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Evanston and Church Disunity
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The World Council of Churches is a visible expression of the dilemma which faces Christian denominations severed from the unity of Rome. We cannot unite, they say to one another, because there are deep and serious divergences between us in matters of faith, but neither can we continue to live in complete separation, because we recognize one common Lord and we desire to seek together the one Holy Church which is the Body of Christ.  For two weeks in Evanston this past summer 1,200 representatives of 130 Orthodox and Protestant churches from 48 countries debated how they might escape the horns of the dilemma, and left a record of their conclusions, which can be instructive to those who know themselves to be in possession of the fullness of Gods truth.
For the sake of convenience we shall limit our study to a single document, the most important issued by the Evanston conference, which was drafted by the Committee on Faith and Order, voted on by the delegates and commended to the Churches for appropriate action. Condensed into four thousand words, it is the only strictly theological statement emanating from the 1954 World Council, and deals specifically with the core problem of the ecumenical movement under the title, Our Oneness in Christ and Our Disunity as Churches. In order to do it full justice; we shall first summarize, with quotations and without comment, the main ideas of the Evanston declaration, and then give a critical evaluation of its doctrine on church unity from the Catholic standpoint.
The Evanston Manifesto on Church Unity
Our Oneness in Christ
The declaration begins with the more pleasant task of examining the nature and extent of the oneness in Christ which the members of the World Council of Churches presumably enjoy. This oneness, they protest, is no mere unity of sentiment. We become aware of it because it is given to us by God as the Holy Spirit reveals to us what Christ has done for us.  Confronted with the spectacle of a house divided against itself, the theologians of the Council believed they could still discern a basic unity in their sinful dividedness.
Our Disunity as Churches
Evaluation of the Evanston Report on Church Unity
Compromise Statement of Conflicting Opinions
In order properly to evaluate the foregoing document, we must first recognize it as a compromise document between disparate elements in the World Council. Before the Evanston Assembly, the Vice-Chairman of the Commission which framed the declaration published a small brochure in which he delineated the conflicting views on church unity - and disunity - which are active within the Council.
At one extreme are those who believe there is strength in disunity, for whom the World Council should be only a federated co-operative with no ambition to any sort of organic unity among the member churches. They are keenly sensitive to the gains in vitality which come from church disunion.  At the other extreme are the Orthodox groups, for whom the unity of the church already exists, and, in fact, is to be found within the exclusive limits of their own communion. According to this view, the Orthodox Church is insistent that to her has been given by God the fulness, the plenitude of Catholic faith and life, so that other Christians can only serve the unity of the Church by recognizing the claims of Orthodoxy to be Christian truth and by accepting them. 
Between these two extremes lie the majority of denominations within the Council. They are undecided either on the nature of the Church or on the kind of unity it is supposed to have. Some among them maintain that the unity of the Catholic (not Roman) Church is an existing historic reality within certain theoretical boundaries. Their problem is in defining those boundaries within which the Church should be united and beyond which diversity is allowed.  Others believe that the Church is a purely invisible entity, a community known only to God.  Its unity therefore is also known only to Him, and the task of the Council is to give better expression to this existent - so far mostly invisible - unity among the divided members. Still others hold that the Church is essentially visible, but without restricting limits and capable of embracing all those who profess and call themselves Christians, however diverse their belief and practice. 
Not Representative of the World Council of Churches
On the same day, August 29, when the report of Church Disunity was formally approved by the Plenary Session, the Orthodox Delegation made a public protest against the declaration, stating it was contrary to the mind of its own constituents.
We have studied the document with considerable interest. It falls into three parts: the first contains an able exposition of the New Testament doctrine of the Church . The second and third parts of the document deal with the divided state of Christendom and suggest practical steps toward union. It is our conviction that it does not follow logically and consistently from the first part . The whole approach to the problem of re-union is entirely unacceptable from the standpoint of the Orthodox Church. 
