The World Alliance
The first rose directly out of the movement in different European countries and the United States, just described. It was at the very outbreak of the war. One hundred and fifty-three delegates had been appointed by the respective Councils or Committees to attend a conference at Constance. About ninety succeeded in arriving; but they met only to disperse after twenty-four hours. They did however resolve that national committees should be set up, and that an international committee of fifteen members, with power to co-opt, should be established, to maintain co-operation between the national committees. The delegates who returned to London reassembled on 5 August 1914. J. Allen Baker, M.P., was chosen as chairman, and W.P. Merrill (U.S.A.) Vice-chairman. W.H. Dickinson, M.P., L. Emery (Switzerland), F. Lynch (U.S.A.), F. Siegmund-Schultze (Germany), and J. Dumas (France) were appointed as co-ordinating secretaries. It was decided that the name of the new association should be ‘The World Alliance of the Churches for Promoting International Friendship’. It was resolved that the representatives of each nation should form a committee in their own country, and thus gather together a body of earnest Christian men and women who should prepare the way for a world conference of Churches at the end of the war. It was the first meeting of the International Committee, and it was decided that the number of the Committee should be enlarged to sixty. A second meeting was held at Berne in August 1915, with delegates from England, Germany, and Holland, as well as Scandinavian countries. The name of the organisation was changed. It was no longer a ‘World Alliance of the Churches’ but ‘The World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches’.
Next in time followed an Appeal made in 1917 by the heads of the Scandinavian (Lutheran) Churches, led by Dr Nathan Söderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, inviting churchmen from both belligerent and neutral countries to meet in conference. None came from the belligerent countries. But a conference of churchmen from neutral countries was held at Uppsala in December 1917. It issued a statement emphasizing the duty of the Church to be the living conscience of nations and of men . . . to employ all its resources in working for the removal of the causes of war . . . to work for international understanding, and to vindicate the sanctity of justice and law in Christ’s name, and to demand its further development.
The third moment came with the first meeting of the International Committee of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, in October 1919, at Oud Wassenaar. It was the most significant of all, and must be more fully described.
The Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany had been signed in Versailles on 28 June 1919. Less than three months after this signing, representatives of the principal Protestant Churches in five of the belligerent countries, U.S.A., Britain, Belgium, France, and Germany, and in five neutral countries, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Holland, and Switzerland, met in the Casteel Oud Wassenaar, near The Hague, to consider how the Churches could best work together fir the maintenance of peace. The conference lasted four days (30 September to 4 October). The blockade, Bolshevism, war guilt, the Treaty, missions, were among the themes discussed, in private or public.
A tense situation was caused by a letter written by Wilfrid Monod (France) asking for a declaration by the German delegation that the violation of Belgian neutrality was morally wrong and indefensible, as a condition of the renewal of fellowship within the World Alliance. The German delegates pointed out that no mention of such a condition was contained in the invitation to Oud Wassenaar, and the British delegation supported this plea. One of the Germans, Professor Adolf Deissmann, had already, in November 1918, branded the infringement of Belgian neutrality as an appalling and fateful iniquity; and he and his colleagues, after long consultations with the French and Belgian delegations, decided of their own accord to make a declaration that they personally considered German violation of Belgian neutrality as an act of moral transgression. The declaration made a profound impression, and led to co-operation in full confidence within the world Alliance between Germans and the rest.
