The World Council of Churches: Seventh-day Adventist Conversations and Their Significance (Concluded)
MEASURED within the framework of the avowed purposes of the Conversations, it can be said that their results have been definitely positive and useful. There have been no measurably negative outgrowths. In order to clearly see the substantial number of accomplishments, it would appear helpful to succinctly list some of the major results that have emanated so far from the Conversations:
1. Personal Acquaintance and Fellowship. The discussions have been very beneficial on the plane of personal relationships, with consequent better understanding and appreciation of the Christianity and humanity of the participants. Friendships have been formed and fellowship experienced.
2. Information and Understanding. Without doubt the Conversations have enabled the participants to gain accurate in formation and a better understanding of the background, approach, thinking, developing trends, aims, and expectations of ; the other side. Mutual knowledge has increased, and erroneous views, based on , prejudice, have decreased.
3. Channels of Communication. While prior to 1965 the channels of communication between the SDA Church and the ; WWC were not nonexistent, they were very weak and spasmodic. Today largely as a result of the Consultations, a number of actively used channels of communication are entertained, especially with the General and Faith and Order secretariats. Information once ignored or difficult to come " by is now regularly communicated. In addition, the SDA/WCC Conversations were at least partly instrumental in opening new channels for contacts between the SDA Church and other confessional bodies or churches.
4. WCC Statement Concerning SDA Church. A very useful product of the Conversations is the statement regarding the SDA Church that was published in the January, 1967, issue of the Ecumenical Review. While the statement was prepared by the Faith and Order Secretariat, the SDA participants in the 1966 Conversations had the opportunity to discuss the draft statement and make some useful observations. After incorporating some relatively minor suggestions, the document was published substantially as originally written. The statement has had a wide distribution, not only through the Ecumenical Review but as a Faith and Order paper. Seventh-day Adventists consider this article as one of the fairest and finest statements published by non-Adventists about Adventists.
5. Participation in Meeting of WCF's. Since 1968 the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has had an observer at the annual meeting of "Secretaries of World Confessional Families." This participation is largely the result of the WCC/SDA Conversations and contacts that were made at the time of the Uppsala assembly. It is hoped that expanded cooperation will ensue between the World Confessional Families in the vital realm of religious liberty.
6. Observer and Adviser Status. Since the Conversations got under way, it has become the accepted procedure for the SDA Church to be represented at various WCC meetings, including the assembly, by observers. These observers have not just been present pro forma, but have taken an active interest in the meetings they attended. An additional step was taken when the General Conference, as a world confessional body or church, was represented by an adviser in Canterbury at the 1969 meeting of the WCC Central Committee.
7. SDA on Faith and Order Commission. An evident result of the Conversations is the opportunity extended for the presence of a Seventh-day Adventist at meetings of the Faith and Order Commission. While it is clear that churches are not members of this Commission and theologians selected for membership are chosen in their personal capacity, and therefore the SDA Church is not a member of the Faith and Order Commission, it does mean that the Commission will have the benefit of hearing a bona fide SDA voice.
8. SDA /WCC Conversations in the U.S. As a kind of corollary to the Geneva Consultations, Conversations began in 1969 in the United States between Seventh-day Adventists and a WCC-appointed group. While each Conversation will follow its own style and choose its own subject matter, those responsible for the Conversations on both sides of the Atlantic are keeping in touch with one another.
9. Contacts on National Levels. It is interesting to note that the contacts on the WCC level have, to some extent, filtered down to certain national levels. As examples, one can mention the SDA contacts with the British Council of Churches, the Finnish Council of Churches, and the office of the German Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Frankfurt. There are many other contacts, but here we are only thinking of those that are at least to some extent directly attributable to the Geneva Conversations.
As reinforcement of the already mentioned nine results, which in themselves certainly highlight the significance of the Conversations, there are a few more points of a more interpretative nature that throw additional light on the significance of these Consultations:
1. It is quite clear that the SDA attitude toward the ecumenical movement, and more specifically the WCC, is unavoidably strongly influenced by the church's under standing of prophecy, eschatology, current trends and past church history, and its self-understanding of the role of the Ad vent Movement as epitomized by the SDA Church. It thus appears that a central problem of inter-church theological discussions in which Seventh-day Adventists are involved would be Biblical interpretation in general and prophetic interpretation in particular.
2. The participants in the Conversations discovered that each side approaches the Bible with respect and the basic expectation to be guided by Scripture into truth. There are, however, some noticeable differences in approach. While SDA theologians believe in the inspired integrity of the Bible and insist on the historicity of the record, the participants on the WCC side tend to favor a larger use of historical and form critical methods. Underlying these dissentient approaches are differing views regarding the nature of inspiration and revelation. It should not be overlooked, however, that similar differences in approach can be found within the constituency of the WCC.
3. In view of the prominence Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally given to religious liberty, it is significant to note the very substantial agreement that prevailed in this area of the discussions. While the SDA contribution to religious liberty has been largely of a pragmatic nature, without ignoring the necessary Biblical basis, the WCC has, through its Religious Liberty Secretariat, concentrated on providing a sound theological foundation for religious liberty, and through the CCIA has underlined the general importance of human rights.
4. The Conversations have made Seventh-day Adventists rather more aware of ecumenism as an expanding and driving influence, with strengths, weaknesses, and problems. On the other hand, the WCC and some of its member churches appear more conscious of Adventism as a growing worldwide religious force. Each side has gained a deeper understanding of the other's raison d'etre.
5. There has been a growth of mutual respect. The SDA participants cannot but respect the scholarship and "studiousness" of the WCC and its representatives. Faith and Order studies have shed considerable light on various contemporary theological issues. There is also evidence that the WCC members have gained a measure of respect for the caliber of Adventist scholarship. The Conversations have demonstrated that the participants on both sides are capable of respecting the differing views, especially when held by partners in dialog whose Christian commitment cannot be questioned.
6. The Conversations have been significant as an educational instrumentality. Minds have been opened and enlarged. Adventists have become more clearly aware that there are earnest Christian men who hold differing beliefs. While beliefs merit to be safeguarded, serious thought must be given to expressing them in terms that will be readily understood and, in some degree, accepted by those with divergent convictions.
The same educational process has enabled the WCC participants to realize that SDA's are not illiterate backwoodsmen suffering from theological "hydrophobia," but that they are orthodox Christians, who hold clearly defined, defensible beliefs in all major areas of Christian doctrine.
The Conversations have made it abundantly clear that firsthand information is better than secondhand misinformation, that sharpening one's theological views on the grindstone of dialog is not only at times painful but profitable, and that ignorance of the other side is not bliss.
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