WASHINGTON (June 26, 2007)--The Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches held its Spring meeting at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, from March 13-15, 2007. Nearing the conclusion of its 2004-2007 quadrennium, the Commission gathered for three days of prayer, study, planning, discussion, and fellowship.
The Commission conducts its work principally in the three study groups chosen for each quadrennium. "The Authority of the Church in the World" study group completed work on its eponymous composite document, which outlines areas of consensus and difference among the participating bodies in Faith and Order. This document—the product of several years of study and revision—addresses the central question, "How can the churches teach and bear witness to the Gospel authoritatively in a society in which authority itself is suspect and the churches are divided?" It will be presented to the Faith and Order Commission for approval in October, 2007. This study group is also preparing for publication a collection of papers from commission members that examine various confessional understandings of ecclesial authority. In Abilene, commissioners presented papers on understandings of authority in the Catholic Church, the Churches of Christ, and the Community of Christ.
The "Full Communion" study group, which also concludes its work in October, 2007, continued work on two main projects: (1) a series of essays on "full communion" as it is understood by different churches and communions, and (2) panel discussions of various full communion agreements from recent years. In Abilene, commissioners presented papers on Emergent Church, Lutheran, Mennonite, and Pentecostal perspectives on full communion, as well as on full communion agreements between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the United Methodist Church (UMC), between the United Church of Christ (UCC) and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and among the Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). Both these and previous studies should be in close to final form for the October meeting, the study group's last session; their publication is envisaged in printed and/or electronic formats.
The third study group, "Justice and Justification: Beyond the Dichotomies," which will continue its work in the 2008-2011 quadrennium, began work on the "continuation report" for the group taking over the study during the next quadrennium. The report consists of three parts: (1) the background to the study, how it began and how it was envisioned; (2) a summary of the work that has been done over the last three years, including questions that have emerged out of the group's discussions; and (3) suggestions to the next quadrennium's participants for a way forward with the study. The task for the next group will be to decide whether to take up any of the suggested topics. This study group hopes to expand the discussion to move beyond justification and look more deeply at possible reasons for the dichotomy between being justified by God and how that affects one's actions. Other topics to be discussed include different approaches to salvation within Eastern and Western Christianity.
The Abilene meeting also continued planning for "On Being Christian Together: The Faith and Order Experience in the United States," this summer's celebration of fifty years of Faith and Order in the United States. From July 19th-23rd, 2007, the Commission will gather in Oberlin, Ohio—the site of the 1957 conference, "The Nature of the Unity We Seek," that marks the Commission's beginning in this country. This five-day celebration will include lectures, seminars, panel discussions, historic sightseeing, a film festival, and worship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Marty, author and professor emeritus of American religious history at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, will deliver the keynote address. The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, will preach at the Sunday prayer service. Catholic participants scheduled to attend include: Dr. John Borelli, Special Assistant to the President for Interreligious Initiatives at Georgetown University and former associate director of the USCCB
Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, who will talk on ecumenism in the context of a world marked by increasing religious pluralism; Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., who will offer reflections on the vision of Christian unity; Brother Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C., professor of church history at Memphis Theological Seminary and former director of Faith and Order, who will recount the Commission's history in the U.S.; and the Rev. Msgr. John A. Radano of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who will speak on current and future challenges facing ecumenism.
Faith and Order will hold its next meeting on October 11-13, 2007 at Christian Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis. The October meeting concludes the 2004-2007 quadrennium. In the 2008-2011 quadrennium, "Justice and Justification: Beyond the Dichotomies" will continue its work, and two new study groups will begin: one on the relationship of ecclesial unity and mission, and another on the international (World Council of Churches) Faith and Order Commission's document, "The Nature and Mission of the Church."
Faith and Order meets twice each year, in March and October. The Catholic members present in Abilene were: Dr. Christopher Ruddy, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, (USCCB field representative); the Rev. Dr. John Ford, C.S.C.; Dr. Theresa Koernke, I.H.M.; Dr. Elaine MacMillan; and Dr. Terence Nichols.
The Catholic Church is not a member of the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches USA. It does participate in the Faith and Order Commission of both the WCC and the NCCC. Faith and Order exists to address church-dividing matters of doctrine and practice.