But the subject which proved by far most absorbing was a proposal for a World Conference of Churches on moral and social questions. Dekan O. Herald, President of the Swiss Church Federation, introduced the matter to the conference, and the General Secretary of the Federal Council of American Churches, Dr C.S. Macfarland, and Archbishop Söderblom, on his proposal, were invited to present a memorandum for discussion. It was Archbishop Söderblom who was its conspicuous champion. Elected Archbishop at the outbreak of the war, at the age of 48, Nathan Söderblom was a brilliant scholar, a remarkable linguist, and an eloquent speaker. Alert, vivacious, he was a man of unquenchable spirit, going here, there and everywhere among the delegates, a figure of medium height, with a fine head and a mass of brown hair, wearing a black frock-coat and trousers, a gold cross on his breast, a white tie, and a big black felt hat. He was the most vivid personality in the company. But he was an unusual kind of Archbishop, so the proposal was a very novel one, and met many objections. Who should be invited? Should it be confined, as some desired, to Protestant Churches? Should it, as Anglicans asked, include representatives of the Orthodox Churches? Or – more daringly – Rome? Where should it be held? Who should issue invitations? Should it be sponsored by the Churches as such? or by the Swiss, or American, Federal Councils? or by the World Alliance? The discussion was prolonged. It considered however that the organizing of such an official Church conference lay beyond the competence of the World Alliance, and referred the resolution to the national committees of the World Alliance, requesting them to communicate it to the ecclesiastical authorities in their respective countries.
It was cautious, but a genuine, beginning. It led to a preparatory meeting in Geneva in 1920, attended by ninety members from different countries, and visited by a commission from the Orthodox Church. The visit of the Orthodox commission was significant. The Ecumenical patriarchate at Constantinople had for some time been giving its attention to the possibility of a closer intercourse and a mutual understanding between the several Christian Churches, in spite of the doctrinal differences existing between them; and issued an Encyclical Letter ‘To all the Churches of Christendom’ on the subject of fellowship and co-operation, in January 1920, considering the matter both feasible and timely ‘on establishment of the League of Nations which has now been effected with good omen’.
I have given this fuller description of the Oud Wassenaar meeting because it was a decisive event in those early days; for it was there that the project of a World Conference of Churches on moral and social questions, under the title ‘Life and Work’ (as distinguished from ‘Faith and Order’), began to take effective shape.
The Stockholm Conference
It is not necessary here to recount the stages which, after many meetings and consultations, and much prayer, led to the World Conference of the Churches held at Stockholm in August 1925. Beyond doubt this Conference was a landmark in the history of the Christian Churches since the Reformation. Rome was not represented. Alike in the preparation and the conduct of the Conference, Archbishop Söderblom was the moving spirit. Without him it could never have happened. It was not only his vision, but his abounding vitality, his powers of persuasion, his leadership and inspiration, that made Stockholm possible. No one who was not in touch with authoritative Church opinion at that time can at this distance easily understand how difficult it was to convince the leaders of the Churches of the need of coming together, for a purpose difficult to translate into very concrete terms, in this necessarily dramatic way. At the same time the achievement would not have been possible at all at that date without the strong support given in various ways by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches.
On the administrative side Dr Henry Atkinson (U.S.A.) as General Executive Secretary, and Dr Adolf Keller (Switzerland) as Associate Secretary, gave untold help. The Church and people of Sweden were most generous in their hospitality. The Church Peace Union (U.S.A), owing much to Dr. Atkinson’s guidance, made immense contributions to the expenses of the conference, the preliminary regional meetings, and the travelling expenses of many delegations. The Church Peace Union contributed 176,005.73 dollars to the Universal Christian Council from 1921 to 1933. (From statement by the auditors of the C.P.U. in 1943, supplied by Dr Atkinson.)
The conference, known as the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work, dealt with a large number of contemporary questions, international, racial, social, educational. Worship played a prominent part in the proceedings; and the Church of Sweden held a Communion Service in Engelbrekt church on Sunday, 23 August, at which churchmen of many communions received the Sacrament.