This introduction is followed by a set of indictments, carefully reasoned out and negativing every main issue of the Evanston statement. To begin with, The whole of the Christian Faith should be regarded as one, indivisible unity. It is not enough to accept just certain, particular doctrines, as basic as they may be in themselves, e.g., that Christ is God and Savior. Without passing judgment on the separated communions, nevertheless it is our conviction that in these communions certain basic elements are lacking which constitute the reality of the fulness of the Church. 
In opposition to the eschatological concept of Christian unity, the Orthodox declared that, The perfect unity of Christians must not be interpreted solely as a realization of the Second Coming of Christ. We must acknowledge that even at the present age the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church continues to breathe in the world, guiding all Christians to unity. The unity of the Church must not be understood only eschatologically, but as a present reality which is to receive its consummation in the Last Day. 
Where the Evanston report speaks of repentance, the implication is that the Church as such has been guilty of sin. This is contrary to the teaching of Christ as expressed by St. Paul, who describes the Church as not having spot or wrinkle or blemish.  Consequently, we cannot speak of the repentance of the Church which is intrinsically holy and unerring.  And then in conclusion:
We are bound to declare our profound conviction that the Holy Orthodox Church alone has preserved in full and intact the faith once delivered unto the saints. It is not because of our human merit, but because it pleases God to preserve his treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God. 
Similar evidence that the Evanston report is not representative of the World Council are the radical changes that were made in the document from the time it was first presented to the Commission to the point where it was finally approved by the Assembly. Entire sections of the original draft were deleted and others so completely altered as to be unrecognizable. It was originally stated that there is only one Church of Christ and that the expression churches should not even be used in ecumenical discussions; that according to the gospel it is impossible for the Church to be divided; that according to the New Testament the unity of the Church cannot be conceived only in future terms, as an eventual or super-terrestrial ideal. These and similar opinions were omitted or modified to the point of contradiction in the final draft.
Unreconciled Statement of Contrary Doctrines
A careful reading of the Faith and Order report discloses what the Orthodox delegates called a non sequitur of one part from another, or what more plainly is a bare statement of two conflicting opinions on church unity, with no effort made to resolve them. There is first the theoretical position which represents the traditional Lutheran concept of man, the fall and the Church of Christ. According to this opinion, the disunity among the churches is certainly sinful, but unavoidable, in view of mans depraved nature. Thus, we may think of the church as we are able to think of the individual believer, who may be said at one and the same time to be both a justified man and a sinner (simul justus et peccator).  In other words, the Lutheran theory of mans justification is also the speculative basis for the Churchs simultaneous unity and disunity. In the same way that individual believers are and ever remain sinners, although justified by God, in Christ who alone is just; so the churches are divided among themselves, while they are still united in their Founder, Jesus Christ, who alone is one.
Disunity, therefore, is no less inevitable in the churches of Christ than is sin in the individual Christian. They cannot help being divided, no more than he can help committing sin. After all, the members of the Church are human beings, suffering from the common effect of Adams fall which completely vitiated the nature of man. If any unity is to be found in the Church, it can only be something extrinsic, a kind of appropriation, where the unity of Jesus Christ is imputed to the society which He founded. Really and formally, the Church is not united and cannot be this side of heaven, by reason of her fallen members, in whom the virtue of charity, which makes for ecclesiastical unity, has been utterly destroyed. This is analogous to the condition of a man who, in Luthers phrase, has been justified by the blood of Christ hiding his sins, without actually deleting them. Before and after justification he remains rottenness and full of dead mens bones, but the justice of Christ is mysteriously imputed to him. Looking upon the merits of His Son, God, as it were, overlooks the malice of the sinner and calls him, without truly considering him, a friend.
Assuredly division among the churches is sinful because it obscures from men the sufficiency of Christs atonement, since it is hard to see Christs redemptive grace where there is discord and conflict of opinion. Still it is part of human nature even at its best, as may be seen from the major divisions in Christian history: the Eastern Schism, the English and Continental Reformation and the Free Church Movement, all of which were caused and perpetuated by a sincere concern for the gospel. What religious leaders like Luther, Calvin and Cranmer did were acts of conscientious obedience to the will of God,  unquestionably sincere but nevertheless objectively sinful, with - the inescapable malice of every human action since the fall of man. For we shall never, in this life, escape from our sinfulness,  no more than we can shed the fallen nature in which we are born.
It goes without saying that in this theory the unity of the Church, like the Church itself, is wholly invisible; whereas disunity in the Church is palpably visible, yet predetermined, since nothing so sinful as the Churchs human members can hope to produce anything united. But then, what practical conclusions should be drawn? To be consistent, the Evanston delegates through the Faith and Order Commission should have resigned themselves to the status quo and not have presumed to change the unchangeable. Instead, as the Orthodox spokesman pointed out, they illogically went on to offer a series of remedies to heal our disunity as churches, thus negativing the doctrinal principles explained before.
They recommended thinking of our divisions with repentance, sincerely and not hypocritically, which means with the desire for amendment of life. Repentance should be accompanied by a study of the Scriptures and obedience to the voice of the Spirit bidding the churches drop their differences in a charitable amity. Three areas in particular should be examined as the sore spots of discord, namely, Baptism, the Eucharist and ministry. Above all, the churches must pray, asking the God of light to dispel the darkness which keeps the denominations apart and to bring them together in the union which He desires.
But how reconcile the need for penance and prayer in the interests of unity if the latter cannot be achieved except in eternity? If from the beginning discord has marred the manifest unity of Christs people;  if the New Testament conceives of the unity of the church, not as sociological,  as seen in the concord of its members in one society; and if the most we can hope for in this life is that God is able to make all things to work together for good - even our divisions,  what possible function can be served by penitential prayer over Christian disunity except as a confession of solidarity with our brethren in sin? 
We do not have to look far to discover the reason for this confusion of thought in evaluating the scandal of division among the churches in the World Council. When Oliver Tomkins, Vice-Chairman of the Faith and Order Commission, introduced his department to the assembled delegates, he identified the root of the problem with almost brutal clarity. The first function of the Faith and Order Commission, he told the Assembly, is To proclaim the essential oneness of the Church of Christ and to keep prominently before the World Council and the churches the obligation to manifest that unity and its urgency for the work of evangelism. He added:
This goes right to the heart of our purpose, revealing both our profoundest agreement and our most serious difficulty. We are united in the conviction, which we proclaim, that in some profound sense the Church is one. We are divided and stultified over defining that unity. That, of course, is a glimpse of the obvious. If we were agreed on the nature of the Churchs one-ness, our struggle between each other would be over. 
When the Faith and Order department, therefore, issued its blueprint for church unity, the document could not be expected to show more harmony than was present among its sponsors who, on their own admission, find it impossible to agree in defining something which we are determined to unite in proclaiming. 
Prospects for the Future
The ecumenical value of the Evanston declaration will depend in large measure on what sentiments in it become dominant in the member churches. If the rigid Reformation concept prevails, according to which the Churchs unity is invisible and her disunity inevitable, then the ecumenical movement is destined to failure. The churches in the World Council may continue to co-operate in solving their mutual social and economic problems, with obvious benefits to everyone concerned; but real unitive progress is impossible where radical differences in faith and worship are conceded, on principle, to be irremediable. Typical of this attitude was the editorial in a recent issue of the Christian Century. Always at Evanston, it complained, there were grim disunities which the World Council may at limited times and to limited degrees transcend, but which it has hardly even begun to dissolve. In fact, Evanston will not be remembered for having carried forward the cause of Christian unity. It might possibly (though we hope not) be remembered for having shown how far off and blocked off the goal of unity is.  In line with this sense of futility, it is seriously questioned whether the Council might not more profitably confine its efforts to a study of social problems, from the saddle, so to speak, and scuttle all discussion of theological divergence. Then by way of prophecy, if four more assemblies handle theological or dogmatic themes as badly as this one did say the nature of biblical authority in 1960, the nature of the church in 1966, the nature of salvation in 1972 and the creedal basis of the councils own being in 1978 - and if the world itself hasnt blown up by that time, the council almost certainly will. 
