The unity of the church, wherever and whenever it exists, should be celebrated, said Neville Callam, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) general secretary.
Callam, who was speaking during the 10th assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Busan, South Korea, lauded the work of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC to aid the church in its quest for visible unity.
The commission has published such groundbreaking documents as “Baptism Eucharist and Ministry” (BEM), which came about through extensive theological engagement in the Christian ecumenical community.
Callam also took note of bilateral theological dialogues that have taken place between various Christian traditions.
These, he said, have resulted in an “increase in understanding” and have “facilitated responsible rapprochement between Christian communions.”
Despite these and other signs of progress, Callam acknowledged that disunity is a stain on the church’s life and witness.
There is “persistence in cherishing our peculiarities” and an unwillingness to see “signs of the one church of our Lord Jesus” in other churches other than one’s own.
Callam asserted that the church has failed to “reflect the unity for which our Lord prayed in John 17.”
Such disunity has “compromised our faithfulness in mission,” has led to a failure to confront social and other injustices such as racism, poverty, exploitation and disease, has resulted in self-centeredness that leads to the degradation of creation, and has caused a failure to “respect peoples of other faiths who are all creatures of the one God and inhabitants of a shared planet.”
The appropriate response to Christian disunity, the BWA leader said, is “to repent of the sin of our divisions, to petition God’s forgiveness and to pray for the joy of full communion.”
Callam called the assembly’s attention to serious challenges that compromise the mission of the church because of disunity. These include conflicting positions on moral issues, which pose difficulty for the unity of the church.
“Churches are actually participating in the entrenchment of divisions in society by offering disparate teaching on issues that profoundly affect people’s lives. The current situation is intolerable.”
The solution, Callam asserted, is for the church “to commit, with greater urgency, to the search for convergence around the sources of authority in the church, and on how to interpret responsibly the sources we regard as authoritative.”
Callam urged the Faith and Order Commission to provide additional resources, in a variety of media formats, to aid persons involved in assisting the church’s quest for unity, especially at the international level.
At least 77 Baptists from 24 countries, including BWA President John Upton, attended the WCC meetings, held Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 in Busan, South Korea’s second largest metropolis.
The assembly, normally held every seven years, elected a 150-member Central Committee that includes eight Baptists.
The Central Committee serves as the chief governing body of the WCC until the next assembly.
It meets every 12 to 18 months and is responsible for carrying out the policies adopted by the assembly, reviewing and supervising WCC programs and for adopting the budget.
Four BWA General Council members were elected to the WCC Central Committee: Samson Ayokunle from Nigeria, Yam Kho Pau from Myanmar, Karl Johnson from Jamaica and Carroll Baltimore from the U.S.
Other Baptist Central Committee members are Marceline Mbingasani Maluavanga from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joyanta Adhikari from Bangladesh, and June Totten and Angelique Walker-Smith from the U.S.