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Kirkko: yhteistä näkyä kohti – SEN:n lausunto 16.12.2016

Suomen Ekumeeninen Neuvosto antoi 16.12.2016 lausunnon Kirkko: Yhteistä näkyä kohti -asiakirjasta Kirkkojen maailmanneuvostolle. Lausunto käsittelee asiakirjan käytettävyyttä ekumeenisessa kontekstissamme.

SEN:n lausunnossa todetaan, että se pitää yhtäältä asiakirjaa erittäin onnistuneena keskustelun avaajana, mikä onkin tämän kaltaisen lähentymisasiakirjan tarkoitus. Toisaalta se korostaa Kristus-keskeistä lähestymistapaa, joka on kaikille kirkoille yhteinen, ja muistuttaa kontekstilähtöisyydestä sekä naisten asemasta kirkollisissa viitekehyksissä.

Lausunnon pohjateksti on Opillisten kysymysten jaoston laatima ja SEN:n hallitus päätti lausunnosta 16.12.2016.

Myös Suomen ev.lut. kirkko on antanut asiakirjasta lausunnon 4.11.2015. (Vieraile ulkoisella sivustolla. Linkki avautuu uuteen välilehteen.)

Englanninkielisen lausunnon alla on teksti suomeksi ja ruotsiksi.

Response to The Church – Towards a Common Vision


The Church: Towards a Common Vision (2013) is a convergence document on the theological understanding on the church. The document is a fruit of 25 years of work, following in the footsteps of the previous convergence document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1983). The preparatory process itself signals the churches’ joint desire to reach fuller communion. The two drafts preceding the final document were sent to the churches for comments and the final document was modified according to the feedback. The current, final text is the product of the joint efforts of various Christian churches and a reflection of the present depth of their communion. As we see it in Finland, the document is a great ecumenical achievement.

The Finnish Ecumenical Council’s Faith and Order Section discussed the document under several meetings. Discussions were based both on the original text and the Finnish translation. As a consequence the Council’s Faith and Order Section has decided to renew a publication presenting the various Christian churches and communions in Finland. Our experience is, that the document has already now, after two years of its publication, had an impact on the ecumenical discourse in Finland.

The national councils’ Faith and Order Section prepared this response to the Board of the Council, which finalized the text. Therefore the following observations reflect the common emphasis of the various Finnish churches and our particular ecumenical context. However, we are not explicitly referring to the theological responses given by our individual churches. Because of the council’s ecumenical structure, this response is not fully in line with the questions posed by the Faith and Order Commission. We focus rather on how ecumenically beneficial we see the formulations than on their doctrinal compatibility.

The questions we discussed are the following:

1. How ecumenically useful do you find the ecclesiological solutions presented in the document?

2. To what extent does this text offer a basis for growth in unity among the churches?

3. How far are you able to form closer relationships in life and mission with those churches which can acknowledge in a positive way the account of the Church described in this statement?

4. What aspects of the life of the Church could call for further discussion and what advice could you offer for the on-going work by Faith and Order in the area of ecclesiology?

1. The ecumenical usefulness of the basic ecclesiological approach in The Church

The ecclesiological approach in The Church is based on God and the Trinity. The Church is understood as an instrument and sign of God’s plan of salvation. The Triune God, active in history, connects teaching on the nature of the Church and the mission of the Church. The Church is understood in the framework of God’s salvific plan for the whole creation.

Even though the churches can together state that the Church serves the will and purposes of God, the churches interpret and manifest God’s will in the world in numerous ways. Since all churches agree on Christ as the core of salvation, we find a more christocentric approach advisable. This is beneficial also in that sense that some of the churches may feel an explicitly Trinitarian approach too abstract.

The Church document approaches unity-discourse from the concept of communion. In a general sense we find this a good choice. Our experience and our understanding of communion is so strong that we should not need to be afraid to discuss the limits of diversity.

2. To what extent does this text offer a basis for growth in unity among the churches?

One of the central themes of The Church document is the call to transform the world. The nature of this transformation remains rather abstract. What we find appealing is the emphasis on the witness (martyria) of life to the communion of the churches. At the same time we are concerned how this idea of witness resonates among the churches that concretely live under persecution and distress. On the one hand the witness of the martyrs in the history and today is a powerful source of encouragement and hope for many Christians. On the other hand we should not underestimate the pain and sorrow of Christians and other people who suffer. We should do everything in our power to help the victims and to build peace and reconciliation.