There were over 600 delegates, from thirty-seven countries. A strong Orthodox delegation included the Patriarch Photios of Alexandria, and Archbishop Germanos of Thyateira (who was the leading figure for many years to come). The Germans sat in a solid block by themselves, still feeling their isolation. There were hardly any delegates from the younger Churches in Asia and Africa; but the Churches of the older countries were well represented. Among the delegates who provided a link with the World Alliance was Bishop Ammundsen of Denmark. He had special experience in the work of conciliation, as his diocese included both Germans (as a result of the war) and Danes. Humorous, devout, and excellent linguist, he never failed in his words of wisdom and his attitude of friendship. William Adams Brown (U.S.A.) was another of those who took a leading part both at Stockholm and after. He was one of the best known theologians in the United states, with a zeal for unity, a courteous manner, and a great desire to find a way of bringing opposed points of view to concord. These two, with Dr A.E. Garvie (Britain), W. Monod (France), Archbishop Germanos (Greece), Dr Siegmund-Schultze (Germany) and myself, were formed into a group to draft a Message. This was the only act of the Conference, and it cost many heart-searchings before it was completed. In the end, Siegmund-Schultze had to give way to Deissmann, as representing the Germans; and Monod, Deissmann, and I were left together to produce the final shape. Various suggestions were made. There was some fear lest the Message should be too liberal in its general attitude. In my diary I noted that ‘Ihmels was constantly darting in with very conservative and timid suggestions – very much afraid of a “United Church” – of appeals to youth, workers, and teachers, unless you limit the appeal to Christians in each category!’ There was great discussion as to what might be said on the social question. ‘Could it be strengthened?’ said the friends of labour. ‘Could it be weakened?’ said the employers – holding two special meeting to discuss it. In the end, after visits to the printer at two o’clock in the morning, the Message was ready for noon on 29 August, and on the whole very well received. It was carried, with four dissidents, all dissenting on the ground that it did not go far enough on the peace question.
At the conclusion of the Conference a Continuation Committee was appointed to carry on the work.
The Lausanne Conference on Faith and Order
While the Life and work movement was gaining in strength, the earlier parallel movement known as Faith and Order was also active, and many churchmen of different nations took part in both. It was marked a step forward in mutual understanding. One particularly encouraging action was the unanimous adoption by delegates of the ‘Call to Unity’, followed by the receiving nem. con. of ‘The Churches’ Message to the World’. Further discussion of its place in the three World Conferences on Faith and Order is reserved the chapter Dealing with that subject. As with Life and Work, so with Faith and Order, a Continuation Committee was set up.
Each World Conference as it met registered an advance in the ecumenical movement. It is well to note that the chief value of these conferences lies in the personal contacts which they enable delegates to make on a world-wide scale, and in the inspiration which they give not only to those attending, but to the many in the Churches at home when they hear reports from delegates after their return. Public meetings at the time, resolutions or messages adopted by a world conference, have their uses. But it is the encounter of delegate with delegate, or of individual churchman with individual churchman, that matters most; together with the general kindling of the spirit which is so clearly perceptible at a conference that has been wisely planned. Conferences, therefore, are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They are places where a spiritual exchange can begin, where there may be communion and prayer and devotion, and knowledge can be gained of other ways and confessions, and other kinds of approach to God and the world. They also bring home in an altogether unforgettable way to those attending for the first time the universal character of the Church. Similarly the great contribution made by the Continuation Committees in the total development comes from the means which their regular meetings provide for mutual understanding amongst leaders and theologians in the different Churches. Trust grows up through the succeeding years, and a deep spiritual fellowship is created.
National Socialism and the Church
A new impetus, however, was given to the ecumenical movement by the rise of the National Socialist State in Germany in 1933. It was the Life and Work side which was most strongly affected. Meeting at Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, in September 1933, as guests of Bishop Iriney, a saintly and devoted Orthodox advocate of Christian Unity, the executive Committee of what had now become the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work felt obliged to record grave anxieties ‘in particular with regard to the severe action taken against persons of Jewish origin, and the serious restrictions placed upon freedom of thought and expression in Germany’. It authorized me as its chairman to make direct representations to the new head of the German Evangelical Church, Reichbischof Müller.
When the Universal Christian Council itself met at Fano in Denmark in August 1934 the situation had become worse. There was an extraordinary scene when a Nazi courier came by air from quarters attached to the new government in Germany, with instructions to the German Church delegates. The whole atmosphere of this meeting was tense, as there were anti-Nazi Germans secretly present as well as official delegates of the Evangelical Church. Discussion in closed sessions was exceedingly animated, reports somehow reaching the outside world through American press agencies, and causing a great stir.