A more hopeful and balanced judgment is given by those who take their stand with the actionists of the Faith and Order manifesto, as against the theorists. Without examining too closely the speculative reasons of why they are divided, or in self-defense trying to rationalize their disunity, the optimists in the World Council prefer to work and pray as the Holy Spirit may guide us. The defeatist attitude was excoriated by the Councils Secretary General, who realizes that on this point rests the whole success or failure of the ecumenical movement. There are many, he said, who think that the present relationship of the churches in the World Council is the limit of all that can be hoped for. The danger of this is that the World Council can thus become a narcotic rather than a stimulant. We must react against this temptation of accepting the present established disorder of our ecclesiastical world simply because it has been made to look less shocking as it has been provided with an ecumenical varnish.  The sanguine element in the Council of Churches looks to find the way that leads beyond mere co-operation to a true unity which will make it clear to the whole world that as there can only be one Body of Christ, so there is only one Body which is the Church of His People. 
Without prejudice to their own position as members of the only true Church of Christ, Catholics may sympathize with the latter sentiments. In union with the Holy See, they can recognize here the inspiration of grace from the Holy Spirit, leading all men to the unity of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 
JOHN A. HARDON, S.J.
West Baden College
 Visser t Hooft, W A., quoted in The Story of the World Council of Churches (New York, 1954), p. 21.
 Report of Section I on Faith and Order, Adopted by the Assembly August 29, No. 101-AS, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 8. So as not to be mistaken it its meaning, the Report expressly states that, In this eschatological perspective all our human divisions are provisional (ibid., p. 9 [Italics added]).
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Ibid., pp. 3-4.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 6.
 Ibid., p. 7. In the original draft of the Report, made by the Preparatory Commission, the disunity in Christendom was not described historically but examined theologically and reduced to two concepts, both defended in the World Council. According to one opinion, the Church exists as a historical entity, the unique channel of grace, from which certain people have turned away, thus dividing not the Church itself, but themselves from the Church. The second opinion is the very opposite, holding that the disunity among the churches is a disunity in the Church - offensive and contradictory as this may be.
 The Methodist Church, for example, stands for an inclusive Christianity. It believes that the things that unite Christians are far more important that the things that divide. It has no exclusive doctrines, rites or ceremonies In the words of the text of John Wesleys famous sermon on Fraternity: If thy heart be right with my heart, give me thy hand. The Methodist Church recognizes the Christians of other Churches and the Churches of other Christians. Bishop Charles C. Selecman, The Methodist Primer (Nashville, 1953), p. 36.
 Report on Faith and Order, p. 7.
 Ibid., pp. 7-8.
 Ibid., p. 8.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 11. The Lund Conference on Faith and Order (1952) recommended that during the Assembly open communion services be held, to which all the delegates and visitors should be invited. Five Churches agreed to hold such services and extended their invitation through the Official Handbook of the Evanston Assembly:
From the Methodist Church an invitation for all the Assembly free to do so to participate in the Service of Holy Communion.
From the Protestant Episcopal Church baptized communicant members of the member Churches of the World Council of Churches are invited to receive Holy Communion.
From the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church we invite to the Lords Table this morning all who believe in His Actual Presence and that we receive His true Body and Blood in this Sacrament.
From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America a cordial invitation to all the participants of the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches to attend the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which will be celebrated by the Orthodox Delegates.
From the Church of South India The Service of Holy Communion will be open to all Christians (op. cit., pp. 8-9). It will be noted that all but the Orthodox invited outsiders to receive Communion in their Church.
 Tomkins, Oliver S., The Church in the Purpose of God (New York, 1952), p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 Declaration of the Orthodox Delegates Concerning Faith and Order, No. 100-A, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Report on Faith and Order, p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 8.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 Speech to Introduce the Department of Faith and Order, August 17, No. IV 5-E, p. 1.
 Christian Century, Sept. 22, 1954, pp. 1124-25.
 The Third World Conference on Faith and Order (London, 1953), p. 130.
 Instruction of the Holy Office, De motione oecumenica, Dec. 20, 1949 (AAS, XLII , 142).
American Ecclesiastical Review
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