world council of churches

Issue 32, December 1998

As I write this page, the World Council of Churches' staff in Geneva are packing the last boxes, checking that everything concerning the flow of the Assembly is as much prepared as can be beforehand, and are off on their way to Harare, Zimbabwe, for the 8th Assembly, December 3-14, 1998.

This WCC Assembly will take place only a couple of years before the turn of the century and the 3rd millennium. It is timely to come together, to take stock and to deliberate together on the significance of being a Christian today. One hundred years ago Christianity and Christendom were, in many of the dominant places of the world, quite interchangeable concepts. One hundred years later hardly anyone mentions anymore Christendom, not after colonialism, two world wars, the Holocaust, the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arrogance and hubris.

The pace of change in the world and the advent of a new millennium have raised questions about the future. In the face of projections of catastrophe and utopia, the churches confront uncertainty and doubts about their identity and self-understanding. The WCC, gathering for the Assembly in Harare, will need to reflect upon Christianity without Christendom, the identity and self-understanding of Christianity in a world which has become increasingly complex. When Christendom can no longer be held up as an armour against the many complexities, there is a need to rethink what it means to be a Christian in a world of simultaneous globalisation and fragmentation, of differences and contradictions, what Christian diversity and Christian unity might mean, what religious plurality means and how Christians are to relate to people of other faiths in a respectful and constructive way.

The WCC has tried to capture the context of our world today and the way forward for Christian churches in a document called "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches". In a few sentences it addresses the role of the WCC in a religiously plural world: "The inseparable connection between work for the unity of the church and work for the healing and wholeness of all creation will often bring the Council into dialogue and collaboration with persons, groups and organisations that are not identified by a specific Christian purpose or commitment. This includes in particular representative organisations of other faith communities or inter-religious bodies. ... they are indispensable partners for the WCC in its effort to foster dialogue and co-operation with people of other faiths in order to build viable human communities."

The WCC has invited to the Assembly in Harare 15 guests of other faiths and has asked the Office on Interreligious Relations (OIRR) to give visibility to "dialogue and co-operation with people of other faiths". The Assembly delegates, observers and visitors will have an opportunity to participate in 8 different seminars addressing various issues and themes from an interreligious perspective. Looking at the list of seminars, I think they highlight exactly those concerns that we need to approach together in the future work of the WCC and in interfaith relations. Together with our advisors our guests of other faiths will in Harare address the following themes, which I think each in its own right could serve as the agenda for interfaith dialogue in the years to come:

  1. The encounter between African religion and other religions;
  2. The role of religion in reshaping Africa;
  3. Turn to God - rejoice in hope, a multi-faith response to the Assembly theme;
  4. The Ultimate in a world of religious plurality;
  5. Globalization and the future of religions;
  6. My God, your God, our God or no God? How the encounter with people of other faiths can be spiritually transformative;
  7. Human Rights and Minorities - Religious Perspectives (Can human rights be grounded in religious affirmations? The interrelationship of human rights and duties. Minority rights between legitimate concerns and political manipulation);
  8. Religion fuelling conflict or fostering peace (Testimonies how interreligious groups in various places of the world are working to foster good relationships and communal harmony).
This issue of Current Dialogue reflects a variety of issues in interfaith relations. An article by Anantanand Rambachan addresses the authority of scripture for the benefit of a deepened Hindu-Christian dialogue (reprinted courtesy Hindu-Christian Studies Bulletin). Owe Wikström addresses in his article another aspect of religious plurality, the dialogue or lack thereof with what is labelled secularisation.
Upcoming Events

Creating an Earth Community:
A Religious Imperative
Vancouver, Canada 29 July - 3 August 1999

The International Association for Relgious Freedom is committed to working for a more just and peaceful world through interfaith cooperation. It invites all those who share this commitment to participate in the 30th IARF World Congress, which will mark th beginning of the centenary celebrations of the IARF. How are religious communities to support humane and sustainable alternatives to the economic globalization of life? How are the spiritual disciplines to be strengthened in our materialist world? How are those who support freedom of religion or belief to promote respect for fundamental human rights and reconciliation among people who are divided? How may all those of goodwill join together in creating an earth community?

For more information please contact:
IARF Secretariat
2 Market Street
Oxford OX1 3EF, UK

Tel. (+44 1865) 202 744
Fax (+44 1865) 202 746

IARF in North America
576 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1103
New York, NY 10036, USA

Tel. (+1 212) 843 9493
Fax (+1 212) 221 5958

Ecumenical Institute, Bossey
Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies

Christians in a Religiously Plural World:
Challenge and Opportunity
1 September - 17 December 1999

The Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, under the auspices of the WCC and the University of Geneva, is open to students, pastors and priests, teachers and qualified lay people who are interested in a deeper study of ecumenical issues and wish to prepare themselves for ecumenical work.

The 1999 Graduate School will consider the question of what living in a religiously plural world means for Christian identity, theology and ministry.

Dead-line for applications:
28 February 1999

Ecumenical Institute
Château de Bossey
CH-1298 Céligny, Switzerland

Tel. (+41 22) 60 93 33
Fax (+41 22) 22 776 01 69
E-mail: WCC Contact
Web site:

A New Day Dawning: Spiritual Yearnings and Sacred Possibilities
1999 Parliament of the World's Religions
Cape Town, South Africa, 1 - 8 Dec. 1999

Encountering Religion and Spirituality
Making Connections
Calling for Creative Engagement
Offering Gifts of Service
Embracing South Africa

For more information:
Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
P.O. Box 1630
Chicago, IL 60690-1630, USA

Tel. (+1 312) 629 2990
Fax (+1 312) 629 2991
Web site:

The Evangelical Church in the Rhineland in Germany brings the fruits of the Jewish-Christian dialogue into a rethinking on mission. The religiously plural context of India is the background for Hannibal Cabral's introduction of some considerations for Christian education. Charanjit Ajitsingh gives as an educator in Britain a Sikh perspective on interreligious relations. Arvind Sharma's contribution to the interfaith discourse are some challenging thoughts on a theory of the other. An ecumenical contribution towards dialogue between young Jews, Christians and Muslims is presented by Anne Davison. The International Interfaith Centre in Oxford shares its activity report with readers of Current Dialogue.

A web-page of the Office on Interreligious Relations has been set up and will be a developing feature of the work on interreligious relations and dialogue of the WCC. Important documents and articles are and will be posted on our home page. We will as the home page grows also provide space for cyber-space dialogue on dialogue. The URL is

With this issue of Current Dialogue the Office thanks Audrey Smith for many years of service in the interreligious work of the WCC. As of January 1999 the administrative assistant will be Ms. Yvette Milosevic and we wish to welcome her into our work.

Hans Ucko, Editor

Inside this issue . . .

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Click here for the previous issue of Current Dialogue dated December 1997.

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copy right 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor