World Council of Churches

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The World Council of Churches (WCC; and World Council of Churches ; English World Council of Churches , WCC ), based in Geneva was on August 23, 1948 Amsterdam founded and since then is a central organ of the ecumenical movement . It is a worldwide association of 348 member churches (as of 2020) in more than 120 countries on all continents.

The WCC is made up of churches, conventions, or associations of churches that comply with the Basic Declaration, have been formally admitted as members and continue to be members.

There are theological and organizational requirements for membership.

Theological requirements

  • Confession of faith in the Triune God as expressed in the Bible and in the Nicano-Constantinopolitanum .
  • The Church proclaims the Gospel and celebrates the sacraments according to her teaching.
  • The Church practices baptism “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and recognizes that churches must seek mutual recognition of their baptism.
  • The church recognizes the presence and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit beyond its own borders and requests that all churches be given the insight that other member churches also believe in the Holy Trinity and the redeeming grace of God.
  • The Church recognizes elements of the true Church in the other member churches of the WCC, even if she does not see them "as churches in the true and full sense of the word" ( Toronto Declaration ).

Organizational requirements

  • The church can autonomously determine its teaching and organization.
  • The church may apply for and continue membership of the WCC without the consent of any third party or organization.
  • The church (or group of churches) has 50,000 members (exceptions are possible). Smaller churches that otherwise meet all requirements can be accepted without voting rights.
  • The church should do everything in its power to cultivate constructive ecumenical relationships with other churches in its country or region (e.g. membership in a national and regional ecumenical organization).


As a rule, decisions of the WCC are made by consensus, i.e. not by majority vote. Possible cases of consensus are:

  • unanimity
  • The majority agrees, the minority is satisfied that a detailed and fair discussion has taken place and does not raise any objections.
  • There is agreement that no decision can be reached or that different opinions may exist on an item. These views are recorded in the minutes.

Member churches

Members are most of the major churches of the evangelical traditions ( Lutherans , Reformed , Methodists , Baptists, etc.), the Anglican churches , the Old Catholic churches and most of the Orthodox and Old Oriental churches .

In addition to churches that are full members of the council, national councils of churches can get the status of an affiliated organization. Churches that are not themselves members of the WCC also participate in some of these National Councils of Churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church in the Working Groups of Christian Churches in Germany and Switzerland and in the World Council of Churches in Austria .

Member churches in the German-speaking area

  • worldwide church , which also exists in Germany, Austria and Switzerland:
    • Methodist Church
    • the Orthodox churches in the countries mentioned, which are members of the WCC
  • and from 120 other nations


Many of the smaller evangelical churches, including most of the Pentecostal churches, are not members. The Seventh-day Adventists are not members either, but they do attend the meetings and conferences as observers.

Since the WCC requires its members to make a basic confession of, for example, the Trinity , the divinity of Christ and his physical death and resurrection, various Christian groups that reject these teachings in whole or in part cannot become members (e.g. the Unitarians ).

The Roman Catholic Church , the largest denomination within Christianity, does not belong to the WCC, on the one hand because, in the opinion of parts of the Catholic church leadership, the image of the church and ecclesiology are incompatible. However, she works with the WCC in several areas and is a full member of two of its commissions: Faith and Order, and World Mission and Evangelism . The main forum for joint study and dialogue between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church is an advisory body, the Joint Working Group, established in 1965 after the Second Vatican Council .

The three predominantly or entirely “white” South African Reformed Churches Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk / Transvaal, Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk / Cape Province and Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk left the WCC in 1961 because of its critical stance on South Africa's apartheid policy . The Salvation Army and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland resigned from the WCC in 1978 and 1980, respectively, because they refused to support South African liberation movements.



  • The first world missions conference , held in Edinburgh in 1910 under the motto “ Evangelizing the world in this generation”, is considered the symbolic starting point of the modern ecumenical movement . The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople then gave decisive impetus in 1920 with the public appeal to create a permanent joint representation of all churches, a federation based on the League of Nations created after the First World War. The Swedish Archbishop Söderblom and JH Oldham from Great Britain gave similar impulses.
  • Were two streams of ecumenical life for the emergence of the WCC is of particular importance: the Life and Work Movement (Life and Work), the International Conference 1925 in Stockholm , in 1937 Oxford held and the movement Faith and Order (Faith and Order), whose International conferences were held in Lausanne in 1927 and in Edinburgh in 1937 . In 1938 the two movements united in Utrecht .
  • After the Second World War , renewed preparations for the merger led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches. This gave the two movements a common platform, to which the International Mission Council (IMR), founded in 1921, joined in 1961. Finally, in 1971, the WCC incorporated a fourth movement, the World Council on Christian Education, derived from the Sunday School movement in the 18th century.


The founding assembly took place from August 22nd to September 4th, 1948 in Amsterdam . The 361 delegates from 146 churches affirmed the WCC “to create the possibility of mutual consultation and an opportunity for joint action on questions of common interests. [...] He has the power to convene regional and world conferences on specific issues as needed. "

The beginning of the general assembly was marked by the address by Karl Barth . In the auditorium there were sharp arguments about political issues until the assembly took the view that "the churches should not prefer any social system [... since] neither capitalism nor communism can claim Christian authenticity." Political controversy continued to worry, but "problems and debates did not prevent the WCC from moving forward."