The Council expressed its criticism of the Nazi regime in clear terms. Strong support was given to the resistance movement in the Confessional Church; and while the Council also expressed its desire to remain in friendly contact with all groups in the German Evangelical Church, it added Praeses Wurm and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer to its membership as a special sign of its resolve to maintain close fellowship with the Confessional Church. More important than this, the Council decided, on the initiative of Dr J.H. Oldham, that in the light of the great extension of the functions of State everywhere, and the emergence in some countries of the authoritarian or totalitarian State, the attention of the Churches must be directed to the problem of Church, Community, and State, and the conflict between Christianity and secularism. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the acute conflict between Church and the State, now so clearly perceived, that gave the main direction to the future character of the ecumenical movement on its Life and Work side.
The Oxford Conference
Oxford was the scene of the second World Conference on Life and Work in 1937. It took ‘Church, Community, and State’ as its theme. It was exceedingly well prepared in advance; and it was greatly strengthened on the Church and State side by the presence of leaders in the public life of various countries, such as Lord Robert Cecil, Max Huber, and John Foster Dulles. The problems were graver than those of Stockholm had faced., and the whole international situation was far more serious. There were fewer Orthodox delegates, but there was a considerable increase in the representation of the younger Churches, especially from China and Japan. Christian unity above national frontiers was vividly expressed when we saw Chinese and Japanese delegates were sitting side by side in the conference hall, in Christian fellowship, while the evening papers outside displayed the headline, ‘Japanese planes bomb Chinese villages’.
The delegation from the German Evangelical Church had been forbidden to come; but the Conference sent it a special message of fellowship. It was, it said, ‘greatly moved by the afflictions of many pastors and laymen who have stood firm from the first in the Confessional Church for the sovereignty of Christ, and for the freedom of the Church of Christ to preach His Gospel’.
Dr John R. Mott, chairman of the Business Committee, presided over many sessions. Dr J.H. Oldham was chairman of the Research Commission charged with the preparatory work for the conference. Archbishop William Temple drafted the Message which was ultimately adopted. The presidents were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Eidem (Sweden), Archbishop Germanos (Greece), Professor Adams Brown (U.S.A.), Pastor Boegner (France), and (the first occasion on which a representative of younger Churches took such a leading position) Bishop Azariah (India). There was a strong Youth delegation. Services of Holy Communion were held at St Mary’s and St Aldate’s at which the Archbishop of Canterbury and I were the celebrants, and all delegates were invited to receive Communion.
The World Council in Process of Formation
A few weeks later another World Conference on Faith and Order met at Edinburgh, as will be described in Chapter 10. But a significant decision was reach at both World Conferences, the result of the findings of a Joint commission which had been set up by agreement to review the work of ecumenical co-operation, and to make recommendations regarding future policy.
It had been evident for some time that if the Churches were to give adequate support to the ecumenical cause, bot Faith and Order and Life and Work ought to join together in a single movement, working through distinct and safeguarded departments. Amongst the considerations which supported the plan of a World Council of Churches were the following: (1) the difficulty of obtaining support for two separate movements; (2) the belief that no division of territory of faith and practice could be maintained; (3) the need of associating the Churches themselves more closely together, and drawing them to unity, always against a background of world evangelization; (4) the need of winning the interest of youth. Both Conferences voted in favour, though opposition was expressed by Bishop Headlam at Edinburgh, for fear that ‘the new Council would pass resolutions on public affairs, and so do great harm’.
A constitution of the world Council was agreed in 1938 by a Joint Committee of fourteen, with the assistance of an Advisory Conference which met at Utrecht. A Provisional Committee was set up, to be responsible for all work preliminary to the meeting of the First Assembly. Archbishop William Temple was elected as its Chairman; and Dr W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft was appointed General Secretary. Invitations were sent to the Churches in the autumn of 1938. Links were established at the Tambaram Conference in India between the International Missionary Council and the World Council. The Provisional Committee, at a meeting at Saint-Germain in January 1929, provisionally fixed August 1941 as the date for the First Assembly. But once again preparations for this new and great advance in Christian unity were interrupted by war.
THE TEST OF THE SECOND