The most representative meeting of the Christian Church since the Reformation opened at Amsterdam this week. From 44 countries (six of them behind the iron curtain) and 150 denominations, 450 delegates gathered for the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Every major branch of the Christian Church was representedexcept one; the Vatican sent no delegate, but an "official observer."
It was not doctrinal reunion. Anglicans were still Anglicans (see below) and the other member churches had also yielded no iota of dogma. But the assembly was living proof that Christians could work and plan together. It showed the churches' dawning conviction that without such unity they cannot hope to challenge the secularism of modern society.
A Long Road. Even to this starting point toward reunion, the road had been long and rocky. Dr. John R. Mott, at 83 the only surviving leader of the Edinburgh Conference of 1910 the first great ecumenical meeting addressed the opening service in the Nieuwe Kerk, which was spruced up for Princess Juliana's investiture as Queen of The Netherlands on Sept. 6. He movingly recalled "the preparatory stages" at Jerusalem, Madras, Stockholm, Lausanne, Oxford, Edinburgh and Utrecht "which have brought us to this hour."
That evening the delegates assembled for their first regular meeting in the Concertgebouw, where they soon found that the Dutch signs Let op Nat meant "wet paint." The actual sessions had no linguistic shocks; the delegates sat comfortably in red plush chairs and tinkered with the knobs of a simultaneous translation system which brought them the proceedings in English, French or German.
Faith by Works. This week the council got down to specific discussion of its general theme, "Man's Disorder and God's Design." If the churches can pull well together, they may reduce the disorder and implement the design. In a speech for delivery at Amsterdam on Aug. 24, Presbyterian Layman (and Republican Statesman) John Foster Dulles put the problem:
"The world situation is serious because of a sharp division. On the one hand are those who claim to be seeking the welfare of the masses but who reject the moral premises necessary to make their efforts peaceful and fruitful. On the other hand are those who accept the moral premises necessary for the organization of peace but who have allowed their practices to seem routine, materialistic and spiritually unfertile. That division will gradually become less sharp if those who believe in moral law and human dignity will make it apparent by their works that their political practices are in fact being made to serve their faith .
"The Christian influence is considerable but as yet wholly inadequate . . . The churches must have better organization . . . We are not here merely for a single inspiring experience. Rather, we are here to create a world organization that will go on working daily to mobilize Christian power to break down the walls of division. Thus we shall serve Him who was lifted up that He might draw all men unto Him."