Visser 't Hooft (left), 1964

A presidium of six chairmen was formed. WA Visser 't Hooft , who "was considered by many to be the real chairman of the WCC" became general secretary . The first central committee of the WCC (90 members) wanted to appoint "a sufficient number of lay people and women, which almost succeeded."

Following invitations from the Preparatory Committee, the Holy Office of the Vatican pointed out that “mixed assemblies” without the prior consent of the Holy See are prohibited. "No Roman Catholic was given official permission [to participate] by the Holy See ." The only Roman Catholics then participating were journalists.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights , agreed by the United Nations in 1948, was adopted by the WCC in a similar form (Article 18):

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; This right includes changing one's religion or belief, as well as the freedom to express one's religion or belief in teaching, living, worship and observance of customs, either alone or in community with others and publicly or privately. "

The plenary assembly "received its special characteristic from the numerically still modest but highly significant representation of the 'young churches' due to their inner weight, whose delegates in all sections and other working groups of the World Conference exerted an influence far beyond their number."

At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) observers from the WCC were admitted. As a result, there was a continuous process of rapprochement between the Roman Catholic Church and the ecumenical movement (see also: Unitatis redintegratio ).

General assemblies

No. year place country theme WP article
1 1948 Amsterdam Netherlands The disorder of the world and God's plan of salvation here
2 1954 Evanston United States Jesus Christ - the hope of the world
3 1961 New Delhi India Jesus Christ - the light of the world
4th 1968 Uppsala Sweden See, I'm doing everything new
5 1975 Nairobi Kenya Jesus Christ frees and unites
6th 1983 Vancouver Canada Jesus Christ, the life of the world
7th 1991 Canberra Australia Come, Holy Spirit , renew all creation
8th 1998 Harare Zimbabwe Return to God - rejoice in hope
9 2006 Porto Alegre Brazil In your grace , God, transform the world
10 2013 Busan Korea God of life, show us the way to peace and justice
11 2022 Karlsruhe Germany The love of Christ moves, reconciles and unites the world

General Secretaries

time Surname church country
1948-1966 Willem Adolf Visser 't Hooft Reformed Church in the Netherlands / Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Geneva Netherlands
1966-1972 Eugene Carson Blake Presbyterian Church (USA) United States
1972-1984 Philip Potter methodist church Dominica
1985-1992 Emilio Castro Methodist Church in Uruguay Uruguay
1993-2003 Konrad Raiser Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Germany
2004-2009 Samuel Kobia Methodist Church of Kenya Kenya
2010-2020 Olav Fykse Tveit Norwegian Church Norway
2020 Ioan Sauca (executive) Romanian Orthodox Church Romania


As President of the General Assembly, u. a. Nita Barrow (1983), Martin Niemöller , the Patriarch Paulos , Sarah Chakko , Paulos Mar Gregorios and Anastasios Yannoulatos .

Topics and fields of work

The Lima Declaration on Baptism, Eucharist and Understanding of Ministry from 1982 can be seen as a milestone on the path of the ecumenical movement .

Dialogue with other religions

The WCC has different programs. One of them is called "Interreligious Dialogue and Interreligious Cooperation", this promotes bilateral and multilateral dialogues. Cross-cultural encounters are made possible. Specifically, there are three projects: “Trust and respect between religions”, “Christian self-image” and “Churches in conflict situations”.

Tensions between Protestantism and Orthodoxy

The World Council of Churches consists essentially of churches of the Evangelical and Orthodox tradition. These differ greatly in their self-image as a church and in their theology, which has led to tension from the start. It was therefore necessary for the WCC to make it clear in the Toronto Declaration adopted by the Central Committee in 1950 that it “does not want to base itself on a particular conception of the Church” and that membership does not require the other member churches to be “as Churches in the true and full sense of the word ”.

While the WCC originally saw itself as a movement towards the restoration of the unity of the Christian churches, in recent decades it has endeavored more to do justice to the plurality of movements, actions and problems in the world. This change of direction met with increasing opposition from churches that are particularly committed to the unity movement - especially the Orthodox churches.

The previous structure with majority voting preferred the view of the Protestant churches, which therefore dominated the priorities and programs of the WCC. The resulting tensions led to individual Orthodox churches threatening to leave . A special commission with equal representation has therefore drawn up proposals to improve the structure, style and ethos of the WCC accordingly, including similar concerns from other church families and churches.

In February 2005, based on the recommendations of this final report, the WCC central committee amended its constitution and introduced consensus as a new method of decision-making and decision-making. This was first fully used at the WCC assembly in February 2006 in Porto Alegre .


