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Aim. Speaking in English, Bishop Brent delivered a sermon which all could follow in the assembly's four-language program. He sounded "the Call to Unity . . . from God to man." He said Christianity was challenged "to get its house in order before it further infects the Eastern world with sectarianism." He said the world was "lost," that Jesus Christ alone could save it.
He emphasized the aim of the Conferenceto discover theological differences, not dispute them; to survey the grounds common to all the branches of Christianity, and then draw up the charter of a United Church in the form of reports which the delegates would take back to their churches for ratification.
Procedure. The delegates held their plenary sessions in the Palais de Rumine, a university auditorium. Prepared speeches were read on topics planned in advance: 1) the necessity for unity, 2) the message of Christianity, 3) the nature of a united church, 4) the common faith, 5) the ministry, 6) the sacraments. After speakers had explained varying views of these essential features, the delegates attended whatever of six smaller discussion groups they chose, where points at issue were thrashed out and six committees framed six reports setting forth propositions on which all denominations might, or might not agree."
Viewpoints. To decide what the united Christian Church is or should be, it was necessary to reconcile varying interpretations of the word "church." On one hand was the Eastern Orthodox view that the Church, established and immutably fixed at seven ecumenical councils during the first eight centuries, is an objectively divine institution. An opposite view, held by Congregationalists, Methodists and other democratic communions, is that the Church originated and consists essentially in living people banded together for worship, upon whom tradition can lay no imperative bonds and from whom church organization draws its significance and changes in form. Between these views, static and dynamic, embracing them both, is the Anglican view that the Church is an institution and a congregation taken together, a living organism.
These three theological viewpoints obtained throughout all the discussions, necessitating much generalizing and a return to first principles in the reports.
Reports. Thus, the report on the ministry said, "The ministry is a gift of God through Christ to His Church, and is essential to the being and well-being of His Church." Christ is its authority; preaching Christ, its purpose; governing the Church, its trust: the ministry is "commissioned through an act of ordination, by prayer and the laying on of hands." Nothing could be said about the authority in this commissioning, whether it is primarily by virtue of apostolic suc- cession or by virtue of election by the pastor's contemporaries. The committee on the ministry could only suggest that each sect recognize the authority and appropriateness of the ministers of all other sects.
Similarly, the committee on sacraments simply recommended "unity with diversity" for the universal Church. "We can unite in worship, we cannot unite in definition. . . . Each worshiper will receive the sacrament with the meaning that he himself attaches to it."