We also discussed the relationship between ethics or morals and faith, salvation and sin within transformation. We noted that while churches as human communities are not perfect, at the same time the Church of Christ is holy. Many of our churches can easily relate to an idea of sanctification as a continuous growing into Christ. The struggle against evil on the individual level, however, receives very little attention in the text.

On a more general note it was pointed out that the theological approach of the document and the questions chosen for discussion most probably appeal more to the so-called traditional churches. E.g. the description of episcopacy and the three-fold structure of the ministry reflects a view that is normative for some, acceptable to others but for some churches only relatively possible. Also mutually recognized baptism is taken as a more universally accepted fact than it actually is. The document exemplifies a particular kind of ecumenical ecclesiology that is more recognizable to those more experienced in the ecumenical movement than for those who have joined in more recently (e.g. the Pentecostal movement, free churches etc.). One is compelled to ask to what degree the sacramentality of the church is generally accepted among the churches and how does one uphold cooperation among those churches who do not speak in terms of sacramentality? Are churches who may, although might not active choose to use this vocabulary, asked to change their discourse? The Church document aims to bridge the gap between various discourses by emphasizing God’s active presence in the world by the creative activity of the Holy Spirit.

Every church is bound to find something easy to recognize in this document, but also something that is more difficult to take in. Many of our churches recognize expressions rising from their own tradition but also those more characteristic to other churches. The portrait you are confronted with is a form of a mosaic or a kaleidoscope.

3. How far are you able to form closer relationships in life and mission with those churches which can acknowledge in a positive way the account of the Church described in this statement?

The document aims to address both the socio-political contexts of the whole global reality and the individual theological interpretations of the WCC member churches. Because of this, the text remains rather general and may be interpreted in various ways. In our own context the relevance of the document is particularly in its capacity to create discussion.

In Finland ecumenical dialogues have mainly been bilateral discussions between two churches with one of the partners having been the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. One new possibility in our context would be to start an official level multilateral dialogue on the national level. One goal for the discussion could be to create a wider understanding and practice of mutual recognition of baptism. Clarity could be gained also in the various practices of ecumenical hospitality regarding the participation of clergy and laity in the services and various ecclesial rites of other churches. The principle orientation should be to encourage widest possible range of participation.

4. What aspects of the life of the Church could call for further discussion and what advice could you offer for the on-going work by Faith and Order in the area of ecclesiology?

The Church document bridges successfully various theological discourses. A good example of this is the discussion on sacraments and ordinances. In addition to defining limits of diversity it is important to offer tools for the churches to express ecumenically legitimate diversity in theological terminology and method or spiritual life. The factual reception is easier when the churches can give expression to the basic truths of faith in a way that clearly reflects also their particular confessional heritage and everyday spiritual life. When facing increasing challenges in intercultural encounter it is important to develop the hermeneutical capacity to distinguish between concepts and meanings. It is also important to create safe ecumenical spaces in which people representing various ecclesial and cultural traditions can meet in an atmosphere of freedom and respective tolerance and freely express also their personal experiences and puzzling questions without fear and oppression.

For the future of ecumenical developments it is essential to look into the variety of concrete solutions for inter-church relationships. For ecumenical rapprochement to occur it should be noted that not all aspects of ecclesial life are purely doctrinal or theological. Also socio-cultural and canonical aspects are included, affecting additionally theological expressions. Many questions with significant effect on the possibility to live out communion are informed by particular contexts. Also the importance of spiritual and receptive values should not be forgotten. Furthermore, even if basic theological consensus can be found, ordination and the more practical issues are hindering unity.

The value of the quite abstract and general approach is, that as large number of churches as possible may agree with it and by receiving the document testify to their ecumenical commitment. At the same time it is notable that general style of writing does not allow for a more detailed description of the contexts in which the churches live. It is sadly noticeable that e.g. the question of women’s full participation in the church and in the society does not surface at all. We do appreciate The Church document as an achievement. Yet we want to emphasize that the Faith and Order commission ought to raise up more powerfully both the challenges and successes of contextual realities and the general issue of women’s full participation.

Closing words

Finnish Ecumenical Council has found The Church document very helpful in creating discussion and in (re-)activating ecumenical activity. The document has already been used in various contexts and new openings have been made e.g. towards non-denominational communities. The document is a valuable addition to the means by which the churches seek more visible communion.

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