  • The attitude towards real socialist governments and their human rights violations during the 1960s and 1970s was criticized .
  • In the 1970s there was criticism , including from the EKD , of the financial support for militant African resistance movements (ANC, SWAPO, Zimbabwe African National Union ) in the anti-racism program.
  • The Orthodox Churches have the WCC et al. a. Because of the perceived dominance of liberal-Protestant topics such as the ordination of women and the positive assessment of homosexuality in recent years sharply criticized, but initially decided to continue their membership. Only the Georgian and Bulgarian Churches left.
  • In 2002, Regional Bishop Margot Käßmann and Bishop Wolfgang Huber criticized the Eastern churches for questioning the ecclesiastical nature of the Reformation churches, which does not offer a good basis for binding cooperation.
  • The Evangelical Press Service summarized a number of critical reactions to the 2006 General Assembly in Porto Alegre as follows: “The Kassel Bishop Martin Hein, who was re-elected to the WCC Central Committee, missed 'brilliant ideas' and visions for reform of the ecumenical movement. The President of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Thomas Wipf, described the working conditions as 'not optimal' in the votes, which were first carried out by consensus. Bishop Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter (Lübeck), who made a lot of 'liveliness and spiritual power', was positive. Despite all efforts for harmony, the conference director ensured displeasure and resentment. Many delegates complained about the lack of debate on a call to prayer for reform of the world economy. Some were outraged that the document promoted a one-sided criticism of capitalism and was not tarnished by economic expertise. Even the EKD council chairman, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, was unable to mediate on this matter. Globalization, he emphasized in Porto Alegre, has many faces: On the one hand, hateful violent demonstrations against the Mohammed cartoons could be organized around the world. In a short time, however, international aid campaigns for disaster victims such as after the tsunami are possible. "

See also

Web links


  • Harold E. Fey (ed.): History of the ecumenical movement. Part 3. 1948–1968. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1974, ISBN 978-3-525-56315-1 .
  • It started in Amsterdam. Forty years of the World Council of Churches. Lembeck, Frankfurt, M., 1989, ISBN 978-3-87476-257-1 .
  • Heinz Joachim Held : The World Council of Churches in the sights of the criticism. Lembeck, Frankfurt, M., 2001, ISBN 978-3-87476-370-7 .
  • Katharina Kunter, Annegreth Schilling: Globalization of the Churches. The World Council of Churches and the Discovery of the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s (= work on contemporary church history / series B, representations; vol. 58). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 978-3-525-55773-0 .
  • Hans-Georg Link , Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz: Paths of hope. Groundbreaking impulses from the World Council of Churches over six decades. Lembeck, Frankfurt, M., 2008, ISBN 978-3-87476-579-4
  • Hedwig Richter : Protestantism and left-wing revolutionary pathos. The World Council of Churches in Geneva in the East-West Conflict in the 1960s and 1970s, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 3 (2010), pp. 408–436.
  • Ruth Rouse , Stephen Charles Neill : History of the Ecumenical Movement. 1517-1948. Two volumes. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1957/58; 2 1963/1973.

Individual evidence

  1. Archive link ( Memento from May 31, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Frequently asked questions. World Council of Churches, accessed June 4, 2020 .
  3. ^ Constitution and Bylaws of the World Council of Churches. October 30, 2013. WCC website.
  4. ^ WCC member churches and councils: Profiles of Ecumenical Relationships (English). WCC website. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  5. World Council of Churches: “Overcoming the Sin of Aggressive Nationalism” ,, article on the 70th anniversary of the WCC, August 24, 2018.
  6. WA Visser 't Hooft (ed.): The disorder of the world and God's plan of salvation, V: The first full assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches , Tübingen 1948, p. 267, in: Mayeur / Meier: Christentum , Volume 12, 1992, P. 75.
  7. The other quotations in the section: Jean Bauderot: The international organization of Protestantism , in: Mayeur / Meier: Christentum , Volume 12, 1992, pp. 75 to 84.
  8. Ruth Rouse and Stephen Charles Neill: History of the Ecumenical Movement. (Part 2, 1517–1948) , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1958, p. 377 ff.
  9. ^ Rouse / Neill: History of the Ecumenical Movement , 1958, p. 375, note 30.
  10. ^ Wilhelm Menn: The ecumenical movement (1932–1948) , C. Bertelsmann Verlag, Gütersloh 1950, p. 68.
  11. World Council of Churches postpones its plenary assembly due to the corona crisis. World Council of Churches, June 3, 2020, accessed June 4, 2020 .
  12. Published on the WCC website ; see. also self-image and vision ibid.
  13. ^ Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Cooperation . WCC website. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  14. Hedwig Richter: Protestantism and left-wing revolutionary pathos. The World Council of Churches in Geneva in the East-West Conflict in the 1960s and 1970s. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 3 (2010), pp. 408–436.
  15. Memorandum on the relationship of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) to the World Council of Churches (WCC) - with special consideration of the program to combat racism and its special fund . In: Ökumenische Rundschau 1/1979, pp. 43–51
  16. ↑ Change of mood in ecumenism? ( Memento from July 29, 2012 in the web archive ) EKD website , 2002. Accessed on October 27, 2010.
  17. World Council of Churches ends plenary assembly in Porto Alegre . Website of, February 25, 2006. Retrieved October 27, 2010.