Evangelicals attending the World Council of Churches (WCC) assembly called on the WCC to include more evangelicals in the council’s program, planning, and structure. Yet at the same time, they reported that they “felt welcomed in the dialogue [at Canberra] and were able to contribute in concrete ways and at all levels.”

Their statements came out of two meetings attended by 110 persons “with evangelical perspectives” who were at the Canberra, Australia, assembly as delegates, observers, and visitors. Representing 23 countries, they were led by Canon Vinay Samuel, an observer from the Church of South India, who is executive secretary of Partnership in Mission International and chairman of the Evangelical Fellowship of India theological commission.

“As the assembly discussed the process of listening to the Spirit at work in every culture, we cautioned, with others, that discernment is required to identify the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus Christ and thus to develop criteria for and limits to theological diversity. We argued for a high Christology to serve as the only authentic Christian base for dialogue with persons of other living faiths,” read one evangelical statement.

In a letter to the WCC program policy committee, the evangelical participants said the council should have an evangelical presence on every commission, “just as women’s and Orthodox perspectives are solicited,” and that the WCC should set up a monitoring group to assess progress in that area.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelsen, director of church and society for the WCC and moderator of a WCC task force on relations with evangelicals, noted that many of the WCC member churches have large evangelical constituencies. Granberg-Michaelsen, an ordained minister of the Reformed Church in America, said the WCC would like to do more in establishing working relationships with evangelical denominations and organizations outside the WCC.

However, he said he “gets very tired of evangelicals who stand on the outside and criticize when they have every right and every invitation and scriptural responsibility to participate with others who name the name of Christ.” He added that the WCC does have some formal consultations with the World Evangelical Fellowship on a private basis. And it seeks contact with some of the evangelical fellowships in Africa that have grown up independent of mission structures.

Window Dressing?

Responding at a press conference to a suggestion that the evangelicals were being used by the WCC as “window dressing,” Peter Kuzmic of the Theological Institute in Osijek, Yugoslavia, who is active in the World Evangelical Fellowship and a member of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, said, “I have no problem meeting with people who think differently. I don’t think that we will be swallowed up by them or that anyone is being used as ‘evangelical window dressing.’ ” But Kuzmic indicated he thought the WCC was too preoccupied with relevance and observed that “those who marry the spirit of the age soon become widows.”

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René Padilla, a Baptist pastor from Buenos Aires and general secretary of the Latin American Theological Fraternity, said that while being at the assembly had been a good experience, “much of what is being done by the WCC lacks a solid theological basis. There is a lack of a vital and coherent theology to back up a number of efforts being made, especially involving justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.”

Donald Dayton, professor of theology and ethics at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, served as an adviser to the assembly subsections devoted to charismatic renewal and relations with the Pentecostal churches. He said one of the most important emerging dimensions of the theological dialogue involved evangelicals and Orthodox who found common concerns over syncretism.

Lawrence Adams covered the Canberra assembly for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has been critical of religious bodies for their political involvement. In an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, he said he was struck by the fact that the assembly documents and experience “offered something for everybody.”

“It would be easy to concentrate on statements that were clearly unbiblical and syncretistic,” he said, but some of the final documents, particularly one section of the report on the Holy Spirit, contained “very clear pronouncements and Trinitarian doctrine.”

The assembly organizers may have wished for a “more progressive” outcome, Adams said, but “very strong elements in the Orthodox camp and the evangelical camp helped restrain some of those tendencies and helped bring the assembly around to something a little more mainstream.”

Adams said the comments of George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury-designate, were “very impressive and helpful.” According to Adams, Carey challenged some of the speakers who were not clear about the Holy Spirit or the mission of the church. “Because of its diversity, there is still a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about what the WCC is all about,” Adams said. “It continues to be a collection of a lot of different interests and is not a very unified organization.”

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Archbishop Backs Women’S Ordination

The outspoken evangelical churchman chosen as new archbishop of Canterbury has stirred controversy in advance of his formal enthronement April 19 by suggesting that opponents of women’s ordination commit “heresy.”

George Carey, whose appointment was announced last summer, enraged many leading Anglo-Catholics because of comments in an interview with the British edition of Reader’s Digest, in which he declared, “The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most serious heresy.” The implications of such a view are “devastating and destructive because it means women feel totally excluded.… Jesus included women among his followers; they shared in much of his ministry; they were witnesses to his resurrection.”

The archbishop-designate quickly retracted the word heresy and said he should have spoken of “theological error” instead. But his comments were new fuel for the fire within the Church of England as it nears a crucial 1992 vote on whether to legalize ordaining women as priests and bishops.

While Carey’s reiteration of support for ordaining women was welcomed by liberals, the traditionalist Cost of Conscience movement, formed to campaign for an all-male priesthood, expressed “astonishment and dismay.”

Carey, the group declared, was effectively condemning one-third of the present clergy in the Church of England as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. As a result, the group said, it would be hard for Carey to serve as a focus of unity.

Most previous archbishops have avoided public controversy before assuming office. But Carey has already indicated his style will be much different from that of predecessor Robert Runcie, the cautious, moderately liberal conciliator who retired on January 30.

Carey is known as a “green bishop” for his sympathy for the environmental movement. He is also an advocate of closer relations with Rome and speaks warmly of his encounters with charismatics.

“Let’s not have any truck with bland theology that Jesus is just one option among many,” he told a recent renewal conference. “Dialogue with other faiths is important, but I can respect another faith and believer in that faith by saying, ‘I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.’ ”

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