4. The teaching of certain Churches can place limits on cooperation
in social concerns, for example, different positions on family
ethics (divorce, abortion, responsible parenthood).
it is not enough to know the limits which the division of Christians
places on common witness. The more the need of common witness
is grasped, the more apparent does it become that there is a need
to find complete agreement on faith - one of the essential purposes
of the ecumenical movement.
Differences about the content of witness, because of varied ecclesiologies,
are by no means the only obstacle to cooperation between the Churches.
The rivalries and enmities of the past, the continued resentments
due to the memory of ancient or recent wrongs, the conflicts generated
by political, cultural and other factors, all these have prevented
the Churches from seeking to bear a common witness to the world.
Only the willingness to extend mutual forgiveness of past offences
and wrongs and to receive correction from each other will enable
the Churches to fulfil their obligation to show forth a common
witness to each other and to the world.
There is, however, an understandable hesitation of a Church to
cooperate in witness where this may trouble and confuse its members.
Among other reasons, it may be due also to lack of contact and
mutual understanding between the clergy and the laity of Churches.
In all such cases, a patient and determined effort should be made
to create conditions which favor cooperation.
A further obstacle to joint action in witness derives from receiving
and interpreting the Gospel in forms so exclusive as to lead to
a refusal of all discussion and an unwillingness to recognize
that the Spirit can operate in groups other than one's own. This
attitude is generally labeled "sectarianism" and such
exclusive and excluding groups are often called "sects."
When faced with this situation, Churches should first of all recognize
the challenge which these groups present to them and examine themselves
as to their inadequacy in meeting the profound spiritual needs
of their members and of those around them. They must also guard
against the very spirit of sectarianism which they so rightly
deplore in others. Rather should they strive to hear God's call
to renewal and to greater faithfulness to his message of salvation.
Moreover, the Churches should pay particular attention to groups
which seem open to receive those aspects of the Christian message
which those communities have hitherto neglected. The Churches
must thus always stand ready for dialogue and to seize every opportunity
to extend a fraternal hand and to grasp the hand held out to them.
Cf. Second Vatican
Council Decree, Ad Gentes, 6 and 15; and the proposals
for "Joint Action for Mission" formulated by the 1961
New Delhi Assembly of the WCC and affirmed by the Report of
Section II of the 1968 Uppsala Assembly.